Stonehenge – a place of spiritual and cultural significance

Stonehenge

At the beginning of this month (July 2021 – for future readers) I took myself off on a road trip and visited the beautiful Stonehenge. This neolithic monument is a place of spiritual significance both in the UK, and around the world, and was the main motivator behind my four hour (getting towards five hour) drive from Manchester to Wiltshire, in southern England. 

As someone with a deep respect for the spiritual and an interest in history, this monument was the perfect place to visit and provided a great opportunity to learn about those that came before me. 

Although I visited the site as a little girl its importance, and impressiveness, was somewhat lost on me. 

As I parked my car this time around I felt very excited. The sun was shining and there was a tranquil beauty to the surrounding landscape that made me understand why this place was chosen as the monument’s erection site. I walked through the ticket office and continued onwards towards the monument which was about a 30 minute walk away.

I passed through fields of hay and was again struck by the tranquility and beauty of the place. Flowers swayed in the wind and the grass sparkled under the intensity of the sun’s rays. Birds chirped and cawed overhead and I felt grateful to be there. 

Beautiful view on the walk to the monument!

Through some woodlands and out into a field I came – to my left were multiple ancient burial mounds and up ahead was the monument itself – Stonehenge. Glimmering in the sunlight, hundreds of crows flying overhead and adding to the location’s majesty.

It felt special – words don’t do it justice, but it is special. The air felt very still. 

Stonehenge has a complicated history, having gone through various stages of construction and development before becoming the Stonehenge as we know it today. We recognise the monument nowadays as a collection of stones in a specific circular formation, however the stone circle came later in 2500 BC – originally the site began as just a circular ditch and stayed that way for 500 years. 

Historians understand the ditch to have been a sacred earthwork enclosure that the Neolithic people used to bury and honour their dead. Important items were placed in the circular ditch at this time and ceremonies and processions were held to mark special occasions. 

500 years later in 2500BC, which is a mind-blowing 4500 years ago, the stone circle was erected by a community of Late Neolithic people living three kilometres away in the nearby town of Durrington. It was erected to align with the winter and summer solstices – the longest and shortest days of the year – which were spiritually significant times for this community and many others like it.  

A replica of the houses the community in nearby Durrington lived in – archaeologists found similar ditches and ceremonial excavations in and around the community site.

The only existing stone on the site in 2500BC was the Heel stone (pictured below). The stone’s position was altered, by the community who erected Stonehenge, to mark the place where the summer solstice sunrise appears on the horizon when stood in the centre of the circle. 

Heel Stone – the only stone that pre-dates the main stones placed by the Neolithic community in 2500BC.

The henge comprises a mixture of Sarsen stones, which is a type of sandstone native to southern England, and Preseli blue stone. These blue stones found within the henge, were brought from Pembrokeshire, Wales by the community of people that moved to Wiltshire around this time and built Stonehenge. This Preseli blue stone was transported all the way from Wales because they believed it held magical and healing properties. This explains why they went to so much effort to transport the huge rocks so far. 

A gentleman I spoke to at the henge (a lovely knowledgeable guide) told me that the community moved here from Wales because it was a better place to farm, as well as a beautiful place to live. They brought their important ancestors with them and signified their resting places at the site by marking their burial within the ditch and under specific stones. 

They built the henge carefully, constructing it in a specific series of circles to align with both solstices, specifically the winter solstice, which was the most important date of the year for the Neolithic people. On these dates people would gather in and around the stones to watch the sunset. This was a place for them to honour the passage of time, pay their respects to their dead and to praise their gods. 

When inside the henge on the solstice dates, staring down the corridor of stones (specifically down the avenue built as an entrance to the henge) the light would have shone directly into the henge space. This would have iIluminated the crowds below, shining down onto the community, their buried dead and showing the rise and fall (or death and rebirth) of the sun. This ritual at the site denoted the fragility of life and provided an opportunity for the Neolithic people to praise their gods within this ceremonial space.  

Direction of the light during the solstices – shows the sun’s trajectory and explains why the stones were placed in this location.

The guide I spoke to told me that this monument marked the world as the Neolithic people understood it. They believed the world was flat and the way the henge was built allowed them to gather in a space that represented the centre of their world. As there were less trees at the time, the henge, with a circular ditch around the outside, was a smaller demarcation of their Earth – a world within a world – and all it encompassed and was the most important place for them to be. Here they gathered to watch the death and rebirth of the sun and to honour their ancestors.

When I was reflecting on the henge as a place to honour the passing of time, I was reminded of the Japanese tradition of Hanami – flower viewing, which I have learned about recently as next year I will be travelling to Japan to teach as an English teacher.

Hanami is a ritual that Japanese people undertake every year, specifically when the cherry blossoms flower. This tradition is very special and important because it recognises the growth, bloom and perishing of the blossom. It is a time for marvelling at the beauty of the flower as it blooms, yet also recognises the flowers withering as well.  

It is a time for the flower watcher to reflect on the transient nature of life – to see that life as a human is as beautiful and fragile as the blossom. It reaffirms all that life and death is, and suggests that whilst we are alive we have the opportunity to live in the best way that we can. 

This recognition of the cyclical nature of life, the passage of time, life, death, suffering, joy and all that it is to be a human being, is incredibly beautiful to me. It also reminds me of the core teachings within Buddhism as well – the focus on human life, the nature of what it is to be a human, with all of the joy and the pain that involves, and how important it is to be present in every moment. 

I feel there is a lot of focus, especially in Western society, on what comes next. The next job, exam, achievement – always onwards onwards onwards. A striving for something external. 

It has been incredibly transformational for me through yoga, meditation, world travel and working hard on my personal development up to this point, to change that focus and turn it inwards. That is where the real opportunity for growth lies I believe.

And that’s why these places of spiritual significance resonate with me – because they speak to this human experience. They honour the fluidity, fragility and beauty of existence. They recognise the challenges inherent  in humanity and how all life comes to an end. These ancient rituals and traditions, like the ones practiced at Stonehenge and the ones practiced currently in Eastern parts of the world, such as Japan, honour this. Each day, each life. Each death. All of it and so much more.

At the time Stonehenge was built hundreds of other similar spiritual stone circles and monuments were erected around the world. This illustrates how societies worldwide shared a similar view of the world, worshipping the same gods and practicing the same rituals and processions to honour their beliefs, at these henge type monuments. 

