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.

greece-santorini-tours

Yes

The third eclipse in this short span of time comes to us with the next full moon, and with it, is a time to say “goodbye,’ – a time to release, and perhaps even let a whole section of yourself die.  Most of us are uncomfortable with endings and a lot more of us don’t like talking about death.  It is the final end. The place where you can’t go back to what once was.  It is that place where your footprints get washed away by the sea and all that is left is to go forward, into the unknown.

There is comfort in the old, a familiarity, a certain safety, and to hold on is so much easier than to let go and step towards the future.  We might say that we don’t believe in these things, but sometimes, something greater just moves us in this direction.  Without ever intending to, we leave the past and head towards the future.  Something closes, something else opens.  Like my teacher Mel would say of a backbend, “it is like everything in the past pushing you forward from your heart.”  There is a beautiful sadness but also an excitement of what is to come.

It can be comforting having just that one string so that we can hold on to the past, but sometimes that string needs to be cut.  In that space where there was left the faintest of connections, there needs to be just emptiness.  The faint imprint left by a former lover is wiped away by the rain, allowing the glow of a new sun to spread it’s warmth on a clean foundation. Sometimes a lover becomes a friend, other times, even the friendship can’t be salvaged and the lover becomes a stranger.  A friend or even a stranger becomes a lover.

You think your heart died the last time it broke.

Going back into that space where you allow things to enter seems crazy.

But something stirs again – Perhaps the tiny flickering flame of affection, growing into desire and in the future, who knows?

You died once when your last life ended.

And you are reborn into this new life.

The heart beats.

It lives.

It wants to soar.

It wants to go into the unknown.

You’ve found your centre and don’t want to lose it, but your heart, the centre of it all is ready to bring you off your axis.

It is time. 

The final goodbye led to the first hello.  And the darkness makes the light seem so much brighter.  Something different, someone different, is scary.  It is the possibility of your universe being flipped upside down in a way that is beyond your control. It is two movements in one – allowing something unknown into this comfortable and familiar space that you have painstakingly built while you yourself move into an unknown dimension.  It is a doorway to another part of yourself, yet undiscovered.  How do you know that you will like this undiscovered self?  How do you know that you won’t?

Right now the questions are being asked and not answering is no longer an option.

Will you let go?

Will you let the past rest where it belongs?

Are you going to release fear and step over a threshold into a new life?

Can you allow a glance to become a lingering look?

When someone reaches out their hand to you will you take it?

Are you ready to immerse yourself into the unfamiliarity of the future?

A million questions, and the only answer that will make a difference is…

Yes

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Throwing Out the Lists

He said, “you think you’re a lady, but I know you’re a woman….”

This morning, I find myself thinking of the first line of the song, ‘Love Puts on a New Face,’ by Joni Mitchell, thinking about the difference between a lady and a woman.  Is there even a difference at all? When I was growing up, there wasn’t much talk about being a woman. A girl became a woman when she got her period.

But a lady… ah becoming a lady required some effort beyond the physical.

What is a lady though?

According to Wikipedia it is a, “…civil term of respect for a woman, specifically the female equivalent to, or spouse of, a gentleman or lord, and in many contexts a term for any adult woman.”

When I was in growing up, being a ‘lady,’ was a desirable trait. It ensured that you were respected and that you ended up married to a gentleman.  Among the rules of becoming a lady included speaking well, having good manners, keeping your eyes open and your legs closed.  Sure I agree with having good manners and speaking well, but shouldn’t that be everyone?

As I grew up, I realised that these rules were just the tip of the iceberg, and that there were more lists to come.  All you need to do is open a women’s magazine, and it will give you all these lists – what to do to be such and such, what to say, how your romantic life should be, what to do on the first date, the games you have to play.  I’m not a reader of men’s magazines but I’m sure they are also full of instructive and useful tips.  To be normal nowadays, you would have read at least one self help book in your life, one that’s got yet even more tips. And of course, in the wellness world there are tips on how much you exercise, how often, and of course, what you should (or rather should not) be eating.

While we become a people who are intellectually intelligent, have we lost the ability to find things out for ourselves?

Let’s look at this. There was a time when there (oh my god!!!) there were no magazines to tell you what to eat.  You’d eat something, and then if you felt muggy, heavy or just not right in your body, you would not eat it anymore.  Same goes for a workout routine. Feeling a bit sore is great, feeling your muscles stretch and work is great, but you have to be aware of the difference of discomfort and pain. In a yoga practice, discomfort is something you work with. It’s your edge and as you keep working, the edge grows further away.  Pain… well, that’s that red flag that goes ‘ouch!’ and if that’s what you feel, adjust, or even find a replacement pose.  And instructor will get you to do poses, but you always know your body best.

And you do. You know yourself best. You know what feels right in your body, and more than that, you know what feels right said out loud.

When someone you like asks you out and you have the urge to jump up for joy, why not just do it? Jump. Cheer. Give yourself a high five if you want.  But oh wait… some magazine said that you shouldn’t be over-enthusiastic right? You have to play these stupid games so that it looks like they’re more into you than you are into them. That way, if it doesn’t work out, although your heart might hurt, your ego remains intact, right?

