The Other Side

First Published, 1st May, 2015

A short phase of my life that has felt like it’s lasted a lifetime has come to an end. It’s been seven weeks since I broke my foot. But finally I am walking out the other side.

Three weeks ago my cast came off and my foot was a swollen purple and green mess. The range of motion in my ankle had reduced to barely being able to move my foot up and down. My brain was able to command two out of five toes to squeeze shut and open. Movement through the middle of my foot? Zero. And my right leg had noticeably atrophied. It’s been like having an alien limb attached to me, which I have no control over. I can’t tell it what to do because I can’t connect to it. It doesn’t listen.

I started rehab. Rehab hasn’t been comfortable or fun. Apart from when I had to pick up marbles with my toes… but even that was painful. I remember when I first touched the skin on my foot after my cast came off, it felt like burning and then I thought I would vomit. I had to mobilise, move and massage as often as possible, but still no walking. Still hopping, still using crutches, still crawling around the gym on my knees to carry cups of coffee.

I don’t think I’ve ever spent so much time in hospital. Each week ends and begins on Friday afternoon when I go to hospital. Every time I have been X-rayed and every time I’ve been told my foot was healing well and there was no bone displacement. Every hospital visit has been one step closer to walking. One week further away from when things broke.

When I was allowed to start putting weight onto my foot (with the assistance of crutches) my first thought was what if I hurt myself again? Trying to figure out the difference between pain because it’s having to work and heal, and pain because something is wrong has been challenging. Trusting myself that I can do what my body needs has been more so, since it was my fault I injured it in the first place.

It’s been a really strange experience breaking a bone and then feeling my body healing itself. My first injury that has felt like it was never going to get better. Despite never experiencing pain like a broken bone before, I think it’s been more painful mentally than physically. The loss of independence, the inability to demonstrate when teaching, anything taking twice as long to do, the exhaustion and the isolation it created. So much frustration when I have to try and be patient.

The irony is that the stronger we try and make ourselves physically, the more vulnerable we become to injury. This is why listening to your body is so important. I have said this so many times to myself and still ignored it. But now I’ve seen how even just a broken bone can affect so much and I can’t afford to let that happen again. If a muscle or a joint starts screaming at me to stop then it’s time to stop. I am still training, but at a far slower pace. It’s simple and unimpressive, but nothing is hurting.

Now I can walk and now my rehab really begins. I can’t run or jump or tumble but it doesn’t matter because I can walk. And I am forever grateful for both of my feet.

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Broken Bones

First Published, 10th April, 2015

Three weeks ago I broke my foot. I jumped off a rock during a training session and my foot slipped on a tree root as I landed. My landing was so heavy that the force of my bodyweight went into the back of my foot. I heard it crack and felt it tearing. I shouldn’t have been training, I was too tired to be throwing myself over rocks. That stupid mindset of “I should always be training…”

It’s not ideal, that just two and a half months into my life in Japan I break something. I’ve never broken a bone and so it’s been another new experience. In a few seconds everything went from being completely normal to being in a lot of pain, going to hospital, having X-rays and a cast put on, then being handed crutches and going back home.

The first time I used my crutches for any considerable distance was ridiculous. After about a minute I was exhausted. The first time I “walked” home, it took my fourty minutes. After two weeks I did that same distance in 25 minutes. They are getting easier to use. It’s amazing how fast the body adapts. I guess my arms are getting stronger and my body is becoming more coordinated.

The novelty of wearing a cast on my foot wore off after a few days. Apart from keeping my foot safe it didn’t help me move. I have been wrapping it in a plastic bag when I shower. I made it slightly more entertaining by getting the kids to sign it, so it’s been graffitied with English, Hiragana and Kanji. Doing everything on my left leg is hard work and I’m surprised it’s still in one piece. I am becoming a pro hopper and I have never been grateful for pistol squats.

So now I am a foreigner blonde hair, blue eyes and a broken foot, hobbling on crutches. I am even more of something to be stared at now. “Walking” home or to a massage or anywhere, I get stared at. But then someone moves out of my way so I can easily get past them, or a car stops, or someone smiles and I remember I am in a place full of so much kindness.

