Saturday, 27 February 2010

Proper posture required

An article entitled 'proper posture required' put me in a tizz and out of kilter with my zazen for some time a few years back. The premise being that if you're not sitting in full lotus or atleast half lostus as stated in the fukanzazengi then you're not sitting zazen.

Being me I beat myself up about it, tried to stretch, tried to atleast get to burmese posture, ached limped, tried different height zafus. Went back to sitting on my bench for a while. Then back to the the pretzel twisting, reading articles on the web about the right stretches to do. Round and round and round again. Even when told not to worry, I did.

It was and never is going to happen, apart from anything else I have sports injuries that affect my knees and hips.

It still resides somewhere in me I'm sure, but the illness I've had , CFS/ME, has been a good teacher, as well as the other great teacher's I've had the fortune to meet and talk with. The proper posture I require is the posture that allows me to sit zazen. And that's I think, the proper posture everyone requires, the one that works for them.

Sometimes I lie down if I'm struggling as Alexander technique refers to as semi-supine, or the active rest position. Other times I sit on my bench. And that's been a quest in itself. Over the years my bench has changed in height and angle until it's just right for me, I've even added a cushion to it. What a revelation that was! My legs don't get so numb now and my upper back doesn't get the pain and tension it did. I've found a padded 'sausage' cushion is just the thing to support my hands and forearms to relieve the upper back pain.

I've also found that allowing my body to release and lengthen up, widen and expand has helped tremendously as detailed in this book on Alexander technique and this one too.

I'm sure plenty will disagree with me, but I seem to have found my 'proper posture' for now. But as we are a constantly changing living organism I expect that it will  change, both as I gain better use of myself, but also as I re-act with changing circumstances.

Sandwick Beach, Hillswick

It's been a bit of a rough week up here weather wise and for me too, with schools closed all week and Beren to look after. The strain is telling. But before Clare and Beren went off to Lerwick for the afternoon we decided to pop up to Hillswick in Eshaness and trudge through the deep snow to the beach in Sandwick Bay behind the village. Poor Beren needed to be carried in part even though I'd broken a trail for hill to walk through.

As we left the road we saw the cemetry, pretty much round, is that odd?

The we came down the steep snow covered shingle to the most beautifully sparkly beach I've been on. Flecks of dazzling muscovite micas from the local rocks glittered in the sun and washed in the gently lapping sea.

It was a glorious morning with winter sun one way...

... and clear blue skies and inviting water the other and Nista Skerries and other outcrops clear to see.

We were accompanied by a local camera shy sheep dog, wonder if he was after this huge dinosaur bone Clare found to sit on? It can't really be the first bit of proper tree drift wood we've seen surely, a dinosaur bone is much more likely!

The roads on the way to Hillswick were still piled up at the side with ploughed and drifted snow and here and there were some really pretty wind blown features marvel at, even some cornices. On the way back home we eventually found a place to park the car where we wouldn't get stuck to have a sandwich and a cuppa. Mangaster Voe with views out over Egilsay, Papa Stour and in the far distance Foula was great, but a narrow wind blown snow ridge caught my eye as it meandered up the rocky embankment.

They went to Lerwick and I'm supposed to be resting. So why am I writting this...

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Tide and Time

Tide and tide wait for no man sprang to mind yesterday whilst out on 'The Tresta Run'. Well it did eventually. The first thought as a hearse with coffin, possibly unoccupied, passed me in the snow was that death doesn't care whether the roads are open or not.

There's one ambulance for the whole of the Shetland Isles. That's only 23,000 people but spread over something like 26 inhabited islands and 100 miles top to bottom. Not suprising then that there is a call for a second ambulance. A man being taken to hospital in the back of a rental van added strength to that call. Luckily there is also a First Responder Scheme of volunteers in place.

There was a call for an independent service, may be still is...

Anyway, whether it's because I'm soon to be classed as a veteran (over 40) if I join Vidlin yoal rowing club or not I don't know, but for all I don't worry about death it's been present in my thoughts, dreams, and other's blogs lately. I've had disturbing nights which have left me feeling pretty grotty with unpleasant dreams in relation to others deaths, real and not, as well as some past incidents that greatly affect me. Once awake I've tried to just let the thoughts drift away, not to look for any meaning in them, not to try to detach from the emotionality of my dreams but not to feed those feelings either. The thoughts still come, as they do as I type this now, but I try to let them go of their own accord. Ignoring them, but not stopping them.

Why they come, I really don't know. Should I want to know, I don't know that either, but my intuition just tells me to let it go, breath and feel the present.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

The Tresta Run

Snow's been cleared off most main and side roads. There wasn't the predicted snow overnight. Clare's got back to the office and we've got a bit of cabin fever, so we decided to head out to a beach near a little place called Tresta going towards the west of Mainland Shetland near Bixter. I had planned to go from Voe via 'The Alps Road' but when I turned on to it I decided it was still far too slippy for a normal car, so we carried on for the Kergord and Weisdale route there.

