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Festive Wisdom - one to read in December

This blog post is actually a copy of an email that I wrote to all my newsletter subscribers at the beginning of December 2021. I recently re-read the email and thought the words I had written deserved to be preserved somewhere online forever, as they contain a message that I know I will need to read and re-read again in the future. I hope that you might take something valuable from them as well.




I hope this email finds you well and rested. I am writing this whilst wrapped up under a duvet with the Christmas tree lights twinkling away to my left and a steaming mug of hot tea to my right. Those of you who were meant to practice with me in the past few weeks will know that I have unfortunately been struggling with poor health recently and classes haven't been able to run this week. I often find the winter season is a bit harder for my body (I am a lizard, living too far north!) and my own personal tendency to over-fill my schedule, say yes when I should be saying no and generally not give myself permission to rest for long enough to get fully well again can often prolong illness at this time of year.

There is a lesson in everything and I think the lesson in this particular forced period of rest is that I must begin to practice what I preach, be kinder to myself in how I schedule my time and really focus more attention on self-care - both mental and physical. It's also been a wonderful marker for how things have changed in my life over the past 6 months. Having to cancel classes has been extremely sad for me, because I love what I do so much. I haven't ever had this experience before where I am genuinely sorry to be taking time off work, because I don't see it as something I need time away from. It is a revelation to me to feel this way and I am so extremely grateful to each and every one of you whose support, interest and commitment to my classes has enabled me to build myself a career that I can feel this way about. Thank you to each of you for fuelling me with a passion and love for yoga and teaching, which I am now channelling into looking after my body, healing and resting.

That all being said, none of us is perfect! I found myself the other day apologising for 'letting people down' and a dear yogi friend corrected me, saying that I had not let anyone down by looking after myself. It made me realise how often it is that we allow ourselves to believe such a dialogue; telling ourselves that by cancelling a plan at short-notice or saying no to something that doesn't suit us, we are inconveniencing others and letting them down. Then consequently thinking badly of ourselves, internally chastising ourselves for behaving in such a way. This is such a dangerous message to give ourselves, because it perpetuates an unhealthy belief that the only version of us the world will accept is one who never lets anyone down, never makes any mistakes and never gets ill! It's dangerous because it is completely impossible to uphold such a standard. We are all human, after all, and all inherently flawed. Even those of us who get on our mats every week and do the internal work still sometimes fall into bad patterns, push ourselves too hard and end up being forced to stop by bodies that are in rebellion against our self-deprecatory ways. If at the end of it all we are then internally bullied by a self-made voice telling us we have let others down, it's no wonder we so easily walk ourselves into these positions in the first place! A self-fulfilling prophecy; a loop we will never escape from unless we learn to speak to ourselves with the kindness afforded to us by our loved ones and friends.

I think the way our bodies prevent us from further harm is truly extraordinary. When our minds and egos are too distracted in dealing with external validation and a constant need to prove ourselves worthy, our bodies listen to the tiny messages being sent from our systems warning of potential overwhelm. When this happens in several places at once, we get ill and force shutdown; it's quite miraculous, really. So, whilst I sit here in my forced shutdown period, analysing and noticing which patterns I had allowed myself to fall into that may have contributed to my physical exhaustion, I implore you all to take a moment to reflect upon yours as well.

Notice how you are feeling. Are you tired? Are you overwhelmed? What emotions are most often coming up for you lately? Are you experiencing any other physical symptoms that may point to you having forgotten yourself in your attempt to head full speed towards a festive season that is built around serving others before ourselves. Maybe you could ask yourself what three things you can do over the next three weeks to make this festive period work for you. Take the time out of your busy life to action these things, prepare yourself for potential shutdown and do the work you need to do now in order to prevent it!

And perhaps also accept that we cannot always prevent these things. Sometimes what we need is to be forced to stop.

One of the narratives that has come up for me so often recently as a message to follow and respond to, is the belief that all things that happen to us in life are merely neutral. We assign values to these things that happen, label them as 'good' or 'bad' events, and then we allow these things to be held over our heads, to use as excuses for our own choices and behaviours. When we allow ourselves to see these things as merely neutral, we enable ourselves to realise that it is in fact our response to a situation that makes it positive or negative. So, I choose in this moment to let go of the narrative I had been telling myself that my illness is letting others down, is a nuisance, is frustrating, is bad. Instead, I tell myself the truth: this is a much-needed opportunity for stillness, rest, self-reflection and growth. I know that by removing pressure on myself to be well again by a particular date or time, by letting go of the need to brush this off without support, I will be so much stronger in my relationship with myself. I can't think of a better gift I could have given myself at this time of the year.


That brings to a close my rather long introductory paragraph this month! Well done for making it this far. Below I have shared one of my favourite poems that I read in class this month. I think the message, at this time of year where we expect so much of ourselves, is particularly poignant.

Phenomenal Woman

by Maya Angelou

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.

I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size

But when I start to tell them,

They think I’m telling lies.

I say,

It’s in the reach of my arms,

The span of my hips,

The stride of my step,

The curl of my lips.

I’m a woman

Phenomenally.

Phenomenal woman,

That’s me.

I walk into a room

Just as cool as you please,

And to a man,

The fellows stand or

Fall down on their knees.

Then they swarm around me,

A hive of honey bees.

I say,

It’s the fire in my eyes,

And the flash of my teeth,

The swing in my waist,

And the joy in my feet.

I’m a woman

Phenomenally.

Phenomenal woman,

That’s me.

Men themselves have wondered

What they see in me.

They try so much

But they can’t touch

My inner mystery.

When I try to show them,

They say they still can’t see.

I say,

It’s in the arch of my back,

The sun of my smile,

The ride of my breasts,

The grace of my style.

I’m a woman

Phenomenally.

Phenomenal woman,

That’s me.

Now you understand

Just why my head’s not bowed.

I don’t shout or jump about

Or have to talk real loud.

When you see me passing,

It ought to make you proud.

I say,

It’s in the click of my heels,

The bend of my hair,

the palm of my hand,

The need for my care.

’Cause I’m a woman

Phenomenally.

Phenomenal woman,

That’s me.


Wishing all you phenomenal women (and men!) a wonderful festive season, full of joy that is just for you as much as for others. Much love,

Vx

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