I want to write this blog post today whilst the feeling is still so present in my heart. We ran a new moon women's sweat today, a change from the usual full moon women's lodges. It was strong medicine!
My second time leading the women's sweat lodge ceremony, we met on beautiful land out in Cheshire, land which my friend and treasured co-creator John has been custodian of for the last 19 years. I'm grateful to John for opening the space up for me to run lodges for women; the tradition here has been for long standing mixed lodges, and since last year, for men only sweats too, but until this year, there wasn't a women only space for the sisters to gather and share this way. We all need our own space sometimes, and although there is deep delight in coming together for the mixed lodges, we certainly all benefit from having the time to share in single gender (self determined) spaces.
These lodges come from deep lineages and traditions. For me personally, it's not something I take lightly because I recognise the importance of putting in the work before stepping up, and also I genuinely seek to stay humble in my presence in the lodge either as an attendee or a lodge leader, but I'm human and I think it's fair to say that the ego can be a tricky little bugger sometimes! Still, I'm on its tail, that rascal!
I've been attending lodges now since before my children were born, so for over 25 years - that fact shocks me! Twenty five years of sweating my prayers and offering up my stories and my gratitudes. My first lodge and most after that were led by the Deer Tribe in their monthly full moon lodges over in Unstone in Derbyshire, then I attended lodges within other healing ceremonies, usually less intense in those cases as their function was more for purification cleansing before or after ceremony, and then once in my shamanic training too. They're far from an easy ride, and I value that.
Modern day life in the west can be a life of convenience; convenience food, convenience stores, and many convenient ways to short cut or bypass our thoughts, feelings and emotions. The sweat lodge will not allow you to circumnavigate your relationship with yourself, for in there, everything seems to rise up to be felt and seen.
Most lodges run for four or five rounds of 'prayer,' not in the Christian sense of 'prayer' though I guess for some it may be like that, a lodge is non-denominational whilst deeply honouring of the roots of it all. Our prayers are offered more in the indigenous sense of building a relationship with life, with nature, and intentionally walking what the North American First Nations refer to as the 'Good Red Road' or the 'Beauty Way'. In our lodges, as with many, each round of prayer focusses on one of the four cardinal directions (N,E,S,W), with the lodge leader occasionally calling in a fifth round for integrating all of the previous rounds into the fifth direction in the centre - you!
A 'round' will last for 20-30 minutes on average depending on how many people are in the lodge, how long their prayers are, and how the fire keepers are managing the rocks and the wood needed to keep the rocks heated in the heart of Grandfather Fire outside the sweat. Ultimately a lodge will usually last for 2-3 hours, and the preparation for it, the sharing, the meditating, the building of the lodge and the chopping of the wood (the labour is an important part of our humble service), and the packing down from it, those labours take up the rest of the day. We set aside a full day for this ceremony and it warrants that. There are no convenience short cuts.
Safety is of the essence - alcohol and drugs shouldn't be taken for at least 24 hours, and preferably more, before a sweat. The heat is crazy intense, and builds up with each round. By round three, usually the round in which we come to face our own shadows and personal demons, exhaustion is showing, resistance is showing, and we may want to get out at this point. Staying creates healing as we acknowledge those shadows and find the courage to sit with them, to give them space, to let go, through tears, words, gratitudes, and surrender. Preparing by abstaining from our usual or frequent habits and from food (we fast from the evening before until after the sweat is complete) is a necessary and important part of the lodge protocol.
Many indigenous cultures have a strong relationship with nature and the earth, have rites of passage, rituals with specific intended outcomes or meanings, and live in ways which honour both the youth and elders in a community for their respective blessings and gifts. We tend to have few rites of passage, few circles or councils of elders, and we relegate kids into a "what do they know place", whilst the Earth is simply something many people seem to ignore until it shows signs of biting back; if you're reading this, there's a strong chance you're probably one of the ones that don't do that (I hope), but many do. I still want to weep when I see someone wind down their car window and toss out their empty coffee cups, cigarette wrappers and old take away boxes onto the street. I do the work to raise my capacity to contribute well, to live a good life, and to be of service in the creation of a healthy, loving planet.
For me, these ceremonies grow my awareness, increase my sense of accountability and build my sense of community. They also offer me important ways to check in with what's really going on for me, to work consciously to change the things that aren't working, and to improve or develop the things that are. If I find I'm offering the same prayers in recurring lodges, then I know I have work to do in that area. Similarly, I can track the things that have shifted and which are no longer an issue for me - celebration time!
The rocks represent the Abuelos, the Grandfathers, the lodge the womb of the Earth, the Great Mother. The fire holds the energy of the Masculine which enters the lodge with reverence and in union with the Feminine aspects of life. When we pour the water over the rocks, we see the steam that is created as the 'breath of the Creator' and that breath carries our prayers out of the lodge into the aether where they may be released and transformed. It's like the Universe is rooting for us, "come on - you can do this; you must do this! The Earth needs you!"
The East holds the energy of new beginnings, the element of fire (think of the sun rising in the East), new potential, birth, seedlings of ideas, projects, and the feminine creation energy.
The South holds the energy of innocence, childhood, purity of spirit and laughter, remembering our naturalness with the element of water as we shed our cleansing tears, or learn to flow around life's obstacles.
