A Month of Yoga
Its almost one month to the day since I started yoga for the first time in my life. Now I can’t imagine life without it, and its already become all encompassing. Giving me strength for the rest of my project work and helping me to prepare for the year ahead and future in general. I’ve come to discover that yoga is much more than just a form of physical exercise. Its much deeper than that, and I feel it resonating on many different levels in ways that I really needed but hadn’t realised were missing from myself as a whole or at the current stage in my life where everything is changing.
On the 1st May 2012, I started a ‘Summer Shape’ programme at Sun Yoga in Tbilisi (http://www.sunyogatbilisi.com/), my aim was to attend two classes per day (12noon and 7pm), Monday to Friday for an hour each time (though they have lots of other classes outside of these times). I was extremely lucky in that Sun Yoga have supported me immensely as part of my ocean row, and like many of the people who attend, I’ve especially benefitted from a visit from a nutritionist and life coach, and they run a lot of other specialist training sessions, such as a prenatal course, children’s courses, and so on. Many of the Instructors are expats who also work full time jobs around teaching yoga, as well as staff with backgrounds in medicine and physical therapy, and all of them have a sound knowledge in anatomy and are honest and open in their teaching and abilities, and also keen to help others enjoy yoga as much as they do, and are always there to adjust your posture (if you want it) and to answer any questions you might have.
Over the past month, its been amazing to see how much the instructors have become in tune with the bodies of those of us who regularly attend their classes, and I’m often amazed at how they remember personal preferences or areas that you would like help in, which really gives the class a personal touch, no matter how many people are actually there. For example, I was really struggling with ‘the chair pose’, and during the first few weeks I couldn’t do the position if we did other leg exercises first and my heart would sink each time they said we would do that position as I just hated it. One day, one of my favourite instructors happened to do other positions before the chair, and it was a lot easier for me, so I told her, and now she always remembers and tries to incorporate different ‘flows’ when we do the chair position, which I really enjoy and which takes the edge off the thigh burn chair pose, making it much more manageable and bite sized chunks. This in turn has made it easier for me to get to grips with the position, and though I still struggle with it, I know I’m getting much better, and its probably one of the best positions for me to work on as it will strengthen areas that need to be bomb proof when it comes to rowing across the Pacific Ocean next year. But, its fantastic because, if I tell an instructor that I need to be reminded to relax my shoulders, or to not be afraid to adjust me if they see me tensing or whatever, they remember and having them remind me when I forget (or am focused on balancing and not falling over), enables me to focus on areas in which I need to work on, especially when preventing injuries on the ocean row next year.
Little things like that, and having people remember your name, praising you during class, encouraging you to push a bit harder, supporting you when you are struggling or working hard, really makes the difference in terms of building trust and rapport and getting the most out of each session. Every instructor has a slightly different personality and approach, though they have a set programme to work through each week and to build on, but it makes coming to class a very pleasant experience, especially if you are struggling to find motivation to walk the distance to the studio through a thunder storm after a hard day, full of stress, in a bad mood, or whatever. You know that when you get to the studio, you will be greeted by a familiar face and will feel welcome, which energises you and allows you to have self time, and someone else investing in you, something which I hadn’t realised was missing from my life, but has become very important in maintaining a good balance. Its the only time in my life when people actually ask ‘how are you’ or ‘how was your weekend’ and its become so strange to me that it actually throws me when people ask because all of my time is focused outwards and on supporting and building up my project team leaders, building up the kids, or raising money or investing in the future of project. Sometimes I’m so focused on work and getting things done, that I forget to reward myself and check how I am.
Work, Yoga, Craziness, and Balance
Most days, I work from about 5am on OPG (and I’m not naturally a morning person), finishing between midnight and 2am, applying for funds, working on future plans, managing a team of 8 volunteers, responding to children and parents, and organising their Earthwatch expeditions (with an office in USA and UK, across different time zones), plus the ocean row, my PhD, planned adoption and trying to renovate the house, walking the dogs, and generally just about keep on top of stuff each day. Whilst it is all centred on things in life which I have chosen and which make me happy and love doing, it does get to me at times, and I feel that I’m giving out energy and sometimes it is hard to find sufficient energy to maintain and support others, whilst also keeping energised myself. Because of this, I think yoga has had an even more profound effect on me, and I like meeting my class mates at the studio, because I know they are all equally hard working, and also spend most of their time putting others first, whether that be their young children, work, or running businesses, so it gives me a lot of (mostly female) support, which is also a nice reality check, is very empowering, and stops me feeling so isolated at times, especially as I’m working on my own, and carrying the weight of everything on my shoulders with no one to speak to about decisions that need to be made, and sometimes I need to make decisions which I know the team won’t understand or that they don’t have the bigger picture on, or won’t agree on, but which I know I have to make, so its a huge learning curve for me, and a lot of new skills I need to acquire all at once.
Yoga and my daily life are now very closely entwined, and I think the past week I have come to realise just how much my ability to succeed in anything in life, is affected by the smaller things in my daily life. Just as the little affirmations from the instructors during class, have a massive effect on me and my motivation, I’m realising that I am also super sensitive to any sort of criticism or negative energy and take it as a massive personal insult, which needs addressing, or the ocean row will be a nightmare, as we will certainly have days where we are going to be physically and mentally exhausted and sick of being in a confined space over the course of six months.
Success or Failure??
