A year of yoga

I started yoga a few years ago when my company began offering cheap classes in our lunch breaks, and before and after work, with a local instructor who came in to our office. I had tried yoga a few times before that, but I’d never really got on with it. I wanted to be the kind of person who did yoga (you know, the Instagram version of a yogi), but I feared that I wasn’t. Or at least, I was made to feel that I wasn’t by some of the scary teachers (and intimidating participants!) I encountered. Luckily, the local instructor we had at work was fantastic, and her relaxed and happy-go-lucky demeanour made me instantly warm to both her and the practice.

When lockdown happened a year ago today, I knew I was going to have to form some kind of routine, so I decided to make yoga a part of that. Initially I started with one of the Yoga with Adriene 30 day programmes, and I practiced every working day (so generally 5 days a week). When I finished the 30 days, I randomly selected a different Adriene video every day, sometimes practicing for just 10 minutes, other days closer to an hour.

I’ve stuck with Adriene this whole time, doing a little bit of yoga every week, even if not every day. When restrictions eased and I briefly had other things to do, it was harder to fit it in, but I always came back to it.

This year on January 1st I started Adriene’s latest 30 day programme, and since then I have followed her free monthly calendars, practicing every single day so far (82 days of yoga!). I may not be super flexible, and I’m certainly not that Insta-yogi I once thought I wanted to be, but regular yoga practice has really made a difference to my lockdown life. No matter how stressed I am, or how much I want to stay in bed, getting up and showing up on the mat always makes me feel better. It’s a chance to breathe. To move. To stretch. And, as Adriene says, to find what feels good.

Namaste.


Fed Up

I’m fed up with faces on screens

Endless memes about 2020

and what a shit show it’s been

I’m fed up with working from home

Living alone and seeing

no one’s face but my own

I’m fed up with lockdown

With going around in circles

not able to leave my town

I’m fed up with walking for the sake of it

An attempt to keep fit and snatch

a breath of fresh air, but I’m over it

I’m fed up with covering my face

Keeping my space and nodding politely

when I want to embrace

I’m fed up with rules and restrictions

All these contradictions and not knowing

what’s fact and what’s fiction

I’m fed up with not seeing my friends

When will this end and

when can I hug you again?


Dancing on my own

I’ve neglected this blog. You would have thought that the last year would have been the perfect time to write, but until now I simply haven’t felt inspired.

I used to blog constantly. It was my main hobby really, until I started dancing. Once salsa took over, I happily let blogging slide out of view in favour of more minutes on the dance floor. I dipped in occasionally, but life was simply too busy to sit in front of a computer all evening.

Yes, life was busy, and I loved it. Up until March 2020 I was dancing 4 or 5 times a week; a regular on the local dance floor as well as a number of festivals across the country. As well as salsa and other Latin and Afro dances (such as bachata and kizomba), I had also begun my pole dancing journey. Pole dancing is a whole different kettle of fish to salsa, but one that I instantly connected with and wanted to learn more about.

And then Covid came along. Slowly, one by one, all the things I did outside of work started to close. I clung on to salsa classes for as long as I could, dancing every last dance, hugging every last friend as I reluctantly left the hall, but everything had to stop. The gyms closed, and the pole classes I had just started to really enjoy also had to end. I remember writing on my Facebook on 15th March 2020:

The idea of having the one thing that keeps me sane, the one thing that actually gets me out of the office and stops me working all night taken away from me for an indefinite period, is scary. A week or so of chilling, watching movies and reading sounds nice at first, but the idea of weeks, months, who knows how long without the chance to dance is actually something I can’t bear. What are we supposed to do?

And what were we supposed to do? No one knew really. These were ‘unprecedented times’ after all.

