Your Mental Health

I have been reflecting lately what mental health means to me and what helps me when I notice a cycle of negative thinking or feeling.  All thoughts are my own and not prescriptive, below are some of my reflections and thoughts.....

When thinking of, or taking care of our mental health, I feel we need to remember that it is not just a phase we go through.

If we feel negative or are thinking negatively, it is not a problem, you are not weird, and it is not something you have to ‘get over’.

Our thinking brains have the capacity for negative thoughts just as much as positive thoughts.  These negative thoughts can result in negative feelings and vice versa. You can feel insecure or overwhelmed.  You can feel unsure of yourself or down.  You can feel doubtful of your abilities or you can feel unconfident.

These feelings and thoughts will surface from time to time, they will ebb and flow throughout our days and our lives.

That is normal, and even more than 'normal, that is ok.

What can be destructive or detrimental to our health, is the layers of secondary thoughts that we create.  Believing that having these negative feelings or thoughts is somehow weird or out of the ‘norm’.  The thinking that somehow we need to be fixed or cured can cause us to chase perhaps unrealistic ways of experiencing and being our true selves.

Of course, negative thinking and feeling can cause, over time, associated ‘problems’ or difficulties but the original source is not a problem as such.  Think of it like this, when you are hungry, that is only a problem if you do not have access to food at that time.  You may get tired, weak, tense or moody, but if you have food, being hungry is not a problem, you eat!  

So likewise, feeling negative or thinking negatively is only causing us excess problems if we do not have the skills and tools to become aware of them, to navigate them or we have no access to support.

It is absolutely a great thing that we are becoming more and more aware of Mental Health in Ireland and its importance in our daily lives.  I feel part of our awareness needs to address the language we use and the perspective we have on what is ‘normal’ and ok.

Mental health just like our physical health encompasses the balanced functioning of our systems, our ability to perform tasks and to maintain equilibrium.

If we have a physical health issue, like getting injured or sick, it may knock us out of balance for a period of time.  We will notice symptoms, we can treat the symptoms, take care of them, rest and seek support.

With these physical symptoms, we do not assume we are broken if we get sick.  We do not jump to the conclusion that we are faulty or have done something wrong.  We do not necessarily think it is ‘weird’ to catch a cold or have a fear about talking about it.

With our mental health, we can do the same.  If we notice our thinking has become negative, or we are feeling down, we can begin to notice symptoms and take appropriate care.

It may feel hard to explain negative thoughts.  It may feel hard to describe negative feelings.  This is sometimes where we get caught and stuck in our heads not knowing what to say or how to say it.  Where it can feel straightforward to say you have had a flu for a few days, it can feel a little trickier to say you have being feeling insecure or down.  These caught up feelings and thoughts can begin to build up inside and then impact your work, your interactions with others and your activities or sports.

For years I felt the burden of locking my thoughts and feelings up inside. I held for a long time a deep shame that what I felt was weird or wrong and not at all the same as others. 

I grew up in with emotionally unpredictable and unstable dynamics, with fear and shame at the forefront of my everyday experience.  I became a master of the arts at hiding information from friends.  I learned how to tell white lies to make my life seem a little more ‘normal’ or appear better.  I did this for so long and so often, that at a certain point I didn’t even know how to be honest with myself anymore.

All of my buried feelings, all of my ‘real’ thoughts and experiences bubbled inside.  Unexpressed, they often turned to anger and I would lash out, causing hurt to myself and others.

What was wrong with me was not that I was ‘weird’ or that I had ‘a problem’ in feeling bad.  It was that I didn’t know how to express myself, I didn’t feel safe in expressing myself.  I didn’t know how to start those conversations, I didn’t know if I was allowed or if I would be accepted afterwards.  I didn’t know who to talk to, who would understand and I so much just wanted to feel ‘normal’.

What I didn’t know when I was younger was that I was normal.  The thoughts and feelings I was experiencing as a result of turmoil or negative relationship dynamics were absolutely normal and justified.

We all have thoughts and feelings.  We need to become aware of them.  We need to come to a place of understanding them and we need to learn how to navigate them and make healthy choices for ourselves around them.

We can learn to see our reactions and our habitual thinking patterns and begin to unravel out of what is unhelpful.  We can learn to sit with ourselves with out distracting or entertaining.  We can learn to talk or write to express ourselves. 

I have felt the clouds of internalising, feeling alone and stuck and I know how destructive and heavy that can all become.

Mental Health is the full picture.  Thinking or feeling negatively is part of that picture.  It is not part of us that will be eradicated forever or gotten rid of, but rather a part of our normal human existence that we can learn to live optimally with.

There is a lot of pressure in our current modes of living to overcome, to rise up, to be the best and maybe even be perfect.  We have to include in our perspectives of ourselves and others that whole and healthy means ups and downs.  It means achievements and failures.  It means maybe some boring and non eventful days even negative or down days.

