Grand AutoTheft – Are we subconsciously stealing from ourselves?

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IMG_9153At the moment I am in the middle of studying an online course delving into the Yamas – the ethical guidelines for how we interact with the external world as introduced in Patanjali’s yoga sutras. It’s been great to study these ethics outside of the traditional text and with a view as to how they relate to everyday life. In the past I viewed the Sutras as a text which was a little inaccessible and perhaps distanced from the life I am leading on and off the mat today. Janet Stone is successfully reminding me that this is very much otherwise the case!

I divert from the main point of this blog: Asteya or non-stealing. Asteya seemed obvious the first time I read it – non-stealing – and I’m thinking well of course I wouldn’t steal from anyone else, it’s not like I’d go into a store and just take something for goodness sake. No, maybe not. But I have come to realise that whilst I would never consider shoplifting, I am pretty damn adept at stealing from no other than myself.

How can this be? When we focus on the sense of lack in our life – which often comes back to the fundamental feeling that we are not quite “enough” as we really truly authentically are – then we can find ourselves trying to fill this void with other ‘stuff’. We maybe buy things we don’t really need, we dominate conversations without realising it (rather than actively listening to what is being said), we spend time on social media at the expense of using the time wisely for more nourishing activities for own soul, when we don’t allow ourselves to get enough sleep and steal from our energy the next day, when we teach the something we haven’t truly experienced for ourself but then give it away….the list goes on.

One of the points that Janet makes that most sticks with me is how we can steal from our own body and our own prana and energy. When we are trying to force ourself into a yoga posture or allow ourself to be in a posture when we know it’s not really right for us. Perhaps we really want to be in that bind, but at the same time the twinge in your shoulder tells you it’s maybe not the right place to be, but you ignore it as hey we are in the bind so this must make me a better yoga practitioner right? When we indulge in this behaviour we are essentially stealing from one part of our body in order to get elsewhere – we are taking more than is being offered by our body and breath. From my personal experience, this is normally to pander to my ego’s desires at the expense of going inwards and feeling deeper what is really going on. Over time I’ve realised that I can use the poses that on the outside appear more “advanced” to avoid doing the real work on the inside, and when I do I basically short change myself on the depth and delight that my asana practice can bring. In essence I am stealing from my own body and sometimes breath, just so my ego can tick a box off its checklist.

How can we work to sort this out? I use the Forrest Yoga Formula for Change – step one is to catch yourself in the act of self mutilating (which is what this physical self-stealing is) – step one by the way, is the most significant step – it’s rooted in self-awareness – this is crucial but can be really challenging! Step two – congratulate yourself on having caught yourself – acknowledging your good work here is key! Step three – make a decision to change something up. So when I catch myself moving into struggle mode at the detriment of my self in my practice I take a step back. I’ve re-educated myself that down-levelling isn’t taking the lazy route, rather it’s the intelligent pathway to deepening my wisdom of my body and myself. This is definitely a road worth travelling!

Another key theme that has stood out for me is worrying – when we allow ourself to get bogged down in stories about a future that hasn’t happened yet and in a lot of cases will never actually materialise, we steal from both our present and future. The amount of effort and energy that stressing (or indeed fantasising about the future) takes can be enormous – and when we invest our life force or prana into this, we are stealing from having a full authentic experience of what is happening now. We miss all the good stuff that we do have and we don’t allow ourself the opportunity to enjoy it. When we are burning up prana in this way we also create a situation where we don’t have enough energy to enjoy our future – by the time it comes around we are depleted and so once again can’t be fully present to appreciate and soak up the abundance we do have.

