Baby, Baby, Baby

Planting a new seed

Although I am a passionate gardener, and have been rescued and fed by the earth,  body and soul – see Blooming in the Shadows – one thing I have always been bad at, is planting seeds. Somehow, they just don’t want to germinate for me, and my strike rate is poor. So when someone brought me back a precious packet of specialist wildflower seeds, all the way from Canada, my heart missed a beat. I was sure that nothing would come up. But I was wrong. They took their time, but by the end of the summer, I had a little window box full of blooms, of which the yellow beauty pictured above, is the finest example. Result! And 2018 was a blooming year in many respects, with our uncharacteristic English heatwave – and, coming right alongside it, pregnancies among many of my colleagues and friends. Some of them welcome – yet quite unexpected. Nature works in mysterious ways.

Knowing hands, secret bodies

One of the first people to come along to Reiki in Leeds for a hands-on reiki session with me, was a wonderful young musician called Fran Wyburn whom I regularly  work alongside, creating classes with writing, movement and music for people living with dementia .She is an energetic and upbeat individual, so I was a little surprised when she dropped asleep almost immediately, as I started to lay my hands on her body. Everything seemed calm and quiet in her, with “lots of space and light”, as she said – except for her abdomen, which was tight as a drum. A little “jumpy”, I put in my notes. And no wonder. There was a lot going on. Although she had no idea, and neither had I, she was in the very early stages of pregnancy. A much wanted baby, yet one she had not expected to manifest quite so soon. But bodies know what they are up to. And her body – and the tiny nascent life within it – certainly seemed to appreciate the gentleness that reiki offers.

The ocean of life

Says Fran, “My whole body relaxed so much, I felt like I was floating and I became very calm. I feel the  reiki helped me give into what my body needed. Afterwards I was rejuvenated and felt an enormous release come over me.”

Reiki – like T’ai Chi and Chi Kung – tunes you in to where you are at the time. It soothes – but it also tells the truth. And the truth was, she needed to rest. Never is a female body more busy – except perhaps in labour – than in the first three months of pregnancy. The tiredness, as I remember, 25 years on from my own newly-forming baby, is positively oceanic. And surrender is the best and healthiest option.

From cradle to grave

Reiki has a quiet and special part to play,  both at the beginning and at the end of a life. Recently it has been my privilege to visit a friend who is resident in a local hospice. The hospice movement particularly respects reiki for its non-invasive presence. Sitting alongside someone who is in the last stages of their life, either with reiki hands on, or near, their body – or simply sitting still beside them, is a small but tangible gift. A responsibility  too. It seems to me that the veil is very fine,  between this life, and whatever comes after it; and also – what comes before. The seed. The germination. The flower – and the petals gently falling. The beginning and the end.

The pregnancy challenge

Fran Wyburn, meanwhile, is still very much at the beginning of her particular journey into motherhood. The baby is yet to be born. And let’s not kid ourselves – being pregnant can be tough. Sickness, vomiting, continuing fatigue. At six months pregnant, she had another reiki session with me. She had been having a tough time with persistent nausea. And whilst reiki supports – it never claims to ‘cure’. Still, at least she could have a little respite, and this is what she reports: “It had the same calming, soothing and rejuvenating effects on me. I feel that both times, it has helped my body and mind re-align to the enormous changes that have been occurring inside me. It has given me the space I needed to reconnect with myself – and, the second time, also with my baby – away from all the other things I have been coping with, too.”

Gently does it

When I had my own baby, I was determined to give birth as naturally as possible. It certainly started out that way, but ended up being about as  high tech as it could be, barring a caesarean. Suspected breech birth – baby stuck in the birth canal – last minute epidural – lengthy transition from first to final stage – and a ventouse delivery. Plus one very tired and sore mother at the end of it. But with a perfectly healthy baby. Life happens in its own sweet way, and with all the best planning in the world, things can turn out differently than expected.

But I do wonder how things might have been, if I had had the same midwife all the way through my labour – and if that midwife had included reiki in her repertoire.

