Since the beginning of the pandemic, I have been studying extensively with Dr. Bonnie Badenoch, a psychotherapist, author, mentor and speaker. She leans heavily into Ian McGilchrist’s work of the divided brain, which I have found increasingly fascinating. It is proposed that the left side of the brain attempts to create certainty through categorisation. New information is dismembered and sorted according to familiar classifications. The left side is about plans and goals; it continually asks the question: How will this benefit me? Protocols, interventions and task-orientation is coming out of this side of the brain. There is an “either/or” perspective and a tendency towards judgement. The cortical columns of neurons in the left side of the brain are relatively isolated and there are far fewer interconnections. It could be said that the information becomes somewhat dead.
On the other hand, the right side of the brain orients us to the space between, the “relational space” and how it is unfolding from one moment to the next. Everything is held in context and becomes a unique experience that is unrepeatable. Whereas the left side of the brain is concerned with either/or, the right side of the brain can accept the paradox and a both/and perspective. There is an awareness that there is uncertainty and with that a potential for both suffering and meaning. The cortical columns of neurons in that side of the brain are “richly interconnected”, which makes it a well-wired network.
It is not about vilifying the left side of the brain; it’s about understanding that both hemispheres are important with their relationship to each other being vital. However, it is crucial the right side takes the lead and the left supports. Both McGilchrist and Badenoch postulate that a significant shift in society towards “left dominance” has happened, which essentially prevents us from being fully present and in our bodies. We’re unable to process stress and trauma and derive meaning from life, which can only happen when we inhabit and lead from the right side of the brain.
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.
As we are transitioning into autumn with the weather starting to change and the nights drawing in, I feel it's a good time to reflect on what we can let go of. In the four directions, a ceremony we do in Forrest Yoga, autumn is placed in the West. It's the location of where the sun goes down, where things come to an end and also where death resides. It's the season where the trees shed their leaves and prepare for winter. It's the season of letting go.
I've started to read Marie Kondo's book "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying". The author suggests that the first step in tidying is to "discard" and the criteria to choose whether to discard an item or not is: "Does this spark joy?". It's so simple and yet so profound. She says that if an item sparks joy, keep it, if it doesn't, throw it away. One of the ongoing learnings for me is to make my life simpler and I'm very excited and curious about applying this principle to more areas of my life.
What is it in your life that you can let go of? What does not spark joy in your life?
Tidy in beauty.
In January, I decided not to continue with my UCKP accreditation for Body Psychotherapy through the training organisation I had been with for almost 9 years. Because I was seeing my therapist at the centre in Cambridge I also decided to finish my personal psychotherapy. After some what's app messages to my therapist, I wrote her an email to say that I needed to take a break. After I got no reply from her, which upset me a lot, I decided to block her number. This was after what felt like an eternity, but in reality was after two weeks. Then in September, I decided to restart my work towards accreditation but through a different training provider and also felt the urge to go back into therapy. I knew I needed to contact my previous therapist, as things were left unfinished. In my first session, she told me that I never reacted to what she wrote in February. I insisted that I did not get the message. Of course, I did not get the message, because I blocked her number!
She ultimately supported me, but not exactly in the way I wanted her to. I have been thinking about this a lot. I often have had feelings of being unsupported in the past when in reality I have had a lot of support from amazing people around me. At times the support has come in different ways to what I wanted it to be - failing to see that it was there. I then, just like with my therapist, have closed myself off and decided that I can only rely on myself. That further isolated me and confirmed my belief that the only way forward is self-reliance.
My commitment to myself is to open my heart and allow myself to deeply receive and feel held and supported by the people I trust - in whatever form it comes. We can only freely give, if we allow ourselves to receive. It's an act of courage and vulnerability. Join me.
Walk in beauty
September is one of my most favourite months of the year and I feel it's a good time to reflect. The change of the season is palpable - with the nights getting longer and the sun rise happening just a little later every day. With the autumn equinox on the 23rd of September (in the UK) the shift in season is clearly marked. At this particular moment, the sun crosses the celestial equator; and the Earth's rotational axis is neither tilted away from nor towards the sun. For me, it's a moment of stillness and contemplation, especially given the tumultuous energies during 2018 and especially during the last three months.
Reflecting on the year so far, I've been very interested in the more widely observed patterns and the collective energy. What is emerging across the board? What are the energies that are moving through us? Words that have sprung to mind and have been reflected back to me by various people are: re-calibration, reset, reboot, major shifts. I feel that there is a deep dismantling of the old, especially long-term relationships, both intimate and business, including organisations and communities. For myself, I have had two major changes this year - related to my training as a body psychotherapist and to business - and in both instances, it was out of my hands and I was presented with the changes; i.e. it was out of my control and that is not an easy place for me to be in. My task has been to feel all there is to feel with regards to the changes, such as the hurt, grief, anger and betrayal, but staying away from blaming, including blaming myself, or needing to do something about it. My intent throughout this quite difficult time has been to stay vulnerable, to stay open and to trust the process - that out of the chaos and the dismantling something beautiful and very different can emerge, which would not have been possible in the old structures. It's also a great opportunity for healing the deeper places inside of me and to invite different energies into my life, such as lightness, space and excitement.
