• Ruth Steel

Mental Health, Toxic Relationships & Healing ourselves.

15 January, 2019 | BrawYoga

Hello lovely readers, welcome to my Blog, thank you for lending me your eyes - and if you've also seen my latest BrawYoga YouTube video, your ears too - as I discuss some of these important and incredibly difficult topics.

I've been putting this off for the best part of two years now. I filmed some short clips during my Yoga training in India, talking about my experiences with #mentalhealth, abuse & grief however, I never got around to editing and posting that content through my own self-judgement, criticism and perfectionism but this is life god damn it, I am now ready to accept the imperfect qualities of it all and let them be.

The things I struggle to accept are the unjust actions, unfair and downright cruel things that happen in life, that could be stopped if we opened and talked about them more.

I should say, my YouTube video only touches on these topics as a friendly introduction, I wanted to stay sprightly, supportive and give you all some sort of insight into how I live my life currently, plus a chance to meet my three gorgeous pups, Bruce, Mythos & Banksy.

(If you haven't already met them already, find their video here)

I wanted to post this Blog alongside to get into the nitty-gritty, no BS chat about my current mental health, with the How and Why of Yoga being a fundamental tool for my recovery.

I'm no professional writer but this process of adding to my Blog as a sort of personal journal, getting it all out is proving to be cathartic, useful & all part of the journey.

(I highly recommend starting a private journal or writing down your thoughts as a tool for stress, anxiety & depression)

So, let’s talk.

As a privileged white, middle class gal, of fluctuating weight and a background in performing arts, it’s fair to say, I’d taken a Yoga class before. Mostly Bikram Yoga & MAINLY, to lose weight or to maintain flexibility for dancing & an ambitious career in the arts darling. Of course, little did I know, that I’d been missing the whole value & benefit of Yoga through blissful ignorance & a lack of knowledge.

As the years continued, I revisited Yoga many times - During the rocky roads of an abusive relationship which knocked my confidence & brought me down every single day for nearly three years, meanwhile trying to ‘compete’ against endless talent & make some sort of career alongside all the madness. I was seeking stress relief, yet still hadn’t found anything that worked. Of course, years later I now realise, though my body was going through the motions, my mind was all over the place, self-doubting, self-critical and self-abusing, as a result of my surroundings.

Still trying to figure out LIFE, at age 24, I finally escaped that destructive relationship. Until then, I was blind to see the life it had sucked out of me and the effect that had, not only on myself mentally & emotionally but my friends and family too.

I needed a fresh start & moved to Greece, where opportunities presented themselves & over the next three years, I became a Fitness Instructor, met my wonderful Husband and lived happily ever after………or at least, that’s how it looks on social media right!?


Let’s go back a second,

It’s 2014 & one of the many reasons I was able to escape that dreaded dark relationship was sadly due to my Mother developing Cancer. I was working in a Pub at the time & upon hearing this totally unexpected news from my Mother & sister, I was devastated but was trying to put on a brave face & stay strong for Mum. Still cloudy headed and full of emotion, I of course, was seeking support and rang my partner of three years to inform him of the terrible news.

What happened next, haunted me for many years to come. The words I was about to hear, which would instantly crush my vulnerable heart like two orcas appearing from the depths of the ocean, slapping their back together…

“I Hope She Dies!”

Alarm Bells were deafening in my mind – WHAT THE HELL WAS I DOING WITH MY LIFE!? Not only had I just found out that my amazing Mum had Cancer, but my supposed boyfriends’ reaction, had been, not only to think those awful words, but actually say them to me on the phone.

INSTANTLY, something shifted. My priorities had been wronged all these years! I shouldn’t have been wasting my life trying to help someone unwilling to help themselves and neglecting my family & friends support, advise and love in the process. In this moment, the blinkers had been removed, my eyes were firmly peeled, but my heart & head were broken. I was confused & unable to bridge the gap between what was a ‘normal’ way to be treated in a relationship anymore and at a very raw, low point in my life. My mothers support during this time was incredible and her new Staffordshire bull terrier, Bruce was like a best friend who listened & loved me no matter what.

