Reel to Reel

Most mornings as I sip my tea I spend an indulgent half hour or so scrolling through Instagram reels. I have several little excuses that I use for the terrible brain-melting waste of time, attention and energy that this sucks out of the early part of my day. For every positive laugh, ‘micro-learning’ moment or adopted kitchen ‘hack’, there are countless utterly banal and pointless minutes and hours of ‘content’ passing through my swiping finger, and my dopamine-hungry brain. I am ashamed, and sadly, addicted.

One of my favourite pastimes it seems, is to scoff, incredulously at the ‘content creators’ who seem to – quite literally- do nothing other than that. By which I mean, they are not makers, or entertainers, or comedians, or chefs or musicians, or writers or gardeners, who are, I assume, joining the rest of us in maintaining (or feeling like we have to maintain) an online ‘brand’. One example of this is someone – with nearly 300 thousand followers on Instagram – whose ‘content’ is literally opening parcels that they have ordered off the internet, and that their followers order off the internet for them. While we watch. WHILE I WATCH! Now and again they complain that they’ve had negative feedback, about them opening parcels from the internet… on the internet.

This insanity aside, I really feel the anxiety, more than I ever have, of maintaining this online presence. Just recently, I gave up the day job as part of a considered effort to escape grind culture and my issues with institutional hierarchies. I decided to start teaching a yoga class, just the one. No pressure. I also have a minor side-hustle/hobby selling second-hand clothes. Thinking I probably had to do something to promote these things, I decided to try and understand Instagram a bit better. I thought that would be an interesting hobby too. In this quest, I followed some Instagram coaches for tips. Whilst I definitely learned some stuff, I also noticed my anxiety levels increasing quite markedly. In the guise of smiling, upbeat ‘encouragment’ I was being fed the message that not posting the right content with the right viral soundtrack, regularly, meant that I was essentially contributing to my own failure.

Increasing my anxiety was not in the plan.

The anxiety aside, I also observed that the Instagram coaches’ ‘job’ seemed to be entirely based on getting thousands of instagram followers, who themselves are people who want to get thousands of Instagram followers…

You can see where I am going with this.

If I had thousands of followers I would inevitably feel the anxious pressure that (I imagine) these influencers and content creators must feel. My stomach and chest tighten as I think about it. How can they go into each day in a normal way? Also, what happens when it all falls apart and they’ve spent two or three, or five years of their lives opening parcels on the internet? They have to continuously create, post and duplicate on-brand content that commodifies and monetises an online version of themselves. One that they cannot deviate from, or take a holiday from. Taking a break risks losing ranking, or followers, and that of course means losing income. I saw one reel recently from someone (whose creative content I actually value) who was posting, from their bed, with a barely audible virus-stricken voice.

You can’t even be ill.

I have been thinking about this for some time. I was reminded just yesterday that in 2012, a friend and I ran a free, and very popular, workshop for Social Media Week entitled ‘Switching Off: Mindfulness and Social Media.’ Even then, I was fretting about the loss of time, energy and identity. I can’t even begin to imagine running such an event now. Not because there is no need, but because I guarantee I would be competing with countless others – the genuine practitioners and the online grifters – for the same audience. And my lack of an audience rules me out before I even start.

This reflection comes at a timely moment as I seek to extricate myself from any and all aspects of grind culture. I am also reading Naomi Klein’s latest book ‘Doppelganger: A Trip Into the Mirror World’. In it, she writes about her own experience of being often (and worryingly) mistaken for the ‘other’ Naomi (Wolf) which leads her into a deeply insightful analysis of the online ‘mirror’ world and its social, political and cultural implications. ‘Self-branding is an internal sort of doppelganging,’ she writes, ‘There is you, and then there is Brand You.’ All of us who use social media will be conscious of some degree of curation of ourselves for the online world. The extent to which we lose ourselves in the process is the part that both intrigues and horrifies me.

As Klein writes,

‘[this is] fast becoming a universal form of doppelganging, generating a figure who is not exactly us but whom others nonetheless perceive as us. At best, a digital doppelganger can deliver everything our culture trains us to want: fame, adulation, riches. But it’s a precarious kind of wish fulfillment, one that can be blown up with a single bad take or post. One that can easily become a kind of addiction.’

Solstice thoughts (where everything is either horrendous or hilarious depending on your POV)

Blimey. It’s been a while. To be fair, I have been writing a dissertation, doing an actual ‘proper’ job, and hosting a podcast. These all require a significant amount of neurodivergent/creative bandwith. All good, creative, purposeful things.

photo taken while I was still feeling hopeful!

