‘Do The Work’ – On Finding What Works, and Working Through Mental Illness

Sometimes I pretend that the steady stream of cars and buses on the busy, non-stop main road that runs right outside the house I’m currently living in is actually the sound of the ocean.
If I close my eyes and imagine hard enough, distance myself fully from the missing factors – salty air, a sea breeze, sand in nooks and crannies you don’t even know exist until there’s sand in them – it’s actually quite easy.

Caught between the need to create and the compulsion to propagate, sometimes these thoughts and other wild-but-tame ideas don’t go very much further than this. Imagining I’m actually in a tropical ‘paradise’ and not sitting mid-hurricane (or so they’re calling it) on a dreary day in Dublin might seem fairly fruitless, and yet to me it means that the course of inner exploration and healing work I’ve been on for the past 2 years or so now seems to be directly on course to succeed.
Depending on what ‘succeeding’ means to you.
To me, all it means is that at the moment, I’m balanced enough to allow my creativity to be put to good use instead of eating me up with incessant anxious thoughts or worries about things that happened yesterday or that might not happen tomorrow. It just means I’m pointed in the right direction for the next few hours.
And that is all I ever can hope to maintain.
(I also say ‘paradise’ in inverted commas here as I’m a firm believer that ‘paradise’ does not exist in one physical place, rather being a state of mind consisting of the right balance of factors, both internal and external, that at any given moment combine to give us an intense sensation of ease and wellbeing. But more on that later.)

What is ‘The Work”?

‘The work’, as I’ve put it here, is not merely a form of required duties, household help or course of up-skilling that most of us have come to associate with the word today.
The work can mean a variety of things to different people, and it takes a while to figure out what that is for you.
For me, ‘the work’ was the process by which I eased my anxiety for the first time. The work was that which helped me understand my own mind, helped me figure out exactly what makes me tick, why I am the way I am, why I’ve done the things I’ve done, felt the way I’ve felt and proceeded on the course I’ve taken in my 25 years up until now. The work is something which still helps me do this. Whether or not some of those decisions were good or not, the work, mywork, has just helped me understand it all. It helped me become conscious of my actions. I won’t list exactly what ‘my work’ involved, because it’s not just any one thing, and it’s not easy work either. It’s the tough stuff, it’s dealing with whatever life throws us, circumstantial or otherwise, and becoming accountable for it instead of ignoring it or hoping it will go away.
It’s a combination of things, which when engaged with over time and through the ups and downs of everyday life and work and relationships helps us to figure out how to implement them on any given day.

Simply put, I became aware of my needs, I became honest with myself about what was and wasn’t working, and then dedicated myself to slowly but surely adhering to what works as much and as frequently as I can.

Disclaimer:
Before going any further I’d like to take this opportunity to apologise to anyone I may have encountered during the course of this ‘work’ – anyone I may have misled, confused, hurt, hindered, irritated or in any way just bothered by being the way I am and neglecting social norms or expectations with this intense need to figure shit out or do things the way I needed to in whatever way it presented itself at that time. It wasn’t you. Really. It still isn’t.

It’s one of the most selfish things I’ve ever done and yet I uphold firmly that taking time for myself, not just one time that I was feeling particularly bad, but over and over again choosing to put my health first and to investigate the feelings I was having is the only way I’m still sitting here today to write this.
The terror and fluctuating levels of distress surrounding mealtimes, the general consistent low moods or occasional soaring heights of elation and 2am dance moves surpassed by none were all extremes that I was so used to inhabiting that any alternative middle ground seemed like an unattainable – for want of a better word – ‘paradise’.
For anyone who has any experience dealing with or trying to help someone with any mental illness, you’ll know that the intensity and details of these highs, lows, and panics in between can vary from person to person, and so it can be difficult to pinpoint what will or will not help in each instance.

Doing the Work

The work required to haul oneself out of said lows, down from these intense highs of bliss and misfitting euphoria, all at completely irrational things is not the kind of work you do once, and then it’s done. Oh no.
This work is something you must do Every. Single. Day. 

When I started thinking of it more in terms of an actual responsibility, rather than a chore or something to be rewarded for, only then did I started noticing results.
I was responsible for my own mind, my own body, where it went and what it did and what it ate, who it interacted with, and how. On no one else’s shoulders was it if I did or said something I’d regret, ate something that didn’t agree with me or damaged myself in any way.
The work I was doing was keeping this all in check, staying hyper-aware of everything, editing and refining and re-routing whenever something felt off or when I noticed the sly familiar onset of bad thoughts and sneaky triggers that used to go unnoticed. It was so particular that I almost went to the extreme of over-doing the work, which I guess is not necessarily a bad thing, it’s just in my nature – the blessing being that I realised and pulled myself up on this when it happened.

Results???

