Look to the distance but not too far
If you only watch the wave coming at you, you can miss the cleaner one just behind. If you look too far to the distance you miss the wave entirely, always waiting for better, more, bigger. So depending on the sea, you have to look the right distance to see what’s coming up at the right time so you can react. In life if you look too far ahead you get lost in the massive amount of detail. If you don’t look far enough ahead you miss the very thing you were looking for as you’re not ready to act. Sure look to the horizon, sure look at the one you’re in, but keep aware of the middle ground – that’s where the action is. In your yoga don’t imagine where you’re going to much, nor where you’ve been, aim to get more present in the moment with a soft connection to where you’ve come from and where you want to go to.The cusp if life is now, enjoy it.
Start to love waiting
Surfing, especially on small days, requires a lot of patience. Waiting, just watching, bobbing around. You can stand your ground and wait, ready, or you can play. I dance, do yoga, sing, chat to the waves and do some splurgy movements that might be considered ‘level minus 3’ synchronised swimming moves. Waiting is really important. We have to do it in life a lot, waiting for the house we want, the bus to come, the love to come, the perfect break, the kids to hurry up, the toilet to be free. Surfing is a great way to learn how to love waiting. In yoga we have to learn to wait in the present. Maybe our body will loosen up, maybe we will get deeper into the pose, maybe we will do a more complex pose. Maybe you wont. Maybe you will do a pose that looks boring but feels awesome. Learn to love being where you are. Love the wait, the journey.
Breath out another wave will come
You’ve been in the water 20 minutes, there’s one nice wave every 15 minutes and then you miss it. It’s tempting to get annoyed, sad, frustrated – whatever. Just breath out. No more, no less. The waves come and go. In yoga we can do a pose and castigate ourselves for slipping, falling and being ungainly. Let it go. Another pose will come tomorrow. It might be better, it might be worse, but another pose will come.
Accept and relish the fluctuations
Waves come waves go, the breath comes in the breath goes out. The dance speeds up, the dance slows down. When there is no change there is dullness. Perfection has change integrated into it. Imagine perfection being fixed: same perfect house, weather, partner, breakfast, song, art – everything perfect, and everything the same every day. Bleuch. Movement is a necessity. So start to celebrate this.
Enjoy whatever comes, it’s all connected
It’s so damn obvious and so deep too. Each wave is connected to the one before, the one after. Your body needs to be all connected to be there. In yoga try to do it with your whole body. Avoid ‘a great hamstring stretch’ and enjoy a hamstring stretch while feeling great’. The difference is subtle, but very important. If you do yoga for one part of your body you will miss the whole experience. When you look to enjoy a pose you actually integrate the movement more, so your breath, shoulders, heart and feet are all alive in the pose as well.
So the next time you are not quite sure how to twist, turn or react. Come back to the waves of the ocean, your body and your breath. Come back to your body and breath out. Be really present, really listen, really honour the present moment and everything you are in it.
I have been in Toffia visiting Diane Long. She was taught by the deeply amazing Vanda Scaravelli, and in my opinion is a master teacher. A teacher of the teachers. Ofcourse when you travel hundreds of miles to visit a teacher you are investing in learning, so I have been trying to find her directions within my body so I can refind these spaces. This is despite Diane explaining one of her key roles is to take us away from patterns into living more on the cusp of life. A pose can start out in one direction and radically transform to another as if on the waves of the breath.
The 5 days have really affected me- emotionally and physically. Diane is very attuned to seeing bodies move and facilitating more freedom. She took me into back arch in a way that felt as light as air, helped me find breathing so blissful. In a very simple way I am refinding space in my lower back for my breath and once I have found that space, allowing it to seep up my spine, bringing with it fluidity and ease. When I say fluidity I don’t mean a nice smooth movement, but a more complex refined movement. It is deep and terrible subtle movements that are not visible to normal human eyes. To me this feeling is as if my vertebrae have become golden balls, surrounded by liquid. So there is a dynamic eternally shifting balance that I breath through.
Here are some pictures of the trip. Fresh persimmons, off the tree, a cat doing a yoga stretch, Diane and I hugging, Judy stunningly fit at 70, a sunset and fellow yogi Gary.
It’s hard for me to know what you’ll get out of this blog and it’s slightly esoteric stuff, so maybe it will just remind you that yoga is very much not body poses, it is not merely the poses and the breath – it is being alive in your body, breath and soul. Yoga should help you feel more alive, more at ease. More yourself.
Have you ever had your perceptions challenged? Every opened your heart to a stranger?
On the streets
On the way to surfing I pass 3 guys who are begging and living on the streets. They have beer, a dog called Bella and some sassy cheek. They can rattle pleasant holiday makers with their mischievous bravado, as they ask for their take away pizza or packet of chips. The truth is they’re doing no harm. They are challenging people’s perceptions, but they are just grown up boys, making their way in the world as best they can.
Over the weeks we developed a happy relationship which largely consisted of a little banter, and fist bumping ‘bon matin’. I would joke with them that I had no money but could give them a smile (I was carrying only my board). One morning Bella’s owner, who Im going to call Ravi because I think it suits him, was sleeping curled up cuddling her. To see someone sleep in public, vulnerable like a child is very tender. Ravi has ‘boom’ written on his knuckles, which I liked and took to be friendly, he showed me the grenade on the back of his hand. I laughed and said it was too much. I asked Ravi if I could pet Bella and I was dumbfounded to feel that Bella’s collar had inward facing one inch spikes, all around her neck. Why? No! Why? I asked. Because she’s a pit bull, she’s very dangerous came the answer. I left feeling a bit nauseous and unsure of everything. I took it to the waves, let it go, and kept the grief for Bella’s life experience. Despite being loved and loving, having spikes prod your neck every minute of the day must be utterly shit. Please tell me these collars don’t exist in Britain.
