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Disbelief, derision and the healing power of yoga

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Yoga never ceases to amaze me.

Yet a mere three years ago, yoga was a foreign being to me.

At that time, I think it is fair to say I was a gym junkie.

Twice a week I sweated it out during boxing classes, and another two times I pushed my way through boot-camp style circuit classes.

Back in the (boxing) day

Back in the (boxing) day

Yoga was just something I had heard about from a few concerned health professionals, suggesting it would be beneficial to my body and it’s issues.

I had even gone so far as to try a class once or twice, but could not for the life of my understand the point of it. I mean, you don’t burn any calories during an hour-long class. So why bother?

Then there was the whole needing to quieten your mind thing. I was a miserable failure at this.

Sometimes though life, the universe, and our bodies have a way of conspiring against us.

After reaching the peak of my own personal fitness mountain, I was on a high in more ways than one. Gotta love those endorphin rushes!

But my body started to arch up. It seemed to grow tired of giving me clues which I resolutely ignored.

Whilst the GP insisted the need for two hip and one knee operation before I turned 40 was “purely coincidental”, the truth was the effects of osteoarthritis had began to wreak havoc with my joints.

My knees look like theones on the right, but with a lot less of the white stuff.  Photo courtesy of tdscentral.com

My knees look like the one on the right, but with a lot less of the white stuff.
Photo courtesy of http://www.tdscentral.com

I won’t dwell on the pain I was in 2011/12.

Suffice to say I acquired myself a rheumatologist and a truck load of heavy-duty meds.

During this bleak period, my sister cleverly challenged me to try a ‘power’ yoga class.

Promising that in a Vinyasha power flow class, there would be sweat and lots of it.

I can’t remember exactly what I said to her in response. I suspect I snorted in derision.

But I took up the challenge. And I have never looked back.

Wanderlust yoga festival

“Thanksgiving Tree” Wanderlust yoga festival

In that first class some amazing things happened.

Yes I did indeed sweat. In fact I sweated buckets.

Make no mistake, this is not a bikram /hot yoga class. While the room is a very comfortable 26 degrees, the sweat really comes from the sheer hard work of getting into some of those poses.

More astonishing to me than the sweat, was the fact that for the first time for as long as I could remember, if not EVER, my mind was quiet.

Completely consumed by attempting to learn and move into the various asanas (poses for you non-yogis) there was no space in my mind for anything else.

Picture that. No white noise, no incessant chatter, no stressing over things.

I was, what I know now to be, mindful. Present in the moment.

Photo courtesy of www.humanhealth.com

Photo courtesy of http://www.humanhealth.com

There is one more thing about yoga at which I continue to marvel.

Yoga is said to be ‘healing’ by more than one person.

I am no expert, but what I do know is after a few months of yoga I no longer needed prescription meds.

I also know that last month, despite the advice of my knee surgeon, I decided to go for a run on a treadmill.

I had been feeling so good for a relatively long time, why not push the boundaries a little?

Immediately after said run, my knee started ceasing up and locking every time I tried to stand. Upon standing, it would immediately give way beneath me.

And I was back in the pain game.

The next night I hobbled my way up the stairs to try out the new style (for me) of a Hatha yoga class.

Photo courtesy of yoga.org.au

Photo courtesy of http://www.yoga.org.au

I don’t think the instructor wove any particular magic in the class.

There was no suspicious aromas floating around the room that I couldn’t identify.

But magically, by the end of the class, my knee pain and issues were gone.

I cannot explain it.

Nor can I explain how last night I apparently needed to sob my way through a class; and how today my shoulder pain that took me off to the physio earlier this week, has all but disappeared. *

If you are a committed gym junkie as I was, I suspect there is no way I, or anyone else, can convince you of the merits of yoga.

If however you find yourself in a place where your body starts yelling “no more” then I urge you to try a yoga class.

At the very least, you will probably enjoy the rest at the end we call Shavasana.

Photo courtesy of yogadivinity.com

Photo courtesy of http://www.yogadivinity.com

Namaste.

Ali

 

* Disappeared until the next installment occurred in a battle I am having with a certain Telco. Then it came roaring back. A story for another blog…

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A glimpse into another world

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For as long as I can remember, people have told me their stories.

Like last week. Although I was pressed for time, I suddenly found myself captive audience to hearing the life story of my seamstress.

