BY MARY MUSE - CHARLOTTE BELL
This month I caught up with my friend and local legend Charlotte Bell to chat Movement, Mental Health and Meditation.
What inspired you to begin teaching yoga, practising breathwork/meditation and start your website as an advocate for Mental Health?
I started practising yoga when I was 15. I started learning from a YouTube video series in my bedroom. I’m pretty sure it was called something ridiculous like ‘Yoga for Weight Loss with Sadie Nardini’. I did the same sequence every day for a whole summer.
Right from that first day, I felt this incredible sense of freedom and joy in my body. I played intense sport at a high level at the time and the contrast to my rigid training schedule was so great.
I loved the way my body felt and I loved learning to use my breath properly. There was a massive knock-on effect from the practice and I’ve been doing it ever since.
I think I knew I was going to teach one day, when I was ready. And in 2021, it finally felt like the right time.
In the beginning, my practice was always very physical and asana focused. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to understand the value of the more subtle practices like meditation and pranayama (breath work). I love teaching Breath classes that focus on balancing and restoring the nervous system.
The decision to start sharing my writing about mental health was a really difficult one. I was so worried about what people would think… “Was I attention seeking?” “Is this too heavy for people to read?” “What will my boyfriend's family think of me?”
But I kept thinking back to the people who had helped me through really difficult times. They were writers brave enough to share their stories.
When I was 24, I was diagnosed with Bipolar Type 1 Disorder. This was an intensely difficult and lonely time for me.
I took great comfort in the books I read, the Instagram accounts I followed, the podcasts I listened to. They provided a sort of faraway community. Me, a silent, anonymous member. On the outer of that community.
Comparing notes and finding comfort in words on the pages of memoirs from people like me. Living, battling, surviving, managing their mental illness.
As I’ve lived on with this illness, what has become apparent, is the need for representation.
For people feeling hopeless, desperate and alone, like I did, and at times, still do.
Now, I feel it is the time for me to introduce myself to the community I’ve silently clung to. To share my experiences, what I’ve learned and what I’m learning.
And that’s what I intend to do.
Best advice you have ever received when feeling uninspired and unmotivated?
‘Think small, not big’ I know this doesn't seem massively inspiring. But it is so useful if you’re feeling overwhelmed. Especially when anxieties about the future are running riot. “Think small” as in, let’s look at what can be done today. I think about this when I’ve lost perspective on what is important or what can realistically be done depending on my mood or energy level. It’s also great if I’ve spread myself too thin with obligations and I’m feeling scattered. It allows me to break things down into achievable chunks.
The other piece of advice is equally as simple, but really useful in terms of grounding myself. ‘Get back to basics’
Construct a routine
Get enough sleep
Depression or anxiety can bleed us of all motivation, enthusiasm and joy. The hopelessness we’re left with can send all self-care rituals out the window and sometimes, they’re the hardest things to get back.
When you don’t feel like doing anything, it’s beyond frustrating to be told to “get up and get on with it.’
But, sometimes that’s what we need. It’s the best place to start when we need to rebuild.
“You must go on. I can’t go on. I’ll go on”. - Samuel Becket
This seems pretty dark. But I say it to myself when I feel blocked or overwhelmed. When things seem too hard, acknowledging that it is hard, acknowledging that I want to stop and overriding those doubts and making the decision to keep moving forward.
My physical health has been pretty poor over the past year and when I've felt upset or frustrated with this, I repeat to myself “I’ll go on.” and I do.
Samuel Beckett was a writer who played with themes of existence and the difficulty of life and coupled it with black comedy. Saying this little phrase to myself is like a little reality check and helps me to shrug off doubt and disappointment with a smile.
Why do you believe people need to move their bodies?
I’m currently reading ‘The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel A. van der Kolk. It’s been a really great reminder of the inextricable link between mind, brain and body.
I think on a physical level we need to keep moving our bodies so we can age well. Movement, for me, is about enhancing our quality of life, not about aesthetics.
We move to look after our bone density (especially as women), our strength, our joint mobility, our balance and proprioception (knowing where our body is in space) and learning to make peace with uncomfortable sensations associated with difficult emotions.
Shifting the perspective from movement being solely for a physical benefit is really motivating and keeps me wanting to move my body. I use movement to physically shift discomfort or painful experiences from my body.
Training my mind to acknowledge uncomfortable sensations and what emotions and feelings they’re associated with takes the fear away. It soothes anxiety, frustration, anger and panic. It helps me process things faster and if I tune into my breath whilst doing this, it’s even better.
None of this is about aesthetics. But I guess as a by-product, when we move our bodies more, our posture, muscle tone and overall glow is stronger. We notice it, and other people notice it, regardless of what body shape we have.
Quote from ‘The Body Keeps the Score’ “Physical self-awareness is the first step in releasing the tyranny of the past.”
What is your most loved clothing item, how do you style it?
Such a good question. I’ve started investing more in my everyday clothes rather than formal clothing.
Lots of linen, organic cotton, minimalist colours and classic styles. Tailored pants, straight leg jeans, shirts and Dr Marten sandals.
And of course, denim. I am obsessed with denim. I run double denim almost too often. I’ve been running the same look since I was about 7 years old.
I try to avoid synthetic fabrics as much as I can. Which is pretty hard with active wear. I live in my Nagnata biker shorts. They are made with merino and are so comfortable. I wear them when I’m practising yoga but also with an oversized shirt and sandals for a casual look.
It’s really hard to balance wanting to invest in high quality, sustainably made clothes and not having the money to do it. So, a lot of my wardrobe was bought second hand, I love to buy from Designer Wardrobe, it’s even where I bought those Nagnata biker shorts.
What is the best process for someone struggling with their mental health or that needs someone to talk to?
I think acknowledgement is the first step. Recognising that you don’t have to live with a certain level of suffering. That you absolutely deserve more.
A good place to start is with your GP, if you have a good relationship with them. They can point you in the direction of more specialised services and send out the referrals you need to get into those services.
Also, ask for recommendations! If you know someone that’s been through mental health services, see if they know of a counsellor or psychologist or programme that could work for you.
Next, be patient, accept that this may not come right overnight. Be gentle with yourself. Let the people closest to you know what’s going on, what you're feeling and what you're going through.
Be selfish! Prioritise what you need and don’t compromise on that. Be ok with not going to every party or dinner, or switching your exercise to more gentle forms.
One more thing I’d like to say is, don’t be ashamed about taking medication. This was so hard for me and I refused to start medication for years. But, it actually saved me. It re balanced my brain and gave me the capacity to properly engage with therapy. I have been on regular medication for 5 years now. I’ve accepted that I will probably have to take it for the rest of my life and I feel no shame about that.
Getting the medication right has taken quite a long time and has been pretty disheartening at times, some just don’t work with your body. So being mindful of side effects and discussing this with your doctor is key. Advocate for yourself! But don’t come off it cold turkey, you don’t need to put your body through that.
Please remember if you or anyone you know needs help, please reach out for it: HERE and HERE <3
You can join Charlotte for a 60-minute private yoga lesson. This hour will be tailored entirely to your wants and needs. Sign up for a full nervous system reset with breathwork, meditation and restorative yoga or a powerful, fluid vinyasa practice. Or somewhere in between. Either way you will take away useful skills and techniques to improve your well being and body. This can be in your space in Christchurch, Charlotte's space in Sumner or via Zoom.
Please contact Charlotte to discuss pricing options and book here!
I hope you enjoyed this months By Mary Muse, who's next?