In the present world, which lets face it is a social media fest on so many levels, how on earth do we deal we the sense of lack we are so often left with? Whilst it might seem easier to focus on the list of what we don’t have, the key shift here is to practice focusing on what we actually do have. When we realize how we are abundant in our life we don’t feel the pull to fill up the void that focusing on not being enough creates. Here are my top personal ways that I use to hone my focus on this:

  • Gratitude list or Beauty Report – before I go to sleep at night I write down in a little notebook I keep near my bed what I am grateful for. This might be a few things or just one. It can be something as simple as having spent time in nature, or being grateful for fresh food to eat and a warm bed to sleep in, it might be a bigger life event – the key here is to find Beauty in my life (not aesthetic Beauty, but the type of abundance that makes you feel warm and glowy on the inside).
  • Meditation – sitting still and getting quiet. When I do this I get to appreciate my breath, and the present moment. Nowhere to go, nowhere to be, nothing to do except be fully here, right here, right now. Now often our mind likes to tell us we don’t have enough time for meditation – but that’s the sense of lack rearing its ugly head. You are wise to that one by now. Take 5 minutes. Take that 5 minutes you would have otherwise spent flicking through Facebook or Instagram – lets call it “wise re-appropriation” of our time. Use that 5 minutes to ground and centre. When we get focused back on what is really happening we don’t need to steal from our own unfolding – that’s a Beauty report for sure.
  • Asana practice – This not stealing from yourself in your asana practice is not an excuse to be slack off – there’s a difference between not going to an uncomfortable place in asana because you can’t be bothered and it’s hard work, versus not going deeper because you are afraid of going into the unknown, versus actually going physically way too deep because your ego thinks the pose looks better but actually you can’t breathe and your tweaky knee is not feeling so great. If you have stuck with this article long enough to read this then I think you most likely know what I’m referring to here. When we don’t go into the unknown because it’s new and scary we maybe deny ourself the opportunity to navigate new and unexplored exciting terrain within. Catch the fear, go in slowly and enjoy the experience, as Ana Forrest says– find out which part of this can I do? Do that bit and enjoy it! If you are not going there because you can’t be bothered  and it feels like hard work – check in with yourself. Are you really feeling indifferent? Or are you actually feeling tired and therefore would benefit from a slower, shorter practice today? What would feed you and your Spirit, not steal from it? If you catch yourself in twisty, painful, can’t breathe but quick look I got into the pose territory – congratulate yourself, not on having forced yourself into the pose but on the fact that you realize this is not where you need to be today. Rather than steal from the body to be somewhere for the sake of it, choose to be in the place that allows you to be fully present. So you invest in yourself in the now, rather than steal from your future experience.

Asteya reminds us that the fullness of our life is happening right now, not in some fairytale future. It’s sometimes hard to find the fairytale, but when we slow down and focus on what we do have, the magic of the present will unfold. Seeing our yoga practice as a “work in” rather than a “work out” is a great place to start this process.

Aho!

 

 

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#RunningYogi T-minus 9 weeks

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Last week was a tough week. It started with the realisation that I had actually mis-read my training plan and jumped a head a week the week before. So my 12km run was actually supposed to be a 10k! Oops! At least I actually did it though! After writing my last blog post I joined the gym I teach at so that I can do some hill training and not have to worry about where I am going to find the hills to practise running up! (Peterborough is pretty flat for those of you who have never visited – question to self – why am I not running my half marathon in this flat city then?!)

So, having established which week of the training plan I was supposed to be on, I then proceeded to tweak my back out teaching/practising last Monday. A great reminder of why I and updog will never be best of friends, and why low cobra and therapeutic backbends kick ass. You live, you learn. Tweaky back actually wasn’t the thing that stopped me running, it was more the fact that I barely slept as my back was really uncomfortable to lie down and my legs were a bit tingly – making me worried that my sciatica was making an unwanted come back. I managed to do my two easy runs fine though. Thursday meant a much-needed trip to the chiropractor to get my SI joint rehoused where it should be sitting and an unexpected but rather relief inducing couple of thoracic adjustments too. Friday morning I was supposed to wake up early and run 10 km – Friday morning it just wasn’t happening though. I was going away to teach workshops in Newcastle and decided that I needed (and would benefit more from) a bit of extra sleep. I managed to fit a 6k run in, somewhere in between teaching my morning class, packing and catching my train! Sunday I was back on the treadmill for more hills – they are hard but I think I prefer them to intervals – which clearly means I need to be doing more interval training!! I may just wait until they make an appearance on the training plan before I tackle those!