The West holds the energy of the physical body, the Dreamtime, the darkness both within and without. It's the direction of the setting sun, of stillness and of silent meditation; it represents the archetype of the Healer, and its element is Earth, grounding, rooting, stabilising, Earth.
The North holds the energy of the Warrior; the wisdom of age, the white haired ones, and elders, and our own blood ancestors. It's about taking charge of your life and your destiny and standing firm in that resolve, and with this comes the element of Air representing mental clarity, alertness and the mind.
The word INIPI (another word for Sweat Lodge) literally means 'To Live Again'. We bring ourselves in true humility into the lodge to learn about letting go, about death and therefore about re-birth. I think it's a practice ground for conscious dying, and it's certainly not for the faint hearted. These rounds get hot, and I mean really HOT! They take us to our edges and often push us over them, and they will tear down our small world view and replace it with something much bigger if we can allow the changes to happen, because of course our work does not begin and end in a ceremony; any ceremony!
If you would like to know more about our lodges, and about upcoming dates, please request to join our Facebook Group Sweat Lodges and Healing Events. We are always open to those who are open to new ways of seeing things and of doing things. "Keep on doing what you've always done and you'll always get what you've always got" - and who wants that!
The next men's lodge is on April 29th with John, and the next women's lodge is on 13th May with Steph. Our next mixed lodge is on the Summer Solstice on Wednesday 20th June and is with both Steph & John leading together.
My friend Lorna and I had landed. We were in the Ark, the most exquisite retreat centre in Ubud, Bali, at that time owned and run by two dear friends of mine, Anthony & Amy. We had travelled on from the coastal region of Sanur where we'd taken some time at the beachside yoga shalas, raw food cafes and the calm of the ocean in general, to hang out with another dear friend Sunne. After 2 days restoring our flagging post-long-haul-flight energy, those positive ions from the ocean had charged us back up to normal and we were ready to join our friends who were also staying in Ubud to complete their breathwork training.
Bali, the love of my life, the keeper of my heart!
One of the many things I love about Bali is the prolific availability of great food and drink; raw food cafes, speciality juice bars, and the wonderful affordable warungs and healthy food places which are in abundance there; to a foodie like me, this means not only is my heart happy but my belly is blissed out too!
It was probably on my first Balinese visit 4 years ago that I discovered Jamu Kunyit, a traditional Balinese drink usually made from turmeric, ginger, tamarind (sometimes) lime juice (sometimes), sea salt (sometimes) and occasionally raw honey or other natural sweeteners. Each place I went to had a slight variation on how they make and serve it, but the general rule of thumb is always the ginger, turmeric element.
Bali is an island rich in culture and heritage and steeped in tradition. The statues, temples and places of worship are literally mind blowing and heart opening, and the smell of incense seems to be forever hanging in the air from all of the daily offerings made to appease the Gods and bring sweetness to the lives of those making the offerings. I fell in love with the people, the place and the culture from the first time I set foot on this magical island!
This love affair with the magical south pacific island is not a brief dalliance for me; it's an entrenched and passionate love affair of the soul. When I leave, my heart grieves, when I'm there, it fully and completely opens in ways I cannot quite describe with words. Even writing about it calls me there; it's like the exquisitely haunting song of the Sirens - I am called back, and I am peaceful here, but before I go rambling off into focussing this post on my ongoing love affair with Bali, I must return to the subject at hand; jamu and healing drinks!
As a lifelong juicer I love the the different variety of fruits and flavours I find in Bali, and which I can use an inspiration for my drinks. Durian was my first crazy discovery (that wildly seductive fruit!) and jamu one of the first tonic drinks I learnt about too. It's drunk daily over there; often used to cool the body (makes sense in that heat and humidity) and to alleviate menstrual pains, it's also a powerful anti-oxidant and alleged anti-tumour tonic too, and as with all potent and pungent drinks and foods, is best used in moderation. Native Indonesians would not drink this more than once a day in relatively small quantities.
I recently discovered via my friend's instagram page that a juice bar in Ubud was offering a mix of Jamu and Kombucha, another of my favourite healing drinks; imagine my excitement! I resolved there and then to try this for myself - the gut healing properties of kombucha blended with the anti-inflammatory qualities of turmeric/jamu could only be a win-win in my eyes. So, I tried on my last batch of kombucha, adding my personal recipe for jamu to the second ferment of my 'booch' and it was good; and I'm talking REALLY good!
Now this as become a staple of my menu and my offerings. I'm excited for others to try it too! If you want to learn more about this amazing drink and try it for yourself, come to my next pop-up cafe, a collaboration with Mindful Kitchen Manchester which we run on a monthly basis. It's advance orders only for these events as we work on minimising food waste, so please let us know if you're coming and you want to try this amazing tonic drink!
We'll be waiting for you with open arms and open hearts, your friends Jamu & Booch!
I discovered breathwork for the first time about 18 months ago. I had just signed up to a 2 year training in cranio sacral therapy when I found myself at a breathwork workshop, led by the man who was to become my teacher, Anthony Abbgnano and his then partner, now wife, Amy Rachelle.
It's fair to say I didn't really know what to expect the first time I experienced 'conscious connected breathwork', the technique fostered by Anthony's Alchemy Of Breath school of teaching. It's equally fair to say that once I did experience it, it completely blew me away!
