I recently came across a “new” term - TCK’s …Third Culture Kids...a term coined in the 1950’s by sociologist Ruth Useem to refer particularly to expatriate kids who grow up overseas, often relocating several times and attending international school.

Now I didn’t start my travels proper until I was nearly 20, and had a much less international schooling, but the term struck a chord in me. I used to think I was “just” a BBC - a British born Chinese, but in fact I have spent a substantial proportion of my adult life in different countries, finding unspoken affiliation and resonance with locals there and also with fellow explorers who have come from far and wide, on short or longer “travels”.

For many of us who set off to explore the world (when we freely could that is), it is perhaps to discover something that we haven’t found yet in our lives. When travelling we are exposed to different cultures; ways of being, thinking, seeing and understanding. Personally as I now realise, my travelling was also because I was trying to find out how and where I fit into this world. That's right, clichés exist for a reason, I was trying to find myself.

The world is in an unstable moment. We will not forget 2020 in a hurry. With the fear of the pandemic, boundaries of our personal liberty are constantly shifting, appearing and disappearing. Many of us who live in adopted countries may have struggled to go back to our homelands of late, due to travel restrictions or the fear of quarantine on return.

For TCK’s there may be a transience in their ‘nomadic’ upbringings, which makes it difficult to know where is home. Yet there are many of us who live displaced, feeling a certain lack of roots. All the migrants and immigrants who seek a better life in an adopted country, just like my father, who over sixty years ago took a two month boat trip to an unknown land, a land of promised milk and honey. He was coming from Hong Kong, which at the time was on the precipice of early Asian economic growth. Does the adopted homeland ever feel like home? And what about the home they left behind?

England amongst others, is a country with a rich melting pot of ethnic influences. I always remember during my yoga teacher training many years ago in India now, in the ‘English’ group (of which there were about eight of us), only one of us was pale and fair skinned. Whilst there are certainly clear customs within countries and cultures, how many of us, who for example live in England can put hand on heart and say they are of pure 100% English descent? And then there are those among us who have non-biological care givers or adoptive parents, who may not know their genetic roots. It appears there are many of us who are affected by displacement and adopted cultures.

The term TCK was brought to my attention from an article by Noor Brara [1] in the New York Times, describing her own Indian American International School roots and she describes the idea of how ‘home is everywhere and nowhere at once’. In it she also interviews the writer Pico Iyer who describes how, in his own ‘nomadic’ upbringing that he did not have an external way of defining himself and had to be ‘rigorous and directed’ in grounding himself internally.

This struck a second chord in me. The most important resource that we have is the somatic one, to find our roots on a physical and energetic level within the flesh and blood of our body. In this ever shapeshifting world at present of uncertainty and fear, it may be worth remembering that, in the Buddhist way of thinking everything is impermanent, nothing lasts forever. However I might venture to say that in fact some things do last forever - the essence of who we are.

I feel quite grateful that my father had the courage in his twenties to leave Hong Kong, to travel on a boat for 2 months in search of a new life, to a country that he had never been to. That was in the 1950’s. With all the difficulties that Hong Kong is experiencing now, retaining their own identity within the collective culture of being Chinese, I feel grateful for having been displaced.

As we have been restricted all these months with travelling we have learnt to travel in different ways, through the internet. As things slowed down on the outside it has been time to explore deeper on the inside, what is within us.

Coming back to the body is the first port of call for those who may be feeling somewhat lost, a coming home.


Growing Roots and Wings – a 7 part online breathwork, somatic movement, yoga and dance course is launching 12th October. For further details and FREE 4 part mini course see www.niiodance.com



'Finding a Place for Third Culture Kids in the Culture' , Sept 11th 2020, New York Times Style Magazine, Noor Brara

There have been many studies in the last few years documenting how beneficial dancing is for both our body and minds.

But did you know that it is one of the, if not the best physical activity for keeping you young well into later years? One of my teachers Anna Halprin turned 100 recently. She was a prolific and pioneering dancer, creating Life Art Therapy with her daughter Daria Halpin in response to a second cancer diagnosis that went into remission without any invasive treatment. I met and studied with her when she was a sprightly 94 year old, having travelled from California to her roots in Israel to teach. She wasn’t using a hearing aid, only donning specs for reading and was totally lucid and present. Her enduring wisdom and strength were palpable.

