On bees, yoga and coming home …


This blog post has two seemingly separate story threads  in it which I hope I can weave together to make a tapestry that reflects a little of how I have been inspired over the past few weeks.

At the bottom of our garden in Northwich we have beehives.  A few years ago we started with one, and bit by bit my husband  Karl has built this up to the current levels of eleven active beehives.


I must confess that I have very little to do with the bees other than to sometimes sit and watch their busy activity which seems to put me into a wonderfully meditative kind of trance, and, of course, tasting their honey!  Karl, however, watches over their activity with great interest and occasionally reports back to me on an exciting development taking place in our apiary corner.

Last week, while I was away on a training course, one of our hives swarmed.  Karl followed the swarm and the bees settled on a branch of a magnolia tree in our garden.  Karl said that it was an easy job to snip the branch and gently ease the majority of the swarm into a newly prepared hive.  He blocked the entrance with grass and left it overnight for them to settle into their new ‘home’.​

​While this was all happening I was away in Cambridge on a four day course for yoga teachers to learn how to teach Restorative Yoga. This was a BIG DEAL for me.  I had stopped all of my yoga teaching in May last year due to the overwhelming fatigue of ME/CFS.  After 20 years of running yoga classes I wondered if I’d ever be able to teach again and I grieved deeply, not only at the loss of a career that I truly loved, but also for my vision of myself as a teacher with something of value to share.  After the first few months of feeling loss, confusion and exhaustion I began to water the seed of a dream with hope.  Perhaps there were gifts to be recieved from what I had first perceived as a disaster.  Maybe having to learn first hand what it feels like to be utterly burnt out had some important lessons to teach me.  Perhaps my experience of stiff painful muscles and joints unable to do movements that once came with ease could offer me a deeper insight to bring to my practice of yoga.  And could it be possible that the frightening experience of finding myself constantly anxious, overly emotional and operating from a place of fight/flight could in fact have its own dark gifts to bring?

I began to wonder whether my lived experience of these symptoms and the practices that I found helpful to bring some ease and respite could be used to not only enrich my own experience of yoga practice, but to give me a pathway back into teaching yoga that was both sustainable for me, but also would be of real value to many people.  On my return from New Zealand in January I booked to attend a 4 day Restorative Yoga teacher training course at Camyoga in May, feeling confident that by then I’d be feeling well enough to cope.

ME/CFS is a difficult illness to predict.  After a good start to the year, much of April was spent exhausted and cancelling almost all non-esssential activities.  My days largely consisted of gentle walks with my dog Rolo, taking photographs of nature,  daytime resting and meditation, and very early nights.  My world was becoming smaller and I was finding this very hard.  I knew I was taking a risk attending 4 full days of training and on top of that staying away from home, but my desire to believe that there could be a future for me that was bigger than my current experience of life propelled me forwards.

Restorative Yoga is a practice that aims to bring the body and mind into a space where the busyness, tension and activity of daily life begins to ease and the parasympathetic nervous system is stimulated, bringing about the relaxation response in the body. The practitioner is guided into different postures where the body is fully supported by props so there is no strain or effort.  Feeling safe, nurtured and supported the student is then given from 5 to 20 minutes to simply ‘be’ in that pose.  Different poses allow a range of spinal movements to be explored as well as encouraging deep breathing and creating space and/or awareness of the deeper organs of the body.  Gradually the body and mind begin to relax and a state of deep peacefulness may be experienced.

As potential teachers of Restorative Yoga we needed to experience the practice for ourselves as well learn how to safely and effectively teach it.  The first few poses we practiced made me realise how tight I was, and how much physical and nervous tension simply getting myself to the course had caused.  As the practice began to allow me to release the layer upon layer of tension, tears began to flow and for a while I felt even more exhausted than before.  I was feeling first hand the effects of Restorative Yoga on a stressed system.  It is a testimony to the skill of our two teachers, Beverley Nolan and Tiffany Thorne that they were able to support me to work through these layers of letting go in a safe and nuturing environment without allowing this to impact on the other students.  They both taught us the fundamentals and possibilities of this wonderful practice with great skill and expertise.

