Back again …

It has been a VERY long time since I last wrote a blog post. Nearly a year. And the longer I left it, the harder it became to know what to write. But today I felt prompted to get over my silence and to simply start the process again.

Much has happened in the past 12 months. I had hoped that by now I’d be back teaching yoga and that there would be less of the burnout to report on and more of the bliss. But life is never completely straightforward. Sadly in June last year we had to say goodbye to my beloved canine companion, Rolo. Although she had been unwell for some time and her death was not unexpected, I was hit very hard by grief at her loss. This had a significant impact on my fatigue levels and I still miss her daily. Here’s a favourite photos of her which was taken on one of our last walks together.

Missing both Rolo and the sunshine, it has felt like a long, hard winter. But the return of the sun and longer days is helping with my energy levels and we have been busy at home preparing the garden for growing more vegetables. My husband never does thing by halves and we now have a VERY LARGE vegetable plot!

After an initial period of overwhelm I have decided to treat this year as a learning experiment and adventure and see what works and what doesn’t. A good thing really as I’ve already made a rookie error of not labelling my seedlings properly so may get some surprises on the plot!

As well as the work in the garden we have started up a small business “Bees in Our Community” to help local people get established as beekeepers. It’s my husband who does all the real work in this, but I’m in charge of his social media presence so have been having a bit of a crash course on all things bee-related.

As if all of this wasn’t enough to keep my interest going I’ve recently started an online writing course. I’m getting myself disciplined now to write most days and have been curious to see what is appearing on the page. One of the earliest pieces I wrote was a poem about CFS which I was very proud to have read out as the closing piece on a webinar for women with chronic illnesses. I have shared it below:


The Dark Gifts of CFS

You built me a cage
The bars made of fatigue, pain and loneliness.
I look out and I can see the life I once lived
Playing out in other people’s stories.

At first I wept
And railed against the injustice.
I tried to force the bars to bend
To give me space to escape.

Sometimes I’d slip through
And fly into the outer world.
In a frenzy of activity
I’d do what I used to do
And be who I used to be.

And then I’d return
Spent and empty.
I’d collapse on the cage floor
With no energy left at all
And nothing to do except wait and sleep.

From this perspective
I began to wonder.
Were they the bars of a prison
Or a sanctuary
To save me from myself?

My world is smaller now
But I have learned to savour its gifts.
My joys are of small things.
The opening of a bud.
The aroma of the bread I’m baking.
The myriad colours and shapes of passing clouds.
And my cats curling up with me to rest.

I am hoping this is a pause.
A hiatus.
An interval.
A breathing space.
A lull.

And that one day I may fly out once more
And be active in the busy world.
Part of the hubbub and hurly burly
Playing my role
But bringing with me the stillness
That I am learning
To carry
At my centre.

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!

Reflecting on other journeys


I started this blog with a view to using the time spent in New Zealand to begin to write about both my general observations of travel and life in New Zealand, but also about how I’ve been trying to unravel some of my own inner workings, habits and thought processes in order to move towards recovery from ME/CFS.

img_8409Last weekend I was lucky enough to travel to Tyburn Monastery, a wonderful Catholic retreat centre run by cloistered nuns.  Tucked away in the hills, Tyburn has the most spectacular scenery and views.  I joined a very welcoming group of my sister’s friends who have been coming regularly to the Monastery to have some much needed quiet time, away from the busyness of their daily lives.  Staying in comfortable en suite single rooms, as this was not a guided retreat we were able to choose how we spent our time.  I took advantage of the stunning scenery to take gentle walks and practice my photography skills.  I also attended the beautiful small chapel and spent time in quiet meditation in the wonderful rosary garden.  With good home cooked food provided by the nuns there was nothing that we needed to do, except to find ways to let the peace and tranquility of this place sink deeply into our souls.  And it did.  There is something very special about a place that is set aside for prayer and quiet contemplation.

