End of the August Blogging Challenge

So I’ve done it. I’ve blogged everyday for a month. I have enjoyed it but I daresay that the quality of my posts (and topics) has gone down a bit. Especially this past week when I’ve been rushing out posts before bed. Everyone chooses to visit in August, why do I always forget this? So I think that everyone would benefit if I didn’t blog everyday, I need more time to think and construct. But it served its purpose and I am definitely less precious and tentative about writing.

I had many plans for this month, and most haven’t happened. I have, however, stuck to my blogging goal and that is now done done done.

Tomorrow I’m going away for the weekend! Happy September everyone!

Weights and Yoga

Exercise is usually one of the first things suggested to people with depression. This advice may or may not be welcomed by a depressed person. I think as a non-depressed person I would have assumed I would have told any well-meaning person with that advice where to go but surprisingly when I got depression myself I thought it was worth a try. Exercise did not cure my depression but it helped me to boost my mood on good days. The key word there is “good”. On bad days feeling I had to exercise to cure my depression just gave me another stick to beat myself with.

Since starting exercising I’ve always used weights. I like weights, they make me feel strong and capable. In the early days of my yoga practice I would use my strength training to increase my strength in order to do more yoga… which in hindsight seems weird.

Early this year I hurt my elbow and had to stop my weight sessions. At first I thought it’d be fine, I’d get back into it no problem… after all I’ve regularly trained with weights for 4 years now.

Months passed…

I realised that my muscles wouldn’t just waste away and so any incentive to weight train again was quite low. My yoga practice kept me strong enough. Plus I was loathe to get my muscles all sore and tight… how would that impact my asanas?! I could kiss sliding in the splits goodbye for at least a week. It was a price I vainly wasn’t willing to pay.

But I missed that feeling I get in my weights workouts… the one of getting stronger… and finally managed to do a workout today. Points of note: my arms and abdominals are definitely stronger than last time I used weights. This is welcome. Less welcome is the realisation that my legs are much much weaker and not used to squats and lunges with 8kg weights like they used to be.

This is interesting. My asana practice used to involve much more standing poses but then all the “advanced” poses are non upright… eg headstand, handstand, arm balances, backbends… so I stopped doing so many standing poses. So now I have weak(er) legs!

More weights I think…

 

Body image and yoga

As it may be noted from my post about my bottom I do have some “issues” when it comes to body image and yoga. I don’t tend to want to blog about body issues because in terms of BIG ISSUES in my life it rates pretty low.

Now I have never had an eating disorder, of any kind. I am not overweight (my BMI is about 24) and I am not particularly large. When I am with my family and friends it is accepted that I am the “thin, healthy one who does lots of exercise”.

But in my yoga class I have labelled myself “the fat one who can do backbends”.

I am not joking! In my yoga class I am huge! There’s full length mirrors down one end of the studio and once I’d got over the fact that I could watch myself doing yoga and my asanas looked pretty damn good, if I do say so myself… I thought “I am the fattest person in the room, I have the biggest legs and ass in this room”. How skewed is this?

This is not helped by the pronouncements of people, women who are 40-odd who can fit into 10 year old’s shorts, that their bums are “too heavy” to lift into purvottanasana. As I can easily lift into this pose I know the problem is not that their bums are “too heavy”, it’s that they are too weak! How do you think it feels for me, who has already assessed the bodies of everyone in the room and realised I am the biggest yet again, to hear thin people proclaim that they are fat?

I had a terrible realisation that if I hadn’t done all that home practice when I started, I would not have got very far in these classes. I wouldn’t have had the confidence to be in a room with all those thin women and do yoga. I only have the confidence now because I know that everyone can do yoga, because I spent a couple of years on my own learning as much as I could. If those classes had been my only experience, I wouldn’t have got past the first one.

The strange thing is also realising that a lot of these women who come to yoga do it because it’s right for their “type”. I don’t think that a lot of them struggled with the stiffness that I had when I started yoga, for example. Also society would have us believe that the women with the thinner legs have “earned” their thinness, through hard work. But those of us who know better realise that those women would have been that size anyway! I would probably be this size if I didn’t do any exercise at all. So where does that leave us?

My teacher said that I would be good at teaching beginners. I think she said this because I am quite a gentle, sensitive person but part of me thinks that the way my body looks would be an advantage too. I don’t look like no yoga superstar, I look like a regular, non-threatening person. I would not intimidate anyone with my rock hard body! I comfort myself by hoping that in my classes in the future no one will be excluded, or think they have the “wrong body” for yoga. There will be no fat talk tolerated in my classes!

Laughing

When I was a kid and a teenager I laughed a lot. And I mean a lot. I have a rather ruddy complexion that colours easily and have a tendency to go bright red when I laugh. Consequently every photo of me with my friends always came out awful. Me with my hair everywhere, bright red face, hiccoughing… it took me many years to realise that I didn’t always look like that.

