7 December 2007

New Years Resolutions

Saturday 8th December 2007

I worked a busy 13 hour day yesterday – my usual 8 hours in the office plus 5 hours serving wine at the exhibition opening last night. Today is my last work day – hopefully an easy one minding the art gallery. After today I’m officially on annual leave until 2nd January.
What will I do?
I should have a plan.
Time is precious.
Must use it productively.

On the Mat
After I walked the dog this morning, I came back and did a leisurely ‘ladies holiday’ practice at 8am (work started at 11am).
Started with a long Supta Virasana simply because I may start back at the 6am Iyengar led class in February next year (with you-know-who) and my body might need some coaxing back into some of the old standby Iyengar poses (handstand, forearm balance, Ardha Chandrasana, a thousand and one Headstand and Shoulderstand variations etc).

Although it looks like I can do it easily, I’m not very comfortable in Supta Virasana any more – will need to lay around in it more often.

Sun Salutes, standing poses, all good, then a long Janu Sirsasana A, the penultimate menstrual pose (next to Baddha Konasana). After that I grabbed a block for a passive chest opener: laid on the floor with the block under my thoracic spine - this is like a passive version of Matsyasana with extended legs - then gradually raised my arms up until they pointed to the ceiling and slowly, slowly reached them back over my head, til the thumbs touched the floor (palms facing inwards). I took my time doing this because the arm movement, when done mindfully, shows up where the shoulders catch and it helps me to correct my wonky right shoulder as it starts to skew.
This is classic Iyengar work...realignment at a surgical level. It brings balance to the two sides of the body, something that we often poo-poo in Ashtanga while merrily skipping through the same practice reinforcing the same habits.

After that one, I put TWO blocks under my sacrum for a not-quite-so-passive Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge). The bottom block is placed horizontal on the floor with a vertical block on top. I have to be up on my toes to get my sacrum up onto the block but once it’s in place I can lower the feet down and masochistically enjoy the piriformis stretch.

Then I did a sleepy kind of Supta Padangusthasana to release out of the back bend and lay in Supta Baddha Konasana for a while instead of Savasana.

New Years Resolution
I’m thinking about making a New Year’s Resolution.
And I don’t go into this lightly.
If I make a promise to myself I have to keep it so I have to be careful what I promise.
The Resolution would be to practice yoga EVERY day.

It’s completely unrealistic for me to do an Ashtanga practice 6 days a week right now – I’m no longer mentally fired up enough for that, neither is my body.
But if I make a NYR to practice SOME kind of physical yoga every day, even if it’s just a few stretches, or research poses, or corrective surgery poses, or an Iyengar sequence, or only half of Primary series, or even full Primary series, or maybe even Primary plus some second series backbends – whoa getting a bit ahead of myself here….anyway I think if I gave myself all that leeway I may be able to honour the promise to myself.
It would definitely help me build up a daily routine of self discipline which I’m really going to need when my yoga practice buddy Renate goes away in February for 6 months.

I’ve never made New Years Resolutions before. Although well intentioned they seemed like those impulse buys, splurges induced by a spur of the moment madness.
Being more sensitive these days, I can feel how Christmas/New Year is a time where collective energy rises like a crescendo over Christmas, followed by quiet reflection, and then the coming New Year generates a particular energy which facilitates new beginnings. Maybe by making New Years Resolutions we are subconsciously hooking into this collective energy to help lift us up to meet our dreams.

So I’m going to sit and reflect on all this for the next few weeks (not on Vipassana of course when my thoughts are being purified). Then I’ll consider making a committed promise to myself to get to my mat every day – and I won't be able to break my promise without extreme anguish and pain.

A BIG THANK YOU to Mr Iyengar for sharing so much life-wisdon in his book 'Light on Life' and for rekindling my belief in the path of yoga.
His opening words in the Preface:
"by persistent and sustained practice, anyone and everyone can make the yoga journey and reach the goal of illumination and freedom. Krishna, Buddha and Jesus lie in the hearts of all. They are not film stars, mere idols of adulation. They are great inspirational figures whose example is there to be followed. They act as our role models today. Just as they reached Self-realization, so may we.”

So true.
It’s not that hard.
Just believe in the way and follow the path. You’ll get there.

Vipassana and forearm balance

Tuesday 4th December 2007

Have you ever driven your car somewhere and at some point during the journey you find yourself sitting at the wheel wondering how you go there alive because your mind was completely absent?
You wake up out of a dreamworld and realise your body has been driving on autopilot while you’ve been away – it’s scary.
I wasn’t quite that bad during practice but over and over I had to keep waking myself up to where I was.
Practice happened a great distance away from where I actually was - or vice versa.

So I’m looking forward with great anticipation to the Vipassana retreat this year.
I’ll do 7 days this time instead of 10, starting December 15th. As it approaches, I’m becoming acutely aware of how much my mind really really needs this annual detox and space-clearing.

Some women indulge in face and body make-overs. I go get my mind purified.

Eleven hours a day of seated mindfulness of breath and body sensations is the backdrop against which all the impurities that clog up the system are flushed to the surface and whisked away, leaving clear mind, pure mind.
Sounds like an ad for a cleaning product.

On the Mat
As I went through the motions of practice this morning, the physical practice receded into the background as what was on my mind asserted its false urgency and demanded undue attention.
Standing poses were strong to start with because my initial focus was strong – I think this planted and established the strong Ujjiya rhythmic breath that lasted for the entire practice. It remained deep and connected long after my mind lost the plot near the end of the standing poses. Everything but the breath started dropping away and the practice veered off the Ashtanga course.

I went to the wall and did 2 long handstands then kicked up for a couple of Pincha Mayurasanas (forearm balance).
What possessed me???
I hadn’t done this pose for yonks (that’s Aussie slang for a very long time!)
PS: Sssshhhhhh...maybe it was because I had dinner with a few yoga friends last Sunday evening, one of them the senior Iyengar teacher that I absolutely adore (not mentioning any names) and who’s Friday morning led class I occasionally hook into for a while. I haven’t been to his class for at least 6 months hadn’t seen him for that long and had almost forgotten how much I adore him. To cut this long story short…his class is always a megadose of handstands, forearm balances and backbends. Maybe me go back next year…maybe me infatuated...maybe me talking like sillly girl....anyway must practice handstands and forearm balances now…maybe mad…maybe love…

Back to earth, back to the mat for some forward bends. No vinyasas but luckily the deep Ujjiya breath kept all the poses connected together like a string of pearls. Forward bends were difficult, only because my mind was occupied elsewhere.
Rest of practice - lost in translation.


Thursday 29th November 2007

Another full practice, very satisfying. It just keeps getting better – not better in that I’m progressing (regressing is closer to the truth), but better in a deepening/maturing kind of way. Deepening might sound like my yoga is becoming heavy but it’s not, it’s actually deepening with a light infused intensity.
I love this practice. I hope I can do it forever.
Practising with injury accelerates this process of maturity. It demands awareness, observation, presence, compassion, investigation. You can’t practice on autopilot when you body’s in full protect-at-all-costs mode.
Tuesday 27th November

There’s pain…and there’s pain…it manifests in so many different guises, and even if I just limited my random thoughts of pain to the physical body (as opposed to emotional, mental pain), I'd still be able to describe many different sensations.
But what I'm feeling in my lumbar and right hip joint is mystifying.
It’s definitely pain, but not a shooting pain, not a sharp pain, not even an achy pain.
It’s a sort of blocked pain that I’d associate with deep tissue damage and severed energy channels. There’s nerve aggravation, distortion, and an exaggerated somatic perception of imbalance because one part of my body is producing cellular heat and mobilising healing fluids for tissue repair and the corresponding opposite side of my body is completely dull in comparison.

On the Mat
Surya Namaskars
went well, and the only problem that arose in the standing poses was a complete inability to hold up my right leg unsupported in Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana. Note: it’s not just abdominal and leg muscular strength that are needed here. My right hip joint is completely impotent, limp, as if the energy channel has been cut inside it and the prana can’t surge through. Left leg – no problem – I held it up at 90 degrees for a good 5 breaths.
Come the seated poses I was determined not to retreat from the hip pain, but face this injury, investigate it through the poses and learn more about it.

(By this time it was obvious that Renate was having a dud of a practice…she only did a few standing poses then retreated to the floor for another 10 minutes or so before giving up, sitting up, blanketing up and meditating before hitting the floor gain for Savasana and a snooze – unusual for her – she usually puts me to shame with her endurance).

I did looong seated poses up to Janu Sirsasana C and really brought in all my 12 years of yoga experience, minutely adjusting, microscopically observing, deep-sea internal exploring and processing it all through some ancient part of my brain. This really is fascinating yoga…pity we usually only do this kind of yoga when we’re injured.
The focus is quite different, much sharper, not diffused amongst breath, bandhas, drishti, alignment, energy etc. It’s not that kind of global focus where the awareness permeates the whole body/mind/beingness (which is a beautiful experience in itself and a sign of an advanced yoga practice). No, this is staring eye-to-eye at specifics without blinking kind of yoga. The gaze undistracted, unwavering. eg. I look at how my leg muscles are working, I slightly rotate the femur and note what that does to my pelvis – is it square? Can I even trust my perception when one side of my sacrum feels warm and swollen and the other side feels dull? I lengthen through my neck, making a little more space between the cervical vertebrae and a tiny almost imperceptible pop tells me the energy channel between throat and third eye has cleared, surrounding nadis have unblocked, the energy flows and I realise that these small openings are why we feel so good after a yoga practice and can’t quite articulate why.