There is nothing wrong with you or weird about you if you feel down or negative, if you slip up or even if you don’t know how to describe exactly what is going on.  What we need to do first for our Mental Health is include all of how we think and feel in the picture of ourselves, without any hiding or burying.

For those times when you want to Kick Yourself....

What happens in those times when you mess up, get it wrong, repeat the same old mistakes?

Have you ever felt regretful, unproud of your thoughts or actions?  I know I have! 

There are times when it can feel like no matter how much I learn and read, progress and develop that I'll repeat some old habit, some old thinking pattern and feel like Im never going to learn.

Thinking and related behaviours become habitual and like with any habit we want to change...it is hard!  We become addicted even though you might be unaware of it or not fully conscious of it. 

When we do become aware, we can vow to change our ways and adopt new habits and patterns.  All goes well and then Bam! We fall off the wagon and we feel like we've lost the fight.

I had an occasion recently where I just felt utterly hopeless at my improvement.  It was a day where it felt like I'm always going to resort back to a certain way of thinking and behaving because of my habits, how I grew up, the conditionings that I have taken on....but where would that leave me?  If I give in to my shame or guilt, or internal beating myself up, I certainly do not feel good about myself and no one else will benefit either.

So we notice, we observe, we take a step back and even smile- a bump in the road, a little receding in your progress and efforts, it is all ok.  How long would you say physically it has taken you to learn a specific new skill?  How often would you say you might fall out or stumble in a Yoga pose, or have to start walking on a run, take a break or turn back on a long hike?  We don't need to kick ourselves or beat ourselves up for these occurrences, we simply say, thats ok, I'll try again.  So it is the same with our mindset, our thinking and our behaviours.  We strive to be the best versions of ourselves, the versions we desire and feel true connection to and when we hit set backs and our own human foibles, we begin again.

'On this path, effort never goes to waste, and there is no failure.' Bhagavad Gita

Meditation with Elements Yoga

Meditation

Take a comfortable seat with an upright spine.  Sit on a cushion or against a wall if you need.  Set your timer for 4 minutes.

Soften your shoulders, your jaw and your breath.  Feel your spine lengthen and your sit bones ground down.

Bring your eyes softly closed.

Become aware of your breath, your inhale and your exhale. When you notice your mind wander or you begin to follow thoughts, bring your awareness back to your breath.

Begin to visualise a time where you have felt frustrated at yourself.  Notice your feelings and thoughts as a witness without judgement.  

Begin to visualise a warm light surrounding you and comforting you and we each breath you feel this warmth.

Bring your awareness then back to your great and repeat to yourself, 'I do the best that I can in any given moment.'

Once you hear your timer sound bring your awareness back to your body, notice your sit bones grounded and your spine lengthened and you can open your eyes.

Reflections

Following your meditation, journal about your visualisation, thoughts and feelings you observed.

Read back over your writing.

If you were listening to a friend tell you what you have wrote, what would you say to them to comfort them?  

How would you reassure and give them support?

Write down your thoughts and read them a loud to yourself.

Create a mantra for yourself for the next time you feel frustrated at yourself, the next time you feel disappointed or hopeless....have this mantra written somewhere you can see and remind yourself of it often and when you need.

 

 

Pursuits and Perspective

If you are involved in any sports or activities and particularly if you have been for a number of years, you’ll be aware that you can go through phases.  Phases of high intensity, high motivation, high performance and similarly low motivation, low intensity and low performance.

What is significant here is that these changes are a natural ebb and flow.  Changes in circumstances, life duties, family, friends, work and finances can all influence your participation.

Acknowledging this you can begin to recognise that sports or your activities are a big part of your life, a big part that can have a huge influence on you, create opportunities, offer success and become a part of how you see and identify yourself in the world.

But…they are not your whole life.  yes, you cannot imagine life without them or you feel low when deprived of them but they are one segment of your whole life.

This is not in any way meant negatively or to diminish the importance of your chosen pursuits, in fact quite the opposite.

If you took a few moments to establish and connect with your priorities in life, how many would you list?  As we grow older and life events open our eyes, we get afforded opportunities to establish what is important to us.  It may be your lifestyle or your family, your partner or your friends.  It may be your career or your service to others.  It may be to be healthy, o be injury free and to be able to enjoy life.  Whatever is on your list can help you connect to the any things that make up your happiness, give you a senseof grounding in yourself and life.

Your Psychological Needs

In our lives we have to address our psychological needs as well as everything else.  In our pursuits this concept is as valid.  Addressing just physical needs for example may leave you feeling out of sorts and not fully content.

