Movement as a Second Language

Most things, language, sport, music, are easier to learn as a child. Adults are fixed, and children are still like clay that’s waiting to set. You can mould clay into anything. Information gets absorbed like a sponge, into the brain and into the body. What you do with your body as you grow up becomes what’s normal and natural for you.

If you make the assumption that because you haven’t spent your entire life playing sport or moving your body in some way, you’ll never be able to, then you’ve just set a limitation on yourself that takes away something so valuable. Strength, control, and freedom in your body. A healthy body. A form of focus and mediation, self improvement, something that’s just about you, just for you.

I move every day. But I never have been, I’m still not, and never will be an athlete. I was active as a kid, joined in with sports at school, (oh the memories of hockey sticks, and smelly changing rooms), did some gymnastics, and I loved climbing trees and cartwheeling down hills. I rode horses until I was 14 but I’m not sure how that translates to a handstand or a pull up. And then I stopped moving. For 8 years.

One day I decided I wanted to change my body, so I did. Like learning a language. I started learning words, but I couldn’t string sentences together, let alone understand grammar, or grasp the concept of pronunciation.

I remember what it felt like not having the strength to do push ups, not even on my knees. I remember pulling on a bar with everything I had, my legs kicking the air, and barely getting a 90 degree bend in my elbows. I remember when I couldn’t do a handstand. Yeah, I used to not be able to balance on my hands. I’d forgotten how to jump, lost the ability to cartwheel, couldn’t swing a kettlebell, couldn’t move like any sort of animal. I remember the first time I picked up a 10kg barbell on my back, and with weight on my body, I had no idea where my body was in relation to the space around me. I couldn’t squat. I couldn’t understand what I needed to make my body do. Muscle memory wasn’t there, my central nervous system was having a freak out, and what the hell did “engage my muscles” even mean?

I sucked so bad at everything. But it made me want to work harder to achieve it, just to prove to myself that I could. I wanted skills and set myself goals, but I learnt pretty fast nothing just appears. Beginner gains are encouraging, but they last all of one month before you actually have to put in some effort. It comes down to learning. Not just how to perform movements and skills, but learning how to learn. You start to develop awareness in your body so that every time you try something new, you understand what you are trying to do. Brain and body connection.

The more you learn about making this connection in your own body, the better you can teach this to others. I am not as physically skilled as a lot of Coaches, but I think it having learnt it as an adult benefits my coaching. I teach adults, and I can look at a student and understand what their body is feeling. If they can’t do a push up, I know how to progress the movement. But I can also empathise based on my own experience of starting from scratch. I went to some adult gymnastics classes a couple of years ago, and we were learning a front handspring progression into the foam pit. The coach said “I don’t know if you’ll be able to do this because I’ve never not been able to do it.” That’s some great coaching right there. She didn’t know if she was giving us something we could do or if it was too advanced. Encouraging for sure.

If you’ve never been athletic, if you didn’t learn these movement patterns and body weight skills as a child, it really doesn’t matter. I say it all the time, but adults are so strong. We have bodies that are designed for this, and it’s never too late to start learning. It’s just that for us, those of us who learn from scratch, it’s like a second language for our bodies. The more we learn, and practice, the more natural and ingrained it becomes. We’re aiming for fluency, and we know that’s something that might never come. But you’ll always be able to do something. Just like there is a solution to every problem. There is always a progression for every movement, and you build from there.

Im surrounded by amazing movers who only started training as an adult. People so inspiring and so talented that you think they’ve been doing this all their life. You see all the photos of beautiful holds and stretches, videos of repping out pushing and pulling, lifting, tumbles, and balances. But the work that goes into that, the physical study of training involves relentless hours of effort and energy. It’s repetition, until you’re so bored you resent it. It takes twice as much effort as the ex-athlete who trained and competed for 10 years. This stuff doesn’t come naturally, but it can come.

I’ve been training for 4 and a half years. There are so many skills I still can’t do, and many that I’ll never achieve in my lifetime. Everything new feels like I’m jumping backwards with my eyes closed. Eventually I’ll land on my hands, my feet will follow, I’ll stand up, and I’ll be fluent in that movement. It’s worth every second of work, and now is the time to start.

