Yoga For Your Mental Health

Do exercise, they say. It’ll be good for you, they say.

We are entire beings. We are mental, physical, and spiritual beings- all three parts that make up to a whole. So if you’re healthy physically, it’s going to give you a better chance of being healthy mentally too. And this is is basically what it comes down to when you hear talk about physical exercise as being as effective as medication to treating mental health conditions. There are plenty of statistics and articles out there if you’re interested in learning more, but when you’re in the thick of it, and are really suffering with mental health problems, what does doing exercise actually feel like? And what often gets forgotten?

Disclaimer alert, I am an exercise fan. While I was at University, running was my meditation. A way of letting off steam. As you’ll know if you’re a runner, there is nothing better to clear the mind of chatter and the body of tension than a good old run to some d’n’b.

But when I developed severe depression and crippling anxiety, I was faced with a bit of a problem… I basically couldn’t exercise without setting off a panic attack.

For me, my anxiety was (and still pretty much is) closely linked with my heart rate, adrenalin levels, and my breathing. When any of those got even a little out of control… BAM! Anxiety attack. And then, like an over-sensitive smoke detector, once activated, my anxiety never quite calmed down before the next shock rolled in. A car alarm goes off outside and BAM! A knock on the front door and BAM! Someone shuts the fridge downstairs a little too hard and BAM! I sneeze unexpectedly and BAM! It was a little lot ridiculous. For weeks, about 50% of the time anxiety had me trapped indoors,  unable to face the overstimulating world of outside. And the other 50% was taken up by an exhaustive and all encompassing depression. As you can see, anxiety and depression, as the two opposite end of extremes, are quite the team.

But still, do some exercise, they say. It’ll be really good for you, they say.

Let me tell you, whatever they say, doing exercise when you are struggling with anxiety is not a productive way to spend your time.

I did actually attempt to run, quite a few times. But you can just imagine… heart pounding, heavy breathing, rapid motion, and the outside world? It didn’t end well.

After that, I stopped leaving the house altogether, and basically didn’t leave bed for a few months, either because I was too exhausted, unmotivated, or too wound up and terrified by every tiny thing. It got to the point where I couldn’t watch films, because anything too exciting or surprising would set me off, and let me tell you, there isn’t much of a market for the unexciting but feel-good films out there. Even wildlife documentaries got a bit much at times. Those giraffes can be savage.

After a few months, I began to slowly venture out. Normally at night so it was nice and quiet, and with Rich by my side. By this time the medication had begun to take the edge off, and I had been to a few therapy sessions (which I definitely spent the first few sessions just crying uncontrollably at). But with the therapy, the medication, and a gentle self-meditation practise, I was finally able to leave the house. And the first thing I did was to go with my housemate and signed up for the local gym.

At first, I have to say it didn’t go too great. I kept having to stop on the treadmill or bike after a couple of minutes minutes because the rhythmic pounding or my heart beat got too much. And then there were all the television screens everywhere, screaming excitement, and advertisements for Exciting! new protein shakes, and the constant yet somehow still unexpected sound of heavy weights being dropped. Even worse, I might run into someone who knew me, which resulted in me running in the opposite direction because I basically just couldn’t hack the excitement/nerves that got set off by social interaction.

But the gym also offered group exercise classes, and although the sound of Body Pump or Abz Attack sent me into a cold sweat just saying their names aloud, there was also a Gentle Pilates and Yoga class advertised.

I went along, not really knowing what to expect but hoping at least that I wasn’t going to get yelled at by a spandex wearing muscle man, grinning manically, and bouncing the equivalent of a humpback whale in weights above his head to some pounding club bangers.

From the moment I sat down, looking around a little unsure, cross legged on the mat, I felt like I could finally let my guard down. It helped massively of course that everyone else in the room had their eyes shut (including the teacher). The music was soft and lulling, the lights were down low so I felt safe and hidden, and I was even comfortable being in my baggy pyjama t-shirt (I hadn’t quite managed to find the motivation to get fully dressed that morning). I felt safe on the island of my mat. No-one was looking at me, or comparing themselves to me, and there was no demand for forced energy or hyper excitement. It was calm, serene, with no sudden movements. Slow and steady. I can’t remember much from that first session, but what I do remember there was a lot of deep deep breathing like I had never done before (even in my singing days) and there was just this warm wash of calm inside like I had not felt in about six months. Like something warm and furry was hugging me from head to toe and whispering in my ear that I was safe, that it was ok. There was lots of sighing from the mats on each side of me, so I knew I wasn’t alone.

Sure enough, over the next few months, I slowly became friends with the people who took the class with me and around me. This was the first social contact outside of mine and Rich’s housemates that I had been able to have in about half a year. We would smile, and ask how each other were in the changing rooms, but always with a quiet calm and a feeling of acceptance. I was no longer a slave to the tunnel vision of my anxiety, now I was connecting again with other real human beings. Yoga was gently, but slowly, opening me back up, in the most calming and understanding way you can imagine.

