I’ve come to learn, more and more over the years, that it really is the little things in life that count for the most. A smile to a stranger, a chocolate on the pillow, the twenty seconds it takes to write ‘Happy Birthday’ on a friend you haven’t seen in ages Facebook wall.
The little things that are so easy to not bother with, but can make a lasting imprint on someone’s memory. It’s easy to not make the effort to do things you think no one will even notice, and it’s true, they won’t notice you haven’t done them. But going that extra mile and giving that little bit more, can make a world of difference. A small gesture can ripple out and have all sorts of positive effects – then somehow make its way right back to you.
I admit – at a time when I felt really stuck in life, I fuelled my days with minimum input. I was lazy in my work, feeling little passion for anything, more interested in leaving early and coming home to dinner in front of mind-numbing TV shows than putting my attention into anything really worthwhile. I didn’t know how to move forward with my life. Honestly, I just wanted the money. (Did I just say that out loud…) That’s another blog for another time. But my point is – you get back what you put into life. You can’t expect anything to change if you don’t make any changes. I was putting in nothing, and getting nothing back. I’m crap at maths, but I know that zero + zero = BIG FAT ZERO.
Sometimes it’s scary to make a big change! So start small.
Since I started teaching yoga back in March, I thought about what little touches I could bring to my classes to make my students happy. Some weeks I leave small gifts at the end of the mat. Most weeks I read a poem or a positive quote at the end of the class. Once I started thinking about how I could brighten up other peoples’ lives, feeling passionate about helping others, I started to get back what I was putting in – without that ever being my sole intention. I love this example – a few weeks ago, I brought some chakra-healing tea bags to leave at the end of my students’ mats. Before the class had begun, one lovely girl who was leaving the country gave me a thank you gift. I opened the gift at home, and inside was a beautiful box of tea bags.
My discovery is this. By switching the focus off of you, and thinking about how you can serve others, even in the smallest of ways, things really do start to change in your life. And they come back to you tenfold. Opportunities arise, doors open, and you are put in touch with all the right people, as the universe recognises you are doing your bit to move it in the right direction. Don’t do it for the purpose of getting anything back in return – do it because you genuinely want to.
What can you do today that will make someone happy? Start small. Because sometimes it’s those little things that make the biggest difference.
And on the outside, we all like to play warrior. Using our bodies as armour, a shield, a barrier… To what’s really going on underneath.
It’s almost become an inverted new trend that everyone gets sucked into – But… No one actually wants it. Yet most of us have it on some level.
ANXIETY. The millennials’ malady.
So, how do we deal with it?
On doing a little research, there are literally hundreds of articles out there about ‘top yoga moves to reduce anxiety’. Crazy idea time… What if we stop looking for ways to reduce anxiety, and start working on ways to befriend it? Hear me out.
‘Why would I want to befriend my anxiety?’ I hear you cry.
For the simple fact that, by denying our shadow, or trying to push it away, or treating it like an enemy, it ends up creating lot more shade in our life than it does light.
Through our yoga practice, here are my five ways that we can become chums with our anxiety first, which might just result in paving its exit route:
Set an intention before you begin that will bring your anxiety to the forefront. Rather than use your practice to escape from negative feelings, use your practice to get to know them better. Put anxiety in the spotlight. Say ‘it is my intention to embrace my anxiety and allow my shadow to become my light’. Watch and feel what happens.
Forward folds. Yoga classes feature a lot of forward folds, which are not only great for aiding digestion and toning your abs (woohoo!), but they’re a great opportunity to revisit your intention and go inside. Use this time to close your eyes, block out the external world and bring your focus back to the feelings you’re scared of. Start an internal conversation with your anxiety. Say hello to it. Invite it to silently sit there with you as you breathe with it. Treat it like your friend, and feel it calmly dissolve with each breath.
Inversions are scary! Like anxiety is scary. It’s about learning to find comfort in the fear. Get upside down, fall over as many times as you can, and learn to love it each time, knowing that every single one is making you stronger and better. Look at the world from a different perspective, literally. Similarly, try to see your anxiety as an ally, a partner, a sword helping you through the battle. On the physical side, inversions also help to calm the nervous system, sending the blood flow the opposite direction, allowing us to focus more upon our breathing than our thoughts. Handstands, headstands, pincha, you pick… Just get upside down and after a while, you might just start to see straight.
Child’s pose. This is a safety position. When you need a break, come into child’s pose and start to connect with your inner child. Visualise a time in your childhood when you felt safe and happy. Remember that you can choose to feel that way whenever you like – anxiety might have weaved its way into your adulthood, but ultimately, you are always in control of how you feel. Anxiety is just your adult invisible friend. Just let it know that you’re the one holding the reins.
Lastly, breathe. Anxiety causes shallow breathing from the chest, so breathe into your abdomen and notice the difference. Take deep, conscious breaths right into your belly, feeling your sides and back expand with each inhale. Connect with your breath rather than your thoughts. Go one step further – on an inhale say to yourself ‘thank you anxiety’ and on an exhale: ‘for helping me grow’. Because pain is growth, and us humans are all about the growth.
Despite how awful it can feel, perhaps we shouldn’t be looking at anxiety as the enemy. Maybe it’s not something that needs to be conquered. It could be about time we take the higher road, put down our defenses and shake its hand. By pushing things we don’t want away, we really only draw them closer. Practice yoga to offer new perspectives. Inhale, exhale. Learn to embrace the shadows of your inner warrior, not just the light, and feel the shifts start to happen.
You got this!
Article featured in Elle Magazine, July 2016: http://www.elleuk.com/life-and-culture/elle-fit/articles/a31163/yoga-for-anxiety/
Without fail, on a weekly basis I always have someone shuffle up to me at the beginning of a class telling me, in some form, that they’re going to be shit. ‘I have no co-ordination!’ ‘I’m so unflexible!’ ‘My face goes like a tomato!’ I always wonder why they feel the need to tell me this, as if not saying anything would result in me stopping the class so everyone could point and laugh. Guys, I ain’t here to judge. We’re all in this together.
