Right where I'm living there is an incredible swimming hole in the River, so every day I am immersing myself for a few minutes - it’s my dedicated Winter Sadhana.
Humans are now so far out of balance we can hardly identify what Masculine Energy is without resorting to negative labels. In all my years of work with healing and teaching empowerment of the feminine, I’ve never once attempted to create balance by putting men (and the masculine) down. So whilst I have certainly directed intense rage at individual men for their actions and behaviours, it has never been directed at men in general. To me, that's toxic feminism. There’s no empowerment there, in my opinion, and there’s certainly no balance. The work always begins, and ends, in the self.
So, my river sadhana, every day, has been this: I get completely naked, do some connected breath work to bring everything to the surface, and say these words before diving into the icy flowing water:
May I use the privilege of this knowing for the greater service.”
Om Shaantih Shaantih Shaantih ||
I'm deep in preparation for my next Women's Immersion, the Goddess Rising. This is a deep dive into exploring the practices of the sacred feminine, and is a second level to what has become my most heartfelt Yoga offering - The Goddess Retreat. Whilst I've been writing the manual, I've felt called to speak on cultural appropriation, as it's a topic that effects my work in many ways. I want to talk openly about the journey to being ok with sharing Yoga, as well as mythology from around the world. While I am still in an ongoing and ever evolving process of discussion and consideration around this topic, my aim is to acknowledge these issues, take responsibility for my standing, and, to always be respectful. Although it feels easier at times to say nothing, I'm willing to stand in any discomfort and keep the conversation flowing. I believe this conversation is hugely significant, and part of the healing we are being collectively called to right now.
I would like to acknowledge that this is being written on traditional lands of the Noongar people. I recognise their strength, resilience and capacity, and the injustice that they have endured, and are still enduring. For the purposes of this piece of writing I am speaking only on Yoga & the Mythology that I share in my work, and will gladly speak out another time about the uncomfortable position of being a white Australian trying to actively embrace reconciliation.
I have been practicing cultural-mindfulness with expanding awareness for the last 15 years in my journey as a Yoga Teacher, ever since I sat at the feet of my Swami in a traditional Ashram in Tiruvamanalai, South India. I was then, as I am now, acutely aware of my white-ness, the ultimate strangeness of my situation. I spoke up about it. Swamiji's simple answer then, with a playful laugh at the silliness of my question, was this: Yoga is union.
Although Yoga takes its roots in the Indus Valley Civilisation, it has very much grown and expanded from India, and therefore associated with Hinduism. The path of Yoga, as taught to me, is one of awakening to our true natures as individuals, in order to eventually awaken to the true nature of the Universe. Although there are some lineages and texts that are shrouded in secrecy, the Yoga that was brought to the West 130 years ago is a practice of Spirituality that is open to everyone, regardless of race, gender, sexuality or cultural background. It is, in fact, deep in the essential teaching of Yoga that we break down these barriers that separate us. In my path of dedicated service, I love to share Yoga, and so, I am always doing my best to be anchored in the integrity at the heart of this service, diving deep into the philosophy & ethics beyond the body-beautiful-big- business that it has become.
My love of philosophy brought me to mythology - and I met the Goddess as a call to reclaim my feminine power and wisdom. It is no accident that so many others are feeling a similar calling around the globe…the Goddess is rising now because we are in crisis. We have been asleep, forgotten our inherent connection to the Earth. This separation & dis-ease is felt on every level - from global politics to the health of our own bodies, and especially the health of our planet. The Goddess is rising as a force, an energy that moves through us all, if we are open and willing, regardless of gender, sexuality, religion or cultural background. This is a primordial energy, ancient as time itself. If the words ‘Goddess’, or ‘feminine’, seem outdated, cause offence or don’t resonate with you, please, call this energy ‘nature’, or ‘Gaia’, or ‘mother’, or whatever name you want to call it that works for you! In our modern setting these words can get tangled up and become a hindrance. In the bigger picture, these words represent -
the power of nature, it’s life force energy:
that which seeks to activate the cycle of birth & death.
And, as a force within life:
that which sustains, nurtures, protects and heals.
It has been my journey with the Goddess, more than anything else, that has woken me up. The stories are ancient, and yet incredibly apt for the present, almost as though they were designed for our time. When I hear the mythology of Ancient Greece, Egypt, Sumer, and Indus Valley civilisations, I feel deep resonance, a remembrance. Admittedly, as a modern woman it took me a while to get through some deep resistance, but the calling was persistent. Possibly this resistance is an important piece in the story of just how deep I had to get inside of myself to understand the resonance - like a red hot ember burning in the darkness. I imagine that you are reading this too because you recognise this sense of yearning - perhaps you also have resistance. After all, returning to the altar of wholeness might mean shaking the structures of everything you have ever believed in.…to give it all up might be to give up our perceived safety, along with everything we’ve worked so hard to achieve & accumulate. In this time of Trump, robotic bloodshed and rapid climate change, we are reaching a collective dark night of the soul.
From nature, we are taught that it is only from that deepest darkness of winter that the new cycle can begin. And this time, the invitation from the Goddess is to remember who we are - that we are made of this Earth’s life force energy, that we are not separate from it. This is a cycle of great pain, because we are birthing something enormous and it cannot be done without moving through the fires of transformation. We do it together, by doing it within ourselves. Learning the stories of the Goddesses has helped me to embody this reclamation of myself, not simply to connect back to the earth and the nature of this life force, but to realise that we are the earth, nature, life force - how can we possibly “connect to” something that we already are? We only need to remember. And this is where I find that the ancient stories, integrated with the meditative and expansive, practice of yoga can be a road map, back to our truest most whole selves.
My cultural heritage is mainly English, Maori, Scottish & French, and I am always on the hunt for stories that resonate from these places. I will never stop my searching for that deep connection on the physical, ancestral plane. I have sat long hours, to find peace in telling the stories of India, Tibet, Greece, Egypt and Sumer. I want to acknowledge here that my bloodlines do not claim these stories, and even if there is a part of me that wishes that they did, I wouldn’t be able to choose just one place or time - I love them all too much! My passion has become a study of theology, of spiritual code through story. I take on the responsibility and honour of telling these stories, by sharing them with as much integrity, authenticity, research and respect as I can. In the same way that I have always done in my sharing of Yoga…my intention is to share something that connects us to ourselves, never to claim it for ourselves. The observations and connections I make are my personal musings, and I share them as one would share a consideration on a philosophy. I am further along the line of integrating the desire and the internal conflict I feel towards sharing these stories, and my observations or interpretations of them. I am both at peace, and open to discussion about any sort of appropriation, around my “right” to tell these stories, and this is why I want to keep this conversation fluid. I want to learn more, observe more, explore more and share more. I want to integrate more.
I want us all to have a better understanding of what is appropriate versus what is appropriation. I do not, however, want to live in fear of following my intuition, when rooted in research and respect, on what I can share, and what is empowering and necessary at this crucial time.
So what is it about some stories that resonates, that “sticks” - why do I feel that sense of deep longing to share one story, regardless of it’s origin, and not another? The answer is simple - the essence of the stories I love is always the same - they speak of unity, one-ness, wholeness - on a spiritual level. They speak of the split of the masculine & feminine energies - the ego/psyche with nature, or, consciousness with action. The stories interest me because at their hearts the message is the same, regardless of their time in history and place on the globe. I love mapping the different telling of the stories - how they change through the ages to reflect the patriarchal domination, the descent of the sacred feminine - the sudden introduction of new characters to alter the power and standing of the Goddess, to reduce her from all powerful to simply the wife or mother. I love to trace our collective Spiritual history like this, to understand where we are now - where I am.
Through these stories I feel held on this earth, anchored in time and space.
Through these stories I begin to understand how I have denied the feminine aspect of myself; subdued my connection to the Earth, siding with separation, domination and ultimately becoming isolated.
Through these stories I begin to awaken and remember my true power, and the intricate web to which I am a part.
There is a deep peace that comes to me when I hear and tell the stories from around the world, it is not because I can claim them on a personal level, but because their essence helps me to reclaim something from deep within my own self, something that is shared, a Universal truth. And, as this wholeness expands beyond my edges I feel a deep connection to everything - quite simply the bliss of non-duality. The stories hit me so deeply I’m in awe, and just so grateful for them. In sharing the stories I don’t claim them as my own, but rather in the hope that their whisperings will find their way to the embers of your yearning, like they do for me.
My hope is that these whisperings can fan the flames of transformation - burning away any illusions of separation that hold us back from the exquisite bliss & pain of this precious life.
With love & light to you, wherever you are on the path
Spiritual Philosophy can be loosely divided into 2 categories; Dualisitic (there is God and there is life on earth - 2 realms - we see this in all mono-theistic religion), and Non Dualistic/Monistic (God & life on earth are one and the same). It is no surprise that (mostly!) Yoga traditions fall into the second category, however there are still more divisions within, so it can be confusing!
The Yoga we are (mostly) practicing today, in the West, is mostly influenced by Hatha Yoga, which has roots all the way back to Patanjali (around 400AD), and is influenced by both non-dualism and dualism, as well as monism. Hatha Yoga has developed significantly in the last 500 years, bringing more focus more focus to an embodied, postural practice. Before this time the only asanas were seated and viewed as meditative postures.
