being

Anyone for a forest bathe?

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Can you feel how the energy in a wood is unlike that of the urban 'jungle'? Do you feel different when you are in nature: more calm and more embodied? Perhaps you've noticed that your breathing slows, your thoughts are less scattered? If so, you are not inventing things. Because it has been scientifically proven that being around 'greenery' (in any form) reduces the risk of depression, anxiety, high blood pressure, stress and many other scourges of our modern lives.  

Not surprising really given that we are animals at heart. But we seem to forget this and then wonder why we feel like we do when we have been deprived of Nature: cooped up indoors, immobile in front of our computer screens with little natural light, central heating and no expansive outdoor vista.

Which is why “shinrin yoku” or forest bathing is where it’s at for many of us over-civilised, urban dwellers. This Japanese therapy was developed in the 1980s and is so well regarded as a preventative healthcare treatment that it now even has its own dot org.

I try to practise shinrin yoku (sounds more impressive when you say it in Japanese), at least once a week to de-stress, clear my mind and reconnect to my 'higher self' or what I also call my 'whole woman' - the one lurking behind the mama, daughter, partner, yogini, solopreneur, superwoman masks. The part of me that is tuned into Nature, to my instinctual self, to my body. She who is wise, unflappable, endlessly patient and trusting; an objective observer of my monkey-mind.

And it works! The mountainous issues on my radar shrink back to manageable molehills, the urgency of deadlines falls by the way side, and pleasure - bit by bit - takes over the need to perform.

In a forest, I can be unashamedly myself. There is no judgement so I judge myself less. Trees never fail to reset my hard drive and remind me of what (rather than who) I am. 

Why don't you try it for yourself? The spectacular autumnal show that is put on for us at this time of year when the Earth's seasonal cycle turns to releasing and death (a bit dramatic but that's the truth of it) is the perfect excuse to go for a Nature walk. And if you really can’t face leaving home, try hanging out next to a potted plant or staring out of a window at some nearby greenery. Even a patch of grass will do.

We all need regular self-care boosts in life and this is probably one of the easiest to implement and maintain.

Green is the new black...


Are you fulfilling your greatest potential, mama? Are you getting paid to do what you love whilst parenting in a calm and positive way? Are you feeling happy and fulfilled both at work and at home? Because you deserve to! Book a complimentary discovery session with me on skype and we can explore taking concrete steps towards creating a life in which you feel motivated and in control once more!  

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On celebrating...

 
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I used not to be very good at celebrating my successes. I’d take for granted all the hard work that had gone into achieving something and move right onto the next potential goal. I got a kick from the constant forwards momentum, not really knowing what to do with the downtime in between. So I made sure there was no downtime.  I went from one thing to another, ticking them off the list, not really stopping for breath and definitely not stopping to acknowledge the journey.

Until recently. When I decided to change things.

Because effort is great and all that. But so is surrender. BOTH are required to reach a state of 'grace'. And all work and no play doesn’t leave much room for joy. And I kind of want more joy in my life; more fun, more laughter. Don’t you?

So yesterday was the perfect opportunity to take some time out to enjoy a rare tootle on my own trumpet: I celebrated becoming a QUALIFIED LIFE COACH 

6 months of hard work and commitment (3 of them whilst travelling), 14 modules packed full of learnings and gruelling assignments, 14 live training calls with our incredible BYCA teachers and expert coaches, 3 months of being life coached through my own personal goals and 4 months of supporting 4 awesome, pro-bono clients, each through their own six-week coaching series.

I celebrated the fact that back in January this year - whilst living in Bali - I chose to follow my heart by signing up to my amazing course. My intuition had been nudging me towards a career that supports others to become their best, most fulfilled selves for a while, but it took the prospect of all three of the kids going to school, and looming 'empty nest' syndrome to push me over the line into action.

I had a (far-fetched) dream...I took concrete steps towards making it happen...And yesterday, I graduated.  

The result? My soul purpose and my career are in alignment. I am walking my talk. I am embodying RADICAL AUTHENTICITY. 

