I’m certainly not a mental health expert and please look away if you expect me to give you answers. I’m not a psychiatrist or psychologist or counsellor. I can’t, nor would pretend to, prescribe what will work or not work for you to keep your mental health in tip top condition. What I can offer, honestly and with utmost integrity is an insight into my own mental health journey as an adult and how yoga, and particularly meditation, has got me out of a lot of tight spots.
Maybe, if you find my story interesting and relatable, you can get in touch and I can share some of the things that work for me. That way you can give them a go yourself see if they might also help you to be-friend your brain and establish your own pathway towards a happy, healthy mind.
Like so many people, I came to yoga to find some relief from my stress and anxiety. I was 18 years old, had just moved away to university and was not a social adept. My mother urged me to give yoga a go and I did. The first thing I noticed was that I liked it, the second was that I didn’t know why. My friends told me later that whenever I returned back to our digs I was apparently annoyingly happy, super relaxed and unusually friendly. Something was working on more than just my hamstrings, but what?
That was where my curiosity in yoga and its effect on my mood began. Now, 30 years later I have a far better idea of what was, and still is, going on inside my head. My quest began with the mind. What effect was this yoga thing having on my stressed out, worried and anxious mind and how? Sadly, my 18-year old self decided that my mind was obviously the enemy and was something to be battled against, defeated and ultimately conquered. I feel pretty certain that I came to this conclusion due to the repeated words of my first yoga teacher telling us all to ‘clear the mind’. We were asked to ‘clear the mind’ as we began each class and then again as we rested at the end of the class. Try as I might, my mind would not clear, it remained stubbornly full and by now, very pissed off.
My mind was therefore, in my mind, uniquely flawed and clearly troublesome. I must find a way to destroy it, I thought, in order to clear it and cheer it up a bit. I felt that I needed to cultivate a will of steel and an unmovable determination to cull the mind, to use brute force in order to make it become subservient, to hack it down. I would force myself into happiness, I decided, surely that would work?! How wrong that thought turned out to be and how very, very tiresome.
Over time, I started to ponder whether I could have a different relationship with my mind. Things were not going so well and the stubborn me was getting a bit exhausted with all the will-power and mental chastising. Could perhaps my mind be recruited rather than abandoned in my search for peaceful clarity, (whatever that meant)? These questions mulled and buzzed around my head for decades, during my time on and off my yoga matt. Over happy years and through bleak black years I toyed with, fought for and swung pro and against the idea of my mind becoming ‘clear’. All the time this clarity remained just an idea, a concept or dream.
In 2008 my physical yoga practice led me into a yoga teacher training course to start a new career as a yoga teacher. All through my training I was still looking for this chalice of calm, any by then boy did I need it more than ever! I needed a happy, relaxed, healthy mind to support and hold me through two recent bereavements and the challenges of bringing up two very young children on my own! Surely this ‘clear mind’ was the thing of the Sages, I thought. The levitating, enlightened souls we hear of in our mythologies and histories of yoga, the “Mind Masters”. This is what yoga teachers are going on about I concluded, when they, almost absent-mindedly, ask their students to ‘now just clear your mind’. I wanted, and justifiably needed, some of that.
A few years after setting up my yoga studio I met an amazing and inspirational meditation & philosophy teacher, author & coach Alexander Filmer-Lorch. Through working with Alexander, finally the pieces started to slot into place, and I began to have a few a-ha! moments of clarity. I began, through his expert guidance, to gain satisfying answers to my life-long questions and to develop a deeper understanding of philosophy, meditation and psychology. Slowly and surely, I began to realise that my mind was actually my friend. Just stop to think about that for a moment…
In fact, I considered my mind to be like a small child who needed my care, respect, attention, love and patience in order to flourish and gain my trust. Otherwise I risked falling victim to one of its tantrums, resulting in anxiety, stress – even depression.
So, I gave my mind time and learned to understand the way it worked, anatomically, scientifically, psychologically and philosophically. I began to teach my mind, to train it through very specific, and also surprisingly simple, methods to steady. It was a tool that needed to be kept sharp and I began to realise how I could use it to help still my thoughts and find the clarity that had eluded me for so long. Through nourishing my mind, I began to find ‘the unchanging nature within’. Through respect and patience that very thing that I had actively fought for so long actually gifted me what I had been looking for all these years, voluntarily.
Philosophically speaking, and more recently scientifically speaking, we have 3 brains: a head (or intellect brain), a heart (emotional brain) and a movement (instinctual brain). In the language of Universal Laws when these 3 brains are working in harmony, a new creative and transformational brain appears. One able to navigate all 3 and correctly file information into the right one to maintain the status quo.
So, to find ‘clarity of mind’, (as well as body and heart for that matter) we need to work with all 3 brains to find our path towards a steadiness, or stillness of all 3. How many times have we sat down for meditation or ‘to clear the mind’ when we find our ankles or back hurt? This is a movement brain thing and needs attending to first. To ignore the body would require determination, or will power, and that is the kind of hard work which will only end up in us simply getting an exhausted mind, which is an entirely different thing all together. Once our movement brain, or body has been placated we might become aware that we’re upset about something. Perhaps the quarrel this morning over who would take the last parking space in the street. This is an emotional brain things and needs attending to in the same way, giving it a moment of attention, or reflection, and noticing the feelings that are present. And then, we remember that we‘ve forgotten to send that email to the boss. This is a brain thing and equally needs to be noted so it doesn’t start to create a mind loop, popping back into the mind again and again so not to be forgotten causing friction and so delaying the process of stilling.
Only once all 3 brains have been given their time and attention will they soften, a little like putting a filter onto a camera lenses, blurring our focused attentive mind and opening our expansive, awareness mind. The 3 brains can now become passive and quietly relax, allowing space for something new to occur. Some days this new thing might actually just happen to be a clear mind. No thoughts, just presence. Some days your mind will present you with something else. It just is as it is, whilst practice allows for more clear days than cluttered ones. Which is the ultimate reward for discipline and patience.
Finally, it is also important to remember that the brain actually waves. Our brain waves at different speeds or frequencies throughout the day depending on what we’re up to. From busy Beta waves towards relaxed Alpha waves into chilled, meditative Theta waves before dropping into dream state Delta waves. These waves MOVE. They exist and they can’t just be cleared like a work surface. Interestingly while a busy Beta slows towards Alpha, into Theta and then into super sleepy Delta, a truly meditative mind, as proved through research with Buddhist monks, displays the fastest of all waves, the ultimate transformative Gamma wave of the brain. A truly meditative mind is as fast as lightening and as sharp as a knife, super aware and yet totally non-reactive. It’s focused and expansive at the same time and through this expansive nature it is no longer cluttered or cramped as there is just so much space inside it. You could even call it clear, perhaps?
Whatever your mind, or mental health goal, I would urge you to consider cultivating a love affair with your mind, not trying to keep up a battle with it because, trust me, you will loose. Although you probably already know this to be true!
And if you do want to learn more about how to truly calm your mind then do get in touch with me at Flow Tunbridge Wells where I teach online Meditation and “Know Thyself” courses as well as teach clients privately and in groups.
See Know Thyself – a new 8-week course staring in November.
Sign up for our newsletters about my next Meditation course.
Look into private 1-2-1 classes with me.
You might also be interested in considering a very deep dive into yoga by joining our second intake of our 330 hour Understanding Yoga Teacher Training course. Registered and approved by Yoga Alliance Professionals and with some very special guest teachers, including the amazing Alexander himself.