I'd had six committed months of practicing yoga by then so I thought I was beginning to understand the breath, mainly through the various yogic pranayama practices there are, however this kind of breathing is something completely different, and generally it opens up some serious personal processing which may not be quite so welcome on the yoga mat!
Having lunch yesterday with my friend and fellow breath worker Suzie, I found myself saying to her "breathwork touches memories and emotions inside us which haven't been properly released or resolved and somehow it releases them. It finds its way to the heart of the feeling and lets it go." We both agreed it has this effect - I've often found spontaneous tears falling in a breathwork session, or a raging scream being released, or a posture being adopted that feels as if there's nothing I can do but adopt it and go with whatever my body is wanting to do. I would go so far as to say that it's often a 'mystical experience.
Breath is our most natural measure of where we're at; without it we are in serious trouble. When we restrict it, we may find we are in deep anxiety, the heart of a panic attack, in shock or experiencing trauma, or simply unaware of how shallow our breath is. Most people take in less than 30% of their lung capacity - quite surprising right?
When I breathed consciously that first time, a close friend I was working with pointed out to me that my out-breath was way way longer than my in-breath and she asked if I was aware of this. I wasn't. It felt as though it reflected something in me, a part of me that was much more comfortable with giving in life rather than receiving. I didn't know how to take a deep breath in and just receive and it was the same in life. I somehow felt that receiving equated to debt, and I had learnt to so successfully protect myself and ensure that I would never be in this perceived position of 'debt', I was therefore rejecting an awful lot of contact that I may have otherwise freely received without this limiting belief.
I began to notice this imbalance in my everyday breathing, in my meditation, in my yoga practices and more. I started to intentionally practice balancing my breath, which inevitably led to more balance in my actions and then in my life too. It's hard to breathe deeply and equally in a balanced way and remain imbalanced on the outside. I guess that's why yogis practice balancing the breath so much too as an integral part of their practice?
The breath is intelligent! It knows how to lead us to wholeness and inner peace. It knows how to restore balance, to cleanse, to purify. It is the thing we contract when in shock or trauma, and the thing we expand when at peace or in balance and flow. It's also something we can learn to explore and use as a fantastic healing tool, in fact, it's possibly the most powerful healing modality I've ever worked with and I've worked with many.
Yogic breath is not the same as breathwork in the field of healing. The kind of breathwork I am trained in is a dynamic intentional healing technique that is practiced in a certain way, in general to achieve a particular set of results leading to the restoration of previously blocked energy, and this energy reserve can be uncovered and then utilised in releasing old trauma from the system, via the breath, leading us to greater vitality and a significantly increased sense of wellbeing
I have seen people release childhood trauma they didn't even know was still driving them. I've seen people experiencing pain in old scars and operation sites that they didn't know were still holding tension. I've seen people weep like babies and howl like wild animals, and I've seen people literally vibrating with the energy that is moving through them after breathing this way for a certain amount of time. In fact, the very thing that called me to cancel my cranio-sacral training and switch to training in breathwork was experiencing that last one for myself; a vibrating energy that ran through and through and through without seeming to ever be likely to stop!
I was in Bali at the time; on holiday and staying in a beautiful retreat where daily breathwork was happening as part of the Alchemy Of Breath teacher training programme. I turned up one morning somewhat haphazardly as I often did to breathwork sessions back then; did I have the energy? Would I rather go out on a scooter ride to a Balinese rice field? Did I even want to look at that 'heavy stuff' anyway? When you are on holiday in a retreat centre like this one, there are plenty of easier and perhaps more tempting options around, but my friend and room mate was breathing that day and she'd never experienced breathwork before, so I decided to take one for the team and support her by being there as well.
I came to breathe that morning taking my place on the mats laid out in the yoga shala. A beautiful flower and incense offering featured in the centre of the space, typically Balinese in its beauty. I love these traditional offerings made daily in Indonesia, the air is always heavy with the fragrance of incense and frangipani, the native flowers. I lay down, exhaled deeply and prepared to surrender to whatever was about to happen.
Without going too deeply into that story, after having what I can only describe as visionary experiences during the breathe, the session culminated in my entire body shaking and vibrating with an energy I have never experienced before or since. By the end of the session as everyone was settling into rest, I was still vibrating wildly. Disorientated and somewhat concerned, I continued to breathe normally to try and right my system again, but some force greater than me, pulled me into the centre of the space to share a story, my story, and in doing so I realised afterwards, I was truly letting it go. In the breathe I had seen and felt the true beauty and potential of this life in human form. I had seen my own connection to Spirit, to God, to whatever you want to call it, and I knew that was the truth, not the stories, the struggle, the hurts or the limiting perceptions most of us continue to carry through our entire lives.
It was in the moments after that session when I knew I wanted to train in this wonderful healing technique, and I also knew that Anthony would be my teacher. I've never known a teacher with such an open, unconditionally loving heart. I usually cry in the presence of that heart energy - it can get embarrassing sometimes!
Now, at the end of my training, I know it was one of the best decisions I've ever made. I love offering breathwork with a passion! I love witnessing people making huge realisations and shifts in their lives. I love that it works for young, old, able bodied or people with disabilities, with war veterans, with assault and abuse victims, with the traumatised, the fearful and the bold too. I just love how the breath takes you exactly where you need to go. I now have a relationship with my breath, an awareness of it that alerts me to imbalance; it's my internal compass. Do you trust yours?