The 2 major schools of thought in Yoga come from Advaita Vedanta (Puruṣavāda) & Tantra both share the idea that Moksha (liberation) can be achieved during life (rather than liberation only after death).
Both identify as Non Dualistic. In Advaita Vedanta, however, everything is seen as one, but the practitioner works to overcome the illusion of the body/earth realm to realise this one-ness. In Tantra, the only illusion to overcome is that there is any separation at all.
“I am God” (vedanta)
“God has become everything” (tantra)
Tantra means to loom/weave The understanding is that divine consciousness is both what is beyond the eye, and everything that the eye experiences, and at the same time it is the eye itself. In Tantra the idea of Purusha & Prkriti are discussed as Shiva & Shakti and represented as the 2 dualities of the masculine & feminine (energy, not gender!) - consciousness & power. Imagine the Loom - the unchangeable (Shiva) are the tied/bound strings. We have the ability to consciously create/choose the threads that will come together, the shakti that weaves the fabric of our existence. Of course if we do it without consciousness (which is normal!) the fabric will still be made, but it will be shaped on reaction and response to our circumstance as opposed to a REAL co-creation between your highest self and the divine. This is the potential of Tantrik consciousness.
Tantra revolutionised Spiritual Practice by providing a system that was for everyone - regardless of gender, status, education, caste etc, and influenced not only Yoga & Hinduism, but spread and integrated with Buddhism, Jainism, Taoism and beyond.
Tantra opened up Yoga for householders - not renunciates, and this spread like wild fire (and it’s still spreading)...the hunger for “every day PRACTICAL spiritually was palpable - as it is still today! That is why we have jumped on Yoga. But now that the initial explosion has happened, we need to refine it and understand our roots.
All of what we do today “modern postural Yoga” takes it’s roots from Tantra because Hatha Yoga comes from Tantra. Unfortunately, Tantra is mostly associated now either as Neo (modern/western path associated with ecstatic sexuality) or, Left Handed (the path that grew alongside “right handed tantra” and is associated with black magic and other dark practices). We are now seeing an uprising within the Global Yoga Community in understanding the genuine philosophy of true (right handed) Tantra, and the incredibly accessible gifts it brings, but at the same time, as Modern Yogis we have a responsibility to be a part of that understanding.
Neo Tantra - has been around for about 100 years. That means that people who are teaching & practicing have teachers, who had teachers, who had teachers - so it’s a legitimate lineage of it’s own, but it does not have roots in ancient scripture. Sacred sexuality, or spiritual realisation through sexual intimacy is it’s own (potentially) wonderful thing, and is not to be discredited necessarily for the sake of understanding Tantra. Basically, the imagery of Shiva and Shakti in union - the symbol of consciousness & power uniting to unveil the unity/oneness, was reinterpreted by the West. Having lived in such denial of pleasure & desire for so long, people were starving for both Sexuality & Spirituality, so when Aleister Crowley (a magician in the late Victorian Era) created something new, it began a cult. Neo-Tantra was completely made up from a very ignorant understanding of the symbols & imagery of Tantra.
I’ve been about to write for weeks…
I’ve been aching to share about the incredible training I did recently to become a Holistic Nutrition & Detox coach…and how beautifully this work integrates with everything I’m already doing.
I’ve been so excited about the new Retreats and Teacher Trainings I’m working on…I’ve been going to write about all the ways I’m in awe of how this path of service is unfolding; from a place of deep trust and co-creation with something beyond my intellect.
I’ve been waiting for just the right moment to let you know that I’m moving interstate, that ‘normal’ classes will be ending, for the time being, to make space for all the writing and courses that need to come through me.
Right now, on this big, full illumined moon, there are so many exciting, wonderful things happening, and about to happen. There are big parts of me dying, huge chapters ending, new and fertile spaces arising. And I know that the time will come for me to authentically share about all of these things. However, right now, in the centre of it all I’ve been a little bit frozen. Paralysed by the uncertainty about how any of it will really come about. And so, I haven’t been able to share any of it…
These last weeks I’ve been overwhelmed by the bigness of life - the depth of the responsibility I feel in the seat of the teacher. I’ve been clinging to the small details of mundane existence in order to ground myself. Before I teach a class I have a deep longing to make sure something is real, that it comes from the depths of my truth, before it is shared. And then I get lost in questioning what it means to be real in the first place…questioning the nature of sharing anything, when everywhere I look we’re all just so saturated by it. And I wonder if there’s anything of worth that I have to add to all that anyway? Anything that is truly of service?
I have been calling this space of un-knowing ‘the void’. And it’s where I’m hanging out right now. I’m not wishing it away, I’m just being with it. Befriending it, if you like.
It’s a bit like a dragon. It seems big, scary and dark if you’re only willing to look with your regular eyes. In the patriarchal stories and fairy tales that we’re all so used to, the dragon is inevitably conquered or slain by a brave knight of some kind…which is quite a limiting approach, to say the least! In the feminine tradition (that I am reclaiming with every breath of my life), the understanding is, that we have come face to face with the dragon for a reason. Embracing the dragon as an aspect of ourselves, we trust in the shadows and power that the dragon represents. Our deepest knowing guides us to face them heart to heart - receiving the transmission as the exact medicine we need for this moment of evolution.
In the Shakti tradition we know that we must pass through the fire in order to integrate and receive the magic. The gifts of the dragon come slowly, from befriending her, not rushing in and chopping off her head.
So here I am, sharing from the void.
It’s about being ok with the not knowing…and right now I’m not sure of anything much. And I’m trusting the journey. The practice is to trust what can not be known, to soften and lean into the void with an open heart. To be real, to share even from here, as the earth moves away from beneath my feet… to not only embrace the dragon, but to also invite her over for tea.
Hari Om Tat Sat
ps - my very last workshop for the year is on Sunday in Mornington - Yoga for Deep Healing is my very special 3 hour exploration of Yin, myofascial release, Tibetan Buddhist Meditation, sound healing & Yoga Nidra - it's a truly blissful, deeply nourishing afternoon and is open to absolutely everyone. Hope to see you there!
pps - If you would like to join the next Goddess Retreat January 24th-30th, there are still a few spots left. I am going to be putting a lot of energy into creating Teacher Training courses next year so this will be the only Goddess Retreat for 2019. Don't hesitate if this one is calling you!
"In that state there is no air or water, and no creation or creator; There is no bud or flower, and no fetus or semen; There is no education or Vedas, and no word or taste; There is no body or settlement, and no earth, air or space; There is no guru or disciple, and no easy or difficult path.
Sakhi: That state is very strange. I cannot explain it. It has no village or resting place. That state is without gunas (qualities). What name can one give it? ”
― Kabir, The Bijak of Kabir.
This week’s new moon marks the beginning of the 9 night festival Navratri, celebrating and honouring the Goddess Durga in her 9 forms.
Every time I mention the Goddesses & Gods of Yoga Mythology, I feel it’s important to emphasise that these colourful characters, with even more colourful stories, are not like the Gods of mono-theistic Religions - they don’t abide above us somewhere, controlling and judging our lives. They represent different aspects of ourselves - waiting to be discovered & illuminated. They are not so much symbols, but doorways into self discovery, reminding us of our divine nature, as well as our potential for darkness.
Durga is the beautiful, sovereign Goddess who abides in the depths of the heart, the hrdaya space (or sacred cave), where fear cannot exist. She is the ultimate Warrioress, fighting always to protect the beings of light (devis), in the never ending battle against the beings of darkness (asuras).
She is the part of yourself you call on when a shitty aspect of your ego raises it’s head - fear, insecurity, self doubt - and you know you don’t want to be under it’s control a second longer.
Mostly, Durga comes to the rescue when we have come to the very end of the road, when we are hopeless, weeping, and all seems lost. She comes in this moment because, it is when we are so broken that we ask for help, from somewhere, anywhere. You ask, and, miraculously she appears, bringing all the strength you need to climb out of that hole. She comes when you ask for her help…but you have to ask.
Navratri is the beautiful reminder that we don’t have to hit rock bottom to ask for help, to summon our deepest strength - to rise up and fight for what is right. Why do we need to wait for the very last minute? Now is the time to take greater action. Now is the time to remember the strength and courage that is always deep within.
I began my Durga Puja this morning with some chanting, and a strong, fiery practice. All of my muscles hurt, and it feels so good. I needed the reminder that I'm strong! I am reshaping the way that I work - I want to give more, to expand, and, of course, with this expansion come the relentless demons of self doubt and self -worth. I want to run and hide, but something deep within keeps calling me to keep going, keep sharing, keep offering…to keep shining my light, even when the darkness feels like an impenetrable fortress.
I’m committed to keep on looking those demons in the eyes, to understand them as another aspect of myself, and face them on the battlefield. With Durga on my side, anything is possible!
Om Doom Durgaya Namaha
"Respond to every call that excites your Spirit" Rumi
The first New Moon of Spring is here! I'm so excited... I recorded some new meditations last night for you, as always huge gratitude to Tommy for putting them all together:
This one is a simple pranayama & meditation especially for Spring, about 22 minutes long.
This one is an active prenatal meditation practice for all the beautiful parents to be, about 28 minutes long. These practices were super useful to me leading up to the births of my sons, so I wanted to share the love with all the mummas. Two of my most favourite women are pregnant right now, so this is for you darlings.
