30 Apr 2016

Yoga; More than just stretching and sweating

Photo courtesy of I Love Limerick and Dolf Patijn, part of Yoga for Palestine
In one of my last posts I talked about my recent weight loss, I got an overwhelming reaction from people, thank you for all of your kind words and for sharing your stories too. I said in that post that I would talk more about my journey with yoga. Paths are best explained when you wander up the dirt track that leads to the main road; I can't explain my revelations without telling you where I came from first. I am, or maybe the word 'was' is more appropriate, one of those cliche nerds, I pride myself in what I'm good at, I wrap myself up in words, my ability to make stuff, and buffer myself from the world with pursuits of the mind. This was my comfort zone for a long time, I'd hide my sadness underneath a mountain of work, and filter out my anxiety into jars of buttons. It worked for the most part, but it involved me emotionally hiding from myself, it also meant that I had no relationship with my physical body. All of my work and social pursuits were to do with my mind, and I felt awkward in my own skin. I was the kid who was laughed at in P.E(gym class), but rather than figure out how to get better, I embraced my failures and wore them like armour, 'I'm crap at this, and it will never change' was my mantra. This meant that I turned into an adult that sneered at physical exercise, wrongfully thought that people who were into fitness were vain, and avoided any instances that might show up my own short comings in this area. I know now it was all defensive rubbish, I was afraid of being that kid who was laughed at.

I let this go on until my 30's, at which point I became friends with Chrstine McNally a yoga teacher who had just moved back to Limerick. Over the years lots of friends had encouraged me to join classes with them, or go running/swimming/climbing, but I skirted their offers, fearing failure and mockery. Yoga on the other hand intrigued me, it wasn't competitive, it was something I could do alone, and people of all ages and fitness levels seemed to enjoy it. After much gentle and pursuasive conversations Christine convinced me to join her beginners class. 

I was terrified before going. Heart beating fast, nervous tightness in my tummy, and the hamster wheel inner dialogue of self sabotage telling me not to turn up to class. I sat at the back, wanting to be invisible, feeling awkward and enormous in a tracksuit and vest. I told myself it was only an hour, no matter how bad it got, it would be over soon. As with all fears, it really wasn't as bad as I though, no way near in fact. Yes I was sore and out of breath, yes I got lost in half of the poses, and yes I was a sweaty mess. I learned that there's nothing wrong with all of those things, the worst thing happened, and it was totally grand. If you fall over nobody is going to point and laugh, in fact they'll probably pick you up and tell you after class an embarrassing story when they fell/toppled/farted/cried. In that first class, and in many since, I learned that not all bodies are created equal, the fittest person is not going to be the best, that in fact being the best has no place in a yoga room, everyone has their own practice and moves in the way that is suitable to their own physique. In saying that it was comforting to see that the gym bunny guy couldn't get his heels to the floor and I could, it destroyed all of my illusions about some size based fitness hierarchy. By the end of that first class I was exhausted but exhilarated, happy that I hadn't wimped out,and that I kept going when my muscles were tired and my brain was totally confused. In the days that followed my body ached in placed that I didn't know were possible, but I was in my body, feeling it hurt, but knowing it was because I made it do what it was meant to; move. If I'm very honest I know it was the fact that myself and Chirstine are good friends that I turned up to that second class, I couldn't face the text asking me where was I if I didn't go. It was the old habits of self sabotage telling me that yoga wasn't for me, running from the thing I wasn't immediately good at. Determined to take control of these insidious voices I walked into the second class and sat at the front, it didn't matter if people saw me make a mess of things, my best chance of learning was to be near the teacher and not miss and instructions by hiding in the rear. After that I was hooked.

