Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Confidence is Freedom

OK, there are definitely days when you get up and feel a bit pants and then there are other days when you feel pretty good about yourself, right? 

Today was a feeling good kind of day.

I sprung (well not actually sprung but maybe groaned a little less than usual) out of bed this morning, had a speedy hot shower and did the bravest thing that any girl over 40 (only a few weeks over 40 mind!) can do. I slipped my towel off my hot damp body (sorry, now its sounding like porn!) and positioned myself in front of the full length mirror. Gingerly of course, starting at one side of the mirror so as not to scare myself! As my body came fully into view I was actually not as horrified as I imagined. In fact, dare I say it, I was a little bit chuffed! So 40 (and a tiny bit), with no serious cellulite, an in and out sort of waist hip thing going on and what Dawn French would consider a "Tom Boy Tum"!

Yay for sun salutations and giving up coffee!

I got dressed in real clothes, which I rarely get to wear because I am always in yoga get up, and after a slick of mascara a bit of a blow dry and a spritz of Jo Malone I was headed out the door to a couple of appointments.

Appointment one was good. Appointment two, good too, but my "look at me all 40 and gorgeous" had been replaced with a "God I'm rubbish!"
I hate that, and it happens often. I get dressed look in the mirror and think, "you know what Fee? You're alright you are!" and then I go out, meet other people and think, "Why am I not like that? Why don't I look like that? Why didn't I say that/wear that/be that?"

Please tell me I am not alone in this!

Now, I know I have issues!
Bizarrely most people who first meet me think I am the most together person they know. It is only when they delve deeper and get to know me better that they realize I am absolutely and hopelessly lack of confidence personified.
Lets just say that my self esteem cupboard is bare!
I am also ashamed to admit that I am completely shallow and obsessed by appearance. Mostly other people's and how mine doesn't match up.

Now on the way home from lunch with gorgeous thing one and fashionable thing two, doing the whole woe is me thing, a funny thing happened. I actually stopped myself in mid thought and told myself off! Now I am sounding like a mad woman...stop nodding!
"Fee!", I said. "Stop it!" I said it a bit sternly actually. I frightened myself!
 "You are still as gorgeous as you were in the mirror this morning."
"Was that bird so beautiful? Was that other one so trendy? NO! They were both really really confident! They are both happy in their skins, with who they are, with no apologies and no doubts."
"And that my friend is what you need to be!"
I said this last sentence a second time to myself with a bit less anger than the first time, with my gentle voice usually saved only for savasana, adding an air of compassion and an encouraging smile!

I know I am not the only one out there who feels like this, but I think my lack of confidence limits me daily. I need to have the courage to remind myself of my acvhievment, of my decent size brain and my lack of cellulite.
I need to celebrate myself, not apologise for myself!
No, I may not be quite as fantastically leggy as X, but I bet she can't hold those gangly pins up in boat pose for very long. Y has amazing eyes but I wouldnt give up my smile for hers, not  in a million! And so what if Z thinks that Bikram Yoga is the only way to go. Its horses for courses and maybe if she was a little more open minded, LIKE ME, should would discover a whole new world opening up to her.
Confidence is beauty
Confidence is power
Confidence is freedom.
And because of my constant quest for freedom, in particular, I need to make some changes.
Do you want to hear my cunning plan?
I am going to start bigging myself up a bit, quietly, on the inside for starters, and then hopefully, like breathing in and out, it will eventually become an autonomic reflex. I won't have to gee myself up, I will know that I am lovely and intelligent and have a valid opinion and a big heart.
And then, if I persevere, one day as if by magic, I will be one of those elusive confident people!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Wreck smeck!

OK so if you haven't already heard, Yoga can wreck your body!
Journalist and yoga student, William Broad made this controversial announcement recently in the New York times and since this bomb shell hit on January 5th, yoga practitioners the world over have been questioning their practice.

Yes, me too! Shocking I know because I am so secure!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The gist of the story is that this guy Broad some years ago, found he could alleviate the pain of a disc rupture in his lower back with a series of yoga postures which he practiced frequently until one day his back gave way in extended side angle pose. This one blip made him question his entire practice and the merits of yoga as a restorative practice on the whole.

He was pretty quick to turn on his trusted friend yoga who had helped him through the pain in his back for so many years!

The story continues with Broad seeking out renowned New York yoga teacher Glen Black to give him the skinny on whether yoga was damaging for the body. This guy seemed to be intent on proving that yoga, which has become so incredibly popular the world over not only for its physical benefits but also for the mental, emotional and spiritual journey that a practitioner travels, was very very bad for you indeed!

I am happy to say that the answer that really comes from Mr. Black is that lack of awareness is what damages the body, not yoga!

Take that Broad!

Were you working to your own personal edge in your side angle or were you looking at the bloke next to you thinking "If he can get there then I am sure if I push myself I can too"? Were you being led by your ego rather than letting go of its leash and being honest about your true capabilities? Were you just about surviving in your pose rather than backing off to a point where you were happy and comfortable and most importantly able to breathe?!

Now Glen Black is hugely knowledgeable and his message is "I make it as hard as possible. It's up to you to make it easy on yourself".
You have to, as Black says, "pay attention to your thresholds of pain". Its no good puffing and panting and shaking and shuddering and grimacing yourself into a posture only to find that you are in pain. As he says, that's not yoga. That's a bunch of physical exercises thrown together without any thought about the way in which you are approaching them.

