It’s All About the Core Or: The Freedom to Fly

I was doing yoga for nearly 5 years before I had the courage to even attempt a headstand. I still remember my first wobbly headstand against the library wall at home clearly. I purposely did it at home, because I didn’t want people in the yoga class to see me fail. I recall my fear at doing it, my surprise when I was able to do it and the confidence it gave me afterwards.

For me, it’s a bit of a cliche that Sirsasana is called ‘the King’ of yoga poses … the pose that you absolutely must do if you’re anywhere near serious about yoga. Go into a yoga class and people look at you with something less than respect if you can’t pop a headstand in the middle of the room. Personally, I think Ardho Mukha Svanasna is the ‘king’ of poses,  and -I’ll be honest here- it irks me that those same people can’t hold adho mukha svanasana and just be with it for 2 minutes to save their lives. But then, why do we need ‘king’ or ‘queen’ poses anyway? Which is a whole other post… so I’ll leave it there.

What I am interested in sharing is realisation that I had whilst figuring out my journey through Sirsasana, and whether I could apply the same principles to Adho Mukha Vrksasana (AMV/handstand). (I’m currently playing with AMV in my home practice).

Time to Back Track….

As a child I was told not to do headstands, handstands or anything that involved putting pressure on my neck because I might end up in a wheelchair. Or worse.

Now, I’m sure my mother told me this because she was worried that I might hurt myself. As both my brother and I are adopted, from an early age, I detected a level of protection on behalf of my parents which other children did not experience, and -unfortunately- was at odds with my independent personality. In the end, I just ‘did stuff’ and Mum never knew.

However, that early ‘tape’ about headstands, neck injuries, paraplegia and death was recorded by my brain. It’s still playing, although I’ve taught my brain that, as I have a healthy neck and no other medical contraindications, I am allowed to do headstands.

Fast Forward: 2010, My Bathroom

After I did my first wobbly Sirsasana against the wall at home, and then got up enough courage to go public with it, I spent a lot of time watching, talking and learning. There was something that I learned about Sirsasana which came back to me the other day as I lifted up into AMV -against the wall in my bathroom (was subsequently busted by my son, who asked what on Earth  I was doing!). The secret to headstand wasn’t just the pressing down of the forearms into against the floor, it was THE CORE!

In AMV, it’s all about the core. A strong switched on set of belly muscles meant that I was able to find an amazing sense of ease and balance very quickly, rather than just kicking up and hoping for the best.

Washing in the Rain

Later, as I was running from house to laundry in the middle of the biggest wet (translation: most rain) we’ve had in 8 years, something else occurred to me. Having a strong core is the key to everything. Not just on the yoga mat, but off the yoga mat as well. I’m talking about the metaphoric core here, the metaphoric central foundations, fundamentals, heart, basics of almost anything I do. I can run, because I can walk, I can walk, because I could crawl, I can crawl because I could sit … and so on, right back down to breathing.

So the lesson for me is: don’t be in a hurry to progress (not that I often am these days, when you pass 30, you learn patience), and spend a lot of time strengthening the core, no matter what it is that I’m trying to achieve. Go back to the core and love it very much. Admire it from time to time and just be with it, rather than lifting up into yet another headstand.

In loving the core, the basics, you find the strength and freedom to fly.

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Once Upon a Time… or Yes, It’s True That My Body is Part of my Mental Health

This post follows on from yesterday’s post. I have down days, and writing about my feelings is the main way in which I process such mental states. Yesterday’s post was one such post. Today’s post is an archaeology of the self. A glimpse at the person behind the blogging persona… the real person who loves to exercise, who is and has been an endurance athlete and who was born with a naturally lean, hard athletic body.

I love my muscly calves (which look ridiculous in spindly high heels).  I love that I can ask my body to walk up mountains, to run 10 km, to hit the floor and pump out 30 push ups on my toes. I adore my small, almost flat breasts. In contrast to other many other women, working with the body that I was blessed with has been the doorway into my soul. Maintaing my bodily vehicle remains the cornerstone of my mental health.

Here is My Story. Straight from the heart.

