Relaxed in Strength

Caring for yourself is not indulgent; it's an act of survival.

My anxiety and me — October 26, 2018

My anxiety and me

“Anxiety presents in lots of ways that may not be obvious. Unfortunately for me, most of the time mine presents as anger. What does that mean? It means when I feel anxious on the inside, it manifests itself on the outside as me being pissed off.”[1]

When I read the article referenced above, it started me thinking about my own anxiety and how it presents itself in me.  Like a lot of other people with anxiety, and other mental health conditions, the presentation from person to person and even within one person can vary greatly. So it got me thinking about how my anxiety has been displayed over the last 10 years. Hopefully by sharing my journey maybe one person will learn a little more about anxiety and how it may affect them or the people they love.

Dog waiting to attack

 This is how the CEO at my workplace described me about 8 years ago. Who knows why they still have me working for them! I remember the day clearly. I was in a meeting with the CEO and the team I managed. I was talking about a project that we were working on and I was asked to justify the need for the project. According to the people who were there, I was perched on the edge of my seat, arms crossed with looks that could kill. Every time someone questioned my decisions, my approach or my suggestions I bit their head off. At the time I thought I was justified in my behaviour and that they were just being stupid imbeciles who didn’t understand (yes, I didn’t suffer fools lightly). Instead all that people saw was a brat who was mean and unprofessional.dog attacking

There are 100 more stories like these that I could tell you. My old team still remembers the day I told them our team was a dictatorship not a democracy. This behaviour was often followed by a period of intense disgust with myself. I knew that what I was doing was wrong in one sense, but couldn’t control my reaction or appreciate the magnitude of my reaction. Following an episode like this I would apologise, buy flowers, ask for forgiveness.

What I know now is that my reaction in those situations was a result of anxiety. Anxiety from feeling unworthy; that my project being questioned was an indicator of my work being unsatisfactory. I often felt like an imposter who was constantly trying to prove herself as worthy.

Energizer bunny

energiser bunny

Have you ever felt that you could jump out of your own skin and then run around like an energizer bunny? This is me a lot of the time and why people often see me walking the streets of my local suburb just to move and release that energy. At first this symptom of my anxiety is my ‘favourite’. Who wouldn’t want lots of energy? But it has its price. Along with this energy comes excessive exercise (energy has to go somewhere) and excessive alcohol consumption.

I often describe this feeling as ‘feeling too good’. Why? Because what goes up must come down. My ups and downs were so severe about five years ago that I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder by a psychiatrist and was medicated for this for a few years. I’m no longer on this medication, and have come to realise that this peak of energy is anxiety and the resulting dip is pure exhaustion. My body and my mind just stop and I just sleep for days.

Sick to my stomach

From the feeling of butterflies, worry, restlessness, difficulty sleeping to being unable to eat, feeling nauseous and having irregular bowel movements. I believe that this is the symptom of anxiety that is misunderstood by many and often misinterpreted by people who feel these sensations as purely physical. Common responses when I feel this way – “what are worrying about”, “try not to think too much”, “what have you got to worry about?”, “you just need to rest”. And this is why anxiety, and other mental health disorders like depression are so confusing for people – both the sufferer and people around them.Emotional reaction

There is often nothing that I’m worried about; I wish I did not have 1000s of thoughts going on in my brain at the same time; I wish I could stop worrying about ‘nothing’; I wish I could rest. This is what makes anxiety different from feeling nervous before a job interview or worrying about the results of medical test. It’s often irrational, without explanation and not necessarily reduced when the stimulus or trigger is removed.

Self-destructive behaviour

My anxiety often comes from feeling out of control; that feeling that things are happening in my environment that I have no control over. So in the absence of the control of – things in my environment, my relationships, my work, my feelings – I control other things and the top three are: exercise, diet and consumption of alcohol/drugs. My thought pattern goes a little something like this – “If I’m going to feel like shit, then at least I’m going to be the person who will control how shit I feel.” I’ll exercise to the point of exhaustion until I feel that I’ve punished myself sufficiently; I’ll either binge or starve myself as both serve the purpose of self-punishment; and/or I’ll self medicate until that edge is lifted and I’M THE ONE CAUSING THE PAIN. Often these ways of ‘coping’ actually make the situation worse.self destructive behaviour

This is obviously self-destructive and has led to excessive weight loss, injuries, an unhealthy attitude to food/alcohol/exercise, losing my licence, leaving my job and affecting relationships. This of course aggravates my mental state even further; it turns into a vicious cycle of hate, hate more, hate more again etc.

Moving forward

What I’ve presented is just a very quick overview of how my anxiety affects me. Some of this may resonate with you as you read this, either how anxiety affects you personally or you can recognise some of these behaviours in the people you love.

The good news is that I’m now much better at picking up the signs – I know that if I’m starting to feel irritable, on edge, angry at the smallest things, I need to stop and reflect. If I feel an excess of energy I try to rest, rather than go crazy and walk 20kms. I try to connect with others – my mum is a good barometer for my mental state and will say things like “I know you’re not good as you’re getting angry with me.” (bless my ever-understanding mum).anxiety quote

Sometimes this means taking time out and cancelling plans, despite the fact that this may let others down. And it also means owning up to bad behaviour – checking in with myself regularly and asking myself if my reaction was reasonable in a given situation and if not, apologising for bad behaviour.

My anxiety and depression have taught me a lot about myself; it has taught me self awareness, compassion towards others, to lower my expectations of myself when I need to step back, to adjust my behaviour and activities to suit my mood.  Anxiety, depression etc. aren’t as straightforward as they appear to those who are lucky enough to have never experienced them. It is also a constant struggle where every situation in life has the potential to trigger or be a learning experience; or both.

There are many strategies out there – medicinal and natural – and there is no one way that is best for me or that work reliably. I rely on medication, meditation, close relationships with others, exercise, a good night’s sleep (or a daytime nap if I need it), healthy food, time alone and limited alcohol. I try to be aware of changes in my behaviour and mood and manage these day to day; sometimes effectively, sometimes not. I try to be kind to myself in the tough times and believe that things will improve during these times as they have before. I wish others all the best in their journey with anxiety. Just remember, you are not alone.