For more information about my breathwork events, please click on my events page. For information about Alchemy of Breath, please click on the live links in this article.
May every breath you take fill you with the deep peace of the running wave, the stillness of the night sky and the strength of the mighty lion. You are so very worth it.
This picture is not me - I wish it was! It's a photo of one of my treasured yoga teachers and a great friend, Andrea Everingham of One Yoga Studio in Chorlton. Andrea kicks asana!
Two years ago around this time I was a burnt out, adrenaline depleted, totally exhausted woman on the brink of meltdown. I'm not sure I even knew that at the time, and although I knew I was exhausted, I'd become so used to functioning at that level that it seemed normal to me, so therefore impossible to regulate. How can you regulate what you don't recognise?
My business was failing and I didn't want to admit it (because I loved it deeply), my body was becoming tired and felt old and clunky, my emotions were at rock bottom in several areas of my life, and yet I lived as if I was a multi-tasking Superwoman on permanent stand-by to leap into action at any given moment.
A lovely woman had just started working with me. Lorna was a kitchen Goddess with flavour balancing skills like no-one I've ever met before or since. I still say to this day that had we met earlier that business would probably still be there, but that wasn't to become my story, so let's get back to the one that is.
Lorna was also a practising yogi and teacher, a raw foodie, an amazing chef, and a peaceful wave of calm in my otherwise stormy life. Lorna walks, talks and moves with grace; she is regal to the point of being nicknamed by those who know and love her "Queen Lorna", and I love the bones of her. She has now become a really great friend whom I appreciate deeply.
One Friday, after a particularly arduous shift, Lorna's husband Fred come to pick her up; they were going to their regular Friday vinyasa flow yoga class.
Lorna "Why don't you come Steph? It will do you good"
Me: "I'm too exhausted, I couldn't possibly!"
Lorna: "Come! It will energise you, I promise!"
If I'm honest, at this point, I was actually too worn out to resist and so I went with them, fully expecting to fall asleep on the mat, and yet what happened in that class was to change the course of my life.
My first class - it shocked me! I was shocked at how weak my core strength was. I had stamina in bucket loads from racing around so much, but my core was weak, so much so I couldn't even step forward in most of the asanas (postures) without having to physically lift my own leg to the front of the mat (I'm not exaggerating!). My back was locked, my shoulders tighter than the lips of a tightly sealed clam, my belly had no tone, my arms quivered under my own body weight, and to be honest, I felt totally surprised by my weak body and my inflexibility.
I somehow made it through that class and Lorna was right, at the end I did feel energised in a new way. I couldn't explain why but I knew I had to keep coming and there began my yoga journey. I started to come to class once a week, then twice, then took out a membership at the studio when my class attendance went up to 3 classes per week on average. That teacher of my first class, Dana, remains one of my favourite yoga teachers; her direct style, her honesty, her skill and her kindness and support have allowed me to grow under her teachings too.
Fast forward six months - still struggling with many aspects of the asanas, I booked a one to one private session with Andrea, the best move I could have made at that time. Andrea's knowledge and sensitivity extend way beyond the surface of what many people think yoga is. She knows about nutrition, ayurveda, the breath, the chakras and meridians, all 8 limbs of yoga of course, but above all, Andrea knows about life. A true Mancunian in her roots, this woman has a heart as big as the Universe.
By now I'd now sold my business and in doing so, all of the backlog of over exertion, over performing and high achieving had fully caught up with me. I would often find myself laid up for days with fever, lethargy, and a complete inability to move off the sofa. Andrea in her one to one recognised this, and seeing that my body was limited by what was now full-on adrenal fatigue, tailored her suggestions to grow my personal practice in line with exactly where I was at. She gave me food recommendations, lifestyle suggestions and adapted postures to get the most from my yoga according to what I could manage at the time. She also knows how to push you beyond your comfort zones, and often did!
I have cried in classes when a posture has cracked something wide open in me. I have cried when Andrea has pushed me to go beyond something I'm holding on to. I have wanted to yell at her, I have inwardly resented her whilst attempting a crow pose that became a face plant on my mat, seething silently locked in an "I can't do this! I'll never be able to do this!" ego trip! But slowly, after 2 years, I've come to love my mat, to respect Andrea's insight, and to look forward to my practice because it teaches me where I'm at in relation to my body like nothing else can. It shows me where my ego still lurks, it shows me what incredible progress I'm making. It teaches me how to become comfortable with stillness, and before yoga, that was totally 100% not something I knew at all.
I now practice 4 times a week on average, sometimes five, and this devotion is to myself, to my own inner peace, to my own evolution into becoming a better, more self aware, stronger, more self contained woman. It's not an obsessive gym bunny style practice, it's a personal growth practice. It opens my body, my heart and my soul and it constantly surprises me. It also humbles me.
My body has changed and continues to do so. I look at my body now like a constellation of stars and planets orbiting each other and wonder what more will reveal itself to me through my practice because I can do things I never imagined possible 2 years ago, and so I know the same must apply to the things I still think I can't do, except I don't think that now, I just think "you just need more practice Steph", and what a fantastic metaphor for life that is!
