When life throws you a curve ball, what can you do to help your body and mind truly recover from a stressful event?
I guess you’ve already figured out that I blog about what’s happening to me, so yes, I experienced a partcularly stressful event. Well actually there have been several stressful events in our life over the last year: a financial one that started back in October ‘14 and won’t be dealt with entirely until 2015 comes to a close, a medical one when my beloved daughter had a seizure at Christmas last year, a few family ones as various family members go through their own stressful events, and in March this year the stressful event that tipped my balance, sent me on an emergency flight back to the UK and turned my world rather upside down.
After a BIG thing happens in your life, how does one return to being an empathetic coach, an active member of the wellness community in Hong Kong, an inspired writer, a devoted wife, a patient mother, a considerate employer, a dedicated yoga practitioner who is up with the lark every morning? How does one do all of these things when actually all you want to do is sit in your pyjamas and watch re-runs of Game of Thrones to distract you from what your little world has temporarily become.
How could I possibly coach others and guide them towards their best, balanced and joyful selves when I was experiencing sabotage to my own balance? After all, coaches are human too.
Of course it depends on what the event was, how long it lasted for and how directly it affected you. It depends on the support system you have in place to help you out. It depends upon your attitude towards the event, whether you internalise or externalise the cause, and your desire to recover from said event. It depends upon your ‘base point’, your ‘normal’ – what are your expectations of what normal should be? Are you quite unused to high stress and discomfort as part of your daily life? Or have you been forced to accept discomfort for so many years that it now feels part of your normal and you’ve forgotten how to fully recover at all?
Well, for me at least, recovery needed to be efficient and it needed to be effective. That type A, list-maker, box-ticker came back into play and I needed to ‘achieve’ my normal again. So I enlisted all the help I could get. I asked an amazing spiritual advisor I know for a Skype call, I met with my endlessly supportive health and wellness coach here in Hong Kong, I chatted online to my business coach in Tonga, I talked to my oldest friends whom I’ve know since the beginning of high school, I talked to my newest friends in Hong Kong, I talked to family, I think I probably even talked to myself. That ‘support network’ of people whom I cherish so dearly were absolutely one of the main reasons that I was able to initiate the recovery process, to start to heal.
But still my cortisol levels were all over the place, of course I gained a few pounds as my body had gone into ‘fight or flight’ mode and was holding on to everything it could get, my menstrual cycle dropped from a healthy-for-me 28/31 days to a mere 20/22 days and my skin, that has been ‘as clear as a bell’ since my late 20’s when I changed my lifestyle, suddenly started to break out.
It was happening to ME, the COACH! Those things that I tell my clients about all the time, the visible physical effects of stress upon your body, were taking over MY body without being invited and I was afraid that I’d start to feel like a fraud. But no, thankfully all it did was strengthen my resolve to heal and to put to test the theories of physical, emotional and spiritual recovery that I discuss with all my clients, all the time. I’d healed once before, after leaving the finance industry, and I needed to heal myself again.
So, ‘in the outside world’, I saw my clients and coached them with as much love, grace, honesty and energy as I could muster. I saved-up my positive energy for them and they kept making all the progress that they so well deserved for their efforts. And being with my clients, as always, gave me so much inspiration and purpose that every session was even more uplifting than the last.
But behind closed doors I slowed… right… down…, I honoured my body and S-T-O-P-P-E-D. (Wow…even as I typed that the world around me seemed to stop turning, just for a moment). I slept – a lot! I spent more time with my amazing husband and daughter; my strength, my loves.
We need to STOP in order to heal. We need to talk, to cry, to scream sometimes. Then we need to stop (again!) and allow the healing to continue. But how long does that part take? I’m not entirely sure for everyone and of course it depends on the crisis, on the stressful event and on how that translates for them. But if we do not allow ourselves to stop, to honour the process and accept it, to actively engage with it, then I don’t believe we can fully accept the pain we are feeling, to face it head on, to really get to know it and understand it, to enable us to recover.
If you try to keep going, to keep those plates spinning, the wheels turning, then eventually the whole thing will come crashing down around you.
Do you honour your pain? Do you face the darkest parts of yourself in which the pain resides?
My yoga practice, as ever, was my unavoidable and absolutely necessary mirror. The mat literally took on a reflective quality as it shone brightly, right into my eyes (every damn morning) and lit up the places I least wanted to look at, both physically and otherwise. And I felt real, true pain in my body in a whole new way that I’m certain was an embodiment of the pain I was feeling inside (that was a little ‘hippy-dippy’ I know, but for those of you who practice yoga regularly I’m sure you’ll concur).