Because the results were not spectacular – they weren’t jump-in-the-air, high-five oh-my-god-look-at-me kind of results – I didn’t initially pay much heed. Because I was used to this immediate and intense end-result, the balance I was feeling honestly felt…boring.
Gradually I began to notice however that the middle ground, this place of feeling ‘actually kind of alright’ instead of ‘omfg I’m fucking DELIRAH’ or ‘I want to disappear’ kind of shite, was so much more sustainable. Not only that, but noticing that when I was in this state, everything seemed to just fall into place and work so much easier – work, friends, family, creative stuff, fun – whatever it was, everything responded positively to this balanced frame of mind, instead of the irrational, eccentric and anxious me that nobody really knew what to do with except hug and pour tea for and promise everything would be fine.

Try. Fail. Edit. Fine-Tune. Repeat.

Editing and fine-tuning your life, mind and environment to fit whatever works for you is the only advice I have to anyone currently attempting to overcome any kind of mental illness or maintain positive mental health in the face of life’s challenges.
Thinking of yourself independently of anyone else – taking advice and help, definitely – but not assuming it as fact or convincing yourself of its truth until you’ve proven it works for your unique set of circumstances.
Know yourself. Figure out what you like, what makes you feel GOOD, what makes you THRIVE.
Take a day, take a week, take a month. Try things, fail spectacularly. Try something else, maybe don’t fail so badly. Keep trying until something clicks – and I promise you, if you’re self-aware enough to know and follow up on something big needing to change – something will.
This process, these trial and error and ups and downs and pushing through pain and confusion and trusting that something positive is at the end of it all – this is the work.

This is what it means to be trying, to be living, to be constantly editing and refining our lives and thoughts like we redirect unpredictable and mischievous kids away from dangerous river banks or running out on the road.
It’s a constant, unwavering necessity that we must remain on top of even at the best of times, and it all boils down to self-awareness and knowing yourself, recognising triggers or runaway thoughts when they start to play mental movies or imagine unlikely scenarios or pretend that the cars you’re hearing are actually waves on a beach a thousand miles away…you get what I’m trying to say.
Pull yourself up on it.

Self-Awareness

My particular combination of ‘work’ (even a glance at this blog might give you an inkling as to some of what it involved for me *cough* yoga *cough* writing *cough*) will more than likely not suit anyone else exactly. Just as someone else’s course of action wouldn’t have worked for me. I just followed the positive stuff, whatever that was, wherever I could, and did it as much and as often as it felt right to.  I still do. Staying aware, staying alert, re-routing whenever signs of the ‘fuzzy head stuff’ (as I like to call it) surface and just knowing that all it takes is a little bit of concentration, time and awareness ’til the next move or feeling becomes clear.

Creating my own sense of rational ‘paradise’ in every day is how I see the balancing out of this tendency of mine to overthink, to worry, and to believe the negatives. Maintaining balance and using it as a foundation to move forwards and continue building on what I’ve already worked for is how I see myself now, and I just wanted to share a little bit about what worked for me to help anyone struggling to see past what might seem like a mountainous road of ‘work’ ahead – baby steps.
Start by just turning inwards. Forget about the external stuff – other people, expectations, comparisons and past events – even this is part of the work. Everything is part of it. Everything is important, and don’t ignore or belittle any aspect of what you have to bring to the table because I promise you – the world needs it. The world needs all the self-awareness and positivity it can get right now, and that boils down to each individual playing their part right, using their unique talents and passions and more importantly, believing in them.
Focus inward, focus on you, and the rest has a funny way of falling into place.

Do the work. It’s worth it.

batur

Grey Matter

Grey Matter

For what it’s worth,
I can’t think of anything more vibrant,
More techni-coloured, spirit-soaring, smile-inducing and bright, than
Freeing yourself from the box-room cosy complex
That nothing you do will ever amount to anything.

Because it’s the easiest thing in the world
To do nothing.
It’s the easiest thing in the world
To let the greyness win.
Surrendering. Submitting.
Settling for a semi-faded filter,
When all your life your soul chose bold.

Deserving something, should not be a question.
Looking to others for an answer, losing ourselves to find
A pre-determined one?
No.
You have the answer already.
The greyness comes along to fool you.
Fight it. Go and do the thing
You have convinced yourself nobody will notice.
Because you’re right –
Nobody will notice.
The mental struggle it takes –
To put on socks.
The wide-eyed forehead-creasing terror
Of answering the phone
“HELLO? YES THIS IS HER.”

…and gradually, you smile.
Connection. Communication.
That’s what kills the greyness.
The belief that despite your reservations
And pale skin
And ginger hair
And natural disposition to think it doesn’t matter anyway
 – The colours do suit you after all.

The Link Between ‘Healthy Eating’ and Yoga

The Link Between ‘Healthy Eating’ and Yoga

As the popularity of yoga grows, it seems to be accompanied by an onslaught of ‘healthy eating’ ideologies and the simultaneous rise of vegan, vegetarian, organically-conscious lifestyles.
While it may seem that every second yoga studio is now all of a sudden expanding and exhaling coffee machines, fruit juicers, tables, chairs and funky hipster tunes from the depths of their cashew-nut strewn duffel bags, the trend of new health food cafés emerging in cohorts with yoga studios (and vice versa) has far deeper-rooted sit bones than you may think.

