Jade Lizzie

Sharing the yoga love

Tag: happiness

Learning To Be Struggle-Free

struggle freeI blogged last week about how I’ve been embracing a more “underachieving” approach to my yoga practice lately. I was overwhelmed by the number of people who contacted me to say they loved this post. I know – who would have thought slacking was so inspiring? But many of these people had been beating themselves up for not doing enough and they were relieved to hear I was able to dial it down for a while, and be ok with that. It struck me how hard we are on ourselves. We live in a goals-driven, target-setting, progress-orientated culture. We’re taught that effort equals success, and while that can great, it can also leave us with the impression that if we’re not struggling, we’re doing something wrong. So I wanted to share some advice that has helped me a lot.

The reason I’ve not been practising as much yoga is because I’ve been busy. Squeezing in such a long practice every day was making yoga into a struggle, and not something I loved. So I chose to let go of the struggle and adopt a more realistic, manageable yoga practice for a few weeks.

And this goes back to something that a yoga teacher said in class a while ago which resonated with me. In the warm up she encouraged us to, “Allow yourself to be struggle-free.” During the initial, gentler sections of the class this was fine. But then later, in a fairly intense core-strengthening sequence, she reiterated the guidance. “Be struggle-free. Be easy.” I was skeptical about the possibility of being “struggle-free” while doing Forrest Yoga abs (try them – they’re brutal). But weirdly, it worked. Not because I stopped trying, but because I realised how much of my suffering was caused by my mental battle. I was surprised that I could still work hard, and feel the intensity of that (which I definitely did), but without struggling, and therefore without hating it.

I’ve been experimenting with this quite a lot in the rest of my life too, and it’s been helpful. There are two ways that I try to apply the “struggle-free” philosophy. The first is that if I’m doing too much, or not enjoying something I’m doing, I reflect on whether I really need to be doing it, or whether it’s a self-imposed struggle that I could find a way around.

The second way acknowledges that sometimes there are things I have to experience which don’t feel particularly comfortable. Let’s say I need to have a challenging conversation with someone, or I’m anxious about the outcome of decision. I’ve been reminding myself at these times to, “Be easy.” Depending on the circumstances, maybe this means I need to relax, to detach, to surrender or to let things go and trust that it will work out.

And I’ve found that the more I let myself be struggle-free, the more things do seem to work out. Not necessarily to start with, but in the end they have a tendency to come good. Because actually even if I really think I know what the best outcome should be, I don’t really know what’s for the best. Things that I might initially perceive as failures can give rise to other, better opportunities.

None of this is to say that you shouldn’t make an effort. You can still apply yourself fully, and commit and work hard at whatever it is you’re doing. And sometimes you do need to make a stand, and do things that are tough. But you can also make the conscious decision not to struggle with them. Even in the midst of things that feel horrible, like abs workouts or relationship break ups, it can be possible to find a kind of acceptance and peace in surrender to the situation. Most of the suffering is in the struggle. If you can let go of that, things get a lot easier.

So this week, my challenge to everyone, myself included is to let yourself be struggle-free. Drop something from your “To do,” list, find an easier way or let go of a personal battle. Let me know if it makes a difference.

How To Be Kind To Yourself

Be Kind To YourselfI wrote recently about the power of self-love. That’s a different concept to being kind to yourself, although the two are intimately linked. But it occurred to me as I wrote that how hard it can be to do the little things that show yourself compassion and love.

I don’t 100% believe the idea that you can only be as kind to yourself as you are to others. I know plenty of people who care unremittingly for others while really struggling to be kind to themselves. BUT, I do think that without also being kind to yourself, this constant giving is hard to sustain. Sometimes, consciously or otherwise, we wait for others to show us the kindness we aren’t showing ourselves, which can lead to disappointment and even resentment if they don’t.

