I used to recognize myself in most of these profiles before I became the person I am today.
What about you? Do you recognize yourself?
Meet Joanne, 47
The never ending “to do list” woman
She takes on more than she can actually carry with the belief that “if there’s a will, there’s a way”. She feels as if she needs to keep it together for everyone and is constantly feeling guilty for not being more. The only one she should feel more for is the one that doesn’t get anything: herself.
And since she doesn’t take care of herself properly; she is sleep deprived, eat the wrong things and can never seem to loose weight. These facts brings her to the following: feeling irritated because of lack of sleep which makes any obstacle seem like another mountain to climb. She tries to compensate the lack of energy with sugar/fat/caffeine/alcohol and it becomes her rescuer, her “reward” for the moments “to herself” in this busy life. She does not actually have the energy, will or (seemingly) the time to exercise but she has to or else she will be fat. But since it doesn’t seem to do anything, she increase the sessions on the treadmill and works out hard 5 times a week.
What is happening?
This person runs on adrenaline and cortisol. It is the body’s stress response and blocks all improvements from her physical activity and ruins her sleep. Each time she eats something that isn’t good for her (and she knows it very well) she feels guilty and it creates a constant belief of failure. She is so wired in the evening, especially before going to bed when she is alone with her thoughts (and the to do list that once again didn’t decrease) that she can’t find the peace to fall asleep and will wind down with a glass of wine or other alcohol to sooth the nervous system. In the morning, she doesn’t jump out of bed with the rising sun but more rolls out of bed while trying to shut the alarm down. She has a couple of cups of coffee in the morning and then some during the day.
The inflammatory foods and drinks increases the stress levels in the body and the viscous circle is making another round.
What is necessary here?
First of all, reversing this everlasting fight or flight mode that is set on survival. The more we neglect ourselves, the more we are really telling ourselves that we do not deserve anything else. It is not what you would do to a child for instance. It is the opposite to “self love”. So the first thing to do is to create a space for YOU that you under no circumstances let go of. Ideally, this should be in the early morning but you need to organise it the way it works best with what your daily program looks like. The idea is not to create another stress element to your already busy day. Tell yourself that the amount of exercise actually will not change anything as long as you have not reversed the wires in your organism. So allow for this moment to be one of stillness. Now, if you are anything like our friend Helen, sitting still in meditation is impossible. So, a gentle, grounding yoga sequence that doesn’t take more then 20 minutes is the way to start. By creating this space (physically – find a spot that will feel like your sanctuary even if it’s on time share, before everyone else in the family ask for the space) you are also creating time (the moment that is dedicated to your well-being. Remember that there is one person only that will be there for the rest of your life, and that is you) which will increase your mood. End your practice with 5 minutes of breathing exercises and 5 minutes of seated meditation.
Meet Lucas, 30
Here is a person who has a clear idea of what he wants to achieve, who wants results from his actions. He just hasn’t thought about how to get there. The part in between where he is now and where he wants to be has not been considered. Our example of Lucas shows this clearly: he wanted me to teach him hand stands but his body was far from open enough when it comes to torso or hips and he needed to strengthen his core as well. To show him how we start, I had him try headstand first. Since he was nowhere near this pose, he understood that an inversion where the third support point (ie the head) wasn’t active, would be tough without some primary work.
He wanted it all and he wanted it straight away. The idea of working towards it was frustrating.
One of the biggest qualities for such a person is the capacity to find new ideas and projects. He is sharp and always thinking, constantly. You can come to this person with a dilemma of choosing between two options and he will quickly tell you why you should go for one or the other.
He has ambition and doesn’t let anything bring him down but he will find it hard to stick to a plan. Something more interesting might come in the way.
So a goal in form of a difficult pose might seem like a great way to practice sticking to something until the end. Yes, but even more so, finding joy in the work towards it would bring more value to his life in general. Not only to actually be able to “stop and smell the roses” but also because the irony of trying so hard is that it takes you further away from your goal. When you can let go of the result in whatever you are applying yourself to, you will achieve it. But that is also the symptom of the Western world. Even the will to improve ourselves constantly is misguiding because the harder we try, the more we struggle with it. Just the fact of looking at yourself and say that you need to change something is a step back because it means that you are not enough just as you are, flaws included. So this is where our Achiever needed to begin. He already had a practice and was convinced that it was rather advanced. However, not one movement was made consciously. He rushed through it like he rushed through life. For what end? What was he running towards?
What is necessary here?