I managed to attend most of the yoga sessions in May, apart from one or two days, when what were really very trivial things, got to me so much, that I was in a pretty bad mood, and left me missing class, which made me feel a failure and more annoyed because I had really wanted to go to class. Instead of celebrating the sessions I had attended, I was left feeling that I had failed myself, my ocean row team, and everyone who has supported me, because I had let my irrational mood swings sabbotage my chances of achieving my personal goal. Its also made me realise just how little room there is in my life at the moment, for carrying or dealing with things put on me by others, and just how little energy remains to carry me through those challenges, which will always and inevitably arise.
For example, I have a TLG volunteer staying with me at the moment, since she had issues with her host family and needed a place to stay for a few weeks. That was a massive stress for me, as I’m all out on project right now and don’t have time to mess around and when other things that are not important to me, interfere with my very tight schedule, it frustrates me. I have to be selfish and I make no apology for that, as I’ve spent my whole life putting others before myself, and now is my final chance at doing what I want to do, and making that work, means that I have do what I want to do, rather than what I feel I should do to keep the peace. This is in no way meant to be a discredit of my housemate, as she’s on the whole an excellent guest, but its more a reflection of why I know I’m hard to live with, and why I struggle when it comes to sharing my space with another person (though I’ve three best friends who I have also shared houses with over at least 5 years, and we never had these issues, probably because we were all on the same hymn sheet when it came to such stuff, so I know I am not always such a nightmare).
But my need for space and being on the knife edge balance wise at the moment, does mean that little things have really become a massive deal, especially as funds are so tight and I’m juggling everything from finance to energy to time. Having a housemate return home at 2am each night (and sometimes not returning at all, and with no message just to say she is still alive) is not a problem in itself and I don’t have a problem with that, and I understand the need for freedom, especially after living in a host family of another culture. However, knowing that my neighbours lock the yard gate most nights and have stopped locking it because of my housemate returning late each night, makes me feel guilty, especially as they have put themselves out for my houseguest and my houseguest doesn’t know the half of the compromises being made in order to support her lifestyle. The first night she moved in, she returned home around 2 or 3am, and the neighbours had locked the gate, so I got a phone call, woke up and went out into the rain to let her in, and then couldn’t get back to sleep, which was a bit of a pain, so I asked the neighbours not to lock the gate now because I don’t want to get phone calls each day at 2 or 3am to let her in, or be waiting around, wondering whether or not she will come home and should I wait up to unlock it? Its a pressure on me because I really like my neighbours, we live as a community, they are exceedingly kind to me, I have an amazing landlady who I don’t want receiving complaints from my neighbours, and I know its a stress on my elderly (and younger) neighbours knowing that they are not as safe as they are with the gate locked, and last week a drunk guy came in and stole a load of stuff from one of the basements to sell, and that makes me feel bad, though no one is blaming me, but I know the gate would have been locked had it not been for my houseguest. Which is ultimately my responsibility, since I agreed to let her stay at my home.
Coming back at 2am each night is also a massive physical stress, as it puts me on constant alert. I have to lock the doors differently, and I know that myself and the neighbours will be woken each night by the outside gate, by my house gate, and then by the door and dogs waking up and barking because they want to warn me that someone is coming into the house. Any complaints about the houseguest are aired to me, and if I say anything to the guest I end up feeling like I am making unreasonable demands. If I’m up and working then its not a big deal, but there have been a few times since starting yoga, and now the weather is hotter, that I’m physically exhausted and want an ‘early’ night, but means that I then get woken up, and either don’t fall back to sleep properly, or I’m awake and can’t get back to sleep again, or I feel guilty for being annoyed at her being home late again, and without a message just to let me know.
I know people with babies go through this sleep disturbance all the time, and I;m about to put myself through the biggest sleep disturbance ever, but there is a certain sense of expectation, planning, and choice in both those sleep depriving events, whereas this situation is not something I agreed to. But its a massive inconvenience to me at the moment and has knock on effects with my daily life which makes me angry. It puts me in a state of constant physical stress (I know because the greying hair process has speeded up since the housemates arrival), and it leaves me exhausted when I wake up in the morning, or in the afternoon so I then need a nap, which eats up tight time between training and office work. Since I’m also focusing on my sleep as part of my training for the ocean row, its a huge problem as I need to train myself to the point where I can sleep for a maximum of two hours at a time, before rowing two hours. When it comes to training with the ZEO (which monitors brain waves during sleep and eventually wakes you up when it knows you are in the lightest level of sleep), being rudely awoken is going to muck up the data on my natural sleep patterns, and will be harder for the scientists in the UK and Germany to advise me on training for the polyphasic sleep patterns. Now is a crucial time because it is about setting the baselines and using those to work towards my polyphasic sleeping cycle. And worse still, because I’m subconsciously waiting for the housemate to return home (and sometimes she doesn’t return home), it means I don’t fall into my usual deep sleep, and instead wake up at every noise on the street, because its warm these days and I need the window open. Then I don’t feel like I’m on form for all the meetings I have each week, and I don’t feel like my body gets the sleep it needs to recover physically each night. I’m usually a deep sleeper once asleep, but this constant being on the edge and knowing someone will crash the gate or door, is pretty irksome, and I also tend to worry about whether they will lock up properly afterwards, or turn the gas off on the cooker if they then cook or make a drink or whatever. Its also annoying to plan your routine around the other person’s morning routine, or to tiptoe around the house so as not to wake her, only to discover that she isn’t actually there and hasn’t been all night! Its also annoying to be sucked into a drama that isn’t your own, whether you want to be a part of it or not, for example, at what point should I be worried when she hasn’t returned home, in a country where things are different to the UK or wherever, and at what point is it my responsibility to call the police if she doesn’t turn up? Or to contact the Ministry and inform them that she is missing? I feel guilty that I’m not worried about her whereabouts, and bitter because she has disturbed the peaceful bubble of my working life and energy of my home, that makes me feel selfish, and so the cycle begins.
