Stop, look and listen … to yourself



Recent minor surgery has resulted in much anxiety and forced ‘doing very little’ on me.  Prior to the operation I was becoming increasingly apprehensive and had to find a way to calm myself.  The answer came in the form of a free app; Headspace, which has ten introductory meditation sessions and encourages you to set a daily reminder to find the time and space to reconnect with yourself.  As a former yoga teacher you might think I wouldn’t need to an app to remind me to meditate, but you’d be wrong; even those trained in meditation sometimes need a little shove in the direction of ten minutes of peace each day.  Especially, if like me, you were not very good at sitting and doing nothing in the first place, and much preferred the physical asana practice of yoga.

It is also very beneficial to go back to the beginning sometimes and remind yourself of what you already know but may have forgotten, and possibly approaching it in a different way in the process.  I have almost completed the ten free sessions and have found them very useful during what has been a very challenging time for me.  As yet, I haven’t decided if I will sign up for further access to Headspace but it did lead me to consider re-reading some of my meditation books and I thought I would write a post about them as potential inspiration for some of you.

The little ‘Sit like a Buddha’ book is a simple, straightforward guide to meditation, written with humour, and is a realistic approach to the practice.  It’s also a quick read, so you can get straight on with your meditation!  One aspect of the book which I found useful was the chapter entitled ‘know your why’, which was something I had never thought about before.  I guess I just thought ‘I should meditate’ but never asked myself why I was doing so; it was just something I felt I ought to do.  Yes, I know all the benefits (and they are many) but what was the particular reason for sitting on any given day to practice?  That I had not previously questioned; and so my reason these last few weeks has clearly been dealing with anxiety over my surgery, and the ongoing recovery from it.  Once I had established my why, I felt a greater sense of purpose to practice and found it easier to make the time to do so.

‘The Miracle of Mindfulness’ is a classic of the genre from Thich Nhat Hanh; my copy is quite old; it was published in 1991!  That goes to show how good it is because I do not horde, I have regular and quite ruthless clear-outs of everything, books included.  The fact that this one (and others by TNH) has escaped my eager de-cluttering is testament to it being an essential read for anyone interested in meditation.  I love the relevant examples used to allow beginners in to the practice, such as ‘washing the dishes, wash the dishes’ and the importance of being fully present in every moment, regardless of how you might feel at the time.  This is something which I have often used when anxiety comes calling and I consciously re-direct my focus to what is happening in the here and now, as opposed to what I fear may happen.  This is a must purchase!  As are any books by Thich Nhat Hanh.

‘The Meditator’s Handbook’ is one of the first books on the subject I ever bought and takes a more psychological approach to the practice.  It details varies styles of mediation from different belief systems, both eastern and western alike, in addition to perspectives from Tai Chi and yoga.  It is a very thorough and therefore, a more academic guide, with plenty of opportunities to put what you have read about into practice.  I would say this is for those who are more serious about their practice and would like to know something about the various meditation traditions around the world.

‘Mindfulness’ by Williams and Penman is one of the more recent publications on meditation and takes a modern approach by focusing primarily on the practice of mindfulness and how it can help with anxiety and depression.  It includes an 8-week programme with accompanying CD, and is clear, practical and extremely helpful; especially at a time when mental health is (rightly so) being given increasing importance in society.  As someone who is currently not 100%, I am aware that my recovery will be as much mental as physical, and if I can remain positive I will get better much quicker.

Regardless of whether you are a proficient practitioner or a beginner, I hope this post has inspired you, and I would love to hear of your books, apps or any other meditation tips you have.

Happy meditating!







This month I’m reading


As a self-confessed book worm I often have two or more books on the go at once.  In fact, technically speaking, I am currently reading four books; one second-hand copy of How to Eat by Nigella Lawson, a Lonely Planet guide to France (started last year, or was it the year before?), The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins, and I am about to start The Forty Rules of Love by Elif Shafak, one of my favourite authors.

I came across a somewhat battewp-1486922279324.jpgred copy of How to Eat in a charity shop a few weeks ago and looking for some foodie inspiration I bought it and have been slowly working my way through it, often when I’m eating dinner.  A lot of the recipes are not for me as they contain meat, which I don’t eat but what I do love is the way Nigella talks about food, with such passion but also a lack of pretentiousness or preachiness.  She just enjoys cooking and eating and believes in the importance of good, honest, unfussy food, something I can certainly go along with!

I’ve also been dipping in and out of the Lonely Planet guide to France for quite some time now.  I pick it up when I have the odd half an hour and a cuppa in hand and don’t want to spend it flicking through social media.  As a Francophile, I am using it as inspiration for future visits; it’s working rather well!

The Selfish Gene is the second book in my current popular science phase I’m going through.  I recently finished A Brief History of Time by Professor Stephen Hawking, which was a challenge for a non-scientist but then that’s why I bought it, I wanted to educate myself and step out of familiar reading territory.  I’m not at all ashamed to admit I didn’t understand all of it; he lost me when talking about quarks, but I was able to follow most of it.  Now I’ve moved on to The Selfish Gene and am finding that a much more accessible read and a thoroughly interesting one too.