The psychologist Glasser stated that we have 4 Basic Psychological needs, Love and to be loved, Power, Freedom and Fun.  When these needs are met, we can enjoy a sense of stability and psychological well being.  If some of these needs are not met or are lacking, there can be a sense of being out of sync, feeling disconnected.  Our psychological needs are no different to our other needs-Its like if you had not had a good meal in a few days , you may feel slightly lacking in nourishment, a part of you would be craving and signalling to you to source a healthy meal.

Obviously at certain points in your life sacrifices will need to be made and some areas may not get addressed as well as others but in the overall ‘big picture’ it would be important that you feel you cater for everything well.  

Can you see how your pursuits serve these psychological needs or how you can address them in other aspects of your life around your pursuits?  This perspective can remind you of your original motivations in your pursuits, you original intentions and help you to make better serving choices and decisions.

Clarity

Having this clarity, this sense of knowing why you are involved in your pursuits can help feed back into your efforts.  It can help you see past specific set backs, obstacles, losses or failures to remind you of that ‘big picture’ concept.

To do specific sports or activities for a lifetime there must be an acknowledgement of the internal rewards you receive, the aspects of growth you feel, the positive effect on your psychological well being, your view of yourself, confidence etcWhen you can see all of this, no matter what the results are on paper, your endeavours are worthwhile and integral part of you.  If you are solely chasing numbers, it can be fun, but it can be short lived an unsustainable.

Standing back from the details of winning or succeeding helps you to see why you might continue something indefinitely and how that can be possible and with that sense of ease you will actually have more energy and enthusiasm without pressure and you'll find your performance improves.

'I've yet to see a guy lose his card/status or form from under practice.  they all lose it from over practice, making golf the most important thing in their lives, losing perspective....the simplicity and joy from the game is lost and its a straight downhill from there.'- Paul McGinley

Heart and Mind

Our pursuits, sports or activities can be passionate fuelled endeavours.  By their nature they pull on our heat strings and this can be a great thing.  We love our chosen activities.

There is an importance in being smart, in not getting ruled by our hearts.  We may love chocolate or cake but eat it all day everyday and we can feel sick!

Recognising the value of your mindset can help you make smarter choices for training, it can help you assess, evaluate and plan more clearly.  It can also help you to walk away or re focus when needs be.  Listening to your heart is important for sure, and it brings us great joy in life, its just a matter of not being ruled by the heart to the detriment of everything else.

Remember to play

At the end of the day, we need to play and have fun in our lives.  We need to feel power which can come through succeeding and achievements and we need to feel a sense of belonging which can come from our teams or communities.  When we address all these needs we will feel at most ourselves, settled and content.  

When you find the ego gnawing away at you with negative feedback, when you feel pressurised to perform despite your better judgement.  When you feel at unease with yourself or situations it is time to reassess, to remind yourself of what is important.  

When you are most grounded in yourself and your choices, your pursuits and your whole life will flow with greater ease and success.

Anger is ok.....

This week we are looking at Anger.  Even the word probably summons up an initial feeling of resistance and fear.  Anger can often be seen as bad and unproductive but if you listen and pay attention to anger it can often lead you to where you want to go and stay aligned to the person you want to be.

However we need to look at anger differently.  We need to stop resisting anger as something that needs to be driven away or diminished and embrace it as something we will always have to live with and consider the positive and productive outcomes to anger.

Anger can be felt through wanting change, wanting justice/fairness/equality.  The need to felt heard or validated can cause anger and anger can be felt from a desire to be independent, to feel strong or to feel like your individuality matters.  These ideals in and of themselves are warranted and needed in the world and for you and others.  I'm pretty sure we have all felt all or some version of the above list in circumstances in our lives.

What we need to do with these inner ideals and basic values is to recognise the egotistical tendency to get consumed by the need to be right, the need for external control or power, the need for external validation or recognition.

You may not believe it about a super calm Yogi! But I have had my fair share of interactions, debates, and clashes with my own inner anger for my whole life.  In my childhood and teens this anger was highly expressive and as I got older the anger remained as I learned to function a little more effectively in the world.  As an adult I became aware that expressing anger was not always useful or beneficial but it didn't get rid of the anger I had inside.  So what have I learned to do?

The original causes or thoughts that lead to your anger need to be addressed.  Your anger needs to be listened to.  Why is it there?

When you feel anger, it is important to know why is it there so you can address that issue.  In the heat of anger you do not necessarily have the best judgement for long term outcomes so it is better for you to return to a sense of calm before decision making or plans of action.  In the short term, getting out of situations, getting fresh air, cooling down is important.  In the long term meditation can be a hugely powerful tool.  Being able to sit and notice that thoughts are just thoughts, being able to remain anchored and steady in the rhythm of your breath, finding yourself in the present and immediate moment and recognising that you are ok.  Being able to establish a sense of self and appreciation for yourself from within.

