Movement Therapist Cathy Underwood: “How Yoga Has Shaped My Midlife Journey”
Cathy Underwood has been a dancer, actress, and fitness instructor. After she had her 2 boys, she suffered severely with post-natal depression. However, without that dark episode in her life, she wouldn’t have realised her potential to build a multi-award-winning business, Yoga4mums. Now in her early 50s, Cathy’s business has evolved: she is working more on a therapeutic level with autistic children and people with learning disabilities and mental health conditions. Yoga has shaped her new path.
I’m lucky. Because of my job -explains Cathy-, I have felt supported through midlife by interaction with those I teach or train. As a yoga and movement therapist, I can’t stay at home and dwell on negative thoughts too much. I value the talking and sharing of experiences through my midlife journey.
It’s not always been like this for Cathy (52). Back in her 20s, she made a living as an actress and dancer. It was a career based on looks and ego. And it was great while it lasted. “When you get to a certain age, you begin to think about things as your body changes. That can dampen the mood. The best thing is to get out and do things, explore and enquire. The nature of yoga is about ‘coming back to self’ and that’s really true. I had to be honest with myself. When you have a sense of self, and self-worth, it begins to dribble out into the rest of your life.”
Although by her 40s, Cathy was grieving for her dwindling acting opportunities, she realised the value of having roots and a sense of place. Teaching in the health clubs wasn’t bringing in enough money, casting was drying up and she was no longer free to tear around the country to take up theatre opportunities because, by this point, she had two babies and a husband to care for. “You have commitments, kids and a mortgage so you aren’t so available. You also have to decide who is the prime carer in the family. And that was me”.
It was a tough time. Juggling and finding a work-life balance wasn’t always easy.
Post-natal depression was a wonderful experience – she continues-. It was a wakeup call. I had problems in my marriage, problems in my work, problems with who I was. Sometimes depression is a fantastic starting place as it signals the need for change. When I started Yoga4mums it was meant for women like me. I started at the place that I knew best: as a mum, stuck at home struggling for direction and purpose. It grew around that concept of getting mums out. Strange as it sounds, I will be eternally grateful for that time – she says-. Depression is often thought of as a weakness but I disagree. For me, depression awakened an inner strength, a fighter who wasn’t going to give in. Rather than ignoring the symptoms, I sat with them, observed and learnt that eventually, the darkness passes. I addressed my diet, began meditating, practised gentle yoga and began to let go of the pressure to be a supermum.
Now in her early 50s, Cathy’s business has evolved over the years. She has also won a number of awards for her work, which has contributed to making her feel well in herself and good about her career choices. In fact, yoga has taken her towards new horizons; now working more on a therapeutic level with autistic children and people with very complex mental health issues, she is helping them learn simple breathing techniques, yoga sequences and relaxation exercises to keep stress and anxiety at bay. She is definitely ready to embrace new challenges.
We have grown and our kids have grown and when menopause hit, that was another change, but this time I wasn’t so scared as I had been in my 40s and I saw it as another opportunity – she says-. Now in my 50s, I have this big body of experience. It has taken me 2 years to re-brand myself as I didn’t want to let go of Yoga4mums, but it is an exciting time for me as I’m expanding my business and taking it to the next level. We are lucky in the UK: there are plenty of opportunities for women in their 50s. We are strong and we are not ‘done and dusted’. We can go on and shape the world!