Yoga was something I could do without a pounding heart rate, without getting elevated breathing, and without my adrenals going into overdrive. I was moving again, and I was getting stronger, and more balanced, and in control, and healthy by the day. I would wake up in the morning and stretch in bed before I did anything, just because it felt good to relieve some of the painful ache of depression in my bones, and the tension of anxiety from my neck and shoulders.

There is no doubt that Yoga is hard work, and it definitely is exercise. But without getting panicked, I would get the same letting-off-steam stress release I used to get from a long run, the same satisfied energy from a heavy gym work out, and the stretching -though gentle and patient-  was intense and deep and could take my breathe away. I soon learnt that Yoga is a tricksy one, it would sneak up on you, one stretch at a time, and before you know it you’ve flowed into a full hour of physical exercise.

Emotionally too, Yoga taught me to be more resilient, as I learnt to control my breathing in even the more difficult asana postures, and accept feelings of pain or discomfort with an open and curious mind rather than shutting them away and suppressing them. After I had been Yog-ing for about a month or two, I remember experiencing a strange sensation of power as I walked home one day. It was a feeling of deep love, satisfaction, and respect for my body, as if it was a separate being, a long lost friend rather than a intrinsic part of me, and I wanted to look after it and nourish it and let it live. Whether it’s in the breathing, the philosophy, or the very essence of the way it is done, Yoga taught me to love my body like no form of sport before ever had.

But over all of that, Yoga gave me something I never even knew was important. It gave me a sense of spiritual connection; a purpose to live, and a connection to something bigger than myself. I now believe this is essential to recovery from any type of mental illness. Physical, mental, and spiritual. The threefold path of health as a human being.

So yes, do try to find the physical exercise and movement that works for you, and love and nourish your body (it’s the only one you’ll ever get… probably), and do take your meds, and do see your therapist, and do all of those exercises and worksheets that you’re given. But don’t forget above all to keep seeking meaning and purpose in your life, to find your spiritual soul, and connect with who you really are, behind the chatter of your intellectual mind, and the pangs of your physical body. And then you might find, if you’re lucky, that underneath all of that mess and mush, you are Divine, and you deserve life.

 

I hope you’re all really well.

Stay breezey,

Roo xx.

 

 

Breathing Compassion In & Out

As I mentioned in my last post, mindful meditation has become an increasingly important part of my lifestyle, and has proven to be a colossal part of my recovery from severe anxiety and depression. So I’m going to share with you some of the meditations I use, and maybe even help you to discover new methods that you like the sound of to try out too.

I’ve only just started practising meditation properly- well, from about a month ago now- on the advice of my doctor. Previously I had always had an interest in it, and had dipped my toes in various ideas from time to time, but never really committed to it. But now I almost feel like I have been given this new opportunity to really dive in and pursue it, so thanks, anxiety 😉

One group of meditations that have been suggested to me by my psychotherapist, and I use almost daily now, are ‘Mindful Self-Compassion’ meditations by a guy called Christopher Germer, who is a clinical psychologist, specialising in mindfulness and compassion based psychotherapy.

Breathing Compassion In and Out is a 20 minute guided meditation from his series. The meditation focuses on the idea of accepting pain, and then finding compassion, all from within your own breathing. Sounds confusing, right? Let me try and explain it to you.

Germer explains that his Breathing Compassion In and Out derives from a Tibetan meditation practise called Tonglen. In Tonglen, you are acknowledging that pain and suffering exists, not only inside of you, but also all around you in others. As you inhale, you breath in that suffering, opening yourself to it. That might sound like a very alarming and depressing concept, but in this meditation it is only when you open yourself willingly to pain that you are then able to offer a real understanding and compassion in return.

As you breath in, you welcome the world exactly as it is, without trying to change it. You are not pitying the sufferer (even if that sufferer is yourself) but instead offering them a gentle kindness and acceptance of their situation. Note that recognition and acceptance of pain is not the same thing as showing approval or resigning to it.

The practise relies on trust, as you give yourself openly, in the full knowledge that you yourself are also just as vulnerable to suffering as others. But, ultimately, what this meditation is about is healing and love, as you are also opening yourself to your own answering kindness from within.

In Germer’s meditation, the premise is similar, but not quite to the same extent. It seems almost like his is a gentle gateway meditation to true Tonglen, which, admittedly, seems like quite advanced meditation to me. Germer begins his meditation by bringing attention to stress and suffering you are feeling, but then the focus shifts slightly. While on every exhale you breath out compassion for those around you, your inhale is about bringing soothing for yourself.

So that’s what I was practising today. If you feel like giving it a go yourself, or are just curious, you can listen to Germer’s full 20 minute meditation here.

Enjoy, and feel free to share any ideas/comments or even your own meditations below.