Since this person works well with the promise of a carrot, we would fix that one of our 3 classes a week was an Ashtanga class that would help on the journey towards the hand stand.
Not only did that enhance his motivation but it is also a good practice of sticking to a decision and routine. But there is a need to alternate. For the creative mind, it is good to have a daily practice that can change; one day strong, the next day more gentle and the third fully still and focus inwardly. It is essential to do this internal work in order to become more present.
Since the active and intuitive mind has a difficulty sticking to a program, it is even more important to structure the daily routine with enough time before the actual practice (Lucas would get out of bed as I rang the door bell…) to wake the body and nervous system up. It is also essential to set an intention for the the practice as a short meditation before the physical exercises start.
Ideally, the intention is formed before the practice, written down in the practice journal and then repeated at the end of practice. The slow and more internal work for the days of this practice need to have a goal of creating pleasurable sensations in the body. This is imperative for the release of tensions, that really are the manifestations of all the resistance that we have within. By creating those sensations, the person can enjoy being IN the body, not just the use of the body as a tool.
Meet Christina, 26
The good girl/boy syndrome
She was always concerned with corresponding to the image that her parents had of what a good child should be. As a child that was relatively easy but the older the Good Girl became, the harder it was to stay on the page. So she made more of an effort. She went out of her ways to be the best: daughter, friend, student, girl friend…employee, wife. If she didn’t, who was she? Her existence needs the approval of others because it is the definition of herself. When other people’s approval of us becomes a necessity to know that we are alive, our self image is at risk. It means that a negative opinion from someone on what I have done, will be understood as a message of me being a bad person. This would mean that I do not deserve maybe even to be alive. The Good Girl will then make sure that she is ALWAYS good. She will take on the most prestigious and difficult studies that she can think of, long years of hard work to prove herself worthy of the parent’s approval. She will make sure that her friends like her and is consciously applying herself in all that she takes on.
On the contrary, she doesn’t enjoy any of it. The pleasure in anything that she does is completely gone. If her existence depends on what she presents as an image, then anything recreational has no value. If it has no value – the she has no value because she identifies with what she does. When things aren’t going her way, when she is not successful, it all feels rather dull and she feels powerless and trapped. She feels empty.
It is in these moments where she could actually improve her self esteem because this is when thoughts like “who am I?” And “what is my purpose?” Come crawling. But it will depend on what her circumstances are and in a situation where she has no support from others, the chance that she will take on destructive habits in order to punish herself is pretty high. These habits will serve as an emotional channel instead of expressing herself in tears or talking it out.
What is necessary here?
The good girl needs to trust herself. She needs to feel that the empowering of her being is not dependent on other people’s approval but that she can access that feeling on her own. In order to do so, she needs to trust her own instinct and find her personal truth instead of her parent’s. She needs to practice authenticity. To do so, she needs to learn how to move freely, to express herself without worry of what anyone thinks. It implies that we become proactive in life. By paying attention in practice we strengthen the muscle of attention so that we can use that in other situations. We can broaden our horizons. It means that we can observe what happens in an action so that we then can consciously choose our reaction. We realise that we have a choice. It is in the moment of choice that we can start to listen to what our instinct is telling us. The good girl needs to have a routine where she creates a feeling of joy. The joy will encourage her to listen to her body and to go in the direction of pleasure. This means accepting to have a recreational activity more then exercise. A meditative practice with visualisations will strengthen her sense of self and the idea of power. The physical practice is a wonderful tool to make her realise her own strength as well but it will then be different to each person depending on their body structure. Discovering the inner world as a combination with a core strengthening yoga will make her feel more powerful and in time, the progressions will bring her to the understanding that she can empower herself without the help of compliments from others. It is a subtle work of building up her self esteem.
The practice needs to be daily and done both mornings and evenings. It implies physical activities in the morning and calming one’s in the evening. Meditating with visualisations should be present in both sessions as should breathing exercises to train the nervous system to stay on “safe” mode. Journaling is a great way to develop self awareness and therefore to connect to ones feelings and instincts. The Good Girl needs to come back to what her opinions about things are. A gratitude journal for the evening practice is important to go to bed with high spirits and a dream journal that stays by the bed is good to connect to what our subconscious mind is trying to tell us.
Meet John, 47
Recently divorced entrepreneur
He has learnt the hard way that love is not accessible for him and that no woman can truly be satisfied. He does is part, he invests and works hard to provide anything his woman would need to feel safe and taken care of. So when it goes south he decides that the best way to deal with this is to focus his energy elsewhere. In any case, he will not find the woman of his dreams by being a cry baby.