Yoga teaches us to slowly but surely begin to allow only the positive, healthy, and beneficial thoughts and beliefs to enter into and pass through our minds. It makes sense, so, that in order to propel these thoughts into action and help our bodies manifest them outward into the world, we must enlist the help of the fuel which we take in – the catalyst for these reactions, interactions and experiences; our food.

External Influences

The food we ingest has just as much an effect on our minds and bodies as the experiences we ingest, and vice versa – the relationships we have, the environment in which we live, conversations we engage in on a daily basis, and our senses (the yogic concept of ‘Pratyahara’ explains more about this). It’s not often that these aspects are displayed in parallel to one another, and yet they are eternally intertwined and so integrally linked that we very often find ourselves feeling the effects of an imbalance in one area without being able to pinpoint exactly which or where it is.

It is precisely this awareness and ability to correctly identify where we are suffering a surplus or deficiency of energy – be it physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual – which yoga helps us to cultivate.

“Healthy Eating” and Yoga


The increase in popularity of veganism, vegetarianism, and health food based diets and cafés amongst yogis (a title I think it’s fair to give anyone who frequents a yoga studio on a regular basis) therefore can be seen as a means to further engage with their practice of yoga; to deepen the connection to both our bodies and minds, and to nourish all those relationships, exchanges, and actions that can only successfully be carried out when sufficiently balanced.
By ingesting naturally sourced, uncontaminated and organic foods which have not already been processed or passed through their own experiences and external influences (many mass-produced products/animals/animal-related products), we are minimising the processing and energy which our bodies and minds must expend in doing so. This and the fact that most organically-sourced products have a very nutrient-dense composition means that most (if not all) of our required daily intake can be obtained from a balanced diet of good-quality natural produce.

I’ve avoided this topic for a while as this balancing of energy is something I’ve struggled with a great deal myself, yet which has drastically improved since becoming deeply engaged with my yoga practice and observing a vegan diet. It has honestly changed my entire perception not just of veganism but of ‘healthy eating’ as an entire concept, and also made me realise that there are many reasons why more and more people are choosing to further engage with it – this link with yoga is just one of many.

Conscious Living

The fact that yoga studios are now using this branch of yogic thought to further expand their businesses and create great cafés, great food, and great atmospheres for like-minded people to socialise and communicate I see only as a good thing, serving as a great means of exposure for the yoga side of their business and if nothing else a great way to promote a healthier, more conscious lifestyle.

Claiming Authentic Power – How Yoga Helps Us To Harness the Power Within

Claiming Authentic Power – How Yoga Helps Us To Harness the Power Within

“To the degree that we do not fully claim our own power to transform, we are more likely to be possessed by this energy in it’s shadow form” – Carol S. Pearson

I have not resonated with a quote on such an intense level for quite a while.
I’m also a firm believer that each one of us has the power to direct and redirect our energy in order for it to manifest itself wherever we desire in our lives – whether we realise it or not.
If we think about our energy in terms of both a negative and a positive force, the positive stream functioning as a catalyst for growth and progression, and the negative as a hindering and damaging force, we can begin to see how the expansion and contraction of the channels down which this power flows results in certain manifestations of said energies. While this is constantly occurring on both a conscious and subconscious level, there are certain things which can help us harness the power necessary to direct the energy where we want it to go, instead of letting it flail around excitedly from brainwave to brainfart.
Yoga encourages the expansion of these channels (or nadis, in the yogic tradition) in the right direction, opening up and creating space for the positive to flourish, while attempting to block the negative.
And so in simple terms, yoga gives us the awareness to pursue, direct and encourage the good power to succeed over the bad. With me so far?

Negative Cycles

When I first started doing yoga consistently, I was, for want of a better phrase, ‘in a bad place in my life’. To keep the anecdotal personal sob-story short, I was living at home, had no job, no clear direction where I wanted my life to go, weighed a hollowing and bone-shatteringly cold 6 stone and lacked the energy and concentration necessary to complete even the most basic of tasks, let alone care about them. I would wake with spasms of fright and anxiety at 3am. I would get brief bouts of inspiration mixed with terrifying insight that my worsening situation needed to change…and then the difficulty of doing so would ultimately prove too extensive and straight away I’d be lost again to the numbing blanket of fuzzy and fatigued negative thoughts, so ingrained as they were in my mind that any feeble form of resistance against them was immediately silenced with disturbing ease and logic;
“You’re full of shit. It’s not worth it. Don’t bother.”
In short, things were dark.

Wasting Energy

The energy required to process all of these thoughts and worries at such a startling speed and damaging ferocity was ultimately leaving me both mentally and physically drained, not to mention the preoccupation with ensuring I adhered to strict ‘rules’ which I wasn’t permitted to break – just in case a sandwich or fleeting social interaction would spark off another ricocheting thought-firework and disable me from leaving the house for the rest of the day. I was, as the above quote describes, possessed by my own energy ‘in it’s shadow form’. It was being directed towards the wrong things, and to be honest it’s exhausting just writing about it.

