31 January 2011

Camping

I am in my bathers, in a tent, in a campground, suurounded by scrubby sand dunes, on the southern most tip of Yorke Peninsuala.
Most people who camp here are surfers.
Walking along a track through the dunes I get to a deserted beach in the middle of Pondilowie Bay.


Looking south along the beach I can see the big Pondilowie campsite; about a kilometer north is one of the best surf breaks on the peninsula. I've found a camping spot in the middle and although there are a few others in the camp ground, no-one is on this beach.
I walk along the shoreline towards the Pondilowie surf break - its not quite so deserted here. I count 10 guys out on the waves. A group of sun-hatted girlfriends laze on the beach watching them.
It's 8.30am.

I surfed here once about 10 years ago - a brave 40 year old female amongst the guys. Paddling out I remember feeling that familiar heady mixture of extreme anxiety and adrenalin rush - I was scared to death of these waves, but paddled out anyway, plundering through my fear. They were the best waves I'd ever surfed.
Today there's not much swell, 4-5 foot clean waves, but a long long wait between sets. I sit on the beach and watch the surfers, relieved to have finally offloaded all remnants of youthful bravado. I no longer need to prove anything to anyone (including myself).

In my late teens I flew light aircraft, and got my pilot's licence in a Grumman Cheetah at aged 20. In my mid 30's I took up surfing. Youthful vitality and exuberance compelled me to extend myself in an effort to discover what I was capable of. In our younger years we take risks and push boundaries, expanding our sense of self out into the world to fill out our potential.

By middle age, our quota of those fiery youthful hormones are running low - they seep away as we settle comfortably into the characters we have moulded for ourselves. We take less risks, and find excuses to avoid the confrontion of new challenges that don't fit into the boundaries we have formed.
As our life stabilises and solidifies around familiar routines that support us, so our vital energy field loses its youthful spark as it too stabilises. This is the plateau of middle age, the bridge between youthful exuberance and the inevitable slide into old age.

I take comfort from the Hindu tradition of ashramas that separate a person's life into four distinct phases:
The student – spiritual learning under a guru
The householder – focus on family, career or job, community.
The retired person – time to contemplate the meaning of life and death
The ascetic – worldly ties are broken, devotion to God

As I enter my 50s, its not so much fear or a lack of vital energy that prevents me from doing new and exciting things, travelling to new places and taking on new challenges, but more that my priorities have shifted from exploring the outer world to exploring the inner world:
Yoga practice is where I explore the multi-layered landscape of Self; meditation is a fascinating journey into deeper levels of consciousness.

My outer life has become a response to my inner life, not vice versa.

So I am out here in a tent, under the trees and the stars, blissfully alone, and completely content.























It's a hot weekend, 40 degrees Centigrade today, probably more in this tent, and probably hotter tomorrow. I lay with maximum skin exposed, grateful for the light sea breeze moving through the tent and over my skin. The beach may be fresher - its an option if I start to suffocate in this sweat lodge.
Big four wheel drive vehicles grumble slowly past my tent, either stalking the area for a good place to camp, or heading off towards the surf.

Camping alone I am wild and free. I can be as dishevelled as I want, I can lay around and read or sleep all day or go wandering or swimming or just sit and meditate if I want. And the silence is bliss, it is the silence of not having to talk to anyone, the silence of not having to be anyone.

This tent is my cave; simple chores all require mindfulness and care - like warming food on a gas burner, washing dishes in a bucket, pulling on clothes while laying down.
Nothing is familiar.
I do everything carefully, with surgical precision. One mistake and the tent could catch on fire or the mattress will be soaked, or some other irrepairable catastrophe.

Camping is a wonderful exercise in awareness and presence.

Saturday morning I wake up as the sun rises.
The night breezes have died down and already the tent is warm.
Looking over at the photo of Mark I remember the love I felt for him and feel it instantly flood my heart again. His image triggers a flow of clear, pure loving energy in me but the love is not directed towards Mark, a person who is no longer alive. I recognise this love as a universal force, an energy that flows through us when our hearts are open, connecting us all as one within this Divine creation.
And as I remember Mark, his smile, his body, his arms squeezed tightly around me, it’s sweet nectar fills my body, mind and spirit, dissolving the boundaries between self and other.
I am living with this gift, this Love that he brought into my life.

Mark and I shared a simultaneous and mutual opening - it was the first time either of us had experienced this union betwen souls, this deeply human love with another person.
Was he a soul mate? Maybe, maybe not.
Was this a once-in-a-lifetime experience of a profoundly real love? I hope not.

Six weeks have passed since Mark's abrupt death - a cruel twist of fate for two people joined in an ecstatic human/divine union.
I have moved on from the shock.
With the passing of time, the journey continues. The flow of life is constantly moving and changing and each new day takes me further away from the time I spent with Mark and his tragic death.
I look back to see it in the near distance, a significant landmark imprinted deeply into my psyche, soon it will fade into the far, hazy distance of my memory.
I am not clinging to that place any more. I am neither holding on to the memory of his love nor mourning his death. The flow of life wouldn't let me stay.

I am here, in a tent near the beach, and outside is a kangaroo.
























"I went out to the hazel wood
Because a fire was in my head..."

26 January 2011

Padmasana

Tuesday evening I walk home from work looking forward to the rare weekday evening with no commitments ahead of me. Tonight some time alone is critical to my mental and emotional health. Ebony (my daughter) asked me to visit her tonight...I said no for the very first time.
I am saying no to more people more often.

At 6.30pm I start my yoga practice, taking a leisurely 15 minutes to warm up - a long hang-like-a- rag-doll Uttanasana and some passive lunges ease the work day stress out of my body; Supta Padmasana prepares it for the early Lotus poses in Headstand and Shoulderstand.

Iyengar's Week 26 - 30 sequence is open by my mat. This sequence is becoming familiar and enjoyable, a reliable old friend that I can visit anytime.
My mood tonight is intense, focussed but steady; it carries over into the practice.