The first quarter of the moon is a potent time to tune into what it is that you want to bring into this fresh new cycle...so much dynamic energy is naturally bubbling up, inviting us to rinse out and let go of all that is hanging about from the last cycle. It's a fantastic time to let go of the habits you know don't serve your highest self...start with a gentle physical detox, and watch the ripple effect through your whole being - emotionally, energetically and spiritually releasing stagnancy - making space for your dreams to grow.
I'm feeling so much change - both from within and all around me. I'm actively practicing shepherding the changes, supporting from behind rather than trying to lead, and allowing the path to show itself. When I drop out of the head - the planning, the supervising the controlling, it's always delightfully surprising to see what comes up - so here's to the new cycle....
I'm over the moon to be doing some intensive study with Dr Amy Rachelle next month - I've been gifted a half scholarship to do her holistic nutrition and detox training, and I can't wait to dive deep, and bring this together with my Yoga - watch this space!
I'm thrilled to be offering two new Retreats next year, the first is a second level to the Goddess Retreat (Goddess Rising), and the other is the Living Yoga Immersion - a Retreat that welcomes all Yogis - men as well as women, and will explore all the mythology, meditation, mantra and asana you could dream of packing into a week!
I am giving away a place for the Living Yoga Immersion, in exchange for some light assistance. This would perhaps suit someone who is interested in understanding a little more of the behind the scenes of running a Retreat - perhaps a Yoga Teacher (or similar). If you're interested, please email me before the end of September, including why you would like to assist me, as well as a little about your Yoga journey.
Hari Om Tat Sat
I got into meditation when I was 17. I had broken both of my arms (yes, at the same time), and it began as an escape from my frustrated mind. A doorway to a place beyond my thoughts & my pain - a place to hover outside of “reality”, to be at peace. I didn’t realise it then, of course, but this seemingly terrible accident was the beginning of my Yoga journey.
My first actual Yoga class was a few years later, at a gym, and I loved every minute. Yoga, unlike my previous experiences, was not an escape or a place to be beyond my thoughts, but a place to dive right into my own centre. I knew there was something there for me - it sparked a question; “what is at the centre of all this?”, and that question became a search. I tried every style of Yoga in cycling distance - Iyengar and Astanga were my staples, but I didn’t mind what type, or teacher, really…what I found was a space where the question was allowed to expand, and everything else could melt away.
I wanted to get to the roots, so pretty soon I was on a plane to India, for a big stint in a traditional Vedantic ashram. At the time I didn’t really understand that there were almost as many traditional styles as there are Gurus, and the philosophies varied radically between lineages. I thought that Tantrik yoga was something to do with sex (which it isn’t, by the way - any Tantra involving sexuality is a modern Western idea, with practically no connection to the Indian Tantrik movement that birthed all of the postural Yoga we do today). I pretty much thought there was Western Yoga, and Eastern Yoga, and I wanted the one that was most ancient - I thought that must be the right one...the answer to my question.
The ashram was a place of great healing for me, months of this sacred space to expand in, to dive into my curiosity. I don’t know who I’d be without my time at the ashram, and I’m so grateful for all of my Teachers. However, as I’ve continued to study and mature as a Yogini, it became pretty clear that the philosophy I was taught in India took me towards my centre, but wasn’t going to be the one that took me all the way. When you’re in love, you just know, right?
And so the search continues. I’m obsessed by Tantrik Goddess Mythology, but I’m not sure I could be a Tantrika, I adore Tibetan Buddhism and the Tao, but I’m not sure I could devote myself there either, I’m obsessed with singing mantra - kirtan- but am I a Bhakti Yogi? Probably not. And then, I also unashamedly love some of the kooky Western hybrids, like Yin, Embodied Flow and Anusara. I’m also deeply passionate about nutrition - what we bring into our bodies and how that connects us to the earth…to me this is ultimately union, deep connection to spirit. The list of things I love is long...I’ve become ok with the searching. I’m not sure that there is a Teacher, or a lineage, or a path that is right for me.
I don't believe that any Yoga, traditional or modern, is right, or wrong. I'm not into splitting hairs with alignment, pronunciation and cultural appropriation. The reason there are so many styles of Yoga, is because the world is a colourful place. We might all be one, but our journeys towards awakening to this connection can take many forms.
What I’ve come to realise, 20+ years into my Yoga journey, is this: Yoga is not the answer.
Yoga is the question.
Follow your inner calling, love what you love, if it keeps the question alive, it’s the right kind of Yoga for you.
May we never stop asking.
Hari Om Tat Sat
ps I'm also in love with this poem that was sent to me on my birthday recently. Thank you darling Carla.
What was said to the Rose
What was said to the rose that made it open
was said to me here in my chest.
What was told to the cypress that made it strong
and straight, what was whispered to the jasmine
so it is what it is, whatever made sugarcane
sweet; whatever was said to the inhabitants
of the town of Chigil in Turkestan that makes
them so handsome, whatever lets the pomegranate
flower blush like a human face, that is being
said to me now. I blush. Whatever put eloquence
in language, that’s happening here. The great
warehouse doors open; I fill with gratitude,
chewing a piece of sugarcane, in love with
the one to whom every ‘that’ belongs!
~ Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi
Translated by Coleman Barks, in his book. ‘Rumi the Book of Love – poems of ecstasy and longing’.
"I believe hope is a verb. It's a skill we need to develop by practicing every day. Right now it's pretty much the most punk thing we can do." Mama Kin.
I'm stealing a rare moment of solitude and internet access, it's just a tiny one so I'm going to be so quick...I'm currently in Portland, on tour with Mama Kin Spender & the John Butler Trio, we are 6 adults & 3 kids sharing a bus, and covering some pretty crazy mileage by night. To share this tiny space in a harmonious way means striking the balance between surrendering to the flow and making self-centred choices - it's life in microcosm, a pressure cooker on wheels - and cultivating the time and space for Yoga & meditation has never been more important or impactful.
The picture above is all of us up at Skinners Butte Reserve, after Yoga overlooking Eugene Oregon. Heaven.
Finding the time and space to practice each day is a creative challenge, but the intention, dedication and search actually becomes the practice; this is hope in action - the belief that things can be better if you're willing to put in the effort.
Luckily, my travelling housemates are some of the best people on the planet, and every day I feel so grateful to be together on this journey up the West Coast of America, sharing boundless music, yoga, love & hope.
I'll be home to Melbourne in July, lots of workshops & Retreats (see below)...can't wait to share!
Yoga is union. Yoga is connection. Yoga is love.
Doing Yoga helps reawaken our living intelligence - our connectedness to the natural flow of our bodies - the vibrating circuitry of 75 trillion cells. As we learn to really be with ourselves - the miracle of our own aliveness - a true connection to our subtle power is unveiled, and we expand to embody our own life-force…the same life-force that moves through everything, and everyone.
At this moment we stop doing Yoga, and realise that we in fact are Yoga. We do sadhana (practice), just to remember that.
Sometimes, not often, I feel separate, alone…like I’m somehow not included…in any of it. Do you feel that too? After more than 10 years of dedicated sadhana I’m getting better at recognising feelings of separateness as they rise, getting better at understanding that they come from the very human part of us that we know as the ego. On the spiritual path, we know that the ego is working over-time at its job - working to keep us “safe” by keeping us small, alone, and held in the illusion that we exist by ourselves - separate from everything and everyone.
It’s one thing to understand this concept, and quite another to experience the truth. It takes disciplined sadhana, and time, to consciously drop the veil, layer by layer. Letting something go, surrendering a little more of this “safety” and dissolving into the unfathomable ocean of consciousness. The most challenging part has always been working out when it’s ok to surrender, and when to stay grounded…navigating the “real world” balance with the spiritual path.
Lucky for me I get to teach the Philosophy and Mythology of Yoga. My work is my spiritual path. Teaching has always been an avenue into deep immersion, and I realised long ago that I would continue to put on workshops, retreats & trainings for ever (even if they weren’t providing for me financially), because, aside from genuinely wanting to help others, offering this space of self enquiry and learning is what keeps me diving deeper into my own spiritual journey (I know, selfish right?!). So with this attitude, I have kept going, kept on booking another Retreat, another workshop venue. Honestly, there has never been much business sense or planning in what I’m doing, and the earth-bound struggles have been very real at times.
A few months ago, with a collision of teaching Yamas (the 5 principle ethics of non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, continence, non-coveting) on the GSY Teacher Training, and, immersing ever deeper with Lakshmi (the shakti of prosperity and abundance) on my Goddess Retreats, another layer of the 'ego veil’ dropped.
Before I get ahead of myself, I’ll explain Yamas; the first “limb” of the Classical 8 fold path of Yoga. Translated as “restraints”, they can easily be flipped to be understood as something expansive rather than restrictive - for example Ahimsa technically means “non - violence”, and can be translated as don’t hurt other beings with your thoughts, words or actions. Or, it and be flipped to something like - practice kindness in every thought, word & action, to all beings. Slight twist to make it expansive and heart felt, rather than restrictive and discipline driven. The third Yama is Asteya, and means “non stealing”. Obviously stealing is an extreme action, but we can use it to root out the subconscious beliefs of lack, and scarcity that cause greed and hoarding in all their various manifestations.