If you or someone you love is currently experiencing mental health issues please reach out to either people you love or professional services[2].

Or have a read of a previous blog that I’ve written on a similar topic.

Mind Body Connect: My personal account of my love-hate relationship between mental health and physical activity

 

 

 

[1]https://themighty.com/2017/06/anxiety-presents-as-anger/?utm_source=engagement_bar&utm_medium=facebook&utm_campaign=facebook_share&fbclid=IwAR1s49GKBW5eNm7Yjbv_etndD9IvBsF3F6tdbigK6QK93k42aB-hUWcjus8

[2]https://www.lifeline.org.au

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“You stupid, stupid girl” — October 12, 2017

“You stupid, stupid girl”

The title of this blog was the first thing one of my bosses said to me when I told her about what happened on the 18th of March 2017. Why? First my back story…

Growing up I was never a big drinker; yes, there were the times when I would go out with friends, drink a whole bottle of spirits and have the usual hangovers and regrets, but I never considered myself a ‘problem drinker’. In my mid-late 30s things changed for me and alcohol became something I depended on to improve my mood and block out negative feelings. I began to drink alone; spend money I didn’t have on alcohol; drink instead of eat; drink during the day in bed; take drugs to increase the intoxication effect when the alcohol alone wasn’t enough; siphon alcohol into water bottles to drink secretly during the day; had days off work recovering from alcohol and mood hangovers, ended up moving in with my family after things got to a breaking point and had a month off work on sick leave[1].

IMG-1541Despite all of this I still had a very cocky view of drinking, in particular the perils of drinking and driving.

  • I had a misguided self belief that I was ‘good driver’ (fact: I had received numerous fines for speeding and being on my phone while driving);
  • I believed that I didn’t get drunk that easily (fact: I would often drive home after a night out and not remember the journey. I also caused damage to my car as I crashed into things and lost bits off my car);
  • I live close to the night life so I thought I could easily drive home using the back streets (fact: the majority of car accidents happen within 15-20kms from home);
  • I believe that alternative forms of transport were expensive and inconvenient (fact: an Uber trip from the city to my home costs $10-$15); and
  • Others in my life normalised this behaviour and did it themselves (fact: I’ve never been one to follow others).

Up until the 18th of March 2017 I had managed to run the gauntlet of driving while drunk reasonably unscathed. The story of what unfolded on this night is pretty typical really and not the focus on this blog – I went out, drank too much and decided to drive home. However, this time I was caught and subsequently charged with driving under the influence, appeared before court, received a hefty fine ($688) and had my licence suspended for 6 months.

I remember back to the day after this all happened; I had planned on keeping it a secret and was in denial that it had actually happened; so much so that I continued to drive for three days after the event (yes, stupid, stupid girl). I don’t know how I thought I was going to keep this a secret for 6 months; and in fact I only lasted four days before confiding in my friends and eventually my family. The responses from people were varied:

  • You stupid, stupid girl (my boss);
  • People do this all the time, you just got caught;
  • Silent disappointment, until I forced her to yell at me (my sister);
  • Sharing of own personal stories of similar situations;
  • It could have been worse, you could have killed someone (thanks mum for always being an optimist!);
  • Learn from your mistakes and move on;
  • Sending you positive energy and healing light; and
  • You’re such a brave and inspiring woman, even when you’ve taken a dip.

Everything happens for a reasonIMG-1536

Despite the challenges that I faced over the 6 month period, there are some huge lessons that I’ve learned about myself and others; this is what I want to focus on as I believe that the universe seeks to test us, our resilience, our belief in ourselves and the support of others.

If something is important to you, you’ll make it happen

Exercise and fitness was important to me so being able to keep up with my usual training schedule during my period of suspension was one of my biggest challenges; it was going to require extra effort and motivation. I was pretty adamant that I wasn’t going to rely on Ubers, public transport or friends/family to get me from A-Z (unless absolutely necessary). I had my neglected road bike serviced and ready to roll. Over the 6 months I clocked up nearly 2100kms on my bike (this was accumulated just by replacing any driving I would have done.)

I found myself riding or walking to my training location in the pouring rain and howling wind (I had even succumbed to wearing plastic pants to keep myself dry!). Keeping up with my usual routine was an important part of keeping some normalcy in my life and proving to myself that I wasn’t going to let this beat me.

It’s ok to ask for help

IMG-1543

 Being a single independent woman has always meant that asking for help has been hard. But when not asking for help means not participating in something you enjoy, I learned to be receptive to offers of help and was very grateful. Friends, family, colleagues, clients all came to my rescue on many occasions; and while I didn’t take up all offers (I’m still a stubborn person) there were moments when the help from others meant the world.

Riding is form of transport, not exercise…or is it?

About 10 years ago I cycled around 200-300kms per week for exercise and LOVED IT! I enjoyed being outside to work by body and clear my head. I also participated in indoor cycling classes about 3-4 times/week.

I’m not sure what happened but I lost interest and started to use any excuse not to ride my bike and it soon gathered rust and dust in the backyard (much to the disgust of my brother-in-law). So when I decided that, to save money, riding would become my main source of transportation, I certainly wasn’t jumping for glee. Three months earlier, coincidentally, one of my workplaces, LA Fit, was starting up a new indoor cycling program RIDE and I was asked if I wanted to do my training. My response ‘no way, I hate riding’. Karma is a bitch right? Now, I’m always happy to be proven wrong and how wrong I turned out to be. At the end of the 6 months I clocked up over 2000km on my bike and am now teaching RIDE at LA Fit three times/week. And…I LOVE IT!!!

