I have been intending to write this blog for 12 days. I kept checking my calendar there because it feels like way more than 10 days since the UK announced lockdown.
First of all, how are you really? Take a step back from social media, from the news, from what other people think and what other people are doing, and imagine I am asking you, how are you feeling? Take note of that. Or tell me or someone you trust.
How am I doing? I’m doing well. I have been able to take most of my yoga classes online and therefore I have a schedule and a purpose. Because of that, most days I am seeing and talking to people, albeit on the screen. There are many things I like about it. It’s giving more people opportunities to attend my classes. There’s something great about looking online seeing a class is coming up and thinking, right 10 mins to get sorted and I’m in.
I also feel like I am getting to know the people who come to my classes better. I’m seeing a part of their homes and getting a fuller picture of who they are. I am the kind of person that wonders what people are like in their own little worlds and in many ways, I am finding out. I’m meeting their sisters and mothers and even better, their pets! People just glow with love when they are around their pets. Seeing my friend’s dog snuggling into him during relaxation has something wonderful about it. Seeing people flying across the living room because their cats have run under their feet is frightening and then hilarious. Seeing my friends cat staring at the screen with utter confusion when I ring my bell puts a huge smile on my face.
I’ve had friends and family members from other countries joining us and people I trained with abroad – people who would never have had the chance to be at my class before.
If I had a pound for every time I heard at the end of every relaxation, “Aw, if only I could just teleport myself home”. I’m not going to lie, there have been a few people falling asleep on the couch. And with mute on, we don’t get distracted by coughing or snoring!!! I’m not saying we have collectively wished for this but…
For me, there is a feeling of being in a protective bubble behind the screen. I see people, I interact with them, I can read their body language and facial expressions (so I still know if you’re having a bad day) but I don’t feel them as though they were my own emotions. In some ways, it’s a relief and I am really clear how I feel myself. It has highlighted that I still have a little work to do on finding a healthy balance of connection and space around other people. I either take it all on or I hide behind a protective wall or in this case, screen.
That said, I really can’t wait to see everyone in person again and I keep imagining being with all the people I can’t see right now. My family, friends, and all of the people who come to yoga.
There are things I don’t like about the online yoga – It’s difficult to see everything people are doing and it’s more difficult for me to see your face and know if you are struggling with a posture or not. I can’t give as many individual suggestions or references or support you in a posture and when I’m in a flow, sometimes it’s as though you’re not really there at all! So you see, I do miss the real connection!
I’ve been thinking about how you all may be coping and about what makes the difference between coping well and struggling.
In some forms of yoga, Tai Chi, and Qi Gong you may have heard people talking about Yin and Yang. According to Wiki:
In Ancient Chinese philosophy, yin and yang (/jɪn/ and /jɑːŋ, jæŋ/; Chinese: 陰陽 yīnyáng, lit. “dark-bright”, “negative-positive”) is a concept of dualism, describing how seemingly opposite or contrary forces may actually be complementary, interconnected, and interdependent in the natural world, and how they may give rise to each other as they interrelate to one another.[
I think it is a good way to remind us to find balance in life. It’s always a great reminder for me because I have a tendency to do too much of certain things. I have a lot of what would be characterised as Yin qualities. I am quite slow, grounded, deep and inward looking. I like the moon and night time and the cold and dark. I’m creative and intuitive and flexible. So, I know that to balance all of that out, I need to actively pursue Yang to find balance. I surround myself with lights and particularly for yoga, bright clothes. I do energetic exercise like running and circuits, as well as yoga. Even though I feel a bit daft, I go to classes that are bouncy and fun and a little bit ridiculous because these are aspects of living that I could completely ignore and they are equally wonderful aspects of being a human. As a sensitive, soft person, I’ve had to work on setting boundaries and taking care of myself by being a little more forceful when I need to be. Right now, I am focusing on balancing these aspects of life more than ever before.
Taking time out to relax and take a rest is absolutely necessary. Choosing to get some things done that you haven’t had time to before is hugely rewarding. A huge shift in perspective which can be empowering is knowing that you have choices. You might not have all the choices you would like and even less than usual right now, but you have choices. And if you feel like you have chosen to do whatever it is you are doing right now; it feels really good.
