Alternatively you can find it on the Insight Timer App.
Make yourself completely comfortable, eye pillow and all, and enjoy!
Winter is time to slow down, rejuvenate, and go within. Yoga Nidra will take you in a state between consciousness and sleep, and sometimes straight to sleep, which is perfectly all right! This Yoga Nidra is by far my favorite. Jennifer Percy's divine voice guides me to a state of total relaxation. Enough words, just try it out!
Alternatively you can find it on the Insight Timer App.
Make yourself completely comfortable, eye pillow and all, and enjoy!
“Everyone knows it takes time, patience, and perseverance to master an art, a sport, a language, or any other discipline. Why should it not be the same with training the mind? It tis a worthwhile adventure.” Matthieu Ricard
🍀 Yes Matthieu, I know, and I have been training my mind but it's not very obedient. Sometimes I feel like I have made no progress, believing the stories about myself and others my mind makes up. More often than not, these stories are false, ridiculous, and based on nothing else than the filter I see reality through at that moment in time. The more stressed I get the more my mind races and goes from thought to thought with no visible pattern. Here's how it goes, and tell me if this isn't you:
I’d love pasta for lunch- wait I can’t have pasta- I don’t like that guy, why is he looking at me that way? He doesn’t like me, I can tell - I love purple- maybe I could have eggplant instead- I wonder when that ballet class starts again- But now I prefer blue. I need to book an appointment with the dentist, not the new one- maybe I should go back to the old one? Maybe he’s dead, it’s been so long- I do love pasta though, too bad I can’t have it...and so on.
And I let myself go nuts over this??? Well ... I have to admit sometimes I do. Luckily over the years I have learned to keep my mouth shut and stay back when this happens, avoiding interaction with others until the dark cloud has passed. Otherwise I’d have no friends (oh wait... ). I watch the (silly) thoughts happen as they unfold, and I avoid believing in all the crap my mind produces. - at least I try-. Of course it gets worse when this happens in the middle of the night. Ever got up in the morning remembering your nocturnal thoughts, and wondering “wtf?? Am I losing my mind?? Or rather it’s my mind losing me!!”
So! Here are my -truly and tested- tips to come back to Earth and keep your head on your shoulders... or screw it back on if it fell off:-); and believe me, it does happen.
🍀 FYI: When stressed, our brain releases stress hormones that encourage anxious, irrational thoughts. This is how we jump up to conclusions, relying on pure emotions rather than plain facts, isolating ourselves from people that really had none of the intentions or thoughts we thought they had. So first, learn to recognise you are under stress!! Then... DON'T ACT ON IT!! Don't make any decisions when under stress!!
🍀If you want to see a situation/person for what it really is, do not label it. Rather, be curious about it and listen/look at it as if experiencing it for the first time, pretty much like a baby eating banana for the first time (no expectations, just noticing). Let go of all preconceived ideas. Yes. Easier said than done. Just try ok?
🍀Question your own thoughts: is this true ? Is there another side to this story? Is this thought helping me in any way? At least 90% of the time our thoughts do get in the way!!
🍀If you catch yourself creating many stories all the time, it could be an indication that you are very tired, too busy, and needing more quality rest (watching the Bachelor does not qualify as rest; it’s mindless entertainment that eats away at the few neurones I have left).
🍀Start a mindfulness practice: just observe the thoughts come and go. Even if it’s just 1 minute a day.
🍀Give yourself a few minutes to sit in silence. It could be sitting in your car after you turned off the ignition. Soak in the silence and stillness. Breathe. Aaaaahhh... Feeling better already?
So dad has been gone for a couple of weeks now, on June 16 exactly, the day before Father's Day in France. The first night after he passed, I had a dream. We were both sitting on a bench in a parc, surrounded by majestic trees. He was wearing glasses and must have been about twenty years younger than today. He looked at me and said « I have left everything in order, I’m going to leave now ». He was asking my permission to leave and at the same time telling me he was leaving . I said « Yes, everything is in order, you can go Dad ». He left and I stayed on the bench.
Grief is a very strange process, as I am learning now. My Dad was/is the most important and influential person in my life, and losing him has been my greatest fear since I was a little girl. And with all my yoga and my studying and reflecting and teaching and so on... somehow his departure always seemed like something that could only happen in a futuristic world. I just didn't want it to happen. EVER. Such is the human mind: not very good at accepting the obvious.
