Category: Thailand


My mat, my universe (II)

Loving-kindness meditation, post-moon-sequence, 11.30 am, 23rd April, 2012:

Right…crown of head…focus.  Quite quickly I feel a gentle stirring of something.  It starts to rotate, generating heat.

Loving kindness, loving kindness, or is it love-and-kindness.  Right, let’s go through the list.

1) Me – yeah yeah…go me!  Doesn’t last for long, but better than it used to be.

2) Person I love – mum, Sofia, wait…no…back to my mum. What about Ish and Eug; Anna and Tamsin; Lady McBeth?  Am I supposed to be seeing images of them?  What’s she wearing?  Pedro, Brian Cox (swirling in crown of head getting stronger and stronger…feeling a bit dizzy).  What if I just put everyone in a room?  There, that’s better.  Dan, Sarah, Dad, Sue, Chris.  Awww, Nan and Granddad.  Wonder how they’re getting on?  All their faces looking up.  Love and kindness to all of you.

3) Person I don’t know that well – Girl who works in the cafe next door.  She seems a quiet, not entirely happy sort.  Loving kindness to you, loving kindness to you.

4) Person I hate – Mr X.  YOU FUCKER!  Wait no…love and kindness, love and kindness, or love-ing kindness.  (Swirling energy dims).  No come on Laura, stay with it.  Love and kindness….grrrrr.

5) The body – right, now’s your chance to shine…deep breath… I love you hips! (Wince).  Love and kindness just to you, and the viper…just as you are!

6) The environment, everything around me, and beyond… ducks, chickens and goldfish…the rain outside.  What?  No Wales today?  I always think of Wales.

Breathing happily, chest lifting up, crown of head warming, warming, and then slowly it begins to dissipate.

AHHHHH!  I stretch out my arms above my head, smile to myself, yawn loudly, and open my eyes…Welcome to my universe!

It seems that I’m reaching the end of my writing stint.  Words are drying up, and what perfect timing that is.  Tomorrow I take the night-train back to Bangkok, and then onto Burma – the next leg of my adventure.

I know these last few blogs have all got a bit heavy.  I’ve felt pretty drained and deflated after each one.  Good – because I’ve given voice to things that I’ve been wrestling with for a long time, but also a bit unbalanced.  Yeah, it was hard work and at times gritty and uncomfortable, but it was, in its entirety, one of the best things I’ve ever done.

Looking back there are so many wonderful and ridiculous moments…

  1. The awkward silence in the shala when Denise (yoga baby) piped up with, “Matthew, what’s ejaculation?”
  2. Pedro rocking up to practice on the first day in just his pants.
  3. Sofia, describing the man she was attracted to: “he looks like Jesus Christ.”; Petra, flummoxed, “But Sofia, they ALL look like Jesus Christ!”
  4. Janni saying, in all seriousness, that Jesus was the son of Father Christmas.
  5. Matthew telling us that we are all perfect and whole, just as we are, right now, and if anybody says anything other than that…be it a teacher, a counselor, whoever – then we’re to walk away.
  6. Bam-Bu!  Basically everything about it.  The food, the shakes, the guys who work there, the weird Ewok dogs, the conversations, the amazing breeze up on the platform, the hours of perving on toned, tanned and tattooed Jesus/Elf/Water-world variations of MAN.
  7. Chess and Backgammon marathons with Pedro, and my afternoon of training with the chess master – Rafa.  I play like I live apparently – in defense.  I gotta change all that…play to win.  Take risks.  You lose, so what.  Play again.  (never did get to beat Pedro…dammit!)
  8. Chakra meditation:  all in a circle, eyes closed (I hope), fingers pressed on our perineums to engage our Chakra number ones (wrong day to wear a skirt…) and thinking, Christ – if my friends could see me now.
  9. Massage.  Ahhh…all those massages.
  10. “HUMPH”……..”UGHH”………”HUMPH”……..”UGHHHHHH!”  The ongoing Sharapova/Serena Williams tennis match between Thea and myself in practice.   Particularly prevalent in Marichyasana, Backbending, and ALL of the Lion Sequence…
  11. “Today’s the day” – Handan mouthed as she pointed me out for the handstand demonstration.  I did it!  I fucking did it!
  12. “Matthew….help….me…” the muffled voice of the comically vulnerable Serge aka “Robocop”, trapped in Supta Kurmasana.
  13. The night that we danced at Eden.  Thea, Pedro and me.  How stiffly, and so-very English, my night began.  Awkwardly shifting my weight from one foot to the other, creaking hips, embarrassed smile on my lips, practically clicking my fingers in front of me, NOT to the beat….to hair let loose, shirt tied up, sweat pouring, wooden floors shaking, feet pounding, as I jumped about, hands waving, bonding mid-air with an Arabic prince, to the wonderful energy of a tribal tune.
I could go on and on.  Serge’s witches (or “beetchis”) and other eccentricities; Jo – the Russian spy; moving in with Sofia and our midnight chats and 6 am swims; Naw and her kittenesque squeak in the lion sequence…
I felt so sad when we all said goodbye, like it was the end of something.  But Tina reminded me of something that Matthew said time and time again…this is just a hello.  Through the process of articulating this experience over the past week, I’ve had a growing sense of just that….this being the beginnings of something.  I’m not sure what just yet, and I really, genuinely don’t feel the need to think too much about it.
Prem told me at the end of my time with them in Bali, that I was on the right track and to just keep doing what I’m doing.  The difference between the me then, and the me now, is that at that time I think I needed somebody to tell me that, whereas right now, I can feel that I’m on the right path…right here, in the centre of me.
Now – it’s time to get back out there and live in the moment again.  Thank you to Matthew, from the bottom of my heart, and to everybody on the course.  What a wonderful time we had.

Namaste Mo Fo’s!

May all beings be happy.

Diary Extract – 12th April, 2012

An 8.7 earthquake has struck Indonesia, the buildings of Bangkok rattled.  Tsunami warnings in place for the South of Thailand, Phuket airport’s closed.  We sit cross-legged on the straw and fluff packed recliner cushions and watch the water behind us.   Coffee and coconut shakes leaving ring marks on the table, the echo of forks scratching empty plates.

“Perhaps we should have that beer afterall?”

We have 2 days left on the course, and have already said farewell to one.  Sofia, my Argentine Amor.  Emotions are high, and everyone looks a little frayed at the edges.  In just four weeks our lives have changed.  Living in the moment and wanting to enjoy our last days of practice and new friendships, but clawing at space and time to process the dark and murky icky stuff that’s been dredged up to the surface.  How will our lives be when we return home?  Jobs, families, personal practice, friendships?  Will they understand all of this?  Will it continue? Are we happy?

I foresee a lot of change for each of us.

Me.  I’m as excited as I am scared.  Pain and happiness seem to be skipping along hand-in-hand, fingers interlocked with white knuckles.  I feel rested, but there’s a tight pain in my chest.  I breathe deeply into it, and try to massage it through my marathon T-shirt.  Fist clenched, kneading, rolling it out into my left shoulder and back.

The ocean is very still, lapping lazily against the stone boulders just beyond the rickety, toothpick bridge.  Beach bungalows are gently lit and reflect on the surface like dim oil lamps.  It’s not yet sunrise, but the sky is beginning to turn.

I’ve barely written a word since I’ve been here, it didn’t feel right.  But now, my fingertips are tapping against the table tops, elbow bopping – it’s time.  But where do I start?

