Modern Yoga has become like therapy for a lot of us - far from the traditional goal of gaining enlightenment - most are looking for a tool to help us stay sane.
Which sends me spiralling into thought... Where has all the sanity gone? Since the rise of scientific materialism and the church betraying us one too many times, where is it safe to turn? Many of us are and have turned towards New Age Spirituality… and high up on that list is a Yoga practice.
I believe when it comes to our sanity there are many factors to consider, for now I have chosen to focus on what I believe to be a societal foundation - The ‘Blame/Shame’ model of modern societies.
Blame and shame have become so ingrained it’s hard to know where it all began... it is so embedded in our thoughts, language and behaviours. I feel confident in saying most of us living in the modern world have been born into toxic societies, riddled with these ‘Blame/Shame’ cycles of doom! Blaming and shaming is currently how almost everything is run, whether it be the government, within our laws, corporations, businesses (small and large), charities, education systems, the church, family dynamics, interpersonal relationships. IT’S EVERYWHERE.
Blame is the idea ‘I am right, so you are wrong’
Shame is the idea ‘I did something wrong, so I am a worthless person’
Brene Brown defines shame “as the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we've experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.”
The cycle of Blame and Shame together is toxic, and leads to external behaviours and actions that tend to harm ourselves and others to try and escape the unpleasantness of not feeling connected, loved, right, heard or valued. This cycle makes us lose touch with the fact that we are all individual sacred beings - spiritual beings having a human experience. Every single one of us is sacred and completely worthy.
The model of blame and shame holds the view that only some of us are worthy and only when we are participating in worthy action. A dangerous world view to be born into.
Collectively we are balancing a hugely rich and diverse global community on a narrow world view. A world view outlining that: we must be on top; we must prove ourselves; we must be better than another; we must be right all the time. With these all in place as ‘truths’ we will in turn experience more love and ultimately WIN this game called Life…? I do believe some of this comes from Charles Darwin and René Descartes (among others) and along the way these ideas, theories and philosophies have become distorted, over-simplified and watered down (not by the men themselves, by the followers and simplified ‘tag-line’ delivery of concepts). These underlying theories play an interesting role in our current blame/shame world view, which lacks critical thinking or modern interpretation from it’s many believers. What has occured is a sort of aggressive scientific materialism ‘blackout’, meaning if some authority (preferably a middle aged, white, western, male scientist) said it and we like it, we believe it without bringing anything else relevant into question. This is a highly dangerous place to be and a terrifying world view for the masses to hold. It leads to broken governments, broken families and often very broken and unaware individuals, not to mention the dangerous implications of sexism, racism, and the numerous other forms of separating and segregating minorities.
It’s not difficult to look outside of ourselves and see all that is wrong with this world, the injustice that seems to be everywhere - it can be hard sometimes to stay afloat in what can seem very hopeless (Interesting side note: our brain registers the pain of shame exactly how it registers physical pain). The root of a lot of this suffering and confusion comes from these toxic blame/shame cycles. Without the ability (or sometimes permission) to question why, we become blind to the hurt and pain that is caused by blaming and shaming each other. I could not count how many Yoga students and clients I have worked with who have experienced this hurt within their family dynamic. I think what is important to understand is that when you experience the behaviour and interactions of blame and shame as a young person it does affect your ability to step out of this paradigm within your adult life. You may become an excessive victim to this behaviour or you tend to become the perpetrator of it, or even more common, both. I have been personally affected by these cycles deeply within my own family dynamic and it has taken many years of peeling back the layers to understand where some of my beliefs and hurt have come from.
One of the first things that triggered the desire to start to unpack all of this for myself was arriving back to NZ after being in India, I was ready to jump into my Yoga studies and was overly enthusiastic about the optimistic and magical world this new path now had to offer me. What I found was a lot of judgment, self deprecation and competition within the yoga world. Us ‘Yogis’ were not lifting each up.. Why?
It never felt right to me that there were ‘bad’ people or ‘judgy’ people. I was sure there had to be more to it - How could we be studying one philosophy, which was inclusive and promoted unity and oneness; yet living completely differently? Claiming that one style of Yoga or spiritual practice was better than another…!?
Why was there competition? How was there competition!?
I believe It comes down to belief and perception. We as individuals, and within our own collectives, (whether it be family groups, religious groups, community groups) hold strong beliefs and perceptions about life and how it should be lived. I think most of us as individuals can agree that this is what makes the world beautiful - our differences. Most of us have experienced the desire to travel and meet other people.. to experience another ‘way of life’, yet why then is there so much judgment and competition when beliefs and perceptions are different or clash with our own?
Why does it cause internal turmoil?
Why does business and success need to be based on being better than another?
Why are these questions not being asked more, within the Yoga community especially?
I believe it comes down to the ‘Blame/Shame’ cycles we are basically indoctrinated into from birth. Meaning the depth of our own internal conflict is hard to see, let alone recognise within ourselves and our behaviour. It is a tricky paradox to accept and love others and also accept and love ourselves. Because blame/shame tells us that for one to be successful means another has to fail, and if we are the ones failing it means someone else is succeeding with ease. The reality is that none of this actually reflects the truth. Every single human struggles - in small daily ways, and in large life-changing ways. Why is is so hard to recognise another’s suffering and so easy to keep a narrow minded view on ourselves?
