Someone asked yesterday what I hope to get out of my coming silent retreat. It was hard to describe, but- I'm going away to befriend my body and mind without needing to be someone's mother, partner, sister, daughter, counsellor, yoga teacher, neighbour, friend etc.
Its an exciting and scary prospect, as often we define ourselves by our labels, and like ourselves based on how well we judge ourself to be meeting the requirements of each role. And of course with so many different and competing roles we are going to fall short somewhere..
So I'm hoping to meet myself without labels, without any need to meet anyone elses -or my own expectations. And I hope to do so with compassion and friendliness.
I'm away on Friday morning for 10 days. Teaching schedule this week includes only the morning class on Thursday (tomorrow). There is no evening class for the next few weeks as I will be spending time with my family before heading off.
Will let you know what I find on the on the other side.
In the evening class we have 5 weeks of self care coming up. I've written a lot about self care in the past- if you haven't yet got my free self care e-book you can get it here.
This term I am distilling self care into 5 key components, or the ABC (D&E) of self care. We will focus on one component each week. Here is a brief summary of the skills and enquiries that will inform our weekly sessions.
A is for awareness. Awareness is key to everything we do in yoga and key to self care. How do you know when you need self care? How do you know your chosen self care activity is self care and not self destructive? Developing insight, attention and awareness is a skill that can be developed through consistent effort using both active( movement) based and still practices.
B is for breath. As I often say in class, you can't breathe in the past or future, so breathing is a useful mindfulness tool which brings us into the present moment. Diaphragmatic breathing also helps regulate the central nervous system to restore calm and relaxation. Learning how to breathe without restrictions is a great tool for physical health and emotional wellbeing.
C is for compassion. The attitude we approach ourselves and others is important. Can we be our own compassionate friend? What are the qualities of our inner dialogue? When we engage with ourselves compassionately what does this look and feel like? Turning towards ourselves with compassion can often be difficult and uncomfortable at first, but is a necessary element for genuine self care.
D is for Dharma. Dharma is a Buddhist word, which often relates to our life purpose or passion. It invites us to consider what are we contributing to the world, no matter how small it may seem. Alllowing ourselves to truly express our unique passions and gifts is an act of self care as we give the best of ourselves freely to others we also nourish ourselves. This is the element of Dharma.
E is for embodiment. How can self care be expressed in our body, in our thoughts and in our actions? How can it become second nature, not an afterthought, and free of any sense of guilt or shame that we dont deserve to be the best version of ourselves?
Through using yogic tools, movement, breathing practices, meditation, mindfulness, massage and relaxation we will explore these ABC's in class. Small micro meditations and practices will be offered as homework so you continue to nourish your self and develop the habit of self care.
A 5 week term starts Thursday July 25, and costs $60. Casual classes are $17. Concessions are available.
Looking forward to seeing you again soon.
The main channels are the central channel, ‘Sushumna’, the right dominant channel, ‘Pingala’ and the left dominant channel ‘Ida’. These channels are often described in ancient literature as the three lights, or the triple radiance.
The sushumna means graceful and is associated with fire and the rising breath. Pingala means reddish and is associated with the sun and exhale, while Ida means refreshing and is associated with the moon and the inhale. These two channels undulate across the body, crossing the central channel. The exhale breath is seen as a way of shedding light on the external world, carrying our attention out into the objects of our experience, just like the sun illuminates our wold during the day. The inhale breath is associated with the inhale, and like the moon reflects the light of the sun, so the inhale breath brings the awareness inwards. This is thought to be cooling, like the moon can bring cool relief after a hot day.
The central channel is visualised as a glowing golden column of light, and often as a slender stem, like a flower stem. It extends up from the pelvic floor to the crown of the head and is visualised through the very centre of the body, in front of the spinal column (it is not the spinal column itself).
Moving energy up the central channel is a way of us understanding ourselves better. Many of the traditional yoga practices were meditation and breathing and purification practices to facilitate this movement of energy into the central channel by rising a specific form of prana, often called kundalini.
There a number of techniques I have been practicing with my teachers Christopher Hareesh Wallis and Chris Tompkins, which focus on bring the energies of the sun and the moon into a perfect equilibrium into the heart space, one of the chakras, or wheels along the central channel. In the classical system of yoga in the trika system, there were many chakra systems. A 5-chakra system representing the elements, or the building blocks of our world were used for this practice.
