It's been an unusual year in many respects. The pandemic has served as a reminder that we are a part of something bigger than ourselves, and that this can be an opportunity to move towards global wellbeing and positively impact all our futures. In part 1 of 'Learning to Thrive in Self-Isolation', H&F Circles writer, Emilia Bayer, speaks with Maya Thomas, a local resident of Hammersmith, and Daria, yoga and meditation teacher, Thai massage therapist and wellbeing advocate, to learn how we can all thrive during challenging time and self-isolation.
Emilia: Hi Maya, welcome to Circles! Tell us about yourself.
Maya: Hello! Thank you! I’m a chef working at The Elder Press Cafe along the river. I first lived in Hammersmith a little over eight years ago (having moved from Shepherds Bush), but after a year I left the city for rural Scotland for a much quieter pace of life. Whilst in Scotland I studied Herbology at The Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh and also worked as a Herb and Kitchen Gardener in various parts of the UK - so being as close to nature as possible is vital to my wellbeing. I returned to my flat in Hammersmith last October, nervous about living in the city once again - but the whole experience has surprised me - COVID aside.
A picture of The Elder Press Cafe
Emilia: What is your favourite thing about being a H&F resident?
Maya: Being close to the river. There is so much life on the river - both flora and fauna. From seal spotting and bird watching, to all the various wild edible and medicinal plants on offer I often feel like I’m not in the city at all. A little further away from the river are some beautiful parks and cemetery’s, which are lovingly maintained and also offer so much.
Emilia: How did COVID-19 affect your lifestyle and habits?
Maya: Like everyone, my geographical world became much smaller. I have pals all over London and the UK and was used to having the freedom to explore that living in a big city affords. Suddenly life became much smaller. Being outdoors has become a large part of how I live my life, so it was tricky to have those restrictions. The daily walk outside became a bit of a sacred ritual, I’d have fun with alternating routes and challenging myself to discover green spaces locally. Being able to observe plants as they moved through the months and seasons was vitally important to maintaining my well-being, it helped to break up the monotony and “groundhog” day feeling - by seeing how the environment around me was changing; that nature was doing her thing - and in some cases thriving - regardless of what was going on with covid.
Emilia: What was the most challenging part of having to self-isolate and how did you manage to cope with 'the new normal'?
Maya: With lockdown, the river, understandably, became a place where many people started to congregate and exercise. It was great to see people really enjoy all the aspects of the river but at the same time it meant that social distancing sometimes became hard. So finding those new places was really important. I’d also alternate my outdoors times to very early or very late in the day - which enabled me to look at my usual stomping grounds in a whole new light - literally!! My knowledge of plants, especially those that we term as “weeds” is something that has definitely kept me sane. It can provide a way in which to become more intimately connected with your surroundings - as well as providing an innate reassurance life is continuing even through it might feel like we’re on some weird monotonous lockdown loop.
It also meant that I needed to find other places of solace and routine and Yoga with Daria and Daria’s online classes really offered such a balm in that way. I’m not someone who can do yoga practise without a teacher - and I loved going to my weekly yoga classes - something I still really miss. I was apprehensive about doing online classes but was so surprised at how well it worked.
A picture of Daria's online classes
One of the most challenging aspects of being in lockdown was suddenly finding myself in close quarters with a relatively new flatmate. We’ve been lucky and we’ve developed a really strong friendship. I feel part of that was due to Daria’s Thai Yoga sessions. It felt like learning a new skill in terms of self-care and wellbeing which felt really important. I’d gone without a hug in 8 weeks and for a tactile person that has started to chip away at me a bit. Being guided through a movement therapy that involved another person was incredibly healing and grounding.
I also discovered that I live on the best street in London - the community around this area is fantastic, and it was amazing to discover what great neighbours I have. When you live rurally it’s so important that you have good relationships with your neighbours - it’s vital in fact - not just from a social aspect but a practical one too. I think Covid has proved that wherever you live having neighbours that you can rely on, share a natter and a cuppa with (even at a distance) - and local information - is really important.
A pic of Maya (left) with her local friends
Emilia: Like many of us, I'm sure you had plenty of time to reflect during self-isolation. In terms of the 'old' normal and the 'new' normal, what are you feeling nostalgic about, what have you learnt to let go and what are you planning to take with you into the future?
Maya: Living rurally previously meant that I had a lot of patience for the situation that I’m not sure I would have otherwise had. I think what I take most from it is that routine is absolutely vital - and bringing or building forms of selfcare into that is crucial. I’ve enjoyed getting to develop a real connection to my neighbourhood, however I still miss the possibility of being able to travel further afield at the drop of a hat, which is something I’m learning to adjust to.