Carton courtesy of www.pictureof.net

Carton courtesy of http://www.pictureof.net

Oops, that sounded a bit fancy. “My seamstress”.

When in fact, *Oksana is anything but fancy. Rather, she is a local lady who fixes my hems, takes seams in an out according to my weight fluctuations, and all for an amazingly price for which she is forever apologising.

Over the years, despite language barriers (her English is not great and my Russian is limited to “Opa”, which roughly translates to “Woo Hoo”) I have always engaged in a bit of light conversation with Oksana whenever I go to collect my goods.

General chit-chat about our children and their schools; and now in Oksana’s case, the Uni course her daughter has commenced.

I am not sure what it was about last week that was different. Midway through a holiday, perhaps I was giving off relaxed vibes?

Because from a simple observation about how fast she was at changing the thread on her machine and re-sewing my son’s trouser hems, I learned Oksana came to Australia 20 years ago as a refugee.

That she is not as I always assumed, Russian, but in fact Belorussian. I was not entirely sure what the difference is, but clearly it is a big one to Oksana given her reaction to the Russian President’s name, and her general comments about Communists.

Photo courtesy of www.alta.eu

Photo courtesy of http://www.alta.eu

Oksana told me frightening stories of her life growing up as a girl who was part Jewish, with the “wrong” colouring for her homeland.  Of having to carry two passports, so one could clearly identify her as Jewish. Feeling  caught between two worlds and never really fitting into either.

Of running away in the middle of the night to Austria, a teenage single mother with an 11 month old baby boy. No papers, no money, no real idea of where she was heading.

With the help of an Austrian friend she eventually made her made to Beirut and spent four years there. The way she tells it, she lived in fear every single day of those four years.

Still to this day, Oksana cannot walk near a rubbish bin that has been left on the street, for fear of bombs being detonated in the bin.

Some of the tales Oksana told me of that time, she could only tell me pieces  of. Her emotions were still too strong to really talk about those events, she simply shivered and shook her head.

Eventually she made her way to Australia as a refugee; I did not manage to get all the details of this trip.

Once in Australia, the former Engineer and fashion designer, managed to scrap a living together by altering the clothes of people like me.

“I’ve  had a hard life” she said repeatedly. “Australia has been good, but not so cheap now. Not like when I first came”.

Even now her woes continue. Her husband, also a Belorussian migrant, is unwell after recent surgery that seems to have been botched by the hospital. Mind you, Oksana is not focusing on thoughts of compensation. She is concentrating on praying her husband stays alive.

As I listened to Oksana’s story, I was at a loss for words. Sure, my life has been a little difficult of late.

But there is nothing in my history which in any way matches what Oksana has been through.

I walked away from our talk feeling sad for everything she has experienced, but also feeling grateful.

Grateful she had shared this story with me. Grateful she has made her way to our lucky country. And grateful for my own secure, happy life.

And ever so grateful that people want to share their stories with me.

Cheers till next time,

Ali.

 

*Oksana is not her real name. Just my favourite Russian one.

 

 

 

 

This special place

photo-15

Please forgive this indulgence.

For I know I have written about this place before.

I have proclaimed its virtues here, on my blog.

I have written articles describing it as a hidden gem, an ideal spot for us ‘mainlanders’ to escape the hustle and bustle of big city life.

On my Facebook and (very occasional) twitter posts, I’ve uploaded photos with standard captions about how happy I am to be here in MFPITW (my favourite place in the world).

Yet here I am, feeling compelled to write about this magical place and it’s hold on me, once again.

Hence why I crave your indulgence.

I am not even sure what is that I love about this place.

Of course there is the obvious beauty all around me.

IMG_1820

The whiter than white sand.

The sea, such a unique shade of blue/green; calm and flat when I wake up in the morning, choppy now as I sit and write at its edge.

The sandstone cliffs at either end of the long, deserted beach. The Tassie bush all around me, with that smell I only ever find here.

Beautiful this place undoubtedly is.

Especially on a day like today, when the morning grey sky has cleared away to become bright blue.

So tempting was the vista, I’ve come down to sit and write on the beach.

Wearing shorts and a t-shirt. In April! Less than I was wearing when I was here in January.

As I gaze up and down the beach, there is not a single other person to be seen in any direction.

The only sound I can hear is the roar of the waves crashing on the rocks, and the words pouring out of my head (or is that my heart?) onto the page.

