Tag Archives: yoga

Book 30/24: Pretty Girl in Crimson Rose (8)

I was intrigued enough by the title Pretty Girl in Crimson Rose (8) when I saw this book in the library to pick it up and scan through it, because I had no idea what the title meant.

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Obviously if you’re a crossword enthusiast, you would have picked up pretty easily that it’s a cryptic crossword clue, which is what this book is about.

Well, partly about. It’s the memoirs of South African-born writer Sandy Balfour, which tells the story of his leaving South Africa with his girlfriend to eventually living in London. The story of how he got deeper into the world of cryptic crosswords is intermingled with tales of his travels, the story of how he and his girlfriend made a home and family in London, and Mr Balfour’s continuous questioning of where he belongs.

It explores how to interpret clues and touches on the compliers of these crosswords from newspapers like the Times and the Guardian. This fascinated me. I had no idea that “setters” operated under pseudonyms and had their own styles and ways of interpreting the rules. Mr Balfour explains how, although crosswords were invented in America (by a British ex-pat, which a previous reader of the library’s copy of the book has gone to great pains to point out on page 103), they were refined by the British to the extent that they are seen as something quintessentially British.

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Throughout the book Mr Balfour uses clues to illustrate the points he’s making – some which he talks through in the text, and others which he leaves for the reader to solve. He also reproduces a puzzle from the Guardian (number 22445), which was about him, set by legendary Guardian setter (the late) Araucaria using words provided by Mr Balfour, for his 40th birthday. That’s a pretty cool gift!

(I love this. Araucaria’s pseudonym was taken from the monkey-puzzle tree (botanical name Araucaria), which is also known as the Chile Pine, anagram of Cinephile, which relates to his love of film, and is the pseudonym under which he set crosswords for the Financial Times.)

All this without even touching on the varied and interesting experiences Mr Balfour has had since he and his girlfriend left South Africa, which would have been great reading even without the crossword references.

I loved how this book was put together, and about half way though I knew that this would be my next 30-days challenge. I have about a week to go with 30 days of yoga, but I’ve just today completed my drawing lessons from You Can Draw in 30 Days – it’s only taken four months! So much as I love my 10-15 minutes drawing each morning, I’m going to replace it with learning to do cryptic crosswords.

I’ve tried this in the past, and I have a basic understanding of some of the clue types, so my challenge is to learn more. I’m not confident enough to attempt anything like the Guardian crosswords, but I have a couple of books designed for beginners, so I’m going to get them out and see how it goes.

By the way – can you work out what the clue in the title of the book is? (I couldn’t.)

What I learned this week

30 days of yoga is going well. I’m now 14 days into the challenge and I haven’t missed a day so far. I’ve had to incorporate my back exercises into my practice, because whatever I did to my back has either stirred up my old injury or resulted in a new one, and it keeps flaring up again.

I’m being Very Careful, especially with the back bends, and I haven’t been game to try any twists. My normal class starts up again this week so I’m looking forward to seeing if it will be easier to get back into it after almost three weeks away than it was last time when I didn’t do anything during the holidays.

Now onto what I learned this week.

1. In my drawing lessons, I’ve been learning about two-point perspective. This was fun. Lots of straight lines here!

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2. I read the book The Road to Lower Crackpot by Brian Inder, the Laird of Lower Crackpot. It’s a fascinating read. In the book, Mr Inder says,

“The name Crackpot comes from a real village in Swaledale, Yorkshire. It means ‘a low place where crows gather’. I added ‘Lower’ because we are in the southern hemisphere’.

 

This interested me because my mother’s family emblem is the crow. I asked her if any of her ancestors came from Swaledale, but she doesn’t believe that they did.

3. If you see something in a shop you want, buy it when you see it. It might not be there when you go back to get it.

In the same vein, take photos when you have the chance, because you might not go back that way again. We went to Freycinet National Park on the weekend. I took lots of photos.

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Challenge 7 – 30 days of yoga

I started this challenge on Thursday with 15 minutes of yoga following my daily 10 minutes of meditation instead of going for a walk. It feels really weird to be doing yoga by myself, without the direction of a teacher or a DVD. To guide what I was doing, I used a handout that my lovely teacher Fran of Derwent Valley Yoga had given us last holidays to practise with, which I used exactly zero times in the three weeks we had off.