I find it fascinating to think that 4500 years ago humans were so advanced that they were able to build a prehistoric temple that still stands to this very day. I also find it beautiful that they were motivated to do this by a deep reverence for their gods. This belief, the rituals around their worship and the feat of engineering to erect the henge, using crude tools, is incredible to me. 

Bearing in mind, metal tools didn’t come into being until the Bronze ages so everything undertaken by the Neolithic people was done so without metal machinery or aid. 

Even into the Bronze ages people still recognised the importance of Stonehenge and ensured their dead were laid to rest in burial mounds in sight of the monument. However from 2400BC onwards people started burying their dead in individual graves. As time has progressed the spiritual significance of the monument has somewhat dwindled.

For me, as you can tell, this place, and those like it, hold so much more than just the physical stones. This prehistoric temple holds thousands of years of worship, tradition, ritual and culture. It is a place of respect, a place for reflection – to honour your ancestors, to respect those that have passed on, to worship God and a space to marvel at all that it is to be a human being in the here and now.

Happy to be here 🙂

For me it is a thing of beauty and reverence and I am blessed to have visited as an adult and to have spent time within it. 

Thank you for reading. 

Love Alison xxxx

Immersive Experiences – Moving, Poetic Writing


Last night I finished the Anthony Doerr novel ‘All the Light We Cannot See’.

It was such an incredibly moving and beautiful experience to read that I was inspired to write this blog. 

It was so gorgeously and poetically written it reminded me how much I love language. That feeling I have when I am writing and the language trips and falls from me, whirling its way into a beautiful torrent of beauty on a page.It flows so easily it almost feels as if it comes from elsewhere. Out of me, through me…

A process less about mind and more about gut, flow and feeling. 

I listened to Noel Gallagher, from Oasis, on a Radio Four Desert Island Discs podcast a while ago (could I be more middle aged – hello old soul in a young body!) and was surprised to hear him speak so spiritually about the way he writes and composes his songs. 

He spoke of writing a lot now and when he was growing up, as a way to cope with an abusive childhood, which is interesting from a trauma perspective. He said that now he writes constantly, but often feels as if he is waiting for that moment of inspiration, for that divine piece of magic to be dropped into his consciousness from above and to flow through him onto the paper and out of his guitar.

Beautiful.

For a Gorton (Manchester) born lad with a reputation for aggressive unpleasantness I was surprised and moved by his description of the creative process, which was both poetic and full of a belief I didn’t expect.

Divine inspiration is a beautiful description for creativity.

The idea that creativity and the creation of art – poem, prose, song, words, music, – is not just a personal expression of truth from an individual, but also something gifted from above.

How incredibly special.
I relate to that entirely.

When I’m writing about something I’m passionate about, the element of thought seems to recede and instead it becomes an almost instinctual process.

From gut to page.

Through and out.

It flows and it’s a beautiful thing. It’s not stuck anywhere. It just comes. 

That’s what creativity feels like to me.

I remember writing a poem to read for my Dad at his funeral. The process took a short time period and the words flew out so quickly. There was so much to say. So much to honour. Yet it didn’t feel difficult – it flowed out and formed something special, true and loving which I was blessed to read out loud in front of his family and friends. 

Reading the Anthony Doerr novel I mentioned above felt incredibly immersive to me and I think that’s what beautiful writing does. The words created a deeply sensory and visceral experience which transported me to the location, to feel entirely involved and present in what was described. It makes even more sense knowing that it is a novel focused around a blind character.


For those that don’t already know, I am an English Literature graduate. I completed my English Literature and Educational Studies BA Honours at Keele University in 2011.

My love of immersive writing and the exploration of ideas, themes and narratives was something I could fully embrace at university where the process of analysing, feeling, understanding and expressing was a great asset to my studies.

I always found that exploratory and analytical questions were the ones I found the easiest. Because there was no right or wrong. It was about interpretation and exploration and opinion.

A subjective look at what the poet means here, what the word combinations referenced, how the poetic styles within the narrative mirrored the action at the time, or reflected the movement and landscape described.

I loved it – it was speaking my language.

I used to await my turn in seminars and discussion sessions at university, as a nervous wee 18 year old, with my thoughts and answers pumping in my chest. Knowing I had a good point to make and excited to share this perspective with the group. 

That’s who I am – I love to explore, and learn and understand. 

Study, self study specifically – Svadhyaya, is very important in yoga. It is one of the five Niyamas. The process of exploration to gain greater understanding, which I have done during my studies when looking at literature, is something I now do in all aspects of my life. Personal self study leading to personal growth. Professional study leads to being a better practitioner and teacher. It is something I am committed to entirely. 

So back to Mr Doerr. This book was incredibly moving because of the two main characters and the way their stories are woven and interlinked throughout.

Set in the Second World War the narrative follows the lives of young Werner Pfenning, a German orphan, who is an incredibly gifted engineer and electrician recruited into the Hitler Youth, and a blind Parisian girl Marie-Laure, the daughter of a locksmith. She flees from Paris with her father to the seafront town of Saint Malo and lives through the war here.

Their stories overlap, drawing them closer together and it is incredibly moving to witness their struggles, and ultimately their humanity within such an unimaginable time period.

It’s been a while since I’ve been as captivated by a novel as I was by this one. 

It made me want to write this blog, to write poetry, to express, to explore, to start a book club.

I would love to do this – any takers? Just shout I would love it.

I’ve always been incredibly fascinated by the Second World War. Especially as I’ve gotten older. It’s hard for me to comprehend how people, ones that I’m related to and have known in this lifetime, have lived through, fought in and experienced a world war of this scale. The trauma, fear and the legacy it left behind rippled into the generations that followed and is something that shaped the lives of those that came afterwards, not just those alive during. 

With this interest in mind it was fascinating to read this beautiful book. I think there can often be a stereotype around those within the Nazi regime yet this novel challenges that.

Werner is an intelligent, creative, hopeful and bright young German headhunted by Nazi personnel to act as an engineer. He had grown up living in fear of working down the mines, a job which his father had died doing leaving his sister and himself orphans. And so when the opportunity to be a part of the Hitler youth comes along he is thrilled. It is only as he is assimilated into the herd he becomes indoctrinated and scarred by the system and his flame starts to dim. 

