One in Four – A Walk through Shadow and Flame

According to statistics, one in four children in the US have been sexually molested. I don’t know what the statistics are in other parts of the country, but that is a big number. It means that every fourth person you meet has been in some way or other, sexually taken advantage of. I don’t know what the statistics are in Malaysia or in the UK where it happened to me but it could be similar. And yes, it did happen to me.

This was 29 years ago, when parents thought that the world was a safe place and that you could allow children to play securely and innocently. He was an acquaintance of my mother’s, someone she was taking a course with in Manchester, UK. It was already a rough time, as my father had sent me to my mother along with a letter that he was leaving her for a younger woman. She was devastated and I was confused.

How does a six year old even begin to describe the situation? It was a public place, and there was no pain involved but something about the situation didn’t feel right. I couldn’t even find the words to say what had happened and my mother was already upset, so I kept it quiet. Keeping it quiet however, did not mean that nothing manifested of it.

I’ve lived my life panicking every time a man stands too close behind me, and when a man assists me in child’s pose, my initial reaction is to stop breathing and freeze up until the message gets to my brain that I know the person and that it is OK to relax. It took me years to get used to the assist in downward facing dog where someone grabs you from the hips and pulls you back. Even now, there are only a few men I can relax into the assist with and I am extremely sensitive to the intention behind the touch.

It was never spoken of, but it has always been somewhere in the shadows.

And it wasn’t until two years ago that I had a vivid memory of the experience. My abuser had come from behind and he wasn’t rough, but he did touch me in an inappropriate way. A child might not know it in their mind, but children are sensitive receptors of touch. It was a lucky thing that there were other people around on the other side of the room or it could have been worse. I wanted to look out the window and he carried me until I could see. It was subtle but I did feel violated.

The event has been playing in the back of my mind for all this time.

‘When the student is ready, the teacher appears,’ old Buddhist proverb.

And so I must have been ready as the right teacher appeared. She had been through a worse experience than I had, relived the memory and come out the other side. I remember being in her class over a year ago, and the feelings surrounding the situation for me came up. Even from the first class, she noticed that I had trouble connecting to my sacrum and was coaxing me to bring breath into the area. It has been a slow process and part of the thing that made is so was my fear to face the assault.

It takes a lot to face these things but last Wednesday, something clicked. Ana Forrest, my beautiful teacher coaxed us to go on a quest towards identifying the blockages that keep us from being whole. In case of a traumatic event, a part of you remains in that time until you go back and free them. Ana said the magic words, telling us that the worst was over. We had survived and we were alive.

That, I think was what did it for me. I decided at the beginning of class that I would chase this fucker down so he could have less power over me. That intention must have been potent because even from the beginning as I was bringing breath down to my sacrum and pelvic area, the tremors began. They continued through core work and most of the class. Finally, when we got into Shavasana, they took over, wrecking my entire body and causing me to panic to the point of not being able to breathe. Luckily Claire, Ana’s assistant, lovingly stayed with me, gently touching my head and cueing me to keep breathing. As soon as we were out of Shavasana, I was a sobbing wreck.

It did not finish there.

Through the day, when I got home, I would sit down, start breathing into my sacrum and the shaking would start followed by sobs. Emotionally, I had to revisit that time of being confused, scared and betrayed. That feeling of being left alone overtook me, and most of all were the very strong feelings that as this was happening to me, my father, the one who was meant to flex his muscles (he was an ex footie player) and protect me was busy starting a new romance. He had let me down, and that’s where my belief that men leave you when you’re weak started.

There were some positives to it though. I was finally able to speak to my mother about it and gave the six year old a voice. She has been a rock through these times. She continues to be amazing, caring, calling me and supportive in my determination to get through this. She’s stuck through me in my crazy quest and called every day since.

We women are so much stronger in our compassion than we give ourselves credit for.

On Thursday I went back. The tremors started early, and towards the end, we were in a compromising Frog pose with a big roll under our bellies. That’s when they fully took over my body. A big part of me wanted to leave the pose and run out of the room. Another part of me was absolutely adamant to chase this fucker out of my body. Ana stayed with me through almost all five minutes of the tormenting ordeal where there were moments when I truly believed that I might die.

But I didn’t and here I am.

