I thought I’d share my yoga diary with you. Not the most exciting bedtime reading, but I hope you will enjoy my journey from coach potato to Olympic-esque athlete. Most of you already know, that this time next year I’ll be rowing across the Pacific Ocean from California to Australia! Only technical hitch, is that I’ve never actually been in a rowing boat before, I hate rowing machines, and I’ve done zero exercise since coming to Georgia 16months ago! So here are the snippets of my first ever yoga sessions…..
Day 1, 10am
Nervous and excited. Never done yoga before. Very unfit, know its going to hurt. Worried I’ll be surrounded by tree hugging, bra-less hippies telling me to drink more green tea and to eat lentils and chick peas. Raring to get started, and looking forward to meeting some new people, especially ex-pats as I’ve been in Georgia a long time and most of my friends are Georgian, so I don’t often get to talk to native English speakers. Feel bit stupid as don’t have proper clothes, or yoga mat, and I look scruffy and covered in paint from decorating. Sadly funds don’t allow new clothing, and just being able to do the yoga course is massive, and a real luxury. Budget super tight until OPG starts to get some funding grants and also waiting on PhD funding application. Bit worried about how timing will work, still need to keep up pace with OPG grant applications and ocean row planning, but super happy that this will take the strain off psychologically training wise (was starting to feel guilty because I wasn’t exercising enough). Now I will feel like I’m training as much as my team mates, maybe more, just in a different way. I don’t like the feeling of letting my team down, especially when people are investing in us and everyone is working so hard.
Spoke to team mate Laura yesterday, she’s a Physiotherapist for the GB Paralympic team (July and August going to be hectic for her with London Olympics!!). She’s warned me that twice a day will be a killer at first and to deal with any aches and pains as soon as they occur and to focus on doing things right, rather than ending up aggravating old injuries. Nice words (Laura is especially fab like that, very balanced and calm). Has taken pressure off as she gets that its best to build up slowly. So, I’m up for a month of yoga, and then in June I have to start doing more cardio and getting my heart rate up with lots of hill walks and things – eek!! Tbilisi will be super hot by then. I’ll have a massive advantage when it comes to the ocean though as I’ll be used to the heat unlike the girls stuck in rainy Blighty. Be great to try to spend some time at altitude in Georgia if I can, that’ll really help cardio wise. Then I’ll be College in London in June (funds allowing), with the sleep coach, on the ergo, and with the Olympic rowing coaches.
Hoping Laura can organise some sports shoes for me too, mine are about 8 years old and I’m too scared to go running in them now. Also need to get an ergo machine here so I can practice on it prior to meeting the guys. And somehow have to figure out how the coaches in the UK can watch me rowing on the ergo via skype and then fix any little techniques or things I’m doing wrong. That’ll be fun! Not looking forward to being on the ergo at all, its already starting to haunt me!! Will be a massive reality shock. This is what the ergo looks like:
Day 1, 5pm
In two hours I’ll be off for my second session of the day. Really enjoyed the first one, though it was quite intense as a workout (more cardio than I’d expected, and more sweaty). I can already feel that my muscles worked hard, that has more than met my expectation which is great. Was quite funny walking home, and feeling more knackered than I’ve ever done after any mountain marathon, 10k run, climb, hike, kick boxing session or whatever. First jelly legs since I started to climb as a teenager! Not sure if I’m just super duper unfit, or if yoga is really amazing and hard work?? Either way, I absolutely loved it. Got weighed for the first time in ages, and I’m just shy of 70kilos. Got to put lots of weight on for the ocean row, as it’ll be falling off once there. Looking forward to being more trimmed and toned though. Really want to get a juicer, saw some at the market yesterday for 15gel, so might need to invest in one, now that there are more fruits and veg available as spring/summer season has arrived. Am totally up for a complete detox and change in my diet, and am deadly serious about making the most of the month of yoga.
Everyone was really nice, no hippies in sight, and great that two of the staff have medical backgrounds. Probably the first time ever, that I’ve been to a class and not felt like someone was trying to get one up in proving how fit they were, or not taking injuries or whatever seriously. Loved how helpful people were and the focus on getting the technique right and also right for my body and quirky anatomy and scars, etc. Felt very at ease, and plenty of people around to help. In fact it was almost like having a one to one session and plenty of space in the room, not often you get to go to any kind of fitness class and not be squashed together or afraid of bumping into others.
Struggled a bit with my co-ordination and memory, guess my brain has switched off completely since I was at med school. Realised I no longer know any of the names of muscles or anything about how the body works – shocking! All those hours spent studying, and all that time spent working on cadavers. Guess my brain has just made space for new stuff in my life and is more relaxed these days. I actually don’t remember any of the nerves innervations now, and even had to think about flexion and extension, how mad is that! Kind of pleased I’ve forgotten, means I’ve become a human again and don’t spend my life looking for illnesses or injuries as soon as I meet people, instead I focus on their name or chit chatting, which is far better than worrying about whether you should tell them they look sick or about to drop dead and should probably get a health check pronto! I like not feeling responsible for the welfare of every stranger I meet, especially not being in the UK anymore, where you could get arrested for even being a nurse and driving past a car crash, even if you felt you couldn’t really do anything or had just finished a gruelling shift. I hate that stress of being legally responsible for absolutely everything, even outside of work.
Today we learnt some positions, and three stage breathing (great for scuba diving!). We learnt a half sun, downward dog, child pose, plank, cobra, and I can’t remember what else. Question is, will my memory improve enough to start remembering the movements in time:) Knees were a bit annoying, was hard to kneel in certain positions, that was frustrating, but to be expected after surgeries. I’ve also struggled with going from the floor to standing position for most of my life, and I only learnt how to sit in a squat position in 2001. Will be good to be able to kneel and squat and get from the floor to standing, especially for life on a 23foot boat and rowing all day.