The pioneering American contemporary dancers Martha Graham and Merce Cunningham both danced into their 80’s, and died at 96 and 90 respectively.

John Lowe, a 90 year-old war veteran is Britain's oldest ballet dancer at aged 90, and he only took up ballet at the age of 79. According to him, ‘Dancing is the most amazing feeling and you come home mentally uplifted after listening to all this brilliant music.’ [1]

Of course it is not only dance that keeps us young. It is well documented that to live a happy and healthy life we have to eat “right”, sleep well, maintain healthy relationships, have a sense of purpose as well as keep physically active. And there are many movement practitioners who live to a ripe old age. Considered one of the greatest martial artists, Grandmaster Lu Zijian lived till 118 years old. About his longevity, Lu stated the following:

‘Move your Qi, nurture your health and cultivate your nature.’ [2]

Tao Porchon-Lynch, the world’s oldest yoga teacher passed away last February at 101. She promoted staying active and keeping a positive mindset as key to her longevity. Tao’s energy came from “the breath of life.”

‘The breath of life is right inside of us,’ she said. ‘To feel the dance of life within you, and know that nothing’s impossible.’ [3]

Which brings us to the fact that we are as old as our mind defines us. I could easily waste my time inspecting all the ways my body has deteriorated from its pristine, glossy, plumped up younger self and mourn its loss.What is the point? What purpose does it serve?

We know we are not meant to compare ourselves to others. And yet we are going to compare ourselves to our younger naiive, foolhardy, impestuous, insecurity ridden selves? Just like a former relationship, when we’re feeling alone and sorry for ourselves we can easily hark back to the “good old times” – in this case that of smooth skin, boundless energy and faster recovery from physical illness, and conveniently gloss over the bad ones.

It is all about perception - whether our glass is half empty or half full. If external circumstances cannot be altered, then it is our internal landscape that has to change - and so it is with aging. As with all good things, we get better with time. After all, vintage clothes, wines and so on can be very expensive - they are recognised for their value. However even if others can see our wiser, more mature selves, we need to see it for ourselves. And by the way, let us pause a moment to congratulate ourselves for having made it this far in life; for all the experiences and situations, both ecstatic and character-building that we have enjoyed, endured, learnt from, negotiated, surfed and dodged.

If you need an activity to lift you out of the doldrums then dancing is unbeatable.

‘Dancing increases cognitive acuity at all ages. It integrates several brain functions at once - kinesthetic, rational, musical and emotional - further increasing your neural connectivity,’ says Richard Powers, a social and historic dance instructor at Stanford University. Teaching social dance for the last three decades he has championed the health benefits of dance to his students, including how it can improve our ability to deal with stress and adapt to change. [4]

We are never too old to try something new. It always fascinates me when people say they are too old to do something. Sure there are some things that are better suited to a younger person to try eg skiing (for beginners at least - I have seen a fair few retired people on the slopes in France, though skiiers from a younger age). Being a woman I will never be quite as physically strong as a man and I gracefully accept help these days, unlike my younger, proud, hot -headed self.

So, if you have never thought of yourself as a dancer, then let me remind you firstly that you do not have to emulate the late Michael Jackson or the French double for Jennifer Beal in the movie ‘Flashdance’. Secondly, of some its scientifically proven benefits:

According to Dr. Kathrin Rehfeld, of the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases in Germany:

‘I think dancing is a powerful tool to set new challenges for body and mind, especially in older age.’[5]

From the Centre’s research four major benefits are:

  1. Having to remember certain moves results in memory improvement and strengthened nerve communication

  2. By getting the body to try new moves such as spins, turns and quick steps, the brain and inner ear learn to deal with quick changes and sharp movements. This improves coordination and balance.

  3. The accompanying music promotes neural activity and functional connectivity between multiple brain regions, slowing down cognitive decline.

  4. Aside from keeping your body lean and tuned and your brain sharp and focussed, it promotes a positive attitude of carefree happiness.

Unlike Ballroom, Lindy Hop, Jive or other stylised dances, Niio dance is not about having set routines that you have to remember. Rather it offers a supportive structure from which you can explore and expand on your own movement repertoire. It affords the opportunity for creative discovery.