If you are also in the midst of some fundamental and what might seem very destructive changes, trust the process. Trust that we are exactly where we meant to be and that the dismantling and collapsing of our lives and relationships is part of the process of creating something new, exciting and beautiful - with more vibrancy.
It's easy for me to focus on my shortcomings and get all dragged down, because I'm not perfect: not the perfect business owner, not the perfect wife, not the perfect therapist, not the perfect yoga teacher, not the perfect daughter and sister. When things are on top of me and there is little room to breathe, it's easy to just give up and to give in to my own inner critics and the voices outside that are critical of what I'm doing. In one of those moments, I was reminded how much courage it takes to live and that it is that courage that counts in the end.
I find this speech by Roosevelt incredibly inspiring and hopeful:
"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."
I went skiing over Christmas and New Year with my family. My parents generously paid for a private session for my husband, but on the day, he did not feel up to it; he definitely has a bit of a love/hate relationship to this somewhat unnatural activity. I decided to take the lesson myself and just loved it. However, it was interesting to see that my patterns not only show up in general life and while I'm doing yoga, but also in my skiing!
The instructor said to me: "Sandra, let the snow take you somewhere. You are cutting the corners short." What the instructor meant was that I needed to go with the snow and allow myself to be taken somewhere rather than forcing my skis into a certain position in order to control where I'm going. He wanted me to work with the snow, not against it. I know this lesson; it's not something new, but it is incredible to think that a skiing instructor, who I had known for less than hour, picked up on my deep-rooted patterns just like that!
What I took away from it: Allowing myself to be taken somewhere by life - maybe even somewhere new - instead of needing to plan and control everything and thereby getting incredibly exhausted. This does not negate my sense of agency and the power of my influence and self-determination. It reminds me, however, that life is a co-creation and not a solo act.
Let the snow take you somewhere and notice how that feels.
Walk and maybe even ski in beauty.
Often when I get angry, my therapist points out that I have "abandoned myself". It's in those moments where I'm overtly angry at somebody else for crossing my boundaries or doing something I deem as unfair. However, what often lies underneath it all is that I have left myself and I'm not standing behind myself anymore. I'm not giving myself the backing I need and also deserve. That's the moment where the anger rises; it's in reaction to my abandonment.
When I do catch it, I find it useful to explore all the subtle ways I'm blaming myself for the situation. In those instances, I often don't like myself and find it hard to bring compassion towards my own process - something I teach to my students, but invariable fail to do so myself. This process is very subtle and I have to really sit with the feelings to uncover the deeper layers of it all.
I encourage you to feel into your anger the next time it arises and feel for the ways you might be not giving yourself the support you need and deserve. Stand behind yourself no matter what! Move into your heart space and feed yourself from that place.
I've been practising yoga since 1999 and I've been a teacher since 2004/05. I've mentored many Forrest Yoga teachers coming out of foundation trainings and taught numerous continuous educations. There are common themes that I've seen emerging throughout the years. One of them is the desire to make other people happy. I've also experienced this recently in my family and in myself more strongly.
My mum so desperately wants to make me happy and I want to make my mum happy that we end up doing things that neither of us really want to do. The truth is that we can't make another human being happy; that's outside our responsibility and power. Even if it is coming from the right place, it will create complications, stress and frustration. Subtly, what is also communicated to the other person is: "You are not ok. You need to be different." However, we are responsible for our own happiness and peace inside.
Ana Forrest talks about doing one thing a day that delights your spirit; something that makes you happy. What is the one thing for you today? Take responsibility for your own happiness.
I spent Christmas and New Year with my family and it made me reflect on what Jack Kornfield in his book "After The Ecstasy, The Laundry" said:
"It is one thing to offer a multitude of prayers for the sick and the poor, or to undertake loving kindness and compassion meditations for thousands of sentient beings everywhere. It is another to bring these same practices to our own family and our closest community.... You can't teach the truth in your native town. They only know you by your childhood names."
Family becomes the true testing ground of how far we've really progressed on our path and how aware we are. Family is the ultimate to bring out the demons and in that respect family is one of the most cruelly honest mirrors of ourselves. For me, it's about the small wins. The moments I can catch myself going into old dynamics and reminding myself that this is not true for me anymore. If I embody the change I've been working on, my family responds subtly differently. If I'm pretending to have changed, old patterns and wounds emerge within less than a nanosecond. It's small changes that matter. The moments where we can be vulnerable and open rather than hurt and reactive, where we can see our wounds and choose to act differently and where we can hold our family and ourselves in our hearts.
Yoga, well-being and mindfulness... always walk in beauty.