Warmest wishes,

Roo xx

How to Eat Mindfully

So, I’ve just had my first article published on YogiApproved! This is all a bit exciting, I feel like I’m taking my first cautious steps towards embracing the wider yoga community online. Before long I’m going to be one of those gorgeous yogis that already dominate my Pinterest, posing in front of breathtaking backdrops straight out of a holiday brochure, eating nothing but chai seeds and raw tofu, and speaking Sanskrit. Sigh… One day…

Anyway, for now, here’s the article…! Thanks YogiApproved!


eating-mindfully-660x400

When was the last time you sat down and enjoyed a leisurely meal with a group of friends? What about just you and your partner? And what about by yourself?
Sometimes, it can be really hard to find a second in the day when you are able to enjoy what is right in front of you, right here and right now. It can be even harder to make yourself stop and actually sit down for a prolonged period of time, especially if you’re rushing trying to get everything done. But when you stop amidst the hustle and bustle to sit down and eat, it is the perfect opportunity to check in with your mind and your body.

Eating is wonderful. It gives us energy and pleasure. It is as natural as breathing. It has a fantastic way of bringing people together. But in our diet and image-obsessed culture, eating can suddenly induce guilt where before it was simply enjoyable. To make matters worse, under the combined pressures of work, money, and deadlines, it is often cheaper and easier for us to grab fast food on the go, pumped full of salt and artificial flavors (and god knows what else!), than it is for us to find the time to sit down and enjoy something wholesome.

Food can become a chore – just one more thing to get done on an endless to-do list. Maybe you’ve experienced this yourself, and know what it feels like to inhale your food (usually over a laptop) without even tasting it. Maybe you haven’t tasted your dinner properly for weeks. Maybe it’s time for a change.

Enter mindful eating… . . . Continue reading the full article here.


I hope you’re all well.

Stay breezey 🍌

Roo xx.

Five Free Apps for Anxiety & Depression 


If you’re anything like anyone I know, whether you like to or not, you’re probably forced by work and society, to keep your mobile phone at hand, pretty much all hours of the day. And while this is great in that you are able to keep in contact with people who are far away, and never miss a new yoga article, or updated sports results, or latest science discovery, it also means that the temptation to distract yourself with games and social media has never been more… there.

I full well know the effects of endless scrolling and senseless games, especially when it comes to my mental health. While the mindlessness of it all can be a blessing for a while, over time, it can quickly become obsessive, and unsettling. With the relentless stream of hype coming in from the all corners of the world, it is no wonder that as nation we are experiencing an anxiety epidemic.

But wait, don’t throw your phone down the loo quite yet. Despite everything I’ve said above, (and trust me, I kind of wish my friends and job would let me ditch the phone) I truly believe that there is actually the potential for making your phone into your friend rather than your enemy here…

In this chaotic whirlwind life, I have a select few apps that I use daily that help me to feel more grounded and centred. I owe them a lot on my recovery journey from depression and anxiety. They’re enjoyable and forgiving, and the greatest thing is, being on my phone, I know they’re never far away! Win win 🏆
  

SuperBetter was developed by world-renowned game designer Jane McGonigal to help herself when she was struggling with depression following an operation that left her bed bound. Super Better is an imaginative and colourful way of playing, where it’s what you do in the real world what counts- drink a glass of water? Power up! Managed to leave the house today? Bad guy beaten! Planned, shopped, prepped, and ate a wholesome dinner? Quest accomplished! Did nothing today?That’s ok too 🙂 By distancing you from your discomfort, Super Better allows you to take control of your life again, one step at a time, helping you on your road to recovery as you name and face your demons, developing strength, courage, and patience, all of which can hold you in good stead for life!

  • HappyFit Optimism Work Out Free – By Russel Histon

Inspired by the TedTalk “The Happy Secret to Better Work”, HappyFit encourages you to do 6 exercises a day, for at least 21 days, that have been proven by studies to make you into a more optimistic person. Exercises include writing your daily graritudes, a highlight of the day, a ‘find the smile’ game, a 5 minute burst of physical activity, a 2 minute silent meditation, and a kindness act. Obviously, the phone doesn’t know if you don’t do burpees for the whole five minutes, but who are you trying to do this for?

 

  

  • Three App By Rachel Thomas

A beautifully minimalist designed app where you simply write three things you are grateful for every day. By the end of the year, you will have over 1000 logs of things you are grateful for! You can even set a daily reminder so you don’t forget to do it.

 

  • Calm: Meditation and simple Guided Mindfulness Exercises By Calm.com

Calm is my favourite app at the moment. Simple to use, with beautiful scenes and sounds from nature, the guided meditations are short and bright, making it easy to develop a daily meditation practise  even if you hate the thought of sitting still. You can track your progress over time, take part in week-long or month-long programmes, and also do your own timed silent meditation. I find this is great to whip out at lunch time at work when I know I need to meditate but can’t get my head to switch off. I couldn’t recommend this app enough!


 

  

  • Clue – Period Tracker By BioWinkGmbH

Now this one is, I suppose, more for the ladies, but I can’t see why it wouldn’t be helpful for guys too!? Clue may predominately be a period tracker, but I use it mainly to track my mood over time, and see how my energy levels and positivity is developing, month by month. It can also be really useful for tracking exactly when it is in the month you are feeling most down, and recognise if there is a pattern. This might help you knowing it could be something to watch out for as if this is the case it’s likely that your mood is affected by hormones, and can work as a reference point for discussion with your doctor.