Into the mix, however, is a broken collarbone which has YET TO BE FIXED because of two (two!!) cancelled surgeries. The first one was cancelled when I was in the hospital, already wearing the surgical gown and DVT socks, and with an arrow sharpied onto my left shoulder. This might have been hilarious if it wasn’t after six months of waiting. Then there was the 18 hours of fasting and working myself up into enough of a lather to actually be able to go to the hospital in the first place! What is everyday to the people who fix collarbones, is a really big deal to those of us who need them fixed. And some of us have brains that don’t do these sorts of things very easily.

The second cancellation – just this Monday past – rather tipped me over the edge. Today is Wednesday. I am still over the edge. And since I am already over the edge, why don’t we add having no running water into the joyful blend of Solstice cheer and Christmas preparations? Yes, why not?

Let them drink… sweet sherry and prosecco!

The thing is… these things are happening to me, and I could – quite legitimately – feel personally aggrieved. Which, I do. But I am utterly, seethingly livid about the bigger picture. Yes, it’s personal, but the personal – as my feminist forebears taught us – is political.

Friends, let me present to you: The English health service. And the English water network.

The NHS because of – God – where do we even start? Yes, I am anxious and stressed and still in pain because my operation got cancelled. But it got cancelled because staff called in sick. There is not even a nanometre of leeway in the NHS to accommodate that. Chronic staff shortages, underfunding, Brexit, and a (Not even very covert) push towards privatisation have all taken a massive toll. It is on its knees. And people wonder why nurses are striking?

Not even the USA has private water, that’s how bad it is!

And the water! My God the water. England and Wales have a privatised water supply and networks. This is monopolized (quite legally btw) by a few companies who fail to invest in infrastructure so that rainfall causes flooding, burst water mains cause havoc (and NO RUNNING WATER FOR CHRISTMAS) and raw sewage is constantly released into our rivers and seas!

If I am pissed off about my own personal circumstances, it pales in comparison to the level of seething rage I feel at the immoral erosion of these two fundamental basic human rights.

Things really are a bit crap. Let’s not pretend they’re not.

And tonight is the Solstice, and I came on here to write something spiritual and hopeful and, well here it is! We can laugh about that surely? There comes a point – when everything is just a bit shite – when all there is left to do is acknowledge it, maybe indulge in a bit of dark humour, and surrender all and any control we imagined we had. This does not mean giving up the fight, only that there are fighting days, and there are surrendering days. There are times for rolling up our sleeves and doing everything we can to make things better, and there are times for filling a hot water bottle (perhaps with boiled rainwater!) and hiding under a blanket.

So into this longest, darkest night of the year, I offer this meditation:

Everything is a little bit shite, and that’s OK. Joy and Peace and Love and Hope still exist.

And a Blessing:

May you feel the deep Peace of Winter’s stillness; the cocoon of Love that surrounds you in the darkness; the joy that bubbles up from the depths of your soul; and the Hope that lies in something bigger than all of this, and all of us.

Sending Love and Peace and Hope and Joy out into the ether for all of you who are tending anything painful this Solstice.

Jude xxx

Saying Nothing is an Option

The other night my partner and I went OUT ( I know!) to see the glorious Hannah Gadsby at the Brighton Dome. I am going to attempt to paraphrase something she said,

“There are some people who seem to be under the false impression that saying nothing isn’t an option.”

She was, of course, referring to the plethora of opinions and hot-takes on social media that have recently pivoted from matters Covid, to the current conflict in Ukraine.

Before I go any further, I should point out that, utterly bereft of any qualification to comment on the complex geopolitics of the region, my ‘opinion’ is that war – any war – is an appalling offense to our humanity.

Already the conspiracy theorists who were spouting nonsense about the pandemic have started doing the same outrageous mis/disinformation number on Ukraine.

Plus ça change.

But here’s the thing. And I am talking to myself really. Saying nothing really is an option. I am betraying my own assertion by writing this, of course, but this is more of an observation of the tension that I feel, the pressure of our social media landscape in feeling that I have to visibly, vocally, state a position on everything. As if saying something serves in the place of actually doing something, and assuages the social guilt and pressure of saying/doing/thinking the ‘right’ thing, or taking the ‘right’ side.

My grandfather wrote a poem about Remembrance Day, although the same sentiment can be applied here, he said,

…is not about remembering It is being seen remembering, which is not the same, especially when formality sets in, and ceremony rates the display more important than the remembering.

