I’ve been away. I’ve been away for quite a while. The journey that brought me to yoga has continued, in the way that journeys do.

Three years ago this month I had a bad anxiety attack following the suicide of an old friend. It shone a light on aspects of my life that were no longer working for me, and perhaps never had, and triggered a depressive relapse which sent me into a tailspin of confusion and despair.  Over the next 6 months, the life that I had been carefully building in Bristol became one in which I could no longer function.

I decided to take time out for a complete reboot of self, to devote substantial time and effort to continue the spiritual development that had begun during my yoga teacher training.   I had lost my connection with the universal spirit; blocked by poor relationships, alcohol, and depression. Alcohol was the first to go, so far the easiest of the three to escape. Next the relationship, allowing space for my soul to grow and heal.  I needed to start again, to build my life and myself in a way that would nurture and sustain me through the remainder of my days, through all the ups and down.

When the relationship I was in ended I needed to find a new place to live, so I decided to move home, temporarily, to Ireland.   Two and a half years later – I’m still here.  During the tailspin months I had come to realise that my entire outlook on life needed to change; I needed to start valuing myself in a way that I never truly had, and remove myself from where I wasn’t valued. I didn’t realise that this would lead me to value others more; that was a delightful and unexpected bonus!

Many times I’ve thought of these words from Robert Tew –

“Respect yourself enough to walk away from anything that no longer serves you, grows you, or makes you happy.”

– Intellectually I had understood these words, but I hadn’t been living them, and while my mind had been determined to carry on regardless, deep down my soul had had enough; she demanded to be heard, to be felt, to be free.  As on a winter’s evening when a fuse blows, I was forced to look into the darkness and find my way towards the light, investigate the source of the problem, repair or replace any damaged circuits and vow not to overload them again. In essence, my difficulties provided me with my reboot opportunity.

This is still very much a work in progress, but it is in progress.  During this time, I have undergone intense therapy treatment, some of which was wonderfully helpful, some of which was traumatic and crushing, requiring more help to recover from, but I am recovering.  Slowly, I am becoming myself.  I realise that I’ve been defined by others more than I would have ever believed.  Afraid of not being believed, of being deemed overly sensitive or weak, of not being worthy enough, I tolerated the intolerable until I could take no more.

I have learned that when the point of ‘no more’ comes along, that is often when people are not believed.  In domestic violence cases it is very common that an outsider doesn’t believe the victim because they themselves would not stay and tolerate such treatment, so they cannot comprehend how another person would, or could, stay.  Part of my reboot these past few years has involved walking away from intolerable situations that I’ve suffered through for too long. Some of these were of my own making. More were of the makings of others that I believed I needed to endure.  I had taken on responsibility for the karma of others, and had neglected to nurture my own.  Mine is to learn to appreciate myself, my own worth, and to share it with those who recognise it.  Mine is to trust my inner knowledge, to listen to my body, my gut, my intuition – when I listen it never leads me astray. When I listen. Mine is to listen.

I wrote a post a few years ago about my longterm spinal issues – following 20+ years of back pain, several years of which were excruciating, I was finally diagnosed with Scheuermann’s Disease in 2013.  Too late to reverse the damage done during growth, I now need to continually maintain my muscles.  Coincidentally (if you believe in coincidences), the musculo-skeletal specialist who diagnosed me said that yoga is the best way to do so.  At the time I was struck by how much I had tolerated for so long; and espcially how I had berated and criticised myself for my physical limitations, which was, as I finally understood, outside of my control.  Instead of trusting my body, I ignored her messages for decades. Coincidentally (if you believe in coincidences), it was later that same year that my reboot was triggered.

A domino effect had been set in motion the day I signed up to train as a yoga teacher, and it’s still rippling through space and time in my world.  When the big ones fall it’s like an earthquake, but the movement clinks perpetually onward.  No longer can I tolerate the intolerable, no longer can I happily criticise myself for not being able to fix the unfixable. I finally know that I don’t have to. I finally understand that nobody should have to.

Today I was diagnosed with asthma, having had extreme sensitivity to pollutants, scents, dust, smoke, perfumes, etc. for as long as I can remember.  Having had more colds, chest infections and skin sensitivities than most people I know for as long as I can remember. Having been forced to leave smoky pubs in the pre-smoking-ban-era to gasp for breath multiple times a night.  When I  experienced breathing difficulties in the past, they had ended and I could breathe normally again so I didn’t think it worth mentioning to a doctor. It never occurred to me that it might be something that I shouldn’t tolerate. It never occurred to me that I wasn’t just overly sensitive, or that I had a condition that needed to be managed.