11 days have passed.

The level of your yoga is particularly obvious when you practice alone…[it] not only reveals your actual ability to do the postures, but also highlights any psychological difficulty.

– p. 18-19, Ashtanga As It Is, Matthew Sweeney

In just 11 days, a lot has been revealed.  Trying not to get swept up into analysis and a massive ego trip, I thought I’d just relay some of my observations.

  1. Meditation seems to be getting easier.  Which makes me nervous…
  2. Primary series.  AHHH!  Wtf is going on there?  First few days of self-practice – marvelous, and then my melt-down on Friday, and I haven’t been able to go back to it since…
  3. Moon sequence is wonderful.  Truly wonderful.  I’m getting it!  Cheat sheets to one side, can actually feel my body lengthening and lifting into the one-legged downdog section (Ekha Pada Adho Mukha Svanasana A,B and C ).
  4.  Hips – still really painful, can feel something writhing about in there, like an irate viper, waiting to attack.
  5. Back-bending is deepening each day.  Objects at floor level coming into focus, kinda making me want to get back to full-bridge in Primary.
  6. Emotionally, things seem to be leveling out a bit.  I’ve really really needed this solitary time to let things settle, and write it all out.  I know that perhaps its a bit strange that I publish all this stuff on the blog.  I can’t explain it.  It just feels right.
  7. Ahhhyurveda.  I’m sleeping again.  (WHOOO!)  6 long, unbroken hours each night.  Vata’s resting for a time….(phew….), Kapha’s being entertained with one too many chocolate bars, and Pitta…Oh Pitta.  Been on the rampage haven’t you?  Think its gone and burnt itself out.  Temperatures have dropped a tiny bit, curtains fluttering in the rare mid-morning breeze.
  8. I’m more sensitive to everything.  Can’t wear anything but cotton now.  Beloved lycra of old makes my skin crawl.
  9. Relationship with self.  I’m in conflict, and a bit confused.  Experiencing negative thoughts about my body.  Feel sad that I’m wanting to be lighter, and slimmer.  Why this shift into non-acceptance?
All I can really do each day, is practice.  Whatever that experience may be.  A shortened, frustrating Primary, or a languid, verging on erotically stimulating Moon…it doesn’t really matter, as long as I’m there.
The 9th of April was my most profound breakthrough, in yogic terms anyway.
Diary extract from that evening:
It’s ok to be in this place.
It’s ok to be right there…sinking, shrinking, feeling less than..because, we are everything.  We are every polarity.  And it’s ok to be selfish sometimes.  It’s ok to be angry.  What was once my universe…my reality, isn’t my reality anymore.  It’s something new.  Its something exciting.
And that’s kind of how I’m beginning to view my practice.  My mat, my universe.  Every morning, or afternoon, or whenever I make the time to roll my mat out, wherever that may be, on the balcony, in the middle of a shala, in that slither of space beside the bed…I am physically, spiritually, emotionally creating a space where I can breathe, feel, make contact with this new and exciting reality…How amazing is that?!

20th April.

3 pm.

Flippin’ eck its hot today!  Is it bad, boring, unappreciative of my surroundings, if all I want to do is roam up and down the aisles of the local seven eleven, deliberating over what flavour gatorade I should go for…radioactive yellow, or smurf blue?  Don’t make me choose.  Don’t make me leave the glorious cool of the AC…my pitta’s flaring up like an enraged dragon.

Surprisingly, I’m finding it particularly difficult to motivate myself into practice today.  It’s a primary day.  I can feel it.  I need some upwards energy burning in my belly…but its the whole burning bit that’s  turning me off.  Do you have any idea how much sweat I’m going to produce amid this spaghetti western heat?  It’s the type of detoxing that will make me feel sick…hence the gatorade mission.

Perhaps I can wait until the sun turns his attention away from my balcony, take a cool shower and lie naked on the tiles for a bit….perhaps, uh-hum…perhaps, I could admit defeat…just for today.  Please.  Please let me take today off?  I did an hour of meditation this morning, that must count for something?  I felt all this stuff, breathed into it as it moved up my centre, and let it go…all the while sitting dead-still, ignoring the ants and stray hair tickling my shoulder.    Please….

Oh fuck it…I know I should have done my practice this morning…got it out the way so I could truly enjoy my Ashtanga-party-time-Friday.  Instead, I’ve eaten a light lunch, must hide the celebratory chocolate bar and wait patiently for it all to digest…before I peel off my sweat soaked clothes, and replace them with my ratty and frayed aerobics shorts and sports yoga bra.

I stopped worrying about what I looked like practicing yoga a long time ago.  It just isn’t sexy, face contorted and grunting in pain as you try to bind yourself into Marichyasana C; sweat glands spurting out body fluid from strange places like an elaborate garden sprinkler system; bum sticking up into the air, legs wrapped around your ears smothering your own face with those annoying boobs and belly folds.  Mmmmmm.  It’s not like running, or cycling, or swimming, when you can detach yourself from your body and imagine that you look like an elite athlete – elegant, graceful…In yoga – there’s absolutely no question, at any point as to whether I look graceful or not.  Hippopotamus on mat…THUD….as my feet crash to the floor practicing my jump backs, breathless binding….can’t….reach….my….finger….tips….URGHHH….fucking come on…gasp…..splutter….BREATHE 1….2…3,4, release!  What must my neighbours think?  In fact, what do I think?  What am I doing?

Urgh,  Another hour for digestion…sneak in a couple of episodes of New Girl, and then I’m gonna do it.  Yes.  I’m gonna fucking do it!  GRRR!

5.30 pm

Is it bad, that in the absence of a spoon I’ve just scooped the melted contents of my celebratory chocolate bar out with my fingers, and licked the wrapper clean?  In the past three and a half months, I’ve not cut a single practice short.  I may go easy on the jump-backs, or do moon, but I never cut it short.  Always go through every pose I’ve learnt, modifying where I need to, cringing through the ones I don’t like, and then today – I couldn’t even make it through the standing sequence.

Shook my wrists out after Utthita Parsvottanasana and crouched down into baby pose, stretching my arms out in front of me, breathing heavily.  DAMMIT!  Fucking DAMMIT!

I’m feeling agitated and angry.  In my meditation this morning it was the anger that I felt…embraced.  Cheeks burning, “FUCK YOU’s” climbing up the centre of me.  Today, it was the heat that agitated me, annoyed me…stirred up that Pitta dragon.  In practice my hips…my right hip.  After all this time, how can it still feel like I’m tearing myself in two when I lower myself into Utthita Parsvokonasana?  How?  What am I supposed to do?

I read the Power of Now and my notes from Matthew’s teachings, the whole bit about us being whole and complete as we are…just as we are…right now, in this moment.  Simply because there is no other moment than now, so we are never better, or worse, or striving to be what we are not, because there is no before or after…BUT, even in realising that and understanding that – we still have to let go of things.  We still need to unburden ourselves of all the shit that distracts and blocks us from experiencing the Now.  So, under the guidance of Matthew, I’m going to vent my anger.

FUCKING HIPS!

  • Question time, after technique class:

“Marichyasana makes me want to cry…what do I do with that?”

It’s where we store a lot of our emotions.  Just go with it.  Matthew said there was some strange satisfaction he felt from adjusting 6 foot surfers in Baddha Konasana and listening to them break down into tears.  I’m no stranger to that.