Each week that went by the days of aching afterwards got less, and I felt my body grow stronger, as the terms passed by I could feel my body slipping into poses that had baffled me months previously. Yoga isn't about getting into funny positions and posting pictures of yourself on Instagram, although it's hard to remember that sometimes given how it is portrayed. For me anyhow, it's about the things I learn on that small foam mat. I learn about my preconceptions of myself, about breaking those notions, I learn to be kind to myself, patient, forgiving, but to also push myself where I'm afraid to go. It's not about getting the crown of your head to the floor in Prasarita Padottanasana  but about trying each time, and being ok with not being able to do it. These were huge lessons for me to learn as a perfectionist, to embrace 'failire', to stop looking at things as an end point, but to revel in the process, to celebrate the freedom in futility. These ideas are so counter-intuitive to how we behave in our every day lives that it's possible to never learn these important lessons. Yoga has helped me to slow down and see the bigger picture, to fear the unknown less, to believe in my own strength more, and to breath calmly through the little niggly shit in life. The type of yoga that I do is Ashtanga, it's a set sequence that never changes, people dedicate their lives to perfecting this one sequence, embracing the banality of repetition, and growing with the practice over years. There is something incredibly freeing in following the same set, knowing what's coming, including the impossible posses as well as the seemingly 'easy' ones, smiling into both of them with equal acceptance. Knowing I can step off the mat at any moment, but knowing that I choose not to reminds me that my own life is not a cage, that my circumstances are the 'mat' that I have chosen for myself, so I smile into the bad days and take them with the good.

I have fallen over, I've toppled out of headstand, I've sweated and cursed over failing to do Urdhva Dhanurasana(the wheel) for a year and a half, I've laughed out loud surprised at what my body was able to do, I've sobbed uncontrollably because of some deep emotion that was brought up by meditation, and I've spent hours on end in a daze in the happy glow that a hard practice can give you. I have also met the most wonderful friends through the class that Christine runs. Back when I lived in Limerick we would go for breakfast after class, sharing the weird hyper energy that yoga gives back to you. It's only been a short amount of time, but I can't believe the changes that trickled down from that first class. As I said in my last post, it's not the weight that I lost, the most significant changes were inside me. 

Note: Christine did not pay me for this!!! But if you are interested in her classes head over to her Facebook page.
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21 Apr 2016

Button Collars

I mentioned before that I have stopped making crafts for sale. I do still have some leftover from when I had a market stall and was selling in craft shops around the country. I had just made a bunch of these button collars as I was coming to the end of Nice day Designs. Which probably sounds a bit strange, but I was always working on new designs, and this was one of the last to make it past the prototype phase, but I finished them too late to really try to sell them properly. When I was tidying my studio I found a whole box of them that needed the clasps sewn on, but apart from that they were ready to go. 

Instead of the price tag of €30 which I had calculated for them I'm not selling them at €15, just because I'd be happy to see them sell rather than have a bunch of new necklaces for my personal collection-not even I need that many button necklaces!!

Here's a few photos, but if you'd like to see the full range just head over to the Facebook album and leave a comment if you would like to purchase one, I am happy to ship worldwide.

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10 Apr 2016

Weight Loss; A different before and after story

I said that this blog would change when I came back to writing, that I wanted it to be more personal and less about craft. My battle with my own body image is something that I've touched on before but never been totally honest about here. In the past year I have lost a significant amount of weight, the type of significant weight loss that people plaster Instagram Before and After photos with. I'm not that kind of person though, and there is something in those posts that rankles with the feminist in me. There is something inherently wrong in those 'look at me now' photos that makes women feel ashamed if they are not ripped and svelte. I blogged for many years in my 'What I'm Wearing Posts' about being happy and confident as a plus size woman, if I was to turn around now with a crass before and after shot that would feel like negating that positive message I was trying to convey.

Nearly every woman I know has a complex relationship with her own body; how she feels about it herself, how she feels it's viewed by others, how she views other women's bodies in comparison to her own. This evolves and become less fraught as we get older, but there is still baggage that we all struggle to grapple with, hopefully we learn to let go and find some true inner confidence. Given how loud the voice of the media is, this struggle can be hard, it can take years of blocking out the white noise that tells you to hate yourself while trying to sell you the solution in the form of fashion and the latest phony wrinkle cream. I certainly have not been immune to this loud inner critic, I've cried in changing rooms, I've hated my reflection, I've masked the pain of feeling monstrously unattractive, but there are very few women that I know who can't tell a similar story. Thankfully that stage of my life is over, not because I'm thinner, but because I spent years figuring out how to unpack that baggage, leave it behind, and start loving myself properly. 