(Those of you who know me, know I’m Dog Mad! Yes I'm the level of hosting their own Instagram page: @bruceandthegang if you're a dog lover too but jokes aside, animals are incredibly beneficial for your mental health!)

This quote by @oneoeight.tv

“He speaks a language, only my heart, understands”

is the way I feel about Dogs and their incredible ability to know, when their humans are sad or unhappy and show support and healing love.

Still with me??? Great 😊 I think it’s healthy to get side tracked by Pup talk, the more the better right….

So, I MUST tell you about my absolute hero Mum, and best friend, Debbie.

She was THEE BEST Mum, I could have ever hoped for. She always supported my sister and I, in every aspect of life, she spoiled us on special occasions, answered every question (there was a LOT from curious adolescent Ruth) and always went without herself, to provide every opportunity for us to learn a new skill & pursue our dreams. A lot more than I’d have liked her too in fact - I wish she’d have treated herself WAY more often with the same care & love!

We had always been close growing up, and I mean close……from picking a spot on your bum to asking detailed questions about sex, no stone was unturned & no subject was off limits with us girls. This bond got even stronger when my parents divorced, and our father left our mother for another woman. I’d never seen Mum so distraught and I was glad to be her support and shoulder to cry on, for once.

Unfortunately, over the years our Dad began to lose contact with my sister and I and this led more, to our Debs becoming one of the gals, a sort of best friend as well as loving Mum.

Some years later, Mum found a new partner and I’ll spare you the hilarious, sordid details and questions which were then, the other way around, between Mother & daughter. I appreciate that, perhaps not all families are that open with each other, but it was just the way we had always been, and I was SO thrilled that Debs was back out there, living her life, finding love & happiness and putting herself first for once.

Looking back - It was when I stopped telling my Mum all the details of my own relationship, that she must have known things weren’t right. I wouldn’t tell her how abusive things had got, how physically, mentally & emotionally draining it was, living in a constant state of anxiety & panic and how it was changing me into a person, I hardly recognised anymore!

She knew, of course she knew but was helpless to do much more through my own rose-tinted glasses which for a long time, I felt a lot of guilt for - putting her through all that worry.

So, it was Mums support that made me travel to Greece, to get away from it all, a fresh start meeting new people, regaining my sense of self & once more, discovering my dreams & passions and all the things there are to live for in life. It turned out, I liked it so much the first season, I decided to apply again.

It was hard leaving for Greece, the second time, after Mum had been diagnosed with Cancer but she was adamant I should go and live my life and do what makes me happy. With close support from her partner & my sister, we all stayed positive that she would make a full recovery and she did, for 5 months she was Cancer free!! My Hero and ridiculously strong Mummy didn’t so much as complain, with all her treatments resulting in her going blind in one eye as well as other challenging complications. She truly was and always will be, an inspiration to me!

Now 2015, I’ve come home from Greece to support my amazing Mum who was battling cancer for the second time. This part of my life was scary, unexpected & completely life changing.

Having been apart for months, it would turn out that I only had 6 precious weeks left with her.

On the 23rd of October, my beautiful Mum aged just 53, lost her battle with Cancer and life as we knew it changed forever.

It may sound strange, but at that moment, when life, breath & energy left her body - it was like no experience I’ve ever had, or could easily explain to others, so bear with me as I open my heart to you all....

This moment, in what I would describe as the most emotional & spiritual, I have ever felt.

It was as if I could FEEL, everything my Mother was, rising up and leaving her body.

We knew she had only days left and was comfortably at home where she wanted to be with my sister and I by her side. We knew this was the time when we should be saying the things that matter, slowing down and cherishing each moment but with caring for Mum around the clock, taking shifts and trying to actually accept that any day could be our last, I’d be lying if I said things weren’t confusing, scary and sometimes heated between us all and when the time came, it was all too soon and still surprisingly unexpected! Mum had spoken to me, just 40 minutes before she passed. (Which brings a smile to my face now, as everyone who knew her, knows she could talk for England)

It was frightening and though I’d witnessed an old age-related, peaceful death, in the past - this was different. This was my Mum, our Debs, painfully passing, before her time. The woman who gave us life & I suddenly realised, was much more a part of my future life plans than I’d recognised as mentally ‘pre-planning’ & expecting. Ideals of a future life where I’d wrongfully assumed our Mum would be there, to share the blessing of her daughters getting married, and maybe one day become a grandma and spend so much more time together sharing memories and laughter, would devastatingly never be!

