A few years ago, I felt like I was living on a hamster’s wheel: working, commuting, eating, sleeping… I felt powerless and I couldn’t help but think ‘there has to be more to life than this’. I could sense the burden of stress and constant worrying taking their toll. I knew it was turning me into someone I didn’t want to be. It felt like a cloud constantly hanging over my head, stealing my joy and taking me away from my life as it was unfolding.
Most of my life was happening in my head.
I was either analysing the past or planning and thinking about the future. An important presentation I had to give at work a few days later. A birthday party I had to plan for one of my children. Thoughts about how to make life’s logistics work the week my husband was away. The list was never ending. Of course, planning is necessary in life, but when thoughts about the past and the future occupy every inch of your mind space, it becomes relentless.
I knew it was unsustainable. Something had to give.
The journey took time, effort, and was punctuated by many detours along the way. I read more self-help books than I care to remember. Nothing truly resonated. Most often, the frameworks and processes they recommended only added to my overwhelm, stress and sense of inadequacy.
This last one is important. When we feel stressed, overwhelmed or anxious, we are not only dealing with these emotions, but often, we also deal with a sense of guilt for not ‘fitting in’. We seem unable to cope where others appear to glide effortlessly through life. This can make us feel increasingly separate from those around us. It’s so easy to believe that we are alone in our stress and anxiety. We start feeling inadequate and unworthy. And on goes the vicious circle.
A glimmer of light and hope began to appear on my horizon when I started practising yoga regularly.
I came to yoga when I was pregnant with my first child, to maintain some level of strength and flexibility. I also hoped that it would help me feel calmer. It wasn’t long before I realised the depth of what yoga offered. So much of it lies beyond the graceful postures. These are just the tip of the iceberg, the obvious part that is visible to the naked eye. But the most profound transformation happens when you look underneath.
For the first time, I found a place where I felt at peace.
Whilst running had always helped me solve the problems I was wrestling with in my head, yoga was an entirely different experience. When I practised yoga, I forgot about the problems to solve altogether. I left them on the surface of my mind and went deeper. I was less conscious of what was happening all around me, and more conscious of what was happening within me. I became anchored in my body’s experience of the practice. My overthinking mind could finally take a brief rest as I turned inwards.
As my yoga journey progressed, and I trained to become a teacher, I explored the philosophy of yoga in more depth. This led me to mindfulness, which allowed me to take this journey deeper.
I learnt that the reason life felt like it was passing me by was because I was either a step behind (ruminating about the past) or a step ahead (worrying about the future).
I realised that the most valuable and yet the simplest thing I could do for my wellbeing was being more present.
Learning to pause, be still and enjoy the here and now. Each present moment experience taught me that this, in fact, is the essence of living a more fulfilling life. Because life is never NOT now. By missing out on all those tiny moments, I was missing out on life altogether.
So do I glide effortlessly through life now? No, and I don’t believe anyone ever does. As I see it, nurturing my emotional wellbeing is a lifelong path. But the beauty of it is truly in the growth and development that comes along the way. There is no set destination to get to. Happiness and fulfilment are already here. In the little everyday experiences that seem benign and insignificant. When you look closer, you realise that these are the acorns of happiness. They just need to be uncovered.
In all honesty, mindfulness and yoga transformed my life.
It has been like opening a door to a version of me that I didn’t know existed. A version that was there all along, but simply buried under layers of mind clutter. A ‘me’ that all these programmes and frameworks tried to uncover without success.
It turns out, all I needed to do was learn how to dive under the rough waves of my emotions, be still and listen to the whispers of my soul.
There it was. There I was. For years, I had mistaken my emotions and thoughts for personality traits. I even warned my husband when we first met that underneath what he could see, I was a worrier. Hi I’m Isabelle and I’m a worrier.
Have I stopped worrying now?
No, I haven’t. But I’m no longer defining myself as a ‘worrier’. I see my stress and ‘worry thoughts’ for what they are. Emotions. Not personality traits. And I have learnt how to cope with them so that they don’t wash over me like a tsunami. I have developed more confidence in my ability to handle the pressures of everyday life with more grace. I don’t beat myself up for what I feel. My emotions no longer erode my sense of self-worth. And the sense of relief is incredible. I’m just a human being, like everyone else. Experiencing an array of emotions, just like everyone else. The sense of separation I felt before has lightened up.
It’s hard to bring to life the powerful effect that mindfulness can have. It is best experienced. But trust me when I say that it will help you uncover who you truly are, build resilience, live more and worry less. It’s a lifelong journey but the scenery can be spectacular!