DAY 23 : Yoga Revolution Day 28 (Heart Practice)

I struggled with today’s practice. Usually practices that focus on heart openers are my among my favourites, but today I felt like my body and mind were really resisting my attempts to stay focused and present. Physical resistance was popping up in places where I’d never really felt it before, for example in my legs in the high lunge twist and my lower back in Camel. The first time in the latter pose I actually felt a bit light-headed, despite working into it in stages, and had to retreat to Child’s Pose for a few moments. I was also finding it particularly difficult to quiet the incessant chatter in my mind, and beyond that there were a couple of moments where I just felt like I wanted to stop and to close up rather than open as the practice encouraged.

I have no clear idea as to why I felt like this today. Reading back over the accompanying email, the opening two paragraphs really caught my eye:

“On Day 28 we open our hearts and continue to combine asana, breath and intention to heal energetic imbalances and raise our consciousness.

 When the body is stressed things begin to work in overdrive and then shut down. So cultivating a practice that eliminates that stress energy is vital for living healthy and happy.”

Now I don’t know about energetic imbalances, and refer back to yesterday’s post and the point about doing some more research and experimentation on that front. What I do know, however, is that my body is pretty much permanently stressed and to a certain extent I probably live off stress energy. I’m not the most pro-change person (I tend to hold on to the familiar, even if it’s not serving me and indeed is actively doing me a disservice), so a practice that is focused on removing something that has become so familiar is bound to lead to some resistance. That’s just a thought, anyway. It might well be nonsense.

At the end of the practice, I took some extra time on the mat and tried to focus on the mantra that Adriene had suggested:

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I’m glad I did, as I feel like it helped me to take in the practice, acknowledge the difficulties I’d had and start to try to learn from them.

Finally, I saw this today, outside one of my local cinemas, which seemed appropriate for the focus of today’s practice:

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If I wasn’t a sceptic at heart, I’d say that the universe was trying to remind me to give the proper attention to the things that need it.

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DAYS 21 & 22 : Yoga Revolution Days 25, 26 & 27 (Root, Creativity and Self Practices)

After a slightly crazy weekend, I’m a little behind on blogging my Revolution journey. I also did two practices back to back today because, for both internal and external reasons, I just needed more yoga!

Day 25 was the first in a series of practices focusing on the chakras or energy centres, with this one focusing on the root chakra (at the base of the spine). Now I don’t know much about the chakras, and I’m not even sure if I actually believe they exist, so I put that aspect of the practice aside for a time when I’ve done a little more research and experimentation. I decided instead to focus on the sensations of feeling grounded and centred, feelings which I could definitely do with instilling more deeply in both my mind and body. It’s interesting how focusing on those sensations can result in miniscule adjustments to physical poses which in turn feed back in to increasing those same sensations. The highlight of this practice was definitely feeling significantly more stable in Tree than I had before, and marrying that strength with trying to really maintain full body awareness.

In between days 25 and 26, I got dressed up and went out for the first time since an abortive attempt recently when my BDD got the better of me. I tried to focus on that full body awareness that I’ve been working on in yoga, as a counter to my mind trying to focus obsessively on perceived problem areas. I did actually manage to go out wearing the outfit I’d originally planned to wear (the standard pattern is that I will choose an outfit in advance, then at the last minute revert to one of a very few familiar outfits which I feel hide or detract from the problem areas) and I didn’t get caught in the mirror. This is only one experience, I know, but I’m treating it as a victory!

Today I did Revolution days 26 and 27. Yesterday I had a bit of an emotional hangover from Friday night (in that drinking wine and eating sugar when I’ve not been doing much of either recently seemed to somehow fragment my mind a bit and I felt out of kilter for most of the day), and the world feels like it’s in such a dark place at the moment, that I needed some extra time on the mat.