Recently I finished another truly exhaustive and exhausting yoga intensive training through which I was able to delve deeper into the whys and wherefores of the pain. It has taken me most of this year to heal and it has taken most of this year for that physical pain to dissolve – see the pattern?
I am generally a ‘bright side’ person, my glass is invariably half-full and that got me through the year with lots of bright moments and many, many reasons to smile. But the real healing was going on underneath those bright moments, my ‘story’ was re-forming itself and I was building up new reserves of strength to leave that story behind me again and return with purpose to walk my path. Suddenly I’ve turned a corner, the story is somewhere in the distance; its still there but I’m no longer lugging it around on my back so I’m able to gingerly pick up speed…
And perhaps this is one of the last stages, ‘going public’ again? (Last time I did this my yoga practice opened up so much, even the very next day. It’ll be interesting to see if that is the case again – I’ll let you know!)
Are you healing something now? Have you been carrying some old ‘story’ or samskara around with you for a while? The first step to healing is S-T-O-P, rest, reflect, seek support, find reasons to smile, S-T-O-P, rest, take a look in the mirror through a daily practice, find more support, enlist a coach, talk to your friends, S-T-O-P, rest, eat well, sleep lots and take the time to look into those darker places that are hidden maybe even from yourself. Face yourself head on, then walk forward along your path with purpose.
With love, Rowena x
How do you reconcile your ‘inner rebel’ with always having to be ‘good’, to eat well, to rise early for yoga practice, to drink less alcohol, to drink more water, to eat kale, to add probiotics to your diet, to find time to make a green smoothie today……blah blah blah!
Trust me, that feeling of, “I must do this in order to be healthy and I should do that to create a more balanced lifestyle” is even more pronounced for a health coach. I sincerely love living the life that I live and I find so much pleasure and inspiration in coaching my clients, but I somedays feel the pressure to ‘walk my talk’ when actually I just want to let loose and be bad.
But what if being bad on occasion is part of the balance?
I have a pretty strong rebellious side who ruled the show in my 20s and I am missing her a little bit – she was fun! But she is rather a conflict with my lifestyle nowadays and I’m always reminded of the negative effects of her choices on my body and mind after the dancing was over. She was the one who would drink until dusk, dance until dawn and screw the consequences. She would eat with whimsy, work like a trojan and party until she literally dropped.
I think my missing her has become more pronounced with my ‘1 year of no drinking’ experiment (only 76 days to go!) It’s not like I had a drinking problem when I made this decision last year, in fact quite the opposite. In my 20’s my drinking was typical of Hong Kong’s work hard, play hard mentality, but for me that was long gone in favour of a couple of glasses of wine at the weekend. Literally two or three, on occasion, hardly the stuff of AA nightmares! But perhaps because I had changed so much, had come so far, and it felt so good to be THIS healthy, I was starting to wonder what would happen if I took it one stage further still.
Does ‘healthy’ have a limit? How far can I take this thing? And why do I even drink anyway?……
……Woooaaahhhhh there! I have met this person before. She is the version of me who thought that way about eating and became anorexic for a few years in my teens. She is the version of me who takes a good thing and spins it with the classic type-A need to achieve and goes way out there to be the best of the best of the best……at being thin in that case……which we all know is a road to disaster. (Thank goodness for my wise mother who saw the symptoms and plotted with the family doctor to take me for a ‘regular teen check up’ so he could tell me I was dangerously thin.)
The type-A the version of me, like the rebel, needs to be reminded that balance is good. No: balance is imperative! A little of the rebel can be fun – too much of her is certainly toxic. A little of the type-A, gotta-get-this-thing-done-now can be productive – too much of her is a disaster zone.
We all have these sides to ourselves, any number of them. Think of them as your board of directors seated at loggerheads around your boardroom table. Who takes charge? That will likely depend upon your time of life, as well as your experiences and your personality type. But they all have a voice and they all need to be heard. To silence any one of them is to create imbalance and internal conflict. Even that one whose voice falters when she speaks as she tells you you’re not good enough to be healthy – “who are you to want more from your life anyway?” – even she needs something. Perhaps its love?
Take the time to acknowledge these vital parts of you, to listen to them, and to ensure that they are all heard.
I do love my life, I feel so blessed, but I do also feel the pressure of ‘should’ in my life and my daily yoga practice (my unforgiving mirror). I find I go through cycles of serious, diligent practice (type A!) and then of finding it hard to find my way to the mat – the rebel returns and I am reminded that I need to feed her some of what she needs. Perhaps I need to skydive. Perhaps I need to have a glass of wine over dinner with friends and enjoy a silly, carefree conversation. Perhaps I need to get in the kitchen and make a batch of yummy raw chocolates to indulge with this evening. Perhaps I need to dance until dawn!
