Staying Afloat

A few days ago, a friend asked me how I manage to stay so buoyant when I have so many challenges going on in my life right now. And I have been thinking about this question ever since. Because she is right. I am buoyant. It was a great choice of word too, conjuring a strong mental picture of myself bobbing, dreamily on the surface of the water while below the turbulent currents try and try again to drag me under. How am I staying afloat? Well, I can assure you that even a few years ago I would have been struggling, thrashing and floundering, full of panic and anxiety. And go back ten years or more and I would almost certainly be sunk, immobilised by depression and in a very dark, hopeless place. So, what has happened over the years to enable me to ride the storms with equanimity and surf the waves brimming with contentment and joy.
Well, firstly it has to be yoga. Yoga has been my anchor ever since I first stepped on a mat over twenty years ago and cultivating a daily practice has helped me shape my days, bring balance to my life and brought me much needed time to slow down and find mental space. But, over the last few years it has become much more than asana and taking the self-care, awareness and energy off my mat and into my life has brought a clarity, strength and sense of wholeness that I never thought was possible. So here are a few things which I have woven into my day-to-day life and which help me stay afloat when the churning waters threaten to engulf me.

I Have a Morning Ritual 
I need sleep. Lots of sleep. Like most people I feel cranky and less able to cope if I am sleep deficient. So, it seemed utterly ludicrous and counter-intuitive to set my alarm earlier than I needed to, dragging myself out of bed before anyone else was up. However, making this change has been nothing short of miraculous. I am now in control of setting the tone of the day and, rather than rushing out of bed at the same time as my kids, and dashing straight into hectic mother-mode, now, by the time they wake up I am ready for anything. I have grown to love that early, peaceful hour. In the summer I love the quality of the morning light, the comic joyfulness of the local bird life. And throughout winter, previously a very dark time for me in every way, I can now, not only embrace the darkness, but find such cosy joys in moving through my ritual by the light of a candle.
I begin the day with a morning cup of tea which I take to my mat, or if it’s very cold, back to bed. And, man, do I relish that tea, mindfully savouring the warmth and the taste. I never put a light on, instead relying only on whatever light is naturally provided and if that is none, then I embrace that too, becoming one with the season rather than creating a false daylight. I then enjoy a meditation of breath awareness, grounding myself and centring myself ready for the day ahead. And then I move to my mat, flowing though 15 or 20 mins of yoga. Refreshed, aligned, grounded and awake I am ready!

I have things to look forward – daily, weekly, monthly
This was also a game changer. If you train yourself to live simply, mindfully and with awareness and gratitude then virtually anything can become a treat to look forward to and savour. On the days when I go to work and I know that my day will be challenging, it can be something as simple as looking forward to a cup of tea at the table when I get home, under the fairy lights, eating a slice of homemade cake. Or maybe I’m looking forward to running around the woods, at dusk with my dog. Or the vegetable feast I’m going to cook up, candles lit, music on, later that evening. My day off is now an extension of my morning ritual. Thriving in alone time, I create a beautiful space, get uber-cosy and create. I spend hours writing and drinking herbal tea, at the kitchen table in winter, outside in summer. I fill the table with flowers or winter greens, crystals, pine cones, cake tins. And then I write. I write freely and with joy. I look forward to this day so much while I am at work and revel in the peace, quiet and space.
I also ensure I carve out some music time. I love carefully chosen music while I write or practice yoga but music time (sometimes whole luxurious music days – yes really) is such a treat. Here, I lay my mat out between two speakers and I play a favourite song. Eyes closed, body still, I listen with intensity, riding every cord change, every riff, every note. Listening like this, in this immersive, mindful way, is an incredibly powerful experience. Losing yourself so deeply in someone else’s creativity is inspiring and sends me back to my own work with renewed vigour and inner peace.
I also look forward to time outside. This one is vital, and I know my mental health suffers at an alarming rate if I am denied that connection with nature. The mere thought of my evening walk or run with my dog can keep me afloat through the hardest of days and I will be out, on the hills, in the trees, whatever the weather. At the weekends, I take longer, wilder walks and this time of self-care and connection is another thing which I look forward too with an actual giddy, excitement in my belly.
On top of all that, I ensure that I have a constant smattering of delightful things further ahead, the delicious carrot pulling me onwards. Right now, on the horizon, I have a festival in our small town, a city gig, a wild women’s solstice gathering and carol singing in a cave. These things balance out the humdrum and the difficult and keep me going with joy in my soul.

I fill my life with beauty, simplicity and nature
Candles, cosy blankets, home baking, herbal teas, smudging, incense, rocks, crystals, heaps of battered paperbacks, paintings, yoga books. I surround myself with these things every day. I have a pile of books in every room, accessible and inviting. I can study yoga, read articles on meditation or look at inspiring yoga pictures at any time and, by making it easy to access these things, I can carve out small, mindful moments to enjoy all my beautiful things. When things are getting hectic in the evening in my house, with three children coming and going and a million things to keep on top of, the sight of my fairy-lit, crystal-filled kitchen table, immediately puts me at ease and brings a sense of calm and quiet to the heart of the busyness. And, when we are all together, on a Friday after school, you will find us curled up under soft blankets with the wood burner roaring enjoying a movie together.
Whenever I can, I get into the hills and mountains. There is something so soulful and nourishing about wild places. The sound of walking boots on rocky paths, the bubbling of mountain streams, the magical, ever-changing light. The sense of space, peace and serenity is impossible to ignore and wow! does it get into your spirit? There is simply nothing so humbling and grounding as spending time in the mountains. Their vast, unwavering solidity, a habitat with complete disregard for me and my problems, is good for the soul. Out there I feel expansive, clear of thought and at one with something much, much greater. And, if you don’t have mountains or oceans on your doorstep? Find a park or garden, anywhere green. All of life can be found there.