I have been many shapes and sizes over the years. When I started college I was size UK10, moderately happy with my body on a surface level, but in reality I was uncomfortable with my own reflection, felt larger than everyone else, and didn't really feel present in my body. I went on the pill soon after I started my first long term relationship, within 6 months I had gone up to a size UK16, and I didn't understand what was happening to me. I didn't really acknowledge the weight gain, I thought it was just part of not being a teenager anymore, I stuck my head in the sand, and continued feeling much the same on the inside; sad with a veneer of confidence that convinced nobody. As I got to my mid 20's, I crept up to a UK18, my attitude to dieting was militant and confused, I refused to give into regular notions of beauty, to starve myself to fit someone else's ideal. I armored myself in a garb of feminism and denial, which in many ways helped me to start having a healthy relationship with myself. I wrongfully bundled together fad dieting with living a healthy lifestyle, I saw them both as self hatred in disguise. It was far more important to me to get a handle on self acceptance than being an a certain weight, which is a good thing, but I was blinkered; I was afraid of addressing the unhealthy elements in my life. My physical fitness was terrible and I was chronically addicted to sugar, things I absolutely did not want to address.

A few years ago I blogged about my journey to getting healthier, these lifestyle choices were due to taking an allergy test that told me that a lot needed to change in my life. I followed it for a while, but my heart was never fully in it, and when I fell off the wagon, I did so spectacularly. Dealing with the break up of my relationship and partying heavily for a couple of years undid any good work I may have done during the detox. When I opened The Stormy Teacup I naturally started losing weigh due to the long hours I was working. Around the same time I because close friends with a yoga teacher, Christine McNally, through this friendship I started going to her beginners Ashtanga Yoga classes(my relationship with yoga will warrant a whole post by itself soon). It was at this point that everything turned around for me. It wasn't just losing weight that kept me going back to her class, but the peace that I found on the mat each time I practiced. I marveled at my growing physical strength, I learned to be kinder to myself, to value patience and self forgiveness, by figuring out how to care for myself on the mat, I was able to apply this in my day to day battles. Losing weight was one of the side effects of this turnaround in my life, but it was one the smallest transformations, it was a nice benefit, but dropping all the baggage was the real weight loss.

Since moving to Ennis and starting a new job in a health food shop this journey has continued. I have given up dairy and meat, cut down hugely on sugar and revel in cooking delicious healthy things for myself each evening. Yet again I am tackling my allergy issues, and specifically my skin condition rosacea(this will also warrant a whole blog post). It feels like a gentler more sympathetic way of treating myself, that is sustainable over a lifetime, rather than a regime that I've foisted upon myself. I got a bit of a shock the other day, I was getting dressed and put on a skirt that I know was a tight fit when I moved here 6 months ago, now it's too big to wear and I can take it off without opening it. Most women, who's goal it is to be thinner would be delighted with this but I felt a bit shaky. I hadn't noticed I'd changed that much, and to see a physical manifestation of it jolted me into a new awareness. 

I don't associate being thinner with happiness, just like I didn't relate being plus size with self hatred. I refuse to post a before and after photo with this blog post because I don't want to add my voice to the conversation that shames women over a certain size. The after picture is these words, the after picture is me saying I feel happier on the inside because I figured out how to be kind to myself. When I bump into old friends and they are shocked by my appearance, I don't know how to react, I know that they mean well, I know that they're genuinely happy for me. Even though it's not how it's meant, it feels like a judgement on how I looked before, I was beautiful then and I'm beautiful now. This post is an attempt at having a different type of conversation about body image, about self love and acceptance, just so every voice is not about thinspiration and fat shaming.

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28 Mar 2016

Supplies Shop

One thing that I still have tonnes of is supplies. When I moved house 6 months ago I was somewhat disciplined and sold off a lot of buttons and fabric, but I couldn't bring myself to get rid of all of it. I had lived in that house for seven years so there was a lot of clutter and unwanted life garbage that was clogging up my space. Moving was a great excuse to sort through it, downscale, see what I wanted to keep, and see what was good for selling. 