Take 5 minutes today to check in with your board of directors. Who is leading proceedings? Who is left in the shadows, too timid to be heard? What can you do for that person today? Do you need to be bad? Do you need to be good? Do you need to find love for yourself, or to give love more readily?
To restore my balance and reinstate equilibrium I need to allow my inner rebel to take a more prominent seat, yet in a way that allows me to still be the me that I have become. I am a passionate health coach and a dedicated yogi – what will rebellion look like for me? #maybeayearwastoolong
I must also remember that I ALWAYS feel more balanced after my yoga practice, no matter what, no exceptions. Never once have I regretted standing on that mat and for that knowledge, for my practice, I am eternally grateful.
Do you struggle to find balance in life and health? No idea who your board of directors even are? Contact me to arrange a ReBalance Consultation, either in person or via Skype/Facetime.
(My first rebellion of the day – I’m posting this without having it proof read! Every typo is for my inner rebel!) 🙂
“Your playing small does not serve the world”
Have you heard this sentence before? Do you know where it comes from?
It is from a passage written by Marianne Williamson that was introduced to me for the first time when I was absolutely not ready to read it. It was suggested to me that I show this passage to my clients for their own personal growth, so I read it and, honestly, thought that it was a little bit to ‘airy fairy’, a little bit too flouncy, a little bit too fluffy, a little bit too…
…true? I personally was not ready to heed its meaning and therefore was not ready to present it to anybody else.
So I now present it to you: are you ready to heed the meaning?
Is it the fear of failing or the fear that we might really succeed that most frightens us? The thought of facing our fears can be hugely terrifying – we like to live within our self imposed ‘safety net’. Taking that a stage further, the thought of demolishing our fear and being an enormous success also brings with it a mammoth helping of terror. But then the idea of being “brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous”, my goodness, are you ready to go there yet?
(I faced my fears yet again this weekend by somersaulting off a trampoline for the first time in my life. Pretty liberating when you’re the ‘wrong’ side of 35! I then continued to do it again and again and had so much fun. Isn’t it amazing what our fears are ‘protecting’ us from?)
“As we let our own light shine we unconsciously give others permission to do the same”
We have all felt this: it is the gift in the simple act of smiling at a stranger as you walk along the street. They smile back and you both feel a little bit happier. Happiness engenders happiness, just as strength engenders strength, success engenders success. So in being too modest, in playing the humble wallflower, in being ‘too British’ with that stiff upper lip preventing us from speaking up to announce our triumphs, we shine less and others around us follow suit, dimming their lamps for fear of dazzling those around them.
I was asked a question at the end of last year by someone very important in my life: “Where is the richest place on earth?”
After thinking for a while I decided my answer was, “the richest place on earth is inside your heart” as I had concluded that love is the most precious thing I could think of and that the residence of love was the heart. Apparently not. I learned that this was actually a question posed many times before by a controversial preacher named Myles Munroe (who was sadly recently deceased). He said, “the graveyard is the richest place on the surface of the earth because there you will see the books that were not published, ideas that were not harnessed, songs that were not sung and drama pieces that were never acted”.
Makes sense, doesn’t it? But it gave me cause for further thought and I have to say I don’t wholeheartedly agree with Myles Munroe. Is it really the potential books, ideas, songs and drama pieces that are the riches we leave behind? I can’t help returning to my thoughts of love and the richest place being inside your heart – where do we find the lost loves, or loves we left behind when we departed this life leaving our earthly remains in the aforementioned graveyard?
And so I turned to my inspirational and knowledgeable Mother who has spent her entire adult life caring for others in the medical profession, most recently working tirelessly for nearly 20 years as a specialist in palliative care (for the uninitiated, the care of those who are on the road towards death). My mum is one of the few who knows much about the thoughts of many and varied people who are now dearly departed, not long before they dearly depart, from many and varied conversations at bedsides as their soul prepares to leave this place for the next.
What are the things that people regret, the wishes and dreams that have passed folk by during their lives, what touches people the most as they take their last few breaths on the surface of this earth that we call home?
I called mum at work to ask her; her answers were succinct, clear, concise and comprised of three main categories which, she said, are experienced to some degree by almost all people as they live their last few moments and take their last few breaths:
1. Family: The feeling of missing our family, of missing out on what happens next, of not being there to support loved ones, of leaving loved ones behind and not being part of their lives.
2. Relationship/Love: Loves lost or failed relationships. Problematic relations with children due to familial problems or difficulties, or our children being estranged. Loved ones being geographically distant and our life ending having not been able to say goodbye. Or dying before we have chance to heal the wounds we left in the wake of life.
3. Knowledge: Where does our knowledge go, is it all lost? All that time spent studying, learning, gathering a lifetime of information around our own particular specialist subjects, linked to our own particular memories of events. Where does all that accumulated ‘knowing’ go?