10 Easy Ways To Be Kind To Yourself

  1. Do yoga. Regular readers may have seen this one coming. I’m a big advocate for yoga as an act of kindness towards yourself. But, make sure it is yoga that makes you feel good, not something you tell yourself you have to do. Give yourself 10 minutes to move in any way that makes your body feel amazing. Stretch, rock, lounge – whatever works for you. Luxuriate in it.
  2. Give yourself time off. This can be time off anything that you feel like you “should” do – work, studying or training. Throw away the to do list and the “shoulds” for an hour, an afternoon, or a whole weekend, and let it go. The world won’t fall apart.  
  3. Plan something nice for yourself. Here’s some news – you don’t need to wait for someone else to book tickets to a show, or plan a trip, or choose a holiday. Do it for yourself. Schedule it in your diary and give yourself something to look forward to.
  4. Give yourself some great advice. Whatever it is that’s troubling you, have a think about how you’d encourage and support a best friend/ child/ loved one in this situation, and follow that advice. You’re wiser than you know.
  5. Write some positive affirmations for yourself and repeat them regularly. It doesn’t matter if you don’t believe them, or if it feels cringey and awkward. Just do it. No one said being kind would be easy. Oh wait – I did. Sorry about that…
  6. Prepare (or buy!) and enjoy your favourite meal. Let go of the diet/ detox/ nutrition program for one meal and allow yourself to just enjoy it. Seriously, no one will die if you eat what you want to for one meal. Chocolate brownies for dessert, anyone?
  7. Give yourself a massage. Spend 10 minutes massaging your feet, shoulders or scalp. Coconut oil is my favourite. This is especially good if you do it just before Number 8.
  8. Go to bed 30 minutes earlier than usual. It doesn’t matter whether you actually fall asleep early or not. Switch off your mobile phone, turn off the TV, get away from all your electrical distractions and relax.
  9. Take a dance break. Put on your favourite music and dance like no one’s watching. If they are watching, you get extra points for this one.
  10. Treat yourself to something you want, but you don’t need. This doesn’t have to be super-expensive (unless you want it to be!). It can be as simple as stopping for a latte on your way to work, or buying yourself a new T-shirt just because you want it.

If the thought of doing these things makes you feel a little uncomfortable, that’s ok. Do them anyway. There’s no need to wait for other people to do kind things for you, or to give you permission. You already have permission. Commit to trying at least one thing on this list today and show yourself some of the kindness you cultivate for others.  It will be life-enhancing, I promise.

What Works Better Than Making New Year’s Resolutions?

New Year's ResolutionsIn January 2014, I moved to Birmingham. It was a scary decision for me. I knew no-one there, I was starting a new job, and I was moving into a house full of people I didn’t know. But instead of making my usual New Year’s resolutions that year, I started a couple of things that helped me beyond measure. Firstly, I decided to have more fun. I’d spent the first half of my twenties being hard-working and successful, but incredibly unhappy. So that was it – my aim for 2014 was just to have more fun. I prioritised immediate happiness.

The second thing I started doing was taking time to feel gratitude. At the end of every day (or the beginning of the next – sometimes I forgot!) I wrote down at least 3 things I was grateful for. Although I found it cringey at first, I did it until it became a habit, and something I looked forward to.

I think those two things were what started the happiest year of my life until that point. It was the year in which I made two huge decisions – to begin my yoga teacher training and to travel, both things I’d wanted to do for years, but had found excuses not to. Neither decision featured in some master plan for my future. Instead, they came naturally, almost effortlessly, from the strength, positivity and self-confidence that prioritising happiness and being grateful had brought about.

So I’m asking you at the end of the year to take 15 minutes to write down your answers to the following questions , and notice how doing this makes you feel. I promise it’s far more effective than making endless lists of new year’s resolutions to bring about positive change.

  1. Which experiences are you grateful for in the last year?

These might be travel, relationship or work experiences. For me this is gratitude for the diverse experiences I’ve had travelling – doing yoga on a beach in Thailand, partying my birthday away in a tiny town in Andalucia and participating in a Mayan Fire Ceremony in Guatemala.

  1. What life lessons are you grateful for learning?

You might find, as I did when I thought about this, that some of the life lessons you’re most grateful for have come from the toughest parts of this year. I’m now grateful for the time I spent being hyper self-critical, because it helped me to recognise the difference it made when I began working on self-acceptance instead.

  1. What opportunities are you grateful for being given in the last year?

Your brain is programmed to focus on your negative memories, so it can be easy to overlook the opportunities you’ve had. I’m incredibly grateful to have had the chance to work at some amazing places – Suryalila Retreat Centre, Moinhos Velhos Detox Retreat and 21st Sanctuary Retreats, and to have started my Advanced Yoga Teacher Training with Frog Lotus Yoga International.