I’ve been a gaping wound all week. The memories, and the feelings surrounding them rise and fall like waves. They take over me and I am a shaking mess all over again. Sleep has been sometimes easy but most of the time not. I’ve had nightmares and gone to some really dark places in my mind, but as much as it scares me, I don’t want to put a temporary salve on this.

This will be a tough ride but I want to live my life fully so I am choosing to go through this. The other option is to live my life behind a safe wall where ‘fine’ and ‘comfortable’ are good enough. They are really not so I am living the days occasionally getting thrown into my past knowing that only by facing the nightmares will I be able to shine light on them.

The first 200 Hour Yoga Teacher Training I did, I was recovering from a breakup. This time, I will be so much more vulnerable as I head into another time of big change. Sometimes though, it is in times of darkness like these that you learn to find your own light. I could bury it and stick a positive affirmation on it, but that’s not where the work is done. There is greatness and magic in the world however, as what you need always gets provided to you. In my case, I have a strong and loving bond with my family even though they are far away, a generous and solid community that holds me in their arms, wonderful friends and a nuturing yoga practice.

I am also taking steps to protect myself now. Where I would spread my love without fear of backlash before, right now, I am a bit more cautious. Where I see threat of unnecessary hurt, I step back. Some friends will taper away. This is when you know the ones who are leeching on your life force, the ones who only want you when you are light and easy. If you have a partner, this is when you know a weak person from a strong one.

It is a process of riding the waves day by day, and a transformation through fire. At the other side awaits a stronger person with more compassion and so much more love for self and others.0c136b5c56fd13046766ee65c4826572-d6ha2cv

Brahmacharya

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In 2012, a few months before I went into my first 200 Hour Yoga Teacher Training, I made a radical decision. I decided that for a year, I would observe Brahmacharya. Named for the state of searching for the ‘Great One, Supreme Reality, or Self,’ Brahmacharya is one of the five Yamas according to Yogic texts. In Vedic traditions in refers to the state of celibacy one chooses during the life stage of being an unmarried student and fidelity when married. In modern times, it is better known as a state of being sexually responsible. In Hindu and Buddhist traditions, Monks practice Brahmacharya their whole lives as it is considered necessary for their spiritual practice.

It wasn’t a decision that required a lot of consideration on my end. I loved the sound of the word, ‘Bharmacharya,’ and something about doing it felt completely right. I chose the more strict sense of the word, not only refraining from the sexual act, but also anything that could lead to it including kissing, extreme alcohol consumption and situations where I am alone with a man I am attracted to in a private setting.

As soon as I had decided on it, it was like I had donned a veil that made me sexually invisible. There was a sense of liberation in being able to let it go and practice my Yoga, learn my texts and most of all, learn more about myself. Once I had taken the whole dynamic out of the picture, I found a lot of freedom. I learned to walk in my own skin without trying to gather the attention or to please a dominant male figure.

A lot came up in that time but once the year was up, and as I was ready to lift the veil, my beloved father passed away. Now that opened up a whole other can of worms and Brahmacharya was extended. The relationship between a daughter and a father is always something pretty amazing. My father, no matter what he did was my hero. Whenever he was in a room, his was the only presence that mattered to me. We had our ups and downs of course. When we disagreed there were so many strong emotions running around that the charge was palpable. It was the love that was also the double-edged sword. When he hurt me, I would lash out as strongly but the love was so deep that when I hurt him, it was akin to taking a knife to my own heart.

My father was a bit of a narcissist in that he never saw how his actions hurt the people who loved him. Growing up I was used to him getting distracted either with a new relationship, a new love interest or a new work venture and he would disappear during those times. Those were the days when he didn’t return my calls, or was simply not available. Then when the thing that had his interest for the moment went to shits or he got bored of it, he would be back and I would welcome him. It hurt like hell but I was young not to see the cruelty and selfishness in it so it became the norm.

When he passed, the patterns that I had carried on from my relationship with him to my relationship with other men came to light. Of course, I never loved anyone quite as strongly. How could you love an employer, friend or lover as much as you love your own father? Not even close. But I did notice that in my relationships with men, I had been willing to accept a degree of cruelty. I’m not saying that the men in my life have been cruel, not all of them anyway, but there have been acts of cruelty that I had previously quickly forgiven and even sometimes apologised for.  In doing so, I had been cruel to myself and reaffirming the belief that I was not worthy and therefore it was my responsibility to hold things together.  That was a pretty big one to see and a bigger one to disprove.  Thanks goodness for the friends who see your light even when you can’t.