Speaking of kindness, I have once again been surrounded by support from people who’ve made sure I can still do the things I need to do each day. This has been wonderful and awful at the same time, because the guilt of being such a burden on others hasn’t felt good. But the amount of care I’ve had, I won’t be forgetting anytime soon.

Of course my training has changed and will continue to be different. Lower body training is not an option. So working on rings, training core and more in depth stretching are what I’m focusing on. That’s one great thing about the body. It’s made up of so many parts that when one part breaks, the rest of the body adapts and you work with what you’ve got. It’s really really wonderful having arms.

I don’t want to admit that I’ve struggled as much as I have with my foot. I wanted to be that person who says, oh well never mind. I am not. Even thought I know it’s temporary, even though I know it could have been SO much worse, the frustration of everything being slower and taking longer and depending on people like I had to when I first got to Japan has been really hard. I feel like my body has spectacularly let me down. Or maybe I let it down. Either way I didn’t listen to it, but I am learning a lot more about what it needs and how to take care of it.

Yesterday my cast came off and now I start rehabbing my foot. I know it will be a slow process, but that doesn’t matter. I don’t care about when I am able to cartwheel again or even jump. All I want is to be able to walk. On my own, without crutches, on both legs. That is what I am most looking forward to. Things will get easier and the rest will come.

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Finding My Way

First Published, 12th March, 2015

Being in Japan I am experiencing challenges on a daily basis, some tiny and some a bit less tiny. It’s been a pretty steep learning curve and I know it will continue to be. Everything is so different and I am so far out of my comfort zone. I’ve had a lot of support from the people around me, which I realise has been positive and negative. Having someone to depend on means I do less for myself, because I don’t have to. I think there are things that I can’t do on my own, so I don’t.

Ryan has been in Amsterdam for the past 8 days, and this is the first time since I’ve been in Japan where the person who felt like my main source of support hasn’t been here. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t slightly worried before he left. But he got on a plane and I had two choices… To flail in despair over a situation I couldn’t control, or to figure out what to do each day to achieve everything I needed to.

When a situation arises and my attempt to deal with it fails, or I can’t figure out what to do, I am very quick to either freak out or just say screw it. That ability to stop, breathe and logically think about a different approach is something I lack. What happens next is the chaotic thoughts that make no sense start running around and I can’t step back from the situation to reassess. It isn’t helpful or productive. I decided I really couldn’t afford to let this happen.

Trying to take things one step at a time and break my days up into different tasks made things a little bit easier. I imagined it like eating pie. You take bites and you chew your food, you don’t shove the whole thing in your mouth in one go and swallow. You would probably choke. As soon as I started looking at everything I had to do for the whole week it felt like too much. I do this all the time. I am focussing on what’s in the future and hasn’t even happened yet. I get overwhelmed, I can’t see past how I feel at the time, and figuring out a solution? Well yeah, but no it doesn’t happen. So in this situation I had to find a way to stop myself choking.

I had to make all my own choices this week with slightly less guidance, and discovered I can actually trust myself to decide what I want and what is best for me. I did things I probably wouldn’t have done if I hadn’t been in this situation. I stopped questioning everything and started doing. No one to translate to my massage therapist? Ok I just need to learn basic phrases to be able to say which part of my body hurts. I want to get out of the city so I will go walk up a mountain. I don’t know how to get there? Get on the train and figure it out. I can always ask some nice Japanese person if I get lost. Walk everywhere, see more, try and talk more. Learn more.

It’s easy to hold yourself back by obsessing over the past, or push yourself too much by chasing after the future. This is the when we miss things. I didn’t want to spend 8 days missing everything that was happening because I was too afraid to do anything. And as a result a lot has changed in a short space of time. Things that were scaring the s*** out of me don’t scare me anymore. Situations that I thought were complicated turned out to be pretty simple. Most importantly I’ve learnt there is always a solution to any problem, and I don’t always need someone else to help me figure it out. If the first attempt doesn’t work you try again. There is ALWAYS a solution.