My life has recently taken an unexpected twist. Nothing too dramatic mind you.

And amongst all of the roller coaster of emotions I have felt over the last few weeks, one thing has stood out.

The need to come here, to this place.

The utter conviction that here is where I am meant to be, at least for now.

I am not here for long. Practicalities like school holidays, and the desire to find a new job, mean this visit must inevitably be brief.

But ah, the visit is so sweet.

IMG_1817

Why exactly do I need to be here?

I suspect the answer is multi-layered, and I can only comprehend a few of the more obvious layers.

As always, I felt happy the minute I arrived. So very, very happy. A somewhat rare form of happiness, that feels like it is inside every fibre of my being.

It probably sounds trite to say, but my soul feels peaceful here.

My yoga teachers would be proud of the me I am when I am here.

This version of me is mindful. She is in the present moment, and even the constant chatter in her mind is quiet for a while.

I feel a better version of myself when I am here.

This place makes me feel grounded. Amongst all the uncertainties of my life right now, this grounding seems especially important.

Lastly, not least, being here gives me the time and space to give my creativity a run.

To see if I do have it in me, to be the person I dream of becoming.

Time to finish writing. I feel I have overspent on your indulgence credit.

Cheers from my special place,

Ali.

Farewell, Primary School Mother.

IMG_1523

I feel redundant. Past my use-by date. Superfluous and unnecessary.

Last week at Parent Information Night, the Community Liaison Officer warned us this would happen.

Apparently it is a common phenomenon. As boys grow into older teenagers, they tend to need their mothers less and less.

My son’s new school is so concerned for the impact this might have on us mothers, they have organised a “mother and son” evening, so we can learn all about this future occurrence.

Forewarned is forearmed and all that.

Yet I cannot help but feel the future has already arrived, at least in our house.

Only two weeks ago I was one of the about forty other mothers standing in the quadrant, furtively wiping tears from my eyes as I waved my baby up the stairs to his new classroom.

My little man has started in year 7. He has been coming home every day beaming with excitement and eager to tell us all about his day, as he navigates his way around his new school.

Meanwhile I am struggling to find my place in this brave new world, post primary school days.

Once upon a time (ok, up until a month or so ago) I knew who I was in the mother scheme of things. Where I fitted in. I was one of the mum’s working part-time, leaving a couple of days free each week to allow me to attend to all the household affairs.

And on those non-working days, I could be present in the school playground. Drop off in the mornings, check out what all their mates were doing, and then rush off for coffee/ exercise/ chores.

In the afternoons things were a little more leisurely, as I would hang around chatting to some other mums, and then standing in the class listening to the last 5 minutes of the day. Often there was a chat to the teacher after the 3.30 bell, to find out how the kids were really faring.

Primary school days

Primary school days

Over the years I managed to attend innumerous school assemblies, helped with reading in class, and even went on at least one excursion per year.

I was as involved as I could be, and as much as I felt the children wanted or needed me to be.

My non-working days were bookended by the school drop off and pick up times.

But since my son, as the youngest of my two offspring, started high school there has been no need for me to bookend my day.

The kids catch the train with their dad to school, and make their own way home.

A few times their bus or train has been delayed, and I have found myself pacing up and down the driveway, waiting for them to materialize on the horizon.

I don’t even need to get up at a set time in the mornings to help them get ready for school.

I know it is ridiculous, but I am feeling rudderless and disconnected.

I thought I would be celebrating this newfound freedom. Instead I find myself talking incessantly to the dog and bombarding The Husband with emails about domestic details.

Last week I offered to attend the school House Swimming Carnival, as it neatly coincided with one of my non-working days. The Community Liaison Officer had made a special point of inviting parents to attend.

My son held up his palm at me as the words were barely out of my mouth to tell me “No. Please don’t come. I will be embarrassed in front of my friends”.

So easily embarassed these days....

So easily embarassed these days….

Apparently as well as being superfluous, I am no longer cool either.

Time keeps rolling on by, and it is inevitable my babies keep on growing up and away from me.

I can only hope they continue to need me in other, less physically tangible ways, for a while yet.

And at least our dog is still a puppy.

Cheers till next time,

Ali.

In with the new, out with the old (year that is)

Photo courtesy of eatatbartletts.com

Photo courtesy of eatatbartletts.com

This is not the start I was expecting to 2014.

Here I am in my favourite place in the world, my ‘spiritual home’, at my mother-in-law’s shack on Tassie’s beautiful East Coast.