There is something to be said for not being in a romantic relationship and seeing these patterns. I haven’t been a monk where emotions are concerned. Of course, I’ve had crushes and emotional interests but the commitment to my practice has held me from getting into going forward with a relationship. I had nothing to lose. I’d spent my entire twenties almost continuously in long-term relationships. The thing is, when you are in one, you’re so caught up in the highs and lows of it that you can’t step back and say, ‘wait a minute, here’s that behaviour that I am repeating.’ I’m not saying the change is immediate but like with everything else, you have to notice the pattern to change how you act to it. That has been my greatest lesson.

I have many lessons to learn, I’m sure, but it has been three years and eight months since I committed to a state of learning these lessons on my own. This has in a way become a crutch to save myself from complications and the possibility of pain, but what is life without some complication. It might be time to opening myself to lessons that involve another dynamic now.

In about two weeks, I enter into my second 200 Yoga Teacher Training. The main teacher, the amazing Shiva Rea is a true Tantrist. This time instead of slow assimilation to practice, it will be a month away in an insulated situation, but once the month is done, I think it is time I consciously lift the veil of Brahmacharya that I’ve been wearing all this time.

To victory in facing fears, taking risks and standing in the discomfort of the fire until change is ready to happen. Jai!

My Yoga, Your Yoga

Thirteen years ago I stumbled into my very first yoga practice. It was at my local gym in Malaysia where the room was air-conditioned to be almost freezing and the teacher was jumping from one pose to another. In my second class with her, she got us to do drop-backs with a wall. The next day, my lower back felt really tweaky and uncomfortable. Needless to say, I never went back to her and resigned myself to the gym.

I am of the hyper mobile, super flexible variety of human being, whose primary physical activity in my youth started with dancing and cheerleading. I have sprained my left ankle about four times, my right one three times and have a dodgy right knee. Anyone who performs or does competitive sports would know that the nature is, if it’s in season and you get injured, you keep going. As a result my left leg is still prone to injury and my right knee has days of protest. It didn’t get easier as I got older. By my late twenties, I had a pretty back lower back and my right shoulder was pretty mangled.

Then someone suggested I try yoga. Due to my fear of chiropractors, physiotherapists and doctors in general, I gave it a go. It was a bit of a shop around to find something I could stick with. I tried Bikram, and although I loved the heat, hyper-extending legs did not work with my ankles and knee. Not only that, my fiery personality seemed to get even more so, which really doesn’t bode well when work requires you to interact with people a lot.

It was only by chance that I looked on Google and found a different studio near where I worked. It started with an Introductory Pass, which at the time was $25 for two weeks. It blew my mind! There was still the element of heat but being told not to hyper-extend anything made everything about a hundred times harder. I would go into this place with carpet that smelled horrible and big classes, and by the end of the classes I wouldn’t know which way was up and which was down. Shavasana came as a relief. By the end of two weeks, I was hooked.

This was Vinyasa.

It was in no way easy and every time I got one move down there was something else to learn. Then there were these teachers who would give me the shits by asking me to get out of ‘my spot,’ and on occasion move me to the front. Sometimes I would even cry in class. For the first time in ages though, my body felt good. I loved that no two classes and no two teachers were the same. There was personality in the practice. There was heart.

At first I practiced like a mad woman. The harder and hotter the class, the more chaturangas, the more I would push myself through it. What happens however, is when you get tired you lose form. I was tired in every way possible and one of the teachers sat me down and told me to take a break.

So I did, and went to do a week of Iyengar.

It was hellish! Sitting still was not my forte and I got really impatient with all the props involved. I would get into a pose and fidget like someone coming off hard drugs, but the precision of Iyengar is amazing! After a week my back felt fabulous and I went back to Vinyasa with all the new alignment points I’d learned.

Then three years ago something called me to do my first 200 Hour Yoga Teacher Training. All I wanted to do was know more about this practice but the seven months of training were priceless and surprisingly, I came out wanting to teach. In December 2012 I finished Teacher Training, in January 2013 my father passed away and by February I had boxed my high heels and left the corporate world.

