Please Hold

Sometimes you just feel like you’re going round in circles right? Or one step forward two steps back. I want to write here but I… don’t.

Things don’t seem to be going the way I’d like them to go recently. I say recently but if I’m honest I’ve been struggling since August.

I suppose in the grand scheme of things I’ve got better, my depression has become more manageable and so I started reaching out, trying to grow my art career. Being a bit more brave and risk-taking and a bit less timid and safe.

Well you know what? It hasn’t worked. All I’ve been met with is ignorant criticism, elitism, snobbery and silence. I can’t handle this right now.

So for now I have to let go of those aspirations and concentrate on myself. My recovery. This time from now until the end of the year is deemed “Active Recovery time” and I am filling these days with mindfulness practice, playing at painting, yoga, nourishing exercise and anything I feel like doing. I am rebuilding my happy neural pathways.

Hopefully that includes writing here because I miss it.

And I still haven’t finished writing about Rodney Yee’s course… (and the Artist’s Way but let’s face it I gave up in August)

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My Double Life (and how I want to put it together)

I have a bit of a dual identity: I am a yogi and I am a painter. It’s ok, it could be worse, at least those two are compatible. They’re both potential sources of income (hopefully the teacher training will start soon) Complementary in some ways too: painting gives me a voice, it stimulates my mind, my intellect, it is a reassuringly solo practice. Yoga makes me feel alive in my body, it realigns me after painting and helps me come back to myself, it can be a social activity (if I force myself to a class)

But I keep them separate. If I’m feeling bad about painting it’s ok because I’m a yogi, if I’m alienated from yoga or feeling devalued in society it’s ok because I’m a painter. This is completely because I started painting when I was 15 and it belongs to the old, cynical younger me who was torn this way and that by good moods, bad moods, people’s opinions, fear of not getting any better, fear of the future, etc, etc. This me latched onto painting at a time when I did not even know you could control your thoughts and endure your feelings.

After depression yoga has helped make me whole, and in some ways I have a better foundation than I had before I became depressed. I can always come back to myself, no matter what’s going on and I always have the solace of yoga.

So we have the old cynical, self-critical, fear-ridden painter self and the new open, accepting, fear-facing yoga self. When I go to the easel I go to it as if boarding a boat riding the pitching sea of my moods: I feel elation and I sing and dance and everything is possible when it’s going well and I feel despair and I weep and I blame myself and think everything is terrible when it’s not. When I go to the mat I know some things will be challenging and I’ll hate them and some things will feel fantastic but I know that both are valuable, inevitable and I will come out of it a happier, more whole person.

I say it’s time to apply the mat attitude to the easel. Wouldn’t things be much better for me? If my art was a practice and I didn’t go to it thinking I need to ‘achieve’ something every single time? If I just did it because doing it is good? It’s the process not the end result.

I had planned to write on how yoga and painting were similar and how they differ but I have droned on and on so much I think I’ll save that for another day!

Getting There

Today is a strange day. Recently I have been wallowing a bit, between my rejection my sadness and various illnesses I haven’t had much energy or drive to devote to recovering. I’ve just been enduring for a lot of it, sometimes having energy enough to hope it’ll get better, sometimes having no hope but just going through the motions anyway because it’s easier. The past few days have been a bit better, more running, more painting and today I went back to see my counsellor. I hope I’m back on track.

I also feel I’m in a period of change. 2 years ago I started a series of paintings of the streets of my hometown. It’s been my first sustained set of paintings and has gone really well. I’ve had a bit of tunnel vision with it and part of me has wondered if I was ever going to get any new ideas.

I find that’s changing a bit now, I’m drawing more and I’m thinking more… free. I don’t know exactly where I want to go but I know I want to go somewhere. It’s hard to explain right now because it’s all in such an embryonic stage but I just… feel it. Maybe the winds have changed?

Anyway I liked this article about the link between artists and yogis. Now my yoga practice is great and a source of solace, of joy and of peace. Why can’t my painting practice be like that too?! Maybe a shift in mindset is due.

How I came to Yoga

This is a post I’ve been wanting to write ever since I started this blog. I love hearing people’s stories of how they came to start practicing yoga, they’re always uplifting  and life-affirming. Unfortunately my story has been untold by me for so long because I always meant it to follow my “How I Became Depressed” posts. I never finished my depression story because of one nasty ignorant comment. That one comment made me too scared to share any more personal stories. Maybe I’ll finish one day, one more part should do it!