The very first reiki session I had myself, some years back, was from a friend who was a midwife herself. “Do you give reiki to your labouring mothers?” I asked. “Not officially”, she said, with a twinkle in her eye. Lucky them, lucky them.

One of the pioneers of the gentle birth method, Dr Gowri Motha, is a great advocate of using complementary therapies to assist in pregnancy and in birth. And why ever not? All these graceful and non-invasive techniques – reflexology, ayurveda, cranio- sacral therapy, reiki – can only help and support, both baby and mother. Of reiki itself, Dr Motha writes, in her book the Gentle Birth Method:

“Reiki can be received at any time during pregnancy, as it is so gentle and safe. It is one of the safest treatments you can have in early pregnancy….

“Reiki warms and relaxes the body and facilitates gentle healing by attracting lymphocytes (the immune system cells) to the affected area…It is very common to feel deeply relaxed and even fall asleep during the session.”

Better to do as much sleeping before the birth as possible. As precious little of it will be available, once the baby is born!

Sweet song of self

Soon my musician colleague will be back for another session, as she nears the end of her pregnancy – a pregnancy during which she has been constantly singing and making music, both for work and for pleasure. So one thing’s for sure – this coming baby, however and whenever s/he chooses to make an entrance, has tuned  into the deep and nourishing melodies and rhythms of life, right from the very start.

To book a reiki session with me, go to my Reiki in Leeds page on this website. You can find links to my other blogs on reiki there too.

Fran Wyburn’s new album is called Wood for the Trees.

‘The Gentle Birth Method’  by Dr Gowri Motha and Karen Swan MacLeod  is published by Harper Collins






Walking on Air

“I have spread my dreams under your feet:

Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.”

The Cloths of Heaven/W.B.Yeats

WHY DO so many of us dislike our feet?  When people come for a treatment, here at Reiki in Leeds, they are often bashful about having their feet touched, or even looked at. “Oh, I hate my feet”, said one woman, who had the daintiest, most well-groomed pair imaginable. Her feet were bare and she shrank from my touch. But not for long. Soon she settled into the feeling, and I could almost feel her feet giving a sigh of relief: at last, someone is paying me attention! This is a reticence I have never understood. Since training as a contemporary dancer, over thirty years ago, I have learned to respect and honour my feet. They are the body’s great asset: holding us up, taking us forward, one step at a time. It is time to consider feet quite differently – to kick off the too-tight shoes and walk on the grass, barefoot, whenever it is warm enough to dare. Otherwise, let them breathe indoors, from big toe to little pinky, spreading and widening the sole, feeling the support of the ground beneath you. The foot has wisdom in it, and it does us good to listen.

Treading softly in the forest

The T’ai Chi that I have long studied as part of my movement practise, was brought to England over half a century ago, by a redoubtable Norwegian woman called Gerda Geddes. She was exceptional in many ways, a dancer, psychoanalyst, anti-Nazi activist, and then a passionate advocate of  T’ai Chi for most of her long and elegant life. In her tiny book, ‘Looking for the Golden Needle’, she talks about her childhood, when she walked in the forest with her grandfather, who taught her to study the footprints of animals – and to tread softly herself, so as not to disturb the flora and fauna living and breathing, so delicately, all around her. She writes that this early experience came in handy, when she began studying T’ai Chi with a man called Master Choy in Hong Kong in the 1950s.

The openness of the foot

She says: “What my teacher stressed most to begin with was the importance of the foot; how it touched the ground, how each step must be soft and gentle and flowing, how I must be aware of the contact of the sole of the foot with the ground, of the energy which is drawn into the body through the sensitivity and the openness of the foot. Now this was a teaching I understood. It was as if my grandfather’s wisdom was coming back to me through this old Chinese gentleman. It was a language I already knew from childhood.”