Give a little
On my last day I went over to give Ravi and the others some money. I used to be quite puritan about giving food not money, until I did the house build and didn’t know where the petrol money would come from to get to work the following week. Now I let go, and am happy to let others decide what is best for themselves. I had just come out from my last surf, wet, swimsuit on and carrying my board. One of the blokes asked for my number, which I laughed off. Ravi asked for a kiss. People are different, some are hungry, some are angry, some are sweet. Ravi had a sweetness I can’t describe. Despite keeping Bella in the worst collar I could imagine, he had an incredible sweetness. I gave him a cuddle and a kiss. A few minutes later he came after me. I went to him and we held hands which felt entirely right, just easy. He opened his heart in French. He was expressing gratitude and tenderness which I could understand despite having only ‘school girl French’. I could feel what he was saying and left tearful and touched deeply.
How is this yoga?
So why is this about yoga? My wonderful mentor Cathy Swan, at Yoga Scotland, has a very grounded approach to what yoga is for making us better to everyone. So this is a simple story to inspire you to see beyond the circumstances and to open your heart. Go to yoga, enjoy your class, but know the aim isn’t to be beautiful, it’s to meet the world more fully.
I came to Biarritz committed to surfing every day come rain or shine, charting my process with 3 videos per day, and getting amazingly better over the month. I thought I’d make a little motivational video, aka you can do it. Hahahahaha
The Dream & The Reality
I think I can honestly say I am a worse surfer than when I came out. It’s belly holding hilarious. I have surfed one foot waves and fall off repetitively, I have got into the sea with 9 foot waves and bailed superfast and I have spent a lot of time on smallish waves mashing it up. I’m wondering if the term ‘surfing’ is inappropriate for what I do with a surfboard in the ocean. My children, both who have been on surf boards since they were titchy find my abilities gobsmacking. They don’t know how I can spend so much time doing something I’m so bad at.
The number one lesson the waves have been teaching me is humility. I came out, bought ‘Mimi la Planche’ and imagined how much better I’d be on leaving. I go out, swim suit on, somewhat looking the part, and then I nose dive. I thought over the Summer I would unlearn my special seal like wave catching technique – I belly flop onto the board as the wave comes, using the slap of mybody onto the board to gives me momentum and then I blubber up the board like a walrus. Turns out I’m still quite attached to this technique. I thought Id manage a pop up on a mini wave. This has improved, but has involved a lot of bruises, right shin is telling the story. My sister Jo reminded me mid holiday of humility and the waves, and she was so very right. Every day I go out, feeling like a fraud with my lovely board, ready to crash and burn. That’s proper humility. In yoga that same humility is very valuable. Letting go of the image of fabby leggings, uber mat and flashing flexible legs is the first step to real humility of embracing your physical body and movements as they are. There is a joy in both yoga and surfing that defies what can be seen by an onlooker.
Know your zone of joy
Know how much danger and safety you thrive on. Everyone’s different. When my daughter surfs she wants an adrenalin kick. I do it for a white moment of togetherness – so where and how we surf is completely different. My daughter and a surf instructor have questioned why I don’t go out further. It’s simple, I surf for joy, and that means I don’t need much. It’s the same for yoga, you don’t have to keep doing more complex and impressive poses – you can just enjoy it. Yes, its true, you can just find what suits you and really enjoy it.
Humans are dangerous, particualrly those with little awareness
The waves can smash you up for sure. You need to know what’s happening with the waves, as a number of my naïve mistakes have proven. Even more than this you need to look out for what other people are up to, in the water they’re the most dangerous thing. When others have hit me it’s never been malice, just lack of awareness. A beginner let go of her board which hit me across the neck and gave me nerve pain. It was scarey and the bay watch savetuers and her instructor helped. Amazingly, in 2 hours I was, remarkably, right as rain. This was a real lesson in watching others. So in life, look out for others, not the ones you think are ‘bad’ but the ones who are going around not noticing. There are next to no ‘bad people in the world, just usually people struggling and living as best they can. In yoga watch for others and their expectations or needs from you. Your yoga teacher may want you to value her classes, or expand your movement, your fellow yogi may want you to agree Savasana was too long that night. Stand in your truth, your body and just watch what is going on around you. You can make all the space you need to just be where you are.
Bare all, including non-attachment
The whole body thing has given me ample scope for non-attachment and humility. The beach is teaming with glorious young people and stunning surfers. I’ve never been a fan of having my bum out in public, strange that ; ), and now I do what I call the surfing walk of shame. It involves leaving the house in swimming costume and sneakers, walking through the crazy pretty town, filled with slightly swish people, in clothes. And then it improves. To get to the waves I walk past the casino, the glorious cream yellow casino on the epic sea front, outside it swathes of pretty French cafes, filled with holiday makers surveying the sea sights from their high priced veranda view. And oops, here comes Susannah, hair a tad matted, and more than middle aged bum inevitably keeking out of swimsuit. A surf photographer took a sweet picture of me, which again challenged my ability to bare all – thanks Fish and Shots (amazing surfing photos!). I’m taking this as a practice of non-attachment. Keep walking, yes I wobble. Yes I’m spoiling their glamorous view, keep walking. They’re eating fancy breakfast and I’m walking past half-naked, keep walking. Want to feel shame? Don’t do it girl. Walk your walk. Own it. Let it go. None of this matters. In yoga our bodies are on show, the teacher will look at your body, and often we are not used to this feeling, it can feel really challenging to have someone notice us. As a yoga teacher you have to let people look at your body to learn, another layer. So the next time you are not quite sure how to twist, turn or react. Come back to the waves of the ocean. Come back to your body and breath out. Be really present, really listen, really honour the present moment and everything you are in it… and ‘let it be’!