Yet again I find myself kicking off a new blog post with an apology for my radio silence. Taking the time to sit and write seems to be proving difficult, as I ponder over what my intention and driving factors are. Since my last blog post I have committed to writing a daily journal – something that I haven’t done since my hospital admission several years ago. When I write my journal the intention is honest reflection, and it’s really just a conscious spillage of that day’s thoughts and experiences. I don’t edit my journal, and it’s handwritten. Yet with the blog, as transparent as I often find myself being, there is still that underlying recognition that others will read it. It’s the knowledge that my friends, family members, colleagues and clients may be tuning in. It’s edited, typed out on my iPad and proof read multiple times before being published.
For those of you following me on social media you will know that 2017 has been a life altering year for me. The year that I rejected the Bodybuilding lifestyle and everything that it encompassed for me – bikinis that look cheap but cost a bomb, crippling leg sessions, eating the same bland meals over and over, friendships revolving around the one day a week you could share a “cheat meal” together. My body has also changed, as I watch the muscle that I spent so long building gradually fade away. I am confronted daily with all of the emotional challenges that this brings. What if I lose my Personal Training clients? What if I gain too much weight? What if I lose too much weight? What if, in the absence of weighing myself and weighing my food, I have forgotten how to trust my own body? How did I ever get so detached from my body in the first place?!
I first started blogging when prompted (or gently pushed!) by Anthony ‘Grimly’ Hall, a self taught Ashtangi who I met at a workshop several years prior. I titled the blog “Bite, Bench, Breathe”, to encompass the three pillars upon which we can build a truly healthy life – mindful eating, mindful movement and mindful breathing. Food, exercise and meditation. I have had a tumultuous journey with all three of these elements, as I’m sure many of you reading this will have done too, yet I remain in the belief that these are key factors in building a good relationship with oneself, and henceforth with others. I believe that the way we treat ourselves is a reflection of the way in which we treat the world.
In the past I have been guilty of treating my meditation practice as something independent from my eating and exercise experiences. My sitting practice (which, being realistic, may just be ten mindful breaths heading into work) existed in silo. These past few months, however, I have begun to appreciate the way in which I can pay attention and bring mindfulness into my mealtimes and my movement. Establishing a daily yoga practice (which sometimes involves the full primary series, and other times involves sitting with a text book and a cup of tea) has certainly helped with this. On the mat, or with book in hand, I am better attuned to my breath and my intention – key components of a solid meditative practice. Moreover, my rejection of a meal plan in favour of intuitive eating requires me to tune in, to listen and to honour my body’s wisdom. And yet, when sitting, I often berate myself if and when my mind wanders to thoughts of food or of my physical practice.
In this moment, when I catch myself planning my dinner or wondering where I’ll fit Ashtanga into my daily schedule, I become quickly irritated at myself. I start to intellectualise my experience, and question whether this is an anorexic tendency that I am still clinging to, or if in fact it’s very common! I then begin to theorise my whole experience – how would this scenario play out if I were sat describing it to my old therapist? How does my wandering mind correspond to my sense of self, being a “good” or “bad” person, on said day? What am I even doing this practice for?
I am an avid listener of Michael Stone’s podcast “Awake in The World”, which over the years has taught me so much about mindfulness of breathing, mindfulness of the body, zen tradition and how it can be woven into western epistemology and psychology*. When I catch myself wandering into the realms of thinking and over analysing (so, every few breaths!) I hear Michael advising me to return back to my breath/body. When I think about Michael, or my yoga teachers past and present, I then realise that I am STILL out of my body, in no more of a sense than when I am thinking about work, or breakfast or my love life! The only time I am TRULY present is when I am in my body, noticing all and every sensation – good, bad or indifferent.
There is no moral of this blog post other than to make me, and hopefully any of you reading this, be as present in your body/breath and in your experience as truly possible. When the mind wanders and the intellectualising begins, as it will over and over again, simply return to your breath and the sensations that arise as it enters and leaves your body. It sounds so incredibly simple, but it’s effects are immense.
*On the day of writing this blog post I then heard news that Michael Stone is in a coma. I hope for his quick recovery and will continue to honour my sitting practices with well wishes in my heart.