A well of energy

In the many Eastern techniques – acupuncture, reiki, yoga, t’ai chi – that are so good for raising and balancing our energy, the foot always receives its justified moment in the sun. There is a potent acupuncture point, in the centre of the ball of the foot, called ‘Bubbling Well’. It is a kidney point, and the meaning is clear. There is power in this place: a well of energy, that can be drawn on, by the insertion of an acupuncturist’s needle, or the movement, heel to ball, ball to heel, that takes place in T’ai Chi, or the gentle, insistent holding of the foot at the end of a Reiki treatment.  Feet are powerful. We need to learn to harness that power more effectively.

Feet receive, hands transmit

The warmth of a reiki practitioner’s hands is well documented. They can channel a wonderful, flowing stream of energy and vitality  through into a client’s body. And there is undoubted intelligence and wisdom in every person’s hands: we communicate a great deal through them, all the time, not just in a reiki room, but in ordinary conversation, as we gesticulate, demonstrate, remonstrate and acquiesce. But if our hands are to transmit energy and information,  in the most effective and clear way possible, then they need help. Right at the other end of the body, the feet do that job. They receive the support of the ground beneath them – drinking it in, like a plant’s roots drawing up moisture from the earth. Feet receive, hands transmit. A perfect partnership: if we let it  happen.

Cherishing the moment

The last place I visit on a journey through a person’s body during a reiki treatment, is the feet. I spend a lot of time there. As I said, I like feet – and I think they deserve the attention. People’s feet are often cold. And they often react with a small, almost imperceptible startle, when I lay my hands on them. But softly, slowly, they begin to respond. The warmth begins to gather. The toes begin to lengthen and spread. The sole of the foot begins to breathe through the pores of the skin, and a kind of peace begins to flow. It is a simple moment. A cherishing of our roots.  Holding the foot is a lovely thing to do, for others, and for oneself. A kind of earthy reverence.

Walking with care

Most of us don’t have the luxury of walking barefoot through forests every day. Our feet are encased in shoes that often constrict us – particularly the little toe, so vital for balance – and we bang those shoes down over concrete and stone, on pavement and road, up into high rises, and down into basements. Cut off, most of the time, from the soil beneath the concrete. But there is a way to tread softly, even in the city. A sense of awareness helps – particularly of the soles of the feet. Allow them to soften a little as you walk, and you might find they ache a little less by the end of the day. And let them go free, whenever you get the chance. Naked and strong. There is so much more to a foot than meets the eye. And so much sustenance to be gained, from the earth beneath them.

The path untrodden

Meanwhile, as Chuang Tzu – quoted by Gerda Geddes – remarks: “The foot treads the ground in walking, nevertheless it is the ground not yet trodden on which makes up a good walk.”

Visit my  page Reiki in Leeds here for further information on my work, or to book a reiki session.

Looking for the Golden Needle: An Allegorical Journey’ by Gerda Geddes (MannaMedia, 1991)


Reiki and the Sea Inside

IN TIMES of trouble, I go to the sea. When I fractured my shoulder, and was fuddled with pain, my brain dark with depressive thoughts, there was only one real solution: to get to the coast and listen to the seagulls cry, feel the rhythmic swell of the tide, walk on the shingle, feel the salt wind in my face. And it worked. (Read more here). Celebration is an ocean, too – seaside jaunts with family and friends, sandcastles and picnics, rock pools and sunburnt knees. There is a sea inside us all, and we long to return to it, one way or another.

Sea of Chi

All you have to do is hold a seashell to your ear, and you can hear it: the tidal flow of blood, swooshing behind our ears,  the endless rhythmic, fluid pulse of our bodies. Around sixty per cent of the human body is liquid. Seventy per cent of the earth’s surface is covered in sea. No wonder it holds such a  potent attraction for humanity. There is a mysterious alchemy at work here: symbiosis and seduction, all at once. In acupuncture, too, the meridians, or channels of energy pass  through the main organs and run, like rivers, through the whole body, keeping us active and moving, from cradle to grave – and have their own particular rhythmic flow. If there is a block in the flow, like a river run stagnant, then disease can follow. Acupuncture needles work to release these hidden blocks. Deep in the belly is acupuncture’s T’an Tien, or true centre, a couple of inches below the belly button, storing up energy like a human powerhouse. The name of this centre? The Sea of Chi. Everywhere we are water. Everywhere the sea.

