amazing
Body Image, Self-esteem

And Exhale

Wow. I’ve just got back from Exhale festival. It was another wonderful experience this year. There is so much to process from the weekend. So many feelings, ideas and inspirations are running through my head. Yesterday I had the honour of running a body image talk. It was to my great delight that a packed barn of men and women came together to share, discuss and listen to what I had to say. If I think back to three years ago when I first publicly talked about my eating disorder I realise how far i’ve come. It’s still hard and emotional to talk about but this time there were no tears just big smiles. I just want to say a HUGE thank you to each person who showed up, your presence was greatly appreciated. And to those who shared thoughts and feelings in the circle thank you for being brave. Thank you to my partner Gerard for being there, supporting me and always believing in me, even when I struggle to.

I remember wishing the ed had never happened to me. Now I realise it’s one of my greatest gifts. When I was ill I NEEDED to hear and see stories of recovery, that there was a way out, that I had a hope to be back to myself. It is this that pushes me to keep talking about it and to keep sharing because I know that if it makes a difference to one person then that is fucking amazing.

There is far too much pressure on people to look a certain way, to attain to an ideal that is unachievable for most. We are all unique, that is what makes us so special. We all have something to offer this world, to share and a unique inner strength. It’s so important to appreciate all that we can DO and all that our bodies do for us. The image stuff, well it’s there but you are perfect just as you are. If you want the cake then eat the cake, life is too short not to. I really worry for the younger generations growing up in a world where social media is at their fingertips. With constant expectations about how you ‘should’ look then how we can we ever match up to it if you don’t achieve it?

I did some powerful work with Mark Walsh yesterday on yoga for social change. It was thought provoking and timely. I want to see people being kinder to each other and most of all kinder to themselves. We need to have communities and support, not segregation, isolation and wars. I want to help people who are suffering with body image issues, whatever that may be. I need to use all I have learnt, keep sharing and develop ways for actionable change. It’s not enough to say ‘love your body’, if only it was that simple right?

So thank you to each and every person who I spoke to this weekend and Carl & Darren for making Exhale festival possible. The sharing, connecting, love and community had a powerful presence and i’m sure a lasting effect on everyone. Lastly but by no means least as I write this I think of my wonderful parents who looked after me when I was ill. You encouraged me to keep fighting and to always keep learning, thank you.

 

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Uncategorized, Yoga

Being Present

To be present. What does it actually mean? I am trying to figure my way through it at the moment. Should I have to try to be more ‘present’? I think so, sometimes. When I arrive on my mat I sit still and breathe, I am present. When I start to move the mind often wanders into a narrative of “oh that’s tight still” or “will I balance this time”. Often I am making judgments on myself or layering on a few expectations.

What I love about this practice is how much it teaches me. I learn humility, patience (sometimes), aprigraha (non grasping) and that I need to just sit in my stuff. I don’t actually have to run away from it, rather accept it and lessen the grip of judgments on myself. In class this morning Calli said ‘just feel’ and I felt something let go inside. I moved away from the judgments to just being there, feeling my way into whatever I was doing.

I notice the lack of being in the moment off the mat even more so. Walking out of class earlier I’m straight away on my phone checking Instagram, the sun shines down on me, I hear my boyfriend’s voice “be more present Alice” and put the phone away. I need to remind myself regularly to stop multi-tasking. To commit my attention to the task in hand. That’s one of the things I love about teaching. I am fully absorbed in the moment, nothing else enters my consciousness apart from what is happening in front of me, the students moving & breathing together.

So I’m making a commitment to myself to ‘just be’ a little more. Starting with bringing more meditation into my practice. The physical asanas are one small part of the wonder that is yoga. I feel the time is right more than ever for me to explore the others limbs of this amazing path. The time is now.

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Body Image, Uncategorized

Learning To Love Myself

When I was in the midst of an eating disorder I felt totally detached from my body. It became something to punish.  The habits and rituals formed to ensure the mind felt safe at the expense of my body and my life.

Growing up I barely gave a moment’s thought to what I ate or the size of my jeans.  Once I reached 17 I began to re-think my regular chocolate bar breakfast.  Amongst my peers suddenly a chocolate laden meal didn’t seem the best idea.  Still, my weight and body image hardly factored into my conscious.