Diary entry 31-03-2012

Matthew worked into my hips today.  In fact, its been every day this week.  He stands behind you as you get close to (can’t remember the pose’s name) and as you pull your feet in close to your groin and attempt to straighten your back, knees jutting up around your ears, he swoops in.  Silent, like a preying cat.  “Take a few deep breaths”  His voice is deep and soothing, like he understands everything, like he empathises, sympathises, is sensitive to your pain and frustration.  The discomfort, the whomp whomp whomp sensation.  As you inhale, his hands wrap around your inner thighs, accompanied by a strong downward pressure, and a gentle nudge of his knee into the middle of your back.  You straighten, and open…breathing deeply, waiting for the sound of something tearing, anticipating the pain, that never comes.   Left hip, clicks and pops, you gain in confidence.  “Now lean forward a bit.”  You suck your belly in and stretch your arms at a pathetic distance in front of you.  But his presence, his encouragement makes it all ok.  You’ll be ok.  Slowly you fold forwards, breathing.  Eyes are closed, knees are close to the floor.

“Now sit up again”  That soft voice in your ear.  Gently, with control, you ease up, not wanting to compromise how far you’ve come.  You can feel the pressure of his knee once again…more gentle this time.  You lift and it feels like you’re falling back into the invisible embrace of a teacher who genuinely cares.  I swear I can still feel his breath on my neck, but when I open my eyes, knees neatly planted on the mat – he’s not there.

After my breakdown in that personal development class, he told me that my emotions would probably come up in practice.  He began to linger after Baddha Konasana, and sure enough – breathing, breathing, pushing, crack, pop, whoosh – there go the tears, washing down my cheeks, a great relief.  A sense that this stuff is most definitely better out than in.  I’d get a quick shoulder rub…there there…its ok.  “Thank you”  I’d say, quietly, but with genuine gratitude.

  • Rolfing appointment with Mitchell:

“Have you been in an accident?”

“A few.”

He paused for a moment before asking me to turn on my side.  I clenched my teeth and gripped onto the side of the mat, knuckles turned white.  It was my second appointment.  I knew how painful the next few minutes were going to be as he dug his fingertips into my skin and transfigured my right side, my right hip.

“Are you ok?”

“Yeah”, through gritted teeth.  He made me stand up again, walk up and down the room.  I felt strange.  Off-balance.

“Now look at your belly button.”

I did.  And there it was, about an inch to the left, actually in the centre of my stomach…just where its meant to be.  I didn’t even realise that for all this time, I’d been twisted and scrunched up, weakened around that right hip of mine.  Everything was folded in.

“You can stand taller now,” and he winked at me.

And I could.  I walked out of there, taller than I’ve ever been, but wondering why, why would I be doing that?  Folding myself in like that?

  • Massage with May
The infamous May.  I think everybody on the course had their moment with May.  Appointments, like gold dust, scheduled into a dusty book on the Bamboo bar, weeks before she was available again.  Rumours flying about were that she could read you.  Your past, your presence, acknowledge, feel what was troubling you, what needed to be addressed if you were going to reach your full potential. A bit of chakra chit-chat, and just generally the attentions of somebody very intuitive, motherly, and loving.  Every person I spoke to had a glow about them, and a lot to think about when they emerged from the tiled patio.  May smiling broadly, late ushering in the next expectant customer.  Time with May isn’t really a factor.  If stuff needs working on, talking through, then she does it.

I was supposed to see her a couple of weeks in, but swapped my appointment with Pedro so he could get all his rolfing appointments in…my….what a bunch of self-indulgent, hot-house-orchids we yogis are ; )  So, as it happened, my appointment with May, was on my second to last day.  It would be one of the final memories I take away with me, and really was a wonderful way to bring a wonderful experience to its nearing end.

Unlike everyone else’s experience, May and I were quiet with each other.

I wasn’t shy as such, but with all the stuff that had been coming up, physically, emotionally, psychologically, I guess I was just a bit tired of putting on a smile.  Didn’t want to talk about it anymore.  And as it happened – I didn’t need to.

Straight in at the right hip, side and shoulder.

“Have you been to a dr?”

“No.  I know its a problem though.”

She asked how old I was and then looked away for a bit whilst she calculated something on her fingertips.

“Your hip.  Its 7 years older than you.”

“7…really?  7?”

She nodded and carried on.  I gritted my teeth again.  When we did massages in class Pedro complained that I could never surrender.  Always slightly rigid, in control.  Mitchell says its to do with trust.  But trust of whom?  I want to let go, I want to surrender, I wish I could just let all of this go…but I don’t know what I need to do.

We had some banter when she worked on my left side.  Stretched and supple, with only the occasional niggle…ahh the left side, but when she got to my stomach we fell silent again.  There was a lot of tension, a lot of focus, a lot of pain.  When she dug her fingers deep into certain parts I experienced flash backs.   A car accident I witnessed as a child.  That black car flipping up over the wall as the jitney went tearing past, the screams of the tourists on the pavement beneath it, mum telling us not to look.  And then the intensity eased, and May sat back on her heels, stretched her hands out and sighed, “are you ok?”

“Yeah,” I said, was starting to think about Bhujapadasana and how ridiculous I must look falling backwards everyday, wondering whether the next day, our final day, would be the day that I got it….

I’ve stopped stressing so much about why I think these things, where they come from, what they mean…I’m learning to just let them come to the surface, be there for however long they want to be there and then let them go by.  If memories of car crashes and concerns over my next asana is what arises from a stomach massage, then so be it.  What interested me most was what she said about my hip, and the seven years it had on the rest of me.

She took a long pause as we neared the end of the massage, all the relaxing, and energising neck, head and shoulder stuff, and she talked to me about what she’d read in my body, my energy, my chakras.  And I know that when I say the words “energy” and “chakra” it will turn certain people off reading on.  There I go, turning over to the flower-power side of yoga.  But maybe you can stay with it.  Just as I have done.  If nothing else, it plants a seed, and then at some point, months or years down the line, you read about it again, or hear it in conversation, and your interest in the matter is subtly tweaked.  You learn some other stuff, seemingly completely unrelated, do something that makes you think about it once again…and then who knows, maybe you’ll start to open up to it, and sit there wrapped up in a soft cotton sarong, listening intently to the wise and frank words of a wonderful woman named May.

I was dumbstruck by the way my experiences with Matthew, Mitchell and May, all pointed to the same place of my body.  That right hip, where all the anger’s stored, that right hip that’s seven years older than the rest of me.  Seven years older, seven years.  How the breakthrough I had in that Gestalt group therapy session, was about facing up to a traumatic episode that happened seven years ago.

For seven years I’ve been holding onto that.  Tightening, festering, knotting up in my right hip, physically constricting the way I move, the way my body is.   My relationship with my body, with my self, my relationships with others, my everything.

No wonder I’m fucking angry.  Angry at those that hurt me.  Angry at those that didn’t support me.  Angry that this is all still with me.  Angry at myself for letting it in, and for perpetuating it again and again.  I want to scream FUCK YOU to all of those things, but most of all I want the pain to go away in my right hip…

8 pm

I didn’t realise the time.  Didn’t notice the sun go down.  Have accidentally stood up that lovely Italian chap…

Perhaps this is just how today was meant to be.  A shorter practice, painful hips, chocolate covered fingertips…

No better, no worse…its all ok, just the way it is.


worlds apart

I’m meeting an Italian chap for dinner this evening.  7 pm outside this resort.  We’ll find a bbq somewhere, pick up from where our conversation ended last night.  Its one of those things that I love about travelling – especially independently.  The people you meet, the places you end up, the comforting little routines you paint into your otherwise unconventional days.  It only really happens when you surrender to the mindset of what will be, will be.  A true testament to the benefits of the course I just finished…my first day alone, in a quaint local Thai cafe, and people – kind, friendly people – are approaching me…all smiles, asking if they can join me (in a non-creepy way….)

