Gentle, post cancer, gecko yoga

Resettling in the west, I find that I hold on to many aspects from my lives in the east. Morning rituals around meditation, evening tea lights that flicker as the daylight fades and provide a sense of solace, and the comfort of prayer flags fluttering as they unfurl blessings into the atmosphere. These are all little rituals that I find bring calm and peace of mind. And in the past few days, I have added another short practice. My own version of yoga. Proper post cancer, inflexible old lady, gentle gecko yoga.

gecko doing yoga

While I was going through chemotherapy, I spent some time with a yoga instructor who put together a very gentle routine which was one of the practices which I found helped me through the gruelling treatment path both physically and mentally. That, alongside regular swimming and my obsessive healthy eating plan, played an important part in my overall wellbeing throughout the year of my treatment.

Yangon 562

Sunrise swims Yangon

Approaching ten years since my diagnosis, and collecting additional medical and health glithches along the way – some long lasting side effects of treatment, some more recent after and side effects – such as peripheral neuropathy (which has rendered numb toes and very tippy tips of my fingers), good old Twang Arm, painful joints from Femara. Add that to an old compression fracture in my lower spine and general ageing stuff, you could not really label me a yoga model. Not a positive one, anyway.

So I have designed my own routine. And for those experiencing unwelcome long lasting effects you may be able to identify with my personalised poses. So I have decided to share this, my own Gecko Yoga…

Stretch the Truth

My first move is a gentle stretch. At five foot and half an inch tall, when I stretch, I feel that there can be no harm in a little stretch beyond by true height. Two arms outstretched in front of me, I lean towards the wall, then gradually move my legs one at a time away from the wall so that I am at an angle and then breathe in slowly, hold, breathe out, repeat… repeat …Once I have completed this pose, I move gracefully to my next pose. Perhaps not terribly gracefully but it is fine to imagine it is.

Wall Salutation

I breathe in, move both legs together behind me and lift my head up gently. This is the Wall Salutation. It is much easier on a tired, asymmetrical soul with creaky joints that refuse to work than a sun salutation. Plus we don’t see that much sun really. Just clouds and walls. Again, breathe in slowly, hold, breathe out, repeat… repeat …

Broken back Mountain

Once I have completed enough of this pose, I am ready to move on to one of my favourites. The Mountain is a foundation kind of pose, and I find it really grounding. But nothing is so easy with a compression fracture, so my version is quite gentle. More in breaths, more holding, more out breaths. Nearly finished now. On to my final pose before warm down.

The Woodcutter

This is reminiscent of the Tree, but the numb toes version. Both arms stretch up above my head, and are brought together slowly in a prayer like pose. Breathe in slowly, grit teeth and slowly lift right leg. Place it gently against the lower calf, if I can reach that high. A nano centimetre above the ankle will do. Hold, breathe slowly out. And fall over. I also call it the Falling Tree. Breathe in again, wiggle those toes as they resist stability and slowly lift left leg … big toe can rest on the floor in semblance of proper Tree and will keep the secret. And fall over again. Repeat until falling over happens before the leg is raised. It’s not going to get any better.

tree-vriksasana-yoga-pose-demonstrated-by-the-girl-vector-11768728

And move into a chosen rest pose to warm down, Broken Back Mountain works well here, before drawing hands together to close the routine with a respectful “Namaste”.

Whereupon it is time to put the kettle on and face the day. And the day definitely feels more approachable with this little routine completed. Except those days when I practise the Amnesiac. Those are the days when I am on my way to work and it dawns on me that I have completely forgotten to do my gecko yoga. Just as well tomorrow is a new day…

Scotland 2010 171

Advertisements

Wherever I go, I meet myself

I am reminded this week in particular, through Global Village Storytelling, that I have many stories to tell, and many stories that I am already forgetting. So this evening, when I was looking for a photograph on my original Feisty Blue Gecko before cancer came along Blog, I was gently scrolling through old posts, and remembering many details and incidents which have become hazy and buried in my memory. Of course, I did not reach the destination in my mind, and was soon distracted just a few posts into the blog. I was taken by a story I had almost forgotten, and which made me smile in a room full of strangers who were busy drinking coffee and who fortunately did not notice this strange woman at another table.

