I have been feeling a lot more anxious than usual lately. It’s a combination of ‘stuff’, but I’m pretty certain this is mostly down to one specific thing:
In less than a week I leave the place I have worked for almost ten years.
Yep. Hello Freelancing and Goodbye Regular Salary. I know this is absolutely the right thing for me. The timing could not be better. It is something that I know I want. I feel so much clearer about things than I ever have. And yet…
I am Terrified.
From day to day the pendulum swings as to which of these two emotions I feel the most. There are moments of euphoria then usually, at the least convenient of times, including during class, there are tears. But one bonus of crying in a Hot Yoga class is I sweat so much that I guess no-one’s going to notice apart from me 🙂
I’m also at that certain point in my life when people wonder why I haven’t settled down with a husband and kids yet. But strangely, I feel far younger and far happier now than I did ten or so years ago when I was always the first in and last out at the office and striving so, so hard to progress. To be perfect. I put so much of my identity and self-worth into what I did for a living to the point where I lost myself for a while, then couldn’t work out why I felt so miserable all the time. I became disillusioned and deeply cynical. Not my natural state.
I am really grateful that I get to practise yoga. For me it is a huge gift that I do not take for granted in the slightest. I truly believe that this has helped to give me a better perspective. At least now I notice if any old negative anxiety patterns are beginning to creep in (like mindless eating – “Where did that whole bag of almonds just go??”) instead of blindly going into self-destruct mode. I feel that through my practice I have gained awareness, enabling me to observe my behaviour, change it accordingly and be kinder to myself, even when I do slip up from time to time.
I know this is a life-defining phase for me. Not because of leaving my job or the age I happen to be when this set of circumstances has arisen, but because of how I feel about it. It’s a gut-feeling and, to date, my gut has never been wrong. At every significant point in my life so far I have felt like this. I’ve never known how to describe it without sounding all ‘woo-woo’ but I came across a post on zen habits (via @samdavidson) about ‘Joyfear’. For me this sums up what I’ve been feeling so well. Here Leo Babauta writes that every single defining moment of his life has been filled with Joyfear:
“Having only joy is great. Having only fear sucks. But having both … that’s life-defining.
Do not shy away from Joyfear. Seek it out. Recognize it when you happen upon it. Joyfear will change your life, and you’ll never forget the moment you find it.”
I know this is big change. I am pretty sure it will delight me and test me and frighten the hell out of me. I know I am probably going to have to ‘Woman Up’ in order to find the courage I feel I will need at times. But somehow, I think it will be okay.
Bring on the Joyfear.
(Thanks to @zen_habits and @samdavidson for highlighting Leo Babauta’s ‘Joyfear’ post)
Last month I mentioned that two of my lovely yoga home teachers were climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. Well… they did it! And they broke through the fundraising target for their charity too so lots of children will benefit from the money raised. I was moved reading Allie’s account of their experience. Thinking of the mental determination, not to mention the physical endurance it must have taken I am truly inspired – it made me wonder whether I would have had the courage to meet such a challenge. I love stories like this, especially when they involve people I know, because they inspire me to reach further, dream bigger and be better.
You guys are amazing!
I was recently chatting to someone I don’t know very well. Through our conversation they found out I practise yoga. Their response:
“Really? But you don’t have a ‘yoga body’. I mean, people who are into yoga are usually kind of… thin.”
Some people really don’t think about the impact their words can have.
I think my response was something along the lines of a sarcastic, “Thanks for that!” but I don’t really remember. Frankly, I was too shocked and I’ve never been one for on-the-spot witty comebacks, sadly. (Why is it that you always seem to think of just the right thing to say about ten minutes after the event…?)
Just to clarify, I wasn’t upset here at the implication of being called fat – I was just as, if not more, upset when an old friend not long ago told me she thought I’d lost too much weight and looked ill, “… and is doing all this yoga really a good thing??” (Though that was coming from someone who has only ever known me as being larger so maybe that was more about them not being used to seeing me any other way…? I don’t know.) Ultimately, what upsets me is that someone thinks it is okay to make what is clearly a derogatory comment about another person’s body. But also, this phrase – ‘yoga body’ – got me thinking. What is a yoga body exactly? What does that mean?
Like many people I’ve had issues with body image over the years. Yoga is one place I try to keep that at bay. But my view of myself is one of the reasons I used to be reluctant to practise in the front row of a mirrored Hot Yoga room. For a while when I did Bikram yoga I’d go in the front row, but only because I’d sussed it was the cool spot in the corner of the room and I always managed to position myself in such a way that I didn’t have to ‘look’ at myself. But even then I felt self-conscious. So after that I avoided being too near the mirrors. I am short-sighted so without my glasses or contacts I struggle to recognise even close family members from a certain distance. (Apologies again to my Aunty, who I unintentionally blanked in the street the other day!) Not being in the front row meant that I didn’t need to look at myself because I literally could not see myself properly.
So, mainly for those reasons I’d not contemplated going in the front row until one day, Allie gently suggested that maybe I’d like to. Also, I’d always thought of the front row as being for far more accomplished practitioners and other teachers, but with that little nudge I questioned whether I was able to let go of my ‘comfortable’, if somewhat blurry space – in the second row, near enough to the teacher to just about make out the posture they’re demonstrating and not directly under the air vent…
In my next class I lay my mat in the front row. There was no escape – I could see myself. I could actually see into my eyes. At first I struggled to look at myself – to ‘stay’ with myself. But I realised that I needed to. So, after that class I kept going back to the front row. And gradually it became easier to be more accepting of what I saw in front of me. It has changed my practice. I have, and continue to develop a deeper sense of gratitude for the body that I have and all that it does every day. As my mind shifted the irony is I didn’t see my body changing. I knew I felt different inside. I didn’t notice that I was starting to look different too. No, I am not thin but as I type I am fitter, healthier and stronger than I have ever been in my adult life – side-effects of a regular practice accompanying the internal benefits I have been experiencing.
I suspect there will always be certain days when I lament the size of my thighs. (For you it may not be your thighs, so fill in the appropriate body part here….) But when I do have those days I increasingly realise that it really isn’t anything to do with my thighs at all. It’s always about something else that’s bothering me at the time, but for whatever reason I project those feelings towards the way I look. Fortunately though, it’s something that is happening less and it’s another thing I credit my practice for.
Thanks to Allie for that gentle nudge towards the front row.
So, what is a ‘yoga body’? I guess the general perception, and most widely accepted image is that it is slim, lithe, toned… And it is. But it’s also tall, short, male, female, black, white, curvy, muscular, young, old, has tight hamstrings, concrete hips, a dodgy back, cellulite…. the list is endless.
In my view, a yoga body is any body that practises yoga.
If I could re-wind to that conversation, that’s what my response would be.