Sunday, 15 February 2015

Meet Oksana!

Oksana and I met in India.  She was the first person I met off the plane and we shared lots of tea, coffee, laughs, and good old chit chats in the month we spent together there.

Oksana helped me through some sort of tummy virus that wiped through our retreat (she missed it though!), always had a bit of health wisdom that made perfect sense, and was just a joy to be around.

She invited me to come to teach at Art of Life retreats and here I wanted to let you get to know her a little better as well so I asked her a few questions.  What an amazing lady and I can't wait for you all to share in her joy and knowledge!

You live in Ubud.  How have you come to be in Bali?
I have always been looking for a place to be living half the year.  I thought I had found that in Vietnam.  But in 2008 I came to Bali though and as soon as I came here I knew this was the place.  It took me 2 years to come back.  But as soon as I came to Ubud I just knew.  This is where I wanted to be.  This is where my heart wanted me to be.  I just found everything I needed here.  Everything I had been looking for.  The size of the papaya.  Like mini-torpedoes!  Compared to Australia where you get like a mini thing for $10.

Tell me about the food you eat and why you eat it?
I eat a lot of fruit because I am attracted to the colour and sweetness of it. 

I really have got to this level where I automatically choose to eat for nutrition.  It is intellect that drives my decision because after learning so much about nutrition and experiencing what different foods do to me, and knowing how I feel most optimal.

I do check in how I feel, like salty or sweet.  But I wouldn’t go for something like a bowl of pasta unless I was going through some emotional upheaval as pasta effects me almost like some sort of drug that wipes me out. 

What I mean is that I choose food for highest vitamin and mineral content.  That means it is generally something living and more vibrant food.  But that is because I know a lot about food. 

And what enables me to jump out of bed feeling really happy is not having a lot of dense residue in my body. 

Vibrant food makes you more vibrant.  Fried chips are not vibrant.  They are not going to give you much vibrancy.

You are growing your own garden?
Yes! It is my third attempt.  My next door neighbor drained a rice paddy for me and said you want to grow veggies so go for it. 

First he planted sweet potato on it as you need to after it has been growing rice.  That is long, about 6 months, so we had to wait 6 months for that. 

Then we had to get out there and I had some friends and it was really hard work and we tried to dig and sew seeds.  But nothing grew.  We tried again and the same thing happened. 
I tried again but this time I got a Javanese organic gardener who I buy my produce from and I said ‘I need your help!  Is it my land or what?’ 

He came and looked and said I needed to build shorter and higher beds because of the soil.  So we did it and we got some seeds in and it is now just pumping!  10 tomatoes a day and greens coming out and an abundance of produce.  I am looking forward to pickling, Russians are fond of that, and you know, my family is originally from Russia.

The only thing is I have a friend who is a farmer in the mountains who I helped a few years ago during the rainy season to build some greenhouses for his seedlings.  I had given him the money for that and now, in exchange, he supplies me with veggies every week and he still does that.  Anyway now I have too many greens—he is still supplying me and I have my garden veggies as well and it was undersupply before and now oversupply! 

What makes you happy?
Is that I feel like I am really living my life.  It might sound corny but I feel like I am really designing my life—I don’t know if that is a good word.  But before I used to feel like I was living a life that was not congruent with myself. 

What makes me happy is that I am constructing my life.  There is a lot of play involved.  A lot of seriousness as well, I do serious things, but it is all done with colour and vibrancy and communication. 

I work with conscious people where there are not strict boundaries and that is part of it too. 

It makes me happy eating organic food.  Having abundance of that, of everything.  I don’t know.  But those are some of the things that contribute to it.  I don’t know if I have really started on answering that question, it is just so big! 

You can find out more about Oksana at:

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Ardha Chandrasana to Trikonasana and Back Again

Moving to trikonasana from ardha chandrasana variation

In my own practice I do not come into postures the same way all of the time.  Aside from moving actively, I think it is important to enter and leave posture in different ways so that you don't fall into habitual patterns.