On the 12th of April 2013 (my 33rd birthday), I taught my first Community Class in BodyMindLife.  Two years later, I am still there.

It was in no way the ending of a journey, but a beginning. In a world of blond, 6’ handstanding vegan yoginis who like kale smoothies I am most definitely different. Being more mobile than strong means that arm balances come very slow and one moment of not being aware means an injury. Flexibility is a great thing, but needs to be balanced with strength. My continuous work is in not going all the way into bendy poses just because I can and not to practice injured as it brings about other injuries. It is a lesson I seem to have to keep learning again and again. As I type this, I am recovering from two displaced ribs, and a hamstring and a wrist injury. Note, trying to lift a scooter is probably a bad idea on any day.  After all my resistance, I am working a physio and have magically found the most amazing CrossFit coaches at CrossFit Black to help my strength conditioning.

Yet yoga continues to be my first love and as I teach and learn, I’ve discovered that yoga is not just asana. My practice has changed through the years. I still love those hot sweaty classes with 50 students breathing together, but I also love waking up in the morning and losing myself in an hour of ground based, deep Yin. Just about a year ago, I started meditating and even within that it keeps changing.

This practice has taught me compassion and love, and being peaceful in joy and sorrow.  It has taught me acceptance and that it is OK to not be strong all the time.  It has taught me that drama is just a distraction and a good life can be lead without the fluff.  It has taught me that the tendencies I have on the mat are often the same ones I have in my daily life.  It has taught me that things end but that doesn’t mean you discount what happened, and that new beginnings happen.  We are ever changing beings and more than learning poses or how to sit still, we are constantly learning about ourselves.  Within this practice I have found family, community and connection, and the realisation that between the blacks and whites of wrong and right, there are they greys of the in between.

I’ve realised now that it doesn’t need to be any one way. Some days you need that practice that challenges you physically and other days you just need to do the simple stuff and reconnect with your breath. Some days practice is easy and without resistance, and other days you go in with all this stuff and practice is a nightmare. Some days you go into practice and you’re laughing all the way and other days, you are a ball of sweat and tears at the end of the practice.  But you don’t have to be any one way to practice, not a certain body type, or weight or age.  You come as yourself on that day, in that moment and whatever you do is perfect.

More than the teacher, my practice is based on how I am on that given day.

And this in itself has been a journey. It is discovering that yoga is not one thing. I’ve had the privilege of learning and practicing with some of the best teachers in Australia and Internationally, and at the end of it, yoga is a journey of self-discovery. You learn from the different teachers but the magic is in finding your yoga. As a teacher I have learned that what I do and what I offer might vary. It is not my place to tell students about their practices, bodies or beliefs but to share what I know so they can explore. All we can do is try as much as we can to meet students where they are and move with them to wherever we can go together.

I still believe that there is magic in the practice and it is still my first love, but the journey continues and is ever evolving. As I teach, I am also learning and as students are learning in my classes, they are also teaching me. I am ever grateful to my teachers and to the students who light up my classes, and most of all my community for being there. I’m hoping that my learning never ends.

Next stop, Prana Flow in Greece, June 2015.

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Ramadan from the Inside – A Yogini’s Experience

There is always a time of year when it is a bit introspective, when you pull back a little bit and spend some time inside yourself. Yes, those who know me might argue that that’s how I spend most of my time out of work, teaching and the occasional socialising but this month for me it takes on a different level altogether. It is currently day 18 of the Muslim fasting month, Ramadan and although it might come as a surprise to a lot of people, I do observe it. In fact, there is something about this act of abstaining that fills me up.

 

I wouldn’t usually write about this as I think my personal beliefs are my own, but I do realise that I belong to a community and within this community, for a lot of people, I might be the only Muslim person they get to connect with like this.  Of course, some people might question how good a Muslim I really am, but that is not for a human to judge.  I am just sharing an experience that a lot of people find completely foreign and unknown.

 

Ramadan for those who don’t know, is a month according to the Hijra or Islamic calendar when Muslims all around the world take to abstaining from food, water, sex or anything that includes putting things into the body, from the crack of dawn until the sun sets for a duration of 30 days. It is not a cleanse or a diet, and in fact, because no water is allowed during the day, some might argue that it isn’t really healthy for the physical body. One can also argue that constantly being on one cleanse or another through the year isn’t really a sign of a sound mind, so to each their own. Ramadan is more a mental, emotional and spiritual practice.

