Sunday, 28 September 2014

Gravity, age and the body.

Cast no shadow: photo by Isaac Julien

I owe choreographer Russell Maliphant two things: a love for Sicily and an introduction to Rolfing. Let me explain. When I was in New York in November 2007 I went to see Cast No Shadow which combined choreography by Maliphant and filming  by Isaac Julien.  Parts of the film  had been shot  on the coast of Western Sicily. It sparked the beginning of my passion for the island of my ancestors, which I had not ever visited till then.  That evening I spoke briefly to Maliphant to congratulate him on his work and found out about his being a certified Rolfer, among other things.
 I never really got into Rolfing however until this year, never felt the need for it, but circumstances have changed. I have been suffering from severe back problems. A traumatic fall when I was much younger has left a mark on my spine and though for years I ignored the occasional ache it has now become increasingly difficult to pretend it is not there, so I have embarked on a tailor made programme, tailor made by me I should say, to try and find out what can be done. The conversation I had with Maliphant all those years ago and an interview with him I read online reawakened my curiosity and I decided to do  a course of Rolfing. It is a course because you need to do  ten sessions at regular intervals for it to be effective. It will help you to realign and learn a new way of inhabiting your own body. It also brings about new thinking and a new body awareness, which sadly most of us do not have.  Apart from Rolfing I am doing as much as possible by way of yoga, exercises for my spine to increase its flexibility etc. I am also pursuing a proper diagnosis through conventional medicine to find out whether I have low bone density and the beginning of osteoporosis, thus am undergoing scans. There is a history of osteoporosis in my family and having seen my mother being painfully crippled by it I am determined to fight it off.

Me in public speaking mode. Photo: City Academy

As I look around it really dawns on me that we are generally so unaware of our bodies. We focus so much on the way we look but we never learn to really pay attention to the way we feel in our body, the way we hold ourselves. As I am doing my course of Rolfing I am also having great conversations with my Rolfer. We tend to talk about the body of course  and in my last session we touched on  the relationship with gravity. Gravity affects us all and interestingly we have two ways of going about it: we either fight it, as I have been doing, in the sense that I always want to pull myself up and stretch as much as possible, sometimes being rather forceful in the way I handle my body -  I am talking more about a feeling, a sensation, than real actions - or we feel oppressed by it, which leads to allowing the body to curve as if carrying a massive weight - and we do carry that massive weight because gravity puts a lot of pressure on us. But there is another way of relating to gravity and that is becoming aware that gravity actually supports us. This change  in attitude can do wonders in the way  we stand, the relationship we have with our feet on the ground. For me it is something that at the moment engages much of my thinking and my actions. I also notice when I look at people in the street how ageing bodies have this tendency to shrink, the upper back develops kyphosis and that is most often, though not always,  the result of poor posture and unawareness.
There is so much that is being written about ageing and so much focus on what to do to conform to that ideal of agelessness that is being touted as what we ought to aspire to.  Though there are many articles that exhort us to exercise and pay attention to nutrition in order to be youthful there is absolutely nothing that  discusses our relationship with our own body and body awareness. This is such a glaring gap. I care little about how my body can look better if I wear x and y. I care a lot about the way I stand, I sit, I walk and I bend.  I care about being aware of my body.
As I age, to me this is the most important thing about my body and my person.

Monday, 22 September 2014

The quest for the perfect gym spa

Outtakes from a shoot with Vanessa Mills
A friend of mine always used to joke that in a former life I must have been a Spartan because of my love for gyms and spas. Not sure the Spartans had much to do with the latter, spas were more of a Roman thing, later taken over by the Arabs and Turks through their hammam,  but basically, yes,  it is true that I spend a great deal of time in gyms and spas and am currently on the look out for the perfect combination of the two.
This undoubtedly should prompt some reflection on the commodification of  fitness  in our contemporary society and the proliferation of health centres, gyms and spas.  Though I acknowledge that fitness is a socio-cultural phenomenon and that I am totally caught up in the fitness discourse, believing that fitness and health are essential to the quality of my life and that they are both linked with life satisfaction and fulfilment, this post will not tackle such issues in a broad, general way. I am merely reflecting, here,  on my personal quest for the perfect gym and what kind of feelings and emotions it evokes.
Some brief background. After being a regular member of a well known gym chain, at a very local club with swimming pool, and a tiny sauna and steam room plus the usual gym equipment and a range of group classes, I got very bored with it and totally fed up with the fact that most of the time one lane in the swimming pool is blocked off for lessons. I was also not happy with the cleanliness (or lack thereof) of the changing rooms.
Then I discovered the gym+spa combination and that, I must admit,  is most appealing. So I am in the process of trying different spas which also have a gym and a proper pool.  My, there is so much to choose from. The most expensive ones are not necessarily the best - I was appalled when visiting a 5* hotel with a pretentious set up of just one room with equipment, unmanned, a relaxation pool, a relaxation room and that was it, for £95 a month plus treatments, very expensive,  to be paid for separately. Treatments will always have to be paid for separately, that's not the point. But facilities should be good, considering the fees.

