A bad attitude is like a flat tire, you won’t go anywhere unless you change it.


3rd surfing lesson; fear and coming through it

I take back my statement about my second surfing lesson being tough going, today’s lesson was beyond tough going and I spent the first half of my lesson conjuring up the courage to stop shaking and catch some waves on my own again! My feet are bandaged up, I’m hobbling around like an old woman and feel like I’ve had my torso worked on by a top boxer but let me tell you how AWESOME today’s surfing was (eventually).

I wish I had my mum or Thom around to take shots of how mental the ocean was today, it really was all happening; seasoned surfers at the back, beginners at the front, 23mph winds, sporadic heavy showers and 6 – 8 feet waves according to the local forecast. When I found my groove again after a big confidence wobble, I really enjoyed my lesson, but I had to work through a lot, so apologies for the sentence of intense cursing. Click the ‘more’ link to find out how I went from petrified to ecstatic!

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A shift in attitude and a lot to thank fitness for

Last time I was in St Ives was 2010 and I was here for a week with my family and Thom. I was going through a really tough time back in my home-county, I’d had my dreams of being a natural horsemanship instructor shattered, had already sold two of my three horses and at this particular point (June 2010), I was so devastated by months prior to the holiday that I had even advertised Lily because I couldn’t cope with her. I was at an all time low, I had no money, no career and thought I wanted to take a break from horses completely for a few years. I still loved Lily with all my heart but she was being far too difficult and I couldn’t afford the tuition I needed to work through our problems together and was still petrified of her explosions of fear which had injured me a few times.

I’d gained all the weight I had lost from working as a horseman’s apprentice over the winter and spring, I had a horrendous tattoo on my chest that I couldn’t get covered until October and I had bad acne that I had tried to treat naturally to no avail. My confidence was dwindling and the week in St Ives was almost painful because doing nothing meant I had too much time to think about things I was trying so hard to ignore and keep buried. I tried to enjoy myself but besides an afternoon on the beach and a day at a small local bird sanctuary, I was going stir crazy in this little town. St Ives’ calmness was the complete opposite of how my heart, mind and soul felt and it just drew attention to the fact I was a mess.

On the left is a picture of me taken in St Ives in 2010, hiding away in baggy clothes, with a weight-of-the-world-on-my-shoulders slouch, a book in my pocket to hide behind and a forced smile. On the right is a photo of me taken on Monday 11th June 2012. I was standing in the waves, wearing a huge smile while facing out to sea, watching the swell. My mum said, “Turn around, Lucy!” and this was taken a split second after. I didn’t have time to do the usual womanly thing of mentally checking my stomach muscles are tight, doing my photo ‘smile’ and tilting my head ever so slightly to soften my facial features so this was exactly how I looked before the photo was taken, just relaxing and enjoying my holiday.

I can’t compare my weight because of the baggy clothes in the 2012 photo, but I can see a huge difference in my body language which is reflecting my state of mind. I may not be where I want to be yet with my career and I’m still pretty penniless because I’ve spent a lot of time off ill since November with problems with headaches and my eyes, but this doesn’t often bother me. I realise these problems are transient, and despite it being irritating now, things will work their way out so long as I know I’m trying my hardest to be the best ‘me’ I can be. My acne is barely visible now I’ve cut out dairy and my self-confidence has gone through the roof since I’ve become fitter. I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed a holiday before properly, I’ve always been too anxious at the thought of doing nothing. Now I am in St Ives, completely happy with planning my day as I go along, buying my food when I need it instead of doing my usual elaborate food plan and only working a little when the internet permits it. I’m not relying on my laptop to entertain me, I’m meditating a lot, I’m only listening to music when I want to hear a specific song or album and not as a distraction tactic and most importantly, I’m listening to myself. I think nothing of just going for a walk around the beach on my own with no phone and no iPod and before that would have been inconceivable.