When I got depressed I stopped laughing. I forgot about laughing. Things weren’t funny anymore. When I saw something that might be considered funny at some point by some people I would note it completely straight faced and miserably. Some distant memory would tug deep in my mind that I would have found that funny in the past. But I didn’t believe that memory, because I was probably deluded in the past anyway and I was just a kid. It didn’t count.

Laughter has been a miracle for me and reappeared well into my third year of recovery. The idea that I don’t have to force laughter anymore, I even have to repress it if it bubbles up in some inappropriate circumstances. Although maybe I don’t bother doing that much, I need to make up for lost time! Last summer I rediscovered the joy of laughing and then finding my own laughter so funny I had to laugh more. That kind of bubbling infectious sound that is already there but I’m unaware of until some miraculous joke or surreal image pops in my head.

It is the best.thing.ever.

Anonymity

WordPress has just told me that I have had 4 views today from my home country… the very last place I would want any views at all. I am sincerely hoping it was just registering me but I don’t tend to visit my own blog.

It does scare me because anonymity is important to me. Not because I write anything incriminating but because I didn’t want to feel inhibited by wondering if people who google my name to look for my paintings also find this blog. This is my recovery blog, my outreach into the world from a time when I was just trying to find my voice.

This month it’s been challenging to write everyday (kinda why I called it the August Blogging Challenge) but it’s also been very rewarding. I don’t think I will be keeping up the writing everyday because even though I’m not exactly running out of things to write about I do find it hard to find the time to devote to each topic to give it enough substance. And elegant sentences.

One day I do hope to make this blog non-anonymous. Maybe when I’m teaching. But not for now, I like my safety.

Saying No

A lot of importance is put on the power of “yes”. Inviting opportunities, “positive energy”, money etc etc etc into our lives. By saying “no” we are closing ourselves off to all the good possibilities of life, you have to grab it by the horns, live everyday like it’s your last day… insert more cliches in here please.

I have always always said no, to most things. I do not like parties, drinking, travelling, loud music, sports, meeting new people… these things make me feel uncomfortable and if there’s one thing in the world I love more than anything, it’s feeling comfortable. This is why I admire cats, being comfortable is the only thing they live for! I love quiet, peace, comfortable nooks in which to sit, think and observe the world. I observe rather than participate.

When I not depressed this was fine, just the way I was, when I got depressed this became a major character flaw… maybe even the cause of my depression.

Bollocks!

I have family over at the moment. I cannot get a word in edgeways, they are so loud and they really knock the drink back! I realise that I had begun to attach some labels to myself: nagger, bore, over-cautious, difficult… not how I like to see myself. I’d like to stop this please.

I may not want to drink 3 beers and head off to the pub for more, and I may not want the attention of everyone so I can tell another rip-roaring anecdote and yes I may tell people when they’re not being sensible but that’s ok! I need to claim these things. Like the toddler learning to say no to assert her independence so I can affirm what I don’t need in my life. It is my life afterall.

A Counterbalance

My home yoga practice has not been the sanctuary of peace I would like it to be recently. I find myself fuzzy headed and disorientated, craving stillness but unable to decide what to do in order to find it.

Yoga international has an article about home practice, complete with contributions by my favourite long distance teacher Jason Crandell. Two of the tips I have found interesting and integrated into my practice today, to great effect.

Firstly I started in stillness. It makes sense if I want to find stillness in my mind I start with stillness in my body, lying in savasana taking a few deep breaths. It is there I found what I wanted to do in my practice today, by learning how my body was feeling.

The other valuable thing I took from the article is the idea of your yoga practice counterbalancing everything else that’s going on in your life. This makes complete sense to me… if your day has been under stimulating and sedentary then you need an active practice to balance this out. If, on the other hand they have been mentally and physically exhausting (maybe after travelling), you need a quiet restorative practice.

My week has been physically inactive but mentally very active. My mind just won’t shut up. So I did a very Shiva Rea-esque practice, using the breath and arm movements in and around poses. For example: high lunge with arms parallel to the floor, inhale and straighten front leg and bring arms overhead, exhale arms back to side and front leg bent. I find this kind of movement soothing and it stops the mental chatter.

For too long I have been using the stick in my practice and I need to use the carrot, to use the analogy in the article. I have been using my home practice as the place to “work on things I should do”, ie things I say I am bad at. I am going to use this knowledge and use my home practice as a time to balance myself out. In the same way that some yogis use a forward bend to “counterbalance” a backbend (not that I necessarily do that specifically in my own practice…) so we can use our yoga practice to counterbalance our lives.

