Beginning my Yoga Journey

Lily was looking through my Yoga library a few weeks ago. I think she likes to do that so she can sit on the spinning chair and pretend she’s the big boss! Anyway, she found an old magazine (2004) from the Beacon Yoga Centre at the Sivananda Ashram, where I used to teach yoga. She was intrigued to find pictures of me in the magazine (and not a little impressed)!

How nostalgic for me to read short essay that I wrote to accompany the photographs. It goes like this (edited):

I have been practicing yoga for four decades. I had my first lesson in 1964 soon after I got married. My husband’s aunt, Lynette, who was a student of BKS Iyengar, visited us at the camp where we lived in Hwange Game Reserve in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). Lynette introduced me to to some of the asanas, including Suraya Namaskar (Salute to the Sun). She led me through a Yoga Nidra and, needless to say, I immediately became a yoga addict. In retrospect, this is more likely an asana addict as I was not aware of the wholeness of Yoga.

When Lynette left us to return to Johannesburg, she gave me a roneoed booklet she had written and, because of the isolated area in which I lived, my practice was mainly guided by the asanas therein. The booklet has long since fallen to pieces but I can see it in my minds eye even as I write.

Since immigrating to Australia and starting formal lessons at the Beacon Yoga Centre, yoga has become even more important in my life. I appreciate the continuing thread that runs through the practice of yoga, down the millennia and into our lives now. I have had many teachers through the years and they have influenced me deeply. I am aware that my yoga practice (Sadhana) in all its forms, contains inspiration from all of my teachers. It is this continuity and integrity that I offer to my own students.

In 2000 I graduated from the Friends in Yoga Teachers Training Course – a training I undertook at the same time I was working toward my PhD, and which kept me sane through that time!

Over the years, my teachers and my students have touched my life with their generosity of spirit and in sharing so freely their wisdom and learning. I also acknowledge Rasik Davia (who died in 2004) whose kindness and gentle nature coloured and deepened my understanding of the yogic life.

Yoga balances my life, otherwise I tend to live too much in my head. I give thanks for yoga everyday and to all those who have loved and supported me through the years of study – and continuing to this day.

Love of yoga has led me down many paths of self-development and spiritual awakening. I have often integrated some of the methods I’ve learned elsewhere (Alexander Technique, Feldenkrais and the like) into my yoga practice, only to find that yoga was there first.

The photographs in the 2004 magazine are of me working through one of my favourite asanas – Simhasana (Roaring Lion). It is a wonderful asana to practice in winter because it alleviates sore throats, congested noses and chests. Another benefit is the development of a strong and beautiful voice. The roaring lion can be modified easily and there are many different forms. Sometimes students are shy to do this as it isn’t the most flattering of asanas!

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Beginning my Yoga Journey

Staying on the mat?

Do you stay on your mat the whole way through your asana practice? I notice that I don’t do that! Whether at home or at class, I tend to move around. Is it lack of concentration? Not necessarily. It isn’t as though I go and do things other than asana, rather, I change position, look out the window and stretch in places other than on the mat. When the neighbour over the road reverses out of his driveway I scurry through to a space at the back of the house. The fumes that come out of his old car are thick and foul smelling.

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This photo was taken at the Nornalup Community Hall when I used to live in Walpole and teach Yoga at the Community Hall. Moving around during practice could be a hangover from when I used to teach Yoga and would pace around the room so as to see what the students were doing. My current teacher, Kim White (Body Connections), also does this. Possibly, it gives a feeling of confidence to the people in the room – that there is someone to turn to if in doubt. This is particularly valuable in a large class.

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This photo was taken at the Gedong Gandhi Ashram in Candidasa in Bali a couple of years ago. My good friend and colleague, Rakini (Michele Murphy), runs wonderful Retreats and cultural tours in Bali. I am looking forward to going again in March 2016. We will be there during Nyepi – Balinese New Year. We will be studying Pratyahara: The Forgotten Limb of Yoga. Bali Yoga Retreat

Staying on the mat?

Senggigi, Lombok holiday

Waiting to fly!

A different kind of holiday (for me)!

Kath, Dean, Lily and I fly from Perth to Praya (Lombok) on Jetstar, an Airbus A320 – packed to the last seat. The flight takes just over 3 hours. I think Roland and Rosie may be regretting not coming with us. I am enjoying reading Robin Hobb’s Assassin’s Quest and have to limit myself to a couple of chapters at a time so as to savour the tale. This fits in well with the flight time to Lombok.

