Further adventures from a recovering agoraphobic

A challenging visit to the Mind Body Spirit Wellbeing Festival at the NEC on Friday.  For someone who still has agoraphobic tendencies, it was challenging because I went on my own, it involved train travel, the NEC  is huge and the environment of a busy, noisy hall is difficult. But, I had the opportunity of a workshop with the Barefoot Doctor and that was my motivator.

My hope in sharing is to deepen understanding of how this feels and not to jump to conclusions about someone who seems to be behaving slightly oddly. And for anyone with agoraphobia – it might not disappear, but you can work with it and accept it as being a part of you, making you who you are.

IMG_3846No problems with the train journey, and arrived at the NEC feeling fairly relaxed. Found out where the Hall was, and set out. This I knew would be tricky with the huge enclosed spaces, bright lights and reflections, all of which make me feel disorientated.

I’ve been recently learning about ‘sensory defensiveness’ in relation to ‘sensory processing disorder’, which is being linked to agoraphobia, and also resonates with what my friend Stella has written about being ‘highly sensitive‘. The feeling of everything being completely overwhelming  in these situations that can become very scary and trigger panic attacks.


Having wIMG_3832alked through this environment, including two long escalators, came to something called the ‘Skywalk‘ (link to extremely boring Youtube video) and FROZE.  A long, enclosed corridor disappearing into what seemed like infinity. So, decided I’d walk back the way I’d come, and try and get around the outside of the buildings. All the time saying to myself that I really want to do this, so don’t give up! Back to the beginning, and down four flights of enclosed stairs to the perimeter road. Trudged along there for a while, getting increasingly anxious, and then decided to turn back again. Up the four flights of stairs, heart beating quite fast due to the exertion. OK – ‘Skywalk’ or go home? Back to the ‘Skywalk’ – it’s not going to beat me! A five minute walk or less if you use the two travelators. I try the travelator, then get a bit panicky that I can’t get off it. Unless I run of course, which even in this state, I realise would be a bit ridiculous. So I get off at the half way point and re-group. Now I’m stuck in the middle – do I go on, or go back? I go on, but I walk the last bit. More corridors and escalator, finally making it to the Hall. Hurray!

Hall 7

Photo courtesy of Mind Body Spirit Festival

I’d booked another workshop, starting soon, but decide I need some time to settle and some distraction. Sitting in a room listening to someone is going to give me too much time to think about how I’m feeling and how far away from home I am. So abandon that and sit outside in the sunshine for a while, and begin to feel better, deciding to brave the Hall, full of stalls, noise, people. But, also the calming energy of crystals and scents of incense.


tim and cherubSit down in the ‘free stage‘ area and join in with some chanting, which is just what I need. Tim Wheater playing guitar and flute, accompanied by the wonderful, smiling Cherub with flowing pink hair. Deep breaths and aahhhhh… out. Feel tension beginning to shift, but still tight in my neck and shoulders.


tim van der vlietFind that I’m quite happy sitting there, so stay and listen to Tim van der Vliet, an ex trader from the Amsterdam Stock Market, calling his philosophy ‘Zen from Amsterdam’. One thing he says is that “you don’t have to be a yoga teacher to feel zen“, and I think, well actually, this yoga teacher isn’t feeling very zen at the moment 🙂 but gradually getting there……..

I have a slow meander round the stalls, not really taking in too much of what’s there, but at least my body is present. When I’m anxious, I find that I’m so concerned with monitoring myself and the environment that interactions with people are much more difficult and the social niceties tend to go out the window.  One lady ambushed me from the side, and asked me ‘do you love pussy cats‘? I’m afraid I just said ‘No, I don’t‘ and walked on (apologies to all my cat-loving friends!).

I was interested in a new yoga block, so approached that stand and took up an invitation to sit on it (the block, not the stand). Then the stand-holder said she’d show me how I could use it lying down, and was already rolling a mat out before I had a chance to run away. So, I’m lying down, and she’s trying to insert this block under my buttocks, meaning my head is lower than my hips (not good for my stability). I look up, and there are a few people watching this spectacle, one lady smiles and says ‘you don’t mind if we watch, do you?‘ The social nicety did kick in there fortunately 🙂 Meanwhile the stand-holder is asking if I’m comfortable, and I’m afraid at that point I did have to say ‘No, not really‘ in a very quiet voice.  Beat a hasty retreat, but it was fairly controlled.

aura photo1More time recovering outside, mulling over whether to have an aura photograph taken – something I’ve had a yen to do for a while. The unknowns of how long it will take, will I have to go into an enclosed booth, will I have to stay and talk to someone about it? Decide to go for it, and end up with a beautiful photograph (showing I’m well-balanced, amongst other things – what??!)

barefoot doctor

Photo courtesy of The Barefoot Doctor

Find my way to the room for the workshop with Stephen Russell, the Barefoot Doctor, via more stairs and through a huge open space. This is what I’ve come for – it had better be worth it!! – and it was. So grateful and appreciative just to be here.

