Strengthening my centre

Since the beginning of the year I have been doing lots of abdominal strengthening work. That area of my body, I’ve discovered, is a bit of a weak spot for me but I realised it wasn’t going to get any stronger by moaning about it so I started a (mostly) daily routine of boat poses, lolasana, and whatever other fitness/yoga hybrid abdominal poses I can think of.

The aim for me is not to get stronger abdominals for their own sake, but so that other poses can come easier. There are so many I want to work on: headstands, handstands, jump throughs, arm balances. These are all demanding poses, requiring strength as well as practice. So I figured why run before I can walk? I need a strong centre to face these challenging poses.

I’m also at a bit of a turning point in my life. After 4 years of recovering from depression, 2 years of seriously painting and a year of trying to get my painting taken seriously I finally have an exhibition in April and my depression has finally lessened to the point of disappearing most days. And I applied for a residency I didn’t even expect to pass the first stage, now I’m told I have a “good chance”.

I’m scared. Do I want this?

The real turning point in my depression recovery came in November last year when I started Jon Kabat Zinn’s Full Catastrophe Living programme. I have carried on my daily mindfulness meditation ever since as well as successfully cultivating the mindful state in my daily life. It’s working! So I now have a coping mechanism for when things get scary and stressful. I can sit with my stress and my fears and I can understand them and know I have what it takes to get through them. And I do sit with my fears, every day. They come and go and I am still here. I doubt that I will make that terrible descent into depression like I did 6 years ago, ever again.

So I realised a connection between the work I’m doing on my physical body in yoga and my emotional/mental self. There’s no point in working towards some amazing fancy poses if I’m not strong enough to hold them comfortably. And there’s no point in aiming towards these high dreams and goals if I can’t cope with the inevitable disappointments and stresses that’ll come with them. So I meditate and I do my boat poses.

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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!