Jade Lizzie

Sharing the yoga love

Month: September 2015

5 unexpected similarities between teaching yoga and teaching English

WarriorI’ve been teaching yoga for five months now, which is nothing compared to the nearly five years I spent teaching English in secondary schools. And it’s been a huge lifestyle change. I’ve swapped tea in the staffroom for coconut water by the pool (this is a lie… I can’t afford coconut water) and I no longer spend my weekends marking essays about Romeo and Juliet. I still don’t have weekends as a matter of fact, but that’s another story.

However, there are a few things that haven’t changed at all.

5 unexpected similarities between teaching yoga and teaching English

  1. Even when you think your instructions couldn’t be clearer there will be someone who hasn’t followed them. I thought this was unique to teaching hormonal, distracted teenagers in noisy classrooms. I was wrong.
  2. No matter how yogic and non-attached you try to be to the way your class is received, getting positive feedback from your students is up there with being told today is a snow day and school is cancelled.
  3. Conversely when the class doesn’t go as you’d hoped, it still feels like a personal affront.
  4. Students ask the most unpredictable questions. I’ve gone from, “Have you ever thought about trimming your eyelashes?” to, “What foods should I eat to open the heart chakra?” I’ve been similarly thrown each time.
  5. Teaching remains one of the most mindful practices you can do. Whether you’re teaching yoga or Macbeth, there’s something about the immediacy of instructing students and leading a class that brings you absolutely into the present moment. I love that about it.

However, one major difference? When it all starts to go wrong, in yoga it’s perfectly acceptable to stop the class and tell your students to close their eyes and focus on breathing while you remember what to do. I can’t see this having worked quite so well at school…

How to use writing as therapy

It’s said that everyone should be in therapy. I kind of agree with that. I think most of us get stuck in thought patterns, behaviours and habits that don’t always serve us well but can be difficult to unravel without help. Unfortunately I’m not in a position right now to have a therapist on hand, but along with yoga and meditation I have found something else that helps. Writing. And more specifically, writing as therapy.

I first came across the website “750 words” on January 23rd 2013. I can view my entry from this day, hence the uncharacteristic precision! The idea behind the website is explained fully here, but in short, the idea is that you log in every day and free write without censoring, editing or monitoring yourself at all.

Screenshot 2015-09-18 at 16.19.53

Although I discovered the website and liked it a few years ago, I didn’t really get into it until more recently. I’ve just completed my 100th day straight, and I love it. Here’s why I think writing as therapy is the way forward:

  • It helps you connect with what you’re thinking and how you’re feeling. I find it really useful as a daily check in with myself, working out why I’m feeling the way I am. As E.M Forster put it, “How do I know what I think until I see what I say?”
  • It’s a powerful decision-making tool. When you have a difficult decision to make it can overwhelm you. Writing things down and and weighing up your options in black and white is a good way to break out of circular though patterns in your mind.
  • It lets you analyse yourself. Once you’ve written your words, there’s a great geeky stats page to help with this reflective element of writing as therapy.
  • It lets you acknowledge and work through the thoughts you are having. Unlike meditation, where you try to notice your thoughts without engaging with them, sometimes it’s really good to actively follow the thought train to see where it ends up.
  • It’s great for creativity. I have so many ideas for future blogs, articles and poems while I’m writing my 750 words of brain splurge. Sometimes I even use the space there and then to begin drafting them.
  • It can be an opportunity to do some positive work on yourself. Sometimes I use it to note all the things I am grateful for, other times I might write positive manifestations about the way the rest of my day will go.
  • It’s fascinating to look back at your old entries because it gives you an insight into your changing mindset over time. For me it’s also been interesting to discover the things I avoid – for example realising that I knew the answer to a choice I’ve been trying to make this week on December 17th last year, but it’s taken me this long to act on it.

So I’ve completed a 100 day streak and got my phoenix badge for it (yes, they award badges for varying levels of commitment to your writing – genuine excitement about that!). What next? I’m actually going to let go of my insistence on writing everyday. I’m trying to stop living by checklists, so for the next week or two I’ll write as and when I want to write, not because I’ve told myself I have to. But I’m pretty sure I’ll continue to write most days anyway, because writing as therapy helps keep me sane (ish). And it’s far cheaper than a therapist…

If you give it a try let me know how you get on in the comments below.

Happy writing!

