A woman & her mat

One woman’s journey on and off her yoga mat.

This morning, I went for a run. THE WORST RUN EVER. Well, probably not. I’ve had some pretty bad ones. But it was right up there.

No, I didn’t take my mat. That would have been stupid. But I was dealing with the same mindset as I told you about last time so feel it would be good to continue the theme and share it with you now. A more extreme version of that mindset in reality, because everything about running is more extreme. I am more extremely bad at it. It takes a more extreme amount of effort. The voices in my head shout extremely loudly.

So firstly, there were the reasons not to run to deal with. The excuses. It was too hot. I had a head cold. I was really tired after a weekend away. There’s always an excuse not to do something if we want one. But I was running with someone else and didn’t want to let her down. Except in the end, I wasn’t running with her at all. It became clear very quickly there was no way I was going to be able to keep up with her. So the normal voices whispering ‘This is going to be really hard’; ‘I’m not sure I can do this’; ‘Who do I think I am to even attempt this?’ turned into louder voices.

Loud voices clamouring for attention that could not be ignored.

‘Look at her. This is her first run outside in six months and she’s still way faster than me.’

‘She hasn’t trained all winter and she’s still way faster than me.’

‘She hasn’t even been to the gym in a couple of weeks and she’s still way faster than me.’

‘She’s suffering from really bad hay fever and she’s still way faster than me.’

‘I’m supposed to be motivating her and she’s still way faster than me.’

You get the drift.

My calves ached; I had a stitch; the sweat was stinging my eyes; I had a twinge in my lower back. I was miserable.

Right up to the point where I told her to run on ahead and not wait for me. Where I took the pressure off both of us. Where I could stop feeling guilty for not keeping up and she could stop feeling guilty for running on.

Yes, I had motivated her. If we hadn’t met up and I hadn’t described the route and the destination, she would not have had the motivation to get out running at all. And there must have been a bit of ‘Well, if she can do it, anyone can.’ That seems to be the main way I motivate people these days.

So I had no reason to feel guilty. No reason to feel under pressure. Not reason to compare.

Yet again, you see, comparison had drained the energy and motivation out of me. And the joy. When I managed to focus on myself and my own level and my own performance, it was better. Not pleasurable, but better.

And when I finished, there was a massive sense of achievement. I had run (mostly!) six miles. I stretched out and had a shower…and then sought out my mat for five minutes of quiet meditation. And what a glorious feeling that was! Breathing deep into my tired lungs. Relaxing all those aching muscles. Letting my head rest and the voices be stilled.

Isn’t it true that some of the other activities we share in can inform our yoga practice and teach us about ourselves? Just as our yoga practice can inform our other activities. There’s a crossover in each and every area of our life. Digging deep and getting through that run this morning can improve my resilience and determination in holding a yoga pose or dealing with a tricky situation at work.

There’s so much to learn from finding something really, really hard.

Which is so much easier to say after the event.

With love from a woman and her mat x

Yesterday, I took my friend to yoga for the first time. She’s been feeling pretty low. It’s not my story to tell, but she’s been through a tough time and is struggling to keep it together. I thought yoga may be able to help her as it’s helped me.

We’ll look after you. We’ll give you a lift and go into class with you and make sure you’ve got what you need. We’ll be either side of you in class. We’ll be there the whole time.’

To be honest, I didn’t think she’d come. I felt sure she’d find an excuse to bow out. Because walking in to your first ever yoga class can be really, really scary. I can remember mine. I walked in at 9:30. The class had started at 9:15. The teacher very gently asked me to leave and come back the following week. I was mortified! I wasn’t sure I was ever going to be able to go back. Imagine what I would have missed out on if I hadn’t?

Anyway, back to my friend. The reassurances must have worked because no, I didn’t receive that excuse text an hour before class. She came. And she was great! She took to it really well. It was me whose head was all over the place. Me who felt watched. Me who felt inadequate.

When I lost my balance and put my foot down before she did, I felt really stupid. I felt like she must be thinking how useless I was at yoga. My insecurities ruined my practice. Here was I, telling her to ignore everyone else and yet I was the one obsessing about her impression of me!

It’s that whole comparison thing. It robs us of our peace every time. Once we start comparing ourselves to others, whether we come away feeling superior or inferior, our sense of calm has been destroyed. Even if we compare ourselves to ourselves – to how we were on the mat last week or last year – we end up feeling dissatisfied or smug. Neither is conducive to true mindfulness.

Because all that matters is the here and now. All that matters is what is going on on my mat right now. There is no judgement, only awareness. I’m not here to give myself a hard time, but to be kind to myself. That’s what I hoped for for my friend. That’s what in reality, I needed for myself.

And then my final relaxation was ruined by wondering if she’d enjoyed it or not. What if she thought it was a waste of time? What if she never wanted to come again?

