Soaking up the Gong Bath

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With gong practitioner Martyn Cawthorne at his home Gong Spa

It is Saturday and a rainy Manchester afternoon and, along with two friends from Manchester Bliss group, are visiting the home of Martyn Cawthorne – gong practitioner and founder of Gong Spa.

Martyn gives the three of us a warm welcome before inviting us to prepare for the ‘gong bath’ which we have all enthusiastically signed up for.

What is a gong bath?

He describes the experience as:

“A unique experience in which you are bathed (clothes on!) in the sounds and vibrations of the gongs, which lend themselves to enhanced states of well-being, relaxation, happiness and pleasure.”

I’d had one previous experience of taking part in a large gong bath in a church hall, but what Martyn has to offer is a small, safe and intimate space which could be shared by up to three people.

The space is calm and softly lit, with four impressively large gongs suspended from a frame in the room and another resting on the floor. Other instruments are scattered around the room and will form a part of the gong bath experience.

We have a quick chat with Martyn about our needs and reasons for being there, before settling down on a bed and wrapping up with blankets. He explains to us that as the gong bath experience can be both physically and mentally intense, he’s going to give us a relatively gentle time.

What happens in the gong bath?

The session is an hour long and it’s important to feel comfortable. We’re  provided us with some egg-shaped shakers should we wish to indicate that the gong sounds have become too intense (we didn’t need them).

Once relaxed on the bed, the time seemed to speed by. Martyn opens the session with some ambient gong sounds before building up the intensity and varying the soundscape with other percussion instruments.

The vibrations from the gongs were instantly relaxing and I felt the sounds resonated throughout mind and body with a calming richness.

What does it feel like?

I felt my mind begin to turn over thoughts as it prepared to relax and let go, it was then that I started to locate the sources of tension in my body.

First comes a fluttering sensation in my side, before I develop an awareness of where the tightness across my shoulders originates – this makes me mindful that I need to take care of my posture each day.

As we opened our eyes at the end of the gong bath, it soon became clear that we had all had powerful but very different experiences.

One bather was so relaxed that she fell asleep (this is apparently quite common and does not prevent the gong bath from working). Another spoke of the vivid images she’d visualised.

We all felt that the gong bath had been deeply beneficial and wished to return, either alone or with partners.

Where can I take a gong bath?

Taking a gong bath aids meditation and is great for relaxation either individually, as a couple or a group.

Gong Goodies

Gong Spa – home of everything gong including dates of gong baths in Manchester and surrounding areas

Northern School of Soundsmiths – learn to craft sounds for your enjoyment and the benefit of others

Gong Spa Experiences – tracks to relax or meditate to – available to download

BarCamp bits and pieces

I was lucky enough to attend the first day of BarCamp Manchester 2015. Having been to the previous year’s event at SpacePortX, I expected great things. I wasn’t disappointed.

The venue was AutoTrader, the same place we used for Manchester Girl Geeks’ Mini BarCamp (aka BraCamp) back in May.

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Massive thumbs up to @GirlGeekUpNorth and her fabulous team for putting on the best event of this type that I’ve ever attended.

I’d like to pick out a few highlights from Day 1. With it being an ‘unconference’ format where speakers are giving talks in a number of rooms at the same time, it feels important to say that there was lots of brilliant presentations / discussions I didn’t make it to. Check out the @BarCampMCR Twitter feed for a fuller picture.

If you haven’t heard of a BarCamp before @teknoteacher does a good job of explaining how it all works (film shot by @ColetteWeston).

Interactive fiction

This was a strong theme at this year’s events with @GirlGeekUpNorth demo-ing “The Dark Room” an interactive video-based adventure game built by linking YouTube videos together. This is fiendishly difficult to complete. You have been warned!

Elsewhere, @teknoteacher was giving a very quick tutorial on using storytelling software Twine to teach people who are new to coding how to create their own text-based adventures.

Crosswords

A great little session by @stecks @aPaulTaylor and@Andrew_Taylor running through the most common types of clues for cryptic crosswords and how to identify them. I haven’t done a crossword for ages and this really rekindled my interest in them.

Coding

Computer programming is always a popular area at BarCamp, and a lively debate was provoked by @RosieCampbell‘s talk on stereotypes applied to coders. This branched into a fierce discussion on whether computing should be taught as part of the curriculum.

Living in a van

So, @tdobson and @czmj2 live in a van. They both have full-time jobs, so how have they managed? A great story about how they’ve made it work for them. Cue lots of questions re parking, sanitation and wireless connectivity!

Music

Next to @erinmaochu‘s ‘Crowdsourcing a recycled Manchester robot orchestra’, a project which will be part of the line-up for Manchester’s stint as European City of Science in 2016. It was great to witness the potential for collaboration erupting in the room as several people, including @matthewshotton, excitedly shared their own experiences with robotics and music.

There’s lots of great geeky, science and tech events going on in and around Manchester (and in fact the whole of the NW). You can find out more at:

Being a part of BraCamp

This was the third year that I’ve volunteered to help run Manchester Girl Geeks BraCamp, but this year I was able to make more of a contribution and that felt really good.