It’s about how we hold back on giving more.
Asteya refers to the thoughts & actions that grow from believing we cannot create what we need - because we misperceive the Universe as lacking in abundance, or because we think that there is not enough to go around, and that we will not receive in proportion to our giving.
I have long been practicing kindness, truth & generosity - doing my best to give all I can give, aligning with charities and bringing purpose together with passion - but somehow, until recently I was still unconsciously bound by the sense of rational balance and percentages; that numbers had to look a certain way for generosity to work. This much in allows for this much out…this caution and safety guided me at a hidden frequency, because this is what was drilled into me from a very young age.
The penny dropped, as it so often does, during deep meditation. I felt so deeply held in connection and love. In that moment, something was unbound, unlocked, and I knew I could give, so, so SO much more than I had believed.
Yoga is union. Yoga is connection. Yoga is love.
In Shakti terms I was flooded with the energy of Lakshmi, and when you have Lakshmi, you have everything. I began to sink a little deeper into knowing, truly knowing, that I am completely held in loving abundance - that there is as much out there for me as I am willing to surrender to, and that the true practice of generosity is one that has no weights or measurements attached.
Om Shrim Lakshmiyei Namaha
with so much love & light
ps The experience of giving away a place on my January Retreat was so beautiful, I’ve decided to do it again! Please share this opportunity with any women you know who will truly benefit from a week of deep practice, nurturing and immersion in the divine feminine. First prize is a place on my May Goddess Retreat - all expenses paid for except flights. Be quick - I'm closing entries 28th February.
If you’re feeling like you would like to get involved in the spirit of Lakshmi & asteya, you’re welcome to email me your ideas for a second prize!
In Yoga class you might have heard that your true nature is bliss - absolute happiness. I rattle on about that a lot! It's my belief that we are supposed to be living in pure joy, ananda, and, that we can.
Transformation is not only possible, it is the nature of life. It is the path of the Yogi to make that transformation conscious, to steer it towards the deepest, highest light...we notice the obstacles in the way of this bliss, and watch them dissolve with our awareness - this is the practice. 2017 has reinforced this idea for me, over and over, in solid gold, as I let go of old patterns, beliefs, identities, unfolded a little more, and opened to limitless blank canvas.
Transformation is not a destination, it's a process. And, it's happening to you right now. You have all the power you could ever dream of...
According to the work of Jonas Chong & the National Science Foundation the average person has around 60,000 thoughts each day, with 87% of these reported to be negative & repetitive. The nature of the human brain is in fact geared toward negativity, this stems from primitive man’s need for remembering danger and surviving. Of course there are still circumstances where we do need to take note of negative thoughts as they are presented, but most of us only need to be mindful for 5 minutes to know that the majority of mind chatter is total rubbish. When we learn to meditate we not only learn to slow the mind (imagine if you only had to deal with 20,000 thoughts each day?!) but you learn to sift through the thoughts and detach from the ones that are not useful.
You’ve probably seen the beautiful work of scientist & artist Masaru Emoto who provided evidence that thoughts, words & music have an undeniable effect on the hydrogen/oxygen bond- that is any, and all water. Emoto also proved that polluted water could be cleaned through prayer and positive visualisation. Considering that human beings are a walking mass of water (around 60%-80%) it would be reasonable to assume we are able to influence ourselves on a deep cellular level through our thoughts, words & actions. In short, we have the choice to be deeply happy, or not.
When we experience joy, a little shot of nitric oxide and the hormone DHEA (the "youth hormone") gets released into the blood stream, making your blood flow with a little more force - the more nitric oxide in the blood the more healthy & vibrant a person is. It is my belief that nitric oxide may be the modern science word for prana, qi (chi) or “life force energy” of the ancient eastern texts. The amazing news is that there is actually no limit to the amount of nitric oxide we can produce for ourselves - no limit to the amount of joy a human being can experience...it’s just the annoying mind that likes to put clamps on it.
May every moment in your New Year be filled with conscious transformation - nourish your beautiful body, dance and laugh often, be kind to absolutely everyone, give yourself more love than you have ever dared, and most importantly, give thanks, every day, for the miracle of your own unique existence.
You are powerful beyond your wildest dreams
I think I may have been saved by a Rumi poem.
It happened yesterday, I was starting to feel that familiar December overwhelm...the panicky sinking down into the endless to-do list of end of year celebrations, presents, expectations, oblilgations & old family wounds. And, underlying the general overwhelm, and perhaps worst of all, the parent-guilt that comes when you are trying to create a "conscious Christmas" and your kids can't understand why other kids seem to be getting so much...more.
I'm sure I'm not alone in navigating this territory. I'm so curious..is it possible to take part in the festive Season whilst remaining true to your values & ethics? What are the parts of Christmas worth saving and celebrating and how do you teach the next generation to create rituals & come together in a meaningful way, without getting swept up in greed & destroying the planet? Myfriend Caroline (http://mentalmumma.com.au/) makes a remarkable advent calendar with her kids; behind each door is a random act of kindness to perform in the community. I find her so inspiring, and each year I resolve to make the time to do something similar...If you would like to share your ideas about integrating the holidays with your values, please email them to me and I will publish the collection.
For me it's about constantly reminding my kids, and myself, that the spirit of kindness, abundance and generosity doesn't have to come with a price tag, sugar, or mindlessly participating in ridiculous collective beliefs, and, that ultimately Christmas is about counting your blessings, and giving from the heart.
I'm always trying to give more, testing the boundaries of how much we need. I truly believe there's a rainbow at the bottom of each pot of gold.
And, most of all, this December, I will attempt to put aside my seriousness for a long moment and let the wild child in me take my body for a spin. May we all paint the town the colour of love.
See you in 2018!
love & light
ps - just one room left for my January Goddess Retreat in a few weeks, contact me quick if you want to come!
pps - here's the poem!
She offers the Sacred Wine, so drink!
O wine giver of enlightened hearts!
Offer me the wine of your kindness,
for this is the reason
you have brought me here
from the desert of oblivion!
O beautiful wine giver~
Pour me the wine that gives me insight,
Offer me the wine from the Sea of Love
and fill my heart with pearls.
Pour it into my heart,
until I shred the veil and go beyond reason.
My spirit is consumed by judgment,
and my life is reduced by thoughts.
Pour that precious wine
over the frozen cries of skeptics,
until their words become warm,
and their nays become yeas!
Humans are waking up. Do you feel it?
This global shift is as real as each person who acknowledges and surrenders to it. At the same time that we are opening our hearts to a deeper Universal empathy, we are starting to realise our own individual power. Each choice we make, each word we speak, each dollar we spend, each business we support…it all matters. We are each at the frontline of an epic battle for true consciousness & liberation - grand scale. Things are changing rapidly, I’m sure you feel it too. This battle is just beginning, and you are not alone in it.
From a Yoga perspective, this awakening, or uprising, is a movement of Shakti. Shakti that is moving through you, and, Shakti that is manifest as you.
It’s becoming almost mainstream to talk about the balance of masculine & feminine energies…words like 'Shakti’ are thrown around more and more. People always ask me - “so what is Shakti anyway?”
Shakti is the Sanskrit word for power, or, dynamic energy. It is said that Shakti is responsible for the creation, and destruction, of all matter. Everything in the known Universe is made of Shakti. To bring different language to it, Shakti is feminine energy, and is sometimes referred to simply as the Goddess, and her masculine counterpart, Shiva, is pure consciousness, or awareness. The two exist together, in everything, and, as everything. Awareness & energy. Masculine & Feminine. To be clear, this description has nothing to do with 'Male & Female' - body parts are not relevant when we speak of the God & Goddess - it’s purely energetic, and beyond sexual construct.
Shakti can be divided into three parts - Jnana, Kriya & Icha Shaktis. Each are equally important, and, rarely in good balance. It is the work of the Yogi (and Yogini) to bring balance to these Shaktis as they move through our lives - in the world. As we realise our own very real power and the impact of every thought, word, and action that we make in the world, we realise our Shakti - and begin to grow into our own potential, and effect change.
Jnana (or Gyana) Shakti is the Shakti of wisdom, or discerning intelligence, and exists high up in the energetic body, around the brow. Kriya Shakti is the Shakti of action, and exists in the base of the energetic body. So often we see one of these Shaktis dominating the other. Action without intelligence, or intelligence without action - both are wasteful distributions of Shakti, with disappointing results.
The third, Icha Shakti, is the Shakti of commitment, or will, and exists at the centre of the energetic body - the heart. It is through this Shakti that the possibility of real change can occur. How do we follow through (action) with our plans (wisdom) when it starts to feel a bit hard, or when the support drops out, or the hope starts to fade? What is it that sustains us through the downfalls & challenges?
When our actions are formed with intelligence, and our commitments are born from love, everything is possible. It is this Icha Shakti, this commitment, that determines how the choices we make now create the world of tomorrow.
It’s with this in mind that I changed my name, I feel this is the truest way to explain it. My first name, Uma (one of the names of the Goddess Parvarti), represents my commitment to Yoga. And, my last name, Spender, represents my commitment to my family - my kids and my partner. Allowing the old name to dissolve was so easy I hardly gave it a thought. It’s the Icha Shakti that sustains and supports evolution and transformation.
