Tuesday 21 March 2017

In Search of Happiness

Yesterday was international day for happiness, which left me feeling a bit glum.  Like all people, my preferred state of being is to be feeling happy, but there have been many times in my life when that has definitely not been the case and it seems to me that there is even more emphasis on the search for happiness now than ever.  It is a poisoned chalice and an ever moving target.   As society we tell ourselves that we will be happy if we have the right job, the right house, enough money, a baby, the latest gadget, a holiday to the Maldives, a shiny new car, meet Mr/Ms Right, if the weather was different, if we were thinner/fatter/taller/shorter, had a smaller bum, could bench press an elephant, retire early, climb Everest, or win a gold medal….

The list is unattainable, endless and of course only ever seems to lead to more disappointment when we realise that even if we are lucky enough to go on to own that house/car/baby we are still the same person underneath with the same hopes, fears, dreams and worries.  In today’s society where we want it all by yesterday and are constantly over-exposed to everybody else’s edited version of ‘happiness’ through social media this quest often feels like an exhausting race that we cannot win.

Happiness like sadness is just a feeling, and like all feelings we can’t expect it to last forever, nor would we want it to.  Although I want my child to be happy, it is more important to me to teach him that sometimes he won’t be, and that is OK.  As a parent I want to help him learn to manage his expectations and reactions when faced with disappointment as much as I want to praise him and encourage him to strive to be the best version of himself he can be.

Our fundamental happiness is what lies underneath all of this.  To feel content in our own company and in the present moment. To accept our flaws and strengths. To enjoy and appreciate the happiness when it comes, and not be sent into despair when it ends. 

There are many things in my life that if I stop and think about them for a moment, make me realise that I am happy on this fundamental level.  If that is what international day of happiness serves to remind us then that is fine, but if, like me, there are many more things every day that make you question that happiness and you woke up yesterday feeling particularly lost and lonely, then remember that is normal too.  Maybe one Wednesday in three months’ time that will change and when it happens there will be no international band wagon to jump on. Maybe nobody else will be around to notice or care about it.  The important thing is that when it happens you do, and that you enjoy it for what it is, when it is.

The goal of yoga is to learn to separate your fundamental being from the deceptions of the mind.  It is a difficult and lifelong process, but it is one that has certainly helped me to regain perspective on whatever drama I have been sucked into within my life, psychological or otherwise.  If we can learn to observe the ebb and flow of our emotions with detachment and stay more focused on the present moment, we can stay in touch with that inner core of our being.  Even if you’re not a yogi, the rising popularity of mindfulness practice has taken this concept and made it ‘popular’ for all age groups.  This is a sustainable version of ‘happiness’ that I think we can all get behind.

A moment of happiness (NB. a storm started 2 minutes later and we were drenched but that didn't look as good on Facebook!)

Thursday 15 December 2016

A Woman's Prerogative

The end of 2016 is approaching and change is afoot.  Once more I am taking a detour on life's path and will be starting a new job in January which means I will need to change how and when I teach yoga.  I'll be keeping my early morning class and private clients in the evenings, but won't be able to do my other group classes as I'll be working as (wait for it) a Library Assistant at the local school.  Didn't see that one coming did you? Well neither did I, but the job came up, I enjoy working in the school and as my plans for the next few years have developed in terms of where I want to take my life next, I have realised that in order to get where I want to go I need to make some changes.  This latest adventure should give me the opportunity to do that in a way that fits with regular family life whilst giving me a steady income and routine and it felt like the right thing to do at the right time.  It has come with much angst though. Am I doing the right thing? Am I heading in the right direction? I've come so far, am I throwing it all away? How will I keep up my teaching and practice? I don't know the answers to all those questions yet but I am willing to give it a try.

I'm certainly not walking away from yoga entirely. It's a means to an end and I'm busy planning retreats, regular weekend workshops and short courses to keep my teaching hours up and myself inspired.  Maybe I'll even get the chance to do some yoga and mindfulness sessions with the kids, or better yet, the teachers!

