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February 10, 2011

The Journey of a Thousand Miles

Psst… here’s an ultra sneak preview of a feature I’ve submitted for the March edition of Lightworker Magazine on the subject of ‘optimism.’

The Journey of a Thousand Miles


When I first stepped out on the street after signing up for the New York marathon, I held my head high, pulled my shoulders back, and walked tall in a way I hadn’t for a very long time. Up until then, I’d been drowning in a quicksand of funk. No matter how many positive affirmations I tried, no matter how many pep-talks I gave myself, in my heart of hearts I believed none of it. Mind and body were at a disjunct — until, that is, I signed up for the marathon.

It didn’t matter I was grossly overweight, couldn’t run more than a few metres a time without turning a vivid shade of puce, and the marathon was less than six months away — I had a goal. But I’d also had enough. I’d had enough of the all-too-many broken promises I’d made myself and others. I’d had enough of my flakiness, my inability to see anything through to completion. I’d had enough of trying to be something I wasn’t — contented, fulfilled, happy with my lot — when, in fact, I was rotting from the inside out. And so, on that hoar frost of a pitch black morning, I gathered up what little resolve I had left and took it for a run. Or perhaps I should say, galumph. I went galumphing.

With breasts banging and clanging like beach balls filled with wet sand and the fat on my back jiggling like jelly on a plate, I galumphed off up the street à la Quasimodo. As winter turned to spring, however, my galumph gained momentum and was gradually replaced by a smooth and steady jog. Rather than trying to change everything in my life at the same time, I concentrated on my one goal of completing the marathon — alive and in one piece.

Soon, the fat began to melt away. Then, a curious thing happened: where the excess fat had once been, an inner strength replaced it, spreading through my physical body and into my psychic body — my soul. Unbeknown to me, while schlepping around my three mile route, the spirit of the marathon was feeding me, strengthening me, firing me with renewed enthusiasm for life.

Until then, I’d always attempted change from the head down; but I never believed what the face in the mirror was telling me. My words were hollow, lacking substance and body. When I began strengthening my physical body through jogging, however, that changed. With each step, I moved closer to a new reality. With each step, I proved myself to myself. With each step, I realised there was more to me than I’d previously dared believe. I was growing stronger, more confident. I no longer believed I wasn’t capable of being more, giving more, living more — I now knew I could be more, give more, live more and I knew it from the soles of my feet, up.

To withstand the often precarious Winds of Change, we must put down roots, ensure our footing is firm. The mighty oak tree, for example, has roots which run as deep as the tree is tall. When the Winds of Change sweep through, whipping and cracking all about it, it remains resolute and unmoved. This is how we must be. We too must put down roots, move deeper into our bodies so as to stand firm against the storm of trials we will inevitably face along the road.

Transformation, you see, means just that — transformation. It is not a mere modification process. When you set out on the path towards greater consciousness and decide to transform an area of your life, what you must realise is change cannot be compartmentalised. When I set out on the road to marathon, I didn’t know the strength gained on the road would spill over into all other areas of my life. When I first started out galumphing, I wouldn’t say I felt particularly optimistic about my future; but with each step, each mile, what started out as a faint fantasy of going the distance became a distinct reality, fanning the flames of self-belief.

When people made sly remarks, told me I’d never do it, rather than arguing back as before, I took myself for a run. Chewing over their words, I realised this was no longer about trying to prove myself to others, but about proving myself to me. And with every long run completed, with every relaxing post-run stretch and candlelit-soak, I basked in the warm inner glow that can only come from a renewed optimism and faith in oneself.

It wasn’t all plain sailing. I met with a myriad of obstacles and set-backs, disappointments and failures. The changes that swept through my life over the coming months threatened to break me on numerous occasions. But I was stronger, better able to face into and cope with them. My physical back and core were strengthened through running and Pilates — and so was my psyche’s backbone and inner core. Through my new Yin yoga practice, I’d developed greater flexibility, was better able to sway and move like the mighty oak tree. I became more grounded in my life.

In the end, it took three attempts at the marathon to learn my necessary lessons. But three marathons and almost two years after first stepping out on the street on that hoar frost of a pitch black morning, I crossed the finish line in Athens, Greece, a new woman. More importantly, a woman completely transformed — from the inside-out and from the bottom-up. I went the distance.

