On Courage

I did something this weekend that scared me. In the lead-up I was tense and short, uneasy and probably unkind. I let it get to me. But I got there and I did it and it was fine. And it got me thinking about the ways in which we cope, the patterns that we have developed to keep us safe.

Lashing out, tapping out, projections and distractions. Funny, because it doesn’t really do shit to help us, it’s just another way to try to control the inevitable, uncontrollable is-ness of life. Which is futile.

I suspect these safety nets, when examined, begin to be less attractive. It’s like how shiny objects (a new car! a new lover!) seem great up front but after a bit of time start to show their flaws. This is the power of the process of yoga, learning to hold that orb of awareness and direct it to our crazy and see what we can do to take the shine off the habits that we misconstrue as us!

I certainly am both embarrassed at how I behaved in the lead up and proud of the way I handled myself doing the thing that made me nervous. I’m someone that, when pressured, will usually rise.

I spoke in front of a lot of people. I had committed and I pride myself on being professional. I think I did well. I could’ve spoken slower, clearer, been more succinct and less tangential. But whatever, I showed up, I studied myself and my habits, I committed to my professionalism and delivered and it was enough.

Maybe there is something you are scared of that would also leave you feeling proud once achieved. It might be small (ask him out!) or large (start that company!) or it might be that you are just so familiar with fear that it is your constant companion. It’s all fine, it is what it is. You can still do it anyway. The enemy of progress is perfection, someone smart said, and it’s true. You’ll never be perfect. To human is to err (Shakespeare?). But you CAN deliver and face your fear with courage and I suspect that will be more rewarding in the long run that waiting for perfect. As Seth Godin says, it’s not ‘just doing it’ that’s the answer, it’s doing it well as you can, AND on the deadline you promised so that you can deliver, get feedback and keep getting better. It’s whatever we choose to do becoming a commitment to our higher states of awareness and development. It’s choosing courage, vulnerability, presence. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it.

image source tumblr

All the Small Things

I’ve always believed that longer meditation practices were better. Put pressure on myself to sit for an hour or half an hour (sometimes twice a day), not dissimilar to how I used to approach my asana practice, honestly, believing if I didn’t do 90 mins to 2 hrs a day I wasn’t a good yogi. Sigh.

I’ve recently set myself a goal of ten minutes a day in an attempt to train myself to enter that meditative state faster, so it’s more accessible to me in my daily life. And so far, so good. Since becoming a mum and since the business (SuperFeast) really took off, I don’t have the time (unless I don’t sleep!) to practice for hours a day. So this is my compromise. Minimum daily practice set, anything else is a bonus.

I’m about 28 days into a consecutive practice (I have sat longer some days because I’ve had the time, but I do the minimum 10 minutes I’ve committed to, to flex the power of habit, then reset the timer and go as long as I feel to sit), and it’s been really powerful.

Life has been stressful lately - lots going on around me that sometimes feels overwhelming, stuff well outside my control and yet very much in my face - yet I’ve felt that meditative quality penetrating my days. And I’m surprised that sneaking away to sit has become a lot more attractive now that my sits are so short - no one notices if you’re gone for 10 mins, and even the toddler can usually find something to colour in or play with for ten uninterrupted minutes.

I advise my students to do this all the time (break their practice into tiny manageable chunks) but this is the first time I’ve taken my own advice. Ha. Always learning! 😜

Update: 40 days complete, feeling powerful and connected. I’m now aiming for a year, of consistent daily practice in short bursts. Let’s see where it takes me. (30 July 19)

A personal history of food…

Since I was a teenager, when I switched from my parent’s diet to a vegetarian diet complete with the world’s most religious and least healthy soy milk, So Good by Sanitarium (I know, I know), I was fascinated and appalled by our food system. I had witnessed calves being branded and neutered in my first year of high school, we visited battery farms and piggeries. I rescued chickens from the ag shed and mice from the science labs. I was heartbroken at how animals were treated. I stopped eating meat immediately. 

