The nervous system in lockdown

I have been fascinated by learning and teaching resilience skills in recent years. Apart from being a vogue buzz word, what is resilience all about? Well currently I am favouring the Boing Boing / University of Brighton Resilience Centre definition: “Beating the odds, whilst also changing the odds”. I like that this definition honours that we can do things to help ourselves but we are always interacting and influenced by the environment around us which will also impact how resilient we feel.

I have been thinking about all the different resources I’ve shared at workshops and what might be useful to add to the noisy internet in these curious times. With both my occupational therapist and yoga teacher hat on, I settled on talking a little about the nervous system and sensory responses to what is going on.

I am not a neuroscientist so where possible I have linked to experts or resources for anyone wanting to dive deeper. I am particularly indebted to Deb Dana and Stephen Porges writing on Polyvagal Theory and Susi Wrenshaw (an amazing Yoga Therapist) who explained practical applications of this in yoga and therapy in a workshop I attended last year.

The Nervous System

Lots of people are familiar with the basic idea of the nervous system as either turned on in fight/flight mode (sympathetic arousal) or in rest, digest, restore mode (parasympathetic). But recent work by Stephen Porges and colleagues on the Polyvagal theory explains that it’s a little more nuanced than that. It’s not just a case of being stressed or relaxed. In particular this theory looks at different responses to stress – an activation response (in orange below) which is an active doing, and immobilisation or collapse response (in red below).

It’s good to note that all these states could be positive for example orange zone (when blended with green) may include competitive sports games, play fighting and sexual attraction, or the red zone (when blended with green) may be immobilisation of deep intimacy like the floppy puppy in it’s mum’s mouth as she carries it back to the basket.

It’s helpful to remember that a lot of nervous system activity is not conscious – so for example at the moment in our mind we may think ‘I know I am safe at home’ but our nervous system is activated alerted to potential threat by news reporting or social media commentary and the body feels unsafe (e.g. our gut feeling).

Resilient responses are not rigid or fake positivity

It is not helpful to view resilience tools as ways to stop emotions, squash how we truly feel or make us ‘happy ever after’. But through awareness of the nervous system and having resilience tools you may be able to work with these emotions better.

I also want to flag up the work of Lucy Johnstone, who is banging the drum to say emotions are an entirely appropriate response to this situation and do not automatically mean we should label ourselves or others as ‘depressed’ or with ‘anxiety’ or any other medical/psychiatry based label.

Click onto the table below to start to see how these different states of the nervous system might look or feel and a few starting suggestions for tools. Everyone is unique and in my workshops I am not prescriptive – everyone leaves with their own version of a resilience plan with things they feel are realistic and helpful to them.

We are all in different situations at the moment. Some of us have access to nature and some don’t. Some are working harder than ever feeling they have no time, some have been furloughed giving them lots of time. Some of us can have time out from partners or kids, some of us have caring responsibilities, whilst others still have no choice but to be in total isolation away from all human contact.

Final thoughts

I like the idea of ‘certainty anchors’ which Johnathan Fields introduced me to. This is essentially finding comfort in routines and ritual. This may be deeply spiritual or embedded in your religious beliefs for example using a mala or prayer beads before going to sleep at night. Or it may be a simple noticing of normal routines for example stepping outside the door and taking a breath whilst listening to the birds or savoring the first sip of tea each and every morning.

For those working or living in highly stressful circumstances, you may find the mind is busy and very full so it’s hard to turn off. Focusing on specific environmental cues can be helpful to reground yourself. So close eyes take a breath and as you open them look for anything the colour orange around you. Or anything made of wood. Try to notice a detail in the room around you that you haven’t seen before or haven’t noticed in a while. Or what different textures can you feel such as the material of your clothing, what you’re sat on, warmth or coolness of the area. This helps draw the mind and attention away from past concerns or future anxiety and orientate us to the here and now.

I am also hearing Brene Brown’s message that there is real power in vulnerability. Be present to how you are feeling and you may be surprised what happens when you share vulnerability with a loved one.

Few resources I find helpful:

Spring Resilience Workshops

There are a few places left on the two resilience courses I am offering this Spring. All details are below. Drop me an email on ktbergson [@] gmail.com (remove the bracket and spaces) if you have any questions.

One day workshop Swansea – 15th February 

£35 early bird until 20th January

A full day at the wellbeing centre Swansea. Get in touch with me directly on email or phone to book onto this. It will be a small group of a maximum of 12 people.