This spirit, energy or whatever you want to call it, remained in the room and surrounding the house for some hours after her passing. I believe there is a part of my Mother always watching over us but also within my sister and I, as if we sort of, ingested part of her soul into our bodies on that night, dreadfully leaving behind her cancer riddled body, yellow with jaundice and so completely & utterly, still.

Mum Debbie with her adored Pup Bruce - just five months before passing.

My immediate thought after Mum passed away was how unfair it is, that time just keeps going, no matter what happens, time waits for no one!

As the weeks followed, without having the support of our Father, my sister and I found it difficult to come to terms with Mums death. We live miles apart but always stick together and are both very lucky to have wonderful patient partners that also support us. There were many dark days to come & sometimes those clouds resurface from time to time but slowly we’re learning to remain open in a cruel world and to love & appreciate, like never before.

You know it’s true what they say:

“Though death takes away, it also gives”

- in the way of love and support from friends and compassionate strangers. Of course, there’s always those who you soon realise, weren’t real friends or even ‘real family’ so to speak but that’s important to appreciate the true blessings in your life who really do care & support you in times of crisis.

So - with a multitude of emotions, I felt hard done by. Thinking Life is unfair, why at 25 had I been through such a shit time - I was challenged with stress & anxiety, trust issues and an impending fear of death following all the above….no wonder I felt about three times my own age!

Yet the working world doth continue and along with this, something else was beginning to change, my mindset! Although I’m grateful, for the wealth of experience I gained from working in hospitality, I knew, this was not what I wanted to do forever, and I just couldn’t continue with the weight of the world on my shoulders - something needed to change, in order to gain full control of my own happiness. Key word there being ‘control’ as what I now realise is that following any trauma, people usually tend to gravitate towards controlling or obsessing over something, for me it was my weight to begin with, in order to regain some control of my life. The danger here being, that in a world where there are simply too many contributing factors to be able to ‘control’ them all, one can spiral into a pattern of addiction to seek escapism from it all and I too would experience many bouts of addiction which I will discuss with you once I’ve processed a little more with my therapist.

So, I accepted another season following Mums death, this time as the sole fitness instructor for a busy hotel resort which turned out to be the most physically demanding job I had ever had, but also the most mentally challenging & rewarding. I gained my qualifications & began teaching fitness in Greece, it was new territory teaching in the 40-degree heat. I had to work on my own fitness levels beforehand & get used to running the hills I once dreaded. I was teaching 7 classes a day, 6 days a week. Everything from Yoga to Boxercise, running, HIITs & Ballet Barre. It was nonstop, exhausting but so rewarding at the same time. The endorphins flying around my body would help me at my low times and I learned a lot of life lessons at this time but there were also times when I wanted to escape from it all, to numb myself from my reality as if it never happened.

Let me tell you about the time I forgot to put my phone on aeroplane mode whilst teaching….

I was about to start a Yoga Class, outside on a beautiful sunny deck, in Greece, and my phone started ringing through the speaker, a little hard to miss but not the worst thing that could happen. Just then, a middle-aged gentleman, a guest on his holidays, said “Oh, that’s your Mum calling.”

Cue retching stomach drop as if you’d just hurled yourself off a cliff.

Just 4 months ago I’d seen my precious Mama’s life be taken away and yet here she was, calling…...!?

I can’t remember who WAS calling but that’s beside the point….

I smiled politely, and ‘after three years at drama school darling’, one knows how to compose themselves in the correct manner, in other words - put on a brave face, in order to not upset others. Terribly English of me wasn’t it but my thoughts at the time were; ‘what would have been the correct response to that, without making him feel awkward!?’

