A picture or six say a thousand words

Out of sight, out the back of beyond…Waaaaay behind the camera. Photo Amber Zuckswert, Epic Self
Put your hands up..and hide behind Jonesy. Photo Amber Zuckswert, Epic Self
Wearing white, and feeling right uncomfortable – unaboob alert, unaboob alert. Photo Amber Zuckswert, Epic Self
Tingling to be mingling… still got dressed in the dark though. Photo Amber Zuckswert, Epic Self
‘We are fahhhhhmileee, I got all my sisters, brothers and me’ Photo Amber Zuckswert, Epic Self
Make you my family Dave…. Photo Tyler Reintmeister

I think these sum up the experience of the 5 days at the Epic Awakening Retreat really. Going from outsider to part of the group, a truly loving lil’ bunch of people, all there to seek answers to questions, to heal, to grow and to learn more about themselves. There was a lot of laughing, some tears, some vulnerability, and a whole heap of love and gratitude without the fromage. There were sick buckets though. I had not expected any of it (except the buckets) and that made it all so very worthwhile and I could not have asked for a better group to be around, and I thank the whole heartedly for having to put up with my initially grumpy old woman ways. Blame it on the hormones…




A week on the White Isle

I recently returned from my annual trip to the north of Ibiza, a week of things that I love – yoga, good food, great coffee, meandering around markets and what I don’t enjoy….despite the above giving lie to it…frickin’ lashings of rain.

The time of year – end of April, is a good indication that all may not be bright and sunny on the white isle but the Instagrammers of Ibeefa had posted photos of the unseasonably warm weather so I went with a positive outlook but travelled with 5 layers of clothes on (just in case Ryanair did weigh my bag), which turned out to be good practise for the days of rain ahead.

Bye bye England

Not sure what was going on with the Ryanair staff, but their previous rigorous response to clearly oversized baggage (and I don’t mean the fat birds on hen weekends) was as relaxed as everyone boarding and my concerns were waylaid, although the profuse sweating from layering wasn’t.   Travelling out in the day was a positive experience, less pissed party goers for starters and therefore a quieter flight, and less fighting and thieving going on – that might explain the staff’s laidback approach – they knew it was going to be less ructions in the air at this time of year.

Having removed 4 layers, and after a short loo break, it was a quick 40mins from the airport on the new road surface and around the newly installed roundabouts which were the cause of a lot of trauma last year (randomly shutting roads out of caminas for hours on end, getting shouted at for driving over newly laid tarmac, having to dump vehicles in fields in order to get home being a few examples) and we were sailing by the unlit side road to the yoga place in the pitch black as all previous sign posts had been removed.  U-turn implemented, we were soon arriving down the dirt track to the finca, set in amongst the fields of the local farmer.  Getting out the car you could look up to the clear starlit sky and remind yourself what the night sky looks like without light pollution.  It felt good to be back.  Then I went and laid down on my bed…dammit, the foam mattresses were as bad as ever.  Thankfully, I was boy scout prepared and had stuffed an inflatable air mattress in my bag to provide an extra layer of support to my already wrecked back.

Each day yoga was outside but under cover, and in the cool of the early morning we worked through our 90mins safe in the knowledge that a fabulous veggie brunch with Ibizan coffee awaited.  On day 2 we had torrential rain and howling gales, which resulted in avoiding the drips onto mats and a savasana inside on the various furnishings of the front room.  Eating breakfast under cover but outside, wrapped in blankets and all our clothes was an experience made smugger by having warm hands and fingers that worked thanks to my seemingly mad idea of bringing fingerless mittens.

As well as the discomfort of the beds, the other issue was the plumbing – the hot water took 15-20mins to arrive into the shower head and when it did finally emerge it was like being pissed on by fairies.  Cold, smelly and gloomy, we decided it was a good idea to get warm, get clean and hang out, and whilst there wasn’t a YMCA to head to there was a hotel / spa called Can Carreu which let you have spa access for €30.  Oh heaven is warmth, a hamman and a pool.

