Yoga: A Cynic’s Confession

Yoga was never something I really got.  I thought myself neither flexible nor patient enough to do it well, and I had a long-held belief that exercise could only be called so if it left you red in the face and sweaty.  

Well, more fool me.

Pregnancy stopped me in my tracks, literally. My usual exercise wasn’t available to me. Climbing was a no-no from a very early stage and jogging felt awkward and uncomfortable.  (Plenty of women do strenuous exercise when pregnant – and power to them – it just never felt right in my case.) When my midwife offered me a place on a pregnancy yoga course, my main motivation was that it’d be a good way to learn German. Basically, I did yoga to avoid grammar exercises. I expected nothing more than a safe space to stretch with the security that the “exercises” were designed for my rapidly expanding and shape-shifting body. I expected to get nothing else out of it. I doubted I would even enjoy it. I was not a yogi, after all.

It took exactly one lesson to change my mind. The combination of lying still and quiet for the first time in about twenty years alongside some movement that genuinely got my blood flowing felt, well, great. As the course progressed, I looked forward to Wednesday evening more and more. I signed up for a second course and was still pulling some smooth downward dogs a couple of weeks before my due date. (It was, incidentally, the only position from which I could still see my knees.)

Now, I am a yoga convert. It fits into my life, it fits around my body, and it fits to me as a person. As long as I make the decision to pull out that mat a few times a week, the rest happens naturally. Yoga makes me calmer, stronger, and better able to deal with the world. I use the breathing techniques to calm myself when I get anxious. I use the mindfulness aspect to slow the hell down when I am rushing around for absolutely no reason. I notice when my shoulders are tight and up around my ears. Damn it, I sit and actively relax the skin on my forehead and jaw before reacting to something that’s irked me. I am in better physical shape than I have been for almost two years.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not good at yoga in the conventional sense. My head and knees are not destined to meet without some generous bend in my legs, and I just had to Google the spelling of namaste.  I have no desire to find a teacher or go on retreats. For me, yoga is a thing I do consciously in my pyjamas in front of a screen and subtly throughout my day as I take the insight I’ve gained and use it to spruce me up as a person. I haven’t suddenly become deeply spiritual nor do I believe that a new hobby is the answer to all life’s problems. I’ve just learned that giving active attention to my body and feelings as well as slowing down a few times a week can make a lot of difference. It’s no great epiphany, but it has been a game changer. For me, at least.

The point, and, bare with me, there is one, is that this simple activity that I used to be so skeptical about has been the first thing that’s really and truly helped me deal with anxiety and depression as well as feel well in my body, both physically and mentally. Rather than this being a love letter to yoga, it is a confession. I admit it: I was close-minded and dismissive of something without trying it. I thought I couldn’t do it, so I didn’t. I didn’t understand it, so I dismissed it.

I tried yoga for obnoxious reasons and got lucky. And, it’s not for everyone, sure, but giving that thing you think you can’t do a go, or trying thing you don’t really get might not be such a bad idea. In my humble opinion, anyway.

Namaste.

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Gdj. “Clipart – Prismatic Female Yoga Pose Silhouette Fractal Grayscale.” Openclipart, 22 Jan. 2017, openclipart.org/detail/271440/prismatic-female-yoga-pose-silhouette-fractal-grayscale.

 

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12 Months

It was spring when you arrived, my darling little one. You were small and fragile and covered in slime, redefining beauty forever in my eyes. Cheek to cheek, the nurse introduced us; I knew you immediately and knew a new part of me was forever unlocked.

Since, there have been many long nights. (About three hundred and fifty, if we’re counting.) The first one, however, was not long enough. The room glowed orange and warm as you slept and slept. And I lay there watching you, listening to you breath softly and steadily. If I was to paint peace, I’d paint that room on that night.

On the eve of this March, last March is a blur. Perhaps it’s nostalgia or perhaps it was so, but it seemed that the sun did nothing but shine. Visitors came and went, days and nights blurred, and after those dazed first days, the enormity of the way ahead dawned. Fortunately, for every moment of fear there was an opposite and equal moment of joy. Everything was in balance, from the calm and quiet of you asleep in my lap to the stress and noise of your one am episodes.