Just a young boy, living in unimaginable times. When he does gain the courage to ask to leave he is told he has no choice but to stay.

I think we can forget how fortunate we are to have a choice. In our lives. What we do. What we say. How we say it. Where we go.

When I put this book down last night, as well as being moved and inspired to write, I also felt very attached to the characters, especially ones so well formed and beautiful as those written here. I was invested. 

I’ve read so many books like that in my life. Where you feel like you want to know so much more, to talk to the characters, the author, hop in the book and take a walk around. 

Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman was a book I remember being moved by as a child/young teen. Based in a dystopian world where the existing race narrative is inverted and exaggerated, the novel follows the love story of an affluent, black girl who falls in love with her white servant’s son. It explores these themes of race, love, segregation, fear and anger and shows the way their connection sparks a trajectory for not only their lives, but also those of the people around them.

Being gripped by novels, narratives and characters is not a new thing for me. It’s something I’ve grown up with. An imagination. A curiosity and a thirst to learn and understand. 

As a child it was the stories of Roald Dahl that grabbed me, especially the incredible BFG which was a particular favourite of mine. Me and my sister used to talk to each other using his nonsense language – snozzcumber, fizzwiggler and swogswalloped to name a few. 

There was something very capturing and magical about peering through your window at a dream-blowing giant, before being transported out of your bedroom, whisked away from under the streetlights and into a world of fantasy, excitement and pure loveliness. 

Enid Blyton and The Famous Five were books I read religiously as a little girl, and I have lovely memories of reading Mallory Towers, and anything boarding school related, with my mum and sisters. I used to want so badly to pop off and have a midnight snack with Darryl Rivers and her chums. I was transported for sure.

My imagination was always vivid. When I was younger I used to watch  Fawlty Towers, a comedy starring John Cleese, with my family. He was a grumpy, cantankerous hotel owner in Torquay and we all used to laugh together and watch it. I remember always asking my mum and dad if we could turn our house into a B&B and host people after watching it. So funny. 

As an adult, authors such as Margaret Atwood, Charlotte Brontë (Jane Eyre and Villette specifically) and Phillipa Gregory come to mind as having gripped and intrigued me. 

And now, I add Anthony Doerr to the list. 

It’s awesome to have discovered a new author and lovely to have been so moved by the story and his style of writing that it evoked this blog. 

Cheers to writing, to divine inspiration, to feeling the flow of creativity and to letting it come flooding out to form something beautiful that can be shared with the world. 

Cheers to poetry, to life, to the things that inspire, the things that create joy, the things that spark a thought, a musing, a moment to reflect, that trigger a memory, to the things that make life real and powerful and beautiful and challenging. 

Cheers to being a thinker and an analyser.

A learner and a writer.

Cheers to today. 
And cheers to tomorrow.
And cheers to you for reading.

Alison xxxx

Rhythms – Listening To My Own Ditty

I’ve spent this weekend in Lancashire, staying at an historic hall with my Mum. It’s been gorgeous. We have spent a couple of days glamping in our shed and from here have gone on nature trails, cooked meals over our very own campfire and enjoyed a change of scenery.  

My Mum and I in our Bank Holiday campsite.

A new environment often inspires me and the topic that popped up today was that of rhythms.

I meditate every day and it is an integral part of my personal practice and has been ever since I did my yoga teacher training in Thailand. 

Meditating in a new place is interesting. Not only is it a new environment in which to listen to myself, my internal sensations and to explore these from a new perspective. A change of scene also offers new sounds, scents and sights externally for the mind to consider and this change can be a good prompt for inspiration. 

Today in meditation the words Circadian Rhythm popped into my consciousness. This is timely because earlier that day I had been discussing jetlag and the way it affects your body with my mini-break buddy as we explored Brockholes Nature Reserve.

Brockholes Nature Reserve, Lancashire

Circadian rhythms are the natural, internal process that happens inside our bodies every day and are what governs and regulates our sleeping patterns. It is these patterns and internal rhythms which are thrown off balance monumentally if we travel long distances and cross time zones. This is why one can experience jetlag and the associated side effects. I’ve been there, these are not nice.

The worst jetlag I have ever had was after travelling from Medan in Indonesia to Sao Paolo in Brazil. Four flights (the longest of which was 16 hours) and two days of constant travel was intense and it threw me off in a big way, affecting my sleep, gut and general balance. 

Being off kilter and out of alignment isn’t pleasant.

Finding my rhythm and being able to listen to myself is something that has grown stronger in my personal practice.

When I began my meditation practice in Thailand I learned about another important internal rhythm. That which flows along the Meridian Lines. In Traditional Chinese Medicine these lines are a sequence of channels through which your vital energy or life-force, known as qi (pronounced chi), run. 

When there are imbalances in the body which happen for many reasons there are blockages along these channels and the qi is unable to flow freely as it should. This can then develop into illness and pain. 

This is how the practice of acupuncture is delivered, whereby the practitioner endeavours to free up these energy blockages by placing tiny sterilised needles along a complicated, yet beautiful pathway of pressure points all over the body . 

I had homeopathy and acupuncture on my travels and it really cleared up my own personal blockages and helped me see the benefits of this way of treating people. 

My training really altered my mindset and enabled me to view myself from an entirely different perspective. To tap into my own rhythms, to listen to myself and understand what I felt like because I was alone for the first time. 

By establishing a really firm personal practice I was then able to complete my training from a grounded, calm place. Knowing what I felt like, what worked for me, how these practices helped me and to come away, not only a certified yoga and pilates instructor but also a more self contained, self sufficient person. Aligned with my own rhythms and more in balance with myself than I ever had been. 

I continue to follow my own rhythm now. From setting up my own business and working with adults and children online and in person; to learning the ukele and enjoying making my own musical rhythms.

Its all really come together for me and the understanding of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Ayurveda, Buddhism, alongside the establishment of a firm practice, has really enabled me to forge ahead more aligned and conscious of myself.

Rhythms matters. 

And for me it is only when I stepped away from all I knew and ventured off to train in Thailand that I could finally FULLY listen to myself. 

Being aligned and in touch with yourself is impossible if you don’t know what tune your rhythm follows. 

I’m so happy to have found mine and to be moving in time with it. Feeling like you’re moving to the beat of your own drum is a pretty awesome feeling. I will continue to listen and learn about the best ways to keep that rhythm playing.