Pushing the Wave

In T’ai Chi and Chi Kung, too (for more info see here), come myriad images of sea and sky. ‘Pushing the Wave’ has you moving rhythmically, forwards and back, arms gently rolling, like water breaking on the beach, advancing and retreating, to the ancient rhythms of time: balancing the body, slowing down the mind. ‘Scoop the Sea, Greet the Sky’ swoops you low over one leg, plunging deep beneath your own surface, only to rise, arms extended, head lifted, like a bird  flying high. There is physiological wisdom in these moves, but there is philosophy too. A harmonising of the self with the wider natural world. And at the very beating heart of all nature: is the sea.

Rhythms of Reiki

Thirty years of exploration in acupuncture and T’ai Chi have led me slowly, inexorably to  an affinity with, and passion for, the hands-on practise of Reiki (For background see here. )Every day now, I lay my hands on my own heart, my solar plexus, my belly.  And ever more strongly I can feel the rhythm and flow of the energy passing through. In my practise, at Reiki in Leeds, people sit beside me, or lie on the table, eyes closed, silent and waiting. And I wait too. Wait and listen – with my hands, with all my senses. And the body always responds. Responds in the way it knows so well – like waves passing over the shore, advance and retreat, sometimes wild, sometimes soft. But always with a certain primitive wisdom, that is the wisdom of the tidal flow. River to sea. Person to person. Soul to soul. And a balance is found, mind and body: a coming to quietness and to a new path of health. Reiki is an elegant practise. Simple. Unpretentious. It is all a matter of attention and respect. Then the body does the rest.

At the water’s edge

The last time I was at the sea, in Robin Hood’s Bay (pictured above), North Yorkshire, I got into the habit of walking early along the beach, to catch the rising sun over the southern edge of the bay. There was rarely anyone else about, except for the odd dog walker, and a solitary gull. But one day, as I walked, I noticed a young man standing, stock still, by the water’s edge, mesmerised by the scene in front of him. He hardly noticed me go by, such was his revery, his far away dream. But at the last minute he caught my eye. There was on his face, a look of amazement. I got the feeling this place was new to him, that he was a visitor, maybe from the city, or somewhere else inland. As he greeted me, there was a catch in his voice. “Isn’t this just the most beautiful thing?” he said. And then he turned away and stared again at the distant horizon and the glow of the orange sun. When I had got to the end of my walk, and had turned around and walked all the way back, he was still there, in the same position, staring, staring, staring, at the waves as they broke on the shore. Not star-struck, for it was morning. But all alone and happy: completely and utterly sea-struck. And I’ve never forgotten him. For I am sea-struck too.

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Sail your little boat

Unlocking the hidden door

WHEN RAY speaks, it is barely a whisper. You have to get very close to him, to hear the fragments of his words. His head, too, is bowed down, so that the clearest view he has, is of the floor. As he takes the little boat in his hands – hands bent with arthritis, and with age – there is the hint of a smile on his lips. He starts to describe the wooden boat to the gentle male assistant sitting next to him, using words that are careful and considered. The boat is rustic, he says, the wood is chipped, almost a shipwreck! Brings back memories, he says, of when he was a boy, and he sailed on the sea himself. Another smile. And the hidden door of his mind is slowly unlocked. A poem emerges. (See below).

We are sitting in the bistro of a warm and friendly care home in Seacroft, Leeds. This session is a poetry workshop, part of Leeds Playhouse’s Creative Cultures project, aiming to engage older people – particularly those who may be challenged by physical illness, by dementia, or by the isolation of being a refugee, an asylum seeker – someone for whom English may not be a first language – in creative self expression. As a writer, I am using poetry to unlock that hidden door. Elsewhere, there will be music and visual art. The message of the project is clear: only connect, and you will be amazed at what you might achieve. And the few words that Ray finds, to describe forgotten memories, buried feelings – to sail his little boat, if only for a few moments on a Monday morning –  is proof that the effort it takes, to make these sessions happen, is worth it. A million times over.