So I thought I’d start today by recommitting to the yogic path and by delving way way back into my distant past of 2008 and talking about what brought me to yoga.

I was a completely unsporty child and teenager but I did like to dance and I did like to walk everywhere. These two things are crucial to me taking to yoga like a fish to water- dancing for the simple love of moving my body and walking for the being in the moment.

2007 found me being 21, a philosophy student, overweight, unfit and depressed. But change was afoot. One amazon order saw me buy two things- a diet book called the Mediterrasian Way and the New York City Ballet workout. The book I credit with igniting my love of healthy cooking and the dvd saw me start to enjoy exercise.

By early 2008 I had lost about 20% of my bodyweight and was a bit fitter (although not much and I was even more depressed). I decided I wanted to buy an exercise mat and in the window of TK Maxx I saw some yoga mats. Hmm I thought, maybe I would like yoga! I had absolutely no idea what yoga involved, which turned out to be a good thing because I had no prejudices or preconceptions.

I bought a book- the Yoga Bible and a Rodney Yee dvd- Power Yoga Total Body Workout. The dvd was way too advanced for me at that stage so I bought a much gentler one- AM and PM Yoga. I carried that book around like it was the real bible, it was my constant companion for weeks. I was so excited that after all the misery I had something to learn, to enjoy, something new! I read the whole thing front to back, I drank in the asanas, the breathing, I even understood the basic philosophy behind the practice. I knew that this was something that would help me.

Every morning for a few weeks I would start the day with AM Yoga. My knees would be up by my ears sitting cross legged but I would prop myself up and go for it. I knew then, as I lay in savasana in that horrible damp student house that there was something in me other than misery. There was peace possible. I could be at peace.

Since then I haven’t stopped searching for that feeling everyday. Yoga brings me there easier than anything else. My asana practice has evolved and I am doing more of the poses I’d branded ‘impossible’ in my Yoga Bible but the basic hunger for that feeling of being hasn’t gone away. So this is how I came to yoga and this is why I keep coming back to yoga.

Week 6: Moving toward Balance with Rodney Yee (when I got stuck in a chair)

Despite not being able to do most things that make life worth living, I have been carrying on with my Rodney Yee yoga course. It’s actually been good to have this structure when I sit down to do yoga, especially on days when I’m not feeling great or have been very busy entertaining people. I’ve actually finished the course but very very very behind with these recaps.

Week 6 is forward bends and restorative poses. Just saying that makes me have a big relaxing sigh: “ahhhhhhhh”. I wasn’t looking forward to this week having said that. Looking over it I wondered what the point was, having done Rodney’s dvds a lot early in my practice if there’s one thing his sequences aren’t lacking, it’s forward bends. He loves his forward bends. But then again it’s standing forward bends (uttanasana) he loves and there hasn’t been a single seated forward bend so far in this course, except for a couple of baddha konasanas and upavishta konasanas in that core strengthening sequence.

As usual I found the first day irritating, all those props! But there was two welcome new prop poses- restorative backbends! I love me some backbends and I love me some restoration so I was looking forward to these. The first one was a backbend over two bolsters in a cross formation. Now if you’re lucky enough to have two bolsters I’d imagine this would be heavenly, I had to make do rolling up two blankets but it felt good enough in my hips flexors. By this point in the practice I was very irritable, having done so many variations of forward bends with bolsters, straps etc… but it all went in this little bit. The second was my good friend supported bridge pose (high block under sacrum) and the third was a kind of viparita dandasana on a chair. A chair! See this page to see how this works.  Now I don’t have a yoga chair but I do have a backless chair which worked fine except for a ridge in a very painful place and the inevitable panic I get when I realise that it’s much easier to get in than it is to get out of the chair. I can now add “getting stuck in a chair” as an experience I’ve had thanks to yoga. Does this happen to anyone else? Or are my legs a bit too generous for this prop?! I don’t think this added to do the ‘looking inward’ feel of the forward bending practice.

Another slight problem: supported downward facing dog (with a block under the head). How is it possible to get the block in the right place to support the head? I wonder if proportions are in play here but I just couldn’t get it right, the only thing supporting me was my arms and my legs and that does not make for any kind of restoration for me, holding that for two minutes! Maybe in a few years.

The rest of the practices were nice enough, seated forward bends used to challenge me because of the general lower back stiffness that plagues most habitual chair-users (again with the chairs!) but I’ve made peace with them this past year. So this week with the easy restorative poses and the lovely hip and hamstring opening forward bends I had a relatively easy ride, no major conflicts! Must do this more.