Adriene invited us to write a blog post. So here I am, a little late to the party, having battled the usual excuses – no time, no words, no substance – and won!
To Adriene and the beautiful Nica Kula – thank you for the inspiration and the memories. This is for you.
“Our journey as human beings is not about following a pre-ordained path, but about creating that path. Life rarely makes any more sense when things are done in order. Life makes sense when we are centered in our own hearts and we let go of resisting how our unique journey needs to unfold in its own beautifully, unruly way.” – Anonymous
“Remember you are learning to walk again”.
My mum’s words rang in my ears as I hung up the phone.
Suddenly, the frustration I’d been feeling since the operation gave way to a glimmer of possibility, hope even. What would it be like to learn to walk again? Would I do it differently this time round? Would I choose the same walk? Or could I choose a different walk – one that opened up a new way of being?
In a simple statement offered with good intention to appease my frustration and slow down my need for achievement and progress (my family know me well!), I found a new eyes. It’s these eyes that found their way to an angel called Adriene and a village called Maderas.
In May 2014, aged 37, I had a total hip replacement. Twenty minutes before going under the knife, I was gowned up in the hospital waiting room frantically cramming in a last minute email before being out of action for, I figured,24 hours…48tops. How hard could it be? I’d already pushed three children out of said pelvis! The reality, I discovered, after waking up to find that I couldn’t move a muscle from the waist down, was a little more life changing.
I have always achieved. That, I know how to do. The prospect however, of sitting still for one day, let alone weeks on end, terrified me. The pain I could deal with, it was the spaciousness I feared. Ironically, after years of craving more space and time, I found the reality disconcerting. My head is problematic in space. It can whisper things that make me feel less, and it knows all too well that I’ll listen. In the battle between body and head, my head won hands down every time. On the surface this often appeared a good thing. When I’d felt pain in the years before my operation, it was my head that tricked my body into believing it was nothing serious. Warrior-like, my mind would soldier on regardless of the pain. But one day my body screamed loud enough for my head to hear.
In the days and weeks after my operation I felt an exhaustion in my body that I hadn’t felt in years. I fell into deep dreamless sleeps and even when I was awake it was like I was existing behind a thick layer of cotton wool.
My mind tried to intervene (“you’re wasting all this time, you idiot”),but my body was seemingly on a mission of its own. I remembered back to giving birth and how my body took over then too. My conscious mind had nothing to do with bringing life into the world and the whole process left me in awe of my body and what it knows all by itself. And yet, somewhere in the busyness of life I’d forgotten. Again.
Any artist understands the battle between head and body. Even as a VERY amateur painter, it’s a story that is all too familiar.
Twenty minutes after starting the red painting below I gave up in frustration. I took a paintbrush and angrily swiped at the canvas with red paint right down the middle. I sat down on the floor and cried, feelings of hopelessness and inadequacy abounding. But when I looked up again something emerged from the canvas. The angry red paint looked like a figure walking towards me. Without thinking I picked up my brush and for hours became lost in time, each stroke an extension of what was going on deep inside of me. It was a beautifully therapeutic moment and allowed me to express the darkness I felt, as well as, surprisingly, the hope.
When I can be with what I feel, rather than criticizing it, judging it, rationalizing it or suppressing it, I’ve noticed that I find hope in it. As a coach this should not come as a surprise to me, and yet, it jolts me awake every time.
I painted the blue picture around the same time many years ago as an expression of the pain I felt in my body, the physical tension and sense of resignation I felt in my bones when I succumbed to it. As I painted my body bent over double, I began to see the beauty in the rawness of my emotions and somehow that brought a lightness and a sense of calm. Most importantly, the hope I felt in the red painting as expressed by the small white light radiating from my solar plexus was growing and I felt an overwhelming sense of faith and trust that what sits at my core is strong and steady and reliable. I can’t see it, I fall in and out of faith with it, but deep down I know it’s there and when I drift away, it’s this inner light and knowing that guides me back to life.
Somehow, in the weeks of increasing stillness after my operation this light inside me grew, and I started a tentative conversation with my body. I would ask it what it needed and it would respond very clearly and simply. Sometimes I struggled to obey, because ‘go back to sleep’ or ‘just relax and do nothing’ were anathema to me. But when I did listen, something miraculous started to happen. I started to hear whisperings deep in my soul. The more I listened the more I began to trust my body’s wisdom rather than the fickle friend that is my mind, and I became curious about how to develop this wisdom that I’d ignored for so long.
It was this curiosity that led me to Adriene. If it wasn’t for my body still being so weak, I would never have considered yoga as part of my rehab. Fifteen years earlier, my very first yoga class was over the moment I dissolved into a fit of the giggles (the instructor complimented my ‘nice dog’) and had to leave in disgrace. From then on I relegated yoga to another slow and painful waste of an hour that bore no results except to bore the poor souls taking part. My first class with Adriene was completely different. She beamed through the screen and seemed to light me up from the inside. Of course, I was completely rubbish at the yoga itself, but as Adriene encouraged me to lift up from my heart and breathe in life, I felt strong and hopeful.
Over the weeks that followed I gradually became more robust and stable on my mat. More significant than the physical benefits though was what was happening in my mind. When I stepped onto the mat with Adriene, it was like I had stepped into a sacred space where time hung in the air and nothing else mattered. Lost in my breathing, my mind would wander off for a while and give me a break from its monotonous chatter. I found myself looking forward to unfurling my mat and succumbing to its secrets. For me, yoga is not about mindFULLness, it’s about mindLESSness! The less my mind takes part the better it is for my body and wellbeing. The lightness it brings has pervaded every part of my life and I cannot begin to tell of the riches it has brought.
On the mat, I reach physical heights I could only have dreamt of in my twenties. Off the mat I make better decisions, I create stronger connections, I am a kinder more loving person and I care less about the wasteful, hurtful messages my mind can conjure up when I pay it too much heed. In short, on and off the mat I Find What Feels Good…and I do that.
To say that Adriene is a yoga instructor does not begin to do justice to her work in the world. Yoga is her channel, but love is her work. When she steps onto the mat, she’s inviting us to join her in a simpler place, a more loving land where the heart no longer plays second fiddle to the head. On the mat, we ‘be’ rather than ‘do’. We ‘feel rather than ‘think. We ‘love’ rather than ‘condemn’. And when we learn to cultivate love inside our own bodies we can, like Adriene does on a global scale, emit love into the world to heal the hurt in other bodies near and far. Without this simple act of self-love we run the risk of dampening emotion and subduing the senses until only rational thought and objectivity survive. We only have to look our current political climate to see the damage that a purely rational mindset creates. From such a reductionist place, it’s difficult to find warmth and shared purpose because connection is impossible. It’s connection that helps us see our sameness and understand our differences.
I learned all of this and more standing barefoot on a pink yoga mat in my bedroom. Many months after my op, when my ‘dog’ finally did merit mild compliment, Adriene announced in small innocuous letters that she would be running a retreat in Nicaragua. An overwhelming sense of gratitude made me pay the deposit there and then and so began another phase in my ‘mindlessness’ journey!
To describe the Nica experience in words will never do justice to the pure joy and connection I experienced there. Perhaps I’ll paint it one day and allow my colours to tell the full story. For now, suffice to say that when you put thirty warm bodies in a jungle, magic happens. Furthermore, when you throw in an angel called Adriene, a magician called Marc, a boat, a bar, some banana pancakes, a handful of howler monkeys and A Little Redemption, you have a dream that will never wear off.
Thank you, Adriene.
Thank you, Kula.
Thank you, Universe.