It’s the same Icha Shakti that keeps me devoted to Yoga - even when it’s not easy - to keep showing up on the mat, and, to guide others on their own path of evolution, both individual & Global.
May you be resolute in your own commitments - they are shaping the world.
At the bottom of every real conversation about Yoga is the theme of advhaita - non duality. To condense it to one sentence; nothing is separate, everything is one and the same.
We all crave deep connection, and spend most of our lives either chasing it, or lamenting its absence in our lives. On the journey that is Yoga we are travelling within - working through our many layers of existence - to find that at the very core of who we are, we are everything, we are connection. We touch this infinite centre in moments of deep immersion in practice, and as we practice more and more have a more sustained experience of it.
Yoga teaches that we don’t have to look outside of ourselves for connection; how can we seek something that we already are? In theory, it’s simple - all we need to do is get past the barriers, the obstacles that create the illusion that we are separate. These barriers exist everywhere externally, in the form of people, religions, corporations and businesses, seeking to control and overpower us. But, as we learn to sharpen the lens to the outside world, and not be so influenced by our outer surrounds and circumstances, we come up against a much greater barrier - the internal obstacle that is the mind. Many of you are meditators, I'm sure you know what I’m talking about!
Even after more than a decade of solid, disciplined practice I find myself in awe of the mind’s power…just when I think I’m making progress another incredible layer of attempted separation is presented by the mind. I’ve begun to call in “advhaita sabotage” - because naming the mind’s play, and laughing at it, is the best way I know to disempower it.
Last week I was in Bali teaching on a section of the first ever Gertrude street 200 hour Yoga Teacher Training, a training that I am proud to be creating and presenting with a truly wonderful, experienced team. There’s absolutely no logical reason to believe that I don’t belong there, but for a good 24 hours my mind worked over time to make me question my worthiness and credibility. I could tell you about all the truly amazing things that happened, but that's not what this blog is about. I don't want to pretend that I have it all sorted, all the time...I don't want to tell you I have all the answers, and then sell them to you after a free webinar! I share this because I want to weaken my mind’s power. And, I believe that in sharing our stories and vulnerability we weaken the power of the ‘collective mind’, and can push through this obstacle together.
So, this is a brief encounter of what happened during those 24 hours…
My partner and 4 year old son were in the long car ride with me as I started to unravel into mild panic. We’d just dropped my older son off at Green School for a 5 day camp, a huge event for me as a parent to prepare for, and we were on our way to meet the group at the Balian beach Yoga Centre. I was premenstrual - a wonderful time to really see your deepest shadow. I was aware of this, of course, but that awareness didn’t hold back the stampede of the mind. It started with a sinking feeling of not being prepared enough for my sessions - I don’t really need notes, I could talk about Yoga philosophy and the subtle body all day (and frequently do), but this was not something I was willing to see in that moment. We had been through a week of relatively sleepless nights in Bali villas, for various reasons, mostly parent-related. I had never really had the day I had been counting on for to write my notes out properly. And, I was always craving more time for my own practice…someone else always needed my attention. To add to the heat the program had just been changed and I no longer had the afternoon of the first day to prepare - I was on straight away. This unpreparedness swiftly led to how being a mum makes it impossible to be a 'proper' Yoga teacher, teaching beyond regular studio classes. I sunk into the bottomless feeling of not belonging to the beautiful tribe of Yogini Goddesses that travel the world endlessly, and can put on a workshop without having to consider swimming lessons, school lunches and babysitting. In this field, they are everywhere. The other teachers on this training are those such Goddesses, and I clearly didn’t belong with them. This bottomless feeling stretched then to my family, who were ‘giving up’ whatever else they could be doing instead of this; putting our precious time & resources into me to pursue something that I shouldn’t be doing in the first place. I was wasting their time as well, and they deserved a better wife/mother.
In short I was doing nothing right and belonged nowhere. My beautiful friend Clare calls it 'Imposter Syndrome'. Writing this now it seems too ridiculous to give light to, but the fact that this belief is not rational or true is not actually relevant - when the illusion takes over the moment so completely, it is your experience of reality - we are, quite seriously, our thoughts. The mind is that powerful.
Of course, there was a deeper layer of wisdom present that could see this unfolding, in the distance. And as we arrived and settled in I was able to slowly, progressively, lean into that layer of wisdom, little by little the obstacles dissolved. As I presented my sessions I pushed past the separation stories, reaching for the centre of my being, the part that knows that true connection and love are the only reality. My mind continued it’s attempts to sabotage me (and succeeded quite well at one point as I stumbled desperately over teaching a mantra I have chanted at least a million times), but I was able to name it out loud - right in the moment, and have a little laugh, and keep on reaching in...reaching deeper.
Here I am on the other side, ready to present the next module of the training - this time with a little more awareness of what I’m internally up against. I am grounded in the knowledge that I’m exactly where I should be, and that the stories my mind presents are just attempts to keep me “safe”, by keeping me small.
I know that my integration of Yoga with motherhood does not hinder my ability to teach, it actually informs a deeper experience. My partner’s incredible support highlights the fact that I’m ready to share my knowledge to new Teachers, and, I'm pretty sure the fantasy Yogini-Goddess-Dream-Life is an illusion, filled with it's own shadows - equal and opposite to mine.
The irony is that this sense of separation, unworthiness and not belonging are something that actually unify us all to some degree - we are connected by our sense of disconnection! If we can truly name it together, we can all have a good laugh at it, and hopefully reach a little deeper towards advhaita.
Who knows what might be possible if we could push beyond this obstacle that is the mind...
ps - I've had lots of requests for a Retreat in the School holidays, so here it is! I'll be announcing the January 2018 Goddess Retreat dates and opening up places in early September. If you would like to be on the 'first to know' list please register here. The November 17 one sold out before it hit the stands so make sure to register your interest if you're keen. This super-special week of Shakti Yoga & adventure is open to all women, regardless of Yoga experience, who want to explore, understand and strengthen their connection to the sacred feminine.
Namaskaar Yogis, as we move into the deep stillness of Winter down here in Victoria, I'm feeling that undeniable urge to slow down, turn in and truly let go. The last remnants of dynamic, outward energy have left the building, so to speak...and all that is left to offer the world is my own raw, essence.
I feel like a leafless tree, surrounded by an ocean of surrender, and from it's centre I can listen deeply to the whisperings of my own heart. For the last month I've had this beautiful old story rolling around inside me, it's about a Tibetan Yogini...
...she has dedicated her long life to self realisation, and as she knows she is coming to her last days she decides to give herself the ultimate test. She goes to a sacred cave (this always represents the hridaya, or heart space), lights a ritual fire, and begins to meditate. When she is in her most awakened state she begins to invite the demons of her life’s journey to meet her, one last time, on the battlefield. As the night progresses the discarded heads of her own ego lay around the cave’s floor. Through her willingness to be with them, the demons progressively grow in size and strength, and she summons her own yogic fire and pulls out all of her weapons. The final demon is monstrously large and the battle goes on for hours. Eventually, as the sun begins to rise the Yogini realises that it is over, these are her last living moments and she can not possibly beat this one. In this moment of realisation she does all that she can do; she surrenders, placing her head gently inside the mouth of the demon.
The moment that she does this the demon disappears - after all it was an aspect of her own ego and only existed as a result of her resistance. Softly weeping, with a gentle smile on her face, she surrenders her life to the infinite void and lays down for the final Shavas, liberated.
Winter allows us this beautiful opportunity to drop into stillness and truly let go of the striving. It's the seasonal Shavasana we all need to take; now is the time to put down your weapons and surrender. I adore sharing Yoga practice in Winter. Within the stillness - if we can really slow down and feel it - there is an aliveness, a vibrating pulse that is calling us to listen, to feel, to see...
Hope you can join me on the mat
(it's still me, Jessie, but I'm finally embracing my Yogini name - I imagine there will be an awkward transition for 6 months or so! I'm making my new website at the moment - www.umaspender.com - and also changing over email@example.com as my main email)
I’m still buzzing from my last retreat in Bali…that's us in the picture, at the top of a volcano watching the sun rise after a big hike, on top of the world - literally. It was truly the best week of Yoga and deep immersion I’ve ever had. It's been more than a month, and I’m still experiencing the ripple effects of that deep, undisturbed connection every day. This doesn't mean that everything is always perfect & happy, it just means that I am effortlessly able to remain in my most authentic power - my Yogini self - in the face of every day challenges.
This hasn’t always been my experience...there have been times after deep immersion, that the ‘spiritual high’ I’m on comes crash landing down back at home. And, I know for sure I’m not alone with experiencing this. When we commit to leaving our routines and comforts behind to spend time on reflection, self knowledge and expansion, we are away from all of our normal distractions. Because the ego loves the familiar, when we 'retreat' from regular life we are given a new, clean lense from which to see the ego in operation. This new clarity & space is a gift - a huge opportunity for spiritual work - and so, often the transformations and evolutions happen so rapidly that it can be more than a bit of a shock to come home, back to the reality you left, almost as though you never did. Over the years of moving between deep immersion and 'regular life', I've come to see the integration & transition as the most challenging (and also rewarding) work.