Seeing the coffin enter the church, and then being laid down under in the cemetery was violent and painful. In fact it felt unreal. Even though I was there, I was disconnected and unable to accept that my Dad’s body was in this box. It was my worse nightmare, so obviously it couldn't be real. Looking back I suppose it was a defence mechanism, because reality sometimes is just too harsh to cope with. And also I had to hold it together and support mom in what was probably one of the most difficult days of her life as well. During her entire life she managed to never set foot in a cemetery, but she honoured her husband's departure and was incredibly brave. She was the first one to throw a rose on the coffin. To help her do that, I had to keep it together. And when you have to, somehow the body gets it and does what it needs to do.
On my last visit a few weeks ago, dad and I had said our Goodbyes, so yes, everything was in order. After my visit he declined quickly. Not so quick that we didn’t have time to realise what was happening, and not so slow that it would be painful for everyone. Dad transitioned at a pace that spared us a lot of pain. He slept a lot, until the day he didn't wake up again. Indeed he had left everything in order, and the organising of the funeral was not overly complicated. Lee and I stayed a few more days to support mom and help her transition into her new life, the life where her companion of sixty years is no longer there to hold her hand. And then we flew back home. That was brutal too: leaving France felt like saying goodbye one more time, as if France was all I had left from Dad. Leaving mom on her own also was, is difficult.
And now what? Now the grieving starts. Only now do I realise that I will no longer admire the beautiful trees with Dad outside, or through his window when he could no longer go out; only now do I realise we won’t be watching the doves fly and listen to the discreet chirping of the sparrows, or spend an afternoon playing John Mayer’s Paradise Valley on repeat, sipping “Mort Subite”, his favorite beer. I will no longer rest my head on his chest, smell his cologne, or lovingly be held like the little girl I never ceased to be in his eyes. I'm having a difficult time making sense of it all. But I have to get out of the way and let time do its work.
As I stare at the stars and wonder, grieve and reminisce, it dawns on me that infinity and love have very much in common. They have no beginning and no end . The unconditional love I could see in Dad's eyes every time he looked at me will stay with me until my last breath; it is the same love I am transferring on to my daughters. It'll radiate through us, generation after generation. And as Dad shines his bright light high above now, as I go to sleep I can’t help but notice that one star I hadn’t seen before is far brighter than the others.
Photo by Ryan Hutton
Today's medicine has made huge progress over the last few decades, saving us from many fatal illnesses, increasing our life expectancy even beyond what are bodies are built to endure. Yet in the midst of all this we continue to glorify youth as the only socially acceptable way of being, completely unaware and unprepared to deal with old age, let alone death. The truth is we don't have a clue what old age is about. I found out on my last trip to France, visiting my parents, more specifically my Dad.
The last time I saw my parents was a year ago, in April 2017. I had flown to France with my daughter to empty out their apartment and to spend as much time as possible with them in their nursing home. We all had a fantastic time together, spending most afternoons at their home, sharing stories, enjoying each other's presence. Mom and Dad were incredibly happy to see us and it really warmed my heart to see their entire face light up every day we came to see them. Dad was very lively and lived up to his reputation of a lighthearted, fun loving man. Like everything else, this came to an end, and we had to return home. I was sad, but happy to leave with my heart filled with warm memories.
About a month ago Dad was admitted to hospital for an emergency and was bed ridden for a week. He came out of the hospital a broken man, no longer able to do anything on his own, including getting out of bed. His Alzheimer's had taken a huge leap forward, making it even more difficult for him to communicate with anyone. But the dedicated staff know him well and understand his emotional state by his tone of voice and the way he tilts his head. He has forgotten everybody, except the ones he loves: his children and grandchildren. When I called him upon his return from hospital and asked my mom to put him on the phone, I heard the nurse say in the background "your husband can no longer get to the phone, you need to call us". I realised how bad the situation was. I was on standby for a few days, not knowing whether I should go and visit or not. When my sister told me it made no sense for me to spend that much money and time to come and see someone who may not even recognise me, I decided to go. It was probably my last chance to see him. It didn't matter to me whether he recognised me or not. If I could bring him a little bit of lightness and joy, that would be great, regardless of who he thought I was. But deep inside I was convinced that if his brain didn't know who I was and what I meant to him, other parts of him would.
