Indy asleepSleep. It’s an emotive issue. When our children were babies, the only time we argued was when one or both of them were awake when they shouldn’t be. Looking back through photos, I wondered why there were none of my children asleep? Then I remembered. I was a sleep freak. My children had strictly structured sleep schedules from almost day one, and woe betide anyone who woke them up by taking a photo!

In my quest for unbroken sleep, I would work out how much food and daytime napping was needed to help them Sleep Through The Night. I know, I know, we shouldn’t big this up as the Holy Grail of parenthood. But I need sleep. Thankfully, my children recognised this from an early age.

So imagine my horror when, earlier this year, my nine-year-old son started finding it difficult to fall or stay asleep. The usual ‘Just go to sleep’ did not work and Tana became increasingly anxious about bedtime, often not going to sleep till past midnight and waking several times after that.

After losing my temper a couple of times and feeling thoroughly ashamed, I decided to help Tana learn some techniques he could try to get to sleep. We started with deep breathing and added soft yoga music (I have heaps). I also found a CD of children’s meditations by Relax Kids and we listened to a couple each night, trying to find ones that didn’t mention the sun as this made him feel too hot! I massaged him and sang to him and also used an essential oil pillow spray on his pillow – when it started to run out, my sister had another one custom made for him and he now uses his ‘Magic Drops’ every night.

So, did it work? Yes, it did. After a few weeks of me spending 15 minutes with him in his room, trying out all our techniques, Tana learned how to fall asleep and how to stay calm if he woke up again. His sense of pride when he realised that he was doing this for himself was wonderful to see.

Children are not the only ones with sleep issues. Many of my adult yoga students struggle and just put it down to getting older. But there is usually something you can do. Yoga gives you a head start as you learn how to breathe and relax. And there are loads of good books and articles – I particularly like this one, especially the little video with some really good common sense tips. Sleep tight.

Last month’s blog was about bouncing back after falling down. This month I’m going to suggest that you regularly choose to put yourself in a position where you are even more likely to fall down!Be different

Doing things that scare you is good for you. ‘Feel the fear but do it anyway’ was our mantra when we were making the decision to give up our wonderful jobs, home and friends and move our family to a remote area of rural France that we had only visited for an hour. That was nearly three years ago and not once have we regretted our decision.

Fitness trainer, Ben Greenfield, hit the nail on the head when he said: “Be uncomfortable. Expose your body to occasional, sane amounts of natural stress and disorder. This will fight fragility, keep you alive and vibrant”. Ben is talking about developing physical resistance, recommending a 30-day cold shower challenge (sounds horrendous but I have a cold shower most mornings and I’m now addicted).

But this principle brings more than just physical benefits. Getting out of your comfort zone also revitalises your mind and soul. My cousin, Dan Eley, constantly sets himself challenges that seem unachievable for a guy in a wheelchair. Like cycling from Land’s End to John O’Groats on a physio cycle, or landing a job with one of the UK’s biggest corporate speaking agencies.

Dan’s courage inspires many people to push their boundaries. My brother has just signed up to do the Born Survivor 10km military obstacle race to raise money for Dan’s charity, the Dan Eley Foundation. I’m delighted these adventure races are so popular at the moment. A fad it may be, but introducing a challenge into your normal life, no matter how large or small, can be life-changing.

Go on. Live outside the box. Dare to be different.

Life at Happy Coulson is amazing. It really is. But here, like everywhere, life is not a bed of roses. Here, the schools are not perfect and Tana and India often feel like outsiders. As a parent, when your children are hurting your instinct is to pull them out of that situation. And we could. There are other schools. But we learn from Tana, who picks himself up after every tumble and launches himself back into the fray. He bounces back like a rubber ball, and this is an important lesson.

We need to be resilient. Sometimes life is hard and we have to do things we don’t enjoy. We have to put our heads down and just get through it. In the Coulson family, we call this the ‘Triple M’ or ‘Mile Munching March’. Chris and I coined the phrase when we were trekking in Tanzania and our not-really-a-guide took us the wrong way down the Great Rift Valley.

Lost in AfricaWith no sign of human habitation, dwindling light and water supplies, and just a sentence in our guide book to warn us off the area with its dangerous animals, bandits and lack of clean water, this was serious. But thanks to Chris’ compass watch and some serious Triple M, we made it and climbed an active volcano the following day, the highlight of our trip.

