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!

Lonely City

Sometimes I walk around this city that I’ve adopted, lost in my own universe of thoughts and whatever music is playing in my ear.  I came here for the first time at 20 knowing I would come back.  One broken engagement and a few years later, I did. No friends, no family – Just me, with no anchor and no knowledge of what life would have in store for me. At the time, I did not know if I would leave or stay, but as the years passed, here I am still.

 

Although I came from another crowded city, this one is different.  Here I did not have the foundation of friends I could call when that first winter hit.  Here I did not have a cousin whose home I could hide in during times of heartbreak.  Here in my weakest moments, I learned to find my own strength.  As any singular nomad will tell you, there are times when it gets lonely, but there are also times when being alone gives you the freedom to explore.

 

I have fallen in love in this city, thinking that it was that love that would keep me here.  I fell out of love, but still remained.  There have been lives built on the foundations of this city, and they too have fallen apart, only to be rebuilt into a different kind of existence.  There has been laughter and tears, and through it all, I kept finding myself over and over again.

 

The New Year enters this city in a big way.  Friends, acquaintance, and strangers come together to invite the new, hoping perhaps that this coming year will be the one where dreams come true, where everything just falls into place and they find what they are looking for.  Perhaps they will fall in love on this night.  It is a night of hopes, dreams, aspirations, intentions, and for some, action.  Two strangers meet and endeavour to build a life together.  Two lovers part hoping to find themselves again.

 

For some, a connection is found.  For others, standing in a crowd is when they feel most alone, like a lost child looking in through a window at a family.  For some, plans are made months in advance, while for others, it is the same tradition they have held their entire adult lives, in the comfort and safety of familiar friends.  There are those standing on the harbour, waiting to be rescued and those out to rescue.  Then there are the travellers, the nomads, the gypsies; where no plans are made, where there is absolute trust that where they end up on that day is where they are supposed to be.

 

Every New Year that I have welcomed in this city has been different, and without planning, I know that this year will be different again.  I do not know what it will be, but I know that it will be.

 

As I stand on the Opera House steps over looking the Harbour Bridge, or by Waverley Cemetery looking out at the ocean, my breath is taken away all over again.  I thought love would be what kept me here and I was right.  At 20 I fell in love and although I fell in love with my ex fiancé right after that, this city already had my heart.  This city hides me when I want to hide and lets me be seen when I allow it.  In this city I knew complete and utter loneliness, and it was here that I finally fell apart after a whole lifetime of holding things up.  It is here that I found how being alone allowed me to see that I was never on my own.

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Sometimes it is when you think that you have nobody and you are completely alone that you find your somebodies.  They might not be your blood, but you are united in moments of gold – they are the person who speaks to you on the bus, the stranger who steps into your place of work and ends up sharing their life with you, the friend who just holds you for a while when you’re feeling vulnerable, or the random person who smiles at you on the street.

It could be a moment or a lifetime, but it is these times that remind you that you are never truly alone.

A Lesson from Your Tears

Last Friday was one of those days that hit me unexpectedly, and again, had me crying in public.  I don’t really know when this public display of emotion started.  A friend who has known me since I was 19 once said to me that in all the years we spent together (from university through to our mid-twenties) she had never seen me shed a tear, even during the most difficult of times.

You see, I was brought up in an environment where crying was seen as a very negative display of emotions.  As a child, if I cried for no (obvious) reason, I was given a reason to cry.  As a teenager, my being upset would prompt my mother to tell me how upset it made her, and of course, I didn’t want to upset her, so I learned to keep it all in.  In my previous relationships, I dealt with various degrees of reactions to my tears from emotional bullying (kick her while she’s down), to flippant, to having the men emotionally retreat.  One even started cheating on me when I was going through a tough time.  Then there is that ‘crazy’ label used for things they don’t understand.  Asking for a shoulder to cry on, in my experience only led me to feel worse.  When a friend of mine said that her partner could just be there and hand her chocolate as she completely broke down, I was totally amazed at his maturity.  It never crossed my mind that anyone could just do that.