In microcosm, we can look at our Yoga or meditation practice in the same light, except, instead of a whole week of deep immersion in consciousness, it’s an hour or two…shorter and perhaps less intense, but filled with the same challenge & opportunity for enquiry.
How long after the end of the Yoga class are you still behaving like a Yogi?
The ego is so unbelievably powerful; the more consciousness we cultivate the more tricks it seems to learn. It's job is to protect us and keep us safe, but it doesn't rest when it could, or should; our egos are always seeking to protect us from our own vulnerability - and control & measure our awakening hearts. And, because we are always distracting ourselves from 'the big work' with the busyness of our lives, we need some very real tools to push through the layers of protection, distraction and denial, tools that work to yolk deep consciousness, or spirituality, to actual life.
So how do we do it? In the quest for cultivating a Spiritual Life rather than a Spiritual Practice what are the tools for integration?
I've been writing a lot about this, and I’ll definitely share more, but for now I want to talk about the simple, powerful practice that is radical gratitude and forgiveness.
This practice asks us to really break through the boundaries & resistance that hold us back from experiencing our days from the anchor of the heart - from the potential of true bliss - and to surrender to the flow of life as it moves through us, with awareness, dissolving the power of the ego along with a whole lot of potential time wasted.
When you can catch yourself, right in those very real, overwhelming moments - when you are experiencing frustration, resentment, entitlement, hurt, blame or shame (the list goes on, and on!) - getting all caught up in your mind, in the stories, just ask; “what is it here that is asking for forgiveness?”, and, “what could I possibly be grateful for in this situation?” The answers are often anything but easy, of course, but the practice in itself is simple. What makes it ‘radical’ is that it stops you right when you are in the thick of the ego's performance - these moments are so crucial because, these are the times that we actually build the walls around the heart as we unconsciously seek to hide & protect ourselves.
If we can bring focus to forgiveness & gratitude in the heat of the ego’s action, then we are truly practicing letting the heart lead. The more you can catch yourself in those places, the less power the ego holds over you, and new space is naturally cultivated for a new & different question;
“what is awakening within me now?”.
Bypassing the ego’s performance doesn’t mean that we don’t get to feel all the feelings (on the contrary, we can feel them more fully, more quickly, perhaps more intensely), but we move through them with an open trust that there is something bigger at play, that our hearts are always awakening & expanding towards. Something exquisitely beautiful that doesn't require the protection that is constantly being offered.
Every challenge we encounter (the very small & the enormously big) is an opportunity to test that higher or more conscious part of ourselves in the heat of action, the part of you that rises from shavasana and says "Namaskar" to allbeings, is being called forward beyond the mat, and this, for me anyway, is always the real practice.
(it's still me, Jessie, but I'm finally embracing my Yogini name - let the awkward transition begin!)
ps. So happy to be starting a regular Gertrude st class next week - hope you can join me for lunchtime Yoga on a Monday sometime soon!
pps. I'm delighted to be offering two very different, very special, week long Bali Retreats/Immersions over Winter. Check them out here. You can read some beautiful reflections from some participants of my last Retreat here.
Happy New Year Yogis!
I’m currently on day 6 of a juice cleanse, nothing unusual there, just giving my digestive system a rest. As you may know, when you do a cleanse it’s not just physical stuff you clear out - there’s the psychological, energetic & emotional elements that clear out with it. This one is bringing up stuff I’ve been holding on to for ages…it’s painful, but ultimately it's about love.
It began when I was listening to ‘the Minimalists’ podcast a couple of weeks ago, and I became inspired to clear out the boxes of stuff I’ve been holding onto since my mum died almost 4 years ago. Every box I open holds memories; wounds and bitter-sweet joys, I tread lightly, I’ve got no idea what is next. As I move slowly through, I have been observing the rise of this overwhelming feeling that I am beginning to allow space to detach from the story. The story of her, the story of us, mostly to stop protecting her and actually tell the story of her pain & trauma - because the story is actually about the path of love that I am on today.
So whilst still in the process of this epic cleanse of my house, I naturally followed my instinct to cleanse my body, and all those intimate, ‘too hard to explain things’ are coming to light. I know that we release our grip on the story when we tell it (or, the story releases its grip on us), and although I have told it to trusted friends, something big has changed now, and I am sharing below, to anyone who is interested, how it is that I came to trust in the power of love so deeply. I may regret sending this when I come back to earth from my detox, but here’s to being vulnerable, in the moment & openly sharing our truths....
When my eldest brother was 14 he was diagnosed with a severe mental illness that turned everything in my ‘perfect happy family’ upside down. Whilst he would have short periods of being “normal” he spent most of his life being either in the throws of an episode of mania, or unrecognisably sedated in a psych ward. I spent my childhood visiting these dark places, and, witnessing the horror my parents faced daily in their fight to stay above water. I witnessed my own friends being unable to play at my house anymore - through the rose coloured lenses of a child I witnessed many forms of fear in play all around me. My brother’s life became a cycle of heavy medication and hopeful management, and after 7 years of darkness, ended with him taking his own life. There are volumes I could write about him, and the other people in my family, but those are stories for other times. This is a story about my mother, and about me.
I was 14 when he left us, a truly important age - it’s a time when children shift to being something else, and, across the globe there is often some kind of test, a passing on of wisdom, perhaps a ceremony to mark the rite of passage. What happened to me at this time was certainly a rite of passage, one that showed me the next stage of darkness, as I watched my mother slip into a void that is beyond fear and grief. Rather than being held by my family and community at that stage I was set loose, to find my own way. Mental illness and suicide is not something many people feel comfortable talking about, so people didn’t talk about it at all. At school there was a strange sense of going on like nothing had happened, and at home there was nothing but what had happened - I would wake to the howling of my mother as she screamed her despair into the night…I became the caretaker, in a sense, and made my way through those awkward teenage years by doing extreme sports and injuring myself a lot (which all makes a lot of sense to me now), discovering meditation and eventually taking a devoted healing path.
My mother’s pain was so deep and raw that she couldn’t, or wouldn’t, face it. As a mother now I have a little more perspective on that, and, I don’t think that anyone should be judged on how they grieve the loss of a child. However, at the time, I guess I did judge, I wanted to help her, I wanted to see that she was trying. I would talk to people & try to find the best & most appropriate healers, councillors, psychologists - but every suggestion I made was met with the same dagger of an answer: “If I’m that much trouble to you, I’ll just kill myself.” This sentence was her wall - it meant that she did not want to address her trauma. It meant that it was her trauma alone, and she intended to hold onto it forever. It was her way of keeping me disconnected to her pain. In many ways a lot of her died with my brother. The wall she built around herself became a fortress of stress and tension and the light in her eyes was mostly gone, but somehow I believed it could come back, so I kept on trying to ‘fix’ her. As I carved out my own path of healing, discovering meditation, reiki, TCM, Qi Gong & Yoga, I would try to share them with her, but was always met with the same horrific, empty response. I found her so difficult and infuriating, I went through all ranges of emotions, but I didn't stop trying…until something happened.
After more than a decade of working on my self and doing my best to ‘help’ my mother, it was time for me to start my own family. My first child was born when I was 27 - he was the perfect form of innocence and purity, with no knowledge of our stories, our walls, or our shared trauma. I watched my mother with him and I saw flickers of light return to her eyes. She had been so distant from me emotionally for so long that I didn’t really trust her. It took me a long time to leave my baby in her care for any extended amount of time, but when I eventually did, she would be radically changed. Over a few years I observed how she would light up from spending time with him, and with that light a new space for us to connect would open, for a moment at least. I realised quickly that this was all possible because he offered her what no one else had, for a really long time: unconditional love. He wasn’t trying to fix or help her, he was just doing what people do before they are corrupted by life - they radiate love. And as I observed him, I let him be my guide; I ceased my efforts to get her to address her trauma and just let it be. Whenever I was in her presence, or when she was on my mind, I started to focus my intention on simply giving her unconditional love. Little by little our relationship shifted, as I let go of my agenda to make things better, things got a little better. I did my best to surrender the past and be in the moment with her, and within those moments there was closeness again - the walls came down.
This is not to say that she was ‘fixed’ by any stretch of the imagination, but there was healing. When she died almost 4 years ago it was from a massive aneurysm, most likely caused by an accumulative life of heavy stress and holding on to trauma. What was ‘fixed’ though, was the passage of love between us. Through the teachings of my little guru I learned that focussing on fixing the problem is never the answer. The answer is focussing on the love that lies behind all of the problems - the love that we came from and the love that we return to, the love that binds us all.
Bringing focus to this love has been my daily practice ever since - on and off the mat. You can call it Yoga if you want, or divine light, or God, but it’s actually just love. And, it really is all we need.
hope to see you on the mat soon
with light & love
ps. if you are interested in the benefits of fasting feel free to contact me, or listen to this great podcast.
pps. New space has become available for the upcoming Goddess Retreat! There has been 2 cancellations so this (previously sold out) Ubud Retreat is inviting 2 more women to join. Be quick! March 2-9th. Click HERE for more info.
Om Bhoginyei Namaha: Salutations to She who has the experience of perpetual bliss...