I learned about vivisection and started learning how to look for products to use on my body that weren’t made safe for my by torturing animals. I kept eating fish until one day I was swimming in the ocean at South Mission Beach, near where I grew up, and I was surrounded by dead fish from the by-catch. I did my Year 12 biology project on GM crops - the data in 2002 was terrifying, Roundup Ready-corn and salmon genes in strawberries was a thing, and it’s all still going on. They’d just cloned that sheep, Dolly. I took a gap year and was exposed to homa farming (agni hotra) methods, which produced crops like I’ve never seen. I still didn’t eat meat, but I was eating a lot of (supposedly non-GMO) tofu. A total bypass, now I know how dodgy soy crops are, but it took me a while to work that one out.

I studied Environmental Science at uni and one of the electives I took was Global Poverty and Development. The World Bank and the way in which huge corporations were controlling agriculture in developing nations devastated me. People who could barely subsist on what they were growing for themselves being forced to produce food for us, for cash, because they were being sold sterile seeds. I saw a Four Corners report of Aussie farmers literally throwing away an entire crop of oranges because US farmers were selling them for $1/kg and Australians wouldn’t buy the ‘expensive’ local fruit. I decided to become a journalist so I could tell those stories. I ended up in non-fiction publishing. Kept learning, had fights with my partner at the time about the relevance of farmers markets (he = none, me = everything).

I worked with Bec from Estabar who is and always will be an inspiration. She was aiming for zero waste and local all the way before anyone gave a shit about that. She’d be raised in the country and knew where food came from. I started learning about meat production and the people who were doing good stuff, as well as the bad stuff. A friend had worked in an abattoir and it sounded appalling. I bought a half a cow from a guy who raised it in his paddock in Dungog, killed it himself and had a mate butcher it. I ended up feeding a lot of it to my dog, but I started to dabble in eating meat again. Now that I knew how the soy and corn crops were generating huge dollars for US govt and destroying the soil (and heavily GM), I couldn’t eat that stuff any more.

I started researching paleo diets, Mark Sisson was just about the only guy out there in those days, along with Loren Cordain (recommended to me by a guy who had been a military doctor) and Robb Wolf. Pollan came out with In Defense of Food. They were talking about getting back to a more primitive style of eating, the paleo guys like caveman, and Pollan like your Grandma. It made a lot of sense. I was still vegetarian (my acupuncturist says I was indoctrinated and he’s right; yoga, my upbringing, there are many reasons I thought of vegetarianism as being ‘better’ and healthier) but I started trying to eat paleo-ish. I hadn’t eaten gluten since I was 17, so it was pretty easy. I came off the Pill and didn’t bleed. For years. (I now know I had a Blood Deficiency and Blood Stagnation, but those ideas were still concepts that I’d never really applied to my own body at that point - Traditional Chinese Medicine was a theoretical concept I embraced but didn’t really understand as a medicine.)

I started eating fish and then meat because my naturopath suggested it might help my adrenals talk to my ovaries. I was also doing my yoga training and I felt like a fraud. Yoga is like a cult of vegetarianism. I lasted a few months and then became vegetarian again. Everything was telling me to eat meat, but my mind was made up. Minds are powerful like that.

Few years pass, a lot of reading and soul searching and some plant medicine (cactus told me to eat meat but that is a story for another day) and I meet Mase. I try on meat again; Mantak Chia told me I was an idiot for not eating meat, that when he worked on my body all he could feel was that I needed it. (My Spleen was in need of some support.) In genera,l he thinks vegetarians have weak Qi. We spoke about diet quite a bit and Master Chia, like all good Taoists, said there was no one size fits all but a small about of meat was suitable for most people. Mase was vegetarian, so it was a bit weird to be experimenting again, but he was open to my adventures and never made me feel judged or wrong. I felt good, honestly, best I had in years, and my digestion was finally working well again. But I gave it up, stopped again after things got back on track-ish. (Seriously guys, I was stuck.)

Then I get pregnant.

