Learning to breathe
Recently a client came to Relaxscape for a self-discovery retreat, saying she was having trouble finding her “life’s purpose”. She was feeling under pressure from all the business gurus and life coaches out there, exhorting us to be successful and to “live our best life!” How do we even begin to define what success means to each person? As individuals, what we are aiming for and what good and best looks like is different for each of us.
Learning what's right for you
So often we live in a state of dissatisfaction with our lives, our work, our partners, with ourselves. We feel that we’re missing out, that we want more, that we should be more. How much more though? Where’s the bar? How will we know when it’s enough? We’re constantly being fed aspiration by all sorts of people, each with their own motives. Our media and consumer-focused society rely on it. They want us to try to keep up with the Joneses, to keep wanting more and more.
But this very act of comparing ourselves with others is what’s feeding the dissatisfaction. Each of us has our own personal circumstances, and our own set of values and drivers. Some of us may be heading in the same direction, but our means of getting there and what we need may be very different. This approach also forces us to focus on the future, on a reality that may not even materialise, and makes us too preoccupied with our own ego, as we’re constantly being cast as the hero or the victim in our very own puppet show.
Finding your ikigai or dharma with yoga
Modern society offers us too much choice, and in doing so, has left us forgetful of the fact that the life we choose is shaped by us. We have choice and it’s our choice. We can choose to live in a constant state of catch-up and show-and-tell, or we can decide to tread a quieter path, at a gentler pace, where satisfaction comes from a different sense of achievement. Yogis would call this dharma, the Japanese, ikigai.
What if I suggested to you (as I did to her) that my friend on the self-discovery quest was already living with purpose? What if “purpose” is more about action than destination? A state of mind, a daily conscious act to practise until it becomes a way of life? Just as a regular yoga practice helps you to become one with your breath, and with your breath to become one with yourself, training yourself to focus on the present and let go of your sense of ego helps you to understand your purpose. Gradually you understand that what you thought was important is not so, and you begin to discover what is.
Trust me, I’m a yoga teacher now :)
Learning to live in the present
I know this because I’ve spent the last year and more discovering all this for myself. I’ve been letting go and living my life, on a path that I’ve chosen, a different path than the one I originally set out on. It hasn’t always been easy, far from it, and I still have a long way to go to make a success of it in my own terms (do we ever stop travelling, stop learning?). I’ve discovered how much better life is when you’re no longer concerned about how you measure up against others, when you stop trying to change what is outside your control, when you accept your current situation, and yourself. When you slow down. When you stop to breathe.
It’s been a path full of unexpected delights and pleasure. When you learn to let go and to stop worrying about what might happen, the hardships feel more like interesting challenges - how can I solve them, what do I need to learn from them? - rather than huge impassable mountain ranges. And by doing so, you open yourself up to new experiences and new connections. I’ve met so many heart-warmingly wonderful people and made so many new friends since I’ve moved here. I’ve lost a few people along the way too, but in the main, I’ve been pleasantly surprised at just how many people are wishing me well and even saying that I’m cheering up their days, and inspiring them to be bolder. While I’m making these changes for me, for my own personal wellbeing, if even a small part of what I’m doing can also help other people to change their attitude and be happier, then of course I want to do more of that. That’s living life with purpose, right there.
So I’m going to continue to share my experience and what I’m discovering, on this unconventional path of mine. I have seen 48 years of life in six different countries; I’ve been through a divorce, redundancy, wars and recession, worked for companies of different sizes and for myself. I’ve hurt, I’ve cried, I’ve made mistakes. I’ve loved, I’ve laughed, I’ve lived. And most of all, I keep learning. Perhaps by sharing my experience, it might help one more of you to understand your own purpose, and follow the path that’s right for you. I hope so. You deserve to be happy. We all do.
My new path has unexpectedly led me to qualify as a yoga teacher. A journey that started seven or so years ago when my osteopath nagged me to take up yoga (thank you Matt, I am forever grateful). Via the gentle guidance of Jemma at Present Health Studios and the beautiful teachers there who helped me to learn and develop, I fell in love with yoga and how it made me feel. Calmer, stronger, fitter and more energised. More grounded, more able to ignore the worry of the what might (or might not) be. More accepting, of myself and others. During the past year in my new life, the only thing I’ve really missed has been those yoga classes. During my daily self-practice, I still hear the voices of Yinny and Helen and Jemma talking me through and sharing their wisdom.
So I took matters into my own hands (as I often do!) and took myself off to train as a Yoga Alliance certified Hatha and Vinyasa yoga teacher, to fill the gap here in Central Portugal for those of us missing Vinyasa Flow yoga classes. Thanks to the generosity and support of my father, and various friends and family pushing me to do it, now I have three more guiding voices: Javier, Tomas and Klara from Yogashala Institute, who delivered the fantastic teacher training course. As well as weekly classes for locals around Tomar and Ferreira do Zêzere, it also means I’ll be able to include more yoga options on the retreats on offer here at Relaxscape.
Those of you already practise yoga will know its unique ability to help you to tune out the outside and tune into yourself. While it’s great for fitness and toning, its power is far greater than purely physical exercise. It’s why gurus and yogis for centuries have been sharing what they know, to help us understand that by simply learning to breathe, we can still our restless minds and find inner peace. That may sound fanciful, but it’s really no different to all the other support systems or therapies out there that are designed to help improve our wellbeing and mental health by encouraging us to relax more, focus on the present and think more positively. Breathe. It’s as simple as that. And with a little practice, we can all do it. If you’d like, I can show you how.