I landed in Paris on Monday 22 April at 7:00am and was with Dad by 11am. I entered the room, leaving the door wide open. He didn't jump out of his bed to greet me. Because he couldn't. His legs can barely carry him anymore. But I saw the light in his eyes. I saw the same Dad I always knew, but in a broken body that is barely functioning. I sat next to him on his bed and held his hand. We stayed there for a while, and then he asked me how I was doing. The intensity in his eyes told me he din't mean "how are you doing" right now, at this moment. He meant, how is your life going, are you happy? The important stuff. I said I was doing really well. "Sure?" Yes Dad, absolutely". When he was satisfied with the answer, he wrapped his arm around me, kissed me and hugged me. He then leaned his forehead against mine. Time dissolved in thin air. I was once more a little girl in her father's arms, with no care in the world about anything else. The sheer magic of being in my Dad's arm's.
Years ago, Dad would not have let himself be so expressive. I would have had to see the love in his eyes, if I could catch his gaze in time. He and his brothers grew up in a motherless family. They were tough. They were raised to go to war, and never show how, or what they felt. They had to bury any signs of hurt, of sadness quick and deep, so no one could see they were affected. That was the only way to survive on the battlefield. So they did just that, day in and day out, forgetting that the battlefields of World War II were far gone. This layer of protection stuck with all of them their whole life. It was their trademark. Now these layers of self protection are (mostly) gone. One could say ageing removed these layers. Because really, the older you get the less you give a fuck what anyone else thinks. Dad's need to express his love to me resurfaced, also because he knew there is no more time for hiding and playing the tough game. He expressed it in the most beautiful way. You see, love is like honey. You can read about it, study it, see pictures of bees making it... but until you've actually tasted it, you have no idea what it's like. And the love a father gives to his daughter is the most important gift she'll ever receive to build herself, to ease into womanhood, and later on learn to recognise this genuine love in another man. And then you completely forget about the word or even the concept of Love, because you just carry it in you, and it really doesn't matter what it's called.
A friend of mine has said, there is so much love between you two, it's written in your eyes, in the sky, in the stars. For sure the Universe keeps love like this.
I love you Dad, and I know you love me. It's written in the Stars.
Simplifying life can be freeing.
Late last year I decided it was about time I started simplifying my everyday life. It began with objects shortly after I returned from emptying my parent’s apartment in France. I became fully aware that 90% of our “stuff” ends up in the bin at some point.
So why not start emptying now, and spare me the pain of accumulating? Surely I’ll make my life easier in the process.
Around the same time, a friend of mine had the wonderful idea to lend me a book. The book was “The life-changing magic of tidying” by Marie Kondo. Coincidence? Not sure. I devoured the book page after page. I was inspired. Drawer after drawer, cabinet after cabinet, I got rid of most of the unwanted, useless “stuff”. Stuff that was contributing to my general feeling of uneasiness. A full skip bin later and Bon Voyage!
Over the summer break, the family and I took a holiday to the Outback. In a small town near Cobar, we stopped for coffee and I asked for my usual: an almond milk decaf cappuccino. The waitress looked confused. Almost like I had just asked her to fly up to the moon to bring my coffee back, all wrapped up in her prettiest wrapping paper with a golden bow.
Please. She had no clue what I was talking about, and kindly suggested black coffee, with or without milk. So I ordered the coffee with milk feeling a little disappointed. But when I tasted the coffee, it reminded me of the Spanish Cafe con leche I love so much. I enjoyed every sip of it. As we left she waved us goodbye from the other side of the room, like old friends do. We then stocked up on food and water to last us for a week in the desert even though we were only there for three days.
Because of a lack of communication on my part with the NSW Department of Parks and Wildlife Service, there was the possibility that we would be spending New Year’s Eve in the car, and maybe more, under the beautiful stars; which I thought could be memorable albeit slightly uncomfortable. Having enough food and water we left sealed roads for red dirt roads, surrounded by emus, kangaroos, galahs, eagles, lizards, scorpions, spiders and who knows what other creatures lurking.
New Year’s Eve was under the stars (and not in the car) with virtually no human contact and no reception. My teenage daughter can testify that it IS possible to survive three days without reception and STILL have a good time. We explored, walked, talked, read, made up bad jokes, laughed, cooked, lived, and bathed in the magic of Lake Mungo.
As I woke up on January 1st to see the first light, I realised the real meaning of simplification. Or rather, I realised there are many layers to it.
