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My 2019 Reading Challenge: The Highs And Lows

So Back2Basics living has been quiet for the last month.

What have we been up to?

Well, we’ve been back in Ireland introducing Naoise to her grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. I’m back (George) in Canada now, getting into the swing of things while Theresa gets to spend another month in the old country.

I was also lucky enough to give 2 yoga classes in my home town of Daingean. Thanks to all who attended.

Apart from giving a quick update and explaining the lack of blog posts recently, I thought that a nice topic for the first post of 2020 would be a summary of the books I read in 2019 and any recommendations I have from that list.

I like to set myself a reading challenge for the year using the Goodreads app, and for 2019 it was 25 books.

They ranged from fiction, spiritual, fantasy, classics, non-fiction with my favourite being Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. Some of them I read, others I listened to the audiobook. I also cheated a little towards the end of the year by listening to the shortest Audiobooks I could find. This strategy got me listening to some unexpectedly fantastic books like A Christmas Carol and the above mentioned Of Mice And Men.

So, here’s the list:

The Productivity Project by Chris Bailey

This was at the tail end of 2018 and the beginning of 2019. Chris has experimented with every Productivity hack you can imagine and presented the best methods in this easy read.

The Name of The Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

This is a great fantasy story about a travelling musician whose family are killed. He then joins a magicians university where most of the first book is set. I really enjoyed this one, if you like fantasy, I recommend it. It is slower than a lot of other fantasy books I read and doesn’t feature any battles or elves but instead follows the main character through his university life and exploits.

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

The first book I read by Gaiman was American Gods and I loved it. This one is a retelling of the stories of the Norse Gods. It’s light-hearted and an easy read though the stories and the escapades of the Gods are utter nonsense.

Ethics in The Real World by Brian Singer

I heard of Singer on the Big Think Podcast and he had great things to say. One of his most important projects is Givewell, a website that recommends the most effective charities you can donate to. In this book, he writes several different essays on life and ethical issues. Singer is vegetarian and speaks in-depth about the unethical treatment of animals here also.

I think it is our duty to educate ourselves on these matters and this book is a great place to start.

A Winters Promise by Cristelle Dabos

This is a fantasy book set in a world of floating islands, each one ruled by an ancient matriarch. The book follows a young lady who can travel through mirrors as she leaves her home to meet her future husband.

It’s a far-out concept and for me, it didn’t really work. It’s well written and it held my attention to finish it but I won’t be reading the sequel.

15 Secrets Successful People Know About Time Management by Kevin E. Kruse

This book is a must for anybody who works in an office or has difficulty managing their time. A lot of the information is common sense but there are so many little bits and pieces that make a real difference.

Deep Work by Cal Newport

Another very useful book if you work in an office job. The book focuses on how you can blank out the distractions of modern living to get into a state of high productivity.

The Boys on the Boat by Daniel James Brown

A historical book about the American rowing team who won gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, it’s a book about real grit and is truly inspiring. A great story.

The Year Of The Flood by Margeret Atwood

The first Atwood book I read was The Handmaid’s Tale, and with the sequel, Testaments released now it was a big year for her. The Year of the Flood is the second part of a trilogy set in a post-apocalyptic world. I didn’t realise it was the second part of a trilogy but that did not take away from the enjoyment. It’s a great story.

Bhagavad Gita

This was part of the required reading for the Vinyasa teacher training course I took part in the summer. It’s a must-read if you are a yogi or yoga teacher and offers some interesting insights.

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

I found this one a little bit of a slog to get through. If it is productivity your interested in I would recommend Productivity and 15 secrets above this one. It has useful information but it’s a heavy read.

The Snow Leopard by Alex Deghan

This non-fiction book focuses on the efforts of a conservational team to set up a national park in Afghanistan. It thought me so much about the country and people of which I knew nothing about as it follows the team through remote parts of the country.

After Dark by Haruki Murakami

I really liked A Wild Sheep Chase by the same author. It was off the wall and completely random. This book is also off the wall and completely random but so much so that it didn’t make any sense to me. Maybe I don’t have the mental capacity to see what Murakami’s point is here but none of the stories the book followed seems to tie together with any satisfaction.

It is set through one night in Tokyo and follows a young girl through the city as she mingles with musicians, prostitutes and criminals.

The Oregan Trail by Rinker Buck

This one I listened to on Audio. It’s narrated by the author as he tells us about his trip with his brother to retrace the Oregan Trail in a covered wagon. It seemed like a nice enjoyable little trip when I started reading but as I read, I realized how difficult it was to cross the country with a wagon and team of horses.

