I always feel a little bit like a fish out of water when I go on a "touchy feely" course - one that usually involves thinking a lot, spending time on my own thinking or (eek! I find it difficult) sharing my thoughts.
And I always feel fantastic afterwards and want to do more.
This time it was an Eco Therapy course with the wonderful inspiring Alastair at Earth for Life, at the Water of Leith Centre in Edinburgh.
Despite a high footfall and a few dog poo piles to negotiate, I connected and communed with nature and I learned just how significant this work is to mental health workers and the people they care for.
So today I was dreading it – 5 minutes. 5 WHOLE minutes! AND THEN, 4 sets of 3 minutes. FOUR SETS!
Yes shouting a little inside …
All weekend I kept telling my husband, who simply raised his eyebrows at me in support. Sigh…
It’s a big thing actually: I used to be a runner. I used to think I was pretty good at it. At school, I ran, jumped over things; even threw a few things, like a proper athlete. I had badges and medals and got upset if people beat me. My poor mother had to traipse to various stadiums and sit watching me throughout the season, usually in the rain.
I ran fast though…I didn’t like slow at all. I once ran a cross country at school and hurt my ankle, felt sick and didn’t win …so I never did that again.
In fact I haven’t run for about 30 years.
Many of you know that I try to follow the principles of a natural movement regime. In short, I like to evaluate everything with the thoughts “Would people do this naturally?” And, “What impact does it have on the mind and the body?”
Is being able to run a couple of miles a good thing?
Yes, I reckon so. Although I walk, and am walking further and further, my lungs feel the pressure of hills, my legs feel heavy and my energy is still low. I want to be fitter – Fitter for what? Fitter for life and endurance particularly.
I had been putting it off with various excuses like…my knee may not take it, I am too old, my heart may be too weak after my HER2 cancer treatment, I work in the fitness field so how can I let people see me huffing and puffing in public. Jeez! What will I wear?
But then I watched the first ever Stirling Marathon …and I saw the faces as they came in. I watched some of my clients and friends complete a MASSIVE challenge, and felt the tears come down my face with pride and joy for them.
And I was inspired...
Mindful Movement Course at Samye Ling, Dumfriesshire
I've always felt uncomfortable around religious places. Concerned I do the wrong thing, make too much noise, speak to someone when they are meditating ... you know...
And, I expect them to be basic, even threadbare... and struggling; and yet I find the ones that I have visited positively overflowing with carefully tended gardens, gold on almost everything and clearly some deep pockets.
Samye Ling has assaulted my senses: a full on colour bonanza with larger than life sculptures, floating on lakes of shimmer and meaning. (I should say that at this point I have no clue as to their meaning. But I'm hoping to leave more educated).
Last year was crazy. But this year was going to be different… a transitionary year. An evaluative year. A go-with-the-flow kind of year.
In 2015, I travelled everywhere, looking for answers… looking for the right way to do things, the one way, the perfect movement solution - and I had learned so much over that year that my head was spinning.
I wasn’t sure how (or even if!) all the training would come together in my head - far less how to pass this learning on. I needed time for reflection and for thoughts to emerge and consolidate...
I went through a stage of losing my Pilates mojo, of wondering whether I'm making any difference at all; and whether I am too old, too unfit, too...?? to be doing physical instruction. Do I KNOW anything at all?
I hurt my back and was reminded about acute pain. “But you’re a Pilates Teacher! How did that happen?” A long story of tension and unfamiliar movement (and not doing what I preach) ….but Yes I know… if you move then you risk hurting yourself - it was a lesson learned in humility indeed. Not my first and probably not my last.
I stepped out of my comfort zone and played with different training (I even became a dance teacher for goodness sake!).
I experimented with different styles of yoga, I deepened my knowledge of biomechanics, I re-examined the needs of special populations - scoliosis, osteoporosis, seniors, breast cancer and foot mechanics; and I started being interested in different forms of meditation.
At the same time, I continued to follow the principles of natural movement with Katy Bowman (Biomechanist and founder of Nutricious Movement) and I experienced some significant and wonderful changes in my body - strengths and flexibility, movement combinations and an ease I haven't felt before.
Things I thought I would never be able to do again had become possible.
But it was through my growing interest in Mindfulness that I found the connections I was looking for… the glue that holds my training and teaching together.
I think that I teach people to Notice. Notice tension. When, where, how and why. In bringing ourselves to the mat, we settle... we draw attention to the breath and we "notice" our movement.
