om gam yoga

Melbourne yoga instruction by Sophie Langley

Category: writing

The Fortnight of Full

Yesterday afternoon, I found myself slumped in my chair at my office job, heavy limbed, unable to concentrate on the sentence I was trying to construct on the screen in front of me. I desperately wanted to crawl under my desk and go to sleep. Instead took myself to the bathroom, locked myself in a cubicle, and sat on the closed toilet, folded over my legs for five minutes. I let my breath slow down. Let my exhales become longer than my inhales. Kept my focus firmly on the cracks between the grey floor tiles so I wouldn’t drift off. I could feel my slow pulse in my arms and legs, that feeling like the very beginning of pins and needles.

When I made my way back to my desk, I wasn’t really any less tired, but I had realised I couldn’t ignore the fatigue anymore.

This last fortnight (and a half, really, since today is Thursday) has been full. I use the word ‘full’ instead of ‘busy’ quite consciously, and not just because this article from last year about the ridiculousness of ‘busyness’ still plays on my mind. I use the word ‘full’ because the last few weeks have involved so many things that require some level of mental or emotional processing from me, and not very much time to attempt that processing.

I can hardly complain, because most of what I’ve been doing, seeing, saying, hearing has been hugely positive and I’m incredibly grateful for all of it. But it’s possible to be overwhelmed by great stuff too, isn’t it?

I think often of this blog post by yoga teacher and writer Bernadette Birney, where she talks about the balance between work and rest (although she refers to work instead as ‘play’, which I love — especially now that much of my work is stuff I really love doing). The basic premise of her argument in the post is that there’s a limit to how much each of us can do, to how long we can be continuously active, and beyond that point we just feel overwhelmed. And really need to rest.

Some of the wonderful things I was involved in over the last fortnight included running a Yoga and Writing workshop at the Emerging Writers’ Festival this last weekend, and sitting on a panel for a discussion called ‘Keeping Active in the Arts’. So it’s probably not surprising that I’m more conscious of the interplay between activity and rest just at the moment, given that both those events touched on these ideas.

For me, that relationship between activity and rest, and how I attempt to know when to move between the two, essentially comes down to energy. I mean that in the least hippy-dippy way possible — I’m really talking about levels of fatigue. I took a yoga class (as a student) late last week that had been designed to support a flagging immune system, or for periods of heightened stress, and the teacher talked about learning to notice the difference between stress that gives you the strength and vitality to get things done, and stress that is masking deep fatigue.

Thinking here of a ‘stressor’ as anything that makes demands of the body and/or the mind, it shouldn’t really surprise me that today I’m feeling deeply fatigued. Overwhelmed. This last fortnight or so has stretched me in a few different ways and forced me to consider a number of different aspects of my life from a new perspective. And maaaan, as amazing and helpful as it is, that stuff takes up valuable energy.

One of the outcomes of not having a thyroid and instead taking a dose of thyroid hormones each day, is that I’ve only got so much energy each day. (The thyroid hormones are rather directly linked to the body’s energy levels — they control the metabolism, that is, the release of oxygen in the body, or the way the body distributes energy.) Grave’s Disease, which is an autoimmune disease, is the cause of my thyroid issues, and I gather that most people with autoimmune diseases deal with this battle with energy as well. I can’t really hope to outdo this wonderful explanation about the kind of decisions people with chronic illness need to make about what to do with whatever energy they have each day, but suffice to say that the notion of having to ration it out really rings true for me.

Rest is something I’ve been historically and consistently bad at (which ultimately could have contributed to my getting the Grave’s in the first place, but then Grave’s also causes a big spike in thyroid hormone levels and metabolism, so it’s a chicken-or-the-egg argument, really). For instance, I walked the hour home from work yesterday, instead of catching the tram, despite the irrefutable evidence of exhaustion from earlier in the afternoon. I’m an active person. I like to move. Moving is how I deal with the normal mental angst of being human. Plus, I have so many things I want to do! All of them right now! So rest is something I’ve really had to work hard at learning how to do, because when I don’t, I end up collapsing in a heap anyway. Which is rarely fun.