It’s a great read if you’re into American History.

As a Man Thinketh by James Allen

This was my first Cheat book as I had researched the shortest Audiobooks in my reading list so I could meet my goal. There are some useful snippets and it is something I would probably listen to again. It’s not a big commitment at less than 2 hours.

Siddartha by Herman Hesse

This fictional piece follows the journey of a young man in the time of the Buddha as he practises the life of a holy man, falls from grace and then returns to the life of a holy man. There are some good real-life lessons to take away and it’s a great read if you are interested in eastern spirituality.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

This is a real classic which I had never read before and I got stuck into it just before Christmas. It’s such an easy read and I would recommend it for anybody of any age.

Seven Brief Lessons in Physics by Carlo Rovelli

Another short read but it is heavy at times. The main take away for me was the author’s pessimism about the future of the human race. He feels that it is too late for us to change our ways and that we have doomed ourselves as a race. The earth itself will recover he believes but we the people will not.

Buddhism without Beliefs by Stephen Batchelor

I found this book to be a drag, though I did finish it. The narrator was not engaging and some of the points were long-winded and uninteresting. Not for me.

Of Mice and Men

This is one of the greatest stories I have ever read and I can’t wait to read more from John Steinbeck. Though it’s not set in a prison, it had a strong feel of The Shawshank Redemption or The Green Mile. I can’t quite put my finger on why. It follows two companions as they travel through the southern states looking for work.

A Short Guide to a Happy Life by Anna Quindlen

This is more of an essay than a book but it made the list anyway. I didn’t take much from it and feel there are much better books out there on getting to a happy state of mind if that’s what you’re after.

The Great Gatsby by Scott F. Fitzgerald

The Great Gatsby is another classic which I had never read. I watched the Leonardo DiCaprio movie a few years ago but don’t remember anything from it. It follows the lives of extravagantly rich and self-indulgent people in New York. I didn’t like it and wouldn’t be interested in reading more from Fitzgerald based in this.

The Ocean at the End Of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

My second book by Gaiman this year, this is a fantasy book set in modern England telling the story of a boy’s fight against a demon who tries to take over his home. For me this book was only ok. The other books I read by Gaiman (Norse Mythology and American Gods) are much better.

Zen in the Art of Archery by Eugen Herrigel

I love this book. The whole premise is that in Japanese culture one cannot master the arts like archery, swordsmanship, flower arranging, painting etc unless they come to a zen state first. The bow could not be mastered through constant practise or physical training but only through intense meditation. It is an idea that I love and think that it applies much more than we realize.

Animal Farm by George Orwell

I have read 1984 by Orwell in the past and though it is a great book, it is truly depressing. Animal Farm is equally dismal and reminds me a little of The Lord of The Flies.

Most of you probably know that it is not a cute story about animals on a farm, yes it is about farm animals but no, it is not cute, as it reflects Stalin’s rise to power and the growth in strength of communism.

Those were my books for the year, to wrap up if I was to pick my five favourites they would be as follows:

  1. Of Mice and Men
  2. The Year of The Flood
  3. A Christmas Carol
  4. The Name of The Wind
  5. The Snow Leopard Project

If you want to set your own reading challenge go search for Goodreads in the app store and set up an account.

Thanks for reading and I hope that you find some use in the above list. We will be back regularly from here on as the holiday is over.

Peace,

George

 

What Is Peace And Where Can You Find It?

Peace can come in many forms; silence, contentedness, emptiness, void, happiness, contemplation….. The opposite can be found in these places also.

I have found peace in silence and contemplation. In today’s society, it is more important than ever to get some alone time, time to sit with or without your thoughts. Sitting with your thoughts will help you realise the issues that bother you.

Sitting without your thoughts, to me means quieting the mind. Sitting in silence and noticing when that open space closes in with thought.

Contentedness can be found in many different places.

It can come through effort, and this effort shines through in the quality of our work, the restraint or good work in our actions. When we have worked hard to arrive at a result we are satisfied with, it brings us peace. We are content in knowing that we pushed hard and did our best.

What is the void and is there really such a thing? Literally speaking, the void exists in the dark vacuum of outer space, though even that is apparently filled with dark matter, but is there a void space for us to find? Is an empty void true peace or is it just devoid of everything?

For me, void space can be found in the mind, when we bring ourselves to a complete halt. That space doesn’t last long if we manage to find it, it quickly fills, like stars, with words, thoughts, feelings, intentions, plans…but without creating this space in the first place, would this debris, so to speak have made its way to the surface or would it linger at the bottom, slowly filling up.