As I spent time in this restful space with more opportunity than usual for reflection and introspection I realised that this blog site is not the first time I’ve combined the inner and the outer journeys in writing.  Once I was back in Hamilton,  with time available to read through some of my older pieces of writing I came across one that seemed relevant to share on this blog.  In May 2014 I travelled to Sweden to take part in a Yin Yoga teacher training course.   Taught by a wonderfully wise and humble teacher,  Biff Mithoefer, and supported musically by the equally inspirational Prema Mayi the week’s training course was both challenging and transformational.

In the following piece of writing I attempted on my return to Northwich to convey some of the experiences of the retreat experience – which is, of course, very much an inner journey.  As a little side note I should add that although I talk about discomfort whilst in the poses it is important to understand that I would never advocate pain in a yoga practice.

If you’re interested in reading see below: Continue reading “Reflecting on other journeys”

On arrival in a new land – early days


I’m so very grateful and humbled that so many of you have taken the time to read my first blog post.  Thank you to those who have commented or fed back to me through all the various mediums we have available for us to do so.  It means a great deal to me.  It has felt nerve-wracking to put my thoughts and feelings out into the public forum – but that is what I have elected to do and I need to get used to it!

So … I arrived in New Zealand a little over a week ago.  I’m staying with my sister and her family which gives me a  comfortable base and the opportunity to enjoy both times of solitude and introspection and times of family banter together with the nuts and bolts of everyday living.  As I wrote last time I found leaving my home, family, friends and animals to be a huge wrench.  I have been so grateful to have been included into my sister’s family life over here – it has helped me enormously at times when both the physical and emotional distance betweeen New Zealand and the UK threatened to feel overwhelming.

Travelling to any new country is full of slightly unfamiliar experiences.  Many of these are to do with the most mundane things.  I suspect I can’t be the only one who when I first arrive in a new country will find myself handing over a larger denomination note rather than trying to negotiate the new and strange array of coins.  Or has been slightly bemused by trying to work out yet another new system to operate taps and soap dispensers in a public loo.  The other day I even found myself trying to prise the plug in my sink out of the plug hole with my fingernails until I realised you simply pushed down and the plug popped up.  Everyday things are often just that little bit different.  I took the picture at the top of this page because it’s only when you look a little more closely at it that you see it isn’t just a picture of everyday greenery that we might see in Britain – there are exotic looking trees growing right there in the middle of it all.  And that’s how life feels at the moment – although things look pretty similar, everything feels just that little bit out of the ordinary –  including that beautiful Kiwi accent!

In normal circumstances I would thrive on this sense of being in a new place.  I have very vivid memories of that feeling when you first step off an aeroplane into the scent and heat of a new land, and of how my pulse would quicken with excitement at the exotic feeling of being “abroad”.  I usually dive straight in to investigate the area I’m in with a spirit of exploration and enquiry.  But travelling with ME/CFS, this time my experience has been rather different.  Instead of feeling a sense of adventure and determination to explore it all, I have been surprised by how slowly I need to take things.  I am much more easily fatigued and simple things feel just that little bit more complicated.  My sister has kindly given me option of driving her car – but even though its an automatic, and in New Zealand they drive on the same side of the road as the UK with very similar road rules, I have yet to have the confidence to take the car out.  I find that I am being forced by my own body to learn to take things slowly and to add new experiences into my daily life step by step.

And this going slowly is all part of my inner journeying work.  I have discovered that in the same way that I am noticing differences in the external world, I am in new territory with my internal voyaging.  Suddenly freed of the majority of my day to day responsibilities with time to focus on myself and my healing, I notice that I am very good at becoming busy.  At procrastinating.  At finding useful jobs that I could do for my sister in the house.  Or fascinating articles to read on the internet.  It seems that I’m equally nervous about the new opportunities to explore within as I am about those around me.  And it is new to me to have uninterrupted time alone.  To neither have the normal responsibities nor the everyday interactions that have become so much part of my life.  I am in uncharted territory and at the moment I am feeling in need of some kind of a map.