I hope you enjoyed reading this.

Have a lovely day.

Alison 💖

What’s Gone Before

A surprise trip to my Grandpa’s childhood home this weekend triggered lots of thoughts about the importance of what’s gone before, and made me reflect on how learning about the past is such an enriching process.

As fate would have it, it turned out that the place my Mum had booked for us to spend our bank holiday weekend was only five minutes down the road from where my Grandpa (my Dad’s Dad) grew up in Lancashire. She didn’t realise this at the time of booking which made the experience even more wonderful.

We set off to find the house and were driving up the country lane when suddenly my Mum shouted: “That’s it! I recognise the door!”.

Number 85. There it was – a stone bricked house, sturdy in the face of the harsh Lancashire weather, with the very same front door as when my Pa was a little boy. Sitting in the same spot, surrounded by farms, other little cottages and Lancashire’s rolling dales. 

My Grandpa’s childhood home – the view from his back garden

A gentleman was unpacking some things out of his car and carrying them through the front door so we asked if we could take some pictures. We told him that this was my Grandpa’s childhood home. He said we could go through to the back garden if we liked and have a look around.

We found the house from my Mum’s memory of when my Dad had shown her it many years before. And so there we were, in my Pa’s garden looking at the same fields he would have looked at and worked on as a farmer’s boy. Stood on the same ground he would have played on with his siblings and looking at the same front door him and his whole family would have come in and out of many years before in the 1940’s and 50’s.

This experience was fascinating. Had that gentleman who now owned the house contemplated how many had gone before? How many other owners had trodden through that front door? How much heritage, memories and experiences have been formed right there?

It fascinates me.The way in which buildings and structures are rife with memories and by simply being near them or within them you are connected to all that has gone before.

Losing my Dad at 26 lit something inside of me. It is only when he wasn’t around any more I realised there was so much to still know about him, his family, everything that had formed him, his parents and those before them.

By asking and asking I learned so much about him and those gone before and it really allowed me to paint a picture of his life more vividly, as well as those that raised him. As a result it helped me fill gaps of knowledge I had about myself too. Only by learning about, and from, those older than me was I able to really expand my knowledge, wisdom and find out more about my background. 

It isn’t just my own history and that of my family’s history that fascinates me. 

I’ve always been really curious and have found historical houses and estates particularly enthralling from a young age. I love to visit them; walk around the houses and grounds and learn about the residents. Then after a guided tour, or some time reading the plaques and literature around the place, I look out at the grounds and feel transported to a time when the carriages would have pulled up outside and the galloping feet of horses would have signalled new arrivals. I think of the way those who lived here dressed, spoke, felt. What they experienced and what they lived through. Wars, marriages, deaths, plagues, changes of religion, monarchy and politicians. 

The place we stayed this weekend, Salmesbury Hall, was built in 1325 and that fact alone is incredible. To think that structure has been standing for 696 years is awesome. These buildings are not just inanimate objects, to me they hold the lives, learnings and experiences of those who inhabited them, indeed those who designed and built them, and this is what brings them alive to me. 

Another way in which I am inspired by what has gone before is when I come across historical gems on my walks. One of my favourite places to walk is The Goyt Valley and one particular route I tread takes you up past the ruins of Erwood Hall. Built in the mid-1800s by the Grimshawe family from Manchester, the hall was occupied by members of the family until 1930. 

Further on past the hall the walk takes you up the ascent of Pym’s Chair and leads you to the spiritual gem that is St Joseph’s Shrine. It is a beautiful place to shelter from the elements and also a spiritual sanctuary and a place of worship. Within is a candle that is always lit; no one knows who by, but it is constantly aflame and flickering to welcome you.

St Joseph’s Shrine, The Goyt Valley

Upon further reading I learned that St Joseph, in Catholicism, is the patron saint of workers, fathers, travelers, unborn children, immigrants and dying a happy death. 

The shrine was originally a place the local community, including farmers, prayed and sought as a place of peace. As the local farming community diminished it became significant to the residents of Errwood Hall, and was particularly special for one member in particular. It is said that Dona Maria Dolores de Ybarguen, the companion to Lady Jessie Grimshawe after her husband Samuel died in 1883, declared the shrine as her favourite place. After she passed away her initials D de Y were ingraved into the shrine wall and now live on as a part of the structure. 

This beautiful structural legacy allows ramblers like me to learn about, remember and pay respects to those that are a part of the estate, and it is so special that Dona now lives on through that inscription available for all to read.

It is a part of my nature to visit somewhere, view something, hear a snippet of information and to question, to explore, to want to understand. And this is why history; that of my country, and that of other countries fascinates me – alongside the intrigue about my own social history. 

Those older and wiser have so much to share and I have learned so much by speaking with my elders about their lives. My granddad, my mum’s Dad, fought in the Second World War and was a part of the regiments in the town of Dunkirk, fighting off the German’s to enable the Allies time to flee in the boats from the beach. He was captured and lived as a prisoner of war in a labour camp for many years before eventually setting out on the Death March and surviving it. He later went on to meet my Nana and have my mum. 

I remember speaking to him about his experiences as a child, for a school project I was putting together, and him showing me his medals. It was like stepping back in history for me as a little girl. To look up as he sat in his armchair and learn about the Second World War from a survivor was special. 

I learned about wars and events at school from textbooks, yet I feel privileged that members of my own family were present at the time some of these huge events took place. It lessened the gap between story and reality for me, as a little girl, to see an old man sat in front of her telling tales of HIS life. So much more powerful than just reading a book which details what went on at that beach on that day. I spoke to the man who ran along the sand defending his country and know the price he paid for doing so. 

I’m fascinated by it all. How people lived their lives before me, what life was like for them and how it all beautifully,  magically, fatefully led to me sitting before them learning from their wisdom. 

I will always question and follow my curiosity because there are so many gems to be discovered by doing so.

I hope you enjoyed reading this blog and have a lovely day. 

Alison xxx

Meeting the Forest People – Sumatra’s Orangu-tans

In today’s blog we find ourselves in Bukit Lawang, a small village 60 km away from Indonesia’s city of Medan. Located on the edges of the Bahorok River in North Sumatra, Bukit Lawang is home to the Gunung Leuser National Park and is where you will find the beautiful Forest People – commonly known as orang-utans.