When I found myself at University, 5 hours away from home and my friends I began to panic.  I felt uncomfortable and like I didn’t belong.  Going out and getting drunk on alcopops was the thing to do.  I had to cook for myself properly.  It became so much easier to eat junk food, after all, I was in control of the food shop.  Quickly I began to see a whole packet of biscuits as something I needed to finish.  After that I would probably eat more chocolate.  Sure enough these eating habits coupled with no exercise and drinking made me put on weight.  Suddenly I wasn’t in control of my body or my hunger.  I ignored the feeling of being full and continued to eat more.  By the first term of Uni I had put on over a stone and felt out of control and uncomfortable.  I obviously didn’t understand that the way I was eating had become a way to cope, to feel safe.

Going on a diet felt like the perfect solution.  Restricting my eating and being more selective of what I ate began to work.  Yet this path was slippery and once I was on it I slipped all the way to Anorexia Nervosa.  There was this feeling of victory over my mind and body.  I could control my eating habits and therefore please my mind.  Once I had this nailed I could just focus on not eating.  I trained myself to eat so little that I switched off hunger pangs.  My routine and rituals were my safe places.  I felt so clever and powerful to have found a new way to eat.  As my weight fell I felt temporarily happier.  There’s this place where you’ve lost weight so people compliment you.  It’s the norm to congratulate weight loss right?  Like being a smaller version of ourselves is the best thing.  Like our happiness should be measured on whether we can wear a smaller size skirt?

But then there’s this point where the compliments stop.  Where people start asking you why you don’t cook anymore?  Why you don’t come out anymore?  Why your heater is constantly on?  You retreat further inside yourself, don’t take away my routine.  If anyone gets in the way of the rituals you get so upset.  You feel so loathsome.  You just want to return to ‘normal’, to your safe place.  At this point I stopped looking in the mirror.  Weight loss was a daily occurrence, clothes fell off me.  Punishing my body felt so good.   Pushing the wheels on my bike, running another mile all felt like I was running away from myself and my mind.

It was only once I admitted that maybe I had a problem that I realised quite how much my habits had become ingrained.  I didn’t like how I looked, yet anything was better than going back to feeling out of control.  I didn’t know it then but I would have to go on huge journey to re-educate myself, to learn to love myself and to stop listening to a voice that wanted to hurt me.  Along with re-introducing foods into my diet I had cognitive behavioural therapy.  I started to understand that my new way of living wasn’t helping me at all.  That in-fact my way of coping was to hurt myself more than I had ever known.  I had to learn to accept my flaws and to be more kind to myself.  I had to stop seeing food as the enemy and re-educate my brain that it was a necessity and something to be enjoyed.

Putting weight back on was a gradual but essential part to recovery.  As I began to eat more nutrients I re-found my energy and my motivation.  I would still be referred to as the ‘skinny’ one.  Yet I had to look beyond my body and know that with a healthy mind comes a healthy body.  As I felt better I reignited my friendships, the desire to talk to men, to go out and to have fun, just like any other 20 year old.

When I was ill I was so unhappy, I truly hated myself.  As I worked through my issues I began to be release these negative thoughts.  I saw my body as something to take care of and to love.  When my periods returned I was so relieved to feel that my body was healing.  As I began to feel physically stronger my mental strength and resilience started to build.

We live in a world where people are obsessed with weight, body image, diets, clean-eating, the list goes on.  Yet we forget that each of us has their natural size and shape that’s what makes us varied and beautiful.  It can be so easy to be preoccupied with attaining a ‘better’ version of yourself.  But perfection doesn’t exist.  You get to your goal and then what?  What comes next?  Because unless you learn to love yourself and your being then you will never be satisfied.

A huge part in my recovery was regaining my sense of self-worth.  A friend once said “Alice you need to love yourself before others can love you”.  She was right because I needed to discover that I was worthy of a healthy life, a healthy body and mind and ultimately was loveable.  I would never be purposefully mean to others so why would I do it to myself?  As I’ve become stronger both physically and mentally my body image doesn’t factor into my day to day.  Of course I have days when I feel happier than others but that’s normal.  What’s important is that I know my self-worth and that I am kind to myself and those around me.