It mattered to me what she thought of something that had become so precious to me. In that moment, I needed her approval. I felt exposed and vulnerable. I’d shown her something that meant the world to me and now she had the power to spoil it for me.

Fortunately, as I rolled up my mat, I had a moment of revelation.

Actually, it doesn’t matter what my friend thinks.

It doesn’t matter what anyone thinks.

This is for me. Only me.

If yoga matters to me, then it matters.

No one can take that away.

With love from a woman and her mat x

When I enter a yoga studio, I love to see the array of different coloured mats rolled out across the floor. I wonder what made each person choose that particular mat – the colour, the design, the brand, the thickness, the price?

For the first couple of years of taking yoga classes, I didn’t have a mat of my own, I have to confess. Every studio or class has a supply of mats for students to use. Why would I need my own?

But over time, I changed my mind. I wanted to conduct my own yoga practice on my own mat. I wanted to use the same mat every time, to get to know it, to become familiar with it. And when it came to personal practice at home (which I never even considered for the first couple of years of taking yoga classes), what was I going to use then? It was time to get my own mat.

My first mat was green with a tree of life design. My husband bought it for me. More for the design than anything else, I think. My friend had brought me a vintage tree of life brooch for my birthday which I lost and I was so upset about that, we replaced it and then found it – and so now I have two! But anyway, I digress. All I’m saying is that because of that drama, the tree of life may have stood out to him as something I might like. And yes, it’s great. Tree pose is one of my favourites so it fits right in.

And then I had a yearning for pink. Colour matters to me. For example, I used to love purple and everyone bought me purple presents and I had a ‘Purple nails and black lace’ party (I know, I’m a sucker for a theme). I think I overdosed on purple and moved on to orange when I started thinking about passion and fire in my belly….then I passed through a yellow stage when my Dad died, because he loved yellow. And now I have arrived at pink.

Proper shocking pink. For no good reason.

So now I have a pink mat and it makes me smile to roll it out and get down on it. Have mat, will travel. Because yoga is a journey, right, and me and my mat, we’re sharing that journey together.

I met someone the other day who has been using the same mat for the past fifteen years. Fifteen years! That mat must have seen some things. That mat must have lived some life! That mat must have travelled some places! That mat is more like a magic carpet, ingrained with fifteen years of experiences and memories and yoga practice. Respect to that woman and her mat.

I can’t make any promises about me and my pink mat. I’m good at commitment, but…

All I can say for sure is that for now, I love my pink mat. In fact, I think I will connect with her right now. Your mat has to be a place that you want to come back to time and time and time again. My mat is calling out to me right now.

With love from a woman and her mat x

Wow! Isn’t it gorgeous out there? I hope you’ve been enjoying the sunshine as much as I have. Call me superficial, but when the sun comes out, all is well with the world. The world suddenly seems to be a better place.

Of course, the first ray of sunshine and all the summer wardrobes are flung wide open. Everyone takes to the streets in the skimpiest of clothes. Some pretty inappropriate, I might add.

And not just the streets either. There’s what people choose to wear to a class, too. I don’t often really notice what anyone is wearing in my yoga class. Each to their own and all that. I wouldn’t like anyone to judge me so I try to reserve judgement too. But some clothing choices are clearly not right. I know it for myself. I’ve made some poor choices in my time. I’m talking see-through leggings. Or even worse, leggings with a hole in just the wrong place. The wrong top that reveals far too much cleavage, especially in Cobra. Or a super baggy top that falls down around your ears in Downward Dog. Or loose shorts on men when they’re sitting cross-legged. Yoga teachers must have seen it all. Literally.

I thought I’d seen it all too, until a man turned up to class in a button-up cotton checked shirt. Unusual but acceptable, you might say.

So following on from that, I had a conversation with a yoga teacher about what she felt was appropriate clothing. I’m not here to advocate spending a fortune on a whole new yoga wardrobe, just to see whether all the yoga clothing out there is just hype or whether it really does make any difference.

Let me share with you what she said –

‘What you wear to a yoga class does matter. It shows that you are taking your practice seriously. It shows that you have come prepared. Getting ready for class is like putting on a uniform – it prepares you mentally for what is to come. Yogawear looks good. It helps you look the part. Which in itself can give you confidence and maximise performance. And the science behind the fabrics is all about maximising performance as well. Quality yogawear will wash well and last well. It does its job well. It keeps you well covered and supported in all the right places.’

Mmm. I’d never thought about it like that. I like the idea of looking the part and not worrying about whether I am showing off more flesh than I would like to. I get that. When I pull on my yoga leggings – which are thicker and better fitting than normal leggings – I feel different. She’s right. I feel ready. And anything that can maximise my performance must surely be a good thing.

You really don’t need to spend a fortune to dress appropriately. You can shop around. You can keep it simple.

So enjoy the sun. And enjoy your yoga class.

With love from a woman and her mat x

I love yoga. But getting to class is not always that easy, is it?

