helen hayward

life writing

kitchen timer

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‘Working hard at something we don’t care about is called stress,

working hard at something we do care about is called passion’.

Simon Sinek

When I first read this idea, that working hard at something we don’t care about is called stress, and working hard at something we do care about is called passion, I copied it into the yellow notebook I carry round with me. ‘Yes’, I thought, scribbling down the words, ‘that sounds right’. Sinek’s idea seemed like something that, were I too a marketing consultant, I might have come up with myself. It was oddly familiar, perhaps because it taps into the kind of beliefs I grew up with and now feel surrounded by.

As someone who experiences quite a lot of stress, I found Sinek’s idea unsettling. ‘Surely stress and passion are more complicated than that?’ I asked myself, the next day. I opened my notebook and stared at Sinek’s words. In his pithy definition, he seemed to be promoting single-minded passion over compromised, stressful work. Stress – that feeling of too-muchness, of facing more than we can handle – is bad, he seemed to be saying. While passion – that needle-point focus on one goal – is good.

These days, these mid-life days, a significant amount of my time at home is spent working hard at things that I ultimately don’t care about. I am not a masochist. Nor, touch wood, am I dim. It’s rather a psychological dilemma that I face. And it’s this. I don’t seem to be able to get the conscious and unconscious parts of my mind to come to an agreement on what is worth caring about. I’m unable to stop my unconscious mind from caring about things like clean sheets, compost and soaked legumes, that my socially-conditioned conscious mind thinks might not, in the scheme of things, really matter. Hence the stress I often feel engaged in household tasks.

To get around this, I’ve taken to setting a timer on arriving home late afternoon. It’s the only timer in the kitchen that isn’t broken, I suspect because it knows that I like it the least. After fishing this timer out of the utensil drawer – perfectly placed to catch breadcrumbs from the oven above – I set the minute timer to 60 and clap it to the metal top of the hob. With this satisfying clap, of magnet fastening on to metal, I tie up my denim apron and go for it.

The next hour is broken into household-sized fragments – trips to the bins outside, the laundry downstairs, the bedrooms upstairs and the fridge in the pantry. All the while, the dog sits on the back door step, with an occasional bark to put a neighbouring dog in its place. There he sits, lone sentinel to my bustle next door – the chopping of vegetables, the unpacking of the dishwasher, the hum of the carpet sweeper.

For years, I waged a personal war over the value of the time that I spent housekeeping. Until one day I said ‘enough’, and fished out a kitchen timer from the drawer. I’d read somewhere about the Pomodoro technique, and thought it worth a try. Initially, I set a timer as an experiment. And from day one, it worked. I think it worked because it put a frame around my housekeeping, creating a before and after, a domestic bubble. It helped to overcome my resistance to certain tasks, and to breathe into the hour ahead.

Nowadays, each time I fix the kitchen timer to the stove top, the same thing happens. I relax. This white electronic timer stops me from feeling stressed. It tells my unconscious that there is no need to worry, that only a finite amount of my afternoon will be given over to household tasks. It functions as a green light, allowing me to beetle about the house, doing as much washing, cooking and gardening as possible inside an hour. Importantly, setting a timer helps me over the initial hump of housekeeping (and in my experience, there is always a hump). Its ‘tick, tick, tick’ stalls my thoughts, protecting me from all the other things I could be doing during this time. In accepting my place in the domestic wheel of life, my inner chatter fades and I just get on with it.

This moment of surrender, of the metal timer hitting the stove top, so quick as to be unnoticeable, is when the magic happens. For the next hour, I’m safe from conflicting thoughts, from stress. I’m in the zone, and can enjoy simple household tasks that, while I don’t relish them, leave me feeling good about life as a whole. Inside this hour, I’m able to care about things that I otherwise might not, and in this way gain release.

I don’t love housekeeping. I’ll never be passionate about it. (My psychological life would be simpler if I did.) The pleasure that I get from looking after my home is inverse. What I love is not feeling emotionally complicated about housekeeping – about prepping food, tending plants and cleaning the hob. I love feeling in flow, without resistance, at one with my home. And when the hour is up, I feel proud of being able to stay on top of my home’s running.

Usually, I go over the allotted hour. When the timer goes off – ‘beep-beep, beep-beep!’ – I rarely whip off my apron. Still, as a strategy, setting a timer does seem to work. I think it’s because, by objectifying the time that I spend on domestic tasks that my ego, Simon Sinek and society at large don’t credit, my housekeeping becomes real. Rather than trivial daily tasks, it becomes something almost solid that can be measured by the tick-tick-tick of a white plastic timer. Even though the dog on the back doorstep is often the only other living creature aware of my doing it.

We live in a world which puts a higher value on pursuing our passions than on caring for others, our home and ourselves. This is not a good or bad thing, it just is. Still, what this means is that many of us going around feeling that the work of looking after our family, ourselves and home is at odds with the work of fulfilling our ambitions. Perhaps we are a mother, struggling with home schooling, or an older man nursing a knee replacement. Or perhaps we are doing our best to stay on top of a generally happy but messy household, in the run up before dinner. In all these situations, we’re liable to feel as if we are living back to front. Our day is full of care, yet there is less room for passion than we might like there to be. And it’s this discrepancy, this feeling of being at odds with ourselves, of somehow falling short of our heart’s desires, that accounts for a lot of the stress that we feel at home.  

Passions, much like true love, have survived our modern age intact. No matter how confused our society may be, about what matters most in life, our passions are admired, even revered.There seems something pure and inviolable about our efforts to realise our ambitions and passions. Whether this takes the form of a new digital brand, a sustainable start-up or a life-long violin practice, being passionate and ambitious is widely considered a good thing. Rarely do we criticize or subject our passions and ambitions to scrutiny.

As a rule, stress is less well regarded. Stress, psychologists tell us, is an effect of how our mind perceives what happens to us. An event in itself isn’t stressful, only our response to it is. This explanation places the onus on us, as individuals, not to experience as stressful something that a more resilient person might be able to move on from. In this way, feeling stressed is, through a behavioural glitch, our fault. Stress is a personal problem, rather than an effect of the confused beliefs that infuse society as a whole.  

There’s a problem here. This explanation of stress – that events aren’t stressful, only our responses to them are – is based on the assumption that our society broadly agrees on what matters most. But clearly it doesn’t. This is where things get sticky for those of us who do a fair amount of caring. Because in the absence of a consensus about matters most in life, the caring work that we do – work that our unconscious mind knows matters and that our conscious mind doubts the value of – gains little credit. And so by an awkward twist, rather than the caring work that we do increasing our sense of self-worth, it generates stress.