He becomes a professional in distractions. And in the business world, that is very much welcomed! A hard working honest man who is always available for another mission, take on even more and provide results rapidly since he will focus 100% on the goal? Everyone wants a business partner like that. When not in the office, then we take it on the networking scene. All of a sudden, he doesn’t feel lonely anymore. He plays golf and tennis, goes to the sauna and participate in workshops. All in the name of creating new opportunities. Who wouldn’t want that life?
As long as it doesn’t ask you to knock on the wall around the heart – this man is ready to try it.
However, he has an dull feeling of anxiety. The very active side of him sometimes turn to a reaction when it becomes quiet. Instead of finding a recreational activity for fun, it seeks a distraction from the present moment. Because the present moment feels empty. He feels empty. So he acquires more things, buys a new car, a bigger home, an expensive watch. After all, he deserves it with all those work hours and new contracts that he has brought home.
His sleep isn’t the best, he will wake up very early in the morning with an incapacity to go back to sleep. So he hits the 24h gym or goes for a run and then feels great! A couple of coffees later and he’s on fire. There is a moment in the early evening when he feels a low, he feels tired and can’t concentrate. He gets his second wind by changing activity from the office to the tennis court or to the bar. Then he can just keep going until midnight if needed.
It is only really when his physical body starts to fail him that he recognises a problem. Manifestations such as chest pains, fainting, ulcers…. Are the alarm clock telling him that he should have listened LONG TIME AGO.
What is necessary here?
First of all, reversing this everlasting fight or flight mode that is set on fear. The more we neglect ourselves, the more we are really telling ourselves that we do not deserve anything else. The lack of feeling love makes this person feel……nothing. The numbing of emotions is simply a stress response to pain. And pain is scary because it makes us think that we are dying. The irony in this scenario is that by avoiding this pain, the person is actually setting himself up for severe illness, ie risk of dying.
What is more important than anything for the routine of this person is to feel his body again. To allow himself to BE instead of this constant obsession of DO. The slower, the better. Ideally for this man, we are looking at 1 hour daily of yogic practice. Preferable classical hatha yoga for the first part, about 3/4 of the time and the rest is dedicated to still poses with an internal focus, meditative activity in heart opening poses. Breathing exercises such as alternate nostril breathing is a great way to START the practice for the busy mind that has been conditioned to find distractions in order to flee the present moment.
Meet Nadia, 38
Addicted to dissatisfaction
She started out like everyone else and came to a point where it just didn’t work for her anymore. The regular life of post graduate studies and finding a job was fine in her 20’s and early 30s but somewhere after 31 she started to feel restless. There was this feeling that she was missing out on her life.
A few more years passed and since everything was running more or less smoothly and that everyone else seemed to have the same life, well she kept going.
She encounters yoga in her late 30s and starts to take an interest to that peace they’re all talking about.
She would like to change her habits from waking up 15 minutes before work and going to bed after scrolling social media for too many hours but it just seems impossible to change.
She would like to feel what it seems the instagram girls who meditate at sunrise are feeling. They seem so free.
Everything seems possible to them and they move so graciously.
She would like to stop drinking alcohol all together but who would she spend her time with? Everyone else is socialising with a glass of wine.
Actually, she would like to quit her job and take a chance on happiness. But it just seems to not be in her range of reach.
When we worked together, Nadia needed to have a teacher to help her with yoga and meditation but also to make her stick to her practice. Because she doesn’t trust herself to do it.
And trust is the key word for Nadia. Because she hasn’t taken the road less travelled even if she is longing to do so. She felt the urges but she never acted on them.
She doesn’t trust herself enough.
She is so scared it won’t work because deep down there is this nagging feeling that she is not capable. She hasn’t got what is required to be a happy and successful being. She is not enough the way she is.
So to make sure that no one else sees that, she imposes extreme expectations on herself. She sets herself up for failure because those expectations are impossible to live up to and therefore she spends a good part of her time, criticising herself in her mind. There’s the voice in her head that tells her she could have done that better. That she needs to be perfect. And of course, if she needs to be perfect, so does her partner. If only her partner was flawless, then it would be a proof that she has succeeded something. It would rub off on her. It would make her happy.
She looses quite a lot of energy on focusing on her partner’s flaws. You know, so that no one will think that she doesn’t see them. That she settles for less.
What she doesn’t see is that she’s addicted to her thoughts. To the negative ones. So she’s actually on survival mode constantly. Always seeking to see what could go wrong.