With anger it is your job as an adult to become more finely tuned and refined about your relationship with it and the effect it has on you.  Anger is not something to get rid of, it is not bad.  What anger can do is take over and lead a domino effect of destructive and harmful thoughts and spiral out of control.  For your own mental health, take time to become more aware of anger, when it sparks, what thoughts it leads to, what effects it has on you and others.  Start to ask yourself how anger can benefit you more and help you manage and deal with situations in a better way.

Meditation

Find your seated position.  This week your Meditation duration will be 15 minutes.  Set your timer and attempt at least 3 seated meditations this week.

As you begin, make sure your body is comfortable, notice any sensations, any tension or discomfort and adjust or often accordingly.

let your awareness come to your inhale and exhale and it remains here for the time.  As you notice thoughts, that you have been thinking or your mind has wandered, bring your awareness back to your breathing.  You may have to do this once or 1000 times, it is all ok.

Reflective Journalling

Write down 3 occasions, situations or interactions with people where you felt angry.

Why did you feel angry?

What happened when you felt angry or how did you express it?

What feelings or emotions did you feel afterwards?

Acknowledging the reasons for your anger, can you write 3 positive words to describe your anger.

Can you write 3 perspective on the situations or issues above besides your own?

Can you think of ways you would like to now move forward and deal with the above or similar issues in ways that benefit you, that you feel calm and collected about and where there are positive outcomes.

Why stick with or choose Yoga in the first place!

Every so often the thought strikes me as I dedicate hours upon hours to Yoga, should I be doing something else?  Should I listen to those who say this new exercise or training method is better or amazing or the next big thing!  Overtime I hear myself asking these questions, I take a moment to pause and connect to what it is I truly want from myself and life, it doesn't usually take very long before I remember what it is Yoga gives me and helps me achieve.  

A dilemma but not really!

There are so many fitness regimes, recommendations, activities and groups to be part of at the moment.  As adults this is great because we have so many avenues to find fun, to move, to be part of a community and to keep ourselves fit and healthy.  With this broad range of choice, why would one choose Yoga and what does Yoga have to offer amongst everything else?

Too much choice!

With so much information being given to us and all these options it can feel really hard to choose or to commit but as one of my teachers once said, ‘At some point to cross the water you are going to have to choose one boat to sit in’.  Of course it is great to sample lots of things but really and truly to learn about yourself, to really test yourself, to challenge your tendency to resist the uncomfortable, you have to commit to that journey, you have to choose a boat!  

Trust those who have gone before you

Yoga is an ancient practice, that does not mean its methods are outdated or they don't have anything to offer us anymore.  Yogis spent their whole lives testing and re testing theories, practices and holistic approaches to health, that time and the results they produced deserves respect and trust.  They toiled unwaivered in a mission to help individuals live a life of wellness and connection between mind, body and spirit.  

In modern times we also benefit from amazing teachers now who have created huge amounts of research to the anatomical validity of the postures and movements, the ways in which to create better alignment, improve flexibility and strength etc and science has researched the validity and benefits of meditation and mindfulness.

The work that teachers and researchers can put in now is largely supported by those that went before and all those historical texts and practices.

It is great to hear and study new ways to look at things, new approaches, new methods and as a teacher or a participant, it is always nice to freshen things up and re inspire your journey but again we want to make sure that in this search for ‘new’ or in this desire for the next thing that we don't lose sight of the principles or the foundations, the connection to the fundamentals and ourselves.

You know Best!

Ultimately you know best.  With all the information overload and distraction it can be easy to lose the connection to yourself and your own inner knowing and wisdom.  

We can hop from one teacher to the next and one method to the next and it can feel so easy to say as soon as things don't seem to go our way, or we have a bad day or we dislike what one coach or teacher had to say to pack that option in and hop to the next.  We can google any teacher/coach/information from around the world and pick and choose as it suits us which we prefer. 

In all this hopping and changing, its like watching 4 movies at once and flicking between them all over an hour, you never really get to grips with the story or characters in any of them! So like that if you are continually changing, one you are sort of staying in this nice comfortable zone where you never really have to test yourself and two you need really get to know yourself past this nice comfortable zone.  You never really get the chance to address your own weaknesses, fears, doubts, you never spend time really sitting with them, acknowledging them and learning how to move forward addressing them.  Until you can see all sides of yourself, you will never really know yourself and how you can progress and truly learn.

‘The world is your best teacher. There is a lesson in everything. There is a lesson in each experience. Learn it and become wise. Every failure is a stepping stone to success. Every difficulty or disappointment is a trial of your faith. Every unpleasant incident or temptation is a test of your inner strength. March forward hero!’ Swami Sivanada Saraswati

Yoga

Of course there will be different teachers who help create the right experience or style for you but what Yoga can offer is this real sense of connection to yourself.  You roll out your mat, you might meditate, you might move slowly and gently or with flow and strength.  You connect to your breath, you move in sync with a connection to something more than thoughts or distractions.  You free your body and mind from tension and for moments you feel completely present and immersed.

