Anxiety

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Anxiety sneaks up on all of us at some time or another, it can be a niggling irritation or it can be utterly debilitating, and anything in between. It doesn’t feel good and persistent feelings of anxiety can have many detrimental effects, such as exhaustion, panic attacks, phobias, feeling paralysed, lack of sleep, feeling out of control and feelings of helplessness.

The most simple way I can explain how anxiety feels is ‘I’m not OK, this situation is not OK and it’s not going to be OK’. Even if we can rationalise how those statements are not really true, it doesn’t necessarily change the feeling.

Anxiety made itself known to me in my late teens and early twenties, for a number of years I didn’t understand why I was terrified of public speaking, why I hated being the centre of attention in a conversation and why I crossed the road when I unexpectedly spotted someone I knew out and about. I thought there was something wrong with me, that I was innately lacking and was unable to function in these ways, the ways I saw other people being completely comfortable with and thriving in. It wasn’t until it was so unbearable that I took myself to my University GP and blurted it all out in a jumble of words and tears. Thankfully he was very supportive and explained it sounded like social anxiety, and perhaps general anxiety disorder too. I was so relieved to have a name for what I was feeling! To know that I wasn’t alone and that there were ways to improve my situation.

Although I ran from my feelings for another year or two…I travelled around the world and when I got to the other side I realised in one profound moment in Australia, looking out to sea, that I had gone as far away as I could and I had brought every part of myself with me. There was no escaping my feelings, there was no escaping anxiety and, more to the point, there was no escaping myself. I had become very good at escaping my feelings since my early teenage years…I learnt to smoke weed, and later to drink alcohol, to numb out the sensations.

Once I had the realisation that anxiety was in me and changing what was outside of me had no impact… I took the first few fumbling steps on my path of facing myself, being honest about my feelings and healing. It was messy, it was painful and it was scary. At that time asking for help with mental health issues was much more stigmatised than it is now (thank goodness we have come so far!), but I stood strong and found myself a psychologist who helped me with a programme of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). By this time the anxiety was so crippling I was taking beta blockers on a daily basis (a very strong medication which stops the physiological response to anxiety inducing stimuli). The therapy was very helpful, but there were numerous other factors that played just as big, if not bigger, role in my healing from anxiety at that time.

In addition to CBT I started doing yoga regularly which was made a huge impact, I was also drawn to Eastern spirituality and psychology, it was a whole new world for me and it resonated strongly. I decided to quit my job and go to India for a month to do a yoga teacher training course. In the week before I left I was drinking and smoking, I had got drunk in the pub one night and my bag got stolen, I had to get the locksmith to let me into my house in the middle of the night, I felt so ashamed and awful that I had let this happen. I was running around like a headless chicken, anxiety raging, trying to get myself together for my trip.

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The training was held at an ashram and there was strictly no substances and a full on schedule of learning, spiritual practice and yogic food (only two meals a day!). The first two weeks were like the detox from hell! And after that I started to feel pretty good, actually pretty great! I stopped taking my beta blockers and started to feel at ease and at peace much more of the time. At the end of the month I felt better than I could ever remember feeling – I had so much energy, I had no desire to alter my state in any way because my natural state felt so damn good! I stopped smoking and I didn’t drink at all for months, as well as totally overhauling my diet.

Since that trip I have not experienced anxiety in the same way again, don’t get me wrong I have had anxiety in different ways for different reasons, but that particular flavour of anxiety felt healed. My life, and more importantly my experience of my life, was utterly changed. There were still challenges, good days and bad, emotions etc. but I felt ‘I am OK and I am going to be OK’ deep down, which meant I approached each day from a positive perspective.

You do not need to go to India, or do a yoga teacher training, to heal the parts of yourself that are crying out for love and understanding (which is often what is underlying our feelings of anxiety in the first place). I have worked with many flavours of anxiety in my very normal life of work, home, friends etc. The major elements which were so crucial in my story can be brought into your life whatever you are doing right now. Those elements are: therapy/ coaching/ support for your internal experience, mindful and/or spiritual practices, gut health (this is huge!), gently removing the unhelpful habits you have picked up to manage the anxiety (e.g. drinking too much) and prioritising yourself and your experience.

Take the first small step, don’t try to do it all at once, start where you are and it might be messy, it might be painful, but I shit you not, it is worth it!

I am sending you so much love your journey, it is these vulnerable parts of ourselves that connect us in the deepest ways, that allows to see that we are all one in the end, and as the legend Ram Dass taught ‘We are all just walking each other home’.

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Image credit: Talkspace.com

Country music and Bhakti yoga 


I went to a wonderful concert recently, performed by the cast of the Nashville TV series. It was at the beautiful setting of the Royal Albert Hall in London. And I cried the whole way through!

Country music is, I find, especially emotional and passionate. The performers were incredible, loving and heartfelt. They connected with my heart and literally broke it open with their words and intention. Once the tears started to flow there was no stopping them. I realised it wasn’t just the music that was making me cry, it was the catalyst for me to release my emotions.

