New year arrrrggggghhhhhhh

A academic year begins for both my two children and for me. This is my second year and final year of my Fashion and Clothing course after which I will hopefully enter the land of employed in whatever capacity I can find within the textiles community. What to do though and how to juggle it all without being swallowed up by that ghastly maternal guilt that I am not there enough for my children?

The new timetable has caused more stress than I thought was actually possible. Why? Because the guilt that comes with shuttling the children here there and everywhere became by the end of last week all consuming. If you were voicing these worries to me, my reply would be that it is good for your children to see their mother follow her passions and see that the world isn’t completely ruled by their after school activities and homework timetables. That they will become independent individuals just as I did with a working mother.  However, giving this advice to yourself is really rather difficult. Hence tears and chocolate consumption and a knotted up body that wouldn’t chill even in a yoga practice.

However, a weekend away with my  husband to celebrate our anniversary helped enormously including seeing the last night of Jeeves and Wooster at the Duke of York theatre, a look in art and fabric shops (andrew was thrilled at this bit) plus a wander down Kings Road. Walking really does clear the mind and calm the thoughts (especially if interspersed with glasses of bubbly in London).

So as I venture into college today to receive yet another revised timetable and face the headache of trying to fit everything in and keeping everyone happy I am doing it with a clearer head (and a hangover).

Namaste

 

 

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Beautiful English View

As we end towards the end of Summer and anticipate the onset of Autumn, how wonderful it is to enjoy the British countryside. This was taken 10 minutes down the road from where i live at a place called Sharpenhoe Clappers. It was during this walk that I found out the hard way, that the blackberries were not ready for picking. (two weeks later the inside of my mouth is still trying to lose its puckered shape)

 

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If found, please return to sender

A few months ago (because that is how regularly I write this blog), I wrote about how I had cracked the daily practice thing. The thing about thinking you have cracked something, is that you think that will be it. The attained mental fortitude will stay forever, and nothing including ill health etc, will knock it out of place. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.

It is similar to the no sugar, healthy eating plans or the triumphant feeling you get when not only the laundry bin is empty but so is the ironing pile and everything is put away. Hoorah you shout I am one of those people that can do everything, only for four PE kits, a returning husband’s suitcase contents and bed linen to fill it up the next day; no state of being is locked. It is continually moving and changing with solutions popping up along the way. What I am trying to say is that I no longer have a daily practice, my mojo has gone, the yogic fairies that graced my very presence have vanished.  I would very much like to see it returned please.

I get onto the mat, a few salutations and I finish and move to my book to read . Sometimes I don’t get up. Various things to blame, surgery in June, summer holidays, an over indulgent holiday in Canada and children ever present. But really none of this should stop me from doing what I love and my body is definitely showing the result of not practising.

I am still going to class when I can, this morning I managed the suryas but no more. WHY?

Physically it is because it is hard, I know that, I enjoy that. But the non practice is making it tougher when I do and mentally I miss the focus when I do get to class. My focus is more on blimey this is tough, as opposed to the moving meditation that it should be.

So handy hints please.

Oh and yes I do know that yoga is more than what happens on the mat but the bit on the mat helps.

 

 

 

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Good Intentions etc etc

I’m just back from a great holiday in Canada where we stayed with family. Pre-holiday I spent my time researching yoga studios, ensuring my sister in law had a yoga mat ready for me to practice daily and trips to Lululemon planned. It would be marvellous as I would be have the time to fit in a full practice each day AND frequent the yoga studios which line each street of Oakville – the town we stayed the majority of our holiday.

hmm….

I made it onto my mat a handful of times, went for a run once and never made it through the door of a Canadian yoga studio. That thing called life got in the way, you know having fun with family, exploring the native town of Parry Sound when we went North and making friends with my favourite Sauvignon Blanc grape.

I did manage a beautiful practice on this amazing balcony but then unfortunately the weather changed and outside practice would have been a tad damp. A lot of yogic calm was needed to swim in what was our outdoor pool for the four days we spent in Parry Sound – Georgia Bay. The water was beautiful, tackling the lily pads to get into the open water was not!

