Spring in my step

I’m not keen on Christmas, or Hogmanay, or New Year’s resolutions which involve giving up things with a judgmental self-control bordering on self-hatred.  We had a very nice old new year get-together on the 11th of January this year, but generally speaking, if I was left to my own devices, I’d probably just celebrate the winter solstice.  Perhaps by dancing round a bonfire with a few of my nearest and dearest.  Maybe there would be candles and feasting, too.

Anyway, I don’t make new year’s resolutions as such, but I do feel excited at the prospect of longer days returning.  And I’m happy to use the dark, wet days of December to take stock of how my life is and think what I want to add to it while I have the energy and optimism of the coming months.  I also quite like the yogic tradition of sankalpa – setting an intention, a bit like a resolution, but more positive and present-tense.  Here is one short article explaining sankalpa: http://www.yogajournal.com/lifestyle/1526

In yoga terms, my sankalpa over the last few years has been about establishing a daily home practice.  It’s moved from something like ‘I do yoga at home most days’ to ‘I do yoga every day’ to ‘I do my yoga home practice when I get up’.  The last one is not happening often, but I just keep setting the intention – without beating myself up for not managing it yet – and I know I will get there.

This spell of long dark nights, Drhusband and I decided we’d be more sociable in 2014 and also spend more fun time out and about together (without our giant children).  Hence the old new year gathering, which I reckon is only the second party I’ve ever hosted.  I was definitely more relaxed about it than the first party I hosted!  I like people but I’ve always coped better with small groups, and I like plenty time on my own too.  Because Drhusband and I are quite contented in each other’s company, or reading books by the stove (yeah, I know, sounds like we’re 103), months can slip by and we’ve just been hanging out together.  So, we’ve been to the cinema a couple of times, visited friends, and arranged a rare night away together in March.

Because it was particularly gruesome weather over Christmas and the whole family were lying about like slugs, I also reached a tipping point where I could feel all the cells in my body screaming BRING BACK WALKING.  I used to walk loads: ten years ago when everyone in our school was given a simple pedometer as part of Healthy Highland Week, I discovered I was clocking over 10,000 steps without thinking about it on every standard day.  But in the last couple of years I moved out of the village (so instead of walking to work and the shops I have to drive), stopped primary teaching (which involves constant movement), got a new dog who needs much less exercise than my old dog did, started blogging/studying at the computer, and began using most of my daily exercise time for yoga.  Result?  I hate to think how few steps I took some days last winter – certainly under 3,000 on days I was writing.

10,000 steps a day for health may be to an extent a rather arbitrary figure, but I reckon human beings are meant to be doing more than 6,000 a day.  That’s only about an hour of every 24 spent on your feet!  I wanted to get moving again, and our routines have been so up in the air we’ve not been making it to the gym or fitness classes, so I clipped on my old pedometer and got going.

For the last few weeks, I’ve been aiming to get over 7,000 steps per day.  I’m noting the daily tally in my yoga practice journal, and at a quick glance, I’m averaging 9,000 a day.  I’m noticing changes already – I feel a bit fresher and more energetic, and also more physically tired – I’ve been sleeping really well.  I never weigh myself, but my trousers seem to be a bit looser round my hips and thighs.

Last week I discovered my mum had independently come to the same conclusions.  For years, she walked 25 minutes to work and 25 minutes home, and spent a fair amount of time in between going up and down flights of stairs in the old, lift-less building she taught in.  Now that she is retired and lives even further from the village than me, most of her time is spent sitting, driving or gardening and she felt she was seizing up.

I have given her my simple pedometer and bought a slightly fancier one for myself:

 

Photo credit: www.white-medical.co.uk

It has a few advantages over my old one, including – crucially – that wee guy who pops up, arms waving in cheerleader mode, when you go over 10,000 steps.  This is just like the ‘rewards’ you get in maths computer games for 8 year olds and I find it very amusing that it makes me feel chuffed every time I see the wee guy going ‘yaaaay!’ for me.

Because I’ve known for a while that I’m anatomically wonky, I’ve also been doing a bit of browsing the internet research into walking ‘right’.  An osteopath – skilled in his profession, but not blessed with much tact – told me last year “you’d be a great clinical case study for osteopathy students, because you look all tall and slim and fit, but you’re actually all compacted and lopsided”.  He also told me that my hips are healthy and my hip function is excellent – but they are squint, which affects my range of movement and might have implications for longer term wear and tear on my joints.