Strangely though, the collapse can be useful too. I’ve given a lot of thought these last few years to what it is that different emotional states can give us. For me, an exhaustion collapse usually involves anger or tears or immense anxiety (told you it wasn’t much fun), as well as the physical tiredness. Because I’m not very good at letting myself rest, sometimes this is what it takes for me to realise I’ve reached breaking point and that maybe I should just lie in bed and read rather than replant the garden and make a loaf of bread and ten litres of lemon marmalade and write those three essays and do all those hours of yoga I’ve been thinking about for the last month. Sometimes those emotions are what make me realise that something else is wrong, or that something bigger than just my activity level needs to change. At times, my periods of great activity are not imposed by anyone other than myself; they’re a way of distracting myself from something that’s troubling me. It’s definitely unpleasant, but I certainly get the message when one of the collapses occurs: look here, stop running away.

Other times, the busyness is really just accidental, or at worst, a case of poor time management. But even then, being overstretched usually highlights something I’ve been pushing away instead of facing, even if avoiding that thing is not what’s caused the busyness in the first place. What makes me really grumpy/sad/fuming when I’m exhausted often surprises me. If I manage to stay observant during an inner (usually) tantrum about the washing up, there’s frequently something other than sheepishness I can take away from it.

Tea and pyjamas

That said, I definitely do not consciously seek out these collapses. Trying to avoid them, useful though they may sometimes be, is what’s helped me begin to learn how to rest.

So this time I’m going to listen to that feeling of being overwhelmed, to that tingling tiredness in my limbs, and I am going to rest these next few days. I am going to be quiet and spend a lot of time in my pjyamas and potter about the garden and reflect on the wonderful fullness of the last fortnight or so, because I’m sure there’s enough I can take from that without the need for a meltdown.

~

This is cross-posted on my writing blog.

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Yoga, writing and keeping active

In a few weeks’ time, I’ll be involved in some sessions at the Emerging Writers’ Festival, which I’m really excited about.

This year, the second weekend of the festival will be held at the beautiful Abbortsford Convent, which is one of my favourite places to wander around on a weekend anyway. That weekend, The Writers’ Retreat, is focused on wellbeing for writers, and the program includes events on parenting and writing, health and writing, balancing writing with life, and nature writing. You can view the full list of events here.

I’ll be involved in two events on the weekend.

Workshop: Yoga and Writing
11am-12.30pm, 1 June 2013
The Salon, Abbortsford Convent
Tickets $15, $12 concession

I’ll be running a workshop on yoga and writing on the Saturday morning. I can’t even begin to articulate how excited I am about running this. For me, yoga is an absolutely vital part of my writing practice. I use it in all sorts of ways, from a remedy for the physical ills that come with sitting hunched over a desk, to supporting and enhancing (I hope) the intellectual and emotional wrangling necessary to get words on a page.

The workshop will be an opportunity for me to share some of the ways that I use a yoga practice to help my writing, but I also want it to be a pretty open format. I’ll be running the class through some of the yoga postures and other practices, but questions and discussion will be most welcome.

I always hope in my yoga teaching to help people develop sovereignty with their own bodies (and minds, for that matter), so that they can begin to use on their own the tools yoga offers for whatever it is that they need. This workshop is no exception. So come along and ask me as many questions as you like!

Seriously. I love it when people ask me questions about yoga.

Symposium: Keeping Active in the Arts
2.30-4pm, 2 June 2013
Rosina Auditorium, Abbortsford Convent
Admission is free

I’ll also be involved in a symposium-style event on the Sunday called ‘Keeping Active in the Arts’. In this session we’ll be talking about the benefits of staying active, and how to actually do that.

Having recently gone back to a job that keeps me at a desk three days a week (as opposed to teaching yoga full-time, like I was in Sydney), I’ve spent a lot of time in the last few weeks mulling over exactly these questions. I’m really looking forward to discussing some of the ideas I’ve had, and getting some new ones from others.

But honestly, the whole weekend sounds like it’s going to be wonderful, so even if you can’t make it to my events, do come along. Here are some pictures I took on a recent visit to Abbortsford Convent — it’s worth coming just hang out in the place.