I do, however, frequently laugh at myself and feel like I must look like a complete lunatic to most right-thinking individuals.  My life so far has gone off on all sorts of crazy wonderful tangents and lead me to meet some pretty amazing people and learn some valuable lessons along the way.

My life in pictorial form!

My brother jokes that has never known someone who changes their hairstyle more often, and my husband frequently despairs at my seemingly random choices.  It got me thinking about the women I admire, both through personal acquaintance and in the public eye, and how often what I love about them is the way they seem to have fearlessly changed direction in their lives in pursuit of their art or their dreams.  It's why stars like Beyonce, Madonna, Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga and even Victoria Beckham continue to capture the public's attention.  They are not afraid to try something new, be it in fashion, music, career or relationships and constantly reinvent themselves.  We find ourselves drawn to their stories, outfits, haircuts and relationship disasters because we recognise something of ourselves in them.

Biologically and socially women are built (or perhaps conditioned) to live this way - we have to constantly change and adapt to the roles we find ourselves in either by choice, accident or necessity as we move from daughters to students, girlfriends, wives, career women, mothers, grandmothers etc etc.  We are master chameleons, but the changes are not always easy.  The transition to motherhood (even if you keep the career bit) is often particularly difficult.  One day it seems you are writing essays on Shakespeare or typing up a lab report, the next you are earning good money in a shiny office, wearing nice clothes and shoes, having 'adult' conversations, being taken seriously, presenting your ideas in a boardroom, stopping for a cocktail on the way home with friends, eating in nice restaurants.  Then, boom, suddenly you find yourself smelling slightly of baby sick, spelling your name phonetically to the nice person at the bank, pointing out trains and swans to random strangers in the street, being able to clean up anything with a packet of wet wipes, constantly forgetting PE kits and counting the days until it is socially acceptable to give your child fish fingers and chips for tea again.  What happened? How can I be both of these people? Why am I doing a terrible job at trying to still be both of these people at once? What shall I do next?  These are the questions I at least asked myself and I don't think I am alone.

The female role models in my life that I aspire to be like have all been seemingly unafraid to change direction. There is my Mum who stayed at home to look after me and my brother whilst Dad was pursuing his naval career, then started at the bottom and retrained when I went to secondary school to get her degree and become a housing manager.  There is an Employment lawyer who left her high powered corporate job and now runs her own international etiquette training business for luxury brands and sings in a rock choir.  A single mother who found her way back from a traumatic childhood, failed marriage and many hard years of financial difficulty and false starts to become a midwife.  A divorcee who moved back to New Zealand after the breakdown of her marriage to a gold miner, set up then sold a successful chocolatier business and then invested her money in travel and renovating a former hospital into a beautiful retreat by the sea.  A beauty sales advisor who raised her daughter alone, moved to Italy, returned and worked as a school receptionist then as a PA before moving into business development and has spent the last few years steadily building her own business selling her collection of vintage items and beautiful handmade bags.  A friend who has built a successful, hilarious blog chronicling the more 'realistic' view of being a slightly slummy, yummy Mummy.  I could go on and on, and I haven't even got to the civil engineers, former drug addicts, circus performers, lawyers, Tiger Mum's, beauticians, aerobics Queens, accountants, bank managers and general bunch of social misfits I know who have become yoga teachers and continually inspire me with their life stories, whilst now helping others navigate their way through their own journeys.

In summary, our lives as women constantly change and we do our best to balance following our head, heart and instincts to make the right decisions whilst trying to enjoy the journey.  I may never get to make that final metamorphosis into the butterfly I envision, but at the moment I am quite happy using the life I have been given to wander around like the Enormous Caterpillar, trying all the different yummy foods on offer, confident in the knowledge that I have at least got the potential inside me to make that leap.  It might just have to wait until the next life.  So I say, take the piano lesson, learn how to make a decent souffle, speak Portuguese, move abroad, climb a mountain, write your novel.  Do what you need to do to stay true to yourself and don't get downhearted by life's never ending sidetracks.  Instead embrace the traditional woman's prerogative to change her mind and use it to your advantage.  Life is too short to do otherwise and we are lucky enough to live in a society where we can, so let's make the most of it.