The thing is tears can be prompted by a whole range of emotions including those that are yet unnamed and just need an outlet.  I had become used to crying alone, and so, I had built this shell around me.  I would wait until I was completely on my own to break down.  When my engagement ended, I waited to move to another country to do the bulk of my grieving, filling the time between that end and my move with a fling that left me feeling worse. When my grandmother passed on a couple of years ago, I was in a relationship and yet, I dealt with it by crying into my yoga mat and just texting my then partner.  I didn’t expect him to be there for me, and he didn’t call. Somehow I felt that emotionally, he was ill-equipped to deal with my grieving.

I very rarely shared my tears with females, and even more rarely would do it with the men in my life be they relatives, friends and especially partners.

And then I took that crazy vow of celibacy: https://azphoenix.wordpress.com/2013/01/23/act-of-celibacy/.  It was an interesting and amazing journey.  However, just as I was about to step out of it, my father passed away and I retreated again into myself.  I am so grateful for the friends who were there for me during this time.  Although I tried to shut the door, they waited right outside, ready for when I could allow myself to need them.  It was a lesson on how there were people out there who are at the same time both gentle and strong enough to support you through your grief.

That is the thing about grief and tears. Most of the time, you don’t want someone to make it better and you definitely don’t want someone to make it about them.  Sometimes, all you want is for someone to hold you and to let you cry, or to hand you a baby to hold for a little while.

When my father passed away I was sad, and I was angry – angry at him for being the kind of father he was and angry at him for not telling me how ill he really was. Most of all I was angry at him for not being around during my moments of vulnerability, these moments of vulnerability when he, as a father, should have been there.  The last thing I wanted was to let another man in or even have one near me.  I felt that people in general couldn’t be relied on in times of grief, and more so if they were men.

I was wrong.

As my yoga practice has grown and my mask has dropped, I’ve learned that people can be there for you if you let them.  They might not be in a position to do something about it, but a hug is free and tissues don’t cost that much.  There are friends who will not brush it off if you cry for your grandmother who passed away 15 years ago.  There are friends who will bring you gelato and let you hold their baby for the warmth and comfort.  There are friends who will sit with you, waiting patiently for the sobs to subside and for you to catch your breath so you can tell them why you are upset.  And there are men.  These men who are just there with their gentle strength, neither running nor reacting to your tears, offering their warm arms so you can melt, even if just for a moment.  These men just listen while you open up with your emotions and although they might have that manly desire to fix everything, they don’t try to.  They are just present.

Unspoken Words

There are people who understand that sometimes emotions flow out in bursts before laying dormant for a while.  Then something triggers them, and there they flow again, and that there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

And there are times you learn that strong emotions can awaken different parts of yourself that might have been asleep.

For the first time in a long time, last week I wished that I wasn’t spending the evening alone.  I wanted to curl up on someone’s lap and let him hold me.  When I awoke in the middle of the night, I wanted to hear another person breathing beside me, to feel his warmth and know that comfort.

Tears are amazing.  They remind you that you are alive.  They are the physical manifestation of your feelings, showing you that your body and your emotions are connected.  They are the gateway, allowing things that might remain stuck inside to flow.  And sometimes they come only to tell you that it is time to let your guard down and write the next chapter of the story.

Broken

You know how sometimes the universe hits you once, and while you’re still reeling from that, it hits you once more, just for good measure?  You’re already down on your knees. Another hit and your chin ends up on the floor.  Some days it’s expected, but there are times when you’re just not prepared, but then, when are we ever prepared for life’s big events?

Think of those days. Perhaps when you’re in a prolonged extended side angle, knowing that the next step is to fly. The sweat is flowing freely from your body.  You ready yourself, walking that back foot forward, prepared to fly into a standing bird of paradise, and then you find, what’s this? That foot, the one you so want up in the air, simply does not want to get off the ground.  Fuck. You fidget, move, squirm, but it just isn’t feeling right.  Your body has detached itself from your mind and just won’t do what it should.

Then there are days when the world just doesn’t look great, when although the sun is shining, your heart is hurting.  Work is just doesn’t inspire you, or the baby can’t stop crying, or the spouse is being a pain in the ass, and there’s nobody to talk to because everyone is just drowning in their own crap.  And you’re pretty sure that if you spoke to someone, anyone, you’d just get pissed off anyway.