I’m going to just pause here and say I know that in all of this I’m really fortunate. I’m fortunate that Covid hasn’t affected me personally in any massive way, and my heart goes out to all of those who have lost someone. I’m fortunate to have been working this whole time (although with reduced pay and hours, and it hasn’t been easy). And I’m extremely fortunate to have a nice little rented one-bedroom flat where I’m safe and comfortable. I choose to live alone in this little space, and pre-Covid that was just perfect for me as I was always out dancing anyway. I remember how I used to look forward to those occasional nights in, where I could have a long bubble bath in peace, or even a rare weekend with no plans where I could wear my PJs and no make-up for a whole day if I wanted. I used to enjoy that moment of silence when I came home after a night of dancing and closed the front door behind me. I loved being alone, but I never realised that I loved it because it was the balance to my busy life.

On 23rd March I started working from home, and we all had to get used to this ‘new normal’ of seeing our colleagues in tiny boxes on a screen instead of over a coffee in the kitchen. I’d always quite fancied the idea of escaping the noise of the office for a few days a week, and with a good desk and IT set up at home, I felt quite happy initially. I would get up in the morning and lay out my yoga mat in the middle of the living room floor, do a Yoga with Adriene session, roll up the mat and go for a quick walk before work so I could ‘arrive’ at work with a fresh mind. My ‘office’ was a desk in the corner of my living room, and at lunch I would take two steps to the sofa and listen to the radio. I tried to keep good habits and finish work on time, and as soon as 5:30 came around I would put my work notebook away, turn off my computer and push my chair into my desk to symbolise that the ‘office’ was closed. Then, the living room floor would once again become an exercise space as I did a PT via Whatsapp, or a dance floor as I tried to support my teachers by joining their solo footwork classes (sorry downstairs neighbours, but a girl’s gotta dance!).

And every day I kept to this pattern of transforming my living room from living and dining space, to gym, to office, to dance floor. As the months passed, I got more pieces of equipment and would find myself stashing a kettlebell under my desk, or using a weights bench as an extra table when I wasn’t working out. Dance classes lost momentum after a while. There’s only so much solo footwork and choreography I could do before I simply felt sad that I couldn’t dance with my friends. I missed the connection that salsa brought me – both physical and mental. But I continued to move my body in other ways. Movement was what was keeping me sane in these four walls.

After a few more pole dancing classes in the studio over the summer when restrictions were eased (eased enough for solo pole, but not enough for partner dancing), I realised I was going to need to bite the bullet. If I wanted to get through the winter and another long and lonely lockdown by myself, I was going to need a pole. How could I possibly fit more exercise equipment into my tiny flat? It seemed impossible, and slightly ridiculous, but all those years of playing Tetris were now paying off. Now, with my shiny new pole standing proudly behind me on every video call at work, it was less a case of having to pack up and transform my small space every day, and more a case of doing a slight assault course when I needed to make a cup of tea. Did the pole work in the space? Just. Did it bring me absolute joy to be able to take online pole classes and build my strength and technique? More than you can ever imagine.

Back in March I asked the question “what are we supposed to do?”, and I guess what this experience has taught me over the last 12 months is that actually I knew what I was supposed to do all along. I was supposed to dance. I was supposed to keep moving, in any way possible. I learnt that dancing, training, learning new things my body can do, even hula hooping and knocking things off my shelves, would get me through this. I learnt to ‘close the office’, lay out the mat and switch my day from one mode to another. Did this work perfectly every day? No. Were there times when I was too stressed and tired to do more than practically fall from my desk chair to my sofa and wrap myself up like a burrito in a fluffy blanket? Yes. Am I going to beat myself up for not exercising every day and pushing through the stress. Hell no!

But for the most part, if I could just make that switch from work to home, my evening’s activities would put a smile on my face and lift my mood, no matter what the day had thrown at me. I miss social dancing with my friends terribly, but at least with pole I can dance with my static partner. I can move my body in new ways, express myself to the music, learn new things and have a hell of a lot of fun.

I can’t wait to get back to dance and pole classes in person, but for now I’ll keep dancing on my own.


A complete 360 for 2020

New year, new me? Hell no! I’m fine as I am, thank you. New year, new experience though…? Now you’re talking!