No Alternative

When we’re deep in the grips of a negative cycle, be it a habit, a thought pattern, or simply a way of being or conducting ourselves that we’ve gradually grown accustomed to, it can seem like the most alien thing in the world to even consider existing any other way.
The power which is being permitted to flow full-force towards supporting the negative spirals is just too overwhelming to be redirected elsewhere. It takes extraordinary force of will and repetitive, conscious, and ongoing effort to haul our minds (and bodies) out of the downward-flow of this toxic power, a fact made lighter only by the knowledge that this force is contained within us at all times, its incessant nature meaning it simply can’t sit still and watch the world go by
– it has to go somewhere.

Getting to Know It

As an alternative to other forms of physical or mental exercise which may encourage thoughts and awareness away from this authentic energy which resides within each of us – literally doing what we Irish people have done for years and just not talking about it – yoga requires us to sit with this energy and examine it in all its beauty and terrifying power. We learn how to move with it, allowing it to channel through the positive streams and manifest itself in actions, talents, skills, character, originality, and most importantly; authenticity. Our yoga practice requires us to listen to our bodies and the energies which reside within. After a while we realise that most, if not all of our negative tendencies and habits result from a subconscious lapse or disregard for the direction of the positive energy, allowing the negative to swoop in and take over.
They say that everyone’s struggle is different. This means that every individual’s ‘flourishing’ will appear slightly different too. This is why it is so important to know ourselves.

Harnessing Power

Each and every one of us possess the power within us to manifest our ideas – to create, to bring to the world something new; a new view or perspective; a new manifestation of human energy which has been harnessed to reflect the intellect alongside which it resides. Learning how to harness it is much easier said than done however, and while some people naturally excel with the self-awareness and realization necessary to project it into the world, the vast majority of us just don’t.
It’s through practices such as yoga and meditation that I have been able to finally access some of that authentic potential, allowing for the transformation of my energy down a more fruitful and fulfilling path than the one which worries how many crackers I’ve eaten or about a passing remark made by a colleague two weeks ago. Brief and miniscule slices of this potential have managed to slip through over the years, manifesting as specific achievements or the success of artistic endeavours, but it was only when I began to consistently engage with yoga and meditation that I finally felt the sensation of actually having some sort of understanding of and power over my capacity to engage with it.

Imbalances

Misunderstanding or neglecting the force of our authentic power can so easily result in dangerous imbalances of energies, along with distorted visions and versions of ourselves; our intellect, our talent, our potential. It can so easily get lost. I feel one of the great tragedies of our time is simply wasted potential.

This has led me to conclude that by helping us to carefully observe our energy’s expenditure, origins, and direction, yoga can help us gain a dimension of insight into our own potential, allowing us to live and cultivate a more empowered life rather than shying away from it.
We all have this power, and are entitled to exercise and manifest it into the world.
We just need to learn how to use it.

The Science Behind Yoga & Meditation & Their Benefits for Mental Health in Ireland

The Reluctant Enlightenment of a Nation

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Yoga and meditation are slowly becoming more and more popular and ‘acceptable’ to talk about in Ireland. This is a fact. With an increasing number of businesses, schools, and public figures jumping on the band wagon (or brightly coloured mat) and openly engaging in and speaking about the benefits of having a regular practice, it’s almost fashionable now to engage in some brief introspection…Almost. Following on from the ‘I never thought I’d tell anyone this’ mantra of recent personal-story-exposing trends on social media and the general increase in open discussions of mental health issues in Irish culture (an amazing thing in itself which should not ever be ridiculed), yoga and meditation seem to have graduated past the boundaries of speculatory ‘indie’, ‘hippie’, and ‘NFATR’ (fans of OMGWACA on Facebook will understand) kinds of ideologies and slowly but surely tiptoed quietly into the realm of ‘things-which-are-ok-to-do-now’, in our restricted and resistant-to-change Irish frame of mind.

Regardless of public opinion, my own personal practice of yoga and meditation has helped me overcome several run-ins with Illnesses Which Must Not Be Named and have benefited me far more than any visits to Doctors Who Help With The Nerves ever have, and having recently returned from a stint abroad where I qualified as a yoga teacher, this is something I now wish to share.

“But What Do The Instructions Say?!”

The need for scientific fact and validation when discussing yoga and meditation with peers and ‘non-believers’, as various advanced yogis have lightheartedly described them, is ultimately an obstacle we as yoga practitioners and teachers have already and regularly face everyday in the world around us, not just in Ireland – and that’s ok too. Knowing how closed off and resistant to change older generations and Irish society as a whole has been over the years, it makes sense that people need Solid Facts, followed by A Radio Discussion and That Ad With The Lad in the Hoodie before openly entertaining anything remotely personal as a real and pressing issue or concept. But this is how we are, and part of the teachings of yoga enable us to acknowledge this unfortunate tendency and use it to progress forwards, instead of hindering our path.

“Ah. Right, ok. I see. Mmm.”