Two Days Steaming
This week I really lost it and had two days in which I felt really annoyed, and even more so because it was really stupid stuff that shouldn’t have mattered or affected me the way that it did. And it got to me because I realised that every time I try to help someone out or to set boundaries which I think are actually quite reasonable, I always end up being lied to, or made to feel guilty or like some complete nutter or cow, when actually at the end of the day, its my home and I was supposed to be the one doing the favour, but instead just get attitude and stress, which is not what I signed up for. Its not that the houseguest is bad in fact she’s actually pretty good on the whole, its just that my tolerance for particular things right now, is out of proportion, and actually goes a lot deeper than it might appear on the surface.
The kitchen and bathroom situations have been the real killers for me, an I’m so annoyed that I let them get to me so much that they ruined two days of my life. In my view, I consider myself fairly easy going on the cooking front. The only time I get tetchy is when I come to make something in the kitchen and I either have to clean up someone else’s mess, or can’t use the utensils I require because someone else has used them and not put them away. At the moment, I don’t want to spend my time cooking, cleaning, or eating. I eat because I’m starving, out of necessity, and I’m usually working on the computer at the same time as eating, for every meal. I’m very economical with my time, and I don’t like dead time. I eat whilst I work, because it usually means, that when everything is done or I’m truly tired, I can then flop and relax a bit, without feeling stressed. What really upset me this week, was the pots and pans piling up and not washed, and that each morning I would end up adding 45 minutes to my morning routine in cleaning the burnt and spilt water or whatever on the top of the cooker, all the time becoming more and more resentful of my guest and her laid back attitude to life. Had I been the one who had cooked, I’d have had no issue in doing this, and as a one off, I’d have also tolerated it, but it was becoming a daily thing, and when I left it, it ended up with days of muck caked on, and still no cleaning, despite my asking as politely as I could. A dirty cooker is something that drives me mental, especially at the moment. The house needs a lot of work and gets me down when I spend all of my free time decorating and then someone comes along and adds to my workload, especially when they are always out socialising and spend ages cooking each day. It also attracts the ants at the moment, and the pans that boil over block the holes, so the gas doesn’t flow properly on the cooker, and when you use it, it then makes the place smell like burnt whatever was spilled on the top, and soon becomes harder to clean. Its also embarrassing when people or the landlady come over, and I’d hate for them to think that it was me who lives like that and doesn’t respect their house, especially when they have helped me out so much in letting me live here. And more importantly and deeply, it makes me angry because I’m investing every drop of my energy into getting the house ready for wanting to adopt, I guess you could say that I am nest building, and renovating the house is a part of that moving forward process, and I get so annoyed when I then have to clean up after another person, especially when there are no positives to that person sharing the house, when there is nothing in it for me.
I have the same issue with the bathroom, especially having decorated it, cleaned off all the mould, and purchased a new shower curtain. I want to be able to come in and use the bathroom, have everything in its place, and be done with it. But when I have to come in or check up each time its used, turn off the taps properly, and open the curtain so that it can dry and not become mouldy, it starts to grate on me, especially when I’ve asked nicely and explained the reasoning behind it. Once the curtain is dry, its no issue to then draw it back and let the rest of the shower breathe. Now we have mould starting to grow again, having had no issue at all until the housemate moved in.
But I think the worst thing for me, and which I’m really struggling with, is that I’ve never been good at putting those things across, it either comes across too flippantly, or it comes across as a major criticism or that I am nagging all the time or have some form of anal retentiveness or obsessive compulsive disorder, and I always feel uncomfortable about delivering such things. Generally I keep quiet and it starts to stew and eat at me, but more recently I’ve started to speak up when things are really, really annoying me, as in this case. The reason I spent two days stewing and livid was because, having asked about the issues very nicely, one morning I decided enough was enough, and since she was never home to confront about it, the only way left was a text message, in which I tried to put the issues nicely. The text I received back was what did it for me, accusations of how it was unfair, how it was my mess and how they hadn’t even cooked all week, which were complete and utter rubbish, and is something that I’ve always had major issues with, as I hate being called a liar or accused of things that are untrue, especially when I know that its just the outburst of a person who isn’t good at receiving criticism from a person who also isn’t good at delivering it. In fact, to me, it isn’t even criticism, and perhaps thats one of the reasons I generally get on better with guys than with women, as to me its just a case of ‘xyz is pissing me off, please can you do things differently in future to avoid further issue’. Its not a slight on a person’s character or an attack on them in anyway, just a communication with a view to trying to compromise to make both people’s lives more comfortable.