I remember thinking to myself how incredibly lucky, that gentleman must be, to have made it to his 50s and not lost his parents yet, either that, or an assumption he had made, due to my age, and seemingly smiling face and constant ‘perceived happiness’, that I would still have my mother alive, or for that matter, have had a mother, at all.

A welcomed reminder that one must never make assumptions of others and ALWAYS be KIND, as you never know what another is going through.

So, this time was still my struggling discovery phase – of pushing myself so much physically without proper rest, constant tears hidden behind smiles and guest feedback of “Ruth is rarely seen, not smiling” being hard to comprehend.

Don’t get me wrong I loved my job & learned SO much and at the end of that season, I married the most wonderful man who is one of the most kind & caring humans I’ve ever met. We had a fantastic wedding day filled with laughter & friends and all that you dream of as a child, almost ‘all’ anyway. With our wedding being within the same year as my mother’s passing, my head still couldn’t compute some of those emotions.

At this time, I was also still carrying so much baggage mentally from the years I spent being abused that I was yet to learn the value of setting my boundaries, speaking my truth and facing fears.

Ruth & Husband Calum on their wedding day, in Greece 2016.

So, life keeps going despite our losses & pain. Many wonderful things had happened since my Mothers passing like marrying my best friend but then the following 3 months, one year after Mums death, I went back into that dark hole. Overwhelmed by how hard I’d worked, thinking about Mum every day to keep me driven, more anxious than ever and slipping into depression, I was beginning to be defined by ‘what had happened to me.’ Every conversation I had, every response I gave to my husband was causing argument and was all orchestrated by me letting out anger from my past experiences and loss, the utter grief that I had not properly processed, accepted or spoken about.

So here we were, newly married and Yes totally in LOVE but I was holding onto a lot of shit and once more, yearned for a positive CHANGE to help heal my seemingly broken life.

I booked a 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training Course, in Rishikesh, India. If there’s one thing I’ve stuck with from all the fitness experience I’ve gained, it’s Yoga – the breathing, the challenges, the balance between effort & ease, ups & downs, positive empowerment, it’s lifechanging not just for the body, but most importantly the mind. Learning to be with, process & let go of all that extra weight I was carrying, truly challenged my perceptions & the way I see this world we all live in.

Having started a daily practice, learning from online videos & courses. I began doing whatever felt good for me & giving myself permission to fall & fail and be with whatever emotions I was processing and preparing to dive in headfirst….as I left for a 5-week training in India to live and breathe all things Yoga!

At this point, I also wanted to stop putting so much dependence on Calum to ‘find happiness’ after everything that had happened. Yoga was teaching me that we can only be held accountable for our own happiness & never rely on another to provide it. So, at home was a very supportive wonderful husband, wishing me luck and caring for our two fur babies, Bruce & Mythos. That in-itself, was a hugely rewarding moment for me to realise I am lucky enough to now be with someone who actually supports what I want to do & doesn’t control where I go, what I wear, what I say, how I feel and all those behaviours I had experienced for years that are now thankfully illegal in a relationship.

(Click here to read more about this Huge step forward. If you are worried about unhealthy behavioural patterns in a relationship, please seek help from the links below this article or talk to a trusted friend or relative about what is going on.)

I wasn’t sure what to expect but I was openminded and ready for whatever this immersive Yoga experience would bring.

The first few days past and we all started to settle into our new 5am routine amongst the constant noise of Indian monkeys, mopeds & Mantra and in perfect contrast, the calm community practicing all things Yoga.

The other students were lovely and had travelled from all over the world to be in this same place together, learning & sharing marvellous stories. I was already so intrigued as to what had brought these people to this enriching ancient practice, but it was still early days and so much was new to me, including the philosophy of Yoga, so I was all ears and a giant sponge to absorb all this new knowledge & understanding.

On one of the first days, our Philosophy teacher, a wonderful man named Mahesh was teaching us about the Two types of Pain, Sweet Pain & Excruciating Pain, and how in a Yoga practice you can tolerate a little ‘sweet pain’ in order to gain strength, resilience & power whilst listening to the body & being mindful of its limits which change daily.