In this sequence I enter trikonasana from a sort of unsupported ardha chandrasana and then come back to ardha chandrasana again.

The way I move requires and helps enhance stability around the ankle, knees, and hips.

If you cannot balance like this now, it does not matter, you can slide your foot along the ground.

Watch the video first to see movement in action then take a look at the step by instructions with a few key points highlighted.

It was raining as I took this video so it is a bit cloudy but we take our practice as it comes when we practice outside.  In this video take I also almost overbalanced at the end but not all practice is perfect so I put this one in rather than other ones where I made no mistakes.

Now, see some of the step by step instructions below.

They are, of course, not all of the key points for this posture, but some that I am flagging in my current classes.

It is important to realise that I am rolling my front thigh (balancing leg) out in all postures and rolling my back thigh (or raised leg) in.

Establish length and stability around the lower back
From behind

I do this by moving sitting bones down, top of pelvis back, to lengthen my lower back.

At the same time I begin to initiate some spinal forward flexion in a way that makes my tummy firm but so I can still feel as though I can feel it move when I breathe.

It is important to appreciate that I firm my tummy before I even take my back foot off the ground.

Weight transferring to standing leg without sinking into hip
Transfer weight while maintaining lift

It is important to make sure you feel lift out of the hip and leg that you are transferring the weight to.

Throughout this process you need to stay lifted out of that hip joint.

Firm tummy, long lower back, and staying lifted out of the standing leg hip joint are some of the real fundamentals of these postures and the transitions.

Leaning forward and lifting back leg
Maintaining all previous actions I lean forward, and keep leaning forward until it feels quite natural for that other leg to come off.

It is really important to emphasise I am not dropping into that standing hip here.

If you look at the picture you can see that I have tummy muscles active but not sucked in.  That would make me tight and immobile in my spine.

Reaching the back leg out and down
The back leg keeps going out.  I keep leaning my torso forward.  I keep all actions I initiated in the beginning.

At this stage I am in more danger of sinking into my standing leg hip.  I need to stay lifted.

Practically that means I need to keep sitting bones down and top of pelvis back, keep the thigh of that leg rolling out, and avoid jutting that hip out to the side.  It is tricky but will keep you feeling light and strong in the posture.

Leg lowers, they straighten, then active spinal twist
From there I maintain all the work around the lower back, tummy, and hips and lower the raised leg to the ground.

I stretch the ground with my feet (as though trying to separate my feet without them moving anywhere).  This activates my legs.

I don't take my legs too wide.  Who cares?  I also don't take my hand to the ground.  Not necessary.  Of course you can if you want to but make sure you maintain the important actions you have been cultivating.

The key spinal movement here is to perform an active twist from navel up. You can see my tummy muscles have been working but, again, they are not sucked in, which would stiffen my spine and make the active spinal movement impossible or difficult or certainly very rigid.

Bend knee, lean forward, come back in reverse
From there I make my way back to ardha chandrasana.

When you work well from your hip (lifting and not sinking) and from your tummy (firm but calm) you find that you do not need that leading hand to come to the ground.

In fact, you begin to find it is a bit of a nuisance on the ground and you feel better and more lifted with it off.

I took this video standing on a metre high block so there was no where for me to put my hand but most of the time I don't put it down anyway.

Putting your hand down to the ground will make it more likely you drop into your hip.  For me, one of the main purposes of this posture is to help develop some stability around that hip joint.  I think it is better to keep the hand up and toe on the ground if you have difficulty balancing.

For me this transition is a good chance to practice lifting out of the standing hip and cultivating some good balance.

I start from lengthening lower back and firming tummy then go from there.  It does not matter how wide your legs are or whether you reach the ground.  In fact, sometimes going wider and for the ground will not give you as much benefit.

