Pride comes before

I’ve been writing out to my students quite regularly since the first lockdown. Even the ones who won’t come to online classes drop me a line from time to time in reply, to tell me how much they value the continued contact. It’s always sweet to hear from them. And it eases the awkwardness and self-consciousness I feel in writing into the void, in the unilateral communication of a newsletter.

The theme I picked recently touched on the value of continuity of practice; how yoga is important for helping us get better at life rather than get better at yoga. For me making time for yoga, even when/especially when it feels like a selfish luxury, is so important, I told them, as time spent on my yoga somehow helps me find the time and energy to do all the other things in my life. I hope I didn’t sound preachy. A few of them hinted that my words had touched them quite deeply and made them rethink their priorities.

So far, so good. But pride always comes before a fall. A week or so after I offered this perspective, my day job shifted suddenly and dramatically and I had what were the most stressful working weeks in maybe a decade. A new team three times larger than my old team, spread over three timezones, in the midst of a department restructure that is still being figured out leaving everyone confused and unfocussed. Nothing is clear, priorities shift each day, communication from above is patchy. My new team are variously struggling. One is on a formal review for underperformance, another is in recovery from cancer, several are clearly chronically anxious, another with a recent mid-life diagnosis of ADHD. All suffer the effects of long lockdowns…. I spent a week getting to know them and figuring out how to keep them working, in Teams calls all day every day (like Zoom but with poorer functionality and so bandwidth-hungry the connectivity is always problematic). It all took beyond my usual working hours. At the end of last week I collapsed. No long term effects I’m sure, but I was acutely exhausted, emotionally and physically. And disillusioned with the role I had been given.

And what happened to my practice during this time? Did it support me in the way I had proudly declared to my students? Did it de-stress me at the end of each working day, leaving me ready to resume work with a clear head, relieved of bodily tensions?

Well, not quite, as I felt so tense and exhausted at the end of each day that any yoga or meditation felt like an enormous effort. My practice changed quite significantly. Very little of the hardstanding efforts I have been so interested in lately and quite brief standing poses even. Much of the time was on the floor feeling my way into hips, backbends and rotations. This wasn’t a plan, no intellectualising, just the call from my body to let go of some tensions and a need to connect back to whatever source of compassion and strength I could. I think it’s this that helped me do my best each day to guide others, to be stable when they felt confused and scared, and to be flexible in the face of a multitude of decisions and quick responses I needed to make.

Because my practice shifted so quickly from strong and dynamic to a slow exploration of longer deeper holds, I questioned my consistency. I had felt as though I opted out and let life get on top of me, reducing my practice when life made it harder to commit. But as I write I see that actually I just shifted it radically to keep it meaningful for me, to keep the mat-time relevant to my life, to use it as a genuine tool for self-care and greater compassion to others. The handstands can wait til I have a bit more energy to enjoy the challenge.

And maybe I just realised the next instalment of the newsletter to my students?

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