If any of you reading this are Harry Potter fans then think Mer People in Goblet of Fire. Still a privilege and a joy to be able to swim in such glorious surroundings.

Consequently, my general tardiness, wine consumption and intake of food meant that my return to Mysore class this week was hard. Friday morning, I barely made it to Navasana, however on Saturday I had a fabulous practice – the yogic fairies were definitely with me and I felt that deep joy afterwards. That deep joy has now been replaced with lots of pain as I am unable to move any muscle apart from eyeballs without flinching. There is a lesson to be learned in all of this somewhere………………

My next good intention is to revisit the first draft of a book I wrote over 2 years ago called “Death on a yoga mat”. The problem with editing and re-writing anything is that you have to read the initial stream of consciousness that makes up the first draft. The ideas and writing in the first instance for  me is the easy bit, having to go back and rework it so that it comes together in something that could be read and enjoyed by others is the reason  I am still unpublished.  Still Death on a Yoga Mat is a catchy title hey?

 

 

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So when did Avocado become the enemy

As someone who has struggled with their weight since university where weight gain was caused by my ability to consume pints of Guinness in Olympic quantities and believing that the walk to the pub constituted enough exercise, I can fully relate to the fear people

 who want to or who are trying to lose weight feel about the simple avocado. I KNOW, sounds ridiculous. As a close friend has often said to me “no one ever got fat on too many avocados”. However, mention one of my favourite breakfasts of avocado with Whole Earth Chunky Peanut Butter (never Sunpat people thats like comparing a low fat yogurt to proper lush greek yoghurt) to a member/leader of weight watchers and you may need to

a fan to cool their fevered brow and resuscitate after they have fainted. After all these are people that experiment with balsamic vinegar and diet lemonade to see if it tastes the same as Pimms and lemonade but calorie free (I KID YOU NOT).

I don’t blame them. The weight loss industry for whom I worked for two years, spends their time and our money on convincing you that fat is bad, low calorie is good. They also make us believe that the only way we can lose weight is to follow their regime and to aid our weight loss, consume their own brand, flavour free, additive high and as far away from natural as Mickey Rourke is, processed meals, chocolate bars and crisps. If you speak to anybody that is trying to lose weight the majority are  doing it by following a certain plan, most of which I have tried; Weight Watchers, Slimming World, 5:2, no carbs, no fat, calorie counting – the list goes on. When did it become so hard?

Hey, I lost a hell of a lot of weight through weight watchers and when working for them helped a lot of people lose weight, but this is where I believe the problem lies. Its all in the end result – losing weight. We all want to see the number on the scales diminish, however we get there, at whatever cost. Take the Lighter Life diet, I once met a bloke who had lost 5 stone in 17 weeks on that plan. That is just over 4 lbs per week. He looked awful, grey and had major health problems as a result of this restrictive ridiculous plan. Why? The body will take energy from anywhere in the body if you restrict its calorific intake, this includes lean tissue (muscle mass). Maybe we are focussing on the wrong goal, the numbers on the scale are after all just a number that fluctuates throughout the day and on a daily basis. The sinking feeling when the number moves up by 2 lbs for no apparent reason is enough to push the most focussed weight watcher towards the chippy. It is demoralising, messes up with our self esteem and puts our self worth on a daily fluctuating dial.

After working within the industry for 2 years I can tell you that any passion for weight loss that they had 50 years ago has been replaced by a business brain seeking profits. I may have lost a lot of weight with them but my relationship with food took a massive battering; but of course this is what they want isn’t it? Then you go back out of fear of regaining the weight or because you have regained the weight. Either or they are happy and you are trapped. They even offer you incentives, if you have got to “goal” then hey, no registration fee for you!

So what is the answer, is there one? How about putting the attention on health rather than weight loss? Put the weighing scales away, listen to what your body is telling you and eat with a sense of mindfulness. I am addicted to food and I always will be. It is my first port of call when stressed, hormonal, happy, angry, err breathing and I don’t see this changing anytime soon. But I have ditched the calorie counting forever, because all this does is reinforce my addiction telling me how much I have eaten and how much I could still eat today. Instead, give up the crap; sugar, processed crap that doesn’t require your digestive system to work, trans fats that can actually reduce the goodness taken in from other foods, and mindless eating. You know what I mean, a whole packet of biscuits inhaled when you only truly noticed the first and the last, fruit and nut swallowed without any chewing so it slides down your neck like an anvil down Tom’s in Tom and Jerry. Take a breath before you raid the biscuit tin and ask yourself whether you are actually hungry or is it your addiction talking.