Weekend Ashram course – 17th- 19th April

£180 for full board accommodation and course Friday evening through to Sunday. Please contact the ashram to book on.

https://www.mandalayogaashram.co.uk/courses/2020/4/17/finding-our-soft-strong-and-wild-hearts-yoga-and-resilience

Working with resistance and challenge

Someone asked me about my resilience workshops recently ‘is it all about thinking happy thoughts and getting rid of difficult emotions’? I responded it is actually the very opposite of that. It seems to me, that strength comes from looking under the bed at the monsters, at least once in a while rather than worrying about them with the duvet over my head. I am very much inspired by the work of people like Brene Brown who talks about the power of vulnerability (if you haven’t already watch her amazing TED talk here).

However this stepping into the cauldron, as I move towards difficulty, also requires that I am gentle and compassionate. That might be with myself and there are days when confronting difficulty does not feel like a possible option, for example when I am tired, emotional or perhaps frantic with too much on my plate. But it may also mean being patient and gentle with the significant others around me when they face challenges or struggle to understand how I am responding to challenges confronting me.

I recently assisted the wonderful Susi Wrenshaw on a training called More than Words in Manchester. A lot of discussion over the two days was about the nervous system and particularly Polyvagal theory (developed by Stephen Porges). I am still delving in to all the many layers of research and writing about this so rather than try to explain it here myself, I would suggest having a look at theHappy Hub blog who are doing a book club series on Deb Dana’s book about application of this theory.

What I will say is that I took away from that training the clarity that the body in incredibly skilled at finding ways to help us to survive, many of these mechanisms operate below the level of conscious thought (literally in the body rather than brain). So as much as words and talking have their place, so too do systems that work with body, breath, sound and other non-verbal aspects of ourselves.

This sits nicely alongside the ideas of Compassion focused approaches in therapy such as Mindful Self Compassion (pioneered by Kristen Neff – lots of resources on her website here). When we are struggling or behaving in ways that are difficult for ourselves, or those around us, there may be a physiological reason for it. Some of these behaviours may be what helped our ancestors survive e.g. anxiety when mistaking a rope for a snake and running away. Some of these may be behaviours that helped younger versions of ourselves survive difficult, or even traumatic experiences as we grew up in a busy world. Understanding that we may not be consciously aware of what drives our behaviour, that even the most destructive behaviours may in some way be survival mechanisms and that we can respond with compassion to these experiences seems to shift the landscape of distress and difficulty.

In recent weeks I have been working with a heart based practice and feeling numb. At points this has been highly frustrating and there is a temptation to apply a sledge hammer to this difficulty, or resistance to ‘crack it’. But I haven’t gone down that route. Instead I’ve tried to stay curious and aware of it. Almost like the soothing voice of a parent to a child that is upset. Holding this challenge gently. Trusting that as they say ‘this too shall pass’.

This week something shifted and tears rolled down my cheeks as I practised movement, sounding and awareness. There is a subtly and art to working with the tricky stuff in life. Not turning away in fear, shame, disgust or disbelief. But also not tightening and gripping, which results in too much effort to find a quick fix to what is going on. As one of my favourite poems, the shambala warrior training verse advises ‘staying open, staying grounded’. It was also illuminating to listen to this podcast with Dr Ginger Garner talking about how even spiritual practice can be used as another way to disassociate or distract. She asks if 5 minutes of concentrated aware practice could be more beneficial than dedicating an hour to disengaged practice. I am going to keep exploring this space of opening and turning towards difficulty, on the days that is possible. But also holding this view in mind when those around me are struggling.

I am excited about what the next few months will bring as I hope to offer more kirtan and yoga around West Wales. If you’re interested do drop me a line. Finally a quick plug for the two dates I have coming up for the resilience work:

15th February: A day resilience workshop Swansea Wellbeing Centre – booking for this will open soon drop me an email if interested.

17-19th April: A weekend Resilience course, Mandala Yoga Ashram – be warned the courses at Mandala have been selling out quickly this year so please get in touch with them to book this soon if interested.

In the interests of making resilience work accessible I will endeavour to have reduced rate places on courses I run for those on benefits and I will be giving a percentage of my profits to the Natural Resilience project which helps migrant and refugees women access resilience tools.

Resilience Workshop

DATE: Saturday 5th October 2019 9.30-4.30pm

VENUE: Swansea Wellbeing Centre

PRICE: £45 if booked by 4th September

(£55 after this/ concessions avaliable on request)

BOOKING: You can pay via paypal here – please select friend and family option to avoid additional fees paypal.me/rohayoga or contact me for bank details to make a transfer direct. Places can only be confirmed when paid for in full.

