In the Flow

This morning I walked through my City of Sydney, drinking in the sights with these eyes for the last time before heading off for a month long adventure. In nine years, this will be the longest I have left this city and I am sitting here somewhere between being nervous and excited. It is a bit like going on a first date with someone who you’ve had your eye on for a while and you know it’s going to be a game changer. I am leaving my home, my cat, my students and my community but this is the next chapter of a story that started a long time ago. Finally, after three years of dreaming of it, I am hopping on a plane to undertake a 200 Hour Prana Flow Teacher Training with Shiva Rea in Greece.

It feels like I am standing here on the edge of change – ready to let go of what was, honouring what is and completely open to what will happen.

My first 200 Hour Teacher Training was done locally, with BodyMindLife in 2012. It was no doubt a life altering experience. So much changed for me during this time including a shedding of a long-term relationship and a huge change in career. I’m glad I had opted to do it part time to allow me the chance for slow integration into all aspects of my life. This time however, I am taking the plunge. I am immersing myself completely in the experience, limiting my contact to the outer world to a minimum.

Every time I go deeper into this path something of what I was, is stripped away so that I can become more of what I was meant to be both as a person and as a teacher. These events are magical even though they might not always be easy. They have a way of releasing an old way of being, a way of thinking that no longer serves us and sometimes even old relationships. Leading into this, I have been very careful not to make big commitments as I know that these are very personal journeys and it would not be fair to make a promise that I am not sure I will be able to keep.

There is so much to experience and so much to learn within yoga and we are lucky to be in Australia at this time as the tribe is continuously growing. We have had an influx of great international teachers including Ana Forrest, Maty Ezraty and Bryan Kest, each bringing with them a wealth of knowledge that has fed my own practice and my teaching.

Prana Flow however, has always been close to my heart.

This was a style that was introduced to me more than two years ago by Chanel Luck and Simon Park. Being an ex traditional dancer, something about the ritual and ceremony in combination with discipline, intelligent sequencing and the freedom of flow spoke to me. It was like the practice was telling a story and my body opened to participating in this tale that was being spun.

I am in love with how elements including the weather, the cycle of the moon and the energy of the students in the class are all welcomed into the space to create a complete experience. I am fascinated by how the more Tantric philosophies that honour the feminine are involved.   The way the flow is taught has given my body and soul a freedom that can only be found when my mind can get out of the way. There is an intuitive intelligence to it that can only be felt. There is a fullness and wholeness to it that feeds the soul.

And so we unfold.

When I decided to become a yoga teacher, it also meant that I had committed to a lifetime of learning. It meant a dedication to self-enquiry. Yoga is a lifelong process, a loop that keeps looping. We learn and we practice so that we can keep teaching. Sometimes we have to go back to our own lessons in life and in practice to be able to give. If the day ever comes when I don’t want to practice and feel that I have nothing more to learn, then it is probably a sign that I should stop teaching.

For now, the path is taking me deeper into knowledge of myself as a person. This is the knowledge that informs me as a teacher to be able to offer more to my students on their own paths and I am so grateful to the teachers and life lessons, hard as they may have been, that have brought me here.

So here I head into the next leg of this journey. It’s hard to be away from loved ones and the support that I’ve come to cherish from my community but we are in continuous flow and sometimes, the river has to take us in a solitary direction before we can come back to the sea. I look forward to returning to my city and my community with a new way of seeing things, more to share and so much more compassion.

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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!

Between Aggression and Assertiveness

Last week I met a woman who might have thought that she was being assertive, but to me, it was bordering on aggressive.  This is not uncommon.  I have worked with people like this, dealt with people like this, and at times, been this person.  What is sad about this situation is that we see it more often than not in women, and more noticeable with those who have either had corporate careers or are in high powered jobs.

Do we truly believe that by being aggressive we get what we want?

Do we think that this trait gets us ahead in life?

And why?

Is it because in a world of standards and expectations there is no space for human error?

Is it because we believe that gentleness is in fact a weakness that won’t get us what we want?

Is it because we truly believe that to get what we want we have to take it, sometimes by force?

Or is it that at the core of it, there is this animalistic thing inside us that feels bigger than the other person when we exert our power in such a way?

It’s true we live in a fast world where we want our questions answered right there and then.  In my professional life I have been expected to have the names of 200 delegates in my head when they ask for it.  I have met anger and impatience when I have had to stop and think before answering them.  I have been asked to write five pieces of copy by the end of the day, dropping everything else.  Often times these requests were made in a way that was more like a demand with an implied ‘or else’.

I admit that I was more aggressive when I was younger.  I too thought that I was being assertive. First it got tiring.  And then I realised that it wasn’t worth it.  I realised that when I was that way to the person who does my manicures and pedicures, or the waitress, or my hairdresser, or the guy at Myers, I was only doing it to drive home the fact that they were there to serve me, that that in fact made me the person who was higher in the food chain of life and that I didn’t have all day to wait for them to be human and shit.  I realised that what I was doing was in fact, a form of bullying.  Sure there was no physical violence but I was exerting my power over someone else in an unkind way, and who knows what that person would have been through before I came in?