The base chakra at the pelvic floor is where the earth element is installed. This contained the qualities of solidity. The second chakra is at a space about three finger widths below the navel. Here the chakra was often visualised as a bulb, ready to sprout. The element installed here is water.
In the coming workshop, Fire in the Heart, I will share some of these little known practices. My experience is when I bring an awareness of the element of fire into the heart space my sense of compassion for others (external) and also my sense of compassion for myself (internal) increases. I find I am able to access my inner wisdom more freely, and to make informed choices about my behaviour and actions.
In the modern way of visualising chakras, the element of wind is often thought to be located in the heart space. What we know understand through recent translations of old texts, is that the chakra system we have was never meant to be dogmatic, and that a range of systems and practices exist which we are only starting to comprehend.
It is my hope that in this workshop you will also start to explore the benefits of visualising fire here in the heart space for yourself. It will be held on the winter solstice, a day where the worlds energy is focused on the inhale, cooling element of a long night. We will bring balance to our system by the focus on the exhale, the warmth and the fire in the heart. I hope you can join me.
What are they really??
Autumn is my favourite time of year. It always reminds me most of the cycle of life, how in nature everything is always constantly changing, and renewing.
As you know, I also love yoga and meditation. I wanted to share this short guided asana practice with you all as an Easter gift. It's my current practice, so may not suit all bodies. There's a guided audio practice on my sound cloud station, and brief description following. As always, adapt for your own body or create your own sequence!
This practice begins in childs pose, imaging you are a seed. Then slowly allow yourself to germinate through extended child, some child to cat breaths and a squat. Slowly rise to standing, slowly exploring lifting your arms to shoulder height. Take some standing twists, eyes open, curious about your surroundings. Rest in standing mountain pose, then extend your arms, balance on your toes as you inhale, and as you exhale allow yourself to sink into a gentle standing squat, feeling alive and strong. Rest as you need.
Then allow yourself to softly surrender through a few rounds of a forward fold, taking 4 breaths to get the hands to the floor, then walking out to dog pose, resting here before coming to a few rounds of cat- winding down. Then back to extended child, and then child.
You can practice a few times, or rest in savasana ( corpose pose) or come to a meditation.
Whatever you do this Easter, I hope you find time to nourish your body and mind. Classes return Thursday May 2, 10.15am and 7pm. See you then.
I sent this as an email to people on my subscriber list, but thought I would also make it public here..
Is it time to press pause on the world for a bit?
It's been a difficult few days since the events at Christchurch on Friday. The grief of trauma imposed on any members of our global community is a hard thing to digest, and to discover that the perpetrator is an Australian created a visceral reaction of heart break for me.
Over the weekend we showed our support to the Muslim community by attending the vigil at the Marion Mosque, along with many others. We were struck by the grace and gratitude shown by the Islamic community, and their sense of hospitality and welcome as they handed out freely bottles of water to all who were standing in the hot afternoon sun as we gathered in their car park.
On Monday I gave a scheduled presentation through my day job as a counsellor at Flinders Uni to students on vicarious trauma. Later that day I discovered that my teenage sons had seen part of the footage of the killings, thanks to modern technology and teenage curiosity. I don't know about others, but for me, sometimes it can feel like too much all at once.
And of course I started thinking about how yoga can help in traumatic events. And I remembered our class from last week on Pratyahara, the fifth limb of yoga.
Pratyahara is withdrawing the senses inwards and away from the business of the world. The Yoga Sutra tells us that when we encourage the senses to draw inward, we can glimpse the inner light and dwell contentedly within. It is a perfect practice for when things are overwhelming, distressing or traumatic.
It doesn’t mean bury your head in the sand, or pretend that everything is perfect. Instead it encourages us to PAUSE. To retreat into the security of our inner world, to reflect. It is not a way to escape distress, but it is a way to digest distressing experiences.
Taking some time out of the world then helps us to re-enter with grace, to help us see clearly what needs to be done, and helps give us courage to act with conviction towards our values, for example to be able to call out racism, or work towards a world which is more tolerant, more just, or more sustainable, or whatever your calling is to contribute to the world.
Like much of yoga, it exists in paradox. Sometimes, only by withdrawing and pressing pause on the world, can we be effective in creating change in our world.
The practice of Pratyahara is often implicit rather than explicit in yoga. One of the main practices we do to encourage going inwards is yoga nidra, where we are encouraged to relax the body deeply, and rest in our inner being. There are also specific practices to gradually dissolve the senses into each other, like we practised last week. I also use a brief pratyahara practice during the day, sometimes just as simple as dropping in to my body and listening to my heart beat.
