What I’m learning from November

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I’ve escaped the cold and short days the last 2 years running, spending both winters on the other side of the equator in tropical heat. I was surprised to learn that sunshine doesn’t actually equal consistent happiness, and that I can’t run away so easily because my head inevitably has to come with me. That being said, a sunny beach with turquoise waters is definitely a more desirable place to be whilst working out the complexities of mind stuff.

Anyway, earlier this month, and kind of well the months before that and I can’t remember how many months before that…I could feel myself start to sink. I won’t write much about that but what I do want to share is what I decided to do about it and how I’ve been climbing back up. This is about embracing the darkness of winter, both the season we see externally and the one we feel internally.

I used to meditate every day. I’d lost touch with that due to a general feeling of nothing having a point or a lack of faith in anything making me feel good. So I printed off a calendar for November and as suggested by a coach who kindly offered me a free hour’s session to help me out I wrote in big letters across the top: THERE IS A POINT!

We decided I’d put a cross into every box for each day that I sat down to do my meditation. On the second day I was so low that I didn’t do it. But this is the key thing, instead of giving up and thinking I’d failed already, I had to have a bit of faith. I wrote in the box in teeny tiny letters, “there’s still a point” and 22 days in every single square after that second day has a cross in it.

There is not only one cross for meditation, but also a star for every day that I did yoga and a squiggly line for going swimming. All things that I’d been meaning to get back into for ages. Before I knew it, the days were decorated with all the things I’d decided to do that I knew would help me. I hardly noticed the cold wintery days start to pass they went so fast.

My meditation teacher from 3 years back actually emailed me out of the blue at the start of the month saying “take care of your meditations and they’ll take care of you” and it honestly couldn’t have come on a better day – it’s like she knew (which wouldn’t surprise me). So I had to just trust that even if I felt like I’d run out of resources and even if I felt defeated, there is a little part inside of us all that knows how to take care of us and will do what they can to keep us going.

The interesting thing is, the meditation always felt so much deeper after yoga and so the yoga became a natural thing to do every day too. Ten minutes sun salutation at home and going to a class in the first week turned into 2 classes in the second week with longer practice at home and lots of extra reading on yoga. The third week was 3 classes, 30 mins practice every day and a deposit put down to do a teacher training course in India this February. Into my fourth week now, we’re only on Tuesday and I’ve already been to 3 classes, and upped to an hours practice at home every day.

So that’s how I got here, to the start of my commitment to my yoga practice and the path to become a teacher myself. Yoga and meditation have helped me a lot in my own life and I would love to learn more about the practices and teach others. I have dreamed of doing yoga teacher training in India for years and had set aside savings; I just didn’t know it would be happening quite so soon!

It’s time to feel that I am responsible for my own health and happiness, and that I can and will be just fine. I’m learning to have faith in myself in knowing what I need to do to keep me afloat.

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Doing yoga in Réunion Island sunshine
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VS yoga by the heater in my British bedroom

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How One Island is Leading the Way for Mindfulness Based Education in France

This article by Jasmine Irving was also featured on The Huffington Post blog.

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L’étang salée beach in La Réunion
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Me meditating in La Réunion

Teaching meditation in schools is becoming a recognised technique to improve mental health amongst students. Educators across the world are realising the significant benefits for students, schools and communities. Research combined from different studies around the world has shown that meditation in schools can have positive effects on student’s personal well-being, as well as their social and academic skills.

I spoke to Rodolphe Sinimale, a change-maker and social entrepreneur from Réunion Island to find out more about bringing meditation to schools. Réunion is a French island in the Indian Ocean just East of Madagascar. With a high unemployment rate, particularly among the young, mindfulness in education is an integral tool enabling the island’s future generation to be equipped to deal with growing social tensions and difficulty finding work.

Rodolphe spoke to me about two pioneering projects taking place in Réunion in state schools, one in a middle school, college Hubert De-Lisle and one in a primary school l’Ecole Primaire Antoine Lucas.

The aim is to use meditation to help the students to cultivate loving-kindness, emotional intelligence, focus and compassion. For Rodolphe, and the community of teachers and leaders backing this project, it’s important to be active in making a positive contribution to society and the world around us. When I asked him why he wanted to bring meditation to schools he spoke of one night in Madagascar where he was threatened by armed men, he said “when faced with your own mortality, we realise what’s important, and that’s taking care of each other. Since then I try to cultivate compassion and loving kindness every day, even if it’s not easy, and meditation is really a great way to do that.”

Rodolphe says that the workshops and programme itself took about “two years to get off the ground as it takes a lot of planning, organisation and, mostly, energy to develop. You also need leaders with vision, wisdom and courage to make that much needed step.” Pascal Chabernaud is the director of innovation at the French Ministry of Education (l’Education Nationale) and it’s thanks to him that the mindfulness project was welcomed to schools in Réunion. Pascal is aware of the important role teacher’s play in a student’s development and his dream for education is that it should be open, shared, collaborative and positive.

The first time Rodolphe went into school to teach meditation he could feel his heart beating fast with nerves but he said that right away he saw the “light, simplicity, enthusiasm and creativity” of the students which deeply inspired him.

Through the meditation classes, significant changes appeared very quickly in the children. For example their ability to say “I’m angry” and accept the emotion, instead of getting angry and finding it challenging to articulate how they are feeling. It was also noticed that there was an improvement to their ability to be present and collaborate with one another.