I am sure grandpa will not be too concerned at my segue from his words to words from the Bible. Atheist as he was, he was deeply spiritual and had several versions (and many other religious and philosophical texts) on his bookshelves. These words speak deeply and viscerally into the heart of what I am making my practice right now.

So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets […] But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

Matthew 6: 2-4

That bit about announcing it with trumpets always cracks me up, because they clearly had the same bullshit going on in first-century Palestine.

As I said Plus ça change.

This is not to discount the importance and power of sharing our collective pain. Seeking solace and comfort in community is deeply important, as is offering out those places of refuge and safety for those who are suffering. We each have our own expression of this, our ways of ‘doing something’. The point is, I suppose, that whatever we are doing, and however we are responding, it is not compulsory to tell everyone.

Saying nothing IS an option.

The Day When Things Can Start

I have been resisting… or waiting… the waiting feels like something sacred. Maybe because it is. It is the first of February. In my body’s calendar, this is the date I have been waiting for. It is when things can start. The crows – who caw noisily from the trees behind me – know, too. They are telling each other, and me, and anyone else who will listen – it is time to shift these winter bones.

Other calendars agree with me (and the crows) It is also the Lunar (Chinese, Tibetan, East Asian) New Year. And in the Celtic Calendar – that guides my own heart – the beginning of Imbolc, Saint Brigid’s Day, and the (sort of) end of winter. Tomorrow is the Christian feast of Candlemas: an ending – of the season of Epiphany; and a beginning – of ‘Ordinary’ time (before the Lenten fast makes it special all over again)

If I was a conspiracy theorist (and I am not) I might imagine it to be some sort of test: who can override their internal body clock enough to ‘succeed’ in the system?

Imbolc sends impulses to my dormant winter cells throughout January, simultaneously poking me to wake up…and urging me to wait. My yearly last-minute tax return – filed just in time for the Jan 31st deadline – shouldn’t be a surprise by now. Nor should it be a source of personal beratement. If I was a conspiracy theorist (and I am not) I might imagine it to be some sort of test: who can override their internal body clock enough to ‘succeed’ in the system?

In the deeper sense of the word, it is a ‘conspiracy’, in that it is something that we all tacitly, collectively, culturally, agree to go along with.

Con Spirare: To breathe together; To agree. 

We are compelled to imagine ourselves to be something other than organisms that respond to light and dark and seasonal shifts. Just as do the crows, and the trees that they call from, and the snowdrops just beginning to poke their heads from the soil beneath. When the snowdrops come then we know for sure that Spring is coming too. Sometimes, the snowdrops are ‘early’ and sometimes they are ‘late’. Stately homes and gardens advertise their displays well in advance, knowing that the flowers will surely appear, but not entirely certain that they will do so on the ‘right’ date.

The inner knowledge that there is a time to step back into the world speaks from deep down as ‘not now’.

Waiting is inner, seasonal wisdom. It is sometimes – but not always- calendrical. There is, for the snowdrops, and the crows, a ‘right’ moment. A knowing. For me, waiting – or rather the resistance of it – shows up as procrastination, as exhaustion, as doubt. Sometimes as fear. The inner knowledge that there is a time to step back into the world speaks from deep down as ‘not now’.

These past two winters have allowed me to practice sinking into this ‘not nowness’ rather than struggling to understand, forcing myself to analyse it, or trying to overcome it. What has happened is that the moment of ‘yes, now’ is much more apparent than it ever has been before.

Although you could have been reading this yesterday, or tomorrow. For me, today is when Things Can Start.

With every blessing for Imbolc, for the Lunar New Year, for Saint Brigid’s Day, and (tomorrow) for Candlemas

Jude xxx

Things that don’t matter

Words dance in my head, occasionally assembling themselves into momentary coherences, only to scatter when I sit and open the laptop to write. Can I call myself a writer with such little commitment to giving the words time to properly coalesce on a page? As for poetry, not one stanza has made it onto a page since… before lockdown. The poetry is there, in my head. I can almost see it, hiding somewhere up behind my right temple (the place where poetry hides)

It’s not that I don’t write. I regularly submit 3000 words of carefully referenced Theological argument to generous tutors who confirm that, yes, I am really quite good at this. But, there are only so many hours of staring at a screen and moving sentences around and inserting footnotes that one can do. When there are dogs to be walked and dinners to be eaten, and even a job to go to, the time and the energy left are more often given to Netflix and wine and remembering to cut my toenails, than to the business of creativity.