So last week, I themed the first few of my outdoor summer yoga classes around the subject of letting go. I set a group intention at the start for everyone to let go of something they were holding on to that wasn’t serving them – be it physical, emotional, psychological – an injury they were guarding, a judgment they were making, an ex they were hung up on, guilt over leaving, frustration over staying… Whatever the thing was (and we all have a thing), I asked them to imagine it as a ball in their stomach (where we store emotions), to feel it, then take it out and throw it away. At least for the next hour on the mat.
On Wednesday evening in Battersea by the breezy river, with a red-orange sun dipping below the bridge, a row of downward dogs streaking the skyline and the soul-stroking tones of Passenger singing out, ‘you only need the light when it’s burning low, only miss the sun when it starts to snow, only know you love her when you let her go’, life felt really rather special.
The evening before was a different story. I’d been on my phone scrolling through photos of the #yogisofinstagram. DANGER ZONE. Ten minutes in, and I felt like shit. I’m nervous to share this, but I’m going to because I’m pretty sure every girl reading this will have had similar thoughts, and it might help to know we’re all just as insane as each other. ‘She’s so much better than me!’ ‘She has way more followers – I’m obviously not as popular.’ ‘People don’t like what I’m putting up.’ ‘Everyone is racing ahead of me!’ Why did this picture not get many likes? Do people think I’m full of it putting that one up?’ ‘What if this doesn’t work?’ ‘What if I fail?’ Oh my GOD! Breathe, woman! Sometimes yoga – yes YOGA – stresses me out!
Staying true to its magical self, the universe once again blew my mind and delivered me a huge helping hand the following morning, first class via my daily affirmation calendar:
Clearly, I needed to take my own advice. After having a little logic stamped back into my overloaded brain, I reassessed. Here’s what I reminded myself of:
Life is not a competition or a race. In fact, I’d rather stay clear of the finish line for as long as I can.
My intention. I’m here to help others become healthier, happier versions of themselves, from the inside out, and if people like what I have to offer, then I am spreading good vibes, contributing positivity to the ripple effect and helping to shift the world in the right direction. And if there are others doing the same, well, even better!
What we see in others, we already have in ourselves. What we do to help others, helps us too. Our external world is a reflection of our internal world, so if it’s beautiful out there, it’s beautiful inside. Life is just one big old mirror!
We’re all connected in this giant field of energy. There’s just no point in comparing. Sing it – we’re all in this together!
As a result of putting myself in a better vibration and letting my shit go, my class that evening really couldn’t have gone any better. There we were, upside down, inside out, and letting go… A group of people who were different but the same, holding on but with a loosening grip, some disconnected but reconnecting.
Why do we hold on to things that don’t serve us? Guilt, resentment, pain, denial, anger… All of these toxic emotions that invade and pollute our naturally functioning systems. By holding on, we don’t allow ourselves permission to move forward. It’s as if we feel that by letting go, something worse might happen. To let go is to lose control. But maybe that isn’t such a bad thing. Life will happen anyway, and probably in a way that we prefer. You know the saying ‘go with the flow’? Yeah, exactly that. Be fluid, be water, let go and go with the FLOW. Why struggle to paddle upstream when you can release the oars and float peacefully downstream?
For me, it all comes back to trusting our deep inner selves to know the way. We breathe thousands of breaths a day, without ever stopping to question whether the next one will begin as the last one stops. Our bodies and our souls hold infinite intelligence that we, as a society, neglect to acknowledge. Instead, the mind seems to steal the top trump card. Our body and our soul are always on our side, but the mind can be our best friend or our worst enemy. In losing our minds, maybe we can finally come to our senses. To let go is to let in. To let go is to return home to our true selves.
I’m not saying I’m completely free of resistance – far from it. There are things I still hold on to… Some things I haven’t figured out how to let go of, or even if I want to. I’m still working on that one. I believe some difficult emotions are there for a time to teach us lessons or help us grow, and we’ll know when the time is right to release them. I think it’s all about learning to listen deeper than your thoughts and feel your way forward.
If you resonate with any of the above, please feel free to join me for Sunset Riverside Flow yoga, which is back on again tomorrow (Wednesday) evening, 8-9pm in Battersea. Same place, same time, every week. Book on via this link: https://goteamup.com/p/710865-holly-lois-inside-out/ If it’s your first class, use discount code TASTER5 to receive half off (£5). I’ll also be at Trinity Gardens Square in Brixton on Thursdays, 7-8pm, Clapham Common on Saturdays, 10:45-11:45am, and Clapham Common again on Mondays, 7-8pm. See my website for exact locations and other info: https://hollyloisinsideout.com/class-schedule/
One rule: Don’t come and tell me you’re rubbish at the start because 1) you’re not and 2) you’re not. Let that shit go, just come and flow.
To conclude, I leave you with a little poem I shared with my students at the end of my classes last week:
Being self-employed suits me. But it does mean I have to generate a huge dosage of self motivation. When you’re employed, you generally do sort of have to get out of bed and go to work five out of seven mornings in a row. When you employ yourself, I don’t know about anyone else but for me, there’s often an internal struggle that takes place about 7:30am, which sounds a bit like a chipmunk princess in your ear singing ‘Disney duvet day?’ Five days out of seven I manage to knock that furry bitch down.
Some of those days, I want to take over the world. On others, I really can’t be bothered. With anything. What is the deal with female hormones? I can literally go from jumping out of bed one morning smiling from the inside out, with beaming intentions of productivity and creativity, and then before I’ve even put my hand on the bathroom door I feel like my life is over and that I might as well just give up now. Bit dramatic. But I am a girl and that is allowed.
Well, it’s definitely an improvement on a few months ago, when even getting out of bed to go to the bathroom was mission impossible. I couldn’t put it down to hormones then. On the whole, I consider myself seriously lucky to have been wired up from birth to be a Positive Polly – the settings switch in my brain in the end always somehow pings back to ‘Default: Happy’. But I haven’t totally escaped it. That thing that’s pervading more and more of society these days. The A word. (Not arsehole.) ANXIETY. And anxiety is such an arsehole. So I’m going to bring it to the front here, because once you face an arsehole head on, it’s possible to see that perhaps you haven’t quite been standing at the best angle.