If we keep finding the void space and it fills as quickly as we found it, is there any point in looking for it in the first place? Look and see for yourself. Find the void inside your mind and see how you feel when you touch it – if you touch it. Even if you don’t touch it, see how you feel during the journey as you search for it.

I also like the idea of void space between words. I live at both ends of the spectrum on this one, there is no in-between for me. I am either a great listener who will let people talk as I prod them in the gaps of silence with a question to open up more or I am a pest who can barely hold my self from interrupting someone at every sentence.

There is, for me something beautiful about the space between the words, both the literal white space on this page as you read and the silence that holds a conversation together. Have you ever listened to the silence that lingers when someone has told you something amazing, or the profundity that hangs when you have received grave news? Is there not something beautiful in both.

There is also the power of unsaid words to consider, not all looks, actions, touches or gestures need to be accompanied by words. They can make their own way to the listener without sound.

There is great peace in this silence. It is something we can practise, give ourselves time, and with that time the gift of silence allows us to be at peace for a little bit.

Peace can also be found in the Earth, there is nowhere more profound than the top of a mountain, the scale is vast combined with a great, wide silence than can only be found above the clouds. I have looked down from many great mountains and been humbled, delirious and oxygen-deprived with the effort to get there, to stand literally looking down at the clouds, thousands of meters into the sky.

Think of the stillness of night time, wherever your favourite memory of the night, dark and black, I bet it was silent. I bet there was peace at that moment. You were content and did not need anything else.

Think of the forest. It never stops moving but there is beauty and peace in abundance. The silence and emptiness, almost like the space between words, is the space between the rays of light as it is separated by the branches in the canopy. It is almost like the trees listen to your problems and help you offload them.

We can look for peace outside of ourselves, like when we search for the void space inside of our minds we can look to separate ourselves and see ourselves from the outside in. I am not talking about out-of-body experiences, but just observing where we are in the moment from an external point of view. The ability to step aside and objectively see where we are at only comes with hard work and practise but allows us the ability to not be slaves to our reactions and not bend to the will of our immediate wishes.

It allows us to chisel away at the exterior and work on ourselves to carve out the true version of ourselves hidden below.

“Nobody can bring you peace but yourself.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson

I hope that we can all find some peace and really take the time to be still and just be over this holiday season.

Peace,

George

 

How important is the space you live in to your health & happiness?

We absolutely love our apartment. It’s our little haven from the outside world. To many it would not seem like much, it’s small, old, the floorboards creak, the bathroom is 1970’s pink, the kitchen is the size of a wardrobe & we can hear our neighbours’ conversations through the paper-thin walls. Lol!!

So how could we possibly love a place where there seem to be so many faults? Easy, we have made it our own, keep it tidy & have worked darn hard to get it. When we arrived in Vancouver 9 years ago, we had nothing, only the bags we brought on our backs. A true immigrant story. All the clothing we had was inappropriate for a Vancouver winter which was unusually cold that year, it took us between 8 weeks & 3 months to find work in our fields. We had very little money left by the time we got work. We lived on a shoestring budget for years. We quickly learned the value of our money & how hard we had to work to get the money we needed for rent, food, transport & life.

Going through the above experience was very difficult at times & extremely frustrating as we moved to Canada for a better standard of living than at home and we didn’t see it. Now 9 years later we are finally getting there. My Aunt Kathleen, who lives in California once told me that it takes 10 years at least to set established in a new country. At the time I thought she was mad but now I agree.

We went through career changes, we got married, we had a baby, we lost family members, we went back to school, we took on new courses…. all of these events affected us financially which meant we had to sacrifice in other areas. Where we saved money was rent on our home. We live in a one-bedroom apartment in Kitsilano, a seaside area in Vancouver, which has the feeling of a small town.

Location was an important factor when it came to deciding where we were going to live. We are 2 blocks from the most beautiful seaside with mountain views. We can walk to the beach every day for fresh air, this is what we wanted, nature & beauty on our doorstep.

We absolutely love the location of our home & truly believe it has a massive positive effect on our health. Last night was a restless night with the baby, a nice cold fresh walk down by the beach for an hour really helps with lack of sleep & puts everything in perspective very quickly.

Besides the location of our apartment, I believe the interior of the home can have a huge impact on your health & wellbeing. For us, a clean & tidy home is essential for clarity and relaxation. Recently we have sold furniture we simply didn’t need so we could create more space. We love our less cluttered apartment now. We also have cleared out everything we don’t need or want; we are surrounded by the things we love & need. There are no “junk” drawers or cupboards. Honestly having organised cupboards, wardrobes, closets, drawers & files is so rewarding. In addition, everything remains tidy because we have a place for everything & at the end of the day things are placed where they should be, nothing can get lost this way which avoids time spent looking for things!