Like many of us, I am exhausted. These past two years have been deeply challenging, in so many ways. For everyone. Last year was probably the hardest working year of my life, and it changed me. It changed everything, in ways that I am only now beginning to recognise and integrate. At some point, I developed a weary, cynical, and radical loss of patience for things that don’t matter.

The things that don’t matter are numerous. Of course, this is utterly and wholeheartedly subjective. What matters is what matters, I suppose. I think what I am saying, is that maybe I got it into my world-worn head and heart that writing half-arsed poetry, and blogs that nobody reads (Or any of the other ways that creativity is expressed) don’t matter. That all of … this… is a distraction from what is really important.

I’m wrong, of course. I want to be wrong.

But I am also right. Because there are things that don’t matter. Facebook… Shopping… Opinions… 🎶‘These are a few of my (least) favourite things’ 🎶

What happened was that my gaining of perspective took on a skewed, hard-edged startle, before a more integrated settling of the dust. It had the shape – but not quite – of disillusionment. I have come to ground in words once again, and in the process, some things – things that I once thought mattered – have gone.

And among the things that have gone – for reasons I do and do not understand – are some people. Two beloved animals. As I have found myself professionally navigating the themes of death, and loss, and grief, my own losses are inevitable, necessary punctuation. It isn’t something any of us get away with.

Yes, some things have gone. Some things have deepened. Some have softened.

I have softened, into a much deeper well of grace and compassion. I am reminded here, of a song I used to play (A LOT) I haven’t played it for some time, but as I write this, it is asking to be played, and quoted here.

To give my life beyond each death
From a deeper well of trust
To know that when there's nothing left
You will always have what you gave to love

From 'Deeper Still' by Beth Nielsen Chapman and David Wilcox




All photos from Pixabay

Into the Wealden Clay

Life provides some deep layers of synchronistic irony. In this case, alongside grief and shock and a deep, deep well of loss.

On Saturday 10th July, I posted some photos of a blood-red stream on the Ashdown Forest, and about the rich seam of iron- ore that runs through the Wealden clay. Amongst the photos on my phone, is a video of our dog Ralph, playing joyfully in the water. His favourite walking spot.

At 6 am on 12th July, we were scooping handfuls of the same, sticky Wealden clay, in the rain, making a hole big enough for Ralph’s little body. Our spades and shovels barely shifted it, and we resorted to moving it with our hands. The poetry of his last walk and his final resting place, and the clay and the blood all running through my mind, as the fat raindrops merged with spasms of tears.

My boy.

Ralph died. I still can’t quite believe it. As I watch the video, he is so… alive. So… there. And he didn’t just die. He was killed. I will spare you the details but a Rottweiler got a hold of him. He was in surgery for seven hours on Sunday. It didn’t work, and we had to decide to let him go. All of that is a blur of waiting, and nausea, and me having to pay the £4000 veterinary bill on a credit card, praying that I had enough credit. In my mind, Richard is holding Ralph’s blanket-wrapped body at this point, but that might’ve come afterwards. The vet was kind.

And then there was the interminable drive home. Me, driving, trying not to be sick, and Richard in the passenger seat, cradling Ralph. Silent. Unbelieving. We lay our boy in his bed, tucking him in with his toy, ‘Mr. Fish’. We slept, fitfully, waking up in that shocked way you do when something Very Bad has happened. At 4 a.m. we gave in to the not sleeping and got up and made tea, stroking Ralph’s cold little head. We decided to bury him as soon as it was light.

Chris came. A dear, dear friend who knew and loved Ralph as much as we did. She held the space of reverence and ritual and holding that we needed. She knew just what to do and what to say. We lit candles and incense and laid flower petals. She sang to him. ‘May The Long Time Sun, shine upon you, Ralphie, All Love surround you.’

A good funeral for a Good Boy.

If you’ve loved and lost a dog you will know the pain of the days and weeks that follow. Everything is a reminder that my best friend is gone. His empty food bowl, his empty bed, dinner time, bedtime, walkies (I haven’t been on any kind of walk since) I haven’t wanted to wash anything that he lay on (Including our own bedsheets) to preserve his smell. His harness and a blood-stained blanket are still in the back of my car. I look at his photos every day, trying to preserve his image, the realness of him.

It’s softer now. The sobbing panic of those first few days has melted into all the stages of grief, sometimes, it seems, all the same time! It’s far from a cycle. Too neat. It’s all over the place. If you’ve grieved, you know this.

