Ever since I became ill I have been seeking holistic measures to deal with my illness effectively and without having to resort to taking scores of medication every day. Medication has some intense side effects and I began to lose sight of normality, stuck in the frame of mind of someone who was restricted by her illness. But in the last few months I ditched the medication, choosing instead to ground myself by practicing mindfulness and encouraging myself to embrace and be open minded about spiritualism. I admit I am a jaded cynic so it takes a lot to convince me that spiritual living could ever be helpful but with some well meaning advice from close friends I realized that part of my healing process would be to allow myself to be more ‘open minded’. Naturally I believe that I am open minded when it comes to feminism, campaigning for equality and creating a fair community for all but I was never into the whole ‘spirtual healing’ is good for the soul and mind mantra. I think partly that is because for so long I associated spirituality with ‘religion’ when the two are separate planes. Its why in the past I found it hard to be mindful and rid my body of negative journey because if you don’t believe then you can never find the benefits. Embarking on this spiritual journey has been riddled with obstacles but while I wont be a self-enthused spiritualist anytime soon I have realized that being mindful and taking time out from your busy schedule can help you from feeling overwhelmed and in many cases can help you feel better.
On my self-cleansing mission I have encountered people from all walks of life and been on a trip or two that could be added to the ‘mindfulness meter’; trips include ritualistic massages to purify the body and improve state of mind, ’emotive facials’ , re-discovering exercise and most recently Yoga. At first I was wary about trying yoga because of my chronic back problems including scoliosis, a dislocated deltoid and hyper-mobile joints but after consulting with my doctor who reassured me that it would help support my ‘weak core’ I was sold. We Train offered a class called ‘Bloody Mary Yoga’ which promised 60 minutes of flowing, energizing vinyasa movements to get a slight sweat on, before rewarding you with either a Bloody Mary or Bellini and I signed myself up before I could make excuses not to go. It was a warm sunny mid morning walk from the station to the charming Northcote pub, where Bloody Mary Yoga was hosted. With its quaint ‘country pub’ vibe I was a little puzzled how yoga would fit in its pub brawler environment but after being led upstairs I was pleasantly surprised. This was no sticky grimy pub that you stumbled into to watch the footie or to down shots to prepare for a night out, no this pub was perfect for Bloody Mary Yoga. Our yogi specialist G welcomed us into the room and told us to prepare our mats so we could begin our holistic healing session. Standing shoulder width apart she asked us what ‘class intensity’ we had chosen and we all said basic, especially since I have never been to a Yoga class before. I also stated that I had chronic back problems so although I am flexible, there might be some positions that my back, neck or shoulders might not allow me to do just yet. We began with the easiest pose Savasana (otherwise known as a corpse pose), which involves you laying flat on the mat with toes pointing outwards and the arms by your side, with both palms outstretched. Although Savasana is the easiest pose to emulate ‘technically’, achieving a total state of relaxation has always been difficult for me. If I find it hard to sleep because of my insomnia then imagine how much work it takes for me to relax. Nevertheless I used the ‘inhale’ vs ‘exhale’ breathing technique our instructor had taught us to be mindful of how ‘well we breathed’. It was clear that my breathing was terrible and although it is largely connected to my health issues I also have a tendency to either ‘forget to breathe’ or ‘over-breathe’ which can cause panic attacks or heightened anxiety. After a few minutes of trying to relax in the corpse pose we moved onto Sukhasana (seated pose) which although is often advertised as you sitting cross legged in the Bloody Mary class it involved sitting on your feet, back outstretched something I found difficult and quite painful. Because we are so used to being seated on chairs ( or beds) overtime our abdominal and back muscles become weakened which can make it hard to practice Sukhasana with ‘intention’. Still I persevered and found that although it was painful I could feel my spine lengthening and believe that over time the curvature of my spine can be reduced through ‘spine lengthening’ activities and exercises.