Do you remember that first blog I ever wrote for The Escape?  Swamped in spreadsheets and insurance polices, lamenting the abandonment of my free spirit?  Well I don’t need that structure anymore to feel safe.  Somewhere between Heathrow terminal 4 and the pier on Koh Tao, I’ve picked up a little bit of faith.  Confidence.  Self-belief.  I believe that things will work out.  If Italian chap doesn’t show up…so what?  I’ve got my thoughts, my space, time to just be.  Wasn’t that one of my objectives?

We talked a lot about polarities on the course.  In fact, it was the Gestalt polarity intro in the first week that triggered my first personal breakdown.  It was one of those – must get back to the bungalow before anyone sees me moments.  The concept of our own selves perpetuating, drawing in negative actions, intrusions…whatever…it had me reeling.  Absolutely reeling.   Eventually it culminated into a much more public breakthrough in one of our final group sessions.  I’m not ready to talk about that just yet, but the polarities of us and our own little universes is something that is following me around, like the terrifying black devil dog in the cafe next door.  He’s like a cross between a Doberman, a rottweiler and…well…Satan.  Great, strong, menacing build, with grey eyes and a weighty chain around his neck.  I hid behind a door when I was first confronted by him, and feared for my jugular.  But with a little time, and a little more contact, I’ve come to realise that he means no harm.  He’s just like all the other dogs, wanting a bit of affection, a companion to hang out with for a bit.  Cautiously, I pet him.  Speak to him.  Am only a little bit frightened when he bares his teeth…When you think about the polarities we have, experience on a daily basis it can get quite overwhelming, frightening even.  Perhaps it’s because in one moment we only experience one polarity, can only feel that way in that particular moment.  As soon as we start to consider, involve some sort of rationalisation, our worlds collapse, because suddenly, in that moment, our polarities are colliding and we no longer know what we feel.

One of my favourite ways to visualise polarity was one evening, sitting on the platform of Bamboo, our favourite restaurant up on the rocks, overlooking Haad Yuan beach.  I was with Pedro – a live life to the full Spaniard – eating our usual tofu burgers and coconut-mocca shakes, when Serge – robotic, here’s 8 million reasons why we can’t do anything, Russian –  joined us.  I sat back for a moment and watched the spectacular display of two polarities colliding right there in front of me.  There was a tense moment at first, when a bewildered and impassioned Pedro confronted one of Serge’s rigid
beliefs.  I’m not sure what it was about now…something like massages being very dayn-gerous or something…and there was an ominous silence hanging in the air, Russian jaw clenched and Spanish arms flailing about expressively…it played out for a minute or two, and suddenly there was a smile, and then another, and relaxed laughter.  Neither of them managed to change the other’s mind.  I don’t even think they really managed to meet in the middle…but in confrontation they discovered an acceptance of each other.

I’m not suggesting there was any conflict between these two, none at all.  I just found it symbolic, and helpful in understanding my own polarities within myself.  How funny it is that within one person, you can have so many personalities who are worlds apart.

The one I’m exploring at the moment is that of connecting with people, and retreating into a solitary place of self.  If Italian chap doesn’t show up, reclusive me will be greatly relieved.  It means I can scurry back up to my room and finish this blog entry.  Eat a chocolate biscuit and settle in for a light-hearted episode of New Girl before going to sleep.  If Italian chap does show up, extrovert me will be very happy indeed.  Someone to laugh with, draw energy from…maybe go for a walk along the beach and grab a beer somewhere.  Live a little for god’s sake.

I struggled with this polarity all through the course.  I’ve spent a LOT of time on my own these past couple of years.  With the Masters, the marathon, and perhaps most significantly of all – bereavement, I’ve created this kind of shell.  A little home for myself.  Just me.  No-one else.  I came to the conclusion some time ago that one can only find happiness from within.  I realise now, that this is only partially true, so in effect – not true at all.  Yes, we must look within ourselves, and be brave and honest about it…but if in doing so, we disconnect from the people that surround us, then we are no closer to knowing our true selves, our true happiness, than if we hadn’t tried any of this soul-searching malarkey at all.

One of the things Matthew repeatedly said….I know, I know.  Matthew this, Matthew that…I haven’t nick-named him Yoda for nothing…is that “you cannot have a relationship with anybody else, beyond the relationship you have with yourself”, and vice versa.  I’ve not fully got my head around all of this yet…good to wrestle with these kind of things…but what I’m taking from it right now, is that we are one and all the same.  If I think back to Brian Cox (believe it or not Quantum Physics, entropy and the Wonders of the Universe was a surprisingly recurrent theme through this journey…and not just because I fancy him…) and all those thoughts of the universe and what presence actually means…then to separate oneself with the intention of acquiring a greater understanding of the “self” seems counter-intuitive.  Crikey.  What a muddle.  Polarities flying about all over the place….thinking about it this much can’t be good for my feeling self ; )

If I take a step back quickly, take a breath, close my eyes, and feel the experience of when this all kind of started to make sense…then this is what it was:

It is the laughter and tears I shared with Sofia; the music sharing, chess-playing and happy star-gazing with Pedro; the heart-to-hearts over healthy porridge with Jo, Janni and Thea; the cups of tea with Naw and Tina; the partner work with Handan doing handstands “today’s the day girl”; the tender displays of affection from Denise the Divine; it’s the moment Matthew sat across from me, looked me in the eye and said, “I’m with you” and I felt the profound strength of inter-human connection, that I was able to experience the collision of two great polarities.  The connection with others, the connection with self.

The circle of trust

18th April 

It’s exactly a year and one day since I ran the London marathon.  All that’s happened since then is flashing before me like a Team America/Rocky V montage.  I remember how it felt the following day, physically crippled, emotionally drained, sitting on my bed, fingers poised over the keyboard.  Desperately wanting to write about it all, but not having a clue where to start – and that was a 5 hour race.  Well 5 hours and 10 minutes to be precise, and its running – one of the most solitary things you can do.  So, what the hell do I do with this month-long intensive?  An experience that was just as much about the people I met and befriended, as it was the time spent on the mat.

I figure if I just wake up each day and write what I feel like writing it will all come out in the end.  I know I want to write.  To what degree of detail I’m not so sure just yet…By getting it all down, by articulating it in the way I feel most comfortable (writing) I feel like its my way of processing (observing) and then letting go…If I don’t write it all down then it just mulls and skulks about in my head, like some sort of dissatisfied exotic creature waiting for a dinner that I don’t have the means to prepare.  Its grace and magnificence, soon becoming snarly and intimidating.  But, that doesn’t mean that I necessarily want to primp and preen this exotic creature and then put it on display in a glass case for everyone to see.  Where’s the grace and magnificence in that?

One of the simplest, and probably most brilliant, things about the course, relied on the time Matthew took in facilitating trust.  And not just Matthew, but the group itself.  How we responded to the personal development exercises, took risks and put ourselves on the line every now and again, having faith that we would be accepted, and not judged by the rest of the group.