So… thought I. How do I get better at teaching Noticing?
I took a course in mindful drawing which reminded me how much I like to scribble; I started a regular and formal mindfulness practice, and began experimenting with different types of guided meditations. Yoga Nidra helped me heal my back and Loving Kindness meditation taught me to forgive myself for hurting it; and now my beautiful cushions help me remember to practice everyday.
I started bringing yoga into my Pilates classes, designed some beautiful Retreats with my inspirational friend Sandy; and by the end of the year, I had (of course) started mindfulness teacher training.
During my first weekend of listening to my teachers, I realised that I had been teaching mindfulness all along, using movement rather than stillness to bring people to their bodies. This IS the right decision... for now...
Perhaps this is my contribution, this is what I can offer... to help people notice… to introduce people to different ways to think about their body, not just in class but at home, at work, at play. In the hope that by bringing it to the conscious, by noticing, you can somehow improve it in line with what you want to achieve - whether that's less pain, to move more freely, prevent yourself falling over, walking further, tying your shoelaces, running faster, preventing leakage and prolapse…whatever it is you need or you want… notice what you do first...
The process of reflection is an important one and writing this yearly piece has helped me to notice, to glue together… I am looking forward to more consolidation in 2017 and I hope some of you will join me in embracing a more mindful path...
Here are some suggestions for those of you interested in Mindfulness, new to being present, or just want to slow things down and find calm amidst a stormy mind.
Wishing you peace, health and happiness for the year ahead.
Last year was all about letting go. I did that ... and with a much lighter load ran headlong into 2015. This year was about restoration, moving forward and bringing it onnnnn...
All my lovely pilates people came back and the classes are again bubbling with fantastic folks, all willing to explore and be curious about their bodies. Thank you thank YOU lovely people - it's a privilege to see you all each week and I can't tell you how much I had missed our little community. (Tuesday nighters - this picture captures your spirit so well - I just love it x).
From your firm base, I decided to brave new geographies and found some beautiful studios to share the MELT Rub and Roll Workshops with: Inspirefit in Dunfermline and Union Yoga in Edinburgh are now hopefully regular venues.
Muchah gratitudiness to all the wonderful guest speakers who took the Stirling sessions to a new interesting level: Polly Douglas Nutrition introduced us to detoxy goodness, Anne Casey Yoga gave us our breath back, Nikki Grant of First for Footcare arrived with some revealing details about why we walk the way we do; Karen Harris arrived with dressing up (see me as colon!), teaching us how adhesions and organ position can affect the menstrual cycle; and Helen's Therapeutics introduced us to her Myofascial Release Massage and finger condoms!
More is planned for 2016 with Polly, Nikki and Karen already confirmed to come again with even more surprise and interest; and a quick heads up for an exciting all day-er workshop (in May) for Pelvic Pain, with the fabulous Elaine Miller from Gusset Grippers (who is not only a pelvic floor specialist but a comedienne and Edinburgh fringe sensation). It's difficult to move a body that is sore and these workshops have been a stepping stone for many to start to move more easily and more often.
A decade-old dream of Becoming a Yoga Teacher became real (yeayyyy!!!! see the end of this post for more about that). Not only that but I finished the comprehensive pilates equipment teacher training, deepened my knowledge of natural movement and connective tissue AND set up some holiday retreats with my lovely friend Sandy, from Movement Alchemy, to move, dance and smile with some like minded friends.
I travelled to London, The Netherlands; New York, Spain (three times) and Dublin twice. I finally started offering one to one sessions at Physiofocus and introduced new classes at Beechwood Scout Hut, Stirling University and The Yoga Tree.
I became a pescatarian, started restoring my own body to a healthier place and oh......I turned 50 and got married too! (see newsletter)
Did I maybe do a leeetle bitty too much as I look towards the festive season and take a breath? ...nope... after a year and a half of feeling that life was at best on hold and at worst precarious, I ran and I ran and I ran with a big fat HUGE grin on my face.
It has been a tough year for many of my clients with family injury and illness, stress at work and a few losses. And to those who found that 2015 was their annus horribilus, know that things can change... that maybe next year will open doors for YOUR new experiences, for new adventure, for new beginnings; for building on - rather than forgetting - sad memories, and perhaps nurturing some healthier habits.