This is a bit what the downward dog looks like, but with head under (I’ve already come to the conclusion that the yogis who came up with all these poses were clearly Italian Greyhound owners. This is my dog in her ‘playing’ mode, but she seems to do all the yoga poses quite naturally, and with grace and elegance which is a bit annoying as I struggle to do any of them!) :
Looking forward to meeting the life coach and doing the goal planning exercise. Was interesting to see sleep listed on the list in our journals too. Ironically, I need to be training for less sleep and quality sleep rather than a ‘good night’s sleep’. Hence we are working with a leading sleep expert and Zeo to monitor our REM cycles.
Sun Yoga guys also suggested drinking hot water with the juice of half a lemon at the start of the day. I like the sound of that, in fact I often drink cold water with a lemon in it. Also hoping our sponsors (http://www.teapigs.co.uk/) can send some matcha tea to Georgia soon as that will be great in combination with the yoga. Also want my NAKD snack bars (http://www.naturalbalancefoods.co.uk/) to arrive soon as well, as they’ll be good to nibble on. Kind of tricky eating healthy and also within with 2-3gel per day limit I have funding wise right now, so am thinking the juicer could be ideal for that, especially now weather is warmer and I don’t get as hungry as in the winter. Strawberries are getting cheaper now (4gel per kilo, so they should be about 2gel per kilo), so I’m thinking of some banana and strawberry smoothies. Wish soya milk was not so expensive and I really miss Greek yoghurt (matsoni just isn’t quite the same in my mind), though I do have delicious honey from the neighbour’s village in the mountains. Will have to work on the smoothy concept.
Right, back to grant writing before its time to head back to yoga. Just the walk to the yoga studio is good exercise. Sure I’m going to feel it tomorrow though!!!
Day 1, 10pm
I was planning to do some more grant writing and project work, but truth be told, I’m flippin knackered!! But I’m also high on endorphins and thoroughly enjoyed another yoga session and meeting more new people. Was great because it was the same instructor as this morning (I think she is just visiting??), and the session was pretty much the same stuff. Was great to be able to follow things a bit more this time and have a better idea of what to expect, and also to put into practice and remember some of the tips they gave me earlier when I did them for the first time (classes seem to be a mix of complete beginners, and those with more experience which is good). So this time, my mind was engaged, but sadly by body wasn’t as it was pretty tired from the morning. Lots of jittery sewing machine muscles, twitching away and was hard to hold the positions, but I still felt I benefitted from the session, even if it was just a case of watching others and the instructor and mentally understanding the routines and movements more.
My arms are actually heavy and aching as I write this, so I know I worked them super hard, but thats great. If I’m feeling so different already after just two sessions, then I can’t imagine how I’ll feel at the end of the month, and how much more definition and tone I’ll have. Even though my muscles were tired and wobbling a lot, I was a lot more flexible and things felt more natural. I think the trick is going to be remembering to breathe and relax when my muscles are fatigued. I also noticed that there is a psychological remnant from my Guillain-Barre as I was a bit nervous about my muscles going into spasm, but they didn’t, they were fine and I’m looking forward to moving on from hat phase of my life and being able to trust my body again. But it was hard to control the movement when they were tired and I was more controlled by gravity than my own intentional movement, but hopefully that’ll improve in time. Again, the Instructors were brilliant and there were plenty of them around to help with positioning and adjusting, which I really liked, and I think will really become more important as both instructor and student get to know each other more and are less polite about adjusting or whatever, especially as they get to know the students’ weaknesses, strengths, and injuries. I really like that they have students who are training as Instructors, and that they are very involved in the sessions (they all have so much experience, even as students, and have been practicing for 15 years in some cases). Having Trainee Instructors teaching and helping seems to bridge the gap between what its like to be a student, as well as being an Instructor, makes them more approachable somehow as you know they are also learning and remember what it was like to do things for the first time. Sure going to sleep well tonight, hope I can move in the morning. Counting down until the next session:)
Day 2, Breakfast
ouch, ouch, ouch….ooh, I’ve got muscles and a flatter belly, flippin eck that’s quick progress. Off to my first class of the day in a minute=happy feeling!
Day 3 (about Day 2)
Was too exhausted to write yesterday, but had a brilliant day. First yoga session was very good, different instructor and we also did Warrior Pose, Tree, Dolphin and Plank. My Plank is definitely getting worse, and my muscles are tired, but getting stronger and its easier to follow now. Busy class this morning, lots of keen folk. Finding it tricky to get my arms closer to my ears when stretching up and also to keep them up or straight as they seem to bend or get pulled by gravity. So that’s definitely good to work on, as the subtle differences in strength will pay dividends when it comes to my work on the ergo in a month’s time and also during the ocean row. Also still struggling in some of the poses because of the angle on my knees which seems to aggravate my surgery scars and position of my knee cap in the joint. Right knee sore this morning.