Jade xxx

How to be happy

best day everOver the last year I’ve made huge changes to my life, because I realised a lot of the things I thought would make me happy didn’t. I can honestly say I’m happier now than I’ve ever been, despite being essentially homeless, having no permanent job and no boyfriend. If I can learn to be happy, I reckon you can too! Here’s how to be happy…

  1. Choose to be happy. Once you realise that you have the ability to choose your thoughts (meditation helps a lot with this), you discover the extent to which you can also choose your mood. I used to have constant thoughts that life is difficult. I thought that every day was a struggle, and I was right. But I realised that this thought was not serving me very well. Sometimes life is difficult. But the more I think it, the more that becomes my reality, regardless of what’s actually happening. So now every day I make the deliberate choice to think that life is beautiful. This makes me happy.
  2. Let yourself be sad sometimes. This seems to go against the previous point, but you need both I think. There are times in life that are genuinely distressing. You lose someone close to you, go through a relationship break up, or crash your new car. So allow yourself to be sad. Tell people that you are feeling sad right now if you want. Sit with the feeling. Notice that you can experience sadness without becoming consumed by it. Take a step back and observe its effect on you, your body and your mind. Much of the suffering comes from our resistance to the sadness, rather than the sadness itself, and the only way out is through. Then, after a time, you can begin to…
  3. Find the positive. Our brains have a “negativity bias” for evolutionary reasons. We are have evolved to focus on negative experiences because in life-threatening situations, avoiding danger keeps us safer than pursuing pleasure. Fortunately our brains also have tremendous plasticity, so we can learn how to be happy. We can create new habits, and practise choosing more positive thoughts. Even if this positive thought is as simple as, “At least now we’re not together I don’t have to put up with his terrible taste in music/ clothes/ films,” it’s a worthy start. Essentially we are teaching our brains how to be happy.
  4. Be grateful. One of the ways to find those more positive thoughts is to get into the habit of actively noticing things that you are grateful for. As an example, I was woken up 3 hours before my alarm this morning by an over-enthusiastic cockerel… I could have been annoyed by this (and admittedly, my first thoughts were not saintly). But instead, mindful of my understanding now about how to be happy, I chose to be grateful for the chance to get up early and write while my mind was at its most productive.
  5. Grow. I learnt this from Gretchen Rubin’s book The Happiness Project and it makes so much sense to me. We are happiest when we live in an atmosphere of growth. It actually doesn’t matter too much in what way you believe you are progressing – it could be fitness, learning a language or improving your wine tasting skills (now there’s a thought…). The main thing for learning how to be happy is that you believe you are getting better.

Perhaps the biggest thing though is remembering not to make happiness dependent on something . Too often we think we’ll be happy when we lose weight, get a new boss, find a partner or finish a project. Ban yourself from the phrase, “I’ll be happy when…” It’s not true. You have to chose to be happy now.

Wishing you all lots of love and happiness – let me know how you get on with these!

Jade xxx

 

Why I won’t be fasting again…

vegan yumI love the fact that during my travels I’ve met people with real expertise in health and nutrition. I’ve learnt a lot, and I’m very grateful for that. But somewhere along the way, I started to get a bit lost, and forgot the value of my own intuition about what is right for me, my body and my mind.

Recently, I’ve heard a lot of talk about restrictive diets – intermittent fasting, 500 calorie days, watermelon fasting, juice fasting, raw ‘til 4. In yogic circles, people don’t tend to advocate them for weight loss (too shallow a goal maybe?), but rather for cleansing the body, detoxing or even “spiritual development.” Disclaimer here: I am not a nutritionist. I have no objective argument for or against these diets. If they work for other people, great.

But they don’t work for me. I’m not trying to lose weight. And more importantly than that, I’m trying very hard to not go back down a route of restrictive eating, which got me into so much trouble in the past. I know that restricting my food intake is not a healthy way to go.

When I turned vegan, it was not for health reasons, although I do feel good eating this way. One of the things I considered carefully was whether I could cope with the restriction of a vegan diet without getting back into negative thought patterns. I decided I would try it and review its impact on my body and mind a few weeks later. I would be willing to let go of it if it had a negative effect on my physical or mental health.

So far it hasn’t, but restrictive eating caught up with me in a different way. I began to think that maybe I was far enough past my eating disorder to be able to experiment with some of the diets. I wanted to try a day of 500 calorie eating. I wanted to see how “clean” my body felt if I ate only watermelon. I wanted to know whether my thoughts would be clearer, my mind more meditative if I fasted.  

