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.

Light on Pranayama

For the past few weeks I have been following BKS Iyengar’s pranayama course in his book Light on Pranayama. I am naughty because I do not have a teacher helping me and also because I haven’t read the book yet… I just skipped straight to the course.

I wanted a clear, easy to follow and in depth course of pranayama exercises. I am on week 6… of 200 weeks. That is almost 4 years so I would say that is quite in depth enough.

First week it was following your natural breath, then adding on extending the exhale and then the inhale in a preparation for ujjayi breath. Week 5 introduces the first non-ujjayi pranayam- viloma which is interrupted breath. So that is either inhaling in 4-5 parts before exhaling in one continuous breath or exhaling in 4-5 parts before inhaling in one go. All of the exercises so far are lying down, I have not progressed to sitting pranayama and will not until week 9.

One thing I’ve found interesting is that lengthening the exhale is substantially more difficult for me than lengthening the inhale. I’ve found with viloma that I can easily inhale in 5 parts of 2 seconds, but with the exhale I can only do 3 parts. I just run out of breath! I found it with the ujjayi too, inhales are long, smooth and deep, exhales short and strained.

It’ll be interesting to see how it develops, and also to see if I stick with it for the full 4 years.

Well what else do I plan to do with my life?

The lure of early mornings

I used to label myself a night owl, as in I loved being awake late at night and couldn’t function in the morning. Now I wonder if maybe I just hated school and would rather be up all night online.

Nevertheless changing my sleeping habits was quite a traumatic undertaking. When I was 20 I spent a summer trying to make my bedtime reasonable and my waking up time earlier than 10am. It was hard but I succeeded. Gradually, over years, my waking up time has eroded (whilst still getting my 8 hours) further and further back until now I am getting up (on a good day) at 7am.

But I want it to be earlier! There’s something about early mornings… the peace and quiet, the promise of early productivity and later rest, the optimism that comes with wanting to do something difficult and thinking you really can succeed. I would love to get up early, do some blogging, get some drawing practice in, do a bit of cleaning. All these things I push back and back in my working day. Maybe when my schedule is busier I would have to do my yoga or my mindfulness practice early. That appeals too.

As it is for any depressed person, mornings have been the worst for me. Most mornings I would wake up with that heavy, debilitating sadness on my chest. The weight that made me realise that my day carried the promise of being 3000% harder than it should be and 6000% more terrible. I spent most days undoing the terribleness of the mornings, only to wake to another horrific morning feeling.

I’m going to take mornings back from my depression.

So this week I’m tracking how I’m spending my hours and I’m going to ease into early mornings gently. It’s something I can get excited about. And I love those things.

Phases of the Moon

Today was my last Ashtanga class, my introductory course is now over. I have been exhausted today but I dragged myself to it and actually found some surprising peace within the practice before dragging myself home and collapsing on the sofa. Turned out I was not the only tired one there and I was told it was because it was the new moon yesterday. Now I would be the first one to dismiss this but is there anything in this idea? Do people get tired around the new moon and are filled with boundless energy at the full moon? It’s a nice idea and I would never dismiss the truth that our energy levels change with the placing of the sun, so maybe I should consider the phases of the moon more carefully.

On Blogging every day

Just over halfway through the month of my August Blogging Challenge to post every single day. I have to say I’m enjoying it. It’s a strange feature of writing that once you start writing a lot you create ideas, not deplete them as common sense might have it. My “ideas for blog posts” notebook has got more ideas on it, not less.

I suppose now is the time to look back on my Plans for August and see how they’re coming on.

Just too damn tired for Ashtanga

This week has been refreshingly easy and productive after weeks of dragging through the mud of low moods and disappointments and illnesses. I have painted everyday, gone on runs, meditated and practiced yoga.

Today is the exception.

I got some half-hearted painting out of the way (currently composing a ridiculously overcomplicated painting that is taking eons and I’m not entirely happy with) and then decided that I was going to practice me some Primary series instead of going for a run. I was a bit tired but there was no rush, I had hours of free time- bliss!

I got some headstand and handstanding preparation out of the way as well as lunges and pigeons for my tight hips before standing at the front of my mat and starting the Sun salutations. I whimpered my way through the first one and then promptly burst into tears in downward dog. I tried again. I collapsed in more tears. I thought “I haven’t practiced this all week and I said I was going to and I won’t be able to this afternoon and what else am I going to do now and I was really looking forward to it and I should be able to practice my way through it and I should find something else that will “cure” my mood but I don’t know what that is and I just want to go to bed and do nothing…” I promptly started hyperventilating. With no signs of low mood, just tiredness, I can still get this reaction.

I think this is my body way of saying “not now”.

So I’ve gone to bed. Just because.

