Savage beauty

Sometimes this place takes my breath away with its natural beauty. Two days ago I watched the huge red sun seemingly melt into the horizon over the ocean, at the high speed that you get this close to the equator. Then, as I turned to drive in the opposite direction I was lucky enough to catch the golden yellow orb of a full moon rising behind the silhouetted mountain range. Totally stunning. Then at Tamri beach the other day I was struck by the sea’s blue and white striation, as an endless army of brilliant white breaking waves poured onto the beach, when my eye was caught by a flash of pink in the sky. Looking up I saw the arrow formation of a flock of flamingos against the blue – completely unexpected, and even more beautiful for it.

P1000028  P1000038

Yet this beauty is set against the savage rawness that is Africa. The other day I was walking back to the apartment from the car and I heard a sickening crunch and instinctively knew it was the sound of bones snapping and life ebbing away. Reluctant to turn but unable to stop myself, I slowly looked back and felt a stab in my core as I saw the tortured final throes of a cat thrashing around in the road, clearly on the edge of death, but refusing to let go without a fight. With no limbs working it nevertheless twisted and flipped, in eerie silence. I was horrified, and found myself welling up uncontrollably, desperate to help but feeling completely helpless. But what really struck me was the seeming unconcern of the Moroccans – a brief flick of the eyes, a tiny pause in conversation, then life resumed as before, with no one even seeming bothered about putting the cat out of its misery. To them I guess it was just another inevitable casualty of the huge wild cat population – one less mouth to feed, one less noise in the night. The cat’s body lying discarded by the bins the next morning seemed an appropriate symbol of this attitude.

It made me re-evaluate my own reaction; the seemingly default human reaction of horror and sadness to seeing another creature suffering no longer seemed so natural – the counter evidence surrounded me in the unconcerned eyes of fellow human spectators, as unbothered by the incident as the goats foraging through the bins nearby. Maybe my assessment is wrong, and it’s just that I don’t understand the Moroccan expression of emotions yet, but it seemed pretty clear that folks were used to such events and not too bothered by them. As I often seem to say in this blog, we are but mammals after all, with our deep instincts being personal survival and procreation, with ‘default’ base reactions being tied to these objectives. The layers that we have built upon this are dependent on social conditioning, and clearly vary hugely between different cultures.

I’ve seen locals throw big stones at dogs too, and ‘dog carcass’ was apparently the casualty of such a stoning. It’s just a different take on things I know, but one that’s hard to adjust to, coming from a culture that places a different value on cats and dogs. Some locals do seem to own cats or dogs as pets, but largely they are seen as pests not pets, and I suppose the attitude towards them changes accordingly. I guess a cat being run over in Morocco is akin to a pigeon being squished in London – most people wouldn’t really bat an eyelid aside from an initial feeling of distaste.

Hmmm, all food for thought – living abroad really does challenge your set ways of thinking, which can only be a good thing.

Posted in Cod philosophy, Morocco, Nomadic lifestyle, Travel | Leave a comment

Nagging muezzins and gnarly waves

Well, this morning’s Muezzin certainly gave it some welly. I am slowly becoming accustomed to being woken around 5am by the call to prayer that pierces the town’s slumber over the loudspeaker. This somehow is a fitting symbol of the Moroccan’s somewhat cavalier approach to a good night’s sleep. In a strange way, I am quite fond of the sound – it punctuates the day from dawn until dusk; five summons in total. However, I would describe this morning’s caller as possibly a tad self-indulgent – I may well be struck down as an infidel for such blasphemy, but really – it seemed a bit OTT.  He went on for at least 20 minutes (usually it’s around 5 minutes) and, towards the end was frankly toying with us – he would seemingly grind to a blissful halt, and then around 30 seconds later mumble an afterthought. Aaaaagh…

Still, I am upgrading to a windowless room in a day or so, so will hopefully find sleep less elusive. Being someone who loves the outdoors and light, I have slight trepidation about sleeping in what could seem like a vampiric vault, but the bags under my eyes are growing alarmingly large, so needs must. Plus, it’s a much bigger room and I will no longer be in a single bed, which I’ve realised is far too reminiscent of teen/student years for me these days – a thirty-something’s prerogative.