Having less unwanted objects and more of the ones we love and use is for sure a major aspect of simplification. But having fewer options in our daily life in terms of what to drink, eat, or buy is also a big part of it. Buying only what you know you will eat during the week is yet another layer. Since the amount of food we could store was dictated by the amount of space we had left in the boot and how long our ice could last, I didn’t have dozens of items to choose from and meals were straightforward, simple, and always pleasurable.
So here it is. The common denominator for all aspects of simplification is quantity. We consume and create too much of everything, from material objects to thoughts, activities…It’s as though we were terrified of empty space, feeling the need to fill every minute of our day, every drawer and cupboard with “stuff”. We even literally stuff ourselves with food our body does not need, either in quality or quantity, and often both. We desperately try to fill a gap for something we’re not even aware of. We keep accumulating, stuffing and cluttering!
When you limit things, whether it’s options, grocery shopping or mailing lists you subscribe to, there is less congestion in your field of vision, less clutter in your mind, more time to just BE. It leads to more efficient and straightforward daily logistics, and a lighter, more joyful way of being. Of course, it’s much easier to do in the middle of the desert than in the “civilised” world where we have to use our best judgement and constantly push away the unnecessary.
It’s a constant practice, but like with everything we get better at it with time.
Cutting back gives you the space to breathe more comfortably, to think more clearly, to be more present with yourself and others. To feel lighter and more spacious with your body and mind. The accumulated tension in your body starts to melt away, slowly.
So really, for me the keyword for simplification is reduction. And time and time again reminding myself that “Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated”. (Confucius)
Yoga is a way of life. If you’ve attended yoga classes in studios, you may have heard the teacher say this. Yoga is a way of life. Yes, it is.
But dropping it just like that to a class of people whose names you don’t even know, is sure to be misunderstood. They are very likely to understand “ I washed my dishes mindfully today, I did my yoga”.
Reaping the benefits of the practice of yoga (the asanas) takes hundreds, if not thousands, of hours of practice and self-observation on your mat. One of my teachers once said that under five years of practice, you are a beginner. I remember thinking he may be pushing it a little, but now being ten plus years into my own practice, I totally see what he meant.
Most people come to yoga for the physical benefits (becoming more limber, stronger, to de-stress, etc…). And that’s perfectly fine. In the process of just showing up to class and doing the practice, they are getting much more, even if they’re not aware of it. They learn to observe the sensations in their own bodies, listen to their breathing patterns, watch the avalanche of thoughts that come and disrupt their concentration, identify emotions and watch them appear and vanish as if they never even existed (and in fact, they never existed, they’re just constructions of our minds.But that’s another story).
After a few years of steady and dedicated practice, without realising it, these observations start to show up in their daily life. For instance, in a situation where they would have been overwhelmed by anger and immediately reacted to it by screaming or throwing something, they’ll identify the emotion, pause, and give themselves the time to choose a different, more appropriate reaction from usual. The discipline you maintain in your practice gives you the freedom to sit back and choose a different response to the event.
This happened to me on various occasions. One day my daughter dropped and broke a cup full of milk on the kitchen floor. Before starting yoga I would immediately have screamed at her, holding her responsible for something really annoying (breaking a cup and spilling milk) and I would have gone on and on about how clumsy she is and who knows what other mean thoughts would have crossed my mind, making her feel really bad about herself, and planting the seeds for low self-esteem and its consequences for the rest of her life. The better, improved Me now says, “it’s ok, it could have happened to me. I’m annoyed that I have to clean this mess so please come help me”. End of the story. The even more advanced yogi doesn’t even worry about it and moves on without feeling annoyed. I’m working on that version.
So yes, yoga is a way of life, and practising it off the mat is only a natural consequence of having spent a ridiculous amount of hours on your mat. At some point, the practice becomes an integral part of who you are and guides most of your thoughts, actions, and words. Yoga off the mat, whether you are a beginner or advanced is by no means a replacement for the actual physical practice. There is absolutely NO WAY of getting around it. You HAVE to do the work and follow the process. It is an experience that no book or lectures will replace. And if you’re only into this for the physical aspect, the same rule applies. Physical ailments don’t magically vanish. They get worse over time if not attended to. So, here’s what you need to do:
GET. ON. YOUR. MAT.