So, I did not achieve all of my training goals last week, but I did however get my running shoes on 4 times so this is something I will acknowledge and give myself credit for. I am hoping for a more solid week’s training ahead and am focusing on that rather than last week’s shortcomings.

A little reminder and shout out that I am running this race to raise money and (maybe more importantly) awareness for Prostate Cancer UK. My JustGiving page can be found here – I still have 35% of my target to get but would like to raise more if I’m being really honest as I think this is a very important but perhaps overlooked cause. If you feel inclined to donate I would very much appreciate it 🙂

Until next week!

Running in Beauty,

Ros

Prostate cancer dancer

#RunningYogi T-minus 10 weeks

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I have ten weeks until the Great North Run on Sept 13th… I swore to myself weeks ago that I would start a blog tracking my running journey, yet like many things this has not materialised until now. My training hasn’t been going as well as I wanted, or expected it to if I’m to be entirely honest. It’s been tough – or rather I have been tough on myself I guess – part of me thinks I’m too old to be doing this, I’m not the 26-year-old long distance runner I used to be, it’s never going to be like it used to be so why bother? The other part of me says – stop making excuses, it’s not just about the race it’s about the motivation behind it – to raise money and awareness for Prostate Cancer UK – stop finding excuses as to why you can’t train – cancer certainly doesn’t procrastinate and find excuses…

I wanted to start running to train for this race and raise money and awareness for Prostate Cancer – that was one of the motivations for me. The other was that I woke up one day and wondered why on earth I stopped running when I loved it so much? The answer was that my Bikram teacher told me to… and I just did what I was told. This was also the same person who let me to do a standing straddle forward bend with my feet mat distance (the narrow width) apart, my head on the floor and all with raging sciatica….I realised it was definitely time to give running a try again for sure. (And, if you have sciatica and are reading this – no the pose I just described it certainly not a helpful pose for you to be doing if you have shooting pain in your butt and leg!)

The other element to this journey is what I call “dirty love” – I used to run 5 times a week, I could run a 10km in 44 mins and a half in 1hr 46 – I was a bit of a running bad ass if I say so myself. The dirty love bit is how I got that far – I trained like a fiend – everyone was in awe of how often I went to the gym and how long I could run on a treadmill for – I was the fit and healthy one. Which all sounds very nice, but the truth was this – I actually consistently over trained and looking back I would say I had a problem with over exercising and obsessive calorie watching. I was super skinny – but only because I would run on a treadmill until the calories counter threw itself back to zero again. I would eat more salad than a rabbit and although I wasn’t starving myself I knew damn well that I had burned off the majority of my food intake. Yoga helped to rectify this for sure – so maybe it wasn’t such a bad thing that I stopped running to do more yoga.

Putting my running shoes on also puts me in this place of instant comparison with the way it “used to be” – and it’s certainly a great “not good enough” trigger that’s for sure. I cottoned onto this pretty soon in though – I figured I had 2 choices – chuck the running shoes back in the cupboard and pretend I had never even bothered, or get the running shoes on, get out there and figure out how to do it differently this time. How might it be to run and take the pressure off so it was actually fun? Not as easy as it sounds but I’m not one to admit defeat!

It’s funny – about the eating thing – I’m not sure if my running app lies to me (it has no idea my height or weight so I guess it probably is!) , but I’m pretty astounded at how much you  burn off running. The difference this time is I find myself thinking – “I really need to make sure I’m eating enough for this!” rather than the pretty much opposite as before. It makes me realise that you can avoid a problem and ignore it, pretend it doesn’t exist, but actually you need to grab it by the horns and face it head on if you are going to beat it. The nice thing about this race is, I really don’t care about doing some amazingly impressive time – I just want to finish it and not be completely destroyed, and raise awareness of Prostate cancer along the way.

