I Shaved My Head

On 2nd May, as part of MS Week, I shaved off my shoulder-length, blonde hair to raise funds for the MS Society Cymru.

louczek

I work for Principality Building Society. Each year, my colleagues and I get to nominate and vote for a Charity of the Year, then we put all our fundraising efforts towards the chosen charity for a whole year. For 2014, my colleagues and I chose the MS Society Cymru and we’re hoping to raise a substantial amount of money by the end of the year to help people who have MS. The charity is actually very close to my heart and I figured that shaving my head would be a great (or stupid!) way to raise funds.

People might think I’m bonkers but when I explain why I did it, most understand. During our first year at university, my wonderful friend and housemate Liz went to the doctors because her legs felt numb. She was diagnosed with primary progressive MS a few months later and had to drop out of her course the following term. Her symptoms quickly worsened and her parents had to become her carers. 17 years on and Liz’s condition means that she hasn’t been able to look after herself for years – she requires round-the-clock care which has been extremely hard work for her parents.

While there’s not much I can do to help Liz and her family directly, the MS Society continually researches to find a cure for MS and also provides support for those going through what Liz and her family continue to experience, so I wanted to raise some money to help them with their excellent work. I knew that I’d have to do something a bit different to raise a large amount of money, because so many people do 10km runs, sponsored walks, etc., so I decided to shave my head.

On the day, everyone was asking me if I was scared but I wasn’t at all – in fact I was quite excited and I found it to be a liberating experience. My headshave took place in Morgan’s Hair Salon in Cardiff – the lovely owner Sadie did it for free and the only reason I found it slightly nerve-racking was because around 40 people came to watch and I was also being filmed! People’s reactions have been varied. Lots of people have told me I’m brave for what I did and that my shaved head looks great but beforehand most people thought I was nuts and a few even begged me not to do it!

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My hair will grow back in no time (it’s been 4 weeks and it’s already grown loads) and it was such a small sacrifice to make in order to raise a large amount of money; I’ve raised over £3300 (with funds still trickling in!) when my target was £1,000. I’ve been completely overwhelmed by people’s generosity and support.  My only worry was that my head would be cold but that hasn’t been an issue and I’m saving so much time getting ready in the mornings that I’m reluctant to grow my hair back at all!

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My story made it to the Wales Online website – to read the article and watch the video click here.

If anyone reading would like to sponsor me post-event, you can do so by clicking here 🙂

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Z is for… Zzzzzz

I I can’t quite believe it but I’ve made it to the end of my April A to Z blogging challenge. It’s been hard work yet incredibly rewarding and I’ve done it – I started a blog a month ago and I’ve actually written something that other people have read – amazing!

As I don’t have much spare time, the majority of these posts have been written late at night and some haven’t been published until seconds before midnight, just meeting the deadline. I’ve still managed to get up at 6:00 on weekdays though and, as a result, I haven’t had as much sleep as usual this month so I’m tired. Zzzzz…

Once I’ve had a few days to catch up on some sleep I’m definitely going to carry on blogging; I’ve got the writing bug now!

 

 

 

 

Y is for… Yoga

I love, love, LOVE yoga.

My first experience of yoga was when a yoga teacher called Cath came to my office to teach a taster session, as part of a staff benefits scheme. I remember going along with the pre-conception that yoga would a nice, gentle exercise class;  I was keen to lose a few pounds and I’ve always been a bit of a hippy at heart so I thought I’d try it out with my colleagues. All I remember about that class was being in fits of giggles with my colleague Rosie, as we tried to walk in figure-of-eights on our hands and knees, on yoga mats.

Fast forward around five years and I’ve just signed up to my second yoga retreat. I attend yoga classes regularly and I’m currently on day 98 of a journal I’ve been keeping this year, to document how I feel during my own daily practice which I do at home. I set my alarm for 6:00 every weekday (8:00 on weekends) to roll out my mat; if the weather’s nice I practise in the garden and I hate it if I have to forgo my daily practice for any reason.

I’ve had several different yoga teachers during the last few years. Ellie, Ray, Sharon and, most recently, Claire are all wonderful and have taught me many different things. I’ve met them all through my original and lifelong teacher who got me hooked on yoga to begin with – Cath Kelleher, who owns Yogafever. I have a lot of love for this lady, not least because she caused me to fall in love with yoga in the first place through her fantastic teachings but because she is a huge part of Cardiff’s thriving yoga community and a totally inspiring person. In December last year, Cath organised Yoga for the Philippines, within a fortnight. She managed to fill City Hall, Cardiff with people participating in mass yoga practices and workshops, bringing together an entire yoga community and raising over £4,000 for the people of the Philippines following the hurricane disaster in the process. She’s one cool yogi.

The Great Hall, City Hall, Cardiff during Yoga for the Philippines

I’ve tried many different styles of yoga: vinyasa flow; hot yoga; power yoga; restorative yin yoga; kundalini yoga; yoga nidra. I’ve even attended a laughter yoga workshop (hilarious – thought I was actually going to die of laughter!). The class I attend at the moment is a mixture of flow, restorative poses and pranayama (breathing exercises), run by my teacher and friend Claire.

Yoga is not an exercise class or a hobby; it’s a way of life and it has changed mine completely. Yes, I’m bendier. I hang out in Downward-Facing Dog. I can breathe in for the count of ten and my shoulders and arms are toned from doing countless planks. Yoga is great exercise and a lot of fun however the main purpose for me will always be to strengthen and still my mind, to shut off all the chatter going on in my brain and to reconnect with my body, with the ground and with the universe. It makes me feel alive. And so happy.