It was actually a huge realisation and lesson for me, as it sent me into a place I haven’t been for a very long time, and then it dawned on me and I understood why trivial things end up annoying me so much that I then turn it in on myself and almost punish myself or sabbotage things. When I reviewed the situation, I realised that I was angry because the person had made me feel guilty, something I’m very sensitive too. I’m a naturally guilty person and I feel guilty about everything, regardless of whether it is my fault or not. When I reflected on it, I realised that, actually my request had been a reasonable one, I had been polite about it, and at the end of the day it is MY HOME, and that I had agreed to her staying as a favour since she’d been kicked out of her host family, so why was she turning everything onto me, as if I was some complete cow? I also saw some comment on her facebook status about people who criticise, and again, I naturally felt that I was being unreasonable and that it was my fault and not hers. How had a simple request turned into two days of bad attitude towards me, and an atmosphere at home? I had no issue other than I wanted her to clean the cooker and her pans after she used them, yet I was now living in a state of stress in MY HOME and feeling like I was a complete bitch, and that she would now tell all her friends how awful it was and that I was some kind of Hitler or whatever. And what’s more I’m not even worried by what those other guys might think about me, so its not about that or losing face, it is purely about my allowing others to make me feel bad. I guess that is how it is with teenagers and parents, in that parent tells teen off, and teen leaves parent feeling bad?? It was the cheek of the lie and the not taking responsibility for one’s actions. And I realised that here I was doing all the running around after her, and now feeling bad, when she probably had gone about her day as if it was any other day, and yet I had let it get to me so much that I lost two days of work and couldn’t shake off my annoyance, which only made me more annoyed!
Knock On Effect
Whats more, it had gotten to me so much, that I wasn’t in the mood to go to yoga now and was too worked up to focus on any work, and it was a total loss of two days work, feeling pretty shit, and also the added annoyance that something so stupid had got to me to the point where I had almost punished myself by missing yoga which I loved, and now feeling a failure because I missed it. And I guess its probably a behaviour pattern that has been with me throughout my life, kind of all or nothing and which though I was vaguely aware of, only now hot me smack bang in the face.
It was a crappy couple of days to be honest, as that coincided with a friend being in a generally bad mood and two of my Project Leaders going through their own tough decisions about what to do from September, whether to stay in Georgia for project, or whether to move on to pastures new, teaching in other countries or whatever, but not wanting me to feel let down (which I would hate for them to feel, as they have all been bloody amazing, doing so much and in a voluntary capacity too, and I know I often don’t take the opportunity to praise them for their efforts and input). And I also had some crazy family dynamics with my granny which also pissed me off no end, and left me feeling like all I ever try to do is my best, but still I’m surrounded by doubters and people who are so negative, that their doubts and criticism has the power that it makes me think ‘what’s the point’ or ‘why am I bothering’. The kind of relationships that you SHOULD do but don’t necessarily WANT to do, and which just seem to suck life from you, are full of demands, but never nurture you or believe in you or give you back what you need, and which leave you contemplating throwing in the towel. Those kinds of days are tough, and its frustrating because at the same time, you know that those are the days when the things you avoid are the things which you need most at those times and which will make you happy, like yoga, and that you are also jeopardising or kicking them in the teeth by not showing up, especially when they have invested time or effort in you or believe in you. Like hurting the people you care about most, just so you don’t have to bother trying and to avoid the disappointment when you fail anyway and they say ;I told you so’. Those things always make me think of the Death eaters in Harry Potter, how they have the power to suck life and energy from you, unless you find a way to shield yourself from them.
That guilt and sabbotage response is something I realise I’ve struggled with for all of my life, and stems from being a 4 or 5 year old and being made to feel guilty for everything that ever happened, and I see myself behaving in the same ways sometimes, even just with the dogs and its hard to change something so rooted in your genetics or whatever. But its something I really need to address now that I am aware of it and understand it. Nor just for the future in general, but especially for becoming a parent of a teenager, and most importantly for dealing with criticisms or comments during the ocean row, so that I don’t just put the guards up and withdraw, as that would be disastrous with four of us in a confined space. I guess the most important thing for me in realising that I have this response to situations, was actually saying, you know what, I think my initial request was a reasonable one, and if you don’t like my conditions, the you should move out, because at the end of the day this is my home and you are a guest here. I’ve tried to be understanding, tolerant, and to compromise, but in this situation I’m not taking your transferred attitude, just accept it and move on and if you don’t like it then you know what you need to do. This is my home and I want to have a clean kitchen and not to spend everyday cleaning up after you. Simple as that.
Thats actually a massive breakthrough for me, since I would usually have taken that on board and blamed myself and felt it was my fault in making an unreasonable request, or alternatively, I would have continued cleaning up after her and privately festering about it in order to avoid confrontation. Again, I’m not trying to diss my housemate here, but more to acknowledge that I have an issue in my response and that it was a bit of a light bulb moment for me this week, as a result. I have now signed up for the June course of summer shape yoga, so my mission is to get through the month without missing sessions because I wasn’t in the perfect mood for class. Its a huge challenge for me, but a lesson that will pay dividends in the future, and which is long overdue.
What really got me through those two stressy days and other people’s tantrums, was discovering a new set of friends in Georgia, some through yoga, and some through the expat community. This has opened up a whole new world for me and is so fantastic after just being with Georgians since I arrived here, and I especially love that they are all people who I can relate to, who are working as hard (if not harder than) me, and who are go getters and a personal inspiration and source of energy. Hanging out with them has been fantastic, a time to relax and unwind, to talk through ideas and issues, and to be creative and energise myself. Those spur of the moment coffees, lunches or meetings are great for gaining perspective, stepping out of the difficult situation, or just getting a fresh view on things, or being surrounded by people who believe in you and help you stay strong. I’ve loved being with native speakers again and being able to laugh and enjoy jokes together with the kind of humour that only Brits or native speakers understand, talking about cultural differences or about issues that have affected you as an expat, and finding that you have similar experiences or concerns and being able to share those with another person who gets it. Things which friends or family in your own country wouldn’t understand or have in a context, and which feel more of a big deal when your living through them with little escape.