Support… I have a lot more of that than I realised from the rest of my family here. I still want that support and I still need support and guidance from Ryan, but now I am also learning how to support myself. I won’t always get it right and there are still a lot of creases that need ironing out. But looking at my goals for self-development, I am putting this one fairly high on my priority list. No one’s going to draw me a map. I have figure out how to walk my own path.

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Running in Circles

First Published, 26th February, 2015

I feel like I have just come to the end of a circle. It’s February, 2015 and I am back in the same place, where my journey originally started. The irony is that through total naivety, I had it right from the beginning. I spent five consecutive years chasing after what I thought I should be doing and I’ve been doing it for other people, not myself. But every good, bad and worse step has been crucial to lead me to this point in my life. Here is what has happened.

2010.

I’m at University and I’ve hit a wall. A combination of bad lifestyle choices and serious neglect of my health has resulted in a mental and physical burnout. I’ve reached a crossroads and I can either go left continuing the same path, I can go right and completely give up or I can take a step forwards and start making some changes. It’s never as simple as clicking your fingers and knowing what the right decision is. So what’s going to help me?

I’m going to create an outlet. I’m going to run.

I remember the first time I ever went running. I ran until I couldn’t breathe, ran out the anger and the pain of my situation, and pounded my frustration into the concrete. In the space of 20 minutes I had created an outlet for myself that would lead me to exactly where I am today. I decided I wanted to be strong and I wanted to be healthy. At the time I didn’t understand what fitness really was. I wanted to value myself again and I found that this was a way I could build back some confidence and trust in my own body.

I can feel everything coming back into balance. All the chemicals in my body that are out of sync have started to readjust and my body is starting to repair itself. I can sleep well, I am able to relax and when I wake up I feel happy.

2011.

Exercise became something I felt so passionate about that I wanted to share it with other people and so I became a personal trainer. I figured if I could help improve someone’s life even just a little bit, by encouraging them and teaching them that they are worthwhile through achieving physical goals, then I was heading in the right direction.

I’m starting to learn more about the human body, what it’s capable of and what I can do with my own. I see a lot more potential than just running. I’m learning how to jump, how to swing a kettlebell, how to sprint, how to squat, deadlift, press, and how to train with my own body weight. I want all that strength and power and I want to show other people that they can find theirs.

Hello Crossfit, can I join your fanclub please? Oh hello Fran, nice to meet you…

2012.

It’s the beginning of the year and I am getting close to burnout. It’s becoming harder to apply this self care and wellness when focussing so much on other people. I’m losing my enjoyment for training because I am running myself into the ground, stuck in the mind set of it only counts if it leaves me breathless and in pain. I’ve lost my passion for teaching and pretty much had enough.

This time around I didn’t stop before things got out of hand and so I ended up in hospital, too sick to work and for the first month after coming home I could barely move my body. Maybe I had adrenal fatigue, maybe it was something else but either way I had to start again trying to rebuild my body and make it strong again. So I did.

And a good way to do this is to squat 6 days a week for 3 months, yuuuuuup.

It’s September and I’ve just reached my first 10 second freestanding handstand. I came off the wall, my shoulders were closed, my back was arched and my feet were twitching. This is one of the best moments and one of the biggest achievements for me in my training. It doesn’t matter if it looks kind of crappy or what you think about it because for me, it’s huge. I have done this only for myself and trained it on my own. I’ve worked so hard, and my broken body is piecing itself back together.

2013.

I wasn’t putting a lot of pressure on myself at this point. I was messing around, trying a lot of different ways of training but mainly doing what I wanted to and what I enjoyed. I was doing little bits of parkour with friends, a lot of ring training, handstands, climbing, and gymnastics. I followed different people like Coach Sommers and Ido Portal. When I got bored of something I moved on to the next thing. When I found something I loved I would binge-train it for weeks.

I’ve just found out about GMB… I’ve joined Alpha so that I can learn more about different ways of moving, different skills, and have support from a community of like minded people and awesome coaches. I’m working on their Movement Multivitamin course and everything I know about training is expanding. I’m jumping, rolling, tumbling and balancing. Because of an injury I’ve been working mostly on handstands as my main skill.

