Two Girls Go Wild in Suffolk: How our county can improve your health
PUBLISHED: 15:05 22 February 2019 | UPDATED: 15:05 22 February 2019
Sarah Lucy Brown
Living in our county surely must be good for health. Two Girls Go Wild in Suffolk to find out | Words: Naomi Gornall - Photos: Sarah Lucy Brown
Let’s face it, we’re all striving to improve our wellbeing. Eating your five a day used to be the buzzword. Now it’s becoming more and more common to talk about nurturing your mind and spirit, with a clear focus on mental health.
Over the years my photographer pal, Sarah, and I have tried to pursue a number of ‘wellbeing’ exercises, some of which have ended in hilarious stories.
On one occasion we embarked on an unusual type of meditation, which ended with strangers standing behind us breathing on our necks (interesting way to spend an evening). However, we are nothing but persistent and are continually striving for that perfect experience. We may have just found it.
Lindsey Franklin, who runs the Yoga Attic in Hadleigh, takes her yoga practice that step further by often holding sessions outside – in the forest, on the beach, and at night. Using the natural environment to enhance wellbeing really appealed to us and we got in touch immediately.
Fortunately Lindsey was happy to accommodate our wild plan to hold a taster session on the beach in the middle of winter (it’s usually held in the summer) as she is passionate about what she does. She moved to Suffolk from London eight years ago and says what she loves most about the county is the space and nature.
“In London, I used to go to art galleries all the time. Now, when I’m just taking my dog for a walk, I feel like nature is doing an art show for me,” she says. “I get great feedback from my sessions. People seem to love being outside.
“When you do yoga on a beach, you can look out to infinity. It’s about letting go of the stuff that keeps you bogged down.”
Lindsey told us we would be learning Dru Yoga, which encompasses mind, body and spirit. In the past we have both (separately) watched other yogalites perform sun salutations and the like on beaches in India and Mexico and wished to be a part of it.
Now, here in Suffolk, on a deserted Felixstowe beach, on a chilly winter’s day, we got to have our turn.
The sessions consisted of a variety of stretches, warrior and goddess poses, and ended with a breathing meditation session, which saw us sitting, facing the sea. There is something quite magical about performing yoga on the beach.
It takes the practice to another level with the view of the sea in the distance, and the cool sand encompassing my toes, heightening my senses and helping to focus me in the moment.
Like many people, I find meditation tricky, as a million thoughts run through my head like rush hour commuters at Liverpool Street station. However, for the first time, I felt present.
The sounds of the waves, the horizon, the lapping of the water, the warmth of the sun on my face, my breathing, listening to Lindsey’s meditative words. It all just came together in that one moment.
After this experience, I was keen to develop my meditation skills but I wanted to try something a bit different. I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of gong baths.
Contrary to the name, there is no water involved. It is essentially a meditation where you are totally immersed in the sounds of gongs. So, just days after the yoga, I swapped a night of central heating and Strictly and headed out in the wind and rain for a gong bath in Creeting St Mary’s village hall.
Turns out I wasn’t alone. About a dozen people were setting up their yoga mats, beds, pillows and duvets (yes really) as I walked into the darkened room. A few delicate lights at the front illuminated six large gongs and a beautiful aroma surrounded the space as I navigated my way to the front to set up my mat.
Jenna Gooding, who has been leading sessions here for about two years, gave us a brief introduction, highlighting that the focus of the meditation was the upcoming winter solstice, and then began the relaxation.
When the first gongs were rung, I was taken aback by the sound. It was so much louder and piercing than I imagined. Your body (and ears) soon adjust though as you get used to the atmosphere. As the sounds continued, they took on a different life.
It was as though my brain was tricking me to the point that I forgot where they came from and they started to sound like a film soundtrack.
After around 45 minutes of gong sounds, she then used some instruments to mimic the effect of the elements like rain and thunder, and focused on each individual to unblock any tension they may have.
It is believed gong therapy may have originated from northern India and has been used in Buddhist culture for enlightenment and expanding consciousness. Regular gong baths are thought to help people with a number of conditions, such as insomnia, depression and anxiety.
Over a herbal tea afterwards, Jenna told me that some people have been coming to her sessions every month for the past year and a half and it has been “life changing” for them. Like Lindsey, Jenna believes the natural environment complements and enhances her work, and she is planning future gong workshops in the woods.
“I absolutely love our Suffolk countryside,” she says. “For me nature is intrinsically linked to the work I do with the gongs. Being connected to our landscape, to its cycles and rhythms, are all part of the healing work. I am passionate about helping people to heal and maintaining good mental health.”
Having done the beach yoga session at the start of the week and the gong bath at the other end (with work and mum duties crammed in the middle) I felt like I had nurtured my soul just a little bit and was proud that practices like these and many more exist in the county we call home.
If you know of any secret spots that you’re willing to reveal, or think we should be featuring a certain place/organisation, drop us a line at email@example.com, we’d love to hear from you.
Also tag us on Instagram (@twogirlsgowildinsuffolk) if you are out and about being wild in Suffolk.
Four ways of improving your wellbeing
Explore a forest: Rendlesham, Thetford, Tunstall, for example. Hugging trees is good for the soul.
Breathe in some sea air: Any bit of coastline is good for this, from the popular resort of Southwold to the quiet eeriness of Shingle Street.
Find some culture: Christchurch Mansion is home to Auguste Rodin’s famous sculpture The Kiss until April (2019), go to a poetry night at the John Peel Centre in Stowmarket or wander around the old wool town of Lavenham and soak up its history.
Discover a riverside haven: At Pin Mill, you can watch the boats, enjoy a drink in the Butt and Oyster and have a walk in the nearby woods.
Good for your health
Over a hot coffee, following our yoga session, Sarah and I marvelled at how lucky we are to live in Suffolk with the natural surroundings and how this can boost serotonin levels, thereby improving mental health.
Steve Roche, one of the directors of Being Well in Suffolk, a community interest company that runs sessions on mindfulness, coaching, and peer support, said: “The biggest change in the last five years is that there used to be a stigma about mental health but now it is very much on the agenda. It is OK to talk about it now and that is thanks to high profile Royals and celebrities.
“Where you live has a big impact on your mental health and there is lot going for people who live here in Suffolk. There are areas of deprivation but even in big towns, you are not far from open spaces, rivers, green areas, and the coastline.”