When we care for others, ourselves and our home, our ambitions and passions are shelved for a while. Perhaps this is why most of us have a finite amount of energy for caring. The work of caring about things that we both do and don’t care about, for the sake of people and a way of life that we love, just is tiring. All of us need breaks from caring in order to refresh ourselves. We need time off from trying to square the circle – from getting the unconscious and conscious parts of ourselves to agree on what matters most.

The solution to spending too much time in caring work is simpler to describe than to do. Instead of pouring all our time and energy into things that, on our death bed, we’re unlikely to consider important, we need to be able to lose ourselves in activities that we do care about, that we are passionate about, and that don’t generate stress. Not least because when we’re free to do those things that we like doing most, the split within us, which arises when we care too much and for too long, and that we experience as stress, gets to heal.

Which brings me back to my kitchen timer, and to the way it helps to frame my domestic role. For the brief second in which I fix it to the stove top, I feel in good company with all the efforts that I feel sure that other people are making, in homes around the globe, to keep their domestic life afloat. They may not, as I do, turn on a kitchen timer or tie up an apron. Still, like me, they feel the tug of everything else that they could be doing with the time and energy that they give to housekeeping. Yet they still go about preparing dinner and bringing in the washing. Perhaps because, like me, they feel, in a deep part of themselves, that it’s worthwhile to do so.

It seems odd to be thankful for a plastic kitchen timer. But I am.

an alternative to mindfulness

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When I embarked on motherhood, with eyes wide shut, I decided that if I gave everything to family life I’d still have enough life left over, afterwards, to be creative in a single-minded way that I was incapable of being as long as my kids were wanting snacks after school and lifts in the car from here to there. I worked every day of motherhood. I never mistook my kids for the world. Still, I was lucky in the sense that, at sticky moments, I never had to tell them that my work was more important than they were. My work was important, I was clear about that, just not more important than them.

When they were young, I too jumped in muddy puddles. But not in anything like the way I stomped in them when I was a girl. As a mother, I thought about laundry, about consequences. As a kid, I did not. I was in the moment as a mother, but always with an eye on what was coming next – on dinner that night or school the next day. Family life went by so whizzingly fast there seemed to be few opportunities to look around and survey the scene. Whenever I did sit back, it was as if I was watching my kids grow, the pencil markings nudging up the side of the kitchen door.

‘Got much planned for the weekend?’ asks my local barista, banging a frothy milk jug on the counter and barely looking up. ‘Not much’, I say. ‘Friends for dinner, the dog to the beach, a small mountain of leaves to rake up’. He smiles, I wave and, as I push open the café door, I get together a mental list for the shop over the road – eggs, bread and onions.

What books about mindfulness don’t point out is that in order to take a break from our thoughts and feelings it’s not enough to immerse ourselves in the present – to eat sultanas slowly. Our mind doesn’t have knobs that can be turned up or down, on or off. We can’t just tell ourselves to relax and be mindful.

Over time, I’ve been more drawn to the act of winnowing, than to mindfulness. Winnowing is an age-old agricultural process in which heads of grain are thrown into the air before the heads are caught on the way back down in a sieve, the mesh of which is wide enough to catch the heads of grain while the husks pass through. Winnowing catches something powerful about the need I feel, now and then, to shake up everything that makes up my day, my life, my work, my home, my family. To do a mental stock-take. To throw everything into the air in order to see what remains after its fall back down, discarding what is no longer of value, what no longer serves. It’s akin to what happens during travel – only without having to pack and leave home.

It’s easy to think, society encourages us to think, that with a bit more control over our surroundings, we will better inhabit our present. Some do this by imposing order on our surroundings, perhaps by giving away everything that doesn’t spark joy. Others adopt a physical regime, or way of eating, that promises control over our body and a reduced environmental footprint. Others again, myself included, find sanctuary in a practice like yoga, by releasing ourselves physically to bring about a stillness of mind that heals the split between mind and body.

In my 20s, I was particularly drawn to the idea of epiphanies. Many of the books I read reached their climax in a moment in time that encapsulated the meaning of the main character’s life, after which everything fell into place. Reading descriptions of these moments made me long for an epiphany that would order everything in my own life up to that point, guiding me into the future. But sadly, I never had an epiphany. I experienced numerous turning points, over the years, but no single epiphany.

Nearly a hundred years ago, Marion Milner wrote A Life of One’s Own under the pseudonym of Joanna Field. The book takes from eight years of diary entries in which, a young mother and practicing psychologist, Milner explores her thoughts and feelings with the aim of discovering what gives her deep and abiding pleasure. She starts from the premise that what she thinks she likes doing may not be the same as what she actually likes doing, that what her ego seeks and what her soul longs for may diverge. With time, Milner realises that the act of describing her thoughts and feelings when she attends a music concert, say, or darns a stocking (imagine that!), changes her experience. The act of putting into words her daily comings and goings makes her more observant. The quality of her experience is enhanced. By stepping outside her head, she sees things as they really are rather than as her ego wants them to be. Writing down her thoughts on a daily basis has the effect of making her feel ‘less Rodin’s thinker and more a watcher in the woods’.

For years, the combined impact of kids and work gave me the perfect excuse not to winnow. Only rarely did I have time to create the kind of mental space that made it possible to sift the important from the less important. For much of the time, I felt neither watchful nor at ease. For too much of the time, I was quietly stressed. I expended so much time and energy caring about things that I didn’t really care about, that husk was forever rising up and clouding my vision.

These days, I find it easier to distinguish the wheat from the chaff when out in nature, or in the contained space of my car. I winnow out walking the dog, or on long drives. Insights rarely come to me on mountain tops, or when I’m super busy. Often, they come when I’m doing something with my hands. I might be gardening, or kneading dough after it’s come together to form a ball. Or drawing at the kitchen table. This is when the trapdoor between my conscious and unconscious mind lifts, allowing free traffic.

For years, I tried to be mindful. It seemed such a straightforwardly good idea. I did the washing up mindfully (and failed). I did yoga mindfully (and mostly failed). Eventually I decided that, rather than trying to quieten my mind and rather than leaving my ego outside the door, I would do something more native to me than doing nothing. I would engage with whatever creative activity I was doing so keenly that everything else dropped from view. My alternative to mindfulness was that simple.