Life has mellowed out significantly this week, as we’re hosting an external yoga retreat rather than running our own, so there is much less teaching and more down-time. The group are lovely and very self-sufficient, so I have had time to get my head round the office admin side and get out into the waves a few times. I’ve been facing my fears at a beach break called Tamri, which is notorious for its ‘show-no-mercy’ waves and powerful rip currents. I was machine-washed here a number of times when I came out to Surf Maroc on holiday a few years ago, so the butterflies in my stomach were swarming as we approached the beach. Once in the water, I remembered the might of Tamri – walls of foaming water bashed into me or, worse, dumped on my head, and I quickly had to remember the ‘turtle-roll’ technique to avoid being smashed down by the waves (you basically roll under your board, so it takes the impact whilst the wave washes over you). I desperately paddled out to move past the impact zone (ie where all the waves are breaking) and get ‘out the back’, behind the breaking waves. Once out the back, life becomes much easier- you get to bob about on your board, chilling out, chatting to other surfers, and awaiting the next set of ‘green’ (unbroken) waves to paddle for, then feeling the adrenaline rush of sliding down the face of a breaking wave; you are much more in control of the experience. Conversely, in the impact zone you are at the mercy of the might of nature, battling to literally keep your head above water. It’s rather unfair that beginners have to start in the impact zone before discovering the zen-like state of being out the back, but that’s the nature of the beast – I guess it’s a rite of passage.

Anyway, for the last two days, I completely failed to get out the back. I knew that, physically, I was capable – I’m a strong paddler and fit enough. However, what stops me is my fear. I fear the big waves crashing on my head and fear the possibility of feeling literally and metaphorically out of my depth amongst all the pros out the back. I nearly make it out the back, then see a watery behemoth racing towards me and turn tail, choosing to catch it in rather than risk it breaking on my head. This pattern was repeated on both days, despite me giving myself numerous stern talkings to. However, in the end I made a commitment not to beat myself up about it – the turbulent ocean was doing a good enough job of that already. Instead, I decided to give myself a break and congratulate myself on facing my fear of Tamri and being in the ocean. Once I lifted the pressure, I began to feel the exhilaration of being pounded by nature’s elements; the restless water, the wind in my face, the smell of the sea. I started to actually enjoy myself, and caught some lovely waves – OK, they were only ‘foamies’ (waves that had already broken), but I still managed to turn and ride along them as they continued to break, and found myself whooping, as I do when I feel the rush of speed in the water – always a good sign. I remembered why I love surfing, and that it doesn’t matter what stage I’m at, as long as I’m having fun. One day I will make it out the back at Tamri, I’m sure of it, but hey, I’m in no rush – I have six months of this!

So, in my usual way, I conclude by embracing both sides of the argument – there is a definite balance between facing the things that scare you and being kind to yourself and congratulating yourself for the progress you’ve made so far. It doesn’t matter where you are on your journey, as long as you’re moving in the right direction – for me, that direction is towards the horizon!

Two quotes to sum up both sides:

“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”

Eleanor Roosevelt

“Courage doesn’t always roar.  Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says I’ll try again tomorrow.”

Mary Anne Radmacher


Posted in Cod philosophy, Morocco, Nomadic lifestyle, Positivity, Surfing, Travel, Yoga | Leave a comment

Salaam alaikum

Greetings from sunny Morocco! Actually the sky outside is currently more of a London dishwater grey than the customary electric blue, but I am in no position to complain. Despite the odd overcast day and even occasional rain (at which the Moroccans start whooping and celebrating), it really does seem to be year-round sunshine here.

