Perfect Storm

This weekend, I was due to fly to Bali for an immersive yoga retreat. The retreat was to be the highlight of my 200 hour yoga teacher training. Many hours of study had bought me to this point and I was really looking forward to soaking up some tropical Bali sun after a long Melbourne winter.

No one could have predicted the events that have since unfolded. Mt Agung, an active volcano, has been showing signs of an imminent eruption, though the timing and scale is unpredictable. The Governor of Bali declared a natural disaster ahead of the eruption and local villages within the 12km exclusion zone were ordered to evacuate.

Despite the airports and popular tourist destinations remaining open, Bali is in the midst of a slow onset natural disaster and large-scale humanitarian emergency. More than 140, 000 people have been internally displaced and the number of people living in emergency shelters are increasing.

Humanitarian aid organisations such as the Indonesian Red Cross are coordinating emergency preparedness operations. There have been local reports that many of the emergency shelters are overcrowded and facing dire resource shortages – inadequate shelter, healthcare, water and sanitation. International aid is flowing into Bali as well as in-kind donations from local NGO’s and community members.

There have been reports that ‘good face masks’ have sold out across Bali, leaving those displaced without basic protective equipment needed in the event of an eruption. The yoga retreat I was booked into is a 10 minute drive from Klungkung Regency, the second largest emergency evacuation centre in Bali.

The local government say there are too many people seeking protection in emergency shelters. They say these people live outside the exclusion zone and don’t need to be there. But, how can you blame them? Many can still recall the 1963 eruption of Mt Agung which claimed the lives of more than 1,000 people and continued to erupt for a year. The present eruption threat is triggering past trauma and people are fearful.

Deciding whether to travel to Bali during such a precarious time is complex and entirely personal. Bali is a tourist-based economy and a decline in the tourism sector will affect local people’s livelihoods and standard of living.

However, mass tourism in Bali is a double-edged sword. Yes, tourism boosts the local economy, however this wealth is concentrated to urban centres and does not reach people living in rural areas. The number of people living in poverty in rural Bali remains unacceptably high despite mass tourism.

Mass tourism is also unsustainable and drains precious natural assets such as clean drinking water, food, healthcare, electricity and transport. Bali’s Governor I Made Mangku Pastika has described tourism in Bali as ‘a disaster for the poor’ and has been working hard to alleviate poverty in Bali.

Natural disaster zones in developing countries are not places tourists should visit. Tourists place further stress on an already strained system and divert scarce physical and human resources such as clean drinking water, food, shelter, protective equipment, communications and transport away from local people who have been displaced and need life saving resources the most.

This creates a second tiered emergency and takes life saving resources away from the actual emergency response. Based on the reports I’m seeing and my experience working in the humanitarian sector, it is my professional judgment that a perfect storm is developing to create a second tiered emergency. I simply cannot be part of this and believe I will be more effective supporting the Balinese community from home.

This is why I have decided not to travel to Bali this weekend to participate in the yoga retreat. This has had a big impact on me financially and the flow on effect of not participating in the retreat means I will not be able to continue my yoga teacher training. However, when I think of the 140, 000 people who have been displaced, my own disappointments are put into sharp perspective.

No amount of ‘positive vibing’ or ‘surrendering to the unknown’ on retreat will alleviate the fear and suffering of local people sheltering in emergency centers just 10 minutes away. Their fear is real. Their anguish is real. I refuse to be blinded by my own privilege. For me, no yoga retreat or teacher training should ever cost this much.

In the words of Vietnamese Buddhist Monk Thich Nhat Hanh,

“Mindfulness must be engaged. Once we see that something needs to be done, we must take action. Seeing and action go together. Otherwise, what is the point in seeing?”

Have an up coming trip to Bali and reconsidering your need to travel?

I highly recommend you follow Dr Janine Krippner on Twitter – she is a volcanologist and has been doing an incredible job translating the latest official information relating to Mt Agung, specifically for travellers and expats. She has compiled all the essential information on her blog In the Company of Volcanoes, which I also highly recommend you read.

Mum Travel Diaries has a blog specifically for travellers which clearly lists everything you should consider before you take off.

Want to help but unsure how?