So we’re sticking in there, watching carefully and keeping the lines of communication open. We encourage our children to talk to us about everything and try hard not to brush them off with a flippant “oh, you’ll be ok”. We remind each other of all the wonderful things in our life and acknowledge that even if Happy Coulson IS actually a bed of roses, every now and then you’ll find a thorn.

Together at last!April has been a month of rekindling old friendships and starting new. One year, almost to the day, since they went back to New Zealand, the Gofton-Kielys came back for the launch of Allyson’s book, Recipes From My Kitchen. The GKs lived in a nearby village for 18 months and became great friends so they just had to come and stay with us for a few days. We had a wonderful time helping Allyson present her book, which is number two in the Kiwi book charts and was very well received here. I will let you know as soon as it becomes available on this side of the world…

Sponsoring RakshaFeeling incredibly blessed as we do to live in France and have two healthy children, I have been on the lookout for a way to help a less fortunate family. The opportunity arose when we went to an event at our children’s school.

Pupils of all ages have been working with a local charity which raises money for a school in Nepal, learning about the life of children over there. The charity was started by a couple who went trekking in Nepal and came across a tiny village. They started sponsoring a child and asked friends to do the same – more than 70 children are now in regular schooling. We decided to sponsor a 12-year-old girl called Raksha, as most families will only bother to send their sons to school.

Raksha lives near Pokhara so not far from the centre of the earthquake that hit Nepal on Saturday. We are waiting for news.

 

I am still recovering from my whistle-stop tour of the UK (Petersfield, Brighton, Norwich) which saw me work hard, party hard (with friends old and new) and do some yoga just for me. Blissfully burnt out.

I taught a workshop on the Quest for Happiness, which has featured in most of my classes since my French friends wished me a new year ‘plein de bonheur et que le meilleur’ (full of happiness and only the best). Having branded our family the Happy Coulsons (no pressure there), this is something we should know all about. And we certainly are happy. But why? How? And is it something we can actively pursue?

Talking to friends who do not deem themselves ‘happy’, happiness seemed to them an elusive concept, intangible and unrealistic. One person even said they didn’t believe in happiness. They talked about it as something you might find in small measures throughout life, something that comes from things going on around you. I disagree. The motto we use on our Happy Coulson website is: ‘Happiness is not a destination, it’s a way of life’. But I was struggling with how best to express how to live it…

The Very Happy BrainUntil I saw a short animated film by Dr Amit Sood, about his scientific research into what makes a brain happy. Dr Sood believes that more effective than the pursuit of happiness is the pursuit of two other, much more achievable goals – Compassion and Gratitude. Compassion to yourself and others, and gratitude for the good in your life.

I have found myself thinking and talking about my cousin Dan, who broke his neck in a diving accident six years ago. For a while, Dan struggled to see the good in his life. Then he stopped struggling and focused on what he could do. He could breathe in and breathe out, at first not without the help of a machine, but for that he was grateful.

Dan's happiness talkDan is happier than ever before. He has set up the Dan Eley Foundation to give underprivileged children in Columbia, where he had his accident, access to training and a way out of poverty and crime. He also gives inspirational talks about his ‘formula for happiness’ or using adversity to discover our potential and has just applied to become a TED speaker.

Dan is the walking embodiment of how the pursuit of gratitude and compassion can make you happy. And before you think I just used a really inappropriate word to describe my tetraplegic cousin, check out this video of Bionic Dan, walking for the first time since 2009.

Be kind. Be grateful. And see where that gets you.

New floors

After

No floors

Before

Open season at Happy Coulson has always started in March. But this year, it is only mid February and we are welcoming seven guests in the next two weeks. Our two workaways, Mark and Ellen, have worked incredibly hard to finish our new rooms, including new wooden floors, skirting boards and painting everything that doesn’t move.

Mark, Ellen and Wolfie

 
After two months here, Mark and Ellen leave us next week to walk the Spanish section of the Camino. We wish them luck and are already looking forward to their return.

Our first guest of 2015 is a return visitor from last year. Paul visited his friend Ellie when she stayed here as a workaway and is back for 10 days to write and do yoga. And tomorrow, four Portuguese musicians arrive.