The strength, stamina and endurance I’d gained on the road translated into the book I then went onto write — a book I’d never dared dream of writing two years before. By becoming a marathoner, I healed the broken bridge between body and soul. By becoming an author, I took back authority of my life. And so can you.

Go the distance.

~

Buy a copy of Thea’s inspiring memoir Running into Myself from Amazon UK, Amazon US or, better yet, order a limited edition signed copy direct from her publisher here (also ships worldwide).

January 25, 2011

And stretch and yawn…

My latest article for Manchester Confidential:

Thea Euryphaessa indulges in a Yin yoga session at the new YogaPilates studio, Chorlton (Mcr, UK)


I didn’t take up yoga until three years ago when a knee injury sustained during a marathon brought me to a grinding halt. Stubborn bugger that I am, I limped the remaining thirteen miles to the finish line like Hopalong Cassidy. Paid for it afterwards, though.

Any runner who’s ever had the displeasure of feeling their IT (illiotibial) band inflict untold excruciating torment upon their knee during every single step will have felt Eddie Izzard’s pain when he regularly had his IT band ‘stripped’ during his epic Sport Relief marathoning endeavour. How he continued, I’ll never know. My injury, however, drove me first into the arms of a myofascial release therapist and, soon after, into my first Pilates class.

Pilates must be one of the most subtle, stealth-like ways of achieving tone and strength I’ve ever encountered. After just one class, I stepped out onto the street, shoulders back, feeling several inches taller. Since taking it up, several strangers (I kid you not) have approached me to comment on my apparently excellent posture. It’s also a phenomenal way of increasing core strength for endurance events such as the marathon, helping drastically reduce fatigue across the back and shoulders, post-race. But it was my instructor who, on learning about my IT band issues, recommended I try Yin yoga as it works deep into the myofascia.

Myofascia (also known as the connective tissue) holds the muscles in place, much like how the pith of an orange holds the segments in place beneath the outer flesh. Until this point, I’d been reticent to try yoga. I had enough on my plate recovering from an injury and training for another marathon without contorting myself at speed in a heated room à la Bikram yoga. Running’s hard enough as it is. But much to my surprise, like Pilates, Yin yoga was another revelation.

I like to call Yin yoga, yoga for lazy so-and-so’s, although I’m not sure my instructor would necessarily agree or be best pleased with that description. In my opinion, Yin yoga is perhaps the most deliciously indolent style of yoga available but, paradoxically, one of the most challenging too. How so?

Well, in Taoist philosophy ‘yang’ is the hot, hard, fast, dynamic principle; whereas ‘yin’ is its complementary counterpart, typically characterised by cool, yielding, slow, soft qualities. So, in Yin yoga, rather than quickly moving from position to position in a state verging on the manic (which is how Ashtanga yoga felt to me), each position is held for several minutes – several very long, very challenging minutes. Several of the poses were developed and practised by sages to help them strengthen the body so they could sit for long periods of time in meditation. In fact, it’s said that Yin yoga involves some of the most ancient asanas around.

If you’re the type who spends every day rushing, flapping, always ‘doing,’ Yin yoga is the perfect antidote as it simply allows you to ‘be.’ For some, however, therein lies the problem: this simply ‘being’ malarkey can cause a fair few folk to get twitchy. With little else to distract and the gradual lengthening and deep stretching Yin yoga involves, there are those who find it difficult to fully surrender to each pose and hold it for the allocated time. But for lazy buggers such as me, it’s the perfect way to completely switch off, unwind and allow my body to do its own thing, in its own time.

I struck gold with my Yin yoga instructor, Mathew Godebski. Grounded and straight-talking, there’s nothing unnecessarily esoteric about the way he teaches, which is just how I like it. He also prescribed a specific set of poses for me to complement my running practice and help alleviate my IT band injury which, I’m pleased to report, has now fully healed.

If you’re interested in trying Yin yoga, Mathew’s new YogaPilates studio can be found at Unit 14, Albany Road Trading Estate, Albany Road, Chorlton, M21 0AZ. Yin yoga classes take place every Wednesday evening between 7.30pm – 9.00pm. For further details, visit his website at yogapilates.co.uk

~

Buy a signed, limited edition copy of Thea’s inspiring book here.

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