For what it’s worth, researchers in Harvard University (yep, the really famous, really prestigious one in America) conducted a three-month experiment a few years ago with participants who had been experiencing particularly high levels of emotional distress (me nerves!) to determine the effects of a regular yoga and meditation practice. A control group continued their normal daily routine, while another group were required to participate in group yoga and meditation classes three times weekly.
Easy community service, you’re thinking? Maybe, but let’s continue.
From improved mood and physical functioning to increased awareness and concentration, the group of yoga-attendees noted numerous positive effects of the experiment, with depression scores reducing by 50%, anxiety by 30%, and overall wellbeing by 65% (I promise I won’t mention Those Words again). Another Harvard study references yoga’s ability to ‘regulate the stress response system’, decreasing levels of cortisol in the bloodstream while increasing oxygen levels and bringing the often invisible effects of yoga and meditation to the physical body. By learning to recognise and acknowledge thoughts, emotions and sensations as they occur and slowing down long enough to really process their significance, meditation when combined with yoga can enhance our ability to exercise an element of control over our minds and bodies. After all, they do say that ‘meditation is for the mind what exercise is for the body’. Combining it with yoga then surely is a win-win??

“The Young Ones Would Never Sit Still”

This school in America’s genius move to replace detention with meditation is also a testament to just how far along we’ve come in terms of accepting it as a conventional and almost required element of our lives, I mean, if they’re letting the kids do it now it must be alright, surely?!

After all, it’s just basic neuroscience really. (‘Neurowhat??”)
Noticing the tendencies and pathways our thoughts take and over time building up the strength and resilience to alter them and repeatedly steer them away from the negative ones, in favour of positive and beneficial habits is in simple terms what these practices help us to achieve. It’s been noted that yoga and meditation strengthen our ability to form these neural pathways, and while modern neuroscientists and
psychologists agree, still we’re met with scoffing and raised eyebrows when we announce we’re off for a quick meditation before the family dinner to mentally prepare our carefully balanced and cared for psyches for the onslaught of dubious questioning and ridiculous weather discussions about to occur.

“But Sure, Can You Not Just Go For a Walk?

Having already encountered those who challenge my new interest and choice of career-path, not with outright contradictory comments but with dubious speculation of where, how, and in what frame of mind I’ve spent the past year of my life, I wrote this article out of amused frustration that we as a nation still seem embarrassed to entertain the idea that meditation and yoga can actually drastically improve lives.
Are drastically improving lives, present tense.
By clearing out the space previously reserved in our minds for anxiety and The Things We Don’t Tell Anyone and god forbid What Would Happen If The Neighbours Found Out, a kind of spaciousness and lightness becomes available to us. It’s this space and lightness that we as Irish people have been shunted from one claustrophobic classroom to another overcrowded and overpopulated living room for generations not knowing. It simply wasn’t there to be experienced. So naturally, we shy away from it – from anything unfamiliar. It has become part of society.

“That Bressie Fella Is Very Handsome, Anyway”

We’ve only just started to talk about mental health issues, and so it follows that solutions to these issues will presumably (hopefully) follow the naturally delayed and reluctant Irish inclination to face them. The enlightenment of a nation takes time.

Those of us who’ve given it a shot already will just be here meditating til it gets there.

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On Finding Calm in the Chaos – How Yoga Can Help in Managing Anxiety

 

A sweeping, dangerously powerful wind.
Big waves in the sea so strong they steal the sunglasses from your head.
Very loud, thumping music.
Crowded Saturday-streets, and flashing lights everywhere as night falls and you suddenly find yourself alone in your head; alone with your thoughts.

 Quick! Run! The bar! The fridge! The gym! ANYWHERE to escape spending time with this egotistical and self-centered, ugly body I’ve found myself inhabiting.

 Hold it right there. Breathe.
Look around.
Sure, it’s chaotic. The outside; everyone rushing to be here or there, meet so and so for dinner or drinks to discuss where they went for dinner and drinks with him or her or what’s the latest on THAT guy and how’s your mother doing and what about those politicians, eh? Sorry I have to dash I’m not too drunk I just can’t be around all these people and all the thoughts in my head at the same time because I end up spinning around before we even start to dance and then I look in the mirror and remember what I should have worn instead and also have to do tomorrow and where the hell is my purse and what is that guy staring at my hair must be a mess and dear GOD please just get me out of here.

So leave.
It’s ok to leave. It’s ok to stay. It’s ok to think these things, and feel that way.

I’ve been on both sides of this situation – I’ve been the one to leave and run away from my problems, finding other ways to forget about and ignore them, and, more recently, I’ve been the one to stay and push through. To remain where I am, and work through the unbalancing extremes of thoughts and emotions that send my head reeling and wobbling on a regular basis.

In yoga, what do you do if a pose makes you wobble?

You do your best to straighten the hell back up, is what you do. You push down through your feet, and certify your stance; your position; your space in the world.
Because it is yours.
It’s about the only thing we don’t have to pay for in this world – our bodies. It’s an involuntary, but rent-free location, that we somehow have to figure out how to stand up straight in, and learn to navigate through whatever environment we find ourselves.
It’s not an easy task. Don’t listen to anyone who pretends it is, or who pretends they’ve never struggled. Because every single person does.