Since yesterday was also Samhain - the ancient festival that celebrates the end (and beginning) of the Celtic New Year, a time during which the veil between our world and the next becomes its most transparent, I decided to pick a tarot card as a symbol for my vision for next year.

And I got the six of wands, symbolising "success, achievement and public recognition". Even the tarot was celebrating with me!

More poignantly however, the card has an even deeper meaning: it is about having faith in what you have achieved, about not letting fear or guilt get in the way of your success, about feeling proud of yourself and feeling worthy of others' attention. 

It is about BELIEVING IN YOURSELF. 

And this got me thinking about both how easy but also how hard this is to do. For how often do you hold your head up high and feel worthy of other people's attention? How often do you have faith in yourself and how your achievements will be seen by others? How often does fear or guilt stand in the way of your success?

It takes guts. And commitment. And courage.

Which is exactly what I'm going to practise.

Because like most things that don't come easily, they require exercising, just like a muscle. The more you practise courage, the more natural it seems.

Habits break habits.  

Are you fulfilling your greatest potential, mama? Are you getting paid to do what you love whilst parenting in a calm and positive way? Are you feeling happy and fulfilled both at work and at home? Because you deserve to! Book a complimentary discovery session with me on skype and we can explore taking concrete steps towards creating a life in which you feel motivated and in control once more!  

Don’t forget you can also follow me on facebookyoutube & instagram!

Home Sweet Home?

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Days abroad: 306     Miles covered: 22,448     Countries lived in: 6     Favourite thing about being back: feeling safe and settled in our own home     Worst thing about being back: traffic jams; the weather     What I am loving: no longer feeling ill at ease in a female body; fast, reliable internet     What I am grateful for: having had the courage to go away and the courage to return; my beautiful friends    What I miss most: Asian food     Items travelled with that were never used: mosquito nets, travel hairdryer

3 SMALL KIDS, 2 CRAZY ADULTS, 1 YEAR TO TRAVEL THE WORLD

POST 17: 23rd July 2017, Cambridge, UK

So it’s been nearly three weeks since our return and I still don’t feel like we ever left. I kept putting off this final round-up blog in case things should suddenly change, but they haven’t! It’s really quite odd. We seem to have just slipped back into the life that was waiting for us patiently during our absence.

And it’s a perfect fit. At least physically if not mentally. In that it is actually relatively easy to resume a ‘home routine’ that you’ve had for years, even if it was disrupted by a spontaneous adventure lasting 10 months. Perhaps it really helped that we eased our way back into English culture via the European stepping stones of Greece and Spain. (Which was the plan.) And it definitely helps that I have been very mindful of our potential decompression period: social situations have been measured (family first) as well as staggered (only two visits to school). We only left the house once during our first week. We are taking things very slowly.

Or maybe being back is still exciting enough to hold my attention and the shock has merely been delayed? Because it does feel exciting! I am still finding great pleasure in how sheltered I feel by living within four walls that actually belong to me. There is still joy in wearing clothes that I haven’t worn for ages, in eating foods that I have been craving, in listening to Radio 4, in the constantly changing weather. And there is joy too behind the relief in not having to think or be constantly alert (albeit unconsciously) to new experiences. Because these take up so much mental bandwidth and whilst they are no doubt exhilarating they are also quietly exhausting.

 
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Photo caption: the glorious coastline of Catalunia, my grandfather's birthplace...

Maybe this excitement will pass and I will get restless again and crave the sense of freedom and adventure that has sustained us throughout the past year. But I’m not feeling that yet. Right now I feel safe and secure, comfortable and loved. And welcome! So many hugs; so many warm smiles! It’s been awesome to feel as though we’ve come home to our nest, that we belong, that we are no longer The Other (even if the sense of one’s own ‘culture’ encompasses such a wide range of differences).

Mentally however there have been changes. Big ones. But none that have provoked a sense of ‘readjustment’. Indeed, the changes we have witnessed in ourselves have almost made the term redundant. Because the biggest development has been in our ability to adapt. To go with the flow. To be at ease wherever we are.