Australian dancer, artist, performer and choreographer Eileen Kramer lived until 105. Famed for her unique and expressive style her simple advice to live a long and happy life was:

Try to do creative work, because if you're dealing with creative work you're doing something new all the time.’ [6]

A fellow dancer and collaborator Sue Healey said of her:

‘It's incredible ... she never has a day when she isn't thinking about her next creative endeavour and that's what keeps her alive and youthful and energetic.’ [7]

Dick Van Dyke who starred in the original Mary Poppins movie reappears in ‘Mary Poppins Returns’ (2018), full of life and energetically tap dancing at 91 years of age. When Van Dyke received the 2013 Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award, at the then age of 87, he said to his Hollywood colleagues:

‘Aren't we lucky to have found a line of work that doesn't require growing up? I love that.’[8]

So let's get fit, stay healthy, happy and young with dance!

Ground Zero – GROWING ROOTS AND WINGS piloting this Autumn - Subscribe to be kept informed of launch date, plus FREE mini-course coming soon..



[1] https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/6064076/Britains-old


[2 ] http://luzijian.com/Lu-Jun2010.xhtml

[3] https://taoporchonlynch.com/about-tao/

[4] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/30/well/move/health-benefits-dancing.html

[5] https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/319181

[6] https://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-02-25/100yo-dancer-eileen-kramer-stars-in-new-sydney-production/6262306

[7] https://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-12-01/australias-103-year-old-dance-eileen-kramer/9216140

[8] https://www.sagawards.org/nominees/life-achievement-award-recipient/49th

  • helene su

Updated: Jul 20

I have been trying to write a blog for a few weeks now, but have felt paralysed from the pain, compassion, anger, shock and incredulousness of the news of George Floyd. I am not one for getting into political conversations, but when the very issue of one’s skin colour is a political statement, it is rather difficult to sit on the fence. Absolutely black lives matter, and all lives matter.

My own racial trauma from childhood experience feels very small in comparison to the suffering of Afro-Americans, Indigenous tribes, Ethnic Minorities and all races who have been and still are persecuted, but it affectedly me deeply for many years. For a long time growing up I experienced constant bullying for being Chinese, and I became afraid to enter into new environments for fear of not being accepted. It felt difficult to trust. At some points it made me question my very self-worth.

And I still get it today. Except today it is more insidious and subtle; when I experience the icy hostility of someone I first meet who does not know me and where it makes no sense, yet there is a clear knowing in my body for the reason, which makes my flesh singe. Fortunately it has been rare, but all the more stark when it does appear.

More recently my parents had been afraid to leave their home, not for fear of contracting Covid-19 but rather fearing the racist attitude from passers by. Nevermind that they have lived in the UK for over 50 years and have not been back to China for more than 5, none the less they are Chinese - where the disease “appeared”. When the virus first broke out it was reported in some French press as a second wave of the ‘yellow peril’.

And then there has been the racism experienced by English friends who managed to leave India just before flights stopped during their lockdown. They had already been there for several months but restaurants were refusing to serve them. After all, the virus was prolific in Europe by then.

Yes there is racial trauma in the collective human psyche, conscious or otherwise. Yet if we could simply take a pause before we think, speak and act in any given moment, there is the potential for situations to change form and transform.

When we pause and cultivate awareness this allows for regulation of our nervous system. Our bodies create a biological response that can alter the frequency of our brain waves, and thus our conditioned thoughts. When we take time to pause and reflect we really have time to make changes. Gosh my life could have taken many different trajectories had I have embraced this realisation in my youth, although of course everything that happens is a great lesson!

When the very ground beneath us feels shaky, then our bodies are all that we have. On this earthly level our bodies are our foundation and scaffolding, our home and hearth, our fire of inspiration and action and our refuge. However if we cannot feel comfortable in our own skin, then how can we trust our bodies to help us move forward in the world and be proactive? And we may despise our bodies for other reasons not skin colour related - too fat, too thin, too stiff, too weak..the list is endless.

By finding our inner anchor, the inner compass within our bodies that give us physical and spiritual connection; and also by making peace with our history and our ancestors, perhaps we can find healing and even celebrate our diversity. It has taken the best part of half a century for me to be proud of my roots and my heritage. But loud and proud I am.

#️⃣racialtrauma #️⃣blacklivesmatter #️⃣chinese #️⃣nervoussystem #️⃣connection

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