Thanks 2019, For These Wonderful Gifts

Photo by Ian Schneider on Unsplash

As a yoga, meditation and self-improvement enthusiast, it should come as no surprise that I love ends and new beginnings.

My obsession with reflection, in particular, started at an early age. Finishing journals, school terms and even boxes of cereal felt almost spiritual, like I was saying goodbye to the old me, with all her artificial and childish tastes, and making space for someone wiser. Someone who’d choose All-Bran over Lucky Charms.

I can’t help it, I’m a sucker for symbolism, and my tendency towards rumination makes the New Year especially exciting.

To celebrate the closing of a chapter, I want to share my top five lessons of 2019. It’s been a wild ride, with a redundancy, career change and plenty of uncertainty. But I’ve learnt how to be comfortable with being uncomfortable — a skill I’m infinitely grateful for.

1. The universe is listening, so be careful what you wish for

Towards the end of the year, I was unexpectedly made redundant. Well, I say unexpectedly — the truth is, I spent most days secretly regretting working for someone else and turning their dreams into a reality rather than my own.

I often thought about handing in my resignation so I could focus on teaching yoga full-time, but I always had an excuse.

“I can’t do it because I don’t have a financial safety net or any experience running a business! I don’t have a mentor. How am I supposed to get it right with no guidance? I can’t do it — who am I kidding?” I can’t, I can’t, I can’t.

It took a little push to show me that, actually, I can.

While I was busy talking myself out of making the leap, the Universe was listening to my silent prayers. In the months leading up to my redundancy, weird things started to happen — it could’ve been coincidence, but I prefer to think it was Divine intervention.

I had a flurry of enquiries for public classes and private lessons, and I wrote dozens of blogs about yoga with an energy that had eluded me for most of the year. I felt an immediate urge to get my website up and running, and I booked a trip to India with one of my last pay cheques (a luxury I now couldn’t afford in my wildest dreams).

So, when my redundancy happened, I wasn’t scared — I felt prepared.

If left to my own devices, I would’ve stayed at that job, growing more and more bitter with every missed opportunity. But, thankfully, the Universe had my back. Sick of my bullshit, it made the choice for me.

Photo by Greg Rakozy on Unsplash

2. In the words of Susan Jeffers, “Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway”

A large chunk of 2019 was characterised by fear. I was scared of taking chances, getting it wrong (whatever that means) and letting people down. In effect, I was paralysed — stuck in a prison of my own making.

But, when I lost my job, I was thrown into the deep end, which meant I didn’t have time to think. There was no panicking, pondering or self-pity — there was just handling the situation I suddenly found myself in.

And, to my credit, I handled it pretty damn well.

“Every time you encounter something that forces you to “handle it,” your self-esteem is raised considerably. You learn to trust that you will survive, no matter what happens. And in this way your fears are diminished immeasurably.” — Susan Jeffers

I realised I’d never feel prepared enough to chase my dreams — I just had to feel the fear and do it anyway (I really recommend reading that book). Since taking this approach, my confidence has improved considerably and set-backs don’t have the same sting.

I also found relief in remembering that fear is a natural reaction that occurs when we’re passionate about something — for instance, if we don’t care about someone, we’re not afraid of losing them. It isn’t a sign of weakness, it proves we have an enormous capacity for love.

Photo by Benjamin Davies on Unsplash

3. Self-care is integral if you’re running a business

I’ve only been running a business for a short time, yet I already understand just how all-consuming it’ll be. Don’t get me wrong — I’m enormously privileged to wake up every day and build my dream career. But that doesn’t make it easy.

Alongside teaching yoga, I’m networking, blogging, managing dozens of social media accounts, emailing, negotiating and more. I’m in charge of my schedule, which is a blessing and a curse.

The work never ends, and because I’m passionate about what I do, I often don’t know when to stop.

After only a few months, I found myself totally frazzled from juggling so many tasks, and I couldn’t relax because I was always focused on what I should be doing now or next, or what I should’ve done yesterday. When your mind is this busy, it’s impossible to think logically or creatively.

To give myself a break, I introduced a pretty regimented self-care routine (I know that sounds counter-intuitive, but it works for me). I took one hour each day for myself to read, watch TV, listen to podcasts or nap. The activity isn’t important — the space it creates is.

Photo by freestocks.org on Unsplash

4. Daily meditation makes everything more bearable

As I mentioned above, a busy mind poisons creativity. To produce your best work, you need to declutter — cue meditation.

There are thousands of blogs about the benefits of meditation (I’ve written quite a few myself), so I won’t explain them here.

What I will say is, without a doubt, meditation has carried me through some of the worst times in my life, including my partner’s cancer diagnosis, two redundancies and family break-ups.

It’s an antidote to anxiety, and it’s made me less reactive in the face of troubling situations. Through daily meditation (and by daily, I mean at least five minutes), I’ve come to understand how my mind works. It’s hectic, with an inclination towards pessimism, and it doesn’t like being told what to do.

But the more I sit with my agitated thoughts, the more I realise they aren’t me. It’s just noise, and I can choose to listen or walk away.

This realisation changed my life. I no longer get sucked into the quicksands of self-doubt — through practice, I can now turn off the negative cassette player in my head with relative ease.

Photo by JD Mason on Unsplash

5. Vulnerability is the key to long-lasting and rewarding relationships

My counsellor recently asked what words sprang to mind when she said vulnerability. I replied: weak, dependent, expectations, guilt, childlike, fear and failure.

It’s fair to say, vulnerability isn’t my strong point.

I’m uncomfortable asking for help, but this year I’ve had to lean on my loved ones more than ever. While I’ve been trying to build my business, I’ve needed financial and emotional support from friends, family, government schemes and counsellors.

At first, I tried to muddle through alone, but this only led to extreme anxiety. So, begrudgingly, I asked for help and, unsurprisingly, my loved ones were happy to give it. I know this sounds stupid (doubly stupid if you knew my family, who are the most giving bunch in the world), but it was a revelation.

This year, I realised I don’t have to do everything by myself. Needing support isn’t a sign of weakness — if anything, it’s a sign of strength. It shows you have huge amounts of trust and love for others, and the willingness to share your mistakes and successes.

One thing’s for sure — I wouldn’t have handled 2019 so well without my loved ones cheering me on. And, rather than being a drain on my relationships, asking for help has made our bonds infinitely stronger.

My name’s Ashleigh — yoga teacher and mental health advocate.

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