He also taught us about the Three Gunas which are three energies within each of us known as Sattva, Rajas & Tamas.

Sometimes people tend to be more one than the other but ultimately, it’s important to have a balance of all these three energies.

Let me just break down the qualities these energies carry so it’s easier to understand:

Sattvic people – tend to be positive, calm & relaxed & easily balance others, have less ego, good advice givers, live without a lot of attachment, do not hurt others, gain followers without asking for it, like non-spicy, easily digestible foods & white/orange pure colours.

Rajasic people – (Raja = King) Energetic people who have more ego, sometimes intention to hurt others, emotional, smart, ask for followers, control things in life, leadership, attractive to others, a lot of movement, bright colours, live with attachment, more likely to smoke drink or take drugs, like spicy, instant energy foods.

Tamasic people – Laziness, sometimes careless, lack of confidence & motivation, negativity, feeling dull, grey brown & black colours, love meat & carbs & oily foods.

Now when I was first given those descriptions, I was instantly working out which one am I, and thinking, ‘oh god I don’t want to be Tamasic, yet I’ve fallen into that hole at times, but I could relate to aspects of all three of these energies, as I’m sure you can too.

Mahesh then explained these as Three Mental Doshas/energies.

Sattva – To Think Nicely - Thinking

Rajas – To Act Nicely - Moving

Tamas – To Relax Nicely - Relaxing

And it made a lot more sense in terms of what Yoga teaches us!

So, it’s important to remember that there are a lot of things that affect our energies including, music, talking, food, weather, society, friends & family. These energies can be changed quickly too, like the click of a remote control.

Mahesh explained it as a daily balance of everything. Each meal you eat, consisting of balanced foods that will fuel your body. A balance of the types of friends & family that surround you and how much time you spend with them and essentially, a balance within yourself so you can more easily have energy in the morning & day time when you need it most, as well as being more able to fully relax in the evening, without worry & tension.

I’ve lost count of the number of students I’ve guided that have insomnia & are unable to fully relax & de-stress due to the challenges of work & domestic life!

I must add, a fundamental key to equalising this balance is:

Early to bed, Early to rise = a healthy lifestyle.

(I too am trying to stick to a routine with this one but there are always challenges so don’t be disheartened if you do not find your most balanced state every single day. These things take time.)

Ok so there was a lot to consider there, and things we can work on, gaining a regular sleeping pattern by going to bed earlier, balancing foods included in our diets, setting healthy boundaries with the type of friends & family we spend time with, all resulting in more balanced & positive ‘Prana’/energy within us.

Ultimately ALL these elements of Yoga, including Pranayama (breath control) & meditation, teach us more awareness of our own body & mind. The more we know ourselves, the better we understand & can empathise with others. The more we help & heal ourselves, the more we can give, help & heal others.

Mahesh then went on to tell us;

“For a positive person, anything is possible.”

Now upon first hearing these words, I was triggered & I selfishly thought, ‘oh well you’ve obviously not had to endure the shit that I have.’

(Maybe some of you are thinking that too?)

There I was, being pessimistic, and it’s a little sad to look back at now but those words went on to settle within me & still make me strive to be a better person every single day.

As the training continued, it was like being back at school, early starts with sweaty Vinyasa classes at 6am followed by anatomy & physiology classes, Hatha Yoga for two hours in the afternoon & Meditation daily.

How naive & ill-informed I was before to think that Yoga was just the ‘Asana’ postures part of the practice, I was now realising it’s not just a practice, it’s a lifestyle and a way of life. I was being taught that each human has the right to live joyfully and no one dictates our happiness but us.

I digress slightly, but myself & two fellow Yogi’s had to explore this view of Yoga being related to religion or not which was interesting.

I myself am not religious, but have a growing interest in spirituality & energy, since experiencing that moment when my Mum passed away.

Whilst Yoga may have its own Sanskrit language from which Hindi was derived & many interested in Buddhism may also practice Yoga principles, through my research & my own opinions, I believe Yoga can be thought of as a Science, a philosophy, a physical & spiritual practice, not a religion.