Since I cut the practice short by stopping at Janu C, I had half an hour to spare before I could legitimately start the finishing poses (what kind of weird time management logic is this?).
I tested my lumbar/hip response with a long Baddha Konasana, it was a bittersweet entry but got easier as my body gave way its defences and I softened and lengthened forward into the pose. Supta Padangusthasana came next… I love the little extra adjustment in SP-B (when the leg extended to the side) where you slide the heel of the grounding leg away from the sitting bone – if you also keep the femur of this leg consciously pressed towards the floor while stretching that heel away, you get a lovely stretch through the front hip.
That was it..that was practice.

Rare photo of a nobody!

Sunday 25th November 2007

This is a rare photo that SOMEONE SNEAKILY TOOK of me at Onkaparinga Gorge today.
I went bushwalking there today with a very achy, painful back/hip. The walking was gentle on it, yoga isn’t.

Yesterday’s Mysore practice at the shala was great at the time and the assisted backdrops were a rare treat, but my fragile lumbar/right hip is aching from it all today.


Friday 23rd November 2007

Over and over I keep reading the section from Iyengar’s Light on Life about conscience (pp178-179).
It has a direct bearing on this passionate urge of mine for living and acting from the Absolute Truth. My conscience doesn’t limit itself just to pricking me for something I’ve said or done wrong, but it also nags at me for what I haven’t done, haven’t started, haven’t said, haven’t finished.
It’s telling me that there are things in my life that aren’t quite right that I need to clean up.

To quote Mr Iyengar:
"(Conscience) is the nearest point of contact we experience between the natural world and the spiritual world. For that reason, you could say that conscience is the perception of consequences perceived from the deepest level, that of unity. This is where soul infuses matter, a bridge between soul and Nature. That is why conscience will only ever tell you one thing, offer one course of action, because is comes out of Oneness. Conscience is consciousness being able to tune in to the promptings of the individual soul (atma).”

He goes on to talk about the difference between intuition and conscience…
"What then is different about conscience? The difference is that conscience hurts; it causes pain, we say we are pricked by conscience. Intuition prompts us, causes perhaps some confusion, because we do no know where it is coming from. But conscience hurts. That is because it lies at the heart of the paradox of what it means to be a spiritual being, living in a physical body, in a material world. Conscience tells us to do the harder thing, because it is always pulling us toward Unity, toward Wholeness. Conscience, when it is flawless, is the voice of our soul, whispering in our ear. In that sense, even a painful conscience is a privilege as it is proof that God is still talking to us.”

I have a burning need to live this mundane daily life with immaculate presence and flawless integrity.
I wonder what changes I could make to facilitate/accelerate this?
My lifestyle, my habits, my schedule of activities, spiritual practice, choices, decisions, interactions and relationships...it’s like I need to lay a new blueprint over my life like a silk sheet and let the luminous colours bleed into every layer of my life transforming it into a pure and delicate expression of Light and Truth.
One beautiful silk sheet that is the Truth...

19 November 2007

On the Mat - Sarvangasana

Tuesday 20th November 2007

Quite a mixed practice this morning, probably due to my increased sensitivity to all the subtle things that are playing out beneath the surface of practice.
I was able to observe when my focus started to wane, when it become dull, when it wandered off, when I got drowsy, when the energy picked up, when a sliver of fear arose, or the breath changed key.
And because I was noticing so so much, it seemed like I was all over the place going from one extreme to another. Maybe I was, maybe I wasn’t.

At one point I was yawning in between poses, and then drifting off into what seemed like unconsciousness while holding a standing pose. It’s become really obvious to me lately that when my mental focus is scattered, the energy dissipates and practice just disintegrates.

“Where the mind goes, the energy follows”

So I forced my mind to stay on track, even though it wanted to vague out. Some days you can observe the mind jumping from thought to thought – monkey mind they call it because it resembles a monkey jumping from tree to tree. But it wasn’t like that today, it was vague and kept fading out as if the dimmer switch was being turned down until I felt almost unconscious, in a blank misty land. What is it that detects the whereabouts of the mind when it wanders? What is it that directs the mind back to the present?
This process is vividly clear during extended periods of meditation and I’ve been so lucky to have done a number of 10 day Vipassana retreats where one sits and observes the mechanics and the make up of the mind without interruption for 11 hours a day. You get to see how it works and all the crap it’s accumulated over the years. Then you go about cleaning it out.

Back to practice, I slowed down for the seated poses, only doing vinyasas between the poses and not between sides. The gallery was warm from a 3 day heat wave which allowed me to slow down the practice without my body stiffening up.
Again it felt right to stay a little longer than 5 breaths in the seated poses. I call these research practices because I get to know what each pose is really doing to me when I stay in it longer. Particular body parts have to give way to allow the pose to emerge and this doesn’t happen straight away. It’s hard to explain but fascinating to watch the body assimilating the pose…some parts readjusting, melting and releasing other parts taking up supporting roles and engaging naturally to allow for release, extension and mobilisation.

When I got to Sarvangasana, I tried my best to recall the internal work I usually do in Sirsasana and replicate it in this pose. It involves a strong mula bandha which pulls energy up from eh lower body and directs it straight up through sushumna nadi to the upper chakras. I don’t know why this comes easier in Sirsasana than Sarvangasana for me, maybe because my body as a whole is doing less supporting work in the Headstand than in the Shoulderstand. Don’t know.
In Sirsasana when I get this internal energetic flow going, my body instantly aligns itself in the pose, and I balance lightly on my fontanel with almost no weight in my body…defies gravity somehow. More difficult in Sarvangasana…but maybe I just need to practice it more often in this pose. I’d like to find the legendary “perfect alignment” in Sarvangasana – this pose is all about the throat chakra (Sirsasana stimulates the crown chakra). Imagine in Sarvangasana directing a strong torrent of prana from the legs through the pelvis and up a perfectly unobstructed pipeline into the whirling vortex where the throat area is closed off (chin should be pressed close to the sternum).
Often in Sarvangasana, students are so preoccupied with what’s happening in the upper body (neck, chin, shoulders) that their legs just hang forgotten in the air. But it’s not until every part of the body and mind id fully participating in a pose that it progresses away from gymnastics and into the realm of unified yoga.

In Sarvangasana the feet should be neither pointed, nor fully flexed, but halfway between and you have to keep half an eye on them constantly or they’ll keep sneaking back to their favourite position. The inner heels have to lift up to the ceiling as if being pulled up by a hoist. The quadriceps should be well engaged and pulled up and pressing back towards the thighbones, but this has to be balanced by two important actions:1) the sacrum pressing forward towards the pubis and 2) the pubic bone lifting towards the feet.
These actions will set up the foundation that will align the pelvis so the energy that's been drawn up by mula bandha won’t get blocked in the pelvic area.
The front of the body must lift strongly upwards from the collarbone to the pubis and not collapse and crease in the abdomen. The upper thoracic spine must move deeply into the body towards the breastbone.

Holding all these alignments for the duration of 20 breaths really isn't easy. As soon as the attention wanes, the pose is lost. I find my spinal muscles get lazy after a few breaths, my shoulders slacken off and creep towards my neck, I lose the foot position over and over and my leg muscles take it upon themselves to lighten up for a little break every now and then.
It takes determination to keep the alignment happening correctly while focussing internally on the subtle energetics of the pose and consciously directing prana up from the pelvic floor to the throat.
But when you get it right, you rocket into outerspace.

16 November 2007


Saturday 17th November 2007

Life is becoming interesting. I’m being gently moved on. Daily life is taking on depth. The lens through which my soul views the outer world is on high resolution. All my senses are picking up and transmitting data from deeper levels of reality. There’s calm, equanimity and a powerful sense of connectedness.

Whatever constellation it was that kept me stuck for the last year has begun to reconfigure and it’s being reflected in my outer life: my yoga practice is suddenly stronger, work challenges are not getting me down, my relationship is hitting a wall as I refuse to accept the superficial relating, I’m socialising more (compared to my obsessive seclusion over the last year) and I’m committed to bringing real soul-relating heart into every encounter. Cut the crap.
It’s like I’ve moved a little closer to that state of Divine awareness, the state I’ve occasionally glimpsed where one is permanently united and connected with the Source…life becomes a creative act… the gap is closing…the duality ceases...vitality imbues the body as Truth pulses through the veins.
There’s this flickering flame of love that’s burning brightly inside of me, a glow in my eyes as I look out upon the world. It’s like God is looking out through my windows.

Flow like honey

Thursday 15th November 2007

Dammit I feel good – perhaps I’ll start every post with that statement.
But if I’m going to post every day I’d have to practice every day to feel this good.

I had an interrupted sleep last night (dog was frisky and full of energy all night) and was wide awake at unmentionable hours but it made no difference to practice this morning.
I flowed like honey.
As early as the Surya Namaskars my perception of my body disappeared and I moved like a gentle spoon swirling through a big jar of honey. I didn’t impose this visualisation upon my body, the feeling just emerged and as I acknowledged it’s feelingtone, my body took it on even more moving through the viscous space with a delicious lusciousness…transitions in and out of poses, vinyasas, they all became as smooth as silk, not completely effortless like water flowing but delicious like honey flowing. And that elusive malleable quality was there today so it was a gorgeous practice to be doing.