I had come on this training course hoping to add some new tools and techniques to my teaching repertoire, but like all the very best training it gave me far more than this.  Not only did it allow me to find a way to release some of the tension that had built up while living with ME/CFS  for a few years, but it also gave me real inspiration and hope for my teaching in the future.  I was able to see how I could incorporate my own way of teaching with Restorative Yoga.  For the first time in ages I was able to feel as if my years of teaching yoga and developing my own particular style of practice could still be of value in my new way of teaching.  I didn’t need to let go of who I was or how I taught, but could see ways that I could incorporate that fully into new and exciting offerings. I felt like I had not only come home to my body,  but to that place of inspiration and flow as a teacher that I had missed so very much.  There was a deep sense of homecoming.

While all this was going on for me in Cambridge, back at home in Northwich my husband was watching another inspiring drama take place.  Remember at the start of this blog I told you about the majority of the bee swarm being coaxed into a newly prepared hive? After leaving them overnight in the hive with grass blocking their exit, Karl removed the grass and watched them settle comfortably into their routine of flying off and returning to the hive with pollen.  There was a small group of bees from the swarm that hadn’t been put into the hive with the others which were still congregated near the Magnolia tree.  Karl decided that he would see if he could introduce them into the new hive.  He captured the bees from the Magnolia tree and brought them down to the new hive. As he watched, Karl could see the bees who had settled into the new hive overnight come out, become aware of the “left behind” bees, and then change their behaviour.  Instead of flying straight off to gather nectar, the new hive bees turned their back ends towards the “left behind” bees and started waggling from side to side.  They were allowing the scent of the hive to waft to the “left behind” bees.  In effect they were saying “It’s ok – you’re home – smell the scent – this is YOUR hive, your family, your tribe!”.  The “left behind” bees stayed for some time, and then flew straight into their new hive – back to where they belonged.

At the start of this blog I said I’d try to weave together these two stories so that you could  share a little in how I saw a similarity between my experience on the training course and that of the “left behind” bees. What have the bees and the training course got in common you may ask?  As I was telling my parents the story of the bees I realised that one of the things that made my Restorative Yoga training course so inspiring and effective for me was that I had experienced a sense of coming home.  Not only in the way that we talk in yoga of “coming home to ourselves”,  but I also was able to feel that I was coming home to myself as a yoga teacher.  Beverley and Tiff had allowed me to recognise the ‘scent’ of what it feels like to be inspired when teaching and to find our own particular style of delivery.  To be able to draw from many different influences and bring them together to teach in a coherent whole.  Through their very different but highly personal and knowledgeable teaching I recognised, remembered and in some way felt as if I had come home to my hive, my family, my tribe.

I am really hopeful that through careful pacing and continuing with my daily routines to encourage good health that I will before too long be once more able to teach yoga.  That I will be able to bring those dark gifts of wisdom and experience that ME/CFS has given me and use them to enrich and deepen my teaching.  But – and here is the really radical thing – even if for some reason I don’t go back into teaching yoga, those few days away  training with Beverley and Tiff have given me the gift of coming back home to a part of myself I thought I’d lost – to that part of me that can use my knowledge and the experiences I have been through, together with the world around me to teach.  I hope it will be to teach yoga – but I’m now open to recognising that it may come in any, or many forms.

It’s a marathon and not a sprint!

I couldn’t help giggling a little to myself when I wrote this title – those who know me well are probably aware that I’m not much of a runner either of sprints OR marathons.  And certainly not at the moment!  But the beauty of the phrase – however over used – is that it immediately conveys exactly what it is that I’m having to come to terms with day after day.   Moving towards more vibrant health and energy from a diagnosis of ME/CFS is a long and slow process which simply can’t be rushed.


