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Beginning

It is often said that the first step is the hardest: certainly true of starting this blog! So with a deep inhale here we go…So far, my 50’s are teaching me to accept change and new challenges. I hope to share and exchange tips that may ease the way. Blog posting is new to me, hopefully I’ll get the hang of it soon. Subscribe below to get notified when I post new updates.

Needing Yin and Yang

I’ve recently returned to teaching some hot yoga, I love the intensity of the hot room but for the health of my body (and mind) I have to remember to balance it out with something softer, like yin yoga.

I think it goes hand in hand with a professional dance training: to have an affinity with rigorous, strict practices, to work in end range of movement and perform every action with 100% effort and purpose. This has been my comfort zone.

I find yin yoga way more challenging than the hottest most humid hot room! I am gradually realising there is equal rigor and discipline in yin yoga. To be still, to allow my body to be supported by the floor or props rather than muscular effort, to pull back from my end of range and find a place of a more nourishing, intensity, takes determination and focus. To be in my head and body without distraction. If I allow it to, the physical stillness gives rise to mental calm and clarity. Could it be that sometimes the thing that makes us uncomfortable might actually be the thing we need the most?

Sometimes, less is more.

A Beginners Mind

In the Zen tradition, A Beginners Mind is open and without preconception. Adopting this approach can put a positive light on many things: perhaps learning a new skill or adapting to a new role at work, a maybe a relationship or parenting problem. Try and look at it through a beginner‘s eyes, without preconception.

At the suggestion of my university Dance history professor, (who was also my first Pilates teacher in 1987!) I have begun exploring somatic movement.

What a revelation! I’m only a couple of weeks into an introductory course and so far the controlled and conscious movement and breath work is really resonating: a perfect foil for my ageing dancers body, that has a leaning to effortful ‘yang’ movement, and a tendency to physically manifest stress.

I feel these somatic movement techniques will help me with postural habits and discomfort and I’m sure they will be a valuable tool for teaching my yoga students. I am excited to learn more, to put aside unhelpful habitual movement patterns and to re-discover my ‘beginners mind’. And I’m going to try and hold on to the feeling of being open to new things.

In real life this was all super super slow and controlled.

Enough Love

In Hong Kong we celebrated Mother’s day last Sunday. For those of us whose Mothers are no longer with us, it is often a poignant day, even as we celebrate with those that we ‘mother’.

I was 33 weeks pregnant when I lost my mum to cancer 16 years ago, she was 55. I have five siblings. As each of us grew up and Mum was left with fewer of her own children at home, she began taking in foster kids; providing both short and long term safety and love to many children in need. She maintained that in general, all a child needed was love, and everything else flowed from that. When she was sick and I was pregnant with my second son I anxiously asked her, “Will I have enough love for them both?” she said, “your love grows as your family does, there is always enough love”.

This year Mother’s day got me thinking about how strong the ‘maternal’ is. It is protective and powerful, nurturing and caring. You don’t have to be female and have given birth to have this feeling, this power. Since our world has as been changed by covid 19, I’m experiencing the maternal in a more expansive way. I feel protective of my family; my friends and colleagues; but also my neighbours and community, my fellow humans. I hope there’s enough love to get us through this pandemic. Enough love for people to come together, to collaborate on finding vaccines and effective medications. Enough love for us to be bold enough to keep some of the positives that lockdowns have brought about. Enough love to keep checking on the elderly and vulnerable in our communities, enough love to value and reward those in caring and service professions, enough love for our leaders and governments to act in the best interests of their people rather than along party political lines, or in response to powerful lobbyists. At the risk of sounding like the old hippie that I am, I hope there is enough love to look after our planet and each other.