Isolation and Connection

As a writer, I have spent many hours, days – years – sitting at my desk, willing the words to come. And thousands of words have indeed come, and been published, in newspaper articles, in magazine features, in three published books, and now this website, too. I enjoy the solitude of a writer’s life. Love to dig down very deep, to see what emerges from the murkiness of my own subconscious. And the form of my writing, only encourages this introspection. I am a memoir writer. Writing from deeply personal experience – of grief, of loss, of rising like a phoenix from the ashes, time and again. But this process can be a lonely one. And sometimes, downright unhealthy. Apart from going out “on the road” to talk about my books, my author’s life can be TOO isolated. Too much fret and worry. Too much isolation. Not enough connection. Sometimes, thinking about the words so intensely, can stop them up altogether. And for me, it was reaching out to others, that released that stopped-up flow.

Finding your tribe

Nearly ten years ago, I started working at Leeds Playhouse on their Creative Engagement team. It was older people that I worked with most – and still do. Anyone over 55, can join Heydays on a Wednesday. There are a wealth of classes on offer. Sometimes I dance with them – but mostly it’s about the words. And for me, as a writer, it has been a joy to see people writing poems and short stories, which teem with life and with the richness of experience. These people have LIVED – and the words that they write unlock that liveliness, that verve – and give me a sense of belonging, and of place. The lonely writer, once out of her dismal garret, simply loves to play. And being amongst people who are not professional writers – although many of them are very talented –  is liberating, too. No competition. Just sharing the pleasure of words. Sailing our little boats together.

Reach out and touch

But it is the people who have most difficulty with their words who have touched me the most – the people living with dementia, who come to the Playhouse’s Our Time project , (one of whom has blossomed so much that we have written a play together, which you can read about here); and the elders I am visiting now, in care homes and at support centres, who may seem, on first meeting, to have little to say or to offer, in the way of poetry or creative insight. It takes a little time. It takes a lot of encouragement. It requires that you sit, and wait for the words to come – sometimes in a whisper, sometimes in a shout. But come they do. And the result is always a piece of magic. When memory has gone dark, when age seems to offer only pain and struggle, then writing a poem with someone is like a little light shining in the darkness. And the boat sets sail again.

FISHING BOAT   by Ray and Jamie

Shaped like a creature                                                                                                                       It’s a fish                                                                                                                                           From a bird’s eye view

A shipwreck.                                                                                                                                 Deserted.                                                                                                                                        Chipped wood.                                                                                                                                  Rustic.

Brings back memories.                                                                                                                       Of when I was a boy                                                                                                                            And a passenger on the sea.

This boat knows                                                                                                                                         Its journey in life.                                                                                                                                 A ruler of the waves.


Reiki and the Anxious Mind

The sensitive soul

WHEN I WAS a child, I used to drive my ebullient mother wild with frustration. At the slightest upset, the tears would flow. I was ultra aware of atmosphere – worried by raised voices, by any hint of disharmony. “Oh stop crying! You’re too sensitive!” my mother would wail. She wasn’t scared of a good scrap herself. But me? Always one skin less. As I have developed in my adult life, to work, as a writer and teacher, with groups of people who may themselves be vulnerable in some way, this sensitivity has served me well. And when working as an artist on solo projects – memoir, features and poetry, drawing deeply on my own inner life – the tendency to brood and be introspective has also been a plus. But it comes at a price.  Particularly when the outside world ramps up the threat. At such times, having a nervous system like a highly-tuned sports car, is no longer an advantage: it is, instead, an extra worry and a burden.