My meditation has been going really well apart from missing a day yesterday, I was busy until my surfing lesson so I figured I’d meditate when I got back from dining out. After surfing, I had 20 minutes to shower thoroughly, dry my hair and put a little bit of make up on before running out the door to catch up with my family. The restaurant we went to was severely under-staffed and though they were trying their best, we waited 1 hour and 15 minutes to get our food and when my pizza came out, they had put cheese on it, despite seeing the waitress write down “Provencial, no cheese” and underline the no cheese bit. So for another 15 minutes, my family enjoyed their pizzas at 8:30pm and I was staring at the table, recalling my last bit of food at 1pm. When they righted the mistake, the pizza was very tasty so I was happy. By the time I had eaten, let my stomach settle and walked back to the house, I was too tired to meditate and after 5 minutes of attempting to, my head started bobbing as I was nodding off so I left it be.

However, I had a fantastic experience the day before yesterday, I meditated in two 30 minute sessions and my second 30 minute session of the day I felt an intense wave of happiness wash over me and my body started tingling. I was a bit intimidated by the tingling sensation as I was wondering whether I was cutting off my blood supply with my knees crossed but I quickly opened one eye to check and my skin showed no signs of the sort. I had a huge smile on my face because it felt so good and between moments of rogue thoughts I had to quell, I felt completely calm and quiet internally. I’m still not at the point where I’m looking forward to meditating, I have to remind and persuade myself to do it but it is getting much easier and there is at least one point in the meditation where I’m really enjoying it instead of getting caught up over trying to do it perfectly which is great!

Today meditating was tough, I’m feeling very tired and even though I was sat up without back support, I was still falling asleep which is relaxation to the extreme! Hopefully tomorrow will be better. A huge storm is meant to be hitting the UK, starting in Cornwall and we’re apparently going to receive a month’s worth of rain in one day. That’s my surfing lesson cancelled because the lifeguards will probably close the entire beach if the storm makes the swell too risky to be in. Still, it’s a bit disappointing but can’t be helped. There’s always the weekend and next week, I’m hoping to cram in as many lessons as my body will let me before I head home because I am loving surfing way too much not to take advantage of having a surf school a 5 minute walk away.

Oh and some great news, Thom will be getting here tonight within the hour and I can’t wait to pretty much rugby-tackle him with a huge hug. 😀

Meditation for newbies – part 1

Buddhist monk in Sirikit Dam by Tevaprapas Makklay

As I’ve said before, in fitness, self improvement and definitely when it comes to the art of meditation, I am by no means an expert. I simply try to absorb as much knowledge like a sponge and apply what is relevant to me at the time. That being said – as I am an absolute newbie when it comes to meditation – I feel pretty qualified to discuss how to meditate for other newbies to give it a whirl too.

This post is not a source of what is “correct”, it is simply what I do and what is working for me and this is what a couple of my readers asked me to write about; how I do it, not how it is done in general as there are thousands of different meditation techniques, guides, books and classes in the world. They asked for what does Fitterstrongerbetter do, and this is what they will receive.

Is this meditation guide for me?

Whether you have never meditated before, have meditated but couldn’t get the habit to stick or get frustrated with the process, this post may help you. If by the end of the series of posts you are still frustrated, talk to me and I will try my best to help.

How to sit while meditating

Your typical “how to teach Westeners about meditation” books you can pick up at your local bookstore written by a white desperate housewife-come-‘healer’ for fellow white desperate housewives may suggest lying down to meditate. I have never heard of or seen the Buddhists and Hindus meditating lying down, they always sit like the man in the picture above; cross legged with their hands on their laps, right hand in the left hand with their palms open to the sky.

If you’re not as flexible as our Buddhist monk above, just try sitting cross-legged normally, as you would see a child do. If you have a bad back or weak muscles in it, try doing it on a chair that can support your spine. Eventually you will want to be able to do it without back support, but you’ll struggle enough with controlling your mind at first, let alone holding your back up properly.

Wear comfortable clothes that are warm as your body temperature will drop, make sure you’ve gone to the bathroom before you start (nothing worse than having to break off your session early because nature calls) and you are somewhere as quiet as possible. Quiet for New York city would be different from quiet in the middle of a field by your house, but we make do with what we’ve got.

Hamsa – I am that

You may have heard the term “mantra” thrown about in popular culture or by reading a few meditation guides online. A mantra is a sound, word or phrase that is believed to have the power of spiritual transformation. There are many, many mantras used throughout Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism that are spoken for different reasons depending on the situation.

