Comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Last week I attended my first Buddhist group. I didn’t know what to expect, unsurprisingly. I just knew it was an area of my life I wanted to explore a little further with the hope that, maybe, it would help me understand *things* that little further.

Maybe.

I have also been desperate to establish a meditation practice to sit alongside my yoga one. Because, to me, they go hand in hand. And I can’t help but think that in that joint practice sits the key to a mindful life.

And not just talking about it. Not just writing about it. Actually living it.

The group started with some chanting. Fine, no problem. I’m a-ok with chanting from my yoga. I love the energy of it.

But then it came to the next bit and the words I had no idea would fill me with such dread.

“So now we’ll take 30 minutes of silent meditation.”

That’s right. I’d come to a Buddhist group with the sole purpose of meditating and yet the actual act of sitting cross legged with my eyes shut for longer than a few breaths made me a nervous wreck.

I know. I didn’t understand it either.

But here’s the thing. The thought of being in that silent space without any stimulants panicked me. I couldn’t help but think “Jesus, I could be using my time SO much more effectively right now” and even “well if I count X breaths in and out at a speed of Y then I should reach the 30 minute mark at Z.”

For the life of me I could not imagine how I would be able to convince my mind to take a step back for that time without it running circles around every topic under the sun.

It was anything but comfortable to me. My shoulder was causing me grief having pulled it the night before and my ankle was sitting at a funny angle. My neck felt stiff. My toes started to go dead.

So. Many. Different. Feelings. And. Sensations.

And that was all within the first 30 seconds.

It was exhausting.

Then this quiet voice in my ear.

“You’re pushing your attention on all these things because you’re scared to be alone with your own thoughts.”

And it was true. Being totally alone in the silence of my own mind terrified me. It’s for that precise reason I fall asleep with Netflix playing. Why when I find myself in a situation where I can’t nod off either with laptop at my side or a book in my hand I don’t sleep and instead the insomnia kicks in.

That huge, empty, vastness… it panics me. The nothingness? I avoid it at all costs.

Yet… it doesn’t have to be a “nothingness”, does it? Is that not the whole point of meditation? That in the “nothingness” we are able to find “something”?

“When your attention moves into the Now, there is an alertness. It is as if you were waking up from a dream, the dream of thought, the dream of past and future. Such clarity, such simplicity. No room for problem-making. Just this moment as it is.” – Eckhart Tolle

So I forced myself to be with it. To spinal breathe through the chakras and take note of the uncomfortable aches and then move on. To let my mind try to wander but trust that it would find its way back.

To be comfortable with being uncomfortable.

It wasn’t easy. I can’t sit here and pretend that this sudden epiphany instantly made me a master of the big M.

But it was a process I stuck with. That I committed to.

It’s a concept I’m trying to bring into my daily life. That sense of living not in despite of any stress, difficulties or simply awkwardness… but within it. Trying not to fight it, but understand that you will grow from it.

Because, surely, if we stopped resisting the inevitable, worrying about what “could” be and instead accepted each passing moment as it was… passing, fleeting… then surely everything would be a hell of a lot easier?

Surely we would understand *things* that little further?

Are you truly awake?

Are you truly awake?

I received a text from a friend today who I travelled with across Australia and South East Asia. He’d watched a programme about a South Korean Buddhist monk and messaged to tell me it reminded him of a conversation we had shared in Cairns.

I remembered it so clearly. Remembered all the conversations so very clearly. Everything from the in depth talks about life and its many intricacies over a tall pint of beer right through to the nights spent under the stars delving into spiritual teachings.

We were so in tune with our own thoughts and innermost questions. Our hearts open, gapingly even, to drink in with a wild desire every new piece of information and inspiration.

Our world was a puzzle, and we felt so very blessed to find those pieces and figure out quite how they slotted together.

My kindle was heavy with readings from Deepak Chopra, Baron Baptiste and Thich Nhat Hanh. Their words gave me the strength to forgive my Mother. And even now, after an attempt to rebuild those bridges and coming to realise they are too broken to repair, their teachings have provided me with the love to accept this truth and live with it.

At that time, I felt full and… I guess, awake?

Awake. That’s it.

So why is it that since returning to “ordinary” life, it has has it been so hard for me to open my eyes?

It took me a long time to understand that I could not (and should not) rest my happiness and self worth on a location. I felt guilty for returning to my home town after so many years away. As if I had taken a step back into a past I wanted to forget and was foolishly leaving behind a life I had only ever dreamt of.

Regret walked with me like a shadow, anxiety my second heart beat. “Itchy feet” didn’t even hint at the intense emotions running from my head to my toes pushing me to pick up that passport once again.

Everything was boring. Everything was dull.

Where was the beauty? Where was the discovery?