Day 26’s creativity practice encouraged playfulness and some freestyling in several of the poses. What I really noticed in those moments is how much better I’m becoming at knowing what my body needs at any given time – how it wants to move, what needs to be stretched, what needs to be given a break, and so on. This is pretty major for someone who was so entirely disconnected from their body. In some ways I still am, or perhaps more accurately sometimes my mind strongly resists the connection, but I hope that by really being present in those moments when I can listen and respond, their frequency will increase.

Day 27 focused on the self and, as the accompanying email said, that’s the whole reason why I and so many others are on this Revolution journey.

“When we take time to connect with ourselves we are more capable of connecting with others in a way that serves both you and that person that you are connecting with. Cultivating a healthy and meaningful relationship with yourself is the foundation for creating healthy and meaningful relationships with others.”

I think it’s absolutely true that our relationship with ourselves affects our relationships with others. Yoga is, for me, such a brilliant way to cultivate that relationship because the mat is in so many ways a microcosm of the rest of our lives. We can observe how we react to triumphs and failures, can cultivate patience and ease with ourselves and our bodies, learn to just be in the present moment… this list goes on. I’m finding that I have moments of a calmer confidence that I did not have before, which I think must at least in part be attributable to the fact that through yoga I am becoming more comfortable in my own skin.

I ended today’s double practice feeling that I had pretty much managed to reset myself after yesterday’s hiccup, and even if I didn’t exactly feel better about everything else that’s going on in the world, I did feel a little more focused. Which is perhaps all that can be hoped for at the moment.

 

 

 

 

 

DAY 20 : Yoga Revolution Day 24 (Patience)

Today’s practice was tough. Of all the things that Revolution has focused on so far, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that I found patience particularly difficult. I’m not a very patient person (understatement), particularly with myself, so really it was always going to be a challenge.

The focus was on the journey being the reward, the practice being the path. Essentially, to focus on where we are in the present moment rather than to constantly reach for an end point. To sit in and accept that moment and be patient when things get tough. For me personally, a crucial aspect of patience is not judging where I am in a particular pose, not beating myself up for not being further along than I am. As an impatient perfectionist, I want to be brilliant at something now, otherwise there’s really no point doing it at all. That’s a mindset that will just never fit with yoga, but things can’t change overnight.

There were times during this practice when I was able to be present with what was and to be patient with myself. My Dancer’s Pose, for example, wasn’t perfect (although it has improved), but whenever I wobbled, I managed to accept it and go back to the pose. The real issues with today’s practice came with the yogic squat / Crow and Elephant poses, which melded together into a big fat pile of triggers. I didn’t try Crow today, as my hips were incredibly tight, so I stayed with the squat. As I think I’ve mentioned before, this feels very hunched and squashed (despite my best efforts to lift my heart!), which taps right into one of my BDD-focus areas. The same was true of Elephant (although goodness knows I wasn’t able to do the full pose!). It just seemed to shine a laser-sharp beam of light onto areas that I feel particularly bad about. Being present can be so very difficult when you feel an intense physical dislike for the thing, or part of the thing, that is trying to be present in the first place.

The key with yoga, though, is how you use the tools it equips you with to deal with challenges and difficulties. I was so tempted to just stop the video a few times during these poses, but I didn’t. I stuck with it, breathed through it, focused on each breath and told myself that I was where I was and where I was was absolutely fine. Perhaps even more crucially, I managed to stop this all developing into a major issue or mini-meltdown once I’d left the mat. I tried to tap into the “full body experience” aspect that’s been cultivated over the past 20-odd days, and tried to feel and inhabit my body as one whole, rather than focusing obsessively on specific parts and their perceived defects. This didn’t make the problem go away, and I did stop looking at my reflection for the rest of the day, but it smoothed off the sharp edges and meant that I was able to get on with everything else that I had to do. That, right there, is for me as much the value of yoga as a strong core or flexible spine.

