A Balancing Act
Back in August before I went on my teacher training module I posted about being exhausted. I hoped that a change of scene, some focus on my own practice not teaching others, and time away would be rejuvenating: and it was for a bit. But it was only a week or so before I began to feel completely wiped out again. I went on holiday - surely some time submerged in the Atlantic would lift my spirits ? I did feel better surfing and being on holiday, but I didn’t sleep well despite surfing being a strenuous activity - and I had a long journey to south west France and back by train. I came back into a busy week of my usual timetable plus new classes: I was a mess.
What the holiday did though, was get rid of all pretence that I am OK. I am exhausted from teaching and from writing a book to a deadline. I am depressed. Sometimes I’m so tired I can barely function, I can’t get out of bed. Something isn’t right. I am being careful with myself: cancelling and removing classes that use too much energy for not enough financial reward. Gentle movement. Lots of breathwork. Writing little and often rather that in long spurts - every 100 words counts! Taking time off. Taking time to completely re-evaluate the way I teach and have structured my life, sitting with how I want my life to look in the future.
In our modern society, this is very much discouraged. Being exhausted is seen as a sign of weakness. We are to drink coffee, or other forms of caffeine, to stay alert. Mindfulnes apps are all about focus and attention, not about deep self connection and awareness, everything is about goals and positivity - rarely about accepting things as they are. Exhaustion and depression are problems to be solved with the thinking mind, rather than states which exist to tell us something.
There is a deep connection, which is now much better understood, between our body, our nervous system, our mind, our heart and the external environment. Our nervous system is particular, which is embedded deep in our tissues, is very finely tuned and is incredibly sensitive. Our thinking minds might not be aware of this sensitivity, but it’s there. When we push the nervous system, physically, mentally or emotionally, it will respond - but only to a certain degree. An amount of stress is good for us: it maintains a sense of vitality, of aliveness, of creativity. Imagine life without it! But too much will push our system into a defensive mode of shut down.
We are not designed to live in prolonged periods of either over stimulation or shut down. Neither is good for us: we are looking for balance. Not all the time: a little stress, a little bit of collapsing on the sofa or sun lounger. But overall, living moderately, most of the time. Learning to do this, even as a yoga teacher (!), takes time and awareness. The key is knowing when you have gone too much in one direction and need to come back to the centre: and then which practices would be helpful to you. I often see in people who are exhausted a desire to exercise: sure a gentle yoga class once a week, a walk outside in nature.. all good. Exercise can be energising, but when the nervous system is gone too much into shut down, exercise can be more harmful than helpful. Knowing and feeling this is crucial. Likewise, people who are very stressed and over stimulated do need to move to help shift some of the adrenaline from the body: but again no need for a triathlon!
The science of stress, exhaustion and stimulation and how it affects us is growing and new understandings come available all the time. How it manifests in the physical structure, in our neural pathways, in our psyches, in our cells: this is all new, but really fundamental to how we live. Interestingly, the yogis about 1500 years ago had already developed a kind of model about these three states: collapse, balance and over drive. These are called the three Gunas and can be applied to all aspects of reality, or life. To me this is fascinating: that this awareness was there all those centuries ago - even before the ‘scientific’ knowledge was available. To have western movement and neuroscience now catching up with yoga philosophy always makes my geeky heart expand!
I am running a full day retreat on Sunday 8 December about several aspects of this topic. We will explore how collapse/balance/stress manifest in the body, mind and nervous system, and look at practices to help shift us back to balance when we need to. The day will involve dynamic and yin yoga, breathing, meditation and yoga nidra. Includes delicious food and a chance to have a wander in the countryside. Car sharing from central TW is available.
Full details and how to book are here - or just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org