IMG-1537

Mt Lawley will always be my ‘hood’

 I live within 3.5km of Perth city, 2kms from two of my workplaces and 9km from the other. I socialise largely within my ‘hood’ of Mt Lawley and have friends and family who also live close by. I have a bus stop 100m from my house and the train stops right near one of my workplaces. I have always loved living in an area that is so conveniently located, but this certainly made my life a lot easier over the last 6 months and something I’ll never take for granted.

Perth roads and drivers are not made for bike riders

 As an avid scooter driver, ex-cyclist and sister-in-law of a serious cyclist, I had some appreciation for how bad Perth drivers are, especially in relation to how they behave towards cyclists and the lack of awareness/consideration of other road users. It’s a whole different thing when you’re on the road every day, negotiating traffic in the wet weather. Yes, the behaviour of cyclists can also be disrespectful and dangerous (if you want to be given respect and safe passage on the road, then you must also respect the road rules). I lost count of the number of times I had close calls on the road; drivers that just didn’t see me, drivers who saw me but didn’t care and impatient and aggressive drivers. In saying that though, there was one occasion when I fell off my bike in the middle of Beaufort St (result of vertigo, not a driver) and a man stopped his car to stop traffic, make sure I was ok and he then walked me home – what a great Samaritan!

In saying all the above though, after being back in my car I’m quickly learning to appreciate riding my bike. It appears as though Perth drivers are ‘shit’ whether you’re driving a car, scooter or riding a bike. ‘Stop, breathe and relax’. Riding a bike is certainly less stressful than driving a car.

The impact you have on others can be far reaching, and unexpected

The reaction of my sister to losing my licence was at first silence, and then after pleading with her, an expression of anger. She was always aware of my drinking issues and there were many times she warned me not to drink after one of our home drinking sessions. The reason for her anger though was about the impact that my actions could have had on the two most important people in my life; my nephews. How would she explain to her boys that there Zia had died in an alcohol-related accident or that she had killed someone else?? Things I hadn’t contemplated; thinking that drinking and driving was something I had under control and my actions wouldn’t affect anyone other than me if I got caught. I remember my older nephew, Quinlan asking why I was riding a bike. Mmm, how to explain this to a 3 year-old. My mum had told him that Zia got in trouble for driving too fast. Taking it back to basics like that made me realise how stupid my actions were, how selfish and how potentially life damaging for me and others. This is one of my biggest regrets following this incident.

As always though, my experience and telling my story has had a positive impact too. I’ve always been a believer in breaking down the stigma that goes with mental health issues, of which alcoholism is one. I believe that by sharing my story, not just this one but my constant struggle, opens the door for others to be open and share their story; if only privately with me. And there have been many. So to those of who struggling publicly or privately; I understand and support you.

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger

 Over the 6 months of my licence suspension I felt like I was constantly being tested by the universe (I prefer to not say punished as I think of the experience as a lesson). Two months in I experienced a severe episode of vertigo, largely brought on by stress and physical exertion of my body (my training schedule didn’t change despite the extra exercise with riding). As a result of the vertigo I fell off my bike and scraped my leg and arm quite badly. This was the first of two occasions I fell off over that time.

I was also tested by one of the wettest and windiest winters; I remember on one occasion using all my strength to keep upright on the bike. On one day I just had to laugh at myself and the situation I’d ended up in – I walked 20 mins in the rain to get to yoga only to find the door locked, as I was late. I turned and walked the 20 mins home in the rain singing at the top of my voice.

IMG-1535IMG-1534

By the end of the 6 months my bike and I had become inseparable. So imagine the devastation when my rear wheel was stolen 9 days from the end of my suspension after a yoga class. The irony wasn’t lost as the theme of the class was giving love to receive love. There wasn’t a lot of love coming from me at that time, but the love shown by others who were there was so appreciated. I was so close to the end and the universe just had to kick me one last time; but it wasn’t the last time. Two days later I got a puncture in my new rear wheel; the first EVER! Let’s just say I wasn’t speaking very nicely to the universe after this last test.

Finally the day arrived that I thought would never come. Looking back I don’t think of the last 6 months as being terrible; but I think that’s largely because I wanted to embrace the experience, learn a lesson, realise how strong I actually am and come out the other side a better and stronger person. Positivity in the presence of darkness goes a long way to reframe our perspective and our experience.

So thanks universe; lesson learned and no longer will I be a stupid, stupid girl…

[1] https://relaxedinstrength.wordpress.com/2016/07/10/mind-body-connect-my-personal-account-of-my-love-hate-relationship-between-mental-health-and-physical-activity/

Mind Body Connect: My personal account of my love-hate relationship between mental health and physical activity — July 10, 2016

Mind Body Connect: My personal account of my love-hate relationship between mental health and physical activity

Earlier this year I was invited to be part of the Lifeline campaign “Do It for Yourself and Help Someone Else”, highlighting the importance of exercise in maintaining your mental health. This led to an exploration of my life so far and how I ended up at this point in my life. The end result – this blog post; a very honest account of my journey so far.

I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t involved in some form of physical activity. I remember the joy of receiving my first two-wheeler bike on Christmas day and the Saturdays when my dad, sister and I would spend the day walking through the bush across the road from our house while my mum worked. This time became a great outlet for the difficulties that were happening at home.

I also can’t remember a time in my life when mental health difficulties weren’t also part of my life – although at the time I didn’t understand the reason behind certain behaviours and feelings. My strongest memory as a child is being scared of my mum – her explosiveness, unpredictability and irrational behaviour. As a small child all I understood was that my mum was very strict and we had to be careful not to make her upset or angry. Of course what I know now is that my mum was extremely unwell mentally and as a result our household was always tense (my mum knows that I don’t hold any grudges or ill-feeling about my childhood – it was what it was. My mum and I are now extremely close and she is the most important person in my life).

So, I suppose my experience of both physical exercise and mental health has been lifelong, but it has only been in the last 10 to 15 years of my adult life that I’ve linked the importance of the two.