What I experienced when I started my training was a very real reflection of myself and my core beliefs and perceptions. Growing up in the blame/shame dynamic has powerful long term effects on the way we see the word, and probably a huge reason why I have been so drawn to Yoga (like many of us). Yoga offers a pathway OUT, it’s comforting ideals soothe the soul and start to coax us out of the world where competition and winning is given so much merit. Yet just because I started Yoga didn't mean I would rid myself of these toxic patterns overnight.
In fact, I fell face first into the ideals my particular training school and teachers held. I believed the style I was practicing was superior to others. It was the ‘Real Yoga’ and I would achieve the real rewards. It’s humorous now thinking about how I held this view with very little awareness or critical thinking - the painful truth is that I wanted to feel special and better than others. My blame/shame cycles were telling me that for my Yoga to work it had to be better than others (that’s how blame works). Shame quickly followed as I left the comfort of my training and moved into the Yoga world and realised (fast) there was a whole lot more out there, I had to grieve the loss of my comfortable little life living in the studio where we all held the same safe belief that we were superior. Shit. I felt broken and stupid and here my friend, shame kicked in. I realised I wasn't special and the walls come crashing down with that familiar old feeling of being completely unworthy once again.
It’s like floating between two worlds, I didnt know which ship I should jump onto, who’s Yoga? Who’s path? Where should I scramble onto next to make myself feel special again and get myself out of the horrible feelings of shame… Well, to keep it short, I found people and I climbed right back into the comfort of that blame cycle… again making our group special and the rest wrong. It’s amazing how fast this all happens and how it really does appear we are wired for it, the grip that blame and shame has is strong… It was just trying to keep me safe, right? Away from the ‘bad’ guys?
It’s been a real journey since then to unpack so many layers of understanding and ownership of not only where I have been a victim but also where I have been the perpetrator - blaming and shaming others to get my own high. All I can really say is how damn important it is to understand that most, if not all of us, are affected by the cycles of blame and shame. It’s much more unconscious than conscious behavior, but it’s there. I think Yoga has been my saving grace. It shone the torch so brightly on all my own shit and has demanded more from me every day since. I think the key concept for me would be vigilance. It takes serious courage to start unpacking and recognising your own asshole-ness. It takes patience, and it means doing the work EVERY DAY. To liberate myself (to some degree) I have had to find my freedom through and within my discipline. To be vigilant with my thoughts, and actions, to keep balance in my life and to always, always be able to recognise when I am wrong, apologize, forgive others and ultimately forgive myself.
Yoga, like most things, was and is heavily influenced by the humans who learn it, teach it and live it. Over my years of learning, practicing and sharing yoga I believe that one of the most important things we can do, whether through yoga or ordinary everyday life, is strive to be better humans. I believe this betterment happens through regular self-reflection.
The amount of times I have been a complete dick in my life is hard to handle, let alone swallow. Being a dick is probably one of those things that is hard-wired into us from a young age. Thanks to a society that rewards competition, instills fear as a means of control, and creates separation through the age old pillar of being ‘cool’, there isn’t much room left for kindness and choosing to be a decent person.
This insight has led me to many many questions and even meltdowns, but the main things I reflect upon are: How can I be a better person AND How can I encourage and inspire my students to do the same?
Thanks to teaching yoga and training yoga teachers I dedicate time to reading and reflecting on the Yamas and Niyamas (the 10 ethical guidelines on Patanjali’s 8 fold path of Yoga). These guidelines can easily come across as simplistic, but like with anything simple, it is always laced with complexity and contradictions (truly the magic of being human).
In this regard, the yoga practice itself is based on the first Yama, known as ahimsa, roughly translated as non-violence. The amount of people (myself included, initially), who look at me dumbfounded and say ‘Oh, I’m not violent, I’m a good person’ is well, a lot.
Of course it is only natural to defend our own ‘good’-ness.
Yet if you think about it, it’s quite arrogant and ignorant to believe you are an entirely good, non-violent person... do you truly believe that everything you do is for the goodness of yourself, others and the planet.
Don't get me wrong, I can understand and empathise with why we react to this proposition with ‘I promise I’m a good person!’... it almost always comes from a lack of honest self-reflection (self-reflection could be considered the Niyama known as svadhyaya) ‘I’m a good person’ is a beautiful facade constructed to survive the day, the week, the year… a safety strategy, - ‘don't let anyone know who you really are...!’ We are conditioned to believe that being a ‘good person’ is the key attribute to present to the world, and anything else ‘bad’ should be done in secret.
I am pretty convinced that this model of reality - the ‘good’ people vs. the ‘bad’ people - is, well, not working. It definitely doesn’t help build healthy societies, it doesn’t help cultivate happy, motivated, loving people... In fact, what this type of reality does is create separation, hate, judgement and isolation. We end up believing we are separate and different from each other and that life is hard and terrible things happen. This binary view of good and bad, can actually lead us to more violence in both our internal and external realities.
So I believe ‘good’ vs ‘bad’ needs to stop. Alas, there is no silver bullet for change, it is up to each and every one of us to identify and pick up our own slack, to look at all our ‘dick-ish’ behaviour in the face and own our sh*t. Then we can start actually reflecting on how we can be better people, how we can support each other and how we can heal this planet.
Ahimsa is where Yoga starts. Take a deep breath and look at yourself in the mirror... How can each moment be approached through a lens of non-violence? What do you think about yourself, about others, about society? How do you turn up in every interaction? What do you spend your money on? What industries do you support through your dollar? What food do you put in your mouth? Do you support the torture and murder of animals for your own personal pleasure, comfort or convenience? How many difficult questions are you asking yourself daily? How much would you actually sacrifice to be that so called ‘Good’ person?