There are many, many yoga related topics I could write about. But today my mind was hijacked by the controversial Netflix series “Thirteen Reasons Why”, and writing about what true core is seemed really unimportant for the time being. For those of you who don’t know, the show is about a teenager who decides to take her own life. It’s a controversial show because some say that it normalises suicide, and even makes it glamorous. Certainly, it could invite an un well teenager, or even adult to contemplate suicide, I don’t deny that. My daughter had told me she was watching it and loved it, and I didn’t think twice about it, I was happy enough that she shared and continued with whatever I was doing. But when the school sent an alarming email warning about potentially dangerous content for young minds, I decided to watch it. All thirteen episodes. Some scenes were difficult, and one of them plain horrifying. It made Orange is The New Black feel like RomCom. And yes I do understand the school’s concerns, but it’s too late now and the show has been seen by thousands, if not millions.
The show brought me back to a teenager’s world and way of thinking. We need to remember that teenagers and adults are different. The frontal lobe doesn’t fully develop until twenty years of age, and we as adults have to keep this in mind when faced with teenage issues. We may disregard an Instagram post as silly, when for our child it could be the end of their world, of their reputation. We need to learn to listen to them, and by that I don’t mean waiting for our turn to speak and lecturing them about how silly their concerns are. I mean walking in their world, in their shoes, with an open mind, without judgement, but with guidance. It’s real acrobatics and we have to practice it a lot before we can become comfortable with it. But the lines of communication need to remain open.
My daughter and I talked a lot about the characters, what they were going through, their parents, etc… We talked about them not as fictional characters, but as real people who are living through their individual and collective dramas. Because let’s face it, even though it is fiction, everything depicted in the show happens in real life: your image being ruined on social media by a picture taken out of context, being bullied, a desperate need to belong to a group, fear of rejection (for both boys and girls), rape, sexual assault, the inability to express complicated mental and emotional states which lead to feelings of isolation, fear of being judged, the models our society dictates on how we should look/feel/be/perform, etc…
I watched a few episodes with my daughter, stopping at various points and discussing the issues as they were arising. There are a few more topics the show covered that we have not talked about yet: the need for boys to be educated as to what true consent is (does the absence of a no automatically mean it’s yes?), how everything we do affects others, recognising a predator for what he/she really is, how girls really need to know how to say no and leave as soon as a situation becomes uncomfortable and dangerous, how careful we need to be with social media, the outmost importance of seeking help, recognising the signs of depression, the impact our behaviour has on others… and I’m forgetting some. For me as a parent it was a reminder that we need to remain very, very present, all of our senses switched on at all times. I am a little angry with myself that I needed the school to bring my attention to the show when I should have jumped on the opportunity as soon as my daughter mentioned it.
On the last episode, I was shattered. I turned to my daughter and told her, “now you understand my concerns as a parent; every single issue of this show is something that I think about a lot”.
I think she understood. At least for now. As for me, I need to keep practicing my listening/guiding acrobatics.
For the second season, Headspace has collaborated with Netflix to provide support for young viewers and adults. I have read their recommendations, and I highly recommend to make yourself familiar with their recommendations. The link is here.
The first time I taught a kids yoga class was traumatic. It was at an after school care on a Friday afternoon, the children where tired and restless, and listening to what I had to say was not high on their priority. It felt extremely chaotic and at the end of class, they all ran away screaming. I was grateful adult classes ran a little differently. The after school care teacher turned to me with a big, victorious smile and declared “they loved it!!”. I wish someone would have taken a picture of my face then, because for sure my jaw must have been way down on the floor. I went back home exhausted; I felt like my blood had been sucked out of my veins. I swore to never do it again. Never say never.
The next day I realised that as crazy as it all was, they had liked it, so I must have done something right. And that something was to have given them freedom to explore, to laugh, and be creative with my requests (I later learned requests are to be offered as suggestions in a kids yoga class). The after school care contacted me to do more classes for them, and I accepted, confident in the fact that I would be learning from the experience. And I did, but not what I thought I would.
First off, kids are amazing. They are playful and fearless!! Why are adults so afraid to try handstands without the wall, or to try it at all?? We adults are blocked by our beliefs, fear of falling, and the list goes on; so we prefer not trying new things, conforming to the image of the “adult” society has crafted for us and we remain in our comfort zone, secretly wishing we’d have the guts to at least try. We don’t realise we are narrowing our landscapes and possibilities to keep learning and expanding. When I tried acro yoga, my father told me that it wasn’t for my age and I was going to hurt myself, a belief deeply ingrained in our society. Adults are supposed to be serious and not have fun, at least not this way. On the other end of the spectrum, children are not worried about falling or trying something new. The concept of comfort zone doesn’t exist yet for a lot of them. Falling results in laughter and more trials, working together to explore new avenues, and encouraging each other to try again, in as many ways as their wild imagination can possibly create. It is such an eye opening experience to witness this. I began to wonder when we lose this playfulness and thirst to explore.
