117 days of Yoga Revolution.

On January 1st I started the 31 day Yoga Revolution with Yoga with Adriene. I wrote about it here http://www.susantelford.com/2017/01/07/tool-for-recovery-part-1-yoga/
I began with the same excitement that accompanies every Monday when the new diet begins, every New Year when the new life begins, in fact every plan I have every forced myself to do.
I rationalised that this will be the ONE, the one to shift my exhaustion, boost my energy, pull me out of the pit of despair I found myself in last winter. I was still operating under the illusion that the same striving, pushing mentality that got me into this mess, would somehow work to free me from the chronic fatigue that had ended my career. The trouble was I had no idea of how else to be.
My strategy “worked” for 17 days http://www.susantelford.com/2017/01/20/the-seductive-pull-of-the-plan/ but far less than boost my energy it led me straight back to another relapse.
On day 18, unable to get out of bed, I felt a range of emotions. Mainly, what the hell is wrong with me? Why can’t I get better? Will I ever be fully well again? Is the life I took so much for granted now over?
I felt like a failure, I had had M.E./CFS before, recovered and gone to university and worked for 7 years as teacher. But somehow, I had managed to recreate all the conditions that had led me to becoming ill in 1999. I had worked hard, taken on more and more responsibility, given my whole heart and soul to the school.
The realisation hit me like a ton of bricks. I was applying the same Type A mindset to my recovery and even my yoga practice.
I had never stopped to consider what my body wants.
The truth was I had no idea. Literally not a clue.
I didn’t know whether it was best to rest or try some yoga. In 54 years of being on the planet I had NEVER asked my body what it wants. MY body was an appendage located south of my over-active mind and my mind called all the shots, like a warped sergeant-major, barking orders to get out of the bed and get things done!
As I had not managed to sustain the daily practice of Revolution, my mind, of course, had written it off as a failure.
My next step was to look around for the next plan, you know, the one that would be the ONE!
But, some deeper, wiser part of me would not let go of Revolution, even as I lay in bed unable to muster the energy to roll out my mat.
Then one morning, several weeks later, as I sipped my morning tea in bed, a voice inside me said “Mmmm, I fancy doing yoga today”.
So I got out of bed, rolled out my mat in my study and did day 18. This went on all through February, March and April. I waited for that still, small voice that WANTED to do yoga and I did the next day’s practice. I realised when I don’t push myself, the impulse to do yoga naturally arises.
117 days after I began,I completed day 31.
The theme for day 31 was “Follow your intuition” and Adriene encouraged me to listen to my body and allow the practice to flow, tapping into what my body actually needs in the moment. I cried my way through that practice as I realised that my body is much wiser than me and does, indeed, know what she needs. It was such a fitting end to my journey, which is paradoxically only beginning.
So over to you, dear reader. Do you listen to the needs of your body? Do you have a still, small voice that rises up when you stop pushing yourself? Or do you, like I did, keep pushing yourself on and on, expecting your body to comply with the demands of your mind and thinking burnout will never happen to you? Please leave a comment below and let’s start a conversation about slowing down enough, even in the midst of our busy lives, to take care of ourselves.

The body knows

After last week’s Write into Life post, I have been thinking more about the wisdom of the body and how it always knows the truth, despite how many hoops the mind pushes it through. I wrote this poem about it.

THE BODY KNOWS

The body knows

The lies you tell

The headache blooms

Where love is blocked

The wrong path

Knots your stomach

With the nausea of self-abandonment

The fear of being seen

Your precious life energy

Exchanged for acceptance.

You push on

Too busy to notice

The birds gliding effortlessly through the sky

The flower buds gently opening

The return of the spring sun

These masters showing the way home.

You push down the truth emerging

Still trying to be good

Forgetting your own innate perfection.

There is nowhere to get to

Nothing to strive for

Everything is a gift you rejected over and over

Until now.

 

Relax and enjoy

 

She believed the lie she had been told for most of her life. Be a good girl, work hard, put others first, do your best. Her whole life was built around this lie. She had tried hard to secure her place in the world, to secure their love.

She hid her sadness, her aloneness, her sense of being different and tried to fit in. She presented her happy, helpful, perfectly made-up face to the world as she had been taught to do.