So let’s talk about it. Feels nice to know we can all just be one giant mess together, right?!
I’m not an expert in this field by any means, and I can’t claim to be a long-term sufferer of anxiety. But what I did experience intermittently over a period of a few months is this: a feeling of dread churning at the pit of my stomach. Clammy hands. Inner trembles. Voices saying ‘you’re not good enough for that – who do you think you are?! She does it so much better than you! Might as well just quit now!’ Shortness of breath. Lack of drive. PANIC PANIC PANIC. I’m pretty confident that everyone reading this has experienced it on some scale. Perhaps some of you on a regular basis. When waking up every single morning with a dark cloud over your head is the norm… Well, it’s not the best is it? No one should have to live like that.
Hands up if you’re fine? (Reeeeeally?) Who actually ever means they’re fine when they say they’re fine? The word ‘fine’ is like secret code word for ‘well I feel like shit actually!’, but we all say we’re fine, because on some level we feel like we should just be getting on with it. Thankfully, it does seem that society is slowly becoming more and more sensitive to and aware of mental illness, the stigma is finally dissolving, and people are seeing that it’s okay to not be okay all the time. Actually, I reckon the more acceptable it is to not be okay, the more okay we all will be.
Anxiety can hold you a prisoner inside your own mind. For me, I felt as though someone else had been held prisoner inside my mind; as if voices, thoughts and feelings were trapped within the confines of my mental walls that didn’t belong to me. I needed to find a way to get back to me. Getting motivated to do anything was like trying to push a car up a hill. But rather than waiting for motivation to kick in, I found that you just gotta find a way to kick-start it yourself – make one small achievable change – put the key in the engine and feel those wheels start to roll, baby.
I’m not saying that every case is the same, or that this is a ‘one-size fits all’ cure. But below are five things that, practiced regularly, personally changed my life, and still are, in some pretty special ways. These things have shifted my perspective, instilled a decent amount of inner peace and conjured up an instinctive knowing that everything is going to be okay. It might not be any new information for some of you. I’m not going for a particularly creative angle here – sometimes the simple things are the most effective. And if it’s stuff that’s been repeated over and over again, well maybe that’s for a reason… I mean it might actually work! Here we go:
1) Yoga. The obvious one, given that I teach yoga and bang on about it a fair amount. At first, I didn’t understand how yoga could change anyone’s life. How can trembling awkwardly in a headstand bloody well calm my nervous system and positively affect my state of being? The more regularly you practice, committing to presence and tuning in to yourself, the more good little changes will creep up on you. Apparently, sometimes you just gotta get upside down to see straight. So find a class you like (there are so many different styles, but ultimately the goal is the same), and give yourself the time to just be with you. Put yourself at the top of your to-do list.
2) Meditation. People make the mistake of thinking that yoga is just a physical practice. The physical practice is only a small part of a much bigger picture, which acts to prepare our bodies for what’s to come – the union of the mind, body and soul, the connection to our true selves. Yoga is effectively a moving mediation. I also like to spend fifteen minutes a day completely still in meditation. Meditation has been scientifically proven to not only physically change the shape of our brains, but to mentally mould us into happier beings, reducing anxiety, connecting us to our souls that hide beneath our intrusive egos, awakening our intuition, and so much more. The benefits are actually quite unbelievable. In a world where everyone tries to shout over one another to be heard, meditation, I believe, helps us to see that silence often speaks louder than noise.
3) Gratitude. Make a mental list of all the things you are grateful for. This is a powerful exercise, especially when you’re finding it really hard to get out of the ‘FMLiiiiiiiife!’ mindset. The Universe loves gratitude. When we’re grateful, we’re given more things to be grateful for – it’s all part of the Universal law of what you put out, you get back. Gratitude can change your perspective pretty quickly. Spend 5-10 minutes on the train or walking to work or wherever suits you – but don’t just say the words as if it’s a chore; make the effort to really feel the gratitude if you want to feel the effects. It’s all about the feelings.
4) Get outside. Being immersed in nature raises our vibration, ie makes us naturally happier. That’s because when we’re close to nature we’re closer to truth. Every morning for about six months I went for a walk to my local woods. I would just stand amongst the trees and consciously breathe, watching them watching me, connecting to something that felt bigger than me, surrendering and allowing myself to be happy ‘right here, right now, knowing that this is exactly where I need to be’. Yes, I’m a weirdo who loves all the trees. Works for me.
5) Positive audios. This is the first thing I do every morning for 20-30 minutes while I’m snoozing. It could be anything from motivational speaker Tony Robbins, to my personal hero, Louise Hay, Wayne Dyer, Les Brown… Anything that’s going to fill my subconscious with positive messages. I guess I see it the same way as eating a decent breakfast: I start the day off right feeding my body with some organic porridge oats, almond milk, nuts and banana, which sets me up for the day and keeps me feeling full, healthy and satisfied. If I ate fried eggs and bacon I would feel sluggish, unfocused, and a bit gross to be honest. Positive audios are my mind porridge. The news headlines, on the other hand, equals a fried (eggs and bacon) mind. Feed your subconscious with daily morning positivity, and feel the changes over the next few months.
See the above as natural pills. They might not ‘solve’ any real deep-rooted problems you might have – that might take some further digging – but they will certainly help to improve your life, whoever you are. The changes you will experience will be subtle at first. It’s about perseverance, faith and commitment. If you can’t tackle them all at once, perhaps just try one thing at a time and then introduce another when you’re ready. They work for me, but it’s all about finding things that feel right to you. I’m not here to give anyone any answers – you already have all the answers inside you. These are just ways of helping you access them, unlock some doors, blow away some brain fog.
I still definitely have off days! But I feel well-equipped to deal with life and my feelings now. I’m mostly calm and at peace – I trust that I’m being taken care of, and I trust myself, because I’ve worked to connect with and meet my real Self. I’m learning to release the ‘ego-talk’, knowing that it’s not really me. And I’m not the only Positive Polly in the world – every single one of us is. Our natural state is joy, believe it or not. It’s just about finding ways to get back there.
