It’s been a busy few months for The Power Yoga Company; with the arrival our salad fridge, introduction of new products and classes, start of our bi-annual teacher training and the launch of our mental health awareness campaign. Eager to continue a long-standing focus around acceptance and mindfulness, PYC was delighted to welcome the mental health activist and blogger Charlotte Walker to our studios for a bespoke Yoga Challenge. You can follow Charlotte on twitter (@BipolarBlogger), where you’ll find daily updates on her 25 Day Yoga Challenge including all her likes, dislikes, thoughts and feelings.
Charlotte is a mental health activist and award-winning blogger turned freelance writer, trainer, public speaker and researcher. Battling with severe biopolar disorder on and off for over 25 years, Charlotte initially began writing as a tool to cope with her struggles. Through recording her thoughts and activities, Charlotte found that she was not only helping herself but a large following of similar people also suffering from mental illnesses. Her blog has been well received and she is now the proud recipient of the 2012 TWIN Award, Mark Hanson Digital Award, and finally in January 2014 was awarded for having the best mental health Twitter account.
We all know that Yoga has a positive impact on both body and mind, but is this the same for all individuals? Fortunately Charlotte agreed to collaborate with The Power Yoga Company to explore this further and examine the effects of a regular Yoga practise on a mental illness. Below we share an honest insight into Charlotte’s experience with us.
If you had 3 words to describe your 25 Days Yoga Challenge what would they be?
I have to answer this without saying challenging, right? OK, first of all it was tough. Every day I went home and said to my husband, “That was the hardest class I’ve ever done!” Every single day.
It’s been inspiring being with other people who were making a commitment to give their everything to the class and all the teachers have motivated me to give my all, every session.
It was life-changing. The challenge was about whether Yoga could positively influence my mental heath and I’m so much more stable and less anxious (my husband agrees). My body feels lighter and is definitely stronger. I can see muscles now that I didn’t even know existed.
What was the best moment of the challenge?
The end of my first class. I survived! And I even enjoyed it. Although I found it really, really hard I felt like I was floating on air on the tube home. It meant a lot to me; I’d been a little afraid I might drop out right away if I found the first class hard.
What was the most challenging moment of the challenge?
Probably my first yin class. Austin asked to keep our eyes closed for as much of the 75 minutes as we could and I felt panicky and “shut in” within my own body. It was also scary to have to work with difficulty/discomfort; I’ve spent years avoiding anything that felt needlessly difficult because life was already difficult enough. I worked through it and was so, so proud of myself for completing the class.
Speaking of challenges, what are some difficulties you experience on a weekly basis as a result of your condition?
When I’m high I feel fantastic and I don’t want to sleep or eat. My mind spins faster and faster and I begin to talk more, faster and louder. I’m full of grand schemes and I neglect work and family because I’m so focussed on my brilliant plans. I feel full of energy and suddenly want to exercise all the time, to an unhealthy degree. At first it all seems quite fun, so I don’t want to do anything to stop it, but eventually it all becomes overwhelming and dark and I feel very out of control.
When I’m depressed I sleep more, move slowly and think slowly. I have so little energy that sometimes I can’t even get out of bed. I know I should take some exercise, but I’m about as capable of that than I am of flying to the moon. When thoughts of death or suicide mean I have become a risk to myself I work with a special community team to try to keep me out of hospital.
The hardest thing about being bipolar is that I have to constantly monitor myself to nip changes in the bud before things get out of control. Am I really happy, or am I becoming manic? Am I just having a down day, or is it all starting up again? It’s kind of a sad way to live.
How does a regular Yoga practise impact these daily struggles?
Being more self-aware is just one way that Yoga helps me manage my moods. And the structure and routine of coming to class (and by the end of the challenge I was attending 6 classes a week) has been a useful form of structure and routine. And quite frankly it’s nice to get out of my own head by focussing on my body and my breath.
One day I felt consumed with anxiety and was scared I would have a panic attack on the tube. I happened to be booked in for a yin class so I forced myself to go, and it was the best thing that I could have done. Tuning into a still place inside myself kind of made the anxiety trickle away and afterwards I felt good.
How do you find the mediation aspect of the practise?
I really like that the teachers ask Yogis to set an intention for the class. This is something I’ve encountered in the meditation classes I’ve attended and I find it very useful. Why am I here, today, on this particular mat? What is the purpose for my practice? I’m struggling to re-establish a seated meditation practice so undertaking regular moving meditation is fantastic for me. I can honestly say I haven’t worked with one teacher who didn’t bring mindfulness into their class, and this helped me feel comfortable and at home.
Do you have a favourite teacher, and why?
Isn’t it bad to have favourites?! OK I actually have two. This reflects the range of experiences at PYC as both classes are Level 1 yet they are completely different. First I have to pick Léa Barbier, partly because she taught my first ever class and was very welcoming. But I also like her calm and gentle manner – plus she does the best forehead massage which is a beautifully relaxing end to an evening class.
Christian Coelho‘s Thursday class is in Prana during the daytime and has an uplifting, energising feel and a more technical approach. Every class he does this whole sorry-not-sorry thing about giving our core a pummeling, but I’m not complaining – I’ve got the best abs I’ve had in years. I always feel stronger and more alive after his classes.
Is there anything that really stood out to you during your 25 day challenge?
Just like anyone else, I find my mind wandering in class away from the breath and the rhythm of the practice. Two teachers – don’t quote me on who! – have expressed this in different ways but the essential idea is the same: without the breath, you’re just going through the motions. Just bodies that happen to be twisting into shapes. A useful way of putting it.
Your mind is going to wander, because everybody’s does. If you find it hard to just bring your attention back to the breath, maybe there’s something spiritually meaningful you can turn your mind to instead – I used Zen Buddhist koans.
We have a 21 Day Challenge coming up in January, do you have any tips for the Yogi’s participating in this challenge?
Be open. Open hearted and open minded. I’ve found that every class has been some sort of learning opportunity for me, whether something I’ve observed in my body, my thoughts, or my attitude, so there really is no such thing as a “bad” class.
What’s next for Bipolar Blogger?
I’ll definitely be writing about my experiences at PYC but as a freelancer in the mental health field I never know what’s around the corner. Right now I’m really excited about the research I’m involved in. It’s really important to me to do something with my life that I feel makes a difference.