Forgetting all the latest trends and fads and images online, forgetting all the hype of whats ‘in’ right now the proof is in your own experience.  Commit yourself, really test yourself before you write off a theory or practice- feel what happens for you.

Continue, and continue, practice and practice. The journey will never end and you will allow yourself to move with ease, with stability from tight spots, to vast expanses of freedom, openness and possibilities.

And yes it doesn't have to be Yoga!

But with any question of Why there is always the Why not?!

Of course the boat you pick doesn't have to be boring or uninteresting to you, you can chose a boat filled with people or not, filled with fun and adventure.  But don't choose the cruise ship with all your meals served and your every desire catered for, you just have to sit back and enjoy the ride!  Choose a boat that might take a little bit of work, that makes you stand up and get involved, that is going to be an epic adventure!  

Let there be twists and turns and diversions from the plan.  

Let it all interest you, let the learning and the journey be your purpose and your goal.  Forget about this achievement or that or getting there the fastest! At the end of your journey be able to say that you invested all your awareness in each and every moment.  

At the end of the day, achievements and results in and of themselves are irrelevant and almost boring, what matters is how well you know yourself, how well you have truly loved yourself and others.  Yoga for me reminds of this constantly and I certainly am going to stick with it!

 

Relationships and What is happening right now?

When we so often get consumed in how we feel during particular situations or within our relationships with others, it is easy to lose sight of what is happening right at that particular time. We can become lost in our own perceptions, lost in our own thoughts and ways that we are used to feeling.

It is very easy now to get all sorts of information and advice.  There are endless opportunities for learning.  We receive all sorts of quotes, analogies, life lessons and often short tips on how to make the most of our lives.  What interests and fascinates me is the way in which we take this information in.  I feel that you can take in theory all day everyday, but unless you actually experience it, unless you feel the effects on your life and the lives of those around you, the information is somewhat redundant and inapplicable.

So how do we use it?  How do we apply it?  What we all want to know is how do we really make our lives better, run smoother and share more positive and beneficial relationships with others?....well at least thats what I have felt, maybe you already know the answers and need not read on!

So for this post think of it as a reflection on experiential learning to improve your response to and interaction in relationships and see what is happening right now.

Firstly....You cannot control anybody else EVER! You have no control over how they feel, how they react, how they choose to behave. How they interpret life and choose to be is entirely up to them.

Secondly...You cannot stop bad shit from occurring (excuse my french!) but it just does happen and that is life.  We are all human, we all make mistakes, no matter how much you try to perfect yourself and be the best, there are people in your life that you will meet that you will not click with, you may argue with, not see eye to eye, they may be unfair, you may be unfair.....it all just happens.

So what can you do?

Learn to deal with and learn from all the 'stuff' that has happened

That we have had a difficulty with a particular interaction or we feel betrayed/let down/hurt etc does not mean forever more we must shut ourselves off from these things, or never expecting any better.  What we can do is see these things for what they were and gain an understanding of the reality of what happened outside of just your own perspective.  You may feel unfairly treated by your parents for example, but look at it from the outside without emotion and think where they may have been coming from, or what may have been their reasoning or understanding at the time.  You may be able to look at situations and see how can I learn from this now in a positive way.  Sometimes people say things or act in a certain way, and sometimes it hurts or sticks but how you choose to move on is entirely up to you.

****Think of a time someone said something or behaved in a way that you felt hurt.  Think of 5 things that may have been going on for them at the time.  You may start to understand the situation and the other person a little differently.  we may not condone their actions but understanding them means less internalisation for you.

Start letting go of habitual patterns and reactions

Once we begin to understand others a bit better from the points above...you can then understand hat because one person may have acted a certain way, this does not now mean that everyone you interact with has the same agenda.  Within all your relationships the main common factor is you, so if you see patterns repeat themselves, most likely it is your response or interpretation that is the common denominator.

Question the reality of the situation you are in

Once you can understand how you tend to feel, or tend to react or respond, ask yourself then, what is actually happening right now?  If you can't see things from the other persons point of view, ask them.  Communicate.  Figure out what feelings you have because of this particular situation, and is it because of how you tend to feel or is it because of what is actually happening right now?

Reflecting on all the points I have written above, the most amazing part is the idea that you can start this all by yourself..what do I mean?  I mean that you can start looking at the relationship you have with yourself.  

Maybe take your body for example,

- you cannot control it, (e.g. we can work with our bodies/move etc but we cannot control ageing for example or genetics)

- bad shit will happen, (e.g. at some time or another you may get injured or feel set backs)

- you can learn from stuff that has happened in your body,

- you can start letting go of habitual patterns, ways that you see your body, ways that you feel about it, what you believe is impossible or unattainable or that you are not able to do.

