As part of our Breathing In & Breathing Out series, our friend Lisa Stewart shares her practices of Forrest Yoga and speaking out from the heart.
The gremlin sits on your shoulder. Some gremlins look like fuzzy potatoes (mine does). He reminds me of all the things I haven’t done yet, what I’ve done wrong, what I could do better.
Practicing Forrest Yoga has taught me the practice of visualising negativity as a nasty little gremlin, a gremlin that can be expelled from your shoulder – and your thoughts – by conscious breathing and focusing on the good.
When Debbie graciously asked me to contribute a post to Hope Breathes, I thought about the campaigning I do in my work for an NGO, the campaigning I do as a volunteer outside of work, the things I’m trying every day to change in my own life and all the ways that I try to inspire change in others. How sometimes, I struggle to stay hopeful, to stay energised or to believe that my actions have meaning.
But the word “breathe” for me is all about yoga. Perhaps I’m just another privileged hipster with a “found-myself-through-yoga” story but the truth is that I don’t think I knew how to breathe before.
I didn’t DO exercise – being uncoordinated, physical exertion made me embarrassed and miserable. I still can’t believe I went along to a yoga class: I was staying in a wonderful eco apartment in New York that had a yoga studio downstairs, and residents could do free classes. That I went is testament to the inability of a Scottish person to say no to a free thing, rather than any deliberate quest for meaning.
That class was the first time I had experienced my brain switching off. Before returning to Glasgow I had found yoga classes back home, and for almost four years I’ve never looked back. After a few months I tried Forrest yoga and knew I had found my niche. Forrest is a little-known practice that is all about honesty, depth of feeling and a bit of silliness (like the gremlins).
The yoga mat is literally my breathing space, but I’m learning to bring the quality of breath and the awareness that yoga relies on into the rest of my life. As a result, I have realised I’m more effective when I give myself space in a busy week to get into nature, to read, to cook. That I can ultimately have more impact if I’m a little kinder to myself.
As I mentioned, technically I’m a professional activist, which is a privileged position as I have the opportunity to reach many people on big issues from the refugee crisis to climate change. But, trying to get people to care through mass communication day after day, I sometimes wonder if my work is making a difference. Little moments of one to one connection confirm that it is.
Months after I had spoken on a panel at Take One Action Film Festival about refugee rights, a girl approached me and said that my words onstage that night had given her hope when she had given up. She had started volunteering and engaging with the refugee community as a result. I was ashamed that I couldn’t even remember exactly what I had said– but I know I was reacting from the heart to a very emotional film. I remember crying along with the other panel members.
Our words carry weight but our emotions and honesty carry even more. That’s why it’s so important to wield them with care and mindfulness – exactly what yoga is all about. My gremlin is still there, but with a bit of breathing, I can blow it off my shoulder and get on with trying to make the world a slightly better place.
Lisa attends Shanti Yoga in Finnieston, Glasgow and especially enjoys Forrest classes with the amazing Saskia Groh.
You can follow Lisa on twitter @loladelorean