The Service of Others

The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.Mahatma Gandhi 

There is so much more to people than the tip of the iceberg that they choose to show us and it's all too easy to judge on that basis. When you take the time to get to know someone you realise what great weight they may be carrying or what depths that have kept hidden. And what awe-inspiring beauty lies beneath.


I spent  last weekend staffing a women's personal development retreat in Surrey run by an international organisation called Women Within at Juniper Hall in Surrey.  I only recently came to this organisation back in February when I attended the weekend for the first time as a participant.  What I experienced there was nothing short of life changing - for me and the women around me.  I found an acceptance and openness in a community that shares so much love, laughter, tears, communication and support based on ancient traditions of sisterhood.  As I left that first weekend I knew I wanted to keep this connection and so volunteered for this recent weekend to enable other women to have the same experience. I am grateful to Christian for making the introduction to me through his own experiences with a similar organisation for men, The Mankind Project. And grateful to the incredible women who have come into my life to make it so much more joyful.

The next weekend is November 1st - 3rd.


Easter Yoga Retreat in Ibiza

With two days to spare I managed to grab last minute seats on Ryanair to get me to Ibiza in time for the first retreat held by Formentera Yoga and Jax May Lysycia at their new country house over Easter.  Having followed Jax for her yoga instruction from London to Morocco to Formentera I was keen to try out their newest venue up in the North West Hills of Ibiza; a finca set in 20 acres of fruit trees and scattered with sheep and goats, not overlooked by a single neighbour and only a 45 minute walk to the beach.  The perfect escape to unwind and recharge.  What attracted me to this trip was the combination of early morning silent walks; deep, sensitising yoga; meditation and the opportunity to explore another side of the island on two challenging 10km hikes around the coastal paths, led by the very entertaining and knowledgeable Toby of Walking Ibiza who introduced us to the flora and fauna of the white isle (white for it's salt...) The food of course is very important on such trips - you can't demand so much of your body without putting something back in, but the team included Guici the Italian chef who delivered mouthwatering Ottolenghi-style vegetarian food each day.

We were blessed with the most beautiful weather for the entire trip.  Clear blue skies and warm breezes as we stretched out on the deck overlooking the sea as the sun rose and cooler air as we climbed through the pine forests in the afternoons.  Not quite warm enough to enjoy the sea (with some exceptions!) but we sat in a circle on the beach at the end of one day for an evening meditation to the sounds of the waves.

I met some amazing people on this trip, strengthened friendships with others and connected with an energised and more whole self.  I can't do trips like this every month (sadly) but I can take with me the tools to look after myself in day to day life.

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and the wonderful team... Suni, Jax and Richi.. who looked after us so well. 2013-04-04_0001


Yoga at Formentera Yoga

I have just returned from my second yoga retreat of the year with Jax. The first being in Morocco (you can read about it here) and this time at the main base for Formentera Yoga at the blissful Gecko Club. Having previously only been to Formentera for lunch on a past Ibiza trip I was delighted to have the opportunity to explore the island a little more. The beaches are Caribbean in their white sands and azure seas, and at this time of year it's warm but not crowded. This trip was more of a working holiday as Christian and I were planning a day long shoot for Formentera Yoga to provide them with new iconic images which were in line with their spiritual practices, whilst capturing the beauty of the island. We spent a couple of afternoons after morning yoga looking at locations - we were spoilt for choice with striking backdrops of lighthouses (La Mola), piers, woodland and of course the sea.
We were all so excited with the results. For me personally  it was an inspiring  learning process collaborating with Christian Banfield who is an experienced photographer and director as well as having Jax bring her own creativity, individuality and styling to the shoot.
In terms of the yoga - if I had the money and time I would come on retreat once a month. Listening at the end of the week to the group testimonials was moving - Jax had taken a group of individuals from all over the world and ranging from complete beginners to teachers themselves and unified them in a desire to feel happier, healthier and more alive and the tools to do so.  Her teaching had been 'life changing' as one beginner asserted. There were plenty of nods of affirmation to this comment - she had spoken to everyone's needs.
The perfect trip was finished off with a delicious meal thanks to Lana at Passion Cafe on Playa den Bossa opposite Space.
Writer Lucy Kite was on this trip writing an article about the retreat for the Mail on Sunday on 1st July and some of the images from the shoot will be used.  Lucy is a yoga teacher herself with similar philosophies to Jax so I don't doubt that the article will be anything but glowing.
Jax is going to be running a couple of taster sessions in London in Queens Park on 12th August.  Drop me a note if you are interested and I'll send you the details. 

Just sit still

I really questioned whether I should write about something as private as a meditation retreat in such a public forum, particularly one billed as a photography blog.  After all, it's not called 'What Helen did next...' However, after pondering, I realised that I am not some corporation.  My business is me, that's all I have to offer and the more I develop who I am; through travel, literature, art, film, people and spiritually, the more I bring to my photography and those who experience it.  So here goes...

In my second year of university my best friend Emma and I signed up for a one day meditation course on the outskirts of York.  We hated it.  Hard as we tried to absorb and understand we were bored and felt out of place.  Fast forward ten years and the appeal of meditation still clung.  I knew there had to be something in it.  A few friends of mine had been on Vipassana courses and come back enthused about it, but for two years I sat back and made excuses why I didn't have the time or the money to attend.  Through a friend I attended a wonderful yoga retreat in Morocco in January and we practiced some meditation as part of the course and so finally I committed to attend one of the courses run by meditation teacher Burgs (a disrobed Western monk), at a course run by the Art of Meditation.

Jax (my yoga teacher) and I arrived flustered after a long journey taking much longer than expected and finishing in the dark, reversing into a hedge and stumbling in the darkness into the house where the other attendees were serenely supping their evening soup.  I looked every inch a blonde city girl in need of spiritual salvation.

The house itself, Poulstone Court, is tucked away in the Herefordshire hills.  A beautiful part of the country only 15 miles from Wales.  The red brick mansion house is home to numerous spiritually based retreats from Shamanic Healing to writers retreats - clearly catering for a range of tastes.

After an introduction on the evening of arrival, allocation of bedrooms (I was sharing with three other women) we took our vow of 'noble silence' which would hold (other than to ask questions during teaching discourses) for the next 6 days.  I found it wonderfully liberating to be able to truly meet myself away from the usual day to day distractions.  We ate our food (some recipes here) in a contemplative silence, enjoying and savouring each mouthful.  The days were gently regulated with the tinkling of a bell which woke us at 6am and sounded for the final discourse after supper each day.

I was surprised to find that at least half of the 32 attendees were returning for their second, fifth, twelfth time.  Having been expecting to walk away from my first time retreat 'fixed' I soon realised that I had taken what is in fact a very small step on a journey that will last a lifetime.   Initially I found the sessions daunting.  We started with sitting for 20 minutes, cross legged on our cushions, at a time and worked up to 45 minute 'sits'.  The discomfit my body gradually lessened and the deeper I fell into the rhythm of my body the less I felt in pain.  The twice daily practice of Chi gung helped to realign the body after the sessions, with it's combination of rhythmic breathing and mindful movements.

A blog entry is in no way sufficient (without outstaying my welcome) to convey the experiences I went through or the fascinating teachings that I had the privilege to have the opportunity to learn from Burgs.  He is a teacher of great skill, presence, depth and humour.  A rare combination and an inspiring one.  We literally hung on his every word, drinking up the simple suggestions for a more peaceful and happy life.  I look forward to the next retreat in six months.

“If you can quieten the mind enough to begin to listen to the heart, you will find that you already have the answers you seek.”