There’s that fucking ego again.

All these rules, all these lists, all these have tos , have not tos and don’t you dare do thats!?.

Why?

Maybe it’s because while we are following lists, things become intellectual pursuits. Once we let go of these lists and start feeling, then it becomes complicated. Lists keep things black and white, but once we go into sensation, there are a million colours in between and sometimes the colours blur into each other.  It’s fucking scary. There is no ‘scientific proof’ in the world of feelings, and sometimes things can collide.  Anger and love. Hate and compassion. Sadness and fear.  A lady and a whore. A mother and a lover.  A gentleman and a villain. Desire and distaste.

But perhaps, it’s simpler than that… Perhaps we follow these lists for the one basic thing – the fear of being unloved.

As for me, I’m going to give up trying to be a lady or a woman for that matter. I want to just be – to make mistakes and say stupid things, to just swear when appropriate (not at parents or elders though, that’s just basic human decency and respect), and to just be OK with myself when I’ve eaten more than 500 calories a day plus a bag of chips, when my dress size is not a 6, and when I fall over while demonstrating a pose in class.

Because you know what?

Sometimes a perfect life comes is made up of many imperfect moments.

So yeah, let’s all throw out the bloody lists and work on the areas between the blacks and the whites.

Lady and A whore
Edited by Cazz Eccles: http://lovewhatitloves.wordpress.com/

Surrender. Always Surrender.

In about a week, I will be doing this assessment.  I’m one of these people who although I have taken so many assessments in my life always gets freaked out when I have to do another one.  This time, it’s not just the prospect of teaching a class.  It’s the prospect of being watched while I do this.  I imagine my mentors sitting there, scrutinizing everything I say and how I say it, and watching me move and sputter through a class.  Being someone who often gets panic attacks from having to speak in public, this is enough to make me question why I am doing this in the first place.

For the past three months, every class I have gone to, I have been sitting in my head scrutinizing my own alignment, trying to remember where every body part should be and trying to coax my mind into the right direction.  Worse than that, when I am in class, I am listening to how my teachers give instructions, comparing them to how I should be giving instructions. As a result most days have been taken over by the chitta vritti of my mind, just the thing that yoga is meant to silence.

Then there are the other practices I am trying to turn into habits – the netti pot (which is on and off for me), meditation, magnesium, the yamas and niyamas, and journaling everything down, and it seems like there are endless things to do.  Add to those the ongoing projects in my day job and the joys of living in the city where our senses are constantly being assaulted in every way, shape and form.  Instead of being more relaxed, the effect is that I have been working myself into more stress, and possibly adrenal fatigue in the process.

Somewhere along the way, I had forgotten my own practice.

So during a time when I should be practice teaching, I just had to step back and return to the beginning.  The only thing I wanted to do was to be in my corner of the class and just practice.  In a world of doing, amidst all the chaos of thoughts sometimes, it helps to just come back to the the point of origin, to my mat that has known not just sweat but tears as well, and to the silence that is somewhere under all the chaos.

Have you ever felt like you were just stuck in a cycle of doing? It’s often what happens when we are learning.  Every day someone is throwing a new idea at us and we just want to embody that idea as best we can.  It’s not bad. It’s just part of the process in finding what works for us. However, before long, we might find ourselves caught in clutter and living somewhere in our heads.  There is a destination, and all efforts suddenly lead to it.

It’s not just in studies or work.

Sometimes we can get like that in life.  Have you ever been in a relationship where you suddenly felt like time was running out and you had to move on, to get engaged, to get married, and these so called ‘milestones’ take over the whole story. Before long, it becomes more about reaching these milestones than about who we do it with.  Before long it becomes more about the wedding ceremony than being with the loves of our lives.  Then one day we wake up, and wonder how the hell we got here?  If we’re lucky, we have the loves of our lives. Sometimes we’re not and we’ve lost them in our race to a finish line.  Sometimes we get to the finish line and realise that it’s with someone we don’t really want to be with.  In a way, yes, I think things turn out the way they are meant to turn out, but on the other hand, there is merit to being conscious of our actions. Believe me, I was almost at the point of complicated return once.  Turned around just in time.

Yes, sometimes, in that rush to get to a destination, it helps to stop and check in.  What I discovered was that while I was in my head I had stopped embodying my yoga.  My body, tense with stress and anxiety was not very cooperative. It had lost flexibility.  So these past few days, just before I leave for camp, I needed to find my yoga again.  I needed to step back and remember why I was doing this, to stand in the corner of my classes, stop trying so hard and just let the wisdom of my teachers guide me.  And surrender. Always surrender.  Surrender to what is. Surrender to the moment.  For it is in surrender that we find our way.

We live so much in a society of achieving and doing that we forget the magic of surrender.  When we are in one place, our minds are often a few seconds, minutes, hours, days or even centuries in the future.  Yes, I know the brain is important, and so are thoughts, but so is love. And unlike thoughts, ideas and dreams, love is not a destination. It is right here.