He launched straight into it.  On our second day I think.  Paired up and leading people around the room with blind folds on, facing each other and saying exactly what we saw – crooked nose, big tits, dimple in the left cheek.  How we felt about each other, the situation…no likes, or thinks, just feel.  I feel nervous, I feel uncomfortable, I feel trusting, scared, sick, whatever it was that we were feeling.  Learning how to share and accept personal things that we don’t ordinarily share.  It sounds so simple, but honestly it’s not.  I can’t believe how much we sensor ourselves.

I think at the time a few of us were thinking, “wtf is all this about?  We’re meant to be doing yoga aren’t we?”

But as immediately as the next day, I could see what a difference it made to our practice.  We’d just spent the previous afternoon being completely honest with each other, and ourselves, so we could drop any masks or fears that we had.  There was nothing to be afraid of anymore.  Each standing on our mats – this is me, this is my practice, and I know that no-one is here to judge.

Why don’t we do this kind of thing at work, at school, in relationships?  Wouldn’t life be so much more fulfilling, productive if we could strip out all of that self-preservation bull-shit?

Its one of the questions and concerns that came up time and time again.  “But Matthew…” hands raised at question time on Friday lunch-time.  It’s great that we can be this open and share so much with this group of people that we trust, but what about the real world?  What about going back to work (if we have jobs…) our families, friends?  Where bursting out into tears half way through a meeting, fanning our wetted cheeks and saying, “just experiencing the emotion….carry on”; or taking ourselves off to the corner of a room for some calming pranayama and chakra meditation may not be quite so readily accepted…embraced.

“Experiment,” he told us.  Experiment.  Take some time thinking of those you love who are open, supportive of this journey and then try to share…bits and pieces, where and when it feels right – and see what happens.  Don’t expect everyone to understand, or demand that they do.  Be grateful to those that are willing to listen.  Be grateful for those that aren’t.

I have two things to think about when writing this blog.

1) Experimenting with what I’m willing and ready to share.  I’m lucky in that my parents, my close friends, people who have been following this blog seem genuinely interested in what I’ve been getting up to and what my experiences have been thus far, whether they’re yogis or not, but this past month has gone much deeper than what asana I’m currently stuck on…still Bhujapadasana if you must know ; )  It’s all quite raw and revolutionary.  With all the happiness and wonderful things that have come from this – I’ve also got some sites of destruction to clean up, some uncomfortable realities to face up to.

2) Taking into consideration and respecting the circle of trust.  I’ve already asked permission from the group regarding the blog and whether they’re happy with me writing about the experience.  All say yes.  In fact, there was quite a lot of cheeks-burning-brightly-laughter and debate about how certain scenarios would play out in the written word, and all in all there was an inherent trust that whatever I write is coming from a place of love and kindness.  Still, I think, no, I feel like I need to write a disclaimer of sorts.  What I write herein, is purely me.  My projections, my interpretations, my feelings, my thoughts, my story.  I take full responsibility for any judgments that may arise, and promise to listen to and trust my inner conscience of what is fair to share, and what is best left right there, in the floor and walls, of the now empty shala…

17th April

One of the first things I think of when I wake up is – will I do Primary, or will I do moon?

Today was a moon day for me.  I’m not sure why, but meditation is always easier for me when I’m in the mood for moon.  Perhaps it’s because I’m in a more tranquil place – mentally.  The fire and anxiety of Primary series relinquished, resting for a day.

I didn’t get much further than the patch of skin beneath my nose…but it was all I was aware of.  The tingling sensation and heat on my skin only occasionally interrupted by inconsequential meanderings:
“I AM quantum physics!”; “Perhaps I’ll leave out a couple of the postures…”, “I really, really want  some fruit for breakfast…”

I’m still a beginner (do we ever become anything more than that?) but already I can see that Ashtanga is the epitome of tradition: ritualistic, verging on religious at times.  Mysore is Ashtanga Mecca, the sutras – doctrine, preachers and followers riddled with extremists and heretics.  I like the structure.  I like the routine.  I like the discipline.  It contains me, keeps me steady when everything else seems to be falling away, but its tough and gritty, and sometimes you need to be gentle with yourself.  Nurturing.

Outside, on the narrow balcony, I put a thick towel under my mat for extra comfort.  Settled in, enjoying the uncharacteristic feeling of calm.  Primary makes me nervous.  Still, after all these months.  You never know what’s going to come up…

Suryanamaskara A and B start kneeling on the floor.  You gently roll forwards into baby pose, then up into downward facing dog, down into cat pose, and then up into a gentle back band before settling back down, arse on heels, softly breathing.

Matthew designed the sequence with moon days and menstruation in mind.  With his classes 75% women he thought he’d spend some time understanding them a bit more (sigh…).  Sitting in on post-natal, pre-natal – I don’t know – Matthew probably knows more about women than I do…I guess I’m not too fussed about how it came about – just have experience of how it feels.  Its grounding and comforting, working deeply into the hips and lower back.  For someone like me – its perfect.  I can spend time sinking into my hips and warming up my back without having to worry about confusing modifications, and frustrating physiological limitations.  Its fluid.  Regenerating.

In Bali, Prem told us that we should always hold back with Primary.  Think of it as running 5k’s when we’re capable of 10k.  Only run the 10k, when you’re capable of 20.  In theory I understand that.  I think it’s a wonderful way to approach our practice.  But until my hips open, which could take years, Utthita Pars-fuck-onasana, and ALL the Marichyasana’s, are always going to be pushing me up into the half-marathon territory.  I’m ok with that.  It’s the beauty of it all – learning to be patient and respectful of the way you are in this very moment, but to develop an alternative, gentler sequence that compliments primary – well – its genius.  Absolutely genius.

Matthew introduced us to the moon sequence on our first Sunday led class, and then we spent the following week learning it in self-practice with the use of cheat-sheets, committing it to memory, getting it into our bodies.  A few of us panicked two weeks in, when he suggested that perhaps we shouldn’t be cheating anymore.  I woke up early the next day and scribbled each posture down with squiggly stick men.  Thought it looked quite good, until I got to the seated legs-spread wide in front of you pose, where my stick-man appears to have lost control of all his bodily functions – limbs splayed out, in every which way direction.  Unfortunately, my physical execution of that particular part of the series isn’t quite so impressive…

After the first week, we were encouraged to incorporate it into our weekly practice, as we saw fit.  Its only now, that I’m starting to really feel the benefits – the occasional moan of pleasure escaping from my lips, as all that glorious oxygenated blood rushes into the rusted crooks and creases of my not so supple anatomy.  Sometimes…it just feels really fucking good!  And even now, hours later, I feel this warmth inside me…swirling in figure 8’s around my hips and groin.  And not just physically, emotionally and mentally too.

Jeremy, Humphrey, Noe…all the people/mentors that helped me through my marathon injury last year told me that anything that felt good…was good.  It’s all part of the healing process.  So today, I switch off my mind, and surrender to it.

It’s a new dawn…

April 16th.

Woke up at 4 am.  Agitated, ill-at-ease, Denise sleeping soundly in the twin bed next to me.

I began my “fuck you” mantra.  Not very yogic, you may think, but bear with me.  Fuck you x, fuck you y….fuck you, fuck you, FUCK YOU!