So, the next chapter of beckymayhem has well and truly begun, as I commence my six month contract working as Yoga Manager/Yoga Instructor for Surf Maroc, a company that specialises in surf holidays and yoga/surf retreats. For a girl whose two favourite things to do are probably surfing and yoga, I feel like I’ve landed on my feet rather, especially given another large part of my job is acting as host and getting to know a hugely diverse range of guests, which well and truly satisfies my incurable nosiness and fascination with the intricacies of we complicated humans… 🙂

As my daily routine settles down, I hope to bring you regular insights into Moroccan life and the life of a yoga teacher/surf bum through the blog. So far, the life is suiting me very well indeed, despite a very long working day during the yoga retreats. I have been launched straight in at the deep end, just as I love it, by joining two back-to-back yoga retreat weeks. During the yoga retreats we teach an early morning yoga class as well as an evening class and day-time hosting/admin, so the day begins groggily at 6am and ends with collapsing straight into bed at around 10:30pm ready to start all over again the next day. In theory there are hours off in the middle of the day for surfing/doing our own yoga practice/ blogging (?!)/ maybe even giving some thai yoga massages, but as I’ve been learning the ropes and getting my head round the job, such free time has been elusive so far, hence my tardiness at posting here.

Anyway, here is an insight into my new daily routine:

My alarm goes off at 6am and I groggily fumble around in my pitch-black room (why don’t we have shutters in the UK – they are awesome!) after a fitful sleep. Moroccans certainly do not have a sense of ‘keeping the noise down for the neighbours’ at night. Our staff apartment lies in the heart of Tarazhout, a small, fairly non-descript fishing village that has grown into a surfer tourist hot-spot due to the prolific surf spots up and down the coast in this area. I am certainly getting to know the sounds of ‘Tarazhout by night’ intimately: children are still playing noisily in the street at 1am, men arrive by motorbike all through the night and rev outside my window, having shouted conversations with each other; an old man sits sadly on the step beneath my room most nights and plays terrible music on a radio to himself; packs of dogs re-establish their pecking order through regular scuffles; and a cacophony of throat clearing reaches me on surround-sound from neighbouring apartments. Then from 5am onwards the early morning shift of the Muezzin’s call to prayer, braying donkeys and cockerels begins. Tranquil it is not. Being a light sleeper, these nocturnal shenanigans are beginning to show beneath my eyes, but sleep is becoming easier as the long hours affect me, so perhaps it’s something I will get used to.

I blearily make my way across the nauseatingly tiled hall (Moroccans love patterned tiles, and like to cram as many different patterns into a room as possible) and into the pongy shower room. The stone placed futilely across the plug hole does little to prevent the odour of sewage oozing into the room, as is the case in all bathrooms here, evidence that the Moroccan sewage system is probably in need of updating. The water is cold, as the plumbing is broken, but that’s actually quite nice, after the sticky humidity of the night.

Myself and the two other yoga teachers, Jenn and Sarah, walk out into the dark morning, negotiating pot holes on our steep street and out onto the main road. We walk past ‘goat bins’ (the stinky public bins that always have goats climbing all over them, rooting out discarded delicacies), ‘dead dog’ (a flattened, crispy dog carcass at the side of the road), run the gauntlet of the local dog pack, hoping they’re not in a  boisterous mood, which can result in nips to the back of your thigh, usually field some lecherous comments from local men and finally seek refuge in our clunky Renault Kangoo van.

If I’m driving, we over-rev and bunny-hop our way down the coast road (I’m still getting to grips with left-hand drive and the quirks of the gears), trying to avoid kami-kazi cyclists and moped-riders without lights, many with multiple passengers on one seat. Some deign to use their mobile phone light or a tiny torch to indicate their existence as we near them from behind, but most just trust that Allah will provide. Moroccan pedestrians also seem to have a preference for walking in the middle of the road, which doesn’t help matters. Neither does the Moroccan indifference to road markings – cars drift all over the place as if the drivers are under the illicit influence of alcohol in this ‘dry’ country (*ahem*, excuse me as I politely choke on my tea).

After 15 minutes we arrive in Aourire, the small town where the beautiful yoga villa is located, and I prepare to teach an early morning dynamic yoga class in the rooftop shala with a view overlooking the ocean. Most day I watch the sun rise over the mountains inland. Then follows a multi-course hearty breakfast with the guests (waist-bands expanding already, eek) and then we wave the guests off for a day’s surfing, or join them if we are able. If we stay at the villa, we have office admin to do, or odd-jobs to keep the villa and retreat running smoothly. The guests return around 4pm and we help them out with any requests, then teach an evening class at 6pm as the sun sets over the sea. We share a delicious evening meal with the group and do any more ad hoc bits and bobs then finally leave around 10pm, collapsing into bed around 10:30pm ready to begin again the next day.