I create connection 
As much as I crave and need solitude, I adore deep, heartfelt connection with other people and cultivating opportunities for this to occur is another joy. A few years ago, after struggling to catch up with my girlfriends and hearing again and again how everyone was suffering with being too busy to spend time with each other, I began hosting regular girls’ nights at my house. Gathering everyone in one place enabled us to catch up, support one another, laugh, drink a glass of wine and share stories. Sometimes people brought their craft or a project; whatever they felt they didn’t have time for in their day-to-day busy. I always feel unbelievably grateful after one of the girls’ nights; grateful that I am not alone, that I know so many fiercely creative, intelligent and passionate women and that I have such a wonderful support system.
I also create connection through teaching yoga classes and running nurturing, Nourish Your Soul days. What a wonderful opportunity to connect on a deeper level with people, meeting each other exactly where we are right now with compassion, respect and love. Joining a local yoga class, running club, or walking group can offer such connection, not to mention exercise, mental space, time outside and new friendships.
I connect with people throughout my day, really listening to the young people I work with, ensuring I say hello to people I pass on my dog walk, chatting to the sales assistant when I’m buying bread, basically being friendly and polite to everyone I meet, even, (especially), the challenging, rude or difficult people. Seeing as I have no idea what these people have going on in their lives, I think it is safe to assume that everyone needs some friendliness and connection in their day too.

I honour cycles
A while back I began to learn the moon’s movements throughout the month and I now know, at any time, what phase the moon is in and where it will be in the sky. Something about this knowledge opened up a whole new level of feeling grounded and connected. Every new moon and full moon I perform my own little ritual, usually only a few minutes, where I go outside, maybe light some palo santo or sage, formulate positive intention and next steps and allow myself to feel a deep connection to the moon’s teachings on letting go, impermanence and the rhythms of life.
The yearly calendar offers its own comforting rhythm. From New Year to Christmas I try to honour all the milestones and have found that, with an open mind, each brings a new understanding. Whether you are a Christian or not, the Easter story can highlight the power of new beginnings and faith and I love to use this time in the year to reflect and move forward with renewed purpose. I also make sure that I mark, in some small way, the solstices and equinoxes, using them as anchors throughout my year to set goals, release old ways and generally embrace each season and the unique beauty that each one has to offer. In the old times I was also controlled by the seasons and the weather but in a completely negative way. I struggled with the constant rain, the darkening days, the long, cold months, feeling relentless anxiety, claustrophobia, and depression for months at a time. Now, with new thinking, I can honestly say that I adore all weather; wild, windy storms, torrential Lake District rain, freezing, frosty mornings, the whole shebang. Instead of railing against winter, I have fallen for her, filling my indoor space with as much cosy warmth as is humanly possible, (is it possible to have too many fairy lights?), and spending as much time outside, feeling alive and wild in the elements, as I can. And, of course, Christmas, my absolute favourite time of year. This is a time of going deep – deep into your quiet self, deep into cosy hibernation, deep into the dormant season, honouring the slower energy of winter and the beautiful self-reflection of this time of year. I adore and relish the universal depth of the Nativity and love to pause during advent to consider all the elements of the story which are so embedded in our culture that they can be easily overlooked. And, frankly, any festivity which involves stars, lights, chocolate and candles is fine by me. I can honestly say that I look forward to Christmas all year, try to keep it as simple and natural as possible and embrace the opportunity to gather under the twinkling tree with board games by the fire.

I Gather Sources of Inspiration
It’s so easy nowadays to find and connect with people, causes and events which can enrich your life. A while back I shifted my social media use from being about connecting with friends, many of whom I saw on a regular basis anyway, to almost exclusively strangers who keep me on the right track. Instagram is stuffed full of hope and inspiration. I follow yogis, artists, photographers, vegan cooks, spiritual activists, musicians, movers, shakers and game-changers. There is a world of movement out there, bursting with amazing souls who are really making a difference. Connecting with that, listening to wisdom on a daily basis, filling my feed with stunning images and pick-me-ups can shape the course of a day, shift a stagnant energy, lift a mood and encourage participation.
I listen to music that has been created by artistic, passionate activists, fighting for justice, change and flowing with love. I read books written from a place of connection, reminding myself again and again that I am on the right path and that I am not alone. It’s so easy to become despondent in today’s climate of uncertainty, upheaval and fear, but you can arm yourself with hope and wear the armour of strength, inspiration and community.

So, there you have it. Ways to stay buoyant. These are just some of the things which have worked for me. I’m sure you will find other, different ways of enriching your own life. I am constantly deepening my practices and bringing in new things as I intuitively feel I need them. The important thing is to begin to move these things to the surface of your life. To prioritise them, weaving them into your day-to-day, away from the peripheries and right into the heart of your day. I hope you too can find ways to bring space and awareness into your daily life. Then, instead of merely staying afloat, you can splash and play in the ocean of life.