Facing Up To Your Body

This is my first non-food related post. Partly because I haven’t cooked anything interesting worth posting (e.g. omelettes, fried fish w/ veg), although I’ve been eating paleo, and partly because I haven’t been cooking anything interesting because of my depression.

I’ve suffered from depression for over 15 years now. Probably clinical depression for around a decade. The episodes come and go, sometimes sinking down to severe. My latest dip has been going on since August. It suddenly hit me when the weather in the UK went from heat-wave summer temperature to cold fall air.

The only way I can describe it to someone is to have them imagine the physical symptoms they experience when they are really, really upset and stressed about something – heart ache (literally), stomach cramps, shoulder ache, heaviness in the body, eternal sadness which sits in the stomach. Imagine having that follow you around, 24/7, for no particular reason – at least none that you can see. Because there is no perceptible reason, you can’t seem to fix it. You are always in a state of both chronic emotional and physical pain.

Now there could be a whole host of factors why this is occurring. A genetic predisposition to low serotonin levels, there actually being some sort of a reason but I don’t see it, and so forth. However what I do know is that this is having a serious toll on my body and I need to somehow tackle that.

I started yoga last week and immediately connected with it. For months I’ve known that yoga was what I needed but didn’t have the courage to plunge into a new class in the gym. I’d done yoga several times before in the past, and whilst it always was refreshing, I never really ‘connected’ with it to the extent that I felt like I wanted to make it a proper practice. Something has changed now, and I know it’s exactly what I need and I’m hungry for more.

Why do I love yoga so much? Well it’s a spiritual practice rooted in thousands of years of history. I’ve chewed my way through various spiritual texts, but have failed to implement a proper practice in my life. After a week and a half of yoga, I’ve noticed subtle things like how you need to clear and quieten your mind in order to balance properly.  There is no ego in yoga – no wanting to outshine the person next to you, no exerting yourself to exhaustion. You just do the movement to where you feel comfortable and enjoy the moment. It also leads to a meditative awareness of the body. I have misaligned hips, and am mentally aware of this, but I don’t really feel it in my body. I only become physically aware of it when I overexert myself and nerve pain shoots through my leg. With yoga I constantly feel the imbalance in every movement – one side of my body tends to be considerably stiffer than the other because my body is trying to compensate for the misalignment I have in my hips. I also have become aware of the way I stand – I tend to balance on the outside of my feet. I feel very grounded at the end of the class.

I had an epiphany yesterday. The reasons regarding why I continue to do high impact cardio like body combat and zumba despite the fact that a) I am physically and mentally exhausted to an unhealthy level afterwards b) something doesn’t feel ‘right’, e.g. body combat class promotes aggression, was because sweating really helps me. I feel like I wet cloth being wringed out of all the bad stuff in my body. The swelling in my face disappears. I thought this was the only reason why I didn’t quit these exercises despite the fact that I knew very strongly that I should. But as I was talking to the yoga teacher about this I heard myself say to her ‘I don’t want to quit because I am scared of gaining weight’, and realised there was a deeper reason in there that I wasn’t consciously aware of till that moment. It then dawned on me that at the end of the day I was attached to these exercises. Attached because of I didn’t want to let go of exercises I’d been doing for pretty much a decade, attached to the ideal of being physically fit,  and attached to the endorphin-high.

I guess now with this awareness, I can slowly start the process of letting go.

Yesterday I went to a Qi Gong (Kikou in Japanese) class. For two hours we went through a string of seemingly simple movements that in practice are very difficult to get right – I guess akin to yogis saying that the ‘dead man’s pose’ i.e. lying down still is the hardest pose of them all. Through the movements I *really* felt this time exactly how bad my posture is and the effect it is subsequently having on my body. My shoulders are chronically stiff, and my back is arched unhealthily. More so now probably because of my depression.

The teacher slowly showed me how my back should be aligned, and it’s a far cry from how I usually hold myself. But after he made a few adjustments – voila suddenly I felt a huge release in my spine and it was telling me loud and clear : THIS IS HOW YOU ARE SUPPOSED TO STAND. This is another moment where understanding of my slumped posture – I know very well that it’s awful – transformed into an actual physical awareness of it. I’ve learnt how to superficially and probably unhealthily cover this up in dance class, but you can’t hide anything in yoga or qi gong class. You have to honestly face yourself.

One final epiphany this week has been the concept of total acceptance of the moment. Starting with meditation – I started a course this week. In the past when meditating I’d always inhibit my thoughts to create quiet, rather than let them naturally come and go. I don’t think this is healthy – especially as I’m starting to sense that perhaps the roots of my depression may lie in my unhealthy suppression of thoughts and emotions. Besides, how do we know what state we’re supposed to be in if we haven’t experienced it? The only thing you can do is to accept the present as openly and consciously as possible.

I felt the same with Qi Gong. Because I am very sensitive to energy (I’ll explain in another post), I can manipulate energy, or ki, or Qi, in my body. So whenever I went to qi gong classes in the past I would do this, thinking that unless I felt swirls of energy increasing in vibration in my body I was doing something wrong. But doing the simplistic exercises yesterday, at some points I thought ‘do I need to start manipulating energy?’ but then I thought, ‘but how do I know what I am supposed to be manipulating?’. I realised that for now, focusing just on these movements, in the present, in enough. I will move in the direction I need to be heading naturally. I guess this is why spiritual masters used to teach exercises to their students without telling them why they were doing what they were doing – the epiphany would come eventually, but it would come from within.

So on that note I’m off for some more present-moment focus in a yoga class.



Early morning yoga in the park.

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