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.
Even though I'm, of course, always in flux, I've been in a state of distinct re-orientation since summer of last year when I apprenticed the Forrest Yoga Foundation and Advanced Training. Afterwards, I was authorised by Ana to teach these programmes without her, but together with another guardian. There is only one other person in Europe who is authorised to deliver trainings at this level.
I had the clear feeling that I had reached a level where I wanted to be and where there were a lot of options. However, I have been unsure where to turn to next. Therefore, I've made a conscious decision to look at events and partnerships from a much more energetic, feeling and also heart place.
Does the energy flow or is there an incredible number of obstacles coming my way? Of course, the question is always: Is it a test or a sign, i.e. is it about overcoming the obstacles or is it a sign that I need to be somewhere else? Since I've been developing a more feminine approach to life, I've stopped pushing so hard and have been following the energy where it flows more organically, which is something that does not come natural to me.
I have been reminding myself to trust the process, that I'm exactly where I need to be and to keep my heart open and soft. My task has been to tolerate space when I have created it - instead of needing to fill it immediately when it opens up.
I encourage you to sit with the uncertainty and the unknown as we truly don't know how our process will unfold. Trust that things are in the right place unfolding at the right pace.
One of the aspects I've always been drawn to in Forrest Yoga is the premise that asana is an expression of the individual in any particular moment in time. It's not about putting the body into shape, but rather shaping the pose around the body, so that the pose can serve the person. Lasting transformation is a movement from the inside outside rather than trying to trim the body, mind or spirit into a certain shape, so they can fit a form we somehow believe is the right one.
Outside the yoga room the feeling that our bodies are not perfect or fitting the ideal is definitely prevalent and is causing a lot of harm. We can be swept away so easily with the belief that we are not thin enough, athletic enough, muscular enough, lean enough and that our bellies are not flat enough. It then taints everything we do. In those moments, it's useful to remind ourselves that our body is an expression of who we are and that it's incredibly unhelpful to try and fit it into a shape it should not be. Rather, I'd love for all of us to celebrate our body, mind, psyche and spirit just the way they are and the way they are changing with age, season, moon cycles, etc.
Celebrate who you are unashamedly!
Every summer for the past five years, I've been going to Saeter, a small village in Sweden, where I've been teaching five-day retreats together with my friend and colleague Helena Atkinson. Helena is not only a yoga teacher, but also a linguist with a keen interest in literature. This year we've combined Forrest Yoga and "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland". I enjoyed taking the themes from Alice and bringing them into Forrest Yoga. We picked several intents, but one quote really stayed with me. It's the following:
'But I don't want to go among mad people,' Alice remarked.
'Oh, you can't help that,' said the Cat: 'we're all mad here. I'm mad. You're mad.'
'How do you know I'm mad?' said Alice.
'You must be,' said the Cat, 'or you wouldn't have come here.'
Through my work as a teacher and therapist I often see that people isolate themselves, because they feel that they are alone in their issues. Frequently, there is a believe that everybody else has sorted their stuff out and that there is something wrong with oneself. However, coming back to the Cheshire Cat, we all carry our madness. We all have our problems and work on our process. It's good to know that we are not alone and there is a community of mad people where we can be heard, seen and supported.
Walk in beauty and in your madness!
Yoga, well-being and mindfulness... always walk in beauty.