Back to the training – it’s been an injury-fest – first runners knee – although it was never diagnosed as that. I was shocked to discover that despite all the yoga I have ridiculously tight IT bands and my glut medius thinks it’s on vacation and is doing absolutely nada! The foam roller has revolutionised my post run tension (despite nearly making me cry the first time I used it, we are now firm friends I’m pleased to report!)

I tripped running in San Francisco in February – over a massive tree root in the park, and yes, it would have made a great cartoon character sketch! No blood but I pulled a muscle in my left butt which was painful to say the least – I think I may actually have torn something in there actually and now have scar tissue as this just keeps on playing up. The upside of this is I have realised that I need to warm up properly – that this is absolutely essential before running and it needs to not be a half-assed effort! It’s also led to me getting really interested in how I can use my yoga as an effective warm down. I’m finding at the moment that practising yoga before running doesn’t help so much – not least because handstands and arm balances are way more tantalising than the idea of running and so it can become another procrastination or excuse to not go out! I have a warm up that my physio (who thankfully is also a runner) gave me, which mobilises my legs and gives me time to drink my coffee before going out first thing. When I come back, I have a great Forrest Yoga standing pose series I’ve developed that helps sort me out and stretch out what needs to be stretched. Or I may do a full practice but making sure that I work with the hips, hammies and shoulders (how much tension do runners acquire in their shoulders – seriously?! It’s going to be mega sets of shoulder shrugs after the race I tell you!)

The training plans – I was following a plan I found online, but I didn’t quite like its focus on training and running for an amount of time – I feel like the mileage is also important. I’m not saying one way is better than the other, but I have decided to switch back to the plan I have from my old faithful “Running from Start to Finish book by John Stanton – it’s not a flashy, trendy looking book but the training plans always served me well. I’m adapting the 2 hour plan so I will run slightly less sessions per week and see how I go from there. The key is to listen to my body and do what feels right for me, without finding excuses to not train because my mind thinks so!

I’ve been enjoying running outside (except, as my family will testify, on our recent holiday in Florida, where running at 8am meant running in 30 degrees celsius and was a KILLER! Sweaty doesn’t even come close to describing my post run appearance!!) I think I am going to sign up to the gym though so I have a treadmill to do hill training on – Peterborough is pretty flat and I think that on a running machine I can’t pretend I am running up hills when I’m not! In short – on a treadmill you get to control your hills but it makes you do them at the same time! It will be good to have an indoor option if the weather gets miserable too – once again – no excuses!

Yesterday was a 5k easy run – I was at a Yoga festival all weekend and had massively tight quads but running felt great and after my yoga session after it I felt invigorated and strong rather than knackered and a quivering mess – always a good sign! Here’s a post run lunge – felt great in the hip flexors! Lunges used to be my nemesis pose but lunges up the wall are fast becoming a runner’s fave at camp Ros! I will endeavour to update the #runningyogi blog on a weekly basis from now on – I figure it will be a great motivator and it’s good to share tips and experiences to help others too.

Running in Beauty!

Ros

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To Truth Speak or not to Truth Speak – is that the Real Issue?

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“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.” 

Brene Brown, “Daring Greatly”

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As kids we were (most probably) taught that speaking the truth was good, and not speaking the truth, i.e. telling lies was bad and would be punished accordingly. It was maybe a bit more clear cut back then – when you said you’d done your homework so you’d be allowed out with your friends you knew deep down if you had or hadn’t done it; whether you were actually speaking the truth or not. For many of us though, somehow on the journey to adulthood the ability to know if we are speaking the truth or not has become blurred. And once we’ve got that figured out, having the actual courage to speak our Truth – well that’s a whole other ball game altogether! Since when did Truth speaking become so damned difficult?