It has been a fanstatic sunny day, still staying as low as -4.5c by the cars reckoning, but no wind and a bit of thaw going on it places. The beach was lovely no one but ourselves and then a bit later someone having a quick canter on a horse. Throwing stones, skimming stones and soaking in the view...

Sullom Voe near Brae

Heading towards Voe

The Kames

Tresta Beach...

Monday, 22 February 2010

Moories, Moorie-Caavies, Mell-Moories...

It's snowing again. More than ever. Lots and lots. Schools are shut. We're snowed in. I've cleared the car 3 times.

I tried to get to the 27 miles to 'da toon' for an appointment, but lost control just after leaving Firth and after 100m of sliding this way and that managed to stop just before I went in a big ditch, phew, double phew as there was no other traffic. I just came home, glad I did, otherwise I'd still be there now, along with other stuck people.

The road out

The main road to freedom

I know it's said that the Inuit have a hundred names for snow but there are a few here, even though 'everyone' says there's not usually much snow!

  • Bearing or Doonlay is snowfall
  • A moorie is a blizzard
  • A blinnd-moorie is a snow storm
  • A moorie-caavie is a violent blizzard
  • A mell-moorie is a violent blizzard of fine powdery snow, white out
  • Moor is heavy snow fall
  • Flukra are pretty snow shaped snow
  • Skalva are wet snow flakes
  • Muckle flukra/skalva are big ones
  • Peerie flukra/skalva are small ones
  • Snaa is just snow
  • A fann is a snow drift
  • hailey stanes, grof hail, smaa hail, go on take a guess...
I'm sure there are more, I know there are plenty of names for different types of rain and wind.

So what does this tell me? Do we really get lots of snow, wind and rain???

The good news is that it's forecast to get worse as the week goes on, apparently today was sunny. I think the order of the day for tomorrow might be sledging, hot chocolate and Shetland buttered toast...

Guitar hero, not...

I've been teaching myself to play guitar for the last 3 months on Clare's lady sized guitars. But as I like the sound I've made it harder by learning to play in DADGAD tuning and finger style too. Even better, I can find no one up here in Shetland who plays or teaches it so it's just me and my book...

Anyway I though I'd post a little video of some bits I've been learning on both guitars for contrast. The tension of trying to record it is evident, but also it's useful to see what I do when playing. Tension in my face, neck and chin forward, left hand fingers I'm not using rigid and tense. Alos lets me see tha Clare's guitar really does look as small as it feels for my less than lady sized hands!

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Sound Sands

With a grotty forecast of rising wind and snow showers we were surprised to wake up to yet another glorious winter scene and decided to make the most of it with a visit to Sound and Gulberwick. As it turned out we spent our time enjoying the beach at Sound before retiring to visit friends at Gulberwick for a cuppa and a grand surprise of a bag full that Shetland winter favourite, home cured reestit mutton.

At low tide The Holm of Sound is great for climbing about on and gives a great view of the wildlife in the crystal clear waters, seals, shags, gulls and grebes amongst others. I really need to re-learn my sea birds and waders up here, and get some binoculars.

We pottered about the beach for a while and Beren played with another toddler who was down there with his family, with me setting a bad example by rolling an old wheel around the beach much to their delight.

 It was a stunning day with lovely views over to the Ness of Sound...

...and the Ness of Trebister

On the way home we decided we best stop at Tescos to buy some bits and bobs and had a great view of grey seals basking in the early afternoon warmth without even having to leave the car.

Shetland weather is nothing but unpredictable, so after a wonderful morning and afternoon we arrived home to find a few flakes of snow were starting fall, 10 minutes later it was white over and it just continued to fall!

Saturday, 20 February 2010

At Otter Ayre there's otters there!

Sun sparkling, snow blinding, we set off for a short trip to what is so far our favourite part of Shetland, Muckle Roe, and a small, easily accessible beach, Otter Ayre.

Looking south into Muckle's interior

 Looking down on Otter Ayre

Snow bearded sheep were looking down on us too!

Clare took the burn with a heroic leap

Whilst Beren practised his stone levitation skills

And a seal found it all very interesting

Looking out from the beach the Drongs of Eshaness were clear to see

And nearer at hand some prehistoric shark fins broke the surface

But the thrill of the day was when Clare asked me what these prints were...

Up the hill with foot and tail drag marks clear to see...

Around the rabbit burrows and off up the burn

And we headed back up the hill too and to Frankies, the most northerly chippie in the UK

Northmavine Up Helly Aa!