I was enjoying being in every pose, even the challenging ones, so there was no shying away from all the uncomfortable moments. When they came up (Parivritta Parsvakonasana, Virabhadrasana A and in EVERY seated pose thanks to my lumbar) I felt myself staring them straight back in the eye, not backing off or backing down or running away. I stayed there unafraid and with the inner strength to face the discomfort with integrity.
What’s fascinating is that this is also emerging in my daily life, in my relationships, and especially at work. A strength of character borne of integrity and a commitment to Truth. By Truth I don’t mean not lying, but Truth in the BIG sense of the word, that Truth which is universal and which resonates with our absolute core. Iyengar speaks poetically (in Light on Life) of our conscience as being the nasty prick of pain when we don’t listen to our soul.

But back to practice, since all the nerves in my lower back and right hip joint are on full alert in the seated forward bends, these fundamental poses are quite a challenge right now. I know these things come and go - one day my lower back problems will pass and another block will emerge somewhere – but the lower back is my practice obsession right now.
Today I stayed in all the seated poses longer than usual – from Paschimottanasana through to Marichy C...every one. No escape. Long deep Ujjiya breathing and fully present with every sensation as it arose. It’s a bit too easy to whip through these seated poses without giving them proper attention, eager to get to the gutsy ones, especially when you’ve been dong them for so many years. but they have so much to reveal if you stay to explore.
After the standard 5 breaths I sensed myself wanting to move on (as one should after 5 breaths) but I stayed a couple of extra breaths just to see if I was running away from something. So much more comes up after an enforced stay in a pose…it’s a good thing to do occasionally.
So by the time I got to the looming Marichy D-Supta K hill, I’d almost drained my bank of energy and detmination.
Bad girl here – I jumped straight to Baddha Konasana
Bad girl again – I threw in Parivritta Upavista Konasana and Parivritta Janu Sirsasana after Upavista Konasana. The justification was that my spine just really needed some serious wringing out.
Another day, another practice.

Quiet inside the mat

Tuesday 13th November 2007

Dammit I feel good – why don’t I do this every day?
Thank God for Renate – if we didn’t have out Tuesday and Thursday practices together in the Gallery my practice might fizzle out to nothing.

I ignored the fact that it was day 2 of my period (supposedly a ladies holiday). It was much more important to get on the mat since I hadn’t been on it since last Friday. I presumptuously thought practice would end up being Surja Namasakars, standing poses, then a passive menstrual sequence. I was expecting to feel slow, heavy and femininely fragile, but it wasn’t so. Instead I had a really strong Ashtanga practice right up to the backbends, then cooled down with a few forward bends instead of doing the fiishing inversion sequence.

Parivritta Parsvakonasana
It was not an easy practice physically, but mentally I was right into it…plenty of strong determination and joy today. Parivritta Parsvakonasana didn’t faze me today, in fact I met it head on by doing the classic version for five breaths (arm extended overhead), focussing on keeping my back foot grounded without letting the opposite hip swing out, then I did five breaths in the bound version (arms wrapped behind the back and under the thigh), again keeping the back foot grounded.
Staying for 10 breaths, I really got to work the twist through my upper back and shoulders and increase my leg strength– if the legs aren’t working strongly in this pose there’s a collapse through the hips and the rising energy gets blocked in the pelvis instead of travelling upwards to invigorate the upper body twist. But I pulled it off today. Walking up all those hills on the weekend must have strengthened my legs which sure helps the yoga.
Often for this difficult pose I just assume the shape then count down the breaths until I can get out of it and on to the easy Prasarittas.

Supta K was again the low point of practice – low point maybe not a good description - perhaps its the high point because it presents the greatest challenge. All the other poses kind of build up to it.
Today I didn’t shy away from the pose, I did my best trying to set it up right from the start, placing my hsoulers as deep as possible behind my thighs first (from the standing forward bend position). Even here my lower back felt challenged, its like an instant energy drain. As soon as my lower back is put under stress, mula bandha disappears and I’m denied access to any energy. It just drains away and the tap is turned off.
Kurmasana was great – my legs were extended more forward than out (I think they’re not supposed to go wider than the mat) and the strong energetic extension through my legs kept my feet off the floor for the full 5 breaths – for me that’s a good indication of success in Kurmasana.

All the following poses were magical – from here I moved easily into a different dimension, that other reality where Truth resides. Prana pulsated through me, riding on the flow of the breath. Baddha Padmasana was deep and sonorous, I love it when that happens, then when I moved into the final Padmasana, my breath became otherworldly – real pranayama happened naturally…my body spontaneously paused the breath at the height of the inhalation without any mental intention to do so, and I remained suspended here with absolutely no effort for what seemed like half a minute…not needing to breathe at all…just resting in the absolute stillness of time, in that expansive dimension that exists between the inhalation and the exhalation. God it’s so deathly quiet here, but so serene. I didn’t need to breathe at all. There…is the experience of yoga.

Socialising from the heart

Monday 12th November 2007

Is every entry is going to start with “another day without a yoga practice”?
Blogging daily just rubs salt into the wound…what to write about?
Well, it’s spring – the air is alive with scented anticipation. It’s the season of new growth new life, budding and blossoming, and the sensual abundance has intoxicated me. I feel soft, loving, excited.

I’ve accepted three social invitations for this week. What is going on?

I’ve been saying ‘no’ to invitations for so long that people stopped asking me years ago. I really prefer to be alone, self contained and integrated, social frivolity wastes our vital energy. I’m a natural hermit and I don’t make excuses for it any more. It’s me, and it’s OK.

But lunch with a work colleague yesterday (at an organic café in the hills) was delightful. I was determined not to fall into superficial conversation about trivialities. If I’m going to socialise, I want to bring a gentle authenticity to all my encounters. Keep the conversation honest and from my real heart. It’s beautiful and empowering when you relate to people like this because you establish a direct line from soul to soul. That is the only way I can relate now, anything less poisons me through every layer.


Sunday 11th November 2007

Not on the mat
Another day without a yoga practice....It’ s becoming the norm not the exception.
I’m losing track of how many days it’s been since the last one. Was it last Tuesday – I hope not.
Today and yesterday I took off to Horsenell Gully and walked the vigorous 80 minute trek up and down the hills. My determined stride was interrupted by an echidna wandering just as determinedly across my path. These shy creatures with pinnocchio noses that tunnel into the earth are covered in spikes but this is so wrong….they should be covered in fur. Perhaps back in aboriginal dreamtime they did have koala-wombat fur and an evil spirit put a hex on them. Doomed for eternity to wear a coat of spikes so no-one will ever cuddle or pat them. A life lived untouched.

The Exhibition Opening

Saturday 10th November

A warm balmy evening at an art gallery in the centre of the city. People with glasses of wine spilling out onto the street, most conversations brief, shallow and awkwardly saccharine, an occasional moment of depth following a comment or a wink of an eye, an insecurity shared, a common feeling acknowledged.

It was Renate and Louise’s opening night, the one and only exhibition opening I’ll attend socially this year. Working in a tertiary art School for 10 years, I’ve gained a network of arty friends and acquaintances by a natural process of osmosis, some of them emerging artists, some unknowns, some despised, some highly regarded and some legendary in the counter-culture circles.

As a confirmed anti-social recluse, networking and socialising for me is like sipping on arsenic.

Yet how easily I can slip into real conversations with sculptors. They seem to think about things and express their creativity more organically – they think AROUND things, they explore the space which contains things, they’re experimenting outside the square. Their minds have that pliable quality that I’ve been finding in my practice lately. I tend to think of sculptors and 3D artists as the truly creative and misunderstood elite practitioners of the art world – not unlike Ashtangis in the yoga world.


Friday 9th November 2007

I’ve occasionally thought about trying to blog every day.
I write almost every day. I’ve become one of those dead set regulars at the local café at 8am every morning, the baristas know my name and just make my coffee without me even ordering. They must wonder what I write about so fervently every day while sipping my espresso, but they never ask. And good that they don’t because my privacy would be violated, my cover blown, and I might have to change cafes.

But do I get to publish what I scribble? It’s rare. With such a busy busy life, there’s not enough time for the thoughts and feelings that arise over that morning coffee to bear fruit. I desperately need a decent block of time to reflect, to allow the thoughts to meander where they will, gathering moss, gathering momentum til they form something of substance and insight. Two coffees perhaps. Then, and only then, once it is worthwhile and insightful, will I type it up, connect, copy/paste and publish.

Half an hour over coffee is barely enough time to even scribble my practice notes. If I tried to do daily blog entries (actually publishing them to my weblog) you’d get all the endlessly superficial thoughts, so is it worth me skimming off the scum from the top of my mind every day and smearing it over a screen?
Do I really need to advertise what preoccupies my small mind while my big mind is stting back in the armchair patiently waiting for my thoughts to stop flying around and settle into it arms?

On the Mat
Renate send me an SMS on Wednesday night saying she wouldn’t be coming to practice in the Gallery on Thursday morning. So Thursday practice was walking the dog again.Today I did a short practice along with Sharath’s CD, but only up to Janu Sirsasana (have I discovered a new exit point?), but that was enough to give me a kick start to the day.