- you can look at the reality of the situation that you are in, ask yourself what it is you want to do or achieve and then without emotion or attachment to the outcome, take the steps towards your goals.

Revelation!!!!  How we are with ourselves is how we can be with all our other relationships.  We can begin with ourselves, in our bodies and take all those lessons and moments of clarity out into the world.......Super!  This is what Yoga can do for us, or sports, or exercise, or movement in general.  Taking time to cultivate more positive interactions and grounds for growth and awareness.

We all have stories, we all tell them way too much!  We all began our stories in different ways, and our beginnings may have caused confusion or doubt or fears....but as you grow up, what you do with these stories is as I have said entirely up to you.  You can let go of and hold onto whatever it is you choose.  Growing up is as a result of becoming who you are now and taking what is now, rather than hanging on to what once was.

Start bringing awareness to the stories that you tell, the dramas that you get caught up in, the thoughts that meander, begin to see what is simply not useful to you anymore and not helping you in a positive way.

Then.....when we can let go of all the unhelpful stuff and embrace more of the positive, we may begin to see more positive in ourselves and others that we never saw before.....Happy days!

 

Personal Servicing

I had this thought at the weekend.  This concept of consistency and personal servicing.  I feel like we tend to drift so quickly now to the next new thing, or somehow we think there is always a new better way to make ourselves feel new and better.  Its this idea of needing to add something to ourselves, having to gain something else to make ourselves the best possible version.

But what if we start with a right now kind of view?  What if we begin to see all the things we can do on a regular basis?

So when we have a car we are familiar with the idea of getting our car serviced, general upkeep and maintenance etc.  If we don't, things start to go wrong or the car does not work as efficiently or it generally begins to get worn down.  So can we do the same for ourselves?  Can you see your physical training/exercise/activities as something that need to be done on a regular basis and consistently?  How about your thoughts and your mindset-Can you clean out old thoughts and habits and 'refresh' on a regular basis?  If you have your body and mind everyday, how do you want it to feel and operate everyday?

Most of us can get our heads around the idea that the food we consume everyday will affect how we feel, our functioning etc.  Similarly with our physical endeavours.  More than the specifics, I have come to the belief that its the consistency that makes the difference.  How often are you eating well, how often are you active/training and in the right manner...this is what adds up to healthy progressions.  

So as with our diet and our activities, can you see how you think everyday will affect how you feel and approach things?  Are there ways in which you can think more positively about yourself and your abilities?  Are there negative perceptions or outlooks that do not necessarily benefit you anymore?  Can you regularly check in and question what thoughts are there and in that way perform your own mindset service checks and ensure optimal performance and living.

You do not always need something new or different, continually checking in with yourself and being more of yourself is just what you and everyone else needs.

Training your Mindset

I have written about the importance of mental mindset before and having recently read The Training Think Tanks's post on one of his clients which also reflected some of my own thoughts, I was inspired to put this post together.

You may have heard of the term 'Mental Strength' before but it is something I see missing in people's training regimes or approach to life, and I think it is often over looked, under valued or mis understood.

In your everyday life there are most definitely things you can do to enhance your mental strength and develop skills for dealing with ups and downs of life, of training, of performance etc.

To clarify in terms of this post, I will provide my own experiential definition of mental strength,

'An ability to think, feel and act in unison and an ability to maintain a clear perspective of reality and to remain true to your values/beliefs in the face of adversity or doubt whether from yourself or others.'

So to me I feel that mental strength is the ability to observe your thoughts and cultivate thoughts that are in line with how you feel and how you act and that these thoughts, feelings and actions match your true values and beliefs. In short-keeping it together!

That even when faced with obstacles from yourself or others you can keep the ability to do what you believe in or act in the way you value.

That an individual can remain clear on the present situation or the steps needed to be taken for progression without getting lost in hypothetical or drama.

Think about performance or training and how you approach these, can you look at your thoughts or reflect how you were thinking during a given session, did you think and act how you would have liked? If there were distractions such as a crowd watching, a bad day at work, or your training partner is late or you don't feel physically on form, did you respond appropriately to aid a positive experience and effective learning?

To further understand my definition a little more I will draw on a little yogic philosophy which shows that states of mind that put us at 'un ease' are those such as doubt, fear, anger, greed, bitterness, jealousy etc. So it can therefore be understood that we cannot stop ourselves from feeling or being in these states but what we can do is observe their occurrence and when noticed encourage a response that effects us moving forward in a positive, beneficial and helpful manner.

To apply this to your life or your sports or training, consider the following;

1. Can you notice if your thoughts or feelings that you have at a given time are creating a sense of 'un ease'?

2. Can you observe that sense of 'un ease' and then without putting any more thought of distractions, get to the root of why you feel that way.