I began to feel a sensation in my right hip, something stirring, releasing, surges of blood rushing in.  It climaxed, with a state of calmness, a state of comfort, and then all the warm, loving emotions came washing in – I found some clarity.

Our goodbye was terrible.  It was shitty.  No wonder I felt pissed off, cheated…I never said what I wanted to say, I never got to tell him how I felt.  Three of us left Koh Phangang about an hour after our final class with Matthew Sweeney, made our way to the ferry for Koh Tao.

I’d cried on the shoulder of almost everyone when I left, Janni stating that their objective for the past week had been “to keep Laura hydrated”.

“It’s ok.”  Matthew said, winking at me with those giant blue eyes of his.  I’m allowed to cry.  But jeezus!  When will it stop…I knew that this final farewell would be the most difficult for me…

Even though we were only staying a couple of resorts apart on Koh Tao, I felt that our paths diverted once the ferry stopped.  He to catch up with old friends, me to find some peace and solitude, let the intensity of the past month unfold and settle.  I’m beginning to listen to how the body feels.  I’m beginning to understand that truth is not what we think, but what we make contact with once the thinking stops.  This truth, I wished I’d shared then and there, instead of the awkward encounters along the beach, half detached, half connected.  I sat up in bed.   I have one more chance.  One more chance before he leaves to take this small but wonderful opportunity to put all this stuff I’ve learnt into practice.  Express myself, be vulnerable, have faith, share what my truth is…

I slept through to sunrise, and woke up with Nina Simone’s, It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day in my head, and gathered my things, trying not to wake the sleeping Denise.

Yoga clothes on, mat rolled up and in bag, hand towel at the ready, head phones on, Shiva postcard bearing my neatly scrawled truth tucked into the cover of James Meek’s, The People’s Act of Love.   What will be, will be.  Have faith.

The Shiva post card was a gift in our first week from Sofia, the Argentinian she-warrior, whose flashing blue eyes and blonde hair, screamed PITTA PITTA with fire and energy bursting through every movement, every gesture.  My introduction to her, was a South American kiss on my untrained cheek.  “Oh” I tried to disguise my uncomfortable English flinch, and laughed to myself as I saw Janni, from Stratford, do the same thing.  I wasn’t to know then, that particular moment was going to be the source of stomach-churning laughter over the coming weeks.  Sofia, my lovely Sofia, did what I’ve never been very good at doing, and put herself out there…declared our friendship as something special, with a gift – Shiva, propped up on the bed side table, next to the mirror.  It seemed only right that I take my lesson from her, fill in the blanks, and pass it on.

The morning was fresher than normal.  A light breeze brushing the hair off my neck, layer of white clouds, softening the sun’s strength.  I clutched my flip flops in my hands so I could feel the sand in between my toes, water lapping up against my ankles.

It was barely 7 when I walked past his accommodation.  As expected, he wasn’t there.  I’d stop by on my way back.  No need to speak, or make a fuss.  Just want to hand him the postcard and share one final hug.

I mounted the cement bridge, thin layer of sand exfoliating my skin; clambered across the rocks, under the volleyball net, shook off the piece-of-coral-stuck-in-foot twinge, and climbed the steps.  Up and up, winding around the View Point bungalows, until I came to the grassy clearing, framed with Bougainvillea.  Shaded and cool, a surprising absence of mosquitos, I breathed in and smiled, unraveled my mat, and laid her out facing away from the sun, towards the sea.  Second day of self-practice, a lot on my mind, never sure how it will be…

Meditation.  Fucking hard work.  In the shala we were taught to sit still…so very still…and focus on the small patch of skin beneath the nose, above the lip.  Be aware of the sensation of air brushing against it, beads of sweat forming, anything, as long as we were observing that small patch of skin, and not planning our days, singing songs in our heads, twitching, flinching, thinking up a hundred and ten ways of how we can make our escape.  To date, in yogic terms, it is probably one of the biggest challenges I face.  Sitting with yourself, letting go of the ego is painful…I mean hip-tearing, foot-cramping, chest-constricting painful.  In my first session my body was screaming, I mean literally screaming at me, “GET OUT!  GET THE FUCK OUT OF HERE!”  Matthew says that 95% of the pain is psychological.  Five minutes had gone by.  By the end of the course, I was sitting relatively comfortably for 20-30 minutes, exploring various patches of skin all over my body.  Today, in the solitude of my practice, out in such an open space, I found my mind wandering, tickled by the marching feet of a scattering of ants.

What room is he in?  Will he be at breakfast when I go back?
STOP!   Back to the patch of skin….

What if I don’t get to see him?

Sweat is forming, tiny bubbles, right there…

Should I even give it to him?  Maybe I should just let it go…fucking ants!  

Patch of skin, patch of skin, patch of skin…

Ah, fuck it.  Will try again tomorrow.

Chant.  Standing at the top of mat, hands confidently pressed together in front of my heart space.  Gently rocking backwards and forwards on the balls of my feet…until I settle, and close my eyes.

Ohhhhhhhhhmmmmmmmm (starting at the base of my body, and reverberating up through my stomach and chest, top of mouth vibrating….)  Deep breath.

Vande gurunam chara….blah blah…vinde

sand….something….sukhave bodhe

nihsreyase errrr….janga…..something….mane.

samsara HALAHALA mohasantyai.

ABAHU pur….something…ram

blah blah

blah blah

pranamami patanjalim.

OM

Must learn the bloody thing!

Asana:  Bloody brilliant.  Breathing strong, fluid motion, every twist and fold massaging and getting right in there on the right hip.  Can it be?  Can it be, that my “fuck you” chant is beginning to take effect, and my hip is opening?  Seven years of clogged up and fermenting anger…releasing?

I reached the finale, elbows pressing firmly into the mat and grass, as I slowly lifted my knees up into a half headstand.  No wall, no-one there to spot me, just the strength in my hands, elbows and stomach keeping me steady, keeping me upright.  Fuck me!  I nearly did it.  Closing up my practice I lolled myself back into Shavasana, smile on my face, have faith Laura, have faith.  

_______________________________________________________________

He wasn’t there.

I walked up to reception.  Asked what room he was in, hoping he hadn’t checked out already.  The woman opened the checking-in book in front of me, so I could scrawl down the list of names until I saw him.

“18.  Is it over there?”  I pointed down a path away from the beach, and she nodded her head.

12, 13, 14, 15…I held my breath.  Why was I so nervous?  Stay with it, stay with the emotion.  There it was.  18.  Soulless, no indication of him.  Curtains rolled up, recently cleaned perhaps.  I breathed again, and felt the nerves transform and tighten, moving up into my chest.

What will be, will be I repeated to myself, over and over, walked on by, didn’t knock.  Headed back to our bungalow.

I don’t know why I needed this particular scenario to reach its end before I could finally start to write again.  Perhaps it was the defining factor of what type of story this would be.  I know now, that this is not a love story, not in the Bridget Jones and Pride and Prejudice sense of the word anyway.

“Just two words, Peanut-butter & Toast.  Denise x”  Read the note on the locked door.  I pressed rewind on my i-pod, “It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day…” and made my way towards the cafe.  Ordered some toast, a banana shake, told Denise it didn’t work out…didn’t get the chance to tell him how I felt.

She patted me on the hand, and we decided to move seats, up onto the patio, away from the mosquitos, overlooking the street.  We talked about fate, and all those other things hippy yogis like to discuss in cafes, copy of The Power of Now resting between us, on the metal table top.  She was quoting something to me, about Westerners I think, and their restlessness, inability to ever be really happy…took a big mouth-full of peanut butter on toast, looked up, and there he was.  Backpack on, yoga mat sticking out, astride a rusty red scooter.