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Starting Over

It’s the start of a new year. You can forget about last year and all the mistakes it’s been marked with. Hope is abundant as we look forward and plan to make each element in our lives better. It’s time for a fresh start. You’d better do it now before the opportunity passes and you have to wait another eleven months for January to come round again.

#whoopswhere’dmynewyearsresolutionsgo?

I’ve been thinking about the concept of starting over. Routines are broken over Christmas and New Year, and so it’s hard not to think about our lives as we slow down for a couple of weeks. After using this time of year as an excuse for excess, what usually follows is an overload of “I must give ups”, and “I must start doings”. Good approach, works every time right?

Plans are so shiny and bright that you feel invincible. Surely you’re going to succeed in every task you set? But after a few weeks, when the shine’s worn off and the effort that it takes to make progress feels too much, we veer off track. And that’s the end of that.

It’s one little thing at a time. You’ll have moments where you won’t want to train, so you don’t. You don’t care about your nutrition or sleep, so you let that slide. Doesn’t matter that you gave up drink because you really need to relax with a glass of wine. Losing motivation at work makes getting up in the morning that much harder. All that hope slowly drains away. But improving your life and improving yourself doesn’t have to be done through this annual unsustainable pattern.

Starting over is uncomfortable and confrontational because it means facing the reality of whatever your situation is, and it means letting go of whatever it is you feel you’ll be nothing without. That can be a habit, a person, a place, a job. But starting over can also mean the difference between happiness and growth through aggressive ups and downs, and standing still with little or no satisfaction in the life you’re living. Which one would you choose? I’ve had to start over in the past few years numerous times. I’ve quit so many jobs, started relationships almost as fast as I’ve ended them, injuries and illness have stripped my training right down to basics, I left England. I came back. And I’d change none of it, because every experience good or bad has helped me take a step forwards. I’ve never waited for the new year to make changes, I make them when they need to be made.

It’s scary as hell to make big, extreme life changing decisions, but it can sometimes be scarier to look at yourself on a day to day basis and acknowledge your mistakes, of which there will always be many, as well as your achievements. The reality is we do start over every day. You don’t need the excuse of the new year to do better, or be better. Find a way to move forwards and focus on the next steps. Ask yourself what it is you want and how can you make this sustainable. Figuring out what you need to be happy is an ongoing process of trial and error. It doesn’t suddenly stop on the 1st of February.

It is important to look back over the year and reassess where you’re at. But don’t berate yourself if you haven’t made one hundred and one brand new life goals. You have the choice to do this whenever you want to, and maintain changes for as long as you want. We improve every day, we have the luxury of time, and we all have far more inside us than we realise. You are so much stronger than you realise. Yes, you, the person reading this right now. So whatever change you want to make for yourself, do it without fear. Start over each day and make it count. Tomorrow, be stronger.

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The Autonomy of a Trainer

As a trainer, your job is to teach. You share information with and educate others, while inspiring and supporting them in reaching their goals.

What is just as important as teaching your students is teaching yourself. Training, always learning, and developing your own practice. We always say “keep exploring”, but it really is true. The more you explore, the more you open your body and mind up to achieving great things.

There must be a formula for achieving greatness. That one right way? You can follow a great teacher or a great coach, and have someone say to you yes, that’s correct, well done. But gold stars don’t help you develop independence or original thinking. Being good at what you do comes from trusting yourself, following your instincts and pushing your boundaries.

Sometimes pushing boundaries can feel daunting and that’s why we look elsewhere for direction. But isn’t it actually the most exciting thing to be able to take your practice anywhere you want? It’s important to train to be able to teach, but to get better at teaching you just have to teach. So your own training; that can be your creation. As you create, this influences and inspires how and what you teach. This is where you start to develop your own practice for both yourself and your students. This is how you start to develop autonomy as a trainer.

I’ve spent the past month reassessing my goals, and thinking about what it is I love most when it comes to moving my body. There are new skills that I want to achieve, but I’ve put no time limit on them. Each day I work on what I feel will be the most beneficial to either achieving those goals, or what it is my body actually needs in that moment. This communication with yourself and this awareness is something no one else can give you. This is another reason why it’s so important to be proactive and independent with learning.

