Dancing on a Sunday with strangers

So once again I find myself in a circle of strangers, feeling pretty awkward and ‘warming up’ with some gibberish. This was pretty familiar, but thankfully I wasn’t alone – having roped in my new friend Gazala who I’d met at Laughter yoga. This was my first drumming experience…well I say first. I confess, there have been several times in my youth(er) days when I’d found myself dancing in a drumming circle – but this wasn’t at Glastonbury or in a club. This was a Sunday and I was sober.

After several clapping circles (making a beat with our hands and feet while walking in a circle) I was loosening up and starting to feel some rhythm.

The London Drum Circle (again found through Meetup.com) is run by our group leader Nihat who’s endearing warmth and easy manner instantly put you at ease. We did a getting to know you activity where we had to introduce ourselves by clapping out/singing our name (some did this with more gusto than others – try coming after a lady with literal operatic enthusiasm! Terrifying)  We were a mixed bag of age, cultural background and experience but it transpired most people hadn’t been before either so my lack of percussion technicality wasn’t an issue. The more I go to these things the more I learn to let go of any preconceptions about who will be there.

All warmed up in body and mind – the drumming began…. but I didn’t have a clue and the drum in my hands felt totally alien. Nihat took us through an easy beat and the guys who could actually play percussion led the group. I threw myself into it and was soon banging away like a pro (I thought) though I’m sure had I been called to a drum solo it may have been a different matter.

Those who could sing (and there were a couple of very good singers) were encouraged to join in and we drummed continuously for at least another 10 minutes. I tuned into the rhythm and the cacophony of drums, tambourine, shakers, voices was pretty impressive. I found it was easy to loose yourself in the action and sound – though a couple of times I tuned back in to find I’d lost all rhythm and was literally just banging! Making myself concentrate a bit harder I continued and found I was having a great time. Huge smiles all round.

Nihat stopped us half way through and told us that out of Western society drumming circles are not seated and so encouraged us to stand up and dance if we wanted. The sun was set and the curtains were drawn to close out the night. The room was lit by a single lamp but the soft glow allowed everyone to relax and lose their inhibitions. The drumming began again and I found that the tambourine was much more my instrument. Gazala and I danced around the room and I can honestly say, I was having a brilliant time. Some members of the group totally lost themselves in the music – dancing (very) enthusiastically and playing louder. I admit it,  I closed my eyes once – but I got most enjoyment from watching how everyone else was interacting with the experience. The lead drummers changed the beat a few times from fast to slow and then the music crescendo-ed again. We played for about 20 minutes, though I wasn’t keeping time, then Nihat brought us back together and the circle closed with a beautiful song by Fajad in Urdu – the words ‘This song we sing, brings our hearts together’

Final spontaneous drumming erupted and the instrument no longer felt like (such) an alien object. As Gazala put it ‘I felt like a drumming Queen!… and we did.

I would say that the best thing about the whole experience wasn’t whether or not you lost yourself in the music but the general brilliance of making collective music. The reality is that once you leave school and that band you were in when you were 16 (the one you were certain was going to make it) there are few opportunities where you make music if you’re not a musician. Which is such a shame!

And really, what better way to spend a Sunday evening than dancing in a dimmly lit room with a load of strangers… .and not waking up with a hangover.

So what do you reckon lovely readers?  I say find yourself a musical outlet. It’s brilliant.

More soon. Off to a lecture about generousity and happiness tonight.

Peace

xx

To join the lovely Nihat and the London Drum circle click here

To see our Youtube video (yes really!!!) I’m on the far right getting into it.cringe. click here

To read about the origins of drum circles click here

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The Fashion Police – or why it’s a good thing not to have one. (Pass me that onesie.)

So, I wouldn’t class myself as a ‘follower of fashion’ (whatever that means) – generally I find that ‘bright’ and ‘quirky’ are tags I get most about my wardrobe – much more high-tops than high heels and rarely out without a flower in my hair.

But I do like tattoos and I’ve had my face pierced twice (not including my ears!)  So when I saw that the Horniman Museum in Dulwich, South East London, had a temporary exhibition called The Body Adorned (part of London fashion week) I thought I’d pop along…

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I really enjoyed the exhibition and came out thinking much more about how and why we chose to wear what we wear.

Looking at London, the exhibit looks at modern street styles to show how the city’s population uses fashion to establish their place in society. (Who knew fashion was so psychological) It was a multi media exhibition using film, photography and clothes as exhibits and was curated by young people to show how fashion reflects personality.

It also showed how historically- the exploration of the globe and the movement of people, objects and ideas have all helped to shape fashion, for example tattooists, nail bars and piercing shops are all a visible, everyday part our cityscape but originated overseas.