Sirsasana - 20 breaths in the pose then 5 breaths in each variation. I can't get into Padmasana on the first side tonight, but I know it will soon become accessible more regularly in Headstand. There's been a steady improvement in all the poses in this sequence, even though I've only done it on average about once a week for the past few months.
Padmasana in Sirsasana on the second side is ridiculously easy tonight. Noticing this new ease reminds me that with regular practice 'all is coming'.
From Urdhva Padmasana, I lower my folded legs into Pindasana increasing the grip on my core muscles (abdomen and pelvic floor) to support the weight bearing load on my lumbar. The muscles in this area feel like scar tissue, unstretchable plastic, dull, lifeless, unreachable.

All up, 10 minutes standing on my head.

Sarvangasana, 20 breaths in the pose then 5 breaths in each variation, all up 20 minutes in the Shoulderstand sequence.
I stay for 8 breaths in Urdhva Padmasana in Sarvangasana and also in Pindasana, much more willing to stay with the uncomfortable sensations in these poses - hard fibres stretching, the stimulation of root spinal nerves - willing to stay, observe, adjust.
That sums up my approach tonight - willing.
Willing to stay in the poses, willing to be fully involved in them.
Not afraid to face discomfort, in fact welcoming it as a juicy challenge.
Tonight I even make an honest, whole hearted attempt to work at Lolasana for 5 breaths on each side, a pose I usually approach with disdain or contempt!

A series of Padmasana (legs in Lotus) poses follows on from the forward bend sequence and Lolasana.
It starts with a simple seated Padmasana, then progresses to
Parvatasana (sit in Lotus with hands interlocked and arms raised straight up to vertical),
Tolasana (sit in Lotus, hands pressed to the floor then lift the Lotus legs off the ground)
Matsyasana (sit in Lotus, then lay back to the floor, arching the spine into a backbend with the sitting bones and top of the head pressed into the floor).
I do all of these poses on one side, then change the cross of my Lotus legs and do them all on the other side.
Often I will skimp on the first seated Padmasana, staying only a couple of breaths, too eager to move on. Why do a simple seated Padmasana when the next three poses all have Padmasana bases?

Tonight I fold my legs into the first seated Padmasana, place my hands palms up on my knees, thumb and middle finger forming a mudra.
Sitting quietly, chin in to throat, engaging both Jalandhara Bandha and Mula Bandha, I find myself fully content to be in this magnificent pose. I sit in Padmasana, Ujjayi breath rising and falling like waves on the shore. I sit like the God of Thunder summoning the forces of the universe, as if they are at my fingertips, waiting to be of service. Tonight I begin to discover the untapped mystical power of Padmasana.
Now fully conscious of my previous tendency to dismiss this traditional pose in favour of the successive Lotus poses, I shall not pass it over again.

The traditional secret texts mention that the practitioner who can perform Shirshasana (the head-stand) for 30 minutes and Padmasana for a similar period of time, correctly, may consider himself/herself an advanced practitioner of the Hatha-Yogic system.
Having kept both hands together in the lap, performing the Padmasana firmly, keeping the chin fixed to the chest and contemplating on Him in the mind, by drawing the apana-vayu up (performing Mula Bandha) and pushing down the air after inhaling it, joining thus the prana and apana in the navel, one gets the highest intelligence by awakening the sakti (kundalini) thus.
(N.B-- When Apana Vayu is drawn gently up and after filling the lungs with the air from outside, the prana is forced down by and by so as to join both of them in the navel, they both enter then the Kundalini and, reaching the Brahma randra (the great hole), they make the mind calm.

Then the mind can contemplate on the nature of the atmana and can enjoy the highest bliss.)

The Yogi who, sitting with Padmasana, can control breathing, there is no doubt, is free from bondage."

This asana is indicated for the awakening and development of latent physic, psychic, mental and spiritual forces.

During the practice of this asana, the practitioner obtains easily a state of profound meditation, contemplation, worship or prayer.
Its persevering practice leads to the revelation of the Supreme Self, Atman, and it makes possible a beatific state of communion/fusion with the Divine (SAMADHI).

From Sivasakti.net

Again in Virasana (Hero Pose) I discover my tendency to do the pose simply as a preparation for the following poses rather than honouring it as a unique experience in itself.
The light of awareness is on.
Virasana is another simple seated pose, too often dismissed by advanced yoga practitioners in favour of more challenging poses.
But the gift is in the silent simplicity and the suspension of desire.
I sit, breathing a deeply resonant Ujjayi breath, quite content to stay in Virasana for hours. Remaining still and resolute, energy flows up and down my straight spine, flushing out psychological weaknesses, empowering my will.
Thoughts about the following poses, Supta Virasana and Paryankasana do not arise to disturb the equanimity of this pose. Virasana has enchanted me with her simplicity and beauty, her purity of purpose.
Tonight I stop...and take time to smell the roses, in every one of these yoga poses.

The practice finishes at 8.30pm.

I remember a recent comment from Samantha, asking me how I felt after a two pose practice when I only did Sirsasana and Trikonasana. The question pierced into me like an arrow because I hadn't taken notice.
We should be asking ourselves that question before and after every yoga practice.
In fact as yogis, mystics, seekers, spiritual practitioners, we should be asking this question continuously, in order to observe the impact on our body and mind of everyday events, conversations, other people's energy, our commitments, our thoughts, the words we speak, the foods and drinks we consume, the weather etc...etc... and our reactions and responses to those impacts.

How am I REALLY feeling right at this moment, and why?

And what is required in this very moment to be stable, balanced, loving and connected (or whatever else we are aspiring to)?

Don't be afraid to uncover the truth.

Tonight, both during Savasana and after, I remember to observe and note how I am feeling as a result of the practice, not only physically but also on the energetic, mental and emotional levels of being. How interesting it is searching for words to describe the subtle and varied shifts of consciousness brought about by yoga practice.
Some words filter through: words like simmering, slow burn, powerful but peaceful, plugged into the power source of all life, drinking from a deep well. I search but I don't have the vocabulary to describe it tonight...and while attempting to put it into words, I realise I am outside of it, observing it, and losing it. I want to hold onto this powerful conscious presence, and drench every cell in it so the essence is absorbed.

I rise from Savasana and walk to the kitchen, passing a photo of Mark on the way. His cheeky, mischievous smile lures me into his world. We connect. I smile back. Wherever he is right now, we are there together, beyond these physical constraints of space and time.