Did a lot of work on legs today and also opening up the hips which was great. Quite warm in the studio now the Georgian weather is heating up. Had to rush off at the end of the session to meet a lady about a dog! Or several dogs in fact. Was brilliant, ex pat run shelter for stray dogs (http://www.dogshelter.nl), and I wanted to check it out and see how our OPG kids can get involved as we have 4 of them who really want to work with dogs for their International Award, (Service sections and Skill sessions). They are keen photographers, one of them is an amazing photographer and has a good eye, and already taken a lot of great pictures of strays in Tbilisi, he is just 14 years old:
Little bit of a trek to the kennels, have to go through several cow filled fields, but super nice people, great kennels, and lovely dogs. Got to walk a few of them, even got sunburnt in the short time we were there, and though I don’t remember all the names of the dogs, they will make loving companions, so will be nice to help them in any way we can, and also be great for our OPG kids. Just getting them vaccinated and spayed will be fantastic, and if I can get some of my vet friends over to help out, it will be great experience for them and also in terms of public health and reducing the rabies level in Georgia and the number of strays. Took one of the dogs to the vets to be spayed. Very nice vet, much better facilities than where I ended up taking Uisce, wish I’d met the vet prior to this as maybe Uisce would have pulled through? But gives me hope to know that great vets do exist in Georgia and are passionate about what they do. The vet I saw with my cat Uisce was a lovely guy but I still had that feeling that he had limited resources, treatments, and knowledge, especially where his only advice was to give my cat matsoni, whereas this vet was much more western standard having spent time in both Germany and the UK working with vets.
Had a really nice afternoon, and when I got back I walked my own dog, had lunch, and walked back for my second yoga session of the day! Wisdom tooth playing up again, and no meds touched it (really miss my supplies of Tramadol from the UK!). Ended up with a headache all evening that nothing would shift. Yoga wasn’t helpful for my headache (not surprisingly!). Lots of head down poses and work on shoulders, which is where I generally hold my tension! But still glad I went, and was a good session, though a bit harder to follow this evening due to fuzzy head. Struggled with planks as abs were flabby and flaky, but still good session and felt better for going.
After the session there was time set aside for a free session with a Life Coach for those who were interested. I was a bit cynical about this, as Life Coaches can sometimes be a bit hit and miss, but it was actually very good and I would highly recommend both Kerstin and Amanda if you are in Tbilisi and need a bit of a boost or review, even if you think you’ve heard it all before (http://www.coachtbilisi.com/sida4.html). Rather unexpectedly, Kerstin (who took our session) was not at all patronising or one up, and was actually very connected to people and the session felt empowering, which is exactly how life coaching should be in my view. Very non-judgemental and client centred, which I really liked.
Was a bit overwhelmed at first because of being one of the few yoga beginners in a room full of Instructors (who have been my idols and gurus all week), but actually it was fine and was nice to hear their goals and own journeys, and achievements. So I think that will add a new dimension to the month’s course, as there is an air of equals brought together through yoga, rather than a hierarchy, which is a new ethos and experience to me and one which I much prefer, but rarely encountered in previous work or whatever. What really came across well was that actually everyone is on a journey, no matter how skilled you are in what you do, and that means the life fundamentals are the same for everyone no matter what their status or rank or whatever.
Especially enjoyed the coaching session in terms of thinking about the ocean row. Haven’t spoken about the row before at yoga (or even in Georgia or openly to anyone other than my team mates or in my blog to be honest), and was trying to keep it to myself, but was nice to actually air that so that everyone knows where I’m at on my journey and just how much I have to do, and how I’m motivated or whatever. And likewise, nice to know what the Instructors are aiming at in becoming yoga teachers and wanting to feel more in tune with their students’ needs and journeys. So I really loved the session, and it has restored my faith in life coaches and training, plus made me realise it is ok to ask questions and reflect, as I think its something I’ve always been told that I do too much, but which I find always helps me to stay on track and grounded, and to know my place in the world around me. I’ve also come to realise over my life so far, that I am one of those people who generally enjoys the journey more than the end point, just as I love reading a gripping book, but always hate it when I reach the end , as its a question of ‘what now’ and having to start from scratch with a new book and working hard to get in the flow again. I don’t like endings! In fact I probably sabotage things early on, just to avoid endings – weird as that seems!
This is the same with the ocean row too. Yes we will aim to set 5 world records, but that is neither here nor there for me on a personal level, and it is the time at sea which appeals to me more than the setting off or the arrival, which are both things I am dreading if I am honest. I love being remote and close to nature, and I would probably chose a hermit life style given a choice. Being so close to my three team mates for all that time at sea, is going to make arrival and landing and being met by family and friends a bit of a disappointment for me, more of an inconvenience. Which is strange to say, particularly as I am by nature a more solitary and independent person and find it hard to develop the kinds of relationships where I am so dependent on others. But all of my family are like that, we all like our own space and we get claustrophobic if we spend time cooped up together, and as such I have been raised to be independent and to find my own solutions and resources in all aspects of life. The ‘you made your bed, so you have to lie in it’ philosophy. One of the things I hope to spend time on during the row is to get used to being dependent on others, as all four of us will need to fit intricately together, be sensitive to each other;s needs and also to balance each other out. That is why the psychologists and questionnaires and selections have been careful to make sure that we complement each other, but without being too similar or too different. Each of us does have a different personality, but we do have a nice rapport, and already I’m learning about where each team mate is strongest and how I can both support them and also get support from them if ever needed. And I’m hoping that the row will also help me to learn to enjoy the start and finish of each leg of the row, as that will help in life too.