In this video I demonstrated leg raised versions.  However, you could just as well lightly slide your foot back to trikonasana, and just keep a toe tip on the ground for the ardha chandrasana variations.  From there you get a good chance to practice all of the hip stabilising actions.

This approach to movement and posture is what I teach in classes, retreats, and workshops.  I really look forward to sharing with you.  Our Bali retreat is filling up so do get in quick if you want to join us in April!

Much metta,

Friday, 6 February 2015

Raw Food Interview With Sonja Eberhard

We have a whizz in the kitchen at our Bali retreat.  

Not only will she be preparing our food, she will be teaching us about it and how we can make it at home.   

Below, Sonja Eberhard, answers some questions about her journey towards raw food, whether it is for everybody, what changes you can expect, whether you will be hungry, and more!  

Q.  What does it mean to be a raw foodie?
A.   Its means being in tune with oneself.  It’s about being connected mind, body and soul.

Raw food gives me energy.

It makes me aware of what my body needs, and also helps me become aware of my surroundings.

Overall, living as a ‘raw foodie’ I feel more connected to myself and to my environment.

Q. What are some of the changes you can expect to feel when moving to a raw food diet?  Are there any uncomfortable things that happen in the transition--temporary or otherwise?A. Everyone experiences his or her own journey. 

I was basically quite healthy and vegetarian for over 20 years when I started. 

Well, aside from digestive problems, skin problems, and stress levels!  And I believe all of those problems were connected but eventually resolved through the change in lifestyle.

My own transition was easy. However, I did have a couple of healing crises where my skin broke out in a rash but with time it got better and better.

Q. Is raw food for everyone?  Are there people who it might not be suitable for?A. 100% raw food is not for everyone.  Not even for me. 

I attempted 100 % raw for 2 years to see how it agreed with me but I was missing the grounding food especially in the winter months.

These days my diet is 80 % raw food.  I have never felt better even as I head towards my 50s. I promised myself to grow old healthy and vibrant and now I am.

If everyone can incorporate 50% of raw food into their daily diet then they are on a good path.

But one of the main things is to listen to your body.  It will tell you if you need more or less raw food.

Q. What is the most surprising/funniest question you have been asked about living a raw food life?A. Well the bowel stories are quiet funny and I just don’t know why it is such an interesting topic in the raw food world.

Q.  What do you always keep handy in the kitchen?A. My passion for healthy, tasty food.If I am in a bad mood (which is rare) I don’t prepare food.  You need the right intention.  Your energy goes into the food you make -simple as that.

Q. Are there any gadgets that are on the must-have list?A. A good blender and a food processor.

Q. Favourite recipe?A. A simple salad.  Honestly!

My eating desires have simplified over these years.

I love preparing elaborate raw food for others but when it comes to my stomach easy is best.

Q. I know a lot of people who are worried they will be hungry eating raw food—especially if they don’t get rice or pasta or bread.  What do you have to say about that?A. I guess we have gotten so use to eating our 3 meals a day and having these huge gaps in between.  Also not drinking enough water during the day is a reason we feel hungry, which confuses the brain into thinking that the body needs food when it just needs water.

But you will be surprised how the body adapts very quickly.

I have always been a grazer.  If you feel hungry eat but just try to eat the right foods and drink lots of water.

Also I am a firm believer that combining the right foods plays a significant role with regards to feelings of hunger.

Q.  Why do you think people should consider making a shift towards raw food?Almost everyone at some point has experienced a detoxifying moment in their life and I bet the majority have experienced a sense of wellbeing, increased energy, clearer senses, so that all in all they felt fantastic.

Why not carry this feeling with you all the time?

Why do we need an excuse to go on a diet or to detoxify?

I do it because, simply, it makes me feel great.  Why change a good thing?It’s not rocket science.  Eat the foods that are alive because guaranteed it will make you feel alive.

Q. What do you think is the best way to transition to a raw food diet so that it is sustainable?A. Go slow. Feel it. Don't think too much about it.