One day I am walking down the street in Mullum and I say to Mase, “I could slay a chicken drumstick.” I didn’t do it - despite my body telling me to - because I always thought I’d be vegetarian while pregnant. I waited for months and I cannot even remember when it happened but one day I started eating meat and my body just sang and I felt that little baby inside me and I promised to nourish her. And I still don’t know what changed but I think very very differently about food now. I missed the parts in the timeline above where I spent time on farms and saw how it could be done, real people who care raising and slaughtering their plants and animal with respect. I saw hunters and their efforts and the pride and care they take in taking life to nourish life.

More recently I have watched Daniel Vitalis transition from vegan to hunter, I think he is brave for being bold enough to change. I think a lot about the politics of food. About how “traditional” Italian food is tomatoes and wheat, both of which were brought from other places, not native to Italy, and I suspect made the powers that be a a lot of money - control the crop, control the people. Read the history of sugar (slavery, money - not just in the West Indies and Caribbean but here, in Australia, black birding and the Queensland sugar industry), of our common vegetable crops, read about the subsidies given to farmers who grow certain crops. I think about how we have literally thousands of edible plants on this island we call home and we don’t eat them because they’re not ‘researched’ or whatever and how we never even asked the guys who lived here first what was good to eat. How we’ve lost that privilege mostly now because we killed them all so we could have their land for cattle.

I think about how the only way to have a life on this planet is to take life. I don’t care if you think you’re morally righteous because you’re vegan, plants absolutely have consciousness and I’ve been told by Taoists that their consciousness is more advanced than animals, closer to ours. Animals are of the earth, plants and humans are bridges between heaven and earth. I think about how I want my daughter to learn about where food comes from (currently she thinks its from Santos and the farmers markets, mostly, and sometimes trees and plants), and I think about how much better It would be if everyone went and spent a year or two on the land and actually worked hard like farmers do to feed themselves and others.

Most of the food you eat has been bred to be sweeter, fluffier, prettier, more transportable, less imperfect, marketable, profitable. What about the food that doesn’t travel well, the food that can’t be easily mass produced, the food that is wild and seasonal. What kind of nutrition are we missing? What about the intention of the farmer, qi/prana, the water (are your plants watered with town water? Is your rain water clean?) and the soil (minerals, microbes) and the application of sprays (pesticides, fungicides, etc). I lived in banana country and I will NEVER buy a non-organic banana. Those sprays are hideous. What about the runoff that destroys the reef? What about the lack of trees and grasses causing soil erosion? What about the application of European farming techniques on Australian soil? I guess all of this has lead me here, where I eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. Meat daily, but not a lot (we ate a chicken maryland between three of us tonight, and there is at least another meal or two left over).

I defer to Chinese medicine for my health information. I try to buy food that has Qi, that hasn’t travelled too far, that has been grown in the soil where I live. I wish a lot that it was food that was already here before white people came, I hope that is the next wave of agriculture. Because humans lived here a long time and ate well. I am also grateful for access to an abundance of food and I don’t take that privilege lightly any more. I had an eating disorder as a young woman and more than anything else I am sad that I didn’t respect myself enough to respect the food that I was so privileged to receive. We make soil (and feed the bloody brush turkeys) with the food we do not eat, and we try not to waste much. I am sharing this because I get asked a lot how I went back to eating meat after being a vegetarian. I fell in love with myself and this planet and I will never refuse a gift of mama Earth again. Think what you will of me but that is where I have landed. I will share some stuff about the health reasons why too, but honestly, health or not, it’s a philosophical decision for me.

This planet is one I want to remain deeply connected to and by eating of its bounty, plant, animal, mineral, fungal, microbial, chemical, I feel I participate in its life and am nourished by its life force. Thanks for reading. Hope that answers your questions. Yes, I still love Yoga. No, I am not a vegetarian.

“Books or yoga classes often give the impression that there are prerequisites for the study of yoga. We may be told that we should not smoke, or that we should be a vegetarian, or that we should give away all our worldly goods. Such ways of behaving are admirable only if they originate within us - and they may as a result of yoga - but not if they are imposed from the outside.” T. K. V. Desikachar, The Heart of Yoga (1995)

What’s Wrong With Yoga?