I was probably cynical about the coaching session at Sun Yoga, because in the UK I got to the point where I ended up sick of hearing about life coaching and team building, especially as an outdoor pursuits instructor working with corporations. It all became a bit cliched and the in-thing with the actual focus getting lost in it being something that was just about ticking a work related box. Probably working in Social Services was what pushed me over the edge on that front, so many courses on how to teach our clients how to be better people or better parents so they wouldn’t have issues with their kids, but without actually tackling the real problems, and it being more about looking good than doing good. There was always an irony in that too, given that most of the social workers seemed to come from very troubled backgrounds, were lesbians in tricky relationships, and not one of them had children of their own, and had no interest in having a family, yet here they were preaching to mums and dads on how to be ‘solution focused’ and great at parenting, having never really had any training other than a pamphlet that they read during induction week or some typical academic, jumped up, tea and biscuit course! I’m sure its all too easy to look in and criticise when your going home to few worries, financial stresses, or teenagers who hate you, or being threatened with eviction or a drunk husband or whatever! I appreciate the role of life coaching, but I also think there is a time and a place and it should be an opportunity not something forced on people who probably already know what they should do, but who can’t do things because the steps are just too big for them in their current state or means, and instead of being a tool for success, it ends up as another example of failure. Like a patient who fails to attend a hospital appointment, not because they don’t want to get better, but because they can’t actually get to the hospital, or can’t get themself dressed in the morning, or don’t have energy because they are sick or whatever. Life coaching and patient care needs to be tailored to the individual where possible, as so often its done in a ‘one size fits all’ way and doesn’t help at all. Probably the thing I have enjoyed most about yoga this week, is that it doesn’t feel like that, as the ethos is very much on the individual and you setting your own goals and reasons for attending, that is something I really value.
Anyway, went to bed pretty early for me (11pm!) with a headache from my wisdom tooth. Got woken at 2.30am by a fight in the street and a screaming lady. Dog decided since she was now awake, she wanted to go out for a pee, and had to explain to her (like explanations work on dogs!) that now really wasn’t the best time given that a fight was going on. Finally fell back to sleep. Seem to be a lot of fights at the moment and often awoken by them. Don’t remember so many fights last year. Expect it a little over the holidays when people are drinking, but last night’s was a bit different. Something to do with someone owing someone else money, (from what Georgian shouting I did understand). Hope it wasn’t the same people from the shop who were having a row about money yesterday morning. Arguments are culturally different in Georgia, and sometimes easy to misunderstand as being much more serious than they actually are (not including last night’s, that was definitely serious!). I often find Georgians seem to shout and wave their arms a lot, even when just talking, a bit like Italians, and not as reserved and controlled or ‘stiff upper lipped’ as Brits on the whole. Does mean that they often sound as if they are angry even when they aren’t at all.
Day 3 Proper
Actually feel pretty good this morning. Headache is gone, and though I’m tired, my muscles don’t feel so bad and I surprisingly feel more flexible. Think my body is getting into a routine now and accepting its fitness fate. Morning has flown by, and lots to do. Off to class in a minute, am ready for a nice long walk after sitting in front of the computer writing grant applications since 5am. Have to write two more funding applications this afternoon. Looks a little cooler out today so that is good. Hate being all hot and sweaty, especially at class, and not having decent clothes to wear. I’ve always been somewhat annoyed that I was more well endowed in the bust department than I would have liked, and as a bit of a tom boy, I found having boobs to be extremely annoying, especially when out on my bmx and going up big bumps of earth. First, it makes lying down on the floor a real pain (to the point of feeling more like an upturned turtle, with arms and legs sticking out oddly), secondly they get ridiculously cold in the winter or when kayaking or outdoor swimming (to the point where all us bigger girls ended up using cow udder cream to avoid chaffing whilst immersed in very cold Lake District rivers and lakes!), and thirdly, its a big pain in the bum trying to find decent sports bras or bikinis (especially when you are also two sizes different and therefore lopsided!). The result being that, I no longer have any decent bras, and now end up wearing several layers of tops in order to help prevent bounce when walking or doing exercise, to try and counteract my falling to pieces bras. One day, I would very much like to be a position where I can purchase a new one, that actually works, and doesn’t dig into my shoulders whilst exercising, or cut off blood flow when lifting arms above head.
Ironically, that is also one of the things I am not looking forward to on the ocean row, you can give me waves and bad weather and sharks, that’s fine, but since most rowers row naked and certainly bra less, I’m worrying just how uncomfortable that might be, and hoping that someone will soon come up with a bra for ocean rowers that stops you getting too hot or constrains muscles, but that also feels supportive and comfortable. Aside from missing my dog, that is my second biggest worry about the ocean row!
Day 3, Post session 1, pre session 2!
Another very nice session, and we had some music today, so it had a new energy which I liked. Also very nice to have a different instructor for each session. Keeps you on your toes as it were! We’ve been doing dynamic superman, dynamic cat and cow, cobra, warrior, sun, dog, and a few others that I still don’t know the names of. The boat position is still pretty tricky, but I think that is because I tend to sit only on my left butt cheek, and your probably supposed to sit with your weight distributed across both bum cheeks, but that makes my coccyx hurt, and is where the seam of all clothing seems to be, and isn’t comfy to sit on (that could be devastating for the ocean row, and needs fixing quickly). That and I clearly had the wrong underwear on today, so that made for interesting and painful positions! There is a clear lesson to be learnt here: always wear your biggest granny pants to yoga class, or perhaps, best don’t wear any pants at all, and by pants I mean the underwear variety not the American trouser type. I’d actually forgotten until this week, that I broke my coccyx several times as a kid, and for most of my life, found it hard sitting in the theatre or wherever for long periods of time, because I’d also get a sore coccyx. So practicing sitting on them and doing the boat pose will really help me with that, as well as strengthening my lower back and abs.
I’m feeling much better physically today, my body is getting into the swing of things now, and even the 1-2mile walk and several flights of stairs to the yoga studio didn’t hurt so much, so that was rather good. Weather is a bit cooler today as well, which is nice, though my hands did get quite sweaty (maybe from using soap to wash my hands before the session?) which made for a few interesting attempts to maintain my position on the mat! Best thing is that, because I’m behaving more healthy, I’m actually craving good food now, and not sweets or processed things. So its quite something to walk past the best ice cream place (Luca P’s) in Georgia, 4 times a day and not once have an urge to buy an ice cream! Instead I’m hankering after fruit and veggies and all things colourful and healthy.