So there you go. Five free apps that I believe are worth carrying your phone around for. Comments and conversation welcome- let me know of any apps that you use and let’s keep journeying on together.

And yes, you may admire my carefully arranged-by-colour homescreen.


I hope you’re really well.

Stay breezy 😊

Roo xx.

Homemade Peppermint Toothpaste

Just 5 Ingredients to freshness…

2 tablespoons of Coconut Oil

1/2 teaspoon of Bentonite Clay

1/4 teaspoon of Bicarbonate of Soda (Baking Soda – not the same as baking powder!!)

10 drops of Peppermint Essential Oil

Honey, to taste 


Fill a pan with a few inches of water and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat so the water is left simmering gently, and then place a Perspex jug (or bowl) in the water to create a double boiler.

Tip the coconut oil, bentonite clay, and bicarbonate of soda into the jug. For the clay, make sure you use a plastic or wooden spoon to measure it out, as some weird science stuff goes on when bentonite clay comes into direct contact with metal. Nothing explosive or anything like that, but I’m told the quality of the clay can be affected.

Let the ingredients melt slowly. Add the essential oil and stir well. I use peppermint essential oil as it’s what I’m used to from using commercial toothpaste all my life-but, of course, there are plenty of other refreshing essential oil out there as options to choose. I’m thinking of experimenting with cinnamon or even lemon in future toothpaste batches!

At this point you are basically good to go, (wahoo) but… If I were you, I’d taste it, and then quickly add honey to mine, as I want to actually enjoy the experience of brushing my teeth – and the flavour at this stage in the process is not even slightly appealing…

You could go for stevia if you’re avoiding sugar, or vegan, or under six months old or something, but honey does have the sneaky added benefit of being antibacterial too. I always use cold-processed honey when I can. which is a admittedly more expensive than the mass produced clear honey you see on most supermarket shelves, but I do believe that it really is better in terms of being less processed,  unfiltered, and just so much more delicious! Mass produced honey that has been heat-treated also has a shorter shelf life than unprocessed honey- it’s basically been reduced to a thick sugary syrup you being heated, lacking the antibacterial traits of its original form. Using pure and cold-processed honey will therefore keep your toothpaste fresher, your gums healthier, and your taste buds much happier.

And that’s it!

Pour into a suitable container (I use a glass jar and like to scoop it out, but you can also use any kind of refillable squeezey bottle) and let it cool completely. Do pour while it’s still warm, as the toothpaste will solidify into more of a paste as it cools to room temperature. If you do find it’s still a little runny for your liking, just warm it gently once more and add some more coconut oil to thicken it.


Does it work as toothpaste?

Well, for starters, it’s delicious, and certainly leaves that minty fresh feeling in the mouth. It keeps well at room temperature and I know I’m getting calcium from the mineral rich bentonite clay. The bicarbonate of soda acts as a gentle abrasive, removing plaque that can stain teeth, and the fats in coconut oil are believed to help ‘draw out’ bacteria from between your teeth in those harder to reach places. I find that using coconut oil also leaves my mouth feeling cool and refreshed, as the oil acts as moisturiser, and this helps me stay hydrated, and so prevents bad breath later in the day. It also helps with cracked lips of course. The texture is satisfyingly paste-like, and, when it cools, it a creamy white in colour.And finally- we have that glorious honey, a natural antibacterial, as explained above.

So, all in all, I’d say I’m pretty chuffed with how it has turned out. And now that you know how easy and satisfying it is, you can give it a go too!

I’ll keep updating as I expire the world of homemade toothpaste further… But for now, feel free to comment below, and enjoy.

I hope you’re all really well,

Stay breezy with your shiny whites 😁

Roo xx.

The Physical Ache of Depression

If anyone tells you that depression or anxiety is a mental illness that doesn’t effect you physically, they are lying. The same probably goes for any kind of mental illness in fact, but I can only speak for myself of course. Your mind and your body are a unit, not separate entities. So something that you think, you can feel- on an emotional, and, furthermore, on a physical level too.

And it works both ways. Try taking some slow, deep abdominal breaths for a few minutes, focusing on your natural rhythm, and you might become aware that your heart rate has physically dropped, and emotionally and mentally a calm washes over your mind. On the other hand, mentally picture last horror movie you saw, and you might notice your breathing gets shallower and more up in your chest as your heart rate increases. The mind-body link. The union of our bodies. It’s what makes Yoga, Meditation, and Mindfulness so powerful as tools to help us understand ourselves, and leave us feeling more balanced, calm, and in control.

But back to the physical aspects of Depression…

You know that feeling where you wake up in the morning and your whole body is heavy and warm, and you just can’t bring yourself to get out of bed? Imagine that, and then times it by about a hundred. That’s what I get, pretty much every day.