On the Mat

Tuesday 6th November 2007

Fantastic practice this morning. Every primary pose attempted and conquered, well in my mind anyway (the only exception being Supta Kurmasana – attempted and defeated yet again).
Since it WAS such a good practice Supta K was particularly disappointing, my hands barely touched. It wasn’t so long ago that I could bind to the wrist and get my feet touching by myself before the teacher came round to cross my ankes behind my head. Now…well…let’s not rub it in.
This pose needs curve and stretch across the lower back and mobility in the hip joints, and my body just won’t comply. But I did get Marichy D on both sides today which was heartening. Funny that…it actually turned out to be less intense than Marichy A! Marichy A is currently triggering all my alarm buttons – the articulation in the hip joint of this position, coupled with the forward bend means I have to do some real deep breathing to calm the panic pains arising in my lumbar.

My Son

Monday 5th November 2007

A sleepless might worrying myself sick about my son. He looked awful last night, barely able to hold himself upright but still fighting against his body’s deterioration, still pleading for some kind of intervention.
We’ll see two more doctors this week, and a neurologist and endocrinologist in about two weeks time. I pray he can last that long. It’s unbearable for him. We were talking last night about admitting him to hospital – that’s the end of the line really. Whatever is wrong in his sytem has not shown up in any tests so far, so no-one is taking him seriously. Yet this once strong, athletic, powerful young man has wasted away to a ghost in 6 months despite eating well and trying to keep up his basic exercise routine.

I got up an hour after the alarm went off and did Surya namaskars, standing poses, a couple of forward bends, a backbend, and a cut down finishing sequence.
My head aches with the heaviness of anguish for the trauma my son is enduring.

Sunday 4th November 2007

I didn’t set my alarm or have any expectation of practising this morning so I woke up in a slightly better mood – no guilt or disappointment in myself.
I threw on some clothes and drove up to Horsenell Gully for a walk. At some point in the middle of the walk, the sun disappeared behind a cloud. A freaky torrent of rain poured down and soaked my clothes to my skin. I was drenched. Then the sun came out again as if nothing had happened. Sort of sums up my moods lately. One day I’ll be soaked in my son’s pain and anguish, drowning with the weight of it, next day I’ll rise above it, feeling strong and clear and sunny.
Horsenell Gully saves me from drowning in life’s dramas – the sheer physical work of walking up the steep winding paths reinvigorates my energy system and the energy in natural places is very healing. Good combination.

Too close to the core

Saturday 3rd November 2007

I woke up crying this morning – it happens occasionally when I get caught up in what my son is going through, but it’s not such a bad thing to cry – tears relieve the pain a little. But today it meant I didn’t have the emotional strength to go to mysore practice at the shala as I’d planned.
Every second Saturday I work in the art gallery. It’s a six day working week. How on earth did I manage to do this AND teach two yoga classes last year – no wonder my mind/body rebelled with injuries.

Even without the teaching, life is crammed full. The busyness keeps me on a superficially even plane. But when I have a full weekend off, when I take time to breathe more slowly with the natural pulse of life, I sink straight to the bottom and all the unacknowledged feelings are there waiting for me.
I wonder if this rings true for a lot people who keep themselves constantly busy. We purposefully avoid getting too close to our core, because as we get closer to it, all we can see and feel is an emptiness – deep down, past the ego personality, we have no substance and what we face when we’ve dug through all those layers of personality and character is nothing – nobody home – and for most people that can be scary.

Many people I know who suffer from depression are sensitive, perceptive people who live close to their core. They sense that our modern life is artificial, that society keeps us all on a pointless merry-go-round, and the average person in the street is sleepwalking in denial.
When you’re depressed you FEEL – REALLY DEEPLY. And what you feel is great sadness and emptiness because there seems to be no purpose to life, no reason to do, achieve, aspire, create or even live. So close to the Truth, but not close enough to recognise that in that empty space is God – waiting patiently, calling softly.

Buddha’s four Noble Truths (roughtly translated):
1) Life is suffering
2) Suffering is caused by our desires and attachments
2) There is a way out of suffering
4) The Way

Perhaps we get pulled into the centre of our dark internal Universe because this is the only place where the secret can be revealed, where the ultimate Truth of our Divine essence is hidden. But the trip there through suffering is hell.
Depression is that place where we hover at the edge of the precipice, looking into emptiness, overcome by fear, unknowing and darkness. We’ve come too far and the road that brought us here has disappeared so there’s no way to get back.
Depression is the edge of the precipice.

It’s often said that crisis and trauma bring many people to the spiritual search. When the superficial and petty concerns of daily life are replaced by life threatening ones they are exposed as fraudulent, and we are plunged into the dark death of unknowing, where all our beliefs are shattered and we are left naked. That’s when the instinct to survive, to go beyond, will expand our minds.
This is when we suddenly find ourselves opening to new possibilities. This is when parts of our old mental structure and limiting belief systems dissolve away, creating space for the neglected spirit to awaken and flow in.

I am fortunate to have discovered my divine core, that God is within, that I am It - though it needs constant reinforcement not to forget and fall back into the old habits of thinking. And when I do, when the inevitable trials of life threaten to engulf me, I have to remember what I am and who I am not. I have to reach in and touch heaven with my fingertips.
But for gentle, sensitive people like my son and my sister who still cling to the edge of the precipice, who are stuck between the two worlds, life is lived in hell.
If only I could reach out with my fingertips and touch them too, tip them softly over the edge into the real world of wonder.

Exit Points and Inner Thighs

Thursday 1st November 2007

Practice started off strong but the joyride only lasted for the standing poses. At that point it changed into a passive Iyengar practice. I seem to have created certain exit points in this sequence, different places where I get off, like a bus stop. Doing this practice alone, outside the watchful eye of a Mysore class, I’m more prone to giving up early.

Exit point 1 is at the end of the Surya Namaskars – it’s pretty sad if I get off here and I don’t even count it as practice.

Exit point 2 is at the end of the standing poses – this seems like a short practice when judged by Ashtanga standards, but at least I’ve done something. And besides I’ve been to many Iyengar classes in my time where the entire 80 minute class has consisted of the full repertoire of standing poses followed by inversions with all their variations, and ending of course with Savasana, so if I get off at this exit point and do a few inversions at least I can feel like I’ve done the equivalent to a real class.

Exit point 3 is after Marichyasana C. Exiting here means my energy has waned, the seated poses have become a chore and I’ve started skipping the vinyasas, so I know I won’t have the mental determination, stamina or will to attempt Marichy D so that rough little trip from Bhuja to Supta K is unthinkable.
If I exit at Marichy C, I usually attempt a few extra poses like Baddha Konasana, Supta Padangusthasana and a couple of backbends before the finishing poses, so once again it’s not such as bad practice by “other” standards (I tell myself).

Then there’s exit point 4 at Urdhva Mukha Paschimottanasana which only happens when I’m so emotionally exhausted that I can’t summon the strength or courage to face any backbending – this was a common exit point last year but happily I rarely get off here now as backbending is the highlight of my practice these days even if I exit early.

Inner Thighs
Here’s a little gem I’ve discovered in the Surya Namaskars: an awareness of the inner thighs. When I was teaching yoga I often instructed students in Downward Dog pose to roll the inner thighs back and lift the inner thigh flesh up to the ceiling (rather than rolling it around toward the back of the thigh). This gives the sensation of a subtle upward lift. Lately I’ve been remembering this in my own practice and applying it not just in Dog Pose but in sun salutes and vinyasas, and consciously combining it with mula bandha.

This simple instruction has the initial effect of helping beginners with the pelvic tilt forward, but when the pelvis is tilted too far forward you can’t engage mula bandha to its maximum and therefore the energy from the lower body is not being fully drawn upwards. So as practice becomes more refined and subtle, it’s fascinating to play with the degree of pelvic tilt that allows the best flow of energy.

To describe it more: I’m in the standing forward bend…inhale and look up…exhale bend the knees and jump back to Chaturanga Dandasana. Right at this point I focus awareness on my inner thighs, engage these muscles and roll them upwards. At first I didn’t feel anything happening and couldn’t make the connection – it’s a real dead area – but just by trying seomthing was stimulated. During the next two moves, inhaling to Upward Dog and exhaling to Downward Dog, all my attention is focussed on consistently lifting the inner thighs and engaging Mula Bandha.

I don’t’ know why I’ve got this sudden fascination with my inner thighs. Maybe they’re just waking up after all these years. It’s quite exciting feeling life and awareness return to long dead parts of the body.

30 October 2007

Miscellaneous Ramblings

Tuesday 30th October 2007

Yesterday I had a sore throat. My reaction to this was disbelief because I haven’t been sick or had a cold for so many years. I’d actually forgotten what it was like. It’s so easy to take your health for granted, especially when many years of yoga has brought your system into balance and the practice maintains this. Impeccable health and an abundance of energy are the pay offs of practice.
Today the sore throat is gone. My immune system must have kicked into action yesterday and overpowered the invading pathogens. The childlike visual image I have of all this happening is rather entertaining…armies of little fighters equipped with swords and shields marching in unison towards the bad guys, the fight ensues, the bad guys get neutralised and destroyed, blood splattered over the battlefield, and good wins out over evil once again. Sickness averted, good health restored.

I nearly didn’t practice this morning firstly because it was so hard to get out of bed and then secondly because I thought Renate wasn't coming.

Because of daylight saving time change last Sunday we had to put the clocks forward one hour which means in REAL time, I’m getting up at 4.30am even though the clock says 5.30am. I hauled myself out of bed against my will (or becasue of it), drove in to the Gallery, set up the mats and blankets, lit the incense and stretched my body out while waiting for Renate to arrive. By 10 past 6, she hadn’t so I figured she too was time lagged and the one hour of sleep deprivation had taken its toll.
I debated whether or not to practice and decided to drive home again and walk the dog who I’d left at home alone looking solemnly sad, lonely and miserable. The guilt of leaving her for 12 hours straight had hurt this morning.