But, one day, a cold wind of change blew through and uprooted her carefully constructed life.

She raged against this injustice “Why me?” she cried. “I don’t deserve this!”, “I always tried so hard”.

Day after day, she tried to rebuild her life. She had all the tools: yoga, meditation, counsellors and advisors, the latest spiritual books. Her constant mantra: “I must try harder”.

But try as she might, she could not go on. Every time she smiled and said, “I am fine, thanks” was another lie. Every downward dog she pushed herself into an affront to her fragile soul.

On the very day she gave up striving, she thought she heard a song. At first, she caught only the softest grace note, but as she began to slow down and listen, she heard the tantalising snippets of an ancient, long-forgotten melody.

“You are loved, just as you are.”

“Nothing to do, nothing to strive for.”

And finally, the one that made the ears of her soul prick up: “Relax and enjoy”.

She took to her bed, unwilling to get up until she had understood. She thought she was going mad, hearing voices in the wind. She decided even madness would be preferable to the constant striving. She wanted to know the truth.

She noticed the light streaming though her bedroom window, the breeze causing the branches on the trees to dance. She saw the birds gliding effortlessly through the sky, the buds on the cherry blossom tree that always appear at Easter. She watched it happening, without effort.

She breathed in and out, and as tears poured down her cheeks, she realised she was being breathed. Each breath was a gift she did nothing to earn.

For the first time, in a lifetime spent trying to achieve, she notices it is enough to lie on her back and watch herself being breathed, watch the trees being blown, the birds being flown, the buds being born.

It is all there is.

It is enough.

Write into Light: The SIP-Anything but what is.

 

I recently joined a writing class called Write into Light run by Martha Beck. write-into-light

My first submission was a piece bringing together some of the things I have been writing about on this blog.

The SIP: Anything but what is.

I have recently become aware that my whole life has been a self-improvement plan. (Hereinafter to be referred to as a SIP). Lying on my bed, in 1982, age 20, devouring Helen Gurley Brown’s newly released “Having it all”, I determined that I would become a souped-up (SIPped-up?) version of myself.

No area of my life was left unimproved. I prided myself on my constant search for tips on how to excel. My house is filled with self-help books on every conceivable topic: weight loss, yoga, writing, gardening, simple living, luxurious living, meditation, parenting, business, blogging, emotional health, physical health, psychological health, spiritual health. Everything I know I learned from a book, a course or a retreat. Everything I know I learned from someone else, my success always located in some imagined future.

The more prescriptive the SIP, the better I liked it: “10 steps to inner peace and thinner thighs” was my idea of heaven. Follow the plan, do the work, bask in the accomplishment. I was very good at these plans. I did them so many times.

Why so many times? Because the effects never lasted. Left to my own devices, I floundered. I literally forgot who I am without a plan.

When my reading moved on to topics such as living in the present moment, I, of course, wanted the “Enlightenment in 10 easy steps” version.

Of course, you know it doesn’t exist.

Instead, we are advised to love what is. Wait a minute, love these thighs? This messy imperfect life?

I started to realise that in choosing the SIP I had rejected myself over and over again. I had rejected the reality of this present moment, in all its perceived imperfection for a fantasy future that does not exist.

Let that sink in: I have completely and utterly rejected myself and my own precious experience. I was too busy to smell the roses (something I learned in a SIP that one must do daily to be well-balanced). I was much too busy reading books on how to change my husband into a man who would bring me roses.

Dear reader, I burned out.

I came to a screeching halt where no SIP could save me.

Thank God.

I am writing this now, in my pyjamas.

I don’t have the answers, no 10-step plan for recovering from burnout.

But I do notice my fingers tapping the key board, I notice my hair needs to be washed after another night of hot flushes.

I hear the ticking clock, notice the light streaming through the window.

I notice that I don’t have the energy for any more SIPs. I wonder if letting go means resting in this present experience or if it means giving up on trying. I wonder if they are the same thing. I notice there remains a longing for a book or a guru to explain this to me. I want to know how to do it. But I can no longer abandon myself for someone else’s wisdom.

 

Unless it is Rumi:

 

“Last night I learned how to be a lover of God,
To live in this world and call nothing my own.