The yoga community where I practice is strong, and so they have also become my 'family' of support and love. I've made great friends there and continue to do so. I cannot ever imagine my life without it.
If you're struggling, I highly recommend it. Go try for yourself. Me, I will continue to "kick some asana" and give thanks to this ancient practice.
Yoga is way more than about postures (asanas) and so much more about living with ahimsa (non violence) to all things and in all ways. I'm grateful it found me in time. I'm grateful for my teachers - you grow me. I am better in your reflections.
To discover more about One Yoga, about Andrea, Lorna, Dana and the many other amazing teachers at this studio, please go to their website and have a scroll. You never know, you may regret missing that one class you think you're too tired to manage https://www.oneyogastudio.co.uk -
*This is not a promotional blog. It's genuinely come from a place of deep gratitude in my heart for the people, teachers and events available at this wonderful place and the part they have played in radically improving my life.
In and amongst my own posts...
I've given today's post much thought. The title says it all in some ways - I've been genuinely puzzled why, in all of the posts I've ever made on my Instagram account, the one I made sharing my story had the most likes and engagement of anything I've ever posted across all of my social media, hands down!
Before I posted it, I took a deep breath, and hit the 'post' button with more than a little trepidation; what would my kids think? What would people who knew me but didn't really know me think? The story was wanting to be told; it's the roots of me, my journey into health, and though it certainly no longer defines me, it does I feel, hold hope, inspiration and encouragement to others that if I can overcome these challenges to get to be living a life I love, well so might they.
Of course not everyone wants the kind of life I have, so I make no assumptions there, more that I aspire to encourage those who may feel hopeless to feel hope, those who may feel lost to find a pathway, and those who may feel really sick to find a crack in their darkness where the light may enter.
Sometimes in life we get lost. We may be really great at covering that up, pretending it, faking it in the hope we really will make it one day. We may find that sense of lost can last decades, or perhaps we find our way back to our centre more easily than that, either way, when we are in it, it hurts, it's hard and it's often pretty dark.
At the age of 19, I was really seriously 'lost'. Covering my pain in a false smile - the photo on the left is me at around 21 and I was in full blown addition in this photo, I was self medicating on heroin (a lot of that), alcohol (not so much of that) and many other things that took me as far out of my body and of feeling as possible. I was living amidst many London gangsters, way out of my depth but getting further and further into depths in which I had no idea how to swim. I was a sweet, naive northern lass with a good heart and a strong moral compass but I honestly felt those two qualities were fairly useless to me at that time; I needed a hard heart and a cynical way of being in order to get by. I never really found those latter qualities - I'm glad I didn't, it's probably what saved me.
Here's what that Instagram post said:
"30 years ago I was a heroin addicted desperate woman. Paying for my habit and making sure I didn't get sick was my main goal every single day (but I did get sick often, probably daily). Now I'm an experienced juice detox therapist and health coach, breath worker and retreats leader living a life I truly love and which inspires me every single day. I never say yes to things I don't love, I choose my friends wisely, and I have so much freedom, pleasure and purpose in my life I sometimes have to pinch myself to make sure it's true! A year from now, would you regret all the choices you didn't make, the actions that stayed a dream ad never came to fruition, or will you have been the change maker, the conscious creator of your own life?"
The solutions were all in my own hands, they still are. It's often easier to blame others for our life circumstances; the parents who never gave us what we deserved or needed, the lovers who broke our hearts, the friends who betrayed us, but ultimately, it all comes down to us. It's our life, our story, our solution. Sometimes that's a bitter pill to swallow, but I swallowed it in order to get well, to reclaim a sense of self that somehow I didn't even know before starting on that road to recovery.
Don't get me wrong, I worked DAMN hard to get my life together. I went through detox programmes, counselling & therapy, healing, AA & NA meetings, workshop after workshop after workshop (thank the lord for those offering what I couldn't find in myself), plant medicine ceremonies, kambo clearing, and more. I was searching to find wholeness and in the end, what brought me true peace and inner knowing was three things - yoga, the breath and a true and honest sense of real self love. These were the bricks laid upon the foundations of the healing and clearing work I'd done before that.
Back to the question of significant engagement with that post - I concluded that people love a success story. That people really are rooting for us, because in witnessing us overcoming really big things in life, it means others can see it's possible for them too. People always want to believe in 'hope.'
Nowadays, I know that I don't have to be liked by everyone, no-one is. Sometimes I will rattle people just like some people rattle me. I thank them for the lessons in showing me subconsciously where I'm still not healed. It takes discipline and devotion to gain mastery over one's thoughts and actions but all we have to do is commit to ourselves 100% - commit to our personal growth and do the work, and keep our hearts open, understanding what it is that makes them close.
Someone asked me why I do what I do recently, why I do all of this "healthy" stuff. I replied that it is because of my deep longing to live in a healthy, loving and healed world. That it is my deep longing that my children will have a beautiful planet to grow up in, and their children too. That healthy, healed people create a healthy, healed world. Communities and people thrive in love, not pain and suffering, fear or judgment.