If you had said to me 5 or 6 years ago that on 7th January 2020 I would be attending a pole dancing class, wearing short shorts, with a couple of girls I hardly know, I would have laughed in your face. No way could 32 year old me conceive that 38 year old me would have that kind of confidence, or at least the right kind of fake it til you make it attitude. But apparently I do…

Tonight, along with a couple of girls from salsa (who I know a whole lot better now!), I went along to a pole dancing taster class in Bedminster, Bristol. 360 Pole Dancing‘s studio is tucked away in a warehouse type building down a street I had never really noticed before. I was nervous – I always get that way with new places, new people – so I was glad to be going along with someone I could get lost and make mistakes with. As soon as we got in the building I saw another trio of nervous looking girls, and soon more arrived. I was probably the oldest in the group, but that didn’t bother me. The things I was most scared of were not being physically able to do anything… and getting my legs out.

The website said to wear shorts, and I was relieved to see everyone was. In fact, the teachers were simply wearing knickers. I tried to avoid direct eye contact with the mirrors (and the teacher’s stunning arse) and summoned my inner mermaid, then soon realised no one gave a shit about my wobbly thighs.

I’m not going to lie, it wasn’t easy. And there were moves I didn’t quite have the strength for (yet). But you know what? It was awesome fun! We ran through some of the starter moves, wrapping ourselves round the pole from various angles and attempting to leave the ground. In one of the more advanced moves the teacher seemingly levitated as though she had employed some kind of witchcraft, whilst I struggled just to cross my legs around the pole and grip on with my thighs without smashing into my lady parts too much. We learnt how to get up gracefully (ish!) from the floor, arse first of course, and even did a little bit of sexy sliding about on the floor (I was reminded of the ‘sexy worm’ move we once created in a bachata dance class some years ago when practicing body rolls against the wall…). With a little assistance, I even did one incredible spin, which made me feel like a goddess, and I will hold on to that slightly rose-tinted memory as inspiration for the weeks to come.

Yes, you heard me right. I’ve signed up for a 6 week course. Why not? It was incredible fun, a great workout, and hopefully something that will help to build my strength – both physical and mental.

Have you tried anything new yet this year? Go on… give it a go! 😉

Pole.jpg

Find out more about 360 Pole Dancing on their website, Facebook and Instagram. This post is not sponsored – I just like to shout about cool, local businesses and all the great stuff there is to do in Bristol.


Sober Thoughts

“What do you mean, you don’t drink?”, they sometimes say. “Why?”

I made a decision around this time last year that I was going to stop drinking. Like most diets and New Year’s resolutions, I thought it would probably be a January thing, and that come February I would drink again.

I’ve never been a massive drinker, often making one or two drinks last the night or opting for soft drinks, but around this time of year I would usually drink more – doesn’t everyone? Christmas parties, birthday parties, New Year’s parties – all of that socialising so often revolves around the idea of ‘going for a drink’.

Christmas Party 2013

Ali two-drinks at the office Christmas party in 2013

It’s been a long time since I drank so much that I had a hangover or felt sick, and I think I’ve only once not really remembered what happened the night before (and that was back when I was a teenager), but over the last couple of years I’ve been noticing that drinking just doesn’t make me feel very happy. Alcohol is a depressant, and it seemed to me that drinking was just bringing out the gloomier side of me (and goodness knows I don’t need any help with that!).

So, I decided to stop.

I haven’t drunk anything since last New Year’s Eve, and that was only one or two glasses of Prosecco if I remember correctly. When midnight came, I put the glass down, and that was the end of that.

I know that for some people quitting drinking is a massive challenge, so I don’t want to belittle the efforts of others by saying that for me, it wasn’t so bad. I didn’t have a problem – I never used drink to cope with life or hide from my problems, but I know many people do, and I wish them well on their journeys. For me, the hardest part of quitting has been explaining to others that I don’t have a problem – I’m just choosing not to drink.

You’d be amazed how many people seem to care so much about what another person consumes. At times it can be quite alienating, when everyone around you is drinking, and especially when they try to get you to join in.

Luckily, my main hobby – dancing – is not one which is attached to a strong drinking culture. Generally, drinking doesn’t make your ability to dance any better (I know this, having tried a whole class of double turns practice after two-for-one cocktails in the past), so it’s often avoided in the salsa community. In fact, my main salsa home is in a church hall where alcohol isn’t even allowed.