Como Shambhala spa in Bali. Google images
I have appointments at several establishments to check them out. What am I after? A thermal experience - I love the whole set up of scented steam rooms, saunas, plunge pools, relaxation room - plus a gym, some group classes such as yoga and pilates, a swimming pool with at least three lanes. There is nothing like immersing yourself in a meditation while sitting in a steam room or a scented sauna.  What else can you do when sitting still in a heated environment? Everything slows down, even your thoughts. I also love the feel of cold water in a plunge pool and the struggle I go through before immersing myself in it - oh it does take a lot of will power. I love the wetness of a steam room and the casual conversations one strikes with other people sitting there.
If I could, I'd go to a hammam every day. Good for the skin, it seems.
Perhaps I will, once I sort out membership details.  But with the dance classes, the gym, the swimming pool, the hammam - can twenty four hours be enough? And what will I do for relaxation? Apart from having to squeeze some work in...

Saturday, 13 September 2014

The state of being iconic

Photographer: Vanessa Mills. Model: myself  Designer: Sparklewren

A recent conversation with a friend forced me to rethink the widespread use of the word 'iconic'. Once upon a time 'iconic' was a term mostly used by art historians and with reference to images of Christ, the Virgin Mary, or saints, as found  in Orthodox churches. Or to Byzantine art.
Then came the use of the word in the sense of cultural icons, with reference to very famous faces and characters such as, in no particular order and by no means limited to these names,  Che Guevara, Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, Jim Morrison and brands, such as Coca Cola.
We are now inundated with icons and iconic objects. Victoria Beckhams' designs are iconic and she is regarded as an icon of style and  brands, apart from the already mentioned Coca Cola, are also iconic.  Views from the veranda of a luxury hotel are iconic, Californian red elmwood is iconic, basically everything including iPhone/iPad apps, is iconic. Of course I know that those little images on Apple computers are called 'icons' and have been called so for a very long time, but this post is not about those. Apple by the way, as a brand, is also iconic.
Some people complain of an  'overuse' of the word iconic. Is there really an overuse?
So it is that while sipping our iconic cappuccinos, my friend and I began to consider what cultural icons, or better still, the state of being iconic, or iconicity,  is  about.
Let's refer first to the Oxford English Dictionary, which defines icon as "a person or thing regarded as a representative symbol or as worthy of veneration". From there iconicity would then refer to the state of being this representative symbol or  symbol of veneration.  This is a broad definition that allows us to throw in some interesting variants. So if we think of cultural icons we can agree that they are not only representative symbols, they often personify them. So far, so good.
But the dictionary does not tell us about the process of becoming or establishing something as a cultural icon.  And this is quite important and perhaps knowing about it can allow us to understand the discontent of those who believe that we are iconizing everything (yes, the word exists, it is American English).

Photographer: Vanessa Mills. Model: myself. Designer: Sparklewren

The crux of the matter, as my friend was quick to point, is that if iconicity in cultural terms is to do with the non-discursive and non-verbal element of cultural and social life, it is also the case that it is linked with consumerism. It is to do with branding and marketing strategies, thus a hotel view becomes iconic through the branding of the tourist industry.
Iconicity creates consensus, in markets, culture or politics, as Woddward and Elliott write in Iconic Power: materiality and meaning in social life.
Well, these are some initial thoughts, would love to continue to explore the issue but not in just one post. Comments always welcome.

Monday, 1 September 2014

A very brief post

Photographer: Marcello Pozzetti. Model: me. On the cover of Her Edit

I have been rather busy, in every possible way!
I have some excellent news (well, for me that is): I am on the cover of Her Edit issue 7, which is about age and I have also an article in there, about being 'an older ' model.
I also did a fabulous editorial shoot with Vanessa Mills wearing Sparklewren designs and am really pleased with the results, which will be submitted to a magazine.
I am also about to embark on a Rolfing course as a Rolfee, I have found someone and I have great hopes. I feel I need to be completely realigned, I have postural problems. Rolfing is a technique created by Ida Rolf, you can read more here, not chiropratic nor massage but it involves manipulation of the fascia.

From the shoot with Vanessa Mills

This post is extremely brief, but I promise to write a more substantial one soon enough. It will be about Professor Dawkins whose rhetoric I truly care little about. As a friend of mine says, Dawkins used to be amusing but not anymore. All in good time.

Have a great week!