I'm often asked what books on yoga I've really enjoyed and which ones I'd recommend to others. Here is a list of some of my favourites (recently updated):
1. The Heart of Yoga - T.K.V. Desikachar
The Heart of Yoga is the first 'yoga book' I picked up, it quite literally blew my mind wide open. Within this text I found a well explained distillation of this extensive practice called yoga. This book systematically breaks down the steps for developing a complete well rounded practice. It was this book that planted the seed of undertaking yoga teacher training.
2. The Yama's and Niyama's - Deborah Adele
The book explores yoga's ethical codes (or guidelines) in a western context that can be easily understood. It also includes a number of contemplation points and exercises that can be used as a fantastic tool for self awareness. I have read this book more times that I can count, and it's always one of the first that I recommend for anybody serious about going beyond the asana with their practice.
3. The Radiance Sutra's - Lorin Roche
This book based on meditation techniques beautifully expands on a text called the Vijnana Bhairava Tantra. It contains 112 sutra's (or aphorisms) that are so beautifully worded that it had me transfixed at first read. I read this one from cover to cover in just a few sittings. I find myself going back to this book often.
4. How Yoga Works - Michael Roach
This is a beautiful fiction book that tells the story of how yoga spread to Tibet from India over a thousand years ago. It's a very easy read and a wonderful introduction to the philosophy of yoga.
5. Science of Breath - Swami Rama, Rudolph Ballentine & Alan Hymes
Are you too fascinated by the breath? If so this book is a must read. Both western and eastern perspectives are explored side by side to give a comprehensive picture of how our breath works and the impact it has upon body and mind. It covers everything from the role of the little hairs in your nose to techniques for moving prana into sushumna.
6. The Bhagavad Gita - Winthrop Sargeant
I've read numerous translations of the Gita over the years but this one is the one I regularly return to. I really love the simple translations and the clear easy to follow format. In the beginning of the book you can also find a large exposition of the characters and the context behind the epic battle.
7. The Yoga Sutra's of Patanjali - Swami Satchidananda
For anyone looking to to go beyond asana then this is a great place to start, the yoga sutras. In this book the Sutras are presented in Sanskrit with translation, transliteration, and then commentary. It's not the easiest read but it's a book that you will pick up many times in your lifetime understanding a little more each time.
8. Myths of the Asanas: The Ancient Origins of Yoga - Alanna Kaivalya
Have you ever wondered why the splits position is called Hanumanasana, or where the name Warrior came from in the yoga poses? This is a great book explaining the mythology behind the yoga postures. This is another one that I read cover to cover in only a few sittings.
9. Asana, Pranayama, Bandha, Mudra - Swami Satyananda Saraswati
This book is best described as a practice manual, it provides comprehensive descriptions of the practices including technique, contra-indications and benefits. This is a great reference manual for any teacher or practitioner.
10. The Complete Guide to Yin Yoga: The Philosophy and Practice of Yin Yoga - Bernie Clark
A fantastic introduction to yin yoga and a great practice manual. In this book Bernie explains the origins of yin yoga, the philosophy behind it and the benefits. Several of the poses are detailed, however the focus in primarily on the lower (yin part) body.
11. Wheels of Life: A User's Guide to the Chakra System - Anodea Judith
I found this book to be a great, practical, easy to understand read about the energetic centres in the body (chakras). It provides a simple quiz to identify your dominant and less strong chakras along with tools (meditation and yoga) to bring more balance.
12. Yoga & Ayurveda - David Frawley
This one is a real gem, another one of my regular reference guides. I really love how this book sets the context for practice by outlining Samkhya Philosophy in a clear easy way to follow. Key yoga concepts are explained with great clarity. So many important concepts for a wholistic understanding of yoga are contained within this text. It is a little dense in places and won't be easy to completely assimilate but not many yoga texts are! Can't recommend this one highly enough for anyone seeking the broader context of yoga practice.
13. Inner Engineering: A Yogi's Guide to Joy - Sadhguru
I can't recall too much of this book other than I thought it was great at the time! This book is all about awakening your own inner intelligence. Sadhguru is a great story teller, he has a real knack for making things that would normally be incomprehensible easy to understand. I've read a number of his books and this one was by far the best.
14. The Secret of the Yoga Sutra Samadhi Pada - Pandit Rajmani Tigunait
I've been through the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali many of times but it was this text that really started to bring the teachings to life. Within this book Pandit Rajamani shares the hidden teachings behind the Sutras.
15. Yoga Mat Companion Series - Ray Long, MD
I've picked up a number of books on anatomy and yoga but for me, this was the one that I found most easy to understand. It has lot's of great colour pictures that help to clearly demonstrate concepts. I also love that that each individual posture is broken down and explained in detail along with tips on cues to give to help students experience the posture.
16. Ayurveda: The Science of Self Healing: A Practical Guide - Vasant Lad
This is one of the best books that I've picked up to date on the science of Ayurveda. I found it to be well presented and easy to understand. It covers topics such as the origins of Ayurveda, basic principles, diagnosis, treatment and diet.