This is not to say that life is all gloom and doom, life is a gift, and a f**king fantastic one! You were given life, You were given a body, and I am going to guess… you were given much more than that… So… are you grateful, every day, for what you do have? Have you given back more than you have taken?
My own journey of Self-Reflection has been messy, long and it is still an everyday adventure. I first learnt about ahimsa when I was in India and it was pointed out to me that eating meat was a violent act... I had honestly never thought about it like that... I had eaten meat my entire life and thought about it as something ‘normal’. I think that this (incredibly tough) first lesson taught me to ask myself difficult questions, to not take things for granted, and to make sure I questioned everything. It is very easy to be scared about change and very confronting to admit that maybe something we thought, or had been doing thoughtlessly, was causing harm.
What is important, is to know that it’s OK, we are all good people and we are all bad people. This world we live in is going to trip us up, one way or another. Trying to cause no harm at all is pretty much impossible...
So... ask yourself - What can I change? What can I do better? Then, through this reflection, forgive yourself for where you have come from and what you were taught. There is a constant process of learning, growth, transformation, grief and forgiveness. This is life, and it offers so much more richness. Life is never boring when you live from an authentic place of self reflection. Understand who you are and grow from there.
I was the girl who loved eye fillet steak and could eat a whole block of cheese when I came home from work. I changed because I gained more understanding and I wanted to stand for something bigger, I forgave that girl and we move forward together - to be the light we both want to see in the world!
Self-Reflection helps you give back to yourself, to actually see how magical life is.
Self-Reflection asks you to check in with the daily interactions you have with yourself, with others, with animals and with mother nature all around.
Self-Reflection will guide you to uncover who you really are.
Inspire yourself to Uplift those around you!
Inversions can be an uplifting and inspiring activity to bring into your daily routine. The benefits of inversions will vary in degrees depending on the individual's personal make up.
Take for example an ‘Inversion table’ these are generally used to support individuals to find balanced health (we like to think of this as survival). These contraptions are incredibly beneficial at bringing the whole body (and mind) back into homeostasis (balance) and is quite supportive for the nervous system.
Inversions can also be so much more, and from a Yoga perspective are an important part of a whole practice, although in Modern Yoga this is a controversial topic. We believe inversions do hold a great potential when practiced properly and with care they can be a tool that empowers you to move from a place of mere surviving towards thriving.
In Aerial Yoga, using props such as yoga swings or hammocks are a fantastic way to practice inversions in a safe, supportive and uplifting way. Inverting in a yoga swing (above images) also provides beautiful decompression for the spine (just like the inversion table), without any weight on the head or strain on the shoulders that come from the classical yoga inversion poses.
When practiced in regular mat based yoga practice its best to keep it simple to start - with things like simply placing the legs up the wall while lying on the back. Remember, with yoga postures there is no silver bullet, and no one pose fix-it for everyone. The common inversion poses we see pictures of in yoga are; headstand; shoulder-stand; forearm balance and handstand.
A yoga shoulder-stand deserves the first mention as it has come to get the reputation of being an ‘easy inversion’. Shoulderstand actually requires strength and flexibility in the neck and shoulders and really should always be practiced with props (like blankets to lift the shoulders). An interesting thing to note is that in the world of cell phones and computers a common postural dysfunction is known as ‘head forward’ where the head sits a few cm forward of its natural alignment. This causes weakness in the deep flexor muscles of the neck. If your deep neck flexors are weak, your nervous system will receive this message as instability in the body and the hamstrings will tighten up to help balance your posture (and stop the head from falling any further forward!), inhibiting the potentially ‘relaxing’ experience you could be having in a pose like shoulderstand!
Classical headstand is another pose that should not be practiced with any neck conditions, (or eye pain) or any cautious feelings really - your body is smart, and it is wise to listen to that inner voice first! As a safe go-to rule, any inversions with your head, neck or shoulders bearing weight should only be practiced with correct alignment and never be practiced with any pain! In yoga, pain = no gain! With the help of a trained teacher, spend the time to build the foundations and find your alignment first. Once you know you have that, lifting slowly with awareness will support keeping your body in the proper alignment (and build bonus deep core muscles!) - jumping into these shapes is often an injury risk with way more of a chance of losing balance and falling out.
Lastly, inversions can be a whole lot more empowering when practiced with the head off the floor - ideally, the less weight on the head the better. It can actually be good practice to start your yoga inversion journey with handstands before other ‘classical’ Yoga inversions as this can build the necessary strength awareness and balance for the more weight bearing things like classical or tripod headstand.
With all this taken into consideration, we do recommend giving inversions a go in a way that makes sense for each individual. When practiced with quality guidance and good self awareness they can be an incredibly powerful, fun and rewarding experience!
It’s a Thursday evening, I have been teaching all week, wearing ‘active wear’ way too often, spending a lot of time with people being ‘happy’ Nicole and my step children have just arrived for the weekend… asking questions and ‘shaking’ my perceived Zen vibes that may have existed in the house… I start to feel the build-up of anxiety, or maybe rage, or maybe exhaustion, of maybe (as I have come to discover, Pure energy).
These times leave me confused and frustrated, the feelings of mish-mash blah… instead of being in the ebb and flow of life, I would internally react, or maybe better said - resist. Resist life and create an inability to be able to really see or enjoy what could unfold.