Thank you Mum for your wise words that have given me cause to disagree, at least in part, with the late preacher Myles Munroe’s assertion. If the regrets upon our death bed are focused primarily around family, relationships, love and knowledge, then surely the graveyard will be littered with regrets of a different nature. What about the opportunities to spend time with our families that were not harnessed because we were too busy making money in our office cubicle, with colleagues whom we saw more than our loved ones. Then of course there would be the remains of words we never said to repair a broken heart, deeds that were never done to reach out and express our love to our estranged children, wounds left open and untreated after harsh words were spoken or trips that were never taken to visit our families and loved ones around the world.
But finally, the graveyard would be drenched in the knowledge that we never shared, thoughts that were not developed into prose, ideas that will die with us – here I think the final thoughts of so many echo the theory presented by Preacher Munroe. In not sharing our knowledge, in not leaving a written or spoken legacy to allow future generations to benefit from our years of experience, we may well have missed our cultural calling. Herein lie Munroe’s “books that were not published, ideas that were not harnessed, songs that were not sung and drama pieces that were never acted”.
So the message here is balance, as in so many areas of life when we really break things down. Make the time in your life to really, truly be with your family. Not just to be in the same room or the same house while each of you stares with technologically-induced inebriation at your smart-device of choice, but actually being together and making sure that you savour every moment, knowing that not making the most of this now will be your single biggest regret in the future.
(Just to clarify, there was no death-bed mention of the time we didn’t get to spend with our colleagues in the office, hanging out drinking coffee by the photocopier, or of the dollars/pounds that we never earned to bulk out our savings plan, or of that one last hour spent surfing the internet page de jour)
And next, make time to fix what is broken. If you have dealt harsh words, make your peace and apologise. If you have received harsh words, make your peace through forgiveness. If your loved ones are estranged, be the one to make the first step towards a resolution. Bitterness met with love, resentment met with forgiveness, frustration met with understanding, these are the things that can heal a broken bond and rekindle relationships. Or at the very least, forgive, bring peace and move on.
Finally: share your knowledge! I broke my own mould, my samskara, and overcame many a fear by first publishing my thoughts in this blog that you’re reading today. I had no idea whether anyone even wanted to share in my knowledge, to delve into my thought processes, but a wise friend once posed the question, “who are you to not share what people may benefit from?”
The only certainty in life is death. Morbid? Or realistic? Make sure you face your maker with the satisfaction that your particular, specialised experience and knowledge has been passed on rather than being taken with you to the grave. Write that book! What will it take? Pick up a pen and write. Sing that song, tell that story. Or even start a blog!
So in Marianne Williamson’s quote, “your playing small does not serve the world”, it could be considered that we should all let go of our fears, banish insecurities, ignore the self-doubt and get out there to grab hold of our dreams and passions with both hands, allowing ourselves to shine brighter than we ever thought possible!
I for one do not wish to be buried with my dreams, or with the particular knowledge that I accumulate, rather for them to be shining bright on the earth long after I have departed this place.
And right now I am giving my gift to you,
smiling at you from across the street…
…whilst wholeheartedly giving you the “permission to do the same”.
Happy New Year one and all!
The holiday season was such a wonderful period of reflection for me, for myriad reasons, both good and bad, and I have emerged relatively unscathed into 2015. My New Year’s resolutions are more continuations than revolutions – to have a daily practice encompassing yoga asana, pranayama and meditation exercises, to sleep more, to read more books for pleasure and to spend more time outside. But I have one more this year which is to focus more and to multitask less, therefore to live more in the moment: to work when I am working, write when I am writing, and to be a mum when I am, well, being a mum. In short, I am aiming to split myself into fewer pieces and enjoy the manifestation of myself that I am embodying at any one time! (Phew!)
And I’ll give myself time to stop and stare…
Last week I had my first dedicated day where I did no work, no writing, no chores, and not a single ‘little tiny piece of admin that has to be done today ……’. I simply existed completely with Beatrice, entirely, without distraction and we PLAYED. She really noticed the difference and actually commented in a variety of 4-year-old ways how it was so fun to ‘play’ with Mummy. I’m often present in our home without being truly present and I’d hoped she hadn’t noticed, that it didn’t make a huge difference as long as I was there. Apparently not. Such a huge lesson for me.
I am also embarking upon some further study in health coaching (one can never stop learning) and I have been brainstorming some ideas for my clients here in Hong Kong. Out of those thought processes this week arose a letter addressed to myself in 2005, the super-motivated mid-20’s me who worked in finance in Central HK, but who felt the burn-out approaching and enquired on a health coach website (do you see where I’m going with this?). Having written it, I decided to share it with you:
Dear ‘ambitious 20-something’, circa 2005.