This one is not a book, it's a DVD, but I believe all yoga teachers should watch this:
17. Anatomy for Yoga - Paul Grilley
This DVD really gave me a deep appreciation for just how much bone variation there can be from person to person and how this impacts on one's ability to achieve the textbook yoga pose. As a teacher I feel that this was probably the most important part of all of my training/study.
Other books that aren't strictly yoga but great reads:
18. The Desire Map - Danielle La Porte
I was introduced to Danielle's work around goals and core desired feelings only a few months ago and immediately I connected to what she had to share. This is a really really good book and a practice manual around how to create 'goals with souls'. It's a great tool of self enquiry and tool for getting clear on direction.
19. Freedom from the Known - Jiddu Krishnamurti
Krishnamurti has a real knack for prompting you to question everything you think you know/believe. I've read a few of his books but this was my favourite. The key theme of this one is finding your own path rather than following expectations of others. It's presented as a collection of talks in question/answer format.
20. Tao Te Ching - Derek Lin
This was the first book that I read on the philosophical Chinese tradition of Taoism. It's similar to the yoga and radiance sutra's in that it contains a number of passages from the original text that have the interpreted and explained by the author. This book poetically brings together spirituality, nature, and duality (the extremes in life) and is a really beautiful read.
Let's talk about the word 'change'. Does it excite you or scare you? Perhaps you have a different relationship to the word.
For me, personally I don't fear change; I openly invite it where it provides the opportunity to move deeper into my own being and experience of life. I'm a seeker, always have been, always will be.
But here's the thing with seekers, they are constantly learning and growing and as this happens we are frequently being invited to re-assess where we are; and where we are headed.
Change is inevitable; it's truly the only thing that is guaranteed in life. The thing that causes our pain and suffering is our resistance towards it.
Radical change is not new to me; I gave up a well built engineering career with a triple figure salary to become a yoga teacher earning next to nothing. I built up a whole business, invested everything I had into it and when I realised it wasn't what I expected, I dissolved it and started again from scratch. When I realised I wasn't happy living where I was, I simply got in the car and drove north looking for a new home. Life is just too short and precious to live it unhappily, full of regrets. I'd rather sit in gut wrenching vulnerability and fear of not being able to support myself than push a wagon that doesn't feel aligned with my soul.
I see growth and pursuing new learnings as part of my responsibility as a yoga teacher and educator. If I don't evolve, continue to practice and study, then how can I help my students to grow?
And, if I found a better way, a more effective means of moving towards the ultimate goal of yoga then I have a responsibility to share it, right??
So this is where I've found myself over the last 12 months, in a period of radical change really re-assessing the way I practice and share yoga.
Why walk away from packed out sweaty power yoga classes that lots of people loved?
Well here is the unfiltered truth and reality of it....
That style of practice hasn't served me for a long time, I just don't practice in that way anymore and on the rare occasion that I do, it's more for fun rather than part of my spiritual practice.
Yet I found myself teaching in that way to meet other people's expectations and because well, the room was often packed and feedback was great, people love it, my ego loved it!
It got to the point where I couldn't preach and share something that wasn't working for me. They say there is a honeymoon period with yoga practice, the first few years are awesome, we are exponentially growing and learning, life is getting better, and we start to feel amazing.
But then there is a time where we plateau, it might be after 1-2 years if might be 5, but we start to question what it's all about, where is it really taking us? At this point, we either walk away from it or start looking deeper...
For many years now I've understood clearly that to move forward and advance in our practice is to move towards deeper and deeper states of meditation, all of the great philosophical texts point us in this direction. For a long time I was happy to skip meditation, or make it a really casual affair, I was practicing largely physical ego /pursuit driven yoga.
A few years ago, in recognition of the importance of meditation I made a commitment to meditate every day for a year. I went through with it, didn't skip a day, but here's the thing. In that 365 days, I rarely if ever touched the depth of what I now know to be meditation.
Then I was introduced to Tantric Hatha Yoga and really started to dive into the energetics of practice and a more systematic approach to moving towards deeper states of meditation, the physical practice became all about preparing for the meditation. It was only then that I really started to understand why all the fuss about meditation. I also started to really appreciate how the structure of a practice can impact upon the quality of mind/body, the results are repeatable because it is in fact a science. No guess work, you do a, b and c and you will get d. This was ground breaking for me.
While I always had a structure to my classes; they were based upon physical outcomes, or a philosophical teaching that I was trying to impart. Now I have a series of tools that get even deeper into our being, a way to reach what lies beyond the physical. The benefits of these practices linger for hours and give me more clarity and energy, it's a very different feeling in savasana dropping into spacious awareness as opposed to exhaustion.
I know within my heart that the way I'm practicing and teaching now, is far more likely to move students towards the ultimate goal of yoga. So with that said, how could I go back???
It's not the popular choice, this yoga is hard, it's gritty and it's not really for entertainment or fun. It's for spiritual growth, for systematically peeling away those layers that keep us from realising our true self, our innate potential.
I know it's unlikely that I'll fill rooms sharing this style of practice (especially in the early days) but I'm okay with that. It aligns with my soul and my desire to be the most potent, effective teacher that I can be (even if that that means a significant drop in cashflow).
