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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A Beginner’s Journal Part 3 – Deep Relaxation & Meditation

My first meditation class was a surprisingly emotional experience.  The mechanics of the class seemed simple enough – some gentle stretching, some deep breathing and a lot of lying on my back in a darkened room.  With the dulcet tones of Annemaree guiding and lulling the class into an ever-deepening state of relaxation, I then succumbed to silence – and lots of it.  Pretty straight-forward really.

So why then, when I “came to” did I feel like someone had cut my boat adrift from the jetty?  Let go of my rope?  Why was I experiencing such an overwhelming feeling of loss and grief?  Why did I feel like a huge balloon was about to burst in my chest into the ugliest, wettest, snottiest tears ever?   Hadn’t I been feeling quite chipper on the way in?  To the naked eye, all I was doing was sitting in a dark room with my eyes closed, breathing and being silent while Annemaree spoke gentle words about letting go. There was no bolt of lightning – the earth didn’t move.

In the following days I reflected upon this a lot.

On a superficial level, I think I found the SILENCE overwhelming.  Being a mother of two small children and after years of corporate tight-roping, I have been conditioned to be on constant high-alert.  With my disaster–radar finely tuned, I am ready for anything and expecting the worst – always having to think around corners, watch my back, think for and protect everyone around me, keep doing, keep going, keep moving at all cost.

Corporate bumper stickers had been plastered all over my brain. “You Snooze You Lose!”, “First is Always Best!”  “It’s The Quick and the Dead!”  But there in the darkness, in the silence – it was just me.  “Nothing to worry about, nothing to do, nothing to think about, just…be.”  For an hour and a half.   One quiet hour and a half to offload 15 years of baggage.  That’s enough to make anybody weep.

On a slightly deeper level,  just BE?  Just ME?  What the hell did that mean?  That used to be easy – it was written right underneath my name on my business card, next to the company logo. That’s who I was. Leaving work to stay at home to raise the children left me struggling with my identity, but under my imaginary business cards I’m sure it says “Devoted Wife & Mother”.  (The one I would show people anyway).

Up to this point I am the result of all of the labels and bumper stickers I have stuck on myself or had stuck on me by well-meaning others.  Good Girl, Good Student, Good Daughter.  I did what I was told to do (okay, not ALL the time).  I followed a career path I was told I should – following my head and not my heart.  I did all the “right” things.  I met and married My Beautiful Husband, we bought a house in a nice suburb, we renovated and we reproduced – twice!  Until one day, I found myself in my early thirties on the corporate “Out Tray”, on anti-depressants, squashing ugly feelings and emotions with wine each night and having a major “Talking Heads” moment – well, how did I GET here?

Common sense or that nagging voice in my head kept yelling “But look at everything you’ve got! What have you got to be miserable about? Just SNAP OUT OF IT!”  And so, embarrassed and ashamed to talk to anyone other than my divine GP about it, I took the battle inside.

So there I lay, in a dark room, in stillness and in silence – letting all of this go. In the darkness and the stillness it felt like laying a loved one to rest. This was who I WAS. Letting go of that to which I had held on to so tightly, for so long, was like waking in fright from one of those falling dreams. Without all that – who or what the hell am I?

The next morning, in the daylight, it felt different.  I enjoyed one off the deepest sleeps I had had in a long time and woke not feeling loss, but lighter. Rather than feeling like someone had cut me adrift, it felt like someone had kindly pulled up my anchor.

The changes I’ve noticed so far have been small but significant. I didn’t realize how ANGRY I was all the time. Now, as I move from room to room each day making beds and picking up yesterday’s discarded underpants I’m not conducting an internal, raging monologue. I’m not keeping a mental tally of “everything I do which goes unnoticed and unappreciated”, ready to unleash it on My Beautiful Husband if he dares to question me on, well, ANYTHING.

Now, I can find a small smile on my lips, rather than a clenched jaw. I can slide from one task to the next calmly and methodically and there is less mental chatter. Maybe some of those monkeys in my mind have packed up their bananas and nicked off. I can find small joy in the mundane and I am truly grateful for my husband, my children, my home and my life. Yes, A life which now feels a little bit larger, slightly less claustrophobic and ripening with possibility.

I wake each day quite happy.  Calm.  Looking forward to what it may hold. I can answer the phone rather than letting it go to voicemail to be dealt with later. My skin seems clearer. My lower back pain has gone. I can focus on one thing at a time and I’m not white-knuckling it through the day to 5pm when I can claw open a bottle of wine. We also have nightly visits from rats while we’re sleeping but I put that down to wet weather and cookie crumbs, not some mystical “Pied Piper” vibration I am emitting to all creatures great and small as a result of meditation.

What I had thought was going to be a process – through yoga and meditation – of losing weight and learning to put my leg behind my head is actually, for me anyway, an exercise in letting go. I certainly feel lighter – but the bathroom scales don’t show it (I don’t feel the need to even get on them anymore) and I am definitely more “flexible” – but I can’t get my leg behind my head.  In my last Cool, Calm & Collected class, Annemaree informed us that there are thousands and thousands of  yoga postures.  This is a challenge in itself for someone who is used to putting her head down and bum up (I think this is called Downward Dog in yoga) for a few weeks of intense study and getting an A+.  There is no end – this is life.

I have an idea for some new bumper stickers too: “Meditate Don’t Medicate!” and “Yoga! Embrace The Underpants”.

AQA xxx

(Contributing writer, student and ‘eternal work in progress’ – Anita Quigley Atherton).