Now think of those days, and enlarge it to a grand scale where not just your body is not up to task, but your emotions feel like they’ve been put through a shredder.

Some times in life, you just want to tell the whole world to just fuck off because you have absolutely nothing to give right now. Beep.  Beep. Call back at a later date… you’re just a bit shattered at the moment.

You take one step forward, then the universe pushes you down the flight of steps, and your goal looks about as close to you as Mount Olympus does.  You’re just so tired that there are just no more tears to cry.

Some days are just a bit shit.

Some days are a lot shit.

So what do you do?  Grab the nearest bottle of strong alcohol? Go out on the town and pick up? Spend days in the stupor of being stoned?

Or maybe just bury it all in some hippy-trippy affirmation.

Or not.

The reality of it is just that sometimes, you’re just not happy. In fact, there are times when you’re just absolutely devastated and you’re not sure if you can make the effort to even breathe.

Our modern world dictates that we should be OK all the time, to work, to hangout with friends, to get on with life.  We life in a society where the dark side is often hidden under layers of fake happiness, but at the end of the day, you want to be real, even if it means being a bit raw.  Even if it means staying in child’s pose for a bit longer so our hearts can recover.

Because you know what?

That’s the fucked up reality of life, and perhaps it makes sense to be OK with just not being OK. It’s not all roses and rainbows.  There are days that are going to be dark and dreary, and occasionally, it’s just about sitting there in the darkness without trying to force a light.

Sometimes, there’s nothing left to do but to be broken and to be fine with it – And perhaps, somewhere in the broken pieces, life will reshape itself and move into the next incarnation.

Mutual Masturbation

They met over a cigarette in the early hours of the morning. Both having had too much to drink, wanting to escape the noise of the pub but not wanting to go alone. After a short chat, and with whoops of encouragement from his friends, they left together. And what happened next was as to be expected.

The next morning, he wakes up and looks at the woman next to him, her hair spread over the pillow in a familiar way. For a moment, just one moment, he is filled with hope. Could it be? Is it her? Then she stirs, turns around and his heart sinks as he remembers the fumbles of the night before.  Awkwardly they both get out of bed. What was her name again? Should he offer her a cup of coffee? Breakfast? He just wants her to leave. As often as this has happened, he is never sure of what to do the next morning.

She gathers her clothes, getting ready to leave. The nice thing to do would be to ask for her number, but they both know that whatever made last night happen, it was not their interest in each other. Silently she dresses. Regret. She wanted something, but not this. She stands at the door, perhaps waiting for him to ask her to stay. He doesn’t. And the truth is, she doesn’t want to either. In the morning light, the chemistry of last night is gone.

He sits in silence once she leaves, and another girl comes to mind. A memory from the past. A smile like summer sunlight. A smile that he took away. A girl wish so much passion, who took every emotion into her, or rather, she stepped into the emotions.  Without fear. Without doubt.  She had made love to him with every breath, even when he was not with her.  She didn’t say much, but with one look, she could say everything.  She had loved him in a way that he could not understand then, with so much trust and so much faith. What did he do? He tried as hard as he could to not deserve her love.  One day he succeeded.

This morning, he wondered where she was. Was she happy? What was she doing? He always thought that she had to learn to live without him, but now, a few years later, he realises that the harder thing for her to learn was to live with him. She made it look so easy, like breathing, like how she just made things happen. Now he sees that it was never easy, not for her.

And he thinks now of last night. What had happened? Had they made love? No. Was it even sex? He had his eyes closed the whole time. She could have been anyone and he wouldn’t have cared. Did she care who he was? As painful as it was for him to admit, he knew she didn’t. All he wanted was to wash this stranger’s smell of his sheets. When he speaks to his friends, he will be “the man.” Hey, she wasn’t awful looking, even this morning, all hungover with her makeup smeared. And that’s what really matters isn’t it? What his friends think. As long as they think he’s over HER, he will be a man. What does it matter if it was making love, or sex, or just  two drunk people filling emptiness with mutual masturbation.