Episode 11 – Namaste: A Journey to Everest

An interview with Emma Despres, discussing her experiences in writing and the influences behind her second book ‘Namaste: My Everest Adventure’.

Today I am delighted to welcome back Emma Despres. Emma is here to talk about her second book, “Namaste.” And for our regular listeners, you might remember that Emma was actually our interviewee on Episode Number Two with her first book, “Dancing with the Moon: A spiritual journey through IVF.” Since then, because that’s nearly a year ago, Emma has now published a second book.

Michelle: Welcome, Emma.

Emma:                  Hi, thank you for having me.

Michelle:             She’s kind of cringing, slightly.

Emma:                  And I can’t believe that’s almost a year though, since the first book, but yes, how it flies by time.

Michelle:             Yes. I remember it was snowing when I interviewed you last year.

Emma:                  It was, wasn’t it? Yes, I walked around in the snow, Yes. I had forgotten that.

Michelle:             And we were talking about crazy sea swimming, and here we are, a year later, talking about exactly the same. I’m just trying to warm up after having been in the sea this morning.

Emma:                  I know, and I’m very envious that you managed to get in the sea this morning. That’s still on my to do list for today.

Michelle:             Yes, it was a bit rough I feel I’ve been slapped by ice cold waves! Yes, it’s nice to be here in this nice warm room.

Emma:                  Yes, I know. You appreciate the warmth more don’t you after after you’ve been sea swimming.

Michelle:             A second book, what’s that like? This must be a real change in identity?

Emma:                  Well, yeah, it’s funny, isn’t it? Because it was a dream for so long to publish books. One of those things that each year it was on my to do list, I must publish a book. I’ve now published two within a year and to be honest, it was a bit of an anticlimax actually, because it was just almost a relief to get to that point. And though, I spent quite a lot of time working on both of them independently of the editing process, so it was a relief to get them published. And then life carried on as it always had.

There’s that saying, isn’t there? About enlightenment and before enlightenment, you chop wood and after enlightenment you chop wood. It’s exactly the same for me anyway, the publishing a book, life just carried on as normal. The children still needed feeding and, there we are.

Michelle:             But did it change something inside of you of saying, ’cause this had been a dream of yours for so long.

Emma:                  I suppose it has, actually, yes. I still don’t really recognize myself as a writer, I’m beginning to more so but it’s taken a bit of time to step more fully into that identity. Because I always think that’s what other people do, that write books but without recognizing that I’ve now done the same and it is a process and it is an achievement. And there is a relief now that, that is no longer on my … wasn’t on my list. It was on my list for this year, actually, because I’ve got another manuscript that I still need to get to publication. But there isn’t the same urgency that has been previously, I just appreciate now that these things do happen. Actually, if you’ve got the intention, and you feel it in your heart then, if you put the work in, they will come to manifest, I guess. I can’t think of another word to say that, to use to say that but yeah, it will come true in the end.

Michelle:             So this is a story about your trip to Everest Base Camp.

Emma:                  Yes, it is.

Michelle:             Which you undertook in what year?

Emma:                  2007, some years ago now.

Michelle:             Yes, So writing a book now about something that happened then, did you have copious notes that you made at the time?

Emma:                  Well, I came back from that trip, actually, with the intention of writing a book, so I sort of took six months out supposedly from my other life as teaching yoga and working as it was at the time in the corporate world. And so I wrote a first draft of it during that time, in the time that I was writing it actually, I did then start teaching again and get drawn back into the corporate world but nonetheless, I did get a first draft down which was edited by a trainee editor who I met on a yoga retreat in Goa. And I wasn’t used to any criticism at that point and I just took it all quite badly, the changes that she suggested making and just didn’t recognize and understand the writing process at that time. When you write a book, you don’t necessarily publish it like it’s written. It goes through many, many changes from the first right to the final published draft then.

So I just set it aside. I just took it all really badly and thought right that’s it, I’m rubbish, I can’t write book and then actually just not long after that, I met Ewan who since we’re still together now. Life change anyway actually, and so it just went on the back burner and it played away in the back of my mind from time to time each year. As I did a lot of work around it in terms of Reiki kind of mandalas. When you try encourage something to manifest in your life, putting a lot of energy into it, and I don’t know like crystal grids, that kind of thing and using it as an intention in yoga nidra as well. I will publish a book.

But nonetheless, nothing actually happened because I didn’t do anything on it. And then finally, it was when I was trying to conceive my second son as he’s turned out to be, I just had this feeling I needed to get back to it. I needed to do something creative. I needed to tap into that kind of creative space a little bit more. To bring new life into the world as much as to finish an unfinished project. And so I just picked it up again, and it’s gone through many rewrites since then, to be honest. Was a labor of love.

Michelle:             Yes, ’cause I was reflecting on, not many of us have got the opportunity to go back and look at a piece of our life in such detail.

Emma:                  I know, it is interesting and it was difficult sometimes to not want to change how I was, if that makes sense because there were bits and we were just leading to that earlier so it’s in my mind, but when my camera broke, for example, that makes me laugh now because I just went on and on about it. And I can remember as if it was yesterday, I just could not let it go. Whereas now, having done quite a lot of work on myself around things like letting go, I wouldn’t torture myself in the same way that I did then because I’m a lot more trusting in the process.