21 January 2011

Horsnell Gully Walk this Morning













Padmasana in Sirsasana

So good to get home from work and have the rest of the night to myself.
I started practice at 7.15pm, wth Light on Yoga next to my mat, it's permanently stuck open at the Week 26 - 30 sequence.

I start with 20 breaths in Sirsasana (Headstand) then effortlessly move through the variations – Parvsva Sirsasana (twisted Headstand), Eka Pada Sirsasana (one leg straight up, the other lowering towards the floor), then Padmasana in Sirsasana (folding legs into Lotus while in Headstand) and Pindasana in Sirsasana (folding the lotus legs down and into the body).

Tonight for the first time I am able to do all the Lotus in Headstand variations on BOTH sides. Up til now the first side has been impossible, but my legs have folded easily into Lotus on the second side.
The first leg is the most difficult one to bend into place. Without the help of the hands to guide or pull it in, it doesn’t get very deep, but when the second leg bends in, the moving thighbone helps it to slide a little deeper into the groin. Once the second leg has bent in, I scissor the foot back and forth, sliding it closer to the groin with each scissor. Squeezing in the knees, the next challenge is to press the sacrum into the body and raise the knees upwards making the whole pose as straight as possible. Ideally the spine and pelvis should be in the same alignment as if you were laying flat on the floor with your legs in Lotus and the knees near the floor. That’s actually the best preparatory pose for Padmasana in Sirsasana.

In total I am upside down, balanced on my head for 12 minutes...my eyes are blurred with double vision as I come down.

Child's Pose - I could have stayed here for an hour, so sweet and soft it is in this coccoon.

Back up in the air - Sarvangasana (Shoulderstand) plus all the variations keeps me upside down for a further 17 minutes.

I get about halfway through the rest of the Week 26 – 30 sequence when I am abruptly interrupted by an impulse to quit yoga and play with my new toy, the AppleMac Pro.
Right then, I should have paused and asked myself where does this impulse to stop in the middle of a practice come from, but in the moment I forget to do that and instead just follow it blindly.

(Note to self: Must train the mind to pause and question these impulses. There is so much to uncover and discover.)

I compulsively get off the mat, suddenly excited by the thought of my new toy.
I set up the laptop near the mat and after some exploration into the hardware and software, I work out how to record a movie in PhotoBooth.
So excited at this new development, I proceed to film myself doing Padmasana in Sirsasana (without even cleaning up my room or putting on pretty yoga clothes or setting up any lighting). It was a spontaneous experiment.

So there it is, I made my very first film...and the whole episode made me laugh.

Now I know what the yoga bloggers are doing when they film their practice and post it on their blogs. Once again I’m reminded of those tourists descending upon Uluru with their cameras and mobile phones, obsessed with capturing the outer image of something sacred instead of entering into its mystery.

One benefit of filming one’s own yoga practice (especially for those who practice at home and who don't have a teacher) is the opportunity to objectively view their bodies in motion and detect any anatomical and structural imbalances and habits, not just in the pose itself but in the entering and exiting of the pose.
Watching the film playing back I am teacher observing student.
I can clearly see how lopsided my pelvis is in this film and even more so in the second one I took.
But how easy it would be to get obsessed with filming and analysing and therefore to lose the essence of what is sacred and unique to a yoga practice.

Nevertheless I shall post my first film below and suffer the spiritual consequences of this little wave of yoga narcissism (which definitely feels yukky). There is no ego involved, just a little amusement and like a wave it shall pass over me.
Very amusing that the film sped up into double time when posted on the blog - it now resembles a 1920's Charlie Chaplin comedy!

One hour of authentic yoga practice, followed by one hour of playtime - experimenting with my new toy and then watching the replay of a stranger in yoga pants doing my practice (is that REALLY how my body moves, is that REALLY what my bottom looks like?)

All good fun, and a temporary reprieve from sadness and heartbreak.


video

20 January 2011

Sirsasana and Trikonasana

I move quietly through the first Sun Salute, my heart isn't in it, and neither is my mind or my body.
One is enough. If I were in a yoga class I'd just keep going, doing what was instructed, but here at home on my mat, I have no reason to push past the emotional resistance.

Dog Pose provides a comforting nest in which I settle for a while...the Ujiyya breath starts to come, I listen to it and watch the changing sensations through my body as I implement a few simple actions in the pose, attempting to penetrate the mental cloud.

My energy is as low as my mood. I could use my yoga practice to lift both of these... implement a stronger rhythmic breath, press open a few good backbends...but instead I opt for a simple Headstand. I stay for 50 breaths, 7 minutes.
After resting in Child's Pose I stand and stretch out into Trikonasana, initiating the side bend to the right by sliding the pelvic floor to the left. The pose evolves naturally from the inside out when the point of origin is deeply internal.

Sirsasana and Trikonasana - that is practice done for today.

19 January 2011

Glenn Ceresoli's workshop

Behind every unconscious impulse and conscious decision lies a motivation.
Discovering the REAL motivation behind what we do helps to uncover our hidden desires, but it takes quite a lot of digging and tunnelling into the dark areas of the psyche.

So what motivation lurked behind the impulse to sign up for Glenn Ceresoli's 3 day yoga workshop this year?

I think I’ve done six or seven of Glenn’s workshops in the past, the last one in January 2008. Glenn is a highly gifted and exceptional yoga/spiritual teacher, but I remember feeling in the last two workshops that I learned nothing new from him, that I had exhausted what he could offer me.
Yet it is Glenn's teachings over the last 8 years that have most influenced my approach to yoga practice. Asana is simply a tool that Glenn uses to bring about conscious awareness, alignment of intention and action, utter presence, clarity and peace of mind. His approach to yoga practice is my approach. It is authentic, disturbingly confrontational, and relentless in its quest to uncover unconscious and unproductive thought patterns and reactions.
Through Glenn’s teachings I’ve been INformed and TRANSformed.

So when I heard from Kosta just after Christmas that Glenn would be here in January, there was a lot to consider.
Was I being foolish to even think about committing to three days of intense yoga while still subject to unpredicatable emotions and moods?