Thursday 10 November 2016

It Takes a Village

So here we are in November.  In the UAE that means we can get back outside and enjoy bluer skies, fresher air and beautiful sunsets.  It also means the bugs are back and I am currently being eaten alive by the feisty mosquitoes who have been laying low and are clearly hungry and making up for lost time.

Psychologically and physically autumn is the time to get your act together, finish up projects that you have started and put aside the ones that aren't working out the way you had hoped.  We should be cleaning up our diet with a cleanse and plenty of seasonal veg and spices, and getting our respiratory system working with lots of breath work, fresh air and outdoor exercise.  It's also the time of year to focus on commitment, so whatever you say you are going to do, make sure you stick to it.  Get a healthy morning routine in place that you can stick to that wakes the body and stimulates your lymphatic system.  For me that means some dry body brushing followed by a cold shower (well at least for the first few minutes, and admittedly there is no way I would have been doing this bit in Scotland) and diffusing lots of aromatherapy oils that clear the airways (eucalyptus, peppermint, thyme and tea tree are great).  In our practice we focus on using the breath to guide our movements, opening the chest with back bends to increase our lung capacity and starting and finishing each session with some pranayama.

I'm relieved as the slower pace and focus of the flow is suiting my body as I continue to heal my injured back and learn to work with a recently discovered scoliosis in my lumbar spine.  This causes uneven pressure through my SI joint resulting in occasional flare ups and a lot of tightness through the pelvis, hips and glutes.  My commitment this Autumn is therefore to stay focused on this healing process and invest my time and money in working with the right people to keep me on track and guide me in the right direction.  I have been so lucky to find some amazing people who have helped me so far on this journey and I thought I would name check a few of them in this post to say a big thank you and help others who may be wondering which way to turn to fix things when they are broken:

My doctor: The orthopaedic doctor at Harley street medical centre in Abu Dhabi who saw me when my pain was severe, worked out what was causing the issue by giving me an X-Ray within half an hour and then promptly stuck a needle in the sore bits to help me walk out of there. Thank you for your quick, kind and friendly service.

My sports massage therapist: Thank you Google for finding me Claire Wyness who got me on the massage table and helped ease the muscle spasms. She is continuing to work with me to release the tension in the soft tissue that is pulling my spine and pelvis out of shape. She in turn referred me to...

My physio: Amy at BounceBack in Yas Marina, who analysed what is causing the problem, stuck more needles in me to promote healing in the joints and muscles, moved me about to get things back into place and gave me a programme of therapeutic exercises to strengthen what is weak (mostly my pelvic floor and adductors) and release what is tight (hip flexors, hamstrings, glutes). 

My yoga teachers: Santina Giardina Chard from afar and Nea Ferrier slightly closer to hand at Ashtanga Yoga Dubai. Both these beautiful Aussie yogis have stepped up when I have needed them and taken the time and interest to check in with me, keep me motivated and make suggestions that help me stay on the mat and practising in a way which is both safe and healing.  A big namaste to you both.

The anatomy guru: Stu Girling of Love Yoga Anatomy whose workshop in Dubai last weekend helped me to understand what is going on in my body and how to use yoga to both open up what is stuck and protect what is vulnerable.

In AYD's fancy new location at The Westin, Al Habtoor City for some anatomy fun with Stu Girling.

My osteopaths - Lindsey Docherty in the UK, for introducing me to this magical treatment and helping me find someone who could carry on her good work here in the UAE.  I've just started working with Dr Esther Navarro at the Osteopathic Health Centre in Dubai who is taking a holistic approach to healing the mechanical issues in my body with her amazing craniosacral adjustments, whilst also helping me to rebalance my hormones and digestion, releasing tension and rebalancing energy through my whole nervous system.

I should of course also thank all my friends, family and colleagues who have stepped in to lend a hand when I have needed it.  I am very lucky to be surrounded by such awesomeness.

That's a lot of people, and a lot of time and money (thank goodness for insurance), but I only have one body and I have learnt that I can't rely on one person, least of all myself, to fix it.  True healing takes a village and it is up to you to seek out the right people in that village to meet your needs.  