As a child, I was outgoing, precocious and perhaps a little too confident. I was a slighty nerdy Tomboy, who hated dresses, Barbie dolls, playing mothers and fathers and all the usual things little girls did. Instead of dollies and make up, my life was one of adventure, bike riding, horses (I owned two), playing in the bush, reading books, inventing fantasy worlds and cultures with my friends (this is my best friend from primary school) and getting involved in a few outdoorsy-type sports. I was an explosive ball of energy. In essence, the child I was has shaped the adult that I am.

I was a disappointment to my mother who wanted a girly-girl, not a bookish, half-wild Tomboy. In many ways, my own daughter has fulfilled this role for her. I didn’t fail my father: I was his fishing, bushwalking and handyman mate (so was my brother). Dad understands me in a way that Mum never has.

At age 15 my boundless confidence and exuberance vanished. Overnight, I discovered that I was a young woman, and that I was sorely lacking many of the things that society dictates as being desirable in a woman: for example, being tall and long legged, being slender but not muscular, being able to fuss and primp endlessly over clothes, looks, hair, shoes and handbags. At that stage, I also lived near the beachside suburb of Cronulla (in Sydney’s south),  so having a good tan was a must. I failed on that variable, too.

Another other aspect of my retreat from self confidence related to boyfriends and bullying. I am purposely lumping together ‘boyfriends and bullying’. My first boyfriend was a serious, capital L looser whose repulsive actions resulted in me being bullied at high school.

The Loser was the kind of guy that most parents dread: a barely literate high school dropout with no idea about personal hygiene and no concept of responsibility. He was a guy with no work ethic, no job prospects (or interest in getting a job) and zero interest in going back to high school. The Loser was also mentally unbalanced: not only was he a compulsive liar (worse, he actually believed his own bullshit), he refused to leave me alone when I told him it was over after 3 months. Instead, he resorted to threatening self-harm or threatening to set his own house on fire (which he did). Eventually, he held up a petrol station and ended up in juvenile custody. A real quality guy…

However, my self esteem was so low at that time, I thought the Loser was the only kind of boyfriend that a girl like me deserved. After all, I lacked nearly all of the attributes that our society deems valuable in women.

The Loser, thankfully, was out of my life in a relatively short time (about 11 months), but his putridness stained me. He stalked me and my friends for another 18 months after my father told him to piss off at my request (I’d been trying to tell him to fuck off for 6 months but he refused to listen to me). He threatened a guy I started dating a few months later, who was a really nice, decent guy (this is Mark’s website. He is my daughter’s father).  Thankfully, Mark –who as far as I know has never been in a fight in his life- called the Loser’s bluff, and the Loser backed down from all confrontations, and apologised.

My point is this: the Loser and the period of time marked by his stain were responsible for creating in me an internalised belief that I was short, fat and ugly. This is a powerful tape in my life, and I revert to it now when I get depressed. Certainly, there was an element of truth in this belief. Whilst I’d been seeing the Loser, I recall living on fast food and doing almost no exercise. I put on weight.  Once I’d stopped seeing the Loser, some of this weight disappeared.

As a consequence of the Loser’s stain on my life, I underwent some pretty weird behavioural changes. For example, for years afterward, I could not go out of the house without:

  • Wearing full makeup, including (yechhh!) foundation (triple yech!!)
  • Wearing a collared shirt (for some reason, I thought this drew attention away from my litany of physical flaws)
  • Ensuring my knees weren’t showing (I hated my knees)
  • Ensuring that my hair always covered my ears (I thought they were big! Which they are most definitely not)

This kind of self-loathing continued until age 19.

And then I started cycling.

Cycling changed everything. Within in 6 weeks, I was eating a healthy diet, began going to gym classes, began running again. Of course, I lost some weight. (Please note that I was not overweight. I never have been). Yet these were only the outer, physical changes. Inside, the benefits of exercise wrought far deeper beneficial changes.

I regained the self esteem and confidence that the Loser had stolen from me. I was suddenly and unintentionally whole, both psychologically and spiritually in a way that I had not been since I was a child. My interest in spiritual development blossomed, my outlook on the world became positive. Everything I needed flowed effortlessly into my life, like some big 1980s new age cliche. In all, as I worked on my outer shell and my body changed, or should I say reverted to a truer form rooted in childhood, so too did my inner world and all aspects of life.