Lets face it, anything can wreck your body if you allow it to: rugby, dancing, alcohol, food, pregnancy, the sun.

The list is endless.

But we have choices. We have in all of us the ability to either nurture ourselves and listen to all the messages our body sends us every minute of every day, or we can think ourselves invincible and push ourselves to the limit in every way.

Whatever you choose to do, you have to be willing to live with the results and consequences.
You cannot hold anyone else responsible for the outcome but usually if you are being aware and mindful as well as kind to your body and mind you won't have much to complain about!

So my job as a yoga teacher is to keep on reminding you of that. I tell all my students in every class that everything is an invitation, you don't have to come on the ride!
It is also my job to be as informed as possible not only about yoga but about my students. I don't claim to know it all, I don't even think Glen Black knows it all (William Broad may well do!) however I am committed to knowledge of my field and to the safety of my very lovely and very precious students!

Yoga makes you aware of your strengths as well as your weaknesses, it allows you to get to know yourself inside and out and realise your true potential, if you let it!
So don't become one of cynical Mr. Broad's statistics.
Next time you step into the yoga room, promise yourself that you will listen, be honest and most of all, breathe!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Indian Bells and Oms!

"You're not like a normal yoga teacher!"

That's what one of my clients told me last week. I obviously looked a little confused and crest fallen because she very swiftly added "Sophie, that's a good thing!"
OK so let me explain. To me, being "normal" usually means conforming and being pigeon holed and lets face it, a bit boring! I certainly have tried never to do that my whole life up until now, however when it comes to yoga, I want to be taken seriously.

Herein lies the question: Do I have to conform to the stereotype of a yoga teacher to be able to be impart good knowledge and helpful life enhancing practices to my students?

I am going to risk answering with a resounding "NO"!

Bear with me on this...
According to the aforementioned client who shall remain nameless, but who brightens my Saturday mornings with her Rock and Roll lifestyle when she flies into the room in her sunglasses often sporting a terrible hangover and a paint stained mat where her kids have been "creating art", the reason why she comes to me is because I am the very antithesis of a yoga teacher.
"If you suddenly got out some Indian bells and tinged them or started the class with Oms I would have to giggle and no doubt that would lead to me being chucked out eventually!"
I went on to tell her "Me too!"
When I was on my teacher training I really struggled when we started chanting and discussing the more spiritual side of yoga. So much so that in a bit of a melt down moment I had to question if this was really all for me. That's when I became friends with the lovely Terri, a down to earth Londoner with a wicked sense of humour and a bit of a WAG status. "Babe! why did YOU go to a yoga class in the first place? To get fit right? To heal injury, maybe? I am betting you didn't you go to hear about the roar of the universe or your buoyant heart connecting with  your higher self. And sure as eggs you didn't go hoping to learn about a coiled snake at the base of your spine or the sanskrit word for revolve? You went Babe, because you wanted a tighter bum and defined arms and to get a bit of a sweat on! And that, my friend, is why people will come to your class when you are a teacher. They will come to get fit and healthy. And if you decide you want to throw in a bit about the spinning wheels of light in your body or the fact that the sound of the universe is Om then you can with confidence. But its your class. You get to choose!"

You gotta love a Londoner, they say it as it is!

And of course, she is completely right. I was stressing that I had to become stick thin, build an altar to Shiva in my house, and spend my evenings dancing round a fire chanting in order to be a "proper" yoga teacher!
But in truth, all I ever needed to be is informed and genuine.

I am happy that I have the confidence to admit that I don't find it easy to meditate at all,  I am extremely intimidated when someone spouts on about the subtle body while I am struggling to breathe in shoulder stand and I frankly want to shout out "fake!" when a yoga teacher drones on about the importance of ahimsa (non Violence) with regards to animals during a class when you know they are about to slip on their sheepskin Uggs, pick up their Mulberry handbag and slink out the door for an eggy sandwich at M&S!

Yes, I am focused on the physical. On the core and the biceps and the hamstrings. I am focused on the aesthetics of a pose, on how the breath  can help you not only get into a posture but stay there comfortably and even, dare I say, happily! I want my students to feel energized and uplifted when they leave my class, to feel like they have worked their entire bodies, inside and out. And I do that, knowing that the calm and focus of the mental and emotional states will follow.

Now, don't get me wrong, I am well versed in yoga philosophy. I know my Shiva from my Shakti, my ajna from my anahata, my satya from my svadhyaya. I just choose not to bang on about it in class.
There's too much other juicy stuff to be talking about, like how if you press your little toes strongly into the mat whilst sending your little fingers towards the sky in Warrior I you get the most amazing energy and stretch through your whole body. Or, if you think about grounding the shoulder blades down to the mat and opening across the collar bones in Shoulderstand, all the time imagining your jeans are a little too tight around the waist you will get that extra lift you need to feel strong and confident in the pose.

This is me! I am an individual who has been transformed by my own physical practice enough to want to share it with others in a fun, non-intimidating and genuine way.
So thanks Jo (Ooops!) for giving me the courage to continue being myself...I also promise that you will never be thrown out for giggling!