The things you can’t see changing in a yoga practice (the yoga of a skin cancer).

In yoga, we feel shifts and changes in our practices; on Monday my balance was great, Tuesday I was shaking like a leaf on one leg, Wednesday my hamstrings were long, Thursday I was stiff as a plank of wood etc. We recognise and accept that we are different each time we come to the mat, we are organic, we are evolving

A sustained, continued practice sees us make great physical leaps, when I first started the floor was so far away in uttanasana (standing forward bend), then it was close, then I found it, then I had to take my arms wide as I could lay my palms flat, my back still rounded out, now my back is reasonably flat and head nearly touches my shins (most days ;)) . The physicality of my practice is continually evolving and often a step forward is proceeded by a step backwards. I’ve noticed this so much more since the birth of my daughter 16 months ago, while my strength and flexibility are probably ‘better’ than before I was pregnant, some asana have escaped me completely, such as padmasana (lotus pose) it’ll be there one day.

Recently, it is the yoga off the mat that has me thinking about change, how yoga changes us. This thought process has come about through a change I recently went through, I had a skin cancer removed. No big deal, except it kind of was- 11 stitches in my face 2 x internal, 9 x external. The face I’ve known for 30 years, the face while not the most perfect, I’m rather fond of. Its the face my soul resides underneath, the face that my two favorite people my husband and daughter know, love and trust.

My face has changed forever and what surprises me is, I’m ok with it. What has this got to do with yoga i hear you ask? My answer, heaps! How I was barely attached to the vanity of it, even now, while it still looks angry and is healing and people stare at it and when strangers ask me what happened, I view their curiosity with compassion. (ok, I’ve had my moments where I’ve been a little attached to the vanity but I love this Ram Dass quote In most of our human relationships, we spend much of our time reassuring each other that our costumes of identity are on straight. My besties and husband had to do a little reassuring)

When I first had it cut out and the stitches were tight and painful, I didn’t wallow, I felt so blessed that the dermatologist had found it, it was removed and that as a person that grew up in harsh Australian desert was having her first spot cut out at 30.

Each day as I rub rosehip oil into the long red and purple healing scar with gratitude I think about how lucky I am to be able to have this scar to encourage my daughter to wear a hat and sunscreen when she plays outside and part of me secretly hopes she will think the scar is pretty cool, maybe even a bit like Harry Potter’s. I have gratitude I have this experience to be more careful outside in the sun, gratitude for the guts to wear fabulous hats. Gratitude that maybe my story will make you mindful of any changes to your skin and your sun exposure.

It is yoga that has taught me to not be so attached to the ‘shell’, yoga that has taught me to be compassionate to find gratitude and accept things and the way they unfold. It is this experience that has had me stop and go, wow I’ve really changed, yoga has changed me.

Thanks, yoga.

Namaste- don’t forget to slip, slop, slap! xxx

Stitches

My Pregnancy and Yoga- the love affair continues.

Pregnancy is a funny time. As each baby and person is unique it is expected that of course our experiences as women during pregnancy will also be individual. My pregnancy has been up and down, the down times I believe have been a result of nutritional deficiencies, particularly vitamin B, which is essential to feel good!

Ustrasana 28.5 weeks

Overall, the best way I can describe pregnancy is a period of ‘ripe-ness’. The body swells and ripens even before the baby is even a baby but a tiny little cluster of cells rapidly multiplying, the breasts take on a heaviness and the hips begin to spread there is a physical ripening. There is also an emotional ripening, my yoga teacher refers to it as a ‘maturation,’ there is a knowingness of what your body needs; rest, foods and what it doesn’t need. I have had a level of intuition about my own needs that I have never had before. Creativity, patience and space have all ripened through my pregnancy so far.

So here I am in my 31st  week of my first pregnancy reflecting on the role of my yoga throughout the past 31 weeks, I have often referred to my knowledge of yoga as my pregnancy toolbox.

To begin with that intuition took over and I stepped back from my practice for the first 15 or so weeks of my pregnancy. In the first trimester our bodies create a ‘nest’ and perfect little environment for a baby to grow. We want to baby to implant and implant well. Often during this early period women are sick and are filled with a heavy tiredness unlike any tiredness felt before. It is time to be inward, restful and eat as well as can be managed; this can be difficult if all you desire is simple carbohydrates and fruit!