In Hong Kong, social distancing measures are being loosened, which is great, but this brings new anxieties. On Saturday I went to a birthday dinner for 8 people, I attended a group Pilates class yesterday, and I will be teaching in-person yoga classes this week. Whilst I am grateful to be doing these things (all with suitable precautions of course): it is impossible to know if we will be hit hard with another wave of infections as we embrace a new normal of temperature checks and questionnaires at building entrances, of ubiquitous mask wearing and hand sanitising. Once again to manage worries I turn my attention to what I can do: the small things. Whilst I can’t control national policies or government decisions, I can’t control whether someone observes good personal hygiene or is honest about their health history. I can be kind. I can do as the great philosophies and faiths advise; I can treat others as I would hope to be treated. And I remember what my Mum told me, “there is always enough love”. I find there is comfort and power in that. I hope you do too.

Good Days and Bad

Much of the world is in some degree of social/physical isolation or lockdown. The situation is fluid and things are changing quickly, it is easy to feel unsteady and out of sorts. To ease that unsteadiness I’m trying to keep some kind of routine, for myself and the family. Having a structure to the day, breaking it into manageable blocks of time for work, exercise, mealtimes and rest seems to help me find some calm. This may not work for everyone and I definitely have good days and bad. Sometimes just contemplating the magnitude of what’s going on can be panic- inducing.

It does help to be kind, to yourself and those around you. It also helps to keep yourself informed but maybe think about limiting news sources to a handful of trusted sources that you check twice a day rather than every time you scroll through instagram. We all do it, me included. However I increasingly find social media ‘news posts’ to be inflammatory, highly subjective and argumentative, often of unclear origin and authenticity. The internet is not always a kind place. That said, social media and online group meeting platforms are a great way to keep in touch with friends and family, especially at the moment, when for most, travel and physical socialising are not possible.

With all that’s going on I can’t always identify what’s affecting my mood. There is just so much: from covid19 and concern about the health of family and friends to worry about what the economic fallout will mean for everyone. As I said, there are good days and bad, or more like, good and bad bits of each day! I don’t have a quick fix. Sometimes all it takes is a few deep breaths, a few rounds of sun salutations or an inversion to shift my perspective. And sometimes none of that works, but a moan to a friend, a good cry on my own or a glass or two of wine might do the job! How are you keeping things in perspective during these strange times?

Trying to find some steadiness in pincha mayurasna and standing balancing postures!!

This is day 8…

Of compulsory 2 week home quarantine with my youngest son. We are both feeling fine so far and have been surprisingly busy up to now: online school for him, some online courses for me, learning to teach virtual classes via online group meeting platforms, plenty of cooking, cleaning and sorting: an opportunity to tackle some home projects I usually put off, because I can’t find the time.

The biggest challenge has been not going outside, we live in an apartment so a turn around the garden isn’t an option for us. Being active is such a big part of who I am it’s been a real learning experience to have restrictions placed on my movements. I am keeping up with my home yoga practice for my mental as well as physical well-being. And I’ve been reconnecting with some much loved yoga teachers via online streaming classes. Thank you @patrickcreelman and Lisa Mak @glowingstories

These are such strange and challenging times. We are in the midst of an unprecedented global health crisis. Life feels like a movie. How can we cope with the very real stresses this is placing on us all? I’m reminding myself that there is a lot about the situation that is out of my control. The big picture can be overwhelming to contemplate. What can I influence? What do I have the power to do? I can take the precautions recommended by the authorities. I can be mindful of interactions with others in my community. I can look after myself and my loved ones as best I can. I am able and thankful that I can eat nutritious food and move my body. I have shelter and love and the opportunity to breath deeply and try and manage stress. I am blessed.

We do the best we can with what we have at a particular time in a particular place. Some days it’s easier said than done!

“When life feels unstable and you don’t know what to do, do yoga”

A favourite yoga teacher once opened a class with these words and I’m literally putting them into practise these days. Most mornings, I get out of bed 10 minutes early in order to meditate: wrapped in shawl, my hair still in a scarf, cup of tea by my side. If things gets hectic later on, I may not find the space for any active yoga or physical activity, and that’s ok, some days are like that.

Just having begun my day with a few moments of stillness helps balance out the inevitable anxieties that rise over the course of a day. These are stressful and uncertain times, a little yoga goes a long way.