Eating with mindfulness, getting on the yoga mat and banishing the guilt when a slice of cheesecake comes your way. I feel better when I live this way so I thought I would share, plus bloody cathartic to get all the stuff about my old employer off my chest………….finally.

I can thoroughly recommend reading “eating less, saying goodbye to overeating”

 

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In the morning? when its dark? Are you mad?

To answer the above questions – yes,  actually at the moment it isn’t dark well not that dark and possibly yes.  If you look at an ashtanga practice from an outsider’s point of view, it can seem a bit barmy. A 6 day a week practice, getting up at least an hour before most people contemplate setting their alarm and practicing ashtanga when your body just wants  the duvet. So there has to be a point to it doesn’t there?

I would like to say that I leap out of bed the second my alarm beeps at 5.30am, little tweeting sparrows circle around my head as I glide down the stairs onto my mat and proceed to flow through primary series with grace, ease, mental focus and definitely no daydreaming. Well maybe the tweeting sparrow things would be weird and to be honest potentially messy, but you get my meaning. 

This does not happen, no tweeting, a little groaning, lots of day dreaming and grace is an attribute that I will never possess.

An essential for my practice to have any chance of happening was given to me by my good friend Sarah – get the coffee ready the night before. Good coffee. Therefore before I go to bed, i ensure the coffee beans are ground and the machine is set. No caffeine no Prana after all. It is the lure of this lovely black syrupy goodness that enables me to stagger down the stairs, one eye open squinting through the other in search of the machine and then the mat. 

I don’t get through the whole of primary and am really pleased if i make it to Navasana with a few backbends. But what even the smallest practice gives me is remarkable. So remarkable in fact that my non yogic husband encourages my morning madness. Post practice I am a calm, chilled organised, non shouty member of the household ready to get everybody ready and out the house by 8.

My body may sometimes feel like it is made of lead and any food I have eaten the evening before is instantly regretted by Mari C. I may stop to daydream a tad through surya B on occasion but the practice although obviously physical is overwhelming in its ability to create mental space.

I  have to leave a pad on the chair by my mat as generally by trikonasana creative ideas start popping into my head that I need to quickly jot down. Its as if they have been given the space to arise. All the other more rowdy thoughts have taken a nap and so they poke their heads up in order to get noticed. Okay not the mindfulness expected of an ashtanga practice but hey it works.

So if you want to try a morning practice but just lack the willpower and motivation, firstly get a great mate called Sarah to inspire you but also load the coffee machine up! Actually just get out of bed and try it. After a few days the mental clarity that follows will be worth the harsh buzz of the alarm……. (insert relevant disclaimer)

ps if you think that I am some marvellous yogi that has been practicing 6 days a week for years, rest assured it is a relatively new phenomena.

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These toes are not for rolling

The vinyasa sequence throughout primary and of course the salutations is a major characteristic of Ashtanga yoga. Until recently it had always seemed like this magical thing that only proper yogis could do (i.e. not me). I have spent hours searching youtube for the magic formula to achieve this most illusive of moves but to no avail. Maybe my toes aren’t made that way,  maybe I just have the non rolling kind of toes.  Even  before I ventured into my first Ashtanga class just over three years ago, my Hatha teacher would use the vinyasa sequence occasionally and would laugh and say “of course you can always do that mad painful rolling thing that Ashtanga students do…..ha ha ha ha.”

Strength is an important part in any form of yoga, in fact the balance between flexibility and strength is what is needed. Some people have great strength which can limit their flexibility, some people can tie their legs in a plait but have reduced strength. Strength was never my err…….strength.

3 years ago chaturanga was out of my reach,  my knees were  on the floor and even then Cathy would say, elbows in Joanna, elbows in.  I thought she was having a laugh. She wasn’t.