Listen to your body.

Educate yourself.

Enrol in a raw food workshop or even better Art of Life Retreat!Trust me something will shift and then you won't look back!

You can find out more about Sonja at

And follow her and her magical creations on instagram @sonjaeberhard



Bakasana on a Block

In this post I share a video of coming into bakasana on a small block I found by the lake.  Below are some important instructions.

Above, I came up onto my tip toes and bent my knees slightly.  This helped make the backs of my knees firm.

I suppose you might not do this if you did not have confidence that you could move up onto your toes!  We practice this type of action a lot in my classes to develop stability around the ankles and knees.

I had my sitting bones down, top of pelvis back to lengthen lower back.

I was pushing my hips forward as though to move them over my toes and initiated spinal forward flexion to help make my tummy firm.

I was beginning to push my armpits down and forward to bring my shoulder blades around my upper back.

Next, as I lower my hands I try not to send my bottom back.  I keep my knees bent to encourage more spinal forward flexion and maintain my firm tummy.

Then, you can see my spine has essentially not changed shape.  I am still firm in my tummy doing spinal forward flexion.

I am pushing my hands down into the floor, shoulder blades wrapping around my upper back.  You can see that I was doing this from the beginning so really that has not changed either.  I do feel as though I am sending my elbows backwards but my fingers/hands down and forwards.  This helps me be firm and strong around the shoulder joint.

Actually not much has really changed.  I am trying to maintain the actions I initiated in the beginning and bring them towards the ground.

The main thing I have done here is to actively lift my knees up onto my arms.  I am not resting them there.  I am trying to keep them light and lifting.  I do press my upper arms back towards my knees.

Look at my toes.  I am trying to lift up onto the tops of my toes here rather than be on the balls of my feet.  The less weight I have on my toes the better--for the full posture that it!

If you do this well you will know how hard this is.

If you can practice this without sinking into your shoulders and without sinking into your feet or being heavy on your knees then you will be doing excellent work for the full posture.   Maintain the push through the arms and the firmness in your tummy.

What changes here is that my shoulders come far in front of my wrists.

One of the reasons I did this posture on a block was to show how far my shoulders are coming forward.  If you compare the previous picture to this one you can see my head is now in front of the block and my shoulders are just over the edge.

At this point I start to feel lift.

The video below shows lift off!  Instead of leaping into the posture, I balance.  I actively lift my heels to my bottom.

I have written previously about using the wrists but you can see here I have wrapped my finger tips around the block.  I am pressing into them.

This is how we deconstruct posture to help you be strong, safe, and active in postures.  Hope to see you in classes and workshops in Canberra and Colombo, or at our Bali retreat!

Much metta,

Active Movements Help A Tricky Arm Balance (Parivrtta Parsvakonasana to Eka Pada Koudinyasa I)

I use active movements to come into this posture
In this post I show active movements to come into eka pada koundinyasa I via parivrtta parsvakonasana.  We are practicing this in my classes at the moment.  I have included a few videos and step-by-step instructions.  

I do not recommend you practice this without the guidance of an experienced teacher.  Also, unless they are experienced in using active spinal movements they may not be able to give appropriate and safe guidance on safe spinal movement so just check.  This is mainly for students who practice with me and need some extra guidance.  I will give advice on safety in the posture.  As always, you need to be careful with knees, wrists, shoulders, and spine.  Moving slowly, moving actively, tensing less, and stretching less will always help.

Active Movements
As a teacher I try to demonstrate active movement and show where movement may be coming from so that you generate strength and ease of movement. 

Sometimes this is tricky because what you see may not be where the movement arises. 

Also, sometimes a more passive posture may end up looking much the same as the active posture. 

The pictures below highlight this.
Active spinal movements get me here

In the picture above I used active spinal movements to come into the pose. 

In the picture below I came in by ‘falling’ with gravity and mainly by flexing my hips. 