There’s a reason why everything happens and there was and that was proven with the camera incident, actually. But at the time it was just … I was torturing myself with this inability to let it go. So yes, looking back now, I just think, gosh, how things have changed and thank you all the yoga and Reiki and meditation and everything else that’s helped that change.

Michelle:             Yes, I was reflecting ’cause I’ve known you for quite a long time, how more entrenched your enneagram personality was at that point-

Emma:                  Isn’t that interesting? Yes.

Michelle:             Compared to now, which is what happens. The more work do on ourselves, the more we release from those-

Emma:                  Yes, binds, isn’t it?

Michelle:             Yes, the binds, it’s the patterns.

Emma:                  Yes, the behavior patterns, absolutely. Yes, I mean, that was really clear to me. It was really interesting actually going through after so many years and also seeing the patterns that are still there and just thinking that’s still there. All right, okay, need to look at that next.

Michelle:             I found it very reassuring. I read a book about midlife and he said in the book, “If you can’t look back on your life and wonder what you were on, then you haven’t grown.” And I found that very reassuring. I’m sure that there’s some of that in your presence.

Emma:                  Very much so. Oh gosh, yes.

Michelle:             Let’s talk a little bit about this story of trekking to Everest base camp. Had it always been a dream of yours?

Emma:                  No, absolutely not. It had never been a dream of mine. But going to Nepal, however you say it. They say Nepal when you live in Nepal, we call it Nepal, don’t we? But nonetheless, I had always had this inkling that I wanted to go there. I didn’t know why, it’s just one of those things that I just someday it was a random thing I found on the map. I must go there one day to the Himalayas. And this was pre-yoga. But after having discovered yoga, it became more of a yearning to go there. And actually, I had booked to go there with a partner at the time, we were going to do all expenses kind of really lovely trip. And then we split up actually, and I still had this desire to go to Nepal.

And then, the opportunity just presented itself. I didn’t go looking for it actually, it just came up. I was a bit lost at the time, wasn’t sure where my life was going, as I was a lot in those days. And my dad was working at an organization that was linked to a charity that offered volunteer work in Nepal. And he suggested actually, that maybe I should go and do that. And it had never been something that I thought I would do volunteering work. It was not something that I was really drawn to do, but it just sort of resonated at that particular time in my life ’cause I needed to get away and do something different and I wanted to go and visit that particular country. And then I discovered once I signed up for the volunteer work that the trek came as part of the package. I guess, maybe I could have opted out but everyone else who was doing the volunteer work was doing the trek so that was that really. And then it became more exciting the closer we got to it ’cause I felt, oh, that’s interesting going right up into the Himalayas. But I had no idea what that actually meant in terms of fitness or altitude.

I just had this wonderful idea in my head of practicing yoga in the outside, literally out on the earth with the mountains ahead of me, and it would all be so spiritual and I’d have all these wonderful spiritual experiences, but it wasn’t like that, no.

Michelle:             So there you were age what, about 30?

Emma:                  Was I 30? I think I was actually. Maybe 32, I can’t even think now how I wasn’t-

Michelle:             Yes, with a whole load of gap year students.

Emma:                  Yes, they were. The majority of them were just out of school. Like 18, just before they went to Uni and they were just taking the summer out. Were they taking the summer out or were they taking the year out? Anyway, they were all, just before going to university. Apart from maybe two who were a little bit older.

Michelle:             Yes. Do these boys know that they’re in a book?

Emma:                  No, the boys don’t. The girl does ’cause she’s actually a friend. Has become a good friend and lives locally but no, the boys don’t. And I wouldn’t even know how to get in touch with them actually. We never stayed in touch. So no, I mean, maybe they knew at the time actually, that I had this intention of writing a book about it because I had always wanted to write book and I didn’t have any idea of what to write about. And then this opportunity came around and by then I was used to traveling and used to writing and used to write long journals and send them back to people at home and who were engaged with them. So I did the same when I was in for this particular trip as well. And I joked to the boys that it was one day going to turn into a book, hoping that that might ease their behavior- one of them anyway. There’s one, particular one that was really not very nice to me at all, but it didn’t. And so, they probably wouldn’t be surprised if they discovered that I had written a book.

Michelle:             Yes, they didn’t come out shiny and glory, especially not one of them. No, I know and of course, that is just my perception of what they were like at the time. And they probably really lovely people, and they probably didn’t like me ’cause I was a bit the hippie at the time or in their eyes anyway.

Michelle:                  Yes, and they’ve all grown up 10 years as well.

Emma: Yes, exactly. And they’re all gone in different directions in life.

Michelle:             Tell me a little bit more because, reading the book, I was thinking … Well, I’ve never seriously thought about trekking up the Himalayas. I absolutely would not want to do it now I’ve read this book.

Emma:                  I know, it’s such a shame really I’ve created that perception, because it’s such an amazing country. And it’s such an incredible experience. But yeah, it’s not for the faint-hearted at all. I mean, I think really, you’ve got to want to do it, and you need to have some desire to do it because it’s hard going at times. And if you’re not in it, in your heart, then, it would be very easy to just drop out.