If you’d like to start, or continue your journey with me combining most of the above ‘happy pills’, I am running outdoor yoga sessions over the summer from next Monday 6th June in southwest London, starting on Clapham Common! I’m really excited to have been asked to be a part of the charity ‘Happy Space’, which focuses on bringing awareness to mental illness, specifically anxiety and depression, so in the act of giving, your first class for the first week will be half price at £5, with £2 of each fiver going to Happy Space charity. To register and book on, click here, using the discount code FIVER. I’ll also be running Happy Space’s first fitness fundraiser on Saturday 9th July from 12:30-4:30pm at the Coffee Co Cafe in Clapham Common; a fun afternoon consisting of Zumba, Barre, Yoga, a positive mindset workshop and a guided meditation. Tickets are limited, so get yours here before they go!
I hope you’ll join me on my mission to make the world a happier, healthier place, from the inside out.
One of the biggest benefits of this yogic path I’ve chosen to walk on is that it seems to have given me an internal camera, inward eyes if you like, that not only allows me to get more in touch with myself on a spiritual level, but helps me to really see and feel the affects of the food I’m putting in my body. More than ever before. And the more steps I take along the path, the clearer the lens gets. But what makes it blurry again is when I eat shit. I can’t give many concrete facts around this topic because I’m not a Deliciously Ella-fied nutritionist (watch this space), but what I do know for sure is that not only does a poor diet eventually show itself on the outside, it also massively affects our mind and our mood; a link that I’m growing increasingly sensitive to.
Yes, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I am a sugar fiend. Ok addict. BUT. I’ve admitted it, I’m fully aware of it, and now I’m doing something about it. After Easter a few weeks ago, with the whole week having been underlined with chocolate, chocolate and more chocolate, I felt repulsed by the amount I’d consumed and the new wobbles I’d inherited. You know that feeling when you jog up the stairs after a few indulgent days… Uh uh. Not cool. But not only did I feel physically bleurgh the following week, I felt blocked, unfocused, lethargic and moody; trying to get anything done was a sticky, uphill struggle. Ok I’m gonna be honest – Easter aside, this is a pattern of mine that generally shows up on Saturdays and Sundays. Most used phrase: ‘Start Monday!’ Anyone relate? I’m not gonna lie, I ate two chocolate brownies, a piece of banana cake and half a family-sized slab of Green and Black’s white chocolate last night, with a sugar-coated devil on my shoulder whispering “it’s okay, we’re starting tomorrow!”. Urgh. SORT. IT. OUT.
So! I met another Sugarholic at my friend’s hen do this weekend, who had last month gone cold turkey and cut out all refined sugar for 21 days. I decided on the spot to follow her example and take on the challenge – STARTING TODAY. She warned me of the withdrawal symptoms – the headaches, low energy for the first week and a high risk of Moody Bitch Syndrome – and I was up for it all. My plan was to declare my ‘21 day sugar-free challenge’, document it and put it out there for people to read and maybe try out for themselves. But it was literally until I started writing this blog that the whole thing suddenly didn’t feel right to me… Firstly, if I know me, I know that completely cutting out something I enjoy will result in a mega-binge, probably sometime over the next seven days. And secondly, if I’m trying to practice and encourage generally not taking short cuts in life, slowly and surely feels like the right way for me. I used to be all or nothing. (All of the cake. None of the vegetables.) I still kinda am. I want to change. But not drastically; just steadily. The tortoise wins the race, right? (Is she still going on about the bloody tortoise…)
We all know that sugar is the new fat. It’s just not good for us, physically or mentally. Not only does it pile on the pounds, it gives us foggy brain goggles, messes with our metabolism and wreaks havoc with our insides. Saying that, I do also believe that if eating something indulgent once in a while makes us happy, then on some level it’s good for our soul, and surely there’s some kind of balancing act going on there… Balance being the definitive word! So to all of my fellow Cookie Monsters reading this, I invite you to join me in abandoning the ‘quick-fixes’ that normally lead to longer-term disappointment, and instead focus on making small, achievable changes over time, to clean up from the inside out. All of these little daily dietary decisions, good or bad, that we don’t think make any difference, all in fact add up, and one day ultimately determine how healthy and happy we really are.
A few healthier ‘sweet tooth curb balls’ for when you’re gagging for the cake:
A teaspoon of ‘Meridian’ or ‘Whole Earth’ peanut butter – no added sugar, and fills you up!
Raw cacao – try ‘Ombar’ (WholeFoods or Planet Organic) – a great alternative to chocolate, and full of extra benefits (high in magnesium, iron and vitamins)
A piece of fresh fruit – berries are the best option, with high fibre and low sugar
Vegetables such as sweet potato and parsnips with your meal
Honey or agave syrup in your tea over sugar – yes it’s still not ideal, but it’s au natural
Greek yoghurt with honey/agave syrup rather than ‘low fat’ yoghurts (which are often high in sugar)
Well, it’s a start! It’s all about taking small steps in the right direction, without beating ourselves up if we stray from the path from time to time – every day is a new chance to try again. I know I’m a sugar addict but I also know that I really want to change that, and that’s the first step right there. I want to be in control, I want to look and feel good, and I want my body and brain to function at their best. My revelation is that my spots won’t fade with cream, my cellulite won’t disappear with a body brush (apparently not even the Body Shop’s finest), and my unfocused mind won’t sharpen if I’m not giving it the right fuel to work with – at the end of the day, WE ARE WHAT WE EAT. As always, life is a mirror, and our outside will only ever be a reflection of our inside. It all comes down to what we really want for ourselves. (Ahem, summer body.)
I am an energy ball addict. I’ve said it. (Unfortunately I’ve checked Gumtree and there are no local Professional Energy Ball Sampler positions going.) Today it’s ‘Refuel’ from Giro cycling café in Esher – homemade, sugar free. Which is for the best I suppose, because I’m also a sugar addict, currently looking for a Sugar Rehab Centre… (I am open to an intervention.)
So the scene has been set; let’s pull back the curtains on today’s topic of…
Forgiveness. Ouch. It’s something I feel compelled to write about it after a pretty huge revelation a few weeks ago.