Can Curreu car park
The gloom of Ibiza… even the tree looks fed up.  The view from Can Curreu car park

Having scrubbed, soaked and relaxed to a wrinkled inch of my life, it was then a hot shower, soft fluffy towels, and a pootle back down the road for a snackage and coffee at Las Dalias Bar and Restaurant . Nothing like being clean to make everything in the world feel right and on track again.  In the meantime, the plumbing back at the ranch had also had a seeing too and we were rewarded with hot water and proper pressure for the remainder of the trip.

Grafitti outside Las Dalias
A portion of the Las Dalias grafitti

Las Dalias is famous for its hippy market as well, and by the time Saturday rocked around the sun was shining and the weather was good once more, the site totally transformed from the muddy gloom of a few days before.  Tourists were everywhere in overpriced flim flam, crotchet or thin cotton, the sort of stuff that look amazing on lithe, modellesque ‘young slip of a things’ but which look 1664 on those that can actually afford it (16yrs old from behind, 64 in front), and who struggle to squeeze into it.  Whilst it’s nice to wander around in the sun, soaking up Vit D to stave off rickets, it’s also alarming to see the amount of overpriced tat, or overpriced skimpyness on offer and how much of it is being bought.  My friend’s approach to purchasing any item of clothing is to ask, ‘Would you wear it on the Tube?’, the answer by most would be ‘Not on your nelly’, but I’m sure a number of people have persuaded themselves that they would, as long as they were wearing a large mac over the top of their Ibeefa outfit.

We ate out every night, and for someone who had been told to eat dead animal on a plate with veg at the moment I was in the right place.  Ibiza seems to be the central place for the Neanderthal diet, if Neanderthals ate chips with everything.  Ordering ‘drumstick of chicken’ actually means getting half a bird with chips and some salad. Leg of lamb is precisely that – €12 and you get a whole leg all to yourself.  No wonder the waiter chuckled at the little person who ordered it – it was larger than her whole upper body.  You are spoilt for good restaurants in the north of the island, and we made the most of it, with Italian eaten at Macao Cafe, Santa Gertrudis, and where the waiting staff were super attentive and helpful, La Paloma, San Lorenc, booking essential for an uber cool setting and a menu providing something for everyone, no matter your latest intolerance and Ecocentro, Santa Gertrudis for all things veggie, organic or raw.  Thank heavens for the yoga to help burn off the excess calories!

Squid, with onions and lemon – La Paloma

We even made it to a couple of beaches and pretend we were beside the seaside, beside the sea.  First up after an obligatory trip to San Juan Sunday Market, we headed off to Portineaux, which quickly disappointed, not just because it was windy by the shoreline but because it’s a tad naff, and then we got lucky on the by driving round to Cala Llenya, practically deserted apart from some Dutch families and a guy who seemed to be auditioning for ‘Rocky, the Musical’ in sweats and a hoodie.  Sun shining, the sand soft, clean and warm, the waves far enough away that you weren’t going to get accidentally wet and freeze.  The law of sod would state that the warm weather would hit just before you’re heading home.

Monday and it was a day at Benirras beach, surrounded by more Dutch (seems the kids don’t need to be in school) and the chance to soak up the rays for a full day.  We headed back there for dinner, dead thing on a plate and chips por favor.  Protein overloaded it was home for a final sleep.

Benirras, obligatory sunset shot.

Returning to the airport was straightforward enough, despite the petrol filling fun – you have to pay before you fill up which means either making  a stab at what you think you might need to pay or you hand over your payment cards to be held hostage whilst you fill up.  All a bit random but we achieved and after an unrushed breakfast at the airport we were soon shuffling along in the queue to go through security to join a queue to board a bus to board the plane to sit for a few hours to then join a queue to be allowed back into the UK.  Gotta love a queue.

Roll on next year, but somewhere with better beds!



Things that make you go…

‘ow, that bloody hurt…’

I’ve shifted from Samui to George Town, Malaysia for a week of food and wandering however before I get to the foodie overload I’ll just finish up with Samui.

Guess what happens here…

The rest of my time on Samui was a more of the same pattern of wake, eat, yoga repeat until Tuesday afternoon when in the middle of moving to a warrior 1 my left side rebelled and sent my back into spasm and me to the floor in a puddle of pain. As the remaining two yogis moved through their paces I hobbled off bent double to try and stretch it out, not that that’s ever worked before…but still. 