QUESTIONS: please give me a call on 07840 008659 or email ktbergson@gmail.com


I’m excited to announce following the popular ‘Caring for the carers resilience workshops’ I ran at the start of the year I am offering another opportunity to come learn about resilience. This will take the form of a practical one day workshop at the super lovely Swansea Wellbeing Centre on 4th October. As with previous days you can expect movement, breath work, meditation and deep relaxation as well as structured exercises to help you reflect on strategies that help you as an individual to cultivate resilience.

The price remains unchanged (£45 early bird before 4th October and £55 after this – concessions avaliable contact me to discuss). Spaces are limited to keep this an intimate and welcoming space for sharing and learning together – so please book on early to avoid disappointment.

When I started teaching this work earlier in the year I aimed the workshops at health professionals. This upcoming workshop will be a little bit broader providing tools for resilience whether its work, family, home or other stressors you face in your life. The last four months I have been working in community mental health in a challenging role that has really called on me to practice what I preach for wellbeing and resilience for both myself and the people I serve in that role.

It can really difficult to acknowledge our humanity, our challenges, a sense of not quite getting it right or reaching the high standards we often set ourselves. But I believe that coming together to learn tools and share experiences can be a powerful opportunity to grow and develop. There is a sense of feeling deeper roots to hold us firm in stormy moments and maybe even the possibility to spread our branches and leaves to gather the light that is also there in our lives even on the stormy days.


Here is how other people described the day:

“It was a relaxing, informative, motivating and inspiring workshop. Personal and professional development opportunity without any hard work. It’s a must attend!”

NHS Staff Wellbeing Adviser.

“[a] well structured day facilitated by Katy in a gentle, well held way. Good balance of movement, interactive sharing, mindful tools, skills sharing for building resilience in a demanding world of the care industry”

Jules, Care worker.

“It’s a practical guide to how and why a yoga practice and mindfulness techniques can help you manage stress and anxiety at work. All in a safe and supportive space.”

Cardiff Speech and Language Therapist 

“A facilitated reflective space that gives practical suggestions, experiences and strategies to take forward”

Howard, Psychotherapist 

Resilience and Yoga Swansea

swansea workshop

 

I had a wonderful time teaching the Resilience workshop in Cardiff. There was plenty of time for discussions, sharing ideas and information and lots of different practices. Next stop is Swansea Wellbeing Centre on 9th February. 

People interested in this workshop can expect a similar day with physical practices (mindful movement and embodiment work), breath experiences, deep relaxation, reflection and meditation.

The group I taught this with in Cardiff had mixed experience of yoga – some total new to the practice and some with experience teaching. Everyone was able to access it and got something from the day. We also had people in different roles and sectors – so anyone who would like to know about tools for developing resilience personally and professionally is most welcome to join the session.

The price of the workshop includes refreshments on the day (but you will need to bring your own lunch) and recordings/resources after the workshop to continue the practices at home.

Venue: Swansea Wellbeing Centre (https://www.wellbeingswansea.co.uk/)

Date: 9th February 10.30-5.30pm

Cost: £45 early bird rate (ends 31st January) after that full price is £55. Discounts available for students and unemployed – contact me for more information.

To book on both of these stages need to be complete to secure your place:

  1. Complete this form: https://goo.gl/forms/tOsHfXLy1Cq7zIZG3
  2. Payments via Paypal (please select friend and family to avoid paying fees) https://www.paypal.me/rohayoga or email me if you would prefer to do a bank transfer.

Any questions feel free to contact me on ktbergson [@] gmail.com

 

Caring for those that Care: A One Day Resilience Course

In the last year I have been researching and developing a resilience programme based on both classical yoga techniques as well as the latest resilience science research. I’m excited to be hosting the first two workshop teaching resilience techniques in Cardiff and Swansea in early 2019.

In a recent NHS workers survey almost 40% of worker state they feel stressed by work[1]. It is sometimes assumed that stress and burn out is an inevitable consequence of working in fast paced caring and health roles. But on the flip side of this, research is now showing that the skills of resilience can be learnt, practiced and used in times of crisis[2]

I am a trained Occupational Therapist and have seen first hand how the role can help people to do what they want and need with their lives. An important part of that is finding a sense of balance but it is not always acknowledged that health and social care professionals frequently struggle to find occupational balance for themselves[3].

In this workshop there will be interactive discussions on what resilience is and what factors affect it, as well as movement practices, breath exercises, deep relaxation techniques and an opportunity to develop your own personal resilience action plan.

