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 😉

 

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Harvest

Vegetable display

Harvest from the earth

Coming back to one of my favourite themes of grounding and strengthening this week. Letting go of the restless thoughts or anxiety to feel grounded on the earth. The nurturing earth energy giving us strength and courage. Practicing some lovely mudras for letting go and for courage.

We’ve just passed the Celtic festival of Lammas or Lughnasa, which reminds us to think about the harvest from the earth, and also to think about what we’re harvesting in our own lives so far this year.  Seeing the swathes of warm gold cornfields, reflect on what’s been golden in your own life. Do you need to let go, or to face up to something? Stand barefoot on the earth and feel that you belong. Know that you can reap your own harvest from being in your own unique place on the earth. Feel gratitude for who you are.

“Let me not pray to be sheltered from dangers,

but to be fearless facing them.

Let me not beg for the stilling of my pain,

but for the heart to conquer it”

Rabindranath Tagore

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!

Transform fear into courage

Warrior yoga posture

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be thinking about the chakras, and working with postures that help to balance each of these energy centres. At the University, where I teach yoga, a stressful few weeks are approaching as students prepare for final assessments, and staff are busy too. Each of the chakras is associated with different qualities, such as confidence, all of which can help to get us through stressful, busy or difficult times in our lives.

We’re beginning with the root chakra, Mooladhara, which is located at the very base of the spine. When in balance, this gives you a sense of security, of being grounded and having the courage to face life’s challenges. The warrior postures (Virabhadrasana) work on this energy centre at the base of the spine, inspiring us to be strong in body and mind. Good postures to practice if you need to boost your confidence before an exam or presentation, and done regularly will make you stronger, more resilient and less fearful.

“Fear would have you never leave the house, or turn on a lamp, or be in love or have a pet, or go for a drive in the country… Fear would seal you away and demand that you listen all the time or something terrible will happen. Fears lie. …. Your fears are not larger than you are…”  ~ SARK – Living Juicy.

F – False

E – Evidence

A – Appearing

R – Real

Easy as riding a bike?

Sue and bike

When you’ve not ridden a bike for over 30 years, it might not seem so easy! The first challenge is getting over all the self-limiting thoughts like ‘I’m too old’, ‘look at all those fit young guys – I’ll look stupid’. Then the fears of falling off and hurting yourself, losing control and careering off the path, or just not being able to do it any more. Thinking about how you’ll ache the next day. And all those thoughts happening in the flash of a second, so almost without being aware of it, you say, ‘Nah, forget it ‘.

But what if you can catch those thoughts, challenge them, and replace them with positives? Then you can think, ‘No, you’re never too old’, ‘Who’s going to be looking at me anyway?’. ‘What if it all comes back to me, and I enjoy it?’ and ‘It’ll be good for me’. At least then, you’ll have a go and give yourself the opportunity.

Very similar thoughts can go through your head when thinking about a yoga class, or returning to any sort of physical exercise after a break. Yoga can help you become aware of your thoughts and to challenge them, so that your life becomes healthier, more free and enriching. In a yoga class, you can challenge yourself in a safe environment, and do things that you wouldn’t have thought possible.

 As someone who’s struggled with fear and self-limiting thoughts for a long time, it felt really exhilarating to be riding that bike! (I know the picture doesn’t prove it, but I did, honest. And the number of my bike, that I’m pointing at – double-o seven).