Rodolphe comments “it was beautiful to watch them transforming.” He does notice that there are certain challenges with working within institutions and the education system but says that “there is so much suffering in today’s world, we must act and try to have a positive impact in any way that we can.”

At the middle school, college Hubert Delisle, meditation workshops are offered to students in years 7 and 9. According to head teacher, Lionel Mailfert, a revolution is underway. He says that he is driven by the desire to “offer students, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, a practice that allows them to be happy, to live in harmony with others and to succeed in their learning.”

Since such a practice has been introduced, some students have even seen their marks go up. During the meditation, the students are invited to allow and accept thoughts to come and go without judging them. They are asked to bring awareness to their breathing and alongside the meditation itself they also get to study into the biology of the brain and how stress has an impact on the body.

Long-term objectives of bringing meditation to the school is to stop bullying, to create a safer space and a more peaceful school life, as well as developing students’ self-confidence. Students and teachers have noticed the benefits for themselves. Lucas, in year 7 said “It helps us to relax, de-stress and reflect” and Ms Delebarre noted “the students are less stressed, it’s much calmer and they find it easier to listen.”

The programmes underway in Réunion are gaining interest from other schools and teachers, as well as from community leaders. It’s clear how much difference a handful of people can make to get a movement started.

The movement in Réunion was part inspired by a quote from the Dalai Lama “If every 8 year old in the world is taught meditation, we will eliminate violence from the world within one generation.” Some might argue that this is an idealistic and simplistic viewpoint but the real and experienced benefits of students and teachers in Réunion Island definitely show that meditation can positively impact students and hopefully in turn, the world around us.

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One of the mindfulness exercises: planting the loving kindness seed, and taking care of it everyday with compassionate thoughts

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Rodolphe and his dog Sushi photographed by Stephanie Lorente

You can find Rodolphe Sinimale at his website here.

Announcement for the Next Big Adventure!

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I have something very exciting planned for the early months of 2017.

I am super excited to announce that early next year Coeliac On The Road is taking a trip to INDIA!

WATCH this space because I’m travelling with a very talented photographer (Hogg Photography) so some creative collaboration is already underway for our big trip.

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This year has been very challenging due to some personal struggles within my own head following a traumatic experience. I wasn’t expecting to be getting on the road again quite so soon after returning home to be around close family and friends.

But life can throw some unexpected twists and turns and so in February, I will be embarking on my first big trip with someone rather than solo…falling in love has added a whole new dynamic to the idea of travel and I’m excited to see what it’s like sharing such an adventure with another person by my side.

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The pic below is a snap taken by a friend in Réunion Island last year celebrating Diwali, there are a lot of Hindu people living in Réunion Island from Indian descent and so I started to learn about Hinduism, traditional Indian food and spent a peaceful time at a local Ashram, meditating and listening to devotional singing as well as getting to meet Amma, a much loved Hindu spiritual leader.

Yoga and meditation have helped me get through alot and I am so happy to have the chance to go to India where many of these practices originate from. I’m even hoping to do a yoga teacher training course to deepen my own practice.

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If you have any advice or recommendations for a gluten free traveler in India then please let me know 🙂

GF Spiced Apple Cup Cakes

I felt inspired to do a bit of baking after being invited to an Autumn bring-a-dish meal.

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So, here’s the recipe for some yumy gluten free spiced apple cup cakes (makes 12).

You will need:

-125g butter

-125g sugar

-125g gluten free self raising flour

-2 free range eggs

-1 large grated apple

-1 table spoon of ginger and a table spoon of cinnamon

-1 table spoon of plain yoghurt and 1 tablespoon of coconut oil

Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 5 or 190 degrees.

Whisk together the sugar and butter, add the eggs and flour and whisk it all up. Next add everything else and then spoon the mixture into cupcake cases and pop in the oven for about 20-25 minutes.

To finish, I added a spoonful of melted milk chocolate and fresh raspberries/blueberries but you could use any topping you like, eg honey and baked apple or caramel buttercream.

Enjoy 🙂

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On Saying Goodbye

Samhain is a pagan Celtic festival celebrated on the 31 October. It’s a time to celebrate the last of the autumn harvest and welcome in the onset of winter, embracing the darkness to come and remembering loved ones who have passed away. With this in mind I’m sharing a poem I wrote on that theme and wishing you all a restful and restorative winter!

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Saying Goodbye To Rose Cottages

The apple tree stands,

split bark, gnarled roots and

rusted boat parts underfoot,

deep in the ground where

we left him behind.

It watches over a cottage,

with doors that clatter,

an abundance of bricks

stacked to make walls

and window frames which

hold the estuary close.

Boots covered in moss hide amongst

the daffodils,

house martins flutter in, out, in.

Here there is life of some sort

until, those

inevitable flames lick the debris,

which soon turn to ash

beginnings rekindle an end.

We take it in turns to turn away,

from all walls that we knew,

there’s little reason to stay.

And if he asks you – were we running?

Well, you can tell him we were flying,

do tell him we were flying.

By Jasmine Irving

(Last few lines reference to the song “Take This Hammer” http://www.lyricsfreak.com/l/leadbelly/take+this+hammer_20318147.html )