Not just a great Madonna track from the 80s (I can still picture the poster I had of her on my bedroom wall, in all her 80s legwarmer glory). Opening your heart can be quite an uncomfortable journey as it means being totally honest with yourself, and sitting with awkward feelings in order to allow them to pass. But the older I get the more I believe that allowing yourself to reveal, expose, reconcile your innermost feelings – even if just to yourself – is the path to serenity, peace and fewer headaches.
There’s a direct link between physical and mental wellbeing. When you’re feeling down, often there’s a physical low as well.
After the birth of my first son I fell into a trough in body and spirit. It’s so obvious looking back, but a horribly traumatic birth was followed by feelings of failure and melancholy, saturated by total denial of sleep by my mini sleep vampire for over a year. Any thoughts of revitalising my soul by taking proper time to comfort and nurture my body were simply not available to me at the time, amidst the fog of endless crying (baby’s…and probably mine…), explosive nappies, coffee and biscuits. Far from nurturing my body, all I could do was berate it: too fat, a complete failure, not good enough.
I had a few miscarriages over the next two years, and my vitality was completely depleted. I had totally lost my mojo. Who was I? Where was my va va voom…? Where’s that girl who used to have joy, dance around, and not just to nursery rhymes… I miss her. Just keep on keeping on…it’ll all be fine…
A shoulder injury which was getting in the way of my teaching finally made me turn to an osteopath for help, and in turn, in the name of physical rehabilitation, carve out more time for yoga, for doing regular (rather than just teaching) Pilates, for pausing to breathe more and notice how I was feeling…slowly but surely, layers were peeled off and I began to emerge into the sunlight again.
This was not a new lesson for me. Twelve years ago one of my most wonderful, cool and brilliant friends died suddenly. I already had a Thailand trip booked in the immediate aftermath of her death, and departed feeling like a limp fragile fledgling not quite ready to leave the nest. Grief is like a typhoon that knocks you sideways, and I was in need of something to anchor me, to save me from being swept away.
I saw a sign on the beach for a yoga retreat and decided to check it out, and leave my comfort zone – a place I like to inhabit, but definitely a dead space like a waiting room with faded wallpaper: you could spend endless hours there and never get anywhere. That yoga session in the open air coconut grove changed my life. An epiphany there made me decide to train as a Pilates teacher and follow my passion. I found my breath, I opened my heart, connected to my body and realised how lucky I was to be alive even though Zoe wasn’t.
It may sound a bit “woo woo”, but I saw chakra colours glowing as I worked through tension in my body and unlocked pain in my soul – I totally cringe writing that, there’s an inherent knee-jerk scepticism to anything that feels remotely new age, spiritual or other worldly – out of that faded wallpaper comfort zone. But there you have it – I saw colours and felt a sense of being enveloped in a warm soft cloak of comfort and healing. I imprinted that day in my soul and took a snapshot, to always refer to.
Every time I do yoga, part of me revisits that single yoga chakra therapy session in koh phangan. I close my eyes, soften, breathe, and I’m there.
Occasionally I have to remind myself to shed a skin once more, if old habits creep in and I forget to connect. We are growing beings who utterly renew and rejuvenate every few years: new cells, new blood, new life. But we forget this and take old habits and energy into these cycles, stay in that waiting room for something to call us out of it.
It’s so hard to find space in every day life, mainly because we don’t prioritise ourselves – we barely make it onto our list of priorities, let alone reach the top of it. It’s easy to get bogged down in “there’s no time”, in the routine and clutter of life. But, the problem is then you allow the constant niggle of a dodgy back or sore shoulder get you down a little bit more every day, to chip away at your resilience.
Scan your body now…close your eyes and breathe, and take a moment to check in with how you are feeling. The act of scanning your body allows you also to tune in to your mind. Are you feeling tight, tense, worried? Are you feeling weary or annoyed, overwhelmed? Do you have long-standing tension in your shoulders or neck? Emotions all have a physical manifestation. Your cells, muscles, tissue respond to all the thoughts, worries and beliefs that you wash over them every day with your internal dialogue.
Body therapy – Pilates, yoga, intuitive movement and meditative breathing – is essential maintenance: see the mind and body as connected, a bodymind. Checking in with your body, mindfully and thoughtfully, is like regular MOT. You wouldn’t cycle a bike every day without oiling the chain regularly, or expect your car to run without fuel. Honour your body and mind with the same regard.
Make sure you find a space, a moment, daily or weekly at least – where you can return to life, to breathe, to move, to twist out your tensions and worries. To remind you why you’re here. To enable you to embrace the craziness with a bit more gusto and grace. To open your heart.