So yes, I stopped looking for my yoga in the future or what my brain wanted my poses to look like.  I stopped looking for it in how the instructions were said, and guess what?  It was right there, and I fell in love all over again.  It didn’t matter that I can’t do a handstand on my own, and my crow has days when it won’t fly. It ceased to be about what I could do, and more about what it felt like.  Just like everyone else I have my ups and downs but yoga has been with me through it all. Yoga makes me feel good. The why’s came back to me and it wasn’t complicated.  I didn’t want to be famous, or to have people embody what I said they should.  All I wanted was to offer to others what had been offered to me.  Like my teachers before me, I wanted to provide a safe place where people could come and find themselves under all the clutter.  I would like to hold a mirror up so that my students can someday see the beauty and strength that exists within them.

As Sri K. Patthabi Jois said, “do your yoga, all is coming.”  And it is true.  All is coming.  The future is coming no matter how much you stress about it, and what will come will come in the way it is meant to come.  All we have is now.  And as I practiced, I hoped that I could someday provide this place for others – a safe place for people to slow down their minds enough to reconnect with their bodies and their hearts.  A spot of silence where the past was honoured and the future was right there in that instance.

Love.

Comfort.

Security.

And surrender… Always surrender.

From Light to Dark and Back Again – A Trip Through the Gunas

Over the weekend, I attended a talk by Swami Govindananda on the three Gunas. In Sanskrit, the word Guna can hold two meanings; the first being thread or string, and the second meaning quality.  Swami Ji, as he is known, was speaking to us on the second definition.  In the Hindu scriptures, these three qualities are satvic from the word satva (calm, peaceful, conscious, etc), rajasic from the word rajas (fiery, driven, selfish, etc) or tamasic from the word tamas (heavy, dark, angry, etc).  The thing is, all three of these qualities exist in every one of us. Within a matter of moments, one can go from being happily on that satvic cloud to being down in the dredges of tamas.

Most of us live in a state of rajas. Society in fact thinks very highly of the rajasic state. This is the state where one is driven, ballsy, a go getter, a doer, and this is the state where it’s all about the “I” – I am, I want, I will be.  It’s all well and good. You can sit in whichever Guna you want as long as you are aware of the consequences of being there. The only problem is that rajas is only a breath away from tamas. What is tamas? When you see people go crazy, getting into bar brawls, fighting, shouting, in acts of uncontrolled anger; that’s tamas.  People who live in satva, to put it simply include your Mother Theresas and Ghandhis of the world, and even then, it takes one incident to bring a person from a satvic state to a tamasic state, and of course, right after learning about it, the universe had to test me on it.

Participating in Yoga Aid on Sunday, coupled with all the big hugs, a lovely brunch with amazing people and a nice evening had left me feeling all mushy and gooey.  Then the tamas hit the fan. My credit card had been stolen, and used to an inch of its life on things like McDonalds, pizzas, art supplies and cigarettes (I know right?). To top it off, when I called the bank, although the customer service personnel were great, they did not have any information for me. Herein starts the descent into rajas.  Mind you, now my balance has gone into a negative number, and if I were to transfer funds to the account so that I could withdraw it, the bank would take it. In fact, I did, and it did. Side note: the Occupy movement is well justified to me at the moment.  This morning, I went to speak to a local bank manager, and again, not only was everything that I was told in the last couple of days repeated, the lady who was serving me proceeded to school me on checking my mailbox.  And there it was, Ms Rajas ripped out through her shackles and let loose.

Having this happen to me, I can see now how a person can change their mailbox number from the highlands of satva to the dredges of tamas in a matter of seconds. It only takes one instant of losing control, one action to change the story of your life. We would all like to think that we are “better than that,” but while we hold this mentality, we don’t hold ourself in check for the darkness that lurks somewhere in there.  The thing about knowing that the lightbulb can go out is that we can are prepared for when it happens. Everyday, there is something in the news about buildings being burnt, people murdered, fights and the like, and you wonder how they got that way. Sometimes, they themselves wonder how they got that way. All it takes is one moment of being unconscious, not present, unchecked. A friend once said to me in a pub where people were going crazy, “I understand why Muslims don’t allow drinking. You feel like you lose control of things.”  And although alcohol and drugs do limit your control over yourself, things can happen even without them. All it takes is one moment, one breath, one unchecked action or train of thought.

Yes, some situations upset you, and you have a right of speaking your mind, but today, I realized that I could easily have been one of the people who trashed the bank, threw out a laptop, or broke something.  It might not have been likely, but it was very possible.  When we see people in prison, in debt, homeless; sometimes we think “oh, that could never be me.”  The thing is, we don’t know their story.  Where the cycle of the world goes, we don’t know.  It takes a string of thoughts and actions, but if we don’t pay attention, we don’t know where in that string we are currently sitting.  So as Swami Ji said, always pay attention to your mind. Know where it is, feed it with your compassion, because where your string was yesterday is where you are today, and where your string is today determines where you will go tomorrow.

Swami Ji likened the three states to light. Satva is that state where you are in a room and everything is bright and clear, Rajas is that state where the light has dimmed and everything is red, and Tamas, well that my friends, is when the room is completely dark. And who controls this light? Well, you do.  It’s there, in the power centre of your mind.