A big part of my Spiritual practice is about bringing balance to to the masculine & feminine - and in a world that has intrinsically taught me the power of the masculine, this means strengthening alignment with the sacred feminine. I’m not talking about physically being a woman or a man, but rather; being a part of a global energetic shift from the consciousness that has dominated for some centuries, to the socially inclusive, environmentally integrative consciousness that calls to the depths of our hearts (I said ‘our’ because you hear it too right?!). In proper balance the masculine energy guides planning, analysis, supervision - all wonderful things - but when it runs hot we find greed, control and dominance (I promise I'm not going to mention US Politics!). The balanced feminine brings about creativity, abundance & reception, and when it's running cold we see complacency, stagnancy, resentment & victim identification.
For the purpose of this writing, we could simplify these two energies as heart & head, or, goal driven ‘taking’, and gratitude centred ‘receiving’.
Neither is 'superior', and in ideal balance the two opposing energies complement & support each other. Universally, however, we have a way to come before we find ideal balance, so, like me, more & more seekers, men and women, are welcoming the Goddess back and immersing in the sacred feminine. This means re-orienting to the heart & moving with the great feminine flow that is giving & receiving. As a practice I generally focus on the giving, and let the Universe take care of the rest. I find that the more generous I am, the more abundance is provided - not necessarily what your head may have 'wanted', but what your heart has magnetically drawn in. It’s basic law of attraction stuff, and in my experience it works….it works, so long as your head or some other kind of internal resistance isn't blocking it. The real practice, for me, is making sure to really notice and understand the resistances as they arise, accepting and working with what is, right now. The real practice is giving space.
So, to honour my bigger intentions, I stopped Teaching for several months and took some time to practice gratitude & receiving. This was no small thing! Taking that time and making that space was scary; I had to sacrifice a lot, and, I had to surrender to leaning on my partner and family - asking for help in ways I never have before.
But, what kind of a Teacher would I be if I didn't honour my own journey when all the signs were there? I needed to turn things upside down, and, in the end I didn’t put up much of a fight.
I’ve been yearning for deep immersion in study, with a real Teacher, for some time. A desire to feel both more connected to the ancient tradition that has become so much of my life, and, have more tools for integrating it all to these modern times. I’ve been a little jaded by the False Gurus of the East, and, the Western Yoga scene in general has left me, well, searching. This modern yoga has hurt me physically too,
a few years ago I started asking; “where are the elders?” and; “who can I trust that has walked this path with integrity for many years and still shines the light?”.
It took time to seek out the right Teachers, but they were out there, waiting for me, of course. The timing was right, and in November I did an immersion with Tara Judelle in Embodied Flow - a beautiful combination of Tantric Philosophy (via Master teacher Sally Kempton), Body Mind Centring and deeply meditative flow Yoga. And, before that I took myself over to Western Australia for Dr Arne Rubinstein’s Leadership Training, which helped give what I do as a some more widely accessible, inclusive language, and, some room to personally expand & grow (as well as make me OK with calling myself a Leader - big one!). I’ve also been quietly on the Cervix Journey - without going into it here I recommend this to EVERY woman, sincerely.
I am now ending this year and starting a whole new phase, bursting with even more Yoga love. I just totally adored being in the seat of the student, unfolding every moment with the bliss of receiving, receiving, receiving...and it just kept coming!
The beautiful thing about shifting gear from head to heart is that the gifts that come can be totally unexpected - opening to what is provided means moving with the magnetism of the heart space instead of projecting with the dominant thinking mind. Surrendering the 'goals & the striving' definitely puts you in a vulnerable space, but it’s a space of growth and miracles…a space of true inspiration & intuition. Practicing radical gratitude for everything (I mean EVERYTHING) we have today opens up doorways we didn’t even know were there - some aspects of myself have shown up as more ready to share & expand than I ever would have guessed, yet it couldn’t feel more right.
I was so ready for that potent dose, that feeling of genuine connection again to lineage & tradition - of having elders to look up to. I’m just so grateful for every moment of it…and now, back in the seat of the Teacher, ready to share the yoga love again, this is what I’m up to:
- I’ve been making a Podcast - it’s all about exploring the history & mythology of Yoga via mantra. The first 6 episodes just bubbled out of me, hopefully that will continue! I'll be putting them out into the world early next year - how exciting!
- I am thrilled to announce a new Retreat 24-30th June next year that I will be co-hosting with the gorgeous Mei Lai Swan, in Candidasa Beach East Bali. Heart of Yoga will be a deep exploration of Mantra, Mythology and Meditation, as well as soulful movement daily, of course. It’s open to men & women, and we are kicking off with a promotion for couples, or friends happy to share a big bed - book by the end of January and you will both save an extra $50 on top of the early bird discount. And, All you need to pay now is the $300 deposit to save your place. Awesome, right? This is all part of a bigger seva (selfless service) project we are working on called Yoga for HumanKIND; Yoga Teacher Trainings that are committed to sharing the love of Yoga with communities less fortunate by training Teachers in the developing world. It’s all in it’s creation phase now but there will be more to announce very soon.
- My August Retreat Prana Body is starting to fill up. This will be a luscious week long immersion in the ancient science of the Chakra system using a wide variety of Yoga, and will be held at the luxury Nirarta Resort in Sideman. This Retreat is open to anyone who is seeking to dive deep into the energetic or subtle body, all levels of experience are welcome. *Please note I have changed the date of this Retreat to one week later than originally advertised. It is now 12-19th August.
- I’ve been expanding my mentoring of late - it was amazing to me that when I stopped actively teaching classes I started getting lots of emails from people who were seeking some kind of sounding board, or guidance, to move through something big. In the past, my mentoring has mainly been for Yoga Teachers, but it seems I’m being called to broaden the parameters a little. What I’m hearing is that there are things that people don’t want to talk about with counsellors, psychologists or friends - things that might require heart over head, things that might be energetic, sensitive or spiritual in nature - and it just feels so natural for me to give more time to this. If you feel like you might benefit from a session with me I’m offering a limited amount of ‘free trial’ 15 minute Skype calls, just email me to book yours. I got this beautiful note from a client recently: “..thank you with all of my heart for guiding me so wisely, so lovingly & so intuitively through my pain & confusion. I have felt so aghast about modern portrayals of Spirituality & intimidated by ancient portrayals that I felt so alone until I contacted you. I’m so happy I reached out- you have such a magnificent way of translating masterful spirituality into simple and accessible language - it is a true gift.”
- I have made a limited run of some really super yoga mats. I have spent the last 6 months trialling them to make sure they are really the best, and now that I know they are, I can offer them to you! These mats are the highest quality eco friendly I have found that actually last…so often the eco friendly ones wear really badly, and I wonder how eco friendly it really is if you need to keep replacing it? Anyway, mine are made from super durable hemp and have natural resin on top so you can wash them, and, have light weight natural rubber cushion for comfort…you can order on my website. They are $65 (I saw the same ones at the Yoga Barn in Ubud for $70 US). I've also got some great recycled cork blocks too.
- Gertrude st news: I'm going to be involved in teaching their first ever Teacher Training in 2017 - Hannah Campos has put together a wonderful, thorough training that is designed to go throughout the year so that you can fit it in with work etc. Also, I'll be doing lots of new workshops -look out in the next newsletter for details. The next Hormone Balancing Restorative Yoga for Women session is on February 3rd at Gertrude st Fitzroy. “Deeply relaxing & informative - wish I new all this 10 years ago” - Deb (Thanks Deb!).
- Workshops @ GRY Mornington in February
Saturday 4th, 11am-2pm, exploring the Heart Chakra
Sunday 5th, 11am-2pm, exploring the Throat Chakra
Friday 24th 7.15-9.15pm, Moving Meditation
Wishing you a spacious & abundant holiday season -
looking forward to seeing you on the mat in 2017
Om Shrim Shiyei Namaha: Om & salutatations to the creative abundance that is the very form of the Universe
ps - here's a meditation to expand the sacred feminine - enjoy! Shakti Meditation
It’s a funny thing to admit, I know, but I have been a bit obsessed with the throat chakra for some time. At a base level, Vishuddha, the throat chakra, is where we manifest our thoughts as words or sounds. In the Yoga tradition, it’s the place where we start to align our energies beyond the physical plane to something…spiritual.
Spirituality is such a tricky, sticky thing to talk and to write about, and for good reason! I love exploring and sharing ideas, but in doing so I am acutely aware of the invisible line between curiosity & dogma. I believe we all have our unique felt experience or glimpses of that sense of oneness, of being in our own highest alignment, and, that those profound moments of connection usually happen when we are actually just being in the practice. For me this experience is most potent, most undeniable, when I am immersed in the practice of mantra and nada (sacred sound) yoga - especially when this being can happen with other people. I used to think my throat centre was open & healthy…and then out of the blue this year brought a whole new layer of expansion. The result - a deeper love of sound & mantra, and, an even deeper awareness of “oneness”. Oh dear - it seems I’m getting more spiritual!
Exploring Vishuddha is exploring Yoga (& spirituality)'s biggest & most challenging themes; the foundational acceptance of advhaita (non-duality), and ananda (bliss consciousness). Even though I have understood this for a really long time on a theoretical level, I, like most of us still on the human side of enlightenment, spend a lot of time trapped in this idea that I am separate from Universal consciousness (or the Divine, Source, Spirit, God, Love - whatever word works for you), that living is somehow removed from spirituality. It is through a whole lot of disciplined practice that I have felt experiences of this advhaita, and that those experiences are more frequent and sustained. In meditation you may have felt it too...that epic moment where you get to the source of perceived duality - the belief pattern that tells you we are separate - and the fluctuations of the mind come to a silent halt...and then it starts all over again!