Australian’s have a close affinity with Bali and in times of disaster many of us feel the urge to help. While helping is excellent, as donors, we must be responsible! This USAID Centre for International Disaster Information article speaks directly to in-kind donations including unskilled volunteering. It’s a must read!

Why is giving cash often the best way to help during humanitarian emergencies? USAID’s Centre for International Disaster Information give an excellent insight in this article – Why Cash is Best.

Photo credit: The Australian

The problem with #YogaEveryDamnDay

#YogaEveryDamnDay is one of the most popular hashtags used by yoga students and teachers on instagram – 9, 987, 342 people have used this hashtag. I am guilty of using it regularly on my instagram posts too. However, I’ve been feeling a growing sense of unease with using this hashtag because it has become a loaded term.

Yoga teacher Rachel Brathen was the creator behind the #YogaEveryDamnDay hashtag and she explains her intention behind its development in an interview with Yoga International.

“I had just joined instagram and wanted some inspiration and I started noticing these crazy challenges. I disagreed with a lot of the challenges because they seemed really unsafe. People in their work clothes just getting into a no-handed headstand for the first time. When I started the hashtag, I wanted to get away from the idea that ‘yoga is a pose.’ I wanted to remind people that it’s about more than that. It’s meditation, contemplation, it’s pranayama, along with the asana.”

A quick instagram search for the #YogaEveryDamnDay hashtag will show you how far removed it has become from Rachel’s original intention. The hashtag has become synonymous with white women wearing expensive activewear and white shirtless men performing advanced asana, often in exotic locations around the world.

There is very little cultural  or ethnic diversity and almost no reference to the ancient roots of yogic philosophy from which it stems. It’s cultural appropriation at its worst. It’s also exclusionary and assumes that to practise yoga you must fit within the dominant cultural norm and have a certain aesthetic – one that is white, thin, flexible, heterosexual, cis gendered, able bodied and fit.

It promotes this ideal that yoga as advanced asana should be practised every day. For many this is an unrealistic and unsafe expectation and ignores the other seven limbs of yoga. It also implies that if you’re not practising yoga asana every day you’re somehow less of a yogi and this reinforces the idea that yoga is something that must be attained through rigid practice of asana.

This is often a confronting and uncomfortable conversation and I am guilty of much of this myself. However, I believe it’s a conversation worth having if we are to change the western mindset of yoga and reclaim the original intention behind #YogaEveryDamnDay. This is not a judgemental diatribe, it’s simply an honest act of love from my heart to yours.

How can we turn this around? Here are some of the steps I am taking personally:

  • Disrupt the #YogaEveryDamnDay hashtag by flooding the feed with more diversity and everything yogic apart from asana – meditation, self study, non-violence, non-attachment, self care etc.
  • Stop using the #YogaEveryDamnDay hashtag altogether and build a more mindful community on social media with alternative hashtags that really reflect who you are, your practice and your intention.
  • Lead by example – be honest and humble about your own yoga practice and make sure your contribution to the yoga community is mindful and authentic both online and offline.
  • Learn more about the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, practise the eight limbs of yoga and make this visible by acknowledging what you do and don’t practise.
  • Educate yourself and be conscious of the cultural appropriation of yoga on a macro level as well as within your own practice. Try not to contribute to it and call it out when you see it. Nisha Ahuja provides an excellent online resource that is very accessible – exploring yoga and the impact of cultural appropriation. I highly recommend watching her short film and reading some of the articles in the resources section.

‘Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public’ – Cornel West.

I would love to hear how others within the yoga community are also reflecting upon their practice and taking action, please feel free to comment below.

 

How to be a yoga ninja – incidental yoga that won’t turn heads!

A good friend and fellow yogi recently sent me a text from a children’s indoor play centre. He was doing a bit of, what he calls, ‘incidental yoga’. Subtle poses he can discreetly practise in public without feeling like everyone can notice. He was wondering if there was a resource for this type of yoga?

A bit of googling revealed quite a few blogs written on the subject. My personal favourite was a lighthearted blog written by Rudy Mettia on Huffpost. It seemed my friend wasn’t the only person incorporating ‘incidental yoga’ into his daily routine. However, none of the blogs I read touched on the idea of being a stealth yoga ninja and practising in public without people noticing… Until now!