I’ve hit 60 seconds freestanding. I win.

This is where Ryan comes into things. He started to coach me privately and I went back to structured, goal oriented training. This was really important for me to do, especially since I was working towards certain skills. Within this structure there was still freedom to play and I learnt more about auto regulation. But this was also where I realised how I could learn skills by messing around. For example, I taught myself how tuck handstand just by feeling where I needed to shift the weight of my body. Having the guidance and support of someone like Ryan meant I was able to achieve things with my body I didn’t know I could. Looking back I think I then made the mistake of taking this one step too far, and unfortunately I stopped listening to my coach.

2014.

I want to train nothing but handstands. I only care about being upside down.

I’m working with different coaches to learn more about hand balancing. I am learning the “right” way to do this. I will make them perfect. It doesn’t matter how many hours I spend as long as I can get them right. I want to keep chasing this… well, keep chasing after my handstand.

I lost sight of why I was doing things and it became more about projecting a certain image than enjoyment. I wanted the outcome and the process was just a means to an end. My muscles were breaking down, and because I felt weaker I trained more to try and make myself stronger. But my aggressive and illogical attitude towards my training exacerbated the situation and stressed my body out to the point that it could barely move. It turned into a monster and the outcome was the complete opposite to what I actually wanted. In the summer I decided to go down the rubber band route. But that was also because I just didn’t have the energy to volume train skills anymore. At least I could take beautiful photographs, right? By the time I came back from California in September I could barely hold a handstand, let alone train them for three hours.

I had three injuries last year. I ripped my cartilage in my left knee, injured my ribs and damaged my right rotator cuff resulting in shoulder subluxation and wrist problems. I messed around too much with my diet, again thinking there has to be one perfect way to eat. The inconsistency, restriction and lack of nutrients created a chemical imbalance. A year of disruptive sleep patterns, over training, and mental exhaustion were not worth it for that “perfect” photograph of a… whatever mattered to me at the time.

2015.

I’ve just moved to Japan I’m back with Ryan, working on repairing the damage. I have to start repairing my shoulder and my wrist. No bridging, no handstands, no intense upper body training. My knees and ankles are unstable and I can hardly balance. I can’t pistol anymore, my leg strength is gone. I’m jumping rope and I can’t breathe. I can’t coordinate how I move the way I used to be able to. But I am starting the process of doing this, starting all over again to try and be strong and more importantly healthy. The difference this time round is that I have the most amazing person walking beside me, helping me heal.

It’s been nearly two months since I arrived here. I can’t remember the last time I felt like my body was actually getting stronger. I can’t remember when I didn’t have to force myself to move, or only feel like I had accomplished something by working to the point of exhaustion. It’s only been in the last two months, experiencing so many changes in my lifestyle, my work environment, my food, my perspective and all the beautiful people I’m surrounded with that I can see how completely and utterly lost I was. Because training is no longer all that I care about and all that I do, so when I do do it I want it to mean something to me. I want it to matter for the right reasons and I want it to count.

I want to run again.

If it fills you with strength then why not run? There is something to be said for the freedom you can find in literally moving your body fast. So I want to think beyond that. What happens if you can run and jump? Run and climb, run and somersault, run and fall and then run again. I have explored a lot of different ways of exercising my body. I have been incredibly obsessive about training and incredibly closed minded. I realise now it’s not about what you do but about why you do it. I stopped running because I thought there were “better” ways of training. Nothing is better, it’s just different.

Mentally and physically I am looking for something I can do that won’t result in burnout. I want something that lifts me up instead of breaking me down. I want to do something that I love so much, it doesn’t matter what I am able to do as long as it makes me happy. No more judgement, just enjoyment.

That simple freedom I found in running when I was 20 years old is returning. I am training what I want, how I want and I am doing it out of pure love for the way it makes me feel. I finally decided to stop fighting with myself and start fighting for myself. Every day I want to wake up and know that I will do something to help make me a little bit stronger and a little bit happier, so that when I trip over a railing or fall off a wall it doesn’t take me as long to stand back up. I will stand up and move towards whatever is coming next, and if I can backflip over it then that would be pretty cool.