 The asanas in yoga are merely a physical manifestation of our mental state – I know if I’ve had a particularly off-day or feel unusually anxious about something, my yoga practice is weaker than normal and I tend to wobble and lean and shake quite a bit more than usual. Because I have succumbed to the external chaos. I have assimilated it into my body, a place that has been created and cultivated for singular, simpler, and more straightforward thoughts, with no consideration for the external chaos that may or may not happen on any given day. I’ve let it in.

When we consider how many things in life are uncontrollable by our own bodies and minds – the weather, the financial state of the country, the popularity of a bar or restaurant or public place from which we suddenly want to hide, to list but a few, it’s remarkable how blurred the lines can become when we start thinking we have influence over more than just ourselves.

In taking control of our own inner situation, we are taking responsibility for the little space we inhabit on earth. Sure, we may not have asked for it, but we are here now regardless, and may as well make the most of it.

 My yoga mat has travelled with me, and shown me that it doesn’t matter where I find myself; chaotic, over-populated, noise-polluted city, or tranquil, isolated and balmy beach miles from anywhere – I am always, always within myself, and returning there is the only way to truly find this ‘peace of mind’ or satisfaction we so often seek in all the wrong places. Yoga serves as a reminder of this. A healthy, lighthearted little poke in the back that injects a sense of calmness into even the most uncontrollable and chaotic situations.

 Things don’t have to be so complicated.
Breathe. Just breathe. And Be. Even just that is more than anybody has ever asked of you.

Yoga for Self-Esteem and Confidence – Calming ‘Wilder Minds’

“If you get the inside right, the outside will fall into place” – Eckhart Tolle
*
Yoga has so many health benefits that it only takes a glance at the nearest stand of ‘wellness’ magazines to list enough to fill a copybook – and all would be legitimate fact.
While ‘confidence’ is quite a broad term that differs in intensity and necessity from person to person and job sphere to job sphere, I think it’s widely agreed that it remains a fairly common trait of any ‘successful’ or content person who has been classed as ‘doing well’ in their lives or career pursuits.
Ew. I hate that phrase.
Really we’re all ‘doing well’ just by still being here and getting up to give things another shot when they go wrong, but unfortunately a lot of people still don’t see it that way.

A regular yoga practice is something that I have found to be of more benefit to my overall health and wellbeing than any diet, any crash-gym course or forced training-schedule, any well-established therapy or doctor, or intermittent variants of all of the above (and believe me, I’ve tried it all!). In coming to meet myself on the mat every day, for whatever length of time my mind and body is able to commit to it at a given time, (and not fretting too much if a few minutes is all I can manage!), I am greeting myself as a new acquaintance, and as such I am automatically polite and accepting.
Because here’s the deal;
I’m not a rude person. I like to think I’m not, anyway. I think we all strive for that in some deep-rooted, morally driven and sensible elder inside us. In greeting myself as I would any new stranger – a simple smile, nod of the head, and handshake (or air-kisses like the French do!) I am accepting fully the being that presents itself to me in that single moment. There is nothing I can change, and no power with which to do so – and that is perfectly ok.

In fact, it is amazing. It’s a freedom and liberation so strengthening that when you finally achieve it for yourself and accept your own reflection, limitations, talents, and situation for what they are, suddenly a whole space is opened up in your head that was previously filled with needless anxieties and personal limitations; unrealistic beliefs and ‘magical thinking’. There’s time to do things again you previously forgot you loved- there’s time to sing! To write! There’s energy and the belief with which to invest in these pleasures!
Hey there, confidence! Where’ve you been hiding?

 The result of this newfound self-awareness and acceptance is not merely ‘confidence’ in the traditional sense that is understood which allows you to be daring, take risks and be the first to do everything. It’s an internal strength – a sense that no matter where you go or what you encounter, you will be able to handle it. You will get through it. Life will go on. It’s not just the belief in this, but the knowledge of it as fact. The strong physical core resulting from a regular yoga practice forms as a manifestation of the strength in the mind; this confident, calm, and grounded version of a person who previously couldn’t decide what colour socks to wear without panicking. Guess what? Now she can hold a headstand for an entire minute and still feel great afterwards!
Take that, anxiety!
In sitting with physical stretches and challenges, the mental ones become easier to manage and recognise. To stretch out and observe patiently when they occur, instead of jumbling them all off in a ball and chasing them away on a treadmill.

 

Why I’m Going to Keep Writing Even If I Never Get a Job Doing It

I don’t need to make brilliant art.
But I need to make art.
I don’t need to write award-winning novels, or groundbreaking, academically praised and published articles.
But I need to write.
I don’t need to write stories that will be remembered, passed down from generation to generation like engagement rings or other binding pieces of jewellery until the weight of a headstone of ancestors hangs around my neck, God forbid I should ever misplace it at the swimming pool.
But I need to write stories.
Even in my head. Even for nobody. Even if the only tangible form they ever embody is a whispy squiggle on a page as I doodle, coaxing ideas and the crazy knot of Christmas lights out until they all sparkle beautifully in alignment together.