I’m delighted to see all of the ways people are filling their time. The amount of people (in my newsfeed anyway) who have taken to being creative is fabulous! Whoever thought of painting the rainbows deserves a gold star. If I was 5 or even 15, I would have demented my mother by deciding to make the most elaborate, biggest rainbow ever and I would have made a huge mess all over the living room to do so. As a child, I loved counting Xmas trees in people’s windows and a fantastic game for when we are out of lockdown would be taking your kids on a rainbow treasure hunt.
Photo by Marta Branco on Pexels.com
And that rainbow brings us to the NHS and the thing that I haven’t mentioned throughout this whole blog and I’m (hopefully) 3/4s into it. I have to admit I am in a little bubble as I said above, but I have not forgotten the seriousness of the situation we’re in and that people are dying. Every time I step out on my balcony and clap for the NHS, I cry. When I think of how people must be feeling surrounded by death and suffering in the hospitals, how families must feel losing their loved ones, I cry. I’m crying now. I have many friends who work for the NHS, I used to work there myself, so I have empathy for the challenges they are now facing. If I need to do my bit, I will. But I will not dwell in misery about it as though all of this were happening to me. These things are sad, but they are a part of being human. We are of no use to other people if we take on their suffering as though it were our own.
It would be very easy to get overwhelmed by the whole situation and to give in to catastrophic thinking. I don’t give in to that because I have faith. I have chosen to have faith. And I say it like that. I have chosen to have faith in something bigger than me. It’s a choice because I discovered that life is easier when you have it. It takes a huge amount of responsibility off my shoulders. I don’t know what “it” is and I choose not to describe it. But I have faith that ‘it’ knows what it’s doing and I am humble enough to understand that I could not even begin to comprehend how or why. So, I let that shit go. Instead I choose to accept. I accept that humans are susceptible (like all other living species) to viruses and that viruses kill. That is the nature of things. It is egotistical to think that humans should be able to survive everything and live forever. That is not the nature of things. It’s not about saying it’s good or bad – my opinion on that won’t matter to nature. Things will continue to live and die and I don’t have a hand in it.
And I know this is easy to say until you think about the individual people around us who we love and the thought of them getting ill or dying. There was a line in a film called Biutiful I watched years ago that stuck with me every since. Javier Bardem plays Uxbal, a man who is trying to survive and take care of two young children in a deprived area of Barcelona, among some other extremely traumatic circumstances, he finds out he is dying and understands that the children’s mother cannot take care of them. He asks a local wise woman, “But who will look after my children?” and she answers, “The same person who has been looking after them all along, the Universe.”
There are some things I have no hand in. I cannot control whether other people live and die no matter how much I love them. So I choose to focus on things I can control: my own thoughts, deeds and words. Not the things other people are doing, not the things other people are not doing. The things I am doing or not doing. Those are the only things I can control. But when you drill right into that, there is actually a lot that as an individual I can do and that you can do. And this, this (imagine me putting my hand on my chest and nodding seriously) is where humanity is making me so proud right now.
Photo by Dio Hasbi Saniskoro on Pexels.com
Community is something that in many places had been forgotten in this country and it seems to have been resurrected overnight! As soon as the thought of a lockdown came into place, people began setting up local groups and assigning a person to each street in each town to make sure everyone has someone they can call if they need something. We began asking our neighbours if they are ok and if they needed anything to call us. Every time I walk along the beach at my home, I am greeted by nearly everyone I meet with a smile or a hello. People had stopped doing that. The clapping not only made me cry for the NHS workers, but because I felt a connection to all of the people around me and I only realised how badly I had been missing that when I felt it.
The threat of not being able to connect, the threat of not being able to survive, has made us realise how much we need each other. It has shown us how important it is for us to have contact with each other and therefore we are making a bigger effort to keep that connection alive.