"Sorrow prepares you for joy. It violently sweeps everything out of your house, so that new joy can find space to enter. It shakes the yellow leaves from the bough of your heart, so that fresh, green leaves can grow in their place. It pulls up the rotten roots, so that new roots hidden beneath have room to grow. Whatever sorrow shakes from your heart, far better things will take their place."
Thanks everyone for being my family, my friend, my tribe, my community, my teachers and sometimes all of the above - for helping my passions stay alive, holding my hand and keeping me grounded. My own practice continues to grow and evolve; and as I become more confident in bringing the other modalities into class, I hope yours does too. Yoga and pilates principles are now woven together with a blend of Nutricious Movement and reconnection to more primal neuro pathways. The old and the new. The traditional and contemporary.
2016 will be a creative year for me... I want to experiment and push boundaries and I hope to take my clients with me on that journey. New Retreats to Ireland, Scotland and Spain are on the cards; and deeper explorations inside ourselves in both classes and workshops as we evolve together.
Come ... join in... be brave with me... or just hold my hand. Go on - I've gotcha!
Becoming a Yoga Teacher
Suryalila was a magical setting for achieving a dream. A perfect retreat in southern Spain, with world class teachers and an amazing group of people who had decided that they too wanted to become A Yoga Teacher.
I arrived without luggage in the middle of the night and had to find the last empty bed in a dorm full of people I had never met before – in the dark…with the torch on my phone. Ooops sorry…ooops sorry… ouch…ahhh…
On waking, I had my first humbling experience when I realised I was going to have to ask compete strangers if I could borrow their underpants! As you’d expect everyone was brilliant and after 5 days without any belongings it became apparent that I needed very little – what a great introduction to detachment.
Yoga frightened the heck out of me. What on earth are you doing! With legs behind shoulders and rib popping back bends, shoulder stands, head stands and pop music. What the...???
I'm going to injure myself. I'm going too fast. I'm NOT doing that at all. All these people are going to hurt themselves. STOP!
Try it Kirsty.. be canny... but just try it. And I amazed myself. I could move things that hadn't moved before and felt restrictions I didn't know I had.
Over these intensive, emotional, and incredibly inspiring three weeks I came to feel excited …and free. I wondered at the things I found in my body and this new language of movement. I had forgotten what it felt like to push my boundaries and move to unfamiliar places. I hadn't even realised that I couldn't do that! I had NO idea that my left could and my right couldn't.
My pilates teacher hat was pressed so firmly down on my head that I had restricted my sight to only "safe" places, to what I thought I could do, to what I KNEW I could already do. It's difficult to move things that hurt. Being a teacher for people who are chronically sore (and having had recent experience of pain and rehab myself) I had limited, reduced and sanitised movement, to be safe and conservative – and in suiting this mindset I had lost some of my creativity and innovation.
Yoga taught me more than I expected and in a way I hadn't expected. I had become judgmental rather than experimental and curious and although some asanas still frighten the heck out of me, I am (I hope!) more open to the experience it brings and the joy of a deeper understanding that this training has gifted to me.
Yes we may hurt ourselves. But it’s not the yoga OR the Pilates that does that – it’s the ego, our lack of movement experience, our desire to make a shape rather than listen to our bodies, our…. well, whatever it is… I’m getting better at it and invite you to try too. Let's see where this all takes us…
This year has been about learning to let go, to stop holding on – AND on much more than one level…
The combination of being unable to do as much as I had been doing before and the fantastic…..nay… FANamazingTASTIC…. training in biomechanics I have been through with the Restorative Exercise™ Institute, I have unlocked another piece of understanding about the body; namely that muscle YIELD is the challenge for most people. I know! It’s obvious when you think about it… but I hadn’t… properly...
My physical limitations at the start of the year, following mastectomy and reconstruction, taught me much about holding tension… not so much because it was a scary new experience but because I had the privilege of time - time to think, to stare out of the window, time to feel, time to sense. With many hours in bed and with the restrictions of healing, I went inside myself to take time to explore. Then afterwards, the movements were small and controlled, gradually, slowly…
And my biomechanics studies explained things….explained that malalignments come from overly tight areas, rather than simply the loose, the lazy hanging-your-hip-out sideways types of postures, the slouch.
It taught me EXACTLY how hard it is to let go of habits I didn’t even know I had and how to recognise them more easily. And I thought I was pretty aware.
It taught me that posture (where we put ourselves) and alignment (where we should be for optimum health) can and often are completely different things….
It taught me that its not too late ….at any age. That it can make an immediate difference.