When things fall apart

Death and serious illness never came near me when I was growing up. But by the time I got to my thirties it was all around me, like a stormy sea. Close friends were getting ill and dying from AIDS and cancer. Then, at only 37, my husband also got sick. We hadn’t been together very long, and had a very young child. But illness is no respecter of circumstance, and he was diagnosed with a thymoma, a rare and incurable cancer of the thymus gland. Death was certain – though he spent ten years keeping it at bay, determined, as he was, to see his beloved daughter grow to be eleven, before he left us. Those ten years were a minefield of treatments and of physical suffering for him: and, as his primary carer,  I was also exhausted, and psychologically battered. It took another ten years to recover. But somehow, my mind never got back to a state of utter balance. The adrenaline alert I had lived with for so long, just kept on pushing and pulling in the background, disturbing sleep, and mood, even as I made a new and creative life for myself and my daughter.

Reiki to the rescue

Many techniques have helped and enriched me through these challenges and depletions – from T’ai Chi, to acupuncture, to massage and meditation. They bring balance, a sense of peace, moments of exquisite harmony. But when I started investigating Reiki, it wasn’t really any of those things that I was seeking from it. I had recently fractured my shoulder. I wanted help with the pain. I wanted to feel physically comfortable again. Physiotherapy had helped enormously – thank goodness for our National Health Service. Painkillers played their part. Codeine can be a godsend when your body is screaming for respite. But Reiki seemed to go deeper than that. As I investigated further, receiving treatments, and  finally becoming trained and attuned myself as a Reiki practitioner, I realised that my whole nervous system seemed to be quietening down. And that the new composure was there for good!

Fight or Flight

A herbalist I consulted a few years back said that my adrenal glands were depleted – leaving me anaemic, weak and unsteady. It was years of living with the red alert of serious illness – I had got used to my nervous system going into “fight or flight” mode at the slightest provocation. My stomach would lurch with anxiety, even when faced with fairly mundane problems or challenges. Somehow, I could never switch off. The “sympathetic” part of my nervous system – preparing my body for action, pumping blood to the heart, speeding up breathing – seemed to be just too busy, all of the time.

Rest and Digest

After a few months of working with simple, profound Reiki techniques, I noticed something different. My stomach refused to lurch in anticipation of new or unexpected events. I felt quieter and more steady, deep inside myself. And this different way of being wasn’t going away. It was mine, now. It was me. My “parasympathetic” nervous system, which allows for inner equilibrium and a steady calm, was coming into play. Reiki seemed to be helping that happen.

Helping Hands – Quiet Mind

Apart from skilful intervention from a Reiki Master during this steadying-up period, I learned how to lay hands upon myself. Before sleep, I laid two hands, side by side, palms down, over my heart area; then over the solar plexus; and finally, on the belly. Feeling the warmth. Keeping the hands still. Feeling the mind quieten into rest. Upon waking – I did the same thing again. I now do this every day and every night, without fail. And if I wake in the night from bad dreams, or a racing mind, something to which I have always been prone – then again, I place my hands over my heart. And a softening begins to happen. And back to sleep I go.

Caring for Self and for Others

We are living in anxious – and, indeed, violent – times. The ability to be quiet and calm, to switch off and replenish the inner self, seems to be getting lost in a clamour of loud voices all around us. It is a delight to find something that does NOT shout; that is simple and steady and always available. The warmth of the hands – of the life force or “ki/chi” itself – finds its way to the heart. And lets us know that everything will be OK. If we let it. If we learn how to do it, and to keep on doing it, all through our lives. Reiki is just one way to find this inner stillness and balance. It is a beautiful form of self care – and of care for others, too. A quiet mind, in a quiet body. A little bit of “yin”, to the “yang” of the outside world. If YOUR mind is overburdened, and your body tired and depleted; maybe Reiki can help you to drop some of that weight, and travel a little lighter through your days.

I offer solo treatments in my Reiki Room in Oakwood, Leeds, West Yorkshire. If you would like to find out more, take a look at my Reiki In Leeds page here.