Charles Darwin is my new Motivational Coach

It’s been a long time since I’ve been to “school” and had to do “homework” or so I thought.  On the Saturday that just passed, Mary Jarvis redefined for us what it was to be at a yoga studio.  She said that it was not a studio but a Yoga School.   We attend classes, there are teachers and we learn every day.  Our teachers are our teachers for life.  We’re constantly learning.  And like it or not, we have homework!

I’ve already mentioned previously that we had homework (6 camels a day) given to us by Mary over a year ago and I started doing it for maybe 2 weeks but then I stopped.  Why?  Because I hate back bends and as with anything I don’t like, I just procrastinate and find so many other things to occupy my time with instead and I basically tell myself that I don’t have the time to do it.

Self motivation isn’t the problem.  I get stuff done all the time.  It was simply pain avoidance.  Not being able to understand that the pain I felt doing a back bend was good for me, is what stopped me.

So, here I am over a year later, no more pain free (when it comes to back bends) than I was back then but something triggered my motivation over the weekend.  We went to Down House, home of Charles Darwin.

Down House, the home of Charles Darwin.
Down House, the home of Charles Darwin.

We learned a lot by visiting his home.  We learned about his study of nature, what he did during his life, how he spent his days, his relationship with his wife and children, what interested him and sparked his curiosity, all the experiments he conducted.  We even walked the path he walked (he would walk on his “thinking path” 3 times a day every day for his exercise)!!

The view as you stroll along Darwin's Thinking Path.
The view as you stroll along Darwin’s Thinking Path.

As a child I was ALWAYS fascinated with biology.  It was my favourite subject.  I loved learning about how plants reproduced and dissecting plants (and rats, although smelly) was interesting to me.  I loved seeing how pregnant rats had a little pocket for each baby like peas in a pod (there was a dissected pregnant rat preserved in a jar in the lab) or how you could bust a hole in its trachea, stick a straw in and blow air into its lungs and watch the lungs expand and contract.

I even managed to germinate my own seeds in the fridge (I was trying to grow Bonsai), catch tadpoles and feed them, watch their tail reduce and their legs grow longer and witness them transform into frogs.  None of this was actually school related, I just did it at home by myself.

I always thought that slugs were just snails without shells so I would try to crack the snails’ shells with a twig and see if I could watch them stretch out into slugs (they didn’t, instead they moved a LOT faster when you started cracking their shells and they never contracted back into their shells which one would expect them to do, they’d just try to make a mad dash, as mad a dash a snail could do).  I used to also collect empty snail shells that I’d find in the garden and offer them to slugs.  I’d give them different sizes to see how they picked which shell they’d use and then I’d wonder why they would never take any.  I resorted to trying to balance the snail shell on the slug which resulted in a similar mad dash reaction by the slug.  All of this of course, was before I grew up and learned that they were 2 completely different animals!  Yes, all sorts of silly things like pushing soil or pouring water into the hole of an ant hill and watching as they all rushed around fixing the entrance, this is how I spent my days.

When I was maybe 3 years old, I’d watch my grandma peel a mandarin.  I’d see all the “white bits” that connected it to the skin, see how the mandarin had sections.  She’d take one section and give it to me to eat but instead I would look at the section and watch how those “white bits” formed patterns on the segment.  I’d peel off all the white bits until the segment was pristine and then notice that the segment was surrounded by it’s own “skin”.  I’d peel the skin and look inside to see a million little segments that looked like encased droplets of juice and how they too had their own membranes holding them together.  I’d pick at each tiny little droplet inside the segment and try to open them unsuccessfully, wondering if there were segments inside them and how many and how small those segments would get.

So you get a visual of what I'm talking about. Here is a peeled mandarin segment.
So you get a visual of what I’m talking about. Here is a peeled mandarin segment.

I’d pick one tiny droplet and eat it and I would do this one at a time reveling in the tiny burst of flavour that came out of each.  My grandma used to laugh at me.  “Look!” She’d say, “In the time it took you to eat that dot, I’ve already eaten the whole mandarin!  You’ve taken so long, I don’t have any more to share with you!”  I didn’t mind, she only had 8 segments, I had a million of them!  Every time she had a mandarin, she’d only ever give me one segment because I would be inspecting it, dissecting it and eating it for hours!

Going to Darwin’s home was inspiring and got me to remember those strange fascinations and the wonder I had about everything as a child.  I realised that for someone who lived such a simple life, even putting himself down as a “farmer” in one census, Darwin was absolutely extraordinary.

He was focused, dedicated, patient (all the things we learn in yoga) and most importantly, did things that he didn’t like (eg. boiling pigeons so he could inspect their skeletal structures) in order to continue his research to formulate and solidify his theories.  He classified and collected barnacles for 8 years.  Some of his experiments went on for 30 years!