(Even he couldn’t turn the NEC into something that looks like this, but it was full of magic).

And Skywalk on the way back – a piece of cake.



Going again in December, and here’s my motivation for that time 😉



Focus on chocolate

Tulips and easter eggsJust before Easter, we did a chocolate meditation in one of my classes. It went down quite well, even though I got one or two strange looks when I suggested it. If you’ve got any Easter chocolate left 🙂 there’s a version of it on the website: Mindfulness: Finding Peace in a Frantic World. Try it with some fruit if you don’t eat chocolate.

Why practice it?

Well, it slows you down and helps you to appreciate what you eat, rather than wolfing it down at 100mph. If you eat more slowly generally, it aids your digestion too. It helps to focus your mind by giving it something to do, so you are fully aware in this present moment. (And it makes the chocolate last longer too!)

One of Patanjali’s eight limbs of yoga is Dharana, variously translated as focus, attention or concentration, and is the step that precedes meditation.  Whatever we can do to help the mind to focus rather than jumping off in all directions is good for our equilibrium.

“By shining the light of awareness where there was murkiness and darkness before, you start to see what is inside and around you”.

~ from The Spirit of Yoga by Cat de Rham and Michele Gill

What amazes you with joy?


“What you are in love with,
what seizes your imagination will affect everything.
It will decide what will get you out of bed in the mornings,
what you will do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends,
what you read, who you know,
what breaks your heart,
and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.
Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.” ~ Pedro Arrupe

What amazes you with joy and gratitude?
For me, its the beauty of the world around me – sunsets, an early ladybird, a bird of prey soaring in the sky, bright stars, masses of snowdrops, sunshine and shadows.

Lessons from a flamingo


“Get yourself grounded and you can navigate even the stormiest roads in peace.” ~Steve Goodier

Flamingos? What do flamingos have to do with yoga? Well, I visited a wildlife centre this weekend, and there were flocks of bright pink flamingos in the midst of the muted grey British countryside. It made me think how beautiful they are and what an amazing colourful bird they are with their slender legs and long, long necks. But the smaller, brown birds are just as beautiful in their own way too. How easily we are drawn to the bright and exotic, forgetting the beauty in the seemingly more mundane.

And if we think we have difficulty balancing, be grateful not to be a flamingo! What wonderful science enables them to balance on just one of these tall, slender legs? I don’t know how heavy they are, but I’m guessing those huge wings and neck are not light. Watching them balance, they have a perfect stillness.  Neck and head curled round, just resting, grounded onto the earth beneath them. I think visualising birds like this or other natural things can help us to deepen our yoga practice and achieve our own point of stillness,  so next time I practice the crane or tree posture I might just try imagining a bright pink flamingo 🙂



Sitting here with a bad cough, disappointed that I won’t be able to teach my classes again this week.  I often say to my students ‘accept yourself exactly as you are right now’. Having to take a dose of my own medicine now, and it’s not going down very well! All sorts of thoughts going through my mind, including – you’re a yoga teacher, you can’t get sick (bunkum) and people will expect me to be healthy because I do yoga (but I’m human too). I also don’t like disappointing my students and feel like I’m letting them down because I don’t have a stand-in teacher. (That’s ego talking, as my students won’t attach the same importance to it as I do).

I’m also learning the lesson of appreciation. When I worked with computers, it didn’t matter so much if I got a cough and couldn’t speak. But as a yoga teacher, my voice is really important, and although I thought I knew that and appreciated it, I only truly value it when it’s not there.  How many things does that apply to in our lives? We need to be grateful for each and every part of our miraculous selves and our lives every day.

So, I’ll try to stop fretting, accept the situation and let go of the negative thoughts whizzing round my head using the lovely Dru earth sequence to help with this. Then I’ll have another honey and lemon drink to soothe my throat and be grateful for the gift of speech.

I apologise to any of my students reading this, and hope that normal service will be resumed next week!