Adriene said today that “the process is the candy”, and it is. It’s the things that I’m learning whilst on the journey that are beginning to have an impact on my life. It’s not about not hitting roadblocks, it’s about how we overcome and get past those roadblocks. The journey might even be much less rewarding without them.

DAY 19 : Yoga Revolution Day 23 (Discipline)

Discipline, otherwise known in yoga circles as “tapas” (although I suspect the first thing I’ll always think of when I hear that word is patatas bravas and ham croquetas). Because I like to know things, I did a bit of research into what tapas is and how it fits into yoga as a whole. There’s what seems like a great article on it over at EkhartYoga. Essentially, on the mat, tapas is the discipline that brings us to practice every day, “that fiery passion that makes us get up and do our practice for the love of it”. Off the mat, having cultivated that discipline means that we are more easily able to get through challenging situations as we would challenging poses, or to be strong when facing difficulties as we would find the strength for a balancing pose.

This concept is absolutely key to what I’m trying to achieve with this 300 Days project. It’s about showing up every day and experiencing the journey, rather that just doing a practice when I feel like I need it. There’s the physical discipline of doing the work, holding the poses and strengthening the muscles, but there’s also the mental discipline of coming to the mat even when I may not feel like it, or when I think there’s no time. Carving out that time whenever possible is part of that discipline. That’s a mindset that I think could have such a positive impact when taken off the mat. If the mind becomes used to being disciplined in respect of one thing, then surely it can do so in respect of others. I do feel that the more regularly I practice yoga, the more I find myself just wanting to get things done as efficiently as possible. That could be a coincidence, as I’m trying to distract myself from the waiting game I’m playing at the moment in respect of my next career steps, so I need as many activities as possible with which to fill my time. Coincidence or not, though, it has to be a good thing.

I love that today’s practice started with breathing techniques (Kapalabhati Pranayama, or skull shining breath – love that name – which it’s pretty much impossible to do without focusing 100% on the breath!) and ended with what was essentially a short meditation. The former set me up for the practice, and the latter set me up for the rest of my day. The practice was challenging at times, particularly as I’m still a bit wobbly on my new, thicker yoga mat. The Warrior I-high lunge-one legged Tadasana-eagle legs-high lunge transition was great for focus and having to really move the whole body from the core. I did feel a brief moment of sadness in that I used to be able to do eagle legs properly, but then managed to bring myself back to appreciating where I was today. The most challenging moment by far was lifting one leg and arm in plank. I managed a leg, both hands on the ground, for short bursts, which I probably wouldn’t have been able to do even a relatively short while ago. Most importantly, I didn’t judge myself as eternally useless for not being able to lift an arm and a leg, but actually managed to smile at where I was (even if that smile very quickly became a grimace…).

“Yoga is a practice. Something we commit to returning to again and again.” So said today’s accompanying email. It will be good to move forward with this project with a more conscious awareness of tapas/discipline and how my regular commitment is benefiting both my yoga practice and my life off the mat. I’m also thinking that I should start reading into the teachings and philosophy of yoga. I’m not entirely sure where to start with that yet, but am hoping that I’ll be able to find a handy reading list somewhere online. I want to supplement and expand my practice rather than just confuse myself, so I’m going to try very hard to resist the standard urge to just buy all the books. Who knows, it might even happen…

DAY 18 : Yoga Revolution Day 22 (Gentle Practice)

Today’s gentle practice had no planks, downward dogs or vinyasas, which I have to say I was rather grateful for, both physically and mentally. My wrists appreciated the break, and I think it’s good to mix things up a bit just to stop the mind going into autopilot. Adriene’s point about having a rest day was a good one. Taking the time to occasionally slow things down, perhaps via a slightly shorter practice as in this case, makes it far more likely that I will show up to the mat each day with a positive mindset.