One of the issues with my granny this week, was a dig from my aunt who is visiting her from New Zealand, who generally gets in touch with me once a year (on my granny’s email), when she is fleetingly visiting my granny, and who annually has some complaint or other, as if wanting to get one up as part of a show to impress my granny. This time it was a dig about my not being in touch with my granny enough, even though I was regularly sending her emails (she rarely replies), on my netbook that I lent her, and which my aunt has now given to my other aunt (who can’t use her own computer because of a bad back, even though I would have prefered to have back since my computer is dying and the deal was that my granny could borrow the netbook as long as she emailed me. But now they bought her an ipad!). I’ve had little communication with my granny since December when she informed me she was unhappy about my adoption plans and didn’t want to be a part of that aspect of my life and that my daughter would not be welcome at her house because she was too old to put me up (though she just hosted two aunts, an uncle and a teenager with no problem). We have barely spoken since then, and I realised just how selfish my family have been and how I always decided everything based on keeping them happy, so my aunt’s dig this week was badly timed with the housemate situation. I’ve not seen her for years, have no relationship with her, and as soon as my granny passes, none of the family will keep in touch and there will be no love lost. Families are ridiculously complicated at times. But again, the breakthrough, lightbulb moment was realising that my aunt still had the ability to push emotional buttons and get my heckles up, from thousand of miles away, and I was still not immune from reacting to it. I do love my granny and she is great in lots of other ways, but I’ve also come to the point in my life where I need to put myself first, and adoption is a big part of that, and I’m not prepared to miss out on parenthood or marriage or a particular career or whatever, just because she doesn’t approve (I’m going on 36 for God’s sake!) and because it would somehow inconvenience her. My granny has four children, three grandchildren, and two great grandchildren and I don’t see why she can have that family and I can’t have my own future generations, and I think that is quite selfish of her to wish me to die alone and to miss out on children or a partner. It was the same when I got a cat, when I decided to do my Open University degree, in fact with everything in life, and I’ve always let her dictate what I can or can’t study, where I can study, and what job I should do, all to please her neighbours or friends that she lunches with, and I’m annoyed that I let her dictate my life in this way for so long, and still she was never happy and I was still a disappointment, and always will be, so its better that I do my own thing now and do what I need to do for my life and my future.
Yoga is going to be a good challenge in terms of my learning to control those emotional buttons, and making sure that I stay focused and don’t get distracted by others impacts on me, or by things which annoy me in daily life, and its time for me to become less volatile when those situations do arise. To push through being annoyed and to attend class no matter what I am in.
Another thing that has been a massive benefit on the yoga front, is a feeling of achievement, even though I wanted to berate myself for not attending every single session. Sometimes it is easy to play down or ignore achievements and to focus on failures or what you could have done differently, but with yoga its not possible. Physically, my body has changed, and I can’t hide from that. My battered old shorts are falling off me, I’ve a flatter stomach, and I’m starting to see some well defined muscles, which also seems to be boosting my confidence. My posture is better, which helps me stand taller, and its pretty easy putting socks and shoes on now, and I can squat and bend and do lots of things that I was starting to feel like an old lady over. I’m able to do a shoulder stand, something I’ve not done since I was a kid, and which somehow fills my brain with blood and endorphins and leaves me feeling like a kid again and suddenly seeing the world from a whole new angle or viewpoint (quite literally!). Its great to be on the floor so much and rolling around and stretching, again, things which we seem to lose as we become adults and it gets engrained into us that we should either sit on a chair or stand up. I’m setting myself mini goals each week, and things I want to work on or accomplish each session, and as I get more flexible and stronger, I’m ticking off lots of challenges each week, which also leaves me feeling good and ready to go home and tackle my project work.
I’m also learning to work on something else I have always struggled with – accepting a compliment. I don’t know why it is so hard, but compliments always make me feel like I don’t deserve them or awkward or unsure how to respond, perhaps just because I’m not used to them, or to having attention drawn to myself as I generally just kept my head down and out of sight as a kid. But I’m getting better at it now, to the point where I am even starting to enjoy compliments, and little comments like ‘your position is looking great today in that stance’ or ‘good job’ for holding that uncomfortable position and not giving in, actually fill me with a great sense of accomplishment and being able to go and tackle anything now, which then follows me through the whole day and my work. At the other end of the spectrum, yoga has been great in terms of getting my head around the ocean row, especially as I was a ‘featured student’ in the newsletter on one of the weeks, and now people ask me questions about the row or tell me that they admire me or whatever, which again, was a huge problem at first as I feel like a fraud, given that I haven’t actually done the row yet, and am still at the planning stage. I feel like a liar or that I should keep quiet about it, or that it is stupid to have dreams, goals, or aspirations, and its a huge weight on my shoulders to tell people and for them to have expectations of me. What if I fail? Then everyone will know and I’ll feel like I let them down? Thats how I was throughout life, but now, after working hard in the yoga sessions, I feel like less of fraud, as I’m doing yoga for the row, for my training, and I also need to start believing in myself more, especially if I want others to not doubt me so much. I guess that comes from having family who always put you in ‘failing mode’ and who don’t look on the possibilities or future or dreams, and instead just write them off. The past week, in those two angry days, I was annoyed because so often, others think they know better than me, even if I have more experience, have been to the place, done the groundwork or whatever. Previously I would have always backed down, even if I knew I was right or that they were wrong, just because I wanted to avoid confrontation. Recently I’ve started to voice my opinions and to assert myself more, which is another new skill I need, especially as Project Director, but its a really difficult challenge for me, but far better than just letting people distrust me or have no confidence in my decisions. That gets to me when people doubt me, especially when I have always been the one to bail them out if they made wrong decisions, and has always supported them, no matter what. Its so negative to have people doubt you, but I have to learn to follow my instinct and stick to my guns more, rather than taking the easy route to avoid confrontation. On expeditions, I’d know where we should go according to the map, but I’d end up backing down, only for the alpha in the group to go the wrong direction and to leave the group hiking unnecessarily extra miles when we could have been relaxing at camp, all to avoid the prospect of a confrontation. I guess I’ve really started to grow in my role as a leader this past year, and to think more like a parent and adult, rather than a conforming, head down team member.