There's no room left for attack and defensiveness when we evolve, we just allow others to be where they are. There's no need for aggressive action or communication, no need to 'prove' that "I'm right and you're wrong" when we realise there is no 'right,' there's only conditioning, I am a product of mine, just as you are of yours, and my values are no more or less worthy than yours. My guiding principle these days is one of Ahimsa, to do harm to no thing and no-one. I seek to find the kindest part of myself and rest there and that's a practice which has come, to a great extent, from my yoga. I try to make other people's lives who connect with me for whatever reason, a more uplifting experience than a contracting one. It doesn't always work of course, I have no control over that...and therein lies the wisdom "do good and let go of control"
I wish you all deep and lasting peace.
If you read my earlier post, you'll know today would have been my mother's birthday. She's sadly no longer here to celebrate with me, so in honour of her memory, I'm posting a recipe.
My mum new her way around a kitchen; she left a dull job she had tired of in mid life and totally re-trained to follow her passion for cooking, finally ending up teaching it too. I grew up on many of her wonderful experiments; I like to think she would enjoy mine too.
I went for a walk in my local nature reserve today to dream a little, to remember. Some of her ashes were scattered from our favourite bridge, we call it the 'troll bridge' as it's a proper old trip-trap red wrought iron thing. The flow of the river running below the bridge carries our prayers and I'm sure hers too.
Whilst walking I came across a carpet of wild garlic. Looking at it, it's coming near to the end of it's prime I think but for now, I made the most of this abundant wild herb and made a delicious soup with my finds. I hope you enjoy!
To make this yummy soup, which will be featured at our next vegan pop-up event on Earth Day (April 22nd) here's what you need:
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, crushed
300g soaked and drained black beans
2 medium potatoes, cubed
large handful wild garlic, coarsely chopped
1/2 tsp nutmeg
3 tsps vegan bouillon stock
3 tablespoons sherry, port or red wine (optional)
juice of 1/2 lemon
salt & pepper to taste
Lightly brown the onions and garlic with some salt and pepper. When onions are soft, add potatoes and nutmeg and continue lightly frying. Add the wild garlic and sherry and allow the alcohol to 'cook off' by continuing to stir. Add about 1.5 litres of boiled water and then add the bouillon and the black beans. Boil for about 20-30 minutes on a low-is temperature - think simmering rather than wildly boiling!
Once all cooked, put into a kitchen blender or blend with a stick blender and when done, add the lemon juice and test your seasoning. Drizzle with horseradish oat cream (optional) and serve with garlic sourdough bread, or your wheat free alternative.
Today would have been my mum's 84th birthday. She would probably have gone for a stroll around her beloved Windsor, or maybe she'd have been adventuring somewhere on the continent, either way she would have been exploring in some way or another, she was like that.
Mum had a zest for life but she was also a terrible worrier; a pattern which had followed her all of her life. If there was something to be anxious about, mum was there at the front of the line being anxious about it! Never quite trusting in the world, she lived it well however...until they discovered her tumour.
She was always supportive of my work and of who I was in the world, knowing what I'd overcome to get there. She had seen me through addictions and ill health, struggle and suffering, crime and punishment, and she'd always said to me "never forget how strong you are Steph, or what you've been through to become the woman you are today", and yet somehow in spite of her support of her children, she failed to see her own strength.
From diagnosis of her tumour to her death, all happened in less than 3 months. Suddenly, this woman who had always been in my life, and whom I imagined would live to my grandmother's age of 100, was gone. Just like that she was gone. A malignant inoperable brain tumour ended her life, the only comfort being that she did not suffer too much, nor was her illness prolonged.
Just prior to her death she became open to other ways of eating, talking and sharing. Going from closed to speaking about certain things, she became open, but death took her too quickly, before she had the time she needed; perhaps she was resigned to it...I'll never know.
After mum died, I was shocked; shocked by how this apparently 'healthy' and active woman could be taken so fast. She had just turned 80 but had the spirit and dynamism of a woman 20 years younger. I resolved there and then to try one month of no wheat, dairy and sugar (mum had a chronic sweet tooth) in her name.
After one month, something odd happened; I felt amazing! I also found I didn't want alcohol any more, so I decided to extend my month trial into another month and add in a few other things too; to cut down on dairy, reduce my intake of processed food, that kind of thing.
Something was changing in me. I was beginning to feel incredible, I was still grieving deeply but I was doing it for my mum, for myself, and for my healing. It was the 'for my mum' bit that kept me going at this point.
That was almost four years ago now, and to this day, I eat clean (mostly!) and don't drink any more. I never really had a problem with alcohol, that wasn't my 'drug of choice' but regular wine consumption definitely messed with my energy levels and created an instability in my sense of wellbeing for sure. I don't miss it at all any more.
I've run juice bars for almost 20 years. I am passionate about health and wellness, and well you know what they say, that you teach or do what you need to learn and so there you are, my health journey was being created before me as I walked the path.
Oh! I almost forgot! This post is about making nut mylk right? Well yes it is, but as with most things in my life, I like to give you the story behind the presentation. I make nut mylk because I don't want to drink cow's milk. I make nut mylk because I want to do as much to preserve my health as possible; because I don't want to suddenly disappear from my own children's lives, and whilst I know that's not just about whether I drink from nuts or not, it is about reclaiming my health in the best way I can.
I love home made nut mylks! There are some great choices out there now (hurrah!) but making your own, well there's nothing to beat it really. You can experiment with flavour, consistency, blending and more. Want to know how? Read on!