If not I know I can run.

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Reflecting on 2014

First Published, 2nd January, 2015

2014 has been a year of challenges, big changes and a lot of excitement. Many many things have been totally amazing. I could list everything I got up to over the past year but it’s already been documented through my blog, Facebook and Instagram. So instead I’ve just scribbled down my thoughts and written them out here.

My training.

Training this year has involved learning how to push myself but not to breaking point, being open to work on weaknesses and not just my strengths, and being able to work around injury and taking the positives from this.

The more creative I’ve become with the way I moved, the more missing links I’ve found in my body. A huge one was flexibility. Wanting to be able to touch my toes to my head in a handstand started the obsession with working on back bends. Flexibility has become a huge priority for me and I learnt that just like any skill, it takes volume and repetition to make progress. And patience. A lot of patience. But it’s worth it for all the demented positions I can now get myself into.

In the summer I tore cartilage in my right knee (according to the doctors) by trying to force my legs into lotus pose. Suddenly I only had full use of my weaker leg. I learnt to kick up into handstand on my uncoordinated weak side, which was something that helped start to balance out both sides of my body. I hated it at first because it felt like learning handstands again from scratch.

Speaking of handstands, I learnt a lot about what a “handstand line” means. I have to say it was a priority to be as straight as a nail for about two months until I decided I actually enjoyed letting my back arch to make shapes. Figuring out what was actually important to me with my training, rather than what was important to other people was pretty liberating.

Keeping as open a mind as possible when it comes to training has been another important lesson this year. Thinking that there is only one right way to do things is unbelievably limiting. I have been fortunate enough to learn from so many brilliant coaches and fellow students. Two months ago I started teaching a weekly GMB class at Crossfit Stags and Does in Cambridge, which is where I am now regularly training. Crossfit was my introduction into the world of strength and movement. I don’t train it any more, and despite primarily being at the box to teach what I do, I have learnt so much from the Coaches. I’ve learnt things I couldn’t get to grips with when I actually did Crossfit like double-unders, and I never knew how much I love Turkish Get Ups. The more you can learn, the more you can share and experience and that’s what creates our community.

GMB.

I began the GMB Trainer candidacy in April. It wasn’t a hard decision to make since Ryan was already my coach and I loved my training. What was hard was actually becoming a trainer. There were plenty of moments where I wanted to quit and just go off and do my own thing like a sulky teenager. But I didn’t and I became part of an amazing group of people who are like a second family.

I finally got to meet Ryan, Andy, and Jarlo in California in August, as well as the other GMB staff and trainer candidates (because at that point we hadn’t graduated). I was amazed at how we all instantly clicked with each other. Some of my favourite moments include… when I first met Ryan, he walked into the house carrying shopping bags and I ran up and hugged him. Since he couldn’t hug me back he just stood there awkwardly holding his shopping until I let go… Reading bed time stories to Ryan and Jarlo’s kids… Eating korean food and then going back to the beach house to do some acrobalance for absolutely no reason… Handstands in the garage… And the seminar was pretty good too.

I came back from California and began working as an admin assistant for Amber and Jarlo, answering emails. That’s right, when you email info@gmb.io you are now likely to get a response from me. Interacting with our clients and so many different people on a daily basis is teaching me so much more about the company, the best way to give help and advice and how to communicate this in a friendly but professional way. I never thought I would enjoy answering emails so much but I love it.

In October Ryan came over to teach a weekend Seminar which I had organised in Cambridge. Having my coach in my home town was amazing. We weren’t there for long though, because after the seminar we travelled a little bit, from London to Paris to Amsterdam, where we taught another Seminar. What I actually mean is Ryan taught and I assisted him. I got to watch and admire, help our students and occasionally bring him coffee because I have mad skills when it comes to pressing the button on the coffee machine.

In December I went to Scotland to stay with GMB Trainer Gayle. She is wonderful and we spent three days training, eating, training, eating, training, and oh yeah spent four hours getting tattooed. Due to her insane strength, this tiny 58kg woman was able to lift me while we worked on some acrobalance together. A lot of time was also spent upside down.

Travel.

