In Yoga, we often cue to let go and release, to soften and to surrender. Even though, I feel that this is an important part of regaining balance in the body and life, it’s only part of the work and on its own only very limited in its effectiveness. The other part of the work is encouraging muscles that have lost their ability to hold onto energy, i.e. hypo-responsive muscles, to regain that skill and to thereby become fuller and more present. The muscles that are overworking, hyper-responsive muscles, benefit from letting go. However, hypo-responsive muscles have moved into a more collapsed state that does not benefit from releasing, as there is nothing to be released. The protection in those muscles is a distancing vs. a holding on. Inviting hypo-responsive muscles to soften encourages them to further move into collapse, i.e. further away from balance.
Those parts of ourselves that have gone away need kind encouragement to return. Working with dosage is a key aspect in the work. Gently inviting more aliveness to increase the capacity for holding onto energy is crucial.
The question is: What is missing? What is not present? And then to listen to the silent voices within.
I’d love to hear your reflections on your missing parts and the areas in the body that tend to go away.
The definition of chaos according to the online Cambridge dictionary is: “a state of total confusion with no order”. For me, this currently describes very accurately the state of the world externally as well as our internal landscapes. The state of our environment including the current heat wave, our economy with rising energy prices and inflation, the turbulences in politics, the war in Ukraine, the pandemic, including effects not only on our mental and physical health, but also on our health system and job market have all contributed to a sense of chaos, i.e. a lack of solidity and structure, where seemingly one random event is followed by another. One moment, we’re in lock down, the next we’re concerned about supplies of building materials, the next we’re shocked by Russia invading the Ukraine, which is followed by travel chaos and melting runways, railways and roads.
In myself and in my clients, I have noticed a lack of orientation and a feeling of free fall. With little certainty, we then seek structure and control. However, I feel that everything is in flux, everything is moving and there is little that this is certain and we can hold onto.
Yet, there is opportunity in chaos, too. Instead of holding onto what is, maybe this is the time to re-order and re-balance, but not in a controlling way. This might be the right time to consider our overall vision for our lives from an alignment point of view and to ask the following questions: What is important to us and what are our priorities? What do we want our lives to feel and look like? What is emerging right now?
I have often written about my own personal process with regards to “not taking things personally”. Recently, when I had a session with my mentor and supervisor, there was another layer that emerged from that. Even though I understood the collapse of the internal boundary beforehand, which is essentially what “taking things personally” is, I experienced deeper layers underneath that; feelings that I distanced myself from. I had been frequently working with my mentor on staying in my body without interpreting sensations or coming to conclusions too quickly. I often felt criticised when she guided me back to my body, as I really wanted her to listen to what I had to say or what insights I had in that moment. I perceived her guiding me back as a judgement, even though objectively I understood that she was coming from a very neutral, allowing and kind place.
I interpreted her intentions and directions as “I’m not enough”, “I’m not doing this right” and “I should be somehow different”. In those moments, my heart was pounding and I felt very exposed and vulnerable. I could feel the increased blood flow to my face, a sign of feeling ashamed. My last session with her was a real breakthrough for me, as I could stay with the physical sensations and discovered the huge amount of fear in my system, which I often override or don’t acknowledge. My go to place has been anger, fight or action. In that moment, I could sit with my helplessness, which touched into very young places inside of myself. Even though it was uncomfortable, it was manageable and the energy eventually got processed and moved. I feel the moment I moved beyond the “taking things personally”, I could really be with the emotion of fear, ultimately evoking a deep shift inside of myself.
What are the emotions you tend to distance yourself from?
The overarching feelings for the last two to three weeks, in myself and my clients, have been overwhelm, exhaustion and anxiety. For me, lockdown provided quite a strong structure of what I could and could not do. The easing out of lockdown has brought more uncertainty and in some respects more headache, as things are so much more in flux and continuously shifting. Guidelines are not always clear, feelings are running high and sensitivities have been touched.
Ana Forrest is famous for saying: "Evolve or die". The nature of yoga studios is changing and we are moving towards a "hybrid model" of offering classes online and in-person at the same time. This means that yoga teachers and studios are required to teach differently, learn new skills and stay flexible in terms of what is possible. The ground is ever moving and there is a distinct lack of solidity.
My own experience at the moment is that my skin is very thin, I have a sense of being stripped bare and my connection to the ground is less present. I feel vulnerable and raw.
I also recognise that being stripped bare offers the opportunity to let go of the old and to make a conscious decision on how and what to move forward with. For me, it has been a very deliberate process of deciding what people to surround myself with and what relationships to free myself from. The shaky ground is an opportunity to create a new vision of Equilibrium and also of myself.
I'd like to thank all of you who supported me on my journey. Thank you all who supported Equilibrium Yoga Centres in the last 12 years, but especially the last 4 months.
Walk in beauty.
Thank you for your continued loyalty and support, even during these uncertain times. Our hearts go out to all of you who have been affected by this unprecedented situation. We hope you, your family and your friends are safe and healthy.
Our vision is to continue to support our community as best as we can. We've now put together an extensive online schedule. These classes are with Equilibrium Teachers and streamed live. They are capped at 16 clients for the time being. We'd love to hear your feedback on the schedule, i.e. times you prefer, teachers you'd like to see and styles and levels offered.
Currently, the timetable is changing week by week. We've also amended our return and cancellation policy and made it more flexible, so that you are not missing out on the sessions you've already bought. Our amended terms and conditions can be found on our updated blog.
At this time, we'd like to offer some pointers on setting up a safe space for doing yoga at home. These are recommendations and we understand that not all of them will work for you.
See you on your cyber mat!