Words are like that.
Alone, in the right context, they can shock. Enthrall. Bamboozle.

But the longer and more complex the cable of thoughts or ideas wishing to be expressed and made sense of, the more difficult it becomes to correctly put them into any sort of order to experience the dazzling after-effect of a well-structured sentence.
That’s why I find words so fascinating.
What numbers are to mathematicians, words are to me. I find solace in many art forms – music, singing, drawing, and yoga (I’m labelling it an art form for this articles’ sake). Yet words remain some of the most versatile and all-encompassing notes to the tune and harmonious chorus I hear when I have effectively teased out a quick sequence of words that actually makes some sort of sense.

Structuring sentences, making fleeting ideas tangible by sticking with them even just long enough to assign them a context, surname and postal address, gives me a sense of satisfaction I have yet to find elsewhere.

That is why I’m going to keep writing. Even if it never pays for more than a yoga class and some vegetables.
I’ll write about that yoga class and those vegetables.

Why Comparison is the Thief of Joy…

‘Come away o human child,
To the waters, and the wild,
With a faery hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping
Than you can understand”
– W. B. Yeats

 

As we grow, whether we are taught to specifically or not, we learn and become aware of the destructive, hindering, and downright ugly habit of comparison.

To compare. To contrast. To look at others in relation to ourselves.
We are placed into this cut-throat ‘race’ – even the word conjurs up a sense of competition – to appear the most ‘together’. The most ‘on-track’, the most, the best, the highest of something, or anything…The details of the path to which no one ever specifically outlines, and to those few who through some happy fortune and lucky accident have managed to avoid the now ingrained natural inclination to compare, probably seem ridiculous. But it’s everywhere. Even the most basic and first obvious step to ‘progress’ in life – the process of getting a job. The very nature of ‘jobsearching’ in it’s most basic form being an exercise in the techniques we use to compare ourselves.

Because these details remain unclear, rather a vague ideology of what ‘should be’, or what you ‘should have achieved’ by now in your life, so too remain the steps ‘required’ to achieve it; unclear, and downright confusing.

In essence, what I have just described leads to a life lived solely for the purpose of pleasing or fulfilling the presumed ‘expectations’ of others. These expectations having been sculpted from a firm base of solid fact, into pliable muscles that can be flexed and altered depending on the strengths and weaknesses of others and ourselves, and described in relation to whatever perceived ‘flaw’ or ‘issue’ a person may be preoccupied with in any given moment. Implying that the energy a person directs correctly towards any given thought or outcome, is where prevelence will occur.

What I’m trying to say is, we end up using the energy which should be expended clarifying all this uncertainty instead to fuel false and/or inaccurate beliefs about ourselves and circumstances. By the time many of us realise where this energy has gone, it is often too late to change the course in which it has been expended.

The ‘flaws’ or ‘issues’ which caused the reckless expension of this energy to occur are seen for what they really are; our natural differences, unique qualities, and irreversible traits, consequences, backgrounds and composition, which in their realisation present us with a breathtaking understanding of our own potential.

Potential being the key factor here in our contemplation of all of this.

In all of us, there lies potential. Potential to add to the world as it already exists. As it already stands. A unique offering from our unique composition and the possibilities presented by it, that only we have access to and control over.
By comparing ourselves to any existing and unchangeable (from our point of view) person, place, achievement, action, idea, whatever it may be, we are tainting already the potential which breathes originality and newness through our uniquely crafted and formulated lungs of individual DNA, and wasting what it is silently nourishing.
Similarly, by considering ourselves in context to, in comparison to, or as an extension of or addition to any other person, we immediately limit the valuable streams of energy which hold the potential to pave new and undiscovered paths to places that people may have travelled before – but probably not in quite the same way.

In all this pent up worry, these comparative and analytical thoughts and emotions being focused on why we can’t just have what someone else has, be what someone else is, or what someone else wants, for that matter, there is no room left for joy. For happiness. For contented, simple, pleasure in one’s own company. Within one’s own skin, home, environment. There is simply no place for it.
It’s only when you’ve been away from it for so long, and failed to experience the contented, relaxed and genuine oneness with yourself and your own mind and body that you realise how far away from it you once sought validation and comfort. There’s also the rather shameful realisation that this validation and comfort could not possibly ever have come from anywhere but within.

A friend asked me recently (in more colloquial terms) how my love life is at the moment. I replied saying that to be honest I kind of like just liking myself right now, and that I’d see how that goes for a while before getting too serious about anything. If I happen to make a new friend along the way who shares a similar fondness and appreciation for me, and I for him, then maybe, with a bit of luck we might bond over our mutual interests.
If I can someday appreciate someone for all they are, whilst also(and most crucially) still appreciating myself and my own body for what it is, does, and appears like, instead of trying to change it and alter it to suit misguided assumptions of what will ‘work’; then I feel I will be doing well.