I have to sign off now to prepare my evening class tonight, but more details of life out here will follow… 🙂 It definitely feels good being back in the craziness of the African continent. The craziness does not quite match that of Kenya in 1998, where I spent 6 months teaching in a rural school, but craziness nevertheless abounds, from the chaotic souks to the cheeky smiles of the locals. I feel the thrill of the challenge of being out here, deliciously combined with the wonderful feeling of having found my ‘thing’ as I embrace my role as yoga teacher. The joy I get from sharing my love of yoga with students, and working with the same group through the week makes me know for sure that taking the risk of coming out here has paid off already and will yield many, many benefits. I know the experience will teach me loads more about myself as I face new challenges and crystallise my thoughts on my future direction. As always, the fear of stepping out of my comfort zone has soon turned to a thrilling sense of empowerment and excitement, as I sense my boundaries of what I think I can do expanding. Salaam alaikum! 🙂

Posted in Morocco, Surfing, Travel, Yoga | 2 Comments

Yoga stories

The mind is a perverse beast sometimes… I have inexplicably decided that today, when I have been up since 2:30am doing a bat survey, then straight onto a two hour early-morning intensive yoga class, is the day to return to my much-neglected blog. Being a girl who definitely needs her zzzzs, I really should be in bed wearing my eye-mask and ear-plugs this morning, but instead I am buzzing, inspired and raring to face the day… Why?

The reason for this strange mood is the energising effect of daily Mysore-style ashtanga yoga practice, which I am attending as part of a week-long intensive course at the Stonemonkey Studio.  It has reminded me of the power of a daily, sweaty practice in a room full of other yogis, riding the wave of collective energy and benefiting from the careful adjustments and one-to-one advice from a teacher.  These days I mostly practise alone at home and, whilst this is an excellent habit to form for so many reasons, my practice is never quite as deep or as satisfying as when done in a group, supervised situation. At home there is more temptation to skip the postures I don’t like, pause the sequence to get the washing out or answer the phone, or just to let the mind wander at will.  Plus, summoning the motivation to practise is much more difficult when alone; conversely, there is huge motivation in hearing the grunts of exertion and symphony of breath of others around you.

Yesterday, Digby from Stonemonkey cautioned us to be aware of the ‘stories’ that we tell ourselves, and how these stories can get in the way of developing our practice.  For example, we might always tell ourselves or our teacher about that old hamstring injury that still plagues us, when in fact the injury has been long-healed, it is only the mind that is clinging onto the memory of the pain and creating tension that doesn’t need to be there.

This is something that hugely resonates with me.  More and more I see how the things we say, both to ourselves in that incessant, often very negative, internal mind chatter and also out loud to others, are concoctions of the brain that are cunningly designed to either justify why we’re doing something or to make excuses for why we’re not doing something. We tell ourselves what we think we need to hear. But so often this external noise disguises what’s really going on inside, and often the root cause of what’s going on is some kind of fear, when you really dig down deep.  Listening to these stories can cause us to continue to live with old fears and prevent us from lifting the lid of the box that we’ve put ourself in and see what else is out there.

For example, I am working through the second series of ashtanga, which includes some very deep back-bends, one of which has come to be my nemesis pose: the dreaded kapotasana. I fear this pose (you see, even here I am telling myself a story). It involves high-kneeling on the floor and arching back to place the elbows and forehead on the floor behind you whilst reaching back to grab the heels. Gulp. When I’m being adjusted in this pose, I panic and feel claustrophobic, I feel like my lower back is going to snap in half and I feel like my triceps are going to rip from over-stretching – in fact as I type this I can feel my mouth go a little bit dry (I’m really selling yoga here, aren’t I?!). So, I have created numerous stories to explain why I can’t do it fully, and I use these to avoid being adjusted into the full posture. I realised yesterday that, when in class, I tell myself a series of ‘avoidance justification’ stories and rush through it, hoping Digby won’t spot me doing it and come and adjust me. But really, I know deep down, if I’m completely honest with myself, that the stories all come from fear and a rather cowardly dislike of the pose. Also, when I fail to avoid Digby’s eagle eye, having all those panic stories in my head means I never fully relax and surrender to the adjustment, and I therefore never push my boundaries and further the pose.

