A Beginner’s Journal: Two Steps Forward and One Step Back.

This article has been contributed by student, writer & eternal work-in-progress, Anita Quigley Atherton.

So, since beginning yoga, deep relaxation and meditation with Annemaree at Cool, Calm & Collected in October last year, the effect on me has been profound.  I lost a small amount of weight, was drinking less, smoking less, eating better, sleeping better, worrying less, shouting less, spending less, having more sex – that’s right! MORE SEX. My Divine Husband agreed that yoga was the best thing I had ever taken on.  From the moment I began I never took an anti-depressant or anti-anxiety pill (hello calm, adios sex drive) and never felt the need to. A year back my GP had told me that I wasn’t going to stay on them forever and I would need to put something in place to replace it. Eureka! I had found it.

From the beginning, Annemaree’s feedback to me was that she had rarely if ever seen someone progress quite so fast, which we put down to me having been overwhelmingly “ready” to change things up in my life. I still agree this to be the case, but I have also learnt a few more things about myself in the recent weeks.  Whilst always encouraging and supportive of my staggering switcheroo, Annemaree also – very gently – warned that I would most likely take a couple of steps backwards.

Enter Christmas School Holidays and I was moon-walking backwards so fast you would have sworn Michael Jackson had risen from the grave.  Despite my excitement about the Christmas holiday with the children and my husband’s extended family, my mother and my brother at a beautiful seaside resort; despite enjoying the process of preparing salads and sides for Christmas Day lunch ahead of time (while My Divine Husband was out on the tiles with workmates); despite enjoying the process of selecting, lay-buying, picking up and wrapping all of the gifts we were giving to loved ones (while My Divine Husband lay on the couch watching AFL re-runs 6 months out of season)… well, despite all this, as soon as My Divine Husband finished work, the kids finished school, we packed the car and headed away and my peaceful little ritualistic routine had been smashed to smithereens. I fell apart.

I don’t mean daintily fell apart. I mean on Christmas Night I was a snot-spraying, quivering, wailing banshee woman who TOTALLY LOST IT with My Divine Husband after he put the kids to bed and DARED to say “did you forget to pack [something] for the kids?”. Up until that point – that teensy weensy tiny tip-tap of a moment, that itsy bitsy little comment – I had been putting so much pressure on myself to “stay calm” that I kind of imploded. Exploded. I think, at one point, I had him in a head-lock actually.

Put down to an obligatory Christmas melt-down, things calmed down, we talked, we moved on and eventually I let go (not just of his head….) and we enjoyed a really beautiful relaxing holiday.  When I got back I had a private session with Annemaree for an hour and a half. Still shaking and breathing shallowly I explained what happened while we were away and there was that calm, knowing smile and nod that said “hmm, I thought you would take a step backwards eventually”.  The private session was like taking a refreshing cool shower, the yoga practise was like coming home. The private session was perfect as it helped me to refine the positions I had been learning in the group classes and prepare myself for continuing to practise at home while Annemaree was away in India for five weeks.

I am not sure what, if anything, I would have done differently in the lead-up to The Christmas Night Episode. I guess I know (and boy, so does my husband) that I am not super-human, that being calm doesn’t mean you can do it all, that I am beautifully human, flawed with warts and all – but working on it. So I will continue to practise. My husband is back at work now, the kids are still on holidays and hell-bent on driving me stark-raving crackers – but I am still breathing, I am still writing, I am still studying and constantly learning.

Om & out.

AQA xxx

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Just Breathe

Three years ago I received a telephone call from my youngest brother, Paul.  I shall never forget the anguish in his voice as he explained that his first newborn, 6-week-old baby Thomas Rowley, had just been diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis.

I felt the pain well up inside me as he spoke and I tried with all my might to stay calm for his sake, but alas the tears started to flood as I realized how significant and challenging this little boy’s life could become.  Not to mention, the pain and strain on his lovely parents, Paul and Tania.

My yoga training flew straight out the window….or so it seemed.

I cried and cried and cried.  I simply couldn’t stop.  I hibernated and tried to be calm, making copious cups of tea and laying my hands on anything that might be soothing  chocolate and licorice mainly).

Yes, it sounds as though it was all about me, and it was at the time!

I was of no value to anyone who came within a tear drop’s distance of my whimpering self.  In all, I cried for 24 hours non-stop.  I awoke throughout the night sobbing.  I sobbed doing the dishes, in the shower and walking along the street.

A headstand was out of the question because I simply would have drowned.

With red-rimmed eyes, a throbbing head and a heavy heart I attended a class being held by my yoga teacher, Shanti Gowans.   Ironically she arrived into Melbourne that weekend. I attended her class and tried to remain inconspicuous amongst my yoga teacher friends.  Yes, there were inquisitive looks.  Puffed cheeks and swollen eyes were not characteristic of my persona and when one asked me if I was OK, I immediately broke down like a wailing banshee and grabbed at anyone who would hug me.  Yes, ‘I’m fine’ I said.  Well, that was authentic – not!

Shanti didn’t breathe a word and not a word passed between us on that day.  I laid down on the floor to take part in her 2-hour yoga class.  The tears came and came until my yoga mat was flooding.  I couldn’t breathe and I couldn’t smile.  Wavelets of water slid across my chest and every time I tried to do an inversion the tears would back-track and slide straight up my nose.  But…deep down I knew that something would eventually turn the ‘tap of tears’ off and prepare me to be of support to wee Thomas in a calm and peaceful manner.  But what?

Have you ever attended a crowded yoga class and believed the teacher was specifically and exclusively talking to you?

All I could hear her say was “if you think your life is falling apart, just breathe”.  Over and over. “Just breathe”.  “Just breathe”.  “Just breathe”.  In and out, softly, gently, deeply.  “If you think your life is falling apart, just breathe”.  The breath will heal you, hold you, and comfort you.  “Just breathe”.

I tried.  I really tried.

That afternoon I was committed to take my own yoga class. I didn’t want to disappoint my students by cancelling.  The room was dark so I assumed they wouldn’t notice my face’s disfigurement.  And….. most of the class was done with the ‘eyes’ closed.  I bottled up the tears and when the students had all departed from the room, I sat alone in what seemed like the very trough of misery, and howled.  And then…. ‘just breathed’.  Again.  And again.

The more I focused on the breath the more the pain in my heart started to subside.  The tears began to diminish and within a few more hours, I calmed right down.  I had grieved. It was no longer about me. Anyway, I greatly dislike being absorbed ‘in me’. It was now to be about Thomas. I had stepped out of my own way and was ready to be of service.

…to be continued

(with love from ‘Auntie’).

(and thank you Fiona Handbury for taking this beautiful photograph of our Thomas).