The workshop will include handouts with technique reminders, audio recordings of two of the main yoga practices used and tea/coffee refreshments throughout the day.  No yoga experience necessary. Please come with comfortable clothing and bring a yoga mat, notebook/pen, lunch and a cushion to sit on.

I have two date booked at the moment but hoping to add more soon. If you are interested in being kept up to date on future dates or running a programme in your area contact me to discuss further. 

CARDIFF WORKSHOP

Where: Heath Citizens Community Hall Heath Park (CF14 4EP). Ample parking outside the centre.

When: 26th January 2019 9.30-4.30pm

Cost: £45 early bird (book by 16th January) or £55 full price. Student and unemployed concessions available upon request – email me to discuss further.

SWANSEA WORKSHOP

Where: Swansea Wellbeing Centre

When: 9th February 2019 10.30-5.30pm

Cost: £45 early bird (book by 30th January) or £55 full price. Student and unemployed concessions available upon request – email me to discuss further.

To secure your place:

1.Please fill out this application form

2. Transfer the money via paypal https://www.paypal.me/rohayoga (please ensure you click the family and friends options to avoid incurring fees).

Look forward to meeting and working with you in these sessions!

[1]NHS England. 2018. NHS staff survey 2017 [online]. NHS. Accessed on 11th May 2018.  <www.nhsstaffsurveys.com/Caches/Files/P3088_ST17_National%20briefing_v5.1_LB_RC_FR_20180419.pdf>

[2]Graham, L.2018 Resilience: powerful practices for bouncing back from difficulties, disappointments and even disaster. California: New World Library.

[3]Clouston, T. 2014. Whose Occupational Balance is it anyway? BJOT. Available online: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.4276/030802214X14122630932430

Sitting with discomfort

I will collapse in great despair, since no prayer has been answered and there is absence everywhere. Let me breath, let me breath, into life. Let me breath. Let me be as I am, just this

The lines above from singer Nessi Gomes beautifully describe an idea I have been thinking about a lot recently; how to sit with discomfort. I wrote previously about the powerful Compassionate Mental Health event which I am still contemplating, where facilitators offered the idea that to be with someone in grief, fear, sadness or other strong emotions is a privilege and not something to avoid. Right now the ashram is hosting a intensive course called Facing Death, Embracing Life – it seems that difficult emotions will be all around like it or not.

Some days at the ashram it feels like my wheels are stuck in the mud, spinning ever faster spraying mud everywhere. Or as if I was an animal caught in a snare and the more I struggle the tighter the bind becomes. In both these metaphors increasing the effort to get out of the situation, achieves very little. Likewise in moments of distress, desperately searching for avoidance, distraction or quick-fix strategies does not always help. I can’t always keep doing what I have always done, and expect a different outcome.

I find that seeing someone else in distress brings up my desire to rescue, fix and distract them, with a vague notion that it is comforting or caring for them. When I reach out in this way is it to help them or to help my own difficulty at witnessing their troubles? What if the loving response is to allow them to experience their emotions? What if a kind act is really to witness and hold that space open, rather than seek to close it down?

It’s rare that we can be really present and listen our own intuitive sense of what we or someone else needs. Sometimes that is space alone to be with the emotions. Sometimes that is listening without judgement. Sometimes it is just being with the person, without adding anything at all. But to do that we need a deep inner confidence that just being there is enough. That you are enough of a help, without being the rescuer. That whoever is in distress has the ability to right themselves, eventually, when the lessons are learnt and the emotions processed.

Gyandharma frequently tells me off for trying to fix the World. No wonder I can’t sustain a supportive role and provide real help if the expectation I hold is that it is even vaguely possible to always make everything better. None of this means that I shouldn’t help and support where I can and certainly I have valued the support others have given me in moments of distress. But maybe there is a different way, that is more balanced.

As Thich Nhat Hanh says we are inter-beings, we live in relationship to everyone and everything else. But that doesn’t mean we are responsible for everyone and everything. The idea of equanimity helps us to understand that the most difficult moments are also blessings. They are moments of grace that allow us to expand and grow, in a way that comfort never could.

What if accepting, and sitting with discomfort is when we see our true power in the World: a strength to hold both our own and others difficulties?

 

To take the hard path?