Yoga has taught me that everything in the body is connected - breath, mind, body, spirit.  We are an amazing mix of atoms and emotions magically thrown together and capable of doing great things, but we are also pretty breakable and there is usually a whole host of reasons that lead to any crisis point. True healing is hardly ever as simple as sticking a plaster on something and waiting for it to get better.  My physical problems have been caused by a multitude of factors that have built up slowly over time and it will take a lot more time, effort and commitment to carefully undo them.  However, I quite like my body and would like it to keep working for a while longer yet.  I wish I had sought help earlier, but now that I have found it, I won't be letting go any time soon. 

Wednesday 5 October 2016

The Post Retreat Fallout - some late summer lessons

Tamarind Springs
It has been just over a month since I returned from Santina Giardina-Chard's Wild Women Retreat in Koh Samui, Thailand.  I could not recommend the experience enough.  Santina is an amazing teacher, Tamarind Springs was a beautiful, tranquil, green oasis and I got so much out of working on my physical and personal development in the company of a small group of beautiful, inspiring and supportive women.  It was certainly hard work, but I learnt some lessons that will stay with me for the rest of my life, and I know there will be many more to come.  Here's how each day worked...

The view from my villa
Every morning I woke in my beautiful private open air villa, went through a series of cleansing rituals, made some tea and sat on my veranda to write my journal as the sun came up, listening to the birds begin to sing and watching the bats and the lizards go back to bed.  I would go for a walk around the retreat grounds or sit on top of a giant boulder outside of my villa looking over the treetops and out to sea, feeling my connection with nature and the wider universe. Then I would stroll down the rocky steps to the yoga shala for meditation and Mysore style ashtanga practice under the watchful guidance of Santina who knew how to strike just the right balance between arse kicking and nurturing encouragement to get me working.  Her gentle and intuitive adjustments and refusal to put up with my BS and excuses helped me to find new pathways in my body, creating space that I had given up hope of finding, and inspiring me to find the motivation to take my practice forward by committing to the process.  After that we would neck back a fresh coconut and head to the natural cave steam rooms for a body scrub, steam and plunge pool regime that replenished, cleansed and rejuvenated the body, mind and soul.  Then, finally(!), it was time for a healthy buffet brunch, followed by a couple of hours for relaxation and reading before our afternoon discussion group.  This work was based around the writing of Clarissa Pinkola Estes, in her astonishing and insightful book 'Women Who Run With The Wolves', interwoven with Santina's hard-won wisdom and our own stories, experiences and journalling discoveries.  Mine usually involving some personal enlightenment prompted by an encounter with a creepy-crawly in my villa!  We ate an early dinner followed by more individual reading, journalling and processing which saw me crawl to my bed physically and emotionally exhausted each night, but I have also never felt more alive and connected both to myself, to others, to nature and beyond.

My lovely open air villa. Home to me and 5 million other creatures!
Sounds amazing right? In a scary, slightly crazy, hippy way?  It was.  This particular journey, like all stages of my relationship with yoga has been both wonderful and terrifying.  The big question for me though is always, what happens when you come home and step out of the bubble?  How can you maintain this work and commitment to self-discovery when there are bills to pay, mouths to feed, family commitments, friends to drink with, obligations to fulfil and relationships to live with?  How do you explain all your new-found crazy behaviour to your partner and kids?  How do you find the time to do all these rituals and practices that you know make you feel good, but take up so much time and energy that you cant always find or afford?  Can you actually go back to that life you left behind when you stepped on the plane?  Can you make the changes you want to make without destroying all the wonderful things you already have?  Is that really what will make you happy?  What happens when you think you are on the right track and then something comes out of the blue and knocks you sideways, or worse, right back to where you started?

These are the questions I am working out now.  They are the never ending chatter of doubt and fear that everyone has to live with.  Of course, there are no easy answers.

