WNT founder Jennie Duck explores the competitive spirit that resides in her and looks at how the lessons of yin yoga helped her to let go of some of this striving and learn to live more gently and happily.
Over the past few years I’ve been working on letting go of a competitive streak in myself. This streak has a strong genetic influence and is not entirely unhealthy – it has helped me carve my own path, to meet interesting people and try interesting things, to build a career and business, to keep learning and growing and setting my sights high and far. It has given me ambition and for a long time I was grateful for that.
But I have learned that ‘ambition’ is far from a happy state and indeed is a barrier to wholehearted living and any sort of internal peace and contentedness.
The tool that has helped me shine a light on my relationship to competitiveness is yoga and, in particular, yin yoga. The irony is that it was my competitive streak that held my attention to yin yoga – proof that nothing is ever ‘good’ or ‘bad’, the richness lies in the ambiguity and dualities.
The first yin yoga class I did was called ‘deep tissue stretch’ and it was with Andrea Kwiatkowski on Movement for Modern Life, a blessing in the form of a subscription platform that has improved my life a gazillion fold with excellent teaching and ability to have daily classes for all moods and needs. I liked the sound of this class that would reach into areas ‘like a massage’ and looked forward to the results.
It was tough! I struggled to find ease in many of the poses and the idea of holding them for 2-5 minutes was new to me. Andrea held my attention with her acknowledgement that ‘you might find this quite a frustrating practice’ – so I understood that it wasn’t just me and I stayed with it.
I gradually learned to back off, to ease away from ‘the edge’ as it is referred to in yin and to approach each pose in a softer way. I learned that this allowed the release I needed to go further – that yielding in my striving led to the yielding my body was craving, that easing off my effort allowed me to find much more progress and development in the work I was doing with this practice.
My physical yoga practice, known in yoga as asana and how we often understand ‘yoga’ generally, is my training ground for life and a touchstone that helps me understand who and where I am and what needs to change and how that change can come about in my life off the mat. So these lessons of yin, of lessening the effort, of not pushing so hard or trying to override where you already are, of going with rather than against and of listening acutely and – importantly – staying with what arises became my pillars of life. My benchmark for ‘success’ has become more about how it feels and what comes out of it for my growth rather than any external validation or acceptance.
Of course this doesn’t happen overnight, I am still on this journey of listening and adapting and learning and I see it as a lifelong journey. As is the other side of the coin, the letting go of what others think and the doubt of whether I am ‘good enough’ for my place in the world.
Competitiveness may be a fun and helpful trait for many and in many circumstances. I love watching an exciting game of rugby or 100m sprint and that wouldn’t be the same without the competitive spirit. But when it is part of your life to remove you from the here and now, to validate yourself and to make you push when perhaps pushing isn’t right, then it is not healthy.
At this time of year when we set ourselves targets and insist we must be ‘better’ this year, may we have the self-compassion to approach this with gentle discipline and kind self-talk. My goal is to commit to things that appeal to me, to follow my path and grow every day without force and allow adaptation and change when I meet resistance. Happy new year :-)
Massage therapist Erika Zettervall shares her joyful and varied experiences of walking her dog Alfons in the winter and explores the benefits of getting out and about with or without a furry friend.
This month is national walk the dog month, supposedly due to the bad January weather dog owners are in need of encouragement to walk their dogs(!?). I find this a bit baffling since my experience of weather in winter is that it’s more dog walking friendly than summer weather. The heat is worse than sleet if you are a dog. There is, of course, the maddening amount of mud at the moment, resulting in muddy paws and boots to clean, but walking my dog has never been a chore, rather a great source of joy.
It was the main reason for getting a dog and I take great pleasure in walking, I enjoy long country walks as well as exploring urban environment.
With this winter lockdown, dog or no dog, walking will be an opportunity to meet and spend some time with friends. Don’t let the temperature put you off and prevent safe socialising and friendly support but sitting on a park bench is chilly and is not great for the kidneys. Instead, keep on moving, the walking will build your inner heat and you will keep warm. Walking and talking is very therapeutic, the gentle movement brings softness and flow to thoughts and conversation. It lends itself to a deeper conversation and is often preferable to facing each other stationary when touching on sensitive topics or resolving a delicate issue.
However with a dog or two put in the mix the focus will shift suddenly and abruptly, when urgent canine matters occur. Like balls needing to be thrown or to stop for a close inspection of a wall that may require a signature in the form of quick cock of the leg! It can be a good interlude at
best or a bit jarring if you are mid-sentence. I used to find it a bit annoying before becoming a dog owner myself. But the patience required, something I have had to cultivate with my dog, makes me slow down and notice my surroundings a bit more.
This disrupting and also playful quality of dogs is great if you are like me a bit prone to drift and disappear in thought. My dog, Alfons, keeps me firmly in the present by his demand for attention and in so doing prevents me from rumination and overthinking the many anxieties of the world and him from fox poo rolling or munching on unsuitable discarded food bits.