Comparing with something, with someone…with an image of what I perceive to be correct or acceptable, steals away all energy which should be used to focus on developing my potential as a human being; my potential contribution to the world; my talents, loves, passions, rather than on potential that is reliant on outside factors beyond my control; like the choices, preferences or tendencies of others.

In avoiding comparison, I am avoiding any potential and useless despair. In accepting differences, and my own self the way I appear, think, and react instinctively, though it may not always be favourable, I am ridding myself of the misery and unsolvable, unavoidable reality that for so long wasted all potential energy which could have been of benefit elsewhere. The only potential created by that person, is the potential for disaster. The sensation of joy, of childish contentment and acceptance which comes with the banishment of this comparison is so powerful that the potential which has existed all along seems magnified, and powerfully exciting in it’s possibilities.
In redirecting the attention to my talents, passions, and potential contributions… they might finally receive the energy they require to come to fruition.

To conclude, I’ll merely state that comparison serves nobody, and creates nothing in it’s destructive pattern of over-analytical and negative thoughts. In order to make room for any potential joy or happiness in our lives, we must first assess what is taking up the space so cruelly witheld from this contentment, and take steps to remove it from our lives in favour of that which allows us to grow and explore our potential.

How to …Escape Emotional Dependency

 

How to… Escape Emotional Dependency…

Jack-Kerouac

 

“We are not creatures of circumstance; we are creators of circumstance.”
-Benjamin Disraeli

 

Cultivating the right environment for your own growth and development as a human being, as a creative individual, as a cog in the system of whatever functional or dysfunctional structure you’re fitting into, whether willingly or not, is absolutely vital if you’re going to make any kind of progression towards a happier life.

Emotional dependency is a trap so easily fallen into and so commonly mistaken for security and self-confidence. If I’m depending on someone to support me emotionally, I am feeding off energy supplies they have cultivated themselves, whether consciously or not, for their own benefit. Using their positivity and wellness as a means to support failing efforts at establishing my own. It’s a sign there is some sort of imbalance within my own life that I have chosen to either block entirely, thus rendering me in need of reassurance, or else I have allowed it to engulf me completely, creating the need and habit for another ear or shoulder to help carry its weight. This kind of dependency and relationship can actually appear to be functional for a time, until it becomes evident that the weight of whatever underlying issue exists is not the ‘dependents’’ own burden to bear, and they withdraw from it reluctantly in order to prevent further draining of their own precious strength.

They can want to help and offer a shoulder to cry on only a certain amount of times before it simply becomes unfair to expect anything more of them – after all, have they too not got their own problems? Aren’t we all suffering?

Using others as scaffolding on which to support problems you yourself have failed to cultivate a resilience to is humiliating. It’s humiliating, and inconvenient for all involved. It’s difficult enough to admit defeat and take the help in the first place, without becoming dependent on it to keep going.
Crops failed this year. No inner strength remains to feed off of. You’ll have to borrow a neighbours’ corn.
Sorry.

For this reason, it is so important to learn to cultivate your own happiness. To figure out what works best for your unique organism of cells. The things that really make your eyes light up at the very thought or mention of them, catching fire and lifting you up when you actually put them into practice. The things that make life bearable for you; that can help you pass an afternoon of endless rain in a negative environment relatively contently.

Once you’ve reached this stage, the rest is simple: do them. As much, as intensly, and as often as you can. Work towards building something new, instead of retreating into the shell of what used to be; because let’s be honest, ‘what used to be’, wasn’t working either, so progressing forwards is really our only option here.

Once you’ve planted these roots, you can begin to feed off your own strength, your own individual cultivation, instead of digesting elements of an environment around you that don’t quite lend themselves to the elevation of your mood and happiness.

Metaphorical as it sounds, be sure to have some of this strength put aside for times of need. In the event of a storm, for example – the fat on the side, the blubber for insulation – every element of our world can be used in comparison to describe what’s inside us. The only difference with mental health is that you can’t see or visualise it. You need to figure it out for yourself, and that’s why taking time our from your regular schedule to do so is a perfectly acceptable form of ‘therapy’. Talking will only get you so far. As soon as you leave the doctor’s office, the old reliable neighbour whose crops seem to flourish year in, year out without fail; you’re left to try again alone.

Cultivation takes time, but each step successfully taken to further it onwards comes to be a comforting reassurance that you are getting there. It’s still nice to have a cup of tea now and again, to talk over plans, progress, reassuring those who have helped in the past that you’re on the right path, without allowing an emotional dependency to catch again like a swarm of locusts to the only food around they are aware of. That would be the easy option. Making your own is not only more rewarding, but soul-strengthening in every sense of the words.

As soon as the sun shines in again, that first sign of warmth and comfort, you’ll see it – the other side. The side where everything isn’t dark and stagnant and hopeless. Growth, progression, new life and strength is being cultivated even as you watch it; even as you sit and read these words your cells are fixing themselves and strengthening a core that has finally come to terms with the fact that it has the ability to stand up by itself. To nourish itself. To cultivate growth, to change, to age, and to progress. To depend on none but your own field of crops, your own emotional and physical strength rooted deeply into the ground beneath your feet, wherever they may find themselves today.