My depression sometimes manifests itself physically in me as something called Leaden Paralysis. It can range from a nauseating fatigue and accompanying dull ache, to a full blown paralysis, where I literally cannot move, speak, sometimes even move my eyes, and can only occasionally muster up the energy and motivation to moan something vaguely coherent. It is as if I have gone into slow motion. The tiniest movements make me out of breath with effort. My mind is still there, whirring away (probably going off into full blown panic mode too by now), but I just can’t bring my body to move. I take my attention to the tip of my finger, and I can’t find the energy to even wiggle it. The more I try, the more the painful ache washes over me, rooting me to the spot.

I used to describe it as if my bones were full of iron. Since then of course, I found out what it’s so fittingly called, and have changed my description slightly: a Leaden blanket, anchoring me down from the inside out. And I’m not alone…

Leaden Paralysis is found in people who suffer from Atypical Depression (that’s me! Woo!). The name doesn’t mean it’s an uncommon form of depression, it’s just a more specified part of Major Depression. In Atypical Depression, you tend to have less of a ‘numbness’ feeling that is sometimes described in other Depression forms, and instead you might be more likely to be hypersensitive and reactive to external forces.

Other symptoms of Atypical Depression, aside from Leaden Paralysis, include excessive sleeping (10+ hours a night), heavy fatigue on a daily basis, having problems concentrating or decision making, weight gain, and being more prone to suicidal thinking than with other types of Depression. Of course, Depression is different for everyone, and you may or may not experience all or some of the symptoms above. Everyone feels things differently, and you’re never going to fit in the box perfectly, but it can be oddly comforting to see someone else describing what you have felt and realise you’re not crazy. When I first had this Leaden Paralysis happen to me I thought I might have been going into some sort of bizarre brain seizure, so it’s good to know what it is.

To see a more detailed list, and learn more about Atypical Depression, you can follow this link.

So how does someone deal with Leaden Paralysis when it starts affecting their lives?

The one biggest help I have found is to tell people. Be as open as you can about what happens to you physically, and let them know that it is a real thing. I know this can be terrifying, but you don’t have to tell everyone. If it’s a social event you’re missing, or work, you can just let them know you’re ill, and  leave it at that. As far as employers are concerned, you are under no legal obligation to disclose your any of your mental health records with them, unless you want to of course. But letting someone that you trust know what is going on can change the whole experience. Now when I feel the Paralysis coming on I can tell Rich and he understands in an instant what is going on because we’ve spoken about it before. He knows that I’m not just being lazy. He also knows that although I may not be able to move or speak for a while, I’m still there, and appreciate him chattering away to me as normal, or helping me sit down or get into bed, and put a film on in front of me.

I have no method for getting rid of the paralysis itself. It’s caused by the depression, so it’s a case of treating the root cause, rather than being able to doing anything particularly for the fatigue. So instead of trying to fix it, you can learn to cope with it. Over months I have learnt how to sit it out by making myself as comfortable as possible, keeping myself as calm and happy inside as I can, and waiting for it to pass. And it always does eventually. I can’t make it any less of a reality for me, but I can control how I react to it.

I practise Yoga daily. Even just a few gentle stretches in the morning helps to relieve some of the ache in my bones and move the energy around my body.

If you feel that you connect on an energetic level with yourself spiritually, you might also find Reiki can provide you with relief too, but I understand that it’s not for everyone.

When I can, I go for a deep tissue massage. Although they don’t always help with the ache, it can do, and either way it’s a great way of giving your body moving physically without getting out of breath.

Throughout the day, I always try to keep moving, alternating sitting down with something on my feet. The day is for action, the night is for sleep. The more I stay energised in the day, the better I will rest later. But I do give myself plenty of short breaks to rest in between activities.

Prepare yourself. Keep your phone close to you or your bed, so that if you feel it coming, you can call someone to let them know. Try not to be alone for long periods of time. In the past I have gone to stay with my parents when my housemates have been away for the week just in case, so that at least I have someone around to feed me if it gets really bad. Make meals in advance, so they are easy to get. The last thing you want is to stop eating because you’re too tired to get anything. I always leave myself leftovers from dinner the night before if I can so that if it does happen the next day while Rich is at work, I can eat something healthy, rather than falling back on sugary, fatty foods because I feel like I need some instant energy and that’s all I can manage at the time. I also keep a bottle of fresh water on my bedside table. Hydration and healthy eating is so important, yadah yadah yadah- so be your own best friend and make it easy for yourself.

Keep warm. There is nothing like the cold to make an ache feel worse. Hot baths and hot water bottles are your friend. I invested in an electric blanket a couple of years ago and have never regretted it for an instant. I unapologetically wear about a million layers wherever I go too. Thermals are not just for winter! And you can always take them off again.

Don’t reach for the caffeine. Maybe you’ll feel better initially, but what happens when it wears off again? It’s a nasty cycle, try not to slip into it.

But most of all, tell someone. And, as with all mental illnesses, don’t beat yourself up about it. It’s a symptom of an illness, an unfortunate situation that has happened, just like someone getting flu, or breaking a leg. It’s not a cause that you have created for yourself in any way by being weaker than anyone else.