Michelle:             I mean, I think I would have turned back at that first bridge that you described.

Emma:                  Yes, I know. They were pretty scary, I have to say. I don’t think I’ll ever be comfortable going over those bridges particularly. But you just have to consider that everyone goes across them and I don’t think that they ever necessarily fall down unless there’s an earthquake or something. So just have to hope that it’s not happening when you’re walking across it.

Michelle:             But there’s one particular day that you described just this relentless trudging up the hill.

Emma:                  I remember that as if it was yesterday, actually. It was just such a shock to the system, I had no idea. And coming from Guernsey, we are used to walking on the cliffs, but this was just another level of relentlessness. You know how it can get when you’re on the cliffs, even if you do all day on the cliffs, there’s lots of ups and downs. But this was just relentlessly uphill and I’ve always been quite competitive and also quite athletic. And I was really struggling actually, and I was really struggling with those two aspects of not being able to compete with the boys ’cause they were, mind you they were struggling as well but

I was competing with myself and not being or feeling as strong and as fit as I like to feel or like to feel at the time. I was having an inner battle as much as anything else. I wanted to stop, but I couldn’t stop. But yeah, it was tough.

Michelle:             And doing it all the time with a horrible headache?

Emma:                  Yes, it’s easy to forget about that. But yeah, that relentless headache, Oh, my goodness, from the altitude. Because again we … Well, I was doing it too fast to be honest now I know in hindsight. If I was to do it again, I will do it much slower. But at the time, it was just this like in my head. I just wanted to get to the top as quickly as possible and have it over with almost but that just compounded the pain in my head. For days and days and days just pounding headaches, just so debilitating, horrible.

Michelle:             And the couple of the guys got altitude sickness?

Emma:                  They did. Two of the younger guys, who are actually two of the fitter guys ironically, that’s always often the case actually. They went down quite quickly actually, they just started … I can’t remember which day it was or anything but they had done a few days but then just all of a sudden they were really poorly just vomiting and really bad headaches and the guy that was leading it, made a decision quite quickly or immediately actually to get them down. That’s the only real thing you can do, is just to descend, descend, descend as they say. It’s drilled into you that if you feel really bad, you just got to descend.

They missed doing the rest of the trek, actually. They stayed down in one of the lower towns. Had a great time I think, just being fed biscuits and coffee constantly. And then they went off and did another trek instead actually which they had previously signed up for. And they were fine with that so I think they just had a long enough to sort of adjust to the altitude. And then one guy had a really scary exit, that was really scary. It’s when we were up at Gorak Shep, I think, which is the last place that you stay before going up to the camp or Kala Pattar as we ended up going up, or were trying to go up to. And he sort of basically passed out and was lolling around and was just in a really bad state and everyone panicked, including, well, I wouldn’t say the guide panicked a such but there was a urgency to get him off the mountain as quickly as possible, down the mountain.

A couple of the porters and the guide and one of our guides just carried him, literally ran with him as far as they could off the mountain and down. And just kept taking him down. He was fine, he was just again, too much.

Michelle:             But would it have been fatal if…?

Emma:                  It could have been, yes, there’s no guarantee you see. I mean, I’m not an expert on it now and obviously I researched it more for the book although my memory now. But yes, of course, there’s always a risk that you have something burst in the brain or something happens with the lungs, that means that you just can’t breathe anymore. So, it’s a reality. A scary reality. Yes, and I suppose didn’t help living at sea level all most of my life. I mean, I love the mountains, but I’m not sure I was made to spend a lot of time up in the mountain.

Michelle:             No, I totally agree. I’d say this to my husband, “And don’t forget I was born at sea level.”

Emma:                  Yes, exactly. I know-

Michelle:             It’s where I belong.

Emma:                  It does make a difference ’cause I took Ewan to … always come with me a couple of times in Nepal and on the first trek, he got altitude sickness as well actually. He will say that he didn’t, he had food poisoning but he definitely had the effects of altitude, feeling sick and headaches, actually was sick, and he was fine once we descended so yes. It’s just us sea people.

Michelle:             When we went to Chamonix, and we went up the Aiguille du Midi, in a cable car, and I had the most horrendous migraine. I had to come down. It was just dreadful.

Emma:                  Yes, it’s horrible, isn’t it? It really is. I know. I don’t know how people put up with it for any prolonged period of time.

Michelle:             Yes, so there was this dream of practicing yoga, outside with the mountains in the background.

Emma:                  Yes.

Michelle:             How much of that was a reality?

Emma:                  It wasn’t, I discovered quite quickly because it was cold, and the altitude meant that practicing yoga was actually quite challenging at times. I pursued it for the first few days and there was no space though. The lodges where we stayed, you’re literally almost bed to bed, so in some of them there was just enough space to put my yoga mat on the floor, between the beds, the very simple beds. But that first night, actually, there wasn’t and I actually had to go into the corridor, in this dusty corridor and practice there. It seemed really quite desperate, actually, ’cause there were these paper thin walls and people were probably thinking, “What is she doing?”