As I entered my school years my love of all things physical continued to grow – team sports (netball, softball, t-ball, soccer), competition, athletics (my nickname was the ferret because I ran so fast and just riding around the streets with friends. I can’t remember ever sitting inside being still (in fact, this was actively discouraged).

As often happens with teenage girls, my interest in exercise waned and my academic performance became a priority, both for my parents and I. I became more aware of the need to succeed, the pressure to be perfect and to be in control, which really was a symptom of my tense childhood.

So fast-forward to my 20s and 30s where this need to be perfect and in control influenced every aspect of my life.

I was constantly getting into trouble at work (aggressive, bending the rules, testing the boundaries, bullying others etc.). At first I thought I didn’t think it was me but I evidently became the common denominator (I’m sure my personnel files would be full). There were also moments in my life, which should have brought joy and happiness (the wedding of my sister) that left me feeling sad, worthless and lost. I felt I needed to control every aspect of my life to control these feelings and actions, and when I couldn’t then I would ‘act’ out even worse then before. I sought professional help but never felt that anyone understood me and so I turned to exercise, something that I had had such a positive relationship with as a child to ‘self-medicate’.

Here was something that made me feel and look good – how could this be wrong?? However, what followed was a decade of pushing my body and mind to the absolute limit. Exercise and controlling my diet were the main priorities in my life – it’s very easy to control things that don’t have a voice. I over trained to the point of multiple injuries, I had to be bedridden before I would miss a workout, I called in sick for work and cancelled family and social events just so I could train. I never felt that I trained frequently or intensely enough – I would only be satisfied if I felt like I was going to vomit afterwards.

As is often the case, issues with over-exercise are often accompanied by issues with food. I measured everything I ate, I calorie counted, I deprived myself of ‘treat’ foods and I binge ate. I was also the first person to try the newest ‘fad diet’, not to lose weight but just a way to control what I ate even more – gluten free, paleo, intermittent fasting, primal, low carb, high protein etc. Because I wasn’t anorexic or bulimic I didn’t think what I did qualified as an eating disorder, but I was just fooling myself.

Of course I felt extremely guilty every time I fell off the wagon of my version of ‘health’. So I would deprive myself of food and use exercise as a self-punishment and I would achieve positive results from this harmful behaviour. From the outside I appeared the picture of health – eating healthily and exercising regularly. I would get comments from people about how well I looked and how my public persona via Facebook and Instagram inspired them to be healthier. Rather than making me feel good about myself, these comments only made me feel worse – I was a fraud and if people found out the truth my ‘ugly’ self would be known. As with any extreme behaviours there is often a breaking point and I reached mine TWICE.

The first led to me leaving my full-time job and taking 12 months of unpaid leave to run my sister’s café. This was a blessing in disguise as for a short time it gave my mind a break, but that was short lived. Self-doubt crept in – who was I anymore? So much of my identity had been linked to my professional career and the need to succeed. Why did I go to university for five years to ‘just’ work in a café? I ended up returning to my professional career part-time as this was all I could cope with. This was also the time that my career in the fitness industry really escalated.

So with a new ‘identity’ or future path, why wasn’t I happy? In fact, why was I unhappier than before? I was so racked with guilt and shame about who I was and so out of control that I started to drink alcohol excessively –I downed whole bottles of wine on my own, drank a bottle of vodka a week, drank during the day in bed to the point of being drunk and siphoning alcohol into water bottles so no one knew I was drinking. I remember walking to my sister’s café during the middle of the day and arriving drunk and in tears. I would also combine this with benzodiazepines to increase the numbness and intoxication. Finally something that made me feel better.

Like my obsession with food and exercise, this struggle was private. At the same time I was fighting to maintain the status quo with my diet and exercise regime. I felt like I was juggling 100 balls and at any time my world would crumble. I thought that from the outside my life appeared normal, while it was chaotic, depressing and energy-sapping to live this way.

Eventually my second breaking point was reached – my private struggle became public as my friends clued into what was going on. They let my family know of their concerns and an intervention ensued. I moved in with my sister where I could be supervised and was off work for a month. I had lost weight and was unable to train as I had reached the point of physical and emotional exhaustion – but I just didn’t care anymore. I spent days in bed either sleeping or crying. Even the medicine for my soul, my nephew Quinlan, wasn’t making me feel better.

That was two and half years ago and over that time there have been many ups and downs – I am currently on three different medications to manage my mood and anxiety (I have diagnoses of depression, anxiety and bi-polar disorder. My diagnoses brought some comfort as I felt like there was an explanation for how I felt and sometimes-abrupt mood changes.

I still have occasional periods of being unable to work; I will on occasion drink excessively (suffering extreme ‘mood hangovers’); I control my diet and exercise more than the average person. So what have the lessons and difficult times through my life taught me?

  • I train smarter, not harder. Previously I would do 2-3 hours of high impact cardio a day. The amount of physical and mental energy required for that kind of workout day after day is huge and obviously not sustainable. For me it was all about exercising to burn calories. With age, wisdom and exhaustion came reflection and ultimate change. I currently only do 3-4 high impact/energy cardio workouts a week and mix it up with strength training, low intensity cardio (walking) and yoga 5 times a week. For me it’s about creating balance, both with what my body needs and what my mind demands.
  • I listen to my body and mind; MOST of the time (I’m not perfect and I don’t have all the answers). I know that missing a day of training or reducing my training load isn’t going to result in a massive disaster. I’m much more realistic about my ability and what aging means in terms of my capacity. However I still have days when I feel that I can conquer the world and my training reflects that, increasing in frequency and intensity. Previously this was identified as me feeling awesome, whereas now it’s a reminder that I may be feeling anxious, losing control or on my way to a manic phase (part of living with bi-polar disorder).
  • I eat healthily, but I now eat to perform; eating so I can function in my day-to-day life. For me this is about recognising what my body needs, rather than adhering to a specific diet or opinion of what I should be eating.
  1. Avoidance, where possible, of processed foods;
  2. Minimal consumption of grain-based carbohydrates, limited to quinoa, chia seeds and rice;
  3. Gluten free (because it doesn’t agree with me, not because I think it’s healthier). I generally avoid gluten-free processed products.
  4. Large consumption of fruit and vegetables (fresh, dried and frozen);
  5. Moderate consumption of animal based protein, including eggs, seafood (tinned tuna, prawns and salmon), poultry (roasted or poached), red meat and of course BACON!!
  6. Limited consumption of dairy (at the time of writing this I’ve reduced my dairy consumption to see if it will solve some of my ongoing gut issues).
  7. Moderate consumption of coffee, nuts, chocolate (not always dark) and alcohol – yes, I still drink.
  • With recognising that the need to control every aspect of your life is not sustainable, comes times when I feel out of control. At these times I have learnt to be gentle with myself – as gentle as I would be with a friend or family member who also has these moments. I try to treat myself with kindness and love. I accept that I’ll never be perfect or normal, and to be honest I don’t really want to be. All the things that have made life a struggle have also made me a more well-rounded, quirky and ‘interesting’ person. I have embraced the ‘crazy’.