The accompanying email asked us to “consider what it feels like when you are kind and gentle with yourself. Commit to this so that you can be kind and gentle with yourself, with others and with the Earth.” As I think I’ve mentioned before, I’m not particularly good at being kind to myself, but I am slowly getting better at it. Doing so during a slow, gentle practice was particularly challenging, as the longer I stay in poses, the far more likely it is that body issues will be triggered, which then leads to the exact opposite of kindness and gentleness. Those sorts of thoughts did pop up today, but I feel like I managed to disconnect myself from them pretty successfully. It’s easy to joke when someone tells you just how important the breath is, because breathing is something we do every day and basically take for granted, but focusing on smooth, steady breath can genuinely have a pretty amazing effect on those dark and negative thoughts.

On the subject of the breath, one thing I tried to focus on today was the body/breath connection in that in certain poses, when you breathe deeply enough, you can feel the skin of a particular part of the body stretching (which part depends of course on the pose). Not only does this feel good physically, but really focusing on that connection brings the mind, breath and body onto the same page. Something I’ve found in trying to deal with BDD is that my mind can sometimes feel entirely disconnected from my body. Persuading them gently and persistently to be in the same place – just to be there, without any judgment or running commentary, for however short a time – isn’t always easy, but when it works the sense of calm and peace it produces is quite amazing.

The practice ended with an invitation to expand this kindness to ourselves to others and to the world. I do think that if you’re kind to yourself, being kind to others probably will come more easily, and goodness knows the world needs some kindness right now.

Quitting Sugar Week 2 : This isn’t so bad…

Week 2 of IQS is another “cutting down” rather than “cutting out” week, and is billed as Operating Eat Fat. The idea is that whenever we would eat sugar, eat protein and fat instead. This apparently will curb physical cravings, and take care of any mental or emotional need for a “treat”. This, to be honest, isn’t too difficult for me, as I’m quite happy to snack on nut butter, cheese and cherry tomatoes, cold meat, that sort of thing. The book refers to cravings for “treats” as part of sugar addiction. That I’m not so sure about (although I am more than willing to be proved wrong later on down the line). There must surely be a danger of simply substituting one kind of treat for another, particularly if you have a deeply emotional relationship to food. Ideally I want to get out of that “treat” mentality altogether.

On the subject of fats and particularly nut butter, now is the time to plug Pip & Nut:

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I only discovered them relatively recently, but they are without a doubt the best nut butters I’ve ever eaten (and I’ve eaten a lot in my life). There’s basically nothing added and they just taste perfectly, well, nutty. P&N also do some awesome flavours like maple crunchy peanut butter and honey cinnamon cashew butter, but neither of those are particularly suitable to eat when trying to cut down on sugar. Also, I could just go at the latter with a spoon and that would not end well.

I added some P&N almond butter to this smoothie from the IQS book:

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The ingredients are Weetabix, unsweetened almond milk, almond butter and frozen raspberries (the recipe called for strawberries, but I had some raspberries to use up). It tastes exactly as you would think, based on the ingredients. In an absolutely ideal world it’d be sweetened up a bit, and the recipe did include an option to do that, but it was tasty enough as is, and adding unnecessary sweetness during this cutting down phase probably isn’t the best idea.

In the spirit of cutting down rather than cutting out, I’ve invested in some rice malt syrup, which the IQS book recommends as an alternative sweetener, to be used in moderation, once a bit of sweetness is reintroduced after the three week cutting out period.

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This was the optional sweetener included in the above smoothie recipe. I’d read a fair few comments about this being pretty tasteless, but personally I think it’s quite delicious. It’s got a nice subtle, malty flavour, and is less tooth-dissolvingly sweet than something like maple syrup.