But I was so attached to needing to do like an asana practice every day that, I just did it in the most obscure places.

And then the further out we got, I think I did practice outside when we had a little break for two days. But I had such a relentless headache. I would spend most of my time crying on my yoga mat, actually, which I suppose had a purpose in itself, but it certainly wasn’t what I expected it to be. And then as we got further up, I mean, again, I would practice as much as I could, but right at the end, the highest two lodges. I just didn’t have the energy, inclination. It wasn’t even a possibility for me physically to get my yoga mat out and lie down on it. I just felt so ill.

Michelle:             And yet in the book you describe this as an opportunity to live yoga.

Emma:                  Yes, I think that more so is what I discovered, was there’s an opportunity to really witness myself as much as anything else. The self study became really paramount. I was aware more, I suppose it’s easy to say that now because of a time to reflect, but even at the time, I was becoming aware of the way in which I had these attachments that weren’t necessarily serving me. I was really attached to eating healthy food, for example, and it had to look a certain way to me, that had to be a certain way. But of course, you’re in the mountains, with limited supplies and maybe I just had to let go and just embrace the fact I even had a potato to eat let alone piece of spinach or something.

Whereas I became really consumed by this neater, still eat what I thought was healthy eating so that stood out to me. And just this again, it’s like the idea of cleanliness, like what does that actually mean? ‘Cause I constantly wanted to shower all time because to me that’s what cleanliness meant but, there can be other ways of cleanliness and thought, rather than just in body so, that was interesting that way. And also just the Santosha contentment, can you find contentment despite your surroundings? And can you be okay with what’s happening now? And actually generally, I couldn’t be okay with it because it didn’t look like I thought it should look, it was interesting.

Michelle:             So a real deep transformational journey.

Emma:                  Yes, has been certainly over time. Because I think you think that you’re living a spiritual way, and then you realize, actually, you’re not. Because you’ve just, I keep using the word attachment. But you’ve created limitations for yourself in how you think you should live to be a spiritual person. Does that make sense? More So. So there’s constantly, I’ve since realized, this need to surrender.

And that is really tricky because you think you know what it is and surrendering to the unknown and to something else is really challenging, still, even now.

Michelle:             Surrendering to the toilets and the sickness, I don’t know how anyone can do that.

Emma:                  I know, that was tough as well actually. You just adjust, it’s amazing how we adjust as human beings to our conditions. You sort of had to get used to the squatting toilets that just smelled disgusting. You just got used to it. There was like a little ritual, I say ritual, that may sound like it was a good thing but there was a process then. You prepared as much as you could before you went into them. Because you had layers of clothing on as well and there’s always that fear of falling over or something and getting covered in, disgusting stuff. So I was always preparing before you went in as much as possible, like toilet roll at the ready and then just going in and kind of trying not to breath too much.

And the worst was when you needed to go and use the toilet in the night because it would be freezing cold and dark and the walls were paper thin in the lodges so you wanted to be quiet and you had to get out of bed and put clothes on and it was real chore. But nonetheless, I was fortunate actually because I was never actually sick in one of the toilets. I did vomit on the way down actually, but that was on the terrain. But some of the boys were sick and had to vomit in the toilets and diarrhea and stuff. And yeah fairplay to them for having to manage that.

Michelle:             It just sounds so gross.

Emma:                  I know, I know. It’s pretty grim and I mean, let’s be honest as well, women menstruate so there’s that reality as well to deal with in the mountains. So yeah, it can be really unpleasant.

Michelle:             Yes, I mean, I was thinking it needs young bladders.

Emma:                  Yes, they can hold on tight. Yes, well, it’s true as well. Also you kind of think that maybe you can just stop and squat along the way but the paths are busy actually, it’s a busy route. There’s only two main trekking seasons and they’re busy, there’s a constant stream of people so you don’t have much privacy. You used to wait until you got to one of the tea houses and then there’ll be a toilet break there. Some of them might have Western in toilets. I mean, it’s probably changed now, I mean, this was 11 years ago so probably things have changed since I did it.

Michelle:             Oh, let’s talk about something nicer. Prayer flags and prayer wheels.

Emma:                  Oh yes, much nicer. They’re lovely actually. I’ve always had some in the garden back at home actually. I just love the concept of them so the five different colors like, trying to get this right. I won’t get it in the right order but yellow, green, red, blue and white. The different elements they’re representing. Do not ask me what they are necessarily right now, but they’re representing the different elements and they’re inscribed with mantra usually Om Mani Padme hum. From darkness comes light, kind of concept. And the idea is that they blow in the breeze, in the wind and send the prayer out, send the mantra out into the universe so it’s adding this lovely energy into the universe.

And the same with the prayer wheels, is inscribed the mantra on the prayer wheels and you walk past them and they’re, gosh, they’re wooden, some of them are wooden, and some of them aren’t wooden. I can’t even think what they’re made of now but you turn the wheel and it sends again, sends mantra out into the universe, they’re really amazing.

Michelle:             Lovely idea.

Emma:                  Really is and actually that’s why I’ve always brought prayer flags home with me. So you see them all over in Nepal, they’re everywhere. And I was trying to house them in the garden, and I used to have them in the house as well actually, just because I like the idea. Yes, I think its great and I think we can do-

Michelle:             Yes, and I’ve seen them and I even had some, some years ago. But I didn’t know what they meant.