We find our home to have a calming effect when we walk in the front door. We have decorated it to our taste & style which works for us. Knowing how hard we had to work to get our apartment & have the luxury to live where we do, its easy to focus on all the positives of our place and ignore the items listed in the first paragraph.

Nowhere will ever be perfect but by keeping your home clean & tidy and surrounding yourself with what you love will definitely have a positive effect on your mental health.

Take a look around each room and see what you love and don’t love. Take your time to remove/replace the unloved items to create space, we need space for creativity & a focused, calm mind.

Create your own little oasis which doesn’t have to cost much, maybe a good clean & purge is all you need to do……it worked for us;-) Oh and brilliant white walls did wonders for our small space. So bright & uplifting.

In Summary, the space where you live doesn’t have to be a mansion or penthouse suite, it can be a 1970’s one-bedroom apartment which you adore by having only what you need & love. Surrounding yourself with love, space & the essentials creates clarity, calmness and relaxation. Therefore, I truly believe your space has a massive effect on your mental health & happiness.

Wishing you all the best.

Chat soon,

Theresa xxx

Preparing To Teach A Yoga Class: What I Have Learned Since Completing YTT

I would like to start with a caveat, I am a yoga teacher, not a yoga teacher trainer and I am still relatively new to teaching (18 months) but I would like to offer what works for me.

I completed my 200 hour Yoga Teacher Training (YTT) at Semperviva in Vancouver in 2018 and since then added a 16-hour module with Julia Doty and a 40-hour Vinyasa module with Clara Roberts Oss. I highly recommend Sempervivas YYT program.

As part of our final assessment during YTT we were required to prepare a full class which was the first class I thought in a public setting at YMCA in Downtown Vancouver. I have since joined the team at Just Yoga on Broadway instructing Power Flo every Saturday morning at 10:45.

For me, the key is keeping it simple (hence the name of our website). I never teach complicated classes which are difficult to memorise or talk students through.

For the first year or so I would never teach a class without having a flashcard close by for reference, I have since moved away from that as my confidence grew but I recommend having your sequence on a flashcard and placing it somewhere you that you can refer to it at a glance until you are completely comfortable with what you are teaching. It has happened to me many times where I had to discreetly look at my written sequence while the class was in a resting pose. Nobody noticed, and nobody cares if they do notice.

I teach the same overall structure in every class. The poses vary but the overall structure is the same. Two or three waves (check out Clara Roberts Oss Vinyasa module if you are interested in learning more on wave theory), each wave consists of lunge poses, core / neutral poses and warrior poses. It is repeated to a total of two or three waves with a warm-up before, maybe a peak pose and a cool down.

If I have included a peak pose I break it down in different ways. What muscles are going to be working? I look at the pose from different angles, literally just turning an image of the pose sideways and upside down to see what poses are similar. I make sure the sequence builds up to this peak pose, working towards it, preparing the body.

I don’t always include a peak pose, sometimes I will give a rounded class, other times I will focus on a particular muscle group.

One of the greatest tools I have found for preparing a yoga class is Tummee. It costs $69.95 / year but is worth every penny. Tummee allows you to put together a class by placing an image tile for each pose. You can see a summary of your class and browse through thousands of poses and save your classes. It also makes it easy to revise your classes beforehand. I don’t think I’ll ever be the teacher who wings a Yoga class, many do I am sure and if that works for you, great.

I usually use one of two playlists I have. I enjoy classes with no music sometimes but I think I am in the minority of people who prefer that. I will change up the playlists every few months. YTT instructors recommend songs with no lyrics as it can trigger an emotional response. Some of my songs have lyrics but they are in Irish and I am teaching in Canada so I don’t think it is an issue. Just be careful with your music choice and the potential response it can evoke.

When I have my class created I revise it in a few different ways. I have each stage written on a flashcard and recall each pose as I draw the flashcards in order at first then I mix it up. I also sometimes use an app called Quizlet which is free and works the same way as flashcards.

My final prep method which works great is to recite each stage and pose into the voice recorder on my phone and listen to it as I drive or cycle to work. The only challenge is getting past my incredibly boring voice. I leave a space of a few seconds before each pose giving me a chance to recall and actively listen rather than passively listening and zoning out. We learn much quicker and retain more information when we are forced to recall rather than just actively listen to something.

