Blessings # 25 – Y is for Yoga

I had been toying with the idea of taking up some kind of gentle exercise for years but was always too busy and then, when John became more frail, I had time but could only learn by watching a video (which back then was a tape in a machine). That didn’t work for me so I gave up. After he died and I was looking for ways to get out and meet people I decided to see if I could find either a Yoga or Tai Chi class locally and searched online. It was September and I knew that going out after dark when it was also cold would challenge my commitment. There was no Tai Chi group which was in a suitable place at a time I felt able to manage but there was an afternoon Yoga class in Cardigan so I went along.

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The Small Wold Theater in Cardigan where that class was held

I enjoyed the moving and stretching but was disappointed that none of the group spoke to each other. We arrived, rolled out our mats, did what the teacher told us, rolled up our mats and left. Then after about a year the teacher had to take a break for a term as she had several family members needing extra help. I mentioned it to someone I volunteered with who suggested I go to the class she was in which met in an evening. It was summer time so I thought it would not be too bad going out later and it would tide me over.

That was how I met Rose Thorn. (No Mr and Mrs Thorn did not lack imagination – the whole name was made up as a stage name which stuck) The group still wasn’t chatty but I knew 2 other people there so it felt more friendly. And Rose was a revelation. Yoga wasn’t about contorting myself into strange shapes. It was all about exploring what my body could and couldn’t do without fussing too much about its limitations. It was about noticing how I stood, moved, breathed. Then gently inmproving my posture, flexibility and balance through the postures. I knew that I had knock knees but found I also had flat feet. That I walked with my feet at 45 degrees (all those models posing on the catwalk and dress patterns with the model’s toes prettily pointed to show off the skirt had had an effect). Neither of those things were helped by weak ankles. Years of wearing high heels all the time had given me squashed toes and very short hamstrings. Oh, and I rounded my shoulders and stuck my head forward when I walked. Not that Rose said much – she just let me discover all these things through trying to follow her instructions. ‘Stand with your feet parallel to the edges of the mat’ was one of the first and most often used and it is hard to do when you usually waddle like a duck!

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Trying to take a selfie in the mirror whilst standing on one leg in tree pose does not encourage good posture!

I started to go to the Saturday morning sessions she runs from time to time at the home she shares with her partner Marie and which Marie runs as a vegetarian guest house. 3 hours of yoga followed by lunch which Marie cooks and where we all chat and get to know each other. Bit by bit this lovely couple became my friends.

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Over the Rainbow Vegetarian Guest House which is home to Marie and Rose

So now my posture has improved, my better balance means I am less likely to fall and my awareness of how I move makes it easier to avoid aching muscles when I work in the garden.

Blessings # 9 – I is for Independence

If there is one thing that this present lockdown has shown us it is that none of us is truly independent. Life alone on a desert island would be awful! I rely on others to provide me with food I cannot produce for myself, on the people who keep the internet running, on the water and electricity companies, and actually I need to be able to chat to others in person or remotely. All that without even thinking about if my house were to go up in flames or I had an accident.

What I would also hate is becoming too dependent. The worst would be losing the right to make choices such as when to get up or go to bed, what to wear, when to have a shower and what to eat. If I choose to write a blog post at 2am because something is going round and round in my head I can (and I have). If I choose to have chocolate cake and whiskey for breakfast who knows let alone cares? (I haven’t yet but I could!) Of course if I was very rich I could, like Mrs Thatcher, go to live in a luxury hotel and employ private nurses to care for me. I guess then I would be able to get my own way. But for most of us the choice is to be cared for by family if they are able and willing to take us in – but that is not always easy to cope with – or to go into a care home which is unlikely to be able to offer much flexibility.

So for now I rejoice in the fact that I can live here on my own. This may not always be the case.

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My bike may not get as much use as it should but so far it has not become a clothes horse!

I cannot protect myself from everything that might ail me but I can do some things. I can cook healthy meals even when cooking for one feels a bit of a chore. I can grow some of my food so that it is really fresh and when I buy ingredients choose local organic ones where possible. I can exercise – walking the dogs for gentle exercise and fresh air, yoga for balance and flexibility, the static bike for cardio and some weights for strength. Apart from dog walking – they don’t allow me to slacken! – I don’t do any of these as often as perhaps I should but I do what I can.

I care for my mental health by keeping in touch with family and friends (see F here) and by setting myself challenges (see C here)

I will shortly be having what is now my utility room / glory hole turned into 2 bedrooms for visitors but I have asked the builder to make the doorways extra wide so that a wheelchair can go through easily and have designated where a lift could go. By turning my studio in the roof space into a living area and having patio doors installed where the old garage doors were I could create a ‘granny annexe’ which would allow me to stay independent as long as possible.