I also love the walk to the studio, because it goes past the playground of my old public school and I love seeing my old kids out playing in their new sports area, and its great to see all the renovations happening to the building. The front is unrecognisable compared to what it was when I was teaching there this time last year. I’m still sad that so many of the teachers and students left, what was then School 56 and which is now School 41 Georgian/Ukranian school. But it was fab to go to the market on Sunday, and out of nowhere one of my old students rushed up to greet me, with kisses and hugs and a big wide smile, and in her brilliant English we had a lovely conversation together (that makes me super happy having been her English teacher and helping her through fundamentals when I first arrived). She is at a different school now, and I haven’t seen her since about June last year, and though she is much taller, she hasn’t changed so much, only that she seems so much more mature than the little 12 year old I first met. It was lovely to meet her grandma whom she was helping with the shopping, and I think she was happy to see me shopping in the market, and jokingly told me I was Georgian, which made me even happier, because she was clearly pleased that I had stayed in Georgia and was settled here. I miss her class so much, especially after working so hard with them over a long time.
I love seeing my old school on the way to yoga, because that is where OPG started, and I’ve known those OPG kids since January 2011, and seen them change so much in that time. And I’m really happy that they are now getting the renovations done and the school that they really deserve, especially after writing reports for the Minister of Education and Science each week and giving recommendations and feeding back on the school. I love to see progress, and seeing them active in the playground is a far cry from the kids I first met, huddled together in the classroom, pale and skinny and trying to keep warm with no heating, and holes between the bricks of our classrooms, and broken windows. Winter was really harsh and I swear they all had hypothermia, not the best environment for learning or concentrating, and its hard to write in your mittens!
I had so much fun in that school, and was privileged to be able to work with really nice Co-Teachers and to run my own project to teach them English. We did Charlie and the Chocolate Factory all term, using the movie and book, as well as activities related to all sorts of things, including health, diet, geography, history, Mayans, and lots of other things. Every lesson I’d receive cards and pictures and presents from my students, and I really missed that appreciation in my private school where the kids couldn’t care less for the most part. If the public school hadn’t closed, I’m sure I would have been there at the age of 90 as I loved teaching those guys so much. But its great to continue to work with them though OPG, and to reflect on how far we have come since that time. Most of all, I can’t wait to take them on Earthwatch expeditions this summer, their first time outside of Georgia, and seeing them speak English having studied so hard every day, and asking scientists questions about the environment as they tag sharks, snorkel with dolphins, or journey through the Amazon Jungle. I can’t believe how much has happened on our journey together in just a short space of time. Those guys gave me a new lease of life for sure.
I’ve also been thinking a lot about my ocean row today. And it all started as I sewed up a hole in my shorts and tried to find a t-shirt that fit, and wasn’t covered in paint. Everything in my life is under transformation somehow, and I hope I can still recognise myself come this time next year. This week is the first time I’ve met with ex-pats after living and working with only Georgians, and I’m finding it a bit awkward trying to find myself again as a foreigner and remembering the social rules. Its funny to see every one with their beautifully painted toe nails, and to look at my wide and unsightly feet. And I think to myself about the process ahead, and how our sponsors want us to be branded as females and exuberayting an air of luxury. I don’t own a handbag, I have no idea how to fit my foot in to a high heeled shoe, let alone walk in one, I’m not the wearing a dress kind of a person, and I’m at a total loss as to what to do with make up. But that all has to change ready for our photoshoots and PR stuff. We have two organisations in charge of branding us, one through our potential boat sponsor and the other a group called Captive Minds (http://www.captiveminds.com/). I feel like a bit of a fraud at the moment as I will be living a double life. Selling and sporting luxury and designer labels, but living in my patch work shorts and trying to save every penny I can until I get a salary through project and my PhD research. My two worlds could not be more different from each other! But I’m excited about the journey ahead. And I’m very inspired by today’s Instructor, who is just 19 years old, but extremely mature and grounded. I’d love her to join us on our ocean row, and I’m sad that many of the guys from the week will be leaving in a few days to go back to their own homes and studios. Its been great to spend time with them though and to learn from them about yoga and a healthier lifestyle.
Its strange to me that yoga classes have had such a profound effect on me and in such strange ways. This is a weird time, a transition time, having just found my feet in Georgia after a long time working in Health and Social care. But this time the change is external, and I don’t want it to impact on me internally or to make me lose what matters the most. Being branded is great sponsorship wise and is essential in order to achieve our ocean row. Without sponsors, we would never have the funds to do our row, and I’m excited to be a part of a sponsorship package and to have that new and very different experience. But I’m also afraid of getting sucked up and lost in it all, and not being able to maintain the original ethos of OPG or of myself, having just turned my life around and re-evaluated things. I’ve so happy in life right now, I’m content and not striving towards anything, I’m happy just to ‘be’ for once, but I’m afraid of getting swept up in all the things needed for our ocean row and branding. Yoga feels like an anchor in that respect, and I feel like it will help me hold on to what is true to me, to take a step back, and to learn to breathe more, both literally and metaphorically. Being with ex-pats this week, seems to have helped with that as ex-pats are generally different to people who live in one country all the time, they have had to adapt and compromise too. And now I have to settle into a more expat community to balance me out with my Georgian community, as I think that support is going to be vital when it comes to going to conferences and boat shows and things and being interviewed and busy with the ocean row. I don’t want to end up trying to fit in a box again, or feeling unhappy for not conforming to what others expect of me.