This series of yoga asana are particularly good for parents in parks and indoor play centres. However, anyone waiting in line for shopping or queuing for their morning coffee would benefit. I recently gave a few of these poses a whirl at my local farmer’s market and barely drew a sideways glance. Have fun!

Tadasana – Mountain pose

The easiest of poses to perform unnoticed, tadasana is prefect for those times when you feel the rising frustration of waiting in line. Improve your patience by becoming the mighty mountain of tadasana – immovable and strong yet peaceful. Stand with your feet together and arms activated by your sides.

Press down evenly into all corners of the feet. Lift the kneecaps and engage the thighs, draw the pit of the belly up and feel a lift in the pelvic floor. Broaden the chest, keeping your ribs contained and lengthen through the crown of the head. Live precisely in this moment and breathe.

Uttanasana – Standing forward bend

This beautiful restorative asana calms the nervous system and the mind. Next time you need to ‘dig something out of your bag’ or ‘tie your shoelaces’, do it through Uttanasana. Ground down through the centre of your heels as you align your hips over your ankles.

Bend your knees as much as you need and activate your thigh muscles. Engage your core as you lengthen your spine and draw the crown of your head toward the floor. Soften your face and neck. Take your hands to the ground to deepen the pose. Lift your hips high and squeeze your thighs.

Surrender to your breath and feel the sense of calm wash over you. Casually ferret around in your bag or slowly tie your shoes to conceal this magical pose to unsuspecting passers by.

Utkatasana – Chair pose

One of the more expressive shapes in this series, Utkatasana is best pulled off in public by sneakily incorporating it when sitting down to an actual chair. This powerful posture requires a strong foundation to lengthen and open the spine and chest.

From tadasana, bend your knees and sweep your hands forward as you begin to engage your core and squat down toward your chair. Press into your heels, grounding the legs. From this strong base, lengthen the upper body and open the chest breathing in deeply the air that surrounds you.

Lift your gaze and hold for a few breaths before ever so casually taking your seat. You could also do this in reverse next time you need to stand up from your chair.

Garudasana – Eagle pose

Another expressive pose that may draw a few looks if not executed in the right context – waiting in line for the toilet! The only downside is that people may insist you jump the queue!

From tadasana – mountain pose, place your hands on your hips and raise your right knee toward your chest to balance on your left leg. Ground down through the left leg, activate your glutes and stabilise your left hip.

Keeping your balance wrap your right leg over your left thigh and hook your right foot around your left calf. You might need to bend deeply into your left leg as you do this. Take your arms out wide at shoulder height.

Take your right arm underneath your left crossing at the elbows, bend your elbows and bring your hands together with palms facing each other. Lift your arms up in front of your face and draw your shoulders away from your chest. Hold for a few steady breaths before repeating on the other side.

Ardha Matsyendrasana – Half lord of the fish pose

Another easy pose to conceal, this seated twist is perfect for realigning the spine, aiding digestion and casually checking the kids are ok on that play thing over there…

From a seated position, fold your right leg across the front of your body and place your foot to the outside of your thigh. Ground down evenly through your sitting bones. Raise your left arm and lengthen your spine as you inhale, as you exhale, engage the core and twist toward your right thigh, place your elbow on the outside of your thigh and gently deepen your twist.

Look to where you want to take your twist and use your breath to deepen the pose. Feel the detoxifying effects as your twist gently rinses out your organs. Slowly return to centre before repeating on the other side.

For an anatomical view of many of these poses, check out Bandha Yoga’s 3D pose viewer.

I hope these fun and simple asana help you become a stealth yoga ninja and give you the confidence to practise incidental yoga in public. Let me know how you go by leaving a comment or posting your pics to my Facebook page.

Tips to cultivate a nourishing home yoga practice

I love the connection and community of practising regularly at my local yoga studio. However, for those times I can’t get to the studio or when I want to work on something specific, I practise yoga at home.