Last year I began training as a yoga therapist with a wonderful group of yogis.  A few months ago, during the module that dealt with respiratory problems, asthma was of course high on the list.  The signs and symptoms were familiar. Very familiar.  Coincidentally (if you believe in coincidences) shortly after I had completed this module, a family member mentioned that her GP believes her to have asthma.  I decided to get checked out, because I’m taking care of myself now since the reboot. Stilling the voice that criticised me and insisted that I’m a hypochondriac, I expressed my concern to my GP, who gave me an inhaler ‘just in case’. ‘In case’ happened last week after a morning bout of spring-cleaning resulted in a night-time coughing fit.  Two puffs and… oh wow! I could breathe! Previously such a fit would have me wheezing for hours afterwards.  Compelling proof for me, yet still I needed to quiet the critic, who this time was revelling in ridiculing me for not going to the doctor sooner.  My painful reboot has taught me that I need no longer give weight to the critic in my head; the devil on my shoulder whose only joy is to belittle, to condescend, to destroy; nor to the vile words of others who believe their own shoulder-devils. So I listened to me. To the voice too afraid to speak.  I heard her.  I listened. I acted.

Today I paid my GP another visit. This time he broke out the Peak Flow Meter for me and concluded definitively that I absolutely, without a doubt, have asthma.   So now I have three inhalers for emergencies, and coincidentally (if you believe in coincidences) I also have some excellent pranayama techniques from my yoga therapy training to help me manage my newly-diagnosed condition.

Sometimes the best gifts come in oddly-wrapped parcels (which occasionally are booby-trapped with high-voltage deterrants).  Today confirms again for me that I need only trust my true self, my intuition, my gut, and listen to the quieted voice.

Today I am grateful for the painful reboot.

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Do you recognise your soulmates?

Do you believe in soulmates? I feel as though I’ve met one this week.

I turned around the other day and there she was, looking at me from the garden across the road. Sitting, watching, as though looking for recognition, yet I had never seen her before. I stopped, caught in a connection of belonging. I was struck by how she seemed to know me. Seemed to see into my eyes.

I was compelled to walk over. Compelled to touch her. Let her touch me. I feel like we’ve known each other through several lives. She recognised me in this form, as a parent would recognise her child after decades apart.

I walked out this afternoon. On hearing the door she looked up, excited, and ran to the bottom of the garden. Again, the connect was there. The world no longer existed. Just the two of us.

I skipped to the shop, singing with uncontrollable smiles. I danced inside. Passers by smiled and perhaps wondered if I’m insane; perhaps felt the contagion of joy themselves.

Her name is Holly; it’s written on her collar. But she looked into my soul. She has had many names.

Have I lost my mind?

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Melt into Yoga at WOTB 2013

Have you ever experienced stress or anxiety? Do you have muscular stiffness or pain?  Do you sometimes think life should be easier?   Yoga and Meditation have been used in the East for millennia as a path toward spiritual awakening, with the added bonus of excellent health.  In the previous century the Western World embraced yoga, largely as a physical exercise, and more recently it has been used as a successful tool in the field of mental and emotional health.  Visit me in The Pamper Area of Women Outside The Box to discuss which aspects of yoga may suit you best, from a vigorous physical workout to a mindful practice to restore your personal balance.  4th Floor, The Arnolfini, Bristol, October 7th in The Pamper Area.

WOTB SPECIAL OFFER:  Don’t forget to pick up your 50% Off Voucher for your first private yoga class in your own home, plus put yourself in for the chance to win a FREE 1.5-hr yoga class, including initial consultation. (T&C apply)

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Advice to a Frustrated Student / The Journey and the Destination

I was teaching a private class recently to someone who feels trapped in her own body, frustrated with not knowing how to free herself.  This is a feeling I remember only too well: the frustration of wanting the change to to be already complete, rather than starting out on a journey that seemed never-ending.  She asked me how I coped with it and her question started me thinking.

Below is part of an email I sent her, which I’ve decided to share with a wider community in the hopes that it resonates with someone else out there that’s frustrated with being on the journey rather than at the destination. This doesn’t simply apply to yoga practice, I think it can be applied to pretty much anything in life that’s worth doing.  For me the acceptance I speak of rings as true for learning Programming in C++ or learning to play the guitar as it does for developing my yoga practice… when feeling disheartened, focus on how far you’ve come, not on how far there is yet to go.