Geoff Livingston

Various things this week have made me think about challenges, the spiritual path and yielding softness. Social researcher Brene Brown was talking in a podcast with Krista Tippet about moving towards having conversations where it isn’t ‘either/or’ but a ‘yes and …’ responses. The point is that it can be misleading to think in binary or black and white terms where everything has a definitive answer, we miss all the subtle nuance differences in the middle (or as some of the ashram teachers say when they start an answer ‘it all depends…’).

So I’ve been pondering do I need to take the hard path in my spiritual journey? Is it part of the process to accept that life is tough at times? Is it possible that in these uncomfortable moments, with a little grace, they can also become critical turning points. Me and my teacher Gyan Dharma debated this last time I saw him. I used the phrase ‘a mixed blessing’ to describe difficult things that ultimately turn out to have a positive impact on your life. He turned to me absolutely unequivocal and stated that I was wrong. They are without a doubt, pure blessings.

In hindsight, after a storm has passed, this may seem perfectly logical but does that idea have relevance or value in the midst of trouble? The word ashram literally means a place of refuge. But at certain moments ashrams can feel anything but that. What I didn’t realise until this morning when i talked to Krishnapremananda is that another root of the word ashram means hard inner work and at times that feels more true.

There is a washing machine effect of being tumbled with my stuff from my pockets literally falling out all over the place. Sometimes it is even possible to imagine that people or places are deliberately provoking – as an attempt to deal out some of those so called blessings, or in other words tough love. In these moments I am often fighting back with all my might at the perceived dealer of these so called miseries. 

I’ve also been busy this week reading UnearthingVenus by Cate Montana  which is an exploration of feminine qualities in the format of an autobiography. She ponders that “no one seemed to realize that a head without a heart was as unviable as a heart without a head” (p298). Suggesting that too much yang or masculine (but not limited to men, rather the masculinity all human beings exhibit at times) causes that pushing, striving, achieving energy which suppresses or ignores the need to yield and be open to kindness and softness also. Heart … yes and head. Not one or the other.

From my relatively short experience, I think ashram life is often about compromise and letting go. Learning to use ‘yes and…’  rather than doggedly sticking to what you have always believed in. It feels to me like a lot of people in the World are already well versed in self punishment and that almost blind striving. So it’s easy to fall into a sense of victimhood or injustice, feeling we don’t need more of that punishment to be reigned down on our heads.

The truth is that try as I might I can’t control what the World is up to. So perhaps I should focus on my response instead, which I have a better hope of exerting some control over. Whether I fight or yield may be the difference between taking the hard path or not. Yielding isn’t about being inert and rolling over to every request but rather having a more fluid response according to what feels right in that moment, rather than blindly following old habits. As Gyan Dharma would say its about everyone feeling into their own strength to say yes and no in every situation.

Starting over again…

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This year I am taking a break from my 9-5 job, my steady home life in Cardiff and am doing things a bit differently. It started with a huge leap of faith in myself and my teacher, GD, as we engaged in the process of writing a book together in Rajasthan. That phase is now winding itself down and the next part of this adventure begins with a move to live at Mandala Yoga Ashram in West Wales.

There is an extra potent sense of starting all over again, as I arrive not as Katy … the name I was given at birth and have answered to for 32 years. But as Mukti Mani, a name scarcely more than a few weeks old, still rolling itself around trying to find a comfortable familiar position on my tongue. It may seem superficial and odd to have a spiritual name but for me it adds a different flavour to things. It is a tool to help me see my stuff and maybe give me a helpful shove in the right direction.

As the final items are packed in my car ready to go the thing I notice is my desire to rush into the next thing, and the next thing, and the next thing. Sometimes it’s difficult to just be here with this time, in this place…. To pause. I started reading Chloe Goodchild’s wonderful Naked Voice book where she reminds readers at the beginning to take your time to read it and to pause regularly appreciating the value of the space and silence.

I see my tenancies to plan all the time. But actually a lot of the memories I really treasure from the last few years are from unplanned spontaneous moments. Of waking early and walking through Borsherston Lilly ponds with my beau last September or the first time I went to Wye valley tagging along with a friend at the last minute for freezing cold swims in the river, yoga in the orchard and wandering in meadows of yellow flowers. So it’s difficult to say exactly why I default to planning mode. Impatience with life and myself? A self soothing mechanism to give me a (false) sense of control? An avoidance of what monsters may arises when things are really silent and still?

New beginnings often come with an equal dose of anxiety /fear and excitement. It’s interesting to sit with that duality – the sense that it can be both wonderful and awful at the same time. Perhaps it gives some sense of how our minds, emotions and behavioural patterns shape our experience. Fear and excitement are not so different … they are energised experiences with heightened awareness. Then we analysis it and add our interpretation – ‘ahh this is fear’. I wonder if it’s possible to just notice the energy and not call it fear or excitement but just be with that energy?

