A few holiday snaps from Sri Lanka

So we had our hearts set on Cuba - 3 and a half weeks through January to get us through the new year post-Christmas blues.  We were to arrive on New Year's eve.  But life gets in the way of the best laid plans and at the last minute we changed our adventure holiday to the more relaxed option of ten days in Sri Lanka with nothing more challenging than a gentle cycle with Idle Bikes through the paddy fields outside Galle, a deep back bending yoga class in the outdoors with Christophe at The Galle Spa, a sunset meditation at Yatagala Temple  and of course lifting our arms to request another cocktail at the Frangipani Tree or the Dutch House - the two fabulous places we stayed. With both Christian and I being photographers it becomes incredibly difficult to enjoy beautiful experiences without the strong urge to capture it in all it's glory.  Sometimes though it's nice to drop the camera from your face and be fully present in the moment.  I did however get quite excited when I spotted some Sri Lankan bridal parties around the Fort - see my blog here.

So here is a few pictures but by no means comprehensive of the trip.  A little taste of the wonders of Sri Lanka.  We certainly plan to go back and more of an exploration of the interior of the island and enjoy more of the temples throughout the country.

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Salon Live at The National Theatre

Back in May whilst on yoga retreat in Formentera I met, over supper, a lovely woman called Helen Bagnall who told me about an event she had been running with friend Juliet Russell since 2008; Salon London.  This has now become London's best cultural monthly showcase of specialists from the worlds of scent, the arts and psychology. The salon was an Italian invention of the 16th century and was a gathering of people under the roof of an inspiring host, both to amuse and to refine one's tastes and increase knowledge, often consciously following Horace's definition of the aims of poetry, "either to please or to educate"

Helen and Juliet have effectively reprised this format to create a series of fascinating events that never fail to surprise and delight.  My first outing at private members club Adam Street featured the writer of Rainy Brain, Sunny Brain, Professor Elaine Fox explaining why you are a glass half-full or a glass half empty sort of person.   An awesome session by Rough Trade's Lucy Tesco offering samples of the soundtrack of the summer, and then mind reader Philip Escoffey who kept us guessing for days after.

The last session was featured as part of the Inside Out Festival at the National Theatre to investigate more about Marianne Elliot's production (now sold out) of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, based on Mark Haddon's novel adapted by Simon Stephens.

The speakers included Marcus Chown, known to many as the Cosmology Editor for the New Scientist,  will be explaining the secrets of life, the universe and everything and for one brilliant transcendent moment you will understand the quantum world  Staff Director Katy Rudd explored the workings of the theatre using lots of interactive audience participation and mathematician David Speigelhalter OBE Professor of Public Understanding and Risk talked the real numbers behind uncertainty, leaving you able to interpret statistics like a pro.

See here for details of the next event.  See you there... x

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. 

Help me to photograph David Beckham!

I don't usually enter competitions, although I should, but I was tempted by this one currently being run by Adidas.  They are looking for someone to photograph David Beckham - what's not to like?  I prefer shooting women to be honest but I guess I could handle having Mr Beckham in front of my lens.  I've only been able to enter one picture and I chose one that I took of Jax on the recce shoot we did in Formentera recently.  The theme of the competition is 'Take the Stage' and I love the sense of freedom in this picture as Jax is taking the stage in a very intimate, expressive way. If you like the picture please help me have a chance in the competition by voting for me here before the competition closes on 27th May - you don't need to register, just enter your email address and dob.



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.”


Starting 2012 the yoga way

To ensure that I was fully in mind and body to start the wedding season of 2012 I kicked off the year with a friend at a yoga retreat on the coast in Morocco.  This was the first retreat I had ever been on and so I arrived with an open mind and willingness to embrace whatever was on offer.  Needless to say the excesses of the holiday season had taken it's toll and I was happy to cut out alcohol, caffeine and meat.  Our group of 10 were effectively guinea pigs for the soft opening of the resort and so we had the run of the place. The resort itself, Paradis Plage, sits just along the coast from Tagazhout, a surfing town 40 minutes outside of Agadir, the nearest airport and has billed itself as a 'surf, yoga and spa' retreat .  The tiny fishing village sits along side hills that ripple softly like fabric and the earthy coloured buildings squat low to the ground.

The rooms are all spacious apartments, simply decorated and with stunning views of the sea.  The yoga sala was perfectly set upon the edge of the sea with 240 degree views of the coastline.  Jax May Lysycia the instructor is the most beautifully honed woman whose body is an inspiration!  She led us through 4 hours of yoga and meditation each day; two hours in the morning after a silent beach walk during sunrise as the long shadows reached across the textured sands of the empty beach, and two hours in the evening as the sun dropped into the sea in front of us.  Under her reassuring guidance I found myself able to discover a flexibility in my body that I never knew I had, leaving me feel strong, supple and graceful before the end of the week and with a craving to do yoga daily.

We were particularly lucky to have had a group of 10 who bonded immediately and we spent a blissful week relaxing in the gorgeous winter sun, surfing, trekking in the dusty but aptly named Paradise Valley, paddle boarding on lake and enjoying a hammam in the spa.

And then the drive back to Marrakesh for two days of city (and excessive eating!) with new and old friends and staying at the spectacular Villa Filali with it's eclectic mix of traditional Moroccan style with flashes of kitsch.

The retreat was organised by Formentera Yoga who are based in Ibiza and run retreats throughout the year.  I can't wait to book onto the next one and it will be without doubt and ongoing pilgrimage.