Sunday, 30 November 2014

Bali Yoga Retreat April 5-11 2015

So excited to have been invited to teach yoga as a part of this team in Bali next year. Please contact me for more details.  Also, check out our retreat page:

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Sunday Class (16 November) Is On

Photo indicative of location of class but not of weather!!
It is raining here in Tuggeranong.  It is likely raining at the Lake as well.  Look for the class under the eaves of the National Library and wear a few extra layers!

What makes you get out of bed for yoga?

I teach yoga as I love getting outside, I love showing people what they can do to move more freely, to see the joy in people's faces as they learn, to move out of pain and suffering, to be a better and kinder person. 

The other day I was asked a question. What makes you want to get out of bed to do yoga?

The truth is, while I am a teacher of hatha (physical) yoga, I don’t always want to get out of bed to do this yoga. 

I suppose sometimes people think teachers must just be itching to get out of bed to go and do their practice.  But there are days where I just want to sleep or linger or snuggle—especially in winter!

When I was first starting my ‘serious’ yoga I would have thought there was something wrong with thinking like that.  It was because I had a narrow conception of yoga and because I had (?still have) a slight tendency towards rigidity or control in certain areas of my life. 

This was the phase of my practice where I thought I must do my yoga every day and that I must do it for a certain amount of time (anything less than an hour was considered slacker territory). 

What this meant was that I made great improvements in terms of my physical practice (as you surely must when you practice 60-90 minutes a day).  But I also felt guilty or ashamed of myself for lack of discipline if I did not practice (though this was rare).  There was also fear that if I did not practice I might ‘backslide’ or something. 

Throughout this time I was mainly doing self practice due to being in a remote location where a civil war was going on.  I was very fortunate that I had met my teacher by then and her words would echo through my practice.  Words about free spinal movement.  About not feeling tension or strain (thanks Paddy).  This meant I did not injure myself. 

I learned to do the splits and backdrops and all sorts of interesting things upside down.  I was very pleased with myself.  But there was still this controlling and guilt element that crept into my thinking about practice.  I knew I was missing something here. 

Things changed a lot for me when I heard my other teacher, Simon, whisper some words before a group practice.

“The main purpose of this practice,” he said, “is to move circulation and energy through your body.”

The words were a missing piece of the puzzle (there are more and I will keep putting them in place). 

Today I say these words before every class I teach.  I mean them.  I must sound like a robot to my students and sometimes I think they must have heard it a million times maybe today I will say something else or nothing.  But I don’t.  I always say them.  They are just too important.

I stand there and I think to myself.  Right, I have this body and it is designed to move and to be healthy it needs to move in a way that is going to make it feel good.  And I remind myself to distinguish between that which makes my body feel good in and of itself rather than some sort of ‘feel good’ of the ego that comes with flashy poses. 

When I remind myself about this purpose it is a reminder to myself to be honest about whether these movements, whatever I am doing, free up my body so that it feels elegant, light, and warm.  So that any niggly aches and pains dissipate. 

When I practice like this I can generally do ‘stronger things’ but feel more at ease. 

When I practice without force or strain or too much desire then it also helps my mind become much clearer.  By the end of such a practice I feel more connected to my body, any troubling thoughts or life circumstances feel much more manageable, and I am somehow able to be a better and kinder person to others.

And you know, for me that is a driving force.  To practice in a way that helps you move away from pain and suffering so that you can be a more stable person for friends, family, and people you do not even know.

I know it sounds like I am going on a bit of a roundabout way to answer a seemingly simple question but it gets back to the heart of the question for me.  I promise.

You see, aside from teaching around 10 classes a week, along with my own practice, I also work full time as an occupational therapist with children with autism and their families.  I also live with my sister and her family, including my nieces. 

What this means is that some mornings I get up and I want to practice my hatha yoga.  I’ll head out to the balcony and my niece will get up all ready to play.  There I have a decision.  Am I going to tell her to go away or do I use this interaction as an opportunity to practice my yoga.  To enhance my connection to self and others.  So although I have a strong desire to get the kinks out I might make toilet roll fairies or do Willy Wonka puzzles or even show her a few down dogs if she is interested. 

Or I might get up all keen for a practice but I realize I have some kids to see at work who need some extra input.  So I spend that time re-writing my therapy activity plans or researching some new ideas.

The key is I can now do this without resentment, guilt, or a feeling that I am somehow not doing my yoga. 

To me this is a type of karma yoga.  You know, a yoga of service.  And it is delightful. 

I can only do this because of the change in mindset.  Because I changed my ideas about the main purpose of my practice, I know that I can also slip in 5-10 minutes of circulation/energy moving sequences into my day.  Longer if time allows later in the day.  But I do not feel bound to a 60-minute practice just for the sake of it. 

My physical practice is very important to me.  Don’t get me wrong.  I have twisted vertebrae and without it I would be in a lot of pain.  This means I am very motivated to do some form of physical practice every day, which is perhaps a more obvious answer to the initial question.  That is, I get out of bed to do yoga so I am not in pain.

