Mike Wicks: My Yoga Journey
The Mat. My Yoga Journey starts on the mat, and it ends on the mat. Always. Every week. The mat is my gateway to a different place, and a different state of mind. The mat empties my mind of the day to day trials and trivialities, and through physical effort I am transported to another place, a place of serenity and calmness. A place also of friendship and mutual support. The mat is my piece of mind, and my joy.
How I got to this place is quite a story and began on a sea-cliff on the Isle of Skye, 13 years ago. I was rock climbing with a friend and got into difficulty; I was hospitalised with a smashed heal, and spent 3 months on crutches. I survived.
Committing to Yourself
I discovered Pilates, as recommended by my physiotherapist. My work had an on-site Pilates teacher who came in weekly, so this became my weekly ritual. I had a bad experience trying yoga some years before; I didn’t like the teacher, didn’t like his attitude and thought him physically rather odd! Did I want to look like that? But now I needed some physical rehabilitation, and Pilates did the job.
Then I became a Pilates teacher. I had always wanted to teach, and thought this was my thing. I put the time in and studied and eventually got my qualification. However, just as I was starting out as a teacher, I was offered a job back in IT, so I let it lapse. It was and still is my intention to return to teaching, but the Pandemic has taught me one major thing I didn’t have before – Commitment. You have to really live and breathe something if you want to teach it, I feel.
I have been fortunate to find Pilates teachers (Rachel and Amanda) and a situation (the pandemic), where I’ve been able to throw myself into Pilates, and perform a “step change” in my Pilates practice. I’ve also been able to use the enforced spare time in the pandemic to get much fitter, as I now run and cycle 5 times a week. Put simply, if I want to work in the fitness industry, I need to be fit!
So, I come from a Pilates background in reality. Joseph Pilates was heavily influenced by Yoga when he created “Contrology”. There are many styles of Pilates, like there are schools of Yoga. My point of view of that Pilates is more “specific”, while Yoga is more “holistic”; both consider the Breath to be the key, but use it in different ways.
So, I have feet in both camps, as it were. But Yoga helps me with another aspect of my life – my mental health. I have a very mild anxiety condition which I’ve realised I’ve had ever since my teenage years, so that’s going on 40+ years now. After a long battle, I’ve realised that this is something I doubt will ever go away, and I’ll have to deal with it for the rest of my life.
This is where my yoga journey has had the biggest impact on my mental health. But it all boils down to one thing – Commitment. A commitment to spend time on something for your own self. Some people might say this is selfish, but I say before you help anyone, you have to be in the “right” place yourself. Only you know where that “right” place is and when you are there – I cannot tell you, it is a journey you must make, and one to be made alone.
Working with Tali
I first met Tali Lowe, 5 or 6 years ago, as she had a regular yoga class on Tuesday evenings out at Easter Bush. Tali’s class was tough! But I started going regularly. It was a challenge, but somehow, I needed a challenge, and a challenge that was different from my work. It became my weekly “escape” from work and the anxieties of life. Why?
It’s the mat. The mat gives you that space to take that “time out” from the world. You are your own master in that small piece of space and time. It doesn’t matter whether it is Pilates or Yoga, the mat is the key. You have given your time to the mat and its space. The mat will give back to you. For Pilates I get a focused workout on the “core” from my mat, but Yoga give me a broader experience. I get time to quieten my mind, I get to do the poses that match my energy levels – during the pandemic, mental and physical energy levels have not been high! Incidentally, please be kind to yourselves during the pandemic – it’s a highly unusual time and situation that nobody has had to deal with before – we are all learning! And the Pandemic will not be over any time soon, sadly.
Moving on to 1-2-1 classes with Tali, I was at first really able to focus on the specifics of technique. What am I actually doing in downward dog, with my knuckles, fingers, forearms, triceps, shoulder girdle, hip creases, glutes, calves and ankles? Only a 1-2-1 class enables you to really deconstruct a pose, and extract the maximum physical benefit from doing the pose more “correctly”. And this search for a more perfect pose has a benefit to the mental side too – doing things “properly” is such an achievement. Group classes can promote laziness. Are your hips really square in Warrior 2? Are you cheating with your forearms and triceps in Downward Dog? Are you really in control of your breathing at any point in the class? Only you know, and the only way to find out and achieve the maximum benefit is to deconstruct your practice with a 1-2-1 series of classes. This is what Tali first guided me to do.
In this closer setting, you’re devoting your time to excellence, to improve your physical practice and maximise the benefit to your mind. Quietness begets focus, which begets micro improvements in technique, which improves satisfaction, and ultimately contentment.
But you need the guide of a good teacher, and I found one of the best in Tali.
Yoga is a Journey
A good yoga practice for both the mind and body, is all about control of the breath. Breathing is obviously a reflex activity, so we tend not to give it a second thought. We sometimes talk about people being “in control” or being “out of control” – this actually means whether they in in control of their breathing. What does somebody mean when they say “Calm down”, or “Take a breather for a moment”? They mean, often without knowing it, that the stressed person needs to retake control of their breathing. And taking control of your breathing is really what Yoga is about, at least to me, right now. Smoothing out the inhales and exhales, and the start and finish of each phase, brings contentment, peace of mind and focus, focus that enables a better physical practice, with the release of tension in the muscles, and hence ease of reaching and maintaining a pose.
A good yoga practice is also not a destination, it is a journey. There is always a better physical yogi out there than me, like there is a better guitarist or programmer out there than me. But the point is to enjoy the journey, learn the lesson of each step and make progress, progress that can be fitful and not smooth, but is made with commitment.
But it’s the mat. It always comes back to the mat. It starts there, and is your portal to a better state of mind. Find your mat, sit on it and transform yourself!
13th May 2021
We’d love to hear your story about how yoga has improved your mental health.