And no, he wasn’t ‘just’ a dog. Ralph was a best friend, an ally and a companion. He gave – as dogs do – his complete and unconditional love. He was a healer and a comforter. He was funny and fun, and joyful. He was sensitive and gentle. And we loved him. We don’t have a different or lesser kind of love reserved for ‘just dogs’.

Ralph is gone. We shared the most delightful three years with him (he was only seven) We adopted him from Raystede, which is the most amazing place. A friend sent me a lovely message to say that she had donated money to Raystede in Ralph’s memory. A beautiful gesture, that (naturally) brought on more tears. If you feel moved to, you might do the same…

I know there will be another dog. But I will never forget, or stop loving, the ‘Best Dog In The World’.

Does this mean I am not a failure…?

A while ago, I joked online about feeling a failure because I don’t ( and won’t) go cold water swimming, and I don’t have a Podcast. I rather consigned these – along with the trends of ‘radical self-care and the ‘digital detox’ – to the ‘things I don’t do – let’s leave that to the influencers’ corner. Meanwhile, I focused on being consistent in at least one thing – my utter lack of self- promotion.

I should note, this is despite having a book published in April. I can rather rise to the challenge of creating the odd Instagram story ( still not entirely sure why or what they are for) as long as the creative process of doing so interests me enough to bother. If I can divorce me enough from the process, then I might not die from the exposure.

Which is why a moment’s inspiration last week took me very much by surprise. I woke up one morning knowing that I was going to record a podcast, knowing what it was going to be about, and knowing what it was going to be called.

I swear, it just appeared, fully formed, in my awareness. And God, how I wish that the creative process was always like that! There’s more to it though. My podcast is called FKD UP BY FAITH. In it, I have conversations with people about how they’ve been fucked up by their faith, and (more importantly) how they have found hope, healing, reconciliation and forgiveness.

Within a week of having the idea, I had recorded and published the first episode – with my dear friend Roger Wolsey. At the end of our conversation, he said ‘ you might not see it this way, but this is ministry’. And he put his finger on something that I had sort of realised, but not quite. That this isn’t just about fulfilling my creative urge, it’s about fulfilling my ministry.

It is my ministry.

That thing arriving fully formed, fully created. A gift from the one who inspires us all, if we are inclined to listen. Like all my God-given gifts, I have a feeling that some people are not going to like it. Whilst the spelling FKD is an important adjustment for algorithms and delicate sensibilities, using the F word in the same sentence as the other F word (faith) might bother some folks.

In many ways though, this is probably a good indicator that this is exactly what I should be doing. If I didn’t swear, I wouldn’t be me. I would be denying myself, and my background. This is the thing about inclusivity. Do we accept people as they are… or do we want them to shave the edges off their class and their culture, as well as all the other identities that religion has told (and continues to tell) people they can’t be?

And do you know what else? Jesus hung around with sailors! Have you ever hung around with sailors? I think we can pretty much guarantee that Jesus heard more than the odd F-bomb ( or first-century Palestinian version thereof) and he never mentioned it.

How to breathe your way out of poverty…

(No, not really…)

Now, you know that I don’t tend to hold back in my criticisms of the wellness industry. But for some reason, I have typed a hundred sentences so far, and deleted them all. I think it’s because I don’t know where to start with this one.

I might do well to engage in some of the practices I extol, rather than ranting online about how others are getting it so wrong…

…And I do. I really do. All the time. I meditate, I breathe. I occasionally get down on a yoga mat, although not so much recently with a torn meniscus in my knee and a bit too much lockdown inertia. All of it helps. It helps me to stay relatively sane, relatively healthy (torn menisci, long Covid and underactive thyroids aside) and more deeply connected to my own spiritual practice. Yoga (no, not just the postures) is what allows me to navigate the world without being in a constant state of meltdown.

Yoga is an incredible practice for helping people with the effects of stress, this is why I practise and teach it. For this reason, it would be absolutely wonderful if everyone could practice yoga, meditation, breathwork and any number of wellbeing activities (and to have access to these things) But they don’t, and the reasons they don’t (practice or have access) are many and complex.

The fact that these practices exist within a particular socio-economic framework is perhaps the biggest barrier. My view of it is deeply critical and for that reason, not very popular. What I see is relatively affluent well-resourced people (who are mostly white) selling classes, courses and workshops to other people like themselves. Kind of like a pyramid scheme, except it’s not a pyramid. Maybe more like a swimming pool. One that everyone has peed in.