  1. Who are you grateful for having in your life in the last year?

Consider all the people who’ve contributed to your life this year. Even people who at the time had a negative impact may have taught you a valuable lesson that you can be grateful for now. I’m ridiculously grateful for my family, who have supported me both practically and emotionally through all the ups and downs of nomadic lifestyle.  I’m also grateful for the inspiring people I’ve met on my travels and for the lovely people who read and share my blog posts (thank you!).

  1. What are you grateful to yourself for in the last year?

Think about what it is that you’ve done to help yourself this year, and thank yourself for it. I am grateful for my own energy, and the fact that I kept going when things were difficult. I am also grateful to myself for keeping up my yoga and meditation practice which helped me to find the strength to do that.

Looking forward to next year

Once you’ve done this, if you’re in the mood for looking ahead, think about what you want to bring more of into your life in the coming year. Bear in mind this research from Amy Cuddy about why most New Year’s resolutions fail. Keep it simple, memorable and positive. Possible examples:

  • To have more fun (I highly recommend this one!)
  • To enjoy being active
  • To find the opportunity in every challenge

Having already expressed gratitude you’ll be in the perfect frame of mind to make a difference to your next year.

Wishing you an amazing new year lovely people – let me know how you get on with your 15 minutes of gratitude!

Do you have a hummingbird?

HummingbirdI was recently talking to friends about the times in your life when you feel utterly overwhelmed by sadness or despair. The times when all the clichés about your heart being torn apart or ripped out of your chest feel true, and you can barely breathe for crying – that ugly, red-faced kind of sobbing that leaves you feeling physically and mentally drained.  It was a cheerful conversation.

But something one friend said really resonated with me. He said that at the times in his life he’d felt most low, there was still a tiny little hummingbird of a voice somewhere in his head, saying, “This is ok.” That voice inside that even when you’re at your lowest knows that this is permissible. I don’t mean it knows that it will work out well in the end, because maybe it won’t.  But the hummingbird inside you is the part that just notices the sadness or pain right then and accepts it.

And I realised I too have a hummingbird.

Emotions can feel so all-consuming. There are times I’ve cried so much that my face was swollen and hideous the next day. (As a side note, it’s not ideal to be a school teacher at those times – “Miss, what’s up with your face? You look really weird today!” Got to love the unfiltered honesty of thirteen year olds.) But the analogy that I like is that you are the sky; the emotions you experience – grief, fear, anxiety, excitement, happiness, joy – are just the weather. There’s space in the expansiveness of the sky to accommodate them all. The sky is still the sky, constant and unchanging.

I think that’s what the hummingbird knows too. So maybe next time you’re feeling overwhelmed, try to tune into that part of yourself that sees what’s going on, and knows that it’s ok. See whether you can hear your hummingbird.

Have a beautiful day everyone!

Jade xxx

P.S. The easiest way to hear your hummingbird better? Meditation. I’ve resisted this for a long time, but I can honestly say that meditating is the best way I’ve found to learn how to approach life with more equanimity and acceptance.  Sorry. I too was hoping I’d find more success with methods which included more cocktails and less sitting still and being quiet…

Why you need to sort your head out first

Sort your head outWhat do you want most right now? A promotion at work? A beautiful body? A new car? A puppy?

And now consider why it is that you want that. Most of the time we want the things we want because we believe those things will make us happy. But so often you can get the things you want, only to find you’re utterly miserable anyway.

I know because I tried it. I starved myself and exercised like I was training for an ultramarathon (I wasn’t), because I thought I’d feel better once I was thinner. I didn’t. At work I became a super-employee, never saying no, because I thought I’d be happy once I had a promotion. I got it, and I did, briefly, feel happier. And then that disappeared. I clung onto relationships that were broken because I thought I’d be happy once I’d fixed them. It didn’t work, and it just made me more unhappy.

Because the thing is, until I turned my attention to developing a healthy mindset, nothing worked. As a friend said to me, “The only achievement in life that matters is good mental health.” I think that’s so true. It’s great to want to make positive changes to all aspects of your life, but none of those will work unless you sort your head out first.