Sometimes, my home yoga practice is a journey to bliss. Other times, it can feel like an epic battle against my mind. After one incredibly frustrating day on my mat, I took some time to reflect upon the essence of a nourishing home practice. Since then, I have been able to cultivate a gentle and compassionate home yoga practice, led with my heart rather than my head.

Here are my top tips to cultivate your own nourishing yoga home practice. I hope they work for you too…

Clear a space and create your temple

Find a space in your home and set it up for practice. When the weather is good, I love nothing more than practicing outside on my deck. If it’s too chilly outside, I head indoors. Whatever space you choose, take some time to clean it up and create your temple by filling it with things you love.

I love candles, oil burners and indoor plants and have added these to my own space. Once you have created your temple, set up your mat and any other props you have such as pillows, blankets or blocks. If you don’t use props, it’s ok, having the space and mindset to practise is all you need! Now, put your phone on ‘do not disturb’ and settle into your pre-practice ritual.

Create a ritual

Rituals can help to settle your mind, bring you into your body and onto your mat. This includes pre-practice rituals such as lighting candles, burning essential oils or playing music. Once you bring yourself to your mat, settle in with intentional breathing (pranayama) exercises to quiet your mind. Yoga Journal have some excellent pranayama techniques you might like to incorporate into your home yoga routine. Now you’re ready to practise!

Set an intention & be honest with yourself

Each yoga practice should be purposeful and personalised – be honest with yourself about what your body and mind need as well as the time and space you have available. After all, by practising yoga, we are learning about who we are and who we want to become.

An intention I’ve been working with lately is to let go of my expectations and move my body with love and compassion. Your intention will become the thread that ties your practice together. Will it be 5 minutes of drills or half an hour of flowing practice? Will it be energising and sweaty? Or slow, grounding and meditative?

Listen to what your body needs, reflect upon what has brought you to your mat and honour this through your practice. Let go of the idea that your home yoga practice should replicate the yoga studio otherwise you’ll be setting yourself up for disappointment.

Lead with your heart, rather than your head

This is something I am still learning to do. Leading with my heart and letting go of expectations or pressure I place upon myself to practise yoga perfectly. What really matters is that your practice comes from your heart, that it nurtures, inspires and helps you to grow.

Each time your head starts to take over, close your eyes, breathe and come back to your intention. I also find taking restful breaths in child’s pose can bring my awareness back to my body and quiet the chatter in my mind.

When we lead our practice with our heart we can truly let go and find freedom. We stop worrying about what each pose should look like; we practise from a place of unconditional love and compassion rather than judgment.

Enlist the professionals

If you are just starting out and feel like you might not have the experience to lead your own yoga practice. Or perhaps you’re an experienced yogi wanting your practice to be directed? Apps, DVD’s and virtual classes can help.

I have used the free version of the Down Dog app and it was really useful when I didn’t have the inclination to plan my own sequence. I’ve also used yoga DVD’s and many studio’s are now bringing their classes to your home through online yoga subscriptions.

While apps, DVD’s and online classes have their place, there are some drawbacks. First of all, they aren’t intuitive – they don’t know your intention, level of experience or how you’re feeling. They also don’t know if you’re carrying an injury.

Use these with caution and remember to let your heart be your guide. If your body is telling you something doesn’t feel good – listen to it! Pause the program and take some rest. You can always come back to it later on.

Another alternative is to enlist the help of a registered yoga teacher. Many yoga teachers, such as myself, offer private yoga classes that are tailored to your goals and your body. We can help you to create a detailed plan for practise at home.

We also teach you the purpose of each asana and how to practise it safely. Through one on one yoga classes, you will be bringing a much deeper and authentic understanding to your home yoga practice, with a plan tailored just for you.

Interested in booking a private yoga class with me? I’d love to hear from you!

Post – practice ritual

You may have noticed I’m big on rituals! Once you’ve finished, seal your practice with another ritual. This doesn’t have to be a grand gesture. The simple and loving act of thanking yourself, or sitting in quiet contemplation with a steamy pot of herbal tea, are both sure ways to stay in your post yoga bliss!

I hope my tips inspire you to create your own home yoga practice. I hope they lead you to a journey of bliss rather than a battle against yourself. Please feel free to share your home yoga experiences and tips by leaving a comment.