Even if yoga was the answer to all our problems (which it isn’t) it is easy to make such claims. All you have to do is go on the internet and say things, and with few qualifications, zero evidence, but just enough ‘influence’, some people will listen: about how the ‘right’ choices can influence health; about how having a healthy immune system is related to those choices; about how health is a function of individual behaviour; about how health is an individual’s responsibility. We have heard all of this and more in the past year of Covid, and some people are still shouting out their toxic ever-evolving version of it from their particular place of Insta-influence.

The reason being these things have a ring of truth to them. We all know that eating the right foods, and getting enough exercise are healthy choices. What isn’t true however, is that doing those things guarantee health. It isn’t a wellbeing vending machine transaction where we can insert organic kale at one end and get health out of the other. It doesn’t work that way. Health is complex, with individual, cultural, and economic factors. Health is social and societal.

One of the biggest determinants of health is poverty. Being poor not only limits a person’s access to so-called healthy lifestyle choices like decent food and space to exercise, being poor is in itself stressful. No amount of yoga applied to managing the effects of stress will help if the main reason for the stress – i.e., the poverty – doesn’t go away. You can’t breathe your way out of poverty.

I read something today that suggested ‘staying in poverty’ is a choice that is somehow related to healthy lifestyle and ’embodiment’. I am still trying to work out what it meant. It is an easy kind of thing to say, isn’t it? That everything is a choice. Like the myth of ‘put health in: get heath out’, to suggest that being poor is a choice also has a certain ring of truth to it. For isn’t everything a choice, limited only to individual desire or strength of character? My choice. My body. My freedom. My ‘sovereignty’.


What about Us…We…Our..?

What about, we are all responsible for one another…?

On this Easter weekend, when – along with stuffing chocolate into our faces – we are reminded of the sacrifice of someone who lived his life in poverty, in community, and in love. Who healed the sick, shared meals with the marginalised and stood up against the oppressor. Is it just possible that might we take on board his suggestion that we ‘Love one another as I have loved you’? (John 13:34)

It’s the power that’s the problem

Every time I hear about a man abusing their power, I wonder something. It may be an autistic thing. When the first man (we can safely assume it was a man) stood up and said ‘OK, I am the King now’ and stuck a makeshift crown on his head, and took control of everyone’s cattle, or crops, or whatever they had any control or collective ownership of (Probably because that man had managed to amass himself more cattle or crops in the first place, and that made him more important) that seemingly everyone just said ‘Oh, OK, ’ and went along with it. We don’t mention that the first King-man had amassed more cattle or crops by stealing them in the first place. Just having them was enough for the power to be the thing.

I know that’s not really how things happened, exactly, but I think that as a
comedy synopsis, it’s pretty good. I am not a historian – clearly – but I do
know that there is a long and complex and culturally sinuous history of power, status, privilege and ownership – of land and people – which hasn’t gone away. Over the millennia, whatever those cultural events were that created Kings, it became normal. So utterly, deeply, culturally entrenched and normal, that male power – and the systems of power modelled on it – became just the way things are!

Countries – like the one I live in – who, embarrassingly still have actual monarchies might serve as a powerful anachronistic reminder to us of our imperialist and colonialist shame, if only we weren’t still wielding it.
And we can’t pretend that republics are off the hook either- the King doesn’t
need a crown. Countries, states, counties, parishes, councils, school boards,
committees, companies, and organisations large and small, most of them – to a greater or larger extent – are structured according to the kind of power where someone is more important than someone else and someone is in charge. Often the more important, and in charge aspects are accompanied by more money, but not always. Often the importance itself is enough.

When someone is more important than someone else I can’t see how this
isn’t seen as wholly and fundamentally problematic.

Naive? Simplistic? Perhaps. Autistic? Most definitely. You see, whilst not entirely outside of this system of power, I have never really benefitted from
it. I have never understood how to navigate it, or get myself anywhere on one of the (relatively) higher rungs of the ladder. Because I am not valuable.
Despite being a (sort of) expert in the field I work in, I don’t generally get favoured, or selected, or asked to do things, or held up as any example of someone who is more important than someone else. Quite the opposite.  And I know it’s because I don’t know how to do that. I don’t play the game. This has been perceived as a failure on my part, by others and -more shamefully – by me. An inadequacy. In some cases, a belligerent refusal to learn the rules.

The truth is, it isn’t a refusal so much as I don’t actually know what the game is, never mind what the rules are. And if you forgive me for extending the game metaphor further, from this side of neurodiversity, the game doesn’t actually look like very much fun. Also, from this angle, I get a good view of all the other folks who don’t get to play. But unlike a playground game, where not participating means we just don’t get to join in, this particular game of power actively and wilfully targets, exploits and fundamentally abuses our vulnerabilities. Indeed, it could be said that is actually what the game is!