My go to …

For so many reasons my go to is Yoga. Whether it’s 5 minutes on my own, taking a 90 minute studio class to practice with other students, or teaching classes, yoga never fails to shift my physical and emotional mood.

However in the search for more physical balance I’ve recently resumed Pilates after a long absence. Aches and pains, mostly caused by overuse and imbalances from many years working as dance and fitness professional, often niggle me. 

And I’m not sure if everyone feels this way, but I’ve noticed the older I get, the more my body needs balance: a bit of this, and a bit of that. I’m no longer training for events or performances; I’m training to maintain mobility and strength and to feel energised in my daily life; a variety of activities help me achieve this. 

Try adding a new element to your exercise or activity programme, see how you feel. It doesn’t have to be drastic or expensive. For example if you walk a lot, try adding something to build strength, a gym or group exercise session, or an online power yoga class at home. Small changes in routine can be motivating and invigorating and kick start the feel good endorphins that surge when we move more!

“This Too Shall Pass”

As the Covid-19 virus spreads, so does panic. Is this virus worse than seasonal influenza? Is wearing a surgical mask helpful? What can I do to stay healthy?

There is a huge amount of often conflicting, information and advice online and in the mainstream media. It can be hard to filter through to the facts. And I don’t have all the answers. In addition to the usual hand washing and careful tissue use etc. I am trying not to get caught up in the hysteria, I refuse to hoard disinfectant or toilet roll or tissues!

Paper goods aisle at my local supermarket the other day!

While this post isn’t related to feeling good, or wellness while ageing, it’s a note to self that difficulties will pass, so don’t despair. Similarly, happy times are transient; so treasure them. As the ancient Persian saying goes, “This Too Shall Pass”. It may take some time, but nothing lasts forever.

What does 50 look like?

Over the last week there has been a lot of media coverage of Jennifer Lopez and Shakira’s half time performance at the Super Bowl last Sunday. I thought it was a great celebration of the work of two legendary Latina pop stars. However, much of the commentary was on their age, appearance and the ‘sexiness’ of the show. I do wonder if the performers were male, would there have been quite so much focus on age and appropriateness of the choreography and costumes.

Anyway, what does fifty something look like? Maybe like J Lo, maybe not. So called ‘middle age’ looks like whatever you want it to. There are obviously pressures to conform to prevailing beauty standards; cultural expectations of what a woman should look like at a certain age as well as a whole lot of ‘fashion over fifty’ advice out there. I say rock your waist length hair, or your pixie crop; dye your hair pink or celebrate your silvery crown; pole dance or play golf; wear that mini skirt and high heels or dress as modestly as you like. Whatever it is, do you. Do whatever feels authentic and comfortable, and works for you and your life.

Sometimes I seek the reassurance of one of my sons that I don’t look ridiculous in particularly youthful outfit: they and only ever say, “Mum, you look great”. Am I the only person who does this kind of thing? Why should I worry whether other people think I look age-inappropriate? Why do I care what other people think? There is an old English idiom “mutton dressed as lamb”: ridiculous really, as so many things in life improve with age!

https://metro.co.uk/2017/11/08/theres-no-such-thing-as-mutton-dressed-as-lamb-lets-wear-what-we-want-7063615/

Troubling Times

I live in Hong Kong and with the challenges we’ve had here for several months now, I’m feeling the need for balance and grounding: which can be hard to find in a big city. I’m a big believer in moving regularly, eating well and finding ways to manage stress and get enough sleep. It can be helpful to remind myself of these simple steps when I’m feeling out of sorts: walking outside when I can; eating simple food at home; and incorporating some kind of mindfulness practice into my day. The mindfulness part could be as little as 5 minutes of conscious breathing immediately on waking, before I get out of bed.

This isn’t medical advice: I’m not a physician, I’m a fitness/yoga teacher and have been a movement professional for 30 years. Currently a stressed one! And these small things are helping me get through some tense times. Oh, and the odd glass of wine with that simple dinner definitely helps too. What helps you to get through a challenging time?