In the course of my research, I came across this book:

Joanna Hall's Walkactive Programme: The Simple Yet Revolutionary Way to Transform Your Body, for Life

Photo credit: http://www.waterstones.com/

I just loaned it to my mum, and had to say ‘ignore the horrifically jolly cover – there’s good stuff inside’.

I’ve been following Hall’s walking technique tips for nearly a fortnight now and I am impressed and also quite surprised by what I’ve learned.  As a long-term yoga practitioner, I have better proprioception than many people, yet I was almost oblivious to three important aspects of how I was moving:

  1. I know my feet and ankles are quite flexible, and I roll through my feet quite well when I walk.  I know my right foot is slightly larger than my left.   And I’ve felt, with all the yoga over the last couple of years, my toes have been spreading and lengthening.  But I hadn’t noticed that my right toes were really squashed up in almost all the shoes I own!
  2. I knew I sashayed about a bit as I walked but I’d never noticed that was because my poor left hip is shoogling all over the place, so my left leg goes round and round like a porridge spurtle.
  3. I have a mental image of myself striding along, arms swinging, because that is how I used to walk.  The combination of walking a lot less and then for the last 18 months mainly walking with a lead in one or both hands seems to have gradually resulted in the top half of my body becoming almost motionless.  A sort of Irish step dancing version of walking.

Photo credit: feisonista.net

So – it has been an education, and I can only say ‘thank you, Ms Hall’ because by paying attention and learning her techniques, I already feel more easy, smooth and energetic as I walk.

While I’m on the subject of thank-yous and sankalpa/resolutions/intentions, this post was partly inspired by chatting to then reading the writing of a friend and fellow blogger.  See Hope versus Optimism…  Then tell me – do you take stock at this time of year?  Are you making any changes just now?  Or do you like to mull your life over some other time of year (your birthday?) or on a different cycle (every autumn?  Every Tuesday?) – or not at all?!

I am off down south again tomorrow, for nearly a week, including three days’ yoga training.  I’m travelling light as I’m going by public transport, which is quite a long slog involving inconvenient changes between buses and trains.  Packing my stuff made me realise anew that the great thing about yoga and walking is you need so little specialist space or ‘kit’ – I will be able to fit both yoga and walking in and around my days while I’m away.  Though I will need to buy a pair of bigger shoes, I suppose…

Make do and mend

In the run-up to Christmas, I spent a good while cutting up an old pair of socks and using them to patch three other pairs.  While I did it, I was thinking about how weird I was being – in the UK, in this day and age – yet how absolutely standard such behaviour would have been in my granny’s day.  Unlike my granny, I’m no seamstress, as you can see from this photo of my finished efforts:

Patched cashmere socks

It was a relaxing and satisfying thing to do, though.  I bought these socks a few years ago in the Brora sale.  They are mainly cashmere – quite the most luxurious socks I’ve ever owned.  They were enormously comforting last winter when I was working from home, at the computer, trying to keep warm.  Although they’re 15% nylon, I should have resisted ‘just popping along the road with the dog’ in them.  Having said that, I wore each pair in turn pretty much continuously for months and months, so it’s not surprising they went transparent at the heels.  Anyway, I couldn’t bear to chuck them out, so I cut patches out of the blue pair and sewed them over the worn places.  And now they are strictly bedsocks, so they should last for years to come.

I tend to be a bit frugal.  I’m still using or wearing many things I’ve had for decades.  I like to reduce, re-use, recycle.  I’ve never lived the lifestyle I see many of my contemporaries live – I’ve always been happy to live well within my means.

In affectionate recognition of this trait, Drhusband gave me this book some years ago:

Photocredit: amazon.co.uk.  But, you know…do consider getting it from an independent, tax-paying bookshop.  Or your local library :-)

It’s fascinating.  I recognised some things my grandparents did, some of which were passed on to my parents and then me.  I also learned how to do ‘invisible darning’ from it, a new skill I tried out on one of our jumpers – it worked a treat and I’m still wearing the jumper, years later.  The book also reminded me how unconscious most of us are about energy use.  Yes, I know to use our tumble dryer as little as possible – but it had never occurred to me that you can often switch your hob off before what you are cooking is absolutely done – there will be plenty residual heat to finish it.