In Ana Forrest's book "Fierce Medicine", she talks in the first chapter about her "fear training", i.e. she would deliberately do things that she was afraid of. She came to the conclusion that even though it was not possible to banish all her fears, she was able to make a choice to not allow them to rule her life.
When I was on holidays last week at the lake in Northern France where we always go, my 65 year old father did a backward somersault into the water. I remembered how I used to do this as a child. So, I decided to get up on the platform, which was about one meter of the water - with my back facing the lake. I could sense the fear; it almost made my head spin.
I first just jumped backwards into the water feet first and then did a couple of backward rolls in the water. Then I went back onto the platform and I stood there - very scared. I was feeling the fear in my entire body and there was a sense of paralysis and indecision creeping up on me, which in some respect was a great motivation for me.
I completely understand Ana's decision not to allow fear to rule her life, so I connected to my legs and feet, took several deep breaths, pushed off and did a backward somersault. It was not the kind that earns you points at gymnastics. It was definitely not pretty, but it was totally and utterly exhilarating. It was not about being able to do a somersault, which did not alter my life, it was about doing something that I'm very scared of. I felt the fear and did it anyways. In my mind possibilities opened up, I felt empowered.
Ana's steps to walking through the "spook zone":
... and do the somersault anyways.
Somersault in beauty
I have written about the experience of overwhelm in the last blog, but I've been very compelled to write some more about it, because it is something that is so prevalent in myself and also in the people I work with.
Last week the first half of the Forrest Yoga Teacher Training finished and one of the things I always tell trainees at the end is to leave enough space to digest the content and the experiences of the programme. Often, the tendency is to get back home and into a routine as quickly as possible. There is no downtime or in body psychotherapy terms there is no "downswing". The nervous is continually fired up without chance for the body to actually absorb what has been learned and experienced. There is not enough space to absorb fully and get nourished. Creating space and keeping that space is something I continually have to pay attention to. It is not something that comes natural to me.
As one of the people I work with very aptly said:
"My heart's desire is for lightness, simply "being" and joy."
It's about leaning back more into oneself and resting in order to live life to its full.
Rest in beauty!
One of the things that fascinates me the most is an emerging pattern in myself that is mirrored back to me by the people I work with. At the moment, I can see a lot of overwhelm - in myself and in my clients.
Last week I took some time off and noticed that on day two and three I started to get edgy and restless. Even though I was on holiday with my family I started to think ahead and go through a mental list of a million tasks that I needed to do when I got back. And I feel that is very much how overwhelm gets created: thinking ahead, feeling the gravity of what is to come with no opportunity to do anything about it in that moment in time. For me, it's not when I do things that I feel overwhelmed, it's when I start overthinking, overanalysing and thinking ahead, which creates a sense of paralysis and/or anxiety in my body. Often a perceived lack of time, resources or skill for all that needs to be done is a deciding factor, too. There is a dose of feeling helpless sprinkled in there as well. When I was on holiday, I kept reminding myself: Right now, I'm on holiday and that is what I'm focusing on. When I'm back at work, that's when I work.
One of the most important tools to stay out of overwhelm is to focus on what is moving through the body in this very moment. The question of "What is happening right now?" is very useful in feeling one's body and anchoring oneself in the present. In Forrest yoga the basic moves of activating the feet and Ujjayi breath are great ways to sense into the body, too. Moving the body, like in the sun salutations, can also be a good method to move out of freeze or anxiety.
When we are present there are limitless possibilities and we have the opportunity to create new approaches to old issues (Dan Siegel, The Mindful Therapist). Being mindful is "avoiding premature closure of possibilities".
We really don't know what's coming next, so let's lean into what is happening now and trusting that we have the resilience and skills to deal with what is to come and by doing so, we will stay out of overwhelm.
Walk in beauty and with presence
When I was teaching the Forrest Yoga retreat in Prince Albert, I challenged myself by bringing in a new fairy tale. I love working with stories, as they speak to us on a very deep level. On the third day of the retreat, I picked the "Frog Prince", which was fairy tale I had not previously used. Unlike the modern version of the fairy tale, the one by the brothers Grimm does not involve kissing the frog.
The transformation happens when the princess throws the frog against the wall. In that moment when the frog hits the wall and before he touches the ground he transforms into a prince. In that moment where things could not be much worse, the metamorphosis happens. Sometimes the moment where we might feel that we have metaphorically speaking hit the wall, the point where we feel we are at our lowest, that might be the moment of fundamental change and transformation.
I feel it's about re-framing - not pushing down or suppressing - the difficult moments: being patient with feeling what is and understanding the metamorphosis will happen at the most surprising moments where we least expect it.
During this year of deep rooted change, where a lot of us re-evaluate our priorities and re-visit our visions, paying attention to the moments we just want to push away or get through, might hold incredible potential for turning the pain and struggle into something extraordinary.
I used to be and to a certain degree still am a person who likes education and likes to continuously evolve and learn more. I have two university degrees, I have done three different yoga foundation trainings, a body psychotherapy training, numerous continuous education courses, massage programmes, reiki, etc. Even listing all those trainings makes me feel exhausted.
One of the questions that arose during my body psychotherapy training was "What is enough? What does that feel like? What if I have already arrived instead of needing to be somewhere else?". During the last three years my focus has been on allowing myself to arrive, i.e. being where I am instead of needing to improve myself or to be somehow better.
My intent has been to move from that place, so that whatever else I'm learning or whatever training I'm doing is out of curiosity and joy rather than out of an urge and desperate need to be somehow different or be somewhere different. It's about letting go fully into the moment.
I invite you to explore what it feels to you to fully arrive.
Arrive in beauty.
Yoga, well-being and mindfulness... always walk in beauty.