To be disconnected from this deep truth as I have been over the past 6 months is to be out of balance. Massively out of balance with dire consequences for my mental health.

For me, this precedes a descent into depression, a loss of self confidence and an accompanying social phobia. It has nothing to do with me conforming to society’s cultural norms about women’s bodies: women should be skinny but lacking muscular definition, women should not sweat, women should not be physically strong, women should not lift weights etc. Nor is this about me viewing myself as a ‘body’ and only being worthy as a body.

This is about me being true to my soul… me wanting to return to who I really am.

That was what yesterday’s post -a plaintive cry to the self- was about. Just like a shaman accesses inner worlds where transformation can take place, I access such places via my body. For other people, this journey comes about when they begin to study meditation, yoga, spiritual discipline.  For me, it’s exercise and the finely tuned vehicle. When I am in this finely tuned outer state,  everything -and I mean everything- in my life comes into balance.

Thus, the connection between my physical state and my mental health lies at the core of who I am. I don’t expect others to understand this connection… after all -it is my connection. Healthy body, healthy mind, healthy soul. It might sound like a cheesy marketing line for Metamucil, but it ain’t. It’s the simple, pure truth about who I really and truly am.

So yes, I am happy to say I am back at the gym and back into running, just as I went back to yoga two months ago, and I’m loving it all. I want to push myself simply because I enjoy pushing myself physically. It relaxes me -seriously!-I work out to relax like other people flop on the lounge in front of the TV. And I find pure, unadulterated joy in using my body and playing with its edges.

Sometimes I will have bumps on the road -like yesterday- where I look back and acknowledge that I’m not how I usually am –I allow myself to feel remorse sadness for what was. I allow it so I can write about it and move on.

Let the journey begin.

Tomorrow: Benny’s post and why it’s relevant to this discussion

Wednesday Whiteboard#9: The Spiritual Bulimia Edition

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Dotpoint #1: The 30 Day Challenge.

It’s day … (hang on, I’m counting) … 27 of my challenge to do yoga everyday. I can report that I’ve missed only 2 days so far. My practice has been asana, japa, pranayama and meditation. It takes about half an hour each morning.

Sometimes, I feel if I don’t do these things, I’ll be a cranky, evil bitch for the rest of the day. Other times, I do them because I told you that I’d do them.

Mostly, I do them because they make me feel good.

Once the 30 day challenge is over, I’m going to start another 30 day challenge. I will write about that next Wednesday.

There was one 30 day challenge that I tried to do using Steve Pavlina’s ’30 Day Challenge’ Template in my journal. It was to do with writing my thesis everyday. It didn’t work… I actually wrote in my journal every day for 30 days instead of writing my thesis.

Which is why I’ve just sought help with my thesis writing…

Dotpoint #2: Spiritual Bulimia & PhD Writing

Over the past two months, I’ve experienced a slow, grinding halt to my thesis writing. No matter what I did, I couldn’t get myself motivated or interested. This is scary, because the whole thing has to be finished by July 26. Worse, there’s only one and a half chapters to go.

I had to take some radical action.

Exactly what I did, I will share with you in a moment.

I’ve noticed a new trend that I call Spiritual Bulimia.  People are eating, and then regurgitating all sorts of inspiration, quotes and advice, but have no real power or evidence of success or change in their own lives.  They ingest all the self help and inspirational materials, but they don’t digest it.  They are taking it all in, but not actually implementing the behaviors, changing the thoughts and eliminating the patterns to have  lives that should be a by product of such voracious consumption.

http://www.stacijshelton.com/2009/06/02/spiritual-bulimia/

In the quote above, Staci Shelton highlights the massive numbers of people Tweeting, blogging and burping (ok, I made that one up) self-help advice. Make that re-tweeting, re-blogging and re-burping self-help advice but apparently not doing THE WORK. Traci encourages people to do THE WORK. I suspect that many people have something else in mind (blog traffic and selling their e-products) other than THE WORK, but more on this later.

How does this relate to my thesis?

Well, I got stuck. Quicksand stuck and demotivated. I tried a few things to get myself unstuck, but decided I had flipped into ‘overwhelm’.