I don’t think that is something unique to me, I think its fairly universal, and in my grouchy two days, I also got very annoyed at an article written about Ben Fogle, by a guy I usually admire and who usually has great things to say, but who annoyed me in his writing, as if he had somehow become elitest or a world expert, or was simply after more publicity for his website? He’s a cool guy on all other accounts, but I also have a soft spot for Ben, and I feel a lot of similarity between Ben’s position and my own in terms of the ocean row, so I likely took the whole thing a lot more personally. Here is the original article written by Tim: http://thenextchallenge.org/2012/05/ben-fogle-swimming-atlantic/
Basically, Ben has recently announced that he plans to swim across the Atlantic Ocean, an ocean that he previously rowed across, and he also did a lot of cold water training as part of the expedition to the South Pole, and he’s been an outdoor swimmer for a long time, though says he has ‘limited open water experience’. I’m generally a big fan of the Outdoor Swimming Society in the UK (http://www.outdoorswimmingsociety.com/) and have had some great sessions with them, but I’ve also experienced a certain snobbyness from some people who seem to think they own outdoor swimming, and that only people who swim front crawl are proper swimmers, and that breast stroke makes you somehow less important, or that those who wear wetsuits are not proper swimmers, or those who swim only in lidos rather than in rivers or whatever. Its sad really, and annoying as I think anyone can swim outdoors if they can swim and also enjoy it, and it wasn’t only open to the elite or rich people of the world in times gone byI’ve found the odd one or two members of the OSS are a bit stuck up (though the majority are lovely). I suspect Ben has been a big party to that from both sides (those who think he is privileged and had everything given to him on a plate, and those who think he is not a proper outdoor swimmer). In my view, anyone who has succesfully run a desert marathon, rowed an ocean, or walked to the South Pole deserves at least a little respect, regardless of whether they are a celebrity or not.
What annoyed me most by Tim’s article and some of the responses to his post on facebook, were complaints of Ben having loads of media or money, it being easy for him, or him doing it in a wetsuit, or not being an outdoor swimmer. Its those doubters again, quick to criticise about something they have never likely done nor will ever do, nit picking on what I consider to be irrelevant details, like he will sleep on a yacht at night, rather than celebrating the dream or journey ahead. They have also entirely missed teh point of the swim. Its a personal challenge for Ben, and he is actually using it to draw awareness to some very important charities, the World Wildlife Fund, Plastic Oceans, and Centre Point, a charity that works with homeless young people. He is not out there to compete with other swimmers or to put his Fogle stamp on and own outdoor swimming.
The celebrity argument, probably annoys me most of all, especially having worked in the film industry and knowing actually how hard being in the spotlight can be, and the freedom that gets traded for status, and the extra pressures put on you personally. Ben struggled to raise funds for his South Pole expedition, and during the Atlantic row too and many other rowers rallied around to help. There is also an added risk, as any sponsor is being associated with the celeb and if the celeb messes up, that brand suffers, so it can be a double edged sword at times. Not only is Ben putting his name on the line, but also his potential career, the media will jump on the bandwagon with his swim, but if he pulls out for whatever reason or fails to complete the task, the media will have a field day. He had a hell of a time during his flesh eating bug prior to the South Pole expedition, and the media followed him everywhere and reported on things before he eve had chance to speak with his team mates, adding an extra layer of stress to the pre expedition dynamics.
I also feel its rough of people to complain about him being a celeb, because he has used that status to help promote the OSS and wild swimming, often helping at their events and bringing the media attention, and without people like him, giving their time, then the society would have struggled to get off the ground when it was a less trendy topic. We shouldn’t forget that, and if he can use his status to draw attention to the pollution in our oceans or to the charities he has always supported off his own back, then fair play to him. Why can’t we celebrate the positives, instead of looking for opportunity to criticise? Loads of explorers make documentaries or write books after their journeys, so why is that an issue or something to be mocked? Perhaps it is just jealousy? These days it is expected of expeditions, and often comes hand in hand with sponsorship deals, otherwise what is in it for the sponsor? And don’t forget, that with sponsorship and media coverage there is always a cost involved and need for some dramatic license, otherwise who would watch it? That is the same for Ben, and for our ocean row, and is expected, especially when sponsorship is hard to come by and they want maximum return and coverage of their brand, and in the best light possible. If it was all just plain sailing, then it wouldn’t be interesting, so you need to focus on the highs and lows of the expedition, especially when covering it, so I think its a bit nasty to knock Ben for that. I’ve known Ben a while, and met him on several occasions and those people who have worked with him or been on expedition with him, have all said and know that he is a very down to earth and lovely and genuine guy, so it annoys me when people try to make him into something that he really is not. He has had a privileged up-bringing, but he is also responsible for making of his life, what he has done, and has always strived to live life to the full. He failed his exams at school, he wasn’t especially bright or studious, so its unfair to say that privilege buys you everything, otherwise he’d have great grades and not be working for a living. Nor does it make him a great husband or dad, so he must be doing something right and off his own back, rather than as a result of being a ‘celeb’.