In this instance my resistance would manifest in feeling angry about teaching, irritated by active wear and that my body was too ugly to wear these stupid clothes. I would switch off my joy and even resist the children and all the potential love and fun they would bring to the house. This was all playing out in a subconscious manner, yet always having a ripple effect.
These ‘Thursdays’ turned into a pattern, a spiralling emotional loop that I became addicted to without even realising. It can be a hard thing to admit, being addicted to negative states of being and therefore creating internal patterns that switch on at certain times (like Thursday evenings).
Thursday rolls around (really no matter how good my week had been) and like clockwork I would decide to play into the pattern “yes, my week has been busy, I am tired, and I definitely ‘deserve’ to shut down”. This internal reality then creates sound reasoning for the following decisions - purchasing a bottle of red wine; over eating dinner; and trying to avoid anything that needed to be done. Escaping from my life and myself, without even taking a moment to realise what I was doing. It’s as if I had convinced myself that this was some type of reward… I would end up feeling internally gross, and even with this internal feeling, I still put it down to external factors as influencing my state of well-ness.
**Side note, I do not think drinking red wine or switching off is a bad thing, it was the lack of awareness I had around this and the lack of fierce love for myself and my life.
My life existed in the form of said feelings turning into emotions, expecting to feel the same things each day and never really giving myself the opportunity to truly feel life, or feel what adventure can be like on a small scale from the inside out.
What this year has taught me is to Fiercely love myself… But how? Obviously, this experience of love didn’t come out of nowhere, these ideas were not new to me, but something shifted. Since yoga came into my life I have always been dedicated and loved the practice, so much change has come from its many different forms. Yet for the past two or three years my meditation practice has been sparse. At the beginning of this year both my husband and myself agreed we would meditate everyday no matter what and would support each other through this journey. It was strange - I had enjoyed and been motivated to meditate in the past but since having a yoga studio this practice had somehow taken a back seat. Starting a regular practice again was frustrating as shit and the dark realisation of how much crap I was working through was a real treat! It’s fair to say it has become much easier and I would even go as far as saying I enjoy it now. From someone who desperately struggled to get out of bed in the morning, to now getting up most days at 4.30am with a heart filled with gratitude at taking my first conscious breath of the day. (let’s be real, that’s not every single morning as I am still a human… but damn it’s a lot more often and I am pretty excited about that!)
So back to it, why I am writing this…? Well I woke up this morning and had this realisation that this year truly has been the best yet! As I pondered what it was that made my 2018 so damned good, I considered all the external things that have happened and learning that has happened and the people I had met. Yes these were all pretty good, but that tends to be every year… this was something different… I thought Wow, it’s the simple fact that I really took the experience of loving myself to the next level.
It’s very easy in the yoga world (in which I work), to preach all the words and throw around some inspirational quotes about self-love blah blah blah… but at the end of the day what the hell does fierce self-love feel like?!
Because in my opinion it’s definitely not what it looks like from the outside…
I say this because there was a very significant moment when the walls came crashing down (again…) (Internally). A moment where I tangibly felt my heart explode open, there was uncontrollable tears - which felt as if they were coming from a place inside, a place I had never been before. I was literally sobbing. Initially trying to hold it back, until my incredibly emotionally intelligent, kind husband saw my soul’s call for help, he came over and gently reminded me it was ok and to let myself go with it… (he was loving and gave me space – What a guy!).
The next few days were incredible and lot of tears, and then it happened - I was standing in front of the mirror (somewhat expecting to see the girl with at least one thing wrong staring back). To my surprise there I was. In all my vulnerable, imperfect, perfection. I literally saw a person that I was in love with… and it was as if I fell in love even more.
Now let me tell you, I have tried this many times over the years, standing in front of the mirror, looking into my own eyes and saying ‘I love you’. Yet it had always been ‘Practice’ and If I were being honest, I never truly felt it… What I had never realised before was that every time I looked in the mirror, before I could be ‘ok’ with what I saw, I would have to adjust something (anything!). It might be my hair or moving a piece of clothing… anything. I’m not a girl who wears makeup or cares too much about fashionable clothing, yet vanity is a mysterious creature whispering messages of disempowerment… I realised this small act of adjusting was actually sending a subconscious message to myself, ‘you will never be good enough the way you are’.
Now here I am standing in front of the mirror, without making any adjustments, I was looking at myself with a sense of wholeness and understanding. I was in love. In love with myself. I could feel the sensation of Joy throughout my body and it was incredible, I could touch my own body and only feel gratitude, I could look directly at the parts I had not felt so happy about and send them so much love, I could look into my own eyes and say out loud with so much feeling and thankful-ness how much I loved myself and how beautiful I was. Even as I write this now, I feel a sense of dis-belief at how amazing this deeply internal transformation was and how it has changed my experience of life.
Experiencing self-love became everything. I have read the books, I have had the conversations, and for a while now have intellectually believed all of this, but to feel it, to be it, totally caught me off guard. I felt as if people wouldn’t recognise me, as from the inside there was such a huge shift. It is like having a mysterious super power that brings me more joy, more energy, more abundance, more flow, more laughter, more silliness, more productively, more creativity, more quality in every aspect of life.
Love truly is Life.