Thank you for your enquiry on my website and for your interest in what I offer as a health and wellness coach here in Hong Kong. I will do my best to address all of your questions, from personal experience, as honestly and succinctly as possible.
Yes, you are correct in your understanding that I worked in Central HK for quite some time in the corporate world myself. I found the whole experience exhilarating, motivating, exciting and rewarding but also incredibly challenging to my mental, emotional and physical reserves. I recall my Mum visiting me in my crazy, faced-paced world and telling me that my business suit was my battle armour and my make-up was my mask. I was rather taken aback at the time but she was so attuned to my truth, as mothers tend to be. Nowadays when I recount that period of my life in general conversation the phrase “I loved it but it nearly killed me”, invariably emerges from my lips.
For me it was like going to war each and every day, a young woman moonlighting in battle. Resplendent in my pin-striped suit I was sprinting around a premier league pitch and catching the occasional goal until I got pretty good and ended up out front with the other attackers. And I did encounter workplace pressure as a woman but in honesty most of the additional pressure I felt was of my own creation, needing to prove myself to me.
I felt like I was up front, attacking, scoring and periodically dashing to the sidelines to fix my hair; we pressure ourselves to look like the pictures in the magazine whilst we endeavour to keep up with our male and female counterparts in the daily workplace grind.
Firstly ‘ambitious 20-something’, let’s make one thing clear. You look great! You’re in your twenties and almost everyone looks great at that age, regardless of how you think you look. Your skin is still so young, your youthful body so resilient, your eyes so bright, your face retains a plump-cheeked, full-moon, fertile glow, all in spite of the daily pressures that you eke out upon it. But things need to change. The full-moon face of youth is not yours to use and abuse at will – it is a finite gift wrapped within the limits of time.
Imagine what could happen if you review how you live, if you gift your body, mind and spirit with the respect that they deserve and which you have not yet learned? What if you leave the battle behind and introduce balance to your life? You asked me what a health coach does, but the question would be better phrased as ‘what health issue most bothers you this week?’, or ‘what area of your life is most out of balance nowadays?’. Those are the things we will approach head on, together, learning how they arose and how best to implement small changes to your life in order to meet your health goals. We could address many challenges:
- Your hormonal skin outbreaks that have plagued you will disappear
- You will not need to wear foundation (seriously, that is possible)
- You will not require a ‘tan’, your your skin will glow from the inside out
- The mid-afternoon energy slump or post-work exhaustion be no more
- You will go through the whole day without coffee and wonder why you ever drank it
- The doctor will not be on speed dial, you can go year upon year with no prescribed medications at all and will not catch common colds more than once every 2-3 years
- Your figure will be smaller and your weight will normalize at the correct level
- You will be stronger in your body and mind once you open yourself to a regular yoga practice
- You will be able to sleep, without wine, all night and in peace
- Stress will no longer be your ruler, no longer omnipresent in each day
- Earning more money will be no longer your sole motivator, not because you hit millionaire status, but because the cliché that money does not provide you riches is absolutely true
- Moreover, if someone were to completely empty your bank accounts, your world would not collapse around you. You would simply continue, life would go on
- When you choose not to drink alcohol for a year you will actually enjoy the process, finding that your social butterfly can still flutter-by
Nowadays my pin-striped battle armour is folded up in a drawer and is unlikely to ever see the light of another day. I am still smart but on my terms and, as for my ‘mask’, it is no longer built upon a thick layer of foundation because my skin no longer requires the coverage, just a little coconut oil and maybe a sliver of tinted organic moisturiser. And yes, I do still love my mascara, but there are days now when I don’t wear it and still feel ok which would have been unthinkable before. Again, it is on my terms rather than a requirement of my ‘uniform’. As for the stilettos, I do still love them but they make an occasional appearance on special occasions: I no longer need the reassuringly familiar ‘clip-clop’ to feel that I have arrived!
So if you would like to continue your exciting, action-packed, adrenaline-filled life in corporate HK but are not sure your body and mind can cope, if your full-moon face is starting to wane, if you one day decide to leave that life behind to parent full-time and miss the battle sometimes, or if you are wavering somewhere in between and are not sure where your life and health are heading, I can certainly help you to strike a better balance. Or if you’re done with the battle field and want create a new version of you, learning how to better fuel your body and mind, I can help with that too. Let’s arrange a meeting soon over an espresso morning coffee a post-yoga herbal tea to chat more about your personal health and wellness goals. I’m so looking forward to meeting you!