One of the items in the book tells you how to get longer use from a bedsheet that is worn in the centre by cutting it down the middle, turning the unworn sides to the centre and re-sewing it.  Can you imagine anyone doing that now?  Yet I distinctly remember in the 1970s seeing a sheet like that at my grandparents’ house, and my granny explaining to me what she had done to it and why.

But, in just a couple of generations, we have such a culture of accumulation and disposability.  It’s all-pervasive, so even Son2 (who has spent all his life with adults who value living modestly and looking after things) will initiate conversations like this:

S2: I need new jeans

Me: Oh, why’s that?

S2: These ones are no use any more

Me: What’s wrong with them?

S2: The button has come off at the waist so they’re too loose and they fall down

Me: *silent facepalm of despair*

(I’ve now shown all the menfolk in the house how to sew a button on and we are agreed that EVERYONE needs to know how to look after themselves at a basic level, whether that’s sewing, using a hammer, cooking, or cleaning.)

While I was patching my socks and thinking of these things, it occurred to me the wool I was darning with belonged to my granny.  Most of my sewing kit was originally hers.  She died when I was 20 and my grandfather died when I was 25 and just setting up my own home, so I inherited lots of useful household stuff from them.

Just look at the kit I was using, it should be in a social history museum!

ye olde sewing kit

Those little wooden tubes are Victorian or Edwardian needle cases, given to me by friends of my grandparents.  They contain the original needles which are in perfect working order.  I had to laugh when I looked more closely at the darning wool and pins – actually made in the UK!  And 10p for the tin of pins…

Then it occurred to me the very chair I was sitting in came from my other gran.  She always sat in this Parker Knoll rocking chair – it was a treat to be allowed a wee shot in it when I was little.  When she died, it was one of the few things I chose from her belongings.  I carted it from flat to flat and about ten years’ later when I had more money, I got it re-upholstered.  It has had the same cushion – made by a friend – on it for more than 12 years.

Nearly 40 years on from when I first remember it, the chair is still super-comfy and one of my favourite places to sit.

rocking chair

I hope I’m not sounding worthy and annoying; I’m certainly not meaning to.  I may do a wee bit to tread lightly on the earth, but goodness knows I could do more.  It just makes me sad that we chuck so much away when there is nothing really wrong with it.  And I love having these little mementos of my grandparents.

Ha – while I was inserting that photo I noticed the little stool I use as a coffee table.  It belonged to my great-grandmother and my mother remembers seeing my granny mending one of the struts by binding it with string.  The repair and the stool are still going strong more than half a century later - my granny must have been the poster girl for ‘make do and mend’!

Blog serendipity

Just days after I was mulling over my socks and ancient sewing kit, Goldfish wrote a great post on similar themes:  http://fishofgold.net/2013/12/28/the-decline-of-durable-goods/  (the observant will note I had a wee rant in the comments section).

And today, when I googled ‘make do and mend’ to find a picture of the book, what came up first but a WordPress blog: http://mymakedoandmendyear.wordpress.com/about/  The author is spending a year not buying anything new…I’m off now to read more about how she’s been getting on.

Happy 2014, everyone!

Mushroom stroganoff and a flying giant

Do you ever have days where you feel like a character in someone else’s novel?

I had one at the start of this week.  I felt slightly surreal from first thing in the morning, and the day was capped by a magical experience.

I’ve recently started supply teaching.  It’s 18 months since I resigned my permanent teaching post and I want to keep my hand in, not lose my hard-earned skills and confidence.  I don’t have all that many days free in which to teach and they vary with my yoga teacher training commitments.  So going on the supply list (to cover staff absences) seemed the best option for now.  As nearly all of my 9+ years of primary teaching were done in the same small town school, it is also a good chance to experience different schools.