 

During the evenings, there is a strong focus on community where people often gather for Iftar (breaking of fast) and big prayer gatherings, either at home or at the mosque. A lot of people have the view that once the sun goes down we gorge ourselves until we can’t move anymore and although this isn’t necessarily true, I do believe that we perpetuate this belief.

 

There is so much more to this month.

 

Different cultures around the world ‘teach’ Ramadan in different ways. It is only compulsory to Muslims once they have reached puberty, and only then if they are sound of mind and healthy. In my culture, the Malay culture (my name is Azra and it’s not because I had some hippy parents who decided to give me a unique name), we start ‘playing’ with fasting at about the age of 9. We might go a few hours from 9:00am – 12:00noon and then with time extend it. By the age of 12, most of us are comfortable doing it all day.

 

My own understanding of this month has taken on it’s own form of yoga and has changed with the years. When I was a child, I fasted out of the fear that if I didn’t fast, then I wouldn’t get to celebrate Eid, the celebration at the end of Ramadan. After my grandmother passed, I didn’t care about Eid anymore but I fasted out of the fear of getting roasted in hell if I didn’t and I pretended that Eid mattered because it was supposed to. While I was in Malaysia, it was the family thing to do, then my first couple of years here, I had friends from Pakistan and Indonesia who did it with me. Then there were a couple of years when I didn’t participate at all.

 

In the last couple of years however as my yoga practice deepened, it has taken on a different meaning to me. Ramadan for me is a part of my life, a part of practice. It is this month in the year that I pull myself back and spend more time than usual in quiet contemplation. As it is winter, the crack of dawn here is at around 5:30am, so I am awake at around 4:00am. In this silence, I have my morning meal, write in my journal, meditate and at around 5:30am, start a slow yoga practice.

 

My practice in this month changes. It is more sensitive and compassionate, and I go into poses in degrees instead of just jumping in. I modify where I wouldn’t usually and take rests when I feel they are needed. It is true that when you have less fuel, you have less energy, but I’ve also learned, that the less you move, the ‘heavier’ you will feel and in winter, it is this movement that keeps you warm. I remember when I was in university in Malaysia and most of the boys would disappear during the daytime in Ramadan (sleeping) only to emerge when the sun was about to come down. It’s great on paper, but really it makes you more lethargic than just going about your business.

 

And you are meant to go on like you are not fasting anyway.

 

The whole purpose of this month is to understand suffering. In places where people are without, they don’t get to sleep all day or sit in air-conditioned rooms or take a break. Without food or water, life goes on, as it should for people observing Ramadan. It is a time when you get to see how you react to things when your blood sugar levels are low and what you reach for first when the prayer calls sound time to break fast. It is also a time when you consider what you put into your body. Honestly, since I don’t eat meat, this has become way easier for me. Plant based proteins are way easier for my resting digestive system to process and I don’t have to do a whole lot of planning. A good stew, soup or broth often does enough.

 

Ramadan, done consciously and it is a whole lesson in getting to know yourself.

 

It is also an act of community.

 

I don’t participate in the evening prayers because I like my solitude at the end of the day, but if I didn’t work most nights, and if I had more space, this would most definitely be the month when I would invite friends over to break bread with me.  The act of sharing is very much part of this ritual, no matter how little you have.  In my way, I suppose I am sharing by bringing little bits of things to people at work and deriving great satisfaction when they enjoy the treats.

 

Like in yoga, the essence of Ramadan is in self exploration but wrapped around it is this whole idea of building community.

 

It is so much more that just starving for the sake of gorging when the sun goes down.

 

This year, Ramadan decided to teach me another lesson. Right after the halfway mark, a massage kicked my body into a whole other level of detox. As I write this, I am recovering from a cold, but am still suffering from a painful chesty cough. The heaviness in my chest reminds me of how it felt when I had childhood asthma right after my parents split up. If you believe in the correlation of the body and the emotions like I do, illness to the respiratory system or chest area is a sign of the body releasing some trauma to the heart.  It could be some unexpressed grief, or hurt or heartbreak.  This is my body letting go of something that it has probably held on to for a while in a way that only she knows how.