SOOOO... on my return to work, my focus has become about helping people to recognise precisely where they are holding and then asking them to bring it to the conscious and then try to let go. Have you tried lifting and lowering your knee caps lately? Can you lift your second toe without lifting any of the others? I wager it’s not as easy as you think.
I struggled with the new marriage of biomechanics knowledge and my Pilates training where we are asked to hold flexion, to engage core, to create tension to strengthen. I struggled and even at one point thought of giving up all my Pilates ambition, as I Just. Could. Not. Reconcile. It…
My connective tissue knowledge, my MELT Method™ training, with its wonderful understanding of how the body actually works, and my recently acquired love of meditation (still trying - still not awfully good) sat nicely with yield and restoration but it took me longer to grasp the subtleties of Pilates. But grasp I did… eventually…and with a huge sigh of relief.
Not all Pilates is the same and many training schools encourage a great deal of tension in the body. I try really hard to learn from only the best, to surround myself with like-minded teachers who are open to challenge and personal growth, who don’t mind being wrong as long as there is a way to move forward, who offer their knowledge and friendship freely and with a generous spirit…and from there and from them I understood that my approach to teaching is good (phew), that Pilates stands the test of time - that it is as much aligned with yield as much as it is with contraction – I just hadn’t thought about it in exactly THAT way.
My approach to Pilates has always been focused on Control: that combination of switching on and switching off body areas. Students who move too quickly, too early, often speed past this subtle awareness, this mastery of “motor-control before loading” that has always been central to my teaching. Yes, at first it may be boring for those who would rather pump, combat or attack, to those who want to get moving, spin faster, sweat more….but if you are doing that without control, without alignment and with only a fraction of your muscles screaming - where is the health in that?
2014 found me traveling to Germany on holiday and to training in The Netherlands; "letting go" of my son as he starts to University and "finding" both a new physical and mental identity for myself.
It saw us, as a community, raise over £2500 to help local people suffering from lymphoedema - many, many thanks to everyone who helped, paid, rolled, melted and travelled. Big TA! to Kirsten Farrelly who came all the way from Dublin to unkink us all with her MELTy balls! You were all fantabulous. If you know anyone who suffers form this debilitating problem then get in touch with Kate at Stirling Massage Therapies for more details about how we can help.
2015 not only brings me a BIG birthday but more classes and workshops, including one specific to Alignment and Gait – thank you so much to all my clients for coming back to me (I appreciate it more than you can know xx) and all the lovely new people I have connected with too. Please help me spread the word that Free one to one sessions are available for those recovering from breast cancer treatment, as I start a monthly clinic at Physiofocus, in Stirling. And more learning is planned as I complete my Pilates Equipment Training and continue to expand my Fascia knowledge and biomechanics education to help more people let go of those tight areas, improve their movement and get out of pain.
Gosh…the last year or so has been a little mad!
It started well....
Early in the year, I travelled to London to be trained on the Cadillac. What distinguishes Pilates from other exercise forms are the machines and equipment that he invented. These machines, and the Cadillac in particular (originally called the trapeze but commonly renamed to signify its importance), support parts of the body while leaving other bits free to move..... so you can isolate properly.... so you can feel properly.... so you get perhaps what you don't get in the mat work. Amazing - I loved it and spent the next few months 'getting it' in my own body.
Then.... drum roll please.... I flew to New York to train as a first generation MELT Hand and Foot instructor. The MELT Method is a self-treatment technique using small balls and has been taking the USA by storm - the book staying on the New York Times Best Seller list for several months. I am delighted to be the first to bring it to Scotland and looking forward to including it in the monthly Fascia Workshops.
However, in June 2013, I found a lump in my left breast, and my plans for the rest of the year were to changes I learned I had breast cancer. It has been a long and hard road with many difficult decisions, but I have recovered well and have a strong body and a great set of family and friends to thank for that (and maybe a wee bit of focused rehabilitation from myself!). Some of my clients have become close and dear friends and everyone has been a fantastic source of inspiration and positivity - thank you....thank you from the bottom of my heart.
I have learned a great deal as you can imagine and probably drove my consultants crazy. I'm now an expert at exercising in bed - and I have even managed to pass a few exams in support of a new interest in biomechanics, which will add a new and (I hope!) exciting dimension to both my classes and workshops.
I am looking forward to getting back to work .... there's nothing like a bit of normal....