Hope you’re all really well,

Stay breezey,

Roo xx.

When You Shine, I Shine

The world is full of competition – it drives our consumerism and feeds our ambitions. We might find ourselves competing aggressively with those around us – for jobs, for schools, for money, for attention. We compete for “success” (whatever we deem that to be), as if it is something that has finite resources; as if it will run out if someone else gets there first.

Even though we reasonably know that the concept of success is not a dwindling resource but in fact an endless, infinite commodity to be shared and celebrated, it can still be hard to not feel jealous, resentful, or even inferior when we see someone else excelling at the same thing we’re striving towards.

In yoga, we are advised by our teachers to let go of competitiveness, to love ourselves, accept our limits, and let go of our ego.

But some days, it can be harder to focus. Maybe you find yourself enviously watching the person on the mat next to you as they glide effortlessly between poses, a serene expression on their face: an image of grace and power that you feel you can only aspire to. And although you know that you should try and let go of your competitiveness, a little teeny tiny part of you still says, “Damn… I wish I could be a little more like them.”

Sound familiar? Here’s a better, more empowered alternative. Apply a little Shine Theory to your situation and channel those thoughts into some positive, uplifting energy.

Shine Theory is all about embracing and befriending those who you look up to, surrounding yourself with people you admire, and celebrating their successes, rather than resenting that it isn’t you in their place.

“I don’t shine if you don’t shine.” -Aminatou Sow

I first heard about ‘Shine Theory’ from Ann Freidman, New York Magazine writer, and one of the three fabulous ladies who are behind the podcast Call Your Girlfriend. “I don’t shine if you don’t shine,” says Ann’s best friend and podcast partner, Aminatou Sow. Freidman talks about Shine Theory from a purely feminist stance, encouraging women to support each other. What an amazing idea! So why not extend the Shine Theory to embrace all beings in exactly the same way?

“Because she competes with no one, no one can compete with her.” -Lao Tzu

It can take real courage to approach someone you have been admiring from a distance and compliment them. But when you give out love and light, the universe sends love and light right back at you. Your comment could be the beginning of a great friendship or mentorship, or it may just make their day. All you need to know is that you have put yourself out there, non-competitively. The universe rewards such actions.

Continue reading…  

 

Image credit: Tumblr

Progressing with Patience

When I first was diagnosed, one of my biggest coping mechanisms was to consider my mental illness like any other physical injury I had ever had up until this point- as something that I will bounce back from, passing in its own time, given that I look after myself, rest up, and practise patience.

It’s a classic case of youthful thinking that I was, in some way, immortal, and that whatever happened, I would always be fine and just go back to how I was before. The idea of a sports injury sticking around as something I have to work with for the rest of my life was something that I couldn’t comprehend.

Of course, now I know that things don’t always happen that way. Bodies get old, and pain is stubborn, and one particularly persistent illness or injury may never quite seem to fade completely. You never quite go back to square one. But what you can do, if you’ll let it, is end up somewhere completely different.

In the yoga community, I have heard the most inspiring life stories from people, first hand, of how they were told they would never walk unaided again, or be able to go back to the work that they love, and yet they did. These people managed to overcome the odds stacked against them, working oh-so-slowly, and with all of the patience of the universe within themselves.

And no, of course they’re not the same people they were at the start- they have undergone an immense soul-changing journey – how could anyone be the same after that? They often come out of it with an entirely new life perspective, being more in control, more aware, more accepting, more understanding, and more patient with themselves, and with others, than they ever could have been before.

But of course it is hard to be patient, all the time, when the future seems to stretch out in front of you empty and bleak, and you feel like you are so far from where you want to be, and even further from what you were before.

I guess in recovery, it is important to let go of these self comparisons and expectations that you put on yourself, and try not to look too far ahead. To practise a different kind of patience with yourself, one where you are not waiting for something in particular, but one where you continue to pootle along on your path steadily and patiently in the face of obstacles (and of course there will be obstacles, life likes to do that for us to give us a little push from time to time).

The difference is to work with progression, rather than aiming for some sort of perfection. To let go of expectations or life plans and just see where you end up. To live in the present, as you are, and try to accept how you are feeling today and work with today, rather than getting frustrated with yourself for not being who you were before.

Because (and this can be a really difficult thought to deal with) you are not who you were before. And you will never be who you were before again. But instead, you are someone with the potential to be so. much. more. With the depth of your experience, you are creating the most beautiful landscapes of mountains and valleys within your soul. So it is ok to take your time. You are becoming more you. You are coming home to yourself.

Below is an extract that I was given by my therapist when I was moving on from my CBT course at Birmingham Healthy Minds. It is about faith, and patience, and doing everything from a place of love.

I hope you are all well.

Stay breezy,

Roo xx.


 

Doing the Best You Can
Progressing with Patience

by Madisyn Taylor

 

Try not to expect perfection when starting out on a spiritual path or attaining inner peace.

