Bathing.

Balanced on one leg, I run water into a plastic tub in the bath. I splash some gentle liquid soap into the tub, and then sit on a chair next to the bath to spray some of the same soap through my hair before I comb it and tie it back up in a plait.

I turn the tap off, test the warmth of the water in the plastic tub, and carefully take my clothes off, easing my heavy moon boot through the leg hole of my underwear, and laying the clothes over the bath, within arm’s reach.

It has been nearly two weeks since I was hit by a car while riding home on my bicycle.

The accident dislocated and broke my ankle badly enough that when I was first admitted to hospital, high on pain medication from the ambulance ride, all the medical staff winced at it, and I have since been reminded of its severity many times by doctors and radiographers and nurses and surgeons. My ankle is now full of metal plates and screws.

I sit on the chair next to the bath and use a wash cloth to wipe the warm soapy water over my skin. I am not yet strong enough to lower myself in and out of the bath without help, and we’re still figuring out how best to put the chair in the shower so that I can reach my crutches and get my moon boot on and off without putting any weight on the broken ankle.

Tenderness has been the quiet surprise for me in the wake of this accident.

It hasn’t surprised me so much from others. My man and my parents and my friends have all responded to this with great tenderness and care, and I am forever grateful for this.

What has surprised me, though, is my own tenderness towards myself.

It started as I sat on the road in the immediate aftermath of the accident, shocked, frightened, and in pain. People rushed around me to arrange ambulances and police and blankets because I was in shock. I just gently cradled my leg so my foot could remain off the ground, and reminded myself to breathe slowly.

When I’ve woken in the night since, crying and feeling the fear of that time on the road catch up with me, it’s been tenderness that I’ve offered that part of myself. And this, I think, is the growing of a certain kind of strength. Just as it took a considerable amount of core physical strength to sit on the road for that long, balancing so that one foot could hang in the air, I’m coming to realise that it takes a mostly unseen gentle strength to offer ourselves kindness and tenderness when we need it — especially when so much in our culture encourages us to push ourselves to achieve one thing or another.

In the bathroom, having washed most of my body, I gently lower myself to sit on a towel on the floor next to the bath. One by one, I open the velcro fastenings on the front of the boot, and lift my leg out of it to sit it on the floor. Very gently, I remove the surgical sock, careful not to twist or pressure the ankle, and lay the leg back on the floor. It is bruised and swollen; yellow, pink and bluey grey. Some of the skin is grazed, and there are long straight surgical wounds. The muscles have lost all their tone, having remained unused for so many days now.

The skin on this leg is itself tender, and can only be touched very lightly. Today, I find myself thinking gently towards the leg too, where before there was considerably more frustration towards this part of my body. Seeing the wounds so clearly, and tending to them, has all but dissolved this particular frustration. This tenderness feels like accepting this withered and sore lower limb as part of me again. I had not realised until this moment that I’d even separated it out in the first place.

There will be a part of me that misses this bathing when my ankle is healed. Slowing down so much has also been incredibly frustrating and sometimes upsetting, but this long, slow lesson in tenderness towards myself is one I hope I will not forget. There is something deeply beautiful in learning the value in treating ourselves the way we might hope to be treated by others when we’re having difficulty.

Washed and dried, the return of my leg to the sock and boot is just as much a gentle exercise, as is getting redressed and packing up the washing paraphernalia. I am more aware of the small spaces my body moves through to achieve these small things, and of the texture of the materials I am covering myself with. I am more aware of what it takes to shift my relationship with those spaces and materials by moving through, with or around them.

This bathing is an exercise in gentle noticing.

There is no rushing.

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EWF, yoga, writing and keeping active

It’s May. I’m not sure exactly how that happened… but I am excited that this month is here, mostly because it means the Emerging Writers’ Festival is just around the corner. And this year I’ll be involved in some sessions at the festival, which makes it doubly exciting.

This year, the second weekend of the festival will be held at the beautiful Abbortsford Convent, which is one of my favourite places to wander around on a weekend anyway. That weekend, The Writers’ Retreat, is focused on wellbeing for writers, and the program includes events on parenting and writing, health and writing, balancing writing with life, and nature writing. You can view the full list of events here.

I’ll be involved in two events on the weekend.

Workshop: Yoga and Writing
11am-12.30pm, 1 June 2013
The Salon, Abbortsford Convent
Tickets $15, $12 concession

I’ll be running a workshop on yoga and writing on the Saturday morning. I can’t even begin to articulate how excited I am about running this. For me, yoga is an absolutely vital part of my writing practice. I use it in all sorts of ways, from a remedy for the physical ills that come with sitting hunched over a desk, to supporting and enhancing (I hope) the intellectual and emotional wrangling necessary to get words on a page.