I’ve also been lucky to have been welcomed into a local group – the Sober Circle – which organises alcohol free events and meet-ups in the South West. It’s a supportive group of people who are all coming at sobriety from different angles, all open to hearing each other’s stories and listening when someone needs it. Sometimes we meet for coffee and cake, and it’s nice to just chat to some different people with one common choice.

Is sober life dull? Hell no. I’m just as social as I’ve ever been, with a clearer mind and a slightly healthier body. There are plenty of alcohol-free options out there these days and, you know what? Water actually tastes pretty good too.

So, if you’re thinking of giving up alcohol, even if it’s just ‘Dry January’ or cutting back a bit in the New Year, good luck! I raise my glass of Nosecco to you!

Nosecco

Celebrating Christmas with a glass of Nosecco

 


Buy Nothing

Black Friday. A day when we are bombarded with special offers and discounts aimed at making us buy, buy, buy. But I choose not to. I choose to buy nothing.
In fact, I’ve made a drastic decision, and I’m telling you about it to make sure I stick to it.

I’m not going to buy any new clothes for a year.

The exception will be essentials – underwear and socks (should I need them) and shoes if they become irreparable (not just when I fancy a new pair). If I feel the need for a new outfit for an occasion, such as my friend’s wedding, I can buy something second-hand from a charity shop, but this must be justified.

I simply don’t need anything new. I have drawers and cupboards bursting full of clothing – I can’t even fit it all in. No one needs the amount of leggings I own! I’ve got into these really bad habits of picking up items of clothing here and there without thinking at all about the financial cost or the environmental impact, and I need to change my mindset.

Fast fashion is a real problem, and whilst it might be very nice and convenient to pick up a new top from Sainsbury’s along with my groceries, it’s only adding to the problem. And I don’t need it.

The one area where this is going to be particularly difficult for me is dance. Whilst I definitely don’t need any new dance shoes, every time I go to a salsa weekender or special event I like to feel like I have something new to wear. But you know what? I have a lot of nice clothes already, and I don’t need a new outfit every time I dance. If there’s a theme party and I don’t have a suitable costume, I’ll hit the charity shops rather than Amazon.

I hope I can succeed in this mission – a year without buying any new clothes. Here’s to a simpler 2020. A year of conscious and minimal purchases.

a year without buying clothes2


2019: The Year I Discovered I was a Vegan

Around this time last year I decided I was going to give Veganuary a go. Veganuary is a charity and a movement which encourages people to go vegan in January and supports them in their vegan journey throughout the month and if they choose to keep going. As a pescatarian and former vegetarian who hasn’t really eaten meat for the best part of 25 years, I planned to just go vegan for January and then go back to eggs and fish at least. Dairy I wouldn’t miss – it didn’t always agree with me anyway – but I didn’t really think I would be able to give up eggs and fish as they seemed so essential to my diet.Veganuary

My main reason for giving Veganuary a go was for the culinary adventure. I wanted to get back into cooking and try some new food, and I wanted to get out of some of my stale habits. There are lots of reasons one might choose a plant-based diet, and if the focus is to be plant-based rather than vegan, the reasoning is more likely to be health and diet. That being said, I ate a lot of amazing vegan junk food and cake in January, so I don’t want anyone reading this to think it’s all lentils and chickpeas! I also don’t want to give any wrong impression that veganism or choosing to eat plant-based is a ‘diet’ in the sense of it being a plan with which to lose weight. It’s not, although there can of course be fantastic health benefits to any change in what one chooses to eat, and cooking more from scratch and eating more vegetables and pulses can only be a good thing in terms of health.

Culinary Adventure

So, it was all about food to start with. I was excited by how big Veganuary was this year – all the supermarkets had lots of exciting new things to try, and of course there was the Gregg’s vegan sausage roll too!

Greggs

The Gregg’s vegan sausage roll – so many excited vegans across the country!