Of course as soon as I started to pack up Renate arrived, very apologetic. Quick mental turnaround. Practice is on.
All the seated poses were a delicious treat this morning so I explored them for a few extra breaths and since we'd had a late start and I knew I wasn't going to get through the entire practice, I legitimately justified jumping from Marichy C straight to Baddha Konasana.

Even so, that very rich and satisfying post-practice feeling told me my body had worked my mind over, enough to feel very altered.

“Every practice is a reversal of consciousness”
I can’t remember who said that but it’s true. Yoga practice changes us physically at a micro-cellular, chemical and energetic level. It changes us mentally at a subconscious level by developing our faculty of observation and the mental habit of stepping back from stimulus to observe our reaction before it sweeps us away. And it changes us spiritually, ever so gently raising our spiritual awareness and opening up our spiritual consciousness to prepare for Divine self-awakening.

I’m so grateful for yoga and for all the teachers and practitioners of the past and the present who've keep this tradition alive despite all the trials of our human life.

I’m also eternally grateful to have Renate to practice with – how many times have I said that? Probably not enough. She’s an extraordinary woman. Warm, wise, wonderful and creative and at the age of 59 she has boundless energy and enthusiasma for life which puts me to shame. We’ve been practising Ashtanga together on Tuesdays and Thursdays for about 5 years now (we started off in my shed) and plan to keep up the regular morning rendezvous well into our twilight years.

Renate has an exhibition of sculptures in a major gallery coming up next week in combination with a painter and close friend of ours, Louise Feneley, but since I don’t have any images of Renate’s work, I’ve posted one of Louise’s paintings from the exhibition above.
More of her work is here.

26 October 2007

3 days of practice notes

Saturday 27th October 2007

On the mat
I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve stopped practicing at the shala for a while then sheepishly returned. Today was my second practice at the shala this time back.

It was over 2 hours, but generally mediochre, distractions were everywhere and playing havoc with my level of engagement.
Kosta was practicing next to me, a 4 year old child was running around playing and talking incessantly, a shala visitor from interstate was across from me (young male) asking a lot of questions - we couldn't believe it when he queried the correct breathing in dropbacks (exhale to dropback and inhale to come up) saying he always did his standard three dropbacks holding ONE BREATH!
Distractions are no excuse really. I guess the mind just wasn’t fully immersed in the experience today unless my sum experience includes not being focussed.

The challenging poses at the moment are all lumbar stretch related: Marichyasana A and B, Supta Kurmasana and especially Pindasana. If I stick at them, I can get deep into the Marichys and Pindasana, but it's not without intense sensations digging deep holes into my spinal guts. Supta Kurmasana is still a pale version of what it used to be, my hands grab but my toes barely touch. Can you believe that coming out of Supta K and doing the vinyasa is painfully much worse than actually being in the pose. My body stubbornly refuses to do the arched lumbar curve in Upward Dog after the intense forward lumbar curve of supta K, – I have to stay a few breaths in Upward Dog to ease my lumbar into its natural curve again before moving on.

I pushed Urdhva Dhanurasa out to the max this morning, doing 6 of them and turning up the intensity of each one. My cranial nerves were getting sparky after the fifth one, so much so that I couldn’t see for a few seconds.
Inana was busy down the other end so I stood at then end of my mat for dropbacks and waited, observing the individual activity around the room for a couple of minutes. Assisted dropbacks were pretty easy but she made me stay down on the last one again and held my hips so high in Urdhva Dh that I felt every muscle fibre over my frontal hips ripping apart – it’s was a fabulous stretch from hell, the crowing glory of today’s practice.

In Sirsasana I found the energetic link between the pelvic floor and the top of my head. Drawing energy up from the mula bandha core to the crown of the head in this pose ignites the main energetic channel that runs parallel to the spine, and once you get it happening, there’s no mistaking the sensations that accompany it. The body instantly aligns itself perfectly up and around this vivid pipeline, bringing the balancing point on the top of the head to pinpoint accuracy. Some days I get it, some days I don’t.

Not much else to note. Except I’m glad to be back at the shala again, even if it is only at the Saturday morning class (this is the 8am ‘soft’ version of the hardcore 6am Mysore sessions held during the week). Simi will be back teaching this class soon, but her daughter Inana has been lovely – she adjusts gently (except in Urdhva Dh!) and her presence is unimposing but supportive. It’s been easy to just lay down my mat, do my practice anonymously and receive a guiding hand here and there.

Grace – 4
Flow – 8 up to Dandasana then dropping to 4
Joy - 7
Flexibility – 7
Malleability – 6
Strength – 8
Focus – 3
Determination – 5
Courage – 5
Breath - 7
(60, but who’s counting)

Thursday 25th October 2007

On the mat
Malleability is a physical quality I’ve been noticing, AND looking for in my practice lately. It’s quite different to flexibility.

Wihtout the luxury of a dictionary to consult, I'm only guessing, but flexibility and flex appear to have the same linguistic root, and doesn’t flex mean to bend? Our bodies bend at the joints, and for this to happen, it requires the contraction of muscles on one side and the stretching of muscles on the other side.
Not only do joints flex (bend) but muscles also flex (contract). This quality called flexibility seems to me to describe our RANGE of movement. Flexibility conjures up images of ease and freedom of movement, but not necessarily a deep connection with the body, more of a lengthening and opening built up over time with repetition. And flexibility allows the body to return to its original shape like a piece of stretched elastic.

Malleability on the other hand is different. If you mould something, it keeps that shape. Think of a lump of semi-soft clay…get your hands around it, squeeze it and reshape it, poke a hole in it or through it and instead of springing back like elastic, it accommodates and holds that shape. It’s very substance invites you to mould it into a new form.

More and more I’m noticing this malleable quality at the microcellular level of my body.

An important part of yoga practice is learning how to enter a pose and work deeply in it, strengthening the mind-body connection. And there are different ways to work in a pose – at times we need to hold a pose and gradually release the tension, blockages and restraints that restrict flexibility in the joints and muscle tissues.
But discovering the body’s malleability brings another element to work with in a pose. There’s an earthy, elemental presence in every cell of my body when it's malleable, a complete participation at the cellular level. And there's the sensuality of substance. The muscles feel full, the mind feels full, there’s more feeling permeating the body, the sensations are magnified and enjoyed, body and mind have an earthy sensuality brought on by consummating their marriage.
This is not spiritual. It’s organic. It’s honest, loving, natural, fulfilling and juicy to work with my body when it’s malleable.

I’m sure this earthy quality is directly connected to my mind state but I can’t identify the exact mental correlation yet – what makes up the flavour of my mind on those days when my body’s malleable? The answer is out of my reach.

I don’t always connect to this particular quality, but I"ve begun to notice when it’s not present, probably because I'm looking for it. Some days, my body’s as stubborn as a mule. It gets to a point in a pose and won’t go one millimetre further, at that point retreating and backing away from the edge. There’s no negotiating. That kind of practice is frustrating and only gets worse as it progresses.

So I’ve had a few practices lately where my body hasn’t been particularly flexible (bendy) but it has been very malleable. Like today. I did a full 2 hour practice not shying away from any pose. Went from start to finish with a body that enjoyed working with.

Grace – 4
Flow – 7
Joy - 5Flexibility – 4
Malleability – 8
Strength – 8
Focus – 7
Determination – 8
Courage – 7
Breath - 7

65. I can’t resist adding them up.

Tuesday 23rd October 2007

On the mat
Practice was laborious today. It isn’t about mindfulness or personal growth or spiritual connection at the moment, it's all about my lower back which has concreted itself into immobility.

I face it in every practice now and all I can do is chip away at it in each pose poking at it in each pose with a little ice pick, wishing I had a jackhammer.

So with my mind complaining more than my body, I ploughed slowly through the seated forward bends up to Marichyasana C, doing my best to neutralise the frustration, but by then the beastly back was so locked up it was almost sickening.
Five long, deep Urdhva Dhanurasana backbends saved me from the impending torture of self flagellation.

Since I don’t have TV, or read trashy magazines, or indulge in anything that ‘normal’ people do for light entertainment, I hope you’ll forgive me for what I’m about to do.

I’m going to measure my practice. (yes I know it’s ludicrous to measure one’s practice, but it’s my entertainment today).
Each quality is ranked on a scale of 10 (yes, very anal)

This is today’s assessment (You'll see I’m not a generous marker):
Grace – 3
Flow – 4
Joy - 3
Flexibility – 3
Malleability – 2
Strength – 8
Focus – 5
Determination – 7
Courage – 7
Breath 6

Which only adds up to 48 out of 100 so today I’d fail if this were a yoga school examination!

The point of the exercise of course is trying to measure and compare the ebb and flow of qualities in my practice. It’s my personal record of what qualities are present or lacking in my body each day and comparing that to the changing ecosystem in my mind.
I’m absolutely convinced that our state of mind (both conscious and sub-conscious) manifests in our body. I just haven’t worked out the algebraic formula to decipher the code.
Hence my practice assessment.

Yoga practice doesn’t have to be all serious spiritual stuff…and svadyaya (self-study) can be fun, especially if you don’t take your Self seriously.