There are 14,000 Sumatran Orangutans living in the rainforest just above this small village, and in April 2019 I had the absolute pleasure and honour of visiting this place, and seeing these majestic creatures firsthand.

Before starting out on the trek, it was necessary to travel from Medan to Bukit Lawang. Let me tell you, it was not a smooth ride. Four hours of potholes and intense humidity ensued, all experienced whilst packed into a somewhat battered people carrier. But it’s all character building stuff and it isn’t something I will forget – with a friendly driver, interesting travellers to chat to and endless sights out of the dusty windows to witness, I was always engaged.

Upon arriving in Bukit Lawang, the Bahorok River was a captivating sight. The water roared through the centre of the small, rural village and colourful guesthouses and hotels adorned the banks, whilst little children played and shouted in the shallows. It was a sensory overload in the best possible way.

After a night’s sleep in a local guesthouse (where I was serenaded by the owner and his friends dulcet tones over dinner) I awoke and set out with my tour group. Tour guides Jo-Jo and Anton were keen to say that even though groups often do see many orang-utans, there have been times where none appear and because they are wild animals this is just the way it is.

Their warnings made my stomach sink, however it wasn’t long before the first sighting. As I hiked up the first hill on route into the National Park, reclined in the trees ahead of us were two beautiful orang-utans. Eating and relaxing, they nonchalantly looked down on us and I had my first glimpse of these incredible creatures. Sharing 97% of their DNA sequence with humans, orang-utans are our closest living relative and their intelligence and beauty was plain to see from this first meeting.

It wasn’t long before we saw more. The second encounter is perhaps the most memorable for me and will stay in my heart forever. My group and I trekked a little while longer, further down into the national park; traversing a narrow path. I was looking from side to side in the hope of seeing something special , when all of a sudden, high up in the canopies a mother orang-utan swung down into view. Gripping on fiercely to her mother’s shaggy orange fur, as they swung from tree to tree up and over our heads, was a tiny, tiny baby. With a gasp escaping from my mouth and my eyes fixed on them as they moved gracefully above my head, I was inspired, overwhelmed and tearful all at once. They took my breath away. Perfect in every way.

As the mum stopped to eat something from a nearby tree we were able to see the baby more clearly. Gangly, shaggy fur and huge eyes – beautiful. From there the pair swung across the walkway above us and deftly used surrounding vines and trees to cover large distances in a few swings. They quickly disappeared out of view; with a rustle and a grab – they were gone.

Wow! If those had been the last orang-utans that had appeared I would have been content. I had been in the presence of greatness in that moment and had witnessed something so precious that I remained in awe the whole two days I was in the rainforest. After witnessing this incredible pair and having been moved to tears I was promptly moved to laughter as I turned around and was greeted by an incredibly characterful Thomas Leaf Monkey. Perched behind the group casually and loftily, he had propped himself up on a nearby tree and was surveying us.

I had never seen such a cheeky creature! The way in which he had just appeared when everyone was transfixed by the mum and baby really amused me.

Later on that same day we took a break to eat and our tour guides made us some lovely fresh food to tuck into. However, we had visitors who also wanted to partake in the feast, in the form of a pigtailed macaque monkey and a gibbon. The tour guides warned them off with a stick but the macaque was harder to scare away. Keen to get involved with our lunch and outraged that he wasn’t allowed he ran half way up a tree and pummelled the trunk with his feet defiantly. Known as the mafia of the monkey world macaques are definitely intimidating and so there was a sigh of relief when it exited our vicinity and we could continue with our meal in peace.

I had plenty of run-ins with macaques during my year of travel – one encounter in a national park in Thailand sticks out particularly, which involved a very brave young chap running into a café and retrieving a Magnum ice cream from my hand just before I placed it into my open mouth!

After the excitement of the first day’s trekking came to a close the guides lead me and my tour group to our night’s shelter. A rudimentary hut with multiple tents within was to be where we would lay our heads for the night, but not before a refreshing dip in the Bahorok River and a filling, freshly cooked meal by the lovely guides, followed by some games.

Sleeping in the middle of the rainforest was an exhilarating experience. Although I was alert and didn’t really sleep, upon rising in the morning I still remained energetic, excited about the day ahead and grateful to be in the presence of the beauty of Nature. It is a place so very alive, it hums and buzzes and squawks and rushes all around you. I felt invigorated just to be within it, irrespective of the testing elements.

The second and final day’s trek was another awe-inspiring day. Our tour guide changed our route as he told us that he thought he had heard the call of a male in a different direction and so the day was spent following the calls. And my my, I was not disappointed!

Today was the day I would see not one, but TWO male orang-utans. One of which was a young male, beautifully coy and so incredibly human like in the way he looked down to the ground from his perch. Nestled in amongst the dense greenery his eyes found us, quickly perused the group and then rushed heaven-wards as if to pretend he hadn’t noticed us.

The guide told me he wasn’t the alpha male and was a young solitary male and so the alpha wouldn’t be far away. Witnessing said alpha male was an incredible and much more intimidating experience than this young chap. With a rustle and a deftness that was surprising considering his sheer bulk and height, he swung out from the centre of the trees above where we were standing and stepped onto a tree trunk a few metres in front of the group. I was breathtaken by his size, power and agility.

Clearly not impressed we were in his space and ready to assert his authority he leant across to a rotting tree to the left and started to wrench it in two. The tour guide said quietly but firmly, RUN RUN, and we ran as fast as we could, just as the alpha snapped the tree in half and threw it in our direction, missing us by just a couple of feet. Landing with a cacophonous thud nearby it was a real reminder that this is the orang-utans domain and they rule here.

Having escaped in one piece, just about, myself and my group began our descent out of the National Park and down towards the river. Waiting for us on the banks was a special mode of transport to allow us to rest our weary feet and to whizz us back to the guesthouse in a minimal amount of time – a tyre raft!

Hopping aboard and zooming down the rapids was incredibly exhilarating and cooling. A beautiful way to complete my experience!

Visiting Bukit Lawang and coming face to face with the People of the Forest was such an incredible gift. I can’t entirely put into words the way these animals captured my heart and reignited something in my soul. I will always be grateful for this experience and hope that in spite of being critically endangered these animals will thrive in their habitat, where they belong, for as long as possible.