So, is there a happy ending to this story? Those of you who have experienced mental health issues, either first hand or indirectly, you’ll know there is no ending, happy or otherwise. Achieving balance between my physical and mental health is a journey that will be ongoing for the rest of my life. What I know is that it is a fine line between the awesome benefits of physical activity and good nutrition for mental health and the tipping point of excessive behaviour on either front. Now I’m just better at recognising the signs and nipping it in the bud.

With acceptance of self naturally comes the need to help others. I am open about my struggles. I’m a voice for mental health and removing the taboo that is still present in society. As someone who works in the fitness industry I try to show, rather than hide, my struggles or physical limitations. I’m not always the role model that I want to be, but I also don’t try to hide my ‘failings’.

One small way that I’m trying to help others is being joining the Lifeline ‘Do it for Yourself and Help Someone Else’ campaign. Please join me in supporting this awesome cause by donating via my fundraising page below.

https://give.everydayhero.com/au/do-it-for-yourself-and-help-someone-else#/?_k=1m14dm

 

Dear Yoga – an open letter — December 16, 2015

Dear Yoga – an open letter

Dear Yoga

About 10 years ago a friend of mine told me about this awesome ‘person’ that I just had to meet. Something so different to the other ‘people’ in my life, and something so powerful, that my life would change. Of course I was dubious – what good sceptic wouldn’t be? – but I agreed to meet this person, secretly hoping that it would live up to all the hype. So one evening I went along, with trepidation and excitement, and that was when I met you.

Now I’m not one to rush into things so I agreed to start off slow and only see you once a week. I wasn’t going to start this relationship blind and with just anyone. I had to be in a relationship that would challenge me but also be comfortable; and the Ashtanga[i] version of you fitted the bill. A practice that would challenge me physically, was structured and wouldn’t involve too much time doing nothing (which was what I naively called meditation).

Over the next 12 months I became completely besotted and I looked forward to our regular rendezvous. The major attractions were the soothing music, burning incense and a chance to get ‘better’ in the practice. At the beginning I was uncomfortable with the challenge you presented and I wanted to be a perfect partner in the relationship. This wasn’t easy as perfectionism has no place with you and I wasn’t used to putting myself in situations where I wasn’t capable. It wasn’t until I realised that this relationship went both ways that I started to see where this could take me. I gave you my commitment, strength and hard work, while you gave me challenge, anonymity, care, comfort and increased flexibility. The sheer physicality of the practice gave me a chance for my mind to shut down for 90 minutes. There’s not so much else you can focus on when your body is contorted in all sorts of positions.

IMG_7966Over this time you guided me to delve deeper into the practice as I learned
about Buddhism, Sanskrit, meditation and personal growth. I no longer saw lying in savasana as doing ‘nothing’[ii]. I even had a symbol of you tattooed on my arm – a constant and permanent reminder of what you’d taught me (zithilabala, meaning ‘relaxed in strength’).

However, over time my commitment to you faltered. What had previously drawn me to you was now becoming boring, mundane and repetitive. Something was missing and I couldn’t put my finger on it. Of course I blamed everything – life getting in the way, moving work locations and entering into the world of teaching others. And so I left the warmth, familiarity, challenge and physical and mental health benefits – to my detriment.

Over the following four or so years my mental health deteriorated (I had begun to rely on prescription drugs and alcohol to fill a void), my physical health suffered leading to a range of injuries, I left my job and career and started to question who I was and what I wanted to do with my life. At the time I didn’t credit you with all you’d given me over our short, but very meaningful, relationship.

Fast-forward to nearly 2 years ago and I still hadn’t had any contact with you. Of course I thought about you often and wanted to see you again, but I always found excuses to put you to the back of my mind. As a result of leaving my job I worked for my sister in her café. Every day as I turned up to work I watched people enter the yoga studio up the road (Power Living). Old/young, male/female, all ethnicities and body types – the only similarity was their destination and the look of bliss as they left. I was jealous that they had this relationship with you, but I was scared to go back. I don’t know why.

Then about six months ago a friend casually mentioned that she was going to this studio and asked if I wanted to go. That moment in time was make or break for our future relationship – should I go, what happens if I like you, what happens if I don’t??? I’m so glad that I said ‘yes’. I jumped in headfirst and haven’t looked back.

This time around things were going to be different:

  • I needed more than what you offered last time. I needed the physical challenge of a yang practice, but also craved flow and creativity. Hello Vinyasa![iii]
  • To make the most of our relationship I had to commit to seeing you regularly. Once or twice a week wasn’t enough so I’ve tried to see you four times a week.
  • There weren’t enough hours in the day to see you and continue seeing other ‘people’ as much as I had been. Something had to give so I ended up sharing my time with you and my other ‘loves’ – group fitness – to achieve balance.
  • Rocking up to see you day after day, without making other changes in my life, wasn’t going to be effective. I had to pull together the other ingredients for our relationship to be successful – eating healthily, meditation, ensuring I had adequate sleep, fostering and maintaining positive relationships with friends and family. Without these, our relationship would fail – AGAIN!