There was a time when I tried to be an enthusiastic side-line participant in the game of power. Meaning that I participated in the shoring up of someone else’s position of power, and therefore their ability to exploit it (and me) By my own argument, I actively participated in my own exploitation and the exploitation of others. And the truth is, we all do. All the time.

Positional power is such an unhealthy and imbalanced state for a human being that, without the most generous balances of humility, insight and grace – imposed by self, community, and society – it is inevitably abused. How can it not be? It’s an old argument, and a bit of a joke to say that anyone actively seeking power should automatically be excluded from having any, but it does rather make sense.

The joke is on all of us though. It needs to change. 

Yoga for Everything AND the Kitchen Sink

At the beginning of April last year, just two weeks into our first lockdown, I blogged about the ethics of teaching yoga online, which is, of course, now utterly ubiquitous. I voiced a few concerns, but one thing I was particularly worried about was the ‘[…] potential […] for  the personal and commercial exploitation of vulnerability that really needs to be held in our awareness.’ I went on to admonish those who were thinking of profiting from Covid, with my trademark autistic bluntness.

And of course, the subsequent flurry of ‘Yoga for your immune system’ variations on a theme being offered by yoga teachers in classes, workshops and (inevitably) teacher trainings have rather validated my concerns. My ‘Immune Boosting Bullshit’ post explains where I am coming from when it comes to yoga and immunity, but please promise me you’ll read further than my (admittedly pokey) title.

My main concern was that the medical profession at that point, actually knew very little about Covid, what its effects were and how to treat it. So, yoga teachers weighing in with yoga breathing exercises or asanas – for what was assumed at the time to be ‘just’ a respiratory virus – might just have made things worse, not better.

Pivots and Niches

‘Success’ in this whole bullshit profiteering ‘industry’ that I am still part of (often to my own annoyance and surprise) is essentially based on the pivot (that’s business speak for changing your business direction or offering to suit the market) The other thing is niching (which is offer something obscure enough that nobody else does it, but not so obscure that nobody wants it) The best and biggest pivots of this past year have been those that have used Covid-19 situation for niching. And many yoga teachers and wellness types were more than Insta-ready for any self-promotion opportunities that this new niche provided.  

I should point out that I don’t object to Yoga for [X condition] from a well-researched therapeutic perspective. I have many brilliant colleagues who offer therapeutic yoga for a range of conditions from a well-evidenced place of solid personal and professional experience. So, having caveated all of that, here we are, a year down the line from voicing those original concerns and (hopefully) anticipating a tentative easing of lockdown. And my yoga ethics antennae are twitching again, with a new crop of ‘offers.’ Yes – the ‘Long-Covid’ class, workshop and CPD workshop/ teacher training is now a thing!

Sigh. Where do I even start?

Maybe a good place to start is to acknowledge – gratefully and soothingly – those of you who have been quietly and tentatively/safely working with Covid Long-Haulers in your communities, for very little money, since it was first identified as a thing. This is not aimed at you.

What do we actually know about Long-Covid?

My own experience of Covid infection in November was unpleasant but relatively short lived. However, my post- Covid symptoms have lasted ever since then, and have included heart palpitations (that I had investigated at A&E) extreme fatigue, insomnia,  brain fog, the development of what seems worryingly like sleep apnoea, a strange chronic itch in my ears and persistently weeping eyes.

Interestingly, at no point did I have any breathing issues, a cough, or loss of taste/smell.

The BMJ[i] notes that the range of possible symptoms after acute covid-19 are ‘highly variable and wide ranging’ and lists the most commonly reported symptoms include (but are not limited to):

  • Breathlessness
  • Cough
  • Chest tightness
  • Chest pain
  • Palpitations
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Pain
  • Cognitive impairment (“brain fog,” loss of concentration or memory issues)
  • Headache
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Peripheral neuropathy symptoms (pins and needles and numbness)
  • Dizziness
  • Delirium (in older populations))
  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhoea
  • Anorexia and reduced appetite (in older populations)
  • Joint pain
  • Muscle pain
  • Symptoms of depression
  • Symptoms of anxiety
  • Tinnitus
  • Earache
  • Sore throat
  • Loss of taste and/or smell
  • Skin rashes

If that wasn’t enough, people have also suffered from delayed onset myocarditis[ii] pulmonary embolism[iii] and stroke[iv] following Covid-19 infection. I was checked out for both Myocarditis and PE’s when I presented myself at the Accident & Emergency Department. Thankfully, I didn’t have either of those things, despite feeling pretty lousy.