The impulse to do the 3 day workshop (6 sessions) was strong. I really needed to uncover the motivation behind the impulse. In order of importance, this is what I found:
1) DISTRACTION - The strongest desire was for a distraction to direct my attention away from Mark's death. Grief is a natural human response to death and I have allowed it to takes its course, but wallowing in self pity is unproductive spiritual sabotage. A few days immersed in an intense yoga practice may help lift my mental focus out of the self pity trap.
2) RECONNECTION - Its been nearly 2 years since I've been in a yoga studio and I do miss being part of the lovely community of yoga teachers here. Engaging in casual conversations is irritating, but there is a desire to connect with the community of people who I share a common interest with.
3) VARIETY - Glenn's yoga is closer to my current, more reflective Iyengar practice now than it was a few years ago. When I did his last two workshops my daily practice was in the more flowing Ashtanga style. But the value in Glenn’s teaching is his ability to pull you right into the moment. And there is always benefit in doing long forgotten poses and exploring common ones from a different perspective.

Friday 13 January 2011
DAY 1 morning session (6-8.45am)
Prepared for my unpredictable emotions to keep me in bed at 5.15am this morning, I was relieved to wake up with neither resistance nor tears. About 30 or so people were at Glenn’s first 6am session. Feeling humble, I choose a spot in the very back corner where I feel protected and unnoticed. Glenn talks a lot in the first session, making his intention clear, setting the flavour of the workshop. His intention is to bring the light of self awareness into our practice.
We only do a few poses in this first session:
Supta Baddha Konasana over a bolster, hands interlocked and placed on top of the head with palms facing up
Ado Mukha Virasana (knees apart)
Cross Legged Forward Bend
Dandasana
Dog Pose
Trikonasana
Virabhadrasana 2
Ardha Chandrasana

But that takes two and a half hours.

I get to work 15 minutes late.

Unfortunately having to rush off to work straight after the session didn't allow me time to reflect on what Glenn said or to remember many points.
Glenn's words flow directly through my psyche and out into the poses in the moment. I am completely engrossed in his teaching.
I remember he spoke about Action, Reaction Interaction. Apply an action while in an asana, watch the reaction, then integrate what you have learned into the psyche so it will automatically infiltrate other poses. This is the interaction.
To illustrate, Glenn reels off some instructions while in Dandasana and when applying them, we observe the flow on physical, mental and emotional reaction - some quite obvious, some more subtle. Then in the following poses we transfer the same instructions and apply the same principles.
Some instructions were easily accessible - like moving the thoracic spine towards the sternum and the sternum towards the navel, or the top of the pubic bone towards the sacrum. Others were more subtle psychological instructions - like remaining calm and clear when the body is under pressure and the survival instinct kicks in, or finding interest and staying in a pose when boredom niggles at us.

As we turn our feet out for Trikonasana, Glenn points out our habit of looking down at them. Only beginners need to look where their feet are and none of us are beginners - we must sense the placement of our feet, and trust that sense if we want to move on from beginner's mind.
In Trikonasana, my entire body responds to a simple visualisation - the arms should form one straight line, like a thread, from left fingertips to right fingertips, the collarbones at the centre of the line. With this simple internal picture, I feel my arms align to the internal ley line.

DAY 1 Evening session (6-8.30pm)
Supta Baddha Konasana, as before
Virasana with arms extended up and hands interlaced, palms up
Dog Pose
Half Dog Pose to wall
Half handstand, feet up the wall
Uttanasana, feet apart, sitting bones pressed into the wall
Prep for Pincha Mayurasana: we kneel with elbows on the floor into a corner of the wall, forearms are up the wall, back of hands flat against the wall with the little finger side of the hands holding the block betweent them. Straighten legs, walk in to the maximum, pressing the upper back into the block then lift up heels as high as possible.
Half Pincha Mayurasana - facing centre of room, forearms to the floor, with feet halfway up the wall, then lifting alternate legs
Full Pincha Mayurasana
Bridge pose on a block lifting the pelvis up halfway and allowing the block to pull the skin down on the back (this was the Grief Pose I thought I invented a few days ago)
Laying back through a chair with hands gipping the rung
Bridge pose, block under sacrum

At some point in the middle of the Pincha Mayurasanas, Glenn gave an analogy (I can’t remember the context) about meeting a stranger and not caring if they pass quickly out of your life, and how different it is when we are attached to someone who leaves us - how much we miss them. That just cut right into my open wound. The tears came in the middle of the class, there was no hiding. For a moment I thought about walking out with tears streaming down my face, but I pulled myself together and tried to reconnect with what Glenn was saying instead of swimming around in how much I miss Mark.

DAY 2 morning session (7.30-10am)
I remember very little from this session because as soon as it had finished I went into panic - Glenn and 3 other senior teachers were coming to my place for dinner. Suddenly I had to plan food, shop, cook dinner and dessert, tidy and clean my dishevelled house, take Buffydog to my son's place (Darrin was bringing his lovely dog Marley) , and all in the 4 hours between the morning and afternoon yoga session.
I remember doing Parsvottanasana
Virabhadrasana 1
Virabhadrasana 3 - which I couldn't do because of my damaged lumbar
and Handstand to the wall
The other poses escaped in the blizzard of manic activity that followed this session.

DAY 2 afternoon session (4.00-6.30pm)
Supta Padangusthasana, firstly with the leg straight, then lowering it to the side, then lowering it across the body. The entire sequence, holding the leg in each position for an eternity on both sides, took about one hour.
Viparitta Dandasana over a chair
Glenn's favourite backbend - laying through the back of the chair with hands holding the back rail (little fingers touching near the centre)
Upavista Konasana
Paschimottanasana with a bolster
Sarvangasana, Eka Pada Sarvangasana, Halasana, Karna Pindasana
Eka Pada Sarvangasana then lowering both feet to the wall for a Setu Bandha variation

Dinner
It was an honour and a privilege to host dinner on Saturday night for Glenn and the three senior teachers. Each one is amazing and unique in their own way and dedicated to teaching and living their yoga. It wasn't until later that I realised they each so perfectly embody an element: Glenn is fire; Simi is water, Kosta is air, Darrin is earth (well maybe Kosta and Darrin could be a 50/50 mix of air and earth). Whatever, the four elements were all gathered around the table in my big, empty ballroom, illuminated by the candlelight and the inner glow of their own unique presence.


