yoga

There's a fat kid inside us all

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This weekend I watched the movie Dumplin’ with not only a rockin’ Dolly Parton sound track but the fabulous (and Australian) Danielle MacDonald and Jennifer Aniston playing the lead roles.  This is a beautiful story about life and death and grief and growing up different, all with a good kick of much needed happy ever after. 

And half way through the movie I had to hit pause because I really really needed to cry – like a lot.

Because half way through this movie a part of my life that still carries all of the emotional baggage and shame gremlins (thanks Brene Brown!) with it was being reflected back at me from this film.  Willowdean (played by MacDonald) is the small town local fat girl, full of fun and confidence and va va voom as she grows up, but arriving in her teenage years with the realization that she is judged by how she looks and being overweight she doesn’t look like everyone else, let alone the popular kids in school.

The film zooms in on Willowdean’s face as it dawns on her that she is different.  It is a moment of innocence and freedom lost and it totally floored me.    She had the look of not belonging and in a second it brought me right back to 1980’s small town Australia in my very own fat girl story.

I was probably about 9 years old and madly in love with ballet.  I dreamed of being a ballerina and I had read all the books about the great dancers, Margot Fonteyn, Rudolf Nureyev (I can still write their names by heart and see their performances in my mind).  I was lucky enough to be taking ballet lessons and when I think back I realize what an effort it was for my parents, my mother especially, to organize life and work and the rest of the family (including my younger brother and sister) around my ballet craze.  I dreamed of being good enough to dance in pointe shoes and to take my first ballet exam.

And then one afternoon at my after school ballet class, my teacher Mrs Shriek (yes really!) literally shrieked at me in front of the entire class, telling everyone that I was too fat to be a ballerina and I shouldn’t waste my time.  Writing this almost 40 years later brings all of those 9 year old feelings right back into the now, the immediate knowing that your body, the thing that is intrinsically yours, the thing you can’t get rid of, is the thing that is just not good enough.  And it was my moment of sudden realization that I looked different to all the other little girls in the class and that not only they knew it, but the teacher knew it too.

For me it was a body that was different, for others it was wearing glasses, or being the only indigenous Australian in the class.  For some of you it might have been which street you lived in, where your parents were born, your freckles or wearing a second-hand school uniform or the fact that you had curly hair.

These things that fundamentally make up who we are in all our perfect imperfection are also the things that are often the root of our shame and the memories that if possible, we would put a lid on forever.

Watching Dumplin’ last Saturday evening let my fat girl out of the bag and forced me to consider the role she has played in my life for so long.  Is she a broken and ugly part of me that I wish I could bury and hide forever? If I’m honest, a part of me says yes.  There are photos of her that I still cringe at.  But this small child inside me that discovered in such a hellish way that she was different and did not belong in the world of ballet is also the small child that continued going to class in front of that damn Mrs Shriek, who took her ballet exams and who danced on pointe.  Apparently, you can be different and not belong, and you can still love ballet, be made of steel and defy everyone else to do what you love.

I believe we all have our own version of the fat girl inside us, the imperfections that cause us shame but which also make us whole.  We can choose what place these old memories and feelings play in our lives.  Watching Dumplin’ and Miss Willowdean do her thing throughout this brilliant film was a reminder that we don’t just get to bury the hard stuff.  It was a reminder that the hard stuff is still hard, and it was a reminder that feeling different, feeling like I don’t belong is also something that connects me deeply to most of the human race.

We are all broken and damaged and ugly in the eyes of someone.  And we are all also perfectly imperfect with a life and a history that have made us the most wonderfully real version of ourselves right now, in this exact moment.  My little 9 year old fat girl taught me not to quit on the things I love.  My chubby little wanna be ballerina is why every week in my imperfect 46 year old body I stand up in front of people and teach yoga even though Instagram tells me I don’t belong to its image of yoga teacher perfection.

As well as watching movies this weekend I was also reading the worldly wise American Buddhist nun, Pema Chödrön who reminded me that we can make friends with what we reject or see as ‘bad’ in ourselves and other people.  Pema says, ‘Although it is embarrassing and painful, it is very healing to stop hiding from yourself…..By knowing yourself, you’re coming to know humanness altogether. We are all up against these things.  We are all in this together.’

And that’s a fact right there people.  For all our feelings of separateness and not belonging, of thinking that shame is an emotion, solely destined for us and us alone, the reality is that we are all in this broken, imperfect perfection together.

As watching Dumplin’ unexpectedly forced me to face a part of me I would have happily kept hidden, it also offered me a new realization.  This time it was not one of innocence lost but a realization of deep compassion.  Compassion for the 9 year old wanna be ballerina in me and all she faced in that very tough moment, and compassion for every person on the planet who has had a similar experience.