Importantly, please don't think that I'm knocking hot sweaty, fast paced classes here, they are needed and really important as a stepping stone into the world of yoga, just like Bikram Yoga and maybe even Goat Yoga. Whatever, gets you in the door and starts you on your path. All is valid. I'm not for a minute saying that my style of yoga is better, I'm just saying that this is what works for me right now and I have to share what feels authentic and true.
This change has been in the works for over 12 months now; it was only my own insecurities and fear that held me back from pulling the trigger. The Covid-19 isolation has been a blessing, it's been like a practice immersion period for me which is so important for my own growth and development. It also created the perfect line in the sand, a time to move on to whatever waits on the other side.
When all of the restrictions break I won't be returning back to my previous studio teaching positions. I will however continue to lead the 200Hr Yoga Teacher Training Program at Zenko Yoga. It's been an incredible 4.5 years at Zenko; I can't believe that I've taught over 1000 hours of classes from those lovely studios. I'm eternally grateful for the opportunity to be part of the Zenko teaching group and community and will never forget the day I first walked in and met Lauren or those rocking 9.30am Monday classes at Buddina!
As for the future at Bodhi Body, only time will tell.
This little birdy's wings are expanding again and it's time to leave the nest so they can continue to grow. In terms of what am I going to do from here, honestly I don't know....
I know I'll continue my new found love affair with practice, and I will get back to teaching on the Sunshine Coast sometime soon. For now I'm happy to sit in the void, because I know this is where the magic arises from.
Google…ahh the very word sounds like music to my ears. I love that within a few seconds we can find ‘answers’ to pretty much any questions that we can imagine. How did we survive before the invention of the world wide web?
I’m so guilty of relying on Dr Google for almost everything. Got something funky going on with my body, I’ll just type in a few symptoms and diagnose myself. Looking for inspiration, I’ll type a few key words and add ‘inspiring quote’ to the end of it. Need a yoga studio in a town I’m visiting, look it up and I'll get all the info I need. Want to get from Point A to B, yep plug that info in, talk to me phone and your every wish is my command.
This is a really awesome thing, often very helpful but lately I’m starting to question the value of having so much information available at our fingertips.
Firstly, anyone can post stuff on the internet, you don’t need to be a respected authority, you don’t even need to have half a clue what you are talking about, you can publish that stuff and it’s out there in the world for everybody to see.
Secondly, often you’ll find so many answers to your question that they will contradict one another, who is right and who is wrong. Often we choose the one that works best for us, not necessarily the ultimate reality, just the one we want to hear, sound familiar?
On top of all of that we often don’t get the complete picture. Every human body is unique, every situation is unique, there is no one size fits all, how can we ever fully encompass and address the diversity that lies in front of us…
In some regards information can be really damaging, particularly when we don’t have the discernment to see if for exactly what it is, in many cases it’s just an ‘opinion’.
Here are a few recent experiences of mine that have got me pondering about the value of so much information readily available to us.
Exhibit A - Carpet Stains
I messed up my carpet with a small patch of coffee coconut water that had leaked in my bag. Went straight to Dr Google to find out what to do, after consulting multiple sites and following the instructions perfectly I attempted to fix the stain, only the suggested remedies made it worse. So what next, call in an expert. Turns out I did all the wrong things and made the situation way worse than it needed to be - an expensive mistake. Lesson learnt.
My advice here go straight to the person who does it for a living, not the random person who made a little boo boo on their carpet, picked up some household products, decided to film their handy work and magically made it disappear. While people have good intentions in sharing this information, every case is unique and different (what type of carpet you have, now long the spill has been there etc) and its not always a one size fits all approach.
Exhibit B - Advice on how to practice/teach yoga
Every now and then an article comes up in my news feed that catches my attention ’10 Alignment Cues you should stop using’ ‘how to stabilise the shoulders in chaturanga’, the list goes on an on. Ever notice how you click on one and then all of a sudden all you are seeing is similar stuff come up in your news feed ?
I often click on them and have a read, I’m always looking to deepen my knowledge and teach more effectively, but in the last few weeks I’ve come to see how contradictory all the information out there can be. Open up one article and its telling me that jumping back to plank is a good practice, very next article says never jump back to plank. We are overloaded with information, one yoga school teaches it one way, the next teaches it completely different, what’s right and what’s wrong?
In the ancient tradition of yoga where the practice was passed down from guru to disciple the information was handed down directly, there was little room for mis-interpretation. Even going back to how Krishnamacharya taught yoga, he was very clear in saying that it must be tailored to the individual. So why is it now that we have this blanket sets of rules that are designed to be applied to everyone?
I recall a great quote from a recent training that went something along the lines of ‘the one thing you need to be most wary of is the person that claims they are 100% right, they are almost certainly going to be wrong’. The more I study the more I come to realise that I don’t really know anything for sure. While something might work for 95% of people there is always going to be the 5% exception.
Getting to the Truth of Things
I subscribe to the theory that no one philosophy or teaching is 100% complete or correct. We need to find our own truth and live/teach according to that. But how do we do that?