We both jolted upright and called after him…”Stop!”  Stop for fuck’s sake!  And he looked at us, startled at first, then smiled, and pulled up to the side of the road.

I grabbed my bag, frantically sifted through the pages of my book to find the Shiva post card, and jumped down the steps.  Ran, barefoot, across the dusty street, clad in sweaty yoga clothes, a redness in my cheeks…

“I wanted to give you this,” I thrust the post-card into his hands, “I tried to find you this morning…”

He smiled at me, turned it over, just for a second, and we interlocked in one final hug, kissed each other on the cheek, “goodbye, take care, good luck!” and I left him.  Scurried back to my little seat, eyes ablaze, Denise waiting expectantly.

“Fate!” she exclaimed.

Yes.  Fate indeed.  This story is not a love story.  Just as I said at the beginning of this journey.  It was never meant to be.  The first line of my scrawled truth simply states, “meeting you has changed me.”  As meeting Matthew, as meeting the wonderful group on the course has changed me.  So why all the drama, you ask.  It wasn’t a declaration of romantic love…it was much more than that.  The last four weeks have been mental.  Absolutely fucking mental!  Now he is gone, Shiva in hand, the earth is beginning to settle.  My final gesture was the markings of a new dawn, a new day…and I can start to write again.

Bit of a pause…

If Bali was about letting go, then Thailand is about embracing life and existing in the now.   Its Saturday afternoon, almost a week since the induction day, and this is the first time I’ve had to really reflect.   I’ve opted out of an Ashtangi day trip to Haad Rin, because I was beginning to feel a bit of an ache.  Not only deep in my hips and sides, rest day is when the body feels the week’s practice, but in my fingertips and head – I need to write.  With all the focus on the present moment, and disengagement of the voices in my head, I was beginning to wonder whether writing and yoga can really go hand in hand.  In meditation Matthew tells us not to tell a story.  We can see something, feel something, watch it go by.  Observe.  Isn’t that interesting.  Let it go.  Back to the focal point…the spot that draws you into silence, making contact with the self.

I’m forever creating stories.  Finding words and phrases that capture that exact moment, what it could mean, where it could go, how it relates to my skin, to the person across the room.  I think of that as creativity, and now I wonder whether I have that all wrong.  Whether it’s just my ego behind yet another convincing mask.  Before I write anything, I ponder and daydream.  Suspend myself in a space where the past collides with the present, future on the fringe.  You have to want to know what the end will look like.  It’s everything that enlightenment isn’t.

Does that mean that I’m juxtaposing this adventure, by documenting it all?  Am I simultaneously getting closer, and tearing myself apart?

I guess it probably is.  Just like everything else in life appears to be a constant battle of tug of war, just to keep the semblance of balance.  I could spend months, years, the rest of my life trying to make sense of all of this, or I could just stop thinking about it completely and listen to what my body needs.

The past week has brought me closer to the “now” than any other experience in my life.  As much as I want to share the details, create those stories I’m so prone to do, right now, it will have to be enough just to say that’s how I feel.

For every thought, there’s a pause.  For all the wonderful energy I’ve drawn from this group on the course, there’s time (this afternoon) that I need to withdraw.  Clothes are hanging up to dry on a clothes horse in the corner of my room, a ginger cat is incessantly chatting mid-stretch outside my door.  The fan is seamlessly swaying from side to side, a band of sunlight burning a hole in the sheets on my bed.  The past and future that have been parked to one side need to come out for a bit.  In shedding light on that dense shadow it breaks apart.  It doesn’t need to be such hard work.

I’m starting to see that now.  That those things you hate about yourself, the incidents that have left their scars, aren’t so terribly important afterall.  None of that is you.  Other people and their actions, paranoia, misunderstandings, embarrassments, moral questions, hate, love, all those vivid emotions…what are they, unless they are right here, right now, in this exact moment?

It doesn’t need to be so hard.

If Bali was about letting go, then Thailand is about embracing life, and existing in the now… I could summon my voice, and let it chatter away about the people I’ve met, the colour of the sea, take you on a journey from the moment the gecko sits on my shoulder and wakes me up, to the trek across the rocks, up to the shala, through my yoga class, the teaching methods of Matthew Sweeney, the poses I’m learning, the meditations I fidget through, the conversations over Pad Thai, coconut shakes melting on the table tops.  I could tell you about jump-throughs, and the moon sequence, the drama over my intestines, and lack of movement therein.  I could share the bombastic laughter that had me rolling off the mat, the harmonising of many cultures by candlelight.  I could moan about the mosquito bites and sea lice, exaggerate the elf-like creatures that have caught my eye.  I could describe what it felt like in that moment on the first day, when I sat cross-legged and knew without a doubt that this experience was going to be one of the best times of my life.  I want to share, I really do, but when I close my eyes, all I see is a blank space.

I hope you don’t mind that I take this time, well all the time I need, to pause for a bit.  I will want to write again soon – it’s in my nature.  I need to  –  to observe, to feel and to walk on by.  But right now, I’m going to sink a little deeper into this space, listen to the passage of my breath and enjoy this sensation of warmth right here, right now, in my centre.

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Excited about Induction Day

17th March 2012

6.46 am – awake and a little bit groggy.  TODAY is induction day!  Well, at least that’s what I think it is.  All I know is that at 4pm 20 ashtanga students are going to meet in the restaurant of the Sanctuary and officially begin our month-long intensive.

It’s been incredibly difficult to maintain the discipline of self-practice over the past week, but I’m not going to be too hard on myself.  I’m recovering well from the cuts and grazes, bruising, jelly-fish stings and the cold is trickling to its end.   I’ve done three nights of deepening meditation, and the ego is seemingly under control.

Most importantly of all, is that excitement I feel about getting back on the mat.   Coming away, and committing myself to all this yoga, there was always that risk that I wouldn’t take to it.  That after a few weeks, I’d decide that I’d had enough, and want to just travel instead.  So waking up today and yearning for that feeling when you stand upright at the top of the mat, pull upwards and inwards, press your hands into prayer position in front of your heart space, breathe in, close your eyes….let the world disappear and think only of your breath, is not only a great relief – it’s a bit of revelation too.

Yinker, one of the meditation guys here, has led two of the sessions I’ve been to.  We get comfortable on a mat, rest our heads on a pillow, all facing inwards, in a circle, towards the centre of the room.  Eyes are closed, you wait in silence in the darkening room for his voice to begin.  Deep, slow, melodic, he takes us on a journey.  The story of his childhood, the wonder of our breath.  How everything we have in life is a gift.  Our hands and feet, our hips and heart space, eyes and throat, breathing into all of this, the top of our heads, temples, back of our heads, its ok, we’re all safe.  We’re all safe, here, in this space.  Breathing into everything we have.  A heavy blanket rests between myself and my imagination and immediately I sink, deeper and deeper, into this warm, blank space.  I can barely hear him anymore, just feel the vibrations of his African words rolling through the floorboards, the soft wooden chant of the didgeridoo.  He leaves us there, with the sounds of the birds and crickets.