In this day and age, how many of us do anything for more than 30 seconds let alone 30 years?  And, with immediate gratification always at our doorsteps, it is rare that we’d go through any kind of pain to get a result.

He was also very sick, suffering from boils on his skin, headaches, nausea, trembling etc and yet he managed to accomplish so much.  He worked from home and got to spend a lot of quality time with his family.  All of his work was done in his home study or in his garden.

The most important thing is, he never stopped being curious.  In his last days, he was studying earthworms!  He played music to them to see if they could hear and he cut leaves into different shapes to see if they could discern between them!  Sounds like the sorts of things I would do!!

This made me think.  If he had 10 happy children (unfortunately 3 of them died of illness before adulthood), a happy wife all of whom he spent a lot of time with, an experimental garden, a worm experiment, barnacles,  pigeons, bees, climbing plants that he was recording the movements of every half an hour, illness and still be able to formulate and solidify a theory of evolution that would pretty much rock the belief systems of everyone he knew including his own wife’s and change how biology is studied for the rest of time, how could I possibly moan about not having time to do 6 camels?

Where was my patience?  Dedication?  Focus?  Commitment?
Where was my curiosity?

Mary Jarvis says that “Back bends are the healer of the spine.”  I have scoliosis so… if it disappears after doing years of back bends then, I will have proof for myself of whether or not it’s true.   Except there’s only one way for me to find out, it takes years and it takes me doing back bends for all those years!  Don’t I want to know?  Am I not a biological specimen that I can study?  Isn’t this just another experiment?

This year, it isn’t just 6 camels for homework anymore.  There is ballet bar work, handstands, lunges and so much more that it makes me wonder why I even thought 6 camels was worth complaining about!


I reckon if Darwin was around these days, we’d be mates.  I’d be telling him all my funny animal stories and studying plants with him too.  Just like him I was completely fascinated with insectivorous plants and used to have a Venus Fly Trap which I’d catch flies for and put in there to see if it would eat it.  I’d get all different sized insects and see what it liked.  I’d notice that it didn’t like dead things so I’d use my hair to “tickle” them to close.  It was quite funny to hear the extent that Darwin went to, to find out how light the trigger had to be for them to close (using his wife’s hair).  Oh we’d have so much fun!  Darwin and David Attenborough would be a tonne of fun, they’d definitely hang out with me staring at (observing) snails and plants!

Insectivorous Plants in Darwin's Greenhouse.
Insectivorous Plants in Darwin’s Greenhouse.
Insectivorous plants in Darwin's Greenhouse
Insectivorous plants in Darwin’s Greenhouse


And then I’d get them to do yoga with Mary!  They would love it, especially since yoga is a technology to help the human body function at its best and a life long experiment.

I love this tree
I love this tree
Eating organic apples that grew in Darwin's garden.
Eating organic apples that grew in Darwin’s garden.
Contemplating life, looking out into Charles & Emma's garden.
Contemplating life, looking out into Charles & Emma’s garden.

On the Monday I actually thought about Darwin and had no more excuses not to accomplish everything on my list of things to do while adding on my yoga homework.  Afterall, I’m not an invalid and I don’t have 10 children!

So, I did one handstand (all against a wall), came down and swept the floor.  Got into another handstand, got down and vacuumed.  Got into one more handstand, got down and scrubbed stains off the floor, then got into another handstand, came down and loaded the washing machine.  I kept going up and down until I had finished my chores and finished all the required sets of handstands that I needed to do.  No more excuses , no more complaining and I even managed the 6 camels 🙂

I think he would have laughed at and commended my approach as much as he’d be proud of my kefir experiment I’ve got going at the moment.  I’ve made kefir and recorded it all on a spreadsheet ie what sugar I used and how much it yielded so I can figure out the best sugar combination for optimum yield.  I’ve been recording it every day since March so I’ve got 6 months of data so far.  I did this of my own accord, my own little biological experiment already going for 6 months!!  I didn’t realise just how much I had in common with Darwin, nor that I had continued what I was doing from childhood into adulthood through my kefir experiment, until I went to his house!

I certainly didn’t expect Charles Darwin to be my motivational coach but relating so much to him, thinking of what he accomplished in what looks like such a simple home life, was extremely inspirational.

Afterall, I’m talking about just doing back bends and a few handstands.  From his humble home and garden, he changed the world and the thinking of all future generations to come!

Thank you Charles Darwin.  You’ve contributed more to my life than you or I will ever know.

“A man who dares to waste one hour of time has not discovered the value of life.” ~ Charles Darwin


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