Spring is a long way from arriving this year, yet I am surrounded by people who tell me how fast the last twelve months have gone. I roll out the clichés myself when really there have been many, many times when time has stood still. In the bright and glorious days of summer, there was a darkness in me. It would be a lie to say anything else. The truth of it: there have been times when the worst of myself has seemed to be all of myself.

You, however, kept on strong and bright and full of joy. With every challenge you threw at me, you also proved that love is limitless and all-forgiving. Marvelling at you each day, you brought happiness and wonder to the tiniest of things.

Summer rolled into autumn as you began to roll around. From lying to sitting to shuffling, each stage blurred until one day you were a baby no more. You stopped needing me as much. A personality peeked through; we can only wait and see if you are already fixed as a somewhat short-tempered charmer with an infectious giggle and a taste for midnight soirées.

When your time on Earth could be counted in double figures, you found yourself with parents who both worked and stayed home. Another shift, another change. On the year rolled, every week or so a new phase. Every time one thing got easier, another thing got harder, and I wondered if I would ever be able to cope and if I would ever understand how it was possible to love so much.

People talk of the importance of treasuring this time. They tell you to make every moment count, and that it will be gone before you know it. There is some merit in some of that advice. It is sage to note and appreciate all those magical times when the simple life brings happiness: cuddles, long walks, endless rounds of peek-a-boo, and the miracle that is your child laughing. It is true that at times time runs fast. Babies grow up. But this was a twelve months packed with every emotion, much significance, and days and days of indistinct routine.  This was a wonderful twelve months.  This was a twelve months for which I am eternally grateful and without regret. These twelve months were special and magical, but they were also damn hard and filled with moments I’d happily forget. I am so very glad we had them and I am glad they are done.

And the next twelve months? I doubt it will be easier, I know it will not be without frustration and challenge, but if the high points are even half as high, it will be a great year.

 

Hats

Your first was unique, knitted just for you in soft, pale wool. Neat blue and white stripes rimmed with a gentle green sat atop your tiny head, the tiny flaps covering those tiny ears. The first time I saw it, nestled at the bottom of a gift bag, I couldn’t believe a person’s head could be that small. That little hat warmed that little head for those precious and vulnerable first weeks.

Sadly but not surprisingly, those blue and white stripes quickly became too small and too warm. For a few weeks, we cycled through one of the many cotton caps sent our way to mark your arrival. Not one jacket or rucksack pocket was without a fabric bonnet decorated with bears or bows for just in cases and surprise April breezes.

The summer soon burned through, hot and humid in July and August. The heat was without pause and you lived under an oversized blue bucket with a red car on the front, another gift from a precious friend. It flopped over your eyes and looked a little silly, but it kept the sun off that delicate skin.

October, fresh and cool, brought in new winds and new headwear.  Standing in the shop, you sitting up now in your push chair, we delighted in popping different styles on your head. We opted for navy and white, stripes again, and flaps too, this time bigger for bigger ears. And from then until now, you’ve rarely been out without that pompom sticking up behind you. Hours have been dedicated to pulling it from over your eyes, where’s O’s hat has been the tagline of the winter, and half our photos from the cold months include you grinning out from under those latest set of stripes.

Spring is coming back around and soon this current choice will be both too warm and too small. It will go away in a box, a special memory to be wondered at in a few years time; a memory of the way you were and the fun we had.

Feet On The Ground

There’s a pounding in my ears and a pulsing in my brain.

There’s a whirling in my stomach and a rising panic through my gut.

But my feet are on the ground and that ground is firm. It’s supporting. It’s safe.

There are a million thoughts colliding in my mind all competing to be heard.

There are a thousand new doubts multiplying with the old ones.

But my feet are on the ground and that ground is solid and still.

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So when I want to panic, run, and cry, when I want to bury my head and hide, I keep  on walking. Because there is ground beneath my feet, reminding me that all I am is this moment and wherever the next step takes me, there will be something reliable holding me up.

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Redraft

The delete button is missing. Can’t find it anywhere. Am out of correction fluid and there are no erasers anywhere in the house. It’s not like I am looking for a blank sheet of paper or aiming for a complete white wash, it’d just be nice to fix a few things, that’s all.

Maybe I can just cross bits out. Of course, the mistakes will still be visible, but at least they’re acknowledged, fixed.