3. Can you now acknowledge your feelings and accept them and without ignoring them or running away from them understand that it is completely human to feel different ways and then allow yourself to move on?

4. Can you keep your focus then on what it is you wish to do, how you wish to act?

Taking the above steps, for example in a training/performance context, as you begin, are you aware of how you are feeling? Are you aware of what thoughts are present? Are those feelings and thoughts creating a sense of 'un ease'? For instance are you nervous/anxious/ stressed? Are you thinking that you cannot achieve what you are about to do? Is there doubt? Are you distracted by others or your surrounding environment? When noticed we can see that perhaps these feelings, thoughts do not help us in a positive way.

Once noticed you could assess why you feel that way, 'ok I feel afraid because im trying a new skill or I feel doubtful because I'm not confident in my ability today or are you distracted by your friend who looks stronger etc

So here is where a lot of people hit the stumbling blocks, on noticing our thoughts or feelings of 'un ease' we create more un ease maybe because we are ashamed of thinking that way or embarrassed, or annoyed at ourselves for being that way. All that does then in the situation is create more anguish, perhaps anger or frustration. Another reaction here is to ignore those uncomfortable thoughts and feelings and not address them, but this is like avoiding that area under the couch every time you sweep and one fine day you find a big mess!

What will help you is in step 3, acknowledge the fear, the nerves, the doubt, whatever it may be for you and realise that is completely normal and in doing that allow yourself to now choose to adopt more productive, positive ways to think in the situation and move on to step 4. So for example a climber may have now noticed 'ok I am a little nervous and hesitant but that's ok, I've tried this problem before or I know my friends will spot me, or I'm confident I won't fall this time'.

Whatever solutions you create to the original feelings or thoughts holding you back is the key to your progression going forwards. Realising that it is ok to feel frustrated or doubtful or fearful but in that realisation not allowing them to consume you or your potential for learning and being involved in the situation.

In the realm of mental strength, this is where the gold is, how you can effectively listen to, move on from and learn to deal with unhelpful thought processes and barriers.

Think of how you have felt or thought about your body image for example, or your ranking in relation to your peers, often if negative thoughts around these issues go un noticed over periods of time or become more consuming they can play an adverse effect on your progress and experience and ultimately hold you back.

This is what is most amazing, we can choose how to think, we can choose how to respond to situations, we can choose how to deal with challenges.

A lot of emphasis is placed on our physical strengths, our physical training and approaches and I know a lot of people who talk about these topics and share knowledge, but how often do we address our mind set during a training session or during a performance? How often do you take time to notice what thoughts or mindsets you often have and maybe ones that could help you achieve your goals quicker or in a less stressful manner?

It is not about right and wrong, it is not about changing who you are, but about allowing you to enjoy yourself more and adopting attitudes and thoughts that will make things easier for you. 

Which way??? Our need for certainty....

Over the past number of weeks I have been learning a lot and taking in a lot from various different sources, from books, to workshops, to online reading and podcasts.  There is so much to learn!

One concept that seems to be coming up again and again for me is the concept of certainty and why we crave it.

I will not attempt to propose an answer as to why individuals seek certainty, but one thing I do know is that in many cases this certainty is an illusion and this certainty does not exist.

It is in almost all facets of our lives, perhaps in an effort to feel more continuity, more security, more understanding of ourselves and our environments.  We tend to navigate through our daily lives filtering and sifting through all the knowledge that is presented to us.  

In his book, 'Thinking fast and slow', Daniel Kaheman suggests that the mind has no capacity for processing the sheer uncertainty inherent in life.  Instead we cope by providing convenient explanations of past events, in which the cause neatly leads to the effect.  He calls this the 'availability heuristic'.  Often the world around us is not easily made sense of so we create a number of biases in our thinking. Sometimes some effects have no apparent cause and this leads us to telling ourselves some creatively crafted 'truths'.  Another shortcoming in our thinking is what Kaheman refers to as 'cognitive ease'.  We tend to choose explanations that come easily to our minds even when those explanations may differ from actual reality.

So where there is no apparent cause we create one to which we can understand and if we cannot understand an apparent cause we choose our own explanations that make sense to us.

Take for example the vast wonder of mechanisms, structures and systems that are operating and involved in our own bodies daily functioning.  Can anyone claim to even begin to understand everything in the body, its relationship to everything else and how everything works optimally- I would go so far as to say No!  There is so much information there, that no one person holds all the answers to every anatomical, biomechanical and health related query existing today.

What we need to be aware of here is those that claim they do!

'The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge.'- Stephen Hawking

In the 'Fitness' world, these same cravings for certainty occur.  What will make me lose weight?  How will I get fitter, stronger, faster etc? What is the best form of Yoga?  Is Pilates better at strengthening my core?