Just after my ex and I broke up back in September, I was pointed in the direction of a Yoga and Spirit show in Surrey, not really knowing what to expect but feeling instinctively that this was my next baby step away from the old and into the new, wherever that was. I felt strange and sad that I had no one to message throughout the day, no one to send totally pointless What’s Apps to with Emoticons expressing what words simply cannot… I was alone in this new Kingdom of Singledom, but as painful as it was, I knew that’s exactly where I needed to be. Since the age of sixteen, I haven’t been single for more than a grand total of two months! I’ve tallied four different relationships with four completely different men, scaling from the recent soul mate I let go of to the Devil’s identical twin. Time with myself was long overdue, and a lot more than I realised.
After wondering around the crystal-sprinkled stalls and listening to some uplifting talks and participating in a rather odd yoga taster session to Punk Rock music, I noticed an older lady sitting by herself at a table. Our eyes met, and I felt instantly drawn to her. A cardboard sign confirmed that she was a medium… Duh duh duhn. I’d never had a reading or anything like that before, but I was curious, and if I was going to do it, now was the time! I was a combination of apprehensive and open-minded as I sat opposite her, and I noticed her eyes flicker from hard to soft as she looked at me, or through me, or whatever it is that they do… I felt like translucent jelly under a microscope, but I was weirdly at ease.
My old housemate once labeled me ‘a robber’s dream’. Yes, I have a trusting nature, and yes, it’s definitely gotten me into trouble before… So naturally, I chose to believe what the ensorcelled lady was telling me – it was hard not to! She focused a lot on my granddad (my ‘Papa’; the biggest legend I’ve ever had the pleasure to know and love, who had died almost a year before). She told me he had sent the robin I’d been having a whistle-off with in the garden the other day. She told me (after asking if it ‘was my birthday this month?’ – Er, yes!) that he was making a cake for me up there with a black Labrador. He loved what I’d done to my recently re-decorated room, even though it hurt him to see me cry in it so often over the question ‘do I stay or go?’, and he was proud of me for all that I was doing. Ok, I hear you – lucky guesses? But then she asked who Bob was, and said that he had an item of clothing that belonged to my Papa. The only Bob I knew was my Dad’s friend, so I asked my Dad what she could’ve meant by that when I saw him later that afternoon, and he said in amazement, ‘I gave Bob Papa’s jacket after he died and he wears it every day’. And, Papa had had a black Labrador called Jason. You can close your jaw now.
Towards the end of the short ten-minute session, she picked up on something else. She told me I needed to let go of the anger that was inside me over someone that had hurt me long ago, otherwise it would continue to block me. Eh? This was the first piece of information that didn’t ring true but did ring alarm bells. Damn, lady, you really had me for a while then. I thanked her and made my way back to my car, feeling pretty overwhelmed.
A few weeks before the yoga show, I’d received a message from my first boyfriend’s mother, asking me to contact her. This was seriously out of the blue after having split from him over seven years ago, and I had no idea what she wanted. I chose not to reply. Why bring up the pain of the past? It was my friend Kayleigh who noticed after I told her about it, that when I spoke about him, I spoke from a place of real bitterness. My initial thoughts were, well obviously – after years of lies and deceit, who wouldn’t feel that way?! Our relationship had been toxic for sure. But I hadn’t ever registered that the shallow scratches I thought had scabbed over and faded were actually deep white scars that had been in need of some serious Bio-oiling all along. I’d finally left him after years of mental abuse, and had just moved onto the next man with no time alone to let myself process what had happened, and everyone commenting on how ‘okay’ I’d seemed afterwards. That should’ve rung warning bells. This is another story for another time… The point is, I’d been wearing an invisible backpack of anger for years without knowing it. Perhaps the whole reason for the message, and the whole reason I met the medium that day, was so that I could learn the lesson of forgiveness and finally move forward. After all that time, it hit me – I had never forgiven him.
Now that I was alone and already feeling horrendous from finishing with my ex, I decided to go all out, lock myself in my room and completely immerse myself in the feelings I’d buried from my first relationship. I explored every nook and cranny of the dark corners of my brain, recalled as many screaming fights, countless tears and heart-breaking lies that I could and absolutely forced myself back to those dark days, now knowing that it was absolutely necessary if I was to heal myself. It was hard, but that wasn’t the hardest bit – I found his profile picture on Facebook, took a long look at it and finally said out loud ‘I forgive you, and I send you love’. I didn’t expect to feel the way I did. I thought I’d feel sick and disgusted at myself for letting him off the hook, setting him free… But actually, I’d just set myself free. I literally felt a physical and mental shift inside me, and in that moment, I knew I’d shattered an obstacle that had been blocking me for all that time.
What I’ve learnt is that there is strength in surrender, power in forgiveness. Holding something against someone doesn’t hurt them, it hurts you. It eats you up inside and chips away at your heart and soul. It taints your present and weakens your momentum. By forgiving and letting go, you grow, you become bigger, you transcend. I went the extra mile and dedicated my yoga practice to him the other day – and I felt myself grow stronger for it. It sounds crazy but my practice in that hour was noticeably physically and mentally much lighter, as if a burden had been lifted off me. It did seem insane that someone I once hated I was now sending positive energy to. I’m not saying I think his actions were right or okay. But what I’ve worked out is that the ‘giving’ part of ‘forgiving’ doesn’t mean you are handing over any power to the person who hurt you – you are taking it back for yourself.
Something strange has happened to me. I feel like a door in my brain that has been super-glued shut for the last however long with a giant ‘No Entry’ sign on it has started to creak open. I noticed a difference in myself last Tuesday morning when I opened my eyes with a new feeling, a sort of blurry clarity; something that has felt absent for a lonnng time! Not a hit-you-in-the-face kind, just a subtle shift in perspective. A sense that something had changed inside. I instinctively knew why – I had posted my first blog and it had thrown me a key. Life’s cheeky little game of give and take: ‘give me your fear and you may proceed to the next level’.
I hadn’t written a blog with the intention of writing any more; I wrote it firstly because so many people wanted to know what went down in Thailand on my yoga teacher training course (apologies to anyone expecting a female version of The Hangover II), and secondly just as a memory for myself, really. Taking that leap of faith and hitting ‘publish’, though feeling really bloody scared and vulnerable about opening myself up to whoever was interested enough to read it, has turned out to be a real turning point… And I didn’t die! I don’t feel like a floating panda anymore. I’m a faster-than-average tortoise. There’s movement people.