However, this behaviour is sooo natural and one of the fundamentals of being human, so there’s no point berating oneself about it – that would just become another story. The ‘benefit’ of language is what makes us different – we are a species that exists by ‘reasoning’ and telling stories rather than just acting intuitively and innately, as other animals do. I often wonder which is the better way to exist and be true to yourself – are we really the superior species?

As always, I think it’s about balance: of course there are hugely obvious benefits of language and the ability to reason and tell stories, but this needs to be balanced against our innate abilities of intuition and instinct that are within us, as they are in all of the animal kingdom, but that we often need to dig deep to find, as they are buried beneath all those layers of stories.

I have certainly been trying more and more to ‘feel’ rather than to ‘think’, to trust my intuition rather than to try and analytically explain everything, and since I’ve made this change, things are flowing better for me. I’ve realised that the first step is recognising the stories for what they are: they are just one take on things (usually the one that leads you to the path of least resistance), not THE way of things. By observing this, there is a liberation. You are not going to stop those stories being told, but they cease to own you. You can let the mind do its thing and chatter away in that incessant, human, often quite meaningless way, but by taking a step back and not engaging in and believing the stories, you are then freed up to explore the moment that you find yourself in with a curious mind, and expand into that moment, having faith in your intuition. It enables you to ask ‘What is going to happen now?, rather than the outcome being a foregone conclusion due to pre-determined mental pathways.  It is in those moments of open exploration that growth happens.

So, this week, I am making a point of asking for an adjustment in kapotasana each day. Yesterday I tensed up as usual and the pose felt horrible and scary and I had a very tender lower back all day afterwards. Today I focused on relaxing into the moment and losing the stories. It still felt deeply unpleasant in my lower back, but it was less scary, and the back tenderness has receded much more quickly. Plus, I felt good after the pose. I had a slight smile on my face. I felt my story changing to ‘Perhaps I can do this after all’ and had an intuititive thought that, if I persevere and dedicate time to this posture, I will surmount the lower back pain issue and it will eventually become a pose that feels really good for my back… And, weirdly, I am actually looking forward to trying it again tomorrow. Like I say, the mind is a tricksy beast… 🙂

Posted in Cod philosophy, Meditation, Positivity, Stonemonkey studio, Yoga | Leave a comment

Letting go with Hamish Hendry

Hellooo – I’m back! I’ve been rather distracted from the blog of late, mainly due to experiencing some fine summer weather at last, and the resultant lure of the great outdoors. It’s been a wonderful few weeks full of simple, natural pleasures: a sunset barbecue at Warwickshire’s highest point, the Burton Dassett Hills (a rather underwhelming ascent for an ex-Lake District resident but stunning panoramic views of the county’s flatlands nevertheless); a solstice camping weekend in the Peaks, complete with hippy-strewn stone circles; and two idyllic surfing weekends on the Gower peninsula. It’s been a reminder that, for me, relaxation comes from stripping away as many of modern life’s complications as possible (technology being a biggie – losing signal for the weekend is blissful relief from the daily grind), getting back to basics and re-connecting with nature, the elements and a more simple way of life. It is sooo good for the soul. I’m currently reading an excellent book called ‘The Earth Has A Soul’, which is an edited collection of Carl Jung’s essays and thoughts on the sad disconnection between humans and nature and how we need to reconnect the ‘modern’ part of our psyche with the ‘archaic’ part. Hear hear, Carl – the more I read of his stuff, the more I feel it hugely resonates with my own thoughts. More on CJ, who is rapidly becoming rather a hero to me, in future posts no doubt…

Anyway, I promised  a review of the Hamish Hendry yoga workshop, and I am a girl of my word. So, how was it? It was ruddy fantastic, that’s what it was. Hamish is a senior teacher, who has learnt ashtanga direct from the source in Mysore, India, which gives him a gravitas in the ashtanga world that you can’t help but respect, especially as there is a big emphasis on the lineage of teachers and direct learning through apprenticeships in this form of yoga.  Yet he is also a very funny, down-to-earth guy who has clearly led a pretty far-out life and who isn’t averse to peppering his language with fruity swear-words, of which I am always a fan. It somehow helps to break-up the sometimes too earnest and ethereal yoga-speak – what I like to call ‘keeping it real’ on the mat.