Bottom heavy inversions

A while ago I wrote a post called “Is my Bum too big to do yoga?” and I remember it got more reads than my other posts at the time. I think this issue is of perennial interest to people doing yoga… or should I say women doing yoga?… or just women fullstop??

I have been practicing yoga for 4 and a half years now. For the first 2 and a half I was too scared to do any inversions save shoulderstand, because that was the only inversion done in the class I went to at the time. This changed when I started to go to a new *dynamic* studio where everyone handstands everywhere all the time. You can’t move for legs flying everywhere! On my very first class I was treated to the spectacle of a yogini warming up with pincha mayurasana. I say warming up but maybe she was just showing off. Anyway.

I have always struggled with handstand and headstand (“pincha” is off the cards for a long time I think, stiff shoulders) It took many many months to be able to even think about how it may be possible to even attempt to try to get into a headstand. Turns out I had stiff shoulders. A year later I still have to hang out in my shoulder openers to get into a headstand and I’m building up slowly, not straightening my legs until I can hold my knees into my chest for a good while. I practice several times a week doing this and my whole practice has to revolve around readying my body for headstand on these days. I cannot just *pop* into it in a class, and at the end of the Primary Series my shoulders are so stiff from all the chaturangas that it is a laughable concept.

The thing is, I’m fairly sure that it’s not such a difficult thing for other people. I am told that it’s about core strength… but I’m fairly sure I’m stronger in my core than other people who can just magic up effortlessly into the pose… or maybe it’s about fear… but I’m scared at home and I still do it. It seems to take a lot more effort for me to lift into headstands and I think I can begin to understand why…

It’s my bum!

Or more specifically, my whole lower body. I am short: 5 foot 3, and about 5 feet of that is leg. I exaggerate but my proportions are a bit out of whack. I have very long, very substantial legs. I have wide hips, big thighs and… how do I say this politely… an ample bottom. To balance in inversions one must get ones’ shoulders over ones’ pelvis… but the pelvis is a big structure so this takes some effort. Surely it doesn’t take much of a leap to think that maybe it takes more of an effort for me? My upper body is tiny, my lower body is big… my body doesn’t like being that way up. Also any supine abdominal exercises involving leg lowers or the like have always been very very difficult for me. This also makes sense.

I can work with this, and I already am. I think that far from being discouraged at this realisation I feel reassured that I’m doing the right thing in building up my abdominal strength and not rushing into straightening my legs in headstand yet. I’ve started practicing half handstands at the wall but I have accepted that I may never be able to handstand the way the former gymnasts do in my class.

On the plus side right way up balances are substantially easier for me, judging by the amount of wobbling I see in classes. I have a big ballast you see.

Still going… just

Just hanging on. Another late night blogging and another day of tiredness and frustration of not being able to do what I want to do. Turns out I like working. When I was depressed I would fantasise about getting ill so I would have an excuse not to do anything. When I get that thought now I know my mood is going downhill and I watch it carefully.

Tonight I realised another thought. I didn’t do my mindfulness practice today and I asked my boyfriend to help me to do it tonight. He was ill and we ended up watching the Hudsucker Proxy and I was getting ready for bed when I realised I hadn’t done my mindfulness. I had a token, rushed effort and realised I hadn’t blogged. I felt so disappointed with myself. I’d failed, I don’t take this mindfulness practice seriously. The killer thought was I don’t take my mindfulness practice seriously enough so I deserve to get depressed and stay depressed.

That’s the problem with taking responsibility for your own mental wellbeing… on the one hand the fantastic optimism and empowerment that comes from having the tools to your own recovery, on the other the terrible burden of blame that you can pile on yourself when things go “wrong”.

This week has been tough, difficult people, a couple of stressors, lots of meals out and not much time to myself. My boyfriend says that I’ve been dealing with it very well and I should have compassion to myself. I believe him intellectually but if I told you I believed him properly I’m afraid I would be lying. I think in my heart I do believe I’m failing, I’m not trying hard enough.

Maybe back to the metta meditation for me?

Practice as of now

I had a difficult day yesterday. I had to deal with a difficult person who wanted me to work in her gallery for free for the “experience” and then I got rained on. I think this “experience” is still being digested by my brain because I woke up today exhausted and a fairly minor matter about a photograph resolution had me in tears for most of the morning. Does anyone else have these emotional hangovers?

I seem to be dealing with lots of annoying issues recently, and my yoga practice has been suffering. I drag myself to the mat and I do not want to be there. I want to be in bed. I have stiff hips, stiff shoulders and the intellectual desire to delve into my asana practice but I just don’t have the focus to stick to it. Tears spring up in lunges (while I’m in lunges, my tears don’t lunge) and I just.can’t.decide.what.pose.to.do.now. I usually end up in curled-up-in-a-ball-asana.

Today I gave up completely and did some mindfulness of breath. It was exactly what I needed. Sometimes asana isn’t the answer.