The driving factor behind our year away was “a desire to break free of the matrix and our orderly, domestic life; to be spontaneous and step into the unknown; to see what else life had in store for us”. It was all about subtraction: about removing the redundant cultural, social and ancestral chaff to reveal our true authentic selves; to be free of outside influence.

 
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Photo caption: 'our' beach with its medieval castle (top left); fisherman's huts (top right); pine forests galore (bottom left); Mediterranean doorway (bottom right) 

So did we succeed? Yes! It is so much easier to reflect upon who you really are and what is truly important to you when you have the time to do it and the distance from your own ‘stuff’ to be able to put it into perspective. It is far less scary to get used to not wearing a certain mask when you are surrounded by total strangers. Each new day, city and country is an opportunity to re-create your reality.

And did we come back different? Definitely. How different and in which ways? Well, in a nutshell, we are so much more ourselves than we were. Speaking for myself, I am far less needy of validation from external factors and I am far less influenced by them. I am more accepting of my imperfections rather than ashamed of them and I am more open to doing things differently. I am definitely more chilled, a lot less reliant on alcohol to ‘relax’ and I finally feel ‘enough’. I am less judgmental, more tolerant, more patient and generally happier. I live much more in now – less concerned with what could have happened in the past as well as with what might happen in future – and I am far less a victim of worthless mind chatter. Not bad, eh?

I am also much more at ease with the idea of receiving, with the notion of enjoying comfort and feeling pleasure. Which has resulted in a ruthless culling of what I now see as clutter. Because my definition of what is 'necessary' has also changed in line with this new attitude. Is it chipped, scuffed or cracked? It goes. Not because I am being extravagant, but because holding onto things that are 'broken' means energetically attracting more of the same. Moreover, I want only to be surrounded by usefulness, wholeness and beauty. So if it gives me pleasure, it stays. If not, however sentimental my attachment to it, however misplaced my loyalty, however much we may have paid to store it during our absence (a lot), or however many times it may have survived former house move culls, it goes. Which means that 5 estate car-load trips to the tip (with the back seats down no less) and 4 to Oxfam later, we are living in a much leaner household than before.

 
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Photo caption: spending 10 months together slightly made us morph into one - here we each spontaneously wore the same colour scheme (top left); another birthday celebrated on the road complete with cake (top right), a home-made crown (bottom left) and a dinner in town (bottom right) 

The kids have changed too. Especially 4 year-old Raphael who has had to make the biggest adjustment because he can’t actually remember having ever lived in only one place. After all, we were on the move for a quarter of his entire life! So stability is still a foreign concept for him: he describes himself as someone “that changes country a lot” and he keeps asking when we are next going to the airport. Which provokes a weird, dual state in me of both pitying as well as being proud of him.

And all three have matured in intangible ways, often more noticeable to others than to ourselves. One of our new neighbours asked us if we were foreign a couple of days after we had moved in, despite the kids speaking to each other in English. He said it was something about the way they were acting – their confidence, their ease in amongst their surroundings. Another commented that they looked as though they knew how to look after themselves. And despite feeling slightly triggered by this (was there a bad mother implication in there at all?) I chose to see both observations as compliments.

The after effects of spending 10 months abroad may definitely seem a little out of place at times, and certain new habits have had to be swiftly curtailed (eating rice with hands instead of cutlery for example, as well as going out onto the street in pyjamas/underwear at 6am) but I am actively encouraging others: such as the kids' natural curiosity and chattiness with strangers, their openness, trust and easy affection. These are a joy to witness.

 
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Photo caption: our return coincided with a street party just outside our front door! (top left); a long overdue family reunion with all my cousins and their new babies (top right); the river Cam a few minutes walk from where we live (bottom left); happy to have landed on British soil - a family portrait fresh off the plane at Stansted airport (bottom right)

So, is there anything that I missing from our time away? Yes! The heat, zipping about on a moped, Biryani rice, fertile jungles, unfamiliar bird song, local markets, having a private pool, swimming in the sea and open air yoga salas to name but a few. But not so much that I can’t wait until the Xmas holidays. When I hope to dust off the backpacks and unused mosquito nets and get back onto a plane for a new but slightly shorter adventure.

