Yesterday was world mental health awareness day.
Coincidentally, this week I found myself struggling with some difficult patterns. The triggers are varied and sometimes simple but the effects can be profound.
Luckily I’ve got a bit better at spotting the warning signs - and taking actions to address these patterns before they escalate into darker moods.
So yesterday morning I pulled out all the stops. I took a long mindful movement practice, connecting to my breath and articulating each of the joints in my body in turn - dropping my awareness completely into movement and sensation (and out of my head!).
Then I switched gear and took some strong dynamic movements to shift the energy. Sun salutations, press ups, chin ups and handstands. Energising music to get everything moving and flowing.
After that I took a walk in nature - I’m lucky enough to have some woods behind our house in which to take a stroll.
I stood and watched the trees moving, felt the wind against my skin, the ground beneath my feet and listened to the sounds of birds…and felt a sense of spaciousness opening up.
When life feels claustrophobic I find it extremely helpful to connect to something bigger, particularly by spending time in nature…it’s deeply nourishing and helps me to remember that what is arising in this moment is impermanent.
Our society has a tendency to want to ‘pathologise’ and make things permanent - ‘I am this’ or ‘I suffer from that’…as if these things are fixed and can’t be changed.
But mindfulness teaches that whilst suffering (dukkha) is inevitable, so is impermanence (annica) - everything that arises moment to moment will pass (unfortunately this means the ‘good’ stuff too…but that’s another post).
The third mark of existence is not-self (anattā) - non identification with the stories that we construct about ourselves, as if we too are fixed and unchanging.
So whilst we may wrestle with certain patterns of the mind from time to time those patterns do not define us - they are not the ‘essence of our being’.
Since my teacher Cathy-Mae Karelse introduced me to this teaching I’ve found it very liberating...I’m grateful to be able to ‘pay it forward’ and I hope you'll find it helpful too.
After walking I sat for meditation, simply watching my breath moving in and out of my body and connecting to whatever arose moment to moment.
I mention this because whilst seated meditation is an incredibly powerful practice, it isn’t always an ideal option if you’re in the thick of the struggle.
Without distraction for the mind, thoughts can spiral out of control - I definitely wouldn’t have sat if I hadn’t felt sufficiently nurtured and spacious from moving and walking.
For me, this is the true power of our movement practice - providing an anchor point for our awareness, particularly when we need it most.
It might surprise some people to hear that a yoga and mindfulness teacher with a committed practice can wrestle with these types of patterns - I think sometimes there’s an assumption we’ve ‘got our shit together’ and are somehow immune to them.
But it shouldn’t be a surprise. It’s utterly normal to struggle with mental health and we’re as human as anyone else.
All I can say is that I am extremely grateful to these practices for providing me with ways in which to recognise and work with these patterns.
I also want to acknowledge how positive it is that the stigma surrounding mental health is starting to dissipate...it's an incredibly important shift.
And if you are struggling then please please please do reach out to someone for help.