I have a busy mind. Much of my day is spent caring about things that I don’t really care about for the sake of a greater good so precious and fragile – family love – that I dare not declare it. This may be why I’m drawn to creative activities that invite a two-way conversation between my unconscious and conscious mind, that leave me feeling buoyant, lifted. It may also be why I’ll never finish winnowing. This should be no surprise. Because for as long as we have life, there is grain to thresh.

on being boring

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‘Between the stimulus and the response lies a gap, and in that space lies our freedom’.

Victor Frankl

Two weeks ago, my husband told me, in a heated moment, how boring I am. Two weeks should be long enough for me to have moved on from a mean comment, said in frustration. Intellectually, I know that when Alex blurts out, ‘You’re so boring!’ that he is saying quite a lot about himself. Yet somehow knowing this hasn’t made it easier to move on from his comment.

What, really, does it mean when Alex tells me I am boring? I think it means that, for him, I’m the opposite of exciting. It means that I’m someone who, in that moment, is a living reminder him of things that he doesn’t want to have to think about first thing in the morning.

I didn’t write this post to elicit sympathy for conflicts in my marriage. I realise that, post Covid, most of us who are married or in long relationships share a few of these. Besides, I like my husband Alex. Sometimes I even love him. And I respect his attitude to his work. Nor do I want to make too much, and this is so easily done, of our differences. After all, thirty years is a long time to spend with another person, certainly long enough to have collected a few bumps and bruises along the way.

My hunch is that Alex experiences me as boring when I do the opposite of make him feel good about himself. When I don’t, in Virginia Woolf’s words, magnify him, better him. When he chastises me for being boring, what I think he’s saying is, ‘Don’t come near me, if all you’re going to do is pull me down’. And I get this. I get that before Alex has had coffee in the morning, and before he’s started work, is probably the worst moment to bring up with him anything tricky with him.

A few days ago, as I was clearing up the kitchen, I apologised to Alex for bearing him a grudge. He looked up, surprised, and thanked me. For what, exactly, do I hold him a grudge? There are a few things, and not all of them I admitted to him. I resent that his writing career is more successful than mine. I resent that he minds our daughter leaving home less than I do. I resent that he is able to be ruthless about his work in a way that I’m not. I resent that he doesn’t credit my housekeeping as valuable. And I resent that, after thirty years together, he doesn’t find me very interesting – a fact which now and then makes me want to throttle him.

You don’t need to be a trained marriage counsellor to recognise the dynamic at work in my marriage, to see that there is a connection between Alex finding me boring and my bearing him a grudge. However, you might need to be a marriage counsellor to solve it. And, right now, the prospect of Alex and me attending counselling together – in this we are united (having done it three times in the past) – seems as appealing as major dental treatment.

Alex doesn’t share my willingness to share raw thoughts and feelings. In his view, it’s better to stay away from any interpersonal conflict that has no simple solution. But that, obviously, is not the way that I operate. The only way that I’m able to move on from tricky things, especially those without a simple solution, is by putting them into words, sharing them and then moving on.

A month ago, before my daughter floated the idea of leaving home, I didn’t mind when, as occasionally happened, Alex’s frustration led him to be short with me. Instead of dwelling on whatever he said, I brushed it off and moved on. I focused on all the things that I care about more than the conflict in my marriage. However now that Emma is no longer around, I feel vulnerable in a new way. I find that it’s not so easy to move on from my husband’s mean comment when Emma, who doesn’t think I’m boring, isn’t around. And although my son, who I get on with well, is still around, I know that any day he too will take off.

We do such weird things to each other, from the inside of long relationships. And we find it so hard to talk about these things in helpful ways. When there is conflict inside a marriage, when there is hurt, mostly we just want it solved. We want to stop, to go away. We want the equivalent of emotional first aid. Except, of course, when life reaches a certain level of difficulty, often around the midway mark, when two people in a relationship have internalised each other in ways that are hard to reverse, solving marital problems goes beyond first aid. Unless you are willing to risk separation, it’s at this point that you have to bite your lip and, in my father’s phrase, just grin and bear it.

I could throw my marriage in the dust bin. Many couples do, at turning points like these. I could round on Alex and say, ‘If you find me boring, that’s it. The end. I want something better for myself’. And there would be people who would applaud me for this, no matter its emotional and financial fall out. However, in my heart, I know that what I’m struggling with is bigger than my husband’s tactless temper. I am struggling with coming to terms with the end of family life as I’ve known it for twenty-five years. Once my son leaves home, a chapter of my life that has been punctuated by family love and childhood mess, a plank of my existence without which I fear I might not recognise myself, will come to an end, without anything obvious to replace it.

 In so many ways, I have lived a blessed life, a fortunate life. Perhaps, ultimately, I am saved from marital conflict, painful as it is, because my love of life is deeper than all my other loves. Yet still, even my love of life can’t save me from having to start my next chapter without the comfort of knowing what’s coming next.  

‘Do you really need a whole course to learn just that?’