Because I've learnt that adventures don’t have to be mammoth undertakings. They don’t necessarily need to involve long-haul flights nor taking your kids out of school. Because spending just a couple of weeks surrounded by the unknown means that even the basics of daily life take on the allure of the exotic. And that is the key to creating an adventure: to immerse yourself in the new, in the unexpected, to stretch your sense of self, your boundaries and your values. For the benefits are immeasurably awesome.

But for now I am going to indulge in the lack of readjustment, in the surprising ease of our reintegration. I will slowly continue to appease my inner bourgeois - blueberries from Waitrose (even if they are out of season), diamond earrings and high heels, delicious European wine, riding my cargo bike - until the itch in my feet and the whisper from my inner bohemian can, once again, no longer be ignored.

And then, I shall be ready…

To see our entire, 10 month travel adventure route, click here!

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Why some places resonate more than others...

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Best thing about India: prescription medicines (without a prescription) for just a couple of pence!     Best thing about Goa: endless beaches and warm sea     New favourite treat: chick-pea flour, honey & cardamon balls     What I am loving: open-air yoga surrounded by nature     What I am over: power cuts and any form of dal     What I am missing: friendship

3 SMALL KIDS, 2 CRAZY ADULTS, 1 YEAR TO TRAVEL THE WORLD

POST 15: 7th May 2017, Goa, India. 

In my 20s, just before I went to India for the first time, I was told by an old-hand that it was impossible to visit without being changed in some way. (Or kissed by a prince). They were right on both accounts. India - the chaos, the colour, the noise and its people - activated what was lying dormant inside. (The kiss was a bonus). A friend posited more recently that India works you. It massages and manipulates your soul so that you emerge the other end a more spiritually-condensed version of yourself. I think this is also true. Indeed, it's probably why I feel uncomfortable.

Our first three weeks in southern India were jam-packed with incredible sights, novel experiences, exotic tastes and warm people. And despite being tourists, we felt very much at home. But oddly, the opposite now seems to be the case: we are no longer tourists but don't feel any more settled. In fact, I feel quite isolated. Firstly, because Goans seem a lot more guarded than other southern Indians - no spontaneous smiles here - and secondly, because despite living amongst a welcoming but close-knit group of expats - they refer to South Goa as a village - we are naturally (as six-week drop-ins), viewed as being on the outside. And I am jealous. I want to be on the inside! After 8 months on the road with no social network apart from my own family, I am starting to crave the nurturing that friendships provide.

 
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Photo caption: just a few of our local beaches

Feeling ill at ease is also a result of the draining emotional transition I am forced to make every time we settle in one place. Because 'exploring' and 'living' require two very different kinds of psyche: during the former, I inevitably put up an invisible barrier between my little inner circle and the rest of the world. As the responsible adult, I create a sort of a safety bubble which allows us to be open but not too open, to relax but not to let go completely. We become totally self-sufficient emotionally: we must be our own entertainment and support system. Which isn't easy. So I am proud of how, when travelling, I seem to take hardships in my stride. In fact, I even try my best to make every new place we stay in feel cosy, neat, familiar and safe, even if it's for just one night. Low points endured heroically include cracked sinks held together (badly) with masking tape; holes in walls; cockroaches, ants and scorpions in our rooms; monkeys and snakes outside them; nowhere to unpack or put any of our stuff; interrupted sleep (howling dogs, trains, power cuts and parties); 41 degree heat with no air-con, as well as dirt and dust just about everywhere.

 
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Photo caption: cows are absolutely everywhere (top left); my open-air yoga shala (top right); the kids in front of their new school (bottom left); boho-chic retail (bottom right)

In a way, travelling is easy - you are free to do whatever you want to do, whenever you want to do it. Chores are outsourced (laundry, cooking, cleaning) and there is the constant thrill of being 'entertained'. But the flip side is that this also demands a continually high input of adrenaline, and requires endless planning ahead and sorting out of logistics. This is even more the case if you have three small children under 7 that still need chaperoning in every physical, emotional and mental way possible. So forget any head space of your own: your thoughts, feelings and needs get pushed to the bottom of the pile. They are repressed until further notice. There is no time or room to give them the attention they deserve. And this has repercussions.