I have probably thought 70 or 80 pubic classes now and I have never gotten lost or messed up without being able to easily recover for two reasons. I keep it simple and I practise. I repeat the sequence over and over until I know my class inside out. You can never be over-prepared and you will reach a comfort level where you know how much prep time is enough.

Every time I create a new sequence I practise it myself to make sure it flows nicely and to make sure the level of challenge is appropriate. The one thing I find difficult when I practise myself is the timing, I am always quicker than I teach when I practise solo, much quicker. I got used to the timing and am at the point where I can slow things down, speed things up or take a pose out of the class if I need to.

I really enjoy teaching and I hope that the people who take my classes enjoy it too. I want to take yoga to people who think it is not for them (Me 10 years ago). I hope that this helps some of you out there who are thinking of taking YTT or who have recently taken it to spread the goodness of yoga.

It’s not just about the postures, it is a way of life.

Peace,

George

 

Useful Links:

Semperviva Yoga

Julia Doty Profile

Clara Roberts Oss Website

Blog on the first public class I thought

Rob Lee YMCA Website

Just Yoga Website

Just Yoga Class Schedule.

Tummee Website

Quizlet App

40 Hour Vinyasa Module blog

 

My Current Yoga & Meditation Routine: How it has Changed Since Baby

Before our pregnancy I had a regular yoga practice, averaging between 3-4 classes per week. Mornings would always begin with a meditation session and some light stretches before breakfast. How does this compare to my current routine? It simply doesn’t. I have not been attending any yoga classes and a regular meditation time in the morning is not possible at this stage of my baby’s life. Do I miss yoga and a regular meditation practice, yes, so much.

My body is so tight, especially around the neck & shoulders. They are working hard holding the baby and breastfeeding. I miss the regular morning meditation because I love routine and this practice helped ground me every morning before I would start my day. My mornings start very different now and will remain this way for the next few months. I wake at 5:30 am to feed baby and then we get up. I make the bed, open the windows and curtains (even when dark outside), wash my face with a warm face cloth and prepare breakfast. This is the new routine and has been for months. Baby then naps on me for about 2 hours while I read and listen to audiobooks. I have to say the mornings are one of my favourite parts of my day. However, I don’t get time to sit undisturbed in a seated position to meditate or stretch.

Moving forward I want to incorporate meditation in my routine, I plan to fit it in just before I start reading. I am not in a seated position or lying down…my posture is terrible, to be honest. However, I’m still and I won’t be disturbed, I don’t have to worry about baby as she is sleeping on me. I have started a 40-day meditation challenge. I don’t want to use the excuse of not having time for it, which is kind of true. I don’t have time to sit undisturbed on a cushion for 20 minutes ever. However, if I just alter my way of thinking and use my downtime in the morning while baby naps on me it will work just fine.

The above picture is how I meditate now, noise-cancelling headphones, baby & me

When our baby was a couple of months old, I got to go to 6:00 pm yoga on a Wednesday however her schedule has changed and she is going to bed earlier. I cannot make the 6 pm classes anymore. There are no classes that fit my schedule right now. Therefore, I am not attending any yoga classes. Even though I miss my practice so much, I know this is just temporary and I will be back in no time. I’m trying to be easy on myself as there is no rush to have my life back to the way it was, it may never go back but I don’t want to add stress just to say “I’m back to yoga”, my baby needs me more right now.

The one thing I look forward to every day is my walk. Around 11 am each day we go for a walk regardless of the weather. This is my new meditation. I usually walk by myself while babe sleeps in stroller. I find the fresh air & movement so calming. I use this time to think and let my mind wander. It is a stress-free environment once the baby falls asleep. I just love walking under the trees or by the beach. Sometimes I’ll buy a tea and a treat. This is me time. I’m grateful for it every day.

I suppose what I am trying to express is that I realise I am not practising yoga; I miss it but I am giving myself a break and not stressing over it as I know it is temporary. It may be another 6 months or a year before I get my practice back but that’s ok. I believe we can be very hard on ourselves. We try and be everything at once when we should just be. We should slow everything down, free up our schedules as much as possible to have time to ourselves. Go for long walks while baby is asleep in the stroller, when baby naps don’t feel bad you have spent 2 hours reading and resting.

Yoga will be there for me when it is time to go back. In the meantime, to help with my tight body I have booked monthly massages and I want to fit in 10min of stretches a day even if I have to do them with baby on the floor. My meditation will hopefully get back to a daily practice.

 

Thanks, so much for reading,

 

Chat soon,

 

Theresa