7.41 am – the cafe is empty except for the bedraggled bodies of three American kids who haven’t gone to sleep.  It’s difficult to ignore their fight against their pending comedowns.  I’d forgotten about the Koh Phangang party scene.  Travellers arriving from Koh Samui, eyes ablaze, hearts racing.  “Are you coming to the party?” a French girl called out to me…God no, it’s 10 o’clock, I’d just left Sam, clutching onto his fasting pills and strict schedule, Gabriela sleep-walking back to her room.   Me – I had a pair of ear plugs at the ready – it’s a big day tomorrow.

9.21 am – back at the internet cafe.  Yoga clothes folded neatly, fresh from the laundry.  Still spaced out from last night’s meditation.  Amanda and Gabriela are too.    Yinker says that everything is a gift.   Waking up this morning, feeling excited about getting back on the mat…I totally get what he means.  Yoga’s a part of me now.   What a fabulous gift.

The Beach?

I’m in yogic paradise…a hippy heaven…or a character in Alex Garland’s The Beach, I can’t decide.

I arrived on Haad Thien beach two days ago.  Battered and bruised from a roadside accident on Koh Samui, still hungover from Bangkok, an explosive head-cold rendering me humourless and antisocial – not quite the vision of health and radiance I‘d anticipated for this stint of my journey.

Still, the breath-taking beauty of this place would cut through anything.  We arrived on a red paper-mache boat, the hand steered propeller spinning perilously behind us, shrouded in an environmentally unfriendly brown smog.  Ooohs and ahhhs, and erratic bouts of laughter escaped we three passengers of disbelief.  What did we do to deserve this wonderful place?

The turquoise water smacked the side of the boat, dampening our skin with a cooling white spray.  The island stretches high, with its hills of greenery, pulsing with a positive, life-affirming energy.  I was impatient to get settled into one of the many clusters of bungalows scattered up and down the waterfront.

The Sanctuary, Haad Tien resort full, or WAY out of my price range, I requested to leave my backpack by reception and made the trek up the rocks, past the Muay Thai bootcamp, and down towards Haad Yuan.  By the time the 5th place rejected me, “sorry, full”, I felt that burning sensation of frustrated tears behind the eyes.  I wasn’t well.  The mid-day sun and exertion was disorientating.  I sat down for a bit to catch my breath.  Closed my eyes, ujjuyi breathing, the gentle, deep rattle at the back of my throat.  Listened to the sound of the waves melodically unfurling up and down, against the sand, slowly awakening the Island-girl in me.   The sea is healing.  Its waters, its air, its motion.  I could sit there for days just listening to it moving.  But must find somewhere to sleep.

Finally, a small wooden hut available: dark, but relatively spacious, a single fan smoothly rotating, geckos the size of komodo dragons scuttling through holes in the floor.  Brilliant – I’ll take it.  Passport copied, down-payment settled, all I needed to do now, was trek back up the rocks, and pick up my backpack.  Oh – my backpack, weighted down by the thick novels I’ve brought with me.  How unbelievably grateful I was to bump into Sam, Salmanyek Sam, who’s about to fast and detox.  “I’ll carry your bag if you like?”

“Are you sure?”  I tentatively questioned…don’t give him too much space to retract for god’s sake.  It might be the death of me.

“Absolutely!”  So, off we went again.  Sweating and panting up and down the rocks, my thighs were beginning to tremble, and the fever was really starting to set in, but with Sam there and his generosity of spirit, I knew that in a few short moments I could finally stop everything and just relax.

We bumped into Gabriella, the third person from the paper mache boat.  Her beaming smile and Chilean enthusiasm lifted the final remnants of exhaustion-induced apathy, and all the excitement of being here, being on this beautiful island, came flooding in.  Bikini on, water bottle in tow, we trekked back over the rocks (oh my – I wasn’t expecting this) and settled in for an afternoon of swimming and drinking coconut shakes, courtesy of the Sanctuary.

*             *             *             *             *

15th March 2012

6 am – awake and restless.  Waiting for the sun to come up so I can venture out to the beach.  Sneezing lots, with headache, but don’t seem to mind so much anymore.  Two days until the intensive starts…SURELY I’ll recover by then.  Will try doing some yoga.  Still traumatized by the sweaty horror-show of self-practice in Bangkok shoe box, roll out my mat outside.  Ahhh – isn’t this nice.  Slowly warming up, gently stretching into my practice, congestion starting to ease up… AH!  Mosquito frenzy around every inch of bare flesh…perhaps I’ll do it later…

7.30 am – sitting on the steps, watching the waves crash against the sand.  No-one around, except for a few people setting up shop, a kid playing with a dog, a lonesome man with a suitcase waiting for a water taxi.

8 am – mmmmm, porridge and bananas for breakfast – with a fresh coconut.  LIFE IS GOOD : )  Oh, wait a sec, is that Matthew Sweeney over there?  I cower behind my book – a ridiculous feeling of guilt sets in.  Why for god’s sake?  Is it the teacher/student yes sir-no sir inferiority complex I suffer from, or simply not wanting to intrude on what is most probably his time before the course starts?  If we pass each other do I introduce myself?  Or do I just feign ignorance?

9 am – time for a swim.  Beautiful, wonderful, refreshing sea!  Waves crash, crash down on me!  I venture towards the sun, arms reaching and pulling through the strong tide.  How liberating!  I glance back to the distant land, smile to myself, yes this is heaven!  And then I think of The Beach.  How similar this scene could be to when the shark strikes, and reality comes tearing in.  What would I do out here if something happened?  I turn back, riding and tumbling with the waves back into shore.  Caught out by a sudden surge, I fall, face first, breaking the surface glimpsing the gentle undulations of a white, translucent cloud.  Pain, unbearable pain, as it folds its venom across my eyes, nose, forehead.  I start to panic.  Clambering to shore, can’t see.  Is it the venom, or the salt water?  Not many people are around, do I ask for help?  Is somebody meant to piss – on my face?  Somehow I make it back to my room, burning welts forming in fine lines, like the lashings of a poisonous whip.  I weep.  The frightened tears of a child in a pain they don’t understand.  And then I breathe.  Ujjayi breath.  The deep, soothing rattle at the back of my neck.  Jeremy Knowles, a school friend, swam 30 miles from Abaco to Nassau when he was 16 years old.  He was stung many times, all over his body, and face.  He was ok.  I was going to be ok.  The tears stopped.

11 am – Recuperating with three chocolate balls and a cup of Wellbeing leaves, in the Tea Temple.  The chocolate balls are glorious, absolutely glorious.  I like the quiet, welts are going down.

1 pm – lunch with Gabriella on the rocks.  Hilarious conversations about life and love.

6 pm – Meditation in the Buddha Temple.  Free sessions every night, with different styles, different guides.  This time its Kitran.  Guitars and chants, mantras and singing, sometimes in English, sometimes in Sanskrit.  English cynicism aside, I have to say I loved it.  Not all that different from drunkenly singing and swaying with family and friends to The Fairytale of New York, at Christmas time.  Something I’m learning about meditation is that it’s not something that can be taught.  It’s not some spiritual mystery that takes monkhood to uncover.  There’s this abundance of channels all around us.  The sounds of nature, the 50th lap in a pool, singing your heart out to your favourite song, sitting in the dark watching the flames of a candle…writing this blog in a quiet corner of a cafe.  We just can’t always recognise it as such….sometimes it takes someone to point it out to us.

8.40 am – eating breakfast again…in that quiet cafe.  Looking out to sea, and wondering whether I should brave the waters again…