However, in regards to getting the meditation technique down-pat, I will discuss the sanskrit mantra hamsa, English translation: “I am that”. First taught by Hindu guru Swami Muktananda, the mantra is split down the middle; ham on inhalation and sa on exhalation.

What I like about hamsa is that it is so flexible; it can have religious meaning if you would like it to, or not.

Meditation has been tied to religion for thousands of years, more years than we could ever comprehend. However, if you are agnostic or Atheist and not seeking religion, but you are wanting to meditate purely to understand yourself better, to learn how to be more present and to help heal a tired or unwell mind; meditation does not have to be about religion, nor do mantras in fact.

As an agnostic, my meditation is drawn away from religion; I am not listening to God, I am listening to the part of myself that my fear, stress and ego drown out with their louder voices.

My hamsa changes every day, yet stays the same in what I am thinking. Before my meditation, I will decide what my “that” is (calm, well, happy, brave, compassionate etc.) and after saying it once out loud before I start, I will only whisper hamsa and only think hamsa not the translation, nor what my “that” of the day is. The repetition of the hamsa is to focus my monkey mind, but I have already told my levels of consciousness what today’s goal is, I do not need to repeat it.

Inhale – “ham” (pronounced “hmm”)
Exhale – “sa”

It is as simple and as complicated at that. Buddhists always say the technique of meditation is easy, mastering it is what takes a lifetime. Notice how hamsa split in to syllables is exactly the noise we make when we breathe in and out? Let that help you, focus on that.

Monkey minds

The Buddhists refer to people who think and talk too much as monkey-minded, which couldn’t be more accurate. We will chatter away either internally or externally, moving from one branch to the next, only stopping when exhausted or eating.

By the length of my posts and how much detail I go into when writing, you have probably guessed I am a monkey-mind and you would be correct.

When meditating, I find it infuriating that my internal voices can’t stay quiet. I will go through a rainbow of emotions in a big cycle; calm, angry, happy, bored, restless. I will be calm and happy so long as I feel like I’m doing well, then a random thought will pop into my head and I will clear it, another one pops up and I will clear it, the third time I get distracted, I lose my emotional fitness. This is why I consider myself a newbie, as I can’t control my emotions effectively yet.

Mantras are great for everyone but especially monkey-minds. As described in one of the books I’m reading at the moment; mantras in meditation are like giving a monkey a pile of buttons all the same shape, size and colour and asking it to move them one by one to another pile. The monkey feels like it has been given something to do and is more likely to be successful than if you were to tell it to sit quietly in a room without moving once.

If you get frustrated that you cannot keep your mind focused, ask yourself why it is imperitive that you master this immediately when it takes years for everyone else to get a solid grip on it. Does it make you feel uncomfortable that you can’t do it? Good, it means you are outside your comfort zone and you can learn.

Expect your mind to wander, but trust that you will do your very best to bring it back to hamsa. Just like fitness, we cannot go from nothing to running 10km without problems. Meditation is similar, when you start you have no stamina when it comes to clearing your mind and that is okay. The hard bit is sticking at it and making it become a habit. If you manage to, you will be thankful you did as meditation has many scientifically proven benefits and it is good for the soul.

Try hamsa and let me know how you get on. Be completely honest and if you really struggle then don’t worry because my next post will be techniques that require higher focus and therefore your mind will find it easier to stay where it is meant to be.

Good luck, we’re all in the same boat!

The sea and erratic thought

For as long as I can remember, I have been an active sleeper; I sit up, I talk coherently and I’ll even walk around sometimes. There have been numerous occasions I’ve woken up in completely different clothes the ones I fell asleep in and have no recollection of changing. Apart from the odd occurrences where I’ve had something similar to night terrors, my over-active imagination doesn’t bother me and I find it amusing.