Second, they live right here, right now. So it doesn’t make much sense to teach them about mindfulness because that’s what they do, that’s what they are. Reminding them to be present is reminding the sun to shine. If they are interested in what they are doing, they are 150% focused. As a result I began to understand yoga philosophy better: our inner child and mindfulness are always present and it is our natural state. It becomes clouded by thoughts and worries and to-do lists, but it is there, just like the sun shines behind the clouds. As a result, kids classes will be noisy, and that means they are expressing themselves and having fun with this new tool of yoga they have just been offered.
Third, their ego doesn’t rule them (yet). We, adults, get so caught up by what others are thinking of us; we’re so worried of looking ridiculous; worried we’re not good enough; worried we can’t do it, etc… In yoga classes we can’t help but compare ourselves to others in the class, and watch with envy those we think as more “advanced”, and get frustrated or beat ourselves up if we think we don’t fit the perfect Instagram shot of the pose (a whole other topic…). Kids are inhabited by the “I can do this” attitude, and even if they fall over and don’t achieve the pose they were shown they believe they can do it. They perceive everything as “easy” even when it’s not, and stopping because they haven’t reached the “pose” doesn’t even cross their mind. To them the pose is not the goal. The fun you have playing with it is. They are so right.
Fourth, they are unbelievably creative. I absolutely love it when I ask them to do a pose or a short sequence, and they come up with a version different from the one I suggested, a version that hadn’t even crossed my mind. And unless I stop them, their ideas erupt like lava from a volcano and they keep trying, imagining, building, and laughing it all along the way.
Last, they don’t hang on to emotions. A friend of mine told me a few months back, that she thought children don’t understand sadness; they only feel it for a few minutes and then move on to something else, which struck her as immature, childish, and limited. Nothing could be further from the truth. Unlike adults, children let their emotions go by, they feel them and let them pass through, then move on; they let it happen naturally and don’t hang on to sadness (or any other emotion). It was scientifically proven that an emotion only lasts ninety seconds; anything longer than that is our mind making up stories based on that emotion (Source: “The molecules of emotions”, Candace Pert). Something to keep in mind next time we feel anger or sadness: how much are we adding to the emotion by reliving the event over and over again?
I have learnt so much with children. I have realised how many layers of unnecessary and even harmful beliefs we have about ourselves, how we should be/act/look like, etc… The older we get the more layers we add.
Teaching Kids has taught me so much. Reflecting on the past two years of teaching kids yoga I realised our teachers are not always the ones we think! And as for the grown ups… be inspired, find joy in just being here, play more, especially on your yoga mat!!
Image from Unsplash, by Jorge Lopez
The doctor announced nonchalantly that dad had Alzheimer’s. As if it weren't enough, it was already at an advanced stage. How could I not have known? A couple of years ago, he said he didn’t know where Malaysia was when I told him I was flying to Paris via Kuala Lumpur. I remember being surprised, considering Dad was very well versed in all things geopolitical. He was very well read too. But when we don’t want to see something, we find all kinds of excuses. I sat in the doctor’s office, stunned, taking it all in, unable to think of a question to ask. The doctor said, you see, it’s no wonder you didn’t notice. Alzheimer’s is much more difficult to diagnose with intelligent people. They realise they’re losing their capacities and always find ways to cover it up. Dad did just that. With his well known sense of humour and ability to laugh at himself, we let everything go and didn’t see the elephant in the room. I was shocked. I was sad. I didn’t want to believe it. Dad was here, but he could no longer be my rock, the one I could ask advice to. Now the tables had turned and he needed my help.
I had heard of Alzheimer’s, and like everyone else, had all these preconceived ideas about it, and it didn’t correspond to Dad. The general perception of a person with Alzheimer’s is of someone who is deluded, who doesn’t make sense, who has lost touch with reality, doesn’t know where they are, and basically speaks gibberish. The general term would be “crazy”. Decades ago they were locked up in asylums, and the evolution of the vocabulary to designate this state of affairs has only recently evolved from “craziness” to “dementia”. But people’s perception hasn’t shifted yet.
