Tag: inspiration

Of autumn leaves and things

Of autumn leaves and things

One of the many things I love about Kerala is how lush and green it is here. These past few days have been wonderful for so many reasons, being back in my grandmother’s house, a wedding in the family, lots of food (no I don’t starve in London but I don’t have to worry about cooking when I’m in India, and the food seems unlimited and so delicious) and this morning there was a torrential downpour. I could hear the sound of the rain when I was in bed half-asleep, and when I woke up properly the foliage in and around the house looked even more spectacular, green and fresh.

Which got me thinking back to how I’ve been unconsciously amazed everyday in London the past few weeks: autumn colours are stunning! I love waking up in the mornings and looking at the tree outside my window, the leaves have turned a fiery red and are slowly changing everyday. Back in school we were taught the four seasons: summer, autumn, winter and spring but the seasons are different in Calcutta (the raging monsoons, for instance) and its in London I’ve experienced autumn for the very first time. I think its my favourite season, but to be fair I’ve learnt to love each season in its own right and the English weather doesn’t really bother me, besides an occasional rant I might have if my shoes and bag get wet.

Autumn colours, oh my goodness, they take my breath away. Everyday mundane tasks like going to work or the shops is made so interesting just by the vividness of the scenery around me, nature at its finest. Besides being stunning to look at, autumun reminds me of the natural cycle of seasons every year, which I like to mark by the trees along the road I live on. Bare and ghostly in winter, new life blossoming in spring leading to luxuriant blooms in summer and then my favourite, autumn, where it feels like the trees are shedding off their excesses in preparation for a long rest in winter again. I love making up analogies in my head and one of my favourites is the sad, bare tree in winter feeling very dejected that it has nothing to show for itself or its life. By the time spring comes along the new shoots signal hope and the tree hangs on, and by summer it has almost forgotten how sad it had been its so busy enjoying its finery of leaves and flowers…in autumn it is resplendent in its sheer beauty and as its leaves start falling it starts becoming sad and scared again, but then reminds itself that this too shall pass. Troubles and sadness pass, happiness is fleeting, change is the only constant. I tried selling this to my sister a while ago when she was feeling very low (with pictures of said tree to boot) and at the time she was less than appreciative and its the closest she has come to swearing at me, but now that she is in her “summer” she admits I had a point.

What else do I love about autumn?

The air is so clean, chilly and crisp.

The sun is still around, but you can tell its on its way out.

I love the promise of winter, yes I quite enjoy winter too there is something magical about it (now thats another post) and Christmas is in the air which in itself seems to cheer Londoners up a great deal.

I tried a pumpkin spice latte at Starbucks the other day and despite it being £3.25 (definitely not going to be a regular feature in my life!) I loved it, and it made me anticipate the gingerbread lattes coming soon.

Mulled wine, YUM!

Fireworks, Guy Fawkes Night and Diwali.

I always come back to the colours though. Bright, vivid, stunning and just so alive yet signalling the end for themselves. Reminding me that nothing lasts forever, and to live for the moment.

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And I lived happily every after…

And I lived happily every after…

I once told a friend “I wish I knew what the rest of my life will look like, I can’t stand not knowing.” I was all of 23 and very anxious about what I would do once I graduated with a Master’s degree. What if it wasn’t a first class degree though? What if my dissertation wasn’t a revolutionary essay that would forever change the course of social work in India? What if I didn’t get a well-paying job? What if I got a well-paying job and then everyone judged me because social work isn’t meant to be about the money?

By the time I turned 25 I had moved to London, had a job that paid extremely well (by Indian standards, oh the judgement!) and had started living my dream of travelling the world. Yet I remember spending sleepless nights after hours on Facebook looking at people’s seemingly perfect pictures of coupledom, marriage and babies. I don’t even have faint love-interest let alone a boyfriend, what kind of an Indian girl isn’t married by the time she is 25, worse yet what kind of girl doesn’t want to have babies, oh my God what if I’m not married by the time I’m 30?

I travelled to Berlin on my own in June 2013, the day I was coming back to London I had some time to kill before my flight. I remember sitting at a roadside café in the sunshine (I am aware of just how posh this could sound, but stay with me!) looking through my journal. This is a journal I’d brought with a flourish way back when in 2006, and I would have spurts of writing furiously followed by months and even years of blank pages of silence. I took it along with me thinking this would a trip of introspection and achieving self-actualisation, and of course I didn’t crack it open until it was time to head back! Berlin is such a fantastic city yet my most vivid memory is of not being able to sleep at night worrying about work. I was about to rant in my journal about just how stressful my job in social work is, I needed to figure out something different to do with the rest of my life, once I switched jobs of course everything was going to be perfect.