DAY 3 - morning session (7.30-10am)
My body had stiffened and my mental state was heavy.
Supta Baddha Konasana
Ado Mukha Virasana
Trikonasana
Parivritta Trikonasana
Parivritta Parsvakonasana - started by kneeling on the back knee with the front leg bent, then raising the back leg while keeping the pelvis the same distance from the floor. We had to do this a couple of times before we could do it properly. Once lifted, the back leg has to work like Dog Pose.
Virabhadrasana 1 - a block under my front foot helped alleviate the compression in my lumbar
Upward Dog pose starting with the front pelvis into the front of a chair and the hands on the chair seat. Elbows are bent, but once straightened the instruction is to extend the triceps into the elbows which lifts the upper chest and helps the thoracic spine move deeply into the body. The little toe side of the foot must stretch towards the outer knee.
Upward Dog Pose from the floor with toes tucked under
Dhanurasana
Ustrasana
Setu Bandha
Urdhva Dhanurasana
Some quick counter poses because we'd run way overtime: Cross legged forward bend with a block pressed diagonally from the floor into the lower abdomen, then Paschimottanasana.

DAY 3 afternoon session (4.00 - 6.30pm)
I arrive at the studio 20 minutes late for the afternoon session, thinking it started at 4.30.
Mind in a cloud somewhere today.
I set up my mat and props and join the others in Janu Sirsasana, a block betwen the inner thigh and the sole of the foot.
Parivritta Janu Sirsasana, much easier for me than Janu Sirsasana - side bending is less restricted by my spine and joints than forward bending
Baddha Konasana - I can't bend forward more than a couple of inches today, so stay almost upright while mostly everyone else has their heads to the floor. I don’t care at all.
Upavista Konasana
Some shoulder opening poses through the chair
A headstand preparation to the wall with forearms up the wall, palms open and back of the hands pressed against the wall; head is to the floor and the torso and legs are in a Dog Pose position.
Headstand, raising the legs together - lots of anatomical instructions to go with this – start with the knees and feet as close to the nose as possible, pelvis over shoulders, press inner edges of wrists down, extend triceps into elbows, move thoracic spine towards sternum and slide sternum down towards the navel...etc...etc...
Supported shoulderstand in a chair, then some variations 1) legs lift up to the ceiling for a few minutes, 2) bend knees and put feet on the back of the chair, 3) drop the kness out to the sides like Baddha Konasana 4) lift the legs over to Halasana - I couldn't, my lumbar body parts couldn't support the move from the semi backbend (the sacrum was still planted on the chair in this supported Shoulderstand) over into the forward bending Halasana position.

Glenn imparted so much information during this workshop, not so much about the asanas, but mostly about how to work with the mind through the asana.
Being fully in the experience, I was content to follow wherever he led me, to observe and explore the internal landscapes. I was happy to let his instructions wash through my being then let them go, not harden my mind and pollute the purity of my experience by trying to capture and record them.
Earlier this year, I spent a magical evening watching the changing colours of a golden sunset on Uluru (Ayers Rock) in central Australia. Mesmerised by its mystical aura, I wanted to remain receptive, sensitive to whatever energies, messages, visions, feelings were available to my expanding range of senses in this sacred place. Around me were a hundred tourists, obsessively trying to capture images of Uluru on their cameras and mobile phones to take home and show their friends and families. Click, click, click...

They were there, but they weren't experiencing Uluru with all their senses.
Small mind was suffocating big mind.

This can happen in a yoga workshop - you can be so busy trying to record images and information for future recall that you miss the gift of being fully present.
Dropping below the surface I was able to stay in the direct unfiltered experience, with no click, click, click recording going on.
Hopefully my subconscious mind recorded some of Glenn’s wisdom and will slow release it over time to drip feed my malnourished practice.

After the final Savasana on Sunday evening, the workshop is over.

I say a few goodbyes to people I may not see for at least another year.
There are too many people milling around Glenn, asking questions, vying for that last little bit of the teacher's attention, so I don't say goodbye to Glenn.
As soon as I leave, I regret that, but its too late.

The three day workshop is over...another ending...I come home and cry.
I walk from one room to another and back again, three or four times, lost, in my own home.
Just lost.
The celebration of Mark's life was held today at 2pm. I could have gone betwen the yoga sessions, but I didn't. I felt no need to talk to strangers, Mark's friends, colleagues and neighbours that I'd never met, no point meeting them now or hearing them talk about the Mark they knew.

It's all too late. It's all over.

I sit in my meditation corner and cry.
I apologise to Mark for not going to the celebration, he may have been there in spirit and noticed my absence. He’d understand.
I sit in the corner and call him to me, silently, earnestly, as if the yearning in my heart will bring him back, into my room, to dry my tears and hold me again.

The yoga workshop provided a good distraction – Desire number 1 fulfilled.
It also reconnected me to old yoga buddies and teachers again – Desire number 2 fulfilled.
And I enjoyed every bit of the asana work that Glenn fed to me – Desire number 3 fulfilled.

Work has also provided an enormous distraction, there’s been little time to think about anything else. Last week, busy as a bee, I actually felt quite positive about my situation.

But in the quiet times, when I'm not busy, I can feel the huge lump of sadness sitting heavily in my heart. There is more to this lump of sadness than I can currently comprehend. It is much bigger than the grief associated with losing Mark. It has something to do with the existential loneliness of our human predicament, our longing for connection and for a love that doesn’t die.

I need some dedicated solitary time to myself to delve deeper into the meaning of this sadness, to discover the gift and the wisdom that await me somewhere beyond the surface of Mark’s death. So I am planning a weekend away, somewhere on my own...a tent, a sleeping bag, a long open road leading to a deserted beach or a bush campsite...and two full days of open space with no other commitments... it's time to reflect on the meaning of all of this...

9 January 2011

Revisiting Wandering Aengus

Wandering Aengus, by W B Yeats....what magical force prompted Mark to send me this poem on 6th October. The poem had a profound effect on me then, like a love potion - I fell in love with Mark immediately.
Since his death, the poem has risen to attain a mythical status in my life, transporting me back to a dream shared and a love lost.