In the Yoga Sutra’s of Patanjali we are told that there are three ways to gain more correct knowledge. These are though:
Many yoga traditions advise that direct experience is the path to true knowledge, wisdom and spiritual growth. In other words you need to be your own guru.
I'll use the example of jumping back to plank and establishing whether that is a good or bad thing, how do we get to the truth of that?
Well firstly, don’t blindly accept the advice you are receiving, go do it, see how it feels, film yourself doing it, does it look strongly supported/safe? What happens around the core/lower back?
Then get a few friends with different levels of experience to do it, or observe people doing it in a mixed level yoga class. Does it look safe/strong/supported?
Based on what you know from your study and what you have just learnt observed, how would you safely instruct this transition? What are you trying to achieve? Do you really just want people to go from standing to a plank position, does the jump add any value?
Find the truth that works for you based on your training and personal experience and if needed seek the advice of teachers that you respect and trust. But most importantly recognise that every one of your students is a unique being, what works for one might not work for the next. If you have asked them to straighten their arms 3 times and its still not happening, don’t think its because they aren’t listening/trying, have a discussion with them to find out what they are feeling, give them alternatives and a way to practice that is safe for them.
In the case of carpet stains, or that niggling injury that won’t go away. We don’t really want to mess about with home remedies if we don’t really know what we are dealing with (just to learn from direct experience), there is too much at stake. This is where we consult with a respected authority and as much as I hate to say it, I really don’t think Google is a respected authority.
I don't think the amount of information out there is the issue, I think it's more our filters that are somewhat broken. Many of us are disconnected to ourselves, we've forgotten how to feel into our bodies and discern for ourselves what does and doesn't work for us. We are often looking outside of ourselves for answers simply because it seems like the easy way out.
Seeking the easy way out really neglects the work that develops true wisdom and will also prevent us from fully experiencing what is on offer to us in every moment.
I choose to be my own guru, I have nothing but love and the utmost respect for all my teachers. I'm grateful for all the information that's out there in the world and I will forever be thankful for goggle. However, I know that all of this is nothing more than a guide, it's my responsibility to find my own path and what rings true to me and the best way I've found so far to do that, is to give it a test run for myself.
I'll never tell you that my way is the right way, I can only tell you why it works for me. Maybe if we all acknowledged that every single one of us on this planet has their own unique truth and nobody is right and nobody is wrong there would be a little more love and respect and less war.
That's a perfect little lead in for me to finish off and share one of my favourite Sanksrit words.
Svarupa - the shape of your soul. Your own condition, character, nature. Wise, learned.
Following is a piece that I randomly wrote one day and shared post Savasana in our 'Unveiling the Soul' live piano yoga flow workshop.
Welcome to earth…
You are here because this experience has been called in by your soul, there is work here for you to do.
Your job here on Earth is to experience love, to discover your passions, and to unveil all the layers that have been preventing your soul from shining bright.
There will be many distractions along the way, life here on earth is not easy.
Don’t get trapped into thinking there can be anything other than this moment right now, this is where the magic lies.
You may get caught up in thinking that you need to acquire more possessions to fit in with this society, remember that your presence is one of the greatest gifts that you can give. More stuff does not equal more happiness, the key to your ever expanding joy lies in uncovering your souls greatest desire.
This may at times feel like an impossible task, but you must relentlessly continue and stay true to the path. When you lose your way, come back to the self, spend time in nature admiring this beautiful planet and close your eyes and simply come back to that place within where you find peace. It is is these moments where you will find the clarity that you seek.
Once you get to the depth of your soul and you understand it’s shape, and form spend the time to get to know it intimately. This is your gift, your purpose, your dharma. This is where your work truly begins.
Those things that awaken the depth of your being and make you shine bright, these are the things you need to be sharing with this world. Make no apologies for this profound joy once you have discovered it, make it your mission to share it in any way that you can, this what this planet needs from you.
During your time here you are also responsible for caring for our mother earth, ensuring that she is nourished, protected and healthy so that future generation can all enjoy this beautiful journey.
You also must nourish yourself, take the ‘human being’ thing literally, don’t get caught up in thinking that you need to be a ‘human doing’ you will see a lot of that here on this planet.
Now is your time to discover your true essence, your soul is waiting for you to unveil all those layers of past, so that it can shine to it’s greatest potential. This is your gift to the world, time to shine.
Smile, seriously, let the corners of your mouth rise because this is a beautiful thing.
A yoga practice that invokes any emotion is an opportunity to learn more about ourselves, to go deeper. Whether it be joy, sadness, anger on anything between that we experience on the mat, relish these moments.
I haven't held a sustained period of being pissed off, angry and judgmental in a yoga class for a really long time, by no means is this because yoga has made me impermeable to it, I just haven't had the opportunity to be really pushed and challenged physically in class for a little while.
Today I attended a Power Yoga class that really pushed my buttons. It's a class that is well known to be strong and challenging, I'd never been before so was looking forward to getting in there and experiencing it for myself.