This is also the reason she never really takes action. It’s like being on the freeze mode of “fight/flight/freeze”. Waiting to see. But then also never changing anything. And there’s reassurance in that because it means that at least she won’t fail. Because she didn’t take the risk.
What is necessary here?
Nadia is caught up in the everlasting dissatisfaction with life. Underneath there’s a strong feeling of shame, she doesn’t have what it takes. She is not good enough and of course, no one who has agreed to be in her life will then be either. Otherwise, they would not accept to spend their time with her. So the insta girls have succeeded better than her and the men who never really engage fully with her are the one’s she could maybe have if she was good enough.
She will never stick to a routine of yoga and meditation because she is too caught up with sabotaging for herself. Staying in destructive patterns are actually rather comforting when it feels like that is who you are.
The beauty of the yogic practice is that we can rebuild an image of who we are by starting with the most “hands on”, the body. As we stick to a daily routine we soon start to feel the benefits of it. We feel more flexible, stronger and smoother. We wake up more before going out into our daily affairs. So we feel more alert once we do go out. We start to notice that we feel a little happier about ourselves because we keep the commitment we have made to do our yoga.
So I suggested that we would practice ashtanga yoga, for two very specific reasons:
The progression is encouraging and motivating for the student (given a new pose one’s the last one is practiced skilfully) so enhances the willingness to stick to the routine. And for the second reason, someone who is blocked by fear of failure needs to break through the barriers of shame that the freeze mode has us in. So by taking on a rather dynamic practice, Nadia could find release and channel all that coagulated energy.
When your life feels like it’s been put on snooze, it can seem like too much of a mountain to climb, to change anything about it. You might find it hard to believe if you haven’t tried, but if you start with just ONE thing, you will feel encouraged to take on the rest. If you start with committing to a personal practice and if that yoga can make your body change, you start to believe that other changes aren’t that far away if you only try.
Meet Julie, 25
Stuck in the sand
When I met Julie, I instantly knew what Dosha was dominant in her organism. Not so much due to her body shape or facial features, even though of course they showed me the same signs. But more her internal state which was very much slowed down. She spoke slowly and moved gently.
It was obvious as well that she was on a journey of introspection and self reflection. We instantly got a long and she was a good listener. In Ayurvedic terms, we would say she had typical Kapha dominance which is balanced out by heat and activity.
She had gone through a rather turbulent childhood and teenage years but had now decided to break free from bad habits and understand herself more. Physically, you wouldn’t talk of a kapha imbalance but you could tell there was stagnation around the pelvis and upper part of her legs. That stagnation was enhanced by inflexibility in this part and a very thin frame on the upper body. She was inclined to practice yin yoga and was very reluctant when I spoke of vinyasa practice. Of course, yin would seem logic to open her hips and to allow that inner work to continue. But when she told me that she needed at least 9h of sleep per night, I suggested that there was a sluggishness that we needed to deal with even more.
Julie had digestive issues as well and focused a lot on what she could eat and how to eat. So when I started talking about what Ayurveda suggests to balance her doshas she wasn’t very intrigued. It felt like she had tried it all.
She couldn’t have a coffee in the morning without eating something at the same time, so she ended up eating earlier than she actually wanted.
Of course, there’s the option of not having coffee but she did enjoy her cuppa and I would even be inclined to say that it was helpful. However, the sensation of not digesting the coffee well could also be a sign that she needed to stimulate her metabolism. We shall see further down the postural suggestions I gave her on this matter.
She was caught in a catch 22: having coffee early, eating something along with it and therefore feeling a bit heavy for practice. Or not having coffee, not eating too early either but then be more drawn to sedentary activities in the morning, like meditation and journaling.
We can easily get caught up in the self reflection as a way to actually not hone in on where the pain is really coming from.
We reassure ourselves that we are moving forward and in a way we are, but passively.
Sure enough, it is important to listen to what we need, to practice what we often call “self love” by allowing our emotions guide us. But we also have a tendency to move in the direction of what feels easy. So even if it “feel” more me to sleep in and then do a yin yoga practice in the evening, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it is serving us.
The same way an anxious person enjoys exhausting themselves 7 days a week with an hour long run. It can be the escape into our anxiety. It can be the comfort zone away from what seems dangerous.
What is necessary here?
Like everything in this world, there are always two sides of a coin. But because we have a tendency to lean towards what comes easy, we can quickly end up amplifying the extremes and loose our balance, loose homeostasis. This is how we become sick.
Like most of my private clients, there is a need to balance out what their personalities have crystallised into, so that we break free from the typical “old habits”.