Well just as I left the house to go to see Brydon Anderson and his squad of Bezerkers at Northmavine Up Helly Aa it started snowing. And it snowed . And it got worse the nearer I got to Hillswick. I even considered turning back, but just before Urafirth the skies cleared to reveal a beautiful moon and stars and a frozen mirror like Voe.

I even had hopes of a show of the mirrie dancers, but the procession was show enough and the galley crashing through the frozen Voe to it's firey end was very atmospheric.

Here's a short video of the evening

Friday, 19 February 2010

One step, two steps, no steps more...

Today is a stuningly gorgeous day in Shetland. Blue skies, not a bat of wind and snow dusted tops. Pity Clare had to take my camera with her to Unst today! So apologies first for the poor pictures off my decrepit mobile phone.

I decided to have a walk to Fethaland, the most northerly point of mainland Shetland. So set off up through Northmavine past frozen lochs, frost enchanted verges and a dazzlingly pure white Ronas Hill (far distance) towards  Ibister,where the road finally stops. 

I took photos of my first kye (cow) encounter on Shetland, but they seem to have dissapeared. I knew there were coos, as we buy Shetland milk, but I'd never seen them. So here they were and as you always get with coos, a gateway full of sharn to negotiate!

Since I've realised that stomping along is not the way for me to get anyhwere anymore I decided to treat this as a bit of a walking meditation. Thinking up, allowing my head to lead and my knees to naturally lift and let my legs swing forwards until they settled where they naturally settled. Very relaxed, stride fairly short and varying as the terrain did. I noticed an odd thing too. When I walked my arms naturally swing opposite my legs, but when I slowed down with shorter paces on the hills both arms changed to swinging together on each step. Short fast little swings back as each leg went forward. Go faster and back to the usual opposite swing, slow down and both together. How odd?

Walking along I could see Yell, red cliffs with a snow cap to the land beyond.

Along the way you see many old croft houses like this one in the distance.

Here's the first good view you get of The Isle of Fethaland, fethaland meaning fair or good grazing land. Light house on the top and Gruney island in the distance.

As you get closer you can see the narrow isthmuth that connects the Isle to Fethaland on the mainland.

In days gone by Haaf fishermen stayed here in the summer in between going out on the Haaf (deep sea) for cod and ling in sixareens, 6 man/oared fishing boats. Sometimes travelling upto 40 miles or more out to sea before returning to prepare and cure their catch while staying in the lodges they built. Once the season was over they'd remove the timber and turf roofs and store them to avoid them getting damaged by the winter gales, only to replace them next season.

Here's a video of a sixareen  and a fourareen constucted as a Shetland Museum Project

There are small stone lined recesses into the banksides where they'd drag up their boats and store them for protection from the elements. You can just about make some out in this photo of the south bay between and below the houses. Behind the houses is a feature which was thought to be the remains of a broch but the acheaologists now aren't sure what it is but, it's an ancient circular stone structure with a doorway.

After having lunch at the Haaf homestead I thought I'd carry on up to the lighthouse, knowing that I was too tired to day to go to the tip of Fethaland or search for the klebber stones on the east side. Klebber stone being a soap stone that has had bowls carved out of it and other markings carved into it. But after setting off again one step at a time I realised I was just too tired today, so stopped, sat down, had a drink and some caramel shortbread looking down on the north bay before heading back home.

On the way back I laughed to myself as I passed a track that leads to Sandvoe and later on saw Sandsvoe itself and the site of Simon King's near death river crossing on his TV program. Poor brand new 4x4 nearly got it's axles wet! I also saw the track you could take to get to the house without driving along the beach. That's TV for you!!

Oh, nearly forgot... In a surreal experience I nearly knocked over a hoard of Vikings on the way home! The Jarl Squad from Northmavine Up Helly Aa were visiting North Roe School and wandering out from behind their erm... coach? without looking. Luckily I was looking (amused) and slowed down and the Guiser Jarl waved me past LOL! I would have taken a picture but felt a little silly being nearly 40. Hope they have a good night of it. Might even go up there tonight as it's so nice...

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Wisdom of the Buddhas

Shakyamuni Buddha's path was to take the middle way, avoid the extremes.

Old Puffer Pete of Chuggington has similar advice:
"An even pace with and even load is best to ride the road"

Well with this in mind, after several years of me and Clare sitting on uncushioned sitting benches I made I've finally added some foam and covering. And guess what, it's loads more comfortable!

Old Puffer Pete may be old and slow but he gets the job done still, sage advice for me, and may be a few others too.

Monday, 15 February 2010


If we could get out tonight, as I type, the Mirrie Dancers are allegedly strutting their stuff right above us now, but when I looked out I was lucky to see the front gate with the wind and rain!