The urge to write again popped up during a Warrior 2 in a class at the Power Yoga Company in Parsons Green. To jazz up my monotonous Minimum Daily Requirement routine that I’d disciplined myself to practice post-Thailand (consisting of five Surya A’s and B’s, a breathing exercise and fifteen minutes of meditation), I signed up to the ‘£25 for 25 days’ introductory offer –now there’s a bargain if ever there was one! I’m nearly two weeks in now, having gone almost every day, and I’m feeling saturated with knowledge from each of the different teachers. So whilst trying not to think on the mat, I found myself thinking, ‘how am I going to remember all of this?’ I started writing everything down, adding to the tornado of ‘Notes’ on my phone… One thing led to another… And before you know it, there I was in WholeFoods Clapham Junction writing Blog No.2. Hi, I’m Holly, and I’m one of those wifi-hogging hot drink ordering people who sits at their Apple Mac pretending to have a proper job. Winning.
The Power Yoga Company studio itself, set just a five minute walk from Parsons Green tube station, is gorgeous. It feels like an old converted house, it’s light and airy and oh-so toasty in the downstairs ‘Prana’ studio, which is great to begin with but does leave you wondering if you signed up to Bikram at the end. There are candles in the fireplace and it’s all very lovely… Oh and thanks to the fridge opposite the reception desk I’m now a fully-fledged Pollen and Grace cacao products addict. Not eating a bar of Dairy Milk means I’m allowed twenty-seven raw cacao energy balls yeah? Someone help me.
If you do ever go to PYC, take note, because this is confusing (is it just me?): ‘Level 1’ on the class schedule is an easier class than ‘All Level’, which was confirmed to me not once, but a solid twice, by the lady behind the juice bar. So I was a little huffy and puffy after having booked onto a beginner’s class one Friday evening, until the teacher, a pretty petite blonde, said the following, which came just at the right time:
“Let something go, be it physical or psychological.” – Kim Peacock
Just hearing these words brought my attention to the fact that I was tense, physically and psychologically, and it immediately encouraged me to release. I mentioned in my last blog about how we hold on to things that just don’t serve us. Physically, when we fall, the reason bones break and bruises appear is because we tense up. If we relax and don’t resist we bend and snap back, like elastic bands. A difficult thing to do, because we have been programmed throughout our lives to resist. Psychologically, we’re told that if we push against something, it will go away, when in fact the more you resist and give attention to something you don’t want, the more it expands and hangs around. It’s just a backward way of thinking! I think yoga is a tool which, amongst so many other things, helps us to naturally reprogram our subconscious wires and see that letting go is far more effective and powerful, though it takes a lot of practice.
I found an article online from Donald Altman who puts it really well: ‘Holding onto the breath leads to suffocation. Living requires a constant letting go. This in itself is a powerful lesson in nonattachment. Each breath teaches us that holding on too long to anything creates pain and suffering. Letting go is nature’s way, and this is no small thing.’
Anyone else not a backbend fan?
“It’s not a backbend, it’s a forward open.” – Christian Coelho
This came from the gorgeous and engaging curly Christian Coelho who helped me to see backbends in a totally new light. I’ve had a problem with my lower back since I was younger when I injured it through dancing (not in Oceana, just in ballet), and I always dread the part in yoga towards the end when we’re given the option to take a full wheel because my attention always goes straight to my back, perhaps as a subconscious way of protecting it. When I focused instead on opening my chest and heart to the sky as suggested by Christian, I felt the pressure in my back release and a real sense of opening through the front – relief! It seems sometimes a shift in perspective is all we need to change a difficult situation… Every situation is in fact the same; it’s the way you perceive it that changes things. Just a little tip I thought I’d share for anyone else who can relate!
“Don’t be a destination addict. Be happy with where you are.” – Nicole Rowihab
After borrowing this quote from Nicole, the intention I set myself before a class the other day was to ‘be content with where I am right now’. Not to worry about rolling out of a headstand and into the teacher’s ankles. And it turned out to be one of the best classes I’ve ever done! I felt fluid, strong, flexible and just absolutely content inside. It felt like I was being rewarded for allowing myself to just be, without judgment.
So Nicole’s concept really made me think. Whether on or off the mat, us Londoners love a bit of destination addiction don’t we – we’re always trying to get ‘there’, thinking ‘there’ is going to make us happy – be it in a handstand like the person on the mat next to you or getting the next promotion at work. But what happens once you get ‘there’? Where are we actually climbing that ladder to? Then you’re there, but there’s always somewhere else to go! Life is happening right now. NOW. Happiness isn’t a destination; it’s always there inside you, accessible at any time, if you choose it. Letting yourself just be, happy in anticipation of what’s to come, will open the doors.
It’s not about the aesthetic of the pose, it’s about the activation, and how it feels inside.” – Katarina Rayburn
Now. If you haven’t been to one of Katarina Rayburn’s classes, I would suggest you do so. With immediate effect. I met Katarina for the first time when she covered Marcus Veda’s Rocket class at Yogarise, Peckham, which I was first admittedly a bit gutted about because Marcus’s classes are absolutely epic and I hadn’t found anyone who matched his sky-high standards. However, I was more than pleasantly surprised. Katarina has an amazing energy, she is eloquent in her knowledge and elegant in her practice, assertive in her adjustments which makes you feel safe and able to progress, she makes time to talk to you… And her six-pack alone I believe deserves a special acknowledgement. Here’s to you, KR’s six-pack. After chatting to her after that class a few months ago, Katarina actually turned out to be the nudge I needed to book my yoga teacher training.
And she’s right when she says that it’s not about what the pose looks like – it’s all about how it feels to you. Isn’t this true about life – ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’, ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’, ‘it’s what’s inside that counts’. Simple truths. Be intuitive with your practice – there is no right or wrong way to hold a pose. Get out of the way of yourself and let your body go where it wants to go! Which comes right back to what I said in the beginning about letting go. We’ve gone full circle, which seems like a good place to conclude.
