I was always a stickler for rules. Rules shaped most of my younger life, manifesting in a teenage career of eating disorders, self harm and anxiety. From there my obsession with rules continues, a set of guidelines for day to day life and conduct. I will share some of these with you, the ones that had a firm hold on me from me teens through to my 30's...some are general and some are body image specific
Do as you are told, not as you want
Agree with everyone and everything
Be generally perfect at everything
Eat a healthy diet all day everyday, or you will be a greedy slob
Exercise as much as physically possible
Don't eat the same meal 2 days in a row
Drink water all day, as much as possible, because dehydration is evil or something
Abide by every new healthy living guideline that is published
Eat "bad foods" in secret, never get found
There are more but these were a good staple set.
The thing is, I didn't even consciously make these rules, perhaps I wasn't really aware of them, they made me who I was, they were a part of me.
As I got older, and had new responsibilities and priorities, the body image stuff faded away alot (thank god, that was exhausting), but the rest lived on with a whole load of new rules about how to be an adult, a law abiding citizen. And of course the bottomless pit that is full of parenting rules and guilt.
It felt as though I was constantly being watched and judged, although I couldn't tell you exactly who that all knowing presence was. I had probably forgotten why they had started or when. It wasn't a religious concept nor was it fucked up Bipolar paranoia. It's not surprising that I had so much anxiety.
Quite recently, I was under the care of a Mental Health Nurse who, perhaps unbeknownst to her, blew this intrinsic belief into a zillion pieces. I had let her in to my secret (I had never admitted these ideas and anxieties to anyone else). I was quite fretful and I said "I wish I knew who was making these rules and why they care so much". And she casually replied "Clare, it was you." BOOM!!!
I would love to say that from that day on I totally chilled my beans and lived my own life. It wasn't as easy as that, I had a lifetime of tangles to undo, but it was a massive turning point for me. It was a fantastic mixture of unburdening myself by speaking about what I believed was a shameful and embarrassing belief system, and getting outside validation of what I probably always knew deep down.
My life now feels like my own. There is a deep sense of freedom, of possibilities and opportunities. I would never have had the confidence to persue my dream to become a Yoga Teacher (Rule - only slim and super fit people can teach Yoga).
Of course it comes with it's own anxieties when it comes to decision making - I now have to make choices all on my own rather than based on any rules - but I am happy with that. Interestingly, I can always spot a sink into depression now because these old rules and self punishments start rearing their heads. The trick is to recognise it and look at the thoughts objectively. Yoga and Meditation helps with this, learning to become a witness to my thoughts, avoiding reaction to and engagement with them. This is why I so often declare that Yoga is my most effective form of therapy. I can be me, in my purest form, with no self judgement and of course no rules. Yoga does not mind what state I turn up in, what baggage I may bring to my mat, or whether I choose a hardcore Vinyasa Yoga workout or a restful meditative practice. It lets me choose for myself. For me, teaching others to find self acceptance is the best part of being a Yoga Teacher.
I know that I am not the only one with a story like this. I would love to hear your experiences with self made rules. You might just find that saying them outloud to a compassionate ear speaks them out of your head and into a more measured view.
Want to improve your life with Yoga? Take a look www.themadyogi.co.uk