I made the rookie error of having a coffee before practice, while this has been a previous ritual for me here in Bali, clearly it doesn't work for me anymore! Even a few hours afterwards I was still feeling the affects. I arrived nice and early, looking forward to some time to ground myself and meditate. I soon found this just wasn't going to happen, the energy in the room was erratic (we'd call it ragistic in yoga), dance music was playing and people were jumping around like jacks in boxes, perhaps they'd all had a coffee too!
I'd already been triggered, all the activity and noise around me was disturbing my planned peace.
The class began in Tadasana (mountain pose) followed by a few rounds of slow Sun Salutation A, a few rounds of slow Sun Salutation B, a forward fold and them bam....we were in it - my mind hit flip out mode!
Next up Bakasana (crane pose) -> Jump Back Vinyasa -> Jump though Navasana (boat pose) -> Jump Back Vinyasa -> Pincha Mayurasana (forearm balance) -> Vinyasa and repeat like 5 times!!!
Immediately my mind started freaking out, 'what's going on here', 'I'm not even warmed or opened up', 'can this really be happening, 'we haven't even spoken about a rest option'?
This was at the superficial level of my mind, what was really going on was much deeper. I was struggling.
Pincha Mayurasana has always been a pose I found challenging in the middle of a room in a class, it's not lack of ability/strength, it's lack of confidence/trust. I've practiced it a lot recently and started to get pretty comfortable but not in this seemingly crazy rushed way of practicing. I was frustrated, disappointed that it wasn't working for me today, so what happened next, human nature took hold, I was looking somewhere outside of myself to lay blame.
In a yoga class this is often silently directed towards the teacher (that's where my mind went today). In reality it's always our own stuff that's coming up when we feel provoked, whether it be on the mat or not. These feelings/emotions never have anything to do with anybody else, it's only our perception of what's taking place that causes the angst or stress, we can always choose to not associate with the negativity and choose a different emotion (although this takes a lot of work and awareness)!.
I like to think of our yoga mats as nothing but a large mirror that reflects back to us whatever is going on inside, this is why yoga has such a profound ability to initiate deep change, it shows us our patterns and behaviours and offers a safe environment to start making conscious changes.
The class went on to include more Pincha Mayurasana than I've ever experienced before. I think it took around 7 unsuccessful attempts for me to re-direct the craziness of my mind away from the teacher and back towards myself. It was at this point that I came to a more objective place, approaching with a little more self love and recognising that yes it probably was not working because I've been doing 3+ hours of yoga a day for the last 5 days, this was perhaps my bodies way of telling me that it's a little tired. I was also seeing that getting frustrated and continually trying to get into it was counter productive and wasn't getting me anywhere.
Further challenges kept coming and the class just felt like one big rollercoaster, moving from anger, to fun, to challenge and everything in between. I won't even go into where my mind went when we held hanumanasana (the full splits) for a seriously long time, it's one of my least favourite poses! The teacher did say the way to break through in that pose is to literally break down, I think that's the angle we were headed towards today.
While I spent a lot of the class in emotions of being frustrated, angry, tired and pissed off it's probably one of the best classes I've taken in a while! I loved the opportunity to again experience where my mind goes in times of stress, to learn a little bit more about myself. It was also really nice to reflect and see how yoga has given me the tools to let that shit go, by the time we got to savasana I was back in the yoga bliss bubble, grateful for the experience.
Not so long ago I recall having those negative emotions on a repeat loop, often they would extend for days and days at a time. I was seemingly incapable of letting stuff go, there were literally some emotions that I carried with me for years!
Perhaps for me the greatest gift of yoga has been the enhanced awareness, the ability to objectively look at the crazy stuff that goes on my head, and let the shit go that no longer serves me. It's also allowed me to be more discerning with what is, and isn't real.
I invite the challenge, those classes that invoke emotion, the ones that make me feel raw, vulnerable, pissed off, inadequate - these are the classes where the real magic happens. As the saying goes "if it doesn't challenge you it doesn't change you".
So what are you waiting for, find something that challenges you, go into the depth of your discomfort, allow yourself to be pissed off in class, to feel the emotion. Don't worry the teacher won't care if you are shooting daggers in their direction or quietly cursing them beneath your breath, they will be smiling on the inside because they know this work is where some of the greatest benefits of the practice can be found.
Stress (a state of mental or emotional tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances) is something that many of us know all to well. The list of potential triggers or stressors are endless; demanding schedules, financial pressures, work overload, family/relationship situations, traumatic events, expectations we place on ourselves - the list goes on and on,
For some a low grade application of stress can be an effective tool for focusing the mind and getting things done, for me personally some of my best work has been produced when a little stress was applied, It helped me to be more focused and effective with my time, arguably it also helped with my athletic pursuits. However, there is a point where it can all go too far and the level of stress becomes so overwhelming that we can no longer effectively function; our health, wellbeing and relationships all begin to suffer. Like all things it's a very fine line to walk.