On Monday I was in a really rural school, 40 minutes’ drive north from my home.  There are about 20 children and nearly all of them are in Gaelic medium education.  My charges for the day were the two – yes, you read that right – children in the English medium class.  Spending all day with two children felt nothing like any teaching I’ve previously done – more like being Mary Poppins or Jane Eyre or Mrs Doubtfire… insert any governess/nanny who fits your mental image of me!  It was an interesting experience, and the first teaching day I can remember where I was able to arrive ten minutes before the children and leave ten minutes after they left, with everything marked and work planned for the next day.

All of Highland schools follow the same dinner menu rota, and when a classroom assistant came round that morning to check our dinner choices, I made a joke about having come on the wrong day as I preferred the menu later in the week.  She said ‘I don’t fancy today’s either, I’ll ask the cook if she’ll make us a sandwich’.  I was horrified – you don’t want to rock the boat when you’ve just set foot in a new school – but she insisted the cook liked to rustle up extras and it would be no bother.  Five minutes later she was back, saying the cook had picked up some nice mushrooms in Inverness at the weekend and would I like a mushroom stroganoff?  Bemused, I said ‘eerrrr…yes, fine, if it’s really no trouble’.  And at lunch time I was given an enormous plate of beautifully garnished stroganoff, which I’d have paid at least four times as much for in a fancy restaurant.

But the absolute best bit of the day was driving home.  I left the school about half three and it was already getting dark – well, it had hardly got light all day, what with cloud cover and rain.  The further north you get in Scotland the fewer trees there are, and even 20 miles north of where I live is a noticeably starker landscape.  Everything was tinted in shades of sepia, beige and grey, with a choppy, slate-coloured sea.  The road south winds along between dramatic rock formations on your right and sea cliffs on your left.  For most of the journey, I didn’t see another car.  The wind was coming in strong gusts, so I was driving along slowly, admiring the almost abstract geometrical shapes of headlands and mountains.  I was passing a stretch of forestry plantation on my left when I saw a bird rising out of the verge ahead of me.  It was one of those moments where time slows down and your brain can’t quite compute what you are seeing.  Mine went ‘seagull? No – too big – heron? No, too big – oh my goodness – eagle – huge – must be – yes-’  And while that was happening, the bird had risen to windscreen height and I had caught up with it, so it was literally just a few feet ahead.  And wider than not just my windscreen but the whole car.

The wind must have been so noisy the bird hadn’t noticed me, but just at the moment my brain went ‘yes – a sea eagle!’ it heard the car and glanced back over its right wing.  I saw the huge heavy yellow beak (so different from the golden eagle) as it looked directly at me through the windscreen.  The bird’s head gave a startled jerk, in a way that would have been comical if I hadn’t been so awed, and it instantaneously tipped up its left wing and soared up and over my car.

Photo credit: www.ebirder.net

The sea eagle, or perhaps more properly the white-tailed eagle, is the largest bird of prey in the UK.  It is sometimes called ‘the flying barn door’ due to its wings, which are both broad and long.  The wingspan is generally 6.5 to 8 feet (that’s over 2 metres).  Here’s one being hassled by a fearless or perhaps just foolhardy gull:

Photo credit: www.bbc.co.uk

I have scrolled through hundreds of images of sea eagles and I can’t find a single one taken from the angle at which I saw ‘mine’.  I suppose it’s not often anyone gets to see one at eye level, just ahead of them.  I have spent all week since wishing I was an accomplished enough artist to create what I saw with paint or charcoal or pastels.

I was back in the same school the next day and shared my story.  Everyone in the school had seen eagles off in the distance, but it’s rare to get a closer look.  The other teacher told me a few years ago she was driving the same stretch of road when her windscreen went suddenly black.  She had no warning and got the shock of her life.  By the time her flinch was over, the windscreen was clear and there was nothing to be seen ahead or around her.  Only afterwards did she realise it must have been a white-tailed eagle taking flight directly towards her – as she said, ‘nothing else could have been big enough to black out the whole windscreen like that’.

When I was telling the two children in my class (both big dinosaur and bird fans) what I’d seen on the way home the day before, I heard myself saying ‘it was so huge and fierce looking – it was like seeing a dragon, or a pterodactyl!’  And it was.  Even if I can never do it justice in words or images, it’s an experience I will hold in my heart forever.