The universe will keep throwing it's crap at you (for me, just when I commit to doing a regular practice 6 days a week, I have put my back out, discovered I have some serious misalignments that need correcting and that I will need to start rebuilding my body all over again if I'm going to be able to manage things long term).  Nobody else in your life will seem to be on the same page as you.  People will still be flaky and thwart your attempts to move forward.  You will still get sucked into conflicts and the mundanity of daily life with a regularity that often makes you want to scream.  Your partner will still annoy you, and your kids will still drive you up the wall.  You will lose your temper, be hormonal and return to some of your bad habits.  But, you will also begin to observe it all with a slight detachment that makes you realise that you will come out of the other side and that all you need to do is stick on the path you have started for the answers to each new problem to keep coming.

The steam caves
I may not be doing the yoga practice I would like to be doing at the moment, but I have kept up most of those daily rituals (I just sometimes need to take some short cuts or spread them out through the day). I am journalling, and I am seeing people that can help me get back on track physically on a regular basis and as part of a long-term commitment to taking care of myself.   I am trying to be careful about the choices I make and the ways I use my energy and have spent a lot of time thinking about what I want to do with the rest of this year and into the next 5 years and have started to put some steps in place to get there.  I am being more honest with myself and with those around me.  Late summer is the perfect time of year to do this kind of work, and I feel really connected with this process.  I am still making plenty of mistakes, but I am going to keep getting up and keep on trying.

If you are feeling stuck, hurt or uninspired then the kind of work I was lucky enough to begin with Santina can be a wake up call.  If I have learnt anything at all since I first rolled out my yoga mat it is that sticking your head in the sand is not a long-term strategy for health and happiness.  When I was away I cried many tears, I laughed many laughs and I had 10 days to think about what I am, who I am, why I am and where I want to be going in the most beautiful surroundings.  It is now my husband's turn and he is currently away trekking in Nepal and I can't wait to hear all about his adventures and discoveries on his return.  These things are never cheap, they are also an incredible privilege that we are particularly lucky to be able to take advantage of due to our current circumstances and location.  That said, no matter what your position in life, there will always be other things you could be spending your hard earned money on, but if you feel a need to be there then you owe it to yourself to find a way.  I believe that if you surround yourself with the right people at the right time in your life you will begin to face up to what is holding you back and learn to let it go.  You will never regret the investment.  You won't find all the answers there and then, but you will start to understand the questions you need to ask and keep on asking, even when things get tough and it would be easier to turn your back on the process.

It may be painful, it may not be perfect, but that is life and it is always worth it.

Leaving the shala for the last time to face the music at home!


Monday 22 August 2016

Summer in the Global Village

Sunshine on Loch Lomond
Time to settle back into life in Abu Dhabi after our third summer back home in the UK.  One of the strange parts of this semi-nomadic existence is never quite being sure where 'home' actually is.  At the start of the summer I was very downhearted about going back to a post-Brexit Britain.  I wanted to see my friends and family and shop in the M&S food hall, but the idea of living out of my suitcase again for five weeks in a country that seemed to bare no recognition to the one I had left behind, did not fill me with joy.  However, after spending all of July where the grass was literally if not figuratively greener, I did not want to come back to our Abu Dhabi 'home' again either.  We had so much fun catching up with people, sitting in sunny gardens, walking through rainy forests, playing on windy beaches, competing in endless rounds of crazy golf, catching crabs and eating our favourite foods in our favourite places.  It felt like there was a lot to leave behind.

Finding NEMO
To lessen the blow on the journey back, we decided to take advantage of having to change flights in Amsterdam and spent a lovely 24 hours, floating down the canals and sitting in pavement cafes watching the world go by.  We also decided to make a trip to the science museum NEMO which my son loved.  We only had an hour until closing time so we were on a mission to test as many of the exhibits as possible, but who should we bump into on the third floor then our neighbour from our apartment block in Abu Dhabi.  They had popped over from the UK to visit their sister and just happened to be in the same place as us at the same time.  Earlier in the holiday I had also run into one of the other Mum's from the Abu Dhabi school run whilst queueing up to get into a forest park in Norfolk.  This week I found out that someone I used to go to school with in Shropshire lives in the same northern seaside town as my old flatmate from Leeds and that their kids are in the same year at school.  The world is full of these strange co-incidences and when you open your eyes to them they occur with freakish regularity.

