Mindful Way Through Depression

I share a lot of resources with my students, and this book, The Mindful Way Through Depression, is one of them. Given to me by my therapist well over ten years ago now, it’s probably one of the most important books I’ve ever read.

Having completed graduate work myself (as a first generation college student nonetheless) and now working in higher education, I’m acutely aware of many of the challenges students face in completing their degrees. As a McNair director, the central charge of my work is to encourage low income, first generation and underrepresented students to pursue Ph.D.’s. This path is not for the faint of heart, nor is it the best path for a lot of people, but for those who feel called to be a creator of knowledge, it’s the only way to go. As such, I’ve grown even more interested in learning more about what these journeys are like for our students, as well as questioning the very nature of academia and the extreme stress and hardship that many endure.

Just google “graduate students and mental health” and you’ll find various articles on the topic, highlighting recent studies pointing to higher rates of anxiety and depression among the graduate student population. The experience of graduate school is a complex one, and certainly one that is unique to each individual given their program, area of study, quality of mentors and advisors, peers and support networks. It’s complicated and many factors impact the process, but my bottomline question is: does it have to be this way and what can we do to alleviate some of the suffering?

Suffering is a strong word, I know. But having recently witnessed about forty or so Ph.D. graduates of color share their experiences achieving their degree, I would say suffering is an accurate term. These students persevered, and we should be thankful because we need their voices, but at the same time, should the process really have to entail traveling to the darkest depths of one’s soul in order to persevere?

I’m typing off the top of my head here, but I think this to be a legitimate question. I also realize this isn’t necessarily the case for all students; however, it seems to be a legitimate concern for many.

Coming back to the topic at hand then, addressing the issue of mental health in graduate education and using all resources and approaches available, this notion of mindfulness and how it can help students maintain greater health and wellness is a useful one. I personally suffered from my most significant bout of depression post-grad school; I also utilized many different tools in dealing with it, including medication and exercise, as well as experimenting with mindfulness meditation.

More Ph.D. students are talking about this important topic and I’m really happy about that. As a matter of fact, part of my writing along this topic area is an opportunity to contribute to this conversation through The PhDepression. I’ve always been interested in helping our students explore the benefits of mindfulness, through yoga and more recently, through meditation. And so I’m really excited to be able to reach an even greater number of students, to provide support and encouragement in their graduate journeys, and help pass along resources + tools that I’ve personally found absolutely transformative in my own journey.

I welcome your thoughts! Please feel free to email me at lynn.curry.619@gmail.com or use the contact form on this site. I’ll be sharing more experiences and conversations as I revisit this important text, The Mindful Way Through Depression, and perhaps go even deeper into my own continuing struggles.

Letting ourselves emerge

One of the things I love about attending a yoga class is being prompted to think in new ways. In addition to queuing the different poses, a teacher will usually weave in a particular “theme” or “language” meant to elucidate a certain concept or idea typically related to the philosophy of yoga. In essence, the goal of yoga is becoming more in tune with your true self.

Today, we were invited to consider how much of our “true selves” we actually show to the world on a regular basis. True, there are probably parts of ourselves that are easy to share, certain qualities, beliefs, manners of being. Perhaps even truer are other parts of ourselves more easily kept hidden. Perhaps they fall beyond what is considered “the norm” or maybe we are afraid that if we show who we really are or what we really believe in, we won’t be accepted by others. We are afraid to stand in our own truth for fear of being judged and rejected.

When we are mindful, we can usually start to notice how we only allow certain parts of ourselves to show, depending upon the situation we find ourselves in.

What’s interesting about a yoga practice is that we explore such topics through breath and movement. We take a look at these “more subtle notions” through tangible things like breathing and moving our bodies.

Today, we were encouraged to embrace the totality of ourselves, flaws and weaknesses, in all. Strengths too. By observing our mind as we move from pose to pose, we learn to lean into the discomfort of simply being ourselves, just as we are. We have lots of “stories” we tell about ourselves. We aren’t good at this, we aren’t good at that. This happened and so I’m this way because of that.

Today in our yoga practice, we were encouraged to let go of these stories (that “ticker tape” constantly running in our heads), and instead, embrace the present moment of who we are. Right now. At this moment.

Can I stand in my own truth of who I am as an individual?

Maybe.

The real opportunity comes from challenging those stories, or in many cases, “limiting beliefs,” we hold so dear. Today our practice culminated with a pretty challenging pose. Immediately, my internal “ticker tape” began saying, it would be easier to just stick with the simpler version of this, you probably can’t get your leg up like that anyway, it might be too strenuous.

Instead of listening to that ticker tape, I tried it. It didn’t look pretty, especially in relation to the two beautiful teachers surrounding me and going into the fully realized version of it, but I tried it. Then I refined how I tried it, on the second side, with feedback from my teacher.