With love & best wishes, Rowena (circa. January 2015)
And so, dear readers, endeth my letter to my old self. If only she could have read it and taken care of herself a little better in her twenties – thankfully her body was more resilient then and she emerged from the battle with minimal scarring. But those of us over the 30 threshold and beyond, take heed. Forgo the battle, maybe even the war, in order to save yourself. Who knows what might be over the horizon? My own battle scars are fading and my horizon is looking brighter than ever – join me! 🙂
I very much look forward to sharing the adventure of 2015 with you all.
Please feel free to share your comments and thoughts below – all are welcome.
Most of us always make our scrambled eggs with milk and butter, we probably couldn’t put our legs behind our heads even if we wanted to, we have never even considered running an ultra marathon and, when it comes to that meditation lark people talk about, how can we be expected to sit still for even 5 minutes without our collective minds racing off to plan the next ‘to do’ list or what to make for dinner?
I don’t mind sharing with you that I have a particular fear of old age. Not of actually growing older, but that being ‘old’ comes with unavoidable pain, discomfort, illness and suffering; growing older and gradually collapsing into gravity’s arms. But that doesn’t have to be the case, right? If we buck the trends, find new ways, keep ‘learning new tricks’ and actively do all in our power to feed our bodies the most nutritionally dense foods, undertake the most therapeutic & positive bodily movement, are kind to ourselves, allow rest when we need it and ‘feed’ our minds nutritionally too, can’t we break that societal samskara? I am certain we all have a chance to, at the very least, minimise the pain in favour of pleasure.
So can an old dog learn new tricks?
My Dad has inspired me recently. He just turned 65 but if you asked him he’d probably tell you he’s 24 with a big grin on his face! And he’s always wanted to learn how to play the piano. Dad is, figuratively and comparatively speaking, an ‘old(er) dog’ but he is most certainly open to new tricks. He has taken the musical bull by the horns and enlisted a piano teacher, he studies theory, is learning to properly read music and is practising diligently. He has found that after practising a few times he can even play pieces without the music and, most importantly, he is inspired by the journey and the journey is inspiring his life.
I think Dad’s influence in my life is one reason why I resonate with the quotation “doubt everything – find your own light” (the last words of Buddha in the Theravada tradition). Whatever your religious beliefs, this quote resonates with me as an approach to life, in not following the path ahead blindly and obediently. And the further down this ‘rabbit hole’ of self-discovery I willingly tumble, the more doubtful I become of what society tells us in favour of carving out a whole new pathway. I’m actively ‘fitting out’.
On coining the phrase ‘swimming side saddle’.
I am a terrible swimmer. Yes I can make it from one side of the pool to the other but there is nothing graceful about it and I’ll be huffing and puffing after one length (“ahem”…width) as if I’ve never done a day’s exercise in my life. I probably wouldn’t drown if I fell off a boat into calm water but more down to my ability to float than any kind of smooth, nymph-like swim stroke. My brother has always been the swimmer in our family which, as families tend to do, was put down to the fact that he inherited the ability from my fish-like-father who is from the south coast of the UK and used to work with boats, whereas I ‘followed’ my land-loving mother who was raised on a farm among green pastures in the centre of the UK – figures! My favoured stroke has always been breaststroke, but the kind where your face doesn’t get wet and your hair looks as dry as a dehydrated kale-chip. So yes, not particularly streamlined and very, veeeerrryyyy sloooooow!
My breaststroke doesn’t feel like real, invested swimming, rather more like an imposter in the pool, resembling a lady in her unsuitable finery ‘swimming sidesaddle’.
I was determined my daughter would not ‘follow’ in my anti-nymph footsteps, right from her amphibian start being birthed into water. She now squeals with delight at the prospect of a day’s sailing on ‘Uncle Simon’s boat’ and absolutely adores jumping off it into the deep, dark sea beneath. On one such sailing trip recently, I got caught in a particularly unforgiving current and right then decided that I needed to face yet another fear and learn a new trick, to switch my rather inferior side saddle style for the more invested ‘swimming astride’. I’ve already learned a lot from my passionate swimming coach, the locally famous ‘Coach Rob’; not least that everything I thought I knew about swimming was about as useful as a lead-weighted bikini. And in studying this entirely new discipline I’ve learned so much about myself, drawn so many parallels with the passion that is my yoga practice, and benefitted a great deal through being a true beginner & thereby learning how I learn.
Even my venerable and widely respected yoga teacher Chuck Miller (who, incidentally, is not too far removed from my father in age) often says, “don’t believe me, go find out for yourself and study with other teachers”, as he has always done himself. He encourages his students to study other things, not just other disciplines of yoga, to read about unrelated subjects and basically never to stop learning ‘new tricks’ because in doing so you remind yourself to always be a beginner. In welcoming the blessing of ‘beginnerdom’ every single day you leave yourself truly open to learn, to truly experience. In yoga, maybe in life, the day you stop being a beginner and decide you’ve really cracked it is invariably the day you face an immovable obstacle, the day you injure yourself.