I volunteered to have the child’s room with bunkbeds in this cottage as last time we were in St Ives my brother pulled the short straw and got the small room. I thought this wouldn’t be a problem until I realised that there was not enough room for me to sit up on the bottom bunk and the top bunk had enough height for me to fall off and break bones. After debating for five minutes which would be safer, I decided the bottom bunk would be my safest bet. This went really well until my unconscious self sat up and I clocked my head on the mental frame and saw birds flying around my head, ouch. I slept the remainder of the night on the top bunk but I didn’t rest well, worried about falling out of bed or going for a midnight wander.

Waking up feeling far from rested at 6AM, I think I’ll put the mattress on the floor for the rest of my stay!

Today has been wonderful so far, I spent an hour walking around the town and coastal paths with my dad watching birds and scoping the area for running paths. My dad is not what the Buddhists refer to as “monkey-minded” like I am; he doesn’t think much and he definitely doesn’t talk much which meant there was no pressure to make conversation that wasn’t there. My dad and I aren’t close for a number of reasons, but it was really nice to spend time together without drama. It made me feel like perhaps our relationship isn’t as fractured as I thought.

I then went food shopping for a few items before stopping at the library to get some work done. Though there isn’t an overwhelming amount of options for a meat and dairy-free foodie, there are far more choices than back at home. There’s even an organic vegetarian restaurant on the harbour-front with more than one vegan option and all vegan puddings. It’s a little pricey so not something to visit every evening, but it is my 21st birthday while I’m here so I will definitely be letting out notches on my belt to eat there that evening.

After I finished up some work, I brought my laptop home and got changed for the beach. It isn’t as cold as my pictures probably make it look, but I was warm enough in my shorts and hoody. I strolled up and down the beach, barefoot with my feet in the water and I felt such joy from something so simple. Admittedly, my emotions were a little erratic; jumping from moments of sheer enjoyment of being on the beach in my own company and with no distractions like my iPod, to being anxious for the exact same reasons.

I rode it through, just like I would sit quietly on the back of my horse if she was getting over-emotional and panicky, being careful to not make her feel wrong but also calmly prevent her from getting stuck in a negative pattern. I would acknowledge my fear and just as quickly as it came, I would allow it to leave by reassuring myself that this was good for me and I would be able to cope with whatever I was fretting about.

After walking along this beach (top right on the photo above) I booked my first ever surfing lesson for tomorrow and strolled to the harbour and walked through it as the tide was out. I walked to directly below the harbour wall (below right on the photo above) and recalled that the local kids would regularly jump from the top when the tide was in (the tide comes in level with the arrow I put on the picture). I caught myself thinking, “I could never do that, it looks scary” so you know what? In the spirit of not letting my fear be my driving force in my life, I am going to jump from the top of there. I hate heights, I hate not being able to see the bottom of the body of water I’m in, but I hate the thought of my fear being at the wheel more.

I have no logical reason to be afraid as my dad has said he’ll be waiting in the harbour for me just in case something goes wrong, but fear in our 21st century Western society is rarely logical. They say doing something that scares you on a regular basis is the foundation for expanding your comfort zone and growing as a person, so this is why I’ll be taking the lead from the St Ives local teenagers and flinging myself in the water after perhaps 2 minutes of buckled knees and heart palpitations at the top. I am both equal parts petrified and excited!

I meditated 30 minutes after lunch on an oversized foot stool in the living room. Apart from my lower back complaining of a lack of support (when was the last time I sat cross-legged on a backless chair with my back straight anyway?), it went very well. I will do another 30 minutes later before I go to sleep. I was going to go for a run this evening when the town quietens down again, but the guy at the surf shop warned me I’d need my strength tomorrow if it was my first time learning to surf so I’m taking it easy tonight.

I’m fitter, stronger but not better… yet.

So as you can see from the above photo I quickly took on my mobile phone, I’m in Cornwall at long last. It probably took about 7 hours in the car which I know is a distance considered practically next door as far as my Yankee friends are concerned, but it’s one of the longest drives you can take from the centre of England without ending up in the ocean!