24 October 2007


Sunday 21st October 2007

Surfing this morning was a bit disappointing, too windy to be anything but a non-stop battle with no victory in sight. The wind was hot, northerly and offshore (this is good) but about 20 knots (bad). It swung around to a strong side-offshore so I emerged from the water a kilometre down the coast from where I’d paddled in, exhausted from 20 minutes of battling the waves and wind and catching only a couple of rides.

I walked over the sand towards the rocks, put my board safely out of the wind under a low overhanging rock, then turned around and walked back into the waves in my wetsuit to play…at least make the long trip down the coast worthwhile.

I love the wildness of the relentless waves here. I love springing lightly up over them and diving sleekly into their backsides like a dolphin, over and over. It feels like an improvisational dance, the ocean leading, me following its curves and its unpredictable moves, receptive but alert to its fickle nature. Fully present.

There’s nothing on earth that can match the awesome fluid power of the ocean’s currents as they pass through you. After a short time it has cleansed me from the inside out.

Thoroughly sea-soaked I wandered back to the car, eyes water-glazed, long hair tousled into perfectly natural, wind-dried ringlets, my body salty and clean, my energy clear and quiet. I was sitting at a safe distance on top of the rocks now, gazing back out at the unpredictable swell lines looming higher as they came closer, breaking into white crests peeling from one end to the other.
I wish I was back out there. On that wave, right there.
I pull on my hat, squint and gaze longingly out to sea, gently mesmerised for a while.
Gradually the spell wears off.

Driving back to the city, the ocean beckons from behind. I keep driving. Re-entering a landscape of concrete, polluting cars and mass consumerism, something feels painfully wrong.
Whizzing down the freeway a huge red sign on the other side catches my eye…”Wrong Way, Go Back” it says. God speaks to us in mysterious ways.

(PS. That's not me in the image, I'd freeze without my wetsuit)

12 October 2007

So You Think You Can Yoga

Saturday 13th October 2007

On first thought it seems strange that yoga is a noun and not a verb since in the modern context, it’s something we actually DO each day (or week). We get on the mat but we don’t yoga, we DO yoga, or if we want to describe the act of yoga, we say we ‘practice’.
“to practice’ is a verb…’to yoga’ isn’t.

But thinking a little more about it, yoga does correctly turn out to be a noun, because yoga is a state of being.
Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind. And as all yogis know the word yoga literally translates as ‘yoke’ or ‘union’.
Yoga is the state of union that we aim for when we practice, whatever form that practice takes.

Similarly meditation is not something that we do. Meditation isn’t actually sitting in Padmasana and relaxing the mind, or sitting and focussing on the breath, or sitting and visualising a symbol, or even walking with pure awareness.
Meditation (dhyana) is the pure state of mind that results from these processes if they are successful.

Just a string of random thoughts that came out of ‘So You Think You Can Yoga’.

On The Mat
I went to a class at the shala this morning.
It seemed like I hadn’t been to the shala for over 6 months but when I checked back over my blog entries, the last morning Mysore class I went to was in early June. Only 4 months ago.

With David and Simi both overseas there are no early morning Mysore classes during the week, people just go in and practice on their own. But on Saturday’s, David and Simi’s daughter Inana takes the Mysore class. I thought it started at 8am but when I got there at 7.40am the timetable on the door said the class was 8.30-10.30am. What to do? Walk around the corner to Cibo’s for a pre-practice espresso, against all my better judgement.

So my first practice back at the shala was a bit jittery. When Inana helped me in Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana, my extended leg was not far off vertical in both A and B, but it was doing an espresso shake. Core bandha power was missing for most of the practice as it often is when I start back at shala classes, I guess it’s because there’s less internal focus, my mind just that little bit more distracted and concerned with public performance instead of the usual fully internal gaze.
Even so, it was a very full and unforgiving practice, all hard work with no slacking off, perhaps a little too heavy on intensity. Not until Upavista Konasana did I remember the yearning to ‘dance my yoga’, but it was way too late in the practice to lighten up.

Urdhva Dhanurasana was amazing. Four of them, very authentic in intention and execution. I stayed up in each one for five long breaths, pushing my spine deeper and deeper towards the centre of my body, pushing my feet deeper and deeper into the ground to work my legs more than ever, adjusting the upper thoracic vertebrae just below my neck to open and extend across my armpit chest. I walked my feet in, I walked my hands in. I did not wimp out.
After the final one, I signalled to Inana to help me with dropbacks. She has a such a lovely supportive touch. I raised my arms, and at that crucial point of liftup and archback, she touched the mid thoracic spine to increase it’s curve just as I’m reaching back.

For the first dropback she got me to stay in Urdhva D for five breaths before coming up and while down there, she firmly but gently lifted under my hips to keep them up high for the duration of the supposedly 5 breaths. But since my breath sped up, it was about 50 breaths. The nerves in my lumbar/hip area were on full alert, tissues and ligaments streeeeeetching over and above their usual limit. The pull through the front hips was almost blinding, but I stayed and stayed. Then up I came up. We did about six dropbacks with the breath after that, down and up again.
After that, I was immortalised and in dropback heaven.

A tiny revelation came to me in Sirsasana today. I squeezed my inner ankles, inner knees and inner legs together while I was working in the pose and it woke up a magic spot, an energetic point where mula bandha originates, somewhere between the sacrum and pubis, it’s sexy and powerful at the same time. If you try the squeeze, keep the sacrum pressed forward and the front thighs pressed back, this alignment’s critical to activate the energy of the sweet spot.

The Light in my Life

Friday 12th October 2007

On The Mat
At 6am I got up and drove to the Gallery to do a practice before work. Nice to be there on my own for a change, the quiet solitude of personal practice is now familiar territory, like a home away from home. The gallery space was a bit messy today, the floor strewn with nails and paint cans, a few paintings propped up around the walls - a new exhibition opens here tonight and it’s only half hung – work will be panic today, and then I’ll have to stay on for the exhibition opening…quite a long day.

I really enjoyed the surya namaskars, watching my body warm and loosen up over the first few rounds, responding to the message of my breath as it started to go staccato and get caught in the B’s. I consciously smoothed it out by turning down the mental intensity.

I went straight into Parivritta Parsvakonasana B without even doing A, (this is the version with bound hands), which was a leap of faith or absolute madness but luckily I was up to it today. The pose was strong, the front leg bent fully to 90 degrees and the back foot glued to the floor (unlike the photo in the link). The low twist in this pose burrows all the way into my inner lumbar, the area of my body that’s in a permanent state of anxiety. I suspect it might be finally opening after all these years of being unconscious/dead, but it’s not a pleasant process.
I have a continual urge to twist and crack something big down there, do some massive reconstructive adjustment. My lumbar area has this annoying inner tickle which I can’t get to, and the urge to scratch it and scrape it and clean it out is driving me mad. It’s as if the cement blockage that’s been lodged here for 30 years is starting to soften and now that it’s thick presence is being felt on an emotional level, my psyche wants to detonate a bomb in there and nuke it off the planet.
Along with this urge to contort my lumbar and release it’s tight core is the associated danger of injury so I’m having to be extra careful now, this area’s very unstable. An earthquake is rumbling around my lower spine.

After Parivritta Parsvakonasana I attempted Pasasana, yes, way out of sequence and context but my body was pleading for extra twisting. My fingers touched on one side but that wasn’t the goal…I needed to bend deep in the hips then twist that central spot in front of my sacrum to feed my masochistic hunger- a tidal wave of pain, fear and emotion arose, it was deep work but great therapy.
With a 6.30am start it was never going to be a full practice since I like to be out of the Gallery by 8am. After my flirt with Pasasana I went back and completed the rest of the standing poses, did a few forward bends without vinyasas, a few good backbends to dig in to my lumbar a bit more, then a fully fleshed out finishing sequence. All delicious and satisfying.

Light – this is the elusive quality that I’ve misplaced. It’s missing from my yoga practice and it’s missing from my state of mind. The connections we make between our yoga practice and the rest of our life reveal the extent and depth of our spiritual practice. What is happening in our physical body as revealed on the yoga mat is a true and accurate indication, an untainted reflection of our state of mind.

If I’ve learned one thing from all these years of yoga practice, it’s the interactive connection between the body and mind – what’s happening on one level ripples through to the other, like a two way mirror reflecting our constantly changing thoughts and emotions.
Tight mind= tight body, deluged with sadness= heavy body, fallen in love= body light and full of joy. Every thought we think registers somewhere in the body, think it over and over and you thicken the neural pathway establishing a habit pattern in the mind which lodges more deeply in the corresponding part of the body.

Those times when my state of mind is clear and positive, I feel like I’m filled with Light and I naturally emanate Light and Love into the world around me, my eyes sparkle and my body’s at ease, my yoga practice is light and open.
This Light is the expression of our true nature, the divine core that is pure and crystal clear, the source of the Light that lies deeply buried beneath layers of muck.

Yoga is the front-end loader that clears the muck away.

The muck is all a combination of negative thoughts and the misguided beliefs that produce them. Both Yoga and Buddhism use the term ‘Ignorance’ to describe the state of not-knowing, the state of being unaware of our Divine Light and how to release it.