Winter relaxation

I’ve travelled hundreds and hundreds of miles in bad weather in the last couple of weeks.  Mainly to do worthwhile stuff – teaching in remote rural primary schools, taking Son2 to his first ever piano exam, and delivering yoga classes.  Today I had three people come to the house for private yoga sessions – and they all want to come back.  So I am tired but happy.

But the best thing in winter is our cosy evenings by the stove.  There’s a storm coming tonight, so we got in plenty logs and settled down with the dog and cat.  Look at this for a happy greyhound…

happy greyhound smiling

Nothing better, in her view, than a warm stove and her favourite human cushion down on the rug.  The human cushion feels much the same, though the addition of a good book and a dram don’t go amiss.

How do you like to spend a wintry evening?

Writing flagging? Try writing flags

Everyone who wants to write will have heard the advice that writers write.  Every day.  That writing is a muscle which develops with use.  I’ve spent my first ‘year to live a little differently’ working towards developing a daily writing habit.  Back in February, I was very happy to finish a 67,000 word manuscript of a children’s novel in time to send it off to a competition.  I allowed myself a little break, to do some blogging and plan another book.  Then I set off on a week’s holiday in Cromarty, promising myself I’d start writing the new novel as soon as I got back, regardless of whether I felt ready.  Two weeks later it was the end of April and I was annoyed with myself.  Every passing day, there was a litany of important things I ‘had’ to do before I could embark on a new novel.  Yeah, right.  There was no hiding from the fact I was procrastinating, for all the usual boring reasons… What if the idea isn’t strong enough, or interesting enough, to last 100,000 words?  What if I’m no good at writing and it’s a rubbish book? and so forth ad nauseam.  Even though I’d told myself countless times the answer to these questions was ‘It doesn’t matter.  I’m going to do it anyway.’

On the last Saturday of April, the weather was terrible and I was sitting by the stove in our cosy sitting room, listening to the rain battering off the windows and watching a contented greyhound snoozing by my feet.  I decided, well, I’m letting myself off until Monday, but if I don’t start then, there is no way I’m going to achieve what I wanted to do by July.

For motivation, I read some blog posts on writing and came across this, in which Kara talks about those days when you have the stuck feeling and would rather do anything than write:

Instead of fighting it and avoiding what had to get done, I just sat with it, whether I liked it or not. This ‘like it or not’ mentality was used by Jerry Seinfeld when he was working as a touring comic. He had a special system, which forced him to write every single day. He believed that if he wrote daily, he’d create better jokes. His system involved a big wall calendar for an entire year. He placed a big red “X” when he wrote that day. Over time, this created a pretty impressive chain of big Xs. [...] The other bit of advice that I found helpful, is this – skipping one day makes it so easy to skip the next, so that’s why it’s important to make that commitment and write every single day. It doesn’t have to be something that you finish and press publish on. Think of it as practice, like working out.

http://myjoyfulpath.wordpress.com/2013/04/24/dont-break-the-chain/

You can read the full post by Brad Isaac about Jerry Seinfeld’s writing productivity techniques here.

From my infants’ teacher perspective, I instantly understood the appeal of a visible chart showing my daily progress.  I didn’t need a whole year’s wall calendar to try it out, though.  I nipped through to the kitchen, got a sheet of scrap A4 from the dresser drawer, and wrote out all the days from Monday through till the end of June.  I didn’t like the idea of big red crosses so much, but it was already late and the dog was giving me doleful looks, wanting her bedtime walk, so I set the paper aside.

The next morning, I looked at the A4 sheet of dates again and thought ‘I need something more positive than red crosses like the ones teachers used on my maths mistakes when I was a wee girl.’  Inspiration struck when I looked out our bedroom door and saw the prayer flags that hang along the corridor wall.  It’s the only part of our spacious, light house that feels gloomy and narrow, so we hung the flags there to cheer it up.

Photo credit: thecareyadventures.com

Perfect!  I drew chains of flags, one for each date, and allocated colours to a writing code.  Real Tibetan prayer flags are rectangular, so I made mine more like bunting, although I used the same colours as prayer flags.  Red would be the book: the colour of passion and danger seemed right for the writing I was scared of throwing myself into.  Blue would be for my blog posts, green would be for yoga teacher training homework (i.e. essays – counting my brief daily practice journal entries would be cheating).  Yellow would be for any other writing, such as a short story, or morning pages (google Dorothea Brande and Julia Cameron and you will find a ton of stuff about ‘morning pages’, should you wish to!).  White would be the empty flag, breaking the chain and signifying no writing at all.  If I did more than one kind of writing in a day, I could have extra fun doing a multi-coloured pattern on that day’s flag.