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The morning before I started a 6-day course in yoga sequencing, I bumped into a friend who responded with surprise when I mentioned it to her. ‘Do you really need a whole course to learn just that?’ ‘Yes’, I said. ‘There’s heaps to learn when it comes to putting yoga sequences together’.                                                                                            
I knew that a sequencing course would be challenging for me. And so, as we started the first of seven 2-hour yoga classes, I wasn’t anything as simple as excited. I felt glad to be in the studio. I knew that I was fortunate to be there. And I felt relieved that my apprehensions about the course – the juggling and the planning – were at an end. Still, like setting off on a multi-day hike, I was conscious of all that lay ahead.                                                                                     
The most obvious difference from the 200-hour yoga teaching training that I did last year, and the 50-hour sequencing course, was numbers. Rather than the 22 students that I trained alongside last year, just 7 of us sat in the opening circle. And one of these, a footballer doing drug rehab, had signed up on a whim. My first thought, glancing round the circle, was that in the coming days there would be nowhere for me to hide.                                        
As it turned out, much of what I learned during yoga sequencing training was only indirectly related to the intelligent putting together, the choreography, of yoga poses.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  After dinner on the first night of the course, I joined my daughter Emma as she played guitar in front of the fire. I listened for a while, stroking the dog on the rug. When she finished playing, I complimented her. ‘You’ve come such a long way with your playing since last year’ I said. As if on cue, she put her guitar down, looked across at me, and told me that she’d decided to move into a share house with friends across the river in 10 days’ time. In that whole-of-life-in-an-instant way, I collected myself and smiled. ‘That’s great’, I said, ‘that’s just what you must do’. In the seconds that followed, I flashed back to the moment when I told my own mother of my plan to go overseas at an age similar to Emma’s. And I recalled just how much I appreciated my mother’s support in the weeks that followed, especially when, a one-way ticket to London in my pocket, I doubted the wisdom of my dare. Except, of course, this time I would be the one who would be left behind now that opportunity was knocking for my daughter.                         
Emma and I chatted a while longer by the fire, and I sensed her relief at telling me her news. Then she picked up her guitar and took herself off to bed, leaving me sitting on the rug. As she took the stairs two at a time, I looked at the dog stretched out on the sofa. ‘So’, I said softly to Digger, who opened one sleepy eye, ‘now you’re my dog’.                
Next morning, after a sleepless night and a two-hour practice, I found myself sitting in another half circle, perched on bolsters and blocks. Perhaps, I thought, this training was my medicine; it would make me stronger.                           
So what did I learn, over the following days, that I didn’t know already? Really it was a way of thinking, an approach to teaching yoga, that the teachers were keen to impart. It was a way of breaking down the human body, and the poses that relate to the opening and strengthening of each part, that we were being asked to take on; a less intuitive, more anatomical approach than the one I’d used whenever I sat down to sequence a class.                              
At various moments, during the 6 hours of lectures each day, I felt felled by my own denseness. At others, I was overcome by a mind-numbing boredom which I fought by writing down the Sanskrit names of yoga poses that I needed to memorise. At other times, I hit a wall of tiredness that nothing could penetrate. Thankfully, there were also moments of breakthrough, of intellectual ah-ah, when I finally grasped a point being made.                                     
Most of all, I felt up against it because the further we got into the course, the more it became obvious that my mind didn’t lend itself to the methodical approach being taught. It was as if the teachers were asking me, very nicely, to do the equivalent of holding my tennis racket in very different way to the way I’d held my racket all my life. And so while I knew that the door was open for me to sequence yoga in this new, more intelligent way, and that if I applied myself to it my classes would be rounded and thorough, and my students unlikely to injure themselves, I felt a strong resistance to giving up my carefully-stitched-together classes for a higher level of proficiency that may or may not ever be mine.                                                                                                                                                                                  
Not all of the ‘learnings’ from the course felt problematic. Many of them were straightforwardly good to know and easy to absorb. For my yoga readers, here are the main ones. 1. In standing postures like Crescent Lunge, ensure that the knee is tracking directly over the ankle. 2. Make sure to warm up the hip flexors before attempting any back bend. 3. Always do a contractual back lift, like Cobra, before a leveraged lift, like Sphinx, so that you strengthen your core before you use an external surface like the floor to push up from. 4. Remember to offer students a resting pose, like Child’s Pose, after three to five strong poses. 5. Make sure that the knee is engaged when the quads are on. 6. Neutralise the spine after any backbend with a counter pose like Forward Fold. 7. Stay in the same plane of movement as you move from one pose to the next, to avoid moving from a pose in which the hips face forwards and the hip bones are internally rotated (as in Warrior 1), to a pose in which the hips are side on and the hip bones are externally rotated (as in Warrior 2).                                                                                                                                             
Then there were the things that I learned incidentally, in passing. 1. The majority of yoga injuries happen when a student is getting out of a pose, which is why transitional poses like three-legged dog, when the leg and hip yawn open, are essential. 2. The reason why a conditioned body feels lighter than an unfit one is this: when muscles are engaged they are less subject to the laws of gravity and therefore lighter. 3. When you’re upside down in an inversion, like Shoulder Stand, the digestive organs push against the diaphram in a way that causes the lymph system (the kidneys and liver etc) to be squashed down and flushed out.                                                                            
I could put down my struggle to focus during the yoga sequencing course to the shock of losing my daughter to a share house an hour’s drive away. I could flag my lack of sleep, to staring into the darkness when my eyes should have been shut. Certainly my tears, during the resting pose at the end of each yoga class, felt like an emotional flushing out, to let go of something that I was only beginning to understand how to do.                                                     
And this, I knew, was what yoga was for. It was anatomy and sequencing, of course. But it was also, in a deep sense, a way of letting go of the present moment to open to the next, even without knowing where it might lead.                         
In amongst the new things that I learned in the course, there were some old familiar ones. 1.‘ Find comfort in discomfort’. 2. ‘Press down with your hands to make the pose lighter’. 3. ‘In order to learn a sequence, you need to embody it first’. 4. ‘Do your homework, don’t fear the teacher’. 5. ‘Choose what is right over what is fun, fast and easy’. And my favourite, for its suggestiveness, 6: ‘We’ve all been there’.                                                                               
During a handstand class in the hot room (32 degrees), we had plenty of opportunity to find comfort in discomfort. Especially when, after moving my mat from underneath the heaters at the back of the room, to nearer the door, the sun promptly came out, making my mat the only one in 25 mats to be in direct sun.                                                                  
Near the end of the second to last day, one of the teachers floated a mentoring scheme in which one of them offered to attend a class of ours to provide feedback. ‘No way!’ was my first thought. ‘Imagine how nerve-wracking that would be’. And I tucked away the idea at the back of my mind as a well-intended gesture.                                        
By this point, I’d stopped crying during the final resting pose of classes. I wasn’t embracing the changes at home, but I wasn’t fighting them either. I’d stopped secretly wanting Emma to change her mind about moving out. I’d ceased hoping that she would admit her mistake that home could be elsewhere. Still, though I was proud of her for making the move, I didn’t want her to make it.                                                                                                                           
I’d also stopped trying to cram in all the yoga knowledge on offer. I knew that it might take me months to integrate this new approach to sequencing into my own way of teaching. This was partly because I wasn’t an experienced teacher. But it was also because my mind didn’t lend itself to thinking about yoga sequences analytically, logically, systematically. Instead it scampered off to irrelevant things like empty bedrooms and silent piano keys, refusing to focus on the correct orientation of the hips in various standing poses.                                                                                         
During the closing circle of the course, the teachers gave out certificates and congratulations. Sitting on the floor cross-legged, the daylight fading, I had a strong sense that my sequencing journey had only just begun. I recalled the words of my daughter from the night before, after I’d described to her the mentoring scheme, and listed a number of solid emotional reasons why it would be bad for me. Without hesitation, Emma shot back her answer. ‘You’ll be a better teacher’, she’d said, ‘if you do do it’. ‘Damn it’, I’d thought, ‘how come she’s always right?’                                                                                                                                                                                                   
As I filed out of the studio one the last time, lugging books, drink bottle, lunch box and mat, I thanked the teacher who’d led the course, as she pulled together her belongings in the reception area. My hand on the door, I turned back. I knew that I couldn’t afford to let the moment pass. However nerve-wracking being observed would be for me, I knew that it might help me to become a better yoga teacher. Looking the teacher in the eye, I told her that I’d be happy for her to observe one of my classes – only not just yet. ‘I would like that very much’, the teacher replied. And we left it at that.

inner voice or mental chatter

Every day I spend time alone. Writing. Doing yoga. Housekeeping. Walking the dog. I am not solitary. Most days, I write in a cafe, attend a yoga class and chat to other dog owners. Still, inside my head, for periods of time, I am on my own.