More than this, Hamish is also extremely gifted as a teacher. He has the rare ability to ‘see’ the student in their entirety at an initial glance, and by this I mean he sees beyond what is immediately obvious and somehow tunes into the more subtle, emotional signs that we all give off, and that, to those with a highly tuned intuition, visibly  leak out through our bodies. What this meant in practice was that, even though I’d never met the guy before, he gave me some incredible adjustments and got me deeper into my ‘nemesis’ postures than I have ever been before. He seemed to know exactly which postures I needed assistance with, and magically appeared at my side for each one, like a stealth elf. His adjustments were quick, firm and no-nonsense. He relentlessly instructed me to ‘relax my shoulders’ into the deep back-bends, way beyond the point where I would usually freeze up with a ‘that’s as far as I can go’ mentality. For whatever reason, I completely trusted him, and found myself accessing a deeper level of muscle relaxation than I have found before, thus becoming putty in his hands and discovering that, yes, I can almost touch my ankles in urdvha danurasana (upward bow or wheel posture) after all – who’d have thought it?! It made me realise how much of my self-perceived body limitations are actually all in the mind – it’s my mind that provides me with all the reasons why I can’t access the deep back-bends through the re-telling of stories of injury and the over-emphasis on strength over open-ness in my practice; and it’s the ad nauseum re-telling of these personal stories that creates layers of tension in my shoulders and thoracic back. The ‘rational’ mind is a tricksy beast, for sure… (Oooh, this all neatly links into CJ’s ‘modern’ [rational] versus ‘archaic’ [unconscious] mind theories too – serendipitous musings today!)

In the afternoon talk, he discussed how emotionally challenging it can be to completely surrender yourself to a teacher’s adjustments. It’s all about trust and letting go, and that can be one of the hardest things to do. But as soon as you do, it’s like a weight lifting from your shoulders (or the opposite, I guess, if you’re inverted in a back-bend!). A little bit more of the ego bleeds away as we humble ourselves to the superior knowledge of a senior teacher, and the feeling is a sweet release. Not only that, but that’s when your practice is likely to take a paradigm shift forward, as you access deeper parts of the body and mind.

Hamish also tackled the biggie in the afternoon session: What is yoga? I’ve tried to answer this myself so many times, and, in my usual cop-out, over-empathising way, always come to the conclusion that it is deeply personal and means something different to everyone who does it. However, for a scholar like Hamish, who has read all the ‘requisite’ texts like the Bhagavad Gita and Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras (I am currently trawling my way through these at the pace of a decrepit snail), he can provide rather more illumination on the subject.

Firstly, he gave us a potted summary of the Bhagavad Gita, for which I will be eternally grateful – does that mean I don’t need to read it now?! It’s an ancient Indian, notoriously rambling ‘story’ that’s basically a very long conversation between Lord Krishna and one of his devotees, Prince Arjuna, covering all kinds of topics such as the nature of duty and how to control the mind through yoga (that’s the terribly inadequate beckymayhem summary, anyway…). Hamish drew from it the following main messages:

It’s important that we find our ‘dharma’, which means our ‘duty’, the thing we should be doing. We need to make sure we’re doing our duty, not someone else’s. It’s about doing the right thing at the right time, and then things will flow. On a practical level, find what you love doing, what resonates with you, practise this thing until it comes easily and you excel in it, then share your passion and knowledge with others without expectation of anything in return. If you don’t expect anything back, the rewards with be ten-fold more – this is karma. The ‘non-expectation’ part of this explanation of karma strikes me as a sweet irony that is oh-so-elusive to the average human bean. The words of a less obvious yet no less inspiring philosopher who I’ve met on my travels, Cockatoo Paul, may seem a more realistic aim for most of us: “Find something you like, get good at it, and the money will come.” But then it would be dull if these things were simple – part of the beauty of life is about the journey of personal development as you move towards a state of higher awareness.