It’s taken me a long time to let go of thinking that I always need to be guided. I’ve been with GMB Fitness for two and a half years, and one of their trainers for over a year. I’m representing a company, I’m teaching what they create, and it’s something I really believe in. But I’m still an individual and what I do can be unique. Unique in the sense that no two trainers will ever teach the exact same thing in the exact same way. We aren’t supposed to be versions of one another. We’re a community of contrasting people. I have strengths, I have weaknesses, I need feedback and I need advice. But I also have the ability to think beyond what’s put in front of me, and see the potential for something different.

GMB have been setting challenges. Just search for #froggerchallenge #pistolchallenge #monkeychallenge on Instagram or Facebook. I decided to make this part of my study, and another way I develop my practice. It forces you to think, until you aren’t thinking but just feeling. Remember, we have resources everywhere. Take what inspires you and build on it. See something, try it, and develop it. (Always credit the source of inspiration). Learn from the people around you and in turn they’ll be learning from you.

Develop your own autonomy, and you become a leader. When you let go of the expectations you have on yourself, your potential is limitless. You can take charge and move forwards with conviction in your practice, and in your teaching. You become the person to guide other people, because they see that confidence and beautiful movement, and that becomes inspiration.

It takes time to grow into your own skin, and to figure out what matters to you and what you love most as a trainer and as a human. That’s just part of the journey, and you’ll keep experiencing until you suddenly find you’re stood upright with insight and an understanding of where you’re headed.

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Our world of movement is tiny but it’s growing every day. That growth starts with you, the trainer. You have so much choice and so much freedom, so take whatever you want to do and run with it.

Here is a compilation of movement that I’ve been exploring over the past few weeks. This is what I love.

Off Course

One of the most exciting parts of life is planning. Having dreams and figuring out how to make them happen. We visualise the outcome, and work out the steps we need to take, the details, the logistics. Then we take those steps, one at a time. We live out our plan. There is a lot more security in a direct plan of action. And in life we like to know where we stand. Most importantly it gives us hope. Hope that we can reach our full potential, be successful, simply be better.

You never know if you’ll succeed at anything until you take a risk. You might jump off a rock and land on both feet. You might jump off a rock and break your foot. You might never land. We can plan for every eventuality and still get knocked off course. You can’t predict how you’ll react to a new situation, or how you’ll interpret a new experience. But what’s worse? Trying and never reaching the light at the end of the tunnel, or never trying because the light at the end of the tunnel could be a train?

You might regret the things you never do, and the opportunities you never took. But what if there is deeper regret in taking an opportunity that doesn’t play out how you hoped, then allowing yourself to stay stuck because you don’t want to admit that it might not be the right thing?

Sometimes it takes more strength to admit something isn’t working, than to continue fighting an endless fight that you clearly won’t win. Whether it’s an external battle or an internal battle, it takes strength to walk away knowing you’ll have to start again. It takes even more strength to let something that means so much to you go. It might be painful as f***, but if it’s breaking you down, it really is time to let it go.

It isn’t worth staying stuck in a place that doesn’t allow you to thrive. We all have to find a way to survive, especially when we go through difficult times, but we don’t have to accept that that is it. That doesn’t have to be your life if you don’t want it to be. You always have a choice. Every day is made up of choices, some as simple as what you might want to eat for breakfast, and others as extreme as deciding to move to another country. But you’ll never be short of opportunities if you let yourself be open to what might come along.

Don’t worry about what other people might think about your choices. Ignore any judgements. Believe it or not, most people don’t care about what you’re doing because they are too busy figuring out their own lives and fighting their own battles. You never know what people are going through. Have compassion for the person who shoves you on the street. In that moment, life might be breaking their heart.

Life might have broken your heart, because every choice, whether your own or someone else’s, has a consequence. It’s important to feel however you need to feel, but sometimes it helps to step outside yourself. I was told to remember to stop and smell the flowers every day. I’ll interpret that as stop and smell the gym floor (smells like rubber, nothing weird) every time I lie down with my legs splayed in various directions. The point is, just appreciate every moment for what it is, and let go of what you wanted it to be. Way easier said than done and I forget this all the time, but realising it is a good start.

“It’s never too late to start over. If you weren’t happy with yesterday, try something different today. Don’t stay stuck. Do better.” – A quote from somewhere on Facebook.

And whatever happens in life, don’t let your light go out.