It isn’t always easy to meet the expectations we hold ourselves to. We may find ourselves in a situation such as just finishing a relaxing yoga class or meditation retreat, a serene session of deep breathing, or listening to some calming, soul-stirring music, yet we have difficulty retaining our sense of peace. A long line at the store, slow-moving traffic, or another stressful situation can unnerve you and leave you wondering why the tranquility and spiritual equilibrium you cultivate is so quick to dissipate in the face of certain stressors. You may feel guilty and angry at yourself or even feel like a hypocrite for not being able to maintain control after practicing being centered. However, being patient with yourself will help you more in your soul’s journey than frustration at your perceived lack of progress. Doing the best you can in your quest for spiritual growth is vastly more important than striving for perfection.

Just because you are devoted to following a spiritual path, attaining inner peace, or living a specific ideology doesn’t mean you should expect to achieve perfection. When you approach your personal evolution mindfully, you can experience intense emotions such as anger without feeling that you have somehow failed. Simply by being aware of what you are experiencing and recognizing that your feelings are temporary, you have begun taking the necessary steps to regaining your internal balance. Accepting that difficult situations will arise from time to time and treating your reaction to them as if they are passing events rather than a part of who you are can help you move past them. Practicing this form of acceptance and paying attention to your reactions in order to learn from them will make it easier for you to return to your center more quickly in the future.

Since your experiences won’t be similar to others’ and your behavior will be shaped by those experiences, you may never stop reacting strongly to the challenging situations you encounter. Even if you are able to do nothing more than acknowledge what you are feeling and that there is little you can do to affect your current circumstances, in time you’ll alter your reaction to such circumstances. You can learn gradually to let negative thoughts come into your mind, recognize them, and then let them go. You may never reach a place of perfect peace, but you’ll find serenity in having done your best.

Yoga Tattoos

So I recently got my first tattoo. It’s something I’ve been thinking about for years, and now, finally, to celebrate starting on my yoga teacher training, I got it done! It’s a tiny but elegant aum symbol in black vegan ink on my inner wrist, just as a small reminder for myself but tucked enough out of sight not to call for attention. The full meaning behind the aum (or “om”) symbol is outlined below, but to me it is there to help me feel grounded and remember to be aware as I try to bring my yogic beliefs into my everyday.

Shortly after I got my tattoo, I wrote an article for Yogi Approved on the meaning of tattoos and their symbols in the yogic community. Although I cannot post the whole article for copyright reasons, here is the beginning for you, followed by a link to the original article itself with pictures and all.

I hope you enjoy.

Stay breezey,

Roo xx.


6 Common Yoga-Inspired Tattoos and Their Meanings Explained

Tattoos, tattoos, everywhere!
You can’t go far these days without running into someone who has a tattoo, especially in the yoga community – from proud declarations of passion worn brazenly across the chest, to symbols of dedication that are tucked discreetly out of sight.

Tattoo culture is ancient. It’s unclear where it originates from exactly, but the first recorded inkings come from ancient Egypt, around the time when the pyramids were being built. These early tattoo forerunners believed that an image on the skin was much more than a powerful symbol, and actually allowed the wearer to take on the qualities of that image. For example, if you had a tattoo of a lion on your chest, not only do you look pretty badass, but you also take on the qualities of the lion – proud, strong, and a powerful leader, just like the king of beasts.

In the thousands of years since, tattoo culture has spread across the globe and back again, and today in the western world getting inked has never been more popular. In the yoga community in particular, you’ll often see the same recurring symbols, and this is by no means a coincidence. These popular tattoo images are not only aesthetically beautiful, but resonate with meaning and spiritual depth.

Of course, everyone has their own reasons for going under the needle and doing something so permanent. Whether it’s a badge of loyalty, a personal reminder of your beliefs, or simply because you love the way it looks and feels, we think tattoos are awesome. Even better if they’re yoga related!

Whether you’re looking for inspiration for your next tat, you’re not quite sure where to begin, or if you just want to see what’s out there and learn more about this ancient culture, read on, as we walk you through 6 of the most common yoga-inspired tattoos out there…

1. The Lotus Flower

The lotus is a symbol of purity and divine birth. The pure white flower flourishes in murky ponds. Hence, the lotus has come to represent the enlightened soul, calm amidst the chaos of the physical universe. The bud of the lotus symbolizes potential – it is the bud from which spiritual awareness grows. The number of petals changes depending on the meaning behind the lotus, with eight petals being the most common (reflecting the eight limbs of yoga) going all the way up to one thousand (to the crown chakra, or center of enlightenment). I’d like to see them try to fit that on one finger!

“If you feel lost, disappointed, hesitant, or weak, return to yourself, to who you are… and when you get there, you will discover yourself, like a lotus flower in full bloom, even in a muddy pond, beautiful and strong.” – Masaru Emoto

2. The OM symbol

The OM symbol, from Sanskrit writing, is dripping with depth and meaning. Each curl represents a different part of the human awareness: conscious waking below, unconscious sleeping above, and out of the two comes the subconscious: the dream state. The floating dot above symbolizes a higher awareness, or nirvana, and reaching this state of bliss is only achievable by passing through the dash that hangs beneath it: signifying an infinitely open and willing mind.
The OM or “AUM” is also believed to be the sound that was made when all of creation came into existence, and it is how many yogis often begin and end their practice.