So what have I learned from you this time around?

‘Go hard or go home’ isn’t helpful: This is a philosophy that has followed me my whole life and to my detriment with physical and mental injuries and difficulties. If I wasn’t sweating profusely, aching or tired I wasn’t working hard enough on our relationship. If my ‘up-dog’ wasn’t the biggest or grandest, then I wasn’t honouring you or myself. Over the year I’ve learnt this the hard way – a stress fracture in my foot and a recurring back injury are reminders of my inability to go easy on myself. This isn’t something that isn’t so easily unlearned – I still beat myself up if I can’t maintain my balance in tree pose.

I don’t need to be perfect: As someone who has had this drummed into them in my other fitness pursuits (arms straighter, point your toes, chest up etc.), this focus on form (outside of safety requirements) isn’t necessary with you. I have a small curve in my middle back that I thought I could flatten out by lying on a block for extended periods of time. You don’t have to be a health professional to realise that this isn’t a good thing to do – and I have back issues now as a result. It’s ok if my knees need to be bent in downward dog or my arm lines are perfectly straight in side angle pose.

My physical strength is an asset: The ability to use to use my strength to increase my flexibility and hold myself in positions cannot be underestimated. A yoga instructor once told me that it is much easier to increase your flexibility if you’re strong than to increase your strength if you’re flexible.

I hate complacency and always look for ways to get more out of something, whether that is physically or mentally. Physically, I have taught myself how to do headstands and arm balances. I have also found a spiritual connection to something greater than myself.

Despite the positive changes in my approach to our relationship I still have a long way to go, including what I’ve outlined earlier. There are many other challenges that have presented themselves which continue to teach me more about myself. For brevity I’ve kept it to just two!

Non-attachment: Non-attachment is a big theme in yoga and means not having personal or selfish desires. It’s about letting go of those desires and being in the moment. However, I’m someone who is easily distracted by…. well, everything! Smells – did someone have garlic for lunch or just smoke a cigarette; sounds – heavy pranayama breathing or loud ‘oms’; sights – speedos belong on the beach not the yoga studio or my flaking nail polish; instructors – too much detail, not enough, accent or tone of voice etc. Only when I can let these things go will I truly experience non-attachment – “time disappears. Our actions become perfect. Our work becomes a selfless service and a form of meditation.”[iv]

Yin is as important as yang: I’ve always been drawn to the more yang style of practice, focusing on strength, fitness and flow, as it fits more with my personality and preference for exercise. My inability to sit still, relax and be in the moment is, however, reinforced by the yang. Yin is about flexibility, mindfulness and softness. Yin and Yang are complementary to each other and one cannot exist without the other, you can’t have night (Yin) without day (Yang) for example. The two make up the whole.[v] Yin, to me, is like brussel sprouts and broccoli – even though you know it’s good for you, you still don’t want to do it. However, maybe as I’ve recently learned to love brussel sprouts and broccoli I can also learn to love yin.

So, what now?? Should I be content with our relationship as it is, or should I up the ante? Are the challenges I’ve presented here enough to take me forward, or do I want more? As someone who already teaches others, the natural progression would be for me to train to teach others about you. Should I share you or keep all of what you’ve shown and taught me to myself? Will our relationship be challenged too much or will it grow? All questions to ponder…

For now my dear friend, I just want to say THANK YOU. Thanks for being you, for waiting patiently for me to come back, for opening up your arms and teaching me so much about myself. I hope we stay in each other’s lives forever.

Love

Jacinta

 

[i] http://www.ashtanga.com/

[ii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shavasana

[iii] http://info.lululemon.com.au/education/yoga/vinyasa-yoga

[iv] http://www.yogalifestylecoach.com/nonattachment.html

[v] http://www.ekhartyoga.com/blog/balancing-the-yin-and-yang-in-your-practice

Spring into Spring – finally! — August 23, 2015

Spring into Spring – finally!

Spring into Spring – finally!

Every winter I go through the same process of complaining about the weather; “It’s too cold”, “I hate the wind”, “When’s summer coming?” or “This weather is worse than last year” etc. I’ve jokingly said that I feel like I’m suffering from SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), with symptoms like low mood, lack of energy, overeating etc. However, according to Beyond Blue, SAD is very rare in Australia and is more common in Northern Hemisphere countries[i]. Despite this the weather can have a huge impact on lives and influence our attitude.

So, why do Australians in general (I’m not the only one complaining) hate winter so much, when really our winter is mild compared to a lot of other countries? Is it about the weather that we hate or more about looking forward to what’s to come?

Spring, and subsequently summer, brings all kinds of activities, feelings, smells and sounds; indicative of new beginnings. The smell of freshly cut grass, the sight of people outside enjoying the outdoors, baby ducks at the local park, the feeling of sun on your skin, beer and BBQs rather than roasts and red wine and the change in social calendars (Sunday sessions, days at the beach, picnics in the park etc.).

Needless to say, I can’t wait! After three months of rugging up, hibernating, less exercise outdoors, shorter days and enjoying more comfort food I know I need a little kick-start. Whether that is exercising more, eating healthier or looking after our minds and bodies in other ways, spring is a perfect time to make some positive changes and shake off those winter blues.

Here are some suggestions to help you ‘Spring into Spring’ with a feeling of renewal and reawakening.

Find new ways to relax.IMG_4039

The philosophy behind Relaxed in Strength is to identify ways to strengthen the mind and body by learning how to simultaneously relax the mind and body. Some of my favourite ways to relax are: massages[ii], going for a walk, listening to music, meditating, playing with my nephew, doing yoga, hanging out with friends etc. Both active and passive forms of relaxation are great to consider. What are your favourites?

Go outside

Sit in your garden (or on your balcony), walk the dog, take your kids to the park or exercise outdoors. As soon as the weather begins to warm up and the sun is shining, spend more time outdoors. As well as the awesome benefits from being in the fresh air, you can also avoid all your boring household chores!