When was the last time you learned something new? A new recipe? A new route to get to work?
With the recent protests in Hong Kong, our usual route has been barricaded off for weeks so we had to find a new way to drive on our morning commute, and doing so felt a little liberating. Finding new paths in life, new routes, really feels good once you get past the fear.They say the best way to stay young and avoid horrid degenerative diseases in old age is to keep the mind active, to learn new things. I can actually feel why and how as my brain opens up to new possibilities of places I could drive to now, synapses firing, using my newly tried and tested route as a base from which to start. I’ve been forced to break my mould, avert from my usual route and allow new synaptic connections to form. It’s like learning a new language; the brain actually creates new synaptic links, physically changing, growing, and finding new ways. The metaphorical concept is corroborated by science. We need to use, stretch and challenge these magnificent tools, our mind and body, to avoid the otherwise inevitable collapse into gravity’s clutches.
It’s the fear that stops us, that makes us cling on to the grass at the top of the ‘rabbit hole’ and not allow ourselves to tumble in with gay abandon, that tells us the only way to make scrambled eggs taste good is with milk and butter, that this is the best way to drive to work.
And for goodness sake, if I tried to put my leg behind my head I’d snap!
I can’t put my leg behind my head, not yet at least, and it is not my goal. By in practicing Ashtanga yoga diligently each day I now know that I probably will put my leg behind my head one day without even thinking twice, perhaps 10 years from now, but it could very well happen. I’m not attached to it happening, but I’m open to it. Interestingly I was never one of those super-bendy kids who could do such things, so I couldn’t ‘perform’ that trick as a young dog. I’ll most definitely be old(er!) and I’m so happy with that. My beloved friend Kate Howe’s two sons are blessed to be studying yoga while still young and are learning their ‘new tricks’ with relative ease and grace; they’ll get ‘there’ quicker physically and I’m so delighted for them that their Mum is giving them this beautiful gift. But in being the old dog, taking longer to learn our new trick, don’t we have a completely different set of benefits, of lessons, and aren’t we on a completely different journey to the young dogs anyway?
I make scrambled eggs nowadays with no milk or butter, just with coconut milk. They are delicious! “But it’ll taste like coconuts”, I hear you protest in chorus. Will it? Are you game enough to try? Let go of the grass and take a tumble down that rabbit hole. Join me in galloping towards your next birthday fully astride your horse, willingly learning something new at every single jump, every single day!
What have you always wanted to learn? Can you choose a different route today?
Sack society and her norms. Let’s find a better way, a new path, defying the grip of gravity.
With love, Rowena x
p.s. I’m sitting in my hairdresser’s chair as I type, having a long overdue chop. The radio literally just played a song as I typed my name above. It was distinctive in that it’s not a modern song or one that is played often nowadays so I commented that it was, “funny – I heard this song last time I was sitting in this chair, 3 months ago!” “Maybe the DJ likes this one”, I concluded. Hairdresser Mike countered, “Maybe he’s being lazy, just doing the same old thing”. Synchronicity – you’ve gotta love it! 🙂
One of my greatest faults? I’m quick to judge.
I definitely judge a book by its cover as my ‘default’ and I am working every day on being more compassionate, more understanding and on making less automatic, knee-jerk reactions during encounters with new people or strangers. In short, I’m working on keeping my own personal gavel aloft for a little bit longer.
Recently I have observed something interesting about myself – when I meet a new or established client and I’m in ‘health coach mode’ I am immediately able to leave the judgement at the door, to be understanding and to accept them for who they are, no matter what. So why do I find it more challenging in the everyday, mundane aspects of my personal life? Why do I judge people on the street, the woman who barges past me on the path and nearly knocks me over, the taxi driver who cuts me up on the highway, the mother who just exploded, shouting at her apparently spoiled child who was clearly throwing a tantrum because he couldn’t get what he wanted?
In truth I have been all of those people. I am certain that on occasion I have been stressed, rushed and distracted and knocked into someone in the street, then been so irritated and overheated that I didn’t apologise as I would have on an ‘ordinary’ day. And, whilst I pride myself on ‘giving way’ on the roads, I know there are occasions when I’ve been in a rush and cut someone else up, pulled out in front of someone or not indicated when I should have done. And I shouted at Bea yesterday, loudly, in public. Granted she had just run into my ankle with her child-sized but no less robust metal shopping trolley in IKEA, it had been the umpteenth time she’d done it in half an hour and this time she took a chunk of skin out of my ankle. She didn’t mean it of course, but it really hurt and I was shocked and surprised and angry and frustrated all at once and I shouted, right there at the checkout of IKEA. I’m sure most mums have stood in the defendant’s shoes, while the eyes of the jury around them burn with contempt or judgement or both. I apologised to Bea, she apologised to me, but the jury didn’t know why I’d shouted. I was probably just ‘another mother with another spoiled expat child demanding something new in IKEA’.