That long, long chapter that was adolescence has some poetic quality, but it’s too awkward, too lacking in punch. Be nice to give me a bit more confidence, in one or two areas, at least. A teen is not a teen without a little awkwardness afterall.

Those mid twenties saw a voice develop, but it was inconsistent and often shaky. Some editing, with a little hindsight, would straighten that all out.

Somethings, it would be nice to erase. There are a few tales that no one needs to hear. A few incidents it would be good to wipe away. Forget. Erase. Expunge.

Alas. There is no way to redraft entirely. It is fixed the moment ink touches paper. There is no delete and no clean sheets. There is only the past, the present, and the future.

The present is writing itself with the lessons learnt in the past. The future will be a draft crafted of the two. Of imperfections there will be plenty. And in this draft, deletion is impossible. Corrections can be attempted and improvements will be sought. In this vein, the story will keep writing itself, aiming for that unattainable finished draft.

Who’s That Boy?

Standing at the classroom door, I scanned for you. I was expecting to see you lying somewhere kicking your legs, grizzling in a bouncy chair, or gulping down some milk. I looked once then searched twice. You weren’t there. There were no babies to be seen.

There was, however, a little boy stood grasping a chair and bouncing happily. His eyes were as wide as his grin. With his fine, blonde hair and familiar eyes, he laughed warmly at the sight of me standing panic stricken at the door. His little knees went up and down with enthusiasm and his hand waved in the uncoordinated manner of a child who’s intentions and abilities are still out of sync.

Who was this lovely child so interested in me and where on Earth were you, my baby?

The teacher seemed to sense my unease. She took the little boy by the hands and walked him toward me.

The panic melted away.

In a space of that second, that one terrifying moment, I saw that my tiny baby was a baby no more. In your new surroundings, you stood tall and confident. As delighted as you were to see me, you didn’t need me right then. As happy as the rest of the day was at home, you would have been fine a little longer, stretching yourself a little further. Wrestling you into your winter things and walking you out to the bus for home, I fought an internal battle; a battle where pride and happiness at how far you’ve come fought with sadness that the tiny guy is forever gone.

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It’s Still Time To Talk

We need to keep talking about mental health until it is as acceptable to call in sick for a panic attack as it is a stomach flu.

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We need to keep talking about mental health until it is as easy to tell your family and friends about your condition as it is your diary. Visits to a mental health professional needn’t be a secret unless you want them to be. When grandpa Joe tells you about his blood pressure tablets, tell him – if you want to –  about your antidepressants. Until both are legitimate, we have a problem.

We need to keep talking about mental health until we can tell someone we are seeing a therapist as easily as we can tell someone we are seeing a physio. The reaction to either piece of information from a friend or colleague need only be:  oh, sorry to hear that. Hope you’re doing okay. Want to talk about it or want to talk about the game last night?

We need to keep talking about mental health until employers recognise that a mentally fit staff is as important as a physically fit one. If more people can admit that the working day is hard due to mental health reasons, the faster they can get support, the faster they can be work-fit. It’s a win-win deal.

We need to keep talking about mental health until good mental health stops being defined by how happy a person is. We don’t have an inbuilt happy-o-metre that we can just choose to top up. A mentally healthy person, however, is able to get on with the basics of life in a fulfilling way. They can feel happiness and cope with sadness. (Don’t take my word for it – ask the World Health Organisation.) It can be to do with how comfortable you feel in society and how comfortable you feel alone. It can be to do with how you cope with set backs and how resilient you are to stress. A mentally healthy person can still feel sad or lonely or worried. Just not all the time.

Yes, we need to keep talking about mental health until the mention of it no longer brings conversations to an end. We can peel away the awkwardness and the fear of saying the wrong thing slowly and surely. We can learn to talk about mental health in the same way as we do physical health. We show sympathy to someone with a broken leg without feeling we should know how to fix it. Mental health is no different.  Of course, each person’s circumstance is nuanced and varying, but that is true for all aspects of life from how well work is going, how well one is coping with illness x, or the state of a person’s finances.

So let’s keep talking about mental health until we can talk about it as we would any other issue in life: with respect, with an open-mind, without judgement, and in the knowledge that even if we all can do is talk and listen, that can enough.


 

Links and information:

  • Time to Talk Day 2018: Click here
  • NHS website about mental health.
  • Link to MIND’s website – a charity focussed on mental health