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Adventure, Self-esteem, Uncategorized, Wellbeing

I am Fearless

Today I feel fearless. I saw this photo below of me surfing in Indonesia in 2010. I got a helping push onto the wave but I said ‘yes’ to it, paddled for it, saw the mound coming towards me and I went for it. Over the years my fear of taking bigger waves on my own has just grown and grown rendering me unable to just ‘go’. My mind has built up a block that feels impossible to push beyond.
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Today I had a conversation about regretting giving up gymnastics as a child. I left because I felt inferior, not good enough and jealous of those around me who performed better in the competitions. Back flips, handstands and the splits became distant memories of the past.

Today I practiced handstands in the park. I lent that little bit further over my shoulders and I felt more air time than ever before. That little fear point lingering close! But I’m not fearful of falling backwards. Maybe it’s the fear of actually holding it, of being suspended in air for a moment with one way or the other to go.

Today I went to calisthenics and instead of thinking ‘I can’t’ I thought ‘I can’. I can do this. If I can’t quite get there I will damn well try. I will try and just see what happens. Because I am here and I am strong and I am fearless.

Today I spent time with my partner and enjoyed every moment of it. We drank tea and ate cake and kissed and connected. I used to feel fear, fear of the ‘what if’ and the questioning myself, him and us. Then I realised that I didn’t have to feel this way. Over years I had become conditioned to ignore my feelings and push them away. Now I know I have a choice to embrace this man and everything we have. That we are a partnership and it’s ok to be vulnerable together. That we learn from each other. That nothing is perfect. That relationships ebb and flow. But that we have love and each other and the space to grow together.

I’ve allowed myself to feel inadequate, never quite good enough. Any success always lined with a thin layer or anxiety. Sometimes feeling like my own worst enemy and critic. In jobs where I looked to others to hold responsibility. To think I couldn’t do something. It’s incredibly exhausting and demoralising. The constant loop of challenge, lack of attempt, feelings of failure wore me down. I’ve always noticed improvements in others before recognising my own.

These fears don’t disappear over night. But jeez Alice you can do it. You are more than capable. You are fearless. Small steps, however minute are so much more motivating than taking the ‘safe’, comfortable option. Appreciate how far you have come, and inch by inch just try, you will never know how it feels otherwise.

So thank you for today. Right now I feel fearless.

 

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Love, Uncategorized, Wellbeing, Yoga

Exhale 2015 – A Tale of Community

As the sun shone on our faces and kissed our shoulders we settled in to begin welcoming the yogis and yoginis to Exhale 2015.  Wristbands on, schedule in hand the guests were ready to take on the weekend that was.

The festival opened with a grounding class from co-founder Carl who brought everyone together in a strong dynamic vinyasa practice.  Friday afternoon was then a plethora of yoga to suit all tastes from high energy partner work in acro to chilled restorative via the soft tones of Roberto.  No good festival would be complete without a campfire and the man to take on the melodies was Michael, a musical maestro who lulled us all with his joyful tunes.  As the party came alive we danced, shaked, hugged and grooved to Charlie Dark and Warrior One late into the night.

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Photo – Ana Cuba

Left feeling a little creaky after a night’s sleep in a tent?  Well it’s no problem at a yoga festival because after one session of yoga or a massage and you’re ready to roll again (quite literally in some cases!).  Carl helped us to open the wings of our hearts in a fun and uplifting practice, including a partner plank off and working with trust in balancing postures.

After refuelling on Pip & Nut nut butters, sourdough bread and an array of delicious cereals the troops were ready to bring on Saturday.  For those seeking the sweat-life there was Hot Pod yoga set inside a barn and Run Dem Crew’s version of a trail run around our neighbouring campsites.  The families received an unexpected sight as 20 lycra clad runners bounced past them!

With Friday’s theme of ‘togetherness’ running through the festival air, Saturday sought to strengthen the bonds being made between old friends and new.  The main barn was packed to receive a multi-teacher led class from the Boys of Yoga.  Whilst Chloe Brotheridge worked to hypnotise a room full of 50 people open to exploring new ways of thinking.

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Photo – Ana Cuba

The inquisitively titled “What the f**k is yoga” proved to be a beautifully bonding session on bhakti yoga; yoga of devotion and the heart.  A lot of happy, smiling yogis came out of the two hour workshop with Jim.