Why I have not been meditating as much and why I must do more yin yoga

I have been finding it hard to keep up my formal seated mindfulness meditation practice. Ideally I would want to be sitting for 30 minutes a day, preferably everyday but realistically every weekday. Recently I have done good to get 20 minutes in, and none at all at the weekend.

Partly this is because, shamefully, I have been happier and therefore have not “needed” the calming meditation practice as much. I got busier and ignored all the signs that I should be meditating more, not less, to combat possible overwhelm.

Bizarrely sitting for meditation is usually easier when I’m feeling depressed (not too depressed though, in which case sitting down still is unbearable and I must pace like a caged animal), it’s like my brain knows it’s good for it. My depressed, easily confused, overwhelmed brain enjoys the point when I sit and turn my attention inward. But when my mood is better, I get antsy and impatient. My back aches, my knees hurt, my hips complain, my mind complains and I give up.

And then a couple of weeks later I realise that I’m not meditating as much and I realise why… because it’s uncomfortable to sit still for that long. Then I feel a pathetic and unworthy meditator, what “proper” meditator complains about physical comfort? You’re supposed to live with the discomfort, and do it anyway because it’s what the practice is about. The idea that I’m not keeping up something which helped me 90% recover from depression because of an achy back is depressing in itself.

My body is not made for sitting cross legged on the floor- my hips don’t rotate externally easily, my feet have been so stiff all my life I didn’t see the soles of my feet until I was 25. So me sitting on the floor without cushions= knees sky high and achy back within minutes. But I find my mind likes that position the best. I get a clarity and degree of concentration sitting cross legged that I don’t in other poses… on good days. I have a good zafu and I put cushions under my knees but it still isn’t enough to keep my body quiet and comfortable.

I’ve found that the best time for meditation is (unsurprisingly) after yoga, or after stretching post-run (which usually takes the form of yoga asana) but the problem is if I don’t do an extensive yoga practice or run then that also means I don’t meditate. I’ve been ill a lot lately so that has been a problem.

Enter yin yoga!

I used to do a lot more yin yoga, when I was more depressed and lacking in energy and flexibility. I craved the stillness and the massively impossibly deep hip stretches only yin can deliver. There’s something about those long holds…

Yin is supposed to stretch the tissues around the joints, not just the muscles (there is debate about whether this is possible) It’s also supposed to be a fantastic preparation for seated meditation- both physically and mentally. Physically because it prepares your hips to be in a still position for a long time, and mentally because it prepares your mind to be in a still position for a long time. Paul Grilley, one of the founders of yin yoga, apparently struggled with comfort in seated meditation despite his intensive vinyasa yoga practice so I’m in good company.

So I have been practicing a short yin sequence every day. I may alternate predominately backbending and forward bending days. For instance

Forward bending:

butterfly: 3 minutes

half butterfly: 3 minutes each side

dragonfly: 3 minutes

Back bending

high dragon: 2 minutes each side

low dragon: 2 minutes each side

swan: 2 minutes each side

sleeping swan: 2 minutes each side

seal: 3 minutes

 

These are quite short holds for yin, I know but I thought I should make it manageable. I also have to make room in my day for all that seated meditation practice!

Living Expenses

Got an annoying letter from the tax office. They are not processing my tax form until I tell them how I live on such a low income. It’s not the first time I’ve got such a letter but they are equally humiliating, with the insinuations of sponging or illegal activity or laziness.

I have practically no income, I was unable to get a job after university because of my depression and I was worried (in my depressed, don’t trust anyone state) that if I asked for financial help I would be forced into a job I didn’t feel ready for. So my parents and my boyfriend have supported me and I have become a bit of a tax grey area. It worried me for years, on top of the whole trying to recover from depression thing. Just one more worry I didn’t need.

I’m self-employed now but I still make next to no money so this situation is likely to continue, with me declaring my income which would barely sustain me for a month let alone a year. Bizarrely I may be forced into marrying my boyfriend, which I’ve never wanted to do. Part of me is enjoying planning this subversive wedding and it scares me! I hate the way you have to do everything the “right” way otherwise life is made difficult or demeaning for you.

I am perfectly aware I don’t make enough money but I have people who care about me who do and who look after me. Is there anything wrong with that?

Self-reflection and introversion

Continuing on my investigations into introversion

I have always been a thinker, and a watcher, and a listener. I’m not so much a person who “gets involved” and I have certainly never been the life and soul of any party.¬†Nothing interests me more than how other people behave, unfortunately I have always found it hard to understand two things

  1. Other people do not have the same brain/experiences that I do so do not think the same thoughts and…
  2. Other people do not analyse their own behaviour/thoughts/experiences as much as I do

Now I think that at the age of 26 I think can accept this… but I do not understand. Why would you not want to spend your whole life reflecting on your own thoughts and feelings and motivations and beliefs? What else could possibly be more interesting??