I looked inward
And the beauty of my own emptiness
filled me till dawn.
It enveloped me like a mine of rubies.
Its hue clothed me in red silk.

Within the cavern of my soul
I heard the voice of a lover crying,
“Drink now! Drink now!”—

I took a sip and saw the vast ocean—
Wave upon wave caressed my soul.
The lovers of God dance around
And the circle of their steps
becomes a ring of fire round my neck.

Heaven calls me with its rain and thunder—
a hundred thousand cries
yet I cannot hear…..

All I hear is the call of my Beloved.”

 

 

Resistance

Since I have found myself completely unable to write a blog post for over a month, I have been thinking a lot about resistance and how it shows up in my life.

I seem to have resistance to continuing with things that previously seemed to be a good idea. Strangely, these are often things I enjoy, but the minute I tell myself I SHOULD do them, they become less attractive to me and resistance sets in.

For example:

I SHOULD go for a walk

I SHOULD do some yoga

I SHOLD write a blog post

I SHOULD make a green juice

I SHOULD read the book instead of going on Facebook

I SHOULD do some housework

I SHOULD go for a nap as I am exhausted.

These SHOULDS are so entrenched in my mind that I wonder how it is even possible to get out of bed without them. What does it mean to resist nothing and still live a productive life? Won’t I just sit in the couch, eating chocolate, watching crap daytime TV?

From our earliest childhood, we are raised on a diet of shoulds:

We SHOULD behave

We SHOULD eat our vegetables

We SHOULD go to school and try hard when we get there

We SHOULD respect our elders

We SHOULD play nicely and share our toys.

I have no idea where I am going with this, but as someone who has lived her life trying to do her best, trying to do everything she thought was expected of her and experiencing complete burnout, my sense is there must be a better way!

Our society has placed a whole new level of SHOULDS on women.

We SHOULD have a fulfilling career

We SHOULD have well-behaved, adorable children

We SHOULD have a handsome husband that treats us like queens

We SHOULD have a spotless well-run house that could grace the pages of Homes and Gardens.

We SHOULD rustle up gourmet meals a la Nigella

We SHOULD have a group of close girlfriends, with whom we can bear our souls and go to book group, yoga and wine bars.

We SHOULD be slim and gorgeous, well-groomed at all times, unflappable, smiling superwomen.

Am I alone in thinking that this image of the modern woman is so seductive but completely unattainable?

How many of us have tried? How many of us have failed? I remember in my late teens devouring Helen Gurley Brown’s book “Having it all” and believing that it was possible.

How many women are there, like me, who have dragged themselves through their days, completely exhausted, but trying so damn hard to hold it all together and get things done, because the things that had to be done seemed so important?

How much division has there been among women who watch each other and wrongly assume “she has it all together”?

Who is telling the truth about how they really feel?

I will go first: I feel real grief for that woman who tried so hard, who put in 100% effort and forgot about her own needs in the process. I feel lonely, out of the workforce. I feel forgotten and misunderstood. I feel as though I have so much to offer inside, but lack the physical energy to do it. I miss my job; I miss my colleagues and most of all I miss the kids at school. I miss having a purpose. I feel as though as I am just on the edge of depression. I feel sad that for every lovely experience that I push myself to enjoy, recently a holiday and a wedding, there are weeks of payback as my energy level crashes.

And so, just for today, I will resist nothing. I will allow myself to feel what I feel without a plan to fix it. Hell, I can’t fix it, I have tried so hard to do that too.

The quote above says that resisting nothing is the real secret to finding inner peace.

I will let you know if it is true.

 

Surrender to what is

A while ago I read a story about how we never know if something is good or bad.

The Taoist farmer

One day in late summer, a farmer was working in his field with his old sick horse. The farmer felt compassion for the horse and decided to let it go into the mountains to live out the rest of its life in peace.

Soon after, neighbours visited him and said, “What a shame. Your only horse is gone. You must be very sad. How will you live, work the land, and prosper?” The farmer replied: “Who knows? We shall see”.

Two days later the old horse came back, rejuvenated after its time in the mountains eating the wild grasses. With him were twelve young healthy horses that had followed him home.

Word got out in the village of the farmer’s good fortune and it wasn’t long before people stopped by to congratulate him on his good luck.  “How fortunate you are!” they exclaimed. You must be very happy!”  Again, the farmer said softly, “Who knows? We shall see.”