I hear these questions being raised all the time, and yes there are answers to those questions, and yes there is research carried out that can substantially back up the answers which are given, but.....there is also a huge amount of variables, every individual will differ.  Adaptations to programming will differ from person to person, physical and psychological approaches will differ from person to person.  We are all different and it is all random...How well you can cope with one strategy is based on a system of trial and error.  

Research and findings can be best used to create methods following best practices to date and following specific principles.

“As to methods there may be a million and then some, but principles are few. The man who grasps principles can successfully select his own methods. The man who tries methods, ignoring principles, is sure to have trouble.”- Ralph Emerson

In movement for example there are a number of widely acknowledged principles that govern human movement.  Dr. Even Osar states that if we follow these principles, if we ask questions with them in mind, we can begin to practice what is ideal and optimal in motion.

In we focus on principles and keep them in mind, the method we choose to learn them, the method through which we move our bodies, the method through which we gain a greater understanding does not really matter.  The method is completely unique to you, your personality, your lifestyle, your passions and what inspires you.

So what does all this mean to you?

You may feel stressed, or have an injury, or have pain in your body, or have many questions as to how you can become a better athlete.  The first thing to acknowledge is there is no magic pill for everyone.  

The latest fad is the latest fad because we want to believe it.  We want to believe it so much that we pay for it, we convince our friends, we preach to convert the masses.

We all want to know what works and there is no harm in that, it creates a life long journey of learning, of exploring and experiencing.  What is important to remember is the presence of constant change, of constant variables and constant surprises!

In my own body and my own life, I am always learning.  Last year my body experienced its first injury that Ive ever had (lucky me!) and I have been on a journey of questioning, learning, rehab, movement and fascination ever since.  I definitely started out wanting to know specifics and definitive answers and experienced at times frustration when they did not really exist.  I have learnt for sure that all I can do is continue with designed programmes, continue with rehab and combine that with all my knowledge of movement to continue to create awareness and alleviate any reoccurrence or further issues. 

In your life, the relationship you have with your body is life long, the questions you have will change, the experience you wish to have will also change.  What works at one time will not be a given forever.  What is important is that you cultivate a positive relationship, that you experience your body in enjoyable, nurturing and sustainable ways.  How you choose to do that is always entirely up to you.  

If we can acknowledge the randomness, if we can free ourselves from the constant quest for what is right or wrong or what creates success or failure and concentrate soley on the process of feeling, of experiencing, of observing, of listening to our own breath, we can free ourselves from the trap of self expectation, of results chasing and become more present.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It's time to take off your Yoga tinted glasses!

Over the last week or so, I have read a number of articles and spoken to a number of people on some different issues being brought up with regards to Yoga, the practice, the teaching, the 'industry' and in general our understanding of what it means to a person.

In all my reading and discussions, this is where I have to say before you formulate an ideal in your mind, before you find your definitive answers, try removing those Yoga tinted glasses.  Think outside the Yoga mat as such!

This is where I feel lucky to have a come through a range of learning paradigms physically and mentally, that I participate not only in a physical yoga practice daily but that I enjoy climbing, running, and in general moving.

The issues I notice being brought up online and in discussions are usually regarding best practice, safety for individuals bodies, alignment etc.  What needs to be understood here though is these discussions will continue to happen and they happen across the board in the 'fitness' industry and in any teaching/coaching profession as far as I can see.

I came across this one blog post last week 'Am I the problem with Crossfit?' , the author explores the idea that instead of finding fault with Crossfit practices or coaches or specific gyms or online promotion, question yourself and your approaches, question how you move, are you listening to advice, are you moving safely and without pain?

I loved this blog, I feel it accurately describes what a lot of us need to do in everything, and that is to take responsibility.  It also shows that a lot of us who question the specific activities that we are involved in can look to other activities and see that these questions are being raised in a range of different areas and between different communities.

Asking questions is a great way to learn, but can you reach an understanding of yourself without contradicting the viewpoint of someone else?  Can you establish how you learn, how you navigate through the movements in your body to find progression without feeling negative about someone else's practices or methods?  Can you see that how you move and learn is amazing and how they move and learn is amazing for them?  Can you learn to be so open that you can share your viewpoint and also listen to others?

Then......can you then let go of all the opinions and viewpoints and have a little fun and feel how moving is about connecting not disconnecting.  When we have so many thoughts swimming around we cannot just feel and be in the moment.  

An opinion is just an opinion it is not who you are and as your opinions will change over time as you learn try not to get attached to too many of them.

Yoga is great but it is one avenue, not the only avenue...if you feel stuck or feel you are not learning anymore, try another movement, try strengthening activities, try mobility, go dancing, get outside for a run!  With so many ways to enjoy your body and learn, all avenues can only help in bringing us closer to understanding of ourselves.  

There is no right or wrong, there is only learning, so with less thought and more action, respect the avenues and each other and forget about the rules and the definitions.