However, as the month went on I began reading, watching documentaries and educating myself, and I learnt more about the other reasons one might choose to be vegan. Of course, the main reasons are usually the environment and animal welfare. Although I’ve always been someone who likes animals and cares about the environment, I didn’t think eating a bit of fish and a few eggs were that big a deal. What did it matter if I put a bit of honey on my porridge or my shoes were made of leather? I never thought about the plastic my food and beauty products came in, and I certainly never checked to see if my products had been tested on animals or contained animal products such as lanolin and collagen.

Horses

A friend to the animals even at a young age…

But at some point early this year, perhaps even in the middle of January, just a couple of weeks into my vegan journey, I made a decision that this wasn’t going to be just a month-long experiment. It was like I took a good look inside and found a label that said ‘vegan’. It was a light bulb moment of ‘oh, this is what I should have been doing all along!’. I didn’t know I was a vegan, but suddenly it all made sense and I couldn’t imagine living any other way.

The definition of veganism according to the Vegan Society states:

“Veganism is a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.”

During my journey this year I have cut out all animal products from my diet. That was instant, and coming from being pescatarian I can honestly say it wasn’t difficult at all. I haven’t craved anything or missed anything really, and there have only been a few odd occasions where I have had trouble finding something to eat or have felt a bit left out. But, on the contrary, there have also been some lovely moments where I have felt so included; where friends or colleagues who aren’t vegan have made deliberate choices to provide a vegan option because they know I will be there, and that makes me so happy.

Making changes in other areas of my life is more of a process and not something that can happen overnight. As I use up a beauty product I try to replace it with something vegan, cruelty free and with as little plastic as possible. I’ve made the switch from bottles of shower gel to solid bars, and other products are slowly being switched over as I can. When I’ve needed to buy new clothes I have tried to look for vegan and sustainable options too – who knew a pair of trainers could be vegan! I just never thought about it before.

boots

Vegan boots from Vegetarian Shoes in Brighton

Above all else, this year has made me think so much. I just never considered whether it was right or wrong to use animal products, and I didn’t know about the exploitation of animals in order to provide us with everyday products like a pint of milk or an omelette. The environmental impact of eating meat and fish had never really occurred to me, and I was used to choosing the simple and fastest option, without thinking about how sustainable it was.

So, this was the year I discovered I was a vegan. I’m not writing this to preach at anyone else – you do you – but I do want the world to know I’m a vegan and I’m proud. I will continue to shout about it on Instagram, because I want people to see the delicious food a vegan can eat, to see how healthy I am (not protein deficient!) and to see the choices I make which make less of an environmental impact. Perhaps my choices can help to inspire another person’s choices, and that’s all I can ask.

Vegan

I know this blog has been silent for over a year, but I’m back! Watch this space for more adventures as I continue in search of my ikigai…


Making a splash…

I know, it’s been a while since I posted, but I started this year, and this blog, with the attitude of writing when I wanted to, and when I had something to say, so that’s what I’m doing.

I have something to share with you, but first a little story. Last time I posted, back in June, I had just attended a wellness brunch at my favourite cafe, Foundations. Not long after that I went on a whirlwind trip to Japan, and then just as I got back I attended another workshop, this time with the theme of Body Positivity and Food Freedom (more on that soon).

That workshop was my first glimpse into the world of Body Positivity, and as I left the cafe with this brand new concept spinning through my head, I happened upon a stall selling colour changing bikinis at the Bristol Harbour Festival. I wasn’t in the market for a bikini at all. In fact, this year, I had bought my first ever bikini (yes, at the age of 36), and yet still hadn’t had the nerve to wear it. I had always had the thought in my mind that “people like me” probably shouldn’t wear bikinis. That bikinis were for “skinny people with perfect bodies”, not “fatties” like me. That’s what I told myself.

So why did my attention get drawn to a stand selling bikinis? It was the poster that did it. Mermaid in England, it said, and what I saw on the poster was a group of beautiful, REAL women. Women like me. All shapes and sizes, colours, ages. REAL women wearing bikinis, proudly, happily. It was an image like this:

Mermaid in England

The image was like this, very similar, except this image above was taken only a few weeks ago… and I’m in it. That’s me, bottom left, punching the air with joy, having the time of my life with a group of amazing women, wearing an itsy bitsy, teenie weenie, colour changing red bikini!