I felt bad because Fran had taken the trouble to sketch out the postures, so I hope that using them now will make up for that.

15 minutes seems like enough time to work through most of the poses Fran has suggested and a few others that I’ve always liked to do, plus end up with a couple of minutes resting in corpse pose (savasana) at the end. I’m avoiding twists at the moment because my back is giving me grief but I’m no having trouble with any of the others.

Unfortunately i didn’t have 15 minutes on Day 2, because I fell back to sleep after my alarm went off, but I managed to reshuffle things so I got in 10 minutes of practice.

Day 3 was Saturday and I had enough time to do 15 minutes and go for a walk, so I was pleased with that. Day 4 (today) was the same, but I think I might have over-extended my back trying the locust pose (salabhasana), so I might give that one a miss for a few days. It wasn’t on the list anyway.

In other news, I am continuing with my drawing lessons that I started as part of my Growth Mindset challenge in June. I’m now up to Lesson 23 of Mark Kistler’s You Can Draw in 30 Days course.

This is one of Lesson 23’s bonus lessons. It took me three days, but I’m pretty happy with it.

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Book 16/24: Yoga For Life

I didn’t know anything about Colleen Saidman Yee or her husband Rodney Yee, other than that they featured on a couple of yoga DVDs I’d bought. Turns out they are a pretty big deal in the big wide world of yoga, which I’m largely unfamiliar with – hence my not knowing about them!

Kramstable really got into Colleen and Rodney’s DVDs when I was using them, so I started following Colleen on Twitter. I was quite delighted a couple of years ago when she responded to one of my photos of Kramstable following her yoga sequences on the DVD and offered me some tips about keeping him interested in yoga.

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Yoga For Life: A Journey to Inner Peace and Freedom is the story of Colleen’s life, starting with her early life in a large Italian/Irish family in New York, who moved to Bluffton Indiana, where a teenage game of chicken on the highway changed the course of her life. The book tells of her early marriage, return to New York and four-year heroin addiction, the lowest point of her life.

Colleen then writes of how, after the struggle to kick heroin, she established a modelling career. She ponders the question as to whether her longing to find expression through her body would have led her to modelling in the long run; whether she would have become a model if a modelling agent hadn’t stopped at a restaurant not long after she’d stumbled on it and found a job at – and what, even with the break she’d had, were the odds she’d succeed as a model.

“Some people believe we make our own luck,” she writes. But she takes the view that what seems like good luck can easily turn into bad luck, and that bad luck can result in something good:

“In yoga we learn that there’s no such thing as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ because everything is always in flux and rarely what it seems. The key is not to get too attached to any one scenario or outcome. . . . Life is sometimes beautiful sometimes ugly, sometimes sad, sometimes joyful. It’s a wild unpredictable ride. The best we can do is take the ride with love and a sense of humour. Notice your breath in the present moment, whether you consider it to be a ‘good’ moment or ‘bad’ moment. Because that moment is all we have.”

Colleen spent some time in India volunteering at Mother Theresa’s Missionaries of Charity, a time which profoundly influenced her and indirectly became her first experience of yoga teaching. During this time she began to realise that “every encounter is sacred” and that everything will pass away. She writes that Mother Theresa had said even though everything is impermanent and could disappear at any time, that is no reason not to do your work.

“What you spend years creating someone could destroy overnight. Create anyway.”

On the theme of impermanence Colleen also writes about how clinging to what is impermanent prevents us from living in the present moment, and she tells of how distressed she was when her daughter left home to go to college. “I wanted to run back and grab her and tell her not to grow up and leave me.” I feel like this every single day when I think about Kramstable growing up and eventually leaving me.

Colleen continues:

“I have been studying and practising yoga for the last 28 years learning how to avoid clinging to what is impermanent as gracefully as possible, and to focus on what doesn’t change – call it the higher self, love, the soul, God, the divine, true teacher, essence, original nature, or the state of yoga – whatever you want.”

It occurred to me that this concept of impermanence connects strongly to what Brené Brown wrote in her book I Thought It Was Just Me. She writes of how, in a culture of shame, we see people as “us” and the “others”. The “others” are the people who we don’t want living next door; whose kids our kids aren’t allowed to play with; the ones we insulate ourselves from. But, she continues, we are the “others”. We are all one [insert unfortunate event] away from being “those people”, the ones we pity, the ones bad things happen to.