The first time I sat down in front of Paul Grilley I thought, oh fuck, what the hell have I been teaching? The second time, I thought oh fuck, this industry has problems. I’m about to go for the third time. I wonder what the oh fuck moment will be this time.

Like anything spiritual that has a commercial aspect, there’s a lot of scope for things to go wrong and hey, guess what, that’s what has happened with Yoga. Which has become, at its worst, something of a sexualised physical practice and superficial bypass that does little to evolve the consciousness of those drawn to it.

One the biggest points Paul likes to drill home is that most teacher trainings are responsible for the lack of understanding that Yoga teachers have about how the body actually functions and what the true purpose of Yoga actually is. Quite ironic, that the industry is creating its own issues, but unfortunately true.

In my experience, my first yoga teacher training was pretty abysmal in terms of anatomy and any real discussion of the ‘why’ of Yoga. We did talk a bit about Self Enquiry but I wasn’t really observing the leaders of the training making much progress with their own demons. We certainly didn’t learn how and why the body moved the way it did. Rather we learned poses and their alignment. We did learn some anatomy terminology, which is helpful for studying anatomy but not so much for teaching general classes. Most students have no idea how to externally rotate their femur (what the hell is a femur?!). This is a really silly way to teach yoga. Because when you meet a body that doesn’t fit into those parameters, guess what you’re encouraged to do? Assist them into this ‘shape’ that is probs not ideal for them or help them ‘modify.’ Which means people feel forced into shapes their bodies can’t do, feel shit and that yoga isn’t for them and inevitably ditch the practice. No talk about the WHY and a platform for the physically gifted to excel (and often get trapped in the physical side of the practice seeking unattainable perfection). 

What you don’t learn is that some people’s shoulders will always round, because they have short collarbones. Some people can’t do headstand because their humerus bones are too short. Some people should not be putting their shin parallel to the front of the mat in pigeon because their femur bone literally does not rotate that way. Some people will always have a shitty backbend! (Hi!) We don’t teach these people that it doesn’t matter because asana is designed to clear ‘impurities’ that prevent the energy (prana, qi) from flowing, so the shapes you do don’t matter, just that you do them. Any terrible looking backbend that effectively compresses the spine and stretches the front of the body does the job to prepare the spine for higher states of meditation. For the increased energy that will soon be moving along the spine.

Some teachers would argue that it’s a) not necessary to understand anatomy to teach yoga and b) that 200 hr teacher trainings have a lot to fit in and the onus is on the teacher trainee to take responsibility for furthering their own education. I agree with both points, to some extent, but most modern folks come to yoga through asana and it’s sold as exercise and if you’re teaching exercise you need to know your shit. I personally prefer the Rod Stryker approach (as I’ve coined it), which is also what Paul and Suzee teach: get your exercise from elsewhere, let your Yoga be your medicine. Human bodies need to be challenged with strength work and walking, movements that are rarely found in most asana classes. 

While I understand both those points of view, I think it’s pretty naive to put a person who doesn’t understand the body in charge of what is effectively an exercise class. Not saying YOGA is solely an exercise system, I’m saying that a lot of graduates of YTTs are teaching asana pretty much exclusively and claiming to be experts in the body. Or at least, Yoga students assume these people are experts. Yoga has a PR problem, I heard someone say the other day, and Leslie Kaminoff makes a good point for delineating between yoga instructors and yoga teachers - a teacher necessitating more experience and history with the practice than an instructor. All interesting things to consider.

Yoga Alliance (which I’m probably going to ruin my career by saying) is not exactly proving to be the solution. It doesn’t go far enough in assessing trainings, but I’m also not sure putting trainings under the microscope is the right approach. A friend of mine mentioned that Yoga Australia is trying to develop a university level degree in yoga, applying critical thinking and research to the claims of yoga’s historical greats. Again, I’m not sure how I feel about that - prana/qi is definitely a thing though still unaccepted by modern science and many of the claims made in the ancient texts (e.g. a certain asana protecting the practitioner from poisoning) I think have to be taken in the context of someone practicing for a lifetime, not a few weeks, months or even years. From what I know about Oriental/Eastern medicine, enhancing our energy flow could very well have such an effect.