11223696_518159325009218_3038817980273204227_n-2If you’ve been exercising indoors, what about switching to some more outdoor exercise? North Perth Bootcamp runs an outdoor bootcamp in North Perth seven days a week (www.northperthbootcamp.com.au). You get all the benefits of exercise with the added bonuses of vitamin D, fresh air, connection with nature, memories of youth (who doesn’t remember rolling around on the grass as a child?) and the group experience. My friends Ash and John, with their years of experience in the fitness industry, ensure you get an awesome workout.

Experiment with foodIMG_0252

With the busy lives that everyone leads one of the ways we get stuck in our routine is with menu planning. The change of seasons offers many opportunities to tingle the taste buds. Spring brings avocados (cheaper than $3 each!), mangoes, fresh berries, figs, melons and the start of the awesome summer stone fruit. In terms of vegetables the usual suspects of winter are still in our markets (broccoli, zucchini, potatoes etc.), so we can mix these up by changing our cooking method. I’ve provided four recipes at the end of the blog that might bring some excitement to your spring dinner table – combining seasonal produce with different cooking techniques. [iii]

Embrace change

IMG_6509As the seasons change, it’s the perfect opportunity to incorporate change into an area of your life that’s become stagnant. Take exercise for example, are you stuck in a rut just doing the same old thing? Why not try something else. I know I’ve reaped so many benefits from incorporating yoga into my weekly routine. I’ve for so long focused on strengthening my muscles and increasing my cardio fitness that I forgot about the yin to my yang. Rather than tightening (and therefore shortening) muscles, try elongating and stretching muscles. If you’re time poor or can’t afford to get to a yoga class an app might be for you. I use Yoga Studio (available via the Apple App Store) that has heaps of pre-designed classes for everyone – different levels of difficulty, focuses (strength, flexibility, balance) and lengths of the time (15-60 minutes). You can even design your own routines.

IMG_5490
Lafit Studio, Subiaco

Otherwise, Lafit Studio in Subiaco (Lagree fitness classes) [iv] or Power Living in North Perth (power vinyasa and hot yoga classes) [v] are both places that I work out to mix up my routines.

Are there others areas of your life that could benefit from some change or mixing up your? New hairstyle for example – I’m currently contemplating cutting all my hair off to a pixie – eek! It’s only hair, right??

TOOLS TO ASSIST CHANGE

 Ted Radio Hour Podcast

  • “A journey through fascinating ideas: astonishing inventions, fresh approaches to old problems, new ways to think and create. Based on talks given by riveting speakers on the world-renowned TED stage, each show is centered on a common theme – such as the source of happiness, crowd-sourcing innovation, power shifts, or inexplicable connections.” [vi]
  • Check out the following episodes: Transformation, Courage and Champions

 Coach.me App (free via the Apple App Store)

  • An app that will help you achieve any number of goals, from getting fit, improving happiness and relationships, eating healthily, losing weight, meditating etc. Set your goals and then join a community that shares those goals to help with the motivation you need to succeed.

SPRING INTO SPRING ACTION

To give you a little inspiration and motivation Relaxed in Strength is kicking off spring with an Instagram campaign called ‘Spring into Spring’. So, how does it work?

  • Each day throughout the month of September I will post a photo on my Instagram page @relaxedinstrength with the ‘Spring into Spring’ theme of the day.
  • Email relaxedinstrength@gmail.com to register your participation and follow @relaxedinstrength.[vii]
  • Post your own photo depicting the theme and tag each picture with #springintospring, #relaxedinstrength and @relaxedinstrength (you don’t have to post every day).
  • Also check out @northperthbootcamp while they jump in on the ‘Spring into Spring’ campaign for some extra motivation and inspiration.

RECIPES

BREAKFASTIMG_6249

Chia pudding (recipe makes 7 servings)

  • 80g chia seeds
  • 2C milk (any milk of your choosing)
  • 2 apples, peeled and chopped finely
  • 300g berries

(optional extras: cinnamon, ginger, vanilla extract. The fruit can also be mixed up – try mango with some turmeric).

Method: slowly stew the apples and berries until soft, like compote. Then mix together with chia seeds and milk and put in the fridge overnight. (Served here with m homemade bone broth)

LUNCH

Broccoli salad (serves 1)

  • ¼ head of broccoli – chopped and raw
  • Julienned vegetables of your choice (carrot, beetroot, fennel)
  • 1 tomato diced
  • ½ avocado
  • 100g poached chicken (or other protein – 50g cooked bacon, 50g smoked salmon, 2 boiled/poached eggs, small tin of tuna)
  • 40g dry roasted or raw nuts (I prefer almonds or cashews)
  • Dressing: olive oil, apple cider vinegar, salt/pepper and some seeded mustard – all to taste

Method: chop/julienne all the vegetables. Prepare your protein by either poaching, frying or cooking. Mix the dressing ingredients together and then combine everything. Can prepare a day ahead, but leave the dressing until ready to eat.

DINNER

Salmon fillet with zucchini and mint ribbon salad (serves 1)

  • 1 salmon fillet (about 160g)
  • ½ zucchini (thinly sliced into ribbons or made into zucchini pasta with a spiraller)
  • handful of fresh mint leaves
  • 8 kalamata olives
  • Dressing: olive oil, juice of ½ a lemon, salt and pepper

Method: cook the salmon fillet by either frying, baking in the oven or poaching. Prepare the zucchini and then mix in chopped mint leaves and olives. Prepare dressing and then pour over salad.

DESSERT

Banana and strawberry ‘mojito’ ice-cream (serves 2)IMG_6471

  • 1 frozen banana (slightly defrosted)
  • 150g frozen strawberries (other berries can be used too)
  • handful of chopped mint or basil
  • rind of one lime
  • 100g natural yoghurt

Method: put the banana, strawberries, herbs and rind into a food processor. Blend until the mixture is smooth (depending on how frozen your banana is, and how strong your food processor is, this could take a while and be a bit shaky). Once smooth add the yoghurt and blend until combined. Can be eaten straight away or returned to the freezer till a little firmer.