Wan and the cafe ladies onsite covered me in tiger balm and with finger pads of steel massaged into part of the paining and just for a laugh they then had me on the floor legs wide open with Wan’s feet into my calves pushing them wider still and holding my hands pulling me forward. It proved I could do a wide legged fold but not much else. Somehow I returned for the remaining 20mins of the class not doing anything that involved back bends, arms lifted, lowering down, and any forward bends were with knees bent. E.g less yoga and more ripple maintenance. 

Thank god for Thai pharmacies and their willingness to dispense drugs based on vague descriptions of pain and spasm, done through the medium of mime and partially upright hobbling. Anti-inflammatory and pain relief in hand all I could was rest up and no sudden movements (which is unlikely for me at the best of times). 

Luckily the weather was suitably shite on Wednesday that I could sit and inhale copious amounts of caffeine whilst undercover of the coffee shop awning watching the sea churning up and the heavens open. Apparently it’s been the worst weather in Samui for 5yrs. That didn’t deter at least one person wandering into the cafe in just a bikini – I think I missed the note that wearing just a bit of flimsy between you and your bits was perfectly acceptable dress wear for an eatery. 

Even the inflatables don’t get to go out when it’s raining

If Wednesday was shite, Thursday was calamitous. I woke up to go and try yoga before a massage and it was chucking it down. Foolishly I decided to wait it out in reception only for it to double in intensity, you could even see the end of the pathway it was coming down so hard. The photo below doesn’t do it justice, the video on Instagram gives a better impression, but both are pre-calamatious downpouring.

Reet bucketing it down…., beyond that was ankle deep flooding.

Wading through it onto the track by the neighbour’s step, I watched a little line of flip flops float by me, heading off on an adventure all of their own. No drainage meant ankle deep water, whilst out on the paved road it was calf deep. I think it’s suffice to say I was a bit wet by the time I got to Yogarden.

It was just me and Kom, the teacher and also my masseuse for the yoga class. His yoga teaching is very straightforward, a man of few words – ‘Han in fron of shess, shan Om free time’ is how we start, and a deceptively rigorous set of yoga moves, that invariably end up with you leaning on one shoulder and a few toes with your other leg and arm up in the air, and if you’re lucky enough you don’t roll over onto your back as he slowly counts you to 5, or if he’s in a funny (haha) mood, then 10. He also checks how you are moving, body wise – when my neck was stiff from sleeping awkwardly I got attacked with tiger balm and a Spock-like vice grip to release it. 

Luckily as it was just the two of us, it was less yoga and more yoga massage in preparation for the torture session afterwards and by the of it I was able to backward bend and move the ol’ hips again, I’ll never be Shakira with these rickety things but at least I was less representing the first stage of man attempting to walk upright.  From the relative relaxation of the yoga massage we moved onto the real massage – it’s been a long time since I’ve shed tears of pain from a massage but I can confirm that is exactly what I did, along with a fair bit of snot. If you’ve ever had someone attempt to excavate your pelvic region with their thumbs before, you have my empathy. This man had an instinct for where the knots were and each one was relentlessly hunted down and then ground down. Me and my muscles having been pulverised into submission went off home for a bit of a more gentle psoas release and a few hours snoozing. 

Friday night / Saturday morning there was the sound of sudden explosions – was it a coup, a plane crash or something more irritating??? Ah yes,  a quick google ogle and it was revealed to be Chinese New Year, and time to be setting off firecrackers at dark o’clock, or at any point of the day to be honest.

Resident rooster is cock-a-hoop, not only is it new year but he also gets to eat the offerings.

By Saturday I was almost back to normal (physically, we know mentally it’s always going to be a challenge), as was the weather. Yin yoga with lots of stretching and a Kom yoga class with a bit of last minute Acroyoga thrown in for laughs and then it was beach for a few hours in glorious sunshine, cloud free – a reminder of what Samui should be like in January.

Finally – Samui as it is supposed to be…on the last day on the island, of course.

