12 months ago as I commenced my 50th orbit around our star I was celebrating with friends in Amsterdam and could hardly have anticipated the tumultuous year that lay ahead. Approaching 50 we would all hope to be on a safe and predictable trajectory towards that dreaded nomenclature, ‘middle age’, and enjoying a period of stability and security in our lives. However the Universe had other plans for me and I was violently knocked off course. Not quite the smooth transition to the fabulous fifties that I had envisaged, in fact probably the single most challenging year of my life! But on the eve of this milestone birthday, the ground beneath my feet is feeling reasonably steady once more, and I am naturally inclined to reflect on a few things I have learned.
Many people discover yoga, or turn to yoga, when they are recovering from illness or injury, or suffering from stress or anxiety or heartbreak, or simply hit rock bottom. While the practices of yoga and meditation may not be a cure-all for devastating diseases, they are widely recognised as healing modalities that can significantly benefit both our physical and mental health.
Long before I became a yoga teacher, I credited my regular dynamic asana practice with keeping me strong and healthy and relatively immune from serious illness. Imagine my dismay then that since leaving the corporate world to start my own business and become a full-time yoga teacher my health seems to have plummeted to an all-time low, and most recently I found myself hospitalised for two weeks with a particularly pervasive case of pneumonia, along with complications too numerous to mention.
When we think of space, we often think of the vast, unimaginable expanse of the Universe beyond our planet, our solar system, even our galaxy. And maybe how small and seemingly insignificant we little Earthlings really are in the grand scheme of things.
But in reality we are all simply space. Life-forms made up of atoms, which are in turn made up of electrons, protons and neutrons - the smallest particles of matter know to man - all floating around in nothing but space.
For a few people, yoga is no more than the physical postures practiced on the mat in the pursuit of a healthier, more flexible body – and that is fine. But for many the practice of yoga extends way beyond the physical postures into a more meaningful way of living, which becomes a life long journey of self-discovery. There are a gazillion books and texts I could refer you to for a deeper understanding of the principles of yoga off the mat (maybe for a later blog post), but for a more digestible taste of how to live a more conscious, connected and compassionate life, here are my top 5 inspiring & thought provoking docos.
While out of action due to recent surgery I finally got the opportunity to catch up on the fantastic Netflix series, The Crown. Without making any parallels, witnessing the young princesses Elizabeth and Margaret undertaking their etiquette lessons prompted me to draw up a few lessons in yoga etiquette for the uninitiated.
In all seriousness, for anyone entirely new to yoga this might be genuinely useful information. Or for those who are regular practitioners it might be a timely reminder, and answer a few unanswered questions that you’re too afraid to ask.
Like many aspects of our modern lives some yoga classes do focus on a strong and somewhat competitive style of practice that is sadly over represented in the media. Glamorous images of super fit young things wearing scantily little clothing performing pretzel poses on the beach are more than enough to scare the average punter away.
I’m grateful to these schools of yoga for offering an introduction to the practice for people who are seeking a physical challenge, but for most students the real yoga education starts at the opposite end of the spectrum, with learning to be still, to breathe and to find contentment with things just as they are.
Despite encouraging my students to make self-care and relaxation a priority, my own health and wellbeing has taken a back seat in recent weeks. Surviving on too little sleep, having that extra coffee to get me through the day, teaching more and not making time for my own practice have taken their toll on my physical and emotional state.
We all experience periods in our lives where any sense of work-life balance goes out the window. My strategy is to simply surrender to it but ensure that there is a bright light at the end of the tunnel; an end point when and where I know I can re-focus on my own self-care and self-development.
This is a completely spontaneous blog post written at 9.30am on Wednesday 20th July AEST. Today is the most beautiful Brisbane winter’s day. I’ve just returned from walking my mini schnauzer Ralph as I do most mornings, but this morning was special. Our walk coincided with the full moon at 8.57am Brisbane time. The sun was high in the sky but despite the blue skies the moon was at her most powerful.