I don't know if it is the universe trying to tell me something, or if there is a fancy statistical calculation that can explain such seemingly random coincidences scientifically, but I do know that it reminded me about why I love living here and am grateful for the opportunity it has given me to explore a new part of the world and meet new people from all over the place.  You never know when you are going to bump into someone again, or how or why your paths may cross, but it makes me happy to think that the world is really just a big village and no matter where I am I'm not far away from someone who will make me a cup of tea, give me a hug or let me use their washing machine in an emergency situation!

We've been back for just over a week now, and I have restarted my yoga classes, put the suitcases away and re-filled the kitchen cupboards in an attempt to get back to normal life.  Then slowly other people have started to return and my feelings of being homesick have disappeared.  When I bumped into two friends in the mall on Saturday (I'd nipped into the Apple store to price something up in between breakfast with friends and a much needed trip to the hairdressers), I embraced the coincidence, stopped for a chat and reminded myself that it is people that make places and luckily there are always lots of lovely ones about if you keep an eye out for them.

Back to yoga business

Sunday 10 April 2016

10 ways to spring detox without going near a juicer!

Spring is the time for fresh starts and getting rid of anything toxic in our life. I love a good juice cleanse from time to time, but there are other, just as important and effective ways of clearing out the bad stuff and letting the good stuff in.  Here are some top tips on how to detox without stepping foot in the gym or blowing all your wages at the organic fruit and veg market:

1. Meditate for 5 minutes.  You don't need to get into lotus, or start chanting, unless of course that's your thing! Just sit quietly and comfortably, keeping your spine as straight as possible, and focus on the natural rhythm of your breathing. Clearing out the clutter in the mind, especially at the start and end of the day, is the best way to refocus on our intentions and set the tone for the day ahead.

2. Swap your morning cuppa for hot water & lemon.  This alkalises the body and kick starts your metabolism before you even get to the cereal cupboard.  I never thought I would be able to get out of bed without a cup of tea, but this does the trick for me and I no longer crave my morning caffeine fix.

3. Have a long soak in the tub.  Make your own detoxing soak by adding a cup of epsom salts or bicarbonate of soda to your bath water, with a few drops of your favourite essential oil. Lie back and relax until you start to turn wrinkly, then wash yourself with soap and step out of your pleasingly murky bath full of all the toxins you've released from the skin.

4. Get rid of parabens.  Swap your usual beauty products for brands that are paraben free and stop rubbing extra toxins into your hair and body.  My favourite brands are Dead Sea Spa Magik (available in Holland & Barrett), Doterra and Neil's Yard.

5. Make your exercise count and make it fun.  If you're feeling motivated to exercise, then do it in the morning when the liver is most receptive to working hard and flushing out those toxins.  Make it something you enjoy (I'm loving spending 5 minutes with my hula-hoop each day to slim the waistline, and whizzing about on my rollerblades or bike like a big kid) and if possible, get outside so you're getting some fresh air at the same time as your cardio too.

6. Make your home sweet smelling.  Fill a vase with some spring flowers or diffuse some detoxifying essential oils around the home. Grapefruit, lime and lavender are great.

7.  Have a good clean out.  Tidy house, tidy mind!  Get rid of all the old clothes that you no longer wear or no longer fit, and give them to someone who will appreciate them. Chuck out anything suspicious lying in the back of the fridge, tidy out a drawer or tackle the ever growing pile of paper on the side of the desk/chair/kitchen counter/bedside table etc. You'll feel instantly better and satisfyingly smug.

8. Scrape your tongue when you wake up. Love this one for getting rid of bacteria and morning breath. You can use the back of your toothbrush, the edge of a teaspoon, or even buy your very own specialised tongue scraping implement from the internet. Marvel at how gross your tongue is, feel pleased that you have done something about it, then get on with the rest of your day.