It was probably a “smidge” better on that second side, but the deal is, it was *my version* of that pose for today. Sure, my teachers’ versions still appeared “more better” (vocab from my 8-year-old, smile) in my mind’s eye; but I dropped that story, if just for the moment, and recognized myself for having tried and having accomplished “my version” of that more advanced yoga pose, for today.

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Heather doing “the pose” quite beautifully. This is “her version” of the pose.

I’m doing this in CrossFit too. Just yesterday I back-squatted 120 pounds. Five more pounds than I did last week. I wasn’t sure I could do it, but I tried it. I focused and leaned into the discomfort involved in trying something I hadn’t done before; something I, in the back of my head, was already second guessing I could do. Darn ticker tape running and doing its job, like it always does.

And so I did that too. And maybe it wasn’t perfect, but I did it. And as a result, I inserted this notion of being able to do it, into my brain. Cool thing is, next time around, my “ticker tape” might just resurrect this belief instead!

My teacher then read an excerpt from The Book of Awakening by Mark Nepo:

“Like many of us, I seem to be continually challenged not to hide who I am. Over and over, I keep finding myself in situations that require me to be all of who I am in order to make my way through. Whether breaking a pattern of imbalance with a lifelong friend, or admitting my impatience to listen to my lover, or owning my envy of a colleague, or even confronting the self-centeredness of strangers stealing parking spaces, I find I must be present – even if I say nothing. I find I must not suppress my full nature, or my life doesn’t emerge.

Aside from the feeling of integrity or satisfaction that comes over me when I can fully be myself, I am finding that being who I am – not hiding any of myself – is a necessary threshold that I must meet or my life will not evolve. It is a doorway I must make my way to or nothing happens. My life just stalls.”

What it comes down to is leaning into the discomfort of new territory and discovering who you really are, even if it’s scary and even if it’s easier to stay right where we are. When we do this (especially on a regular basis), we expose, more and more, our true selves and who we really are as individuals.

It’s how we grow.

It’s how we shed our stories and allow ourselves to evolve.

<3

CrossFit Worthy-ers do self-care.

I’m presenting as part of CrossFit Worthy’s special class on Adulting 101 and I’m super excited to be sharing what I love most – helping people to develop self-care habits that will allow them to flourish on a daily basis. Super excited!

Here are my take away points in developing a self-care mindset:

  • notice how you feel
  • listen to your body
  • make it non-negotiable
  • do it a “smidge” more
  • begin again
  • trust your instincts
  • cut out the crud

Here is a LINK to my presentation too, in case you want to take a look see.

Bonus! Check out a little something I’ve been working on for our McNair scholars, that I “transformed” into something for all of our CrossFit Worthy-ers. I’m pretty excited about sharing this.

Click on the title below!
Taking Care of You: Making Self-Care a Daily Reality

Last, use this LINK to tell us you are committing to three primary self-care habits this fall season. We want to know what they are so that we can share experiences and offer support!

I talk a little more about self-care + the challenge HERE.

Here’s to celebrating our SUCCESSFUL *self-care initiatives* come this December.

clarity

One of the keys to taking care of you – being clear on your priorities + noticing how the things you choose to do MAKE YOU FEEL on a daily basis.

 

 

Bright Spots Friday

My CrossFit gym has a great community that is really active on Facebook. Besides getting to know folks while in the gym, I’ve found our Facebook group to be a really great way of feeling connected even though I might not know everyone on a personal level. We’ve recently started to share Bright Spots Friday with one another and this had added an even lovelier dimension to our exchange.

I thought I would write a short post for today’s Bright Spots Friday cause I wanted to talk a little more in-depth about how my participation in this community is impacting my life. After feeling like crap for a few weeks, I finally found some energy this week! For me, this meant pushing myself again, if even in small increments.

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I’ve enjoyed working out in a number of different gyms over the years, but CrossFit is different. I’m still working on figuring out exactly why that is so, but I’ll give it a whirl right now.

  • you monitor + measure your progress in a highly detailed way which lends to great insight to your growth in the long-term
  • these “gains” as they are called are celebrated as they are actually happening during a workout and once the results are posted in Wodify (a convenient app for signing up for classes + seeing everyone’s stats)
  • for me, I take great inspiration from those around me and even if I’m not even close to the kind of weight my fellow CrossFit-Worthiers are moving, I still feel inspired by their achievements + milestones

It proves it’s possible, which to my sometimes self-limiting brain, might not show up that way.

  • the encouragement of others is palpable, much more so than I’ve experienced in other places (I think it’s related to the nature of the work we’re doing and how it’s tracked)
  • and the coaching … gosh the coaching … is sincere, is safe, is supportive, is encouraging, is phenomenal really
  • Jeremy + Susie have created something special … not only am I grateful to be a part of it, but I’m grateful that I am able to offer this experience to our McNair scholars as they strengthen themselves + grow their confidence in themselves before continuing on in their graduate journeys

I deeply believe the work our McNair students get to do here @ CrossFit Worthy will have rippling effects in their journeys for years to come.