For the first time since I bought my journal, I looked through it from the very beginning and I had a massive Oprah-esque AHA! moment…my journal was proof that at every stage of my life I’d been anxious, restless and hankering for that next big thing to make life perfect: once I pass this exam, once my crush likes me back, once I’m skinny, once that horrible person that is mean to me goes to a land far, far away, once I have a lot of money. It is now blindingly obvious, but at the time I remember the revelation sinking in that it was something in me I had to change: I was the constant through changed circumstances over the years. Anxiety, stress and worry had become such an intrinsic part of my life that sadly I didn’t know what it was like not to feel those things on a constant basis. It struck me then that I could win the lottery and never have to work again, and yet I would find something else to worry myself sick over, catastrophize and ruminate about the elusive perfect life I didn’t have.

I wish I could say from that moment on I was a changed person, Mary Poppins and Little Miss Sunshine rolled into one. But changing years and years of thought and behaviour patterns takes more than a little hard work, and I really struggled. What do you do when you’re used to waking up every morning feeling sick with anxiety and you don’t even know why? Or when all you’ve ever thought about are the things you’re seemingly lacking in, it’s impossible to think of yourself as being complete just as you are?

It’s called gratitude. I started off practising it in quite a militant fashion; I remembered Oprah (yes I love her) talking about a gratitude journal on one of her shows…somewhat dubious I looked it up anyway, and started making a list of things I was grateful for. Uhh…what? It felt so forced and trite but I kept at it anyway, didn’t do it again for a few weeks, and tried it again when I’d had a particularly hard day, forgot about it and then came back to it again. Sometimes it was things as basic as having a bed to sleep in, other days it was being grateful for a chance encounter with a friend or having a handsome stranger wish me a good day.

It apparently takes 21 days to form a new habit, or is it 40? It took me much longer than both put together, and I’m still a work in progress. What I am thrilled about is the fact that with time, effort and practice my perception of myself and my world is slowly shifting. I don’t own a house, car or a husband but I’ve been to Iceland and seen the Northern Lights in all their glory because I wanted to. My job can be insanely difficult, but at least I don’t have to work as a butcher (no disrespect to any butchers, but this is about me and I cannot think of anything worse than having to kill and dismember hapless animals to make a living!) Anxiety and worry have slowly been replaced with feelings of well-being and contentment. During difficult times I have the foresight to remember that this too shall pass, and there will be lessons learnt. When I’m particularly angry or frustrated I want to tell the voice in my head to shut the f*ck up enough with the clichés already, but time and experience have proven her to be annoyingly right and I’ve started believing her more.

I remember trying to share some of my newfound wisdom with my sister when she was going through a particularly rough time in the not too distant past, and she pretty much told me where to go and where to shove it too. I persisted as I annoyingly do with her, and today I take immense pleasure in telling her I told her so: everything does work out one way or another just not necessarily the way we think, analyse and plan.

I’ve started to realise and accept there is no such thing as happily ever after. What’s important and real is happiness in the here and now, and hey my sister is just about 23 now and there’s hope for her self-actualisation as well!

The Unlikely Yogi

The Unlikely Yogi

Growing up, physical activity and I were not friends. Memories of PE lessons consist of hot, sweltering afternoons in Calcutta being forced to play dodgeball or faking period pain to not have to play dodgeball. Athletic, fit and sporty are not words I’ve ever associated with myself; I still haven’t managed to block memories of sports day at age ten, failing miserably at a “sack race” with my family watching- cringing, praying, pitying. Add to that the seemingly inevitable self-esteem issues at puberty, an addiction to all things sweet and sugary and a desperate need to be skinny…my early twenties saw numerous stints at the gym which never lasted more than a couple of weeks when I didn’t lose a bazillion lbs in the bat of an eye. When I thought I had become a proper grown up, I hired a personal trainer for a bit. That didn’t last for too long either (to be fair what sustained it as long as it did were his blue eyes) because I almost went bankrupt. I signed up for Pilates but didn’t go back after about two weeks when buns of steel and washboard abs didn’t materialize. I didn’t like exercise, and exercise didn’t like me.

One fateful day I noticed an innocuous door I now know I walked past everyday on my way to work and back. Power yoga something or the other, promising a “hot body and a cool mind.” In true form of getting far too excited far too quickly, that was going to my next big thing. Who cared about the cool mind bit (not me!), I was on my way to looking like Beyoncé. I told everyone about it of course, and while some were encouraging most reactions were snorts of laughter and bets about how long that would last. I wasn’t even offended, I didn’t think I would hit the three lesson mark. I went in to my first class not knowing what to expect, and tried not to stare too obviously at the lithe and ethereal goddess (I mean teacher) gliding across the studio wondering how long it would take me to look like her. I’m still not entirely sure how I survived the hour. I just vaguely remember the screaming in my head “Why God why am I doing this to myself?!” and feeling like I’d been wrung out from head to toe as I hobbled to the tube station after.