Day 3, 10pm
That was my best session yet, and certainly the most enjoyable. Starting to feel stronger in the poses, and a little trick that one of the instructors gave me this morning, really helped me to open out my shoulders and chest as I was feeling quite tight there before. Made a load of difference, and allowed me to breathe better and not get so tight and tired in my shoulders and neck, plus I was able to move and stretch more. I’m always hearing people talk about the importance of breathing, in all sorts of sports, but I never really experienced the importance of it until today, and it really did make a massive difference, almost like a lightbulb moment, where you suddenly get it.
Tonight’s session was nice and slow and paced. This suits me really well as I have to put a lot of mental energy into getting my muscles to work and to do what I want them to do, and they just get tired quickly. Doing things slowly allows me to focus on doing things right and using the right muscles, rather than doing lots of different moves or quickly. Also gives me time to catch my breath mentally before jumping into the next pose, as I sometimes end up fatigued and not able to stop and ground myself before we move on again. Was also great that we went over what we did this morning, so I already knew the structure and what was coming next. Kneeling is still my biggest frustration, but is getting much easier, and my body just isn’t as stiff or tired anymore, so that is a humungous difference. Very happy about how today has gone. Quite hard to balance training with my grant writing though, really can’t afford to step back on my OPG work right now, think it will get easier as my body is becoming more accustomed to exercise.
Visiting Instructors: A Path that Crosses on a Journey we are all Making
In case you are interested, one of the visiting Instructors is actually the lady who started Sun Yoga in Tbilisi (I think they have Sun Yoga Studios in 15 countries now?). She is a very interesting lady, who has written numerous books about yoga, children, and about cooking, and what was great for me is that we share a lot of the same philosophies, particularly in relation to young people, the ocean, and also plastic pollution. You can read all about her on her website: http://jacquelinekoay.com/ and also follow her parenting thoughts on facebook: http://www.facebook.com/ParentingWarriors I still can’t believe her age or that she has 5 children! That says a lot about the benefits of yoga I’d say!
I’m so pleased to have had the opportunity to meet so many inspirational and encouraging people this week so far, not just instructors but also students, and already it is starting to feel like being a part of a community with a shared interest and goal. That in itself is priceless, and I can see why yoga in groups might become quite addictive, and a great way to bust stress from one’s daily life, no matter how crappy that day might have been. I hope that energy and feel will develop and become engrained in me to a point where I will continue to feel that positive effect on my ocean row, when exhausted, rained on, and cramped together with a team of three other rowers on a tiny boat for 6 months.
Oh, and I also wore the wrong pants again! Not clever. Now I know why there is special clothing for yoga people, and I’m guessing it makes a lot of difference. I can see that becoming my next excuse, once the injuries and things wear off, as I’m sure I’d be able to hold the yoga positions far better if ONLY I had the right clothes!!!! Amazing how many excuses a person can come up with!!
I’ve been thinking a lot about a friend of mine today, called Steph Davis. She’s a bit of a crazy girl, and lives in Utah where she does yoga, climbs, and base jumps (http://www.highinfatuation.com/). I’ve always loved her energy and it is interesting that this is the same energy I’m feeling from the Instructors and students in class this week, and I kind of understand Steph a little more now that I have started with the yoga, which has surprised me a bit. But Steph is super lucky, because she is a brand Ambassador for a company who make yoga clothes from environmentally friendly products, and she wears these for all of her activities. Little video about Steph here, and she often shares vegan recipes on her website too:
Day 4, Is it Friday All Ready?
Wow, this week has flown by. Feels good so far, have managed to get our grant applications done, and completed my goal of attending yoga everyday for two sessions (well almost, I have a session this morning and one this evening still). But I’ve loved every minute so far. Plus its the end of my 60 day fundraising campaign, and looks like we’ll be able to get some of the kids off on Earthwatch expeditions over summer, so yay to that, plus few other good things to report, more later as need to go to class in a moment.
Feeling bit sleepy, but good, and walk will soon wake me up. Was starving when I woke up, so perhaps my metabolism is working harder and I’m burning up more calories and getting my body back into exercise mode, good if that is the case. All jobs done again this morning, watered my home grown produce, haven’t killed too many plants yet thank goodness, and they are all growing, dog fed, walked and now crashed out in the sun, and house fairly tidy for my visitor, a TLG volunteer who needs a place to stay for a month. I’m not the best at sharing, but sure will be fine, and yoga is helping me to become more grounded and relaxed in some weird way.
Thoughts are now turning to a weekend without yoga, which is going to be very strange and I’m having withdrawal symptoms already, but looking forward to seeing the OPG kids tomorrow, and also decorating some of the kitchen and talking to my row girls on Sunday, plus picking up provisions from the market, and having a couple of hours down time on Sunday, not something I’ve done in ages, but actually taking a little time out, feels like a good balance and the world hasn’t fallen apart this week during the yoga sessions, so that is cool. Still lots to do, but all goals achieved so far, and feeling much better about everything (not that I was feeling bad), so that’s progress. Might be having a puppy to stay overnight, that’ll wear Isla pants out and keep her busy, she loves puppies, and this is one is quite little, and will hopefully get re-homed tomorrow. Its being bathed today, so can’t go back to the kennel once its glammed up, so will stay here overnight.. Not definite yet, but I’m hoping it will join us overnight as will be great fun.
Day 4, lunchtime
Another fabulous session again this morning, with a different instructor, and I really liked the pace of the class, and I thought she did amazingly well given that she is still training and that IMEDI camera crew were there filming us for the Georgian news, so huge well done on that front. Will have to try and get a copy of that footage, as I’m supposed to be collecting film footage of myself to be included in a documentary being made about OPG and about the ocean row by two different companies, plus will be nice to show Sun Yoga as I think its going to play a big part in the making of me row wise.