Take yesterday morning for example. I have a house full of family and dogs with it being the school holidays. But rather than abandon my plans and priorities, I ask for them to wait while I go to Yoga. That takes a lot. Us women are not good at putting other people out for us. We prefer to sacrifice our own needs and desires for everyone else

So I turn up for the session – to find it cancelled. I could have gone into the gym for a quick workout. I could have found a quiet spot to go through some yoga poses alone. But no. I express my annoyance to the receptionist. I stomp out. I slam the car door. I burst into the house. I’m put out. Big time. How dare anyone mess with my plans? Hardly the calming, centring start to the day I was hoping for.

Sometimes it feels like life is conspiring against us, doesn’t it? With the best will in the world, other things or people get in the way of actually getting to class or getting down on the mat. Days can go past, weeks even, without any yoga practice at all.

And what happens then? I know what happens to me. I lose my balance. Not just physically, but emotionally too. I start to feel all over the place. I forget what it is to feel grounded. I am no longer centred. The anxieties and negative thoughts that have haunted me in the past start to creep back in. The old habits I have fought so hard to break. I’m slipping. Drifting. I need to act. Fast.

That’s where grace comes in. Resilient grace. The kind of grace that gives me a gentle shove. That does not shame me or make me feel guilty but nevertheless, points me firmly in the direction of my mat. That will not take no for an answer. That pushes aside all the excuses.

And then I rediscover the joy and peace that matter so much. My God, how did I ever think I could survive without this? How did I lose sight of this?

Just get back on the mat. Make it happen. It is that simple.

With love from a woman and her mat x

Last night, I tried something new. You’ll get to learn that about me. I love trying new things. I get nervous just beforehand. Of course, I do. But there’s an adrenaline rush that comes from stepping into the unknown that I’m a tiny bit addicted to.

So new teacher…new studio…new people…new class. Hot yoga. Although I expected hotter when I walked through the door. But yes, you guessed it – I was plenty hot enough by the time I left!

It made me realise how quickly you get used to one way of doing things. That even though I enjoy new things, I can get too comfortable in my comfort zone. My regular yoga practice becomes that little bit predictable. Which allows me to fully relax into it, I guess. But also allows me to become over-confident. To lose sight of the challenge to body, mind and spirit necessary for growth.

This guy’s voice…well, he was a guy to start with….with an accent I couldn’t place…and unusual turns of phrase. It was a stranger’s voice speaking into my practice and I wasn’t sure that I liked it. The sequences of poses were straightforward enough, although held far longer than I had ever experienced before, until my thighs were burning bright and screaming loudly for mercy. The roaming assistant would take some getting used to – laying hands on my neck to stroke out a stretch and on my back to correct my posture. Great to get that individual attention – but a little intimidating, all the same.

I wasn’t put off. I’d go again. I loved the vibe of the place – the mystical smells, the carefully thought out décor, the friendly welcome, the eclectic mix of participants. It was all totally refreshing. Envigorating. Stimulating.

And so, in the end, my first experience of hot yoga was far less about the temperature and more about the whole package. And how did I feel afterwards? Well, I slept like a baby – through my favourite TV programme last night as well as through my husband getting dressed and leaving for London this morning! I’m not as stiff as I thought I would be, given that my legs were literally jelly when I stepped out of the studio. I smile when I think back to the experience. Another one to add to the collection. And I’m proud that I had the nerve to go along.

Life is good, my friends, packed with new surprises just the other side of that door.

With love from a woman and her mat x


 

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Hey there. Welcome to my world.

I am a woman and I have a mat. That’s about all you need to know about me really. The rest of the details don’t matter.

I’m nothing special. You’ll discover that soon enough. But that’s not the point. The point is that I love yoga and you love yoga and we both want yoga to be an integral part of our lives. We want to find a way to live the principles of our yoga practice on and off the mat.

So my mat and I, we’re embarking on a journey. And I’m here to share that journey with you. There’ll be plenty of ups and downs, laughter and tears, moments of achievement and moments of embarrassment.

Of course, there will. This is life.

Let’s be clear, when it comes to yoga, I’m no expert. In fact, when people discover I’m into yoga, some are surprised. When they hear yoga, they think ‘flexible’ and ‘calm’. Which I am clearly not.

As I navigate my world with my mat in hand, I imagine myself on a one woman mission to smash those stereotypes. Leading a quiet but determined revolution of women of all shapes and sizes and ages and levels of fitness in proclaiming ‘Every body is a yoga body!’

I don’t have to be ashamed of how I look and perform on the mat. I don’t need to feel judged. I am here. I am willing. I am on my mat. And that is enough.

Yes, of course, I would love to be calmer and more flexible. Who wouldn’t? But I’m on a journey and that journey is passing through here. Through where I am now. To where I am heading.

So accompany me and my mat on our journey as you journey through life with your mat. And together, we will take on the world.

With love from a woman and her mat x