My first impression of Lombok is the similarity to Bali, but not nearly so busy. The weather is warm and humid – delightful after the cool weather in Perth. I took this screen shot to post on my Facebook and Instagram pages.

Our driver, Jamie, collects us at Praya and we travel to Senggigi in just over an hour. The countryside is lush and now I can see many differences to Bali. There are many Mosques and the sound of the call to prayer is everywhere. On the car radio we listen to the Rolling Stones (Angie) while the voice of the Muezzin rings from the minarets. I am immediately in love with Lombok! I notice there are not as many dogs on the roads as in Bali but Jamie assures me there are many dogs on the island.

There are many pony carts. Single, small ponies pull this traditional form of transport along the highways and byways. These are called cidomo. Most of the ponies I see during the week in Lombok seem well cared for but a couple look thin and wretched.

Lombok has not yet been discovered by the tourist hoards. I only spot one fast food outlet on the trip.

The Sheraton, Senggigi, is a lovely place to stay. The gardens are beautiful and the staff are friendly and courteous.  The power supply is a bit dicey. The lights flicker and go out fairly frequently! The air-conditioner is turned up to the max so I have to figure out how to turn it down. I am loving the warmth and humidity.

 The gardens abut the Senggigi beach. Colourful fishing boats often draw up on the sand. The sea is quite dirty and the incoming tide brings in a variety of rubbish – such as plastic bags.

There are some mosquitoes, we are well prepared with insect repellent. Early each morning I anoint myself with repellent before beginning Yoga practice on the balcony. The warm, humid climate allows me to bend and flex easily. Each day, after Yoga, I swim for a while and then breakfast at the buffet.

More to follow … including airport stories; searching for the perfect massage and a tropical thunder storm.

Senggigi, Lombok holiday

This and That

I can understand people being concerned with the physical ailments connected to ageing but for me it is the mental deterioration that matters.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern is an intriguing book. Interesting that she started writing it through NaNoWriMo some years ago. I have two unfinished novels started during NaNoWriMo that hang over me – as does the patchwork quilt I started working on in 1964 and never finished. I will one day if I live long enough. Maybe.

Given the introductory paragraph of this blog, you can understand why Neuroplasticity features in my reading at present. Recently, I finished Barbara Arrowsmith-Young’s book, The Woman Who Changed Her Brain. and, apart from her … ‘earnest’ literary manner, the book held my attention throughout. I would have liked her to give more examples of her techniques but I imagine she holds those close to her chest – that being her living. If the training to teach in her schools wasn’t held in Canada I would be tempted to enrol. I was lead to her book through Norman Doidge’s book, The Brain that Changes Itself. I am still working through that.

Learning Sanskrit chants seems like a good way to keep the brain from deteriorating. I find Sanskrit difficult although the Ganesh chant is easy to remember and one that I use often in meditation. My friend and Yoga Teacher, Rakini, taught me the chant when I went to Bali with her last year.

Yoga Philosophy is profound. Working toward understanding, even on a basic level, takes immense concentration. Swami Venkatesananda’s books are one of my entry points, together with the work of Georg Feuerstein. Sometimes I despair at ever gaining any sort of grip on the philosophy until I realise that “grip” isn’t what it is about! Then, I forget.

Asana helps both focus and concentration. I have found that some of the movements I’m learning at the gym in Pump are also helpful. The left brain/right brain work can only be good for the neural pathways.  Learning to juggle is proving difficult! My hand/eye coordination is not good. I close my eyes and remind myself, “Use the Force, Luke!”

Todd Sampson, in his TV series Redesign My Brain features the importance of creativity in improving the brain. The imagination and intricacy of plot in Erin Morgenstern’s book fires up my creativity. The threads of the story she winds and weaves so skilfully remind me of a perfect tapestry; it is not only the front of the tapestry that is in view, the reverse is equally as accessible and those are my foci.

Another novel that draws me in and leads me down pathways, through labyrinthine passages and imaginative situations (albeit far more violent and explicit than Morgenstern’s) is Kraken by China Miéville.

So many books to read.

This and That

Bali Yoga Retreat

Hurry up and wait.

Many journeys begin waiting at the airport and this one was no different. I have long been a subscriber to the philosophy “Hurry up and wait” which, my sister reminded me, was something that Mum used to abide by. So, on a cold morning at the beginning of June, I write in my notebook: Waiting at the airport, Saturday 12.55pm. Sod’s law says, “The earlier you arrive at the airport, the likelihood of the flight being delayed, increases”. However, I’ve discovered that all the years that I thought I was afraid of flying I was, in fact, stressing out about airports and getting there in time so as not to miss my flight; hence, hurry up and wait.