I’ve also been adapting some of my regular recipes to cut out sugar or to bulk them out to make them a bit more filling (with a view to reducing the need for dessert!). I make a simple katsu curry, for example, which uses a dessert spoon of sugar in the sauce (that’s between two people). A few days ago, I made it and just left out the sugar. To me, it tasted no different, and my husband (who has a sometimes annoyingly precise palate) said that if he hadn’t known I’d taken the sugar out, he wouldn’t have been able to taste the difference either. On the subject of curries, my go-to base for a curry sauce was onions and garam masala, fried in a little oil and then blitzed in the Nutribullet. I tried adding some cashew nuts at the frying stage and am frankly annoyed that I didn’t think of doing that a long time ago.

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As well as adding the awesome taste of cashew nuts, this also thickens the eventual sauce really well.

With all these changes and tweaks, the real question is whether I’ve seen any benefits. A week is really too short a time to tell whether cutting down sugar is having a positive effect in terms of stabilizing my moods and emotions. The past week has been pretty good in that respect, and I do think I’ve been sleeping better, but that could of course be a coincidence. So, the experiment continues…

DAY 17 : Yoga Revolution Day 21 (Strength)

Aah, strength. It’s a feature of almost every single physical activity programme out there (usually in terms of “get ripped!” “six-pack!” “toned arms!” etc). I’ve done many of those in my time, but have never really stuck with them for very long. Yes, it’s encouraging when you start to see results, but it always felt like something was missing. I might have seen physical changes in the mirror, but I didn’t feel any different when I looked at my reflection. Ultimately, it’s all very well focusing on physical fitness and strength, but if you need to work on your mental fitness and strength and don’t do so, the former is only going to get you so far. Obviously everyone’s experience is different, but for me personally, given that I have some deep-seated issues with physical appearance, simply trying to change that appearance without trying to change my attitude towards it isn’t going to work.

All this means that today’s practice perfectly exemplified why, for me, yoga has been such a brilliant discovery. Today’s accompanying email said:

“When we become strong and aware in our inner world, we are able to move with strength and awareness in the outer world. The body is a reflection of that. When you are strong in body you are able to move with more ease, yes. But it has to come from the right place. When we look in the mirror we should be able to really FEEL that strength, not just see it.”

That focus on the starting point for strength being internal rather than external really clicked with me. Yes I can see and feel that I’m getting physically stronger thanks to yoga (holding those planks becomes a little easier every time), but it’s the connection between that strength and a developing internal strength that, for me, is so important.

This practice also tapped into a particular, shall we say, sticking point for me when Adriene asked us, at the very beginning, to think of something that we loved about ourselves. That’s not something that I’m particularly good at, as I don’t tend to think about myself in that way, but I can see why it’s a useful thing to practice. Given that I laughed as soon as Adriene said that, I decided to go for my sense of humour (which, to be honest, I do think is pretty good). I guess the thing to really focus on here is that thinking about this didn’t feel as uncomfortable as it might once have done.

I really enjoyed this practice. I’m finding it much easier to settle onto the mat and leave everything that’s happened during the day and whatever I have planned off to one side. Focusing on and moving with the breath is also becoming an easier mindset to drop into. I’m also starting to enjoy poses that I’d previously found frustrating, such as the Warrior poses, which I find it’s much easier to settle into and enjoy when I focus on small points of alignment and on the full body experience. This practice also featured Pigeon, which as I think I’ve mentioned before is one of my all-time favourite poses. To add to that, I was able to make some progress in lifting my back foot from pigeon, which felt a lot easier today (although, that could partly be due to not having tried it since I got my new yoga mat, which is a hell of a lot kinder on my knees). That made me smile.

Today’s was one of those practices that made me feel very grateful that I’m able to spend time doing yoga each day (well ok, most days…). It sounds a bit overly-sentimental, and that’s not something I’m prone to, but there it is.

With only ten days of Revolution left, I’m starting to think about where I’ll go next. I’d prefer to have a plan, rather than just pick a practice each day, which is what I was doing towards the end of last year. That’s all fine, but I feel like I need a bit more direction. There’s a huge and potentially very confusing world of yoga out there, but I’m nothing if not thorough, so hopefully ten days will be enough to decide on my next step!