Creative Copywriting – Bringing Ideas To Life

I’ve always loved to write and have been an expressive, creative individual from birth. Whether it was singing, writing, talking or dancing, as a child, I was always expressing myself. As I’ve got older my confidence to do all of this unashamedly has grown and now I find myself following these passions more and more, both personally and professionally.

Writing is something that has always come naturally to me- bringing thoughts, feelings and ideas to life on a page (whether they are my own or others) is an extremely beautiful process and is something I relish and enjoy thoroughly. There is a liberating freedom in putting pen to paper and seeing what flows out.

Or looking at a screen and touching the keypads and just letting it all come tumbling out, forming something gorgeous in the process.

Personally I have always journalled, especially in my adult life. During my travels around the world I kept a journal and now have a plethora of notebooks with all of my thoughts, feelings and experiences from 21 different countries, three continents and musings from so many aeroplane journeys I couldn’t even begin to tell you a number. I will definitely share some beautiful experiences from my travels with you on this blog very soon – as it is an honour and a joy to revisit these places and inform others about what I have seen and learned. So watch this space.

Yoga & journalling on the beach in Thailand!

Another expressive outlet for me is poetry. Often when I am inspired, outside in Nature, or just tootling about doing something relatively mundane, I find myself composing lyrical verses and have to stop and jot it down because it has taken me by surprise. Almost as if it is sometimes not a conscious process and instead a flowing-out–of-inspiration, and once the words are out I could forget them if not noted down.

With this propensity to creativity and expressing myself in this way it makes sense that I chose English Literature & Education Studies as my BA Honours Degree, and later went on to complete an MA in Journalism. Since then I have worked as the Assistant Editor and Editor of numerous UK based publications, both online and print, as well as freelanced for lifestyle magazines across the country and worked as a copywriter, communications assistant and content editor in the health and safety, care, healthcare, construction, hospitality, technology and finance industries.

My experience also spans the marketing world with time spent in content editing, website build, CMS Sitecore and WordPress and backend technical trouble shooting for a large European technology firm.

I love it. To write, to create, to be inspired. And so it is beautiful that now, as a female social entrepreneur and small business founder myself, I can utilise my expressive, creative nature and  the skills I have gathered from my editorial, journalism and marketing experience in the formation and progression of my own business at Returning To You Yoga. I see this enterprise as a bringing-together of all of the skills I have gathered so far professionally and personally, and it is a joy to share them with the world.

My website, socials and marketing, as well as all the services I offer are crafted and produced by me and it is a rewarding process that I am passionate about.

From this place of social entrepreneurship I am excited to connect with other SME’s like myself, who are doing their part to make a difference to people’s lives.

I know the services I offer come from my heart, and so when I talk about them I am sharing an important part of me with my lovely existing or potential customers . When an offering is so personal the wording MATTERS.

With this in mind I am putting myself out there, sharing my creative copywriting, editorial and marketing skillset with the world. If you are looking for an out of the box thinker, a creative, expressive writer, grounded yogi and someone who can help you bring your ideas to life then get in touch. Whether it’s blog writing, social media posts, website build and copy or marketing material production then I am here, full of creativity, ideas and a desire to help others be the best they can be.

I’m happy to share more about what I do with you and am looking forward to crossing paths with those in need of my skills.

Speak soon.

Alison xx

Emotional Equanimity – Finding Balance and Calm in a Chaotic World

I wanted to write this blog to share some wisdom about the concept and practice of equanimity.

In the dictionary equanimity is defined as ‘calmness and composure, especially in a difficult situation’.

I undertook my trauma-sensitive yoga and pilates teacher training course in Thailand. My teacher is a yogi with many years’ experience living within South East Asian cultures, as well as having worked in a multitude of Western healthcare services. Because of her knowledge spanning both East and West, the course was informed by both cultures and as a result I was able to learn incredible amounts about different approaches to health, wellbeing and the establishment of self.

Beautiful Koh Phanghan where I did my training!

A huge influence on how people in much of South East Asia, especially Thailand, view and understand the world is Buddhism.

First up – what does equanimity mean?

Equanimity forms one of the four virtues or Immeasurables of Buddhism. This quality should be cultivated alongside empathetic joy, compassion and loving-kindness and is believed to help the practitioner reach salvation.

Equanimity in Buddhism is understood as an individual’s ability to remain balanced and unshakable through life’s inevitable pleasures and pains.

In practice it is demonstrated through establishing an awareness of what is happening in the present moment. To be able to notice the response you are having and to let it occur without becoming too attached.

By choosing not to act, or re-act, from a place of heightened emotion in any given situation and instead remain aligned with your own wisdom and see life clearly whether it is unpleasant or pleasant.

This balanced non-reactivity is not to be misinterpreted with disinterest or passivity. Instead it is about choosing not to chase feelings of pleasure (in whatever form that takes) or actively avoiding pain but int turn to experience life as it comes with no pressure and no expectation.

Speaking about equanimity the Dalai Lama said:

“With equanimity you can deal with situations with calm and reason whilst keeping your inner peace.”

Explaining equanimity Buddha said:

“Just as a solid rock is not shaken by the storm, even so the wise are not affected by praise or blame.”

There is a need for this now

There is a need for equanimity in society today (not necessarily just from practicing Buddhists – but from all people). Society is overflowing with people who are overflowing.

There are a multitude of social movements and political agendas fuelled by anger, fear, hatred, grief and overwhelm. These movements create a lot of noise, a lot of energy and grab attention but from a Buddhist perspective change does not happen amidst noise.

How can anyone create change when it is about blaming one side or another? How can peace and calm prevail when anger and fury are motivating factors?

The basic principles of conflict resolution (another area of my training which was so incredibly valuable) is that for real change to be achieved we need to WORK TOGETHER.

Both sides need to join forces and find common ground to find peace. Interacting through strong aggressive emotions only alienates ‘opposition’. Both need to be working towards a common goal.

Blame. Guilt. Anger. Aggression. Fear.

These are not the places to forge meaningful change from.

And we live in a world where many embody their emotions. Are ruled by them.

Noone seems to be making decisions and interacting from a place emotional equanimity. Nuetrality. Calm.

Equanimity is not about denial

I think it is important to point out here that equanimity and the practice of it doesn’t deny that unpleasant things happen. It doesn’t deny ethics. It doesn’t deny history.

From my perspective equanimity espouses the importance of NOT acting out of your reactions.