 
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Photo caption: Goa is actually much greener than I had imagined. And it's not even rainy season yet! 

'Living' somewhere on the other hand, demands a different approach. It may seem like the easier option, when you're jaded and exhausted by being on the road, but it can actually be even more stressful. There are just as many logistics to sort out – where to live? how to school the kids? how to get about? where to find provisions? And the responsibility that comes with each decision is even greater, because the consequences are long-term rather than temporary. When we decide to settle in one place, my tough exterior slowly melts and I suddenly remember that I am actually a princess! I realise that I was only able to put up with the hardships because there was the prospect of comfort in sight and now I absolutely must be surrounded by a degree of beauty in order to feel calm, happy and secure. Plus those emotional needs I shelved earlier finally come up to the surface for air. It can feel like a lot to deal with all at once.

This trip, we have explored three countries (Myanmar, Laos and India) and lived in four (Greece, Thailand, Bali and India) and each time, the transition from one to the other has left me feeling frustrated, anxious and confused. Frustrated because I naively expect some kind of respite as soon as we stop moving (which always takes longer than I would like), anxiety over whether we chose the right place to stay (what if we got it wrong? should we find elsewhere? how long do we give this place before deciding?) and then confusion because I am forced to sit - powerless - in the unknown. (Which, as an organising, controlling, perfectionist Virgo, is tough).

 
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Photo caption: Goan architecture (top and bottom left); our temple house (bottom right)

Being abroad is a bit like being inside a snow globe: when you are on the road, the snow gets all stirred up and when you stop in one place, it takes time for it to settle. And the most important thing I need to remember, is that until it does, it is as though I am wearing blinkers. It is impossible to see properly nor appreciate what is unique and special in the new.

The problem is, I did forget this fourth time round and was temporarily blinded when we arrived by what Goa was not: unlike Thailand and Bali's relatively good-value luxury villas, rental stock here is limited and basic; private transport for hire is non-existent, shabby or unreliable (cars are decrepid and the tyre on our first scooter burst whilst driving to the garage to fix a puncture on our second) and supermarkets are grotty and basic. It has taken a while to get used to this.

 
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Photo caption: Saturday is market day when the streets are flooded with lots of fresh fish and fruit and veg (top); the school-run doesn't get much better than this (bottom)

But now that we have been here for 3 weeks, I am finally beginning to see the beauty inherent in this particular corner of the world: the school the children are in is small, friendly and welcoming; the beaches nearby are deserted, clean and the water is warm; I have re-instated my regular yoga practise and once again, I have time to myself to meditate and process things. Hurrah!

Unfortunately however, there is one thing that the adjustment period won't change. We arrived in off-season. Which is something I was aware of but seriously underestimated. I thought it meant low season - less tourists, a bit of daily rain and cheaper prices. I was wrong. Actually, it means that everyone leaves (locals and expats) and that everything closes. The school is dwindling in size by the day; most of the beach restaurants and cafes have already shut; yoga classes are winding up and local stores are disappearing alongside the diminishing tourist dollar. Then there is the weather: May is the hottest and most humid month of the year (oops) and June brings monsoon. Not just a daily rainstorm that clears the air but a torrential onslaught that tears down all impermanent structures and makes your clothes to go mouldy. Because this is India after all. And everything is extreme here.

 
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Photo caption: drying chillies (top left); our local beach shack restaurant (top right): turtle hatchery (bottom left); colourful Goan houses (bottom right)

So, whilst we originally thought we would stay until the first week of July, we have decided to move on earlier. Which is fine. Because even though I can now see the attractions of Goa and I appreciate its own, special charm, I don't think it truly resonates with me. Probably because it is too much like me.