Within yourself is a stillness and a sanctuary to which you can retreat at any time and be yourself.

-Hermann Hesse

Yoga is completely accessible and beneficial for anyone and in my opinion, anyone who says they tried it and didn’t like it went to the wrong class. If anyone in Cardiff would like to give yoga a go, I can recommend lots of different classes.

X is for… X Pro II

I’m rather new to Instagram and I’ve only recently started to use it regularly. I don’t always use filters when posting photos but when I do, I like the moody shadows created by X Pro II; it’s fast becoming my favourite of all the Instagram filters.

Here are some photos I took earlier this evening using the X Pro II filter, during what turned out to be a rather rainy walk through Cefn Onn Park. I often take photos like this when I’m out and about as a way of practising mindfulness; noticing beauty around me.

Trees, Park, Plants, Nature Trees, Park, Nature, Sky bird, pond, nature

If you’d like to follow me on Instagram, my username is louczek.

W is for… Women In Web

Two talented women I know through the Lean In Wales Circle, Laura Dunn and Ena Lloyd, recently founded Women In Web, a blog that showcases successful women from all walks of life, sharing their stories and journeys. The purpose of the blog is to facilitate women of all ages to share experiences, knowledge and ideas with each other.

WIW

If you visit Women In Web you’re likely to find: Q&As with inspirational women, for example Laura Trevelyan, Anchor for BBC World News America; editorial style pieces written by Laura and Ena; advice posts (most recently ‘ten mistakes to avoid when asking for a raise‘); guest blogs; and live Twitter Q&A sessions, encouraging readers to share and comment upon the content, participate in active discussion and embrace opportunities to be a starring part of the site by contributing content of their own.

I love what Laura and Ena are doing and I was fortunate enough to be asked to guest blog about my experience at Ignite Cardiff recently. I was thrilled to contribute, especially as it was my first attempt at blogging.

This is definitely a useful and engaging blog to follow for anyone who is interested in learning from other people’s experiences along the road to success.

V is for… Vegan

I became a vegan on the 5th of May, 2012. I don’t necessarily like the label ‘vegan’; what I’ve actually tried to adopt is a whole-foods, plant-based diet but that sounds complicated (not to mention pretentious!) so the ‘V’ label is easier to use when explaining what I eat to others.

Tofu, Veg, Vegan

Most people are surprised to learn that before the above-mentioned date, I was a meat-eater and not a vegetarian. The last time I ate meat was a hog roast at a friend’s wedding, on the 4th of May 2012!

Over the last few years I’ve changed my lifestyle quite a bit (just wait until we reach ‘Y is for… Yoga!), with health and happiness in mind. Part of this has involved considering what I eat and drink, as I’ve suffered from mild IBS symptoms for years as well as feeling tired all the time. I consumed a lot of online content about wellness and one day, on one of my go-to wellness websites, I came across a documentary called Forks over Knives, which drastically challenges the Western diet of consuming meat and dairy. I ordered the DVD from the USA and watching it changed my outlook on food completely. I decided to try out a vegan diet until Christmas that year, to see if I felt any better.

By December I’d definitely noticed some benefits (not to mention feeling smug – how do you know if there’s a vegan at a party? They’ll tell you!) and I didn’t miss my old diet so I decided to continue. While my ailments haven’t disappeared completely, I generally feel much healthier and I’ve surprised myself with an overwhelming love of vegetables – I’ve been ordering organic veg boxes from Abel and Cole for over a year now and I still get excited when my box arrives!

Vegbox, Abel & Cole

I’m not zealous about my food choices by any means. While I love animals, I’ve chosen to do this for health reasons and not as a moral decision (otherwise I would’ve already been vegetarian), although doing so has definitely raised my awareness of animal welfare and sustainability issues.

Veg, Kale, Salad

I’ve had a few ‘vegan holidays’, most notably on an all-inclusive holiday in Lanzarote last year, where I started out admiring the array of salads that I could enjoy all a week only to be found by day three tucking into the fresh fish and Camembert!  I eat shellfish now and again in restaurants, but infrequently.

Eating out as a vegan is challenging. There are a few food establishments in Cardiff at which I love to eat – Milgi being my favourite – but in general the options for vegans can be poor, if not non-existent, especially when it comes to British fare.

vegan, Milgi Lounge

Vegan brunch and fresh juice at Milgi. They do awesome cocktails, too!

I intend to post more about my experiences eating out as a vegan once I’ve finished this A to Z Challenge.

U is for… Urban Running

Having vowed never to do such a thing, I started running last year because I entered the Cardiff Men’s Health Survival of the Fittest, which is a 10km urban assault course that surely only lunatics would enjoy.

Despite being a prize-winning sprinter at sports day, I became very lazy once I left school (the grunge lifestyle took over at age 16). So lazy, in fact, that my best friend and I once missed a bus after college and waited half an hour for the next one because we chose not to run approximately 30m to catch it in time.

When I started to train last year, I hated running and found it really difficult but I had signed up to the Survival of the Fittest with some colleagues to raise money for the British Heart Foundation, so I was determined to give it a go and not let anyone down. I was surprised how quickly running became easier and even though the assault course was my idea of hell I’m glad I persevered – my team of six raised £795.50.

Mens Health Survival of the Fittest Cardiff

My team helping me over the Wall of Fame at the end of the race!

Now that there are no obstacles to worry about I quite enjoy running around Cardiff; either Roath Park Lake or Bute Park. My friends and I run 5km regularly and I’ve signed up to the Cardiff Half Marathon later this year.

That’s enough about my urban running; here’s the main reason I wanted to write about urban running, courtesy of Vic and Bob. I cried with laughter when I first saw this 🙂