When I reflect on my life 5 years ago it's pretty clear to see that I was a stress junkie, I thrived when I felt challenged. I held the belief that it was a good thing to have a schedule with little to no empty space. The stressors were largely coming from my job as a consulting engineer (managing projects that were well outside my level of comfort and taking on more responsibility that I was ready for) and the really high expectations I'd placed on myself across all aspects of life.
Coming to the present day it seems like everything has changed, compared to where I was 5 years ago I feel extremely resilient to stressful situations. I'm a much calmer, relaxed well-balanced version of my former self yet still have the ability to really focus my mind and get things done without the need of a stressor or a pressing deadline to get me there.
It's completely clear to me that it's my time on my yoga mat that has taught me how to stress less. On a regular basis I see how my bodies response to stress has changed. As a stressful situation arises I watch my breath automatically deepen, after a few big deep breaths the feeling passes, often with no reaction. I've also observed that with a high grade application of stress over an extended period I'm able to remain focused but not overwhelmed, during a stressful period I can still see that I am the most important part of the equation and that caring for myself comes before resolving whatever the situation may be, something that I had no concept of 5 years ago.
Science tells us that yoga is really good for us, that it reduces stress, anxiety and helps with depression, here is a brief explanation of how it actually works:
We have an Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) within our body that is responsible for maintaining constant conditions, otherwise known as a state of homeostasis. The ANS has two divisions, the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) and sympathetic nervous system (SNS), these work together like a see-saw assisting us with responding to day to day life. The PNS can be considered as our resting or base state.
When we experience a stressful situation by default our SNS is activated, our body goes into 'fight or flight' mode and is filled with hormones such as cortisol. You will notice that when this response is strongly triggered we tend to breathe high up into our chest, it's that big gasp of breath we take into the chest and hold as we assess our next course of action. As the cortisol (and other stress hormones) begin to flood through the body our senses are heightened, our heart rate and blood pressure increase and the brain’s activity becomes focused. Our blood is pushed towards our limbs, we are alert and primed to fight, or take flight by running away.
For those of us who experience extended periods in stressful conditions (also think environmental stresses such as bright lights, loud noises) our SNS can begin to predominate creating imbalance in the body and a wide range of ill affects.
When we practice yoga* through our breath we activate the PNS, this is responsible for the' rest and digest' functions in the body. We also reduce our levels of cortisol and increase the levels of a neurotransmitter called GABA, this inhibits the stress response in the body.
With continued yoga practice we strengthen our PNS and minimise the bodies tendency to activate the SNS. We also learn how to control our response to stress through mindfulness and our breath. You could think of our breath as a switch, one that has the ability to flip between the ‘fight or flight’ response and the ‘rest and digest’ response. The breath technique Kapalbhati will activate the SNS while Full Yogic Breathing will active the PNS.
When we practice skilfully responding to stress (physical postures) using mindfulness and breath we begin to rewire the brain so that our skilful response becomes an ingrained automatic response. We therefore build our resilience to stress and as a consequence become less stressed, healthier versions of ourselves.
Not convinced that we can rewire out brains and automatic responses? Then check out this TED talk, one of my all time favourites.
*gentle breath-based vinyasa flow and practices with slow controlled diaphragmatic breathing. Some practices such as hot and power yoga will intentionally activate the SNS to induce a greater state of relaxation and deeper PNS response at the end of class.
2. The Concise Human Body Book (Steve Parker)
While here in Mysore I’m doing two yoga classes a day. The morning practice is at least 2hrs of Mysore style Ashtanga. This is a strong practice that follows a set sequence that is very much the same day in, day out. It’s done independently with everyone in the room moving in time with their own breath. The only thing that changes each day is how I approach it.
In the afternoon I attend a flexibility and back bending class. This is 1hr 45mins and also follows a set sequence for a while; then individual postures are given. This is a class I felt really drawn to, it’s an area I know I have lots of potential for growth. In each class I’m taken to my physical limit, to that point of discomfort where you don’t know how much more you can take.
Every time I step onto the mat here I’m confronted with the same challenges, the poses where I feel seemingly stuck. There is no escaping these postures, they are there waiting for me each and every class but I have a choice – to truly work on them, or to avoid it just brushing over the surface.
I came here to work, to break though some of those physical and mental blocks so most days, unless I’m flat out exhausted, I do the work.
It’s the same things I face repeatedly – lack of confidence, doubt and trust.
What translates on the mat reflects in life #truth
As I began really contemplating this today I started to see the link to injuries and relationships – yes yoga links to pretty much everything if you think deeply enough on it.
I had lots of confidence in my wrists; I was fearless throwing my weight into them however I pleased… until I hurt them. Similarly, I was totally open to love, fearless, until I got hurt a couple of times…
Then after hurt comes fear, what if I get hurt again?
Through my practice I’ve come to see lots of irrational fear and protection over my wrist, things I’ve been avoiding in case I hurt it again. All this does is further solidify the fear, causing stagnation and a slowing of growth into full potential. Has this pattern of hurt followed by fear translated into my life off the mat…to relationships…even if only unconsciously? While it’s hard to admit, I think the answer would have to be a yes.
So how to we overcome this?
My strategy has been to use my body as a vehicle and the yoga practice as a tool.
