Getting over my Fear of Falling

Had an exhausting Spring Bank Holiday tidying and cleaning. The momentous undertaking that is sorting through all my possessions is definitely worthy for a post in itself. I found myself mainly dusting my art books, and then deciding to give half of them away. Gone are the days when I keep things ‘just in case’. ‘Just in case’ they come in handy, ‘just in case’ they inspire my art in some way, ‘just in case’ I suddenly decide to completely change my style of painting and my personality… etc. The other category is ‘ought to’, as in I really ought to read that art book on symbolism or self-portraits because… why? Enough!

I still have energy enough to post though, my topic today is about my fear of falling (as you might have guessed). I’ve had a low grade fear of falling all my life. I will never jump off walls, or steps, or into swimming pools, or over a skipping rope and I never have done. I have always been terrified of having to do an emergency exit from a plane: how do you jump and land on your bum?? I cannot imagine overriding my senses to do that. Also, most strangely of all, I will never run down stairs because I am scared I’ll trip. I’ll run up stairs but never ever down.

This is not something that rules my life but it is something I am constantly aware of. It slows me down at the very least, walking down stairs all the time! Personally I would call this an exaggerated rational fear rather than an irrational fear. After all, falling over is horrible! I hate it. It is so disorientating and makes me feel so fragile and vulnerable. Even tripping over my feet is enough to bring me into a cold sweat sometimes.

I was the least sporty child imaginable growing up. I was the one who would watch when the other kids would do handstands or forward rolls, or cartwheels or, as the more gymnastic kids did (or as I liked to think of them: the show-offs), headstands. I was too scared, and not very able. Besides, I liked watching, all that going upside down and hurting yourself was too dangerous. I was safer where I was, bored, but safer.

Which is why it is strange that right now I find myself wanting to do headstands, handstands and all the rest of it. I was nervous starting out. Unbelievably 2 years ago I’d never even done a shoulderstand. I was doing a yoga therapy session and the teacher (my first teacher) taught me the shouderstand along with the gold nugget of wisdom that if I woke up sad I could go into shoulderstand for 5 minutes and that would cure me for the day. Alas it is not true. The first few shoulderstands I was terrified! I wobbled all over the place and I feared for my neck. The teacher told me she’d teach me headstand. I told her I was scared of falling and to this she told me that I had to conquer my fear of falling because that was my problem. This was why I was depressed, because I was scared. Hm. I took this with a cynical pinch of salt. I have always been scared of falling, I had only been depressed at that point for about 3 years.

In yoga you fall a lot, especially while learning arm balances. This doesn’t put me off anymore. I suppose part of it is just familiarity and the knowledge I’m not going to hurt myself badly. Also I think it’s the novelty of learning something new about myself, of changing life-long thought patterns. I’m not that scared little girl anymore watching everyone else having fun: I’m having the fun! And arm balances are so much fun (I’ll come back to you about the headstands and handstands, still learning to love these) I’m on the way to becoming fearless.

And you know how I know this? Last week after coming out of my yoga class I RAN down the 2 flights of stairs when I was leaving. I didn’t think of tripping once. That’s progress!

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Yoga for Depression

I was diagnosed with mild/moderate depression in November 2007 but I know I had been suffering from it for a lot longer than that, retrospectively. Labels like ‘mild/moderate’ I’ve found to be not very useful. My depression has been debilitating but not constant. I had no major breakdowns, I was never suicidal or aggressive but I also have not been able to function ‘properly’ in the past few years. Still it is ‘mild/moderate’. It is just a label, I know my own mind and my own problems and I’ve learnt to live with them.

Soon after the diagnosis I was comfortable with the idea I was depressed. So I’m depressed, what am I going to do about it? I know! Yoga! Yoga is good for people with depression. I had never even thought of doing yoga before, I wasn’t even sure what it was. All I knew was I’d seen yoga mats in TK Maxx and I wanted to know all about it. So I bought a book and a dvd and I clung to them like a drowning person to a life ring. I read the book cover to cover (it was The Yoga Bible) and I did the dvd (AM and PM yoga for beginners) every morning. After so much suffering and misery I knew peace and excitement. I knew I’d found something good, something I could learn and enjoy. Yoga was a deep well and I was at the top looking down, knowing I wanted and needed to know what was at the bottom.

Still yoga hasn’t cured me of my depression. Here we are, 3 and a half years after my diagnosis, I do yoga daily and I am not recovered. I wake up sad on average 3 days a week and in these days I can’t do all the things I want to do. But I have learned over these years what will be good for me on these off days and I thought I’d share them on this post.

Now, we’ve all heard that ‘exercise is good for depression’ and this is true. But how many times have I woken up depressed, unable to even decide what clothes to put on, or how to exercise and thought those words and felt even worse? Sometimes we all have to accept that we cannot do what is best for us, it just is not possible to go out for a run when you’re hyperventilating! So we all have to be kind and accept where we are and do what we can to help ourselves. I have many different forms, or nuances to my depressive moods and luckily there are many different ways of doing yoga! Here are just a few different moods and what I do to help myself cope, in handy bullet-print form:

 