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Connection

Everything on this earth is connected to something. Tree roots are connected to the soil. Bricks connect together with cement. A car tyre connects with the road. Skin connects to skin when we hold hands.

As humans we are always trying to connect to something, but it’s often external. To a person, or a place, or an activity. To connect to something makes us feel part of something. And while external connections are important, something will always be missing if you can’t connect internally with yourself. I talked briefly about this in my last post. How it’s easier to look outside at what we think we want, when we actually already have everything we need within ourselves.

I decided to create a summer project for myself for the month of August. It didn’t have a name, but I wanted it to be about connection. There’s been a disconnect between my mind and my body since breaking my foot, and to be honest even before that. I thought that once I could walk again, that was it. But although the bone was no longer broken, all the tissue, tendons and ligaments surrounding it had been ripped up and damaged too. The foot itself wasn’t strong and neither was my emaciated leg. It was holding me back from all the things I really wanted to be doing. I didn’t realise it at the time, but you can’t put a time limit on rehab, and it doesn’t really start until you have the basic functions back.

I’ve taken every opportunity to take myself somewhere in Osaka, and go out and explore. I’ve needed to continue healing my body and I wanted to do this with the aid of nature. Being part of my surroundings and not just in them.

August began with with hiking, where I felt unbelievable appreciation for the simplicity of using my feet to walk and climb. I took all the locomotive patterns I knew and stripped them down to their simplest forms, but used them to move creatively through my surroundings. I began basic jumping, trying to regain power and control in my lower body. Climbing on rocks, climbing up walls, balancing, rolling, tumbling, vaulting. As the month progressed so did my awareness and understanding of how to communicate with my body, the application of accuracy and control that was developing, and most importantly my confidence. The day I realised I could run again was one of the best days I’ve experienced. Sometimes the simpler the movement, the more gratifying it is.

During this process I’ve felt more present in myself and in my movement practice. I’ve paid attention to every single detail. Details I would normally ignore, like how bright the sunlight is, the humidity, the sounds of summer insects, the way the grass feels under my feet, the texture of tree bark, the way my body lifts off from and lands on the ground. I haven’t just been looking with my eyes, but engaging other senses to feel what’s happening inside as well as outside. I took care with each step, whether that was forwards or backwards. For every time I trained there was no plan because I didn’t know where I would be or what I would have to work with. It was 100% improvisation and 100% eye opening. I never realised the beauty in running up walls and dancing with rocks.

Part of this project was to create a compilation of my training so that I could document my progress. This video is a summary of how I’ve spent my summer. It’s simple movement, it’s all been for my foot, and it’s still a work in progress. But I definitely feel like I’ve taken a step forward.

What I’ve realised from this experience is that you really do only get one body. Having the ability to adapt physically to any environment is freeing. External connections are important, but remember that a tree is still a tree wherever it is in this world, and a hand will always be a hand when you hold it. YOU can decide who you are, how you communicate with yourself and how you grow as a human. Take every experience you have and then let it fly away like a butterfly as you move onto whatever’s next.

Just like the lyrics from the song in my video say, “in this place I have freedom, it’s here I wish to stay”, this place of freedom is my body. And if I let it be, my mind. There’s the connection.

Thank you to Marzie and Aki for being very very very patient with my iPhone camera.

The Land Of The Rising Sun

Japan is known as the Land of the Rising Sun. It’s so far east that it’s one of the first countries to be woken by the sun rise. And it’s definitely woken me up. It’s been the most challenging, surreal and obscure six months of my life, but I’m still here. I’ve already changed so much and I am learning something new every single day. This is what I want to share.

Being here has taught me more about being grateful. This is a never ending process. Sometimes we say we are grateful and don’t mean it. Sometimes we say it and don’t believe it. Other times we just forget what it as we were grateful for in the first place. I live in a place where the houses look like they are made out of paper and hand stitched fabric, where the sunsets are almost blinding, the trains are never late, and there are umbrellas everywhere. I walk past as rice fields, temples, and bonsai trees every day. I hold on to tiny details because they are what make up the bigger picture, and I can choose how I want my bigger picture to be.

Every day I am grateful to live in such a beautiful and unique country. I will admit there have been days where I’ve woken up thinking, why am I here? Really what am I doing in Japan? It’s been a struggle and I’ve almost walked away. But those feelings have been temporary and when I really think about my life, I realise there is no way I would let go of what I have here. There is so much beauty and so much potential.