At daybreak on the next morning, the farmer’s only son set off  to train the new horses, but he was thrown to the ground and broke his leg.  One by one, villagers arrived during the day to bemoan the farmer’s latest misfortune.  “Oh, what a tragedy!  Your son won’t be able to help you farm with a broken leg. You’ll have to do all the work yourself, how will you survive? You must be very sad”.  Calmly going about his usual business, the farmer answered, “Who knows? We shall see”

Several days later a war broke out. The Emperor’s men arrived in the village to conscript young men into the army.  Of course, the farmer’s son was deemed unfit because of his broken leg.  “What very good fortune you have!!” the villagers exclaimed as their own young sons were marched away. “You must be very happy.” “Who knows? We shall see!”, replied the old farmer as he headed off to work his field alone.

Sadly, the other young village boys  died in the war and the farmer and his son were the only able bodied men capable of working the village lands. The farmer became wealthy and was very generous to the villagers. They said: “Oh how fortunate we are, you must be very happy”, to which the old farmer replied, “Who knows? We shall see!” 

I find this story comforting. It is easy to label things good or bad, before we know what the outcome will be.

It seems to me that the only sensible response it to surrender to what is. To see it all as grace. To come back to reside in the present moment.

What if everything is flowing toward me in the perfect time? How much energy would be freed up by stopping the resistance to what is? By dropping the incessant analysis? By dropping the “why me?”

What would it be like to live a life of openness and acceptance? To let what wants to come, come and what wants to go, go? (They will anyway, with or without my consent!)

The decision to live in a state of surrendered gratitude is the only one I need to make. I tried to control my world and that led to burnout!

Instead of making a schedule, for example, I could listen to my body. I could listen for the inner prompt, that tells me when it is time to act. I know that voice, but too often when it doesn’t come quickly enough, I tell myself I am lazy, rather than accept its absence means it is still time to rest.

This takes practice and gentleness with myself and the willingness to stay here, in this moment and not spin off to some imagined future.

So, what IS here now:

Fingers on keyboard

Sun on the screen

Sound of rugby in the next room

Itch on my nose

A desire to stop typing and get something to eat.

It seems so simple but I sense it will be the practice of a lifetime.

 

 

 

 

 

The seductive pull of the plan

Last week I wrote about Tools for Recovery, here: http://susantelford.com/2017/01/07/tool-for-recovery-part-1-yoga/ and here: http://susantelford.com/2017/01/11/tools-for-recovery-part-2-juicing/

I tried to follow these plans to the letter and managed 10 days on juice and 17 days of daily yoga, until the inevitable resistance set in.

I missed day 18 of #yogarevolution. I woke feeling tired and sore, in addition to the daily yoga I have also been walking for half an hour a day. In my enthusiasm for improving my health I have forgotten I have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and have overdone things.

This is the point at which I usually give up. My mind is awash with reasons: it is too hard, I am too unfit, I have blown it now so what is the point. It is the diet mentality, the all or nothing mentality that I have had my whole life.
I am realising I don’t know what my body needs a lot of the time.
How do you know if it is best to practice even when tired. Will the activity create energy in the body or is the unwillingness to practice a sign that the body needs rest?
I did not consume juice yesterday either. Is this just a rebellion against a too rigid plan or did my body actually need something else?
In my post Love after Love: http://susantelford.com/2016/09/16/love-after-love/ I wrote that “I no longer want to follow anyone else’s plan”, yet here I am, at the start of a New Year, doing just that.  I used to be really good at plans, especially diets, the more prescriptive the better.

Maybe that was because I was brought up to be good at things, to get As, to excel. I even became a teacher who encouraged kids to do the same. And yet, somehow, now, that ship has sailed. Even though I temporarily forgot and jumped into the seductive promises of the “plan”: LOSE WEIGHT FAST! INCREASE ENERGY! GET GLOWING SKIN!, my heart will not let me forget the quiet promise I made to myself, to explore a new way of being, an unforced, graceful way of living that listens to what my body and soul need every day, rather than what has been prescribed on the “plan”.

When I get still and turn my attention inward, when I ask myself “What do you want?”, the answer comes:

“I just want space to breathe, I just want to be”.