And so I find new routines and small disciplines that help me to settle into this different phase of being.  As well as the blessing of being able to join in with my sister’s family life in the evenings and weekends, I have signed up for a month-long writing activity where I’m being emailed a prompt every day for reflection and journalling.  The prompts encourage some deep thought and introspection and are proving very helpful in giving me some focus.  I’m continuing to meditate daily and am often incorporating a longer yoga nidra or relaxation practice to help alleviate the fatigue.  I am also taking time to practice gentle yoga.  Even this familiar practice feels like exploring a new terrain and I have to keep reminding myself to let go of judgement as I find my muscles tight and my joints stiff.  But … with gentleness and patience the body begins to release.  Tightly held muscles begin to let go, the breath deepens and the territory becomes once more a little more familiar.

So … I have discovered that at this stage of my life I am not the intrepid explorer I might once have thought myself to be.  But I am slowly and gently beginning that process of finding my way around in new lands, both outer and inner, and I am hopeful that I will discover beautiful treasures to savour in both.

The Journey Begins …

img_7973For years I thought I might write a blog.  I’ve always enjoyed writing but I have only ever written for myself or for a very limited audience.  Writing for a blog sounded terrifying – my words, my musings out there for the world to read.  But then I did a quick google search.  According to Technorati there are more than 8 million blogs online and 12,000 blogs are created every day.  That’s OK then – I’ll probably slip under the radar – and I can carry on writing as if it was just for me and a few close friends.

So … why now?  What has suddenly prompted me to get my fingers onto the keyboard and start to release my inner musings into the ether?   The answer is a total and complete change of scene.  Three days ago I left my home, my husband, my two (adult) children, my dog, my two cats, my 8 chickens and my rich and varied group of friends behind in the UK and I travelled to New Zealand for an extended break.  Whilst over here the plan is to rest, relax, renew and refresh.  To give myself time and space to encourage  recovery from ME/CFS.  A retreat from normal every day living with a chance to explore both the outer world of New Zealand in all its beauty and wonder, but also my own inner world.  Who am I when I’m away from my roles of teacher, wife, mother and friend?  Who have I become over the years?  What changes can I make in my habitual ways of being that can help me to feel more vibrant and less fatigued?

And the blog?  Suddenly I have time and space at my disposal.  And a need to feel that in some way I’m still connected with all those who are so physically distant from me.  And I made the mistake of telling the other members of the Creative Writing group I attend that I was going to write one.  And I told them what it was called and how to find it …

So here I am.  But what shall I write?

I’m anticipating that the blog will develop into observations and musings about my journeys- both inner and outer.  I’m hoping that it will record the journey from burnout, fatigue and exhaustion towards vibrancy, ease and bliss.  But I imagine that these things take on a life of their own and I shall have to find out what develops.

So – what of my journey to bliss today?  I shall write the truth… I am moving between awe and wonder at the beauty of New Zealand and the friendliness of the people I’ve met, and utter exhaustion and homesickness.  One moment I’m sniffing in the heady scent of jasmine blossom whilst enjoying the warmth of the sun on my face, and the next my eyes are welling up with tears as I watch a chocolate labrador playing in the park, or friends casually chatting and laughing.  It is hard to be away from home.  It is difficult not to have things that I need to get done.  It is strange not to have people I know and responsibilities I need to fulfil.  But I remind myself –  I’m only on day 2 after arrival.  My body is still readjusting to the change in time zones and seasons.  My heart is still adjusting to saying goodbye to those at home who I love and care for.  So … rather than trying to write something clever and meaningful from this place of exhaustion I thought that I’d share a piece of writing from last year about saying goodbye.  It’s very personal and it’s certainly not a travel blog piece – but it does give some insight and understanding as to some of the emotions that I’ve been going through over the past few days.  So if that’s not your thing then you can pause here and perhaps come back to visit another day to read a bit more of my journey from ‘burnout2bliss’.  But if you’re interested please read on …

I have never liked Goodbyes … Continue reading “The Journey Begins …”