It is not always easy to change patterns but I’m trying to put the mirror up to myself.  I suppose I’m a lot more laid back now.  My aggression only comes up as a defence mechanism, more so towards men (if I’m attracted, it’s to keep them out, but other times it’s a lack of trust).  However, on the rare day when I’m emotionally wrecked and facing aggression from someone, I do retreat into myself (which is something I have to work on, I know).

At the end of the day, it is about putting the mirror up and asking the questions:

Are you really just assertive, or are you being aggressive?

Is being gentle really a weakness?

Do you use aggression to exert your power as a director/manager/client?

Does this behaviour get you that promotion/discount/hot dog, and faster than being nice would?

How quick are you to ensure that people get into trouble if your needs are not met?

Are you, in fact, a bully?

assertiveness

Ramadan 2013 – The More of Less

Today marks the 20th day of Ramadan for Muslims all over the world.  During this month, among other things, we refrain from food and drink from sunup to sundown.  Of course, seeing as how it’s winter in Australia, it isn’t a very long day at all.

Like others in the world, I am also practicing Ramadan.

I have been practicing this since I was eight years old, but it wasn’t until I started living alone that I really understood the meaning of it.  When you are surrounded by family, every night is a big feast and you end up eating more than you actually need because you’re not really being conscious.  In recent years, this for me has become a month of introspective consideration, of early mornings, waking up before the sun for a solitary meal and revelling in the quiet of that time of day.

This year, Ramadan changed for me yet again.

It is the first year that I have really needed to manage my energy so that I could continue practicing, work, and still serve others in my yoga teaching.  I must admit that the first two weeks were a bit of a trial as I was working six day weeks, running a conference where my shortest day was 10 hours long, and teaching on top of that.

A lot had to change just to remain standing those first two weeks.

Where I would previously go back to sleep after a cup of tea, a date and some water in the morning, this year I have had to carefully consider my meals so they may serve me through the day.  I am lucky as I am not finicky about labelling my food as ‘breakfast food,’ ‘dinner food’ and so on and so forth as it gives me freedom to eat as I feel is needed.  There have been mornings when I have had a bowl of pasta for breakfast, knowing that I would have a strong practice and a long day.

Where the bed beckoned before, this year I have opted for staying up after my meal (that’s from 4:30am for us here and let’s be honest, who can sleep after a bowl of pasta?).  The mornings have been filled with silent meditations, writing in my journal and quiet contemplation in long baths.  There have been many days when I have just indulged myself in long, slow home practices as the day slowly grew light.

My bed time has been modified too as I try to be in bed by 8:30pm or at the latest 9:30pm.  If I wasn’t much into hanging out at pubs and bars before Ramadan, this month, the chances of that have been reduced to zero.

In Ramadan, life is modified.

And on the mat, my practice had to be modified too.

It was a great thing having Les Leventhal here during the second week of Ramadan.  If you’ve practiced his classes, you’ll know that they are advanced classes on steroids.  The heat is on, and you’re doing at least eight poses on one leg before you switch to the other.  In equal parts, he will remind you to breathe and encourage you to go for it.  Now, I’m not as strong as a lot of people are on a good day, and even less so this month but practicing a class like that teaches you things.  You can go hard, end up in a heap halfway through the class or walk out because you get lightheaded, or you could modify your practice and make it through the duration.  When your body says ‘no more,’ you always have the option of sitting in meditation enjoying the positive vibes around you.

There was also a lesson in managing the ego here – that voice which says, ‘yes, go for it, you can do that one more vinyasa! You don’t need child’s pose.’  Did I indulge? Of course I did and then I went to teach and I didn’t have the energy to demonstrate even the simplest pose, let alone support my students.  The class left me so drained I couldn’t even hold a conversation after, which doesn’t help as people might have questions.

And then you learn to receive and be soft.  I have amazingly supportive friends, so my life this month has not been lacking in terms of hugs, mini-massages, and even a 10 minute Reiki boost.  People have been very understanding when I have not been able to show up for parties after a long day at work, and when I haven’t made it to brunch during the daylight.

In order to keep going, things had to be modified.

10 days to go and although I am tired, I am doing it because I want to.  After all, who is to stop me if I decide not to fast? It is a lesson that we don’t need as much as we have to survive.  The lessons of Ramadan work hand in hand with the lessons from yoga.  It teaches you of patience and surrender, waiting for a time when you can just have a drink and knowing that the sun won’t set until it is time.  It is a time to take note of when you’re tired and hungry, and how that affects you emotionally.  You learn how your body works or how you react when you don’t have the energy to do as much as you are used to doing.  You are living on less sleep and less food than usual and it is interesting to see how that affects you.  And you start thinking about the people who live like this every day, and not just from when the sun comes up to when the sun comes down.  In a world where it is all about having more, doing more and being more, it is a time for less.

Ramadan Mubarak.

Ramadan Mubarak

Saying ‘I Love You’

My late father was an ‘I love you,’ type of person.  Sometimes he would call or text just to say that.   No matter what kind of day I was having just those three simple words made it better.  As simple as they were, the last four months without those simple calls and texts has left a hole in my universe.