Yet hardly ever am I truly alone. Let me introduce you to my inner world. First there is my inner voice, my guide and my compass. Early this morning, I sat on the end of my daughter’s bed, as she played the guitar. When I asked whether she’d made up the piece she was playing, she said yes and added, ‘Happy Mother’s Day’. ‘Thank you’, I said. And as I rolled off the bed and headed for the bathroom, my inner voice echoed my daughter’s thanks.

If I was only guided by my inner voice I would likely experience no stress, no conflict. But clearly, I do. At the merest hint of fear, negativity or insecurity my inner critic comes bounding into awareness. The thing about my inner critic is that I know her better than she knows me. Mostly, I can see her coming, and try not to encourage her. She is my scolding, berating voice which I once attributed to my mother but later realised was a product of my own mind. She is the one who pushes me back down and keeps me in my place, and cares not a jot for excuses.

My inner voice and inner critic are the main characters in my head. Occasionally they share centre stage, but generally one makes way for the other. There is a third character in my mind, although this is closer to a chorus than a character. It’s mental chatter. At the beginning of a yoga class, when I am pretending not to care that a couple of regulars haven’t come that week, my mental chatter can get pretty noisy. At times, it gets so noisy that I blank out on my yoga sequence and have to look at my notes, or I’ll forget which side of the pose we’ve just done, until a student pipes up and tells me.

A few weeks ago, walking along the beach with my dog and listening to Ethan Kross read his book Chatter on Audible, I realised that I am not alone in my experience of mental chatter. Performance anxiety, the jitters, imposter syndrome, blanking out – whatever you want to call it, it’s a common response to intense inner pressure.

Until Ethan Kross spelled it out, I’d never thought that each of us has a psychological immune system which we have the power to strengthen. I simply hadn’t realised that it is in my power to develop my inner voice. It had never struck me that I could develop my inner voice so that, under pressure, she makes the calls and not my inner critic.  

I wouldn’t have tried this trick if Ethan Kross hadn’t suggested it. But I figured it was worth a try. The following week, when I blanked out in yoga class and couldn’t for the life of me remember what came next, I got my inner voice to silently call me by name. Admittedly, I was skeptical. I thought that saying to myself, ‘Helen, focus on what you’re doing’ would feel weird. I worried it would feel admonishing, like something my inner critic might say. But Ethan Kross was right and I was wrong. I really could get myself out of a stress-induced funk simply by getting my inner voice to call me by name and to tell me to focus. I didn’t need months of therapy to solve my dilemma. I could solve it myself, just like that.

teaching 50 yoga classes

Every week it’s the same. I punch a code into a heavy white door, walk down a long corridor, press a button to close the blinds, hang a strand of globes in a bunch on a stand at the front, switch on a portable speaker which I connect to my phone, light a scented candle and, finally, roll out a few mats and put out blocks and straps. And hope.

Often I’ve been running to get to the yoga classes that I teach in a local community centre twice a week. The adrenalin of getting the studio ready for class calms my nerves. It convinces me that what I’m about to do is normal. It’s just what I do on Thursday nights and Friday lunchtimes. Besides, being on the edge of late for class means that there is less time to entertain the ‘what if no-one comes?’ voice in my head, my resident inner critic.

I chose the space where I teach yoga because of its size. Teaching, at most, a seven-mat class, reassured me. I could never earn a heap of money from teaching, but nor could I be stared at by twenty pairs of eyes. Instead I would teach whoever came to class for a few months, and then see where I stood.

This I have done. Last night I taught my 50th class, the first few minutes of which I thought I might spend alone. Then one and, five minutes later, another student appeared. From the outside, and in the opinion of my inner critic, two people aren’t enough for a proper yoga class. However, what I have learnt during these past six months is that I can’t make people come to yoga class. I can expect four students to attend class on Friday lunchtime. But even then they can’t promise they’ll come, rain or shine. They jump on planes, family members fall ill, injuries require rest.

When I started teaching yoga, putting flyers in letterboxes and nudging friends on facebook, I figured the biggest challenge would be teaching the yoga postures. I thought that I would struggle to put together and remember yoga sequences. But I was wrong. The two hardest things by far have been accepting my vulnerability in the role of yoga teacher, and having no control over whether people come to class.

There was quite a lot of discussion, in yoga teacher training, about holding space. This elusive term, never completely defined, seemed to reflect the capacity of a teacher to create an atmosphere in which students could relax and learn, a space in which their prana – their life force – could flow.

Being a good yoga teacher is about holding space. It’s also about practice. However, practice on its own won’t do it. For me, the real challenge has involved aligning myself with my teaching voice. It’s about feeling comfortable with the words that come out of my mouth as I teach. It’s other things too. It’s about playing with language so that the words I use to cue have the effect of opening up a pose, of making it sound doable, approachable. It’s also about being able to to change a sequence when someone is struggling (rather than, as is my weakness, pushing on regardless). And it’s about being friendly and warm without expressing inappropriate streams of thought (you guessed it, another weakness of mine).

The thing I didn’t realise, when I put my hand up to teach yoga in a local community centre, is that I would end up needing my students to come to class more than they would need me to teach them. Nowadays, yoga classes are everywhere. If you’re looking for a class, there are plenty to choose from. There is no need to be loyal to a particular class or teacher. If one class doesn’t suit, for whatever reason, another class will pop up elsewhere.

Last October, when I started teaching yoga, wide-eyed, hopeful and committed, I kept the bar low. I would teach for three months and then reassess. When Christmas came and went, I decided to teach for a year before reconsidering. Until then, I would focus on my teaching and not dwell on how many people came to class (who, I perhaps should add, are mostly middle-aged women, just like me). I knew that the women who came to my classes didn’t come with the aim of becoming a bendy yogini. I sensed they were seeking to reconcile themselves to the life they were living, along with strengthening their core against too much time spent sitting in their work. Just like me.