Whilst channel surfing a few weeks ago I stumbled across a documentary about the brain and the relationship between conscious thought and the sub-conscious, or unconscious activities of the mind. Unsurprisingly, only the tiniest fraction of the power of the mind is dedicated to conscious thought. The vast majority of our brain power being focused on sending billions of messages per second to perform what we would consider to be the simplest of tasks, such as typing this blog post, or driving a car, or digesting a meal, while our conscious mind hardly gives a thought to how we are doing it.
A new year signals new beginnings, a fresh start & new intentions. If you’ve been contemplating a major life upheaval or career change recently this may be at the forefront of your mind right now, or on the cards for 2016. But when do you know if or when the time is right?
Your heart may be pulling you in one direction while your rational, logical side is posing some very compelling arguments to the contrary. Believe me I know all the excuses! And I’ve had many a heated debate with my rational self over the years, but fortunately my intuitive self has more often than not had the last word, and my most heart-felt decisions have been the ones that have brought me the most success and happiness.
Whatever your race, religion or tribe, if you live in the Western world you can’t avoid the annual festivities surrounding the anniversary of the birth of Christ. But the affectionately termed ‘silly season’ (where general over-indulgence is order of the day) can take its toll on all of us. Whatever your situation here’s my yogi’s guide to a stress-free, joyful and compassionate holiday.
Judging by the demographic of my students and (presumably) readers . . . I’m sure I’m not in a minority when it comes to suffering from the monthly curse of pain, fatigue and irritability associated with our natural cycle. Since my mid twenties I’ve dreaded the approach of that time of the month, but over the years I've learned to listen to and honour my body and it’s natural rhythms . . .
As many of my friends and students are aware I have become a passionate advocate for Mindfulness Meditation over the past few years. Meditation is no longer perceived as New Age mumbo jumbo or a gift for those with the luxury of time to retreat to an Ashram or Himalayan cave for several weeks, months or years. High profile celebrities, artists and business leaders alike are attributing their success and happiness to a regular Mindfulness Meditation practice. And my own journey from stressed, disillusioned corporate executive to happy, motivated yoga teacher and business owner has been largely a result of the same.
I’ve had a bit of writer’s block recently . . . unsure of what the topic of my next blog post should be. But as usual, the universe has a habit of sending signals and messages that often point to a solution. If my Facebook feed is anything to go by, the hot topic of the moment (and one I’ve been contemplating for a while) is how to be truly ‘happy’.
The reality is that every lifetime inevitably involves degrees of suffering, and it is the tools that we possess to help us deal with that suffering, and our response to suffering that ultimately define how happy or fulfilled we are. My greatest challenge was to come in my late thirties and early forties, when it became increasingly apparent my natural assumption that I would one day become a mother was not going to be realised. After laparoscopic surgery to remove Stage IV endometriosis from my bowel, bladder, ovaries, liver and diaphragm, my gynaecologist asked my why I was postponing having a baby. Immediately after the surgery (and before my fertility rate started diving like a gannet) was most likely my best opportunity of ever getting pregnant. There was only one hurdle . . . I was single. And had been for several years.
When was the last time you did absolutely nothing? I don’t mean zoning out in front of the TV, or even reading a book by the pool or on the beach, but absolutely nothing. When was the last time you sat in stillness and simply experienced being, without the distraction of tasks, television or a tablet . . ?
As many of you will know, the physical practice of yoga – the poses or ‘asanas’ that most people are familiar with – is only one of eight limbs of yoga. Like many Western yogis I was initially attracted to the physical benefits of yoga. Who didn’t want a body like Madonna or Geri Halliwell in the late nineties? But I soon discovered the many ancillary benefits of the practice – generally feeling calmer, more centered and less stressed on a daily basis – and unlike step aerobics or my G-string leotard, yoga in its many forms has remained with me for nearly 20 years . . .
So, for several months I’ve been contemplating whether or not I should start a blog. Aside from the mixed advice about the importance of having a blog to improve the search engine ranking of my website, I seriously questioned what I could possibly write about on a regular basis that would be of any interest to anyone other than my Mum (who isn’t even online). There are numerous more talented and experienced yoga teachers, more professional and prolific writers and more wise, witty and insightful philosophers out there in the blogosphere. What could I possibly bring to the table that isn’t already served up imaginatively conceived, perfectly cooked and delicately plated for my potential readers to devour . . ?