Reaching new heights.

Reaching new heights.

This weekend I spent my time away from the office driving miles simply to find new climbing gyms. Industrial parks, nestled totally out of the way, full of brightly coloured boulders on various slanted walls, tunnels and overhangs. Climbing shoes and chalk in bag, hair matted from two nights of camping in the forest and the reminder of last night’s beers around the pool table adding a slightly sluggish quality to the Autumn air.

Nine months after falling superbly from my first indoor climb and it’s safe to say I’m hooked. Harnesses and belay devices hang from my wardrobe. Daily travel daydreams burst with plans of scaling the rocks of Norway, Thailand and New Zealand. My YouTube homepage is full of videos on how to “perfect the ultimate climb”.

And as someone who can’t help but question her motivations and drivers on pretty much everything she does (yes, it does get exhausting), I’ve thought a lot about what it is about climbing that has hooked me in the way it has.

Of course, anyone who climbs will know that there’s no feeling quite like reaching that last hold, the one you’ve been grappling with for weeks, or hitting the top of the rock that towered above you in that intimidating way they do. You’ll know that the climbing community is one of the most welcoming there is. That feeling your body reach new heights is an adrenaline hit like no other. That the fall is almost as fun as the flight.

But, I suppose, it was my own personal reasons I was interested in. The deeper ones that ran a bit further beneath the surface.

I realised that since climbing (alongside my yoga practice) my anxiety had been the most controlled it had ever been. It had been manageable and, for a huge part, virtually at bay. I’d been more aware of its triggers, more able to look after them, after myself.

Why? I suppose I can only speculate. Can only wonder. Piece it together.

What I think, what I believe, is that this has been the year I’ve found my own joy. It’s been a gradual process – so gradual perhaps I’ve not even noticed it until now – but an important one nonetheless.

And it’s not to say I haven’t felt happiness before that. I’ve felt dizzying joy, so intense in my months travelling I feared I’d never feel happiness like it again. Memories that will forever transport me. Will forever comfort me.

But this joy? It’s different. It’s a softer joy. A joy in being sure of my choices. An ability to live more in the moment. Be proud of what I can achieve… what I am achieving.

Because the way I spend my time right now? I know I’m doing it entirely for myself. I know I would rather take a weekend in the forest with my hiking boots and a picnic than out on the town with heels and shots. That spending money on new climbing equipment feels so much more acceptable than a new item for my closet. That waking up 30 minutes early to roll out my yoga mat makes my day entirely lighter than mindless scrolling through social media in bed.

When you’re doing these things? Well, these things are all you can think about. Monkey brain doesn’t have a chance to sneak in when you’re pushing your body and mind to keep hold of that awkward pinch grip on the wall. Meditation is a natural state when you reach that deep level of yoga.

And most of all? You’re not thinking about what your body looks like when you’re holding on with all your might. That roll doesn’t matter when you’re reaping the benefits of swan pose or buzzing for life when you abseil down the rocks.

What you are thinking about is how incredible you – every single part of you – is when you’re achieving these incredible goals. How strong you are. How powerful.

You find a love for yourself. A love for everything you are capable of.

And what could be better than that?

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It’s not bad, it’s just different.

It’s not bad, it’s just different.

A few days ago, a friend messaged me saying she needed some yoga encouragement after what she described as a “bad class”. One that had left her feeling demotivated, disappointed and just a bit downtrodden.

My heart wept for her immediately. Not only because I hated the thought of my beautiful friend feeling so low, but because that is the exact opposite of how a yoga class should make you feel.

I probed a little further.

“What did you think was so bad about it?”

She told me that the class (which had been advertised as beginner) was only directed at the most advanced in the class, with headstands and inversions making her feel totally out of her depth.

I could go on here about how wrong it is for a teacher to make a student feel so isolated and how yoga shouldn’t be about whether or not you can hang around in the perfect headstand (a blog for another day!)… but the thing is, there’s something far deeper going on here. Something we (me, you, my friend) need to master first of all.

It’s that notion of what is a good vs bad practice.

And it’s something that has taken me a while to understand. Something that developed as my understanding of what yoga truly is grew. The idea that it is something far beyond the asana. An opportunity to use the practice to understand and connect with your body and mind.

Is it a bad practice just because you can’t get into crow pose? Is it a bad practice because your forward fold isn’t sinking in the way it used to? Is it a bad practice because monkey brain is getting in the way of your savasana?

Or is it a sign to check in and recognise the areas of your body that need nourishment? The areas you might not have noticed? Or the ones that you just took for granted, accepted, brushed under the carpet?

Because it isn’t bad, is it? It’s just different. The same as every day is different… from morning to night, no two moments will ever be the same. So why should your practice be any different?

There are so many reasons we might come into barriers during a practice. Stress, tiredness, diet, fear, aches, pains, ailments. All problems that in our fast-paced, constantly moving life we tend to “make do” with. We take for granted that we’re never going to feel “quite right”. We get used to feeling exhausted. We tend not to question the bubbling feelings of anxiety because “everyone feels like that.”

But what if we used our time on the mat to identify these issues? To press in on them and start paying attention? Took that attention off the mat to make subtle changes in our day to eradicate them?

And what if that awareness became a daily “checking in” morning routine? If it could be used to start your day in the best possible way?

Man. That would be pretty great, wouldn’t it?

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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