Being very romantic, Mark would have identified with Wandering Aengus.

It’s ironic that now I am the one who has become Wandering Aengus.

I go out into the bush and wander alone.
I sit by the creeks and watch the wildlife.
I am at home here, solitary, surrounded by nature.
Magic is all around us, no matter where we are – the city, suburbs, the country, desert, forest - but out in the bush is where I feel it most. The Australian bush is often a harsh environment but it pulses with a fiery and ancient heartbeat; natural forces are undiluted by human interference here.

Wandering Aengus is a soulful character.
Like him, I caught a glimpse of a dream, then it vanished from my life.
Perhaps I too will become ‘old with wandering, through hollow lands and hilly lands’ before I find out where my true love has gone.

The poem so poignantly describes lost love.
Wandering Aengus caught a glimpse of ‘a glimmering girl’ who ‘faded through the brightening air’. He spent the rest of his life gently holding onto the hope of finding her again, of bringing the dream out of fantasy world and into reality, ‘to kiss her lips and take her hand’.

This is not the sadness of a broken heart.
Instead it is a delightfully innocent and romantic optimism, hopeful with the possibility of one day living the dream, believing that magic and mystery are alive and at work in our lives.

To live in the magic and mystery, that is the life of a yogi, a mystic, a seeker. This is what our hearts long for...not to have all our desires fulfilled, but to love deeply and to live life fully in all of its magic and mystery.

Bridge Pose for Grief

Sunday morning, I woke, had coffee, walked the dog, did the dishes, then drove up to the foothills for a walk through the bush, but the strong winds on the ridgetop blew away my resiliance.

After two mintues of walking down the start of the track I turned around and headed back up to the car, tears starting to flow uncontrollably. The tidal wave of grief rose even higher when I got back home. An hour later the flood of emotion and tears had exhausted and drained me before the grief monster finally receded back into its source again.

Following a subtle impulse, I laid down on my mat in Bridge Pose with the block under my thoracic spine and lifted my pelvis up halfway. The relief I felt was instant and surprised me. I don't know how this pose works, but the pressure of the block edge across T4/T5 alleviated the strong out-of-contol emotions that had consumed me and instilled an instant calm. The area stimulated by the block in this pose is at the back of the heart, perhaps the pressure provides a physical and energetic support to a broken heart...just guessing...

Later on, in the warm evening, my one friend who has stayed alongside me during this tragic journey arrived, and on a whim we drove back up to the top of the track in the foothills. Feeling stronger now, and with a sensitive, silent friend for company, we flew together like ghostly spirits up and down the wild bushland tracks, energised and possessed by strange forces unknown....

6 January 2011

Wednesday, Thursday, Friday


Wednesday 5 January 2011

Empty and quiet, that is the mood.

The grief stricken surges of emotion have receded back into their source and I am calm.

I look at Mark's photographs around the house...Who was he? What was that all about?
I still say good morning I love you to Mark through my favourite photo of him in the entrance hall every day, but I know he's moved on now, he doesn't hear me anymore. But the words help me recall and reignite the slowly dying love embers in my heart.

The alarm rouses me at 5.30am. I lay in bed for half and hour, wide awake, but in a dream.
I get up and walk the dog - she stops often, insisting on sitting stubbornly by the main road to imbibe the morning; she’s inhaling warm yeasty wafts from the bakery, she’s watching the early morning traffic, she’s listening to the birds, the rustle of leaves in the breeze, her dog acquaintences barking in far away streets...I have to wait for her to finish her morning meditation before we can move on and turn towards home.

Yoga practice is a shorter one - 45 minutes by the clock - 2 hours by my internal reckoning.
Time is such a relative experience - on that Sunday night, 24 hours after the police told me of Mark's death, I attended a gathering of his neighbours and close friends.
I remember it felt like 2 long weeks had gone by in those 24 hours.
Time warps are real in the same way our dreams are real. It’s just an altered consciousness, as valid as the one we consider ‘normal’.

Back to this morning's 45 minute yoga practice:
Surya Namaskar A and B
A few standing poses: Padahastasana, Padangusthasana, Trikonasanan, PV Trikonasanana, another long hold in Virabhadrasana 2, Prasaritta Padottanasana,
A few backbends: Salabhasana, Dhanurasana, Ustrasana, Urdhva Dhanurasana,
Twists: Knee to chest Twists, Janu Sirsasana,
Finishing poses: Paschimottanasana and Sirsasana.

Nothing special, just calm, quiet maintenance for body and soul.

This hole in my wounded heart will gradually get filled up with yoga practices, working days, family commitments and the mundane chores of daily life.

I want the hole to fill up with love.



Thursday 6 January 2011

The alarm goes off at 5.30am.
Heavy from last night's late dinner shared with my son, I have no impetus to get out of bed, no desire to enter and engage with the day.
I search, but can't find any reason to get up and do yoga.



Friday 7 January 2011

I get up at 6.30am, it's a warm, still morning.
Buffy doesn't want to go for a walk.

I lay down on my mat to start a practice, feeling too tender hearted to launch into sun salutes or standing poses. I start with some easy, gentle stretches.

Sadness is in my body. The emotion has a physical effect on my cellular energy, it’s hard to describe. I can feel the etheric body energy is slightly looser, less dense, less stable, less coherent, the atoms are more dispersed with reduced bonding between them. This may be where the term 'falling apart' comes from. That's exactly how it feels, as if in any moment my contained energy, my ability to ‘keep it all together’ will 'fall apart'.

That is when the tears start to flow.

Watching the process and observing these physical/energetic sensations is fascinating.
I'm exploring the effect of emotion on my physical/energetic body.
Hormones and chemicals are released into the body when we experience a flood of emotion, happiness or sadness, and they in turn effect our entire physiology. We are each a complex and beautiful human system.