Emma:                  No, that’s why and so, everyone should have them really, and I think just seeing them as well, it kind of brightens you. I love going to Nepal and it’s just bright, the people have them hanging outside on their roofs and between houses and things like that, they’re everywhere. And throughout the mountains as well. It always amazes me how they get up there. How people tie them between trees or things like that but they do, it’s incredible. I love them.

Michelle:             And you mentioned, well, in the name of the book is Namaste.

Emma:                  Yes

Michelle:             And so obviously this had a big-

Emma:                  Yes, Namaste, well, it’s something we say at the end of yoga classes. Sort of the light in me honours the light in you essentially, it has different ways of interpreting it. But it’s a common form of greeting in Nepal so people will always saying, like we say hello or whatever they’ll say, Namaste. And constantly throughout the trek, these porters were incredible, people that would carry other people’s bags, we had a porter. But also porters were moving supplies up and down the mountain so often they’re very poor people. It’s a very poor country, it’s like one of the top 10 poorest countries in the world, and they’d be walking up and down the mountain as a job really. Carrying tables and chairs and fridges and all sorts of incredible things, they’re incredibly strong people and they are sort of quite short, the Sherpas and very, very strong.

But even despite wearing flip flops, it was freezing cold. And the simplest of clothing and having these heavyweights, they would still look up at you as they walked past and say Namaste. It was incredible. There was just that connection, that warmth, so it really impacted on me that word. It’s been a big word in my life from yoga but also and what it means but also just from the connection with Nepal.

Michelle:             Lovely.

Emma:                  Oh, its so special.

Michelle:             I mean, amazing lives these guys lived.

Emma:                  Incredible, it really is. I mean, their physical bodies take on a stoop because they’re so used to spending their lives looking at the ground basically and carry these heavy weights on their backs. So when they’re not carrying the heavyweights on the backs, they still walk with that really over rounded up a back. I can’t think of the technical word for it. But anyway, it’s just incredible and that they do this day in day out. I mean, they must just be the fittest people. And even our porters, they were involved with the charity so they kind of benefited from ‘portering’ for us but also being supported by the charity.

For example, they’d all sleep in one room together and they had to wait until we’d eaten before they could eat and yet they carried our bags up the mountain. They didn’t have disposable income like we did, money to be able to buy snacks along the way or anything like that. I mean, it’s just a very humbling experience.

Michelle:             And you mentioned in the book about they’re paid a certain amount to carry a bag. And so to get extra money, they carry an extra bag.

Emma:                  Yes, I know, just squeeze one on. I mean, like, they’d be carrying three of our rucksacks in one go, for example, just our porters. But I mean, other porters would carry more than that. It’s just, I don’t know how they do it. I suppose it’s what you do to support your family. But nonetheless, it makes you realize how lucky we are really to have the opportunities that we have here to not have to do that necessarily.

Michelle:             Yes, I mean, you made quite a lot of comparisons in the book between life in Nepal and life in Guernsey.

Emma:                  Yes, well, it’s just so different. I mean, they couldn’t be more different I suppose really. And what struck me the most is how seemingly contented, I mean, I’m sure not everyone is obviously and there’s always going to be people that have issues but they seem so much more contented generally than we do, as a society and with so little. It’s a real lesson that one.

But it’s so difficult because you come back from there, it’s easy to live a more simple life because everyone else is living a simple life and you think that you’re going to come back to Guernsey, for example, and live a more simple life or simplified life, but then you just get caught up in the same materialism that existed here before you went away.

Michelle:             Yes. So you talk in the book about some of your particular trials on the trek, one with your broken camera and the other was your battle with smoking?

Emma:                  Oh, yes. Gosh, that went on for so many years. I’m so regretful of the day I decided it would be a good idea to start smoking but nonetheless, I did. I mean, it was silly really ’cause I was at university and I actually wanted to experience smoking marijuana so I thought I needed to learn how to smoke first like cigarettes. And then I was hooked almost immediately. It just felt different and cool but it was so stupid and it’s so difficult to stop once you’ve started. It is such an addictive, nicotine is so addictive. And there was whole ritual that went around with it.

When I discovered yoga, it’s sort of put a different emphasis on, or different awareness on smoking and breathing and it’s made me more aware of what I was doing to my lungs and body on a daily basis, which just made me beat myself up even more actually.

So it was a tough couple of years and then finally, it was only maybe a year into practicing yoga, I went off and did three months of yoga in Australia. And while I was there, because I was doing almost six hours of yoga a day often, I just had to stop, that was really obvious to me that I needed to stop. And also because I was doing so much yoga, my willpower increase. I was stronger, mentally, as well as physically. And so it wasn’t easy necessarily, but I did it.

I remember I went off around New Zealand for 10 days and my brother and that was it, I didn’t take the cigarettes with me and just, I drank a lot of coffee instead. And then I weaned myself off coffee after that, because that also became kind of an addiction. You get addicted to coffee as well, don’t you? So you sort of replace one addiction with another.