Nearly a year later, bright and early (by my standards) on a Sunday morning, there I am on my mat ready to go. Friends know not to try and make plans with me when I have a yoga class, they will be rejected. Short of a life or death situation, there is very little that I will pick over a yoga class…hell I cancelled a date once and as soon as I was in my downward dog I knew well in my heart it was the right choice. As they say, you know when some things are meant to be? That’s yoga and me. The physical benefits are an afterthought now, and leaving aside my flair for the dramatic, yoga has changed my life.

“Yoga, according to the Yoga Sutras, is a cessation of the fluctuations of the mind…also known as ‘the monkey mind’, when the mind is continually jumping from one thought to the next.” This is especially poignant for someone whose mind at the best of times can be a monkey hopped up on ecstasy. What initially started out as a quest to become a size zero has become a way of life. Things I have learnt on the mat while trying to twist myself into a pretzel have seeped into everyday life, making it bigger and better each day.

Some things are impossible or insurmountable…in my head. The best example would be the first time I was able to lift myself up into the wheel (Urdhva Dhanurasana). For a long time I was terrified and refused to try, knowing just knowing that I’d fracture my spine and having visions of my family debating whether or not to turn off life support. Then I chose to try one day and was happily surprised, shocked even and now I lift myself up into it without a second thought and thoroughly enjoy it. I find myself using this analogy off the mat too with increasing frequency, less thinking (or overthinking), more action and I love surprising myself with all the things I can do if I just try!

Learning to be kind to myself and to others. While the competitive and overachieving  Indian in me started out wanting to the #bestyogiever all day everyday (growing up in a land of a billion people can do that to you), I very quickly learnt there is no such thing. It’s okay if I wobble or fall out trying to balance myself as a graceful tree (Vrikshasana), I just pick myself back up and try again. Learning not to criticize or belittle myself was challenging, but I’m now more accepting and appreciative of myself and the very fact that I’m still there trying and not flouncing off in a huff. Every other person in the room is trying and persevering with me, there is something very humbling and empowering about that all at once. Isn’t that an incredible idea to live life by as well: what matters isn’t that you fall, it’s that you pick yourself back up?

Its important to breathe, it makes everything easier! Not going to lie, I find the seemingly simple act of holding my arms outstretched in Warrior II (Virabhadrasana) incredibly difficult. I soon start quivering in pain and  long for sweet release until I’m reminded to breathe deeper. And somehow that makes it a little bit easier to hang in there, soon enough its over and I forget the discomfort instantaneously. Off the mat whether its a stressful meeting I’m worried about at work, a difficult situation I’m in or if the blessed monkey mind is going at it in full force, a few deep and purposeful breaths work miracles. I feel calmer instantly, and I have a growing sense of perspective that as long as I can still breathe, everything is and will be okay. Keep calm and carry on.

A helping hand is a wonderful thing. No I cannot stand on my head (I’m sure I will one day), I need a hand trying to get into a shoulder stand and sometimes I just want to lie there with a block supporting me and my legs in the air. And that’s okay, it doesn’t make me or my practice any less if anything it makes it better. Not easier, but better. And just like that asking for help when I’m struggling is okay, as I’m starting to accept. I can’t fix everything and I don’t have to, just the act of reaching out to someone starts to make whatever it is less scary and manageable. Whether it is stress at work, or I am in the throes of a quarter-life crisis related drama, I don’t let it overwhelm me anymore and ask for help. And very often even talking about it eases the burden, and I am able to get on with it. Yet again keeping calm and carrying on.

I sleep better, waking up in the middle of the night wracked with anxiety is slowly becoming a thing of the past. I smile more, I stress less, I’m more available to people who matter to me. I can hold a plank without my arms shaking, and am able to get into a full bind (Baddha Utthita Parsvakonasana) without crying. I don’t sweat the small stuff as much anymore, and the big stuff doesn’t seem as big. I light incense and wear beads but hey I did that before yoga found me. Most importantly, I am more aware of the stories I tell myself and that they’re just stories with no truth to them unless I act on them…physical activity and I, not friends? Excuse me, I need to go do a few sun salutations now.

This post is dedicated to the wonderful folks at Lumi Power Yoga (www.lumipoweryoga.com) you inspire me everyday!