But instead encourages the need to step back. Breathe. Feel. Process. Understand. Think.

And from a reasoned thought-through place – choose how to interact.

I am sure a lot of people can relate to the act of re-acting. Something happens, maybe someone says something, a partner, that triggers you. You see red. And before you know it you’re blasting them and having a huge argument that spirals into something you never intended for it to become.

Yet once you’ve calmed down, maybe gone for a walk, or spent some time in silence, you feel very differently.

Cultivating a practice

And this is why self-care and developing a personal practice is so important.

If one by one individual’s looked inside and began to work on themselves then I believe we would feel a marked shift in society.

It all starts with building self-awareness. Noticing – how do I feel today?

Really feel?

What emotions keep coming up for me?

What things trigger me?

Do I need to talk it through with a therapist? How can I work on myself?

If we don’t look inside and take time to tend to that then the way in which we interact with the world will simply be a projection of what we feel inside.

Unprocessed emotion turned outwards.

Yoga on and off the mat

Because of all I have learned during my training, the yoga and pilates sessions I offer are inspired by the notion of equanimity – I recognise the importance of bringing myself and my students back to NUETRAL.

Moving the body, calming the nervous system, breathing, using beautiful grounding tools to increase self-awareness. This helps move stagnant energy through the body and provides an opportunity to listen to what is there. Sometimes nothing. Often a lot.  

The mat is a great place to cultivate a practice of equanimity. A chance to process, move, breathe and come back to a place of calm. So that when we leave the mat or studio we can use the practice of noticing, breathing and interacting with ourself and others in a calm, considered way.

Emotions come and go. You may feel love one moment, joy another and anger the next.

Life can be exhausting if you feel completely overwhelmed and controlled by these emotions.

Instead if you can create a practice of noticing then you may be able to find the middle road.

A place of calm.

From a calm place you see you are not one emotion or another. You are simply You. And when you come back to You. You will find exactly what you need.

Calm. Peace. Wisdom. Joy.

And from that place you can choose to interact in a wholesome, beneficial, considered way.

Self-awareness grows one day at a time.

Sending so much love to you on your journey.

Namaste.

Alison x

My Cup Runneth Over

You can’t pour from an empty cup.

You’ve probably heard of the old saying – the idea that often an individual is giving so much of themselves to others, to life, that there is no fuel left for them. It makes sense. It’s resonated with me at times in my life.

However recently I was struck by the idea that perhaps we are looking at this saying in the wrong way.

That actually most people have pretty full cups. That as individuals, we are full. Full of all of the things in life that make up our experience. Memories, feelings, emotions, sensations.

It’s normal to be full. It’s human.

Even though it is understandable it’s actually really challenging to walk through life so full up of your own stuff. I speak from experience. It makes sense that some of us feel weighed down by it, dragged down.

It also makes sense that because some people’s cups are so full they end up splashing their contents over those around them. And I’ve seen this so much since coming back from my training. In my own personal life and in other people’s lives. So many spillages everywhere I turn.

Continence – Self Containment

Yogic philosophy comprises the Yamas and Niyamas – a moral framework of ways to live your life in an ethical, more truthful way both internally and externally. One of the Yamas, which is relevant in terms of this cup analogy, is Brahmacharya. Continence.

We’ve all heard of incontinence right? The physical inability to contain your bodily fluids.

Sorry if anyone’s eating their lunch whilst reading this.

So continence explores the idea of self-containment from a mental and emotional standpoint. This isn’t to say that vocalising or experiencing your emotions or feelings is a bad thing.

Not at all. It just raises the idea that it is important to look after your OWN emotions (or do so with a paid professional) so that you don’t end up accidentally spilling them over someone in day to day life.

This was a HUGE learning for me during my teacher training. It was a huge revelation to realise that from an emotional standpoint I was quite incontinent. I expected those around me to listen and burden a lot of my emotional weight, because I didn’t have the tools to work though my stuff alone. And my goodness I wanted to be heard.

And because I expected this from people, a lot of time was taken up with my stuff. How I was feeling, what I was struggling with, my experiences, my fears, my pain. And so often there wasn’t a lot of room for anyone else’s stuff.

Upon reflection I realise that I was bonding with people through my PAIN. And they were bonding with me through theirs. And it was a shock to realise this. A huge shock.

I learned in my training that I could HEAR MYSELF. My own listening and recognition was enough. I wanted to step back. Take a breath. Use the practices I’d learned to process my emotions. Navigate my own way through them. And when I’d ‘figured it out’ a little bit THEN share with those close to me.

To share from a place of GROWTH.

To not emotionally dump onto those I love the most, but to step back, breathe, do my practice, process, cry, journal, think, navigate. And then tell them – ‘wow I’ve just had a wonderful realisation and learning I would love to share with you.’

And it is from this place I make the overflowing cup reference. That often people are so full of their own stuff that they do not see how much space they take up.

How can anyone maintain balance if the contents of their cup are dragging them to and fro? How can an individual interact from a place of level headedness and calm if their internal landscape is so swamped?

What would it be like if your cup was a little less full? Would it be easier to find your centre? To find that sense of balance? To feel less heavy? To be less likely to spill over?

Lightening the Load

For me that is the aim. To help people empty their cups. To rid themselves of the things that drag them down. To empty out the heaviness – trauma, pain, stress, anxiety, fear, restlessness, anger, insecurity, overwhelm.

To lighten their load and allow them to reconnect to all of the beauty and wonder and truth they also hold within. Their light, their flame – which may have dimmed just a little because of all they have been burdened with.

And that is the beauty of body-based practices – they release the toxicity in our bodies (our cups if you will) and leave us less full. Through incredibly simple practices our nervous system can be rewired, our heaviness is slowly released and our lives become more manageable, more joyful and less heavy.

This was exactly my experience during my training and it is such a blessing to have come back and be working with others to do exactly that. One client messaged me after a recent session telling me she felt so much relief. Emotions and sensations often come up during and after sessions and the release and relief felt by clients is clear to see. They are lighter once they leave.

Another client told me after our session ended she felt so much more ready for the day now. That she felt supported and safe, able to cry, to hold herself and know that I was there guiding her.

My sessions are a safe space. You are so welcome with me to be yourself.

I know these practices work. They have 100% changed my life. And I am so passionate about helping others experience them, release what they no longer need and reconnect to the unending beauty they hold inside.