This week I worked on my clean + jerks. I sent this text to Jeremy after a workout which said: Feeling like I want to do more of those 65# cleans so that 65# starts to feel like 35# – thanks for being most awesome. He replied: Keep kicking butt!

cleanandjerk2

For me, cleans, especially when you receive at the bottom (look at me being all … like I know all the technical terms … not! lol!makes me feel really tough. I’m serious. I can do 35# like nobody’s business. And 65# is *starting* to feel a little more manageable. Which leads to sheer amazement when viewing others (women, yes younger, but still) doing upwards of 150#!

Bottomline? This work is exciting and it feeds all other parts of my life. It helps me be focused with my work. It helps me be a better mom. It helps me be more confident in the things that I want to do + express. It makes me feel frickin’ amazing and that just feeds everything else.

I take those accomplishments at the gym and I translate them in my daily life.

It’s a foundation. A non-negotiable. Because of the way this work feeds my life, it’s got to happen and I choose to make it happen. I really think this is the key when it comes to moving +  strengthening our physical bodies. Once we experience this foundation, we begin to see how critical it is for all other parts of our lives. It clears our head and gets rid of the detritus. And allows us to really soar.

The Gift of Yoga

What’s the gutsiest move I’ve ever made and how does it inspire my life and work today? That would have to be deciding to extend the gift of yoga to my students what is now over five years ago. This decision is significant because it signifies my stepping into what I’m truly passionate about. I’m passionate about helping people take care of themselves and I deeply believe that yoga is probably one of the best tools out there to do just that.

I work with low income, first generation, underrepresented students and help prepare them for graduate school, so when I had this idea, I immediately thought people would think … what does yoga have to do with getting into graduate school? I judge myself enough as it is, but I forecasted people judging this decision even more. I envisioned people thinking I’m taking away from the focus of the program. I envisioned people thinking that I’m wasting resources. I envisioned people thinking this kind of activity to be entirely too woo woo. And for that matter, I risked people thinking that I was a little off my rocker! Crazy girl!

I did it anyways and never looked back.

I had scholars talk about never feeling *as alive* as they did after that first session (think: senses on fire!) and I had scholars think they were being coerced into giving up their religion. I’ve had scholars puke (just once). I’ve had scholars get profound relief from back pain and mental anguish (all the same). I’ve had scholars joke around during classes and I’ve had scholars take the opportunity uber-seriously.

Perhaps I should note that we never *force* our scholars to do yoga. That would certainly be un-yoga-like now wouldn’t it? We *might* strongly encourage, role model, even incentivize them during the summer, but never force. Thank goodness, huh?

This is the thing. Yoga opened the door to having a conversation about how to take care of ourselves so that we can do awesome things in our lives on a daily basis. We’ve all got some goals and plans for our lives. We want to feel good while we are striving to achieve them (I’m assuming here). That pretty much means we need to figure out a way to keep ourselves in tip-top-shape (body, mind, spirit anyone?) so that we are in full-operational mode as much as we can.

So there’s the trick.

It’s not so easy to do that on a regular basis, is it? We might start off in a nice groove, say at the beginning of a new semester (great time to set our intentions), packing a healthy lunch when we’re on the go, getting that workout in before class, making sure to get to sleep at a decent hour. Then the semester *really starts to happen* and those plans sail right out the window.

It sucks! And I understand why.

It’s the daily pressures of all of our responsibilities that we’ve chosen to take on (key word being *chosen* as in *we choose* what is on our plates). It’s the pressure of making enough money to live while we go after our dreams (really thinking about my students here). It’s the pressures of wanting and having to do well in order to achieve our goals. It’s the pressures of all those other “little nuggets of life” that can surface in the most in opportune times and make our heads spin.

So getting back to yoga. I think yoga is one of the best tools for self-care because it gives us an opportunity to slow down, completely pause even, in our busy lives. It allows us to go inward and focus on our bodies and on ourselves in a way that we don’t really do that often. The physical postures in yoga make us feel good. We stretch and we strengthen.

But I would argue that yoga is so much more than that.

It’s the work that we do with our breath and our minds. It’s focusing on our breath and just listening, instead of having our minds constantly be in “doing-mode” and stressing about all of the things we still need to get done. It’s taking some time for ourselves (doesn’t have to be a ton of time either) and slowing down enough to get a read on how we’re really doing. Of course, there’s much much more to it, but I think this encapsulates why yoga can be so good for our students and good for everyone.

scholaryoga

McNair scholars unwinding with some summer yoga.

I think back to that first yoga session quite often and I smile. I think about how far we’ve come since then. We’ve definitely “upped” things by incorporating other wellness-oriented workshops + activities through the years, but in my mind, it still comes down to yoga. I love to give the gift of yoga, and by that, I mean inviting others to explore how yoga might create small, even huge, shifts in their lives for the better. It’s about having an open mind, creating the time + space to doing something special for yourself, it’s about experimenting with all different kinds of tools to see what really works for you.