Now logically, I know that tattooing has come from pacific islands and other cultures – in fact, one of my tattoos was done using bamboo in Thailand (to fulfill the cliché I was also quite intoxicated, sssh don’t tell my mother) but seeing centuries old tattooing equipment brought home to me how much our culture is made up of borrowed ideas which we incorporate into our own.

The exhibition also featured a film installation by The Light Surgeons looking at the judgments people make on clothing and appearance, and a photography exhibit which had asked ‘is there a London look?’ Each photo was so different that it made me appreciate the diversity of the population. There is no single ‘London look’ and that is the brilliance of living here.

 I feel so fortunate that I am not confined to dress myself according to my sex, cultural or religious customs.  I love my tattoo’s – which I also feel are an expression of myself.  And despite my Mum crying every time – I have total freedom to look exactly how I want to look. I could walk down the street in a crocodile onesie or shave my head and rock a ballet tutu if I wanted. 

I am not making a huge political statement about other cultures and dress, only that grateful that I’m not made to conform to anything… now where did I put that onesie?

Ladies and gentlemen – be thankful for your freedom of expression.

More soon.

Peace

xxx

 

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What happened when I tried laughter yoga…

When was the last time you had a really good laugh? I reckon it probably wasn’t like this.

There I was in a circle of strangers talking gibberish (literally. nonsense words.) and then ‘showering myself with laughter’ How was I feeling? – Quite surreal and pretty stupid to be honest, very awkward and really not keen to make eye contact with the 30 strangers around me.

Fast forward an hour and my face is hurting from smiling and laughing so much, I feel light headed, full of energy and bonded. I’d even go as far as saying I’d picked up a few new friends.

I have spent a long time thinking about how to describe the class and there’s no getting round the fact that if I tell you – without you having experienced it – it sounds completely bonkers. (Pretending that you’re riding a bike, playing volleyball, sumo wrestling while hysterically laughing for example)

To break it down Laughter Yoga combines unconditional laughing with yogic breathing. The Laughter is created through body exercises in a group which turns into real and contagious laughter. Scientifically the body cannot differentiate between fake and real laughter and you get the same physiological and psychological benefits including the release of endorphins and seratonin (a natural antidepressant) with reduced adrenaline and cortisol which help you feel relaxed. It also gives your insides a work out, boosts your oxygen intake to the brain and boosts your immune system!

I found my class through Meetup and our Angela – our laughter leader, made the group instantly comfortable with her effortless charm and huge smile.  The group was a mixed bag. Confession – I expected a group of tied dye wearing hippy types (not that I’m against this breed of folk – it’s just what I expected) Instead I discovered a whole range of people of different ages, backgrounds, cultures and countries (India, France, Norway, America, Ireland and that’s only the ones I could remember!) Some were (brilliant) regulars, others had been a while ago and quite a few were first timers like me. We did an introduced activity where we had to laugh every time anyone said their name, where they were from and what they did – a bizarre experience but the laughter was warm not mocking. Amongst the group were a computer programmer, a grandmother, a radio host, a dancer, an accountant and 3 nurses* to name a few (*an excellent group of ladies I accosted prior to the class over hearing them talk about it and who consequently become my giggling comrades.) The class begins with more gentle laughter exercises and builds to quite a dynamic level (you need to yogic breathing to get your breath back!)

Laughter Yoga is not for the faint heart-ed. You have to laugh – on command – for a long sustained period (about an hour)..And I’m not talking about a giggle – I mean big hysterical belly laughing.  We did it outside so passer-by would regularly stop (stare) to see what this group of (clearly) mad people were going jumping around in hysterical laughter.

There is no doubt about it, it’s quite a weird experience but perhaps no stranger than a drama workshop. Don’t get me wrong – when you’re doing it – it feels mental. But once you let go and just go with the flow it becomes liberating, fun, surreal and bizarrely enjoyable!? By the end of the class we were whooping and clapping as if we had just completed a sell out West End show. I felt on a genuine high and afterwards instead of going home (it was 8.30pm on a school night after all!) everyone stayed and had a drink and socialised. I had some great conversations with some interesting lovely people.

Personally Laughter yoga isn’t going to be something I do every week, but I plan on taking it up every few months or if I ever felt down. It is a bit crazy – yes. Is it also totally brilliant – definitely and I highly recommend it. Even if you never go again – you’ll have a laugh.

This week people – Laugh more. Then tell me about it!

More soon.

Peace

xx

To find the fabulous School of Laughter class which I attended click here

To read more about Laughter yoga click here

Laughter Yoga International click here

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