And I probably replaced the coffee with the yoga actually, it became an addiction, really. But at least I was free of smoking at that point. But then coming back to Guernsey, I just slipped back into it, again.

Yes, which is always indicative of my unhappiness with my life at the time so that sort of gave me a false happiness. It was never a real happiness, smoking cigarettes doesn’t make you happy. But in my head, it kind of helped fill a void.

Michelle:             Yes, and I think we’ve all got patterns like this. I mean, everyone’s got an addiction to something.

Emma:                  Yes, they have.

Michelle:             But some addictions might be like reading the news, or-

Emma:                  Working?

Michelle:             Working-

Emma:                  That’s a big addiction, but some of them are more acceptable than others-

Michelle:             Yes, as sports.

Emma:                  Yes, as sports, exactly, going to the gym it’s an addiction for so many people. But some are deemed to be healthier than others. But nonetheless, you still sort of don’t have any control over what you’re doing.

Michelle:             And we’re using them to block out what we don’t want to feel.

Emma:                  Yes, exactly. That’s exactly what we’re doing. Yes, I totally recognize it. I also have had the addiction to working at times as well and in my quest to not have that, it is interesting to have space in your life because all of a sudden you’re confronted with the unease that was there always but because you kept so busy, you didn’t notice it.

Yes, it’s a big one addiction actually. Very much, it fascinates me in many respects because it’s so big but one of my first yoga teachers in Australia, as he always said, “everyone has an addiction, it’s just different addictions”. He used to have a heroin addiction and then he managed to not have a heroin addiction and had a coffee addiction instead so in many respects, that was a better addiction. But nonetheless, there was still an addiction.

Michelle:             Yes, we all have them and over the last few years, I’ve developed a candy crush addiction.

Emma:                  Fortunately, I haven’t. Brilliant! Addiction to sea swimming though.

Michelle:             Well, yes. The sea swimming one but again, we can be, “Oh, that one’s a good one.”

Emma:                  Yes, exactly. I know it’s true, but the smoking was not a good one and I did eventually stop smoking, actually, fortunately, with much relief and I will never, ever smoke again. I know that.

Michelle:             Wonderful.

Emma:                  Yoga Nidra helped enormously with that. It’s a reframing, isn’t it? It’s a shifting of your mental awareness as much as anything else.

Michelle:             Yes, slightly digressing onto Yoga Nidra but I think that’s a whole new subject, that seems to be coming up to the floor at the moment.

Emma:                  Oh, my goodness. It does, it’s come up into the field, hasn’t it? Yes. Which it’s brilliant actually, because it’s so supportive of transformation, actually, in a very gentle way. And it really encourages the creativity to come out as well. Certainly, for me, I mean, writing that book, for example, I did a lot of Yoga Nidra during the writing of it, actually. And I found that since making or bringing Yoga Nidra more into my daily life, I mean, not every day, but it’s a regular practice for me, a couple of times a week. I have become more creative and I’d love to say that, I feel more nourished but with young children that still don’t sleep through the night that maybe isn’tso apparent, but it helps support the sleep deprivation.

Michelle:             Yes, and maybe we should just take a moment to say what Yoga Nidra is.

Emma:                  Yes, well, it’s a guided meditation, or guided relaxation that is like the sleepless sleep. You kind of go into that wonderful or potentially go into that wonderful zone where you lose your concept of time, and you feel that you’ve only been there for a minute but you’ve been there for sort of half an hour, you kind of call it a liminal space, neither here nor there. And it’s where a lot of magic can happen, really. It kind of really helps to reprogramme, it’s difficult to explain it actually, even though I have studied it, I’ve done a foundation course in it.

But it’s really one of those experiential things, you really need to experience it, but it’s profoundly, potentially profoundly relaxing. So it’s really good if you suffer like anxiety and stress or you’re sleep deprived. But it’s also really useful at changing habits and patterns, because you can use that word with an intentionist Sankalpa, which is like a positive mental statement that you establish in the present tense that kind of gets embedded in the subconscious so that it more likely becomes conscious, if that makes sense? It’s like planting a seed and you just keep repeating it but you have to really feel it, I mean, I think that’s the thing with intentions and these days it’s kind of thrown around, isn’t it? This idea of intention and manifesting change in your life but you really have to feel it. It’s not just a mental process, it needs to be a kind of felt to sentient process as well.

But if you, for example, giving up smoking, I used it a lot then, but I really felt like I wanted to give up smoking. But nonetheless, it was still some blocks I worked a lot with. I am smoke free, I’m no longer smoker and it really helped the process actually.

Michelle:             So you’re really working deeply to change a sense of identity.

Emma:                  Yes, I guess, you are. And you’re letting go really as well in the process. I mean, honestly I can’t promote it enough actually. And fortunately, it’s becoming more well known and there’s a couple of teachers on the island who have studied it. So we’re able to roll it out to people. I mean, I certainly use it in class when it’s appropriate to do so. And certainly on retreats and things like that, that’s a big part of the retreat experience because that is where you can really experience the greatest transformation almost ’cause you’re dedicating two days a week, whatever it is of your life to yoga and transformation.