I haven’t read any fiction in a while and am therefore really looking forward to starting The Forty Rules of Love by Elif Shafak in the next two weeks.  I have read The Architect’s Apprentice and The Bastard of Istanbul by the same author and love the beautifully descriptive prose she uses and the complexity of her characters.

What is interesting is that I think my book reading habits reflect my mind quite well; constantly flitting from one thing to another, rarely able to stay focused and do one thing at a time.  That is something of a disadvantage when it comes to getting things done.  I’m writing this when I should be working on an assignment for my MA but I just couldn’t find the inspiration today.  I wrote a little for it earlier but I felt it was mostly drivel, so I stopped and started writing something else instead.  Maybe having done so I’ll be able to go back to my studies.  Or maybe I’ll read …

What are you reading at the moment?  Do you have several books on the go at once, or work through them one at a time?  Share your recommendations for a good read, fiction or non-fiction, in the comments section.  Thank you.


‘Most doors open if you try’



‘Most doors open if you try’, one of my favourite lines from a much loved childhood book, Once Upon A Rainbow, by Naomi Lewis.

This photograph was taken a couple of years ago on a visit to Kingston Lacy House in Dorset.  A walk around the grounds reveals many such small doors; some standing alone, like magical portals to another dimension, while others are attached to trees, like this one.  I wonder where it leads to …

Writing 101: Day 16: Third Time’s the Charm


(Prompt: Imagine you had a job in which you had to sift through forgotten or lost belongings.  Describe a day in which you came upon something peculiar, or tell a story about something interesting you find in a pile.)

You’d be surprised what people bring in here.  January of course is the busiest time.  We’re up to our eye-balls in unwanted presents and New Year clear-outs.  Round here you can pick up some good quality stuff; name brands and the like.  The local well-to-do ladies shed their clothes every season like skin.  Of course, you sometimes get the other type of donation, when someone’s passed on.  It’s hard for the relatives.  One young girl came in the other week.  I say young girl, she was to me, but I guess she was about 30; had a load of men’s clothes and shoes.  Lost her dad, she had.  Not fair on someone so young.  Still, working here, I’ve realised how loss is often tied up with gain, for someone, and many people will benefit from her donation.

At the moment, we’ve got a lot of video cassettes; can’t shift ‘em.  Mind you, I read the other day that some might be worth quite a bit; people looking for old films or something.  No-one listens to CDs either.  It’s all downloading and the like nowadays, so we’ve got piles of them, almost up to the ceiling.

Books?  Yes, loads.  Naturally, they’re a good seller for us.  We had a load of Penguin classics in the other day.  They’ll go well.  Oh, yes, and that 50 Shades book; we’ve had quite a few of those in too.  But we do get some interesting books, like a curious one I found a few weeks ago in a big box.  As good as new it was; a travel book, with lots of lovely photos in.  It must have been a present and they didn’t want it, which was a shame.  There was a message inside.

To a friend who has yet to see all the pictures of the world, but one day undoubtedly will.  Love Nick x

I thought, I wonder if they’d donated it because they’d gone off travelling.  It got me thinking too, and that’s when I made my decision.  Yes, it was the book that finally made me do it.  It was something we should have done together after retirement, but when I lost him I sort of went off the idea.  Didn’t fancy going alone, so I stopped work and started volunteering here three days a week, but I always thought about it and watched lots of those travel programmes on TV.  So, when I came across that book it felt like a message, something telling me ‘now or never,’ you know?  So, tomorrow is my last day.  I’ve sold the house and I leave from London on Friday.  My first stop is Paris.  We went there for our honeymoon, so it seemed right.  Then I’ll just keep going until the money, or my body runs out, whichever happens first!

(This was inspired by a Lonely Planet photography book I bought in a charity shop  six years ago, which had the message below in it.)  



Yoga books – recommendations of good starter texts


Yoga books - recommendations of good starter texts

A few weeks back I said I’d review some of the yoga books I’ve collected over the years. Here are two of the earliest purchases I made when I started practising. Both are great introductions to the philosophy behind hatha yoga, in addition to providing detailed instruction of key postures, relaxation, meditation, yogic breathing and diet. They are also illustrated with numerous photographs of each asana, with advice for safe practice and alternatives for more difficult poses. The Sivananda School emphasises the more meditative aspects of yoga, and the importance of breath work. So if you like a quieter hatha practice, then this might suit you. Tara Fraser, the author of Yoga for You, comes from a varied background of training with many different schools such as Iyengar, Sivananda, the British Wheel of Yoga and Ashtanga, and brings all of that knowledge together in her book, which includes ready-made sequences of varying levels of difficulty. I highly recommend both texts if you’re looking for a straightforward, highly visual guide to yoga.