As a way of capturing and sharing these stories, I thought to share this tale again here, though if you were of a mind to be distracted by stories of a time before cancer, there is a whole other life over there

For now, this is a tale of a chance conversation on a flight to Pakistan over ten years ago. Fasten your seatbelts and you will find me there, wherever I go.

As I boarded the aircraft from Doha for Islamabad, I realised I was squeezed into a tiny seat on the huge airbus. Hope that I would have the 2 seats to myself for the 4 hour flight which would arrive in Islamabad at 3 am was soon dashed as a fellow traveller arrived at my row, gestured towards the seat and started to settle in next to me. He was a really interesting looking character, in very traditional Afghan attire but as I hoped to grab a short sleep before the crazy arrival time and anticipated stress at immigration, I kept my guard up and didn’t make an effort to engage in small chat. Neither did he.

As the plane took its passengers on board and prepared for departure, my sputnik (fellow traveller in Russian – literally someone who travels on the same path as you do) also prepared for departure. He donned his traditional head scarf and started a gentle chant accompanied by a rocking motion. His mantra took several minutes and accompanied the security announcement of the flight crew. At some invisible signal the prayer was over, our safe passage assured and the chanting ceased and his scarf was removed.

As we prepared for take off we exchanged pleasantries and names. He told me he had been in the UK and was the head of an NGO working in Pakistan and Afghanistan. He asked me about my job and when I gave vague details of my organisation, he immediately named it and asked if that was who I worked for. This eroded part of the awkwardness between us and we soon started a warm discussion about work in the area. I told him about our work in India and Sri Lanka and he told me about the challenges of working in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

When I said I was from Scotland he said that he had worked with a colleague in the UK who was from Wales. “Is that like Scotland?”, he asked – meaning not England! ”Yes” I replied, ”very much so! ”

He wanted to know about Scotland, he said. I anticipated the usual questions – our national food, industry and history. And bagpipes.

Sure enough, I found myself describing the delights of haggis, detailing how it is prepared and its origins a staple of the rural poor in Scotland. He described the different regional specialities of Afghanistan and dishes of meats marinated in spices and yoghurt and served with exotic fruits and vegetables. If I ever visited Afghanistan he promised to make sure I tasted the most delicious of traditional dishes, which varied enormously from area to area.

”So”, he asked, ”what are your main crops then? ”

Not too difficult, I thought. “Barley, wheat, oats….”I recited.

”And what about livestock – what animals do you farm? ”

Also an easy one.

”Cows, sheep, chickens, pigs and a few goats….”

”Ah. So what is your livestock population then?”

Silence. I have absolutely no idea. And at 38000 feet I have no access to Google to find out.

I resort to one of the most useless facts I have at my fingertips, which is at last useful.

“I don’t know about Scotland but do you know, that Mongolia is half the land size of India, and the human population is only 2.6 million. Isn’t that amazing? And the most interesting thing is that the large livestock population is 28 million. Incredible, isn’t it?”

But I have no idea about the livestock population in Scotland. Absolutely no idea at all.

“So what would be the price at market of an average sized sheep then? ”, he asks.

Please ask me about rocket science, I think to myself – at least then I wont feel so bad that I have no idea.

I guess wildly “well, I don’t really know, but I would think you would pay around £500 at least for a good sheep”. Quite what the basis is for that guess, I am not sure.

”Aaah. And what would the weight be of an average sheep then? ”

My eyes scan the aircraft and passengers for inspiration. My brain develops a sudden ability to operate some desperate sift, sort and search action. With no result. Sheep are heavy. Heavier than a grown man? Groan – I just have no idea.

I blurt out the first figure that I can think of.

”50 kilos”. Where did that come from? No idea, but that is what came out of my mouth.

”So it must be around £10 a kilo for sheep meat then?” He calculates.

My silence and stupid smile tell him that it must indeed be.

I am rescued by the arrival of our in flight catering and both of us are unable to chew our Qatari cuisine and talk at the same time.

The lights are dimmed immediately after eating and conversation is replaced by a companionable silence and attempts to doze before arrival in Islamabad.

We exchange cards at the airport and I make a firm promise to find out the answers to his questions. I have been reminded of a very different set of priorities and feel an sudden and urgent need to know more about my country.