Early night followed as an early start beckoned – back to the mainland by ferry then a minibus manic race (for no reason other than the driver could drive like a loon) to Surat Thani airport and back to Bangkok for a night near China Town and Hua Lampong station ahead of the overnight train that brought me to Malaysia.

The half-way point – Yoga Teacher Training, Goa 2015

Today is the end of week two, and I’ve achieved the following:

Burnt shins. Only the front half of me is the color of boiled lobster, the back half looks in comparison like the dazzle of a hundred watt bulb. If I did squat thrusts in shorts I’d look as if I was sending out an SOS with the backs of my knees.

Fooked hip / lower back. As any Harry Hypochondriac knows the pain will move just to give you something else to whinge about to whoever’s not given up listening to you. I can’t do forward folds eg uttanasana or any lunges etc. Frankly it’s a total pain in the asana. Seems like I have to wait this one out. Massage can only do so much, mainly making it hurt a bit more. Still, in self practice tomorrow I can justify laying with my legs on a chair for two hours now, so that’s a win.

Made friends. With the frog in my room. We first meet when he surprised me by sitting on the bed. Could have been more surprising, he could have been in it. I went to get something to remove him with (pointless really, the hut has more holes than the plot of Transformers 4) and when I’d returned he had vanished. He then took up residence by the sun lotion. When I suggested he move on outside he obliging leapt to it, but only to hide under the shelf. Clearly a bit Ingrid Bergman, he wanted to be left alone.



Had two massive mugs of espresso. That was this morning. I’m still shaking from it now. The espresso coffee maker was huge, at first I thought I had a really small waiter serving me as it looked so out of proportion to the normal stove top coffee makers, but no, it was industrial sized and, as it turned out, industrial strength.

The coffee also had an effect, and my other achievement is my interior is now more cleared out than my wardrobe could ever be. 

Other achievement included beach clean Wednesday where we cleared away about 12 bags of rubbish, mainly plastic, straws, some hypodermic needles, glass, and general household detritus. We will do another side of the beach next week. The concept of rubbish bins does not exist and instead rubbish is left where it’s dropped or occasionally swept up and burnt releasing stinking black smoke from the plastic and the crisp / ice cream wrappers. Not great for anyone.

Mandrem is continuing to unveil itself, initially looking like a poor man’s Christo and Jean Claude artwork (http://christojeanneclaude.net/projects/wrapped-reichstag#.VjYps5SXeK0) as tarp covered the majority of town. Who knew what lay beneath…turns out, not a lot. As it is being stripped away it reveals the cheap tart of tat shops, more chav than cashmere in the scarves for sale, Russian restaurants selling shark curry and more beach shacks than beaches, springing up all over, even on top of restaurants, and looking decidedly unsupported to boot. The excess of shops selling tat means yet more people to practice the polite refusal with. At least this week on my laundry run I didn’t have to show them my bag of smalls (erroneously labelled, should read as larges) as proof that I’d not betrayed my oath of not shopping anywhere in town.

Still, this is in preparation, as the Russians are coming, less in droves and more in dribs and drabs. The shopkeepers complain business is bad, you can practically hear them ‘oi veying’ as they say it. Then again they complain every day. If it were true, and business was that bad Mandrem would basically be turned into the Indian equivalent of a poorhouse in Victorian England and all the children would be stuck up chimneys, if school things existed.
Everyone is SUPER excited for next week’s teaching, I’d rather eat my own eyes. As that’s not a pose I can’t actually incorporate that into my session and short of sitting out in the sun with bacon on my eyes to attract the crows I’ve just got to suck it up and do it. Yay………yes I know I signed up for teacher training, doesn’t actually mean I want to do it does it! Oi vey.

Shiny Happy People Holding Tadasana

Day 6 in the Big Yogi House, and I’ve sweated my way through more items of clothing than I ever did at Ataturk international. At least my face is not so shiny beetroot, that has faded to more boiled Brit in the heat and humidity of a foreign country. I say foreign but really this more middle class than a Wimbledon. We even have feta and more pomegranate and coconut water than you can shake a Waitrose essential chocolate eclair at.