~

This is cross-posted on my writing blog.

EWF blog post ~ Make it a strong one: coffee and the brain

I’m a bit behind the eight ball with posting this here — my latest post on the Emerging Writers’ Festival blog was published more than a week ago. But here it is!

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I’m afraid I’m going to pick on coffee. I’m sorry. I know, I know, coffee is a writer’s friend. It’s my friend too, often, but I have an ongoing debate with myself about coffee. Most of the time I love it, but often it does strange things to my head, and occasionally I’m repulsed by it. That I could have such complex feelings about a drink fascinates me.

I probably spend far too much time thinking more generally about what I eat and drink. Which I suppose isn’t surprising, given that I currently get paid to write about food a few days a week, and am working on a larger writing project about food and eating. But really I blame my fast metabolism for the amount of time I spend mulling over what I put in my mouth — and indeed it’s probably why I do the work I do. For much of my life, I’ve been the type of person who finishes a big breakfast and is immediately thinking about what I’ll have for morning tea when I’m hungry again in two hours.

~

You can read the rest of the post here.

EWF blog post ~ Move it or lose it: exercise and writing

This week my next Emerging Writers’ Festival CAL Digital Mentorship Program blog post went up. This one’s on the way exercise changes our brains and how that, for me, relates to writing.

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When I was a teenager I loved to run. We lived on the edge of town, not far from where the road turned from bitumen to gravel. Every afternoon I’d head for the gravel, and often I’d close my eyes as I ran, just to listen to the sound of my feet crunching, the sound of my own breath, sometimes the sound of my heartbeat.

I ran for physical fitness, in part. But mainly I ran because it made me feel good mentally, because it calmed my mind.

On days when I was particularly anxious, or even angry, I’d sprint the section between where the bitumen ended and the end of the street. While I caught my breath after those sprints, I’d stretch my legs on top of the white wooden reflector poles, gaze out over the paddocks and feel the tension — the anger, the anxiety — loosen and drop away.

I was one of those angry teens. I was angry for reasons I didn’t understand, prone to outbursts where things were yelled, doors were slammed and where I lashed out at my family. Running calmed me. I didn’t know how it worked, all I knew was that it did. I knew that when I got home I’d be better equipped to do my homework or study, less likely to blow up at the antics of my younger brothers.

My relationship with anger is still one of the strongest driving forces in my life. Anger motivates me to do things, to write things. Expressed in a helpful way, anger can carry passion and fascination, so I don’t think of it as a bad thing. But it can also become a (rather terrifying) hindrance too — it can cloud my judgement, it can leave me full of energy but with no idea where to direct it, rendering it and me effectively useless. None of this is particularly conducive to working or writing or living well.

Anger is why I’ve always been a highly active person; exercise helps me to turn anger into something useful.

Read more here.

EWF blog post ~ Armchair Love: Posture, Thinking and Writing

Late last year, I was excited to become one of three mentees in the Emerging Writers’ Festival Digital Mentorship program. I’ll be writing about a post a month for them for the next six months or so (you can read more about the program, and the other writers on it, here.)

My first post, an argument for armchairs and an exploration of how posture affects thinking, went up yesterday. You can read it here.

Lying on the floor

Walking home from teaching one night, on the phone to my Mum, I rounded a corner to find a woman and her tiny dog, waiting to cross the road.

That dog’s on a long leash, I thought.

“Watch out for my dog, lady.” the woman said.

“It’s okay, I can see him.” I said, probably impatiently.

“Yeah well, how would I know? You’re looking down.” She snapped, and crossed the road.

“Yes,” I said, “Down. To where the dog is.”

And all of a sudden this woman and I were yelling at each other across the street, until she stormed into her apartment building and the door slammed, and I became aware of my Mum, on the phone I still held to my ear, saying “Sophie, who are you talking to?”

As I told her the story, and as is often the case for me, my indignation turned to guilt. “I can’t believe I yelled at her,” I said to Mum.

“Don’t worry,” she said “You’ll never see her again.”