You are so worthy and so wonderful.

Take good care.

Speak soon.

Sending love

Alison xxxxx

Presence versus Escapism

“Feel yourself slipping from consciousness…”

“Lose yourself…”

“Imagine you are on a beach far from here…”

All of these are things I have heard in yoga and meditation classes in the past. I guess upon reading these statements you may be thinking, what’s wrong with them?…

Well quite a lot.

Up until I completed my trauma sensitive yoga and pilates teacher training course I did not see anything wrong with most of the practices above. I looked forward to the escapism of meditations, the way they took me out of my body and current situation and helped me to focus on something idyllic, something ‘better’. I saw no problem with ‘losing myself’ in my yoga practices, closing my eyes and drifting off into streams of thoughts and daydreams. I was glad of it.

However, I learned during my training that movement and meditation, in fact all activities we undertake, can be, and should be, a way to EMBRACE the present moment, not escape it. There is so much marketing in the yoga world about ‘escaping your reality’, ‘create a new reality’, ‘reach new levels of consciousness’ that it has become the norm.

Me & my coursemate during my teacher training – guiding a connected relaxation at the end of class

Having trained in and utilised incredibly transformative body-based practices in my teacher training I now see how problematic the above ways of approaching movement can be. Ultimately, as my teacher said, we are here on this planet to be humans. To experience life with all the joy and pain it inevitably involves. To experience it with our feet on the ground and our eyes open. And to do that, we need to practice presence. In fact, we just need to practice.

To practice how to cope with human life in a beneficial way that works for us so we can find our place in society, as well as our place within our own bodies, hearts, minds and souls. If the movement and meditation practices we do encourage us to DISCONNECT from our lives and our bodies we lose out on the chance to thrive in the now.

Life is such a gift, full of opportunities for learning, growth and experience that to close our eyes and constantly be waiting for something ‘better’ is a chronic waste.

I am not diminishing how entirely understandable it is to feel like life is too hard to be present with because of the difficulties we all encounter. Grief, death, divorce, accidents, bullying, loneliness and much more. These are all hard to deal with.

However, if we have our eyes closed and are waiting for our ticket to somewhere else we also miss out on being fully present in the inherent beauty, joy, love and adventure that life holds. If we try and escape the pain we won’t be able to heal from it and move forward. To reconnect to the wonderful creativity, passion, confidence, power and wisdom we all hold within.

Disconnection is rife in society which entirely makes sense with such high levels of trauma and stress. Simple, but practical tools to help individuals process pain and overwhelm has never been more in need. Everyone needs a toolbox to allow them to come back down to earth and feel able to deal with life in a connected, directed way.

Body based practices provide us with a beautiful way to do this. Tension and trauma manifests in our bodies and leads to us living our life stuck on ‘on’. With heightened levels of cortisol coursing through our body and with no way to release this emotion/energy our nervous system remains constantly primed for threat. Unaware the immediate threat has now dissipated the body short circuits and anxiety, stress, restlessness, fearfulness, anger, PTSD and burnout come to the fore.

The sessions I offer combine yoga, pilates, tai chi, intentional breathing, trauma release exercises and self-awareness techniques to help shed tension, calm the nervous system and guide you back to yourself in a beautiful way.

You don’t need to stay stuck on ‘on’. There is a path back to calm. A way to thrive in your beautiful body, heart, mind and soul. All you need is you.

Take care lovely people.

Alison xxxx

Connection – Nature

At this time of heightened fear and anxiety, unprecedented government sanctions and grief it is an overwhelming time for everyone.

We are in unchartered territory and it would be easy to feel dragged down, into that place of fear, uncertainty and anxiety.

That is why I wanted to share some words from my heart about my own personal practice, as well as why maintaining a personal practice is so important.

So, what do I mean by practice?

A practice is essentially time for you. Carving out time to be present with yourself, to move, to express, to be. It looks different for everyone but ideally it is a time and a space of fun, expression, non-judgement and relaxation that is simply yours.

A big part of my practice is movement – yoga, walking, skipping, running. Another huge part of my practice is Nature. When I walk or run outdoors I am continually inspired by IT. The beauty of Mother Nature always lifts me, making me feel peaceful. Connected.

Is it just me who has noticed that the birds seem to be chirping louder than usual at the moment? The sky seems to be a shade bluer. The colour of the plants and trees seem to be a touch deeper and the trees stronger and more defined. Everything in Nature seems to be standing tall and sparkling a little more, reaching out to us to show their strength and resilience so we may mirror it. To help us draw on our internal strength and stand firm to get through this challenging time.

I believe Nature offers so many beautiful metaphors and lessons for human life and it is something that rejuvenates me and lifts me regularly. It offers consistency, beauty and wisdom that connects me to my own Truth and I think that is why so many others love to be outdoors, even if they don’t explain it in the way I do.

Someone very close to me once said; “Everything is better outdoors.”

And it is just that – Nature provides a sense of hope, a knowing that being outdoors offers us something unspeakably wonderful. A chance to be lifted up and reconnected to ourselves, and everything around us. IT provides us with something to hold on to, to learn from and seek out when all else feels lost.  

When on a walk the other day I was struck by Nature’s beauty and felt moved to write a poem, straight from my heart. And so I share this with you here.

I am Connected.

To me, to you, to Nature, to those who are here and to those who have passed.

A knowing. A deep sense of connection.

Felt when the birds chirp, stars twinkle and the bright blue sky stretches on and on.

Is it Faith? Is it Love? Is it God?

Or is it just IT.

Whatever IT is – it is there.

Above and below me, inside the very core of me.

Telling me I am held.

I am Love.

I am Connected.

I am Truth.

I Know,

Whenever I search I am already found.

Whenever I feel lost it is right there with me.

Me. It. Us. Everything.

There is light wherever you seek it and often where you do not.

There is joy and love in the pain and there is beauty in the darkness.

I am Truth.

I am Light.

I am Hope.

I am Love.

You are Truth.

You are Light.

You are Hope.

You are Love.

We are Truth.

We are Light.

We are Hope.

We are Love.

IT is Truth.

IT is Light.

IT is Hope.

IT is Love.

Written and shared from my heart.

I hope this resonates. Sending so much love to you all.

Namaste dear friends.

Love Alison xxxxx