We made the most of it yesterday on Muckle Roe and I'm not too sore today, but Clare is off today and tomorrow and with strong winds and pelting rain most of the time, sleet for tomorrow and more heavy snow for wednesday we're cooped up inside for once.

An enforced rest won't do me any harm though, as I have a job interview as a support worker for COPE's Tree and Plant Nursery on wednesday. So time has been well spent researching social enterprise and adult learning difficulties. This will be my second venture back to employment since I had to leave teaching due to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS/ME). The first time was last spring summer when I built up a music based business for events and schools using the didgeridoo but unfortunately as the work load increased my capacity did the opposite and I was soon back on the sick.

I've spent over 3 years trying to identify my triggers, manage and pace activities, both physical and mental, with a lot of support from my wife, family and friends as well as professionals such as those at Leeds CFS/ME Service . It's not been easy, definitely an up hill struggle both with myself, the condition and the powers that be. Often two steps forwards and one back and usually due to my in ability to let go of my ego and realise that I am me now, not as I was.

The key factors for me have been reducing stress with both mental and physical relaxation, shiatsu, alexander technique, guided visualisations, meditation; whatever works for you. Lightning Process worked for me too and helped me make massive improvements, though it wasn't cheap, it was worth every penny.

Other major things were identifying foods that were less than helpful, and I don't just mean junk (which I have an on going battle with). Everyone's different an it's takes time to figure it out but I found that if I didn't eat before 11am-ish, didn't eat wheat until later in the day, avoided coffee and alchohol totally, limitted tea, fizzy drinks, no artificial sweetners in food as well as spicy or smoked foods and cut out the junk  my stomach settled down. My body got a break to repair and I felt much better in myself.

Exercise or in my case over doing it has been my biggest bug-bear though! I've tried graded exercise and exercise on prescription which were a total loss due to the lack of understanding of those taking the class and my insistence of going for it when they encouraged me, to the point I got quite ill again.

What I have found is that if I can manage to keep my level of exertion at a low level, no huffing and puffing, I can plod along quite a bit. Muckle Roe on the bike nearly killed me, but walking there yesterday wasn't bad, bearing in mind at about 7 miles it's the longest walk I've done for over 3 years even if we were out about 4 hours!

Similarly in the gym. If I do the cardio-vascular work out so beloved of fitness palaces, I just get worse and worse over a short period of time and recovery between sessions is non-existent.

But I was introduced to Body By Science the other year. The basis of the book is a high intensity training program (HIT) using weights that is done once a week or even fortnight, yes just once for around 15 minutes. It was designed by a doctor for rehabilitation and elderly people to develop muscle mass and skeletal strength to protect the body without un-necessarily reducing your everyday capacity due to recovery issues. It's based around a base of 5 compound exercises, or even just 3 if need be. By working the muscles as it describes you work all the muscle fibres in a very short time to stimulate growth, but not over work them, and give them plenty of recovery.

It is a very different way to your usual weights routine, intense when you do it, but brief and it has certainly helped me no end. As well as helping the muscles regain functional strength due to the way it works it also help metabolise excess insulin that might be in your system from lack of mobility and poor diet so can help with other concerns.

Here's some free articles by the author. The book is really cobbled togethr from some of these with some added extras but you can see how it works and how to train from these.  I'm back at the gym once a week for 15 minutes doing it after settling down after the move and stright away noticing improvements.

Anyway I'm going to end on a light hearted note to amuse you. Aren't parents cruel eh? Just look at this picture of me and my brother (sorry John) up in Scotland when we were peerie. I'd never inflict that on Beren!

Sunday, 14 February 2010

A family valentines venture

It's Valentines Day, a fresh day, and a chance to walk off the excellent curry we had at The Gurkha Nepalese Restaurant in Lerwick for Clare's birthday.

Which way to go then?

Well the yowes (sheep) couldn't make their mind up where we should go, so we decided to head for North Ham on Muckle Roe first.

As we approached we got a great view of Town Loch which leads out into the sea beyond the cove.

An old croft stands up above the loch. What a fantastic location!

We found a lovely sheltered spot on the shore for a picnic with circling spoot scories or maalies (fulmars) on the high cliffs on the left. Luckily no spoot on us!

After a break and realising the wind was picking up and the sky darkening we decided to nip over the headland to South Ham to be delighted to see a few Sylkies (seals) very close in and dratsi (otter) spraint too but no dratsi to be seen. Walking out on the jetty we could see right to the bottom of the crystal clear water, so inviting if not for the awaiting chill.

 A couple great spots to camp in the summer and a lot less tiring than riding there! Next on the agenda for Muckle Roe is Otter Ayre and Otter Hill, bet you can't guess what we hope to see there? But for now the forecast is heavy rain for the rest of the week and more snow by the end. Luckily we made it home before the wind and rain got bad!

Here's a little video montage of our day...