Chaturanga

Over the years, i found that yes the strength in my upper body was increasing and sure enough my knees came off the floor but still my toes would not roll. I made my friend demonstrate in her living room how she did this magic but she couldn’t explain. It just happened. Well it wasn’t just happening to me that is for sure.

Obviously, yoga isn’t about the asana or what your body can or cannot do it is about the breath, alignment and not beating yourself up about your freak toes. I do know this although it sometimes slips to the back of my mind.

Then all of a sudden IT HAPPENED. I am not sure how, well actually i am and it won’t help any of you frustrated non toe rolling ashtangis as it is a particularly yogic way that it occurred. With time, with practice and in the words of Jois “breath and all is coming.”

Practice has increased my upper body strength, so when in chaturanga I can press into my hands to straighten my arms whilst rolling over my toes. It is hard and after Purvottanasana still impossible…….at the moment. There is still so much to think about whilst making the transition to upward dog, engage mula bhanda, shoulders back and down, engage quads thus ensuring the small of the back doesn’t pinch. But I tell you it is an ace feeling when it works. If you have no idea what I am talking about watch the wonderful kino in this youtube clip.

One thing is for sure, my arms are way to short to jump through to seated in primary, but you know another three years and maybe my arms will grow that added length.

 

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Yogic Bliss?

So what is this feeling you get after an amazing yoga practice and why does it happen? This morning I had to force myself into my car to go to yoga as my mind was telling me not to go. The last two mornings of home practice have felt brilliant, my iron levels are on their way back up and I can really feel my strength improving

This morning however, my stomach was cramping, my chest felt wheezy, I hadn’t slept too well and all i wanted to do was go back to bed enjoying a half term lie in. But I had a light breakfast of avocado with peanut butter got in my car and went.

Now? My chest feels clear and open thanks to the Ujjaji breathing, the cramping has gone and I feel on top of the world.

As someone who has battled with depression – to be honest I hate that word battle because at the time of it you succumb, there isn’t much fighting to be had – the answer is in the breath. This is nothing new to yogis out there but incredibly difficult to describe to an outsider. You know one of those normal people that doesn’t obsess about having the strength to jump through, drop back or ever hear the words “lets try the first pose in 2nd series”.

I have said to friends in the past who are suffering with depression that maybe they try yoga, and I get the obvious responses – “ooh no I cannot touch my toes” or “no thanks I already do enough exercise”. How do you explain that by connecting to the breath your mind becomes free and on the way home you find yourself crying to a cheesy song and waving at random cyclists?

 

Any suggestions?

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Thursday Tutorial – Flat Felled Seam

So here begins my Thursday sewing tutorials. Each week (on a Thursday suprisingly) I will try and explain a technique that you may have seen written in a pattern / book, on Great British Sewing Bee, or you have seen on a bag or in your clothes. A technique you want simplified and demonstrated.

The first one I thought of doing was flat felled seams. When I learned how to do these I was really excited. I know sounds sad doesn’t it? But I had often looked at the side of my jeans and thought so how do they do that then? I couldn’t work out where the rest of the fabric was, no raw edges and yet no lining. It is also a seam used in the sleeves of mens’ shirts. It is generally used for heavy duty fabrics and I think the benefits of it are:

  • hardwearing
  • all raw edges are hidden ( I like anything that means I don’t have to thread the overlocker to be honest)
  • decorative – especially so in bag making, in fact with the correct handles a bag can be made reversible with flat felled seams.

If you are up cycling an old pair of jeans into a bag for example it would be aesthetically pleasing to use a flat felled seam instead of the standard open seam as it would fit in with the denim feel of the finished product. As with a lot of things, flat felled seams look tricky but are in fact reasonably simple.

Top tip – with your first attempt use a sturdy fabric home decor weight and a 2cm seam allowance. The flat felled seam should not be used on a thin fabric such as chiffon, try it and you will see why. In these case a French seam should be used which I will be covering next week.

Things you will need

1. two pieces of fabric – see above for weight

2. sewing machine

3. ironing  board

4. scissors, pins, threads etc.

Method

1. As with an open seam sew the two pieces of fabric together using a 2cm seam allowance for ease (see above). When first trying this method, place the fabric right sides together but at the end I will show you how sewing wrong sides together can produce a far more decorative finish but it does require neat sewing skills.

