Turning pain into strength

 
 

This morning was one of my strongest practices for this month. It appears my back is beginning to settle down which is a huge relief. Whilst I feel, in part, disappointed my back gave me so much grief this month, I’m actually really grateful for this experience. In this mornings practice, I realized I had a control over my body that I’ve not experienced before. Guruji noticed this also. I had an awareness of the subtle sensations I’m unconsciously too lazy to notice at other times. How I lower into chaturanga, how I transition between jump throughs and jump backs – it’s all changed. And this is only because the pain has been so bad that unless I consciously activated every muscle in my body, especially my pelvic floor, then I was unable to move at all.

Sitting with Guruji on the floor, he would remind me that pain and injury only come due to a weak pelvic and abdominal contraction. He assured that upon learning how to maintain the simultaneous control on these parts of my body that the entire neuromuscular system would relax. That there would be no pain. And he was right. Every day I have worked hard to develop this strength, but more so my conscious awareness of these parts of my body, and this has been an immense challenge. But the fascinating thing is, now my back is stronger and the pain is subsiding, I realize my practice has become stronger, more focused, more controlled than ever before.

It is very easy as a teacher to give advice. To assure others that they can achieve great things, or overcome difficult times. But I believe this advice is of little value or bears little weight if it comes from a person who has not faced the challenges themselves. I’ve cried many times in the past month – pain related mostly. Even the fetal position became near impossible for me to manage. This doesn’t happen often, but it does happen at times. A fluctuation as Guruji would say. And although it is not fun to feel pain, it is a lesson. A lesson I can pass onto others, where I can teach from this place of understanding. As we advance in our practice, we tend to forget what it’s like to be a beginner. To feel tightness, weakness, anguish. So I feel at ease with the month I’ve had here. I’ve not a missed a class as I needed to learn how to work with my body despite it’s temporary limitations. And I assure, all limitations we face are only temporary.

I fly home this Sunday and am so looking forward to seeing all my wonderful students. I have a Beginner Workshop commencing on the 1st of February that I cannot wait to get started with, particularly considering my very humbled way of practicing. An opportunity to meet people where they are and support them as they venture into this profound practice of yoga.

There is so much beauty in our imperfections. And whilst they can be extremely frustrating and upsetting at times, the reality is – they are what they are and we need to come to a place of acceptance. From here, life is brighter and more hopeful. If we dwell, then the opposite is true also.

So I urge you, if you are new to yoga or if you have an injury or illness you feel is holding you back, take a step forward. Don’t give up on your body and don’t allow illness to keep you from where you dream to be. How you dream to move. How you want to live.

Sending hugs to you all,

Jessica xx

P.S. See you soon!

 

Change your thoughts and you will change your life!

 
 

As we grow up we develop a multitude of neurotic beliefs, many of which tell us we cannot be, do or have what we dream in this lifetime. That a happy life, one that is the product of our own choosing, is for everyone out there, not for ourselves. It’s unfortunate how self-limiting and self-sabotaging these thought patterns can be and I want to challenge you to choose differently. Don’t think for a moment I don’t have them (neuroses). I absolutely do! And my partner will attest to that. I call this, ‘being human’. In an attempt to confront neurotic thoughts, I make daily commitments to cultivating a more positive mindset, one that focuses on what I can do rather than what I can’t. I do this because I’m mindful if I do not take active steps to address negative and unhelpful ways of thinking, then I shall be consumed by such thoughts and this shall become my life. This is not an easy path, and there are days when everything feels impossible, but it’s certainly a very real one.

As a rehabilitation consultant, I witnessed hundreds of my clients give in to the circumstances before them. They handed their power over to the greater forces they believed to be at work, continually operating with a victim mentality. Blaming their employer, family, children, friends, doctors, physio and so on…. for everything that was going wrong in their lives.

Watching people hand over control of their lives like this always saddened me, for I could always see the incredible potential in each and every client, potential they denied existed.

My work was a real eye opener as it challenged me to think differently, to choose my path rather than have it chosen for me. It was upsetting to witness so many wonderful people become mere shells of their former selves following an incident of some sort. Of course there were many factors at play with my typical clientele, and I often worked with the most challenging of cases due to my experience over the years, but the patterns always looked the same.