I don’t know what the next few months will bring for me. But then I didn’t really know that even when I had a more conventional predictable format to my life. I don’t think you have to change everything to get a sense of starting all over again. The spiritual director of the ashram, Krishnapremananda reminds me not to worry too much about what I bring with me, just come with an open and present mind. Perhaps that is good advice whatever you wake up to tomorrow. Allowing a new start to emerge, with that new day, irrespective of what is happening.

Authentically holding space

holding space

Holding space is a term used frequently to refer to therapeutic contexts such as counselling or the intention to create a healing environment in a yoga class. But actually it can also be used to describe the more day to day experience of deep listening to a friend who needs to talk or when we hold our own space to notice what we are feeling.

In this post I am talking about authenticity not to describe content (e.g. the authentic yoga teachings), but rather the personal qualities of the person holding space. Whether they really shows up, are as present as they can be and delivers something that feels authentic to them and that person/group, in that moment.

This week I attended an amazing gathering called Compassionate Mental Health. I arrived with the sense that I was going to learn something professionally to aid me both as a yoga teacher and in my other job as an occupational therapist. But I quickly realised this gathering wasn’t about roles and labels, and I was going to learn things for my whole self, not just the parts I box up and label as a professional.

Two things particularly struck me at this event. Firstly that it is a real practice to hold space skilfully. Secondly that to show up as your full self, authentically, is incredibly powerful.

Terms like holding space can easily become just more jargon and buzz words. So I like Jade Lizzie’s blog which talks about holding space in terms of support, care, preservation matched with a sense of freedom and expansiveness.  Practically I think what is meant is a balance of structure and openness which creates a feeling of safety.

The concept of space is particularly intriguing to me on a personal level too – what does it mean to create that space for myself for example with my own yoga and meditation practices? To ensure there is time and room for these daily spaces to explore. Take a listen to Godfrey Devereux podcast discussing just this.

In another way I have been creating space by choosing to take some time away from full time work this year. This choice to create a lacuna aka an unfilled space (thanks for the word Andy) is the polar opposite of my default mode of over filling each hour, day and week to bursting point. Not everyone will be able to quit their jobs, but the general principle of making more space I do think is possible for most people.

Beth Gibbs talks about holding space in terms of mental space to allow anything and everything to arise. At the compassionate mental health gathering there was an encouragement to be with discomfort – whether that was witnessing someone else’s grief, pain and sorrow or experiencing your own emotions. Really being with it. Not pushing it away, rationalising it or trying to do something to shortcut to a quick fix resolution. Culturally that feels like something we don’t encourage or allow to happen too often

It is so easy to play a role or portrait a sense of the perfection in our lives. This distorted sense of idealised self is projected visibly through the world of social media. But faking it is a disservice to yourself and those around you.

I recently stumbled across a theory from the 1980s by Hochschild called Emotional Labor which essentially states that in many professions people create a sense of acting which can impact on their stress levels and contribute to things like emotional dissonance (an internal conflict between how you really feel and what you are required to display externally), numbing and disconnection from your own feelings, and in the long term burnout. So there are very real consequences for ourselves if we don’t feel authentic.

It also doesn’t work, other people feel it. I might be emphatic towards a yoga teacher that is tired and trying to put on a show of being overly energetic but I think often subtle cues give the person away and on a intuitive level I feel that inauthenticity.

Then there is also an impact of modelling. When someone really shows up for me, it makes me more inclined to really show up in my life too. One of the most popular TED talks ever is Brene Brown’s Power of vulnerability which clearly illustrates that whilst we often feel we should be guarded and controlled, actually showing vulnerability is hugely empowering. She argues it is the cornerstone of connection to show up wholeheartedly, courageously and authentically.

I vividly remember many years ago meeting the wonderful yoga teacher Leila Sadeghee who addressed a room full of yoga students, many whom were as new to her as I was, and laid bare where she was at on that day. It was raw and real, she wasn’t in a good place but the class she went on to deliver was wonderful. She didn’t need to slap a fake smile on to be a good yoga teacher that day. She could be real and still provide that safe container for students to practice in.

Ultimately yoga is about connection to life, other beings and the self on all its many levels. The compassionate mental health conference was a wonderful reminder to me to show up as best as I can and to be real, whatever is going on for me on any given day. I might not always get it right, but it’s certainly something to aspire towards.