My mind objects to this and retorts “yes, but what do you want to eat?, how are you going to lose weight?” and my heart says “Stop bullying me.”

Shunrya Suzuki said

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few”

It takes humility to admit that at the age of 54 I have no intuitive sense of how to eat. I watch my husband and my son who eat when they are hungry and stop when they are full.

It seems so obvious. Eat when you are hungry. That is the purpose of eating, isn’t it? To satisfy hunger. But hungry for what?

I want to examine why I eat. Often it is because I am bored, or the clock says it is time, or because the “plan” says it is time. Or I am premenstrual, tired, emotional, bored.  Or I am happy, in celebratory mood. Or because it is the weekend.

It seems I eat for every reason except to satisfy real bodily hunger.

When did I last feel actual hunger? The kind that makes your tummy rumble?

So, this is my first step in a life without plans.

Can I apply beginner’s mind to food and exercise? Can I tune into the signals my body is sending me? Can I let go of my need to control everything, to let go of the constant striving that led to burnout, that is still manifesting in ever more subtle ways?

There is a call here to discern the difference between pushing and striving and acceptance and allowing. There is something here about self-trust: doing what I say I am going to do.

I feel lost without my plan, scared that I will not get off the couch. This is simply my need to be in control.

So, just for this moment, I let go of the need to know all outcomes in advance and instead just breathe.

 

 

Tools for Recovery Part 2 – Juicing

As part of the investigations into the cause of the mini-strokes I had in December, it was discovered that my cholesterol level is high. This has been the case before, but at that time I was told that my ratio of HDL ( so called “good” cholesterol) to my total cholesterol was fine and so no treatment was necessary. Interestingly my level this time is only 0.1 higher but I have not been told the exact numbers yet. I will get these from my GP later this week.

The standard treatment to lower cholesterol levels is statins. I was prescribed these at the hospital and agreed to take them as they lessen the risk of stroke after a TIA.

Anyone who knows me, however, knows my reluctance to take prescription drugs. I prefer to do my own research and find out if there is a more natural way to address health issues that I can try first before I agree to medication.

This is particulary true when it comes to lowering my cholesterol level. The side effects associated with statins means I am reluctant to take them long term.

Statins can cause :

muscle pain

nausea and diarrhoea

liver and kidney damage

increased blood sugar levels and type 2 diabetes

lower the body’s levels of coenzyme Q10.

Source: http://www.healthline.com/health/coq10-and-statins#CoQ101

The last of these causes me most concern, as someone with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) is a substance similar to a vitamin. It is found in every cell of the body. Your body makes CoQ10, and your cells use it to produce energy your body needs for cell growth and maintenance. It also functions as an antioxidant, which protects the body from damage caused by harmful molecules.

Source: http://www.webmd.com/heart-disease/heart-failure/tc/coenzyme-q10-topic-overview#1

I am reluctant to take anything that will have a negative impact on my energy levels. This led me to research the best dietary advice for lowering cholesterol naturally.

I was astonished to find that it is not fat, but sugar that is the main cause of high cholesterol levels. (see http://drhyman.com/blog/2014/02/07/eggs-dont-cause-heart-attacks-sugar/)

Before Christmas I had signed up for Jason Vale’s Big January cleanup. I have found green juices over the years to be a quick way to lose weight and boost energy. When I came home from the hospital I wondered whether I would still be able to take part in this challenge (http://www.bigjanuarycleanup.com) which involves 14 days on freshly extracted vegetable and fruit juices from Jason’s book Super Juice Me!, followed by 7 days on food from his new book Super Fast Food.

I was encouraged to read in Super Juice Me! that a reduction in cholesterol was one of the results posted by those who had done the plan before.

So, I am giving it a go.

Here is the produce I bought for days 1-5 of the challenge!

 

 

Tools for Recovery Part 1 – Yoga

I have always enjoyed practising yoga and at one time used to attend several classes a week.

Now that my energy is limited, I find it preferable to practise at home and last year came across Yoga with Adriene on Youtube.