Why I speak of fiercely loving myself is because when love does come in this way, as much as it can feel melty and delightful, it also feels powerful and fluid. Where there was a fight it is now met with the strength of forgiveness; personal boundaries are now aligned with compassion, a heart throbbing intensity for the suffering in the world - met with the humble grace that it is duality that makes up this divine reality of imperfect beauty we live in. This is followed by the feeling to give more, to serve more and to share more for the good of all humanity, the inner world becomes vast and rich, a wonderous place - this love comes from and through devotion. A devotion to this divine body I was given, a devotion to the complex beauty of mother nature and to the divine presence that exists in all things, a devotion to experience life to a fuller degree more and more, each loving step I take.
Being human makes it tricky of course, and that Thursday feeling still creeps in, yet with fierce love driving my life, I do not feel as scared by these feelings. I do not have to act, in fact, what is being asked is that I acknowledge these challenging feelings as vulnerable and in need of love and respect. I can love these challenging feelings into life and through this love they can be transformed. Love is not about everything being positive and happy all the time. It is about the grit, the self-work, and deeply honouring what the heart is saying.
Our hearts have the most intuitive, powerful intelligence and are always there, guiding our highest good. The biggest challenge is learning how to listen, respect and live from a space of integrated, balanced love.
Satya (truthfulness) – Creating Emotional Boundaries
Much like water, life travels in phases through age, stage and situation. In life, there is always space for personal reflection and on the subject of Satya, or truthfulness, I find the process of reflection an incredibly valuable tool. I also notice that reflections look different depending on the phase of life or what emotional thread has been triggered. Regardless of age, I believe there are always opportunities to learn and create new patterns in the brain and through this we can enhance our interactions and enrich our lives.
Bringing awareness to gratitude practice and self-reflection is something that can be fine-tuned as a strong tool for living an honest, authentic and meaningful life. Life with Satya is a life full of depth, connection and adventure on all levels.
Self-reflection holds the potential of creating personal boundaries. Delving more into the meaning of Satya I am able to see how creating personal boundaries is a representation of my personal truth. Most of the time truth isn’t that pretty – it usually shows up at inconvenient times and demands seemingly inappropriate things from a person. The process of uncovering what this looks like for me is a life-long journey. The biggest issue is experiencing the discomfort of sitting in my truth long enough to actually keep those boundaries alive and active.
It can seem easy enough, at least from from the outside, to decide the things in life that you like and don’t like, easy enough to know what is good for you – yet the closer I look, the more I see how this is not necessarily the case. When a situation of a challenging nature is presented, what are the steps that need to be taken to uncover where the truth is? How many layers of non-truth, half-truth, or emotion are uncovered during this process that aren’t actually yours? The layers of conditioning, assumptions and expectations that have been energetically digested throughout life have to be carefully considered and potentially even honestly worked through when in the face of these challenging situations. This work can allow the unveiling and uncovering of what is rightfully your truth, your boundary and where you stand, with integrity.
The biggest conundrum is that truth is always perception… whether held by one person for five minutes or a whole nation for a hundred years. How can we ever collectively distinguish what is ‘universal’ truth? What is a fact? I mean the earth is flat, right? Therefore truth is yours, sacred to you and only you.
So working with your own truth and personal boundaries is a way we can support a greater experience of wholeness and integrity.The first challenge of Satya has already been presented above – how can someone create strong personal boundaries if they are yet to see what their boundaries are to begin with? Not knowing the reality of personal limits or energetic comfort zones can be a dangerous place. Emotional well-being is behind the scenes, controlling everything that will soon manifest into the mental and physical realms. Without creating emotional boundaries we are open vessels to whatever and whoever whats to come in and start destroying behind closed doors. (I say emotional as it is usually simple to decipher our physical boundaries.)
Through a lack of self-awareness ‘mistakes’ start to happen, leading to unideal situations or even the inability to cope with all the joy coming our way. How can this be? What is missing here or maybe what is masking the truth?
Being in the physical body, in the mind, reality looks more like a treasure of collected ideas, expectations and overall crap that isn’t solely from one individuals being. (I do believe it would be impossible to go through life and not collect these ideas, expectations and crap, the point here is understanding and self-awareness on how to reflect and let go.)
These ‘mistakes’ are made from a lack of emotional boundaries. Personally I am a naturally open person, I love sharing and having close relationships with people, I always have. A confusing process for me in my own self-reflection was trying to understand if I have to completely close down to create these personal boundaries and survive my own life. There has been moments where it feels like I need a complete personality transplant to keep going (and I am sure I’m not the only one to feel this). Something has changed though; I am still a very open and positive person who shares with people and enjoys close connections although there is a strong (somewhat fiery) line inside of me. When the line is crossed and my truth is compromised to a degree that puts my physical, mental or emotional well-being on the line, I am out of there. Coming back to Ahimsa (Non-Violence), I try to do this with the utmost respect and kindness to whoever is involved in the situation.
Ahimsa, a concept that on the surface seems relatively simple, NO Violence.
I believe most of us in the yoga world can comfortably say we are non-violent humans (which I might add is awesome!) I have a lot of respect for my friends who are out there fighting for the 'little guy' and doing their best everyday to make a difference, whether it be for animal rights, human equality, or protecting the environment. At times though these battles can be overwhelming and lead to a state of defeat and confusion. While others having this knowledge of Ahimsa can be lead to a false sense of hierarchy, entering them into a 'guru' like state of feeling bigger and more profound than everyone else. Either way the line is thin and for the most part, pretty grey.
As I have started to look at what makes a great yoga teacher, I have been asking myself more and more questions. Trying to unpick this divide that I have seen within teachers and myself. To me it looks like this – the teachers on the side of defeat and overwhelm; and the overinflated self 'guru' teachers. Yet there are teachers who sit right in the centre between both states. This is where I believe the magic happens, a state of deep humility, contentment and integrity.