[i] https://www.beyondblue.org.au/the-facts/depression/types-of-depression

[ii] www.facebook.com/relaxedinstrength for deep tissue, relaxation and sports massage

[iii] http://seasonalfoodguide.com/perth-wa-seasonal-fresh-produce-guide-fruits-vegetables-in-season-availability-australia.html

[iv] www.lafitstudio.com.au (Disclaimer: I currently work at Lafit Studio)

[v] www.powerliving.com.au

[vi] http://www.npr.org/podcasts/510298/ted-radio-hour

[vii] By emailing relaxedinstrength@gmail.com you are also agreeing to receive email notification of further blog posts.

Meditation: why do there need to be so many rules? — August 12, 2015

Meditation: why do there need to be so many rules?

A recent study found that people would rather give themselves an electric shock than meditation; men more so than women[i]. Why would this be the case when the benefits of meditation (better sleep, greater clarity in thinking, stress reduction, connection with self etc.) are so widely known?

[ii]Meditation_1

Maybe it’s because there are so many rules about how to do it. Seated or lying down; eyes open or eyes closed, guided or on your own, active or passive, the longer the better. So many decisions to make before you even get to the point of meditating, Is there a right way and a wrong way to mediate? I personally don’t think so.

Meditation means different things to everybody and is a personal experience that is as individual as you are. I’ve never been one for following rules, so when I read or am told that there is ‘right’ way to meditate, my first reaction is why? Surely, it should be the journey and the destination, rather than the vehicle you use to get there.

So, if you’ve thought about meditating, here are some lessons or tips that I’ve learned that may make meditation easier to incorporate into your daily routine.

Seated or lying down? I believe that when meditating you should be comfortable, but not so comfortable that you fall asleep. If that means sitting in a chair, on the floor, lying in bed then that’s the position you should assume. This might be different each time you meditate according to how you feel or where you are (sometimes meditating in the car for five minutes before you start driving may be the only free time you have that day). At a meditation retreat I’ve attended we were encouraged to get into any position where you can focus without feeling pain or discomfort.

Eyes open or eyes closed? I find that this varies on what is going on in my mind and where I am. At yoga, I position myself directly under a single light globe and focus on this intently while I meditate. The problem with this sometimes is that people may interrupt you, as you don’t ‘look’ like you’re meditating. At home I prefer to meditate with my eyes closed (although sometimes I’ll sneak my eyes open to see which of my cats has jumped on my lap for a cuddle). If you’re easily distracted by what is going on around you then closing your eyes may suit you better. However, if you find that that it is too intense being alone with your thoughts you may like to focus on one thing – a light, candle or other object.

Active or passive? As someone who finds it hard to sit still at the best of times and is a big fidgeter, sitting still alone with my thoughts is sometimes near impossible and is counterproductive. The longer I sit still the more restless I get. So I’ve found other ways to meditate which are more active and about being mindful in daily tasks or engaging in one activity intently. Now I’m certainly guilty of going for a walk and doing many things at once – walking, looking at my surroundings, listening to music and checking Facebook (yes, I’m one of those annoying people). Where is the mindfulness in that? So I try to walk focusing on only one thing, rather than multi-tasking. You’re still getting a range of benefits – fresh air, exercise and mindfulness all in one hour. Alternatives you may like to consider are adult colouring books/pages[iii] or participating mindfully in daily and seemingly mundane tasks (eating breakfast, drinking coffee, brushing your teeth). The key is to experience each task or activity fully. In saying that, sometimes I am able to sit still and meditate giving me a totally different, but equally beneficial experience.

 Is longer better? I recently participated in a six-week program to fully immerse myself in my yoga practice. One component of that program was meditation and over the six weeks we gradually increased the amount of time spent, starting at 5 minutes and building to 30 minutes by the end. Five minutes – success, 10 minutes – success, 15 minutes – success; but then I hit a stumbling block as I tried to get to 20 minutes. It’s like my body and mind just knew what its limits were – I started to get fidgety, my body started to cramp up (even sitting comfortably in a chair) and my mind wandered to everything except the task at hand. I began to open my eyes to check the clock every few seconds. I was no longer focused on what I was doing; I just couldn’t wait until the 20 minutes were up. From that day I decided to just do what my body and mind wanted to do; around 10 minutes. This was where I stayed for the remaining six weeks and was able to do it daily without frustration, agitation or beating myself up for failing. So the lesson here is – it’s about quality not quantity.

Guided or on your own? A quick search on iTunes or the App Store will yield a plethora of apps or guided relaxation guides[iv]. Some are definitely better than others and they vary greatly in what they do. Sometimes you may have to give it a go to find if it works for you. I personally prefer to start off guided but then get left to my own devices after set-up. I found this out when using a guided meditation app recently. I was set up to start breathing and I gradually fell into a meditative state. I was then jolted into awareness as the person started to speak again. However, sometimes I need to be guided the whole time if my mind is busy. On other days I don’t need a guide at all and will go through a breathing exercise[v]. Again, find what is right for you.

So there you go – my thoughts and suggestions on how to incorporate meditation into your life. It’s not always easy, but certainly worth it. Isn’t that how all things that are ‘good’ for you be? Good luck!

[i] http://mindfulnessbrainscience.blogspot.com.au/2015/07/shocking-reasons-to-learn-how-to.html#.Vcspk3jlekh

[ii] http://www.artofliving.org/meditation/meditation-for-you/benefits-of-meditation

[iii] http://www.coloring-pages-adults.com/coloring-zen/

[iv] Headspace and Smiling Mind are two of my favourites

[v] http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-21106/a-quick-1-minute-meditation-you-can-do-anywhere.html?utm_source=mbg&utm_medium=email&utm_content=daily&utm_campaign=150809

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