 For not only am I yet to break out the ‘kini, or even for that matter, anything shorter than ¾ pants, but it is also a grey, rainy and cold start to the year.

No glorious sunshine to herald in the promise of a new beginning.

No swimming in the water my son calls “advertising water” (it looks like it belongs in a commercial for an exotic island destination), feeling all the stress, disappointments and frustrations of 2013 wash away.

Try as hard as I might to tell myself I am being ridiculous, it feels a little like the universe is alerting me to the fact this New Year will not be all sunshine and smiles.

Resolutely however, I am determined to push on with my plans for today.

 Not to make New Year’s Resolutions, which everyone knows are technically meant to be made before midnight on the 31st December and are always broken.

Instead I am going to work on formalising my goals for the new year.

My goals for health, my goals for wealth (or rather, career) and my goals for home and hearth.

Nothing particularly earth shattering, just a few of what those in the HR area like to refer to as SMART goals. For those of you interested – this stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely goals.

I thought I might start by consulting Stephen Covey’s famous “the seven habits of highly effective people”.

One of the habits is “Put first things first”. In other words, don’t sweat the small stuff. Or spend valuable time on things that are not of value to you.

Rather, Covey suggests kicking off working on this habit by asking yourself what you could do differently, at home and at work, so that if you did it regularly, it would make a positive difference in your life.

Seems like a pretty straight forward question, but it proves difficult to move from “good theory” to “great answer”.

Yet one obvious option for me is to make sure I keep writing. Writing for my blog, writing for online magazines, writing the not-so-secretly-desired-book, or writing for work.

It doesn’t really matter what I am writing, so long as I am writing. For even having spent just a few hours of this disappointing first day of 2014 perched at the typewriter, has filled me with joy and purpose.

Roll on 2014, this year is going to be MY year.

A Happy New Year to you all, and adios for now as I head off to work on those SMART goals.

 Cheers,

Ali.

A fractured life lesson

Photo courtesy CJF photography.

Photo courtesy CJF photography.

I’m back!

Yes, here it is folks, what I know you have all been waiting for – a new blog post from Not for Blokes *.

I’m sorry I have been away so long, it was not by choice.

You see I broke my wrist and hand and could not type. Or do anything much at all.

There I was, the most at peace and relaxed I have been in, like, ever. Fresh from a three-day yoga retreat in the Byron Bay hinterland.

Or, as our friendly red-neck taxi driver described it, “a camp held in a tin shed on a swamp; in the drug-pushing, dole-bludging capital of Australia”.

Yet after a diet of vegan food, combined with early nights and even earlier mornings, plus a multitude of asanas, I was in a very happy and chilled out place.

Chilled out at the retreat / spa treatment.

Chilled out at the retreat / spa treatment.

So it was in this happy frame of mind that I set about enjoying a unique day of mother-son bonding with ZT.

My eldest baby was busy holidaying in the Gold Coast with her besties (as you do as a very lucky 13-year-old) and ZT and I relished the opportunity for some quality one:one not enjoyed since his kindergarten days.

We went for a coffee at my favourite local ‘Where they always know your name, and they’re always glad you came’. (Actually one of the barista’s has been occasionally known to  belt out a rendition of the song below in my honour).

We went for a bike ride, enjoying the coastal trail near where we live.

Then as the afternoon sun continued to shine, I happily agreed to ZT’s suggestion to go skateboarding with him.

No.

No, I have never been skateboarding before, not even as a child.

No, I did not wear any protection such as a helmet or wrist/knee guards.

And No, I did not listen to the voice in my head that kept asking “Are you absolutely sure you want to do this. Really, really sure?”

The first half an hour was great. Then I got cocky, especially when told “You are doing better than Dad!”

What’s that? An opporutnity to finally be better at something physical than Mr Natural Sportsman? Surely not.

It is true that pride cometh before a fall. No sooner had I thought this, then the next thing I found myself  going way too fast, which inevitably lead to me falling A over T.

Cue canned TV studio laughter at our heroine’s ungainly antics.

Much pain, and hours at the local emergency room later, the diagnosis of fractured radius was confirmed.

At first I was bemused with the plaster on my arm. I may have a chronic disease, but I have never broken any bones before.

Plaster plus yoga t-shirt. Winning combo.

Plaster plus yoga t-shirt. Winning combo.