 

Why now? Why not now? The body does things when it is ready. Letting my digestion rest and allowing myself to step back probably allowed my body to go into this exhale, this release of what it didn’t need anymore. It is by no means easy, but the body has it’s own wisdom in coping with things and for me this is the perfect month for it.

 

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Just Dance – Life is Well Enough as it is

When I went to yoga teacher school, part of the process was self-study. In fact the niyamas, part of the eight limbs of yoga includes the practice of svadhyaya which is a study of your inner realm. Yoga, after all is more than a physical practice. It is the life long practice of looking at yourself, finding your issues and working on them in the quest to becoming an enlightened being. With practice and time, the layers are peeled back to find our atma or higher self.

 

Now, as a teacher, I find myself in constant self-study and to add to it, I am surrounded by healers. It is great in a way, but in another, not so much. You see healers can sometimes see problems everywhere. There is always something that deserves a deeper look at, always something that needs to be fixed. Sometimes, it can go too far, like a person who enrols you in dance classes in a style you hate because you can’t get your steps in time with everyone else. It creates pressure and you end up resenting the dance even more. The thing too is that healers can be broken, and sometimes, in not wanting to be broken alone, there is projection, making their stories the stories of others, but it is not the case. It is never the same.

 

Don’t get me wrong, I love what I do, and one of the things I decided in my 30s was that I would only surround myself with people I actually like, but some days, I grow wary of the digging. Being female, I am good enough at breaking myself down so having an army of people turning every action or non-action into an issue doesn’t really help matters. Sometimes all the digging is a bit like reading those useless ‘how to’ articles in female magazines, you know the ones, ‘how to meet prince charming,’ ‘how to live an awesome life,’ and ‘how to make a man love you,’ etc. If you actually just put the articles down, you might realise that your life is pretty awesome and that you are, in fact a shining star.  All these things that are there to ‘help’ sometimes just creates is this sense of not being enough or not doing enough.

 

The thing is, not everything needs to become an issue and every issue should definitely not be made into an excuse. We all carry scars from our childhoods and our youths. In their own way, they not only shape who we are but have also brought us to this space here and now. My heart carries the scratches and bruises of being my father’s daughter and the unhealthy relationships I have had in my life, with self, with people, with addictions. My heart might always wear these scars and perhaps, although she may never fully heal, it is fine, she can move forward and with time, she will get where she’s going.

 

All this poking and prodding and digging, how much does it really help? The emotional body is not quite like the physical body. My right hip flexor is sore and that can directly be traced back to my torn hamstring and how I compensated for that by doing things differently. The emotional things however, the deeper things, well, perhaps they are fine as they are. Perhaps, although there is a deeper story it is not for us to know yet. I am tired of how my being single becomes a dissection of how I am either not manifesting, setting intentions, putting it our there or the opposite, putting it out there too much. I am tired of how caring for someone means that I am not taking care of myself while they get what they want.

 

Life and yoga to me, is this great amazing dance. You dance on your own, figuring out your own steps, you dance in a group, finding ways of how that works and you dance with a single other at different times, in different ways, friend, sister, lover. You can help someone if they’re dancing with an injured foot, but who are we to say that people are not dancing the right way or to question their steps.

 

You might see two people dancing at opposite ends of the room with this amazing chemistry between them – she with just the right amount of softness to compliment his strength. Occasionally they dance close to each other but they move away again. Sometimes you just want to make them dance together, and when they don’t you start handing them pamphlets of dance schools that can help. I’ve learned that some dances, like the dance I dance when I’m alone, are not made to be shared. They are my steps to my tune. It is the same with a dance between two people. They each come to it with their own breaths, steps, backgrounds, rhythms and sometimes, it takes time to figure out how to dance together. They lose count, step on each other’s toes (sometimes on purpose) and they might even drop each other, but nothing is broken, nothing needs to be fixed. It is their own dance, to dance for themselves, not for you. And if you are the dancer on the floor, this is your dance, not for the world.

 

Life is a process.

 

Yes, we want to get there, wherever there is. We want that perfect handstand, we want to be loved, and we have so much love to give, but some things, the good things, no matter how you dissect or tear apart, you just can’t rush. Perhaps, there is nothing wrong with being fine with how things are not exactly how you want them to be. Perhaps, not liking having my feet of the ground is not some big character flaw that I have to fix and perhaps giving love not knowing if it is returned is not something that means I’ll spend my life pining while the ones loved just take.