Rather than going for practices that I typically do at home, those that play to my strengths, I seek out practices that really challenge me. Each day here I put myself in a position where I have the opportunity to work on areas that I feel could be strengthened.
The arm balance transitions during the ashtanga practice teach me to again trust my wrists, to have faith that I won’t hurt them again, to adapt where required and to move mindfully. Handstands in the middle of a full room teach me to have confidence in my ability outside of my house (it’s silly but I have no trouble with this at home but really struggle when I step outside). The drop-backs (standing position to floor backbend) tackle fear for me in the most confronting way possible. For me there is nothing scarier than falling backwards in the hope that my hands find the ground and not my head!
As for the back-bending practice, well that whole practice is opening up totally new realms for me. It’s taking me places my body has never been, it’s causing lots of physical discomfort and pushing me into the space of vulnerability and openness constantly.
I’ll say it again…
What happens on the mat, translates into life.
If we repeat anything frequently enough, it becomes a new way of being.
Do I get bored doing pretty much the same practice every day?
Absolutely, but again this is something that I feel is needed in my life, I normally have so much freedom and choice. This practice is something that I commit to unconditionally for 2 months, it’s the challenge of showing up even when I don’t feel like it, when my body is aching/tired and the creative part of my yoga self feels like it’s dying.
More and more I come to see that it’s not at all about the postures, the real story and magic lies beneath the surface. It’s everything that’s taken place to make that expression of the pose possible.
I’m seeing that in many postures it’s not my body that is holding me back; it’s my mind.
As I break through these mental barriers the seemingly impossible postures just come, almost naturally.
Don’t get me wrong, physical limitations still play a hugely significant role and there are loads of postures where all the positive thinking in the world will not get me there. In this case though I continue moving in that direction completely content with non textbook looking yoga postures because I know that beneath that posture is a whole lot of work and more progress than will ever be seen by the observer.
Take this as an example; here is a picture of the physical progress of my Urdva Dhanurasana (wheel pose) over the last 3 years:
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Initially what you may notice is that my feet and hands are slowly but surely getting closer together, my back is bending more. What these picture don’t convey is what’s taken place to get me to this point. The struggles, the tears, the ‘this pose is hell on a stick’ phase, the ‘avoidance’ phase, the changes to my overall posture, the change in my physical and non-physical openness, the change in my ability to surrender, to be vulnerable. As my body opens, my mind opens, for those of you who know me well you have probably also noticed this over the last 3 years.
Yoga is so much more than a physical practice; with a little dedication there is so much to be gained.
I encourage you to step onto your mat recognising that it is a training ground, a mirror for life, bring your awareness to the mat and see what comes up!
Many yoga traditions observe full and new moon as a rest day from physical practice. For a long time I had no idea why, then one day my curiosity got the best of me and I decided to look at it in some detail.
Interestingly humans contain 45 – 73 % water with babies having higher water content. Similarly around 71% of the earth is covered by water. During the full moon (sun and moon in opposition) and new moon (sun and moon in conjunction) the gravitational forces are combined resulting in a higher than normal gravitational force being applied to the earth, this gives greater extremes in the ocean tides.
Although many scientific studies suggest that the gravitational force only acts on open bodies of water, and not the closed system that is our body, many people still believe that the full moon does make us a little crazy.
A number of scientific studies have found links to the moon cycles and human/animal behaviour although there seems to be much debate as to whether it is a true scientific phenomenon or just a placebo affect.
Regardless here are some interesting findings from published studies:
The 29.5 day moon cycle is also in accord with the average human menstrual cycle. It's said that this is the best-known example of the way our bodies (over millions of years of evolution) have synchronised with the rhythms of the moon.
Image Source: www.timeanddate.com
The yogis didn't base their moon day rest period on any current western science, as far as I understand it the practice was carried over by Pattabhi Jois (the founder of Ashtanga Yoga) who was a student and later a professor at the Sanskrit College in Mysore. At this college they did not teach students on the full moon and new moon days, it was believed that the children simply didn't learn well on these days, particularly new concepts. When Pattabhi Jois began teaching yoga he carried over this rest period which has since been adopted by many other teachers and yoga lineages.
Like all things it's completely subjective, the best way to draw a conclusion, look objectively at your own personal experiences and see if you have any correlations with the moon cycle.
In general it's said that during the full moon we can feel more energised, have more stamina – this can lead to injury. Our emotions are amplified, a little anger can escalate to a lot of anger and a little happiness can easily increase to extreme happiness. We can become more sensitive to details.
The full moon is a great time for manifesting and making progress toward our goals.
The new moon is said to bring a sense of calmness and it's a time where we can feel quite grounded and low on energy. The new moon with its darkness is like a blank canvas, a time that feels more void/empty, a great time for clearing house and setting intentions.
Through my own personal experience I have no doubt that certain phases of the moon have a tangible impact on me. I’m full of energy around the full moon. Looking back over the last 3 years, I’ve been injured twice around the full moon from simply overdoing it. This has been a great lesson for me, I now follow the moon cycle and either take full rest on the moon days or do a more gentle flow or yin class.