With practice we unify our consciousness to, well, everything. This is big, BIG stuff - the essence perhaps, of that tricky, invisible line. When we take the practice beyond asana into meditation, sound & mantra, the possibility of true union, advhaita, starts to uncoil.
Our human experience of consciousness is a battle that is most often won by the thinking mind, the ego…that which seeks to claim us as separate. But with practice, as you may have experienced, we can overcome the thinking mind to dwell in the awareness beyond - the awareness that is aware of the thoughts as they arise. This illusion of separation or duality is spread through other structures and areas of our existence - for example monotheism, or religion that places one God above humanity and creates a separation between us and our spirituality. Even worshipping in a church or other created structure separates us from the sense that everything in our environment is sacred, and somehow connected.
In the awakened state of advhaita we are no longer seeking the spiritual, or the divine, or consciousness, or God or whatever, advhaita is an epic ‘coming home’ as we realise we cannot possibly seek or strive for what we already are. Even the idea of “getting connected” feels like an insult to our true nature - in advhaita, in fact, we are connection.
Exploring spirituality, for me, is like stripping back layers of illusion. Each new layer has it’s message, it’s strength, it’s medicine and it’s challenge. We get to each layer as we are ready, in perfect time. Each layer is beautiful, and absolutely unique. The journey towards your own truth, your own centre, can not be compared to anyone else's….it is, however, a privilege to be able to share it.
I have recorded a new Yoga Nidra for you all about the awakening journey of love & will power through the chakras. Hopefully it will help you to understand my Vishuddha obsession just a little bit! Enjoy!
If you are interested in exploring the subtle body & Chakra System with me I have just booked dates in August for a 7 day immersion in Sideman, Bali Prana Body Retreat. - it's going to be so special!
Om Namah Shivaya
“May the elements and consciousness of this creation abide in me in perfect manifestation”
A couple of weeks ago I decided to meditate under the full moon’s light. Being mid-winter on the Peninsula it was icy, so I rugged up in every layer I could find, stuck a candle in a jar and wobbled outside. It was a crisp, clear night and the moonlight was tangibly present, penetrating through the freezing night to touch that particular patch of the earth, and be received by little old me. The nightwas still, my little candle held strong, it’s rays of light dwarfed by the overwhelming power of the giant moon above. I was suspended in deep awe at how effortlessly the rays of moonlight were enveloping me - I didn’t know then exactly how far away the earth is from the moon but I did know it was a really big distance to be travelling. Mostly, I, like most of us, take the light of the sun and the moon for granted - how it travels all that way to us - undeniable, bright, full and pulsing with radiant energy and life, but in that moment it seemed incomprehensible. I now know that the moon is 384,400 km away from the earth, and the sun is an unimaginable distance of 149.6 million km away…so far, but so present, so essential to our life’s experience.
In sanskrit the word for light rays is ‘rashvi' - referring specifically to the moment that the light from the sun or the moon touches and interacts with matter and effects how that matter is then experienced; visually and in a felt sense. As is often the case with sanskrit there is another interpretation or meaning for this word; hands, feet, fingers and toes are also referred to as the Rashvi of the body.
It’s easy to become detached from the idea of our energetic, or light body. But it’s not a lofty, hocus-pocus idea - western science is absolutely aligned with Yoga in the certainty that we are made up of energy - there’s just a difference in language and description of these ideas.
Einstein stated that
"matter is energy (light), whose vibration has been so lowered as to be
perceptible to the senses. There is no matter."
As we go through “normal” life in our 3 dimensional reality, busying ourselves with so much "matter" we are usually pretty anchored in the cranial brain, or what I like to call ‘the dominant thinking mind’, this makes it quite difficult to tune into the subtle or pranic field of energy that is so present in everything that we do, feel and experience. When we are in deep sadhana (practice) we can detach from the thinking mind that is so quick to analyse and observe the experiences from above, and surrender instead to the full force of light interacting with, and in fact being our physical form. Without sadhana it can feel as though we are moving through our daily activities with the energetic body an unimaginable distance away.
And of course it never is - it actually couldn’t be closer. Keeping hold of that subtle presence requires persistent dropping down from the thinking mind into the feeling experience. Sensing yourself as light in any continual way is a process of discipline, patience and most importantly curiosity. When we tune into the Sushumna nadi (central energetic passage) we can begin to sense three even more subtle channels: Vajra, Chitrini and Brahma nadi - all through which Kundalini moves upwards running up the body from just below Muladhara chakra to Sahasrara chakra, basically, from the base of the spine to the crown of the head. This is happening at our deepest centre, but the light from shushumna is also expanding to all of our physical edges through a vast network of 72,000 passages (nadis), and well beyond those boundaries also.
Our hands and feet are our furthest most physical edges, the way we interface with the world - how we touch the earth, how we interact with and impact everything around us. How we open to receive, what we offer freely, and, what we take - the places we leave healed, harmed or altered forever. This all happens with the play of the hands and feet, the rashvis of the shushumna nadi...the light rays of our essential being.
We’re in the opposite part of the moon’s cycle now, the perfect time to turn inward and tune into your own centre of light. I rugged up and sat under the dark moon a couple of days ago and tuned in, expanded and connected...and spent a long time exhaling!
I’ve recorded a short, simple meditation for you to encourage awareness of the shushumna nadi, and how we can expand it’s light through our very own rashvis, how we might be more conscious in the way that we touch the earth with a felt sense of our energetic body. Share it - enjoy!
ps - I'm very excited to be officially sharing my very own creative form of women's Yoga for the first time. Shakti Flow begins night at Gertrude st, it's a 5 week course butI've decided to open it up for casual attendance as 5 evenings in a row is not possible for so many, understandably! I hope you can join me for one or many of these super special sessions.
pps - I'm trying out a new time for Yoga for Deep Healing and there are still a few places left...please help me spread the word to anyone who might benefit from a 2 & a half hour session of connection and truly nourishing rest. at Gertrude st Fitzroy.
Something happened on my June Retreat in Bali - I broke another Granthi.
The Sanskrit word granthi (sounds like “grunty”!) means “knot” or “doubt”. In sadhana, or spiritual practice, granthis are psychological or psychic barriers to consciousness & freedom. According to ancient Yogic tradition there are 3 Granthis that bind the soul and lock us to our illusions, preventing prana (life force energy) from moving freely up the central energetic passage (sushumna nadi). Basically, granthis keep us locked in our base emotions and hold us firmly in our fears of death and truly living.
So, when we break our Granthis through karma (which just means ‘action’) we transcend fear and normal restrictions on thinking and acting, giving wings to our spiritual desires – also known as the rise of Kundalini, or, Spiritual Awakening.
It's really important to note that these advances in consciousness do happen naturally as we evolve as humans whether we practice Yoga or not. Even within the framework of Yoga you can choose paths that involve selfless service over rigorous & challenging practice. However, the practices of Yoga are said to ‘fast-track’ the rise of kundalini - clearing lifetimes of karma in just one (disciplined!) life. So, Yoga, as the story goes, serves to radically advance your spiritual awakening, not create it out of thin air.
When fast-tracking our karma we are intensifying huge challenges and changes in our egos. Our less conscious selves can put forward some very good arguments to stay firmly rooted in fear…the path of Yoga isn’t all joy & bliss, as you probably already know! The lessons can come thick & fast - some are obvious, some loving and some fierce. Some are subtle and reveal themselves in a mysterious language that translates more easefully over time as you develop your inner listening. Some awakenings leave you feeling distinctly alone - serving to show you just whom in your life can withstand the expanding consciousness you radiate...who might be willing to stand by you and stare into the flames of transformation, even when it’s not pretty, or joyful.
During the last Goddess Retreat I experienced a huge awakening where the energetic space between my solar plexus & heart burst wide open, and I felt the awesome & brutal force that is love melt away a lifetime of held grief. I wasn't the only one who felt it either, it happened for us together. An enormous weight was taken from my shoulders - it was, in fact the weight of pressure. The pressure that I always imagined, both consciously and unconsciously, was imposed from those around me - from the external world. The pressure to be and do so much, the pressure I believed was OK and 'normal' because it seemed so common; constantly reflected back at me from every direction.
So, when this granthi broke I was released from another layer of illusion and I became even more enveloped in the truth - the consciousness that is pure, blissful, ever expanding love. It certainly wasn't an easy time, during those weeks I often felt frozen, naked and alone, but, I surrendered with my whole self and managed to come through the other side. And because I wasn't actually alone in my experience, I didn't feel like a crazy person, even though I might have sounded a little that way explaining it all to an outsider!
When we immerse ourselves in sadhana, or serious Yoga Pracitice, we are inviting the probability of difficult & even painful transformation…it’s easy to see why that isn’t attractive to every one, especially alone.
As the Retreat unfolded we unveiled our awakenings together. I truly realised just how important it is to have the support and love of others on the same journey; how beautiful it is to be able to share our experiences...to not be alone on the spiritual path.
And, I want you to know that I’m here to support you on that journey - it’s all that I can do!
Hari Om Tat Sat