In stillness and in breath

In this post, I’m sharing my personal struggle and the things that helped heal me in some way. This is my journey, my experience. I’m not a mental health professional. Please do not confuse my post as advice on how to deal with  and/or overcome sadness and/or depression.

 

dark_sky

It seems my last post was sometime in February. I apologize for being MIA the past couple of months. It’s been rough to say the least. I hit a wall. Figuratively speaking. I literally woke up one morning feeling like my heart space was filled with grey, heavy, lumpy goo. It held me down like rock. When I experienced this feeling, I realized that I “hit” that wall of depression. Depression. Self-loathing. Sadness. Hopelessness. Again. “Not again,” I thought. I thought I “over” this for good.

Anyway, it took awhile to stop crying. It took weeks before I felt like I could pick myself up again. It took about a month before I felt confident enough to keep moving forward as I had done before. And man, I tell ya, moving forward is hard work! Hard work because it often felt easier to sit in the dark and cry. While I do believe crying can be cathartic and healing, there was a point where I knew I couldn’t do it forever and that I hated feeling this way.

This is the part where I draw on my experiences in yoga… Soon after, I made a conscious effort to turn inward. I turned to what I call, “the quiet”. Instead of shoving these feelings aside, I decided to reign them in. I felt like I needed to acknowledge them, tell them to go away, let them go away, and move on. In effect, I started retreating to a quiet space to just breathe. And think. And as it turns out, meditate.

Now I’m making the assumption that I’m probably like many, or at least a few of you– intimidated and a bit weary of meditation and the thought of sitting still for chunks of time. Left alone with lord knows what floating inside that vast head space! Afraid of what might come up. Or wondering if there’s even enough time during the day to simply sit still and breathe! I get it! I’m with you!

stones

But I’m also a firm believer in honouring what your mind, body, and spirit “crave”. And after some time, my mind, body and spirit were craving a quiet space to breathe. A quiet space to think and release. A quiet space to just be. So I did it. I found solace in a soft armchair. Sat upright. Shoulders down and relaxed. Closed my eyes and started following a guided mediation. I breathed. I sat. Breathed. Sat. Let whatever emotion come to the surface, exhaled with all my heart and let it go. Sometimes my mind went to my to-do list. When it did, I let it sit with  me for a few seconds. Then I exhaled and let it go. When my mind went to sadness, I let it surface. Exhaled and let it go. Other times, I had an itch to scratch. I scratched it, exhaled and let it go. Depending on my day, I noticed the same emotion surfacing over and over again. I let myself be frustrated, exhaled and let it go.

Soon, I found myself using a visual technique my former yoga instructor used during savasana. I imagined inhaling light into each part of my body. This light would morph into a ball of light. While I breathed, this ball of light would gingerly travel to each part creating space, and “zapping” away all of the heavy, gloomy junk that was holding me down. I started with my feet and worked my way up to the crown of my head. It really helped me. It still does. 🙂

dark_sky_sun_peek

For the first time in months, I finally feel a sense of clarity. I feel like I’m finally on track to being myself again. Yipee! But it wasn’t only quiet mediation that put me on that healing path again. And as simple as it sounds, it’s a lot of work. I had Thai Yoga therapy; kicked up my exercise routine; recommitted to a more balanced diet, played with my dogs more, gave myself permission to make mistakes, cried; acknowledged the changes happening in my life; stopped making so many changes to my life; revamped my Yoga practice; talked to my support system; stopped putting myself down and started some positive self-talk; began limiting the time I spent with toxic people; and started taking everything one step at at time. Geez. All of this looks great on screen doesn’t it? Truth is, I struggle. Frequently. I’m OK with that too. I am a work in progress after all. While I don’t always have the time to sit quietly each day, I find wee moments when I turn to breath. I close my eyes and breathe. In some of my darkest moments, I feel like it’s breath that saves me.

What yoga has taught me about fear

Recently, my Facebook news feed showcased a new post from Yoga Journal with a great question:

What has yoga taught you about fear?

Accompanying this title, there was an image of a woman doing a handstand supported by a wall. Instantly, this question caused me to reflect on my experiences working on the poses I once feared the most: head stand, handstand, headless head stand, and forearm stand.

(Moment of breath and reflection)

Fear is heavy and stagnant. It makes me irrational and keeps me from my potential.

darknessEvery time the challenge of doing a handstand, headless head stand, head stand, or forearm stand came up, I envisioned myself injured beyond repair. Every time I tried to kick up to the wall I felt like I wasn’t strong enough and didn’t have the strength or will to persevere. I hated it. Hated it! What made it worse was when the mirror shattered. Literally. There’s one wall in the studio that’s all mirror. One guy kicked up to it quite hard and the glass shattered all over. Of course, that freaked me out. As soon as that happened, I was convinced I was going to end up a clumsy, bloody mess. I avoided the mirrored wall as often as I could.

More fear means more practice. More practice means cultivating patience and acceptance.

Maybe my instructor has special intuitive super human powers or something? Because the more I dreaded doing any of these poses, the more she made us do them. And that’s what I did. I became an “obedient” student and practiced. I spent the first year deceptively determined. I remember kicking and kicking to no avail and in the end, only exhausting myself. My instructor was patient and quite often would encourage me to “slow down” and take  my time. So I did. I had to force myself to become less obsessed with just “getting it done already” and channeled that energy into doing what I could do (and be) in the moment. This meant pushing my “edge” steadily and slowly. So if it meant honing my upper body strength, that’s what I did. I held a modified pose. Then, I continued to observe Emily, my instructor, and broke the poses down into baby steps.  Soon, I was attempting the poses with more intention. I was less exhausted and much happier.