But I know this picture is not accurate. Yes dad forgets his words, forgets names of people and places, confuses childhood events with today’s. He forgot a lot of everyday vocabulary, making communicating a difficult thing. But talking to him, I realise he knows what he wants to say, he has the capacity to reason and think rationally, but the words that come out are not always the ones he is looking for. As if his brain was opening the wrong drawer, and timelines have become blurred.
But when I call he recognises my voice and tells me he likes hearing me. I can hear the happiness in his voice. He loves to talk to his grand daughters on the phone. When I told him I was going to a yoga retreat in Bali last May, he encouraged me and said “take as many opportunities like this in life; otherwise you’ll regret it”. Perhaps he has some regrets of his own.
It’s been a little over a year now. His dementia has evolved, and it took me a long time to fully take it in and get used to the “new” dad. Since the sentences are often difficult to understand, I have learned to listen to the tone of voice, the intonations, and when I am there, observe the body language and non-verbal cues. I have learned to always try to understand the underlying feelings of the words, rather that the established meaning. He always responds well to affection and good intentions. The general guideline is: you have to make sure that your loved one with dementia knows he/she is still loved, because no matter what illness they are suffering from, it’s still the same person inside. It’s just that this person has trouble making herself known and understood.
Today we live longer and it’s likely that many of us with aged parents will, or are confronted with dementia. I have found this website to be very useful to transition and learn appropriate strategies to deal with the changes. It definitely has some very good insight.
We’ve all heard it so many times, and especially us (busy) moms! But what does loving yourself mean? It’s all over social media, magazines, self-help books, yet it remains an empty statement for most of us, including myself. Until I decided I wanted to learn to do a freestanding handstand. It was a pose I perceived to be completely out of my league and reserved for acrobats and the likes. How does that relate to loving yourself you may ask? Read on.
So here I went, kicking up the wall dozens, hundreds of times maybe. For weeks that really heavy bottom of mine just wouldn’t lift off, I felt like a pregnant whale out of the water. Oh, and the internal dialogue: “I’m stupid, I can’t do any of this s$%&t, why do I even bother with this, I’m too old, it’s just showing me all the stuff I’m not good at, I’m just bad at it…” and so on. So much drama, so much negativity!! It was annoying, frustrating, and most importantly, it felt horrible and was not helping my self-esteem. But I didn’t want to just “give up”. So I kept on trying, and little by little, progress was made.
But what I learned was totally unexpected. I thought I was just working towards a handstand. Over a stubbornly dedicated practice of months, I noticed that the self name-calling was dissipating; I was becoming kinder to myself. And it wasn’t just during handstand practice, but in everyday life too. I stopped calling myself an idiot for forgetting to bring my daughter’s afternoon tea or accidentally throwing the keys of the house on the roof (yes I did that, unintentionally, in a fit of anger; the stuff strong emotions make us do!). I stopped being angry and disappointed in myself for not achieving that handstand. Instead, I observed what was happening in my mind, the emotions that the thoughts triggered, how they felt in my body. I made a point of making neutral observations like ‘mmm… my balance is off today. That’s ok. Tomorrow is another day”. During yoga practice, this new way of dealing with my perceived failures gave me the confidence to keep trying and improve. I no longer felt like impressing anyone, because in the process the path of self-study found me. Off the mat, I became a lot less harsh with myself and became kinder to myself, like a good friend or a nurturing mother would. I started perceiving myself under a different light, giving myself permission to not be perfect, and be fine with it.
I also became much more patient with the children and with the dirty laundry that never seemed to make it to its designated spot. Practicing noticing emotions on the mat helped me become aware of the negative emotions arising in daily life and gave me the chance to choose to act differently. Instead of being enslaved by my emotions and reacting immediately, I gave myself the space to notice, and assess whether reacting to this emotion was fair to the person in front of me. Had the kids really done something that horrendous or am I just tired and cranky? Most of the time the emotion dissolved by itself. As I was becoming more accepting and understanding of myself, I became more understanding and accepting of others, too. I learned to pick my battles. All of my relationships have improved thank to this very simple practice.
In the end I don’t care (that much) if I can, or can’t do a handstand. What I’ve learned –and am still learning- is amazing enough! And that really is what yoga is about.