Before I kick off today’s post, I’ll explain what I mean by this post title. I realised in the car yesterday that I felt something was missing from my ‘baby’ (this blog, of course) and that was another journey I’m constantly on that runs parallel to my fitness journey, the never-ending journey of self improvement. Now those who check out my blog and stay for my posts about fitness and nutrition (and of course, the beautiful fitspo pics I find on the net and share) may think self-improvement is a farse, a little bit too new age for their tastes and would rather just be exactly who they are, the good bits and the bad. This is fine and I will understand if you feel it’s not for you, or maybe you’ve got too much going on in your life to even consider consciously walking down this road. However, to me, it is something that has been important for quite some time now and goes hand in hand with my on-going journey of physical improvement. For what it is that I want out of my life and out of myself, they are both as important as the other, though one is without doubt easier for me to remain focused on than the other.

I have been ‘into’ self-improvement since I was metaphorically catapulted head-first by my horse, landing right at the feet of the start of what would change my life profoundly. Lily was an extremely difficult and dangerous animal who needed me to be a much better person than the insecure, spoiled, negative and emotionally unfit sixteen year old I had been for a few years. Before I knew it, working on myself for my horse’s benefit quickly seeped into the rest of my life and I found patience, happiness, gratitude and – most importantly – an unshakeable love for myself, something everyone deserves but few have. However, as the road to self-improvement has no clear end destination and can be as short or as long as you want it to be, I am nowhere near done so long as I’m above ground.

So back to the topic of this post; the context of this particular problem that is requiring my attention and I have ignored for the longest time. But I am now in the perfect situation to tackle the issue head-on.

My home for the next few weeks is a beautiful 3-storey fisherman’s cottage which I will be sharing with my parents, my brother and his girlfriend. My boyfriend Thom will be joining us next week by train, in the mean time I am essentially left to my own devices.

My original plan was to look after our house and pets this week and travel down with Thom next Thursday, but my mum persuaded me to come down a week early. She argued that it was because I’ve been stressed lately and an extra week in Cornwall would do me the world of good – which is true – but knowing my mum is a terrible worrier, I knew this was for her benefit, too.

I was reluctant at first; the prospect of spending the first week as the fifth wheel was something of little appeal to me. In fact, the thought of being on my own a lot of the time was downright scary. Sure, I would have been alone at home during the day while Thom was at work, but it is the evenings and nights that have always gotten to me. It is too quiet and there is too much time for me to be alone with my thoughts.

To avoid this, once I have finished work on an average day, I will either surround myself with the company of my family or I will watch something new on TV, be it a documentary or a new film. There have even been times where I have worked overtime, not because I’ve needed to, but for want of something better to do. I’ve always made sure to keep myself distracted and this is a habit I have cemented over many years. It’s a fear-driven process I am not proud of, yet the irony is instead of dealing with it, I have attempted run further away from it. Until now.

All this time alone will provide me with the free time I’ve needed, along with the added bonus of being away from home and the habits I have formed there that hinder any progress being made. I have made a pact with myself, that I will be brave and out-persist my fear, even when it gets very tough. And of course, it will get tough because I will be well and truly out of my comfort zone.

It’s time to undo my bad habits and form healthier ones, just as I have with my fitness. While I’m here and after I’ve finished the few hours of work in the morning I plan to do, I will be walking a lot on my own, I will be sitting down at various places on my own, I will be exercising on my own (nothing new there though) and most importantly, I will listen to the ugliness and fear that will surface as a result.

One of my first big tasks will be to form a habit of meditating every day and sticking to it, just as if it were as much of my daily routine as brushing my teeth and washing my face. I’ve always started meditating and never made it a habit, instead allowing myself to forget about it because it made me anxious and uncomfortable.

Now I am admitting it to myself and posting it publicly on my blog, I am making myself accountable, just as I do with my fitness. I will meditate and I will learn to enjoy my own company without the distraction of mindless jibbering or technological distraction. It sounds so easy in principle, but I am prepared for an all-out war, considering how long I have been burying my head in the sand. I will be brave, I will listen to myself and I will address fears but not allow myself to indulge them.

I’ll be posting quick updates here and there on how I’m getting on, as well as my runs and how many times I’ve gotten lost. I’ve also found out the local swimming pool has a gym too, so I should be able to weightlift as well which makes me happy. I tell you what, I’ve got so many supplement pills and vitamins in my bag I probably would look very suspicious to authorities if I was trying to get through airport security! Ah the joys of being a fitness fanatic.