I also don’t like the argument that the other events were not proper ‘expeditions’, as I’m sure that not everyone can run a desert marathon, row an ocean, or walk to the South Pole. It doesn’t matter who you are, or how much you pay, you still get the same frost bite and blisters, whatever your celeb status (with ten fold the critics and supporters watching your every breath), and you still have to find massive personal resolve from somewhere, especially when you just lost your child and your heart is breaking. Criticism like that only serves to trivialise and play down the huge investment that goes into journeys in wild places, and is very unfair, especially after all the training that goes into it.
I guess the argument that affected me most, was that he is not an outdoor swimmer and therefore should take on a different challenge and that this one is somehow silly. To me, that argument is like saying to Captain Robert Scott that he shouldn’t aim for the South Pole because he has no experience in Antarctica. Is rowing an ocean only open to Olympic rowers, is football only open to Premiere League players? Of course not, we all have to start somewhere, and since its a personal goal, it needs to be based on personal challenge and experience, and shouldn’t be up to others to decide one way or the other, again, especially when they haven’t even done it themselves. Nowhere does Ben say that it is going to be easy, and he has recognised his in experience, hence he is training in the Serpentine regularly, has been training a long time all ready, has a year of training ahead of him, and is working with the best people in the field, to make sure he is ready for the challenge he set himself. Just as we had no rowing experience, and are spending the year preparing ourselves in every way possible because we know it will be hard. Having a baby is hard too, but no one stops you having a child because you haven’t had one before, so this should not be any different. If Ben feels this is the right challenge for him, then so be it, lets just support him in that, rather than saying it shouldn’t be done. They’ll all want to be his friend once he achieves it I’ll bet!
And as for the wetsuit debate, well that is just silly in my view. Ben is working within his comfort and ability zone, and he knows from Antarctica that he doesn’t do well in the cold, and he had lots of cold water training and tests on him which showed that he got cold quicker than Ed and James, and he is recognising and working within his capabilities. I applaud that, as that is a lot harder than living up to peer pressure. Its great that Dan Martin is also swimming the Atlantic and in his Speedos, but he is an outdoor swimmer rather than Ben who just happens to want to swim across the Atlantic. Neither should be put up against each other, or have some competition instilled on them. Dan will have completed his swim before Ben, but Dan is Dan, and Ben is Ben, they each have a different personal journey to take and their own motivations and aspirations, why do we need to compare them? I wish we could just be proud of both of them and thank them for being the best of British, and for celebrating the Olympics in the UK, and for promoting sport and achievement of dreams. Both are top guys, both are inspirational, both are incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to pursue their expeditions, and both have worked ridiculously hard to get to the point where they can tackle their challenge.
Ben’s website is here: http://www.thegreatatlanticswim.com/
Dan’s website is here: http://www.danmartinextreme.com/home.php
I’m sure Dan has faced his fair share of doubters, supporters, and critics too, and my own challenge is to learn how to deal with these and to not let them get in the way of my achieving my own destination and training, and I draw inspiration from lots of amazing people everyday in my own quest, including Tim, Dan, Ben, and everyone at Sun Yoga. I’m not agains knocks or criticism either, but sometimes I think you need to remember and celebrate the positives and pay less attention to the negatives, otherwise its easy to get bogged down and to stop believing in yourself or to let others convince you that you are somehow mad.
So whilst, I was disappointed that I missed those yoga sessions, I was pleased by the overall month of May and amazed at the progress I DID make. And the results and evidence doesn’t lie, no matter how you try and look on it in a negative way. Though I wasn’t looking to lose weight, I went from 69kilos to 66kilos in four weeks, even though I increased my calorie intake so as not to lose weight as I need to maintain this for the row, when I’ll lose a lot. I’ve eaten a lot of ice cream and cookies this month as a result! I had to increase my carb intake the last two weeks as I was starting to lose energy and burning out quickly, but the addition of some smoothies has really helped with this, and I’m taking inspiration from the shakes they sell at the yoga studio. My favourite this week has been a blend of apple, carrot, orange, and ginger, all of which I can purchase very cheaply from Dato my local greengrocer and all grown in Georgia (apart from fresh ginger which a friend brought back from Thailand for me). These have helped to stop me feel so hungry between meals, and making eating pre or post exercise a lot easier, as well as making me feel much healthier and more energised. I’m also still enjoying strawberries which I love to freeze and nibble on during the evening or when working at the computer. The weekly yoga newsletter also has some great recipes in it, and this week was banana muffins, so its great to get some fresh ideas or inspiration, and to try new things, based on locally/seasonally available ingredients.
I really, really love the yoga, had a great one to one session, have loved every class, and am finding myself more flexible and a lot stronger than I was. I feel brighter somehow, and though its sometimes hard to keep up the twice a day (plus 4 mile walk per day) routine, its very worthwhile, and I’m looking forward to June’s classes, and practicing yoga on my Pacific Ocean row.