Thinking, thinking, thinking…it’s like a can of worms inside my mind right now, but I guess the good news is I am seeing it. The inner Light and expression of my Divine Self is temporarily obscured and blocked by the dense accumulation of self centred thoughts.
So…how do I reverse this trend (yet again)?
Step 1. Awareness of the problemStep 2. Take full responsibility for my own state of mind (not blame life’s circumstances)
Step 3. Determine precise action to fix the problem
Step 4. Find ways to remember the Light, all day long
Step 5. Give thanks for this beautiful life

When I re-read my last post (So You Think You Can Dance), I can see how my intoxication with the dance program is really an unconscious yearning for that Light.
By analysing why I fell in love with the program, I was attempting to identify what’s lacking in my life. I seized upon the dancer’s creative vitality, I wanted to feel that again, I want to dance, I want to fly.
Dance expresses the divine spirit through movement, grace, ease and space. As we move our bodies through physical space, extending through limbs and extremities, we are opening up our bodies, dissolving blocks so they become free of obstacles and purer vehicles for the expression of divine energy. Dance make us children again.

I wasn’t too far off the mark and the more I reflect and tease this out, the more conscious I am becoming of the work to be done, and the closer I’ll get to uncovering the light of my life.
This spiritual path is not an easy one. Travelling from darkness to light, facing my shortcomings, is tedious and painful, more like pulling teeth actually.

5 October 2007

So You Think You Can Dance

Saturday 4th October 2007

At least once a fortnight I spend Friday night at my daughter’s place for a mother/daughter bonding sleepover. We used to watch multiple episodes of Prison Break together in 7 hour marathons withour the interruption of inane advertisements, sometimes we'll watch a DVD, but our current obsession is “So You Think You Can Dance”. She tapes the episodes during the week so we can eat dinner (and dessert) together in front of the replay while her 3 year old daughter soaks up the female bonding vibes.

We just LOVE this program.

The dancing is inspirational, the contestants are gorgeous, vibrant, emotional, creative young people of real character and courage. Their immaturity and flaws are revealed with warmth, their hopes and dreams made obvious, age has not yet mellowed or dulled them.
The structure of the entire competition from the initial en-masse auditions to the cream-of-the-crop finals is really well thought out. My only criticism is the replaying of the judges comments when reviewing the previous night's performances - for me this drags the suspense of the final decision over my tolerance line.

We viewers get close to the dancers as they are miraculously teleported live, right into our living rooms. The informal clips from rehearsals and interviews really give us behind-the-scenes insight into who they are and the effort they put into this program, and I get way too involved with these creative kids.
Which explains why I cried when Jessie was cut from the competition.
She was asked what she’d miss most...she paused for a long moment then replied “Pasha” (the dance partner she’d become so close to) with such a raw truthfulness not usually revealed on national TV, and I understood instantly. Dancers communicate through their bodies and those contestants are paired together under extreme circumstances and have to develop a most intimate creative relationship, the extent we could only imagine.
With that one answer, Jessie connected straight into me, and in that instant, the rich compression of all her emotions and experiences were revealed, it overwhelmed me.

Boy, am I ever sucked in…can you see why I can’t have a TV in my house – I’m much too vulnerable.

But, being a yogi, and a contemplative person who is always exploring my own reactions, i can't just watch and enjoy. I must delve into why I enjoy. What is this program revealing to me about myself. Interesting stuff is starting to emerge as I plug into my subconscious and tease this out further.
The pull of this program for me excites an enormous human yearning to live life to the full, to express emotion, to be real, to experience the incredible highs that come when our natural urge to express and communicate is channelled through a creative force (eg. dance, art, music) and then brought to fruition through hard work, discipline and endurance.

Is this missing from my life? Am I unconsciously seeking from those dancers the inspiration of youth, a hidden desire to shake off the cobwebs of middle age comfort and wake up to Life?

Yoga fulfils this to a certain degree because it takes me into unfamiliar territory where I keep discovering a constantly deepening inner universe, where I connect to an unknown but strangely familiar force, but yoga's a solo journey and the juiciness of Life comes from our interaction with others. How long can you dance with yourself? Perhaps I seek to merge and dance with the force of Life itself.

Although there’s a lot going on in my outer life which is more than enough to manage, amidst all of that, my soul yearns to deeply connect with Life, to sing and dance on the brink of ecstasy, shed tears of joy and grief, love fully without boundaries and express truth without compromise.
Dance is spontaneous and creative, and the product is ephemeral. You dont' have anything to show for it when it's finished except a feeling and a memory. It'snot like painting or music where you can view or hear the product of your creative impulse.
Dance exists only in the moment.
Another reminder to live my life fully, only in the moment. The moment is all there ever is.

Gee...if I hadn’t started writing down my train of thought about a TV program I’ve been sucked into, this basic lesson would have gone unnoticed.

This has been an interesting post for me, an unexpected, unedited ramble, but the simple act of writing freely with no agenda or direction while the mixed up thoughts are unravelling themselves, has been a very revealing and psychotherapeutic process.

So thank you to the producers, directors and participants of that program for bringing all this to my attention.

I will now have to get up off this chair and dance for my life.

28 September 2007

Thursday 25th September 2007

Thank you to every soul out there who has sent their prayers...know that they exert an invisible power and that I am grateful.

I read a book recently called The Divine Matrix by Gregg Braden which attempted to explain the web-like links we all have with each other – sort of new age quantum physics mixed with mysticism. It didn’t quite go all the way to say that we are all The One, but it certainly alluded to it.
I have no doubt that as one human being suffers, at an invisible level we all do. As one heart ascends, so all of humanity is lifted.

My son is now fighting an enormous battle to regain his foothold on sanity. If he can get back onto solid ground I'm sure he'll be able to claw his way back to mental and physical health.
He is a fighter, a boxer, a warrior. He will survive.
He refuses to accept what has happened to him, to allow the people who so recklessly prescribed these debilitating drugs then dismissed his concerns to get away with destroying the life he'd built up. Unfortunately this attitude is probably increasing his suffering and turmoil, as he replays the events over and over in his mind in an attempt to gain clarity and understanding. It’s hard to know what approach is best: acceptance of his plight so he can move forward from this low point, or his stubborn refusal to accept it so he can fight the injustice, get even with the perpetrators and achieve some emotional compensation.

How can so-called ‘experts’ in the mental health profession be so unintelligent and insensitive?
Prior to this I’d had no contact with the mental health system, so it’s been a shock to discover that practitioners (mainly psychiatrists) rarely help people with empathetic and genuine counselling. Believe me I’ve heard some real horror stories lately.

If my son had listened to the two psychiatrists and one psychologist/pain expert we consulted, he would be in hospital and brain dead beyond repair by now. And someone with less guts than my son might have, in that situation, conceded that their mind was not clear enough to know what would help them and actually listened to these idiots.
Seriously…Electo Convulsive Therapy?
Anyone with half a brain knows INSTINCTIVELY that this treatment is barbaric and irreversible. Our brains and minds are exquisitely sensitive instruments, of a complexity that is light years beyond the comprehension of our most advanced scientific experts. This treatment does not act precisely to address a specific neural imbalance, it fries everything, yet it's so readily recommended as safe these days that we could be forgiven for believing this. NOT SO. Dr Peter Breggin again has exposed the long term damage it causes to patients in this article.

So where does that leave my son right now?
Thankfully the absolute shock and despair of his mental and physical deterioration has subsided and he is no longer suicidal. I’ve encouraged him to recognise his inner strength, I've validated all his experiences as real, and I've vowed to do whatever it takes to get him on the path to recovery.
We are still trying to find someone who may be able to shed light on exactly what has changed in his neural/chemical makeup and this is giving him hope. Today I will contact some neuropsychiatrists to see if any may be sympathetic and willing to help him unravel the mystery of why he is still deteriorating and why the thick fog of anaesthesia in his head won't budge, three months after stopping all medication.

All his medical and blood tests are normal, which reinforces our growing awareness of the limitations of western medicine. Something in his physiology really isn't functioning properly (or at all) and we can't get answers to what it is, so now we're exploring alternative therapies to address his declining health and extreme chronic fatigue.
From a yoga perspective, I’d say his life force is drying up, or perhaps it is just blocked. His body seems unable to generate it despite an extremely healthy vegetarian diet and sincere attempts to exercise.
Up til now, my son (a Taurus through and through) has been stoically resistant to anything ‘alternative’ (yoga, acupuncture, ch’i kung, ayurveda etc). He lumped it all in the ‘hippy’ category. Today we'll visit the Chinese doctor for acupuncture and herbs, which is an extraordinary U-turn for him. I’m astounded and grateful that he is now open to this. But I guess he's desperate. If Chinese traditional medicine doesn't help, next on the list is homeopathy, then perhaps some other healing modalities. But I firmly believe that with the passing of time, Nature will bring his system back into it's natural balance - he just needs time, faith and patience.

On the mat
Yes I’m still practising.
Yoga practice is both the anchor that grounds me and the breeze that lifts my spirits. Now, more than ever, those two hours are for returning to the safe house, temporarily out of the war zone.

6am practice in the Gallery on Tuesday turned out to be a reunion – Renate, Kosta and Sasha all turned up. I started off slow and deliberate, but steadily built up a powerful momentum which carried me through every pose in the entire primary sequence. A full practice at last.

Standing poses were grounded by the breath-focus in my feet rising to fill out the poses from the ground up, and after a strong Virabradrasana B, a little prompt made me try a freestanding Handstand at the front of my mat. The prompt came from nowhere, but I followed, kicked up softly and found the magic spot straight away. I stayed up there, in perfect balance for what seemed like minutes (in real time it was probably about 15 seconds). That pinnacle of suspension in perfect equipoise is an exquisite experience. Even now the feeling is still with me and as I think of it I re-enter the sublime heights, elevated above the mundane, I’m back up there, in suspension, and time and breath are held motionless.