Someone told me; find the tiny joys each day that make waking up worthwhile. It’s another lesson I am learning, another habit I have to build. When something is new it’s easy to be excited about it. Further down the line the shininess wears off and maybe the excitement with it. So when everything becomes routine, what can I look forward to each day? Because when training is tiring and teaching takes your energy and your computer screen hurts your eyes, something as simple as 大福 (sweet bean rice balls) can make the whole day sparkle again. You make little land posts throughout your day to keep you going from one thing to the next with ease.

Connecting to a place that is completely unknown takes an open mind, patience and a willingness to learn. Whether or not you can connect with people in another language is more of a mindset. I was terrified of going anywhere on my own when I first arrived. I didn’t have any confidence, and I was very aware of how different I was. Learning a new language and three new alphabets has opened up part of my brain that wasn’t being used, and I am finding language more and more fascinating. It’s brought more awareness to how I interact with people, the pace at which I speak and pronunciation. Talking is so natural and we don’t even think about it when we speak, but I am a lot more mindful every time I open my mouth.

I am always going to stand out here. I know the culture is very different, but if you just respect it, you can let it be part of how you live and part of you. I’m used to being the only white person on a train, and now it’s just normal. I’m not worried if someone says something to me and I stare at them blankly because I don’t understand. And it doesn’t matter that I have blonde hair, blue eyes and white skin, people still want to talk to me and help me, and occasionally come up to me and touch my hair. (Which is weird.)

But I think that the hardest connection you have to make when living in a foreign country is the connection you make with yourself. Facing yourself and embracing yourself.

Everyone has aspects of themselves that they try to hide from, but there’s nothing like moving to another country to bring up all your problems and lay them out in front of you. You already ran away from where you came from, now you can’t outrun yourself. It took a while to realise that I am the one who chooses how I react to things that provoke uncomfortable feelings. A situation is only the way it is based on my perception. That doesn’t mean I can always apply this or react in a rational and controlled way. I still freak out about minor issues. And I will keep making mistakes. But everything I do and everything I experience is making me a better person. The bigger and scarier the challenge, the more it’s worth taking on.

Like my training. What training is to me now and how it’s part of my life has changed so much in the past six months. And I still know I don’t fully understand the point of everything yet. It’s a ongoing process to learn the why’s behind what I am doing. Breaking my foot meant taking a step back anyway, but since then I’ve learnt that set backs will always occur. Life can change in seconds and you need to be willing and able to adapt. This means keeping yourself detached, and not placing all your happiness and self worth on that one single skill or outcome. Don’t train with tunnel vision, find a fresh perspective by doing something new. Think about taking your training backwards by breaking something down and building it back up, just like our muscles. Keep it simple, but remember there are an infinite number of ways you can move your body, there is always another way, so never stop exploring.

I have so much support and guidance from my coach, Ryan, but he doesn’t tell me what to do. He encourages me to feel what my body wants and needs each day. I still don’t always get it, and sometimes I don’t listen, but I am making progress. I am trying to understand. I’ve been able to heal my body a lot in six months but I have a long way left to go and I’m still learning where my limits are. I’m figuring things out by trusting my coach, trusting the process, but also knowing I can trust and think for myself. Now he’s in America for two months and I can’t wait to start the rigid 10 hour a day programme that he hasn’t written for me that I won’t be doing. For the next couple of months you will probably find me in trees, with slightly worn hands but all bones unbroken.

Being in Japan has made me think a lot about what home is. I was so intent on England not being my home. So convinced it was the wrong place for me despite all my friends and family. Now I think that home starts inside you. Home isn’t necessarily physical, it isn’t even the people around you. It’s having that sense of security that wherever you go, you will be safe because you trust and love yourself. Everything stems from that. A house. Furniture. Clothes. Family. Friends. Just because you leave the place you grew up in, it doesn’t mean you are going to lose that sense of belonging. Every second of support I’ve had from the people around me and from the people far away from me has helped me keep that feeling. Home will be wherever you go, because you can find beauty and love anywhere as long as you open your eyes and let it in.

So lastly, what am I willing to struggle for?

