Life lessons from 2.5 years in ‘international quarantine’ in India

Today is my birthday which feels like as good a time as any to reflect on the past 2.5 years of time passed in India. 

As you may know, this wasn’t a planned trip. But here I am, carving a life among Goa’s tropical palms and pre-monsoon sweat.

Turning 41 feels daunting from the view that it’s a kind of mid-point in my time on Earth. 

So what do I want the next half to look like, presuming I am indeed about half way?!

“How we seek to spend our time may depend on how much time we perceive ourselves to have.”

Atul Gawande, Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End

Here’s what I’m drawing on for the next half – from a period of time shaped largely by a global pandemic, a thirst for adventure and trusting my intuition.

1. Look for the signs

In 2019, the same year as I stood on the edge of the burnout cliff, I graduated from the Zen Shiatsu Practitioner Diploma. The culmination of three years of study was a proud moment. 

Yet it fell flat when I realised I didn’t have the energy I needed to work on others, nor as often as I’d hoped. (Some Shiatsu pros offer up to 6 treatments per day.)

Walking down Brixton High Street in South London in December 2019, I saw a car number plate ending in GOA. It sealed the deal. 

Six weeks later, I’d packed up my entire London life of 14 years and moved to India. 

2. Flying to India on a one-way ticket with no plan was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. 

I left the UK on the day we Brexited (January 31st 2020). I could never have predicted that I’d say farewell to my 30s here. 

Nor that I’d find myself with an oven, moped, a massage table and a business visa, cruising into what people assure me are “the best years of your life”. Apparently in your 40s, you give zero f+cks about what others think and nothing prevents you from being fully “you”.

Beaches, sunshine and relative freedom were an unsurprisingly more appealing option to lockdown Britain. Yet I only just scraped in – swift and sudden lockdown in India was about six weeks after I landed. Fortuitous, defined. 

3. A closer relationship with death makes life more vibrant 

Death is never far away here. I’ve seen two bodies of deceased people (road traffic accidents) and all three animals that I’ve been close to met tragic deaths. 

Adults in the local community end their human lives in their 40s and 50s suffering from heart attacks and diabetes. 

Before I left India I spent two years talking to people from all walks of life in Death Cafes. Sad and difficult conversations, yes. Depressing and to be avoided, no.

In surrendering to the inevitability of death, it helps us find deeper meaning in the period of time we are gifted to live out a human life.

4. Make life less tortuous where possible 

For most of my corporate career, I suffered terrible shoulder pain. Turns out that sitting at a desk for 8 hours a day can break you.

In 2019, my health tanked and I knew I had to make some radical changes before full burnout grounded me entirely. 

Swimming daily in the sea, sunshine, vegetarian food and sinking my feet into sandy beaches has been as reviving as it sounds.

5. Give up alcohol now

Avoiding alcohol wasn’t deliberate – it’s just something that happened during my travels of north India in 2021 and the habit has continued. I don’t miss it much.

“Alcohol steals tomorrow’s happiness”.

“Alcohol is poison that steals your energy so you can’t succeed.”

“Sobriety isn’t about giving something up. It’s about taking something back.”

6. Define your own success

Tickbox achievements of societal expectations lead to misery.

Uncouple yourself from what everyone else is doing and the perceived milestones of “making it”.

Now my success is measured in time spent outdoors, reading, practising Shiatsu, having the freedom to follow my curiosity, to move when I need to, and do all of this at my own rhythm.

“To know what you prefer instead of humbly saying Amen to what the world tells you you ought to prefer is to have kept your soul alive.”

― Robert Louis Stevenson, An Inland Voyage

7. I’ve left ‘the system’ but still get the Monday blues…

…because I’m not in the system. 

Yet leaving the 9-5 was a conscious decision. So why the fear?! Sometimes your ego gets insecure and f*cks with you. Know when to ignore it – and what to let “bother” you.

8. Do something for the journey, rather than the destination

In February 2021 I enrolled on a six week course called A Wave in the Heart: exploring a connection with self through creativity. It wasn’t about producing high quality content, rather just a simple journey of discovery.  

For the first four weeks, I was totally blocked. Nothing flowed. This in itself was insightful. In week five, a few words dribbled out. It was a start.

That dribble was a catalyst. The rest of that year, I wrote and published a story every Friday in my Go Slow Friday Letter. (It’s now a monthly missive.)

9. People and places – the most powerful sources of inspiration  

Witnessing Ladakh’s fragile ecosystem as I travelled around this incredible part of north India in September 2021, the seed of an idea formed. A story about balance, and living in harmony with the environment and each other. 

With COP26 approaching, and reflecting on my previous career in the environmental space, I pondered Shiatsu’s role in the future of the planet.

The outcome was this story which featured in the Autumn 2021 issue of the Shiatsu Society Journal.: 10 Principles guiding the use of Shiatsu for Planetary Health, Healing and Harmony.

Travel is my favourite way to see things anew. These days I have more time to write, too.

10. Compassionate touch for mental health

I initially set up SJA Holistics in a boutique resort moments from a golden sand beaches, giving Shiatsu and Reiki. When lockdown came along, I pivoted to a set-up on my balcony on a breezy bay in a little pocket of paradise in south Goa. 

I carried on giving treatments throughout the lockdown, enjoyed swaps with other Practitioners, and practised self-Shiatsu (in the absence of any other Shiatsu Practitioners in the area).

I know other people haven’t been so lucky with maintaining close contact with others, or have needed to maintain distance in cases of fragile health. 

Some friends in the UK are experiencing panic attacks, anxiety and depression. It’s a tough time, together with the complex mix of global issues we are faced with.

People so desperately need the benefits offered by ‘alternative’ medicine. Compassionate touch, being heard, allowing the nervous system to settle in a safe space – this is what to offer the 1 in 3 Brits who say they don’t have the support or tools to deal with the ‘ups and downs of life’.

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About Me

I founded SJA Holistics to help people get well, feel great, and stay well using the power of practices derived from Eastern Medicine including Shiatsu, Reiki, Acupressure and Qi Gong.

For over a decade I’ve worked with Ki and have first-hand experience of how energy- and body-work can lead to positive health. Working with the energy body as well as the physical can bring profound changes to mental, emotional and physical issues.

After completing three years of study for the Professional Shiatsu Diploma, I honed my experience working voluntarily for six months in a national UK charity giving Shiatsu to people recovering from substance misuse.

It is my mission to help you recognise your own self-healing ability and to empower you with the skills and knowledge you need to dramatically improve your self-care.

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We create your current health picture. Then we get clear on your goals so that we are aligned from the outset. This makes it easier to monitor progress.

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Every one of us has a universal energy, also known as lifeforce, chi, prana and Ki, that underpins our whole existence, and within that, our health. Stimulating the flow of Ki is how you can get well, feel great and stay well.

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