Practice this morning (Thursday) was not as focussed – my mind seemed to be indelibly super-glued to the plight of my son.
During the sun salutes I had to pry it off over and over.

Come back to now. Stay present.
But I didn’t want to stop thinking about him because it felt selfish, like I was abandoning him, like every moment I thought about my son just might bring me closer to solving his problems and every moment was critical.

The emotional tug-of-war between There and Here continued unabated until Paschimottanasana, then it took a turn, as if the stronger side suddenly pulled harder and won.
In the forward bend I noticed my quads weren’t fully engaged, an action that grounds the entire pose. I corrected it, pulled up the quads firmly, pressed the thighbones down and felt mula bandha return. Then I wandered off to my son, lost it all, noticed I’d lost it all, re-engaged the mental and physical firmness to a slightly lesser intensity, drifted off again, brought myself back…etc…etc…etc…until my mind muscle gave up.

I did a weak vinyasa.

Then Purvottanasana, and the promise of redemption, especially if I could engage mula bandha and draw it energetically up to the top of my chest. There it lifted and opened my heart up like an erupting volcano. A tiny spark of energy flickered.

A slightly stronger vinyasa.

Ardha Baddha Padma Paschimottanasana – right side. I stayed in it for 12 breaths today – it normally takes 6 long, strong, focussed breaths before my right hip and knee will release their grip, so I usually ignore the regulation 5 breath rule here. When they release I gain access to all the emotional pain locked up in my lower back so I stick around and watch it writhing like an injured snake.
The other side of Ardha Baddha comes too easy so I have to work equally hard in a different way to avoid slacking off. The work is more subtle and my mind has to tune up to a finer frequency to remain present.
But extending the stay in this pose slows down the velocity of practice, kills the momentum.

I stayed longer than 5 breaths in Trianga Mukhai, but I wasn’t counting anymore, just enjoying the show, watching my body parts systematically release and adjusting the alignment of my pelvis in increments, keeping a watchful eye on the energy flow of the straight leg.

I stepped through the vinyasa…everything slowing down now.

Janu Sirsasana A – it’s such an elementary pose, but there’s so much going on when viewed through the microscope of total attention, the fullness of awareness seeing through muscles, tissue and bone, watching and directing fluids and energy around the body.

No vinyasa between sides, but I managed a real one after the second side – it was to be my last for today.

Janu Sirsasana B – just hurt my feet which was a surprise, they must be extra sensitive for some reason today. After all these years of practice (and-gulp- teaching) I’m still not really sure how to position that foot. Is it in the same flexed configuration as Janu A? Or is it rolled over with the sole facing slightly upwards? Both positions hurt.

No vinyasa.

Janu Sirsasana C – is fast catching up to Utkatasana as an unexpected favourite pose of mine (I think I’ve described the immediate change in my breath when I hit Utkatasana in a previous post) . In Janu C, the continual pressure from the heel into the inner thigh and an equal and opposite pressure inwards from the outer thigh creates something exciting. The inner stream of prana percolates upwards with this inward squeezing. I let that happen then remembered to press the bent knee down a bit more and my lower back screamed with delight – then the sparring dialogue opened up between those two, going back and forth like a see-saw, the knee testing the limit of how far it could go, the lower back sending immediate replies.

I laid back on the floor, interlocked my hands and took them overhead til they too rested on the floor above me. It felt good. This was my…(ahem)…new vinyasa.

My mind wanderered momentarily and I asked myself 'what would I have done at this point if I'd been practising at the shala?' The answer...'just kept going - so what's stopping me?'

Marichy A. My body really wasn’t complying now, but there was no struggle, just acceptance, awareness, understanding and application. I bound hands, went forward and held on. That was it.
Laid back on the floor again. This time it felt TOO good.
My entire body released into the earth and I felt a buoyancy supporting me. Instead of descending into the heaviness of Savasana, I finished off with a few inversions, rolling slowly out of Halasana then halfway back into it a few times to give my lower back muscles an acupressure treatment.
Then finally Savasana.
I do miss it when I don't do an intense, sweaty, challenging Ashtanga practice, but for now the challenges off the mat are excessively high voltage and I have to accept that I'm not superhuman.
Those two sweet hours of yoga were not an escape but a precious distraction, a necessary tonic to disperse the tension of my obsessive preoccupation with my son, a time to reconnect to the Source and recharge my batteries.

Ready to re-enter the war zone, fight alongside my son, and win.

21 September 2007

Saturday 22nd September 2007

The last two weeks have been traumatic.

My son rang me one morning, he’s 25, he was in tears and said he couldn’t bear to go on living.

I panicked, dropped everything and drove like a wildwoman to his house. I got him in to see someone that day who helped on the day by listening, then got him an appointment with a psychiatrist two weeks later.
Two weeks on and we are faced with no hope from the medical profession at all, in fact my son and I are both devastated at how impotent and useless most doctors/psychologists and psychiatrists are.

Every day my son’s mental and physical condition worsens and no one seems willing or able help him.

It all started at the beginning of this year when he was suffering from insomnia and was worried that it would impair his performance at the new job he was starting. The GP prescribed very mild sleeping pills, but my son’s mind is acutely perceptive and so finely tuned that the pills hit him like a shot of heroin. He complained of the side effects and was prescribed some other medication which only made him anxious and confused.

He went to a different doctor who recommended Prozac.
As soon as he took it he spiralled out of control, the anxiety skyrocketed, but the doctor said this would wear off. It didn’t and got worse. My son said it was worse than being on speed.
His doctor called in the Assessment and Crisis Intervention Service team (usually only called in when the patient is suspected of suicidal or harmful action – his medication was changed to a strong sedative which immediately sent him into a brain-dead daze, he was unable to function. His body deteriorated quickly over the next month.
Whereas before he’d been athletic, with explosive muscular power and reflexes maintained by 2 hours of boxing training every day, soon he was a lifeless zombie living in a shrunken shell of a body, with barely enough energy to walk. All this happened over the course of four months.

He’d experienced adverse reactions to all of the medications and it hadn’t been recognised by his doctor or the Crisis Intervention team that were now visiting him sporadically at home and supposedly monitoring him.

Two and a half months ago, dazed and drugged, he somehow had the flicker of insight to stop all the anti-depressant medication, abruptly. His incredible strength and will to survive momentarily flashed through the thick fog.

He has continued to watch his mental and physical health decline at an alarming rate despite taking no medication, no drugs, eating well, still trying to exercise, and summoning all his accumulated self knowledge and wisdom to fight this battle.

It seems like the SSRI medication has damaged a part of his brain and paralysed his feelings.
Where once he was a young man of great potential, creativity, with rich and beautiful feelings about life, now he's unable to feel anything for anyone or any activity. The adverse reaction to the medication has left him dead inside unable to feel any joy, excitement, love, empathy, or any desirefor the things he used to enjoy. It’s called depersonalisation syndrome.
He can identify easily with the people who go into a place and shoot everyone without remorse or conscience.

It was a Saturday morning two weeks ago when he rang my mobile phone, crying. He couldn’t go on like this any more, day after day, isolated, stuck in the house alone, no feelings, no energy, no life force, nowhere to go. He said he felt like he was in an aeroplane that’s about to crash and nothing can stop it. You have no control over that destiny. You’re about to die.

For the past two weeks my heart’s been beating at a superhuman rate, on adrenalin overload to match the crisis. Only a mother who’s child is in immediate danger knows this feeling. Eyes flared, brain on full alert, chemicals rushing through the system, fight and flight, then fight more with everything you’ve got, protect and save at all costs, my own life means nothing. Every moment, every thought is about my son.

I took some days off work to stay with him, to watch him, to listen to him, to share his pain and anguish at what had been done to him, to cry with him, to counsel him, to be there for him. I slept in the spare bed, unable to leave him alone in the house, fearing the worst.

Two weeks on.
We’ve seen two psychiatrists, one private practitioner, and one from the hospital. They both insisted that anti-depressant medication can’t do this to people, that my son is severely depressed and blaming the medication “paranoid thoughts”.
Yet I’ve done all the homework.
Here is evidence.
And Here is the book that reveals what the entire medical profession won’t admit to.
They’ve been brainwashed by the drug companies that rule the world. In years to come, like thalidomide, we’ll surely discover how dangerous those medications are– they alter the chemical balance in your brain and for people who don’t want to escape life but want to face it head on like my son, being doped out so they can’t think straight is violently abusive and damaging.

But my son trusted that the doctors and psychiatrists and professionals knew better than he did about what could help him.
They didn’t.
Instead of listening to him, understanding him and giving him wise counsel, they took the easy way out and medicated and sedated him. And those medications have left him physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually permanently damaged.

Tell me what kind of a society do we live in when the professional people we turn to in times of crisis, end up damaging us beyond repair. Then they wash their hands and move on, leaving the patient traumatised.
My son may never recover from this. He is angry, he is frustrated. He wants to kill them all for what they’ve done to his life.

Understandably, we are not only suspicious, but incredulous of the two psychiatrists we’ve just seen who want to admit him immediately to hospital and administer Electric Convulsive Therapy – how barbaric is that? Can it possibly get any worse?

What the immediate and short term future holds I have no idea. I don’t want to think about it. I focus on an image of my son as he was a year ago, strong, healthy and happy, before this nightmare started. I pray so intently for him that my body surges with Divine love and power – and I send it to him, connecting with him, feeling the love and strength returning to his body through mine.

This should not have happened.