Further adventures from a recovering agoraphobic

A challenging visit to the Mind Body Spirit Wellbeing Festival at the NEC on Friday.  For someone who still has agoraphobic tendencies, it was challenging because I went on my own, it involved train travel, the NEC  is huge and the environment of a busy, noisy hall is difficult. But, I had the opportunity of a workshop with the Barefoot Doctor and that was my motivator.

My hope in sharing is to deepen understanding of how this feels and not to jump to conclusions about someone who seems to be behaving slightly oddly. And for anyone with agoraphobia – it might not disappear, but you can work with it and accept it as being a part of you, making you who you are.

IMG_3846No problems with the train journey, and arrived at the NEC feeling fairly relaxed. Found out where the Hall was, and set out. This I knew would be tricky with the huge enclosed spaces, bright lights and reflections, all of which make me feel disorientated.

I’ve been recently learning about ‘sensory defensiveness’ in relation to ‘sensory processing disorder’, which is being linked to agoraphobia, and also resonates with what my friend Stella has written about being ‘highly sensitive‘. The feeling of everything being completely overwhelming  in these situations that can become very scary and trigger panic attacks.

 

Having wIMG_3832alked through this environment, including two long escalators, came to something called the ‘Skywalk‘ (link to extremely boring Youtube video) and FROZE.  A long, enclosed corridor disappearing into what seemed like infinity. So, decided I’d walk back the way I’d come, and try and get around the outside of the buildings. All the time saying to myself that I really want to do this, so don’t give up! Back to the beginning, and down four flights of enclosed stairs to the perimeter road. Trudged along there for a while, getting increasingly anxious, and then decided to turn back again. Up the four flights of stairs, heart beating quite fast due to the exertion. OK – ‘Skywalk’ or go home? Back to the ‘Skywalk’ – it’s not going to beat me! A five minute walk or less if you use the two travelators. I try the travelator, then get a bit panicky that I can’t get off it. Unless I run of course, which even in this state, I realise would be a bit ridiculous. So I get off at the half way point and re-group. Now I’m stuck in the middle – do I go on, or go back? I go on, but I walk the last bit. More corridors and escalator, finally making it to the Hall. Hurray!

Hall 7

Photo courtesy of Mind Body Spirit Festival

I’d booked another workshop, starting soon, but decide I need some time to settle and some distraction. Sitting in a room listening to someone is going to give me too much time to think about how I’m feeling and how far away from home I am. So abandon that and sit outside in the sunshine for a while, and begin to feel better, deciding to brave the Hall, full of stalls, noise, people. But, also the calming energy of crystals and scents of incense.

 

tim and cherubSit down in the ‘free stage‘ area and join in with some chanting, which is just what I need. Tim Wheater playing guitar and flute, accompanied by the wonderful, smiling Cherub with flowing pink hair. Deep breaths and aahhhhh… out. Feel tension beginning to shift, but still tight in my neck and shoulders.

 

tim van der vlietFind that I’m quite happy sitting there, so stay and listen to Tim van der Vliet, an ex trader from the Amsterdam Stock Market, calling his philosophy ‘Zen from Amsterdam’. One thing he says is that “you don’t have to be a yoga teacher to feel zen“, and I think, well actually, this yoga teacher isn’t feeling very zen at the moment 🙂 but gradually getting there……..

I have a slow meander round the stalls, not really taking in too much of what’s there, but at least my body is present. When I’m anxious, I find that I’m so concerned with monitoring myself and the environment that interactions with people are much more difficult and the social niceties tend to go out the window.  One lady ambushed me from the side, and asked me ‘do you love pussy cats‘? I’m afraid I just said ‘No, I don’t‘ and walked on (apologies to all my cat-loving friends!).

I was interested in a new yoga block, so approached that stand and took up an invitation to sit on it (the block, not the stand). Then the stand-holder said she’d show me how I could use it lying down, and was already rolling a mat out before I had a chance to run away. So, I’m lying down, and she’s trying to insert this block under my buttocks, meaning my head is lower than my hips (not good for my stability). I look up, and there are a few people watching this spectacle, one lady smiles and says ‘you don’t mind if we watch, do you?‘ The social nicety did kick in there fortunately 🙂 Meanwhile the stand-holder is asking if I’m comfortable, and I’m afraid at that point I did have to say ‘No, not really‘ in a very quiet voice.  Beat a hasty retreat, but it was fairly controlled.

aura photo1More time recovering outside, mulling over whether to have an aura photograph taken – something I’ve had a yen to do for a while. The unknowns of how long it will take, will I have to go into an enclosed booth, will I have to stay and talk to someone about it? Decide to go for it, and end up with a beautiful photograph (showing I’m well-balanced, amongst other things – what??!)

barefoot doctor

Photo courtesy of The Barefoot Doctor

Find my way to the room for the workshop with Stephen Russell, the Barefoot Doctor, via more stairs and through a huge open space. This is what I’ve come for – it had better be worth it!! – and it was. So grateful and appreciative just to be here.

(Even he couldn’t turn the NEC into something that looks like this, but it was full of magic).

And Skywalk on the way back – a piece of cake.