Passive hip flexion got me here
While they look much the same, the feeling in my torso especially is completely different.  If you look carefully at the angle or amount of blue space between my front thigh and torso you can see there is more space in the active pose as I did not close off the hip angle.

In the first pose I feel lifted, light and lengthened.  In the second I feel more sinking—especially into the hips--and general heaviness. 

You can see the difference in entry maneuvers in the video below.

I don’t want to suggest one is right or wrong.  I can do them both. 

I choose to do the first version in my practice and teaching to help you develop strength and mobility in the torso. 

Aside from helping my spine feel good, moving actively and having activated muscles around my tummy in particular, helps me come into the arm balance variation that follows this posture in our current sequence. 

Here I have to say, I got a six-pack without ever doing a crunch or by adding a ‘core yoga’ section into my classes or self-practice. 

I simply do active movements throughout my entire class and am pretty much doing a ‘sit-up’, aka active spinal forward flexion, in every forward bend I do. 

Back to the postures at hand!  There are two.  A standing posture, then an arm balance.

Perhaps watch the video first to get a sense of the flow and process.  Then take a look at the step-by-step freeze frames and instructions.

Demonstration of using active movements to the postures

Spinally speaking, the standing posture is basically a twisting, side bending, forward bending backbend. 

That is, once I am in the lunge and lengthen lower back (sitting bones down, top of pelvis back), I do a twist, a side bend, a forward bend, then a little back bend in my upper back.  A little hip flexion creeps in but after the spinal forward flexion.

Step 1: Get into a lunge

 In this lunge I have my back heel up.  That is because I am going to make this posture dynamic and move into the arm balance.  Traditionally heel is down.

Many people find having heel up difficult to balance.  You need to be using your feet and legs actively to assist with the balance.  I grip with my toes lightly. 

Also, if you allow your hips to be sinking it is often a sign you are not using your legs actively enough and will make it harder to balance.  I keep my hips a little higher and legs active here.  Nothing wrong with going lower but just in an active and not sinking way.

Step 2: Lengthen lower back
Here I have taken sitting bones down, top of pelvis back in order to lengthen my lower back. 

To me, this is different and more subtle than ‘tucking under’.  Remember, rather than fret about action, go for feeling.  The feeling here is to have space in your lower back and not squashing.

In this picture I have also lengthened my entire spine. I have taken my lower ribs back and up lightly.  You cannot see my neck but I have head down, neck back slightly to lengthen back of neck.

I have begun to push my armpits forward and lightly down, elbows lightly up.

Step 3: Active spinal twist
I try to move from base of spine upwards.  That means, turning from navel, area then lower ribs, then chest, then shoulders.

Look at the front foot.  See how much it is still working.

Spine still long, not arching.

Step 4: Active spinal side bending
Here I initiate side bending by bringing back hip forward and up towards the rib.  At the same time I am reaching opposite arm up and forward from my waist/pelvis and trying to move that side hip back slightly so the whole side body lengthens.

The side of my body that closest in this picture is firming.  This side bending firmness will help me in the arm balance.

You can see I start to have more weight on my front foot—the back heel is raising as well in preparation for the arm balance to soon come.

At this stage I am in a back lengthening, twisting, side bending posture.

Step 5: Spinal forward flexion
Now I have begun a spinal forward flexion process.

See the space you can see between the top of my thigh and torso and how the angle is still relatively open.

I am now in a spine lengthening, twisting, side bending, forward bend.

Step 6: A bit of hip flexion
There is no need to go deeper.  Unless you are coming to the arm balance, that is!

To get to the ground I need some hip flexion.  I initiate hip flexion here, after I have done my active twisting, side bending, forward bend.  Importantly, I maintain these actions as I lower.

In my own practice I often choose to stay at this point here.  It feels really good.

I can do the arm balance easily but for me it seems unnecessary compared to how nice it feels to stay actively in this posture for some time.   