And it’s true. I’ll probably never see that woman with her tiny dog on a stupidly long leash again. But it’s highly unusual for me to yell at strangers in the street. If I am, it’s a pretty good sign that there’s something not so great going on for me. Anger, frustration and grumpiness are usually an indication that I’m feeling overwhelmed by or stressed about life—often I don’t even know why.

I’m pleased that this is something I know about myself. It means I can make some little adjustments to how I organise my days, so I get enough downtime or rest. Because rest is usually the answer to stress. But it’s not always easy. In this recent piece, one of my favourite yoga writers, Yogi J Brown, discusses the ways we should (and usually don’t) deal with stress. Intimacy with ourselves, he says, is the best antidote—that is, spending time with ourselves in a way that allows us to see what’s going on. Noticing the anger or frustration is the first step.

When I was a teenager, I used to spend a lot of time lying on the floor or my bed, just listening to music. One afternoon, my Mum came into my bedroom to find that I’d actually fallen asleep on the floor, my head just centimetres from a speaker that was blaring music. It’s easy to be dismissive, to say that I could afford to do that then because I didn’t have the responsibilities I do now. But that’s a load of crap. Yes, I do have more responsibilities now, but surely that just makes it all the more important that I get some downtime, so I’m able to deal with those responsibilities… well, responsibly.

In my essay for The Emerging Writer, I explored some of the benefits for writing of doing nothing (well, almost nothing—listening still counts as something, really) with the physical body. To briefly summarise that part of the essay, doing nothing allows the body and the mind to process stuff, and potentially to make links between things that might not be immediately obvious, or that the brain might not have made otherwise.

Obviously, this can be good for writing. But it’s also just good for us on a more general level. Rest—waking rest, as well as sleep— is really important. (And ‘rest’, by the way, is just as metabolically active as activity—it just uses energy in different ways.)

In this piece on the benefits of the yoga pose savasana (which translates as ‘corpse pose’ and basically involves lying on the floor doing nothing), Sydney yoga teacher Brooke McCarthy writes in detail about what happens when we relax deeply—and how to do it. After reading this piece I decided I needed savasana to make an appearance in my life every day. I haven’t quite managed that yet, but on the days when I do get to it, everything seems just a little calmer. Honestly, lying on the floor for ten or fifteen minutes when I’m really busy makes the world of difference to my state of mind. And, really, if I’m feeling overwhelmed anyway, what am I really going to get done in those fifteen minutes?

And while I’m on the subject of ‘busy’. That words makes me cranky. I’d never really thought about why until I read this piece about the trap of busyness (interesting: my eyeToy autocorrects busyness to business). Writer Tim Krieder suggests that being busy is an avoidance tactic—if we’re busy, we don’t need to face ourselves, and all those things that are worrying us or upsetting us. And the more I teach yoga, the more I realise that everyone has at leat some of that kind of baggage. Facing it is hard, so makes sense that we don’t want to do it. But avoiding it doesn’t make it go away. For me at least, avoidance often makes the worry warp into something else—like yelling at a woman and her dog on the street.

My response lately to the question ‘how are you?’ has been ‘busy’. And after I’d said it a few times, I realised that it, along with the crankiness I was carrying around, was an indication I was doing too much.

All of this is a very roundabout way of saying that, once again, I’m returning to that teenage habit of lying on the floor listening to music on a regular basis. I’m trying to get some nothing into each if my days. It’s amazing. I feel instantly less busy.

Yoga and Writing in Adelaide

Yoga and writing: two things that are, pretty obviously, close to my heart. My lovely Twitter friend, Vanessa, is running a yoga and writing workshop at the SA Writers’ Centre in Adelaide in September. If I was in Adelaide, I’d be there in a heartbeat!

From the website:

Yoga has a unique way of unlocking your creativity. It guides you to connect with something greater and can help to shift the dreaded writer’s block. This workshop will include explorative yoga asana classes and meditation to help you find peace within and open that part of your mind and heart where you create from. It is ideal for people new to both writing and yoga who want to enjoy a day of yoga coupled with creative writing exercises.

If you’re interested in more details, you can find them here.