9. Bring in the new! Have something new that you've always wanted to try but never got round to it? Have a plan for a new business? Want to make friends with the nice person you keep bumping into on the school run? Now is the time to do it. Stop procrastinating, sit down and write down a few goals for your personal or professional life, and do something right away to get them started.

10. Walk past the biscuit aisle. If you don't see them, you won't buy them. If they're not in the cupboard you can't eat them. Simple. If you feel like doing more, then do. If you want to go full detox, now is the time. But if you haven't eaten a full packet of chocolate hobnobs* in front of Netflix the night before, you don't have to feel guilty about that tiny biscuit you get on the side of your coffee (sorry... herbal tea) when you meet up with that new friend you've made.

I'm no spring angel, but doing a few of these things over the course of the season, really helps me to stay motivated and feel a whole lot better in my body and mind.  Give them a go.

p.s. I bet you'll start eating healthier too!

*Please insert your own personal downfall here.

Thursday 31 March 2016

Indian adventures and springtime similarities

I have just returned from an Easter break to Kerala with my family. We could only stay for four nights, but it was the perfect introduction for my 7 year old son and husband to this amazing, beautiful and crazy country.  It makes me smile that India is an affordable mini-break destination for us now that we are based in the Middle East, and I already have another trip booked to explore Jaipur in May.  It's certainly not somewhere I could imagine us ever considering as a destination for a family holiday when we lived in the UK but I'm so glad we have been given the opportunity to explore and learn from our experiences travelling here.

Kerala is a gorgeous part of the country, filled with coconut palms, rice paddies and peaceful backwater canals.  It is also heavily influenced by its long history of 'visitors' from foreign fields.  Fort Kochi in Cochin is a unique blend of crumbling Dutch warehouses, Christian churches, Shrines, Mosques, Jewish synagogues, Chinese fishing nets and shops filled with Hindu antiques and local fabrics and treasures.  It hadn't occurred to me that Easter would be being observed there, so it was with some surprise that we discovered on Good Friday that the churches were packed but the palaces, museums and many of the shops were closed and there was no cooling beer to be had anywhere!  This unique melting pot, known as "God's Own Country' may have developed with many struggles and difficulties on the way, but it has left something quite beautiful and inspiring in its place.

We are very lucky to be able to take our son to a place which not only highlights how privileged he is, but also that no matter how many differences he can perceive in how people look and live, what's really important are the similarities.  The children who waved at him from the side of the river or played cricket with him in the park may not have a room full of expensive gadgets and books like him, but they have the same smile and the same dreams and ambitions.  We live our lives in a protected and affluent part of the Middle East, but what is important to me is that he goes to school with people from around the world with different backgrounds, languages, cultures and beliefs.  He has many friends, and when they fall out it is not because of where they are from, the colour of their skin or who they worship.  With everything that has happened across the world so far this year, and the fear and anger that is generated on all sides by such terrible actions, my main hope remains that my son will grow up to see a world where there will always be more similarities then differences.

Yesterday when I was contemplating about what to write in my blog this month, I opened a book of daily meditations by Omraam Mikhael Aivanhov which was gifted to me by my teachers at the end of my yoga training. The entry for 30th March inspired me to share these thoughts and the words seemed so appropriate for the difficult world we live in, that I decided I would share them here too:

"If some people do not want to make the effort to be in harmony with others, it is because they fear being absorbed by the community.  No, every person is a separate individual, but while still maintaining their own character, their particular way of being, they must work for unity.  Look at the cells of the body: they are not identical, and they do not fulfil the same functions.  A cell of the heart is not a cell of the stomach; each retains its individual nature.  But the similarities and connections between them create a state of harmony we call health. Is that so difficult to understand?

We do not have to ask a black person to become white, a Muslim or a Buddhist to become a Christian.  In the past, Christianity sent missionaries to convert people all over the world, and with what violent and tragic consequences! All believers, like all human beings, must keep their particular characteristics, their differences, but at the same time establish fraternal links, through which they create unity."

Me with my new Keralan friends outside the Jewish synagogue in Cochin on Good Friday.
Jamie being taught how to play cricket by the locals. The Indian cricket team has nothing to fear for the future!