I can understand the hesitation to venture out for a walk when there is no dog insisting on an excursion, especially when the weather looks a bit wintery. Unless of course you are like me and love crisp cold weather, find a long brisk walk energising and crave that sweet feeling of returning home with legs tired and cheeks rosy. Then the enjoyment of staying cosy indoor is delightful, but without the exertion and fresh air you can end up foggy headed and sluggish.
London has many fantastic parks, big and small, as well as the commons. Many streets have beautiful trees and small patches of greenery and its apparent numerous Londoners are keen gardeners making pavement walking very interesting and pleasant. Most places are very accommodating and friendly towards dogs, then there are also the waterways to get to know; rivers and canals with paths running alongside. Lately I have exploring areas along the river Lea and East London and they are absolutely great. You can walk for miles on paths and marshes with very friendly crowds. Even cyclists are friendly!
If you not keen on roving and since we are all encouraged to stay close to home this winter, much discovery can be had repeating a favourite route. If you carry the mindset ‘you never cross the same river twice’ you can begin to cultivate awareness in the small changes in every day.
On a clear winters day the views are good and very different to the summer. With very little or no foliage you can see though the trees and what in the summer is obscured by leaves is now visible. You might also notice the naked branches’ beautiful structure, maybe there is a hint of preparation for new growth, stems tuning purple and swelling buds signalling a turning towards a new season.
If you still don’t fancy winter wandering and are dog free, take pleasure that you don’t have to take the dog out in the cold and be grateful you can choose. Then you cultivate a bit of gratitude! Although the wise part of you is hopefully aware a daily walk is would be a great benefit for maintaining good health and supporting your immune system.
Put a hat and gloves on, step out and enjoy winter walking, with or without a dog.
Sports massage therapist Lauren O'Sullivan shares her journey with veganism and how it is a lifestyle as much as a diet choice and encourages an open attitude to how we relate to our consumption.
I’m going to start this blog with a quote from the Veganuary website: “Since 2014, Veganuary has inspired and supported more than one million people in 192 countries to try vegan for January. Last year, more than 400,000 people took the pledge to try a vegan diet, while more than 600 brands, restaurants, and supermarkets promoted the campaign, and launched more than 1200 new vegan products and menus in the UK market alone.”
It is safe to say that Veganism has grown considerably and swiftly over the past 6 years or so. That is a very short amount of time for something that was unknown to many people to have become so popular and dare I say, trendy. Of course, a vegan lifestyle is a lot more than a trend to those that follow it, but I do think that its rise in popular culture has helped vegans navigate meals out and quick dinners with a lot more ease. I say ‘vegan lifestyle’ because it is not just about the food! Veganism cuts animal products out of all things that we use, from shampoo to the clothes that we wear. Vegan leather is now becoming fairly mainstream with some big brands, such as Dr.Martens footwear.
I have a personal story with veganism. I didn’t really understand what it was and when I first heard that people ate food without using anything that came from an animal I thought it was impossible! Then I worked on a cruise ship for 6 months and my cabin mate was a fully fledged vegan. I couldn’t comprehend how she did it on the ship as we had to eat from the Officer’s mess - buffet style - and everything at least contained dairy or eggs if not meat, apart from the salad bar at the end. She would duly eat some salad at meal times and then back in our cabin she had stashes of vegan cereal bars, dried fruit, nuts, and most importantly of all, peanut butter. Just the jar and a spoon, that’s all that was required!
It proves just how hard it was not so long ago to be vegan. You had to prepare in advance, otherwise you would be stuck with nothing to eat. It seemed to me at the time that you would be giving up so much and that it must be a constant struggle to live a vegan lifestyle. But I think subconsciously my cabin mate inspired the beginning of my interest and enthusiasm for veganism. I then read the book, ‘Eating Animals’ by Jonathan Safran Foer and it pushed me over the edge to make a change.
After trying to commit to being fully vegan for about a year and a half back in 2017/18, I have now settled into what some might call a flexitarian. At home, we eat plant based most of the time and buy organic free range eggs from the farmer’s market along with an occasional bit of cheese (mainly from sheep/goats). My main motivation of wanting to adopt a more plant based diet is now my carbon footprint and the impact that mass meat and dairy production is having on the environment. We make exceptions on meat for special occasions and really celebrate the cooking and eating of a good quality piece of meat, bought from a small, family owned farm.
We don’t need meat in every meal, or as a convenience product. What we choose to eat is very personal, but sometimes I think our choices are not conscious ones. We are shown what to eat from years of marketing and perhaps from what we learned at the dinner table as kids. But we can make a conscious change, or we can at least try, little by little. I think one of the best things we can do for Veganuary is to educate ourselves a bit. There is a whole lifestyle behind the movement and it is for the good of our fellow animals and the planet to pay it some attention. If you can give it a go for the month of January that is amazing. If you can commit to one fully plant based meal a week then go for it!
Blogs from the WNT team. For our blogs from before June 2020 please see individual profile pages - it's a good way to get to know practitioners too.