By Indira Das-Gupta
Once upon a time there was a cynical young news reporter called Indira who lead a pretty unhealthy lifestyle. In fact, it’s not an exaggeration to to say that self care was not even in Indira’s vocabulary. She worked hard and also played hard, going to the pub most nights to have a bitch and a gossip with her fellow reporters. Every Friday and Saturday she would go “out, out”, she smoked like a trouper and swore like a trooper. She had a vague idea that eating fruit and veg was good for you but that was pretty much the sum of her knowledge when it came to diet and nutrition. While she liked to do a few lengths of her nearby Leyton Leisure Lagoon, she had nothing but contempt for “health freaks” and in particular runners.
Yes dear reader, that was me. Fast forward a couple of decades and the Indira of today bears little resemblance to the Indira of yesteryear. I now teach Yoga for a living and the first thing I do every morning is to get on my mat for some asana practice followed by meditation. These days I actually enjoy eating food that I know will make me feel better, I’ve even started running, I don’t drink or smoke and while I occasionally still swear (OK maybe a bit more than occasionally) I’m much less cynical about life in general. In short I actually like myself now and so treat myself accordingly.
It’s true that I have become a bit of a walking Yoga cliche, but I honestly don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything. If I want to eat cake, I do. If I want to have a lazy day watching movies and playing board games with my kids, then I do. Most importantly I feel a hell of a lot better than I did in my journo days - physically, mentally and spiritually. It was a gradual, subtle evolution rather than a sudden metamorphosis. I didn’t wake up one morning and give up drinking, smoking eating meat, hating runners and swearing. The process began when I discovered Yoga, but again, it’s not like after my very first lesson I had a “Eureka” moment. At the beginning of my Yoga journey I didn’t really look after myself much better than before. But slowly, slowly I started to become more aware of how what I did and how what I put into my body made me feel and I started to do less of the things that made me feel rubbish and more of the stuff that made me feel good.
I’m actually a pretty private person these days so why am I opening up about all this? Because I am acutely aware that what we see of Yoga on social media is usually the finished article and therefore feels completely unattainable. You might see endless images of beautiful, slim people looking unbelievably graceful and toned in impossible poses and assume that the people doing those poses always had it together. Maybe some of them took to Yoga like a duck to water and are naturally poised and flexible. But many will have put in countless hours on and off the mat to get to that stage. In all likelihood they are still working hard on their self development and have off days, but they just don’t post on the off days because we all choose what we share on social media platforms.
Self care is and ongoing process, not a box that can just be ticked off and filed under “completed.” Some days it will feel like all the efforts you are making are paying off and you are positively buzzing, other days it’s a struggle to get out of bed, never mind get on to your Yoga mat. More than anything it requires a change of mindset and that doesn’t happen over night. If you are only doing Yoga to punish yourself for having a takeaway pizza or “treating” yourself to two bottles of wine after a class, that’s not self care, more like self flagellation.
I’m not trying to convince you that you too should go “full Yogi” and become a tee total vegan (I’m actually not a vegan - I love cheese and seafood too much). Being tee total or vegan is certainly not for everyone. We are all different so if we want to feel our best we have to discover what works for us, which could be very different to what works for someone else. I’m just sharing my own experiences in the hope it will reassure you that, no matter how much you might have neglected your own self care, you too can turn things around. To be honest, back when I was a journalist I didn’t even realise what a hugely negative impact my lifestyle was having on me, maybe if I had, the task ahead would have seemed too daunting to even start. The changes took place over many years, which I’m grateful for because trying to change everything all at once would have been way too overwhelming.
A saying that I often find comfort in is the famous Chinese proverb: “Every journey starts with a single step.”
Even if it feels like you have a mountain to climb, you can only get to the summit by taking that first step. Sure there will be parts of the journey where it feels like you are taking two steps back for every step forward, but as long as you keep going, you’ll reach your health goals. If I managed it, so can you.