Bemusement quickly turned into grimacing through the pain, which was then replaced with anger. Ultimately over the ensuing six weeks  I predominantly felt useless.

Even though I recognised how ridiculous the sentiment was, I felt as if I wasn’t really living, wasn’t really contributing in any meaningful way to anything or anyone.

I tried to tell myself how short-lived this would be, and to remember what I was going through was so much less than what others near and dear to me are presently grappling with.

“Living in the moment” was my aim. Sometimes, I even managed to. I had no choice really as it was so hard to go anywhere and do things.

Throughout it all I kept asking “Why”? Why did this happen? What was the universe trying to tell me?

The Husband’s response: “Nothing. You just went too fast and fell of a skateboard”.

A friend suggested my inner voice was trying to teach me a lesson – next time, listen to said inner voice in the first place.

My sister’s take was that sometimes life sucks, and we need to learn to accept that and then just get on with it.

I suspect the answer to be a combination of all three.

Cheers, it’s good to be back,

Ali.

* I am testing out a new themed look for the blog – please let me know if you like it or not?

For my sister

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Photo courtesy of loobygirl.wordpress.com

My sister has cancer.

Actually, I don’t even know if that is strictly true.

I know she had a lumpectomy last month – they cut out ‘the lump’, they removed three breast nodes.

I remember the excitement and huge relief of hearing the good news that the “cancer has not spread to the lymph nodes”.

At that point, it seemed like ‘all’ that would need to happen was rest and recuperation from the operation, followed by a course of radiation and hormone tablets.

Not at all pleasant of course, but as we were all very aware, it could have been considerably worse.

Then came the devastating update.

“Um, actually, we have some more pathology results, and yes well the thing is, they are showing you have a factor which increases your likelihood of secondary cancer occurring”.

So after having been initially assured chemotherapy would not be necessary, all of a sudden it is on the table. A full course of 6 doses – starting today, around about the time that I write this.

[ Wow that is hard to fathom. My sister is having chemotherapy. My sister is about to have chemotherapy. She is  having it now.]

Which brings me back to my starting thought.

Does she actually ‘have’ cancer still, or has it been cut out?

Of course, this is just semantics and makes no difference to what she is going through, or those around her.

I feel like I am on something of a journey of my own, and I wonder if this is how most people feel when someone they love goes through this.

By admitting I feel this way, I do not mean in any way to diminish what my sister goes through. I can only write from my point of view, and try not to defer to what my naturopath describes as my “default emotion of guilt”.

For me there are all kinds of complex emotions going on.

To begin with, I would have to admit to being a little overwhelmed by how deeply this has affected me.

I have only known of the existence of my sister since I was about 18, and met her a year or so later.

I remember when I first received letters from my baby sister (the youngest of a family of 7 into which I was adopted, I had always secretly longed for a baby sister) being amazed at how well she wrote for a 13-year-old.

Unknown

Cartoon courtesy of http://www.deviantart

I remember thinking how much she sounded like me.

Over the many years since, she has been a constant in my life. Coming to visit me and stay on the couch at one of the uni share houses I lived in (aka ‘den of iniquity’) while she was still in high school, but managing to keep up when we took her out partying.

Or flying over to Perth where we had just moved as newlyweds, and were living barely above the poverty line. She came and brightened up our little flat and then we went camping together in the SouthWest.

The details of which are a story for another day. Suffice to say it was lucky we were two young blondes when it came to needing assistance getting the tent up.

As an Aunty to the rugrats, in truth she was a little absent in the early years as she unashamedly would announce “I don’t do nappies!”.

But as they grew out of nappies and into little peeps, she has been a regular in their lives at their important events like school plays and basketball grand finals.

We consider ourselves lucky, because we have a friendship as well as our sisterhood.

We actually choose to spend time together.

And I (finally) listened when she told me she thought I really would benefit from yoga.  A year later, feeling signficantly less arthritis pain as a result of falling in love with yoga, I am eternally grateful to her for her insistence.

So what has suprised me is that I have been rocked to realise exactly how much I love her. How much I want to be there for her. How much I need my sister in my / our lives.

Cartoon courtesy of www.orkugifs.com

Cartoon courtesy of http://www.orkugifs.com

I know it is cliched, but it feels truer than ever today.

Cherish those you love, hold them close – and don’t forget to tell them you love them.

Goodluck, I love you DJB.

Ali.