Several lovely things happened in the few days after my two grouchy days, and these have made me feel rewarded for my hard work over the past month. So many people have written to me and told me that I inspired them somehow, over the past year, which I find a bit confusing and overwhelming, but also really touching and makes me happy. On the last May session at yoga, I was presented with a book written by the Founder of Sun Yoga, who gave me my very first yoga session on the 1st May when she was over in Georgia from the UK. It was very unexpected, but great to have my efforts acknowledged and celebrated, and I’m looking forward to learning as much as I can through the book. Its called ‘The Science and Philosophy of Teaching Yoga’, is written by Jacqueline Koay, a medic from the UK (http://www.amazon.com/Science-Philosophy-Teaching-Yoga-Therapy/dp/0955642345) and is full of anatomy, technique, philosophy and so on. I was wanting to buy a book about yoga since I know nothing of it, other than what I’ve experienced in class so far, so now I have the perfect guide and can hopefully understand it more and this will help me to improve my own practice and also to train for the ocean row and become more balanced in general, and able to understand my own body and getting the most from it with my rowing training.
I was also given a beautiful piece of artwork at project yesterday. Made for me by the mum of one of the Oceans Ambassadors. It is a tree, made from beads, rock, moss, wire, and plaster. Again, very unexpected, but given from the heart, and so nice to be appreciated. The fact that it is a tree, feels very special, as it is ironically, the position that inspires me the most in my yoga practice, and which I want to be able to do in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, and then to try on shore after 6 months at sea when I’m trying to find my land legs again. It also feels very symbolic in that I feel I am putting down roots for the first time, but also growing as a person, and reaching for new heights, and it sums up May perfectly somehow. Here is a picture of my tree, and I’m going to remind myself of my journey, each time I look at it (the leaves are made from tiny little beads threaded together):
I also heard from Suunto that they are considering me as a brand Ambassador, and OPG had some great news this week, as Lush have approved our grant application. This will cover a small salary for me which will enable me to remain full time on OPG, and also to purchase a laptop for project and camera. These things are massive in terms of productivity as I’ve been working really hard and without salary so far. This grant is from Lush and is the very first one I applied for, and as well as the small grant, it comes with the opportunity to write a piece for the Lush Times (https://www.lush.co.uk/lush-times) and to send them photos and updates to show our work, which is a massive deal for project and the ocean row. The timing is so perfect as it came just after my crappy two days of feeling doubted and this makes the continued efforts so worthwhile.
The timing is also perfect, because next week is our last OPG project session and I need to go to the UK to do a lot of interviews, to meet with the Olympic rowing coaches at Imperial College and to have my baseline fitness assessment carried out, wisdom teeth removed, and so forth. After that things get more hectic and I need to prepare for the next intake of OPG students in September and a move to the University for our next sessions, plus making sure that everything is organised project wise so that the guys can continue to run project whilst I’m away on the ocean row next year.
So it feels like time for a new journey and the next step up the ladder somehow. Both literally and metaphorically, personally, and professionally. Because of the Olympics and summer season, flights are looking relatively expensive, so I’m looking into the option of taking the train (inter-railing) across Europe rather than flying, which should cost a lot less, especially if I couch surf, and am very careful how I spend my time and money. Its also a great opportunity for me to take some time out, to do some things I’ve always wanted to do, like spend a day in Venice, or re-visit Budapest, which I haven’t seen, since I was teaching English there in the 1990s and has likely changed a lot in that time, and perhaps a day in Paris. I’m more flexible with time than funds, and its a great chance to have a mini adventure and to push my personal development a bit, as the media stuff is going to be quite a shock after hiding out in Georgia for so long. The UK is where it’ll kill me financially, and will be really tough, so my best option is probably to couch surf in London, since I need to be near to Imperial. I’d love to catch up on some outdoor swims if I can, and the girls may want to do some ocean row training on the coast in Cornwall, which might give me the chance to try surfing briefly (something I always wanted to do in Cornwall). It’ll be incredibly tight, but not impossible if I can plan things carefully, but it depends on when our interviews and photo shoots, etc are scheduled for, and will be good to spend some time together as a team. From July, Laura will be busy in her work as Physiotherapist for the Olympics, and if I get the place to study in Sweden, my course will begin in August, which basically leaves July to get the rest of the funding applications done for OPG, and to finish the OPG International website, and get the next OPG course sorted. September and October should be busy with filming for ‘Jeans Generation’, studying for my PhD, and also touring boat shows and training for the ocean row, and end of May we should be off on our ocean row, so it’ll be pretty hectic here on in.
I’m actually most excited about having a small salary again (£800 for the year), because it means I can have my first haircut in over a year, and I also plan to buy a new pair of shorts as these are falling off me and falling apart too! But it feels like a small triumph and breakthrough moment, and has renewed my energy and attitude towards work, which was starting to wane a bit. Having a laptop that is quicker and doesn’t struggle with everything is really going to increase my productivity too, and enable me to download and do much more than I can at the moment, so I’m very excited about that prospect.
I’m so grateful to all the amazing people who have helped to get me through May and have treated me to coffee, beer, or lunch along the way and kept me cheery and said nice things, and I hope that in some way I can return the favour to all those people who have supported and believed in me throughout. Its a long road ahead, with lots of lessons to learn, and its a very personal journey, but also great to share it with others and make new friends on the way. You guys all know who you are, and even though I don’t say thank you as much as I should, its always there, and my journey wouldn’t be possible without you guys. So in case I don’t say it to you personally, ‘thanks so much’ xxx