We will keep exploring these practices in class as well as gentle movements and nourishing massage to support our physical bodies. You are very welcome to come to the Church on Thursday, even if you haven’t been to yoga for a while. Perhaps this is the perfect time to take time out for yourself, to pause, and reconnect with your inner world.
In reality, all you need to practice are yourself and some carved out space and time. In practice, as with everything in life, we use variety of tools to assist us to practice yoga asana and meditation.
What tools are best depends on your intentions for your practice, your body and your available resources. I thought I would share how I use my favourite yoga tools and some thoughts on the pros and cons of common tools.
Yoga mats are useful to:
I use a range of mats, nothing fancy, and prefer my oldest mat I have had for 15 years which is grippy rather than sticky...
Mats that are grippy and sticky can sometimes inhibit smooth movement. I have found that the rectangular mats can make my practice linear and defined to a specific shape. I have taught classes and observed how people would modify their stance to the shape of the mat they were using in ways that were unhelpful.. and often unknowingly. More and more I find I prefer to put a blanket down to practice so I can glide more and move in a more of a spiral pattern.
Bolsters are cylindrical firm cushions that have a variety of uses. I use mine for sitting on in meditation as my hips must be higher than my knees or they hurt to the point I can't walk well after a long period of sitting. I also use the bolster in restorative poses, especially supported child pose and twists and backbends. I also enjoy having one under my knees in savasana.
Cons. They can be expensive to buy. They can take up space in your house and are awkward to store. There are alternatives such as using extra blankets, cushions, pillows or even chairs.
The yoga blankets I use are heavy but soft cotton. They fold up in a range of ways and are mainly a support in restorative poses. I can fold one high enough to support myself in meditation, see note about hips higher than knees above...I also lie a blanket flat on the floor for rolling practices and as a cover in savasana to keep warm.
Cons. Not all blankets will do all things. Some are just good for covering and not so good for props. Again, special blankets can be expensive and need storage space.
I use weighted eye pillows in a range of ways. People may be familiar with my practice to rest an eye pillow in each hand during relaxation. This is my favourite use as the weight helps the hands relax, which also softens the chest. I also like the weight of an eye pillow over my eyes to encourage relaxation through the eyes.
Cons. Not everybody likes weight on the eyes, or to have their eyes covered at all. Sometimes the eye pillows are scented which can be off putting for some. A light scarf can also be used if it's a gentle blocking of light that's required.
A yoga block can be helpful in exploring postures without over extending yourself. I often use blocks in triangle for example, to stop myself from the temptation of putting my hand on the floor. This helps me focus on the side rib opening here. I also like to support my knees with blocks when I am sitting with my knees out, or to engage muscles such as in the inner thighs in bridge.
Cons. They are not always as helpful as I think they will be, and often I get them out and don't use them.
My yoga belts are long with buckles. I use them to help support my body and to lengthen my arms. They are also good to help create an even space between the arms, when moving the shoulders in various ways.
Cons. Sometimes they can encourage over efforting, as they can make it tempting to pull our body into shape.
I use the insight timer app. I have an open enquiry yoga and meditation practice, so I don't usually plan out what I am going to do although sometimes I do. The timer helps set an intention and boundary. I use two settings - a meditation timer usually for 24 minutes with a beginning and ending bell....I have found the bells on insight timer to be quite authentic sounding. This app allows me to use a different preset setting for my movement practice, and I have set it up with with extra bells so I can move into relaxation after about 25 minutes of practice. This app also includes some ambient music which sometimes helps me find rhythm for my practice.
Cons. You have to spend time setting them, they require a smart phone and can be distracting.
Any tools that you use for your practice are optional, and must support rather than distract from your practice.
I am keen to hear what tools you use, how you use them and why?
Yoga is a process, not a thing. It's not about what you do, but more about how you do it. Practising mindfulness while you move can help you integrate different aspects of yourself...the nervous system, muscles, fascia, the immune system, our minds, the subtle body of prana...Helping you to have a healthy immune system, be emotionally and mentally resilient with a sense of well-being and choice in how your act.
This is possible when we slow down, develop mindful awareness, move with intention and allow ourselves to feel our body and synchronise with the breath.
Slow movements paired with the breath, and intentional holds are emphasised in Banksia yoga classes. Classes are different to a fitness focused class, but you will still find ways to develop strength, flexibility and grace of movement.