I blamed this lack of stimulation and overwhelming sense of monotony on my own inability to connect with that girl I had become those few months ago.

Or, rather, the girl I had allowed myself to be.

I no longer felt full and in a state of mindfulness. Far from it, really.

The only time I stepped back into that beautiful state of being was when I placed myself on the mat. My practice would be transcendent, my mind at peace and hungry for my teachers simple but deeply affecting words.

Until recently. Until I gave myself the permission to take my teachers words away from the mat and into my life.

It sounds silly, doesn’t it? An obvious concept.

And yet something had been stopping me from taking them out of my safe haven into my “real world.”

When my teacher returned from a retreat in India back to Shirley, we were of course all bursting with questions for him. His answers were full of joy but very calm, collected.

“Whether you are somewhere exotic and beautiful like India or back in quiet Shirley, it doesn’t matter really, does it? Those things, they’re just external. They’re temporary. The only constant is yourself. And that is the only place you can truly gain fulfilment.”

*the penny drops*

Isn’t it the oddest thing when someone puts into words exactly what you have been searching for all along?

And now I feel as if I have accepted and welcomed that… now I once again want to commit to living in a mindful existence.

There are many ways I hope to do this. My daily yoga practice. Exploring Buddhist groups in the community. Going back to my readings.

Living, loving, learning.

Maybe this blog can help me chronicle them. Give me a space to be and reflect.

I want to allow myself to be that girl who held herself as a blank canvas and lived every moment as it was supposed to be lived.

Fully.

Consciously.

Awake.

It doesn’t matter whether I am doing that amidst a Balinese sacred site, a remote island or the comfort of my humble flat in Southampton.

None of those things define who I am or what I want to be.

That? That can only come from myself.

The Love Hate Relationship.

The Love Hate Relationship.

I have this love hate relationship with writing. Rather, with my writing. My relationship and motivations behind it.

On one hand, writing is my saviour. It has guided me through some of my darkest days, when the heavy cloak of sadness weighed across my shoulders and clouded my vision. It has helped bring about a sense of understanding within the confusion. Allowed me to connect with myself. Given me a space to be open and honest when words failed me.

And yet, the other hand deals the cards fraught with pressure and self doubt.

Because what is the point of my writing?

Surely there has to be a point?

This other hand traces the ominous question mark above my head asking what is right to write about? This blog, for example. Is to write about yourself in such a way just hideously self indulgent? A desperate plea for attention?

Should I be so open? If I truly let my innermost feelings spill across the keyboard, will the end result be far too messy to ever repair?

For the longest time I have flitted between writing on this blog (which, actually, fills me with an energy only likened to that I find on the yoga mat and comes oh so naturally) and trying to force my creativity into other outlets. I take myself to fiction workshops and attempt fiction exercises. I research and pull together articles to submit to yoga websites and the like. I wonder whether I should be working on a writing project.

You know. Something that matters. Something that would be deemed as “better writing.”

The things I should be doing.

All those feelings, all those questions? They’re god damn exhausting.

I heard a quote today on The Good Life Project. It was in reference to the intrinsic links floating between yoga, meditation and writing.

“I wonder sometimes when I write… wouldn’t it be cool if I could create an experience that could bring somebody to the same point that they were at when they were on their knees… in terms of an openness and motivation to take action… without actually having to have their shins hit the floor?” – Jonathan Fields

And it made think…

If writing in this open, raw, self questioning and discovering way I do gives me even a small element of the feeling when I am deep in the midst of a yoga practice… maybe I can give other people that feeling too?

Maybe it’s something I need to clutch hold of, rather than push away.

Because writing? It’s my practice. It’s my meditation. It takes me anywhere I want to be and turns the volume down on all the noise around me.

Isn’t that enough? Doesn’t that matter?

I guess what I’m trying to say is that in this quick fix world we live in where answers are constantly a few seconds away at the edge of our finger tips, sometimes we can question things too much. And sometimes, the answer is far simpler than we could ever have imagined.

Or, at least, we can allow the answer to be simple.

We live in a society of intense pressure. Whether it’s the worry of why we are doing something or whether we are doing something enough (I couldn’t count the amount of times the worry of having not written for so long stops me from writing entirely… even with my journal! My journal for goodness sake!), there’s the constant niggle prodding you in the side until you trip out of the present moment and into that messy place of self doubt.

I think… I THINK… I’m finally committing to the path of saying thank you, but goodbye to the niggle and carrying on regardless.

And the first step? This. My writing.

Carrying on. Persevering.

Tipping the scales back into love.

Maybe.

10 Reasons Yoga is Anxiety’s Ultimate Cure.

10 Reasons Yoga is Anxiety’s Ultimate Cure.

Whether you suffer from acute anxiety disorder or a more generalised form, you’ll know the symptoms like the back of your hand. That familiar feeling of dread, fear and panic… and all for a reason that your conscious mind knows is totally ridiculous.