Yoga practice is gentle:
Laying on my back I pull a knee to my chest and let the associated joints gently open.
Through Dog Pose I stretch space into my shoulder joints, my spine, my hamstrings, then gently begin to draw muscular energy through my entire body.
I step forward into to a much shorter Half Dog Pose, feet together, then lift one leg at a time and hold it up, pressing firmly BACK into the upper thigh of my standing leg, DOWN into the outer edge of the standing heel, and OUT through the ball of the airborne foot. This is a favourite pre-practice pose. Deep pelvic floor muscles have to be engaged to support my lower spine and to raise my leg higher. I rotate the raised leg hip forward, levelling my hips. I draw my lifted leg in towards centre, directly behind its hip and raise it higher. Coming out of this pose my heart is beating faster, evidence that the pose has challenged me.
Childs Pose, so simple, so comforting, it helps to stretch open the damaged facet joints in my lumbar and sacrum.
Handstand to the wall.
Then an 8 minute Headstand. For the final 5 breaths I press into my forearms, lift my head about one inch off the ground and hold the pose, my head still slightly supported at the back by the strong cup of my hands.
Ardha Baddha Padma Paschimottanasana.
I lay back onto a lengthwise block, it massages the muscles of my thoracic spine, alleviating little pockets of tension and opening up my ribcage. I bend up my legs preparing for Bridge Pose, then lift my pelvis up...the block is still under my spine and now the leading edge presses deeply across the muscles, the corners imitating a masseur's knuckles. There must be acupressure points here on the insides of my shoulderblades. I slide an inch or so up and down the block so the skin is pulled tight one way then the other.

I feel like my dog Buffy when she rolls over and swivels her back on the carpet.

And like Buffy, today I'm following my primal instincts and indulging in a more sensual yoga practice.
After all I am a human being, a creature of the earth.
I feel.
And I am as sensual as I am spiritual.


3 January 2011

Practice, grief and love

I wake naturally at 6.15am today. This is my last day of holidays, back to work tomorrow.

I roll over, enjoying the freedom of staying in bed with the morning sun shining through the window. From tomorrow I'll rise early.
Mark woke naturally before 5am, sometimes as early as 4am, and he'd be up and straight into the day then. By rising early from tomorrow I'll honour this lovely memory of him, and keep it alive in my body clock. I'll listen out for the first bird heralding the new day and accompany the waking birds in their early morning chatter; I'll call the sun to rise out from the dark, I'll breathe in tune with the earth's rhythms. As the day dawns, so I am reborn, and I will bless whatever each new day brings.

Today I lay in bed and wonder how I'll cope with the harshness of the workplace tomorrow. What shall I say when colleagues blandly ask me "Did you have a nice Christmas and New Year?"
Do I lie and politely say "It was OK, and you?", diverting attention back to them, or do I say "The greatest love of my life died one week before Christmas, so it wasn't a nice Christmas or New Year, but thank you for asking."

How will I explain away my noticeable weight loss (43kg now), the inability to converse on any level or cope with minor stress and deadlines, the unexpected tears, the quick escape to the bathrooms, the red swollen eyes and burning gaze...
Mark's death is still a very raw tragedy in my human life, but I recognise it also as a deeply sacred gift for my spiritual life; I do not want to share this with my work colleagues.

Eight hour days at work will mostly divert me away from my feelings.
When I'm preoccupied, or with company, the grief pretends to be invisible, but its just waiting silently for the next opportunity to rise up like a tidal wave and crash over me.

I've been grateful for this block of time off work. It's allowed me to thoroughly explore and feel the grief and sadness around Mark's death, and to ponder deeply over how and why we came together, the enormous power of our love and why it had to end. It's allowed me the time to feel, reflect, cry and write, all essential balm for the deep wound in my heart, the kind of balm that burns when you put it on, but you know it's doing you good.

I finally get out of bed at 6.45am, make coffee and drink it watching the video of Mark shaving... "we think of yesterdays like they were holidays, bathed in the warmth of the sun..." I rub the the words into my wound every morning, more stinging balm.

I walk the dog, it's cooler this morning but still a clear, sunny day.

I start a yoga practice at 9.30am after ruthlessly cleaning out my clothes cupboard and bagging up for charity anything that hasn't been worn in the past year.

What kind of practice shall I do?
Nothing comes to mind, so I start with Sun Salutes feeling my way into what becomes a one and three quarter hour quiet, morning practice, following my intuition for what body and soul need.
I'm quite happy to follow my nose into a practice now...I have the courage to challenge my physical, mental and spiritual limitations but also the compassion to nurture my self when necessary. The need to follow a traditional sequence or a teacher's directions has been replaced with my own intelligent and sensitive response to the changing phenomenon of my body, mind and spirit.

Today's sequence:
5 Surya Namaskar A
1 Surya Namasakar B
Padangusthasana
and Padahastasana
Trikonasana
Parivritta Trikonasana
, taking careful inventory of my hip alignment and readjusting them up, down, back and sideways
Urdhva Prasaritta Ekapadasana
Simple lunge to stretch front thighs
Virabhadrasana B, 4 minutes on each side to challenge and develop my staying power
Prasaritta Padottanasana
Virasana
- I noticed my twisted pelvis in this pose for the first time, so I consciously shift my sitting bones an inch to the right to correct the misalignment of my spine, hips and pelvis.
Supta Virasana and Paryankasana
Salabhasana
Dhanurasana
- after I come down I realise my mind was light years away during the entire stay in the pose. Bad girl. I do it again to redeem myself, mind fully directed to all the changing sensations and now responding authentically to the demands arising in the pose
Ustrasana
Setu Bandha
(Bridge) I hold my ankles firmly before pressing up, then pull on them to initiate action in the upper spine. I'm rewarded with little tingles through the upper thoracic vertebrae, energy flooding into this often inaccessible area.
2 x Urdhva Dhanurasana, walking my feet in for the second one
Alternate knees to chest while laying on the back gently releases my lumbar spine out of the backbends then instead of folding forward into Paschimottanasana, I stand up to do Uttanasana with feet slightly apart. These two are almost identical forward bending poses, and either can be used to counter the backbends. Today I need the weight of gravity to flow down my spine in Uttanasana; less muscle power is required in this than in Paschimottanasana to open and release the lumbar joints.
A momentary pause...I need to twist...running through the repertoire of standing and seated twists in my knowledge bank, there's no immediate match for what I need. I step out to Prasaritta Padottanasana, reach for one ankle and find a lovely twisted forward bend, gravity assisting me. That was it. Just follow your nose....
After a twist, the body's energy should be equalised before moving into the inversions.
Paschimottanasana is perfect.
Shoulderstand - I challenge myself to stay for 100 breaths, and I meet the mental and physical challenge - today 100 breaths = 10 minutes.
Halasana
Karna Pindasana, lifting my feet off the floor so the full weight of my curved body will stretch and open my degenerating lumbar and facet joints.