There are 3 main benefits of practising yoga in this way:
1. Slow practices build vagal tone in the body (our emotional brain in the gut), which helps us develop a healthy nervous system and increases our emotional resilience,
2. Slowing down increases proprioception and interoception skills, which increases our immune function, as we become more aware of how our body responds to internal and external stimulus.
3. When we move slowly, we can be more mindful, which strengthens the parts of your brain responsible for concentration, considered action and empathy.
Just like cleaning our teeth, mindful movement is a life long commitment. We can't expect to achieve the benefits without practice, just like we can't expect our teeth to stay healthy without regular brushing.
The good news is there is always a way we can show up for ourselves, and slowing down also makes it easier to find our own way to be in our body regardless of our circumstances. We can adapt the practice for heat, cold, grief, anxiety, tiredness, physical injury and illness. What is important is that we show up - regularly and with kindness to ourselves.
Join me - classes start January 31
As I get (ahem) older, my yoga practice is gravitating less towards what can I do with my body, and more towards how can I do less with my mind.
Meditation is my main practice. Movement is still important of course, but I have let go of poses, and their names and am more interested in strengthening my body for stillness, as well as moving with ease.
There are many reasons meditation is so important to me. As I practice more I am gaining a deeper understanding of my own mind scape, the types of habits, thoughts and beliefs that shape my inner world, and then my behaviour. This means I have greater choice to vary my behaviour as I understand my thoughts.
I practice a range of techniques, many of them based on tantric shaivism or tantric buddhism. I also practice the wheel of awareness developed by Dan Siegel, an expert in neuroscience.
This wheel of awareness practice is based on three pillars. I put kind intention at the forefront. This is where we develop the capacity to be compassionate towards our selves and others. My spiritual teachers often promote this pillar by dedicating the fruits of any meditation practice to the benefit of all beings.
The other two pillars are focused attention, or concentration and open attention.
Focused attention uses mindfulness and strengthens the mind by bringing your awareness to a cho se en point over and over. You can you chose an external focus, such as an object, or a sound such as a mantra, or you can use an internal focus such as your body or breath.
Open attention is a pillar I am still understanding. This I where we soften our attention and allow everything to come and go.
According to Dan Siegel, these three pillars help us to integrate the functional of the mind, which leads us to be more present to our lives. He sites a range of benefits from this including improved immune function, reduce inflammation, reduced stress response. One of the main benefits for me is increased emotional regulation skills, and an increased ability to chose our actions in the world.
I am offering by donation summer meditation sessions in January, focusing on the three pillars. Every one is welcome to join me.
I consider myself to be a constant student of yoga. I am grateful that I have opportunities to share my passion through my teaching, but I am also extremely appreciative to have access to teachers and teachings that continually deepen my understanding of yoga, and enable me to have an embodied and meaningful practice for my life.
Here are my thoughts on some of my most significant moments of this year...
The 5 day silent retreat I attended with Mal Huxter earlier in the year, was a game changer for me. Not only was the time itself extremely valuable, but it had a lasting qualitative effect on my daily meditation practice. I experienced a true light bulb moment following learning mindful walking. When I returned to real life I was able to shift my growing frustration towards my slow walks with my elderly golden retriever to a time where I value our morning meanders as an opportunity to take notice of the sounds and smells of the world, with appreciation and wonder.
Although, I love the natural world, I also am online a bit and feel fortunate to have an internet connection and access to world class teachers. I have continued my studies in classical tantric yoga texts and practices online with Christopher Hareesh Wallis, who has been a major influence in my yoga for a few years now. He is an academic in the language of Sankskrit and has translated many of these beautiful texts in ways that are accessible and meaningful for our modern world. Practices emphasising breath pause and subtle awareness of vibration are now core practices for me, and assist me to find moments of stillness, even at lifes most challenging and busy times. These practices help me remain in my centre when I speak to people in extreme distress in my day job as a counsellor, when I parent my four children, when I argue with my partner, or when I am scared about my ageing parents.
My yoga teacher mentor and friend Kristine Kaoverri Weber also released some online courses this year on the neurobiology of yoga, which have been satisfying the geeky part of me that is curious about how and why these practices can be effective. This learning has also helped my ability to explain the benefits and of slow, mindful yoga to others. I also now have a better understanding of why and how I need to continually adapt my practice to my peri- menopausal body, and love the opportunities to connect with my changing body through my yoga practices.
Thank you for being part of this journey with me. I would love to hear your reflections on what you have learned this year through your yoga and meditation practice.