I have to admit, I am sometimes on occasion left wondering why I bothered to speak the truth at all; if having the courage to speak truth is a challenge, likewise so can our willingness to hold space to hear the truth be equally so. I recently spoke the ‘Truth’ to a health professional I had been working with. When asked if I had been following a series of exercises I had been given, I answered truthfully in the negative and explained why. In the past, I would have let myself fall into the trap of playing the ‘good girl’ role – giving the expected response, justifying it in a way that totally negated what I was actually really feeling. I decided there was no point in pretending I am doing something I blatantly haven’t been doing, just to tick the boxes on somebody else’s list. Part of me feels like I’m acting like a naughty child who won’t eat their vegetables, not doing said exercises, the other part of me feels that there is a good reason why I haven’t been doing them – they aggravate the injury that took me to see that professional in the very first place. Exercises aside (the psychology of that one I’m sure possibly warrants a whole blog post of it’s own), that’s not what I’m talking about here. What’s up is this – I spoke the truth, and I didn’t try to people please for the sake of it. The response I got was, as you have probably already guessed, not a particularly receptive one. The result: I sat and read the email feeling like I wished I’d never been honest in the first place. I know I’m not the only person sat reading this who has had this kind of experience. So, yes, it’s no wonder as adults that we have lost our ability to speak the truth – for many of us, it’s been over shadowed by the need to appease others.

In thinking about truth speaking, I was drawn to look back at The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. The first agreement he describes is to “Be impeccable with your word”. He says:

Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.

On paper this doesn’t sound so difficult, we’re all thinking “well of course I’m impeccable with my word…most of the time anyway….” The second agreement presents the flipside of the truth speaking experience though – “Don’t take it personally”. As Ruiz explains;

Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.

So, if we are opening ourselves to truth speaking – our Truth – it’s equally important to examine our response to hearing the ‘Truth” of others. Our reaction to other people’s truth often says more about us than it does them. My reaction to the email response I had to my truth speaking is not really about the person who wrote it; they were (hopefully) just speaking their truth back to me. It’s really about the trigger it was for me – it peeled back a delicate layer of my own insecurity in speaking my truth. And as my teacher Ana Forrest says, “Never waste a good trigger” – so I decided to delve deeper into the paradox and complex mystery of “Truth”.

On a similar vein to Ruiz, when Brene Brown discusses worthiness in “The Gifts of Imperfection” she says:

“When we can let go of what other people think and own our story, we gain access to our worthiness”

So, here’s another twist about truth speaking – it’s not just about hearing other people speak the truth and our reactions to it, but also about our reactions and fears to hearing our self speak our own Truth. The trigger I experienced has made me sit with the question – “how do I actually feel when I speak truth, about speaking the truth – am I actually prepared to hear my own truth, never mind anyone else? I’ve started to acknowledge the little tricks I’ve employed to conceal my Truth from myself – completely giving up drinking any alcohol full stop is maybe one of the bigger ones (and once again probably another blog post in its own right), as are the other little ways I distract in order to numb from what I’m actually feeling. I’ve decided to make a concerted effort with seated meditation to explore the intricate workings of my mind further – to sit with what my truth is and what triggers my barriers to it, as a regular check in as to what I am actually feeling right now, rather than what I think everyone else expects me to feel.

Speaking our truth takes courage, and hearing it just as much so. Brown describes courage as speaking ‘one’s mind by telling all one’s heart”, and highlights that this ‘ordinary’ courage involves us putting our vulnerability on the line, speaking honestly and freely about what we’re feeling whether it be good or bad. I feel that this brings us back full circle to our sense of worthiness – can I own my story and my truth enough to speak it and feel that I am enough? Brown also makes another really interesting point – are we speaking our truth to someone who has earned the right to hear it and can hold space for it? Our most vulnerable truths are maybe not meant for everyone’s ears. I think perhaps it’s somewhere between our concept of our own personal worthiness (or lack of), alongside not fully trusting (be that subconscious or otherwise) the person we are telling our truth to hold space for us, that maybe we have ended up turning our back on our truth altogether. Life keeps us busy enough that we don’t find time to ask ourselves “what’s really going on here? What am I really feeling?”

Brown highlights that not everyone we meet has earned the right to hear our story and I agree. I’d take this a step further though by highlighting this: We have earned the right to hear our own personal story and Truth, if only we can trust our authenticity and worthiness enough to sit still and actually listen to it.