I have so many other thoughts and musings following Hamish’s talk. However, rather than attempt to get them all down here, I will cogitate further and hopefully pick up on some of them in future posts. But, for now, suffice to say it was an incredibly inspiring day, and wonderful to have it at the wonderful Stonemonkey Studio, too.

Finally, as a post-script to my previous post – yes, I was indeed the last one to arrive at the afternoon session despite my inexcusable proximity. In fact they’d closed the front door and I had to skulk in via the back door, man-up to an inevitable barrage of accusatory banter and shamefacedly take my place amongst all the punctual folk, oops. A black mark in my yoga karma book?!

Posted in Cafe Culture, Cod philosophy, English countryside, Meditation, Positivity, Stonemonkey studio, Surfing, Travel, Yoga | 2 Comments

The nights are drawing in…

That’s it. It’s all downhill from here. We’ve had the longest day of summer, nights will be getting shorter and the next big thing on the calendar is Christmas, *sigh*…

That’s what I would have said, had I got out of bed on the wrong side and hence spent my day as my gloomy alterego, who I like to call ‘beckywoebum’. However, I very much bounded out of bed on the right side this morning and, as such, my thoughts on the solstice are very much in the beckymayhem camp, as follows:

My, what a beautiful evening it was last night – perfectly fitting for such an auspicious occasion, part of which I spent doing a Thai massage. This felt symbolic in some way – a sign that the powers that be approve of my new career path. The solstice indicates we’re in the height of summer, with festivals, surf weekends, camping trips, evening walks, barbecues and lots more outdoorsy fun to look forward to. Plus, earlier sunsets and later sunrises means the timings of my bat surveys will gradually become less antisocial…:) As with everything, we have a choice whether to see something in a positive or negative light. We can’t alter what’s happening, but we can alter our attitude towards it.

Today I am attending a Hamish Hendry intensive ashtanga yoga workshop, which includes Mysore self-practice in the morning and a two hour talk in the afternoon. It’s conveniently at the Stonemonkey yoga studio across the road, hence how I’m still tapping away a mere 15 minutes from the starting time – I love my life. No doubt I shall be delivering my musings on this in a later post, or possibly on my frond yoga facebook page. Get me with my self-promotion – I recently attended a talk on online marketing, you see, and have realised that, fun though teaching yoga and doing massages is, if I want to be able to pay my rent each month from it, I really need to get my arse into gear and start ‘putting myself out there’ more; in fact, here’s a link to my website: – please spread the word… 😉

Then, straight after the workshop I’m off camping in the Peak District. The weather forecast is atrocious, but beckywoebum is nowhere to be seen, so I am still nevertheless hugely excited about the prospect of falling asleep to the soothing sound of pattering rain on canvas and striding out across boggy fells tomorrow, goretex rustling as I go. Summer rocks, even Britain’s lame excuse for one!

Anyway, better dash – yet again I fear I may be the last one at class, despite only having to cross the road to get there, oops…

Posted in Ecology, English countryside, Positivity, Self-employment, Stonemonkey studio, Surfing, Thai massage, Travel, Yoga | 3 Comments

Nocturnal nosiness

I cannot deny that I am an incredibly nosy person. I find people fascinating and just love getting an insight into how different people live their lives and observing human interactions, trying to work out the nature of relationships. I am a helpless people-watcher and, in pubs and restaurants, I will have half an ear/eyes on what’s going on at my table (OK, maybe two thirds – just so people don’t stop inviting me out) and half (OK, a third) on the conversations and (ultimately more telling) body language of those around me. I’ve always been like that and I just can’t help myself.

I confess that when I was a teen I loved babysitting, as it meant someone was letting me into their house then leaving me there on my own to nose to my heart’s content, until I had built up a detailed picture in my head of their life, their loves, their foibles (sorry, past employers). Unsurprisingly, I also absolutely loved that weird programme, ‘Through the Keyhole’. The phrase ‘Who lives in a house like this?’ said in Lloyd Grossman’s signature sneering way, is often still in my head as I find myself in a new abode taking surreptitious glances around me like a detective searching for clues to unlock the mystery of the home-owners.

