If you had told me a year ago I was heading towards becoming a cruelty free, non-meat eating, yoga practicing person I would probably of laughed in your face.
What a difference a year makes. This summer, while on holiday with my family I got a message from a friend asking if I wanted to go to a free yoga class at a studio that had recently opened in Glasgow. The class was only 30 minutes long and so I agreed, having done very little yoga previously (mainly via You Tube in the comfort of my own home).
Fast forward to the day of our class and my friend had to cancel last minute (Don't feel bad if you're reading this Helen!). It's important to note that at this point, anxiety and panic attacks ruled my life alongside a daily battle with serious body confidence issues. I instantly spiralled into a pit of self doubt: there was no way I could walk into a room where I didn't know anyone and take a class that was completely foreign to me. I spent the whole day in a state of panic. It would of been the easiest thing to just hit the cancel button however I couldn't escape a feeling in the pit of my stomach that I needed to go this class. I somehow forced myself to listen to my gut and found myself outside of the studio with my boyfriend practically pushing me out of the car. Once inside I couldn't even bring myself to speak to anyone, my voice just disappeared. I hid at the back of the class and I practically ran out of the room as soon as the class was over however...I FREAKING WENT AND FINISHED!
Almost five months on, I am now a member of the most beautiful yoga studio The Kali Collective and I'm practicing yoga almost daily. I've attended a six week mindfulness course which has introduced me to meditation, taken various workshops that have really expanded my mind and completed a 30 day yoga challenge. It hasn't been easy and I've cried on my mat more than times that I can count but the differences I've felt both in my body and my mind have made it all worth it. Here are the three main things I've learned through my practice:
Compassion: I've changed a huge amount in the last year and this can be contributed greatly towards my decision to live a more compassionate lifestyle. However, I would often forget to practice compassion towards myself. Being mindful of how I talk to and about myself has really opened my eyes to how destructive I could be towards my own self worth. This in turn has huge implications towards my panic and anxiety. Think about how you speak to yourself - would you talk that way to or about other people? I know I never would. Replace thoughts like 'I can't do this' (which I'm the queen of) with the acknowledgment that trying something new can be scary or difficult and think 'I'm going give this my best try' and if you don't succeed at first, that's ok, you tried your hardest.
Yoga has given me the time and space to start peeling away the layers of self doubt and anxiety that prevented me from discovering my true potential; practicing self compassion has been key to this.
Gratitude: In the first week of my mindfulness class, we focussed on gratitude. I started writing a gratitude journal which has really helped begin to change my mind set. It can be the tiniest of things, (like today I am grateful for my huge Vego bar) however learning to appreciate the gifts that life has given me has allowed me to open my mind towards the possibilities that I may have previously let slip by due to fear. Practicing gratitude has equipped me to better deal with the shitty situations life throws up. An example is how I deal with panic attacks. With each panic attack (which are getting fewer and fewer) I get better equipped at dealing with them. I'm given the opportunity to put what I've learned into practice.
Leading on from this, yoga has taught me to be grateful for my body. I've struggled greatly with body confidence issues. I was diagnosed with PCOS this year and for a long time felt like my body was working against me, I'm a serial yo-yo dieter, my weight fluctuates up and down, dragging my self confidence along with it. I've found that with each new pose I learn, each time I twist a little deeper or stretch a little further, my focus shifts from how my body looks to what it can do. The more consistent I am with my practice, the more my body craves movement.
Empowerment: This has come from practicing at The Kali Collective whose ethos is 'empowered movement'. Yoga has empowered me to explore my mind/body connection. It still amazes me that I can twist my body into a particular pose which in turn invokes an emotional response (I cry practically every time I'm in pigeon pose for example). Yoga has given me the chance to take back control of my body and thoughts. My practice gives me the time to take a moment to work on myself which can be scary, exciting and empowering all at the same time. I vividly remember the first time I was taught camel pose. I had the most intense thumping in my chest which for the longest time was the first signal of a panic attack. However, I had created this feeling through movement and it felt amazing. I finally felt like I was regaining control of my body again and for that, I will be forever grateful.
So here I am, five months later crying while I write this for the girl at her first yoga class, who felt completely lost and overwhelmed by a ball of panic. If only she could see herself as I do now, one of the bravest people I know.