Getting to know the other students a bit more as well now, so its nice to see some friendly and familiar faces each day. I’m really appreciative of the ‘adjusters’ who go around and adjust you if you want it, really helps to get the position right and to make the most of the stretches and better also to push yourself, but with some encouragement and knowing you have some support to save any embarrassment as you end up in a heap, or fall over sideways. I’ve never had that in any exercise class before, and it has a massive benefit. So often, its easy just to keep yourself to yourself and not seek advice on any little niggles that develop or if you don’t understand the move or whatever. I used to do a lot of dance, and when learning routines, if you got stuck on just one move, it could totally throw you off for the rest of the routine, and you quickly got to a point where you couldn’t ask what it was you were supposed to have been practicing together for hours. Somehow I never feel shy or stupid in the yoga class, even when I know damn well that I’m stretching the opposite leg to everyone else, but it seems a bit pointless to change just to fit in with everyone and to end up stretching the same leg twice, and the other not at all. Or maybe I’ve just got to that age where conforming doesn’t bother me anymore? But then, I think its also a reflection of how well the classes are run and the atmosphere that the Instructors create for us, as we are not there competing or comparing ourselves, and often I almost forget that others are even in class with me, as it feels very much like a 1:1 session and that the session is directed at me. I’m so caught up in what we are doing, that others are not a part of my internal world during that session, but before and after class we have ample time to catch up and to talk about how the class is going, and any minor stresses outside of class. But when session begins, each person is in their own world.
It is certainly getting easier now, and I do feel like I’m relaxing and getting into the breathing and opening out a bit more, though I’m still struggling with getting my arms up into a lot of the poses. I know where they should be, but its like they just don’t seem to go there right now!! My knees also didn’t hurt at all today which was great and kneeling is becoming much easier. I still struggle, especially with my left knee on one of the dynamic moves where you have to kneel one one knee and put the opposite leg up. And it also hurts my knees to go from downward dog to cobra, so I’ve kind of improvised a bit, and I’m feeling much less self berating and awkward now that the Instructors know I struggle with kneeling on that one, rather than it being a case of mind over matter or will power or whatever, which is what I used to find in exercises classes, when really I was just doing what I knew was within my limits so as to avoid injury. Left knee is only giving me issues when it is up in the air and outstretched behind me, as doesn’t feel properly connected from the knee, and the bottom part of my leg feels like it wants to bend to the side as something catches. Bit annoying, not really sure what that is about, but would like to work on it. Very scared about my bosy with the intensity of the rowing movements that are to come, so I really have to work hard to get them strong and supportive at this stage, before the pace gets intensified.
Sun Yoga So Far
The thing I love the most about Sun Yoga is that the Instructors are comfortable to both support and to push me and to know when I really have had enough or when I just need a bit of a kick up the bum to not be so lazy with myself. They are very intuitive, know when I can do more and just need a bit of support, and also when I’m struggling, and they never leave me feeling like a failure or unfit or whatever. We are getting more in tune with each other, which is a massive help for my own progression and also my trust in them, which in turn makes progress much easier as I’m never doubting their ability and instead can focus on doing things better and listening and following their advice. I think that trust is often the biggest block when it comes to exercise, as you can’t follow instructions or movements if you don’t have trust in it being good or right for you, and can add a negative tinge to the training, and allow you to opt in or out as doubts creep in. I’ve never felt that way in any of the Sun Yoga sessions, and this is really positive and freeing.
Free Session with the Nutritionist
We had a German lady who lives in Tbilisi (a Nutritionist/Food Coach/Pharmacist) called Nadja Techritz-Gross, come to see us after class today (http://www.doulatbilisi.com/blog/). That was interesting, though nothing groundbreakingly new as I’ve studied a lot about nutrition in the past, though I’m certainly no expert and am well aware that my diet is pretty rubbish on the whole. But it was still a good reminder, and we also tried some breakfast that she had made, which was pretty tasty.
I generally know what I SHOULD be eating, but one of my biggest issues since coming to Georgia, was firstly living with a host family and eating a Georgian diet, and since then, it has been more a question of seasonal variation and availability, and also funds. A lot of the food that I would love to eat, especially things like fish or salmon is really expensive on a Georgian budget, but pretty cheap by western prices. Most of the healthy food I love to eat is only available at the Goodwill supermarket, which is pretty pricey and not somewhere I generally go as it is just beyond my 2-3gel per day food budget (though they do have some things which are cheaper, such as carton milk (about 40tetri less than anywhere else and generally has more turnover, so isn’t out of date), and they also have a good loyalty card scheme and you can save points and use them to buy things in store when you are feeling less flush). But I have discovered recently, and thanks to my neighbour, that a lot of produce is actually available in Georgia, and far cheaper than the Goodwill store, but you just need to know which areas of town sell what.
Anyway, I’ll post the breakfast recipe when I have it, but it was really delicious and used fairly local produce which I should be able to get.
Day 4, Mission Accomplished!
I can’t believe how quickly the week has passed. Just four days ago I had never done yoga in my life, and now I find myself doing all sorts of mundane things in a more agile and elegant yoga like way, even just sitting and bending to reach the toilet seat, having a shower, standing on the bus or metro, or getting something out of the fridge. How is that possible?? And I’m worrying about how I am going to make it through the weekend, a whole two days with no yoga class! I’m having withdrawal symptoms, and yes, before you say it, I know I can practice at home on my own, but I know I’m not quite at that stage of discipline yet, plus I really need a mat for the floor as I tried it and I just end up slipping and sliding all over the place and its not comfortable on the hard floor at all. But I will keep trying.