· It is a science because it’s overall effects are predictable if practiced regularly plus the postures linked with deep breath control are linked with observation, acceptance & understanding.

· A philosophy, as Sivananda Yoga has the view of the human body being a vehicle of the soul on its way to enlightenment with not one but three types of body; the physical body which is part of the food cycle & is experienced only in the waking state. The Astral body which contains life energy (prana) as well as the senses & the mind, it is experienced in the waking & sleeping states and the Causal body, which is where happiness & joy are experienced in all three states of consciousness, waking, dreaming & deep sleep.

· A physical & spiritual practice as Yoga is a positive approach to holistic health through the integration of body, mind & spirit. Feuerstein quotes that Yoga is: “a systematic program for peaceful living with sharpened self-awareness.”

Putting all of this together, one could better describe Yoga, as a system of practices for the development of human potential.

Interestingly, this is what Yoga Journal, had to say about Yoga & Religion:

“There is something irreplaceable about the group dynamic with Yoga, something I think organised religion provides at it’s very best. It is this sense of community that gives yoga a religious element, but one that is not bogged down in the rules of how you must follow it, therefore, Yoga is in Religion, Religion is not in Yoga.”

That is just wonderful, isn’t it, to know that this practice allows us to learn more about ourselves, in our own unique way AND be part of a community all doing the same thing in their own way, learning to be healthy, kind & loving to thyself & others. Learning to tolerate ‘sweet pain’ in order to gain strength & resilience which helps us with all the challenges life brings.

I’m telling you, if this is how most people thought about & related to Yoga, I’d be happy to rock up to any border control being asked my religion & confidently blurt out – YOGA!!

This is what I believe in anyway, health happiness, community & kindness towards all living beings.

So as the weeks continued, my mind was flooded with all new, juicy knowledge, a thirst for more & actually an overwhelming sense that this is just the beginning, there is SO much to learn about the ancient history of Yoga, it cannot be rushed, any of it! I cannot know Everything there is to know about Yoga just as much as I cannot learn to handstand in the centre of the room with just a few attempts & no real dedication, exploration & respect for the practice. That is life, you get out what you put in & essentially, there is no end goal, with anything. Including life as you unconsciously planned it, bringing with it expectation to which will only result in dissatisfaction, unhappiness & confusion.

From my experience on this crazy wonderful journey so far, I have learned & am still learning to be more present, live in the moment & really appreciate all that you have, because the little things are actually, the BIG things that shouldn’t be taken for granted & instead enjoyed as a part of life.

Something else Mahesh also told us, “There is a lack of enjoyment in the world! Whatever you are doing, eating, sleeping, chatting, practicing yoga…. enjoy it.”

It’s harder to do this during the challenging times but learning to be more aware and know that we always have a choice whether to engage with emotions such as sadness, anger, stress & anxiety, helps us to still ride the wave, knowing that nothing lasts forever, everything is always changing & evolving, even the ground we walk on!

I am truly a lucky girl to have found such a passion and healing help through all elements of Yoga, to deeply yearn to always learn more & to share this with others, in turn forming a caring community, helping ourselves to help each other.

If you can relate to the beginning of this Blog and like me have practiced Yoga but not got much out of it yet, stick with it, trust in the practice, practice for health and quite possibly, happiness & the spiritual side may follow.

I hope this gives you a better insight into me as a person, how much this practice is transforming my mental & physical health and whole appreciation for life. I’m so looking forward to sharing this Yoga journey with you, continuing to educate & break down the limiting beliefs that Yoga is simply ‘Asana alone’ when as I’ve explained, it’s vastness & benefits cease to amaze me! I’m excited to assist you in finding your own practice, whether that’s just some meditation, a physical practice or simply bringing some more positivity into your daily life.

We’re all in it together and I’m here to support you.

Namaste, (the love & light in me sees, honours & respects the love & light in you)

Ruth xx

Wanderlust 21 Day Yoga Challenge I started with - by Schuler Grant

MENTAL HEALTH SUPPORT - Click the links below for #mentalhealthsupport

Time to Change - Mental Health Support

Mind - Charity for a better mental health

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