My Week In Happy: 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

My Week In Happy: NQ Noms and Ladies That Launch

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Tuesday

I’ve noticed a recent trend to revive the term Cottonpolis as an alternative name for Manchester. This refers to the textiles industry on which the city built its wealth and global economic standing.

First it was the Women’s Institute – they have a Cottonpolis branch based in Ancoats, to the north-east of the city centre.

And then just the other week a lavish new eatery opened in Manchester’s fashionable Northern Quarter, also proudly bearing the Cottonpolis title.

The restaurant is located on Newton Street, the less developed end of the Northern Quarter. Indeed, the frontage is so unimposing that I managed to walk straight past it!

Once inside, a weird optical effect also rendered @cubicgarden and @si_lumb invisible. Though later on we were successfully located by @herbkim.

The menu at Cottonpolis revolves around Japanese inspired ‘small plates’ – ideal for tasting a number of dishes – good, fresh and cooked to order.

Thursday

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Proudly wearing her  Principia flight badge*

Had it broad daylight @ohlittlechief and I would have found ourselves in the shadow of the Lovell Telescope at Jodrell Bank.

But it was 6.30pm and very dark when we arrived for a ‘Girls Night Out’ event put on by Manchester University.

Libby Jackson, Astronaut Flight Education Programme Manager at the UK Space Agency gave us a great introduction explaining how studying science – and a lot of dedication – had got her into her current role.

We then had the opportunity to try out some fun engineering tasks, including launching rockets and operating a robot arm.

But the highlight of the evening was getting a picture of @ohlittlechief posing with one of her heroes – the soon-to-be British astronaut Tim Peake*.

Tim’s launch in the Soyuz spacecraft from Baikonur, Kazakhstan, to the International Space Station will take place at 11:02 GMT on Tuesday 15 December. Read loads more about the big event here and use #BritInSpace on Twitter.

*It may not have been the real Tim Peake but a well-lit cardboard cut-out.

My Week In Happy: Why I interviewed Helen Arney

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Well, “Why wouldn’t you want to interview Helen Arney?”, you might ask?

Helen Arney (Photo: Vera de Kok)

Of course she is super-smart, funny and chic, that’s undeniable. Which is why, when I was booking my tickets for Festival of the Spoken Nerd at The Lowry, I was struck by the fact that she did not have a Wikipedia page dedicated to her.

Almost a year before the gig, I’d been to a Wiki Edit workshop run for Manchester Girl Geeks by Wikimedia UK.

From this experience I learned two things:

  1. Editing Wikipedia is really pretty easy
  2. More than 80% of Wikipedia editors are male (according to some research)

What did I do with this knowledge? Pretty much nothing until I noticed that Helen Arney didn’t have a Wikipedia page.

Then I remembered something.

Fellow Manchester Girl Geek Karen Pudner (@kpudner) had created a Wikipedia page for code-breaker Joan Clarke, who worked alongside Alan Turing on the Enigma Project at Bletchley Park.

Karen started the Wikipedia page in 2013 having attended a previous Manchester Girl Geeks Wiki Edit Day.

This was the year before Joan’s contribution to the team at Bletchley Park was recognised in The Imitation Game. Since then the page has been added to and edited by dozens of other users.

If another girl geek could write a woman into Wikipedia then maybe I could give it a shot?

I was so excited by the prospect that it was with some abandon that I launched into writing my first lines of words on Wikipedia.

So I’ve made a start on Helen Arney’s page, which is currently a described as a ‘Singer stub’. If you would like to add an edit of your own I’d be extremely happy.

So, why did you interview Helen Arney?

As well as her obvious fabness (see above), I thought it would be lovely to have something that I had written to be linked to from the Wikipedia page. And reciprocal linked (of course!).

You can read what Helen had to say on physics, funnyness and frocks right here.

My Week In Happy: BarCamp bits and pieces

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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:

My Summer of Love

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Yes, I have been very quiet of late. After moving into my new fab home I wanted some time just to be in, settle and feel like it was home. Now I have grounded myself and regrouped I have a new set of priorities, the uppermost being my own wellbeing.

Silence hasn’t meant an absence of happiness. Over the last few months there have been some truly happy moments which I am grateful for. So this post will be a little update on what happened in my summer of (self) love.

IMG_2054Yoga in the sunshine

If you’ve read my blog you might know that I had a blissful time stretching in the Spanish sun last September.

I liked it so much I decided join Nicole and the team for another break – a women-only wellbeing ‘retreat’ just down the road in Calpe.

Along with the yoga and Pilates, we benefitted from access to a nutritionist, life coach and personal trainer.

For a holiday that was billed as a ‘detox’ we ate really well. Our fabulous chef Jason prepared fresh meals for us every day as well as a morning smoothie and his own recipe granola bars.

Above all, it was the people who made the break the joyful experience it was. Women of all ages sharing their wellbeing wisdom, supporting each other and learning together.

Manchester International Festival

adam_buxtonWe are truly blessed in Manchester to have such a diversity of events going on in and around the city.

Manchester International Festival, which runs in alternate years, always brings a cunningly curated line-up to the city.

This year I had the pleasure to see perfomances by comedy god Adam Buxton (pictured) and quirky Icelandic songstress Bjork, as well as taking in the excellent Tree of Codes dance production – an explosion of colour, movement, mirrors and magic.

Girl Geek Dinners @10

bake-offThe parent organisation of Manchester Girl Geeks, Girl Geek Dinners, has been going for a decade. Massive respect to Sarah Lamb who founded Girl Geek Dinners – there are now ‘chapters’ in over 20 countries worldwide.

Manchester Girls Geeks joined in the birthday celebration with their own distinctive brand of girl geekery.

This included Raspberry Pi polaroid-style photography (props to @MiniGirlGeek & @elsie_m_) and tech swag pass-the-parcel (thanks to @angieokchan for packaging). Congrats to @GillKiernan for her ‘Pi’ cake which won the bake-off and very deservingly.

At the time of writing there are just a few tickets left for the next Manchester Girl Geeks event on Sunday 20th September, when materials scientist Dr Suze Kundu will be running a hands-on session.

My Week In Happy: Being a part of BraCamp

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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.