Despite the pain I was getting from the workout, I realized it was because my body was not used to exercising certain muscles and when I went into the Marjariasana ( cat and cow) pose the pain seemed to diminish slightly. I found it easier than Sukhasana because I am naturally flexible but I found that it did cause my stiff neck and lower back to ache but it was more of a dull, acute pain rather than as chronic as it can become. Known as an Asana, the cat and cow pose is modeled after my favourite feline who can teach us all a thing or two about stretching. Not only does Marjariasana improve the flexibility of the spine but it also massages the digestive organs and improves digestion, something which I am sure my body would thank me for. As someone who has IBS and digestive issues I can get a lot of abdominal and chest related pain which means that I will certainly be practicing the cat and cow pose from now on!Next we moved into the Balasana (child’s pose) which involved you kneeling on the floor and sitting on your heels before rounding your back and letting your head slowly touch the ground. Again I was getting a lot of pain in the lower back and neck area but seeing as its benefits included diminishing vertigo and providing neck pain relief I wasn’t complaining. Virasana, a hero pose with cat cow movements proved a little more challenging, as an Asana that was meant to encourage you to focus on mindfulness and given my track record for ‘having an inability to relax’ I found it hard although strangely one of the most strenuous exercises the Adho muka svanasana (otherwise known as the downward facing dog) proved to be, despite the core muscle pain one of the easiest exercises for me to do. Proven to be a holistic reliever of stress, the downward dog involves you standing feet shoulder width apart and in alignment with the planes of your body, while the spine and head rest just above your ankles. In a weird way the downward dog was kind of magnetic and when I was pushing on the tips of my hands I could feel a surge of trapped energy bursting to be let free from its confines. It was a strange feeling but at the time time I felt like I had purpose and that is not a feeling I get very often.
Yoga has been scientifically proven to give ‘intention and meaning’ to our lives and when we are so caught up in the confines of a modern world we forget how to live and we forget how to place emphasis on self-care. Which is why Uttanasana-an intense standing forward fold- reminds us to stay calm and soothes the mind in times of stress, which is something that I clearly need to work on. When you have an anxiety disorder even a word can make you feel anxious and chances are a raised heart rate and a feeling of trepidation can be a standard emotion to deal with in everyday situations. But amidst all this angst it can be hard to remember to think about others, and more importantly the world around us. I have always been interested in the ancient world in terms of human life but in recent years the origins of earth and the evolution of our earth across time and space has proved a fascinating read. Yoga of course is enriched with reverential poses to celebrate and thank our earth and as we commenced three rounds of sun salutes with low lunges before lunging into Tadasana, the mountain pose, we took a special moment to thank our sun and earth for blessing us with life and joy. As hippy as it sounds and believe me it is, I still felt a strange surge of endorphins rush through me just by giving myself up to yoga.Many of yoga’s roots come from Indian culture and mythology, where yoga and meditation is seen as a spiritual form of prayer and in a way it is. Virabhadrasana 2 the ‘warrior 2’ pose is named after Veerabhadra, a fierce warrior who was an incarnation of Lord Shiva. Thus if we break down Virabhadrasana into ‘Veera’ ( Courageous), Bhadra ‘good’ and ‘Asana’ ( posture) we have the elements of an empowering yoga pose that can teach us all to live our lives with bravery. It struck me that sometimes I live ‘life’ too safely because I am afraid of the unknown but like the Warrior pose suggests ‘without trying’ you will not know anything. I have been deeply incensed with a fear of failure my entire life when in reality there is a certain courage in admitting you have f***ed up, almost liberating even. So I wasn’t afraid to admit that the triangle pose or Trikonasana was something that my fatigued and aching body found hard to maintain but yet I persevered because trying is better than not trying at all. It was at this point that the pain in my neck was getting harder to ignore and told my instructor that my body was not allowing me to turn my neck to the correct angle. G was very understanding and slowly coaxed my limbs into position, taking extra care to not hurt my aching muscles.
By this point the rest of the class was starting to take a toll and as we whirled through Prasarita Padottanasana ( Wide legs forward fold), Malasana (Garland pose) Dandasana (staff pose), Paschimottanasana (seated forward fold), Purvottanasana (modified table top position) and an excrutiating Spinal twist I was more than glad when we were able to sink into our beginning pose the ‘corpse’ to relax and think about the session we just had. Despite the pain I was in I felt strangely rested and found that my heart rate was steady, my breathing normal and best of all I felt invigorated something I haven’t felt in a long time, especially since I am unable to have caffeine to get an artificial high. To end the yoga session we retreated into the Sukhasana, before stretching out our limbs and slowly resuming a standing position. As we came down the stairs and grabbed a complimentary cocktail it struck me, just how often have I given myself ‘me time’? Not the hasty completion of blog threads while watching netflix or reading and taking notes that I have come to see as relaxation, no Bloody Mary Yoga might have not been relaxing in the traditional sense but it gave me some time away from the modern day stresses of living as a financially destitute 22 year old. So guess what, I have only gone and signed myself up for a second session. Am I crazy? Maybe but I will try anything to curb and reduce my anxiety levels.
Have You Ever Tried Yoga Or Other Mindful Practices?