 

There are always a million things that can be wrong, that can be fixed, but there comes a time when everything is just fine the way it is. Les Leventhal reminded me that a flower opens when it is time. If you pull the petals open, they break. It is the same with most things – your body in practice, your life in its journey and your heart. When it is time, nothing you can do can stop what is going to happen from happening.

 

So relax.

 

Live, love, cry, break.

 

Listen to the music and dance. This track might be shit but the next track might be fucking awesome.  What you do at that exact time is always the right thing, and if you decide that you want to change your dance, slow it down, take a partner, change the pace – there is always space for that too. Remember that in a dance, there is that strength, but also that ultimate surrender to the music. Most of the time, you don’t really know what music is going to start playing.

 

 

Stepping Through the Fire – My Story

When people ask me if anything changed in my life when I decided to do my Yoga Teacher Training, I answer by saying, “my whole life fell apart.”

And it did.

I had my first taste of Teacher Training in August 2011.  Little did I know that it would be the catalyst to tremendous change in my life.  It was when I finally decided that I wanted to do the first 200 Hour Teacher Training, and although I thought I could go on with life as it was through this process, the universe had other plans.  Three weeks after that, the relationship I was in fell apart.  There was a bit of toing and froing, but in the grand scheme of things, it dissolved rather quickly.

A few months after that, I gave up smoking, which truth be told was even more difficult as my relationship with cigarettes had spanned about 14 years by then.  However, I thought that since I was grieving a relationship, why not go through withdrawals at the same time.  Needless to say, the last part of 2011 was pretty much time spent rolling around in the muck.

As the sun rose on New Year’s Day 2012, in Byron Bay however, I realised that that part of life was behind me and there was nowhere I could go but forward.

That was not the end of it.

The week before I went for the first Teacher Training retreat, I packed up everything I owned to move to a new place.  Then off we went on retreat, beginning the most intense journey of self-discovery that I had gone on my entire life.  There was a lot of laughter, but also a lot of tears as we slowly went through those months of exploration.  Never had I stopped to look inside and question myself so deeply, and never had I written down in detail the life that I wanted.

Through all of this I had also decided that if I really wanted to know myself, I needed to just be by myself and therefore had decided to adopt the yogic yama of brahmacharya (celibacy).  It was a difficult choice as when going through a breakup, sometimes you want to stick a band aid on the pain by jumping into a new relationship.  However, as I was going through big changes in my life, I was just not in the right space for it.

Time came, time went and in December my first teacher training was completed. 2012 had been a crazy year and I thought I could spend some time just finding my ground.  Again, I was wrong.  On the 29th of January 2013, my father passed away.  Two weeks later, my full time corporate stint ended, and soon after that, my life got suspended between two worlds.

Something had to give.  The world of yoga beckoned me more and more, and by the second half of 2013, I had completely transitioned into this life.

Things were happening, and layers were being unpeeled.

After seven years of being in Australia, I finally received my Permanent Resident status, and it was during these times of challenge that I found out who my true friends are.  It was during this time also that I adopted beautiful Portia, a rescue cat who has become the queen of my house. In a land where I am in essence alone, I found community, and I found family.

I’ve had glimpses of what my life could have been like had I stayed where I was.  Perhaps I would have started a family.  Perhaps I would have climbed the corporate ladder.  It seems a pretty picture and yet, I have no regrets at not being there.  I know now that that frame was never mine to fit into.

And so here I am, far far away from where my life was two years ago, or rather, seven years ago, when this journey truly began.

I am altered, and yet I sit more comfortably in my skin than I have ever sat before.

Now I know that everything had to fall apart.

I had to fall apart.

Transformation begins when you take that first step into the fire and when it is right the universe helps you.  Sometimes the help comes in a scary way where the doors you could have walked through to return to where you were close with a force that you can’t fight – a breakup, a death, the loss of a job, the loss of a dream that you once held so dear, an idea that had to change, a perspective that needed to be altered, a love that needed to be severed.  You crawl through the mud, and sometimes you just want to say, “fuck it all to hell! I want to go back to where I was,” but something won’t let you, and so, you just keep going.