The past month has brought this home to me very clearly.  My wonderful trip to New Zealand really helped to recharge my batteries.  I returned to the UK in January this year with a renewed energy and zest for living.  It was wonderful to reconnect with friends and family and to begin to look towards the future and make plans.   When I last updated my blog a month ago I talked about what was ready to come out of hibernation in my life, what was  blossoming and what parts were staying tightly furled and saying ‘too soon’.  I recognised that social activity was still really exhausting for me and that I needed to spend more time quietly and on my own.  And by and large I have followed my own advice – limiting my interactions with people when energy levels are low, and planning carefully for the times when I know that I’ll be in social settings.  I’ve even begun to learn how to sit quietly and allow others to do more of the talking – a very new concept for me!


But even with these changes in activity and behaviours I’m still not quite back to the energy levels I had when I first returned.  And that is where I really have to understand that moving towards recovery from ME/CFS is a slow process which doesn’t follow a straight line of progression.


Thankfully I have something other than running to help me understand this more clearly (!).  At the end of February I decided to join a slimming club to help me to lose weight.  I have for years been a little curvier than I felt comfortable with, but more importantly I recognised that my fatigue could only be improved by not having a lot of unnecessary extra weight to move around.  Anyone who has ever managed a sustained weight loss will recognise that it will really only succeed if you keep making choices that support the weight loss goal.   It’s the small decisions that you make day after day to opt for eating something healthy that begin to add up.  Little by little these choices begin to be seen as weight loss.


And I have begun to understand that the road towards increased energy and vitality is just like weight loss.  I can’t just do a few big resting sessions and hope that I’ll bound back to full health.  It is the choices that I make day after day that will make the big difference.  It is the commitment to myself and my health that ensure that every single day, without fail, I spend time in meditation,  I take a gentle walk in nature, I find settings that interest me to photograph, and I find things to be grateful for in my life.  It’s the choices I make day after day to take time to rest, to go to bed at a reasonable hour, to limit my time on the computer, to pace myself so that I don’t do too much in a day, and to limit the amount of time that I spend in social situations that will eventually show themselves as renewed energy and vitality.  And just like when losing weight there will be a time when an optimal food choice isn’t available – or you simply decide to eat that pudding and enjoy it, there are times when I push myself a little harder than might be wise so that I can enjoy a much awaited event.  And in the same way that the food choices might show themselves on the scale temporarily, but in the long term the balance of healthy decisions shows itself in healthy, sustainable weight loss, I am sure that the daily disciplines I work with will, in the long term show themselves in improved health and vitality.


It’s not always been easy – and I have had times when I’ve felt real frustration and sadness that once again I’m feeling fatigued.  But I’m staying hopeful and still making plans to slowly be able to return back to teaching specialised One to One and small group yoga sessions from my home yoga studio.  Next month I’m doing 4 days intensive training in Restorative Yoga to add to my skills and to prepare for a new way of teaching. It will be tiring for me at this stage of my recovery, and I’ll have to plan rests carefully around it, but I’m led to believe running a marathon is a bit hard too!

Blossoming into Spring?

img_3843Last week on the first really sunny day we’ve had for what felt like a very long time I sat outside enjoying the sound of birdsong and the neighbours busy in their garden.  I had taken several photos of blossom and spring buds when I had been walking my dog, Rolo, and I felt prompted to consider the following questions?

  • What in me is ready to come out of hibernation?
  • What is blossoming in my life?
  • Which parts are still tightly furled, saying “too soon?”

These questions are good ones to ask at any point, but felt particularly timely ones for me.  I have been back at home now for just over two months after my wonderful break in New Zealand.  Life moves on and I have been exploring how to reintegrate myself into life more fully, while still being mindful of the self care and pacing necessary to avoid the boom and bust nature of ME/CFS.

What in me is ready to come out of hibernation?

The first question felt relatively easy for me to answer.  I stopped all yoga teaching in May 2016 and was very clear that this was the right decision for me to take.  Not only did I not have the physical energy to run classes, but I also felt a real need to withdraw, to draw inwards – to literally hibernate – spending time in a dormant state.  Over the past few weeks as the sap has been beginning to rise in nature around me, I have found myself beginnning to explore ideas about how I could come out of this state of hibernation myself and find new ways of coming back to my role as a yoga teacher.