Maybe it’s as well this lockdown means the builder can’t come yet – there is a lot of decluttering to do! The wall to the left of the window is where the old garage doors were.

Getting Physical

Last week I decided it was time to start cutting trees to refill the woodshed. Rob, who helps me with the garden wanted to use his chainsaw; I wanted to do the felling by hand with an axe. “But the chainsaw is quicker and easier” he argued. I am not sure about the easier because I have hardly ever used one but he is certainly right about it being quicker. I am the boss so it happened my way. I have been musing on why it is that I am so reluctant to let him do it his way and the more I thought about it the more layers I found to my pleasure in doing the job the old fashioned way.

Perhaps fortunately for someone going deaf I enjoy being quiet. I love being in the garden and it being peaceful, being able to enjoy the birdsong, the wind in the trees. The noise of machinery irritates me even at a distance and to me the whine of a chainsaw is particularly unpleasant. It also smells bad and the smell impregnates my clothes, skin, hair so that I feel dirty even if I have not actually been operating the machine. So much of the sensual pleasure I get from being outside is taken away.

IMG_20190313_155022257_HDR Special trousers, helmet, visor, ear defenders and gloves shut a chainsaw operator off from the world around.

Even Rob tells me that the chainsaw drives the work. I have no idea why, but once it is started up whoever is using it goes hammer and tongs at the job. Once the tree is felled the branches have to be cut off and then the smaller branches until the brash is quite small and will decompose fairly quickly (a process called snedding) and the temptation is to use the chainsaw for that as well, get it out of the way quickly and on to the next tree. Often the speed and the bulk of the chainsaw means that this is done quite roughly leaving snags protruding.

IMG_20200126_104047344God snedding leaves a clean pole

IMG_20200126_104056487 but sloppy work leaves snags like this one.

By contrast the energy needed to use an axe means that it is normal to stop periodically to have a breather, take a look at how the cut is going, adjust position to get a different angle, notice what is going on nearby. And since the only protective clothing needed is a good pair of workboots with steel toecaps, I can move and stretch, hear the birds, see the flowers. Large branches are taken off with the axe or a bowsaw whilst smaller ones are cut with a billhook. If the tools are sharp and the worker reasonably skilled the cut is clean against the main stem which makes them easier to stack or carry. I have time to look at each piece and assess whether it would be useful for making something or best put for burning.

I treasure my axe. It is a thing of beauty. Hand forged in Sweden by Gransfors with an Ash handle which I treat with boiled linseed oil every year, it is a Rolls Royce of axes. One of the lightest they do, it is technically a limbing axe for chopping off branches but it suits my height, weight and strength. I could use fewer cuts to do the job if I used a heavier one but I am in no rush and the heavier ones make me tire more quickly. The details may have changed but it would be instantly recognised by a stone age person – a tool design which has stood the test of centuries.

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Learning to use it was not something I found easy. As a girl born in 1950 I was not expected to master manly skills like woodwork, engines or, in fact, anything physically demanding other than housework. My father was a woodwork teacher but although he taught me the names of all his tools, where to find them in his shed and what they were used for, my job was to fetch them and then hand them to him to use. It never occured to either of us that I might have a go with them. Luckily for me when I did the Woodland skills course at Coppicewood College Martin Aughton took me under his wing and with enormous patience insisted that I could and would learn. In the end his persistence paid off. I am still not as accurate as I would like to be but that is because I don’t get enough practice. It would be so easy to let Rob get his chainsaw out and just tidy up after him but that would feel like a cop-out – I would be saying ‘this is hard to get right so I won’t bother’. Having finally understood what I am aiming to do and what it feels like when I succeed I am not going to give up now.

I also rejoice in the fact that I can be this physically active at my age; that I still have the strength to do manual work. To use the axe or billhook efficiently I have to use my whole body not just the realtively puny arm muscles. The power comes from the big muscles in the thighs and backside moving the torso and out through the arms. Thanks to Rose Thorn’s brilliant yoga teaching I now have pretty good balance so I can safely make big, powerful movements even on an awkward slope. And she has also helped me to feel the different muscle groups working. Feeling my power is exhilarating. And as long as I keep relaxed (helped by stopping, breathing, checking myself for tension) I can work for several hours without feeling stiff next morning.

Why would I give all that joy up for the sake of speed?

Whoops!

Have you been missing me? There is a reason I have not published a post for a while. We had a dusting of snow and very cold weather the weekend of the 9th / 10th December. on the Monday morning I checked that cars were getting up and down the hills either side of the valley and set off cautiously with the dogs. There is a strange piece of road layout just beyond the big farm at the top of the hill – 3 stretches of lane make a triangle around a single field. It is a shorter walk than most we do but in the cold I decided it was enough.

