Yoga is really just a part of my obsession with trying to understand what makes us humans tick. What’s it all about, why are we here, what are we meant for – and right now particularly the question: Why do we love what we love AND why do we so very often wander far from the path of happiness when we know, FULL WELL that the detour will cost us dearly in the happiness, energy and health stakes?
This summer I have been reading a lot about it, my current heroes in the subject are: Martha Beck (The Way of Integrity / Finding your own North Star), Glennon Doyle (Untamed), Eckhart Tolle (The Power of Now), Gabor Mate (The Myth of Normal), Julia Cameron (The Artists Way), Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (Flow), Byron Katie and Alain de Botton (An Emotional Eduction / The School of Life).
Ask me for some book recommendations from these authors and I will gladly pass them in and talk for hours about all of the above.
One of the most helpful ideas around this disconnect in what we actually love and what we do is found in Martha Beck’s Find your North Star, in which she talks about our essential self vs our social self.
In summary: Our essential self is born with us and spends two years shouting the house down to get its need me. From then on most of us learn tolerance: be shtum, and suck up all the stuff that don’t really like but is going on anyway - instead of following our knowing about what we need. To some extent this is good. Society needs to function and we need tolerance for that to happen. So, we learn to smile when we are given gifts we hate, we learn to sit at a desk for inordinate lengths of time pushing ink blots around a page, we learn to fly and fight and freeze and faun. Our essential self can often go deep into hiding, along with a whole bundle of rage and sadness about this sorry state that society apparently insists upon.
Then, Middle Age, and with a bit of luck a great unravelling comes upon us. A reckoning: sometimes big, sometimes small.
We sell the house, get divorced and go live in a bus on the beach / develop a penchant for mushroom chocolate… / stop sending Christmas cards / Retrain for an underpaid career we adore…
At least, I hope we do. Rediscovering this part of us – not necessarily the full blown and often antisocial two-year old – but the parts which know what we actually want, what we actually like to do, who we actually want to spent time with – will hopefully emerge – the headaches stop, the fatigue lessens, the internal noise abates.
But how do we convince our social self to back off and stop telling us that everyone is staring / we will become destitute / we will be disowned by friends and family alike?
The answer? I’m not 100% on this yet but one idea is to question all your thoughts and assumptions. Martha Beck’s book is great for this, as are Byron Katie’s The Work and her four questions and Gabor Mate's enquiry processes, described in The Myth of Normal.
But in order to question everything we think we have to actually hear/know what we are thinking. Sometimes thoughts are so ingrained, so automatic, so familiar that we don’t even notice them. We just plod along believing they are true and acting in accordance despite their falsehood. “Everyone will think I’m a quitter…” “No one likes my art…” it goes on. So we create a space where we can stop and we ask IS THAT TRUE?
There are many frameworks for creating that space to recognise our thoughts and start to understand the effect they have on our lives. That space between a thought and an action, that space that allows us to question the truth of a thought and whether or not it is still of use to us in our lives. It might have once been but is it now? That space that allows us to choose the manner of our response - to act response-ably.
Find your flow: when you start to listen to your essential self again, that small voice inside it’s really a huge simplification. Do I actually like this? Yes / no. Do I want to continue? Yes / No. Getting real with ourselves and listening to our body as well as our thoughts – waiting for the nudge in the direction we want to take. Simply, slowly and all at once we find our flow.
For me the yoga mat is THE place I turn when I’m feeling out of touch with my essential self – that part of me that knows what I really need and want – instead of what I think I ought to need and want. It’s a place where I can get really simple – call in an expansive focus on directing my body through space – and let everything else slip away. Thoughts come and go in that space and we get to see the easy come, easy go quality – and with that realisation of this possibility we get to practice that easy departure on more insistent thoughts which are unhelpful. We get the chance to use our mind usefully, as a tool for creation, manifesting our internal pictures (in this case yoga poses) into the world. We are practicing for the times off the mat when we are faced with unhelpful thoughts or what to find a mental process that allows us to create something new.
My current top tools to understand how my thoughts are creating my reality and question them:
1/ Conscious movement – via the Alexander Technique and mostly (but not exclusively) yoga – running too
2/ Breathwork + simple meditation practice
Book a class or 1-2-1 to learn more about a conscious movement practice, breathwork, meditation or the Alexander Technique or follow the links above to learn more about Morning pages and The Work of Byron Katie.