I started to ponder what happens to humans that send us off either side and how to keep reflecting back to the yoga path to keep us in check, as humble and yet empowered teachers. An example that came to mind made me giggle as it is so obvious, yet when you start out as a teacher you can be relatively unaware of it.
Situation one – 'You have just taught an amazing Yoga class, you were loving it, the students appeared to be having a delightful time, the music was good, the temperature was perfect, you created some magical scent and everything is... dare I say... Perfect! Life feels good, you teach yoga, you feel amazing... class finishes and you move to the entrance to chat and see everyone out. This amazing thing happens.. all these blissed out yogis are floating towards YOU, singing YOUR praises and sharing how amazing YOUR class was, YOU'RE so fantastic, YOU made me feel so great! Wow – 'I love my job', everyone has gone and you lock up and leave with a huge smile on your face.
Here lies our first potential problem - depending on your level of self awareness and 'Santosha' (contentment). It is incredibly easy to ride off the wave that YOU have done this amazing thing by teaching yoga. However, at some point when studying to become a yoga teacher the trainee should understand that they are merely 'the messenger'. The person on the mat is the one doing the work. The yoga itself is what makes them feel amazing (not the teacher).
Certain teachers will always vibe more with certain students, but it is the yoga that is the magic. How a teacher delivers the class will of course play a role in how a student experiences the class. I believe it is important to keep in mind that a big reason a lot of teachers were drawn to yoga was from the experience felt on their own mats and the magic created through self discipline, no matter who the teacher was. External inspiration is one thing, yet the magic comes from an internal discipline. The yoga teacher guides the journey in many ways, yet does not have the power to create the students magic.
Yet all to easily teachers fall into this position of believing they are something else. Statements like; 'awake' or 'higher consciousness' get thrown around and then suddenly the teacher has taken on that 'Guru' complex. You see them around, they will talk all the right words yet something feels a little off centre. It can be hard to put your finger on, classes slowly become filled with lengthy lectures around spiritual concepts, or 'how to be a greater human', 'how to wake up to reality' etc. It can be hard to detect as a student, because yogic philosophy can break down a lot of these ideas, and I have to say, at times I touch on certain topics in my own classes. Yet what is the difference between sharing your love for the yogic traditions, and dictating to your students? How do we know when a teacher is being real and authentic?
How does Ahimsa play a role in balancing this experience for everyone?
Situation two – you have taught a class, right from the get go the class felt terrible, you don't feel grounded, the room is too cold, the students seem agitated and unfocused. You are hungry, tired and watching the clock. The class finally finishes, you fumble over your words to close the class, then sheepishly shuffle to the door to let everyone out. People duck their eyes and sneak out as fast as they can, one student stops to ask you a question about the agitated hip they are experiencing, you have absolutely no idea what is wrong – so you try to find a smile and reassure them to keep going with their practice and 'everything will be fine'. You lock up, leave, looking for a hole to crawl into – feeling defeated and small, you question why on earth you teach yoga.
The reality is, as a yoga teacher you will experience both of these situations numerous times as the years pass by. It is terribly easy to allow yourself to fall into a hole of self destruction (whatever that may be for each individual). This hole can be deep and a teacher can start to question everything.
Both these situations are as violent as each other, they keep the person away from their centre and out of contentment. This is violent behavior towards oneself and does not keep the essence and love for teaching alive. The teacher is then left searching for the high days to ride off and as the bad days role in, continues to fall into these destructive ways. With the easy excuse of 'its not my fault, I had a terrible class and those students didn't like me'. This excuse is not really good enough.
These experiences and emotions can happen no matter what career path you have chosen; its life, but to be honest, its not yoga. Yoga is self awareness, it is tuning in to the experiences we are having and then releasing them with humility and gratitude. I would love to say I have found that level of self awareness, and that I live in the centre - but that would be a huge lie. I swing from side to side, yet what I have discovered is to ALWAYS check in. If you feel those emotions rise toward one end of the scale it is a clear sign something is out of balance. For example - If you see yourself as an island; if you truly believe you are the only person who has something to offer (in your field); or if you feel like you have had a never before idea; then you my dear friend are completely delusional and way out of balance.
This is violent behavior – and what is worse is it affects far beyond just you, especially as a yoga teacher. When a yoga teacher doesn't truly know what they believe and what they stand for this effects the space that is being held teaching yoga. The poses are the poses they will work their magic – the space that is being held will affect the room and students in whole different way. Teachers are messengers who are opening up to what ever is supposed to come through. Sometimes those 'bad' class experiences are a reality check, a message here to bring us back down to earth, and back to the essence of Ahimsa. Therefore the 'good' classes are a divine gift that can be experienced with humility and gratitude. Ultimately all experiences are here to be had; with lightness in our feet and acceptance in our hearts we make our own magic.
Yoga is an incredible practice which allows people to create space in their body and mind – a practice that works towards balance and gets its big ups for the stress and anxiety reducing affects.
One of my favorite quotes refers to discipline being where true freedom is. This was my mantra when I started practicing full time; I may have taken this concept to far at times starting to believe that true freedom only came through struggle. One thing that drifted into the background was that yoga and balance are so natural to being human. That we are here on earth to be creative expressions of human awesomeness. Everyone is awesome, and if we focus on our similarities and strengths we start to experience the joy of living and all the abundance around! Striving for balance is something natural, the more we find contentment and ease in our daily lives the more balance we experience.