This is the first year I’ve really travelled around so much. I was in California for three weeks and managed to visit San Jose, Los Angeles, Salinas, Monterey and San Diego. And then Paris, Amsterdam and Glasgow later in the year. They were all very short visits, but I realised that I could adapt to any environment or situation. I was fortunate that I was with such great people everywhere I went. I know that had a huge impact on my experience.

I didn’t realise how small the world actually is. It’s incredibly easy to get from one country to another and I want to visit more places, see more, experience more and continue meeting new people. It isn’t worth hiding yourself away when there is so much more out there for you.

Personal Development.

I would like to think I have grown up a lot this year, but I also feel like I am only just starting out in life. This year has been like a bridge for me. It’s taken me from living a very safe, quiet life through a string of experiences to get me ready for 2015.

I’ve learnt about the things that are really important to me both in training and in life, and how to separate this from what’s unhelpful or irrelevant. A big thing this year has been understanding how to find balance, and not just in a handstand or on one leg. I am still trying to find balance, to not over train, not over think, worry less and enjoy more. Work hard but be able to relax. Lots of stuff to work on. But like I said, I am just starting out. I am still a baby and still have so much to learn.

2015.

I thought last year was life changing and I mean it was but, what is about to happen in my life is going to change it in ways I could never imagine. In 11 days I am moving to Japan. I am going to be working and living out there. But I am also going to be in a new environment, learning how to be part of a new culture and how to speak another language. I’m leaving everything that I know for something completely uncertain, but then I guess nothing in life is certain anyway. There will be a lot of things I miss and I’m sure at times I will want to come back to England (yeah maybe…) I’m choosing to put myself as far outside my comfort zone as possible. Because I want more from my life. And it’s going to be totally amazing.

2014

2014 wouldn’t have been what it was without the people who were there with me. So thank you to all my special people… I could make a list but it would be very long and boring to read.

The Cambridge GMB Seminar: Mindful Movement

First Published, 22nd November, 2014

My understanding of Gold Medal Bodies has always been this: they teach and encourage people to learn how to move, feel strong, be healthy and live the best life possible, to be able to do the things they need to do each day. We all see what they put out onto the internet. Articles, photographs, tutorials, a lot of information. So, with so much information already out there why would it be worth going to a seminar? Here’s why.

This past weekend I hosted two GMB seminars in Cambridge, UK. This is the first time Gold Medal Bodies have come to England and the first time I’ve ever hosted a seminar. I was there to assist Ryan along with Gayle, GMB’s Scottish Trainer, and so it was a very new experience for me.

The first seminar to put it simply, was a day of mindful movement. How to connect the body and mind in order to be fully present in what you are doing. As people started to arrive there was definitely nervousness and apprehension. Everyone was quiet as they waited for the seminar to start. And then Ryan began to teach. He gave off an excited yet relaxed energy, which immediately put everyone at ease. We were all completely absorbed in what was going on and that level of focus meant everyone could give 100%. A lot of material was covered throughout the day. What I want to share are some of the concepts that were covered and how things were taught, because for me this is what it’s all about.

Simplification:

Take a movement. Break it down. Simplify it. This is where you start from. You work backwards in order to be able to move forwards and make progress. It’s always easy to skip this part when training, but it makes things much harder in the long run. We talk about the basics all the time, but we need to understand how they connect to the more complicated movements and skills. When you don’t understand that connection it’s easy to think it’s unnecessary or irrelevant for your training. Or because it’s not “difficult” or “impressive” it’s not worth doing. As an example, I want to be able to do a bent arm stand so I have a go. But I have no strength and I can’t figure out how to balance it. Well why not start with the simplest progression? This would be a bear crawl, and was the very first movement we worked on in the seminar. Straight arms and legs, weight forwards, loading the shoulders, keeping it slow and controlled. Even this can be a challenge and it works so many elements. Simple movements can be pretty humbling, which I think everyone experienced and appreciated.

So as the body and the brain become more comfortable with it you can start to work through the progressions.