Yoga made it OK to give myself permission to ask for help and because of it, I also shifted my attitude and expectations.

daisyOne session, I just did it. I asked Emily to help me kick to the wall. And she did. Next thing I knew, I was in headless head stand and it felt incredible! Never mind the invigoration that results from doing inverted poses, I think what made it feel especially incredible was that I went into it with absolutely no pressure and no expectation of what was supposed to happen. I didn’t go into it thinking I had already failed. I approached it living in the moment. I was present. Which also meant that I was afraid, anxious, and ready and OK. And in spite of it all, I remember thinking, “To hell with it. Give it your best shot.” Since then, I haven’t hesitated and I never let myself feel ashamed for asking for assistance. In my experience, it’s the best way I learn.

Managing all of the negative self-talk made room for me to believe in my potential.

https://i0.wp.com/media4.onsugar.com/files/2012/06/25/3/192/1922729/3860dc7d9e0a7424_forearm-stand.larger/i/How-Do-Forearm-Stand-Yoga.jpg

It took me 2 years to get the up the nerve to kick up to the wall. And in the last 9 months, I’ve been doing it all by myself. And in these past 9 months, my instructor started coaching me on how to take it to the next level–balanced inversions without the wall for support. And you want to know what most mind-blowing thing about all of this is? It’s that I continue to just get up and do it. It’s like my mind is peacefully and blissfully blank and I’m just there–breathing. Breathing through instability. Breathing when I fall. Breathing when I’m at my edge.

These shift in thoughts and experiences of course, has affected other parts of my life–especially in my career, my relationships, and in exploring other yoga poses. Today, I find myself taking more chances. I forgive myself for not being the best or knowing it all. I make room for learning. I make room for mistakes. Even better, I laugh more–especially when I surprise myself!

P.S. The above photo is one I pulled from the web. One day, I may post one of me in pose.

Link to Yoga Journal article: http://blogs.yogajournal.com/goodlife/archives/2013/07/5-things-yoga-taught-me-about-fear.html

Yoga, anyone?

stones

I’ve been thinking a lot. And I realized that anytime I have the opportunity, or if anyone asks me about it, I usually tend to go on and on about how much I love yoga.

Beginnings

Remember way back when Madonna was into it? It was the hottest celebrity fitness craze? The “it” workout? Yes, I admit it. The trend, along with my vanity, and plain ol’ curiosity piqued my interest. Well, it was that, and I was at a point in my life when I was tremendously depressed, unsure, angry, and sad. I was searching for some kind of peace. I started re-exploring my faith and spirituality and ended up reading The Way to Freedom by His Holiness the Dalai Lama of Tibet–which changed my life by the way. Buddhism was calling me and it felt like yoga would complete it.

candles

I also bought a book, Kundalini Yoga and took it upon myself to start learning yoga on my own. I lived at home. It was only after my family went to sleep when I opened my book to practice…in the dark with two candles. It was nice. Peaceful. It was also weird because I wasn’t sure if I was doing any of it right. A few weeks later, I found a small, local studio where I practiced gently. It may have been Hatha yoga I was learning. Who knows? At the time, I was more concerned with stretching, I wasn’t really too aware of anything else. Except that it kind of made me feel good. I liked it.

A dose of humiliation

Eventually that little studio closed and there was a pause in my practice. When this happened, I joined a new health club. During the fitness and flexibility assessment, the trainer told me touch my toes and I couldn’t reach them! All my life I’ve never been able to touch my toes. The humiliation of not being able to do this in front of a trainer made the experience so horrific–especially since she commented on how, “sad” and “pathetic” it was. I don’t know. I guess it was then I decided to take some yoga classes–if any, to increase my flexibility. If any, to show her. Who the hell did she think she was anyway?

Where I’m supposed to be

plants reaching up

After about a year, I found the instructor and the class that both challenged and suited me. And here I am, practicing Vinyasa yoga for the past 4 years and loving every minute of it! Vinyasa can be physically vigorous as well as mentally and emotionally challenging. When I first committed to it, it felt like it was the stupidest decision I made because there was no f-ing way I was going to be able to do any of those “fancy” poses. I could barely keep up with the class. Because of this, I felt like I wasn’t strong enough or good enough to practice. Oddly, the more classes I attended, and the more I opened my heart and mind to the experience, I learned to let go. Almost immediately, I devoted myself to doing whatever it was I could do in the moment: release, laugh, breathe, stretch, wonder, be afraid, and push myself to my edge of my comfort and ability.

When I cried for the first time during a forward fold, I knew something more was happening.

As they say, “The issues are in your tissues.”

Today, my practice isn’t defined by trends or vanity. It isn’t about looking good in a pose or competing with others around me. It’s evolved into something so much more than myself. I mean, my body craves the exercise itself. My mind and spirit crave the release and the peacefulness it brings. The practice has inspired me to live better, be kinder to myself, and treat others with more compassion and empathy. Yoga has made its way into every facet of my life. It is in my spirit. Ironic, since I’m now Agnostic. But it’s not about religious identity or affiliation, it’s about spiritkindness, thoughtfulness, patience, empathy, and compassion. Above all, yoga has inspired me to breathe. To be present. And commit to a path of healing. To live with intention.

It’s also making me believe in my own potential. And yes, I can touch my toes–some days with great difficulty and others with surprising ease and agility.

yoga_fold