I want to talk about yoga. I know what you’re thinking but don’t think that. I’m not a super bending and flexing instagram ready pretzel shaped yoga enthusiast; far from it. I’m five feet and five inches tall, approximately eleven stone and I haven’t been able to touch my toes without bending my knees since I was a baby; which is before I can remember. I eat a large amount of delicious and terrible sugary foods, caffeine and carbohydrates are my best friends and although I did briefly get sucked into the juicing fad a few years ago my ridiculously expensive juicer sits on top of my fridge gathering dust because it’s just too much effort.
However, what I am into on a large scale is wellbeing. Wellness tools, self-care, managing symptoms whatever you want to call it is big part of my own life and the job that I do as a peer support coordinator. This brings me nicely to yoga. Yes I still want to talk about yoga.
On May 4th I went through an experience that in no small way changed me forever. Everything that I thought was important seemed to be flipped on its head. The things that I thought I wanted for myself, the person that I thought I was or wanted to be all went into flux. When your foundations are rocked it leaves you feeling exceptionally vulnerable and I stretched out looking for something to steady myself on. Yoga was not the first thing I tried; but it is the first thing that made an impact. I’m not talking about the poses that are the first thing many people may think of when yoga is mentioned. I’m talking about the teachings behind it, the theory that props up the practice.
When your foundations are rocked it leaves you feeling exceptionally vulnerable and I stretched out looking for something to steady myself on'
Ahimsa blew my face off. That’s the only way to describe the experience. It gave me a total and complete ‘oh my fluffing god’ sort of epiphany moment. I had finally found something that spoke to me and provided something I could use in my journey back to feeling like myself again.
Ahimsa is one of the ten ethical principles that allow us to be at peace with ourselves, our family and our community. These ten principles are called Yamas and Niyamas; two of the eight branches of yoga (that’s a very brief and limited explanation). Ahimsa is explained to be compassion for all living things, also translated as nonviolence. The few paragraphs in my new yoga book, which is quickly becoming akin to a bible to me, that talk about Ahimsa drive home the idea that first and foremost we, as human beings, must learn how to be nonviolent towards ourselves.
'my first act of nonviolence towards myself was to forgive and to stop persecuting myself'
Our internal monologue can be cruel and shower unrelenting criticism down upon us. We often, and I include myself in this, act towards ourselves in ways that we would never dream of acting towards even our worst enemies. We say horrible things to ourselves; we are not good enough, we are too fat, too thin, not smart enough, and not successful enough, we are worthless, unlovable, and distasteful. We may perform behaviours that ultimately are harmful towards ourselves; we may hide ourselves away or not even try something because we believe we will fail. These are acts of violence towards ourselves and they prevent us from growing and living a life that we could live. The life we deserve to live.
So with this in mind my first act of nonviolence towards myself was to forgive and to stop persecuting myself. Although Ahimsa is just words on a page, laid down by some unknown individual hundreds of years before I existed, I found comfort in this teaching. I felt like I had been given permission to breathe again; to let go of some things that had been holding me back. I was moving forward towards freedom. Sounds dramatic I know; but I will continue to learn more and extend the teachings beyond myself because they really have lifted me when I thought I was un-liftable (not sure that’s a word but in the spirit of the article let’s forgive ourselves this transgression against literary tradition). If any of this sounds interesting to you I would encourage you to look into yoga, don’t be put off by the supposition that you have to be flexible or that you have to be spiritual. I am an out of shape atheist with anxiety and depression who smokes. If I can draw something from it then so can you.
My take home message is this; operate with compassion towards you. We can be our own worst enemies at times, why do that to ourselves when we could be our own biggest fan? Forgive yourself, be kind to yourself, and tell yourself that you are worth everything, because you are.
Sophia Fedorowicz is a Psychology & Counselling undergraduate from Stoke-on-Trent. She is a passionate volunteer with a local mental health charity that provides peer support, workshops and one-to-one talking therapies. In Sophia's words, "it is through this work that I have developed an understanding of the power of a good support network and I seek to promote connections to improve mental health both locally and nationally. Believing that we are stronger together".
You can contact Sophia on Twitter