Progression:

I want to say “once you’ve mastered the basics” but that’s a bad way to word it because you are always working to improve. So once you’ve become confident and comfortable with the basics you can then start to progress them. During the seminar Ryan started with very simple tweaks, for example with the bear crawl, instead of stepping each leg forwards, why not step one leg across the other, or drop one hip, or bend the arms? Each progression is like a building block, creating a stable structure and so if you miss out part of the foundation, miss out a progression, then things become less stable. Your body is less able to progress, the process slows down and it’s very likely you will have to go back to the part that you skipped over anyway.

When you have learnt how to safely progress a movement and it’s different variations you can start to explore.

Exploration:

Exploration comes as soon as you realise that one movement is not limited to how it’s presented to you. It encourages you to think, learn how to solve problems and it’s also about being able to play. It allows you to have more freedom in your body and be creative. There are so many ways to move in and out of a single movement. There are different ways to move through a movement and an infinite number of ways to create sequences. Here you can break down structure, while still challenging your brain and your body. This also creates a stronger connection between the two, improving communication with yourself, understanding your limitations but more importantly understanding your capability. Some of the best parts of the seminar for me were when the students practiced and played with movements, exuding freedom, and whether they knew it or not, expressing themselves in a completely new way.

Then surely next the step is to refine and perfect our movement. Right?

Perfection:

This is something that is talked about a lot but is always either ignored or focussed on too much. Nothing we ever do is perfect in training or in life. And yet everything we do is perfect because it’s what we are able to do right now, right in that moment. That’s all we can do. At no point during the seminar did Ryan, myself or Gayle walk up to someone and say, “sorry that’s not very good”, “that’s completely wrong”, or “it HAS to be done like this!”. We looked at what each individual COULD do. Of course they can improve, because we can always improve, but everybody’s body is so different that you can’t expect one standard. Some people have more strength, some are more flexible, and others have better motor skills. For me, if I can take a person who can hold themselves upside down but “can’t balance”, and I help them find that balance, then let go and watch them hold it, that is the most amazing thing. It really isn’t about perfection, it’s about teaching people that they can do things they didn’t think they could. We wanted to challenge the students, take them out of their comfort zones and really make them think because GMB is about breaking through mental barriers as well as physical ones.

I really feel that Ryan has a gift. He looks at someone and knows instantly what they need. He can see what they can do whether they know it or not. He communicates with such clarity and adapts to every individual because everyone needs something different. As a teacher this is something I am trying to develop to be able to better help my students. But he is also genuine and nothing that he does is about ego. It’s all for us, for his students. I know people will agree with me when I say the person you see online is exactly what you get in real life. The day was truly amazing because he was himself and none of us could have asked for anything more. I am incredibly grateful to have been part of such an amazing experience, and can’t wait for the next one.

Cambridge Say Group

I want to say thank you to every single person who came to the seminar and made it awesome. We couldn’t have asked for a better group of people. I also want to say thank you to Ryan for flying all the way from Japan for us, for giving me so much guidance, and for just being amazing.

Chasing that Line

First Published, 11th November, 2014. This post is dedicated to Christopher Michael.

The great thing about Facebook is we see things that other people can do and become inspired. The totally crap thing about Facebook is we see things that other people can do and we compare ourselves.

Handstands. How straight is your line right now? I ask this because it suddenly seems so important to be able to hold the “perfect straight line”. It seems that to be considered good at handstands, or to be training them correctly, you must get a straight line. Everyone wants that illusive line. What is this straight line we are aiming for? Well if you take a pencil and draw a line with a ruler then that’s a straight line.

The idea here is that every part of the body is neatly stacked up, one joint on top of another, in order to create a stable position with minimal energy expenditure. Toes and feet on top of hips on top of shoulders on top of wrists. So obviously that makes sense, and that is what we want to aim for.

But this is something I started obsessing over when I realised my handstand WAS NOT STRAIGHT. I talked about this in a previous blog post. I had started planching at my shoulders resulting in an arch in my back. It was fairly obvious and so I set about correcting this with the help of some great coaches. However, it became something that I focused on so much I just couldn’t be happy with any of my handstands. I would watch videos back and pick each one apart. It didn’t matter if I had improved my line because it still wasn’t where I wanted it to be, therefore it sucked.

