Just over a year ago I attended Gently Be’s ‘Time Out Day for Busy Women’ at Ferrar House in Little Gidding and despite my initial reticence, I was treated to a day of reflective thinking and energised positivity for the future. So when I saw an advert this year, I signed up without hesitation, ready to ‘Breathe and Re-Set’ as the day was now named.
After leaving Ferrar House last year, I had taken small, but positive steps towards the goals I’d set myself. I’d felt rejuvenated and confident, bolstered by Ali and Jackie who had left me feeling equipped and determined to make changes. However, as the months passed, reality started to overwhelm again. Life as a teacher and a mum to seven and five year old boys proved even more demanding and my own dreams were naturally pushed further down the line of priorities; I’d taken some steps forward, but a considerable number backwards- so here I was again on the brink of needing something to change.
A room with comfy sofas, blankets, cushions, gentle lighting and overflowing bookshelves provided our base for the day. After my previous visit I’d re-read T.S Eliot’s ‘Little Gidding’, written as the final part of ‘The Four Quartets’ during his visit to Ferrar House in 1936; I’d also spent some time researching the significance of the poem, and I wondered if it would feel as relevant this time. As I relaxed into Jackie’s explanation about the importance of breathing, I began to sink back into the sofa, connect with myself and let the tension of daily life fade away. The weather outside felt distinctly April-like with its blustery winds and alternating moments of sunshine and showers, and at one point snow was seen swirling outside causing momentary hysteria inside the room. In ‘Little Gidding’ Eliot wrote that “…the hedgerow is balanced for an hour with transitory blossom of snow…” It turns out that the snow was indeed blossom - panic over!
Later there was time for reflecting, thinking and goal setting which, from my perspective, felt like a complete luxury. This was followed by a delicious lunch, prepared by Ali and Jackie, which left us full and content, but without the post-food slump which so often follows my meals. To start with there was a filling and delicious Broccoli, Almond and Nutmeg soup and then a range of beautiful and nutritional salads such as the Vegan Pesto Pasta salad, a Greek Lentil salad, which was absolutely gorgeous, and contained loads of ‘good stuff’, as well as a delicious green salad and coleslaw - my personal favourite! All the food was designed to give us the energy we needed to connect with our bodies and minds, and I for one learnt a lot. My food choices aren’t as bad as they used to be, but I’m not as far along the path as many of the group with regard to healthy eating choices: this didn’t matter. The day was non-judgemental and no-one was made to feel inadequate about their food or life choices. To finish with we were treated to fruit kebabs, chocolate dipped grapes and Chocolate and Walnut Bites which were surprisingly moreish!
After lunch the plan was to start on the more physically active part of the day. After another chat and another cup of tea (I’ve seriously never had time to drink so much tea!) the activities commenced! Hula-hooping (who knew I could still do it?), ball games, HIIT training- we gave it all a go, some with more success than others. Catching a ball above your head with your back to the thrower wasn’t exactly easy. Then it was onto the part of the day I was feeling 'just a little’ apprehensive about. Yes here it was again… Laughter Yoga!
Last year I’d given it a go despite my usual fear of the unknown. For those of you who don’t know, Laughter Yoga is the most ridiculous and absurd yet brilliant and feel-good activity I’ve ever taken part in! There was, as expected, some apprehension amongst us but led by the ever exuberant Ali we had no choice but to throw ourselves into it full throttle, or chortle perhaps being the more appropriate word. Laugher Yoga was made popular by Dr Madan Kataria in the 1990s in India and promotes the idea that laughter is one of the best ways of releasing endorphins, which make us feel good and have been linked to controlling pain. The science behind it suggests that that the body can’t actually distinguish between real and fake laughter so by forcing ourselves to laugh, even in a way which is perhaps unnatural to begin with, creates the same positive outcome for our physical and mental health.
Laughter done and feeling on a high we were then back to focusing on our goals - the mood was high and anything felt possible! Jackie’s deep meditation session was the perfect way to end the day and to give us all time to relax (and sleep…) deeply, and to contemplate what we wanted to take from the day.
Fittingly, Gently Be’s ‘Breathe and Re-Set’ day was on Saturday 9th March, the day after International Women’s Day. At a time when we still see so many strong, intelligent and confident women being held back by gender expectations, their own insecurities and imposed limitations, it was a pleasure to spend a day in the company of such inspiring women. Women who have already fought to get to where they want to be in life, a place probably far away from where they originally thought they would find success. It was spent with women who are secure and confident in their careers, their relationships and are where they want to be. There were also women who were missing something that they needed, or wanted to regain a sense of control. Some were working out how to manage the more significant changes in life and how to adjust to the unknown path ahead, and then there were some with seemingly small shifts and changes needed in their daily routines to regain a sense of identity and self-worth. This day saw women at their best. They were strangers to me, but supportive, funny, kind, inspirational women who taught me a lot about who I am and what I need to do. Sometimes it is the company of strangers who can ask the most honest questions and who help you to find the answers that are not always apparent.
According to a literary website, T.S Eliot’s poem ‘Little Gidding’ is an “opportunity for spiritual reflection” and “gives the opportunity to disregard human limitations, if only for a moment.” Maybe this is our moment to lose our self-imposed limitations and to transcend our own boundaries, to find our paths, our moments, and take control of our lives.
Thank you to Jackie and Ali, and the kindness of strangers for the inspiration, relaxation and laughter, as well as helping me to hopefully disregard my own current limitations.
Gently Be's next day will focus entirely on food and eating and is on Saturday 7th September at Ferrar House. Places are limited and a few already gone so do drop us a line if you'd like to come, you do so by following this link.