Within the space of just a few pages, I found Impetus – No cover up to be so comforting and heart-warming that I already knew that here was a book that should be read by anyone going through difficult times.
As I progressed through this fiery yet transformative collection of healing poems and prose my original judgement was firmly cemented.
It is clear from the writing that author Lena Shah—a poet, mindfulness coach, and yoga instructor—has had more than her fair share of personal challenges to cope with.
In that sense, then, this book has been an essential act of catharsis, but its inspirational tone will also provide deep solace to anyone who has ever felt lonely, abandoned, or lost in life.
The poetry, which is both accessible and honest, acts like a warm blanket on a cold night and its words of sorrow, hope, and resistance act as the perfect antidote to the hardships that sometimes confront us.
What I love most is that while the author speaks of her own painful experiences as a British-Asian woman, and therefore to the British-Asian community, there is a universality to her words.
In fact, Impetus – No cover up (the subtitle makes reference to the need to expose the true self and live authentically) can be read as a form of memoir, recording Lena’s healing journey through despair and isolation to self-acceptance, self-confidence and newfound joy.
The author was born in Yorkshire, where she grew up in a progressive Jain family. While many of her peers looked only to follow the traditional route of marriage and children—at any cost—Lena, having studied modern languages at university and having lived abroad (something quite unheard of for a British-Asian woman at that time), still sought the balance of a loving relationship and fulfilling career.
Despite succeeding in forging a successful corporate career, remaining unmarried—and hence of a lower ‘status’ within the community—led to challenges and being subject to multilayered, discriminatory behaviour and ex-communication from many of her community.
Despite being an independent, modern woman, Lena’s bold, supposed risk-taking behaviour was seen as shameful by many.
At first, Lena thought she could handle this by throwing herself further into her corporate career, yet over time she felt her life becoming more and more two-dimensional and increasingly stressful. This became unfulfilling, precipitating a personal crisis.
The bullying and humiliation she had encountered from some of her peers and community resulted in a near-mental breakdown six years ago.
It forced Lena to re-evaluate her own existence, propelling her to seek mindfulness coaching and a new, more rewarding career path.
All told, Lena’s gut-wrenching story is one of rejection wrapped up in a layer of sexism and ancestral, caste-based discrimination which, she says, so many British Asian women still fall foul of.
The silver lining is that we, the readers, benefit from these therapeutic and soul-searching poems that Lena wrote as part of her healing process.
Impetus – No cover up is structured around the five steps in Lena’s own journey towards self-certainty and internal contentment. These form the acronym ‘PETAL’, which stands for Perspective, Emotions, Trust, Adversity, and Liberty.
The poems, however, are not in a particular order based on the PETAL structure. Instead, they are scattered throughout the book “like a wild flower meadow” to reflect the idea that in life we are always going through alternating cycles of reflection and growth rather than heading on a one-way journey.
One of my favourites is Just a glimpse will do, whichtouches on her depression and longing to grasp onto anything that would help her through the day:
Show me something that will give me the strength I need to carry on
to face the endless dark clouds
to see through the rainbow of anguish
to banish despair
and to know
there is so much more
my life still has to share.
SLAP recounts a more positive Lena, ready to resist a world intent on knocking her down.
It has finally come!
My moment of total freedom and ease.
Getting my coffee
no standing in line.
Yes this is MY day
and I’m here
having a great time.
My time has finally arrived,
to be light as a feather
Love letter to my soul, meanwhile, is the author’s personal call to action:
My life wants me back
She wants to know
who I am
and where I’ve been.
As you can see from these selections, both the poems and short prose are sometimes raw yet always delicately crafted, emotionally resonant and pithy, composed in such a way as prompt self-reflection and stir a response—be that empathy with the author’s situation or motivation to follow her lead.
Essentially, they hold up a mirror and I think this is because Lena has been so completely clean about her feelings , with “no cover up”.
They also draw upon her work as a mindfulness coach and Yin yoga instructor, offering powerful instruction alongside tender insight. Indeed, at the close of the book, which contains more than 80 poems, there is a guest contribution from Karen Atkinson, author of Compassionate Mindful Inquiry in Therapeutic Practice, which details her Iceberg model of mindful self-soothing.
Lena has also made judicious use of inspirational quotes from some of her favourite writers including William Blake, Rumi, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, John O’Donohue, David Whyte, and the Australian-based artist Tracy Verdugo.
All of this is complemented with vivid abstract artwork intended to calm. Impetus – No cover up is a beautifully-designed feast for the eyes as much as for the mind.
We are living in an era where mental health is a pandemic, yet Lena’s book provides much-needed reassurance that things will get better if we can only break free of the unreasonable expectations that are placed upon us and subconsciously internalized.
For British-Asian women, here is a writer who is challenging ancestral beliefs. For all women, a writer who is dismantling those negative attachments that hold us back and replacing them through a process of emotional alchemy with self-empowerment and freedom.
Lena admits that her writing “saved my life”, and this inspirational book of wellbeing like no other promises to do the same for others. In other words, Impetus – No cover up is the perfect balm for souls in pain.
Impetus – No cover up by Lena Shah (Austin Macauley Publishers Ltd.) is out now on Amazon, Waterstones , Barnes and Noble, or via the publisher’s website in paperback and eBook formats, priced £14.99 and £9.99 respectively.
For more information on Lena Shah’s mindfulness coaching, including practice mindfulness routines, visit www.metaworkscoaching.com. For more information about Impetus – No cover up, visit the author’s website here.