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Manchester Girl Geeks #BraCamp team from left to right: Natalie-Claire Luwisha, Zoe E Breen (me) , Katie Steckles, Sam Headland, Emily Watkins, Gem Hill – Photograph courtesy of @mcrgirlgeeks

BraCamp, for those not in the know, is Manchester Girl Geeks twist on the BarCamp format. It’s an ‘unconference’ event where all attendees are invited to sign up for a slot to share their ideas and / or start a discussion. See the #BraCamp hashtag for tweets from the day.

So running the ticket confirmation process, meeting and greeting attendees on the day and a fair bit of tweeting from the Manchester Girl Geeks account (as well as my own) was a great way to connect with faces old and new.

IMG_2010_1024In between these activities I made it to a few of the talks – all of which were excellent. Topics ranged from women and digital music production, to what it takes to produce a podcast, and life after PhD study.

I also had a great chat with a teachers @upsideteach and @Mr_G_ICT and digital project manager @ColetteWeston about the challenges of teaching ICT and computing from Year 1 right through to Year 13.

Although I didn’t do a talk myself it was great fun to take part in the ‘slideshow karaoke’. In this challenge you are asked to give a convincing-sounding presentation to accompany a deck of slides that a) you’ve never seen before and b) are on a subject you know nothing about.

It took all my powers of improvisation to busk my way through a talk on combat vehicles in South Africa and try to convince the audience that badgers wearing body armour were capable of driving tanks.

This was topped by @jedw‘s efforts to speak authoritatively about golf – we were all fascinated to hear about the nine erogenous zones of a golf course!

Finally, as I’d managed to lose my raffle tickets, I offered to pick the tickets out for the fabulous prizes we’d lined up for the day. It was great to see the winners faces when they picked up their goodies.

Remembering Muriel

It feels slightly wrong to start a blog entry about my grandmother passing away with my usual “My Week In Happy” prefix, but at 90 years old Muriel Breen did have a long and happy life. I am grateful that she continued to enjoy her interests into later life, that she made friends easily and had a kind heart.

She was the mother of my mother Carol, wife of my late grandfather Gerard Breen, and grandmother to myself and my brother Ellis – we called her ‘Granny’. She was a dear friend and confidante to my mother through thick and thin.

Granny with me on my graduation day in the gardens of the Shackleton Building.
Granny with me on my graduation day in the gardens of the Shackleton Building.

Muriel was a talented painter and pastel artist well into her eighties, loved the ballet and saw the funny side in everyday things.

She had an amazing spirit and was extremely independent, living in her own home until she passed away. This was made possible with the care of my mother, who was with Granny until the very end.

In the last five years of her life Muriel became increasingly frail and struggled with the limitations of her ageing body. The biggest blow was when stomach problems left her only able to eat foods that were pureed or disintegrated easily in the stomach.

She really missed being able to have the foods that she loved and preparing something palatable became a focus of each day. It became something of an obsession and even my mother’s patience was tested after hearing about Granny’s special trifle recipe for what must have felt like the millionth time!

I asked my brother to write something in memory of Granny and this is what he said.

My memories of Granny, by Ellis

Farewell Muriel
Muriel with a photograph of Venice by Carol Breen (modelled by Ellis Breen).

She was always upbeat, positive, loving and humorous. She loved to talk endlessly but always had time to listen to anyone as well. My first memories of Granny were formed when I visited her home with Granddad. She had a poodle who was as loving and vivacious as her owner.

Later she moved to be closer to Mum and, after Granddad passed away, enthusiastically resumed one of her great passions: ballroom dancing. I was always impressed by her energy and love of life and for some time she had a very lively social life which many of the younger generation would envy.

I had talked a little to her about her time before my birth in recent years, but in some visits over this last Christmas, despite a failing memory, she elucidated with great clarity on many parts of this. Her love of ballroom dancing dated back to the WWII era, and she enjoyed any opportunity to socialise.

She had done very well at school, and had wanted to continue her education, but opportunities for women to do so after the war were severely limited. Instead, after settling down with Granddad, and looking after Mum in her early years, she ran a small shop and became a well-loved member of the community.

She was a keen reader all her life, and loved culture of all kinds – a passion which she passed on to the rest of the family.

The times of her youth were tougher, and more socially conservative in many ways, but her pragmatic and positive spirit seems to have got her through.

She always looked on the bright side even in the last few difficult years. Probably my fondest memory of her was seeing her delighted as I, my sister and Granddad kicked a football around in the park. She always took the greatest pleasure in seeing others enjoying themselves.

My Week In Happy: Farewell Cosmo

Cosmo - 1999 - 2014
Cosmo: 1999 – 2014

As alluded to in recent entries, Cosmo – my cat companion for over fifteen years – had been somewhat under the weather.

Sadly, last Thursday I had to make the difficult decision to have him put to sleep, but I was well supported by a wonderfully empathetic vet.

He had enjoyed a long and happy life and I wanted him to have as comfortable an ending to it as possible.

It has been a sad time for me, but I want to focus on the happiness and comfort Cosmo brought me over the years. It has to be said that he left me in much better shape than he found me.