Michelle:             Yes so now, what I’ve been understanding recently which I hadn’t understood before, it is a way of regulating the system.

Emma:                  Yes, yes, yes.

Michelle:             In the same way as sea swimming regulates our system. We’re using the Yoga Nidra to regulate.

Emma:                  Yes, and create greater balance and harmony. Yes, definitely.

Michelle:             I mean, I tried it, but I don’t actually need anything to help me go to sleep. I go to sleep quite easily. But I do enjoy the permission to lie down in the daytime.

Emma:                  Well, absolutely. And of course, there’s a really lovely word to describe it. Adaptogenic. So you get what it from you need. For example, regularly at the moment, I tend to fall asleep when I do a Yoga Nidra because that’s actually what I need from it. But often in the past when I haven’t been quite so sleep deprived, I will remain in that liminal space more so and you can be quite insightful as well, actually. You might have more vivid dreams, stuff comes up, you become aware of things. And yes, it’s really interesting to work with it, actually.

Michelle:             Yes. And it’s really great ’cause I think there’s so many more people who are looking after themselves better.

Emma:                  Yes, yes.

Michelle:             And I was thinking the other day, am I the last generation that was a workaholic and then controlled everything with alcohol. I hope I was the last generation to do that.

Emma:                  I don’t know that you are, actually.

Michelle:             And I’ve got this idea that everyone coming through the system now, is kind of all healthy and well being and eating clean and-

Emma:                  No, I don’t think that’s true at all. No, I don’t. And actually, I just finished reading, oh, is it called Beautiful Boy. Which is the memoir of a father whose son became a drug addict. I mean, he’s maybe in his 30s, late 30s now. It’s just been made into a film. But it was really quite scary. I found it an incredible read, but also desperately depressing because of the increase in drug use in teenagers and so actually, there seems to be a lot more of that being used.

And in the book the principal or the prime addiction was for meth. I don’t know a lot about it, but from Breaking Bad, and got really obsessed about watching Breaking Bad which is about a meth lab. But it is an incredibly scary drug and it does seem like that is on the rise throughout the world, actually. Even in the UK now which is quite distressing and with younger and younger, they’re actually… I just sort of read through it quite briefly towards the end because I found it so depressing, but I did note that the people that make the stuff are making like strawberry flavored meth.

Michelle:             Oh, my God.

Emma:                  Yes, so the younger and younger children almost will start wanting to ingest it and it’s so wrong on so many levels, obviously. But it scares me as well actually, having young children that they’re growing up into this world because there is so much pain, that seems to be the case.

Like there’s so much pain, the world is not an easy place to live anymore. That’s why there’s an increase in yoga and sense of well being because I think it’s getting even more painful.

I can’t say it any other way, life is so fast lived, isn’t it? With the internet and everything happening instantly and I don’t have so much awareness of it. But I think social media hasn’t necessarily done any favors to teenagers, I keep hearing this. Their identity and there’s lack of self worth and so there’s going to be an appeal there to somehow cover up that insecurity and drugs it’s not a perfect way to do that. But that’s something that it kind of falsely gives you the sense of, I don’t know, comfort and power in yourself almost. But obviously, there’s a downside, a massive downside to that.

Michelle:             Yes, I was just getting in touch with the addiction side. In the addiction to clean eating is out there as well at the moment.

Emma:                  Oh, gosh, I’ve been down that route myself. Yes, having many eating or having an eating disorder at one point in my life and it’s very difficult to move on from that because you can just transform it. You can hide it, mask it as, healthy eating but it’s not healthy eating either. It’s just a way of still maintaining a disorder in your relationship to food.

Michelle:             So what’s coming up for me now is the idea of balance.

Emma:                  Absolutely, it’s all about balance, isn’t it?

Michelle:             And you mentioned in the book about, I can never say the word properly, Ayurveda.

Emma:                  Yes, Ayurveda, I’m probably not pronouncing completely correctly there. I’m learning Sanskrit at the moment so it means that I’m aware that I’m not saying these words properly. But nonetheless, you have to start somewhere.

Michelle:             Tell me more about that.

Emma:                  It’s the science of life which I’m incredibly passionate about, hence, why I’m studying it. It’s a very ancient tradition like the Indian holistic health care system. It’s 5000 years old, so there’s some really old texts that explain to us how we should or shouldn’t be living and it sort of categorizes people into different constitutions. I call them Dosha. They’re seven, I hope I got that right. And so for example, there’s like Vata, when you’re kind of quite airy and long boned quite, you’re either quite tall or quite short. And then there’s like Pitta. When you’re Pitta, it’s when you’re more athletic and more kind of I suppose morelike competitive, more fire in you.

And then there’s Kapa as well, which is like when you’re sort of heavier almost, like most of the motherly figure you know, the bigger hips and everyone wants to be a friend, have a Kapa friend because they’re good listeners and you know will always have a cup of tea and a piece of cake waiting for you kind of thing so, but there’s imbalances. I mean, and you can have double or treble, or you can have balance of each of them in theory to, can be more prominent than one. But they get out of balance as well actually and so you create disease then I suppose, there’s a lack of balance in your life and that creates maybe disease in the body as well.