Now, having taken you on a walk around some of the thought pathways of my practice, some of the other reasons I get out of bed to practice include:
·      The joy of being awake in the early hours where it is just the birds, a few other early risers, the morning stillness, and me.
·      For the love of fresh air.  I practice mainly outside—even in winter where I can.  I really believe in the positive health benefits of fresh air so much so that I stopped teaching some classes in a yoga studio because I found myself wanting to tell everyone they should get out and enjoy the sun!
·      For the love of teaching.  I enjoy teaching people about movement.  I love seeing people make a deep connection to the possibility of free movement, especially in their spine.  I also enjoy being my own teacher.  Working down to the more subtle layers of what is going on inside.  It makes me feel like a small child delighting and in awe of the smallest of discoveries. 

With that said.  All this writing has inspired me to get out and move!  If this has inspired you to move then join me for a class, find a good teacher near you, or join me in Bali in April 2015 where I am pairing up with Art of Life Retreats for a 7 day yoga retreat (more details soon!).  

Happy and safe practicing to you all. 

Friday, 7 November 2014

eka pada galavasana

Here I demonstrate how to come into the tricky arm balance, eka pada galavasana.

As you can see I can talk throughout so you get the idea that I must be at ease.  I firm only the bits that need to be firmed while I can still talk and breathe naturally.  It is important not to stress or strain.

This is best learned in a class and is mainly for the students that are coming regularly to me as we are currently doing this pose in class.

Happy and safe practicing!  Don't do anything that hurts. Move slowly. Tense less.  Stretch less.

eka pada galavasana

Here I demonstrate how to come into the tricky arm balance, eka pada galavasana.

As you can see I can talk throughout so you get the idea that I must be at ease.  I firm only the bits that need to be firmed while I can still talk and breathe naturally.  It is important not to stress or strain.

This is best learned in a class and is mainly for the students that are coming regularly to me as we are currently doing this pose in class.

Happy and safe practicing!  Don't do anything that hurts. Move slowly. Tense less.  Stretch less.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Actions of Yoga Technical Course, Weeks 3 & 4:Wrap Up: Armpits and Shoulders

We had a great time in week 3 and 4 thinking about what our armpits and shoulders were doing!  I hope that now everyone realises how kneeling plank is a difficult pose when you do it well and activate your armpits.

I have written about armpits many times before.  There are more things to talk about with regards to actions at the shoulder joints but the armpits are so key and I have focussed on them in our course.

One of the key things to appreciate is that how you use your armpits, depending on shoulder position, can impact on the spine.  If you take your arms overhead, I take armpits forward and up and NOT down and back.

In an overhead position armpits forward and up will help create length in the spine.

If you take them down and back while arms are overhead, or even down, you get a shortening feeling around your sides and back.

To come into more difficult postures where the arms are overhead you need to free up your armpits so the spine can move freely.

Some backbends happen with the arms below shoulder height, like ustrasana or bhujangasana for instance.  In those types of positions, because arms are not overhead, I take armpits down and back.  The video below shows how I can do backbends with armpits down and back, as I would in backbends like bhujangasana, or forward and up, such as I would in urdhva dhanurasana.

In the video I also show how you can actually come into a pose like urdhva dhanurasana with armpits either towards ears or with armpits towards hips.  I do this to illustrate a point that it can be done, not necessarily that it should be done.

As I show, because I have a fairly fluid spine it does not create difficulty for me to come into an overhead backbend like urdhva dhanurasana with armpits down.  But it does not feel as good as it could either.  

The thing is most people (either coming to yoga or not) tend to be stiff in their spine in general, and move most from their lower back.

Doing urdhva dhanurasana with the armpits to the hips (downs and back) can reinforce the shortening many people already experience.

So, in my classes I encourage armpits to ears to generate the length in the spine.

Again, because I am fairly mobile around my armpit area, especially when I take them overhead, I can easily come up into a full backbend with armpits to ears.

People who are tighter around the armpits will find that they cannot come up so easily and I suggest you only come up to the point where you feel at ease in your spine.  This might mean the shoulders barely come off the floor and you just lift a little, as I also show in the video.

These are not things to practice without the guidance of an experienced practitioner so I encourage you to go to one.  I would encourage you to feel in your own body what is going on and if you come out of a backbend with a sore lower back to question what has gone on to create that as it should not be squashing.

In our classes this week we also looked at some of the basic movements at the shoulder joint--shoulders rolling in and shoulders rolling out.  We looked at how these movements can cause associated movements in the upper back (thoracic spine).  We looked at how these associated movements can be over-ridden if we call attention to them.

For instance, rolling the shoulders in tends to cause the upper spine to round as though bending forward.  We can try to lift the chest softly to help bring the spine back to upright.

When rolling the shoulders out it tends to cause the upper spine to arch as though back bending but that we can also over-ride this if we are conscious of it by softly drawing the lower ribs in.

Understanding these associated movements will help you learn to move your spine independently of shoulders for better and more active spinal movement.  I will post more about this later.  The armpits are a lot to think about already!

I had to laugh at myself when I re-watched the video.  I am not sure how my voice turned into a David Attenbourough-esque commentary.  Perhaps it is because I feel so wonderfully passionate and when that happens and you try to explain something it does something funny to your voice.  Well, to mine anyway,  Also to my eyebrows!

Great work all.  Happy and safe practicing.

Much metta,