 

IMG_3858

Going again in December, and here’s my motivation for that time 😉

 

Working with fear

Javelin trainHigh Speed Javelin – Photocredit: wikipedia

Following an acute experience of agoraphobia many years ago, one of my personal challenges (still) is working with fear and anxiety. I’ve explored various different therapies and techniques in my recovery and am so grateful that I came across the transformative power of Dru yoga, which has helped me so much. I’m now able to teach yoga classes, drive longer distances and travel on public transport – all of which would have seemed impossible when I was virtually housebound and having panic attacks. Although able to do most of the things I’d like to do, there are still times when the fear kicks in or I think the fear will kick in.

If I’m not careful, I start judging myself, thinking that I should be able to ‘deal with’ the fear and not be afraid of it still. But those habitual patterns seem hard to break.

So I thought I’d try a mindfulness course, and am half-way through an eight-week programme. A quote that our lovely tutor, Shelly at The Mindful Road, sent us this week reminds me to stop judging myself:

“Note that this journey is uniquely yours, no one else’s. So the path has to be your own. You cannot imitate somebody else’s journey and still be true to yourself. Are you prepared to honor your uniqueness in this way?” ― Jon Kabat-Zinn

Acceptance has been key for me, but more recently, I’ve been working with embracing the fear, rather than trying to banish it or push it away.  One of the concepts of mindfulness is to notice and be curious. So with the fear, to be curious about how it feels, how it changes my breathing and what thoughts appear. And at the same time to welcome it (which is really hard!).

In a video clip that we were asked to watch this week, Jon Kabat-Zinn demonstrated this in relation to pain – not pushing it away, but moving in closer. If you’re interested, take a look at the video, and go to around 31 minutes into the clip if you don’t have time to watch it all.

One of those things that I’d still like to do is to go on the Eurostar, and this weekend moved another step closer to that by going on the hi-speed rail link from St. Pancras to Ashford. 12 miles of tunnels out of London, so great practice for the Chunnel. Paris, here I come!

Resilience

flowers in the snow

You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them. ~ Maya Angelou

Given a slight rise in temperature and some sunshine, I know these cyclamen in my garden will unfurl and perk up again. They’ve had to adapt to the snow and frost that we had overnight, but are resilient enough to cope with it. We can learn from nature, knowing that we can’t control what happens in our lives, but develop that resilience to cope with it.

I’m sitting here smiling to myself this morning, as I’m preparing for the ‘Springtime Dru Yoga’ session that I’m running on Saturday. When I first thought of doing it, I was imagining daffodils swaying in a gentle breeze, green leaves unfurling on the trees and feeling the warmth of approaching summer in the air.  Not howling blizzards, temperatures falling to -4 overnight and the flowers still wrapped up inside their buds!

This is only a small example, but when life presents you with bigger challenges, you can use yoga and breathing practices like the calming breath to help you cope. And with regular practice, you’ll build up your own inner strength and resilience, so you won’t be knocked down quite so often and will bounce back more quickly.

Acceptance

lemons

Sitting here with a bad cough, disappointed that I won’t be able to teach my classes again this week.  I often say to my students ‘accept yourself exactly as you are right now’. Having to take a dose of my own medicine now, and it’s not going down very well! All sorts of thoughts going through my mind, including – you’re a yoga teacher, you can’t get sick (bunkum) and people will expect me to be healthy because I do yoga (but I’m human too). I also don’t like disappointing my students and feel like I’m letting them down because I don’t have a stand-in teacher. (That’s ego talking, as my students won’t attach the same importance to it as I do).

I’m also learning the lesson of appreciation. When I worked with computers, it didn’t matter so much if I got a cough and couldn’t speak. But as a yoga teacher, my voice is really important, and although I thought I knew that and appreciated it, I only truly value it when it’s not there.  How many things does that apply to in our lives? We need to be grateful for each and every part of our miraculous selves and our lives every day.

So, I’ll try to stop fretting, accept the situation and let go of the negative thoughts whizzing round my head using the lovely Dru earth sequence to help with this. Then I’ll have another honey and lemon drink to soothe my throat and be grateful for the gift of speech.

I apologise to any of my students reading this, and hope that normal service will be resumed next week!

Go with the flow

Flowing river

Easy to say, but not so easy to do. How often do we plan something, then find that our careful plans are thwarted? How often do we have expectations of ourselves or others, then find that we/they don’t live up to those expectations? Generally, we like to feel that we’re in control and don’t like it when we feel out of control.

Remember the river, and go round the obstacles, rather than fight with them. Pause, take a breath and accept.

Yesterday evening, I went to my yoga class (as a student), and found that our room had been double-booked. The venue had another room, but it would take a while to prepare. So my teacher went with the flow. She could have got angry and sent everyone home, but instead, as it was a sunny evening, we did the first part of the class outside. Then calmly came back to the other room when it was ready. It was also a challenge for everyone attending the class. We’re all creatures of habit, choosing the same spot in the same room. So to be faced with going outside, and then a different room isn’t easy. Resistance kicks in, and we think, ‘oh no, it will be cold’, ‘people might see me if we’re outside’, ‘ why did this have to happen?’……… and I’m sure you can think of some others. Pause, take a breath and accept. Enjoy all the benefits of practicing outside on the grass, with trees all around, the blue sky and sunshine.

In my classes, we’ve been working with some seated forward bends, which can teach us about resistance and going with the flow. Accept where you are, breathe into the stretch and gently encourage the body to relax. Let go of the expectations and enjoy where you are at this moment.

See some reflections on listening to your body in the sitting forward bend from one of my friends.