I reopened my Etsy supplies shop a few months ago and have been tipping away with some sales without having to put too much effort into it. I should really be less lazy and do a few days of photography and listing and properly figure out what I have. For the moment I have about 100 listings of buttons, knitting supplies, pincushions and other miscellaneous items. If I was a more organised person I could easily bring that up to 250, I'll get there eventually!

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23 Mar 2016

Costume design for Mustang Hobo

After finishing up with Nice Day Designs it took me a long time to figure out my relationship with my own art. I was burnt out, dry of ideas and no longer sure if I ever wanted to pick up a sewing needle ever again. I tentatively made a few pieces for myself and friends over the couple of years, but waited a long time before embracing a large project again. I only wanted to do it if I loved it, I needed a real passion project to get me going again. One that I have been working on lately is being the costume designer for the music videos for Mustang Hobo, a funk/jazz band based in Scarriff.

The bassist is my partner, so naturally we've been talking at length about the creative process, his ideas for his band, and what artistic direction they want to take their videos. It seemed like a natural evolution of both our relationship and our conversations that I would work on them with him. I like how his crazy brain works, and he likes that I can somehow make his ideas a reality.

The most recent one that I worked on was the song 'So You Think I'm Crazy', which shows the curious journey of a man into the afterlife, which is populated by craven woodland fairies, of which I am one. My direction was pretty specific, he wanted fairies but not the glittery pretty kind; something rugged, textured, and hairy. As is the case with all bands there was pretty much no budget, so this lack of funds informed my decision to collage different fabrics together to make woodland pixie hoods. I used these pieces to accessories a cast of extras all dressed in browns and earth tones.

That's us just as we shot the last scene
The couple of days that I was on the shoot, there were seven in total, were loads of fun, I got to style all of the extras, and it was great to see ideas go from paper, to creation, then to final cut. When I saw the final edit I was pretty blown away with what the Niall Coley, the director of photography, came up with, I didn't expect it to be so beautiful and lush. We'll be making more, and the ideas have gotten even bigger and crazier. I've already started working on the next one, but it's all hush hush, I have to say though, it's pretty darned cute!

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18 Mar 2016

A Return to Business

I've spent a very long time away from Nice Day Designs, I'm not sure if I have any readers left after abandoning this little niche on the web for so long, so if you're still reading please wave hello. A lot in my life has changed both externally and internally, mostly for the better, and even the hard stuff ended up being transformative in a positive way. 

Those of you who have read this blog over the years probably had a false sense of how well the business was doing, I always put a positive spin on it and kept the sharp claws of the recession out of this polka dot little site. The reality was that it was too tough to keep Nice Day Designs going, I ran out of patience, energy, ideas, and eventually the love for it left too. In January of 2014 I decided to call it a day and embrace a new exciting project, The Stormy Teacup, which was an artisan tea shop that I opened with my friend Martins Punculis. Many of you who are based in Limerick know that it was a seeming success for the year that we ran it. It was an incredible life experience setting it up and seeing it flourish, but again I had to be realistic about how financially viable it was, at the start of Summer last year I made the tough, but mentally healthy decision to step away from it. What has followed since has been months of re-evaluating what I want personally, professionally, and creatively. After 15 years of living in Limerick I moved out and started a fresh with a new house, new job, and a new relationship. Things are looking really good and I can genuinely say that I am contented.

I made the decision recently to restart the custom badges side of my business again. It was always something that I enjoyed, that sold well, and didn't have the same pressures that the more intricate hand crafts had. I've already gone through the madness of having my own self imposed sweat shop, I don't want to do it again, so I won't be going back to making endless hand stitched accessories. I still craft, draw, and create, but mostly for myself now, and in so doing I have found the love for it again. Moving forward this will be more of a nerd, feminist, lifestyle blog, that will sometimes have badge and craft related posts. 

I hope to keep writing, and that there's still some of you still reading.

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