What happened when I tried? Well 500 calorie eating was very exciting. The anorexic voice in my head was thrilled that I was eating less again. This is great, it told me. See, you don’t need that much food at all. You’re good at this. The trouble is, once that voice had reawakened, it didn’t just go away the next day when I tried to eat normally. You should do another day of this. You’re strong. You don’t want to undo all the good work you did yesterday. You’ll get fat if you eat more now. I didn’t listen. But it was really really hard.

Watermelon fasting was even worse. If you haven’t heard of it, the idea is that you eat only watermelon for 1 to 3 days, to “detoxify” the body and let the digestive system rest. I don’t even believe in detoxing, but I still decided to give this a go. It was awful. It wasn’t the physical hunger itself that was the problem (although I did feel very hungry). It was the painful memories it evoked of the depression, isolation and misery of living with an eating disorder. I didn’t even last the day. By 4pm I felt so low, tearful and scared that I knew I had to stop. I ate normally for the rest of the evening, and felt better, although I had to contend with the sense that I had failed.

I know that’s not true though. I know that for me, eating a balanced, plentiful diet that gives me enough energy to live, and thrive and do all the things I love doing is a huge achievement in itself. So there will be no more fasting, no more detoxes. If that means I am less “cleansed”, and less “spiritually enlightened”, so be it. I choose health, happiness and life every time.

Around the world in 80 yoga classes

I’ve done it! This week I’ve hit 80 classes of yoga since starting this blog and my yoga travels. This doesn’t include classes I’ve taught myself – just those I’ve attended. I’ve done 17 different types of yoga:

Types of yoga

Perhaps more importantly, I’ve had the privilege of being taught by 30 different teachers, whose experience ranged from 40 years to just 2 weeks. I’m grateful to them all:

Mike, Sarah, Adam, Vidya, Raphaelle, Gabriela, Roberto, Lidiya, Jess, Carl, Marcus, Lamonte, Charlie, Chetana, Jasmin, Nina, Josh, Dylan, Alex, Marina, Tara, Bob, Sammi, Richard, Drew, Tamzin, Jenne, Amanda, Cyrus, Alicia

What have I learned from my 80 classes?

There is no right or wrong.

Every teacher and every class is unique. Sometimes I’ve been taught ways of assuming postures in one class which directly contradict those taught in another. Sometimes classes are so different that it’s hard to believe they’re all called “yoga” My take on it is that it doesn’t matter too much. As long as the teacher is sharing their practice, with enough instruction, guidance and support to keep their students safe, the differences only add to the experience, and help me to stay more present.

Every teacher teaches you something worth learning.

As a recently qualified yoga teacher, I’m trying to soak up everything I can to make myself the best yoga teacher I can be. Often the flow of a class will exactly fit with the way I like to teach, or I’ll be in awe of the teacher’s creative sequences or their inspiring words. These are the classes I rush out of to find my notebook and scribble everything down before I forget it. In other classes the learning might be more subtle, and less easy to articulate. But maybe I’ll notice later in the day a shift in the way I feel. Or a week or even a month later, something that teacher said to me will come back to me, and I’ll be grateful for their insight.

Yoga will meet you where you are, but it never leaves you where it found you.

There have been yoga classes where I’ve been aching so much from some ridiculous workout the day before that I’ve told myself I could leave after the warm-up if it was too painful. There have been classes at 6am that I’ve had to almost literally throw myself out of bed to force myself to get to. There have been classes that I simply couldn’t be bothered with. But every single time, once I get on the mat, something changes. Somehow the yoga meets me in whatever state I’m in, acknowledges that and then gently moves me through it. There hasn’t been a single one of these 80 classes that I’ve regretted making the time for. So when my motivation to go is low, I do just have to remind myself that the hardest bit is turning up. Once I’m there, things are already starting to get better.

What’s next now I’ve done 80 yoga classes?

When I started my yoga travels, I told myself I’d maybe do this until September, but that was unrealistic. 80 classes is not even close to being enough. I still have so much I want to learn. Maybe I’ll aim next to be taught by 80 yoga teachers, or to try 80 styles of yoga. Or maybe I’ll let go of the numbers altogether. Whatever, I’ll never consider myself a “finished product” as a yoga teacher. I’m going to keep practising, keep learning, and keep writing. I am eternally a student.

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