You see, on that day at the Harbour Festival, I didn’t buy a bikini, but I had a chat with Antonia, the face behind Mermaid in England, and I put my name down on a list, just in case Antonia was ever looking for models in the future. But I still told myself it probably wouldn’t happen, and I would never have the nerve to wear a bikini for a photo shoot. People like me didn’t wear bikinis, certainly not in public. That’s what I thought anyway…

But you know what? People like me do wear bikinis. And people like you. In fact, this myth of the “bikini body” is no more real than an actual mermaid. It’s time to love ourselves in the bodies we’re in. You only get one life, one body, one chance. Make the most of what you’ve got, look after it. Don’t hate your legs for a bit of cellulite – be grateful that they help you to run and dance. I’m not saying it’s easy, and believe me I’m still going through this process of learning to love myself, but let’s try. ❤

Links

Mermaid in England

Viktoria Kuti Photography

Wild Thing Design

English Rose Makeup

Shari Knowles Makeup


Weekend Wellness

After a bit of a rubbish week it would have been so easy to take my grumpiness into the weekend. I’ve been feeling stressed out and overloaded, and it’s at times like this that I usually turn to comfort food and spending my time in a way that doesn’t really benefit my health. But not today. Today I chose to start my day with a Wellness Brunch at my favourite Bristol cafe, Foundations.

Although the event was taking place in a space in which I felt comfortable, and I knew I would know at least one person there, attending an event like this was still a little bit out of my comfort zone. But, as I learnt today, sometimes it does us good to step just a little way out of our comfort zones and into our ‘stretch zones’; it’s good to push the limits a little bit.

I hoped to find myself in a room of like minded individuals wanting to think about health and wellness, and I knew that if nothing else, at the end there would be waffles.

Foundations protein waffles

Waffley good.

As it turned out, there was so much more than waffles!

Cat Taylor of Nudge Yourself was brilliant. She ran the event with a perfect balance of looking inward and looking forward, laughter and mindfulness, breathing and punching. Yes, there was boxing, and there was also drawing with pencil crayons. What better way to start the weekend?

We thought about happiness more than anything else, and what it takes to achieve this.

There is no path to happiness

One of my favourite happiness quotes

After the workshop, boxing gloves off and pencil crayons down, we enjoyed a healthy brunch and had a good old chat. I met some lovely women – really interesting people, all very much on the same wavelength. We talked about journeys, and it was inspiring to hear other people’s stories and to meet some strong women, following their passions, trying to live their best possible lives.

Because that’s all we can do really, isn’t it? Live each day in the best possible way, get up when we fall down, and just BE HAPPY.


Be Your Greatest

“Be your greatest” was the tagline of the Simply Health Great Bristol 10k which I took part in today, and it certainly stayed in my mind the whole way through.

2018-05-13 10.00.12

This was my first 10k and I had no idea what to expect. I knew that if worst came to worst I could definitely walk it, so my goal for the whole thing was to simply finish. In the lead up to the event lots of people asked me what my goal time was and I honestly had no idea, so I just told them my goal was to have fun and to cross the finish line in one piece. I had only run up to about 7k in my training, so I really didn’t know how long 10k would take. In the back of my mind I knew I wouldn’t complete it in under an hour, but I hoped for under and hour and a half.

I made it in 1 hour and 4 minutes. #thrilled! 😀

2018-05-13-15-16-50.jpg

But, more importantly than the time it took, I had fun! I loved it, although I’m not saying it was easy. The cheering crowds, young and old, as we ran by, signs saying “good luck total stranger” and “you got this”, people calling out your name even though they didn’t know you from Adam. Drummers drummed, music played, and the sun shone on this beautiful city.

Today I was my greatest, and it felt… GREAT! I ran for me, simply to see if I could, and you know what? I think I might quite like this running malarkey! In my post-run madness I’ve come home and signed up for the Great Bristol Half Marathon in September…