When I achieved my first 60 second handstand just over a year ago, did I look at it and start critiquing my line? No I did not because I had just achieved my first 60 second handstand! Yes it could have been straighter but I wasn’t bent like a banana. I was looking at all the hard work I had put into achieving this. The strength I had developed, the endurance I had built up. The balance to stay upside down for that length of time. When you start handstands from zero as an adult with no real background in gymnastics or movement, reaching that goal feels pretty amazing. And I remember how much I celebrated it, rather than sitting there finding reasons why it wasn’t actually any good. I do also remember how desperate I was to get the video onto YouTube so I didn’t lose the evidence that I had held it.

And yet now, nothing feels good enough. I reach my toes to my head, but on the days I don’t get my feet to my head it doesn’t count for anything. I held front splits, which is harder upside down since you can’t push against anything to force your legs apart. But my left leg was lifted a little high so it’s not a full split. I got a hollow back stag, but my shoulders weren’t open as much as they should be so the curve isn’t smooth enough. I can hold a nice tuck, but my back should be arched more enabling my knees to come closer to my chest.

I can hold a straight handstand. But here is a list of everything wrong with it.

I am incredibly lucky to have met, trained with and learnt from some amazing hand balancers. But my current hand balancing coach is pretty special. We talked about the issues I have with the quality of my handstand and he said that you have to work with what you have. You find the method, the process, the position, the line that works for you and your body. Because everybody’s body is different. When working OAHS drills with him, if I think push up, push my damn shoulder up, I try and force it so much that I waste energy, I stop breathing and I fatigue instantly. If I let my shoulder drop a little bit and actually relax, my body becomes lighter, I move more easily and I need less and less spotting. I may not have “perfect” shoulders but I have control.

I had to give similar advice to someone, who said that because he didn’t have great range of motion in his shoulders he was constantly fighting to hold his handstand. And he couldn’t get into a great position. I said what my coach had said to me. Sometimes with things like handstands we have to train them however we are able to perform them. If you don’t have the overhead range of motion that you feel you need, just start working on finding the balance with the range of motion you do have. If you are constantly fighting for the position you will fatigue quickly and struggle to make progress. If you relax a little bit more into a comfortable position then you can work on improving balance. Continue using the floor and the wall to work on your line, strength and endurance. Keep working on opening your shoulders with stretching and mobility. All these elements equal handstand.

A wonderful person I am coaching held an eight second free standing handstand, he just stuck it from a kick up, for the first time ever. I was so excited, because it was amazing to see his progress! And he said, yeah but my shoulders are still really closed and bla bla bla… But who cares because he got a solid balance and that’s amazing! But see we are now so critical of everything.

I am not advocating poor form when it comes to handstands. There is a big difference between doing something with poor form that will result in an injury and doing something with “not as good as it could be” form because you’ve just started learning it. Most people when beginning learning handstands will not have great form. And even physiology plays a part in this. I mean if you squat heavy things and you have a very nice butt, it’s unlikely you will ever be able to completely flatten that in a handstand. And if you aren’t training for Cirque, does that kind of thing really matter?

So why not look at it like this? Whatever you do is perfect because it’s what you are able to do on the day. Your handstand is perfect. Because you are upside down on your hands. It’s beautiful whatever shape you are in. There shouldn’t be standards when you train it for fun, just encouragement for everyone doing the thing they love. We all want to work hard to get better and better at what we do. But if we can’t appreciate each moment, each movement, each time we hold our balance a second longer than before, then what is the point? I looked back over my progress from the start to where I am now. And every handstand, every tiny improvement is awesome. I did that, and I kept going even when “it wasn’t good enough”. This is how we learn and how we grow.

For everyone out there who enjoys being upside down stop chasing that line. Or at least slow down and don’t rush it. Focus on yourself, be inspired by what others can do but don’t compare yourself. There is no such thing as a perfect line, but every handstand you do is beautiful because it’s a handstand.

And sometimes, breaking your line creates magic…

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Photographer: Simon Carter

Hair and Make up: Sarah Pumfrey