Adriene’s mantra is Find What Feels Good and her philosophy is to listen to your own body and practise in a way that honours how you feel today. She encourages us not to be “yoga robots” who try to copy the shapes we see on screen or in books. This has been very helpful to me both in terms of cultivating an awareness of how my body feels and what my energy level is on a given day. This helps me to feel that there is something I can do that will be beneficial to my body and cuts through my tendency to either push myself beyond what my body is able to do today or avoid my mat completely.

Every January, Adriene offers a free yoga programme on Youtube. This year it is called Revolution: 31 days of Yoga.

She writes on the programme website ( at http://revolution.yogawithadriene.com)

“What is REVOLUTION: 31 Days of Yoga?

31 Days of free yoga practice, an act of self love, a rigorous bootcamp and an act of personal storytelling all tied up in a feel good bow.

The goal: to be more present.

Further results: feel more smiley, enjoy body image, sit taller, walk lighter, move with more ease and have more energy for crushing it at life.”

and

“When we infuse the principles we explore on the mat off the yoga mat we pave the way for a life of balance and feeling lifted and good – regularly.”

As my recovery has its foundations in finding balance and increasing energy,  I decided to take part in this programme. My commitment to myself is to roll out my mat every day, play the video and listen to my body and do as much or as little of the practice as I have energy for each day.

So far I have done that every day.

On day 5 the theme was “Practise Rhythm”.

Adriene opened the class by encouraging us “to cultivate a sense of listening, so you can really be true to your own rhythm”.

My tendency has always been to decide in advance what I want to do, or what needs to be done and then push myself to complete the task at hand.

I had completely lost touch with my own natural rhythms as perhaps many of us have. We wake to the shrill tones of the alarm clock, eat because the clock says it is mealtime and work the hours that are determined by our workload or our employers. We have moved far away from the lifestyle of our ancestors who rose with the sun and went to bed when darkness fell.

So, a rich field of exploration for me this year will be reconnecting with my own rhythm. Cultivating an awareness of what my body needs without my mind deciding in advance what this will be.

I hope that developing this sensitivity will provide a strong foundation for lasting recovery.

Grace and the Beloved

Last Friday I was in the middle of preparations for a New Year birthday lunch and the compilation of a memory book for my daughter when I was interrupted by 2 mini strokes. Instead of the plans I imagined I found myself in an ambulance with sirens blaring speeding to hospital.

This was the theme of last year for me too. I was supposed to be at school, teaching my classes, but my health interrupted all my plans. I met this initially with resistance and when it became obvious that I had to take ill-health retirement, with grief. Life is not the way I thought it would be. I am virtually housebound and have little energy. But I have learned so much through these so-called interruptions. I see how much of my experience came from my mind and this insistence on the way things and people ought to be. The one thing I did consistently was reject the way things actually are. This permeated every area of my life – my feelings, my relationships, my health, my body. I have developed curiosity about things now. Instead of saying “This should not be happening”, I am asking ” Why are you here? What lessons are you here to teach me?”. The most precious part for me though is the welcoming and acceptance of my own emotions. I allow myself to feel what I feel without labelling it wrong. All parts of me are welcome here, the healthy and the unhealthy, the scared, the alone, the joyful, the peaceful, the terrified, the bored, the grateful – all of it – because this IS my life. This is my one wild and precious life, as Mary Oliver says.

Watching everything I have worked for over the last 10 years slowly slip from my grasp has forced me to contemplate why I pushed myself so hard.

I think that my sense of self, my assessment of my own worthiness was tied up with achievement and success. Perhaps everything we do is, at its core, an attempt to feel that we are loved, that we have a place in this world. That what we do matters and is of value. For me, this translated into working hard and trying to make a difference.

But last Friday, in Accident and Emergency surrounded by my husband, my children and their partners, I realised that being beloved has nothing to do with achievement. In their worried faces, I saw love. I saw the family we have created together, that is expanding and will continue to expand as more grandchildren are born.

In the messages that were sent to me by friends, I was overwhelmed by the heartfelt expressions of love and support.

And I realised this is grace.

That somehow I had it all backwards. That to find yourself “beloved on the earth” is simply to accept the truth that we are loved because we exist. That it is nothing we earn or have to strive for.

The poet Hafiz writes:

“Even after all this time the sun never says to the earth, ‘You owe me.’ Look what happens with a love like that. It lights the whole sky.”