I found and sharpened four pencils and stuck the flags sheet onto our bedroom mirror at eye level, where I would see it many times a day as I walked round the room.

Here’s the first A4 sheet I did:

writing flags

It’s a rough-and-ready design; I know lots of you could make a much prettier one.  If you do, please link back to me here, let me know how you get on, and maybe even make the template available for anyone to use?  But if you do one on a computer, keep in mind that the actual physical act of colouring in a flag each day feels like a satisfying and significant part of the process!

I found it very effective – I wrote on lots of days that I’d have otherwise excused myself from.  I kept it going from April until I went to Orkney at the start of August.  Just by looking at the completed flag sheets, I learned stuff about myself: the more disrupted my normal routine was, and the more people who were hanging round the house during the day (even if they weren’t directly making demands on me), the more blue and green appeared, red dwindled and white crept in.

My intention had been to resume in September, when the house settled into term-time routine.  But I’ve been overwhelmed (in a good way) with all the things connected to being in the final year of my yoga teacher training, learning about the business side of being self-employed, and the unexpected level of demand for my yoga classes.  So, although I’m keeping a daily practice journal and maintaining a yoga website and facebook business page, I am itching to get back to fiction writing and more frequent blogging.  This post is my first step.  Set the intention, declare it in writing…and now I’m going to sharpen the red and blue pencils!

What writing techniques and tips have worked for you?  Please share them with us!

Colour and light, Orkney style

I’ve been busy, the weather has been untypically lovely for the time of year, and the clear skies and full moon have kept it feeling light.  I’ve only just noticed that autumn is racing by and ‘the nights are fair drawing in’, as we say in Scotland.  The clocks go back an hour this weekend and after that we’re in the period of northern winter where it feels dark, dark, dark.  Until February.

This morning while I was doing my yoga practice (in a beam of sunlight; I can’t complain!) I found myself thinking longingly of the beautiful light and colours of Orkney.  I’ve blogged here and here about our summer holiday on Mainland Orkney.  Today, I’ve picked out some of my husband’s photos that capture our experience of Orcadian summer sky, land and seascapes:

  1. One picture of the beautiful coastline at Birsay
  2. Three photos of the Broch of Gurness
  3. Three photos taken right outside the cottage we stayed in
  4. Four photos from the Ring of Brodgar and the Standing Stones of Stenness

Enjoy!

1.  The coast at the Brough of Birsay (an ancient seat of political and religious power in Orkney – click here to find out more):

Birsay, Orkney

2.  Three photos from the Broch of Gurness - not nearly as well known as Skara Brae, but equally amazing in its own way, I think.  I spent a long time here lying on the grass with our greyhound, while Son2 explored.  Just looking up close at the stones (ancient, and covered in lichens) was wonderful and made me wish I could paint or make pottery or textiles…

stone with lichen at Broch of Gurness, Orkney

The shape and colour of Orkney stonework is very distinctive.  Here’s a whole wall of the broch:

wall at the Broch of Gurness, Orkney

And now I’ve teased those of you who like the big picture for long enough – step back to see (part of) the broch in its setting:

Broch of Gurness, Orkney

3.  Three photos taken immediately outside our cottage:

Caterpillars in windowbox

Plough in field, Orkney

Garden flowers, Orkney

4.  And finally…Orkney’s World Heritage site includes Skara Brae, Maes Howe, the Ring of Brodgar and the Standing Stones of Stenness as well as other nearby sites.  Here are two photos taken at the Ring of Brodgar:

Summer evening at Ring of Brodgar, Orkney

Summer sunset at Ring of Brodgar, Orkney

It’s lovely to visit in the late evening with no other people around, so you can truly appreciate the atmosphere.  But it makes it hard for you readers to judge the scale of these stones.  Here is Son2, close on 6 feet tall, at Stenness:

Stenness standing stone, Orkney

And one final photograph of the Standing Stones of Stenness, as darkness falls on them for, ooh, at least the two millionth time since they were erected:

Stenness at sunset, Orkney

Kintsugi

My head is so full of yoga I’m surprised it’s not seeping out of my ears and running down my nose.