My sleep is also impacted by the full moon, the last full moon here in India was no exception. It was an extreme case with lots of restlessness and around 2 hours less sleep than normal, despite following my usual routine.
During the new moon I have a tendency to become more reflective and withdrawn. This is a time where I generally like to be alone and spend more time sitting, reading, reflecting, and journaling.
Are you curious as to whether the moon cycle plays a role in your life?
Why not add the moon cycle to your calendar/journal and take note how you feel on days of the full and new moon, you might be surprised to see some common themes. It' said that their energetic influence extends a few days before and after the moon.
If you use Google calendar there is a cool add on in 'Other Calendars' called 'Phases of the Moon' that you can overlay.
If you have any interesting revelations then please feel free to share.
Today as I pondered my upcoming trip to India I had this strange excitement come over me, it was that feeling of being excited to go home. This got me thinking, how is it that going overseas feels like coming home? I'm sure it's not the backpack wardrobe, the uncomfortable beds or the challenge of not being able to achieve simple things in a timely manner, so what could it be?
I did the math and to my surprise in the last 3 years (since making the decision to leave the corporate world) I've spent almost 50% of my time overseas, mostly in Bali and India. The longest stretch I've been home for was 8 months. No wonder I'm confused about where home is!
Each time I've returned to Australia its been with the thought 'this will be my last trip for a long time, I'm ready to settle, I should throw away that old backpack, it won't make it through another trip', yet here I am once again with a plane ticket, that same old backpack and a visa for India in my hand.
All of my trips in the last 3 years have revolved around yoga, each one has been a deep inward journey, the type where you are constantly working on yourself, observing, learning and growing. What can I say I love the work and being immersed in the practice!
In the last 3 years, yoga has literally become my life. It's now far more than a hobby, its my grounding, it's my job and pretty much everything I do somehow links to it.
I'm in this yoga thing 24/7 and if I'm to be honest at times it's hard to switch it off, to find that division between my own personal practice and what I'm putting out there as a teacher.
When back here in Australia I often find myself moving through my own personal practice only to find a cool sequence of poses that I feel the need to write down, to share. I'm taking myself out of that personal experience to put my teacher hat back on. In this dual role, I spend less time in my yoga zone connecting with my innermost self.
When I'm fully immersed in my personal practice, living and breathing it without thinking about how I will share it, I feel most at home, deeply connected to the internal and external worlds.
They say that 'home is where the heart is', overseas feels like home to me because this is where I allow myself the space for my heart to be free, to connect deeply with what I'm passionate about, the practice and teachings of yoga. I get to selfishly absorb myself in the practice, to live it and breathe it, day in day out.
By no means is it always a walk in the park, often its really hard work looking that deeply but on the other side of the struggle is always that feeling of knowing myself more intimately that I did before, that deeper connection to the self, the place where home resides.
I have no idea when it happened, but recently I came to realise that I've developed a really deeply rooted connection to my yoga practice, something that I struggle describe to others, a feeling that I can't seem to put the right words around. The best description that I can give is that it feels like I became yoga, like there is no longer a separation between the practice and myself.
Today I was in a class where one of my teachers was raising the same question, what is the difference between 'doing' yoga and 'being' yoga and how do you describe what yoga is to somebody who is curious without scaring them off?
It seems that this is a common occurrence, when we practice consistently for long enough we start to become the practice, applying the principles as an unconscious reaction.
I can't help but laugh at myself when I think of all the ways that has yoga crept into my day to day life, so I thought I'd make a short list.
You know you are "living' yoga not 'doing' yoga when:
1. Where possible you avoid sitting on chairs, the floor just feels like the more natural place to be
2. Your running playlist features Kirtan music (think lots of Krishna Das)
3. You literally live in yoga clothing
4. You know everything about your digestion and probably your yogi friends too
5. You catch yourself in negative self talk and then give yourself a talking to about the negative self talk
6. You start seeing how yoga can link to a thousand other things (the other day I linked quantum mechanics to the yogic special powers spoken about in some of the ancient texts)
7. As much as spiders scare the life out of you, you respectfully usher them out of your house even if it takes 5 minutes to get them to the door
8. Rather than watching trashy TV you prefer to seek out lectures on philosophy, yoga documentaries, anything on India, law of attraction, spirituality (you get the idea - anything that expands the mind).
9. You hear something vaguely referring to an energy centre and you go off on a tangent singing the chakra song scanning through the body
10. You become aware, really aware...of thoughts, actions, attachments, behaviour patterns etc. Sometime I do find myself wishing I could back this one off a little!
I could go on forever - I haven't even started on some of the more obvious changes/benefits of yoga infiltrating your life.
I've 'become' lots of other stuff in my life (triathlon, a career) but never felt this deep connection, this protectiveness towards it. This time its been a very healthy 'becoming' something that I feel takes me closer and closer to being the type of person that I aspire to be. I love how the practice of yoga is constantly inviting me to learn, grow and transform, that I don't think I will ever get tired of.
I'd love to hear some other, you know you've become yoga when's.....if you have some please feel free to share!
Mandy Habener (Dumas)