It’s a whole big phenomenon this ‘I love you,’ or rather, the simple, ‘love you,’ syndrome, and the varying reactions to it.

What does saying it mean to you?

A few years ago, with the main people I spent my time with then, the L word was saved for parents and partners, very rarely for friends.  If I had said that I loved them they would have thought that I was either high on drugs or drunk, which was my natural state back then anyway.  Never would I have said it while sober! First, it would make me feel way too vulnerable, and second, things would have gotten very weird very quickly.  I was even in a long term relationship where it was never said. Well he probably really didn’t love me, but I did.  I just didn’t want to say it because I was afraid he wouldn’t say it back… again, things would have gotten weird. More than anything, it was my fear that held me back.

Nowadays however, I find that a lot of my phone calls, texts and meetings end with ‘love you!’  Sure, there is that sense of vulnerability. Even with friends, if you love them, you’d hope that they loved you back too.  In that vulnerability however, is also that sense of freedom.

Why do we get so weird about saying simple words to people we are close to? And why do we get weird when someone close says it to us? When did loving and being loved become a negative thing? You’d think in a world where things are being blown apart because of hate, having someone tell you that they love you would be a good thing.

Perhaps some people feel a sense of responsibility when they tell someone they love them, like they have to be there for them ALL the time.  Perhaps it is that idea that if you love someone, you have to be with them forever.  But do you really? Love is big. It carries through distance and space. Even when our journey with someone ends, it doesn’t mean that the love has to. I have friends who have moved all the way across the world, and just because I can’t see them all the time, it doesn’t mean that I don’t love them.

When I had my dad, knowing that I was loved made a difference to my day and my life. Knowing that I was loved and that my dad had my back gave me the courage to walk away and not take crap from people who sucked up the love I gave them but had nothing to give back.  And more than that, knowing that I could tell people that I loved them without them shutting down, gave me a sense of liberation.  Love is this strange element where the more you give, the more you get back.  It’s like that little speck you throw out into the universe rolls around, gathering particles and growing, and it comes back, big enough to envelope you.

The only dilemma I see with being a ‘love you,’ sort of person is when it comes to loving in that way, convincing and being convinced that that’s the case, but I guess we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

So it’s Friday. If you love someone, tell them (only do this if you really love them however, doing it to get laid or to get something out of it is just unethical), and if someone says it to you, accept it.

Until next time, I love you!

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Reintroduction to Grief

Grief.

Sometimes without warning it cuts through you, breaking you to pieces.  Like a hot blade going through your heart, only you don’t get to die.  You live.  Everything inside you wants to dim it down.  Suddenly you crave every addiction you think you have let go of – a drink, a cigarette, a pill, a warm unknown stranger.  Something. Just something to give you some relief from feeling this raw.

Grief

Yes raw.

You’re reduced to a big gaping wound and nothing else. You read things that spew crap like, “the wound is where the light enters,” and all you can think of is with a wound this big, it had better be the fucking sun entering.  When people ask you if you feel better or say things like they hope you feel better soon, all you want to do is punch them. It’s not a fucking cold. Better won’t come for a while. But maybe they forgot what grief feels like. Maybe they never knew.

It sits with you. Sometimes it sleeps and you’re fooled into thinking that it’s left you, but then, when you’re sitting there smiling it rears its head again. You can’t see it, but you feel it so strongly that sometimes your body doubles over and there you are, on your knees at the mercy of the universe.

All your life, you’ve been told that this is bad.  Somewhere in there, your mind is saying, “well, you’re not the first person this has happened to, so get over yourself.”  But this is beyond what your brain understands. It’s not something to fight or get rid of, it just is. It is not a disease. The tears that fall are just your emotions bubbling over into the physical world.

At some point, you ignore the thoughts that tell you this is wrong.  Ignore the people that say you should feel better.  This is grief.  It is not good, but it is not bad either.  It is a feeling that tells you that you loved.  It reminds you of the loss you suffered, and in its strange dark way, it fills you up, reminding you that you have a heart after all.

I used to fight my grief.  I used to think that because I was lying in a heap of tears on the floor, or falling apart in someone’s arms, it meant that I was not strong.  Then I was taught different. I was taught to see emotions in a different way, that strong might not mean fighting.  That strong meant feeling – sitting in the grief and letting it wash over you. Easier said than done.  But when I look at my past, at all the people who got hurt in the explosion of my endless fight against my own grief, my addictions, my anger and of all the hurt that I carried with me through the years because I couldn’t grow a pair and face them, perhaps, it’s time to surrender.

As I sit in meditation and the tears fall again, I realise that there is no right or wrong, only the knowing, the understanding, that instead of happiness, the goal might be to just be at peace.  And I am still learning – learning to be a peace with grief.  Learning to surrender to the fact that it is here, and it might be my travelling companion for a while.  Learning to accept of the fact that the tears will fall sometimes when I don’t expect them to, and learning to give myself permission to just grieve.