EXCLUSIVE Q&A INTERVIEW WITH LENA SHAH
We speak with author, mindfulness coach, yoga instructor and languages teacher Lena Shah, author of Impetus – No cover up, to find out more about how her new book came to be written, why its design was especially important, what she hopes readers will gain from it.
Q. If you had to describe your book in just three words, what would they be, and why?
A. “Beautiful, fiery and transformative”. It is a light book that can be picked up and read in any particular order, at random. It is spaciously laid out to inspire and encourage a pause and inspiration and also contains some beautiful colour images that soothe the eye. The prose and poems are about creating change and alchemy in the face of oppression and allowing the reader to feel self-empowered and free, hence it is also fiery and transformative.
Q. Impetus – No cover up is beautifully designed. Tell us more about this, and why the design element was especially important?
A. Much of my own healing has taken place viscerally and subconsciously through colour and nature. Art exhibits, beautiful walks and creating my own colour musings have provided me with a renewed internal space. The William Blake exhibition at the Tate Britain was the final trigger to formally starting to write this book. I feel that the combination of words as well as colour are an authentic way of sharing my own journey with others.
Q. Throughout the book are scattered select quotes from other authors. What do you think they add to the reading experience?
A. I hope they act not only as a respectful acknowledgement to these wonderful, inspiring poets, philosophers and artists, but give the reader an enhanced experience to enter another time and place like they have done for me. Submersing oneself into the wisdom and knowledge of the greats of our time can be so joyful, powerful and invoking. I wanted to share some of the most profound, personally life-changing quotes that touched me deeply.
Q. If you could travel back in time, what would you tell your younger self?
A. Everything that is in the book!
Q. If you could pick just one poem from your collection to showcase to a new reader, what poem would it be, and why?
A. ‘Sun, please embrace me’ because it sums up so much of my life as a British-Asian woman and shows where I want things to go now.
Q. How do you think your training as a mindfulness coach and yoga instructor has been infused in your writing, and what do you think the benefit will be for readers?
A. It was, and still is, paramount. Yoga comes from the Sanskrit word ‘yuj’, which means ‘union’ or ‘to join’. It involves movement, meditation and breathing techniques to calm the mind and promote flexibility both on and off the mat.
Connection with our bodies and our inner world is massively important. As psychotherapist Stephen Cope writes in Yoga and the Quest for the True Self, “As we begin to re-experience a visceral reconnection with the needs of our bodies, there is a brand new capacity to warmly love the self. We experience a new authenticity in our caring, which redirects our attention to our health, our diets and energy, our time management”.
Psychiatrist Bessel Van Der Kolk also describes, in The Body Keeps The Score, how chronically traumatized women after 20 weeks of yoga practice developed increased activation of critical brain structures involved in self-regulation.
Sadly, however, yoga nowadays has become commercialised and mixed up with expensive outfits and posing, which take away the mindful benefits of the practice, putting many people off or making them feel they cannot practice it unless they look perfect and are extremely flexible.
Q. How important to your self-growth was writing this book?
A. Again, it was and still is paramount. We never stop growing and learning. Everything you are reading represents six to seven years’ worth of conscious self-development. In reality it is encompassing my 41 years and I am still going, still shedding, still growing, still developing.
Q. Who are your own key literary inspirations, and why?
A. To be able to write more … and write more. To be able to help others gain more self-awareness and healing through my work as a writer and mindfulness and yoga coach.
Q. What was the greatest challenge you faced in writing this collection?
A. I am not a seasoned long-standing writer with several published books already behind her, yet still the book took me no less than everything. Both physically, as it was shaped and placed intensely during several lockdowns, and emotionally with respect to addressing my own limiting beliefs and pain. The poems were initially written on scraps of paper and it was during a clear out in lockdown that I was forced to face them and type them up. That process was difficult and took time as it brought up a lot of emotions. I also learned how to structure my day and feel time differently, so that my mind stayed decluttered and I could sit and write during lockdown, with no fear or desire to be anywhere other than I was. Learning to do this has been such a freeing experience.
A series of strange events also happened in November and December 2019. With no conscious intention to write a book any time soon, I had this deep desire to buy a desk and started looking around online. Out of the blue, a charity shop which I pass by frequently suddenly had furniture in the window, and a desk grabbed my attention. I just felt compelled to buy it. I also visited the theatre and art exhibitions extremely frequently during that time. I had this strong urge to make the most of my time and make up for not taking advantage of the arts scene so easily accessible to me. Looking back, it was strange because Covid occurred in January followed by lockdown in March and when it did, I felt satisfied in a way because I had done so much the prior couple of months.
In the end, the world’s drastic change in 2020—as well as facing my own shadows with respect to my own emotions, life, feelings of anger and hurt, as well as the recognition of my own self-sabotaging—all became the necessary fertile ground for my writing.
Q. As a British Asian woman, how do hope Impetus – No cover up will be received within the British-Asian community?
A. I hope that my book will help soothe others through sharing my own journey and also showing an understanding towards others’ pain. I also help that it helps ignite both men and women’s transformational spirit and encourages others to speak out, with a sense of knowing that it is OK to drop the cover up. There is still a lot of stigma in the British-Asian (and other Indian) communities associated with showing one’s feelings, especially if it involves depression or anxiety.
I hope that my work makes a contribution towards helping change things for the better, bringing more compassion and kindness into the British-Asian community instead of seeing people as weak or failures, and consequently banishing or bullying them if they are suffering.