For me yoga kept flowing and lessons were learnt.
Through my own perceived challenges and struggles I always managed to get myself wound up in some sense of anxiety and stress. As time moves on, my yoga has moulded and modified to fit what I need. There is a constant cycle of change, discovery, letting go and grieving within my yoga practice, something I never expected to happen when I knew so little about it. As my life is teaching, creating and doing yoga this is a never ending cycle. After realising that I may need to change something for the longevity of my work, I recently started working hard to flip this stress/anxiety response into an upward spiral of joy, contentment and abundance.
This is where my Yoga and Essential oil Journey come together.
In the past I had used essential oils for different reasons but I never really fully committed to them or learnt about everything they had to offer; I guess I saw them as this add on and felt confused at why these tiny bottles were so expensive.
Through magical synchronicity essential oils made their way back to me in a profound manner. This time it has been an instant switch to fully embrace the incredible potency of essential oils. One of the strangest things has been the feeling that I have not added anything extra to my life, but that something had been missing and has now returned home. My long lost friend, Essential oils.
The more I learn about the oils the more I experience how they tap into a wisdom my emotional body already has, as if speaking and understanding another language.
Using Essential oils to support a yoga practice is pure bliss. Yes, oils smell lovely, but this is only the beginning. When using Certified pure therapeutic grade oils you are opening yourself and your students up to the entire experience that Essential oils can offer. Each oil holds its own special potency which can have profound effects through uplifting mood, energizing your body, alleviating anxiety, finding peace, calm and another level of depth in your meditation or yoga practice.
Its great to use simple techniques for a holistic experience while practicing yoga. I love using the oils at the start of my classes by breathing in the aromas deeply – this can open the air ways, lift the mood and bring a deeper sense of focus, and also can help to create a feeling of the room coming together. Having Oils of your choice diffusing can offer an incredible feeling for people to walk into, creating a tone or setting an intention in the space. Supporting yourself and students into their yoga bubble can really help them drop into a deeper sense of relaxation and mindfulness. Different oils can also offer a great support for savasana at the end of the practice, again assisting in the relaxation process. I know from my personal experience and seeing my students - relaxation can be a challenging and vulnerable place to be – Essential oils offer this extra support to feel more ease and content with the reality of right now.
I am thrilled and excited to be on this Journey and grateful I am able to share this experience of Essential oils everyday with people! Open yourself up to the abundance around and let life be lived to its greatest raw potential!
Why did I yell at them?
A guide to transforming YOUR Trauma
I want to share my experience and relationship with trauma, a loaded word that can get thrown around in all kinds of situations. I often heard the word trauma and thought it had to be derived from a horrible experience that ruined someones life. Not something that had happened to me of course...
In my opinion there tends to be a societal stigma around the word trauma. The dictionary defines trauma as “a deeply distressing or disturbing experience.” (A little dramatic..?). As if it were reserved for people who had terrible lives, and 'we' must feel sorry for them, then look the other way, because for the rest of us... our lives are fine and we need to get on with things. Yet if we were to admit we had experienced some type of trauma ourselves, everyone is waiting for that BIG story... The word traumatised sets a tone that something or someone is wrong, broken, fragile, weak or shameful (the list could go on).
This is not to undermine people who have experienced severe trauma.
I feel inspired by this topic as there is a golden thread which can potentially lead to great inner healing and the experience of contentment and beauty within each one of us. Of course with a topic of this nature there are going to be contradictions and a need for balance, as with anything in the human experience. I have also seen the topic of trauma taken to the other extreme, where everything appears to be a huge process, as if life itself stops (this to me, comes from a lack of understanding and in a lot of cases spiritual ego – the over inflation with ones sense of struggle and self importance where the process takes priority over everything).
What does trauma look like then...? Amongst all that life throws at us, I believe it to be true that we ALL come from dysfunctional families (not matter what). Humans are dysfunctional. With this in mind, us humans are collecting all sorts of crap from the day we are born (or before). There is nothing wrong with collecting this crap (and it is no ones fault.. especially not your family's), yet it does need to be acknowledged and dealt with (which I will explore later). The experience of traumatic situations continue throughout our lives and tend to be especially bad in times of vulnerability such as personal loss, being bullied, wronged, ignored, disrespected, patronized etc. All types of abuse, including self harm, cause trauma which can be experienced either through your physical body, mental body or emotional body. As these scenarios build up over time they turn into trauma trigger points, which are quite conveniently stored in these bodies to be released at any unknown time.
Let me say here – NOone is broken.
In saying that, being human we all experience trauma, in fact more frequently than we may think. Obviously in varying degrees, yet everything adds up and starts to create some interesting and at times frustrating tendencies and reactions in our daily lives. All these little drops of trauma (our crap) start building up in our emotional, mental and physical bodies. The little drops start accumulating when we are children (thank you Freud), they continue to build up throughout our lives, although as we age these drops coagulate and it becomes a lot more challenging to shake them off.
Being a visual person I like to think of this build up as a pile of dirty dishes, and no one else is there to clean them for you. It gets messy, cluttered and well hard to live in. As time goes on the pile gets bigger, the dirt sticks and the motivation to even open the kitchen door starts to completely disappear! Most of us have a reference point to what this feels like in our daily lives – Now, picture this as your internal landscape... what are we taught to do? What tools are we taught by society to clean our internal dishes?