It’s the kind of place where gals wot ‘ave found them selves after boarding school, self loathing and self harming have come to earn a crust. Mummy and Daddy fund the life whilst they’re putting their lithe young backs into teaching the great unwashed masses the great truths and yogic mysteries whilst nibbling on a little salad, but ‘can’t eat the dhal daaa-ling it so aggravates my lower colon. This piece of spinach leaf will do just fine, mwah.’ Little North London in Goa. To be fair not all the staff are like that, but does form the majority of the non local workers. The faint sound of well bred Londoners’ laughter wafting up over dinner table does make me think that the colonials are taking a too late rear guard offensive to the Russian onslaught of a North Goa.

So everyone’s in their swanky yoga kit, a bit of Lululemon, some Sweaty Betty and some other brands and then there’s me with my recently purchased ‘not so cotton’ bright print, ripped after the first wash tat-shop harem troos. Most of the ladies have a scant bit of fabric covering the boobilage that stretches and breathes with them. My full on head to toe covering stretches, then appears to rip, or else sags (a bit how I’m feeling after a two hr yoga class with the ceiling fans turned off). Hardly conducive material to wicking away the perspiration. Just as well my low slung gusset isn’t waterproof as it’d be a tidal wave of filthy rancidity out of them puppies when I take them off to have the first, the second and on to the fifth shower of the day. Luckily laundry is so cheap, as are the clothes. Maybe I should give up and just have a new wardrobe for every change of clothes throughout the day (the record is probably 6 changes, excluding jimjams for beddingtons.

We kicked off with a puja, a priest came and did a fire ritual and blessing. Time did seem to be money and he was on the clock for sure. He was chanting so fast he sounded like a Peter O’Sullivan commentary on the Grand National… And it’s shiva at the back, coming up fast, Vishnu on the inside looking for a break, and it’s Krishna, it’s Krishna on the bend taking the lead, peeling away from the others, and as we cross the finish line it’s a Shiva Rama dead heat.Om shanti, shanti, shan-tee-ee-eeee…And up and out the door quicker than the red strings were tied round our little teacher training wrists.

The flower mandala for the puja

The course is really enjoyable, despite a shaky start of over sharing injuries and then we were chanting in the dark of a power cut on the first night. Under stress, eg when asked to chant my ears stop working and even when the words are in front of me I still get it wrong. Tea lights next to the coursebook where the words to the mantras were cast a faint gloom on proceedings which were mostly the teachers pronunciating beautifully whilst playing drums and a ukulele respectively (I think even they’d admit that was a bit too full on for day one) and us (ok, just me) going ‘muffley..shree…prum-ee-I don’t know…shiva……..argh’. An hour never to be repeated.

We are also practically a Eurovision in the making with the various nationalities on the course and after my attempt at the chanting it’s no wonder the UK are nil point most years. It’s a mixed bag of Northern Europeans in the main, and a couple of North Americans. There’s Tanya, Mia, Erdmutha, Anu, Renata and Caterina all from Germany, Finland, Sweden and Norway, and the British contingent (in the minority) are Jemima, Sarah and….Gary…Gazzer, the Big G, Gazbollah…or Shree Gary-Ji. A lamb to the slaughter among ten laydeeees. Apparently Gary is a name in decline, only 300 born last year. We’ve got double bubble on the Gazzer front as we’ve not only got our Gary but then there’s 3G Gary staying here, (who appears to have taken  a wrong turn off the rugby pitch) which does call into to question if there is a Gary shortage in the UK right now with what appears to be the excessive amount we have here.

Week one ends tomorrow, and I’m slowly learning my asanas from my elbows (which remain tightly tucked in in Bhujangasana), where I’m going wrong (mainly turning up for yoga it has felt like for a couple of days!), and how to breathe whilst sweating furiously, and not to clock watch for the shivasana time. We are all a bit stiff from the practice but it’s worth it so far and our philosophy tutor turned up today and that’s going to be a riot for sure. Last night’s yoga nidra was perfect, I fell asleep just after the ‘say to yourself ‘I won’t fall asleep’ and just before the ‘count back from 50 (or was it 54…really, no idea, I was out of it).

So all is good in the Mandrem hood, just need the shop ladies to stop hassling me and it’ll be perfect 🙂