Latest Blogs Moving from Self-Loathing to Self-Love by Rachel Wilkinson, Yoga & body therapist and Founder of CYC Community Yoga Collective, a Dorset project making well-being accessible, supporting people to support themselves. (www.communityyogacollective.org) Self-care is possible when you agree that you are worth it! How do we move from self-loathing to a place where we consider ourselves enough to care? For many years my life was spent berating myself, the little voice that convinced me I was no good got progressively louder and more damning. My behaviour reflected those thoughts and I cared little for myself or for the world around me. Swamped by the guilt of my actions, I was trapped in a cycle of destruction, begging to get out. I honestly can’t put my finger on one thing in particular, on one event that tipped me to change. It was an accumulation of many things that forced me to look at what I had become, and look at who I was. I had been untrusting of the world for many years but I suddenly found myself in a place where I felt I could no longer trust myself. This was an incredibly lonely dark place, were I felt madness ruled my mind and my soul was being slowly crushed. Understanding that I was unable to escape on my own I reluctantly reached out for help. My life at that time was such that I was able to turn to professionals for help who began to hold a light up to my life and facilitate me to unpick my past. I was able to identify in myself the reasons for my determination to destroy myself. Slowly I began to realise that my behaviour and what had subsequently happened to me was in fact not me, all the stuff that had gone before did not need to define me or my life. Yes I’d done bad things, yes things that had happened to me were bad, but at my very essence it was not who I was, it was not 'me'. Even with this revelation I continued to act out. I continued to act in a way that I believed kept me safe, by building wall after wall, by keeping people at arms length, I created a barrier to the outside world. I lived in the shadows; I lived on the peripheral of life. I looked on with bewilderment and a strong feeling I would never and could never fit in. I’d asked for help but hadn’t listened, I’d identified there was a problem but failed to really grasp the solution. I moved from ‘being fine’ and really not being fine, to ‘not being fine’ but stuck in a place of awareness with no ability to grow ... a painful place indeed. Eventually after yet another battering of the spirit I crawled (literally) back to the professionals who had supported me in the past. So much of that rebirth was down to people not giving up on me, I’d been let down many times accessing support but right when it mattered most there were people who reached out to me and with really no where else to go I reached out back. And so ... turning 40 last year and having actively spent the last 13 years healing what can I say? What words of wisdom can I impart? The reality for me was that as much as I wanted someone to fix me and make me better, until I wanted to make myself better none of those people could do anything for me. Over the period of my life I’d cried for help, I’d sought refuge, I’d moved to numerous places, all under the advice and guidance of others ... but I wasn’t ready, I hadn’t reached that place where staying the same was worse than the thought of changing. I’d spent my life, better the devil you know, fearing the unknown and fearing a life without the crutches I’d relied on to get me through. What would life look like? Who would I be without my trauma? Who would I become without ‘my story’? I’d been a victim of my circumstances and it kept me trapped. It weighed me down, eventually crushing me under the weight of what had happened. Was I ready to be free? Ready to step up and reclaim my life and myself? Yes, yes I was. I recognised that I did not feel all right; I understood that there were people who had gone before me who could, if I allowed it, help me. I listened and slowly a small voice appeared in moments of clarity from my heart, from the place of truth reassuring me that I would be ok. I discovered yoga about two years in to my recovery from drug abuse and a lifetime of eating disorders, a friend took me to my first class and although I struggled and laughed the whole way through at my lack of flexibility and the names of postures I had never heard of, as I lay down at the end a small voice came … “you NEED this in your life” I don’t think at that point in my life anyone had given me permission to lie down before and it felt emotional to be still. I began to embark on a journey that I could never have imagined where it would lead. I just felt compelled to follow this path that was laid out in front of me. The benefit that I had identified in the very first yoga class I attended just increased as I began to try different styles of yoga and found that I really enjoyed moving and breathing. I did at that time and still do now many forms of exercise all very supportive to my mental health, but rarely had I drawn my focus within through movement. I had reserved the counselling to talking therapy and at that point had not understood the need for healing on a cellular level. Talking helped a lot but to add yoga in to my structure allowed me to move the trauma through my body on a physical level. As I began to understand the profound impact yoga was having on my mental health I became set on wanting to share my findings. I wanted more than anything to offer yoga to people who may not ordinarily find themselves on a yoga mat or in a yoga studio/gym. I wanted to provide safe space for people to meet themselves and begin to heal. Mostly I wanted to make yoga accessible. I completed my yoga teacher training in 2014 and subsequently trained with The Minded Institute looking specifically at yoga for trauma. What I knew from my own yoga practice was then confirmed in my training. Whilst combining movement with breath, we are being encouraged to connect mind, body and soul. The term yoga means ‘to yolk’. From my own life experience I had become aware of how much through fear and also self-preservation I had disassociated from my own body. Yoga provided me with a safe platform to start reconnecting to myself. There are numerous styles of yoga and all are beneficial, I found Vinyasa yoga particularly supportive to gain flexibility, strength and balance in both my body and my mind. What we practice on our yoga mat prepares us for stepping off and out in to the wide world, whilst I found postures challenging I was reminded to breath, I began to build resilience and steady my breath whilst moving more freely and with more precision. I found this was echoed in challenging situations that arose in my life. Where as before I would respond to fear with anxiety and shallow short breath often leading to panic attacks I was now able to slow my breath down and approach the situation more calmly. Challenges that occurred in my body through my yoga practice required focus to achieve balance. I began to build strength physically and mentally. Moving away from my mind, allowed me to find grounding in my body. This lent itself to offer a greater awareness of myself. With yoga we are utilising the bodies natural resources for the regeneration of cells. This supports an individual’s ability to create new healthier neurological pathways. When a person has suffered trauma in their lives they live in the ‘fight or flight’ part of the nervous system over time it becomes very hard to regulate and restore balance and calm. Yoga is a tool to encourage our system to move in to the parasympathetic responsible for the ‘relax and restore’ part of our nervous system and over time we are able to achieve a healthy response to life’s challenges. I encourage anyone to try stepping on to a yoga mat. Exploring the practice of yoga starts to build a foundation for change. It provided me with a stable and safe environment to continue my self- exploration. I found I was committed and achieved a greater level of consistency in my life. During the practice of yoga we are gaining the art of stilling the mind and breathing whilst being physically challenged, this provides an opportunity to establish new coping skills. It can provide a platform to implement new tools to manage anxiety and stress that ordinarily could be triggers to un-useful thinking and behaviour. Today with thanks to those people who gave me a second chance, the opportunity to share my story, talking therapy and yoga I have spent 13 years free from drink and drugs and I manage my eating disorders in a healthier way. I can still suffer poor mental health as I am human, but with tools at my disposable and a knowledge that I can change, life can be different, I approach my mental health not from a place of self-destruction but from a place of compassion and kindness.