The Garuda flight was delayed because of dreadful weather in Perth. In fact, after takeoff, we were buffeted around to such an extent that we had to remain seated for some time (no toilet breaks or anything) and the meal was served much later than expected. The Garuda flight attendants were, as always courteous, friendly and efficient.

Perth went on to have some terrible storms on Sunday and much damage was done. Lucky me, then, to be swanning around in beautiful Bali, eating exotic and spicy food, having 1 or 2 Yoga classes every day and exploring some less visited parts of the island.

Morning on the second day started with our first Yoga class in (or should that be ‘on’) the roof garden of the hotel. Michele led us through some chanting, pranayama and asanas and finished up with an inspirational meditation.

On the roof garden

After breakfast we (Michele, Robbie and I) set about exploring Legian. Having no sense of direction whatsoever, Michele’s knowledge of the by-ways and back-ways soon had me totally confused. The moment we walked out of the Hotel Vilarisi into the gang (laneway) I was lost! First call was a money changer and then some shopping. I had forgotten the ins-and-outs of bargaining and a couple of stall holders made some money out of me! The way I look at it is this, sometimes the value being haggled over, when translated into Aussie currency, is about $2 or less. Anyway, I was happy and so were they.

After lunch Gede (pronounced G’day – like the West Aussie greeting) picked us up and took us through to Candidasa, further east along the coast. Lovely Candidasa and the Ashram Gandhi.

Bali Yoga Retreat

Yoga notes

This morning I went to yoga class with my long time yoga teacher, Gail. She has so much knowledge and her classes are innovative and challenging – on one level or another. This morning there were 5 yoga teachers in her class as well as 8 or 9 students. Yoga teachers are attracted to some teachers more than others although I believe most of us will attend any class that is offered! There is always, always, something to learn.

Having had a stressful couple of weeks, I really benefited from the asana work and the meditations in this morning’s session. It is strange how often a class seems tailored to my needs and this was no exception. Gail’s teaching has influenced me a lot and I often hear her ‘voice’ in my own teaching. I probably do more sequences than she does and also my classes tend to evolve whereas Gail has a carefully set out plan.

Last Saturday was Yoga Day at the Beacon Ashram/Yoga Centre and I went along to that as well. We had a 2 hour practice followed by an exceedingly delicious vegetarian lunch. The class was taken by Marge Willcocks. I hadn’t been to one of her classes before but had heard many good reports about her teaching. I was not disappointed – she is a wonderful teacher – I feel that I learned so much … hope I remember some of it to pass on to my own students when I get back! We did Janusirasana which is a fairly standard asana but the way Marge teaches it, it was a new experience for me. Keeping the thigh on the bent leg ‘rolled’ out and closing the eyes while coming into the forward bend give the posture a whole new feeling. In fact, the illustration I’ve posted here does not do the asana justice because here, the model seems to be straining, and there is no strain involved.

Yoga notes

Yoga and ego

I am often surprised when my yoga students brave the elements and come to yoga on a cold, wet, wintery day or evening. I guess the adage, “First you drag your body along to yoga, and then your body drags you along to yoga” is about right!

I had to go to the hall today to fetch the blankets – they need a wash and there is no rain on the horizon so it seemed like a good idea. On the way I stopped in at the Telecentre to find out if there were any takers on the Yoga/Meditation Workshop that I am running (on behalf of the Telecentre) in a couple of weeks. Jenny asked me if I would take the Telecentre camera and get a photo of me in an asana to publish in the Walpole Weekly. Roland said he’d come and do the photography. Being in this situation is not so good for the ego because of the temptation to do something quite … difficult. However, good sense prevailed and I sat in swastikasana (auspicious pose), took chin mudra, and lowered my eyes. If that photo is used I’ll be pleased; otherwise one similar to the one here would be ok.

The point I’m making is that it is not a good idea to put people off by doing something complicated. The tendency is for them to think, “I’m too inflexible to do yoga, I couldn’t do that pose!” so they avoid coming along. I believe you don’t come to yoga because you’re flexible, you come to yoga to become flexible! Swami Venkatasananda was known to say, “Whatever you can do today is perfect for you today” and I think that is about right!


Swami Venkatasananda

Yoga and ego