Anxiety can rear its head in so many different ways. From insomnia to fully blown panic attacks, days spent hidden away in bed due to the sheer pressure it drowns you in and a sudden loss of control over your thoughts and actions. However your body reacts, one thing is for sure: it isn’t nice and it isn’t pretty.

For the longest time I refused to accept its presence. I would give in to its destructive hold whenever it decided the “time was right” and simply accept that it was a part of my life. Sometimes it would only last a few hours… heart palpitations, sweaty hands. Other times it lasted days and kept me totally detached from reality.

It was only when I found myself in a month long bout of anxiety so bad it left me seeing no other option than medication that I realised it was time I took charge. It was time to take control over the disorder that had controlled my thoughts, emotions and actions for so long.

And that’s where yoga came in. Yoga and its focus on mindfulness, wellbeing and anchoring yourself in the moment.

After fighting against it for so long, yoga taught me how to deal with it. How to escape it before it dug its claws in too deep. How to be bigger than it.

But don’t just take my word for it. Check out these 10 tips on why yoga really is anxiety’s best medicine.

1. It teaches you techniques for breathing

In yoga, you have to be conscious about your breathing. One of the common side effects of anxiety is panic attacks: aka, the inability to control your levels of breathing. Take yourself back to your Pranayama when you start to feel anxiety’s prickling hand.

2. It allows you to be present in the moment

Yoga is demanding. If you aren’t present in the moment, if you aren’t really concentrating on what you are doing, you’re going to lose the balance or position. So you need to be anchored in the present, pulling all your focus onto your body. Anxiety is defined as “a persistent, excessive and unrealistic worry about the future.” The ability to draw your mind back to the present is therefore an incredibly useful way to steer away from those toxic thoughts about the future.

3. It gives you control

Whilst your instructor can assist you with your poses, ultimately yoga is all on you. It’s up to you, your mind and your body what you can and can’t do. You control every moment. Anxiety often feels like a lack of control. Putting yourself in a state where you are able to take that control back reminds you that you are in charge… not your anxiety.

4. It raises your self confidence

Ever felt the joy of finally nailing crow pose? Or that very first, unaided headstand? Yoga is amazing as your progress is plainly obvious. And that progress? It’s a huge confidence boost! When anxiety leaves you with low self esteem, turn to those poses you know you absolutely nail. Show yourself how powerful you and your body are.

5. Redirects thoughts back to your physical self

More often than not, anxiety is the fear of something that is either a huge exaggeration of a situation or something that hasn’t even happened yet… it isn’t even “real”. It can feel near enough impossible to rationally look at the situation and why you are reacting in such an extreme way. Yoga forces us to look at every single part of our body, from the top of our heads right down to the tips of our toes. It is one of the most crucial elements of the practice. This technique helps you to break down your physical self when anxiety strikes. You can engage in introspection in a calm and collected way.

6. Releases tension

Anxiety can cause your body to tense up, particularly in the neck, shoulders and back. Yoga helps you release that tension, allowing your body to become freer and more open… and as a result? Your mind is sure to follow.

7. Aids insomnia

It’s a known fact that exercise helps disrupted sleeping patterns, and yoga is no exception. The steady, conscious breathing is also a strong force against anxiety when it strikes at night as it steadies your heart and allows you to breathe through the panic, moving you away from a mind in overdrive. A gentle sequence before getting into bed works wonders for putting you in a more relaxed state of mind ready for sleep.

8. Improves digestion

Many yoga poses focus directly on stimulating the abdominal region, aiding digestion. Stress (brought about by anxiety) has a negative impact on our digestion; finding ways to counteract that impact is paramount in the fight against anxiety.

9. Stimulates blood flow

Upside down poses increase and stimulate blood flow to the head, resulting in a detoxification of our adrenals. Adrenals are known to decrease in depression – an illness that can go hand in hand with anxiety. They are vital to our wellbeing as they produce the hormones we need to deal with stress. So healthy adrenals = healthy you!

10. Evokes peace and calm

Let’s not forget that undeniable sense of serenity yoga provides you with. The mixture of the deep movements, calm setting, gentle instructions and beautiful music work together to build the ultimate tranquillity. And when anxiety attacks, tranquillity is exactly what you need.

* This article was originally published on Huffington Post

Let’s Talk About Yoga.

Let’s Talk About Yoga.

I’ve always been someone that needs to keep active.

And I know how that makes me sound (somewhere between basic bitch and pretentious preacher). But it’s true.

When I’m committed to any form of exercise – be that competitive dance, long distance running or pole dance – there has always been a direct correlation between the sweat I’m shedding and my state of mind.

Continue reading “Let’s Talk About Yoga.”