And keeping that connection alive through yoga is where I have found purpose. I feel like I am keeping people connected to the outside world. Some of the people who come to our classes are vulnerable to the disease and are therefore self-isolating completely. We’ve had numerous messages from people about how much the connection and social interaction means to them and that makes me feel like for now, this is the right thing for me to do.
If you can, find a sense of purpose or appreciate the importance of the purpose you aready have. That might be simply staying at home and keeping your distance. It might be in how you teach your children about what’s happening right now and how best to cope when there is a humanitarian crisis.
I’m not gonna lie, I can’t imagine having to educate as well as give your child attention all day. But again, I see some really good things coming out of this for families – in particular from what I’ve seen, parents getting to spend invaluable time with their kids that they wouldn’t otherwise have got. I’m sure at times having kids at home all the time it is incredibly difficult, but one feeling I can always remember as a child at primary school is that sick feeling as you ache to be at home. Lots of kids will be delighted to be spending all of this time with you.
Maybe you’re using the time to learn a new creative hobby – I see many adults colouring in and making things. Creative pursuits are so undervalued. My mum has taken to unravelling some of her many knitted creations only to make something new – highlighting without knowing it that it is the process of making the thing that is the reward, not the actual thing. She may very well be unravelling all of the kids toys she’s made for my non-existent grandchildren.
Maybe you’re learning to stop and be still and be ok with not doing so much. Maybe it’s walking, cycling or running. Or like me, attending one of the many classes you can now attend online that you could never get to physically! I’m telling you, I’m going to be handstanding out of my window and swinging down the side of the building (or not…).
If you are having difficulty finding any positives or any purpose, it’s worth me talking about one thing I always noticed when I took myself out of my normal environment. In the beginning it can feel like a huge relief, like you are a new person, but very quickly, the same life problems you had when you were in your usual environment and routine begin to surface again.
That’s because, as has been said in many books, in many different ways, your problems are all internal. It might therefore be a good time to look at how you deal with things and whether there is anything you can do to understand why you are dealing with them in that way. I believe many of us develop patterns of behaviour because of things that have happened in our lives (often when we are developing as children) and that those patterns are very difficult to notice and change.
I also believe that I have noticed some of my own and changed them and if I can, you can too. These patterns are described in many different fields – personal development, therapy, Yoga philosophy, and Buddhism to name I few that I have delved into. It might be that you will have to enlist the help of a professional to figure it out, but now is a time when some sitting, looking at how you are showing up in the world and how you want to show up, could be really worthwhile.
It might be that you are having to face huge life challenges right now, that you are facing the loss of work or business. My heart goes out to all of the many small businesses that are struggling to survive. If you can, diversify. Don’t wait for someone else to pull you out of the swamp. In my experience, you are the only person who is capable of doing it. There are people who are around you who will help, take their help, but ultimately it’s you who has to make the decision to either pull your bootstraps up, or use the time to reflect on what you really want to do with your one precious life. Maybe this is a wakeup call for you. Maybe it means the dissolution of pride as you have to accept financial aid or take on some other kind of work temporarily. One thing we should learn from nature is, the things that adapt to the circumstances and environment are the things that will survive. I think nature is one of our best educators right now. If things seem desperate and unmanageable, ask for help and look out for lessons and for opportunities. In my experience, they are always there.
One example of the same problems turning up over and over for me, is writing. I love to write. I can pass away hours and hours with a clear head, feeling energised and purposeful writing. But I always put it off. Ask any writer you know. We’re all the same. We want to do it, we feel better for doing it, we should do it, but we’ll do it after we do the washing/cleaning/gardening/scrolling/chatting/sleeping/staring out of the window. Initially, I thought, ok, I can deal with this, I will see it as a two-week sabbatical to finish my Miss Jane trilogy and get it published. Then I decided to teach yoga online and I didn’t look at Miss Jane until today. But once we get our little fingers on that keyboard and then its weeeeeeeeeeeeee!!! 3000 words later. So, I’m dedicating time to writing this weekend and every week for the foreseeable future.
And that leads me onto another thing that will help during this time – scheduling. I learned how to schedule as a PA working for medical directors. I got really good at it. I was not so good at getting them to stick to it. But for someone like me, who puts things off that I really want to do, it’s important to have an idea of how I want to spend my time.