Life as they knew it, incident occurred, blame others, become consumed by feelings of frustration, resentment, fear, overwhelm, shock, depression, anxiety, denial, then often seeking retribution to make things right. This final stage was quite possibly the saddest and most challenging, for retribution never ends well. Rather it remains as an excuse to keep small and victimized, forcing people to remain stuck in a drama triangle, a loop that is relentless unless faced head on and stopped in its tracks.

I’ve noticed students of yoga generally posses a very different attitude to their lives and how they want to feel each day, making this work (if you could call it that) very inspiring. What I’ve found as a teacher and practitioner of yoga is the vastly different attitudes of the students who walk through the doors. Unlike my clientele from my previous life, my students are often in a mindset that seeks healing. They’re there because they know something needs to change or improve in their lives and they’ve sought yoga as a tool for helping them get there. They may have experienced all of the above feelings of anger, sadness, frustration etc for various reasons, however they’re now in a position where they want to really challenge those negative, unhelpful thought processes. The thoughts that keep them small and in a place of lesser than. Whilst I felt my career in rehabilitation was valuable to my clients, what I’m now very aware of is that I can only help people who want to be helped.

I can show people the door, but it is up to them to walk through it.

In yoga, many students are standing at this door and are looking for that teacher, that support, to be with them as they begin this powerful, confronting and incredible journey. I love this about the practice.

I’ve always looked at asana as a true sign of strength for when I see a student progress with their practice, I see a genuine commitment and devotion to healing. I observe the struggles that people overcome in both body and mind by watching as they get up and try again every time they fall, or hurt themselves or feel weak. This is real strength.

People who are unwell need support during those difficult times, but as professionals, as teachers, we are lying to ourselves and to our clients, if we believe we can fix whatever problem is going on for that person. Not only is this a violent act (as we are not trusting in the strength of the individual to move through this tough time), but it is also impossible to achieve. We are all responsible for the path our life takes. Yes, encouragement and support is wonderful, but it is not everything. We need to find the strength, the motivation, the courage within ourselves to fight for what we believe in. To challenge our minds when we want to give up. To trust in our own intuition when every one else is in doubt.

We are all so much stronger than we believe. We deny this about ourselves because it is easier to stay small. The risk seems lower. But if you ask me, to not follow a life that is determined by myself is the biggest risk of all. We are here but once. If you fall, get up. Don’t give up. Why? Because each and every moment matters. If you want something enough, believe me, it can be yours. Take that first step and go for it.

Sending hugs, Jessica xx

 

Do I need to be flexible to do yoga?

 
 

To those people who think they’re not flexible enough for yoga. All I can say to you is… Bollocks. This is more of an excuse not to try than anything.

To be super clear - yoga is not about flexibility. Nor is it about physical strength. I began yoga because at the age of 21, I needed help from my partner to get dressed. My back was in so much pain (all the time) that I was verging on crippled. This can be in part attributed to Scoliosis and sitting at a desk for most of my life (school, uni, work, dinner…). Touching my toes would have been a miracle for me.

Whilst it’s a common misunderstanding to have (that you must be flexible and strong for yoga), I am a perfect example that this is not the case. Yes – when I began my practice many years ago, I struggled. I was exhausted with each and every asana. Never before had a practice pushed me to the limits the way yoga did. But with sheer commitment to myself and to healing my body, I too can now touch my toes and beyond. I can do strong backbends, balancing asanas and standing asanas. Of course there are MANY areas I need to work on, but this is all part of the journey. To keep exploring. To keep challenging myself. To find new areas of weakness that I can seek to understand a little more and in turn come to know myself a little better. This is the power of the practice.

Something to also remember is that commonly, the more advanced practitioners have lost their flexibility or strength to do some of the more basic (not simple) asanas. Their joints have become stiff or their muscles too tight. When I ask a person who can do strong handstands to sit straight for 2 minutes, it near kills them (figuratively speaking). Physical strength is not a sign of whole body awareness and control. So never be intimidated by those practitioners. It’s highly likely you’re much stronger and more flexible in many areas they now struggle with.

Remember – this is about your journey, not someone elses. Don’t compare yourself to others. Just accept your body as it is, embrace that you need to start somewhere and just begin. With consistent practice, from here, you’ll fly.

I would love to hear what’s stopping you from beginning your practice? And if you’ve started yoga, what made you finally take the plunge and get going?

Sending huge hugs and love to you all.

Jessica xo