Whereas Ubud is supposed to be governed by feminine shakti energy, which felt nurturing, supportive and loving, Goa is supposed to be ruled by masculine shiva consciousness which is about activating the feminine energy - giving it direction, form and content - and about getting things done. And I don't need any more pushing. I am just learning to allow. My still dominant masculine energy wants to receive and surrender, to be softened and not tamed. So my friend was right: India does work you, just not in the way I need right now...

To see where we are on a map, click here!

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On restraint...

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I’ve been reflecting a lot recently on the notion of restraint: on whether it is a concept that is positive or negative and on what would happen if we were free of it. Restraint would have been lauded in Victorian times, I suppose; in those days it was intricately linked to dignity. But that only makes sense if you assume that deep down we are naturally feral and need to be controlled in order to be civil.

You could say that we sometimes need to apply boundaries to our behaviour because without them we would all become lazy, unfit, obese, indulgent and selfish. But I don’t share that view. I don’t think we naturally tend towards wildness or excess. I think we may need to moderate ourselves from time to time, to check-in to see whether some of our habits make long-term sense, but we don’t need restraint. Restraint means self-control; it means keeping ourselves within limits. And in my book, that’s never good.

So for me, it is a negative concept. I feel a sense of scorn when I see it written or say it out loud. Probably because I have spent so many years under its spell: feeling that I needed to restrain parts of myself (physically and emotionally) in order to fit in, in order to please others, in order not to be ‘too much’.

For example, until recently, I’ve always envied quiet, shy, retiring violets; introverts who think before they speak, or even more elusively, don’t say much at all. Because onto these types of people I could project just about anything I wished I could be. They were the ideal blank slates. I also envied them because I knew deep down that they provided the perfect antonym to my (usually) loud and intense presence.

So in order to emulate them I would use restraint. Or rather, since I’m not very good at restraint-on-the-spot as it were, I’d be BIG by mistake and then regret it (usually because I felt I was the only one in the room being quite that big) and would resort to retrospective restraint in the form of guilt, shame and self-blame: "I’ll be less direct next time, less passionate next time…”

But I don’t do that anymore. Firstly, because I saw that there was no point. I never was able to curb my bigness. And secondly because I realised that all of my self-imposed limits were based on an entirely subjective appraisal of myself and of what others might think of me.

For there are degrees of bigness. And I saw that there was no point beating myself up for being at one end of the spectrum rather than at the other. Because, the spectrum can start and finish wherever you choose it to and my judgement of what was too much or too little was equally arbitrary! I realised that I will always be louder than some people (especially in withdrawn, stiff-upper-lip, collar-buttoned-up UK) and I will always be more introvert than others (perhaps why I love Spaniards, Italians and Americans!)

Our self-perception is dependent upon the precise sector of humanity against whom we choose to compare ourselves, as well as upon the set of values we decide to attach to our bigness (or smallness or anything we pick as not being ‘good enough’). Tact, passion, discretion, restraint and assertiveness are all culturally relative: they hold different values according to the nationality, culture and social setting into which we are born.

And when I finally got this, I started allowing myself to be more authentic, more natural, less forced: I stopped depending so much on others for approval, and started caring less if I didn’t it get it. It felt GOOD. The only thing that had been stopping me was fear. Fear of accepting the unrestrained version of myself, a fear of indulging my authentic self.

And I think this is a sentiment that is far more widely held than we care to admit. We are so used to being controlled by the system, by others, by ourselves, that most of us fear what would happen if our limits weren't in place. Because as the inspirational 'spiritual activist' Marianne Williamson so beautifully puts it in the oft-quoted passage from her book: “our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.”

So to this end, I would like to propose a New Year's experiment: what if we each had as our aim this coming year to feel good rather than to be conventional? What if we each took up our unique niche on the beautiful, far-ranging scale of bigness with pride instead of timidity or shame? What if we ditched the restraint and let ourselves be as big as each of us is meant to be? As messy and naturally responsive as our bodies and emotions allowed?

Just imagine if we could all commit to becoming a little more authentic this year. Because ultimately, authenticity leads to acceptance that each of us comes in different flavours, shapes, tones and volumes. And that each is as perfect as the other. Now wouldn’t that be awesome and worthwhile?

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Artwork: Christian Schloe