 

Image courtesy of Elad Itzkin London Yoga Photography

 

Change addiction v Change allergy

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“A change would do you good” so sang Sheryl Crow, and she’s right that a lot of the time a change can do us a lot of good – so why then is it often so damned hard?

One of the main challenges is the pure paradox that change inspires in our attitudes towards it: We either find ourselves chasing after it like a mad thing, hell-bent on revolutionising our yoga practice, our life, our self…and the list goes on. Or we find ourselves sh*t scared of changing anything in our life – ruled by the fear of making the shift out of our comfort zone, lest anything should go ‘wrong’. It’s what I’m calling the “Change addiction – Change allergy dichotomy”. Neither of these perspectives is right nor wrong, and it’s entirely possible that you find yourself dancing on the fine edge between the two attitudes from time to time depending on the situation.

Those of you who know me will be aware that the past 8 months have held a great number of changes for me – moving back to the UK after 11 years living overseas, quitting an 11 year career to focus on yoga teaching…in some ways it might seem I must be pretty comfortable making the dramatic changes. However, it’s not all the box of chocolates it may appear – enjoying surfing the waves of the bigger changes doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to enjoy the smaller and less significant ones. Having just moved to a new city (pretty big change but feels pretty good) I recently found myself getting irate in the supermarket as I was unable to find items I wanted to buy, all compounded by the fact that there was indeed not a bag of quinoa as far as the eye could see! (New supermarket = small change = not making me feel good!) So ironically it seems small changes can put us more out of our comfort zone than the more drastic ones from time to time!

I’ve been reading a book recently talking about the keys to becoming a ‘master’ of a skill, within which there was a really interesting chapter focusing on change, and how to overcome the resistance we may find to change both in our own attitudes and those who surround us. A key point here is the concept of homeostasis – nature’s generous way of providing us with an inbuilt resistance to…you got it…change! So having bitten the bullet to make that change whether big or small, mother nature simply rewards us with an internal mechanism designed to help us keep things the same. This is all well and good when it comes to keeping something like our body temperature even, not so great however when you are trying to make more dramatic changes to your life. So, this explains why when you first jump into that fitness regime, your body sometimes tries to rebel. It also explains why your family, colleagues, friends might not react so greatly to your new life style choice – a kind of social homeostasis I guess – not least because your change maybe has the knock on effect of making them question themselves too. In this latter case, the value of having a support system; a network of people who have been through a similar situation that you can share your experiences with, cannot be emphasized enough.

I guess perhaps the irony of this post then is that I’m ultimately I’m suggesting you change your attitude to change. A good way to start is by examining your attitude to change  – what changes do you shy away from? What changes are you constantly chasing? And most importantly – why?  I’ve realised that even if you are accepting of change, allowing yourself to get too caught up in your quest for it can mean that you miss seeing the finer and equally beautiful details. Likewise avoiding change can similarly mean you miss out on new opportunities to develop further. At the end of the day it seems we should aim to find consistency in change; to sit our surf board on the wave of change and enjoy the ride no matter how big or how small.

“To find consistency within change is to embrace the unfolding flow”                  Anodea Judith

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Facing fear and fire…

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Following on from my last post I just wanted to share this photo – I love the way it embodies  the evening and my whole experience of facing my fear(s) and getting empowered.

(A big shout out to my fellow trainee Star Phoenix for letting me use this photo.)

To finish I’d like to leave you with this quote from my teacher Ana Forrest on ‘Stalking Fear’:

“The fear was there but it wasn’t unmanageable. I’d believed that in order to do what I was afraid of, I had to get rid of the fear first, but that turned out to be only an idea not the truth. You have to do something two hundred times before the fear will disappear. Are you still afraid of something? Just do it again. Do it again. Do it again. Maybe I couldn’t banish all my fears, but I made the choice to stop allowing them to rule my life.”

(Ana Forrest, Fierce Medicine)

So maybe it’s not what you fear, it’s what you do with the fear itself.