Friday 27 November 2015

Books and the Black Dog on Black Friday

 'The only end of writing is to enable the reader better to enjoy life or better to endure it.'  Dr Samuel Johnson  
Reading has always fulfilled these aims for me.  The sheer enjoyment of other people's writing makes me glow.  There is the pleasure of escapism: when I'm deep in a novel, I think of little else. It's also the best spur to my own creativity.

I listen to children reading at a Primary School every week.  The power of the subjects their literature explores never ceases to amaze.  Through it they seem to feel safe to imagine and confront some very challenging situations.

So I jumped at this course Literature and Mental Health: Reading for Wellbeing which takes Dr Johnson's premise as its starting point.  It's free, online and offered by the University of Warwick via Future Learn. The start date is 1st February 2016.  Most of my friends from our school A level English Literature group have signed up too.  We haven't discussed literature together since ... the last century!!  I'm so excited by this opportunity.

The themes over six weeks are:
Depression and bipolar
Ageing and Dementia

all explored through the work of a range of writers.    

The reading material is provided online but the course organisers suggest that, if you are raring to go, you could take a look at one or two of the following:

Jane Austen: Sense and Sensibility
Rachel Kelly: Black Rainbow
Melvyn Bragg:  Grace and Mary
Mark Haddon: Polar Bears
William Shakespeare: King Lear, Hamlet, Titus Andronicus
An anthology of poetry of your choice.

What an invitation!

All of the wonderful photos on this blog are taken by Andrew Holman

Friday 20 November 2015

The magical power of the breath in the night

It's 3 am.  No one is up except you and the stars.  You woke because the neighbour's cat was caterwauling outside or you needed the loo.  You squeeze your eyes tightly shut and tell yourself firmly that you are going STRAIGHT BACK TO SLEEP ...

And then they descend like rowdy friends after a drunken party; those thoughts that won't give you any peace.  You try to ignore them but they are so damned loud!  Before you know it, you are listening to every word they say and none of it is soothing.

In fact, these unwelcome visitors are downright aggressive, questioning you and pointing out all of the things you haven't done or should have done better.  'Why haven't you done your Christmas shopping yet?'  'Why on earth did you say that today in the office?'

They're relentless.  They start to question your capabilities too. 'Do you think you'll be able to manage that project tomorrow?'  'Are you sure you haven't bitten off more than you can chew in your new career?' They even question your character.  'Are you a good friend/mother/daughter/wife? Then why didn't you ...?'

You try not to retaliate, but it's no good. They suck you into the debate and you answer back.  'I would have enough time and energy for that project tomorrow if I could only GET TO SLEEP!'

By now you're wide-eyed, your heart is racing and you're hot and bothered.  You can feel those stress hormones coursing through your body and you know you'll only drop back to sleep again five minutes before the alarm.  It's so frustrating because you understand you're the author of your own sleepless night and now everything that might have been challenging tomorrow is going to be doubly challenging. That vicious merry-go-round of thoughts keeps spinning round and you can't jump off!

My regular yoga practice means that I have far fewer sleepless nights, but they still visit me now and again.  One of the best ways I have found to stop them is a simple breathing method.  For me the effect is almost magical.

All you do is focus on your breath.  You don't count breaths, you don't try to change them.  You simply turn your attention to the exhalation.  Each time you breathe out, you let it be in 3 stages. You don't hold your breath at any point, you just let it out as if you're descending down three stairs in one flowing but stepped movement.  I keep it up for as long as I need to.

Hopefully you will find it as calming as I do and with a bit of luck you will drop to sleep, but I don't make that my aim, I just keep breathing in and gently out down those three steps.  Good luck!

I am indebted to Mona Baur, one of the lovely teachers at Whitespace Yoga, for teaching me this technique.  Her own inspiration is The Breathing Book by Donna Fahri.  It's on my Christmas list. 

Kelly x  


All photos © Andrew Holman.

Tuesday 17 November 2015

The core of things

I love these dark weeks of November and December.  I have always found them to be a rich and meaningful time.  Everything is stripped back and the cold and dark encourage a journey inwards. Nature reflects this.  The golden leaves of autumn have dropped and the trees are laid bare, revealing their structures: what is at their core.