It reminded me very much of my stay in India where I lived in an ashram and joined in with a 7 day Bhakti yoga celebration; Bhakti yoga is the practice of chanting as a way of connecting to the divine. We were in Vrindavan, which is the birthplace of the Hindu God Krishna, Krishna is the lover God! He had many women, gopis, who were in love with him and folllowed him around. So for days we listened to stories and chanted together culminating in the final day when an ecstatic, love fest, dance party broke out! The high vibration energy and the love between us all was palpable – we were connected to each other and to the divine and it was an incredible dance and flow of beauty and love – as you can see in the photo.

Listening to the Nashville concert had a similar effect of joining everyone in the room by the heart. I realised, as the tears were running down my face, that I’ve kept my heart on lock down for a long time now. My heart was badly broken and with the best intentions of protecting it I unconsciously put it carefully in a safe place, on lock down. As the music played and my emotions flooded to the surface I could feel my heart cracking open and allowing in the love and the pain. It felt good and scary and exhausting, a huge relief.

It felt so much better to experience the emotions, not that it was comfortable, than to shut them down. Feeling is being alive. My whole body shifted, my shoulders relaxed and I could move more freely. The audience stood up and danced for the last few songs, it’s no accident that music and dancing are intrinsically connected. When the emotion is coming up moving your body helps it move through you and out, hence ‘e-motion’. Dancing is an awesome way to do this, moving your hips and shoulders, often the places in the body emotion and tension gets stuck. One of my yoga teachers told me that if I’m feeling uninspired with my home practice, to turn on some tunes and just move my body in any way that feels good – I do this all the time and I love it! Try it… 😘

Beginner’s intro to yoga – video

As a yoga teacher people often tell me they want to do yoga, but are nervous of going to a class having never done it before. This video is a very gentle introduction to yoga that you can do at home with no one watching. It introduces you to breathing with your movements, gentle stretching and a deep relaxation at the end.

Even though I’m a yoga teacher I still find it difficult sometimes to get on my mat to practice. Sometimes I’m uninspired, or don’t want to be alone and so incredibly present with myself and my feelings. Bringing my interrupted awareness to my breath and my body, as we do in yoga, can feel raw and challenging as the emotions and thoughts I’ve been ignoring come up to the surface. This may not feel comfortable in the moment but is so essential and cleansing – to move the energy of those thoughts and emotions through and eventually out of my body.

That’s one of the many reasons I love following yoga videos at home – I feel like I’m not doing it alone and the teacher on the screen is supporting and guiding me. I hope you have a similar experience.

 

Healing yin yoga and hip openers

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It was a day of things going a little awry and then synchronistically working out perfectly.

I was planning on going to my morning Sivananda yoga class at the ashram in Putney, as I trained in this very soothing, classical style in India. I didn’t sleep well at last night so was waking and sleeping till late in the morning and missed my class. Not to be thwarted I decided to go along to a later class a local studio I haven’t been to before, a Yin class. I thought Yin, a very slow style of yoga where the poses are held for long periods of time, would suit me perfectly as I am recovering from chronic fatigue and so have been doing very little exercise recently.

The poses were a range of steady holding and gently flowing, it was physically harder than I expected to hold still for so long! I was very impressed by the teacher’s knowledge both in the realm of the spiritual and physical. The piece of information which stuck in my mind most and turned on a light bulb of understanding was her explanation of the iliopsoas.

She explained the iliopsoas is the only muscle that is attached to both the lower limbs and the torso (the spine) making its way down through the pelvis, it is actually the deepest muscle in the human body. In yoga it is known as the ‘muscle of the soul’ as it holds emotional as well as physical tension. When we are relaxed in life and feel able to express ourselves our hips tend to be more open, when we are in flight or fight response (stress) our hips become tighter and movement is reduced. This is why when practicing hip openers in yoga, especially in a yin yoga class (where we held a low lunge for at least 5 minutes!), often emotions and hidden frustrations come bubbling up to the surface.

This was my experience exactly, I knew that my right hip was especially tight, and I attributed it to difficult emotions connected to close male relationships in my life (right side of the body represents yang/ masculine energy). While holding the stretch on the right side the wave of emotions was overwhelming so much so that I feared I might cry out if I didn’t release the pose and take a break.

I loved the teacher’s beautiful, soulful and anatomically correct explanation of why the emotions are caught up in the hip area. I breathed through the emotions, through the discomfort in an effort to let go as much as I could. Often in a deep hip opener I can feel the resistance building in my body almost like very small convulsion and if I stay with it and breathe through it my body releases the blocked energy and I can relax and let go a little deeper.

This class, this teacher, this pose and this explanation were exactly what I need to heal and nourish myself today. And the bonus prize was the studio are offering a £25 unlimited pass for 2 weeks for newbies – so much to be grateful for in the flow of synchronicity.