“OM is not just a sound or vibration. It is not just a symbol. It is the entire cosmos…. continuously resounding in silence on the background of everything that exists.” – Amit Ray

3. Mandalas

Often used as an object of focus in meditation, the mandala is a gorgeous geometric pattern that represents the metaphysical universe with cosmic harmony as all paths meet at the center. Comprised of many intricate components and details, the mandala becomes whole: a symbol of oneness, perfection, unity, and completeness. The mandala is also another way of representing a lotus (see above) in full bloom with its petals wide open to the world.

“Each person’s life is like a mandala – a vast, limitless circle. We stand in the center of our own circle, and everything we see, hear and think forms the mandala of our life.” – Pema Chodron

4. Hamsa

The Hamsa is a hand-shaped symbol, traditionally with a picture of an eye at its center. The Hamsa represents bravery and boldness, and is believed to ward off evil and negativity – the ultimate form of protection when worn on the skin as a tattoo. The eye represents the divine, always watching over you and bringing you good luck. Wearing a Hamsa on your own finger might bring even more protection to the wearer, as finger tattoos were often traditionally believed by ancient tribespeople to keep negative energies and spirits at bay. Incorporate an elephant inside your Hamsa for some extra good luck.

“Rakhay rakhanhaar aap ubaariun” – a mantra from Guru Arjan that translates to “The divine is looking out for us.”

5. The Moon

From the earth, the moon seems to be constantly changing as it waxes and wanes in its endless cycle. Yet we all know that the moon never actually vanishes from the sky but instead remains the same, silently orbiting us. The moon is a powerful symbol for our own lives, as we too seem to be going under constant day-to-day change, yet simultaneously remain the same people as the day we were born. The moon can symbolize rebirth, feminine power and fertility, and the karmic cycle: what goes around comes around!

“Regardless of the shadows that cross the moon to make it appear less than it is, to the moon, it is always full. So it is with us.” – Buddha

Read the full article…

The Swings & Roundabouts of Recovery

Recovery is a total oddball. Back and forth, to and fro, up and down. It just can’t seem to make up its mind. Or maybe that’s just the nature of depression. Who even knows any more?

What is for certain though is that recovery is not black and white, certainly not with mental illness at least. You do not wake up one day and everything has fallen into place and hey presto, you’re fixed. It ebs and wanes, coming and going. And that’s tough, because it can really knock you back when you’ve had a couple of great weeks and you feel strong and stable in yourself, and then it turns out that you’re… not quite there. And you’re back to spending days in bed staring at the clock with no energy or motivation to even get yourself some water. It really tests your patience, and your faith in yourself.

I haven’t written for a while because I just went through one of those up periods, set off by a change in medication, from Escitilopram to Sertraline. In this up time, I got enough energy to get myself a job and get back out into the real world, started writing for YogiApproved.com, and began my yoga teacher training course.

Changing medication seemed to be a great decision, and I felt so much stronger. It was utter relief. After so long, I felt like I had come up for air and was taking my first real breath in months. Food gained its taste, I recognised my friends faces again, the world was full of colour and beauty, and I didn’t have to think about trying to look after myself all the time. Life felt so light, and simple, and happy.

And now… things have started to take a turn again. I can feel that old exhaustion creeping back into my bones and the negativity and self doubt wrapping around my thoughts.

Now, I don’t know whether it is some sort of initial placebo effect, but I remember feeling this same mood boost when I first went on Escitilopram too, way back in January 2015. In that up period I managed to get out of bed, started this blog, began my yoga practise, and started looking after dogs. It did me a world of good.

But then, slowly but surely, the up phase started to fade away, until I was even worse than before. Although I was spending less time in bed, I became engulfed with suicidal thoughts which I had never had before the Escitilopram.

So, I made the decision to switch to Sertraline, to see if this would work any better for me long term. Yet again, fantastic initial up period. But once more, I feel it slipping away from me again. It is worrying. But I guess I’ve just gotta keep on.

Maybe medication will never be a long term solution for me, but it’s nice to get a relief from my head, even if it’s just for a few weeks. It helps me remember what it feels like to live, and be healthy and happy, and what I am capable of. It gives me hope that I can feel like that again. It is possible.

I am sure that my recovery will continue to swing, and there will always be better times and worse times. It might be cruel, or frustrating at times, but I guess that’s just the nature of it, and so I must accept it for how it is. One thing that I do try to remember in all of this up and down, is that no matter how bad things get, I am part of a process that can only go forwards, constantly moving and learning and growing. I can never go back to how I was at the start, even if I find myself returning to bed for weeks again,  because it’s progression. It’s dynamic. And I have learnt so much.

I hope you’re all well,

Stay breezey,

Roo xx.