Any illness or life event which like ME/CFS  forces us to stop what we’ve been doing in our lives and to reflect deeply can  also bring with it what are sometimes referred to as ‘dark gifts’ .  I see these as byproducts of the situation or illness that could bring about positive changes.  For me these include a radical reevaluation of many different aspects of my life to see how I can simplify,  conserve my energy, or make my way of living more nurturing.  But in addition, I believe that my experiences of the discomfort, frustration, bone-aching weariness and loneliness that is the nature of CFS has given me some immensely valuable material that I could usefully bring to a new way of teaching.

So – for the first time in many months it feels as if the teacher part of me is ready to begin to come out of hibernation.  Following the example of nature I will be taking it very slowly – the seed of the idea has been germinated and over the coming months I will be preparing myself to slowly emerge and blossom into my new way of teaching.  My vision is to teach small group and individual sessions from my beautiful home studio, specialising in gentle, relaxing and restorative yoga for those who are exhausted, burnt out, or simply in need of stopping the world for a while.  Keeping it small I’ll be able to keep my own work & life in much better balance, but I will also be able to create the kind of sanctuary that I believe will encourage deep rest and renewal for my students.

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What is blossoming in my life?

A great deal has been blossoming in my life recently.  Returning to England feeling well rested and content after my trip to New Zealand has ensured that I have, for the most part, been in a good place.  I have been able to reconnect on a one to one basis with much-loved friends, enjoying their company and listening to their wisdom.  I have begun a slow process of reclaiming my home and garden.  Years of feeling tired and overwhelmed with life has meant that there has been a build of up ‘stuff’;  but last month we cleared, redecorated and reclaimed the first (of many!) rooms and I am getting huge pleasure of sitting in my new, calm, ordered and beautiful dining room.  So some new additions of calm and order have been blossoming.  Storm Doris took a rather more dramatic approach in the garden, blowing over trees and fences, literally clearing away the dead wood – but I do believe it’s all part of the cleansing process and making way for new things and new ways of being.

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Which parts are still tightly furled, saying “too soon?”

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Despite all the areas of growth and blossoming, there are still some aspects of my life that are saying firmly “too soon!”.  One of the most marked and difficult areas for me is that of socialising.  Those who have been in my life for many years will know that I’m someone who has always thrived on playing to an audience.  I’ve always been somebody to talks rather too much with perhaps a bit too much animation.  And the difficulty is that old habits die hard.  These familiar ways of behaving and interacting with others are easy to slip into – but I don’t have the energy to sustain them.  Unfortunately, instead of venturing out and sitting quietly, I have found that simply being with a group of people seems to encourage my body to release adrenaline and I can find myself becoming highly animated and talkative.  I often enjoy the process – feeling a sense of being ‘my old self’ but then when I return to quietness and stillness I recognise that I’ve been running on empty and I often crash.  If it’s a one-off I can normally cope, but this past week has included a combination of a (joyful) family occasion and a few formal appointments as well as my wonderful weekly Creative Writing class.  As the week wore on I was becoming more tired, but each time I attended one of these events I found myself becoming even more animated.  And then I crashed.  Exhausted.  Unable to do the ‘normal’ things that I usually do in a day.  Needing to rest.  Not reading, not watching anything, just being still and quiet and riding the waves of frustration and sadness that once more I’m back feeling levels of fatigue I thought that I’d moved past.  This, I know, is a feature of this illness and a clear message that I’ve

” …travelled too fast over false ground;” as John O’Donahue puts it so beautifully. 

So this is where I am remaining tightly furled and saying “too soon” – the realms of social activity.  I shall continue to do things – but limit my interactions to one to one conversations where possible and my engagements so that I have time to recover between one event and another.

And who knows, perhaps in time I will become the strong silent one in any group setting!