Image credit: http://www.bobobibi.com
As I have mentioned, trauma collects in our mental, emotional and physical bodies. It manifests and expresses itself in more ways than I will ever know. Trauma hurts, it can breed anger, sadness, guilt, shame, a feeling of overall disgust and even mass rejection (the list could go on). What is felt by the individual is then dealt with by that individual using the tools they have acquired over their lifetime of conditioning (by society, family, peers, school, work etc). Whether you had the 'perfect' upbringing or you came from horrible abuse is irrelevant. The felt experience is the same as trauma is a part of the human experience. This does not mean we *sigh* and say – 'thats just life; now get on with it!' What is that teaching us? Who is that helping?
For the sake of clarity I will refer to what I see as the four main emotional groups, which trauma can fall under – Anger, Sadness, Guilt and Shame. You may experience any one of these, or all of them. This can be the major tool to recognise that you are being triggered. Through awareness we find acceptance, through acceptance we have the opportunity to transform the emotion. I will refer to another four main groups here..
Emotion (dis-ease) - TRANSFORMS - Emotion (ease)
Anger – Strength
Sadness – Courage
Guilt – Acceptance
Shame - Love
One of the common threads I have noticed in my work lately is how much personal trauma can destroy the people around us – therefore looping back and ultimately hurting the individual (whether the interaction is big or small / someone we love or a complete stranger). Say for example, 'George' heads to the market to buy his fresh produce. He asks a stall holder how much the organic carrots are as he cant quite see the sign. The stall holder (after a 'stressful' day) snaps 'Are you stupid?! The price is right in front of you!' George retracts into himself for a moment before responding. He feels hurt and guilty for his mistake. His response will be based on his trigger point at that time. (anger, sadness, guilt or shame). The interaction between George and the stall holder is perceivably unpleasant for both parties. With both of them being triggered in one way or another. If the experience of the trigger is not seen or accepted it will resurface. Whether it be instantly, later that day, or next week they are likely to experience a further reaction of either anger, sadness, guilt or shame. George feels a sense of guilt over the interaction, in seeing this as a triggered feeling rather than a rational reaction he is able to release and transform the emotion. This is not to say don't have emotions, it is teaching us to be pure and present in our emotional states. Own the mistakes, the hurt, and work to transform them through the way you are with yourself and others (clean your dishes). Obviously situations will vary depending on circumstance and what triggers each individual.
Without an ounce of awareness to where this behavior may be coming from, being angry or sad for something that seemed so irrelevant or feeling completely guilty and shameful over what you have done (or who you are) can be a very self destructive space to be in and adds to that pile of dishes. Yet here is your opportunity to become aware of the emotion you are experiencing and ask yourself 'Is this who I am?' Or is it time I tend to some of those dishes? Accept there are dishes to be done, take a deep breath and notice the emotions as they pass through, there is always a deeper thread that allows you to see beyond the reaction you have just had.
Being happy is more aligned with contentment than an outward expression of happiness all the time. Being triggered can be an incredibly powerful process, as with acknowledgment you are allowing the emotion (traumatic experience) to in fact leave your body. There are no set tools for everyone and every situation is going to require different tools. Take time to work out what yours are.
Traditional Meditation is NOT for everyone.
Yes meditation is an amazing tool, when you are in a relatively good place yourself. What happens the rest of the time? Tools for managing the ups and downs of daily living will vary (from individual and throughout ones life). For example - high intensity training, deep breathing, ocean swims, screaming into a pillow, plunging your face into an ice bucket, yoga, running, watching Netflix etc. Find something that is the least destructive to your body, mind and soul. (CAUTION here is where 'addiction' can get its wings). Be real with what actually works for you and start there, start anywhere and over time your tools will refine. The most important aspect is having awareness to the reality that what you are feeling is a trigger from past collected trauma and it will pass. We are looking to keep the inner harmony alive and for you to access that deeper feeling of self love, contentment and understanding. Start to find gratitude for the experiences that are being offered, even through a traumatic situation there will be a point where you are able to see the profound teachings of this experience (again this is not to say what happens to you was 'meant to be', it is giving you the opportunity to release the hurt of trauma and come back to your natural state of ease). This is where we start transforming the emotions (re-wiring our mental and emotional bodies).
Transforming perceived negative emotions into positive ones will be a subtle, sensitive and deeply personal process, there are different ways of doing this some that will work for you and others not so much. (To be clear, emotions are not wrong or right and when I refer to positive and negative – it is merely a guide to help bring you from a state of dis-ease to a state of ease). Look at what the emotions create within you and how this can be felt in a different way (there are always two sides to every coin). For example recognise that in a state of pure anger this could be seen as a raw expression of strength. That deep sadness can be flipped into incredible courage, the fighting feeling of guilt could be settled into understanding and acceptance. The lowest feeling of shame could be softened into love and compassion. It takes patience and a desire to understand ones self, this process can be happening at any time, in any activity – look at yourself, your reactions, what upsets you, where you find peace and why. Start to merge, integrate and lead yourself back to a feeling of wholeness.
The reason I believe this can help is because once we recognise the reality of what being human is, we can equip ourselves with the tools to truly be the best versions of ourselves. Life is hard enough, no one is without challenges – understanding we all experience trauma to some degree gives us the freedom to see it and move through it with ease, as well as cultivating compassion in our hearts for the people around us. Bringing awareness into our lives to the past, present and future trauma that may take place, we are able to observe, express and move on with the great honor of living!