You asked me how I cope with wanting to be better now and having my body refuse me… one thing that’s developed in the past few years is that I’ve stopped fighting my body and I now accept that I have issues with stiffness and inflexibility and occasional discomfort.

When I think back to the severe pain I was once in, and my near-complete inability to move or release any muscle at will, I can’t deny the progress I’ve made.  I can accept the state my body is in now, because I know it’s getting better and won’t stay this way.  I know I have some control and am gaining more and more control each time I practice – even those times where I feel like I’m worse than I’ve ever been, as these have always proven to be temporary, minor setbacks, so I try not to dwell on the bad days. They come, they go. Easier said than done, especially in the early days when progress can be slow, but the more times setbacks happen and you recover and even improve, the more you realise that bad days don’t mean you’re not making overall progress.  This has helped me accept that I’m on the road to improvement, rather than getting caught in the headspace of feeling like I’ll never get there.

Don’t know if that helps of not, but I thought worth mentioning.  A few years ago I was almost ready to throw in the towel, not do any exercises and just depend on crutches for the rest of my life. It seemed easier in the moment, but I’m glad now that I pushed through 🙂

Posted in Blogging, Changing the World, Healing, Health, learning, Personal Development, Uncategorized, Yoga | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Who Are You?

I’ve rambled so much about me, I’d love to hear about you. Interpret this question anyway you like and if you feel the inclination then please either leave a comment or email me with an answer :)

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The headstand l…

The headstand lifts your spirits wonderfully. If something is drawing you down, turn upside down, and voila-the downward flow is upended into your head.
-H. David Coulter

Headstand – King of Asana

There are many reasons to do headstands, but for me it’s been simple: Headstand has always been my favourite yoga asana.  At first this came from a point of vanity, my ego competing with the other students in the class, but now it’s become something much more personal and internal.

When I started taking regular yoga classes it seemed like there was no asana that I could do that looked anything like the other students in the class, let alone the teacher.  This was a source of embarrassment and frustration for me as I’ve always liked to “do things well”.  However, when it came to learning to do a headstand, I found it much easier than the others in the class did.  One class, a few attempts at home and I had it (or at least, some semblance of it, which was good enough for me at the time).  My next yoga class I was delighted because I finally felt I was “good enough” to be a part of the class.  I looked forward every week to that one part of the class that made me just as good, or even “better than”, the other students.

Nowadays, I’ve accepted that I’m usually not the most flexible person in the room and that I will need to adapt several asanas within a class.  I no longer compare myself to others in the class (mostly – hey! I’m human!) and this has brought a greater appreciation of Sirsasana (headstand) because instead of being in the pose thinking about how I compare to others around me, now I can simply be in the pose and that’s the point where we find our freedom, our centre, ourselves…peace.

Through this sense of peace I’ve realised the folly of comparing myself, feeling unworthy and indeed feeling worthy in comparison to other yoga practitioners.  I am who I am and I try what I try.  Sometimes I do well, sometimes not so much, but it gives me something to work on and towards, and this rings true for every other individual on the planet.

I have to say I find it interesting that it’s easier for me to turn my world upside-down than it is to surrender into a forward bend.  This is part of my ongoing personal development work, investigating why I have issue with certain situations in yoga and in life.  Dodgy spine issues aside, I know there’s an emotional element and yoga has been my greatest asset in my personal development journey to date and is a tool I will continue to use throughout my life.

I’ll keep you posted on how I progress with releasing into a forward bend, but if you have trouble with headstand I have some simple advice: Don’t rush it, you’re literally turning your world upside-down; give your mind time to adjust before you ask your body to adjust, and perhaps most importantly: don’t compare yourself or your practice (or indeed your life) to others. We are all on our own path and at different stages of the journey.  Enjoy it here and now.

It seems that’s some good advice for releasing into a forward bend as well… let’s see if I can take my own advice! 😉

Please subscribe to my blog, check out my Melt Into Yoga Bristol website or follow me on Twitter or Facebook if you’d like to read more from me. Thank you 🙂 x 

Posted in Changing the World, learning, Mindfulness, Peace, Personal Development, Uncategorized, Yoga | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

On Asana, Pratyahara and Being Vulnerable

Lovely writings from the Lovely Liv, who I miss fondly x

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Daily Prompt: Take Care

Slowly learning that I can’t do it all alone. Which is strangely empowering 🙂

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What is Yoga and Why Should I Care? (Part 1)