Not good. Not good at all.

Overwhelm is when you are paralysed. Overwhelm is when you can’t go up, down or sideways because the problem is sooooo big. Overwhelm, for me, has only one solution…

Life coach time.

The life coach who helped my kick depression last year (Lisa Branigan) is currently on maternity leave. So I spent a couple of days looking for suitable people. I emailed a couple of Australian life coaches via their websites. One didn’t even bother to reply. The other didn’t respond to my second email. I Tweeted my request for help. Svasti retweeted it for me. What I got was some life coaches following me, but no offers to coach.

I decided to contact the folks at Action Podcast … and bingo! Life coaches, Sam Forsberg and Paul Bailey were on my case. I am recommending Action Podcast here because these guys are real people. They are not in the RA RA RA pom-pom girl squad. They are not space cadets. But they do know their stuff when it comes to coaching.

Why does life coaching work?

Because someone external holds you accountable and you get a totally fresh perspective on your situation.

Operation Thesis Overwhelm: the Method.

Here’s the initial exercise Paul had me do (I’ve edited some of the questions out/my answers are in blue):

How many days per week do you want to spend working on your thesis? Be realistic here. Think about how much time per day you can comfortably work without getting too distracted.

I work full time, so it’s not huge:

Tues 2 hrs

Fri 2hrs

Sat 3hrs Sun 4 hrs

Now you should roughly know how much work you need to do and how often you need to do it. Now again be honest with yourself, does that sound achievable? Do you need to tweak anything to make it more realistic?

Total: 3300 words per week

Or: 5 weeks of Tue, Fri Sat, Sun

It’s only just achievable- I have one long weekend scheduled in the middle where we are definitely going away.

Once you have fine tuned your plan, write it down in a short statement and read it aloud a few times. Does it sit comfortably with you? Yes- Great on to the next stage, No- do a bit more tweaking!

I can effortlessly write 3300 words per week and finish Chapters 7 & 8 by the 26th July, 2009.

The Results:

Over the long weekend (we just had a long weekend here in Australia) I went into thesis isolation mode, spending four days down at our second home, Watarrka (Kings Canyon) National Park. There’s no internet. No mobile phone coverage. It is very, very remote outback!

I wrote:

Friday – 1400 words

Saturday – 1700 words

Sunday- 700 words

Monday- 300 words

Tuesday – 700 words

That’s 4800 words and I have finished the draft of Chapter 7.

The mere thought that someone else was checking up on me and I was paying them for it, has worked like nothing else has. I’ve got another session on Friday at 5.30pm with Sam. In the meantime, check out their podcast on Overwhelm here for some more tips and hints.

How do I feel now that I’ve done this?

Relieved.

I’ve shifted the overwhelm. There is no question that my thesis will be done by my July 26 deadline. It simply will be done. I’ll keep the coaching going throughout this time.

Dot point #3: The Real Me: An Ethical Commitment.

At the beginning of Dotpoint #2, I quoted Traci Shelton’s comments about passively regurgitating or absorbing self-help material. The point is, why bother reading, retweeting or whatever if you’re not walking the talk?  If you’re just after traffic for your blog? You’d be better to put up posts about big boobs or even better, pictures of big boobs if it’s blog traffic you’re after. Better still, publish a downloadable e-book of pictures of big boobs and call it: BIG BOOBS! Then you can earn money from it, too.

As much as I enjoy self-help blogs like Zen Habits, I tire of their sameness. I realise these guys are making a living from their blogs, so they’re not strictly blogs. However, I learn far more from reading someones who’s included the pot holes and detours of their life and is DOING THE WORK on themselves everyday, than I do from reading ‘five more tips for being eternally happy’ over and over again, written by people who I suspect, aren’t even half happy and possibly aren’t doing the work. Check out Svasti’s blog or Havi Brooks’s blog. Read Linda Sama’s blog from last year when she lost her teaching job at a centre run by a dysfunctional alcoholic. I learn from these chickybabes more than I do from: five random self help dot points.

Spiritual bulimia: never had it. I do the work and fall flat on my face sometimes.

Watch this space for more pot holes on my spiritual journey…