For a Kapha person like Julie, it’s even harder because change feels dangerous. The way I see it, there are things in the past that we don’t really want to deal with and therefore we feel uncomfortable with too much sensation in our organism.
This is why I wanted Julie to start with change in her practice first and foremost. Our willpower, our stubbornness can sabotage any new habit we want to install so the best is to start simply.
Luckily for both me and her, she had a soft spot for running. But of course, the running was something she only did in the evening, never in the morning.
So that she would stick to the new habit, I gave her a shorter but very dynamic vinyasa practice for the morning and allowed her to do as much yin as she wished, the days she would go running after work.
Her morning practice was a mix of ashtanga and chakra flow. Ten sun salutations to get started that would be followed by several manipura focused yoga poses. To be practiced dynamically preferably.
The advantage of this work was that she would quite fast notice a difference on a sensational level. Her pelvis would open up and the numbness in this area would soon go away. After only a few practices, she was able to have a coffee without eating something at the same time before her yoga.
The evenings when she decided to go for a run, she would calm down with yin as a stretch and therefore sleep better as well that night.
Eventually, she could function with 8 hours of sleep too.
Meet Michael, 32
The high price of being at ease
Micheal loves extreme sports. More. Than. Anything. Else.
He is in it for the sensations.
No job, family or girlfriend can take him away from wanting to flow. Ocean or mountain, it doesn’t matter.
So when he found yoga, I was rather surprised at first that he was so drawn to the slow practice. The yin yoga classes.
Until he explained why and then it made perfect sense. The yin was to balance out all that yang. The surfing, the snowboarding, the hiking. And then calm it down with yin.
Michael wanted to have balance in his life. Between the full on activities in nature and the moments to go within, in his privacy at night.
Michael always sought to feel good. He felt the best when nothing was stopping him from being in a state of flow. In those moments, he felt the oneness. No one could intervene to stop him from doing exactly what brought him joy. There was no resistance. He was free.
It was a lifestyle that he had chosen even though it might not have seem like the natural path to take. Not that there were high expectations from parents on scoring high and become a workaholic. At least in that case, it would have been easy to pinpoint his drive. It wasn’t to displease his family, to be the black sheep at all. But Michael grew up with heavy conditions to feeling free. Because there were so many obstacles in his way, it always seemed like a marathon to try to achieve his goals. To be accepted implied to not meet his own needs but to instead please others. Essentially, love was far from unconditional.
So he had built up a life where he needed no one else to feel the love. Where his conditions (and more so Mother Nature) were the only obstacle to feeling good. This of course why he loved the flow sensation so much. It gave him the love and he could be himself, no need to manipulate oneself to feel connected. There was never really a demand from Michael to me of help if it wasn’t for the sake that he still felt the price to pay at some point.
Ultimately, his wish would be to be able to feel as free in any given situation. And that is where the demand is for me.
What is necessary here?
On a purely physical perspective, I have no changes for Michael to make. His yogic practice is used as a complement to his other activities and that is, indeed, a good balance to have. Micheal could absolutely continue with his lifestyle: strong physical activity in nature every morning when the CONDITIONS allow for it, calming down in the evening with yin yoga. He can go for hours on end without eating only to empty the cupboards on a day of no activity.
What would be interesting to work with, is to find the feeling of wellness even when the external conditions aren’t to his advantage.
We are really good at justifying our habits and behaviours. And as long as everything flows, I can also understand the “if it ain’t broken, why fix it?” mentality. Where it becomes tricky is when we fall and break. When what we love is taken away from us.
When we begin to realise that we cannot stand life outside of these conditions of joy.
People don’t usually turn to spiritual practices because everything is going so smoothly in life. The moments we decide to grow happen when we have been forced to change our perspective.
Even though it didn’t make me very popular with Micheal and his group of friends who were in the same lifestyle, I asked him to reflect on why a more “ordinary” life wasn’t an option for him.
When you can’t channel your need of movement through extreme sport, when there is no space to practice your yoga, you get a little antsy. Because the moment is not comfortable.
Because somewhere down there, is an itchiness for excitement.
Because life isn’t exciting in itself.
Because there are conditions imposed on us.
Conditions that don’t allow us to just be who we are in order to receive love.
So the contemplation that I left Micheal to work with throughout his sports, his yoga practice and his journaling was “How can I be good in this moment, no matter what happens?” and as soon as he would push the question away by justifying thoughts; come back to the moment and ask “what I am unwilling to feel?”