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

Vairagya: Some Lessons

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The point of spiritual development is not to work on YOUR STUFF.  That just happens as a side effect. The real point of spiritual development is to deal things as they arise … Ken McLeod

I wasn’t going to write another post before I left for Canberra (next Monday), but here I am, reflecting on non-attachment…

You see, in the past week two people whom I admired, to whom I had attached the label of bodacious-uber-successful yogi-goddess-Oh-I-wish-I-could-be-half-as-yogic-as-you have detached themselves from my semi-adhesive label.

I will point out that these people are NO ONE who reads or visits my blog (at least that I’m aware of).

I’m big enough to admit that the labelling of these people as bodacious-uber-successful yogi … I can’t be stuffed typing all that again is my fault. My thing.

But it’s just well…

What is the point of doing spiritual work, yoga, meditation, watching your thoughts in the now if you get pissed off majorly everytime your phone rings and react like Charles Manson on testosterone you can’t sweat the small stuff?

This realisation (twice in one week, like I was being slapped around the head with a wet fish to make sure I GOT the message) really made me sit up and think:  OK… So neither of you are enlightened beings. And one of you is a plain old SNOB. But it’s my problem that I’ve put you up on this pedestal, simply because you’re umm… self-labelled teachers. And well-known.

So I’ve dropped it.

And that was the message. My maha-sankalpa like a large wet salmon on my head from on high.

Non-attachment. वैराग्य. My next and last tattoo.

Yoga and Relationships

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Relationship is the ultimate and most arduous yoga. If we understand yoga to mean union, then relationship is a direct path to that union. Abdi Assadi (2008:57), Shadows on the Path.

I often feel that I am hopeless at long term, happily-ever-after relationships. For me, it hasn’t happened. A terrified, secret little me fears that I just can’t do it. This time, I want it to be different. I desire this to the core of my very soul. Right now, I have the kind of relationship others only dream about. This time, I want my relationship to last the rest of my life.

This post lays bare the recurring patterns in my long term relationships. My hope is to render impotent those behaviours and thoughts that no longer serve me. To burn them up with the harsh gaze of exposure, so that they no longer hold power over my life. I hope to inspire others to undertake this most difficult and brutal of self-assessments.

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Real Yoga Vs … Well … Real Yoga

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Through the years I have witnessed numerous spiritual seekers, all of them well-intentioned, who have lost their way by not paying attention to their own addictive patterns … yoga is particularly prone to this syndrome. Abdi Assadi, Shadows on the Path (2007:11).

I often get frustrated with myself for visiting the yoga supermarket. Mostly online, because there’s only two ‘brand name’ yoga styles here in Alice Springs. Online, I jump from yoga style to yoga style, favouring one for a few weeks, thinking hmm…. That looks like the one, the real yoga for me, only to find another style that I’d like to train in a week or so later.

The problem is that deep inside of me there is an ontological ‘real yoga’ – a foundational structure against which I measure everything else. It’s powerful. It’s the yardstick. The thing.

And yet, this is a false ontology because real yoga, as in traditional yoga, is something else very different from my own foundational, inner ‘real yoga’. In this post, I undertake svadhyaya of my understandings about real yoga, in an attempt to get to the bottom of the construct within my own corrupt belief systems.

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Wednesday Whiteboard #6

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Dotpoint 1: Vale Sri Pattabhi Jois. In case you’ve been under a rock or in remote Central Australia (hey… that’s where I live and I still heard it), Mr Jois passed away on Monday morning. Regardless of what you think of Ashtanga-style yoga, Mr Jois was a giant of the yoga world. I honour his life, his memory and the precious gift he gave to the world. Hari Om Tat Sat. Om Shanti.

Dotpoint 2: The Big Idea is flying. I can’t believe what’s happening with the creativity/life coaching/creative ethnography business idea that birthed only 2 weeks ago. It’s so exciting I can hardly sleep. Svasti is going to help me do some mean web design. YOU should hire her! It is a testament to getting your ideas out there into the world. They catch fire. They take off. Watch this space!

Dotpoint 3: A couple of great websites: The Anthroguys. Real anthropologists demonstrating the amazing possibilities of applied anthropological practice. Thanks to @Jammiegirl for this Tweet.

Lucky Balaraman’s inspirational mediation website: http://CalmAndCool.com . Lucky has all kinds of great tips for establishing a meditation practice and using mediation to overcome problems. This latest post could be used as a teaching tool for yoga teachers explaining ‘the witness’ to students.

Dotpoint 4: I’m reading Abdi Assadi’s beautiful book, Shadows on the Path. If you’re interested in reading no-nonsense spirituality from a guy who’s been a drug addict, travelled the shaman’s path, been a yogi, a martial arts practitioner and everything in between, this book might be for you. If you like Adyashanti or Pema Chodron, then you will resonate with Abdi. Hear an amazing interview with him here. You can check out his book for purchase at http://www.shadowsonthepath.com/

Om Shanti.

Now

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This is one of my favourite teachings. It comes from Pema Chödrön’s compilation book, Comfortable with Uncertainty. It is a teaching that I like to read at the beginning of a class, prior to teaching ujayyi and beginning asana. I am posting it here that all may benefit.

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Why am I Blogging About Yoga?

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I’m feeling more than a little disillusioned with blogging. Especially blogging about yoga and related subjects.
There’s some angsty-antsy stuff out there in the blogging world at the moment.

Reading and replying opens one up for hurt or invites the uninvited in many forms.

I am thinking about taking the blog down and returning to nothing.

I don’t really think it’s contributing to anything in any meaningful way. I wonder if my blog is in some way part of the competition on the mat in some places, far removed from the mat? Or some desperate plea from my ego to be recognised, popular and liked?

So I will retire to silence for the time being. This moment is perfect and there is nothing else needed here.