I was asked to think about this question. Every second of discomfort, uncertainty and fear of being in a new place, away from everything I know is worth it for the life I can create here. You will always struggle at times, but don’t let go of the reasons why you need to push through it. In the last six months I have laughed, cried with frustration, cried with exhaustion, been terrified, broken a bone, broken down, felt uncontrollable excitement, been ecstatically happy, wanted to leave, wanted to stay. I’ve struggled with myself, with my environment, and with my perception of life. If it continues this way over the next six months, it’s still worth it for everything I have here. But I want to take my experiences, learn from them and then let them go. Then grab onto a tree branch and embrace the intoxicating heat of Japanese summer.

Tree Climb

The Bent Arm Bear

Alpha Posse is where I started out with GMB. I joined over two years ago, set up a training log and got to know the coaches and community. As soon as I started going through the Trainer Apprenticeship my participation in Alpha became zero. I had to step back to focus on becoming a Trainer. However, last month I had an opportunity to become part of Alpha again, by joining the Alpha Posse Monthly Challenge.

Each month we have an Alpha Posse Challenge for all the members, cleverly created by Ryan. Whatever the challenge, you work on it daily and post videos and comments to the forum thread. We have two GMB Trainers who moderate the thread, giving cues and feedback to all the participants. The participants themselves are there to support one another, also provide feedback for each other and just generally interact and enjoy the challenge together.

June’s challenge was the Bent Arm Stand. The rules were simple. Perform one minute of bent arm bear walk everyday. Do it alongside whatever else you are training. The bent arm bear is a progression for the bent arm stand. Everyone participating had to submit initial videos of their bent arm stand and bent arm bear. That way progress could be tracked throughout the challenge, and compared to the final videos submitted at the end of the month.

The goal of the monthly challenge is not to see who is the best, but who makes the most progress within their own physical ability. It’s a personal journey for everyone involved, but everyone shares their experience, which is why I wanted to be part of it. I have to emphasise this; it’s not a competition.

So getting started with my bent arm bears. A locomotive movement that improves bent arm strength along with flexibility and coordination. They look really really easy, especially when you see someone like Ryan doing it. Start in an A frame just like you would for a regular bear walk. Then bend your arms and bring your shoulders over your hands. Move. Well try and move. I began with some very clompy bears, unable to really bend my arms or get my body into the right position. I automatically tried to push my body back onto my feet because my arms literally couldn’t take all the weight. And I fell on my head. Many many times. Such a simple movement immediately highlighted so many missing links and so much weakness in my body. I couldn’t even get close to a bent arm stand. So that ruled that out.

Along the way Ryan added videos of progressions we could do along side the one minute of bear. This allowed us all to get more creative, and people started taking these movements and turning them into flows. The simple practice of walking on four limbs with bent arms brought out a level of body awareness and control that I think some of us didn’t realise was there. Subtle challenges were added along the way, like when it was “suggested” to me that I do five minutes of bear. That was definitely interesting. But things started to click for me when I was able to understand the connection between the bear and other movements like forward rolls, crows and other bent arm hand balances, and even how it can be used as a transition. It wasn’t just about the bent arm stand. There were so many progressions, variations and different movements to learn and explore along the way. This is why the end point is far less important than the process of working towards something.

My time with the challenge. Hopefully you can see I had fun!!!

For me taking part in this challenge hasn’t just been about improving my bent arm bear or nailing the bent arm stand (which I totally didn’t). I started to experience something I haven’t in a long time. No pressure. Being part of something that is about sharing your individual journey and literally just having fun. No one actually cares who is “the best”, or what level they are at. Everyone supported each other and doing something challenging with other people creates accountability and encouragement, which drives everyone to keep going. It’s amazing to see the progress you can make with a little bit of focus. And it was the best part of my morning, waking up and checking the forum thread to see everyones latest videos and comments.

I want to say thank you to everyone who took part and made the Bent Arm Stand Challenge so exciting and enjoyable. Thank you to Kirsty and Jeannie for coaching us through it. Thank you to Ryan for creating something so awesome for all of us. And a huge congratulations to Fi Silk who won the challenge. She made amazing progress with her bear and nailed the bent arm stand.

Even though it’s over, July is a new month with a new challenge, and it’s already time to get started…

If you’re interested in learning more about Alpha Posse, you can check details out here. http://gmb.io/a/ Or feel free to email info@gmb.io