Funnily enough, the stuff most trainings spend the most time on (asana alignment) is actually where the problem lies. Alignment ‘rules’ performed repetitively over time in bodies that cannot do it causes injury. Each body has its own alignment. Not each pose. Poses have intentions, bodies have to find their own way to honour that intention.

In fact, the safest styles of yoga I’ve been exposed to have no alignment, per se. Just suggestions for students to move through a range of ‘shapes’ with a focus on specific areas of the body in order to stimulate the energy in the body. It’s safe that way because, unless the person really strains (which a good teacher will remind them not to do, and if they’re not copying a shape they’re less likely to do), they’re very unlikely to hurt themselves because the parameters keep them within their natural ROM.

Because, if we look at the earliest texts we have, that’s what asana is all about. Helping awaken and mobilise the dense energy stored in the lower chakras (shakti).

What I love about Paul and Suzee’s approach to functional anatomy is that it’s actually functional. So many times I have met ‘functionally trained’ coaches and trainers that still don’t understand skeletal variation and compression. I even attended a talk by an osteopath not that long ago that failed to address that these limitations are not going away; they are, essentially, permanent. (Yes, you can make some changes and obviously you should explore what your body can do!)

What this means is as a teacher you sometimes have to tell a student that a pose will be forever out of their realm of possibility. I dated a guy that couldn’t sit cross legged as a kid and certainly couldn’t as an adult - he had shitty external rotation and no amount of yoga would fix him.

What this means is as a student you need to accept the same in your own practice. Some poses will hurt you if you ignore this advice.

One of Paul’s favourite ‘sound bites’ is ‘every pose is bad for somebody.’ This makes logical sense when you read it, but in practice, when we’re in class, battling the ego, struggling with our competitive nature, we often ignore this wisdom.

What I’ve come to realise in examining my own belief systems and in talking to my peers here is that the aesthetic approach of yoga has penetrated deep, much like the aesthetic of what it is to be a woman or a man. The first step to unravelling it requires that we ask ourselves WHY we are doing these poses, why we are taking the shapes we are assuming, giving the cues we are giving, the assists we are offering.

What I’ve seen as a teacher is that yoga studios generally cater for people whose bodies are predisposed to being ‘good’ at yoga, in that they have reasonable to exceptional external rotation, reasonable to exceptional clavicular and humeral flexion, reasonable to exceptional spinal flexion and/or extension, etc.

The people who don’t fit into this category of body types don’t get to practice yoga. And that’s a shame. Because anyone who’s ever practiced yoga for a while will tell you, whatever reason you started doing yoga, in the end it’s just because you feel good and better at life and a better person and all the good things.

And everyone can do yoga. Honestly, everyone. I started Yoga for All because I wanted to break down some of the boundaries to Yoga practice - 1/ the gym-based pricing models and 2/ the intimidating sequences and practices.

I evolved as I taught and observed the students coming to that studio and I’m proud to say they were the most yogic and least Yoga-scene-y bunch of people I knew.

I’m still evolving. Hopefully will always be.

I’m more excited about yoga than I have been in a long time. I’m surrounded by teachers who aren’t famous on Instagram but who have been teaching for decades, caring for their students by ensuring they do understand the body and the purpose of the poses they teach - the WHY.

Anyone who knows me knows that why is probably my favourite question ever, so I’m pretty happy here, examining the whys are carving out my own place in this wonderful/crazy yoga world. 😝

The Thread...

The Thread...

The thread between asana and breath is that they are different ways to feel and control the qi and move us towards an awareness of our subtler dimensions. As we get more comfortable with the feeling of energy flooding our body in a physical practice and we clear blockages and stagnation, we prepare for the deeper shifts that occur with the breath.

Layer upon layer we explore ourselves from slow moving dense physical particles to hyperspeed light…and beyond.

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