What I didn’t do was go to a bloody yoga class!  

No, I’m not saying that Yoga isn’t helpful

My desire to do anything other than lie down was extremely limited for quite some time. Walking  more than a few metres was hard. I cannot discount my experience and understanding of yoga breathing techniques and all of the excellent ways I know to calm my nervous system, including my long-term practice of Yoga Nidra.  All of it was hugely helpful. However, the conditions that contribute to Post-Covid syndrome are complex, often severe and still not widely understood.  I – despite my long background in therapeutic yoga – would not feel comfortable offering a ‘Yoga for Long-Covid’ class, workshop or anything else.

The reason is,  that offering Yoga for [X condition] sets you up as someone who knows about [X condition] Essentially an expert.  If your offering is not coming from in-depth personal or professional experience, through training, through years of study and research, then you are not an expert.  I am not even sure that there are many medical professionals who would claim to be experts in Long-Covid quite yet.   


In the Yoga for [X condition] conversation, I  totally acknowledge my own uncomfortable hypocrisy around the fact that I train yoga teachers to adapt yoga for people living with cancer. I suppose the difference is, cancer has been around for a long time, I have done a lot of study and research, I have had professional training in an oncology setting, many years of practical experience and I have written a book on the subject. I am widely known as a person who knows about yoga and cancer. There is also good clinical evidence for yoga’s efficacy as a supportive therapy for people going through cancer treatment. Even so, I am still learning, and I question constantly whether teaching ‘yoga for cancer’ is actually the right – i.e. ethical – thing to do. For that reason, my course, and my book are built around a solid ethical framework that questions – literally – everything. Especially, and perhaps most importantly, ‘Why are you doing this work?’

It’s just yoga!

Nowadays, yoga that I offer  is so integrated, that it could be ‘yoga for cancer’  or it could be…well…just yoga!  And yoga should be as accessible to people with cancer or Long-Covid, or any other health issue, as it is anybody else, but the simple truth is, it isn’t.

Source: GOV.UK

I come back to something I touched on in my last blog post, which is the social determinants of health.[v] Covid and its long- term effects disproportionately affect poor people and people of colour. And these groups of people are hugely unrepresented in yoga spaces. Why? – because those spaces are generally not accessible to them.  Yes, I know you may offer your classes free, or on a sliding scale, as I do. But  it’s not just about the money!  Yoga in the West is a fundamentally white, middle class pursuit. The doing ‘Yoga for’ [X condition] is an incredibly privileged thing to even begin to consider as part of our recovery process from Covid, or anything else.

Yoga probably isn’t that high up the list for most people recovering from Covid. Maybe it should be, who knows? But the necessary, seismic and fundamental release of yoga from the corporate forces of the pivot and the niche, from the incessant monetising of bloody everything that moves, is unlikely to happen any time soon. Tell me I am wrong.

And let’s not forget, that for many in this pandemic, just being alive is a privilege right now.


[i] Shah, Waqaar, Toby Hillman, E Diane Playford, and Lyth Hishmeh. 2021. “Managing the Long-Term Effects of Covid-19: Summary of NICE, SIGN, and RCGP Rapid Guideline,” BMJ: n136 10.1136/bmj.n136>

[ii] Bajaj, Retesh, Hannah C. Sinclair, Kush Patel, Ben Low, Ana Pericao, and others. 2021. “Delayed-Onset Myocarditis Following COVID-19,” The Lancet Respiratory Medicine, 0.0 10.1016/S2213-2600(21)00085-0>

[iii] Vadukul, Prakash, Deepak S. Sharma, and Paul Vincent. 2020. “Massive Pulmonary Embolism Following Recovery from COVID-19 Infection: Inflammation, Thrombosis and the Role of Extended Thromboprophylaxis,” BMJ Case Reports CP, 13.9: e238168 10.1136/bcr-2020-238168>

[iv] Perry, Richard J., Craig J. Smith, Christine Roffe, Robert Simister, Saravanan Narayanamoorthi, and others. 2020. “Characteristics and Outcomes of COVID-19 Associated Stroke: A UK Multicentre Case-Control Study,” Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry 10.1136/jnnp-2020-324927>

[v] Paremoer, Lauren, Sulakshana Nandi, Hani Serag, and Fran Baum. 2021. “Covid-19 Pandemic and the Social Determinants of Health,” BMJ: n129 10.1136/bmj.n129>

‘All images, except for the social determinants of health, are from Pixabay.