So one of the things I enjoy about my ecology role is that it takes me into people’s homes, enabling me to observe a huge diversity of walks of life, and the other night I struck nosy-parker gold. I was doing a bat survey at an insanely posh old manor house, but the kind of scruffy, rambling place that has seen much better days. Nostalgia of its proud heydey dripped off the walls in the sagging, heavy-limbed ivy and puffed listlessly through the stable-yard on sunlit dust motes. Yet its age-worn dignity was tempered by a scattering of modern sculptures of the human form in different media and various hints that its current inhabitants were less ‘proper’ and more hippy. There were huge, abstract metal faces propped up against the outside walls, and glimpses of alluring stone torsoes lining shelves in the brightly-lit rooms inside. Messages of peace and love, yin and yang and ban the bomb were scrawled in chalk over the stable walls and a group of  lads with musical instruments poured out of a battered landrover and disappeared into the house as we arrived. My head swivelled on its neck like a meerkat, trying to take it all in. What was this place?

Then the plot thickened further. No one was answering the door, so my colleague rang the home-owner. We heard him answer his phone from within one of the stables, and he soon sauntered out into the yard, a lean, long-haired, young-looking man with straw in his hair and a flirty twinkle in his eye – possibly early thirties or maybe younger. He oozed charm and good manners as he introduced himself, then from behind him a stunning brunette in jodphurs and rucked-up vest scuttled out of the same stable and made a bare-footed dash to the house, straw also in her hair and wearing a smug, sheepish smile across her blushing face. Clearly we’d caught wealthy heir ‘at it’ with the stable hand – I felt like I’d stepped straight into the pages of a Jilly Cooper novel – brilliant. I gave the owner a knowing smile and he smiled back unashamedly, with the kind of cheeky, nonchalant surety that I guess comes with inherited wealth.

We needed to go up into the roofspace to see if we could find any bats (we did incidentally – a maternity roost of brown long-eared bats, my favourite species :)) and as we negotiated twisting corridors and spiral staircases, I tried and failed to rein in my overt eyeballing. The furnishings and fittings were dated and shabby, and the place seemed more like an institutional youth hostel than a cherished home. Yet quirky, personal details belied the personalities of the occupants; vintage motorbikes stored haphazardly in empty rooms, yet more human sculptures, old maps pinned to the wall and peppered with annotations, tatty childrens’ toys – I was beyond intrigued…

On the way home I grilled my boss about what on earth the deal was there. It turns out the grandchildren, the oldest of which was the guy we’d spoken to, have inherited the property as part of a trust fund and all live there, sans parents it seems, who have acrimoniously divorced. Our contact, who seems to run the place, is also an artist, and the place seems to have become a bit of a hippy commune set-up, whilst still functioning as an active farm estate and stables. Absolutely fascinating, I tell you. For once my nosiness was fully sated.

It gives me great pleasure to know that so many different lifestyles coexist on our tiny island alone. I’ve surveyed seriously deprived housing estates, traditional old manor houses like this one, with all the associated quirks of faded grandeur, in your face ‘new money’ posh houses that lie behind paranoid electric gates, and a dizzying array of ‘normal’ houses where I see the huge diversity in the occupants and their approach to life and I realise that it is impossible to define ‘normality’.  Behind each closed door lies an unfathomable mix of hopes, fears, passions, regrets, memories, relationships, bad and good experiences and everything in between. We can never know all that a person is, no matter how hard we study them and their life (try as I might), and I see that as a brilliant thing. One of the best and worst things about humanity is that transparency is impossible and, I would argue, undesirable. There’s something rather lovely about the thought that we are all unknowable to some degree –  it keeps a sense of mystique and magic alive in the world, and keeps us all on our toes… 🙂


Who lives in a shoe like this? My nosiness knows no bounds (ha ha – love the ‘no-ness’ of that phrase!) as I discovered to my delight how accurately these shoes reflected their owners (their owners being some of the wonderfully eclectic group of people I was lucky enough to study Thai yoga massage with recently… :)). Guess which are mine?

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