Researchers say that the time it takes to recover from a distraction is often longer than the time we spend being distracted. This is what happens when my inner critic gets the better of me in the first ten minutes of a yoga class. With just a couple of students present, I try not to be put off teaching. However when my inner critic is telling me, in no uncertain terms, that I can’t be a very good teacher if just two students are present, this is hard to do.

My inner critic isn’t expansive. She is fixed on my failings, my awkwardness, my lateness. She doesn’t notice how much time I put into writing sequences, the care I give to creating an atmosphere in the studio, and the sheer mental effort of staying with and talking through each pose. She doesn’t care about any of that. For however much I learn and change, and overcome my mistakes, my inner critic doesn’t learn and change with me.

The women who come to my evening yoga class, on what are now cold dark nights, juggling their evening meal to be there, aren’t interested in their teacher suffering from short bursts of imposter syndrome. They just want to put the day behind them and to focus on yoga. They don’t want their yoga teacher’s inner critic to undermine her attempts to lead the class through a breathing practice which was designed, many centuries ago, to free people from anxious thought patterns like the one their teacher seems to be experiencing.

I thought that I’d learn all about the yoga postures in my first year of teaching. But actually, in these first six months, I’ve been learning something else, which perhaps I needed to learn even more. I’m learning how to distance myself from my inner critic, how to keep her at bay so as to focus on teaching.

Most of all, I’m learning to hope.

perhaps this is what easter is for

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A few moments after I woke on Good Friday, I thought to myself, as I have for the last thirty-something years, ‘this is the day that my father died’. Then I rolled over and slowly counted up to twenty – my getting-out-of-bed trick – and got on with my day.

You’d think that, given my family history, I would prepare for Easter. It would make sense for me to set things up so that, should my unconscious get the better of me, I am ready for it. But I never do. Instead, each year Easter springs up on me, catching me out with its carpetbag of memories.

This year, I decided to treat Good Friday like any other public holiday. I did a bit of housekeeping before doing some writing in a local café, and a long dog walk to a pebbly beach. But before leaving the café for the beach, I sat down at a table near the till, where two friends and their daughter were sitting; within minutes, we were in a deep conversation about the meaning of life. Half an hour later, I left the café, thinking, ‘Perhaps this is what Easter is for’.

Late the same day, I passed by a friend’s house. Except that Anna no longer lived there because she has separated from her husband and her house is on the market. A new, bright blue ‘Under Offer’ sign was stuck across the real estate advertising board nailed to the front fence. I was sad to see the sign, sensing how completely Anna had moved on. I also knew that she and I had lost touch because a couple of years ago she’d read and been critical of a manuscript of mine and, more recently, because I’d confided to her some wobbles in my marriage and then thought better of it. At that moment, standing outside Anna’s old house, and without thinking too hard, I took out my phone and sent Anna a brief ‘hello, how are you?’ text. Perhaps, I said to myself, as I pressed ‘send’, this is what Easter is for.

On Saturday night, before Easter Sunday, old friends came for dinner. Three weeks ago, Fiona hurt her foot, shattering ligaments on the ball of her foot so badly that she needed a walking frame to hop through our front door, and into the kitchen. It didn’t take long for me to realise that the pain and inconvenience of Fiona’s injured foot were made that much worse because her mother died three months ago, and so wasn’t around to look after her daughter. Cleaning up the kitchen after Fiona and her partner left, I felt chastened, knowing that Fiona’s fall down five steps could have as well happened to me. Switching off the kitchen light, I again had the thought, ‘perhaps this is what Easter is for’.

My son has used this Easter break to hike up a mountain with a friend; this, for him, is what Easter is for. However, even if Alex had been around, he wouldn’t have gone to church with me on Sunday morning. My daughter gave up church a few years ago, and so she wasn’t a likely candidate either; while my husband, an ex-Catholic, gets so agitated during sermons that I’ve stopped asking him to attend. This means that I was alone in the pew when the Dean of the Cathedral launched into a polished sermon about the meaning of the resurrection; the full force of which were we, the congregation, to truly believe, we would be unable to ‘just go home’ at the end of the service. I understood the Dean’s exasperation at preaching to people who attended his church just twice a year, who would never become the parishioners the church clearly needed. It definitely made me think twice about taking communion; however, once I was standing in line near the altar, I decided to take the wafer anyway, figuring that, if there is a God, he would mind less about my low attendance at church than the Dean did.

Later that day, walking my dog in a local park where the trees are so tall they touch the sky, I happened to see Anna, who I’d texted two days before but not seen for a year, just up ahead. I called out, she stopped and, since I was going her way, I walked with her to her rented apartment. Within twenty minutes, we’d established our friendship on a slightly different footing. ‘Perhaps’, I suggested as we parted, ‘a film some time?’ ‘I would like that’, Anna said.

On my way home from the supermarket, that night, thinking I was beginning to understand what Easter is for, I dropped in on a friend that I lost touch with after her marriage ended and she changed her gender from a woman to a man. I knew it was my fault that Ross and I had lost touch; somehow, I hadn’t been able to understand his decision. Now and then we’d met by chance, once at the chemist and once at the petrol station. But we hadn’t connected beyond social chatting. So, on the way home from the supermarket, I parked outside Ross’s house, fully ready to say how sorry I was that we hadn’t stayed friends. But as soon as I opened the gate, I sensed that the house was empty. I knocked, but no-one wasn’t there.

This morning, as I headed to a café at a local beach to write this post, I bumped into a Korean friend who was clutching a notebook to her chest. ‘I’ve just been writing about a phone conversation that I had last night with my father in South Korea’, Angie said, sounding excited. ‘After thirty years, I finally got up courage to tell him about the things that he did in my childhood that harmed me. And I was so surprised when he said how sorry he was, as if he really meant it. Even a year ago’, she said, ‘I think he’d have brushed me off’. ‘Wow!’ I said, knowing how big a deal this was. This was a father who’d been so authoritarian with his kids that they’d lived in fear of him; a man who’d had a chauffeur and kept his cutlery separate from the rest of the family. The kind of father that I have the good fortune not to be able to imagine living with. Standing there, the sea behind her, Angie looked lighter somehow. I smiled my encouragement and we chatted some more. And as we parted, I thought to myself, one last time, ‘perhaps this is what Easter is for’.

winnowing

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It’s an old concept, winnowing. Though it’s not much in use now, it captures something that I feel drawn to. The dictionary defines winnowing as ‘blowing grain free of chaff’. When we winnow, we sift and separate, we clear away and examine. I like this idea because it encourages me to think that it might be possible to blow my life free of chaff. To hold important things up to the light and to see them for what they are.