The workshop will be an opportunity for me to share some of the ways that I use a yoga practice to help my writing, but I also want it to be a pretty open format. I’ll be running the class through some of the yoga postures and other practices, but questions and discussion will be most welcome.

I always hope in my yoga teaching to help people develop sovereignty with their own bodies (and minds, for that matter), so that they can begin to use on their own the tools yoga offers for whatever it is that they need. This workshop is no exception. So come along and ask me as many questions as you like!

Seriously. I love it when people ask me questions about yoga.

Symposium: Keeping Active in the Arts
2.30-4pm, 2 June 2013
Rosina Auditorium, Abbortsford Convent
Admission is free

I’ll also be involved in a symposium-style event on the Sunday called ‘Keeping Active in the Arts’. In this session we’ll be talking about the benefits of staying active, and how to actually do that.

Having recently gone back to a job that keeps me at a desk three days a week (as opposed to teaching yoga full-time, like I was in Sydney), I’ve spent a lot of time in the last few weeks mulling over exactly these questions. I’m really looking forward to discussing some of the ideas I’ve had, and getting some new ones from others.

But honestly, the whole weekend sounds like it’s going to be wonderful, so even if you can’t make it to my events, do come along. Here are some pictures I took on a recent visit to Abbortsford Convent — it’s worth coming just hang out in the place.

Food reading: The People’s Food Plan

I’ve spent many hours over the last year reading food plans from different countries, trying to get a sense of how we feed ourselves, and the problems with how we do that. Earlier in the year, the Australian government put out a green paper to inform a national food plan. I’m still working through that report in detail (it’s some 200 pages long), but there’s already been quite a response to it elsewhere (here, here and here), and the Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance has put together a discussion paper for a People’s Food Plan as an alternative.

The language difference between the two papers is stark. The government report, as is to be expected, I suppose, is rather dry reading. The facts are interesting, but the language is business language — and much of the criticism of this report has suggested that it’s too business focused. There’s quite a lot in the report that isn’t related to business, but I do agree that its overall focus is problematic. Business, and the economy, are only part of what’s affected by food. The People’s Food Plan discussion paper uses more emotive language, which might be criticised by business folk, but I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing to talk that way about food. Most of us have an emotional relationship with food, in one way or another — it’s often how we socialise, and our food choices are often highly emotion, even if we’re not always aware of it.

A week or so ago, I went to the first of a series of events put on by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestries (DAFF), which they’re calling AgTalks. The session I went to was discussion around the topic “Australians don’t care where their food comes from, as long as it’s cheap and looks good.” The event was chaired by Cameron Wilson, from ABC Radio National’s Bush Telegraph program (and an edited version of the event was broadcast on that show — you can listen to the podcast here), and on the panel were representatives from across the food industry. Interestingly, the panel did not include any farmers, or at least no farmers who didn’t have a vested interest in an industry organisation. Wilson had a number of questions for the panel to consider, but he also threw to the audience and to Twitter (#agtalks) for questions.

Something that bothered me about some of the questions, and about some of the responses from the panel, was the underlying assumption that there is an easy or simple answer to any of the problems that run deep in our food system. I should note that not everyone seemed to be working on this assumption, but it was something that came up frequently. The idea that ‘everyone should just shop at farmers’ markets’ (and I’m definitely paraphrasing here — those exact words were not actually uttered) really irks me. Not everyone has access to farmers’ markets (or organic food, or even fresh food), be that because they can’t afford it, or because it actually just isn’t available anywhere near them. To offer that as a solution just shuts down discussion — very important discussion. Don’t get me wrong: I’m all for farmers’ markets, all for organic and sustainably-grown food, and I certainly think the cost of that kind of food is a more accurate indication of what it actually costs to produce good food. I just think reality of supply is a little more complicated. Supply isn’t just about quantity. It’s also about distribution and access. And the more research I do into food in Australia, the more I come to see that we really must look at food as an inherently social problem, as well as seeing it as an economic and environmental problem.

Which brings me back to a quote from The People’s Food Plan discussion draft: “Being essential to life, food systems must be life-sustaining and life-enhancing.” I would add that it needs to be that for all people. I’ll be watching the development of this plan with great interest, hoping that the social issues that surround access to food are considered carefully and thoughtfully.