If you haven’t done yoga you won’t know what I’m on about and you will think I am a strange person. Which I will then take as a compliment. But here goes. It sounds crazy, but it feels like yoga is opening all these micro doors in my brain, or maybe they’re channels to truth. Let’s call them Truth Tunnels, I like that. I feel like I’m being let in on the Universe’s secrets, but at the same time knowing that I always had the key. It’s like being whispered these familiar stories that we deep down already know, things that relate to all aspects of life and are all connected to one another. We’re digging for truth using our breath as the spade. But let’s not go too deep now, it’s only Blog No.2.
I’ve had a lot of people asking me about my yoga teacher training trip to Koh Samui, Thailand, so I thought I’d put it into words for y’all.
Where do I start?! I haven’t written anything longer than my passport ID number since my English degree so I’m not going to try and make this all fancy – one huge thing I learnt out there was to be as close to your authentic self as possible, and not to try and be someone you’re not, because you’ll never end up where you want to be. In the words of Oscar Wild: ‘Be yourself, because everyone else is taken’. Ok too fancy. Sounds obvious, but so often we get wrapped up and wound up in trying to fit some kind of mould, more concerned about what others think than what feels right inside, and sometimes we’re not even aware that we’re doing it. This was me before I left. Daily plaguing questions inc: what shall I tell people I do when they ask me? When is everything going to become clear? What the hell am I actually doing with my life? Post-Thailand questions:
Ahh that’s better.
I’m not saying I have all the answers now; far from it! I’ve just learnt to be absolutely okay, even happy, with not having any. January 2016 has been a life-changing month, and its true effects only crept up on me in the days after I came home. I’m seeing so many things differently now, and it’s all thanks to following my gut, which, as it turns out, is a team player!
I booked the course on a whim, two days before Christmas, staying true to my impulsive nature. The thing that scared me most was the vision of face-planting in the midst of twenty-nine yoga ninja turtles, one of which I definitely was not (I haven’t been practicing very long), and worse than that, yoga ninja turtles who were all swimming strong in the current of life, knowing exactly where they were heading with speed and clarity. This yoga panda right here just seemed to be floating about somewhere with its head bobbing just above the water, staring out to an endless sea without any sense of direction. Or at least that’s how it’s felt for the last God-knows how long. Thankfully it turned out quite a few were in the same boat! A few had even quit their jobs, or were thinking about it, wanting to escape the rat race, with no real plans past the course’s horizon. One thing I’d made sure of before I left though was that I wasn’t going to Thailand to escape myself; I was going there to face myself.
So let’s start at the very beginning; a very good place to start. At 11am on New Years Day, most likely still a little gin-intoxicated from the night before (I don’t know what part of me decided it would be a good idea to go anywhere near the South Bank when I had to be up at 6am), I was on a flight to Thailand. I felt scared but empowered! It definitely felt right.
There’s nothing like the feeling of getting off the plane in a hot country and breathing in that holiday air. It just smells different. Transitioning from the airport to my basic but cockroach-free hotel was surprisingly smooth; I was half expecting people to come up to me and ask me where my mummy was… But I arrived in one piece, minus a suitcase that was lost in the air somewhere on another plane. I spent some time in Chaweng looking round the shops, walking bare foot in the sea and sitting down to a Pad Thai and a strawberry shake at a beach café. On paper, it sounds perfect! But I felt seriously lonely looking out at that massive fearless expanse of water. One of the struggles I’d been facing over the last few months is knowing that I have so much to be grateful for, and yet still feeling unhappy… It just leaves me with a massive sense of guilt. I’m constantly being told I’m too hard on myself, which I know is true. Those who are close to me know I’ve been having a tough time moving on from a difficult break up back in September, and nearly four months after, here I was, still beating myself up for not bouncing back quickly enough from it. Sadness, once a foreigner, had become a daily resident inside of me, which terrified me. I never considered that it might actually be a necessary stepping-stone in the right direction rather than a setback. I had no idea at this point how much I was about to learn.
The following day, after treating myself to the most epic lie-in (by this time pretty bored of my own company), I wondered across the road to the Vikasa resort; a little piece of paradise with breath-taking views of the blue-green sea and homemade raw cacao energy balls to die for! The first people I bumped into from the course were Kat, a colourful bubble of energy and Zoe, a gentle sweetheart, both from London. We decided to do a Yin yoga class in a beautiful white shala overlooking the ocean, which increased my happiness tenfold. The class was slow-paced, calming, and focused upon the idea of ‘allowing not making, surrendering not doing’ – of letting go. This is a concept that really spoke to me, in many ways. It’s funny how we hold on to things, beliefs, words, that don’t serve or help us, when in letting them go we release that resistance and just allow life to flow. We need to just get out of the way of ourselves! Easier said that done sometimes, but another thing I’m working on.
The daily schedule looked like this:
My alarm woke me up at 4:30am every day (why is this not illegal?), and each morning as I made my way across the road in the pitch black, I’d make a point of looking up at the stars that always seem so much brighter on the other side of the world, to say thank you for my life. Gratitude is something I’ve always practiced instinctively since I was young, but I’ve more recently learnt for a fact that being in a state of gratitude means you cannot be in fear, and that it’s most powerful during times when you feel the least grateful. (E.g. when you’re not in bed at 4:30 in the morning.) It opens you up to receiving the things you want. I’d have to use my phone torch to get me down the gazillion fights of stairs alive, but the view at the bottom of the moon reflecting down onto the infinity pool made it a worthwhile journey every time.