So I have certainly been the perpetrator and haven’t we all at sometime or another? And for me, it’s a particularly ‘enlightened’ and balanced day that I’m able to approach being the recipient, the ‘hard done to’ or the audience in any of these scenarios without judgement, although I am working on it daily, through yoga and through meditation.
But I have a further confession to make; I was those people and much more while I worked in finance in Hong Kong. Without the balance and perspective that yoga provides to me, without the inner calm that our daughter gifted to us when she arrived and without my husband (who was in Korea) and his calming influence, I was a whirlwind of eternal judgement. I acted in a manner that attracted judgement and I cast it at others with the drop of a hat. I was trapped inside my own self-destructive samskara.
Where was the love? It’s a cliché I know, but I feel now that that was what was sorely lacking. My family were far away in the UK, my husband was a 3 hour flight away, our daughter but a twinkle in his eye, my yoga still a muted flame inside me yet to be awakened, my influences often unsavoury, my decisions often less than sweet. Love was buried, compassion was overlooked, and passion was turned towards money and success.
Now I am living a life of abundance in love of every kind, for my daughter, my incredible husband, my inspirational clients, my humble yet esteemed teachers, and my ever-forgiving family & childhood friends whom I am still too far away from. And most importantly love for myself, a concept that our Western minds struggles with.
So those people who we judge on the street, are they like me now, like me then, like you, are we all alike? Are they not feeling particularly loved today and are therefore stunted in their ability to show love to others?
(Aside: Another children’s movie has inspired me. I have a 3 year old and we love Disney movies, although as you know we’re not feeling so much love for Disney food!)
On Friday we watched Disney’s recent movie ‘Maleficent’? It’s a perspective flip on the original ‘Sleeping Beauty’ story that makes you return to the original story with a renewed idea of who is the hero and who is the villain. I watched it with Bea this week and we both loved it although perhaps for differing reasons.
For me, it resonated with my thoughts of late. Is any one of us truly good or bad?
Is there an ‘evil fairy’ who plagues your life? Could you flip your perspective and consider their viewpoint on life, on you, or even on how they came to be where they are now, if they are blessed with love, and if they have always, now or ever been so blessed? And could you approach them with more compassion and love next time you encounter them?
Conversely, do you have a fairy godmother and is that person absolutely, faultlessly good? Or, for the sake or argument, are there people whom almost knock you sugar-sick with their sweetness, the like of which is so apparently perfect that you could never even aspire to such heady heights of ‘fairy godmotherdom’? And is that person always faultlessly good, or does everyone have a shadow of ‘bad’? Have we all knocked into someone on the street and not apologised, at least once in our lives? Do you think Mother Theresa ever did?
We may argue that there are extremes of bad and good, extremes that are arguably beyond compare, and for the sake of this blog I shall unceremoniously remove them from the discussion in favour of looking at those people we encounter in everyday life (may that never include the one wielding the axe!)
And so, if we view every person we encounter without immediate judgement, hold the gavel high and view the courtroom with the benefit of a perspective flip, a little empathy thrown in and a healthy dose of the the compassion and love we wish they would show to us, then are they truly the bad guy?
Along a similar vein, we can treat ourselves in a good or bad manner. Following a daily yoga practice can be done with compassion, love and kindness to yourself, or it can be done out of guilt, the need to ‘tick the box’, the need to have a perfect body (whatever that is), with extra effort and dependency on ‘achieving a pose’, all culminating to cause yourself injury both physically and in the non-physical. This can be the case with any practice, from running marathons to playing basketball, from attending church to visiting your mosque, from creating art to creating a spreadsheet. Whatever your passion, whatever your discipline, whatever your belief system, whatever your practice, they can be approached by your internal ‘fairy godmother’ in a manner that is kind and bestows wishes, or conversely by your not-so-good fairy and in a manner that does not benefit you or anyone around you.
Try to approach yourself and others today and during the next week with a perspective flip. Be everyone’s fairy godmother. I wonder whether, by dropping our innate tendency to judge ourselves and other people, we could all have a better day? In gifting compassion we breed compassion. In gifting love to others we present more to ourselves. In loving ourselves we are free to leave judgement behind.
Keep your gavel aloft and have a perfectly perspective-flipping day!
With an abundance of love, Rowena x