I just discovered Google calendar. It’s free, it’s easy to use, you can colour code it and download it to your phone, and…. And… (raising my eyebrows emphatically) it translates your title into pictures!! So if your appointment is called ‘gym’ your appointment has little dumb bells in it. If your appointment is yoga, it has a yoga mat. I cannot tell you how much joy it gave me when I saw that it did that. And these, my friend, are the little things it’s worth getting excited about.
I have chosen to accept this as my new reality and not to think about when this will end. I have adapted and found a new routine. If you keep thinking about when it will end, the time will feel excruciatingly long. If you want to practice that – try Yin Yoga lol.
I choose not to spend my time and energy getting anxious about conspiracy theories and about what might happen. I could, we all could, but here’s the thing, it doesn’t help a single person. Not you, not the people dying and not anyone you love. Not unless you are a government official or James Bond.
I choose not to fixate on all of the things I could perceive other people to be doing wrong. And I say perceived because a group of us had a chat last Friday (via Zoom) and talked about a few instances where ‘they’ had made a judgement about those that were out, when the people had really valid reasons for being out doing what they were doing. I have talked a bit about how people might be spending their time, but let’s remember that the fact that there is a pandemic virus will not suddenly make unreasonable people reasonable. And I say this in a non-judgmental way, because what I really mean is, if you have mental health problems or diseases, addiction issues, you are experiencing abuse at home, or are suffering from PTSD, you are not suddenly going to be sitting at home drawing rainbows with your family. If you are living on the streets, or in extreme poverty, you are not suddenly going to turn all of your problems around to become a responsible citizen.
Let’s not assume that everyone is as privileged, or as capable of being reasonable as we assume. Some teenagers who are out on the streets are there because it’s safer. They’re there because the idea of being in isolation at home is terrifying. Don’t assume that you know. Most of the time when we understand the whole story, we understand. That doesn’t mean condoning, but it definitely means non-judgement. I shared a post a week or so ago because so many people were getting really upset and angry about how other people were treating the lockdown.
You are not responsible for managing the people around you – we pay the government to do that. You’re not responsible for telling Facebook “they” are doing wrong – the media get paid to do that. You are not responsible for the human race. Put that shit down, it’s heavy. Spend your energy on being responsible for yourself and your family and find ways to do good. That’s enough.
And if you think something is really, genuinely wrong, take action about it that will help it to change. That doesn’t mean talk about it how terrible it is – either do something about it or accept that you can’t do anything about it.
When you find yourself stuck in this state of mind a good thing to do is think of all of the things you could be grateful for. Being alive, people you love being alive and well, being able to connect, being able to get out for a walk, having enough to eat and drink, living in comfort, living in a peaceful country, that we have an NHS that will treat every patient without them getting into debt afterwards.
And you know the best thing that I did this week? I spoke to a friend and made her laugh and that, she said, gave her enough energy to go out for a walk. That is the good work.
So my friend Pauline said that she was looking forward to my blog about what Vhairi would do during isolation. Pauline will be interested but some of you will not give a fuck. My mother will probably groan and say, “Oh no, here’s life according to Vhairi again and she’s using the f word!!.” But those people (except my mum) will have tuned out after 20 secs and will be on Facebook posting memes and quizzes (that’s ok, I like them too but I’m a little concerned about answering questions that may very well be hints on my passwords).
The truth is, I’ll be doing the same things I do in life – looking honestly at the way it is, accepting it and finding ways to do good and feel joy. For me this means routine, purpose, exercise, mental stimulation, creativity, perspective, acceptance, connection, gratitude and going to online yoga.
I will still get upset, I will still get angry, and I will still get anxious. As always, I will continue to fight the good fight and do the good work. And I may just call a friend who will comfort me and make me laugh. And I will look forward to hugs and dinners and picnics and yoga at the beach and I promise to appreciate every moment of them.
For my yoga classes in Ayrshire and online - go to www.vhairislavenyoga.com/book.