2 cm open seam

2. Iron open the seam

3. Cut the top layer of the seam down to approx. 0.5cms – making sure you are only cutting the top piece of fabric. (the ironing helps as you have already separated the fabric)

Cut top seam

4. Iron the larger bottom seam over the top of the just cut seam so that the raw edge of the fold meets the stitching. Be careful of your fingers here.

Folded over up to stitch line

 

5. Fold the seam over once more and iron.

It also helps to turn over and iron the reverse side to ensure seam is not caught or folded.

6. Top stitch along the folded over edge so you have two lines of stitching.

7. Hey presto you have a flat felled seam. How hard was that?

Ok I know it is quite fiddly but believe me practise does make perfect and it really is a versatile seam.

If you look at your jeans, generally you will see two lines of orange stitching down the side of the leg and yet your two lines of stitching are underneath. By stitching the initial open seam with wrong sides together at stage 1, the end result will be the two rows of stitching on the outside. However this does call for precise ironing, cutting and stitching so maybe not on your first go.

Let me know how you get on with this tutorial and please put in requests for future ones.

 

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Procrastination is my favourite hobby

Blimey it is so long since I have written a blog post it has taken me about 30 minutes to remember the password. After that I yet again had to convince the computer that I am a sentient being and not a robot – a test I managed to fail three times. I have had this problem before

Since I started full time college in September, life has been hectic to say the least; most days I dont know whether I am coming or going but I absolutely love the chaos. I am learning so much at an extroadinarily fast rate, which in turn is sparking up even more creative ideas. The family are being really supportive as they trip over all of my college stuff when they walk through the house. I thought that I would find having to put Martha into breakfast club and after school club challenging but we all seem to have adapted to the new regime marvellously. I really want to share some of the skills I am learning at college with the online sewing community – after all it is through sewing blogs that I taught myself to sew 7 years ago. I also want to share discoveries I make through my yoga practice, I am assuming the best way to do this is through two separate pages within the same blog??? Obviously I have no idea how to do this so if someone could help that would be marvellous. ( this post has taken so long to write that I have also worked out how to do that)

Although it has to be said that the paths of yoga and sewing do cross – well they do in my life and I am not just talking yoga bags. Whilst laying out pattern pieces onto fabric one evening last week, I was stretching awkwardly and pulled something towards the middle of my back. It hurt a lot! I tried some stretching - it hurt. I tried deep  breathing that hurt beyond belief. So I cried and took a hot salt bath after bundling the kids into bed early. I felt incredibly sorry for myself – yes I know pulled muscle get over yourself Jo but a painful back in yoga is not a good thing.

 

I was a good girl and rested it for four days and each day it felt better so I realised I hadn’t done anything too drastic. Although concerned about Mysore class on Friday, I knew that if i listened to my body and didn’t push myself i should be okay and obviously I made Cathy aware. The good thing about Cathy my teacher being aware is that I knew Icould avoid adjustment in Prasarita Padottanasana. (sorry Cathy)

Luckily I managed to park my mat next to my yoga pal Di, our practice moves at the same pace which I find creates a nice energy around us. Everybody practices at a different pace and whilst my practice does not feel slow I am conscious that I am still going when others who have come in later have completed primary and part of second and are in savasanah. Although (to bastardise a Paul Yong lyric) I am happy wherever I lay my mat, I can feel rushed and not connected to my breath if the yogi next to me is moving at a faster pace. Maybe the problem lies with me and my lack of dristi!

In this  practice my breath felt wonderful and deep, throughout I visualised the breath circling around the area that was sore. Forward bends felt wonderful, the twists not so. I didn’t push myself in the maris and certainly didnt force myself to bind in half lotus. Bizarrely back bends felt lovely – well you know that fine line between wondeful and blooming hard work surely its time for cake now feeling. I felt so refreshed after the practice, so many creative ideas surged into my head it was wonderful. Although I may need a Hermione Granger time turning watch to be able to follow them all through.

 Yoga is quite magic really isn’t it.

Before I go, surely a musical yogi should release the song “Wherever I lay my mat thats my Home”. Just a thought.

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