So it’s fascinating really, it’s all based on increasing your digestive fire, like that’s the root of all diseases. How the ancient Yogi’s see it anyways, is in the digestive system. I mean, we kind of recognize that a bit more now, don’t we? This need for good digestion.

So it works by trying to create balance with the digestive fire and then as a consequence of that, you should find more balance within your constitution.

Michelle:             Sounds like something that’s really needed.

Emma:                  It’s so needed, it really is and I discovered it many years ago. A friend I met on a yoga retreat in Bali that time actually introduced me to it and I’ve been seeing an Ayurvedic doctor not far from Gatwick actually, whenever I feel the need. I mean, you can Skype now and I now see her fellow doctor because my initial doctor is now doing all the teaching and trying to really spread Ayurveda. And it’s become increasingly popular which is apparent just by the way that her practice has changed over the years. I’ve known her clinic and the number of people that are now studying it, there’s like 70 of us this year and there’s a capacity that they can’t go beyond but it’s selling out anyway this design.

The course I’m doing is actually to be an Ayurvedic lifestyle coach and nutritionist, so it’s many years to become a doctor and I’m not sure that, that’s really where I’m headed. But nonetheless, to be able to help people through Ayurveda is really exciting for me because it’s really kind of energy based as well and looks at you as a whole person. So your emotional state, your mental state, your spiritual state, for want of a better word, connection with soul. And it looks at all those different aspects and does it sort of through the physical in many respects.

And you can also like yoga is a part of it as well and breathing properly and there’s an element of Buddhism in it as well like philosophy so, it’s amazing.

Michelle:             And you sound really passionate about this.

Emma:                  Yes because it’s helped me so much in my own life and I’m always keen, really, and actually my doctor is a specialist in fertility and because of my background with fertility I do attract women that have fertility issues and I always try and send them down that route if they can because it’s far less invasive than having to go through IVF and far cheaper as well. But there’s often some resistance because there’s some work that needs to be done because it works on all these different levels, it’s not just a case of taking the medicine which is like various herbs, which can taste really disgusting anyways people struggle with that. I can assure you injecting yourself with medication is even worse.

But nonetheless, because it works on all those different levels, you sometimes go through healing crisis. You sometimes have to look at your problem like what’s going on in your life and that for people is tough, so it stops people wanting to go down that route.

Michelle:             Yes, really interesting. So your relationship with Nepal or Nepal.

Emma:                  Yes, I know.

Michelle:             Where is it now?

Emma:                  Yes, it’s on hold sadly. I kept going backwards and forwards after that trek because during that treck, I also did the volunteer work. I lived in the mountain village only for two weeks, actually. And then in Kathmandu for a month. And during that time I met a Nepali yoga teacher, a female one, which is really unusual ’cause there’s a lack of empowerment of women Nepal and she was striving to encourage empowerment and was empowered herself. And anyway, became friends and I ended up sponsoring her to come to Guernsey a couple of times, to come and teach yoga over here. And we set up the women’s … I can’t remember it was called now, an empowerment project anyway.

Nepali Yoga Women’s Empowerment Project or something like that. As we both had a dream at the time, or a vision where we wanted to help to empower women in Nepal but through sort of yoga and Reiki and helping them to kind of stand up on their own two feet rather than just depend on handouts from a charity. And so the idea was that she would come over here, and we’d raise money through her teaching over here. And I go over there and I’d also sell products that the women made, they ended up making handicrafts like socks and things like that. Sell them over here, do fundraising over here and then I used to go and visit her and see how it was going.

I was never very hands on when I was in Nepal. Actually, I prefer just to kind of float around writing and going to yoga and things like that when I reflect back. But nonetheless, so I kept going back and forth for a number of years and then it got to the point where Ewan and I wanted to have children so as soon as children came along, we haven’t been back since, actually. And we were looking at going this year but actually, it’s just both the children, the five year old is probably okay, but the two year old is just too out of control to go there because there’s no..the roads are just chaos and the pollution is chaos and it would just be too much hard work and also they wouldn’t remember it and I want them to grow up knowing Nepal so maybe not next year, but the year after we will probably start going back there and I think it’s important for them to see a different way of life as well, like how poor people can be. They’ve come to Goa with us but they were too little and that’s not even on the same level as going to Nepal. And also introduce them to the mountains as well. But yes, just certainly for them to be aware of how much they have in their lives.

Michelle:             And you describe Nepal in your book as standing for Never Ending Peace And Love.

Emma:                  Yes, N-E-P-A-L it’s written all over the place. And it’s so true, they are just the most loving people I’ve ever met, actually. So kind and compassionate. And I’ve traveled there a lot of my own and I never felt, maybe like once or twice felt unsafe at night, but never, really, everyone was always so kind and I have made friends out there that I’m still in touch with, thanks to Facebook.

So yes, wonderful people, wonderful country, very humbling.

Michelle:             Wonderful. Thank you ever so Emma much for sharing this and I’ll put a link to the book through which you can buy on Amazon on the show notes. So there’s one word left to say to each other, Namaste.

Emma:                  Namaste, thank you.

Michelle:             Until next time, bye-bye.

Namaste- Emma Despres

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