  • Unable to concentrate or focus on anything: Kundalini yoga or gentle Shiva Rea style vinyasa with no long holds and lots of flowing movements
The non-brain-taxing kriyas and breathing of Kundalini I found to be incredibly stimulating and engaging when I can’t get my brain to focus on staying in one position for long. Also a lot of Kundalini involves mantras which are easy for your brain to focus. Similarly Shiva Rea does some fantastic dvds (Daily Energy was a god-send) with some simple movements which help stimulate but still calm your mind. Anything which links movement with breath helps.
  • Absolute sadness and tearfulness: Pranayama
The yogic breathing techniques are amazing at calming down a sad mind. Just giving you something to focus on helps but there is something soothing and life-affirming about concentrating on your breath. Any easy pranayama works for me, nadi shodhana pranayama (alternate nostril) calms and dirga pranayama (three part breath) makes me feel alive and expansive. There are so many exercises and they are all fantastic.
  • No energy: Restorative or Yin yoga
Restorative is an obvious when you have no energy, yin is not restorative but it is still helpful. Both are just about surrendering and allowing your body to be and your mind to still. I tend to do restorative when my mind and body are both exhausted, yin when my body is exhausted but my mind is not. Also my levels of stiffness that day help me make the decision, if I’m more stiff I’ll do yin. I’ve found they’re both hard to do when you’re tearful, it’s hard to stay in a pose for minutes and minutes crying hysterically. It’s worth buying a bolster and having lots of blankets around for the restorative, the poses with props just feel so good! Even the simple act of being kind to yourself and letting yourself be comfortable can work wonders on your mood.
  • Recovering from a low period: vigorous Vinyasa yoga
When I’ve had a few low days nothing makes me feel more alive and well than getting back to my usual practice by having a good long vigorous vinyasa session. It reminds me that (no matter what my mind says) my body is still fit and healthy and lying around doing not much for a few days has not changed that.
These are my main moods and main practices. All of this is from my own experience. Hopefully if you’re suffering it will be some help.

Chaturanga!

I’m not entirely happy or entirely sure what I’m doing yet with this blog but often the best thing to do, I’ve found, is to just dive straight in and have a go. So I’ll keep on going, hoping I’ll learn on the job.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about change and about stability (or stagnation depending on your point of view) My life for the past 3 years hasn’t changed much in terms of routine or circumstances. I moved home after university to live with my parents, my boyfriend stayed over and never went home. A few things have changed, I had a short lived job, I started and stopped counselling, I started going to yoga classes, I started running… but essentially I am at the same state: an unemployed depressed woman living in her parents attic. This has been necessary. It has provided me with the security to recover from this debilitating problem. Still, sometimes I think: “3 years… a long time, and what have I done?” and I think there’s people I know who have had 2 children in the time I’ve taken to recover from depression. It scares me.

But then I remind myself that it’s essential and inevitable in life to go through periods of extreme change and therefore periods where… nothing much happens. If you’re lucky things just tick along, if not well, you can do something about that.

This roundabout route takes me to the title of my post, the fantastic yoga asana of chaturanga dandasana. Like a lot of people it hasn’t been an easy relationship. The first time I encountered it I wondered why it was necessary to have this strange press up thing in the middle of everything. It wasn’t possible for me, it was uncomfortable and bewildering. But I stuck with it, armed with my new knowledge that if I practiced this strange move I would get better at it! What a revelation! So after a few belly-flopping months I had built enough strength to sort of follow along (at this time I was only doing dvds) I summoned up enough courage to go to a class, sure that my lack of ability in chaturanga would be weeded out at once. It wasn’t, my strength was definitely above average and I was shocked at all the sticking out elbows and bottoms everywhere. My first yoga class was a revelation I can tell you, I thought everyone did yoga like Rodney Yee or Shiva Rea.

My ability with chaturanga has steadily improved since then, 2 years ago when I first stepped in a class. I can hold it, I can repeat it over and over again, I can sort of jump back into it. However I still wasn’t happy with getting out of it. Somehow my knowledge of this was missing. I lowered into it fine (elbows in) then I clumsily jumped onto the tops of my feet into upward facing dog before going back into down dog, turning the left foot and then the right foot over the toes.  How do those people glide so gracefully through this vinyasa? It was a mystery. So to try to solve this I did what I do best: I turned to the internet. To this post and I tried it. 3 weeks later it almost comes naturally. Mystery solved! But I still was walking back into down dog from up dog. Tuesday I was doing just that when I thought, why don’t I just try to roll over my toes? So I went back into up dog and prepared to roll back and it just happened! Strange to think of 2 years worrying about not doing it right, of breaking my toes when all along it was there.

My yoga practice recently is changing in leaps and bounds. And the thing is, I’m not even trying to make it change! It is just happening, these little changes, shifts of viewpoints and realisations. So sometimes things change if you just carry on, without grasping at a result. You do what you want to do, you will get to where you want to go.

That’s a relief!

First post: introductions

Let’s start at the very beginning… I’m Brija (not my real name but near enough), I’m 25, I’m a painter , I’m a yogi(ni if you’re being gender specific), I’m a philosophy graduate, I’m unemployed, I’m a cat lover, and I’ve been suffering from depression for the best part of 5 years.

Like so many others I’ve wanted to start a blog as an outlet, a way to tell my story. I’ve been an avid reader of blogs and once upon a time I even one myself. I struggled then, being 15 with nothing to say and crippled by a fear of not saying/doing the right thing. Now I’m older, wiser and sadder: ample material to choose from!

This blog will, hopefully, help me through the strange territory of recovering from depression. And I have been recovering in earnest for a year or so now, with the potent combination of yoga, mindfulness, self-compassion, meditation, painting, exercising, living in a gorgeous place and eating well. This space I hope will be a place to share my story, past and present.

Here goes…