Consequently I find a lot of other people’s behaviour very frustrating. Like the friend who wants to start exercising but can’t quite work out why she can’t get going, or the parent who struggles her whole life with hoarding but never takes any steps to help herself. With a little bit of self-reflection I think, judgmentally, they wouldn’t have any of this confusion, they’d be able to know exactly who they are and what they want.

I disregarded my own inner compass as to what was best for me when I was 19 and at university and I ended up so mired in my own misery and anxiety I developed depression. At age 22 I came home determined to forget what anyone else proclaimed about what was “best” for me and (in between crippling episodes of misery) I sat down and thought about what I needed, for me. All around me I heard voices which said I should be getting “out there” and socialising, meeting people, taking up social hobbies, looking for jobs, moving out of my house. I ignored these people. I read a lot, researched, learned how to meditate and practice yoga. After a lifetime of sports-avoiding I took up running and strength training. I did all this alone, with the internet and my books for company and I learned the values of determined, patient persistence. Being alone was the only way I could have learned to decode the pathways of my brain and the only way I could begin to find my way out of the misery I was in.

-As an aside I do not think that this is justification for isolating people with depression, I could have recovered a hell of a lot faster if I had had more understanding, supportive people around me. I found social support lacking so I had to develop my own, anti-social support system. It basically involved getting the hell away from people who weren’t good for me, which turns out is most people-

Meditation came easy to me, it was pleasant even. I found instant (if not consistent) peace in the practice. Whenever things were overwhelming I knew I could sit with it and I could find peace. I would tell myself very often “I can find peace”. In the peace I listened to my mind, with its beliefs, anxieties and doubts and I began to understand them and live with them. Turns out most of them have as much substance as a wisp of smoke. All I had to do was listen and I could understand this.

So why don’t others just do this?

After reading Susan Cain’s book on introversion I can begin to understand why. As an introvert my brain gets overstimulated easily, especially by social activity. This may mean that I am more likely to develop depression in the first place. Introverts find much more rewarding stimulation in the safe environments of their heads, where they can control and process the stimulations. Extroverts may find disciplines like seated meditation, or the process of self-reflection boring… perhaps like the way I find meeting endless new people and making small talk boring. For me, as any introverted meditator knows, there is nothing quite like settling into the stillness and peace of your own contented brain after a long day. Everyone’s different.

So it turns out that the very thing that may have caused my slip into depression may also have been my path out of it. My fantastically analysing, easily overwhelmed brain.

Balancing home practice with classes

I started off doing yoga 4 and half years ago solely as a home practitioner. I liked it, I did exactly what I needed to do for my body and I learnt many invaluable lessons about my body and mind during that time. It was what I needed during a very low point in my depression and from that I could begin to heal. A year after I started I was brave enough to start going to 1 class a week. I was so incredibly nervous going to that class but by then yoga was such an ingrained part of my life that taking the class wasn’t much different from following a DVD. Plus I was in a room with people (not that anyone talked to me much) ¬†and it gave me a boost to “come out” as a yogi.

I went to that class for a year and a half before the limitations of the teacher got too much and I left for a different studio. It got to a point where the class was something I dreaded and it put me in a bad mood for the rest of the day.

The new studio has a monthly fee for unlimited classes, so I feel it is worth my while to go to more than one class a week. The problem is I find taking classes quite draining. I’m so stubborn I find it hard to give control of my beloved practice to someone else, who may not sequence the poses I want, when I want. I am working on some quite “advanced” backbends in my home practice, among other things, and time at a class is time that I can’t be working on those. Plus what if I want to rest, or go faster, or just stop altogether?

On the other hand I have met a load of people at those yoga classes, no bosom buddies yet but a few I can small talk with. This is huge for me and would be impossible in my little lonesome attic studio. I have started work on poses- mainly inversions- after doing them in classes. I get new ideas and encouragement from classes. Plus going means I will get my 90 minute practice in guaranteed. That is fantastic, especially on days when I can’t be bothered sequencing myself.

I know that I am in a tiny minority (some of the teachers publicly admit to not having a home practice which I find quite shocking), to most of the people there that room where they go to do yoga is the only place in the world where they do yoga. Yoga is in that room and nowhere else. I do find it strange, if I’m honest with my judgmental self.

So my dilemma is, do I schedule days when I go to classes, and days when I home practice? Do I go with the flow (risking the classes getting the most of energy and the home days being when I have to rest, thus being the “dregs practices”)? Or do I say I will do 30 minutes home practice on days when I go to classes?

At the root of it, my yoga practice IS my home practice. Any classes I take are just to feed my home practice. That is where the value is for me, it’s my laboratory and my sanctuary.