To make your own almond mylk here's what to do:
Soak 250 g almonds, skin on, for at least 4 hours or overnight.
Rinse off soak water then add soaked nuts to a high powered blender.
Add 2-3 times the volume of water to nuts, you can do this by sight, and can always add more liquid if needed.
Add pinch grey sel de mer, two or three dates and a pinch of vanilla (optional)
Blend and then sieve all through a nut milk bag (see photo on left above) or piece of muslin cloth (you can also use the end of an old (clean!!) pair of tights!
Bottle and refrigerate then drink within 3 days.
If you like you can add cacao, fresh fruit or other ingredients to make flavoured milks. Play! Enjoy!
All of this should be fun! Sure, it may not be for you and perhaps you prefer to buy (I often do too) but in that case, please just read the labels so you know what's in your drinks before you purchase. Not all nut mylks are made the same ;-)
Much love and radiant health to you #nomshanti - Steph xox
There is change in the air. Just over 2 years ago, the UK vegan population apparently numbered around 2%, or 1.2 million. Now apparently it stands at 7 million, and it's still growing.
We only need to look at the shelves in our supermarkets to realise that something is happening.
First, we saw a dramatic rise in the presence of 'free from' aisles, no longer assigned to some dark corner of the shop and covered in dusty old unappealing boxes. Then came the visible growth in plant-based products being stocked in fridges, shelves and the freezer sections of most mainstream supermarkets. More recently we have seen celebrity vegan chefs growing in visibility and increasing the 'cool' factor of veganism, and in my mind, that's no bad thing. People may finally stop thinking veganism = deprivation, a dour attitude and a shocking health status, when in fact quite the opposite is true.
Derek & Chad Sarno are two brothers bringing compassionate cooking and heart centred eating into the mainstream, and there are many fabulous vegan and raw food chefs who've been raising awareness for decades before this too. In Derek & Chad's case, their brand Wicked Healthy has started to revolutionise the aisles in Tesco! OK, for me there are some "issues" in so far as most of the meals are microwaveable only at present, and come in standard plastic containers, 2 things that bug the hell out of me, however, these are good guys doing good things to change people's perspectives, and Rome wasn't built in a day right? Their pizzas are delicious! The other stuff is too if you don't mind microwaves.
So why are more people being called to a plant based life and what are the reasons for doing so?
1. Health awareness
2. Environmental awareness
3. Animal cruelty and suffering awareness.
These three things are generally the leading reasons why people start to make a shift.
For me, I knew many years ago that my food wasn't making me well and that my body was struggling to process meat, refined foods, sugar, dairy, gluten and more, but I had no idea how to really change that. I knew tons about juicing for health, but little about food, and as someone less confident in that area, I was worried I'd live off falafels and hummus alone, as many have done in the not too distant past I'm sure!
I had been successfully conditioned to believe that no meat = deprived of protein, and if I'm honest at that point, also of flavour. I'd grown up on meat and dairy, yet I never really liked milk or the flavour of lots of meat based products. The more we do something though, the more 'natural' it seems to be. Eating habits are trained, become 'normalised' and suddenly choices to become vegan are deemed "politically correct" rather than being heart led, or compassion led, which they certainly are for me.
I don't actually give much of a damn about "political correctness" - sure I'm sensitive to life and to views differing from my own, but my choices to become vegan weren't born from that at all. Health was the thing that started me on the road to changing my diet, and the cleaner I got, the better I felt, and the better I felt, the more I looked into stuff.
I looked into the environmental impact of farming, air miles, pesticides, processing, pollution, the whole shebang, which also applies to fruit and veggies too of course. Then both of my daughters went vegan; one previously a die-hard meat consumer who literally went vegan overnight after watching Earthlings, Forks Over Knives and Conspiracy (all available on Netflix and some on Youtube too.) She watched them pretty much back to back, wept and wept, and then simply said "I will never eat meat again". And she hasn't.
Observing her commitment and passion, I realised that my trendy "plant based" label was allowing me to avoid making that last 5% switch to veganism. If I say I'm "plant based" I won't be lying if I sneak in the odd bit of dairy right? I didn't want to say I was vegan as I equated that, rightly or wrongly, with militancy, deprivation (still) and rigidity, so why was I afraid of making the leap into committed veganism?
I think I've worked that out now and in part, it relates to the image above.
People choosing veganism are often called out for being "preachy" or needing to tell you about their veganism. Well of course we do! If I don't I don't get the food I want to eat, and if I know its been prepared without a real awareness of, or caring about the use of animal based ingredients, I'm gonna let you know! Just because meat has been the mainstream and therefore omnivores don't need to tell you what they can't eat, well that doesn't make non-meat eaters 'preachy' for having to ask or speak up. Also, I've never liked 'labels' but what I do like is principles, so I began to realise that sticking to my 'principles' was what I was doing, rather than labelling myself.
And then there's the activism that starts to come your way....
Once you've seen for yourself how things work, how this food gets to your plate, it's pretty impossible to ignore the level of suffering involved. Once seen, you can't 'unsee' and so for me, things just began to unravel. How could I let my money pay for the suffering of another sentient being? I couldn't. Politics and political correctness didn't event come into it, it was my heart that led the way. I don't miss anything I used to eat any more. I've finally made peace with the 'cheese thing' too. There are so many incredible alternatives around these days.