For years, I’ve identified with other people’s ambitions. I’ve borrowed them, as it were. For years, I encouraged my kids to be creative. I wasn’t a pushy parent, but I did put in place conditions in which they could be creative. It seems ironic, given that I write, but there’s a way in which I find it easier to be told what to do, by someone else, than to open a door through which only I can pass.

Hence my fascination with winnowing. I’m not interested in reinventing myself. I don’t want to declutter my life. But I do want to focus on what seems important to me, on what I care about most – and to give myself permission to shelve the rest.

Winnowing is an attitude, an approach. It assumes quite a lot of inner work. It involves undoing some of my defences, seeing them for what they are, makeshift walls against my anxiety and, behind that, fear of failure. In a way, it involves decoupling from parts of myself.

Left to my own, I don’t winnow. I use external demands, of which I have a constant source, to prevent me from blowing the chaff from the grain of my life. Or I identify with my inner work ethic, which would sooner have me shampoo the carpets than focus on being creative.

I have spoken to many people about their creativity. They have a ready answer to the poet Mary Oliver’s question: ‘What will you wish, in thirty years’ time, that you’d done today?’ Yet, like me, hardly any of them actually do the thing that they’ll one day wish they’d done.

I used to think that this was because I was a fantasist, that I preferred dreaming about my creativity than doing the work that expresses it. I thought it was because I was weak-willed. I lacked follow through. But now that I’ve been winnowing for a while, some of my struggle to express myself creatively seems due to practical reasons. I lack skill, certainly. But the reason I don’t practice my skills, and so get better at them, isn’t laziness. Nor is it due to a lack of time.

For simplicity’s sake, I’m using the example of drawing, which I would like to do more of but for reasons I’ve found hard to put my finger on, don’t. Winnowing through my excuses, I hit upon these questions:

  1. There seems no point. No one cares if I draw or not, so why bother?
  2. My days are full already, when exactly would I draw?
  3. I have no audience for my drawing, there seems no sense of urgency. So then why?

These points look bald on the page, as do my responses to them.

  1. Saying there is no point in my drawing is to duck my desire to do it. I care if I draw or not, which is reason enough to bother.
  2. My days are full, yes. However, I could fill them, especially the weekends, differently. Besides, it’s not just a matter of time. It’s as much about finding the right head space, as finding time in my diary.
  3. I could find an audience to help motivate me to draw.

This last point I have addressed. Just this morning I asked a neighbour to meet up once a month, over coffee, so that I could show her my sketchbook, and she could share something of her creativity with me. It was hard for me to ask this of her, standing on a street corner. And yet she said yes straight away. Perhaps, I thought, as I headed home, it really is possible to ask what we need from the people around us.

gratitude journal

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Twenty years ago, I’d have more likely to write down a list of my resentments, than to keep a gratitude journal. My resentments would have flowed seamlessly on to the page, with colourful gripes about housework, teaching and the juggle of motherhood. I still have some of these gripes. The difference is that nowadays I make less of them. As much as possible, I let them go. The question, ‘Is this serving me?’ is generally enough to dispel my moans.

I started a gratitude journal when I came across a line by Adam Phillips that stopped me short. ‘Some of our desires’, he wrote, ‘obscure our keener satisfactions’. It sounded obvious when I read it – like so much wisdom that I struggle to absorb. There I was, judging myself by my ability to fulfil my worldly desires, blind to the fact that, as I waited for the world to fulfil them, I was giving away my power. The more I desired something, coveted something, aspired to something, the less energy I had left over for the little things that I found satisfying. The more I looked for reassurance and credit from the world, to affirm my value, the more I overlooked the under-the-radar satisfactions that made me feel whole and grounded. I was so in thrall to my next big goal, I didn’t notice how much power I was handing over to a world that was too busy spinning to appreciate my efforts.

Eventually, I drew a line in the sand. It was, I realised, up to me what I chose to do with the time available to me after I’d met various external demands. But, before I could do that, I needed to work out what I found satisfying. I knew a lot by this point, half a lifetime’s worth, about achievement. However, what I discovered, on starting a gratitude journal, is that I knew a lot less about – I hadn’t given much attention to – what I actually liked doing. I knew there was no shame in not being sure about what I most liked doing. Still, it was an awkward admission.

I started a gratitude journal when I accepted that I would never realise my youthful dreams, and that not getting what I wanted, according to those dreams, was fine by me. Because that what I’d got, in lieu of my dreams, was possibly even better.

Keeping it simple, and treating it as an experiment, I put a notebook and pen next to my bed. Each night, before opening my book to read, I jotted down three things that sparked joy for me that day. That was it.

Slowly, over days and weeks, something unexpected happened. My gratitude journal became a window into what I might do with the rest of my life, after my kids had left the house. It was a yearning for a small lamp in the darkness.

Keeping track of my positive moments, across the day, proved powerful. My memory has a lot to remember and, frequently, not enough time to do this in. It’s good at remembering things relating to my ego – slip-ups, embarrassments and occasional achievements. But it lets go, too quickly, of happy moments. Keeping a diary of these moments acts to sharpen my mind so that I look out for, am alert for, more such moments.

I don’t usually flick back to old entries in my gratitude journal. But when I do, I’m struck by how simple the moments I record are. It might be a look or snatched comment from one of my kids. It might be the sight of the beach in the late afternoon, with mountains behind and sky above. It might be playing a card game after dinner.

Keeping a gratitude journal has brought home to me the kinds of things that I like doing when I’m not working. I am, to a large degree, what I pay attention to. This seems so obvious. It is so obvious. Then why is it so hard to absorb?

Keeping a gratitude journal has increased my appreciation of the little things in life. And all it involves is a notepad by my bed in which I jot down three things that sparked joy for me that day, before switching out the light.

yin

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I always knew that ‘use it or lose it’ wasn’t just a sticker on the bumper of the car in front. I’d heard the phrase, ‘motion is lotion’, and taken this too at face value. So I wasn’t surprised to learn about the importance of connective tissue, and fascia, as I sat on the floor of my yoga studio with 21 other students for a 50-hour Yin Yoga training that ended last week.

But until last week, I hadn’t understood the importance of the role of fascia in the body. I certainly had no idea what it looked like, magnified 25 times. I didn’t know that each of us is held together by ‘trains’ of connective tissue and fascia, a lattice-like tubular web covering every organ, bone and muscle. And that this web is so essential to the flexibility and integrity, the uprightness, of the body, that fascia has the status of an organ.