I sit for a minute in Padmasana with hands cupped in my lap to prepare my hips before laying back for Matsyasana.
Suddenly I remember sitting down for meditation late last night, folding my legs into half Padmasana, gently placing one cupped hand over the other, and crying, grief and sadness engulfing me again.
Tears flowed, falling into my cupped hand, one after the other, and I watched them fall as I cried, it was a long way down.

I lay back and do Matsyasana on both sides today.
Dog Pose
Baddha Konasana
for 5 minutes with Ujiyya Pranayama and all three bandhas active, this wasn't intentional, it just came naturally. I bend forward feeling the bone on bone restriction that prevents me going further than half way in this pose. It no longer bothers me.

Headstand...shall I try for 100 breaths? After 40 breaths I ask myself if it's the body or the mind that is tiring.
It's not my body - I sense a little boredom, my mind is uneasy, I want to come down - I, I, I, - I is getting in the way. The mysterious power of the will steps in and overrides my 'I', it directs my attention back into the present moment to observe all the sensations of the Headstand - I engage mula bandha and reconnect with the mystical energetic qualities of this pose. This happens again at 50 breaths, and again at 60 breaths.
I come down after 70 breaths - a 10 minute Headstand, the same length as Shoulderstand but the breathing is slower.
Dog Pose
Padmasana
with mula bandha and a deep, spiralling twist to each side, squeezing my knees inward to excite the root energy upwards. I repeat it all on the second side.

Then I sit quietly in Padmasana, finely observing the physical and energetic sensations and the tiny trembles stirred up by this practice.

Relaxing into Savasana I hear Glenn Ceresoli's directive "Let your bones return to the earth" and I think immediately of Mark, his bones returning to the earth, his cremation, his freed spirit.
My mind floats away to revisit memories, and the tragic series of events during the retreat. What was Mark feeling at the moment of his death and in the minutes and hours afterwards? The death of my beloved will always haunt me.
A few minutes go by before I realise I've strayed away from Savasana and therefore from the present, but I don't want to let go of my thoughts of Mark. I am clinging, clinging to lost love.
Instead of pulling my mind back to the present and bathing in the bliss of Savasana, I get up off the mat to avoid the present, sit at my new laptop and start writing up my practice notes.

Late afternoon, I drive up to the hills and walk through the bush. I stop halfway up the fire track overlooking the city and feel for Mark's presence. My body fills up with soft sparkling love, as if he's inside of me, loving me, caressing me, enveloping me in arms of love. I shimmer. Is this Mark? Is his disembodied free spirit here with me, making his presence known? Or is this love washing through me the universal Love that is God that I myself am generating?
Does it matter?
I know the love Mark inspired in me has not been extinguished by his death. As I think of him, it flows through me and lingers on after.
I hold on to it.
It is a light shining through me now.


My dear children of love, tread the path of love. This is your highest duty.
You have taken this body to achieve love, which alone is the goal of life.
Live in love, breathe in love, meditate in love, move in love, sing in love, pray in love - die in love.
Purify your thoughts, speech and actions in the fire of love.
Gather and plunge in the sacred ocean of love.

-Swami Sivananda


New Year's Eve

New year's eve is a hot one, 43 degrees centigrade today and still warm tonight.
I'm spending the night alone, by choice.

At 7pm I started a yoga practice, Iyengar's Week 26-30 sequence. I would have been quite happy to have done only the Headstand and Shoulderstand variations - these two inversions are the the greatest gifts handed down to us by the yogis. They rejuvenate the body and mind in ways we may never fully understand.
Once underway with the practice, I just worked quietly through the entire sequence, finishing just after 8.30pm.
Nice way to spend New Years Eve.
8 minutes in Headstand and variations, delighted to find I can easily get into Padmasana in Headstand on the second side (not the first though).
14 minutes in Shoulderstand and variations, loving the Niralamba (hands free) balances.
Of the three abdominal poses (Jatara Parivartanasana, Paripoorna and Ardha Navasana) Jatara was the favourite one tonight and Ardha Navasana with hands behind the head was a fizzer, not much core strength in my belly tonight.

I woke up somewhere far away with Mark during the series of forward bends.
Was he watching me?
Is he in the bedroom with me?
I am always alert for signs, tuned into the other world waiting for a faint message, a feeling, a loving whisper.
He would always sit at the table in the ballroom working on his computer while I did my morning yoga practice in the bedroom, he was very careful not to disturb me. Only once did he walk in to say goodbye while I was in a Headstand.

I am mad with love, and no one understands my plight.
Only the wounded understand the agonies of the wounded - when a fire rages in the heart.
-Mirabai

I tried to engage with the next pose, Gomukhasana. On the first side I did the wrong version with both feet splayed to the sides of the thighs - still not fully concentrating on what I'm doing. After doing the correct version on the second side sitting on my heel, I got up on an unexpected whim and took a photo of the Wandering Angus poem that I'd decorated and framed yesteday.
Then I sat back on the mat and resumed my yoga practice.
How odd to unconsciously follow an invisible directive to do such a thing.
Lolasana was up next, perhaps I was procrastinating.
Padmasana variations, Virasana variations, Marichy 3, Ardha Matsyendrasana, Baddha Konasana without a forward bend tonight, Down Dog, Chaturanga, then Upward Dog (I swapped the order of these last two poses as it felt more familiar), some backbends, then Utkatasana and Uttanasana, and I even enjoyed Garudasana at the end of the sequence - it tested the mental quietude I'd developed over the practice. Can I do it without judgement or questioning? yes.

A small salad for dinner and the rest of the evening's mine.

The end of 2010...the year I found, and then lost, the love of my life.