Too many things

Last week I finished a masters degree that I’ve been doing on and off now for four years. It’s a degree that I’ve enjoyed immensely at times, and loathed at others, but that, overall, I’m so glad to have done.

I wasn’t sure what to expect of myself when I finished. I guess I expected some relief, and maybe some sadness. But actually what I’ve ended up with is a kind of confusion about what to do now, and about a million suggestions from within my own mind about how to manage that confusion. Since Thursday (the day of my last class), I’ve had this odd excitable (bordering on manic, actually) energy.

“Energy”, when your day job is teaching people yoga, is a troublesome word to use. When I say it, people sometimes look at me strangely, thinking, I suppose, that I might start talking to them about hippy-dippy energy healing or something. I do know (and respect) people who work in that kind of therapeutic field, but when I use that word, I’m aware of those links, but that’s not really what I mean. I’m just talking about the feeling that tells you whether you’re tired or sluggish, or likely to burn through a long To Do list in five minutes flat. And for the last few days, my energy has been the latter. Well, it would be if I could only pin it down long enough to focus on something.

Yesterday morning I half-made myself three separate breakfasts because I couldn’t focus long enough to decide what I wanted. I made plans for some exciting stuff happening later in the hear, I did some reading for some writing work I’m about to start, and i planted some new green-leafy stuff in my garden. Today I made pies for some friends for afternoon-tea-lunch, but I also made a loaf of bread and a bunch of other small things. And walked around in circles in the kitchen because I kept forgetting what I was doing. Tonight I’ve started no less than four writing projects, some small, others not so. I’ve started reading about three different books since Thursday.

As I wonder which of these various projects I’ve started will actually get off the ground, I’m reminded of this talk on the paradox of choice. Because right now I feel a little like that’s what finishing uni has left me with—too much choice (yes, I know: first world problem).

I worry too that at some point I’ll crash, because that’s usually what happens for me. In fact, I’m a little surprised it hasn’t already. What I would love to learn is how to sit still with this energy and just watch it, but I so often feel like I need to use it while it’s there. I wonder how much that feeling is dependent on the pattern of energy-burn-crash-energy-burn-crash, and if I could learn to even it out a little.

This is why I do yoga. Focus. Learning to sit still. Learning to do nothing. (Which, incidentally, is what my essay in this lovely book is about.) Or, at the very least, to be aware of what’s going on and try to work with that. I wonder if it’s something I’ll ever be good at.

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This is cross-posted on my writing blog.

My words in Death of a Scenester

Melbourne ‘zournal’, Death of a Scenester is launching its fifth issue, Food, next Saturday night in Abbotsford in Melbourne. Some words of mine on growing my own food and the subtleties of vegetarianism will appear in this issue.

Unfortunately I can’t make it to the launch, but if you’re in Melbourne, do try and get along! I’m really looking forward to getting my hands on a copy of this issue.

The Emerging Writer: An Insider’s Guide to Your Writing Journey

At the beginning of June, an essay of mine will be published in the Emerging Writers’ Festival’s yearly publication, which this year is called The Emerging Writer: An Insider’s Guide to Your Writing Journey. Here’s the blurb from the Emerging Writers’ Festival’s website:

Every writer has to find their own way to emerge – there is no set route, no absolute path and no road that must be followed. But there is a lot we can learn from those who have travelled before us: how to get there more directly, how to bypass the road blocks, traverse the peaks and valleys, or which is the most scenic route.

The Emerging Writer is an insider’s guide full of valuable advice from fellow travellers – a resource you can keep within arm’s length, for when you need to consult that map again to help you find your way. Inside you will find information on: how to create publication opportunities, understanding your value and getting paid, why you shouldn’t write what you know, managing your digital domain… and much more! Whether you’re taking your first step, planning the next stage of your trip, or just want inspiration to keep travelling on your writing journey, this book is for you.

I’m being published alongside a wonderful list of writers, and am really looking forward to getting my hands on a copy.

~

Sort-of related: the Emerging Writers’ Festival program came out yesterday. You should check it out here. I’m heading down to Melbourne at the end of May to attend, and I can’t wait.

(This has been cross-posted over at my writing blog.)