I think what this implies, and what Colleen is saying, is that it’s important to fully live in the present moment, but to know it’s just that: the present moment, and that if we get completely attached to it we’ll be unable to deal with what happens when things change, as they undoubtably will.

Likewise, if we get hung up on times things aren’t going well, instead of accepting that what’s happening is what it is, we can end up clinging to old pain long after the events have passed.

Of course, when things are hard, it’s difficult not to focus on the pain. Accepting that what’s happening is what it is, says Colleen, is something that she can grasp intellectually, but when something devastating happens, she’s still in excruciating pain. However, she says, feeling this pain is important. “If you can’t feel the fullness of any emotion you’re not fully alive.”

(I think I got a bit distracted here. Colleen’s comments on the impermanence of things, whether they are ‘good’ or ‘bad’, reminds me of a difficult time at work when I was really struggling. Someone who was struggling with the same issue I was stood up and said publicly that yes what was happening was painful, but “there will be an end point”. Realising that the painful events were a stage I had to get through but that it wouldn’t last forever really helped me to clam down and take things one day at a time.)

While on a camping trip with her brothers, Colleen was struck by lightning, an experience which she says “zapped” her into contemplating santosha – contentment. At this point in her life she had thought that she would only be content when her grades improved, or she got married, or she had money. She writes:

“You can wait your whole life and never happen upon contentment. The key is to accept what is and not allow yourself to be jerked between liked and dislikes, attachments and aversions. Accept what is, right now, whether it’s comfortable or painful.”

At the end of her time in India, Colleen was ready to search for something bigger than what she had been seeking – a boyfriend, a career, a family – but she wanted to be able to “serve in a way that would enable peace to prevail in [her] heart” while living in the modern Western world.

Her story continues through her increasing immersion in the world of yoga while maintaining a career as a model, her struggle with epilepsy, her second marriage to photographer Robin Saidman, and a miscarriage, followed by the birth of her daughter. She then talks about how she moved into yoga teaching and how she and Rodney eventually ended up together.

In respect of her epilepsy, which she developed later in her life, Colleen writes:

“The biggest transformation has been my acceptance. When I take my little white tablets every day, I’m grateful for Western medicine. . . . I don’t feel defeated any more. Instead I feel awakened to the fact that I’m not in control of everything. Maybe we’re born into bodies that challenge us to learn lessons we haven’t yet understood. All situations, no matter how painful, can be opportunities for growth.”

She takes this lesson into her birth story, where like so many of us, Colleen had expectations of what her daughter’s birth would be like and was disappointed when it didn’t turn out as she’d wanted it to.

I remember one day at pre-natal yoga my beautiful teacher Julia was speaking about expectations, and something she said has stuck with me to this day. She said, “You don’t get the birth you want; you get the birth you need.” To this day I am trying to figure out what my experience was trying to tell me; what I need or needed at the time.

Expectations can make us unhappy when they aren’t met. Colleen observes:

“We all have small daily desires. Something as insignificant as expecting ripe avocados at the market, then finding they’re all hard can make us irritable and impatient. When you count on a future-based result you’re not living fully in the moment. Expectation can keep you locked in a narrow tunnel with no broader vision. Joy is right here right now. The key is mindfulness, noticing when your expectations have taken you out of the present and made you unhappy.”

Colleen also relates a story of attending a workshop with yoga legend BKS Iyengar, who told her that her problem was that she didn’t take the time to let anything absorb. “You are moving too fast from one pose to the next. Perhaps you do this in your life as well. Slow down.” Colleen says that he was right and that since then she’s started to notice when she’s rushing mindlessly from one thing to another. It’s a good thing to notice when we feel overwhelmed and rushed.

I loved this book. Colleen weaves her story into 14 themes, ranging from roots, addiction, forgiveness, service, fear, love and peace. Each chapter relates her story and the things she’s learned back to the theme of the chapter, and includes a yoga sequence connected to the theme.

It’s beautifully put together, and even though my life is completely different from Colleen’s, I could relate to almost everything she had written. I think this is because she has captured the essence of the human experience in her writing: Beyond the superficial differences that make up the detail of our day to day lives, we’re all human beings and we’re all making our way the best we can in this unpredictable world.

The Dalai Lama has said that we are more similar than we are different, and I think this is why I was so easily able to connect with Colleen’s story.

I got a lot out of this book. It’s one I want to refer back to again and again.