I have been struggled with chronic low mood and anxiety since a teenager. For the last 30 years the stabilising influence on my mental health has been exercise. It makes me feel better, fitter, happier. I can see the results and I can feel the effects, long term and short term. The problem is I can no longer rely on this 'fix' to make me happier. My body is no longer up to it. I have back pain, knee pain, shoulder pain. Sure I can still exercise carefully and modestly but I cannot resist the drive to push a little harder than is good for me and I end up in agony the next day. It doesn't take much - I'm not talking marathons just Pilates!
So I have turned to yoga to gain some space, patience with and acceptance of my body as it is today, now, this moment. To accept who I am today at 44 years old and what exercise will help me to flourish, and what will hold me back - keep me in old patterns of subtle masochism dressed up as passion for health and fitness.
Alongside the asanas (the physical practice of yoga) I have meditated morning and night 10-15 minutes each time. It doesn't sound much but something that requires huge mental discipline, and one that really goes against my habitual grain, a commitment to stillness. Sure I am used to the discipline of 'doing' but not the discipline of 'non-doing' just 'being' is far, far harder.
In the meantime, since I stopped the running and HIIT training I have put on four pounds, which yesterday I found agonising but today I don't mind. Today I am able to accept myself for the constantly fluctuating form of vibrating atoms that I am, that we all are, that I am not 'my body'. But my moods do come and go like the weather and when the skies are grey it feels like they will never lift.
I scour the self help books for a pearl of wisdom that will shake me out and shake me up , last night I found one and I am able to face today a little brighter. Today it is affirmations "I love and accept myself" simply said enough times to change the self talk sound loop of negativity in my head. Today I am going to place little stickers round the house to remind myself to say it whenever I see one. I am going to meditate on self-love.
Sounds too easy? Well that's the big mistake, it is simple but it is never easy. I did have a glimpse of real happiness a few weeks back when my daily meditation really seemed to influence every second of my being. I felt alive, in the moment, full of compassion, patience and acceptance, and joyful curiosity. It was heady, delightful, but real, something that was truly self generated and so different to anything I had experienced before. It really was a different way of thinking, being, existing. This, I think is where yoga can truly lead us. But then it was gone. I tried not to feel disappointed to be too attached to the feeling (which Yoga advises us against) and just be pleased that I had a glimpse of an alternative way of being - that didn't rely on running 10 miles or exercising until exhaustion.
To be honest I was so low this week I nearly gave up the daily meditation. It just seemed to frustrate me further. Whilst in it, I did feel at peace and have some freedom from the general sense of ill ease and heaviness that seems to accompany every moment, but I could not carry this blissful feeling into the every day. With the news that CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) is less effective than it used to be and could all have been a placebo, I wonder whether mindfulness will be exposed as an empty fad in a few years. But then it isn't so new is it? The Buddhists have been practising it for centuries so there must be something in it? If there isn't what's the alternative?
In the meantime I have experienced some of the benefits, but does it make them all the more painful when they are absent again? Maybe it is like the old adage better to have loved and lost than never have known love at all. Except it isn't really lost - according to the Buddhists, I just need to remove the obstacles that get in contentment's way. Happiness is our natural state, maybe I need to stop trying quite so hard, in every direction.