Meditation would begin in a shala by the sea bang on 5:30am, signaled by a chime. Sitting still for half an hour sounds relatively simple, but leg numbness, waves crashing against rocks, racing thoughts vs falling back into sleep all accompanied by the War of the Mosquitoes made meditation a challenge 99% of the time. We would crack up every time when Yo Yo from Hong Kong, one of the most adorable and entertaining people I’ve ever come across, would come in looking like Joseph and the Techni-colour dream coat wearing every item of her clothing including scarf and gloves to protect herself against being bitten. There were the odd wonderful occasions where I was able to shush my thoughts completely and would enter into a state of pure bliss, with energy buzzing up through my entire body. Holding onto that feeling when you are lucky enough to have it is tricky! But there are no shortcuts, just patience and practice. Apparently most people find meditation easier in the morning when their brains are less cluttered with information from the day, but I’m in the minority and prefer it just before I go to bed, which is when I feel most at peace. Either way, it’s good practice to try and do it at the same time each day. I’ve been practicing it for almost a year now and I can feel it changing my life in ways that are difficult to explain – all I can do is strongly suggest introducing it into your life. It might not feel like you’re doing much, but those 15 minutes a day of sitting still and quiet are more powerful than you think. It’s the path to realising you are more than just a body and a mind, and connecting with your true self which is often trampled on by the ego/your mind/those thoughts in your head that you believe are you. They’re not. An example I love is goosebumps. Goosebumps are the real you coming to the surface to say hi. When something gives you goosebumps, pay attention.
Meditation would then be followed by a two and a half hour intensive Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga session, covering the full primary series; a series of asanas (poses) designed to heal the body, release toxins, and unite mind, body and soul. As I still considered myself to be fairly new to yoga, I didn’t realise the importance of the breath throughout the practice – how it links to each movement, helps to create heat in the body, moves energy through you and brings you into a state of moving meditation. Powerful stuff. Physically, the practice was challenging – one day, a beautiful soul called Rachel whose face reminded me of the moon (she did actually happen to be a bit of a yoga ninja and a daily inspiration to watch) counted we’d done 400 Chaturganas in total (effectively lowering from a high to low plank)! Every morning we woke up in near-agony, which did become frustrating when you wanted to give it your all. But watching the sunrise over the sea when hanging upside down in a Prasarita made every ache and bruise worthwhile.
The most popular lectures were on the subject of the chakras (which I am now officially obsessed with): the seven energy points or wheels in your body that align your spine, starting from the root (located at the base) all the way up to the crown (top of the head). Each chakra corresponds to different nerves, major organs and emotional states of being. If one or some of our chakras are blocked, and energy cannot flow, this can manifest into physical illness, or even on an emotional level, into something like feeling stuck in life. We want our chakras to be open. I’m going to talk a little bit here about the third chakra because this one affected me the most. Otherwise known as the Manipura, this chakra (located in your upper abdomen just below your ribs) is linked to ego identity, personal power and assertiveness. You’re familiar with the expressions ‘fire in my belly’, ‘butterflies in my stomach’, ‘gut feeling’, etc? This is the chakra that is responsible for these feelings. After a group meditation that focused on opening the Manipura, I experienced a flashback to when I was younger and was obsessed with learning how to wolf whistle. I would practice and practice it, relentlessly, until I nailed it; this was how I was, with everything. I was hit with a sudden awareness that that determination had been lost somewhere growing up, which led me to speculate that my Manipura chakra must’ve become blocked somewhere along the line, whether that be through social conditioning or a toxic relationship or something else. Where had my self-belief gone? It wasn’t until I was practicing handstands over and over again in my spare time later that afternoon, sweat dripping into my eyes and heart near-exploding out of my chest, that I stopped and realized I’d been reunited with that old fire in my belly. The meditation had awakened something powerful. Enter the chakra obsession.
I can’t speak highly enough of our teachers, Jamie and Dulce, who met each other through yoga in San Francisco a few years ago, and have shared their wisdom with thousands of students all over the world. It was honestly a pleasure to be around them, to learn so much from them and to absorb their infectious passion for yoga. What was so amazing was that they created an environment where it was acceptable and actually completely normal to have days where you wanted to scream or cry or throw blockies across the room at someone’s head. (No one did this fortunately). There were times when I had to go back to my room to cry into my pillow and return with red eyes, but like I said, I came here to face myself, my internal struggles and past emotions I’d never properly dealt with, and although it hurt, I learnt that it was okay. This was such a big turning point for me – someone who has always needed to be happy and has always rejected any feelings of sadness or anger, labeling them as ‘negative’. Someone very special once told me not to judge anything as positive or negative, and I never really understood what that meant until recently… Now I’ve learned to stare all of my emotions in the face, sit with them, acknowledge them, and embrace them as equals – I’m trying to let go of thinking that one is ‘better’ or ‘worse’ than another. I believe they’re all necessary for something. Then when you’re ready, it’s easier to release the ones that don’t serve you anymore, and they don’t stay stored inside you waiting to surface unexpectedly. Hello breakthrough!
The course was hard work, it was intense, and there were as many down days as there were up. But it was exactly what I’d needed, and experiencing it alongside such an amazing bunch of like-minded, lovely people was a massive bonus. I could go on forever about all the things I learnt, but that would take roughly about twenty-five days..! Although I know I’m just at the start of a very special journey, I can already feel the power of yoga and the effects its had on me, and it is my intention to help spread the word with the ethos that there’s no race or competition – we’re all in this together, aiming for Enlightenment whether we know it or not, and Yoga is a vehicle which takes us inside ourselves to connect with the knowing that everything we’re seeking out there is already within us. But there are no shortcuts to anything worthwhile. You can’t become a yoga master overnight; face-plants are a very essential part of the journey. It shouldn’t be about how well you can transition from Eka Pada Koundinyasana into a chin stand, just as life shouldn’t be about the destination – it’s always about the journey. Enjoy every step, embrace every emotion and get up after every fall. If teacher training is something you’ve been thinking of doing, or even just going to your first ever yoga class, I hope you now feel inspired to take that leap of faith on yourself and do it! There will never be the ‘perfect time’ – you just have to follow your instincts. And if you’re scared about the yoga ninja turtles, I discovered that these are a rare breed, because everyone has fears, resistance and doubt… But there’s more to life than sitting in your harbour being a floating ship. A wise fish once said, ‘just keep swimming’, and see where it takes you.
I think my family are relieved that I’m no longer the worrying anxious mess that I have been the last few months. My Mum has noticed the new sense of calm in me, and a few days ago asked ‘do you feel ready to face the world now?’. The answer is still no! But this time it’s because I don’t think there’s any ‘facing’ to do. I reckon the Universe is on my side, and always has been.