At this point a t lot of yoga teachers in classes I have attended will come up and try and get me to put my back heel on the ground, to try and put my hand on the ground, to try and take my legs further apart. 

There is nothing wrong with that.  But this feels so much better.  Perhaps it is not pretty but once you start to appreciate active movements and see what is going on in the posture you see this as something lovely and delicious feeling. 

I am not leaning or using the bottom arm on my knee at all.  If you were to use it then do so in an intelligent and active way.  That would mean using the arm to press lightly into the thigh and pressing the thigh back into the arm.  I am definitely not using my arm to ‘wrench’ or twist my spine here.  I am also not sinking into it.

Step 7: More hip flexion and knee bending to get hands to ground
The only way to get to the ground is to get some more hip flexion in there, front knee bends more as well. 

A lot more in fact.  You can see it has started to come in front of my toes.  I need to be firm behind my knee to maintain the integrity of my knee here.  My ankles are moderately flexible in a squat so my heel can stay down.  If you need it is perfectly fine to lift that heel.  In fact, it might help you to keep firm behind the knee. 

You can see hands are coming in front of the foot and off to the side. 

I am maintaining all of the actions from previous steps.  That means my front knee is actually only lightly touching my arm. 

Notice how at no stage did I start pushing my arm into the knee to get me into this twist.  They are touching lightly here.  I do not want that front knee to get heavy.  It will become heavy if you are not using your torso actively and you will feel like you are sinking in this posture instead of lifting.

This picture sort of shows you how my whole back body is lengthened, not flattened.   You can see I am moving my chest into my upper back and moving my shoulder blades around the sides of my chest.

Notice I am transferring weight forward.  You can see this as I am coming more onto the tops of my toes on the back foot.

Step 8: Enhance side bending
Leaning forward with more weight on my hands and pushing the floor away.  I don’t want weight on my feet in an arm balance.  I need to support it by pushing into the floor with arms to get lift.

I am gripping with finger tips as thought grabbing at the ground (not flattening fingers).

I am maintaining all the core actions. 

This allows me to enhace side bending by bringing the back knee into my shoulder.  I can only do this without feeling heavy or sinking if I have kept all of the actions in the torso. 

You can see weight is more and more over the hands and my front heel has started to lift.  I need lightness in this foot to come up. 

I squeeze my wrists together and keep feeling as though my elbows are trying to come together.

Step 9: Lean forward, smile, stay firm but calm, and lift
Compare this picture with the previous one and you see my shoulders have come further forward over the finger tips.  I have to lean forward without dropping into my shoulders to come into this position.

Actually, let me correct myself.  I don’t have to.  You can drop and do this but it will probably feel awful on your wrists and shoulders!

If you can sneak a look at my tummy here you can see is it active!

Step 10: Legs out!
I continue leaning forward.  See how far my shoulders have come in front of wrists.  I suppose if you were stronger you would not need to lean as far forward but I am not that strong.  I am trying not to lower my chest but to stay lifted. 

Maintaining all previous actions, I just straighten my legs.

The top thigh is rolling in and bottom thigh is rolling out. 

I am happy and calm and firm and strong and feeling good.  If you walked past me I could say hello and tell you how good I was feeling and have a little chat without getting breathless. 

In Sum
Remember that this arm balance is just a bit of show ponying really.  It looks impressive but it won’t make you happier or healthier!

Staying in the standing version might help you more than the arm balance. 

I also don’t recommend trying this without your teacher. 

This is the way I teach posture.  I encourage you to think about how it feels at every stage.  Go for length and freedom, not squashing.  Use active movements.  Layer the movements and keep the actions you cultivated in the lead up on the follow through.  

This is how we will help you move towards greater strength and movement in our Bali retreat and in my classes and workshops in Canberra and Sri Lanka.  Look forward to seeing you. 

Happy and safe practicing!

Much metta,