Exciting news about flights from Stansted to Lourdes from April. Instead of flying at 0620 on a Tuesday and Saturday, flights will leave Stansted at 1310 on Fridays and fly back at 12 on Mondays. Very civilised.

How cool Happy New Year!that it is our tradition to wish each other a ‘Happy New Year’. In France, folk are maybe more realistic and wish friends and family a ‘Good Year and Good Health’.

But I love that we make happiness the most important thing. Believe it or not, happiness is a choice. We can choose not to be miserable. Focus on the good things in your life and if something brings you down, try to learn from it and let it go.

And spread that New Year love around. We have kissed and exchanged greetings with EVERYONE in our village at the annual gathering organised by the mayor. It may chafe your cheeks but it’s a great way to bring a community together. That and the copious amounts of whisky and wine…

November at Happy Coulson is pretty much all about the birthdays. My birthday, Tana’s birthday and Chris’ birthday. My birthday was spent on the sofa, watching films and eating gâteaux. Perfect, actually.

Tana's X-Wing Fighter cakeTana’s, as always, took the most time and energy. His ninth this year and maybe the last year he invites a big group. So we pulled out all the stops with a Star Wars X-Wing Fighter cake, a dusk treasure hunt through the spooky woods, a bonfire to cook crêpe burritos and fireworks. And homemade lanterns that used tampons dipped in petrol for fuel – failed miserably but caused much hilarity.

Chris celebrated his birthday yesterday. I say ‘celebrated’ – he had a French lesson in the morning then started to work on a laptop which belongs to a student and apparently has lots of precious homework stored on it.

Most of his birthday was spent sweating and swearing at the French laptop with its flaming French words and French keyboard. He did eventually find the solution – at 5am on the day after his birthday.

Chris survival courseThe children may have gone back to school in September but October has been a real learning experience for the Happy Coulson grown ups. First there was Chris’ survival skills training course. Five days in a woodland in Oxfordshire, learning how to make fire, build shelters, whittle and other manly things.

He was on his own each night, eating wild fare he prepared himself ranging from squirrel to rook and sleeping in his shelter, which he was pretty proud of by the end of the week. Chris will be sharing his skills with visitors to Happy Coulson, including our French students.

Now back on French soil, Chris’ learning month continues with the reprisal of his efforts to master the language. After two years here, his vocabulary and comprehension are impressive, now we need to fill in the gaps so he can take a more active part in conversations.

La VentucaI feel moved to help Chris progress following my four-day retreat in Spain. Although all the teaching was in English so I didn’t need to speak Spanish, I found being unable to communicate unbearably frustrating. And not understanding the simplest of menus was just embarrassing. Next month I am starting an online TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) course to help with my French students. When that is done I am going to start learning Spanish so the next time we go I will at least have the basics.

The yoga and meditation course in Asturias in northern Spain was wonderful. Amazing venue, beautiful scenery, great people, delicious food and four days of me being the student instead of the teacher. I found it so inspiring and came back rejuvenated and excited to share everything I learned with my students in France and England.

Grannie and Grandad in the potagerBack to school September has passed by in a flash. The kids settled straight back in – two years is proving to be a real breakthrough point in terms of language and integration.

The visitors just kept on coming, notably Chris’ mum and dad for their annual trip. It was a very busy time for us but Heather and Barry got stuck straight in and helped with everything, including the big apple and onion harvest.

We were also delighted to have a visit from my Australian relatives, Jon and Jill Holmes, who were on a tour of Europe. Chris and I stayed with them while travelling in 1997 so it was lovely to repay their kindness. Especially cool was the chance for them to meet Chris’ mum and dad, who they unwittingly took a photograph of on their honeymoon in London around 30 years ago. But that’s another story…

Happy Yoga Retreat

September saw our first wholly Happy Coulson yoga retreat – with yoga by Kate and food by Chris. It was just a day for some of my students, held at a friend’s house as our yoga studio is still a barn, but it went down a treat. We are now looking forward to the day we can host such an event…

To do that, we need a yoga studio so Chris is about to start work on a new shed complex, enabling us to empty the barn of all his tools and supplies. We also need to finish the floors and walls of the new rooms, work that was put on hold when the pilgrim season started way back in April. Lots to do, as always. Good job that’s how we like it.

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