Until just over a week ago, I thought it was muscles and bones that held the body together, and that needed regular exercise. I knew that it was good to get the heart, the body’s biggest muscle, pumping. But I overlooked lymph, which travels round the body more slowly than blood, and via connective tissue and fascia, not muscle. No-one explained to me, in a way that sank in, that ‘motion is lotion’ describes what happens when fascia is stretched, squashed and hydrated so as to allow muscles, bones and organs to move freely, without any sticky or knotty bits. And that it’s our connective tissues and fascia – as opposed to muscles – that maintain flexibility and posture with age.

Nor did I know that if fascia is to retain its lattice-like pattern – and not fall into the tangles that follow injury or lengthy sitting – the spine and joints need to be loaded, held still for a period, and then rested. And that part of the value of Yin Yoga – as with resistance and weight-bearing exercise – comes from pulling the joints apart to stimulate the synovial fluid that oils them. Before last week, I thought that body tone was the reward for regular visits to the gym, rather than stretching, compressing and resting fascia on a daily basis. Until a week ago, I just thought it was important to exercise regularly.

Today I know something that could increase the quality of everyone’s life. Every adult on the planet, who doesn’t want their fascia to knot up and result in stiffness, needs to hold a forward bend, a backward bend and a side bend for 2 to 5 minutes each day. And this is the essence of what I learnt in Yin Yoga training.

However, maintaining flexibility is a bit more complicated, and interesting, than this. Under the knife of US medical researcher, Gil Hadley, fascia, drained of the water and electricity that keeps it alive, lies inert on the table (watch his Fuzz Speech for yourself, it’s not gory). In a dead body, fascia loses its silvery, transparent, tubular, lattice pattern. Under fluorescent light, and against Hadley’s bright blue plastic gloves, fascia lies in knots of yellowy lard beneath the surface of the skin and around each bone and organ. Hadley calls this yellowy stuff fuzz and, as he points out, you don’t have to be dead to grow it. Fuzz starts building up the moment you fall asleep, or sit for hours at a computer – hence the need to stretch like a cat on getting up in the morning, or on leaving your desk, to melt all that fuzz away.

I thought Yin training would be a softer version of the Vinyasa Yoga training I did last year. I expected it to be touchy-feely and alternative. A bit woo woo. Within the first half hour, I realised how wrong I was. Mel McLaughlin, from The Yin Space, was queenly and astute in her presentation. Each of her ten lectures was steeped in Traditional Chinese Medicine. The Yin practices that we did, two hours in the morning and one late afternoon, were carefully thought out and composed. Mel seemed keen to share everything with us – her knowledge, her experience, her life hacks and her playlists. It was as if she wanted to pass on, in just 5 days, what took her 20 years to learn. From 8am until 5.30pm, for five days straight, she was there for us.

I am someone who, until starting this training, didn’t know where her liver was. I drank Dandelion coffee, knowing that it was good for my liver. I knew from biology at school that the liver breaks down fats in the body, helped by bile from the gall bladder. But that was about it. And I wasn’t much wiser on the other organs – kidneys, heart, intestine, spleen, gall bladder and urinary tract.

Until a week ago, I’d absorbed two big conceptual frameworks in my life – the Freudian therapeutic model and Indian Yoga philosophy. Freud’s id, ego and superego are still part of my thinking, but they no longer shape it. (It’s the inner critic that stalks my mind, these days, not the superego.) When it comes to Indian Yoga philosophy, I’m unlikely ever to read The Bhagavad Gita with the absorption that I once read Freud’s Standard Edition. I know something of the yamas and niyamas and, on a good day, their Sanskrit names. I know where the chakras and bandhas are in the body, and roughly the role they play. However, I was doing yoga long before I did yoga teacher training, last year, and still haven’t absorbed everything I learned. When I stand in front of a class, I don’t talk about chakras and nadis. I tell students to pull their naval in and up, not to turn on their Uddyana bandha.

Included in the Yin training, was a bolster and a handbook, both of which I value. But it was the passing comments Mel made, which didn’t make it into the handbook, that stayed with me. In no order, here they are:

  • when new recruits join Cirque du Soleil, they’re taught how to fall before they’re taught how to balance; and in this way they avoid injury
  • a lot of people come to Yin Yoga for pain management, to manage the physical discomfort that goes with being human
  • all our organs are connected and they work in pairs
  • retaining flexibility and tone – as opposed to fitness – requires 10 minutes of daily stretches and holds: forwards, backwards and sideways
  • fascia takes on the shape of the muscles, bone, cartilage or organ that it surrounds, and according to the loading that’s put on it
  • what you do in the last 5 minutes, before going off to sleep, is what your nervous system steeps in for the next x hours (Wayne Dwyer)
  • in Traditional Chinese Medicine, the seat of consciousness is held in the heart, not the brain
  • if you feel pain on the outside or inside of your knee, be careful; if you feel pain in the bottom middle of your knee, stop whatever you’re doing
  • there’s no such thing as a normal skeleton; our bones fit together differently, especially the femur bone in the hip socket; also, no two pelvises are exactly the same
  • maintenance – keeping what you’ve got – is a worthy aim
  • there is no aesthetics in Yin Yoga; it’s about making shapes with your body rather than poses; the only real question is, ‘Is it safe and effective?’
  • when you go into a Yin shape, your tightest spot (your personal primary) will show up first
  • all pain in Traditional Chinese Medicine is stagnant chi (stuck life force)
  • mouth breathing is a thief of chi; it lowers immunity and increases inflammation (you can always tape your mouth shut when you sleep -)
  • it’s easier to access the fascia trains in the back of your body than in the front
  • there are only 30 Yin shapes
  • the body needs tension placed on it, especially on the joints, to form and retain a healthy lattice pattern in the fascia; when no load is placed on the body, fascia does whatever it wants, ie it goes haywire
  • bouncing and jumping is good for fascia because it deforms collagen, stimulates the production of hyaluronic acid (the buzz ingredient in anti-aging products) which in turn produces more collagen and ‘organises’ fascia networks
  • in Yin Yoga, you are your own best teacher; no-one else can tell you what your medicine is or how long you should take it (ie which shapes you should do and for how long); Yin is something that you have to feel for yourself

links:

Mel McLaughlin, The Yin Space

fascia magnified 25x

The Fuzz Speech, Gil Hadley