It is not always without pain.  In fact, most of the time, it is with a lot of pain and the journey forward might not be smooth either, but you go on, one step at a time, towards the place you were meant to be.

The world breaks down to be rebuilt.

As we stand here, at the horizon of a new year, know, without a doubt, that this is exactly where you were meant to be.

Happy 2014.

New-Moon

I’d Rather Not be a Goddess

We sometimes talk about being ‘goddesses’ and ‘standing in our feminine,’ in a way that denotes the inferiority of the masculine, but the truth is, in each human whether they are born female or male, both these energies exist.  Not one is superior to the other, and the need for one or the other varies with time.  For instance, when I was going through a tough time, I wanted to surround myself with feminine energy, but at some point when there was too much around me, I found it stifling.  I love a man who is comfortable with the feminine, but I also find a man who stands just a bit too close in my space with red hot masculinity extremely sexy, especially if I know that he doesn’t do it with everything in a skirt.

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I read this piece ages ago about dating a yoga goddess.  It’s really great for the self-esteem, but on the other hand, who’s to say that a Yoga Goddess is any different from a Prada Goddess.  Sure, if you’re a yoga girl, then dating someone who loves his drink and lives on steaks might just leave a lot to be desired when it comes to finding a place you both enjoy.  And if you love being outdoors and he loves his TV, then it might not garner much conversation time.  Incompatible bed times make things difficult if you’re asleep by 9:30pm and he’s not up until 11:00am and if one of you feels somehow that the other is not as enlightened/smart/anything will just cause imbalance in the relationship.

My friend Karen-Anne digs deeper into philosophy with her answer to the article mentioned above, and I agree with her: http://flyingdragonyogis.com.au/2013/12/04/self-awareness-for-goddesses/.  Just because we use different terms (cleanse instead of diet, divine masculine instead of man), doesn’t make us totally different than the average Jane.

Something about calling myself a ‘goddess’ and sending invitations to the ‘divine masculine’ just doesn’t speak to me.  It might work for some. And some people, in relationship want to be adored.  It’s great in small doses, but I would rather be loved than put on a pedestal as some great ideal.  Why would you want to see yourself as superior to the person you’re dating?  Why would you want him to think that he’s not enough?  Sure you might be the better planner while he’s the one with more physical strength, and he might be more analytic while you’re more intuitive, but not one trait is better than the other.  Then there are some things that you love doing together; cooking, going to the beach, watching movies, whatever.  Sometimes you will annoy each other but that’s not because you’re a Goddess while he’s a dud.  It’s just because you don’t agree on everything, and that’s a good thing.

At the end of the day, I want to be with someone who I can talk to, laugh with and play with.  He could work in the creative field or the technical field, be a martial artist, Crossfitter or Yogi.  It is important however, that he finds joy in what he does like I find joy in what I do.  He could come from any background, as long as he has a good relationship with his family.  Occasionally I will challenge him, and he will challenge me, and we will motivate each other.  Our differences will be just as important as the things we have in common.  Sometimes things will get tough, but a lasting relationship is when you choose to stay instead of go. Some people use the principal non-attachment as a reason not to commit, and sure, if you don’t get attached, you won’t get hurt, but that bit of attachment can also feed into the effort put into the relationship.  More than the job, family background or whatever, is who he is as a person, and in anything of this nature, there is that something that nobody can put a finger on, that from the outside might not make sense, but somehow just feels right.

The practice of yoga is a journey in finding your path.  If it feels right for you, then go ahead and be a floating Gypsy but if what sits dear in your heart is finding a place to land and build, then it makes you no less ‘Yoga Goddess,’ or a ‘Divine Masculine’.  Some just want to be free, others want to have another someone, and others want to have children.  Not one is better than the other.

It took more than two whole years of being completely alone but now I know that I want to land.  Casual, fleeting flings might leave a lot of freedom, but it is just not for me.  The only time I want to be a Goddess is when he is right there with me being a God.  Other than that, I want to be able to take off any masks (because it is only human nature that we wear them sometimes) along with my shoes, not be judged for having pizza if I feel like it, and occasionally not have to do anything but sit on the couch together.  I would want that underlying friendship which allows me the freedom to be unabashedly me.

As much as the Goddess energy is within everyone, I would rather not feel like I have to be some semi-fictional ideal.