Dancer and choreographer Charlie George found a way to deal with the stresses of life by starting a holistic project of her own.

In 2015 Charlie George was sofa-surfing in Swindon and saving furiously for a trip to India. After embarking on a mission into the wilds of her ancestral “home” in Kerala, she journeyed through India from south to north, immersing herself in ashrams to qualify as a Hatha yoga teacher. But her life wasn't always so blissful.

My name is Charlie George and I’m a stress-head.

I’ve been a stress-head for some time.

It was cultivated pretty early on when I needed to be the right size and shape for the gymnastics team in primary school, I also needed to do really well at my education or it could mess up my whole life. I also needed to be liked and needed to fit in and was regularly in spaces where I not only appeared different, but I felt different. I learnt this pressure approach, where comparative to gymnastics, life was about hurdles and vaults and hard training and being the best, not letting on that things sometimes hurt.

When I was in my early teens I left home after my religious mother found my love of women a little more than unfavourable. I was flung into a world of instability, sheltered housing, staying with friends and relatives for as long as they could handle me, and then with friends of friends that were a bit dodgy, and then with strangers. At this time cigarettes weren’t just cool they were a way of avoiding being in uncomfortable spaces, drinks weren’t celebratory they were a way to forget where I was, and drugs weren’t exploratory – they were a way to feel hits of joy I couldn’t get elsewhere.

Throughout this struggle the gymnast in me fought hard to get sober, to study, to do creative projects, to set up my own dance company, to prove relentlessly that I was not the nothing and the trouble I had been promised.

By my mid 20s I was renting my own room, had some good jobs and prospects and was earning a little money. It wasn’t enough to take the tube of course, but I was getting there, and had some stability for the first time in my life.

But I had also accumulated some unexpected gifts: glands that swelled up every 3-6 months taking me down into deep fatigue, stomach problems as a result of years of sometimes eating and sometimes not, from not having regular access to kitchens or food. At 26 I was running my company from a studio, doing freelance dance and youth work and about to do a feminist theatre show at the yard in Hackney Wick.

Then I was stopped in my tracks by a cancer scare and I had to have a small preventative operation at a local hospital.

I remember the moment the realisation came, lying on the floor in my room in Tottenham, East London – unable to move, unable to reach out and ask for help for fear of admitting defeat. I needed a new way of doing things, a new approach and strategy, work and money alone was not saving me and it certainly wasn’t looking after me.

I needed to create space for self-care in my life, beyond the gym pumping and posturing and the exclusive yoga studios and retreats.

No, I wanted to find a space where I could work on my body in a nourishing way, where I could tackle the social isolation that comes with feeling subpar to the demands and expectations of life. A space for talking about and capturing your emotions and worries before they escalate. And a place to have those all important and healing “ahh” moments, the kind found in nature. Turns out this space doesn’t exist, at least not in this format, so I’m going to make it.

In 2015 I quit my jobs in London and did the glamorous and sexy thing all 20-somethings dream of: I went to go and live in Swindon for a few months at my sister’s while working in a call centre and a pub, and I saved furiously for a trip to India that would lead me further into healing through Yoga. After embarking on a ludicrous mission with meagre savings into the wilds of my ancestral “home” in Kerala, I travelled for 4 months through India from South to North, experiencing four yoga ashrams and qualified as a Hatha yoga teacher at a school near the Himalayan mountains in Rishikesh.

Now, back in London, I’m working on the first spark of an idea that I hope will lead to something meaningful. I want to help more people find a sense of balance in this rat race we call life. So, alongside my job in a busy corporate gym (peak stress-head territory), I’m reaching out to practitioners in the fields of fitness, massage, philosophy, horticulture, cognitive behavioural therapy and psychology and I’m building a new alternative holistic health network and model – called Luminitsa, which means ‘Little Light’ – that aims to act as a mobile community centre and preventative space to support physical, mental and environmental health in an integrated way.

I am still a bit of a stress-head to be honest, but now I have a lot of strategies and tools to manage it and I feel it’s possible to feel a whole lot lighter about living life.

Charlie George is a dancer, choreographer and founder of Dark Island Dance. She leads sessions specific to community needs – from hosting trans, queer and body positive yoga classes and creative dance sessions in Pentonville prison, to working with children with profound learning difficulties in specialist schools. Keep up to date with her latest project, Luminitsa.

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