We made it round the circuit and started down the hill when I hit a patch of ice and found myself sitting down very suddenly and very hard whilst the dogs stood quietly and looked at me bewildered – Why was I doing that? Very gingerly and carefully I got to my feet and began to totter home. I decided that I felt a bit unsteady and didn’t want Roo (the brown kelpie x collie) to pull and send me flying so I unclipped both their leads and kept them under voice control. Unfortunately as we were going down 2 cars came up, reluctant to lose momentum on the hill, and although Roo got out of the way Orchid, a lurcher of very little brain, had to be pulled to the side using my good hand. I was very relieved to reach the safety of the driveway!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA restorative cup of tea later I checked myself over and realised that my bum was very sore and my left wrist was aching and starting to swell. The sore bum was familiar from previous falls but I just knew the wrist was more than a bump (though I was trying hard to convince myself it was nothing serious). A phone call to my good friend Jeni who lives a couple of miles away and off we went to A&E. They were lovely and by lunchtime I was sporting a cast. They offered a choice of colours but I knew that by the end of the 6 weeks it would be black however it started out so that is what I chose!

My bum is now fine, greatly helped by the last yoga class of the year where Rose decided to have us lying down the whole session but stretched us well! I am learning how to do many things one-handed and ways round things I cannot do. Thank goodness for a dishwasher and pre-prepared frozen veg! After a few days of staying indoors I have been able to start walking the dogs again. Putting up the Christmas tree at the front door was – hmmm – interesting!

My son and daughter live too far away to be able to help with day-to-day things but my son spotted these on Amazon to go over footwear and improve grip and bought them for me!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It will be a couple of months before I can drive. I am extremely fortunate to have wonderful friends and neighbours who are offering help of all kinds. But to go somewhere where there is decent internet available I have to get a lift and I really do not want to make too many demands on people so for a while posts may be like buses ‘You wait ages for one to come along and then 2 come at once!’

 

 

Shoes and socks

A few years ago I joined a Yoga class led by the amazing Rose Thorn who, at the time, was thinking a lot about feet. Every week we began with exercises to ‘wake them up’ and although I was a bit slow on the uptake (Sorry Rose!) I gradually began to understand what she was trying to tell me; I have knock knees and weak ankles. Said ankles roll inwards if I let them resulting in flat feet. I also had little toes which curled in and under whilst the big ones were debating whether to form bunions.

Whilst I have a memory of being taken to the GP as a small child about my knock knees and having to have Startright shoes and sandals – fine in primary school but not so great as I entered my teens – the squashed toes were entirely self-inflicted. As soon as I was able to choose for myself I wore high heels with pointy toes all the time. I even had a pair of heeled mule-type slippers for a time! To make matters worse my left foot is bigger than my right so inevitably one shoe was tight and the other slightly loose.

By this time I was doing a lot of walking and owned 3 types of footwear – wellies for the garden, a pair of steel toe-cap boots for the woods and the aforementioned high heel and pointy toe shoes for going out. The wellies made my feet sweat, the heels hurt (the yoga was encouraging my toes to spread making the shoes too narrow) and the boots were heavy.

IMGP0037Having finally seen the error of my ways I eventually decided to invest in a pair of shoes that would fit properly and care for my feet. I went to see Ruth Emily Davis of Machynlleth who measured my feet and told me that the left was size 6 1/4  in length whilst the right was 5 3/4 but both needed a width of  5 1/2. She could make me a pair to those measurements in any colour I chose from her huge range. A sensible person would have chosen black or brown or navy so that scuffs could be covered with polish. But I am batty and I wanted them to make me smile so I chose daffodil yellow with purple linings. That made Ruth smile too since making sensible shoes is not as much fun as making colourful ones! A few weeks later I went back to collect them and discovered how comfy shoes can be. And I still smile every time I put them on.

But lovely shoes deserve lovely socks. Hand knitted socks in interesting colours rather then boring socks in synthetic yarn sold in packs. So out came the knitting needles and a pattern from a book bought on a whim years ago. The first pair went into holes almost as soon as I put them on but advice from Mrs Snail and another knitting friend, Susan, led to trips to Cardigan market and to Jane’s in Fishguard, both of which stock good sock wool. I have found that although the patterns look fearsomely complicated it is just a matter of following them steadily – they make sense when you have the needles in your hands.

IMGP0035So now I have lovely comfy, smile inducing shoes and cosy, interesting socks to wear inside them plus some welly socks to keep my feet warm when walking the dogs in the rain and cold. My feet are suitably grateful!