As light turned to dark the steady buzz that had been growing throughout the day erupted into a dazzling array of day-glow neon!  Yes that’s right, Black & Light yoga.  Part yoga, part rave this class had the barn shaking and the tunes pumping.  It was quite the spectacle for those partial to a bit of neon!  The rave set the scene for the rest of the night as Warrior One took to the decks.  Yoga, like life, is all about balance.  And rightfully so there was a well-stocked bar serving up craft beers and wine.  For those looking for a headache free wake-up there was the most incredible café, aptly named Inhale with probably the best range of Pukka teas a tea lover could ask for.

Early birds were treated to a festival version of the ever popular Morning Gloryville on Sunday.  Those of us still chilling in the campsite could feel the pulsation of a heavy bassline and watch in delight as people danced in and out of the barn creating a colour haze to the morning.

Still riding high on the energy from Friday and Saturday the camp were treated to a chilled Sunday of, of course more yoga, a ‘tug of love’ and a ‘switched on’ session with Nick Jankel, inviting us to explore the head, heart and mind.

Keeping in the tone of unity and comradery we snuggled up into the main barn as night fell, ready for the gong bath.  If you ever had the pleasure of singing mantras with 65 other people you will know what it’s like to have goosebumps all over and feel the reverberations resounding in your chest.  To round off what was truly an epic weekend the whole festival were treated to live traditional Indian music.  People cuddled and hot chocolate was consumed as eyes and ears were fixated on the two musicians.

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Photo – Ana Cuba 

We were lucky enough to witness a full moon on Saturday which illuminated the whole site.  It’s positive energy could be felt throughout as it shone down on us.

As Monday rolled in there were hugs all round as people made their way home.  Eyes shined a little brighter than before, hearts felt fuller and smiles were aplenty.  Building a sense of community in a festival is no easy task, yet Exhale held the space and those within it so well, it’s certainly something special to remember.

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Photo – Ana Cuba

If this little tale of Exhale 2015 tickled your fancy then guess what? Exhale 2016 isn’t far off! To check out the line up and nab yourself an early bird ticket head to www.exhalefestival.com. I will see you there!

 

 

 

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Adventure, Love, Poetry, Yoga

Increasing Observations

There can be so much focus that the bigger mass of who we are is temporarily lost. Sometimes my eyes are down and fixed and I unwillingly ignore the magic around me.

Be open and switch off to tune in. Be open to new things and follow your passions because otherwise what are we doing?

Do your work with love and offer gratitude for the pleasant in equal measure for the things that challenge us.

I wrote this musing yesterday after my second day of prenatal yoga teacher training. There was a moment of deep realisation today during day three. We were given a task in groups of three to be the talker, listener and observer. With each person taking it in turns to be one of the three. The topic was ‘yoga mother’. In between each person talking we sat for an equal amount of time to absorb. 35 women sitting in silence. Except it wasn’t silent because the hum of vibrations was all around us. The peacefulness, the understanding and appreciation was almost tangible.

We had to pick which postion we felt most comfortable with and which least comfortable. I loved listening. I found the position of observer difficult. Then that magic moment, CLICK. I turned the pages and there was the musing above. I NEED to observe more. Maybe in the sense of my yoga classes; getting off the mat, demoing less, looking more. Or perhaps observing more prenatal classes. Or maybe it’s just being more present in each moment. Putting the phone down. Looking up because there is so much beauty to see.

Life has changed so so much in the past year, especially in the past five months. Times have been hugely rewarding and challenging. Ultimately I have grown more than ever before. I have been consciously making an effort to appreciate everything. From the hot shower in the morning to the mattress bought for me. I am so lucky to have my support network, food in my belly and money in my bank account. I offer up gratitude for the smallest of things and I feel so much happier for it. Never take for granted the small things yet always look to the bigger landscape.

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Uncategorized, Yoga

Absorbed.

Magic moments where the body is fizzing, buzzing, alive and flowing.

The room moves as one. I am lost between being absorbed in the united flow and absorbed in my own body.

This tingling feel of euphoria, sensation and aliveness. This is real. This is movement. This is space. This is yoga.

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