I’ve taken part in a day-long Satyananda Yoga workshop – more of that and the post title in a moment.

My very own class is up and running and I’m loving it.  There has been lots of demand for places, so I’m organising to expand it into two daytime classes next month.

I’m also still teaching two evening classes a week for my own yoga teacher, who is recovering from a broken arm.

My teacher training course has two weekends only a month apart, with a lot of homework (involving reading, writing, lesson plans and practice) to do in between.

In fact, I’ve only had just over a fortnight to cram in all the homework, because we’re off south to a family wedding this weekend.  Rather than driving all the way home on Monday then all the way south again four days later for the next training weekend, I’m opting to stay in the south and meet some other course requirements.  First, I’m going to shadow an experienced yoga teacher – sit in on her 90 minute class, observing and taking notes, and perhaps have a chance to discuss it with her before and after.  Second, I’m going to take part in a couple of classes.  I’ve attended enough classes and workshops over the last year to meet my training course requirements, but I’m missing having a class to go to as a student.  For five months now the nearest class to me has been 30 miles away and I can’t often get to that.  Both the city classes I’m going to next week are taught by people who are also assessors for the training programme I’m in.  Because I live in such a remote area, I may have to ‘borrow’ a city class for my next two practical assessments.  Not ideal – it would be nicer if someone wanted to travel all the way up here to assess me teaching my own class!  But that’s unlikely to be a possibility, so I’m starting to get to know the classes/styles of the two assessors who have already offered me their class to ‘borrow’.

I’m also getting to grips with all that’s new about being self-employed.

All in all, life has been busy, and my blog posts are bouncing about in the back of my head instead of making it onto braith an’ lithe.  But I couldn’t let kintsugi pass.

The teacher at the Satyananda yoga workshop I went to opened the day by explaining the concept of kintsugi.  I’d never heard of it before and my second thought was it sounded like a perfect candidate for Prompts for the Promptless.  I hope if Rarasaur or Grayson Queen see this post, they might take me up on that – I’d love to see their readers’ takes on kintsugi!

My first thought was, how lovely – and how funny to find a name for what my husband and I had been talking about just the day before.

Kintsugi means golden joinery or repair, and is the Japanese art of mending broken ceramics with a lacquer and gold resin.  The legend goes that a 15th century shogun broke one of his favourite teapots and sent it to China for repair.  He was so disappointed when it was returned with ugly, crude cracks that local craftspeople developed a new way of mending pottery using gold.  Ceramics mended with these golden seams had extra beauty, strength and originality and became collectors’ items.

The yoga teacher had heard this story on a BBC Radio 4 programme which states kintsugi ‘gives new life to damaged goods by celebrating their frailty and history’.

The evening before the yoga workshop, I was at the local swimming pool with my husband.  He is due to have a hernia operation in November, and as we were getting changed, he slapped his tummy and announced we’d soon have matching scars.  I looked rather mournfully at mine – 10cm of raggedy approximately vertical line descending from just below my belly button, complete with a weird dip that looks like a second belly button, a result of the hospital-contracted post-operative infection – and said ‘but mine will be uglier’.

My husband said ‘it’s not ugly.  Scars are attractive.  They tell me that people have led interesting lives’.

I said ‘huh, there’s nothing much interesting or glamorous about having a big tumour removed’.

But before the words were even completely out of my mouth, I knew he was right and I was wrong.  All the ways in which I am a better, stronger, more interesting, more compassionate person because of what happened to me were flashing through my mind.  I thought of all the things I’d learned about what was important and who was important.  I thought of how terror and pain and what had seemed likely and very imminent mortality had transformed my understandings of myself and life and what other people go through.  I thought of how much braver and more grateful I am now.  About how I probably wouldn’t be married to this man, writing this blog, training to be a yoga teacher, or trying to write books, without this scar.

Would I trade the amateur puckered darning look for the smooth flat belly I used to have? Hell, no.

Photo credit: sangbleu.com