Weekends are usually the craziest time of my week. I have project all day Saturday, followed by International Award meeting, and also team meeting with the 8 Project Leaders, and am non stop answering the kids questions and listening to their ideas, and it always leaves me extremely happy and proud, but always totally shattered. Then I have to catch up on paper work and grant writing, household chores, visiting the market, walking my dog as always, skyping with the row girls and doing rowing related sponsorship and other stuff, and I usually decorate on the weekend and catch up with the neighbours and things. I’m also getting a little stressed as I’ve let my OPG work slip a little after an early night the past two evenings, and I have to keep that as priority because without it I’ll have no income and no project long term, and I can’t let people down, especially with the whole team relying on me and with so much good will invested.
This week has been a totally brilliant week, on so many different levels, and on reflection it is hard to believe how much life can develop and change in just a few days. I hadn’t seen another native English speaker in pretty much 16 months and I’ve spent most of my time in a bit of a Georgian bubble, living with Georgian host family, working with Georgian kids, and living with Georgian neighbours. So the week was quite a challenge for me in finding myself as a Brit again, and being with ex pats for the first time. I haven’t even been back to the UK, apart from brief business meetings, and both times I was with Georgians, missed being in Georgia and felt strange to be back with Brits and a different and more intense social structure. So that has been quite a challenge this week, and what is really nice, is to end the week on a high, and with a feeling that I have made lots of new friends and to feel that this is just the beginning.
Its such a cliche when people tell you that you are joining a community, but actually spending the week at Sun Yoga (http://www.facebook.com/SunYogaTbilisi), I really do feel like I am now a part of the furniture and the family and that I am a part of something bigger, regardless of whether I am physically there or not. I know that when I am rowing across the ocean I am going to take a little part of Sun Yoga and all those new friendships and yogi tips with me. As I pull my oars through the water, as I bend into every stroke, and as I bend my knees. Yoga is going to become so ingrained into my lifestyle, and in every breath I now take. I feel really fortunate to have met these guys at the start of my journey, both mentally and physically, as I become stronger and more centred, and I hope they realise that every adjustment or pose they give me is going to make a difference to my ability to get from California to Australia. They are having a profound influence on me and the way that my body moves, and the energy that gets channeled and released. Each one is leaving a mark on me, whether they know it or not, and I know I will think of each person as I pull on my oars for 115 days this time next year. I wonder what it will be like to reflect on the session with the life coach or the nutritionist 6 months or even a year form now?
Rather fittingly, as I walked to my final yoga session of the week, the lady who guides drivers when parking cars on the road by the yoga studio, stopped me and was chatting about how beautiful the day was, and looking up to the heavens and enjoying and exclaiming about the loveliness of the sun (I don’t blame her as I’ve seen in this same spot all year through rain, hail, and snow! All day, everyday!). This was most unexpected, and a personally very funny moment. Each session of yoga this week, has ended with time in relaxation, in quietness and in enjoying breathing, only for my concentration to be broken by me trying not to giggle at the shrieks and sounds of the car parking lady shouting at every driver and passer by, every single session. She sounds like she is angry with everyone, and I often wonder from a medical point of view, what state her vocal chords must be in, and how she can possibly have any voice left at all, after shouting all day, in the heat and dust. Yet, she is actually a very happy person, not angry at all, and very passionate about her work and loves ordering the people about in their smart cars. Now, at least I’ll be able to relax a bit more, knowing that she isn’t angry and shouting, but it’s just her communication style and that she is perfectly happy. Its a great illustration of the clash of two styles and cultures: the outgoing and expressive Georgian, and inner calm, yoga style of expats. Both dealing with stresses, but in different ways.
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed yoga this week and am so lucky to have this opportunity and to meet so many really nice and inspirational people. I feel so much different mentally and physically, and I’ve noticed that my joints have also miraculously stopped popping and clicking at every movement. I’ve always thought that was just a part of my make up, that those clicks would never disappear, and I’m especially pleased about my elbow, which I fractured when I was younger, whilst playing football at band practice, and then continued (tried to continue) with my drum lesson as we had a big event coming up. Ever since then, I’ve had issues with that left elbow, and as a climber it was really annoying as it would often get stuck in a half bend and not straighten until it had clicked back. Despite doing all the planks this week and downward facing dog poses, I’ve had not a single issue with it, and it feels the best it has every been, especially when carrying things. I’m so happy about that, and likewise with a very clicky ankle, which was the result of another fracture from the days pre knee surgery when I was always going over on ankles and getting avulsion fractures. Every session, they feel so much stronger and more able to balance, and I feel like a more regular person already, stronger, and because of that more confident and adventurous. That is so important for the ocean row, as I want to go in to it feeling more than prepared and not wanting to be worrying about health or fitness or feeling inferior to my team mates who are already ten years younger than me and triathletes or whatever. I want to be an equal, and not feeling as if I’m being carried, and being fit will help me with that.
If you have never done yoga before, or like me, thought it would be all full of hippies, or maybe that you even knew it already then I’d certainly recommend joining a class and giving it a go, even if you just take advantage of a one off free session, to see if its your cup of tea. I knew I wanted to have a go at yoga all my life, but cost was always the barrier, especially at the moment as I just don’t have the budget, and it seems like a luxury. But actually, if it came to it now, I think I would rather live off bread all week just so that I could attend yoga class as it is now so important to me. Or if you can’t do that, then see if you can go to one session a week, and then spend the rest of the week at home with a mat, even using youtube videos or borrowing a book from the library if necessary. I’m sure there are ways around it, though a class (if its a really good one, like at Sun Yoga) will always be the ideal, at least for getting started and for making sure you get the most out of your body and the practice.
Let’s see what next week brings!!!