I see lots of people coming to yoga retreats who set themselves up with the idea that the 5 or 7 or 10 days of the retreat are going to be transformational for their mind, body and soul. They think they’ll leave a different person, with a whole new life. And maybe it works. Maybe they do the “detox diet”, they exercise more, they enjoy a bit of yoga and they feel good. But then they return to their lives, and does anything actually change? Sometimes, I’m sure. But I’m also pretty sure that a lot of the time life carries on as it always has. More worryingly, perhaps they then feel disappointed in themselves for not having lived up to their own expectations.

I’ve been lucky enough recently to be the resident yoga teacher with 21st Sanctuary Retreats, where they have a slightly different take on things that I like a lot. Their primary focus is unapologetically on mental health and wellbeing. Yes, they had daily yoga (that’s where I came in!), fitness, vegetarian food and a beautiful setting, but they also facilitated life coaching and mindfulness sessions. They wanted to empower guests to make meaningful changes through improving their mental wellbeing and setting achievable goals. They also offered a longer-term support programme, to keep guests on track after the retreat.

I think this mind-based focus is the way forward. Although yoga has been amazing for my body, it’s been more amazing for my mind, and it’s the happiness it has brought me that I want to share with people.

So what about all the things you want? My best advice is to sort your head out first. Everything else will follow.

Have a beautiful week, everyone.

Jade xxx

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

 

How yoga teacher training changed me

beforeafterIn May 2015, I finished my 200 hour yoga teacher training. During our graduation ceremony, we were presented with a card, which had a photo of our group on the first night of our training back in October 2014. A lovely idea. Except when I saw the photo (it’s the one on the left in the picture!)

I didn’t even recognise myself to start with. Once I realised it was me, I had to fight the urge to confiscate the photo from every member of my group, and erase all evidence that I looked like that. I might be smiling but I look worn out. And the thing is, it’s not just a bad photo. I know that the way I look is reflective of how I was feeling at the time. But I’ve decided not to pretend that it never happened. I’m choosing to share it, along with the photo on the right taken on the last night of my yoga teacher training. I hope you can see the difference…

Back when the first photo was taken, I’d made the positive choice to do yoga teacher training, but other aspects of my life weren’t so great. I’d left teaching, and although I had a better work-life balance, I missed the sense of purpose in my new job. I’d also become a bit obsessive about food and exercise. Although it probably looked as if I was eating “normally”, I was over-exercising to justify eating at all, doing intensive cardio five times per week. Some days I’d run 10km and go to spinning. The week before I started the yoga teacher training, I badly hurt my back when I tried to add a CrossFit class into my already fairly manic exercise regime.

The initial 10 days of yoga teacher training were really tough. I lacked any real control over my diet and I missed running a lot. More than that, when doing yoga (unlike running), I wasn’t able to disconnect my mind from my body. Instead I was forced to notice how I much I was hurting and how tired I was. I realised what damage I’d been doing over the last few months. My muscles were tight and sore. Any attempts to achieve yoga teacher super-flexibility were laughable. Some days my back pain made it nearly impossible even to relax in child’s pose.

But despite these struggles, or maybe because of them, something in me changed during those 10 days. I noticed the pain I was in and sat with it. I found an inner stillness, a quietness that I had been drowning out. And I realised it was okay to relax and let go. I decided it was time to stop punishing my body and practise a bit of self-acceptance and love.

I promised myself that I wouldn’t start running again when I got back. Instead I committed to practising yoga every day, and channelled my physical and mental energy into that. I also relaxed my control over food and began to eat more intuitively (i.e. more!). On a trip to Bruges at Christmas I enjoyed hot chocolate, amaretto mulled wine and Belgian waffles. I remembered how good life can taste.

Later came my decision to travel, which was largely driven by my desire to focus fully on the yoga I was enjoying so much.

I could write some nice clichés here, about how I’ve never looked back, and it’s been all onwards and upwards since then, but that would be a lie. There have been incredibly challenging times – times when I yearned to go back to the familiarity of my old life. I’ve experienced volunteering disasters, dead chickens and nights I’ve been so hot and uncomfortable I haven’t slept at all. But I definitely don’t regret it.

I’m writing this while drinking fresh coconut water in a café in beautiful Chiang Mai, already planning my next trip. I’m wondering which friends to visit in Europe, and where to spend Christmas. I’m embracing the uncertainty because of the possibilities it brings. And if I ever do doubt whether I’m doing the right thing, I only have to look at that photo to know that going back is not an option.

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