People change, the world changes, traditions change. If they didn't we wouldn't evolve. We wouldn't know how to 'grow' as a human race, we would question nothing, and stay locked in our conditioning, but we do know how to enquire, listen, observe and create change, and how wonderful is that ability to be discerning.
As this well known quote by Margaret Mead says:
"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."
So, with another well known quote "keep on doing what you've always done, and you'll always get what you've always got" I'll end here. I could say more, I probably will in another blog, but for now, let's just talk about this stuff and stay open to change. Let's support businesses that are doing more for the animals, the earth and our health, and make the 7 million, 7 billion and rising! It's totes possible!
19 years ago, one icy cold winter, I landed in New York City for the first time ever. Having seen the New York skyline in transit from Los Angeles to Manchester the previous year, it had captured my imagination big time! The following year I decided to make it my mission to go and explore this magical looking place, never imagining that it was a trip that was to change the direction of my life. Prior to that, I had worked in research for publications for a well known drug support agency, producing harm reduction materials for substance (mis)users, a job I also enjoyed very much. I've always been invested in healing - you could definitely say it's my life purpose and passion.
Stepping off the plane and re-orienting myself, I made my way to my lodgings in the Chelsea area of Manhattan, taking in the old glory of Brooklyn Bridge, the impressive presence of the Twin Towers (they were still there then), the crazy wonder of the Flatiron building and the art deco magic of the Empire State, amongst many other things. The people, the crazy colourful people, the energy, the creativity on display (pre-Giuliani!) and the wild busyness of the 'walk/don't walk' culture was the order of the day and I was captivated.
Juice bars where everywhere in NYC then, they still are, but in the UK at that time, they were a relatively new thing. Hardly anyone had taken up the juice health baton in the way they have now.
As I explored the city, constantly looking up (my friend had told me that New Yorkers always recognise a tourist from the fact they're always looking up!) at the crazy high skyscrapers and fully immersing myself in this buzzing city, it was then that I discovered her first juice bar. Weary from walking so many blocks (everything seems to close in NYC as you measure the location by the building and they're all visible as they're all so tall!), I gazed at the crazy creative range of choices, rarely having seen so many obscure menu items and green veg in one place. Kale was not the trendy thing it is today, so this menu was like a wonderful melee of unknown ingredients to me. I ordered, took my first sip and quite literally felt the energy flooding back into my body, restoring my bone-tired traveller's spirit within minutes. This sh*t was good! It worked. I ordered another, and the next day I went back.
This is how it went for the rest of my trip....rooting out as many juice bars as I could, exploring menus ranging from weird to wonderful, dull to delicious, I observed above all else that this daily habit was making me feel great! My favourite was Life Thyme, a whole food store with a juice bar located in Alphabet City in the East side of the city (it's still there and going strong). The lovely guy on the juice bar became a friend, and my daily habit was (unbeknown to me then) gradually becoming a dream.
As the end of my trip approached, I found myself sitting and reflecting on it all in Battery Park, the green space overlooking the bay, so named as it was the original site for the battery of canons which protected the city from invaders and would be colonisers (irony acknowledged!). Something in me knew this was my path, knew that I wanted to provide this energy boosting goodness for others, and knew that despite my lack of experience in this field, a dream had birthed. Dreams and passions will carry a person a very long way, through all kinds of perceived obstacles and into possibility, and so my seed of hope was sewn right there in that New York park.
My first juice bar Battery Park, named after that lightbulb moment, opened in July 1999 exactly 6 months after my trip. It was opened on a shoestring budget with little more than the love and support of friends, some very practical help to build the interior of the shop and a menu based upon providing that same level of nutrient-dense, health giving goodness I had experienced in New York. Following the opening, I was interviewed twice by mainstream television about this new 'thing' I had brought to Manchester. I was interviewed for local magazines and radio shows; I was amazed! People wanted to hear about this thing!
My third child was born into that juicing era in April 2000 less than a year after we'd opened. We weaned him on juices and he still juices to this day (he's 18 tomorrow!), and my love of the magic and potency of juicing for health is as strong now as it was then.
Please get in touch if you want to know more about juicing, about my work or if you have any questions. I will always do my best to answer them, and will let you know if I can't - nobody knows everything and I'm not into guru culture, so please know there's no such thing as a stupid question (is that actually true?!). Everybody has to start somewhere, so change your life today. Get your juice on!
150 grams medjool dates (ready-to-eat stoned)
100 grams vegan spread
3 tbsp maple syrup (recipe said agave but I'm not a fan, it's too high on the glycemic index)
50 grams dried apricot (ready-to-eat stoned, finely chopped)
50 grams toasted hazelnuts (chopped) I also added walnuts = brain food :-)
3 tablespoons mixed seeds of your choice
50 grams raisins (I used goji berries)
150 grams gluten free porridge oats
CHANGE YOUR LIFE!
Welcome to the LIFE ALCHEMY blog page. Here you will find life & detox coaching, healing, lifestyle articles, reviews, energy anatomy information, mentoring tips, recipe ideas for clean eating and radiant health and the occasional guest post too. Please bookmark this page and join me for a journey into health & wellbeing. Change your life! Become a conscious engineer of your own destiny.