"Somanaut: Like the astronaut who navigates outer space, the somanaut is dedicated to exploring the inner space of human form." Gil Hedley 2012
What a big year! And my first Blog too. A year of learnings, achievements and a couple of firsts; so I thought to share some of the highlights.
My training schedule started in February, with a workshop on feet and scapula, with Bea Alexander in Edinburgh; and then to London in May for a weekend studying the Franklin Method, which uses fabulous imagery and props to get you into your body to understand movement.
However, although the Franklin Method has been on my bucket list for a while, the Pink Ribbon Programme has been there the longest - and in early July off I went on another train, this time to Leeds, to qualify as a Breast Cancer Exercise Specialist. The Founder of the Programme, Doreen Puglisi, was on her first trip to Europe and having gone through breast cancer herself it was inspiring and humbling to learn how she developed the programme through her own body. The course really deepened my understanding of the disease, the treatments and how movement is so central to recovery.
However....drum roll please.....without a doubt, the highlight of my year (and one of the most profound experiences in my life) came at the end of July when I became a fully fledged Somanaut: I joined some other anatomy geeks at the University of St Andrews, to perform a full body dissection on a wonderful cadaver (we named her Mary after the Queen of Scots). She revealed many secrets and taught me more than I could ever know from a text book – thank you to all those wonderful people who leave their bodies to science – you do a great thing. I have booked again for 2013 and am really looking forward to being slightly less rabbit-in-the-headlights and more ....well, just more and more amazed at the human form and the lessons it can teach us.
Thank you Gil Hedley and your wonderful Fuzz Speech for bringing this experience to Scotland for the first time, and for guiding my trembling hands with sensitivity and an encyclopaedic knowledge. And a huge thank you Kristi Cooper and Rebekah Rotstein for encouraging me to take the plunge (metaphorically and literally!). I am super proud to be a part of the small but growing band of Somanauts across the world, dedicated to exploring Inner Space.
Fascia is the new kid on the block and this year it has become my special focus. Health and medical researchers from all over the world are starting to understand the importance of healthy, mobile and nourished connective tissue. And there is a sense of building excitement around the growing body of research coming out. In November, I completed my training with Dr Robert Schleip, Director of the Fascial Research Project at Ulm University in Germany and to become the first teacher in Scotland to be certified as a Fascia Fitness Instructor. As many of you already know, I have been using my own research to develop and run my own Neuro-Fascia Workshops - which have been so popular that they now run at least once a month, with many people coming back every time. Thank you everyone for your support. There has been some incredible feedback on health improvements - and even I have been surprised at how my own body has gained more movement and freedom from just rolling around on some balls and a long bit of foam!
Lastly, having decided to sit the Level 3 exams for the Register of Exercise Professionals, (and nearly missing my exam date - yikes! but that's another story) I passed last week with full marks for my Case Study - woohoo! Thanks to Hazel for being my model and for putting up with my camera.
As well as formal training, I continue to tap the internet and can recommend both Pilates Anytime and Pilatesology to my teacher friends and to students looking to deepen their knowledge at home. Both sites have full length classes and workshops and you can try it free for a week or so. Pilates Anytime is an inclusive site offering a range of teaching methods, whereas Pilatesology focuses only on the Classical Method - both are excellent and watching other teachers has become an obsession of mine!
Looking forward to 2013...... another visit to "Cadaver Camp" (a term coined and described brilliantly by Rebekah Rotstein) is planned; and a trip to London in February for a week's intensive training on the Cadillac to progress my training on Pilates' original equipment. I have my eye on a couple of other things too...hmmmm.....maybe I'll come back with another update next year.
Happy Holidays all. Kirsty x
And some other things...
This year saw the introduction of the "Wobbles" to class - new equipment always means more hilarity! A brilliant tool to challenge exercise or to target hypermobility.
Thank you to every one of my Pilates students, for continuing to turn up every week - I appreciate every single one of you for letting me do the best job ever. Here's to another year of laughing and wobbling and flexing and twisting - and improving ourselves x
Combining an interest in supporting those affected by Breast Cancer and Fascia Health, I held a workshop in November in aid of Maggie's Cancer Care, at Beaconhurst School in Bridge of Allan, who generously donated their facilities for the day.
We raised over £756 with Gift Aid added on - thank you to those who came along and thanks to Knead to Relax and Stirling Massage Therapies for all your help - well done everyone!
This year my lovely, lovely students at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow nominated me (for the second year running!) for the Teaching Excellence Award - didn't win the award but proud as punch! Can you tell....
HAPPY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE!
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