In my yoga classes, I have been working on my physical core where there is much strengthening to be done!  For me it's a real challenge.  To rise to it demands my focus and determination, in other words: a strong mental attitude.  Whereas I am happy to work on forward bending and flexibility all day long because I love it, core strengthening requires a different frame of mind.  However, my attitude is shifting.

What's fascinating is to see how the physical work is strengthening all parts of me.  It is an enlightening process.  I don't want to overdo the point, but I truly do find I am re-discovering the core of myself.

Over the past decade, I have felt out of touch with my core, tossed on the waves of fortune, not sure which course to try and steer.  I have tried to be many things, often for seemingly worthy but probably misguided reasons.   Re-tuning with myself turns out to be rather a relief.  I feel lighter with the strengthening sense of self just as I feel lighter physically as my core muscles grow stronger.  It's so hard to put into words and yet it feels very natural.  

I am reading 'Super Brain' by Deepak Chopra and Rudolph E. Tanzi.  It has got me super excited and I recommend it highly.  With all the 'core' work I'm doing, you can imagine how the following words from the book resonate with me:  
To have a core self is to be the author of your own story.
I feel that in these words lies a deep truth, one that fills me with optimism.

Friday 6 November 2015

Picking more daisies

In one of my yoga classes last week, our teacher, Ali, read us a poem.  Reportedly written by an octogenarian woman called Nadine Stair who is reflecting on her life, the poem is called 'If I Had my Life to Live Over'.

You will find the poem sprinkled liberally over the Internet on blogs and websites devoted to happier modes of living.  I wondered whether it would be okay to reproduce it in full here.  I have decided that Nadine Stair wanted her reflections to be shared: so I will.

As it becomes colder and the days shorten, it feels like the perfect time to become a little more reflective myself; to sit by the fire and think about what comes next.  So I am working on my personal version of a poem like Nadine's.  To write it, I am simply thinking about the things that make me happy and fulfilled and the things that don't.  It's not a 'bucket list' poem of goals to achieve, destinations to visit etc.  It's about understanding what I would like the essence of my life to be.  I think I'm going to call it 'For the Rest of my Life'.  It's good fun: it's making me smile.

This is Nadine's poem about her life.  

If I had my life to live over,
I'd dare to make more mistakes next time.
I'd relax.  I would limber up.
I would be sillier than I have this trip.
I would take fewer things seriously.
I would take more chances.

I would climb more mountains and swim more rivers.
I would eat more ice cream and less beans.
I would, perhaps, have more actual troubles,
but I'd have fewer imaginary ones.

You see, I am one of those people who has lived sensibly and sanely,
hour after hour,
day after day.
Oh, I've had my moments, and if I had to do it over again,
I'd have more of them.
In fact, I'd try to have nothing else,
just moments, one after another,
instead of living so many years ahead of each day.

I've been one of those persons who never goes anywhere
without a thermometer, a hot water bottle,
a raincoat and a parachute.
If I could do it again, I would travel lighter than I have.

If I had my life to live over.
I would start barefoot earlier in the spring
and stay that way later in the fall.
I would go to more dances.
I would ride more merry-go-rounds.
I would pick more daisies.

Nadine Stair

Tuesday 3 November 2015

A rainbow of Cuban cars

All the world loves Cuba's cars.  They have become the island's trademark and its major tourist attraction.  I was surprised to find myself falling in love with them too; I am no petrol head.  Today, I am sharing a rainbow of them and in putting them together, I can see exactly why I loved them: they are so bright, so vibrant, so shapely.  They put fun and colour into the everyday of life.    
Red: luscious lips, strawberries, Rudolf's red nose.
Orange: autumn leaves, fire, sienna

Yellow: sick as a parrot
Green: pistachios, lime, my sister's favourite colour

Blue: sky, sea, toes on warm sand

Indigo: passion and hope
Violet: Shrinking

Pink:  Sometimes a Dodge, sometimes even a Cadillac but not technically a colour of the rainbow!

All of the photos were taken by Andrew Holman

Photos © Andrew Holman.