Well, this is a huge topic, why am I attempting to even broach the subject?  There are near-endless books, journals, articles and indeed philosophies on exactly what is yoga, so why in the world would I attempt to add my two-cents into the mix?  Well, for a start, it seems to me that many yoga students simply don’t know.  Many go to yoga class for exercise, relaxation, because they think they “should” or because they like it.  All good reasons (except for that “should” one…never do a “should”), but still people miss sooo much.  So I thought – the more people talking and writing about this, the less people will miss.  That’s gotta make sense, right?  Well…I’ll give it a lash…

The main thing many people don’t realise is that yoga isn’t exercise; it’s a way of living.  Sounds like a pretty big statement, huh, but stay with me. Most yoga classes only touch on one element of yoga: Asana, or yoga postures, but this is merely skimming the surface.

I’ll keep it short (famous last words!) and do some surface-skimming myself as an introduction and I’ll come back to revisit the topic from time to time to expand on what I say in this post.

The most obvious place to start for me (academic background and all that) is the meaning of the word itself: ‘Yoga’.  Yoga translates to ‘yoke’, which before I started studying yoga I would have heard that word and thought of the yolk of an egg or (in an overly-exaggerated Irish accent) “that yoke over there”, translating to the Queen’s English as “that yonder object” – and my apologies to those of you who don’t know many Irish folk to relate to this type of ‘yoke’.  Those older than I, or perhaps more well-read in, shall we say: less-modern? English would be aware that ‘to yoke’ loosely means ‘to unite’; yoke is ‘union’ or ‘to unify’.  (A wooden beam called a yoke unites two oxen together for working in the fields, for example, but somehow I’m going further off the topic of yoga, so! Back to it…)

Unify…union…with/to what? My philosophy teacher, Roshan, used to always say that “yoga is the union of you with you”, joining and merging different parts of the self together, becoming at ease with the whole being, the entire self, All of Me (aside: it’s best to not let someone take all of you, regardless of what certain jazz standards may allude to, trust me).

What does this mean in day-to-day living? Well, firstly looking at simply the asana part of yoga, this means that you bring body, breath and mind together to have your entire focus on the asana in which you are. Another, broader example is mindfulness – being in the present moment, in your body, in your location, in your desired action (or inaction). Focus. One-pointedness.

Perhaps it’s easier to give an example of what’s NOT yoga, such as my ridiculous attempt to find my keys earlier, walking into the room where the keys were, picking up my phone and entirely forgetting about the keys. After which I remembered I needed the keys, walked back in only to leave moments later with a glass of water and, you guessed it, no keys…you get the picture.  Four times I walked into that room to pick up my keys, the first three times my mind was elsewhere – it wasn’t unified with the task at hand.  We all do it at times, some put it down to getting old (hey! I’m not there yet!) but I think it’s simply that we have too much in our minds in this fast-paced world and have forgotten how to focus one on thing at a time.  (Yeah, yeah, women can multitask, but should we? I digress…)

Yoga can help us focus. From an asana point of view, balance postures are particularly good for developing focus.  If you’re standing on one leg and lose focus, you lose balance.  Practice makes perfect, as the well-worn cliché goes, and indeed it does. Gradually we bring body, breath and mind together to focus on where our balance is, questioning what muscles we are using to hold us in place, are we breathing gently, without strain, can we improve on what we did yesterday? Pure focus. Internal. How great it is to leave the outside world behind and keep our focus inward, body and mind collaborating beautifully together.

Moving on from asana practice, there is another aspect, or limb, of yoga called ‘dharana’, the main crux of which is concentration. As I said, I’m skimming here, so I’ll come back to this in another post along with the other 6 ‘limbs of yoga’.  According to the ancient yogic text of Patanjali there are 8 limbs in total – asana is the third, dharana is the fifth, but for now, suffice to say, if asana is all you do, you’re missing out 🙂

If you’d like to read more on this then please subscribe to my blog, and/or follow Melt Into Yoga Bristol on Twitter or Facebook.  Thanks for reading 🙂 x

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Never, Ever Give Up. Arthur’s Inspirational Transformation!

This is why I do yoga. At 30 years of age I could barely walk. Yoga helped me to live a normal life. I never reached the extreme that this man did, but I could have. Easily. A friend of mine posted this to facebook recently and I felt the urge to share it here. I hope you enjoy it 🙂

You can read about some of my own struggles in previous posts such as:
The Yoga Bug and I Give Up…And It’s About Time! 

If you like what I write about please follow me on Twitter or Facebook and check out my Yoga Website. Thank You! 🙂

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