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How can we all allow the things we loath about ourselves most, the memories we would most like to bury, to also be our greatest teachers so that instead of shame and embarrassment, we feel love and compassion?  I know I’m still working on it and imagine I’ll be conversing with the fat kid inside me for many years to come. For now I’ll leave you with the words of the great Dolly Parton, ‘Find out who you are and do it on purpose’.  NAMASTE

 

Life lessons in listening, health and happiness

Here’s a few little life lessons for not only finding health and happiness but for avoiding burn out - something in which listening to ourselves has a pretty big role to play. And what are the tools that help us listen? Yoga and meditation of course :-)

So finally I am willing to admit that I had a tough year last year. This was something very hard to say for a very long time because quite frankly I hadn’t fallen over and I wasn’t having a burn out so everything must still be fine - right? Last year my friend (and husband of one of my closest friends) was suddenly and violently killed , my grandmother died on the other side of the world at home in Australia whilst I was up a mountain somewhere in Switzerland, my body was wracked with asthma over the summer and I lost my voice completely on my birthday. But hey - still standing so I must be ok right?

I kept practicing yoga, I kept meditating because that’s what I do and these are two of my key investments in my own health and continued resilience but nothing changed. I still felt easily tired and regularly emotional, I still didn’t care about much, I noticed that long past dysfunctional eating habits resurfaced and all the usual hiking and nature appreciation injects of happiness lasted for a very short time but were quickly squashed by negative feelings. Honestly, I was worried I was depressed except I knew I wasn’t and I was really worried I wouldn’t find this incredible joy for life that I had been enjoying for so long and had worked so hard for.

And then at the end of the year I took two weeks holiday without much agenda and spontaneously found myself on a meditation retreat over the new year. When I stopped I could suddenly hear what my mind had to say and not all of it was pretty and positive let me tell you. Meditating with others and with guidance proved to be a timely reminder that I am (we are) never alone in our struggles. Through guided meditations I was able to start re-framing my compassion for others into something more meaningful and shifting what had become a very functional gratitude practice into something deeper and more genuine. This temporary stillness and silence also enabled me to begin to change my stale yoga practice from one of ‘doing the poses’ to one of slow listening and exploring what I needed to heal and rebuild my personal resilience.

Some of you will know that I had a meditation practice long before I ever busted out a single yoga asana. This mini-retreat over new year was an incredible reminder of all the old lessons I had learned through meditation and a kick up the butt reminder that when life throws you a curve ball it’s better to catch it than let it hit you in the face. But oh wait - here’s the reality…. for all these wonderful, motivational quotes, sometimes the curve ball hits you in the face anyway. And I’m writing this little blog to tell you that that’s ok. It happens to everyone at some point. Some days the curve ball comes when you’re not looking and there’s not a damn thing you can do about where it lands.

I find the curve ball to be a great metaphor because what any good Red Cross first-aider will tell you (and I’ve been one of those) is that if you’re suddenly injured then stay still so they can assess the situation and the extent of your injuries. But of course life in the 21st century is about picking yourself up, dusting yourself off and keeping moving. I think those first-aiders know a thing or two and I’ve decided after the last year that there is great value in standing still, listening and assessing after the curve ball hits. I can’t help but wonder if I had allowed myself to grieve, rest and heal in the moment if I would have felt so utterly beaten for so long by all those curve balls that 2018 brought with it.

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Yoga and meditation are both practices that allow us to pause and create the stillness in which we might just hear what we need to know to be the most well and happy versions of ourselves. For me the two practices are one and whilst they can be practiced separately, they have exponential positive impact when brought together. They are also practices of authenticity which is also a practice that keeps us healthy. It is VERY hard to be a fake version of yourself when you are alone with your mind or when you are on your mat with your body not following the orders you give it. In these moments the concepts of surrender and acceptance are transformational because they allow us to be ok with exactly who we are in whatever state we are in. This is the gift that yoga gives us all.

Teaching yoga is the most authentic practice of my life and my constant reminder to keep it real and deal with my own mental and physical health. I just cannot turn up on the mat with people and preach about self care and being present, and getting rest and surrendering and being kind to ourselves if I am not doing those things myself. It literally feels like my insides are tearing into two pieces, like I can physically feel myself un-aligning if I’m not keeping it real.

And so this is the deep gratitude that I have for every single person that turns up to one of my classes, retreats or events. It is all of you who keep me on track, who keep me authentic and who keep me healing. Because I am just not prepared to tell you to do that unless I am doing it myself. And what that also means is that we are all in this big messy, wild thing called life together and we are not alone.

And so I want to invite you to join me in being still enough to listen and hear what you need for your health and for your happiness. I want to thank you for keeping me authentic and for being an important part in helping me put some deposits in my own personal resilience bank. For every time you stepped on the mat with me whether in person or online, you reminded me to keep it real and that my own health and happiness are critical in being able to contribute to yours. My favourite translation of the word yoga is ‘to be yoked’ together and this year has been a reminder that without you I am not me and so I offer up my deepest gratitude to you all for the healing you have given me. NAMASTE.