I practiced only light asana/postures with a focus on creating space through the pelvis, my body felt heavy and my regular more rigorous practice fell away in place of sleep and rest. I often went to my ‘yoga toolbox’ as my digestion suffered terribly during the first trimester- progesterone is a powerful hormone! I used asana to relieve gas and bloating, savasana and pranayama to help soothe the anxiety that plagued me early in the first trimester.

Pasvakonasana 29.5 weeks

Ayurveda, yoga’s sister science was a big part of my first trimester, each morning I practiced abhyanga or self massage as another way of dealing with my anxiety. I also lovingly prepared kitchari for myself when my digestion was very congested, and my agni, or digestive flame was very low due to the hard work my body was under.

Kitchari is a mung dahl, rice dish made with low amount of spice and lots of ghee* making it very nutritious and easy to digest. Kitchari is often the only thing eaten during an Ayurvedic cleanse and it is a wonderful thing to eat when you are wanting to give the body extra rest as it is so easily digested.  (If anyone would like my pregnancy kitchari recipe I would be happy to share 🙂

Pregnancy has increased my understanding of the science of Ayurveda deeply, there are other blog posts touching on Ayurveda but the science is built around the three doshas which are constitutions or mind/body types. (a quick google search of dosha or ayurveda will explain more)

Pregnancy is an increased Kapha time for me, the increase in fluid and weight, the love of sleep and food- these are all qualities of Kapha the earthy dosha. I am generally a predominantly Pitta or fire dosha (mind you , this is still present in the heartburn!) I love the slower paced nurturing kapha that has increased in me, the daily kitchen rituals and heavy slumbers. Women often notice an increase in mucous during pregnancy- this is due to the increase in estrogen which stimulates the mucous membranes but also the increase in fluid during the kapha time.  Our dosha is determined by our parents dosha’s at the time of conception and I can’t help but wonder how my husband and I’s constitutions will determine our baby’s.

Sirsasana nearly 28 weeks

Back to the yoga, second trimester the time on the mat was spent learning how to negotiate the new body, not only was my usually pear sized uterus now the size of a small soccer ball, I had 40% more blood! Lots of passive inversions to help with the circulation: viparita karani, adho mukkha svanasana. On the mat I felt relatively awkward, heavy and weak but as the baby grew and put more pressure on my body asana became more important to protect my spine and keep my strength.

Just a note on the second trimester, I was under the misguided impression that at 13 weeks the ‘babymoon’ of the second trimester starts. I didn’t feel like I could get through a day without a nap until week 17! As I said in the beginning pregnancy is such an individual experience some women never get the second trimester energy burst, mine didn’t really show up until the third and some women feel energetic and productive throughout their whole pregnancies.

So where is my practice at now? My practice is at its strongest since I fell pregnant. My teacher says yoga is not a work out, it is a work in, when I long to participate in my nightly kitchen ritual and prepare a delicious meal but can’t summon the energy after a long day on my feet at work, I practice yoga. This is the wonderful thing about practicing in a restorative way- it restores. Or when my feet are swollen or my back aches- I know exactly what to do to ease and soothe. Pregnancy is an uncomfortable time, but not a time for martyrdom I feel I can make myself more comfortable. If I become concerned about my baby’s movements I know lying over the bolster will get it moving. Or if there is a tiny elbow or knee in a less than ideal position I can coax baby to move through asana and creating space.

My pregnancy intuition has led me to the mat, practicing and preparing for my natural birth- deep diaphragmatic breathing (I am breathing for two) harnessing my control over the diaphragm so it can aid me during contractions, hip opening, strengthening the leg muscles that lead up to the perineum as in preparation not only to birth, but to recover. I rarely have to think about which asana to practice my body leads me, although in this lifetime I haven’t given birth, we are ancient bodies that have evolved, my body knows what to do.

It is also a sacred, intimate time with my baby. When I’m inwards focusing in its little nest, when I have two hearts beating inside me, it’s a time that I dedicate fully to baby and me, really the only time I do get to dedicate to baby and me.

Namaste

xxx 

*ghee is a wonderful addition to a pregnancy diet. It is a ‘good fat’ excellent for babies brain development and building tissues. It also aids in constipation, heart burn/reflux and other pregnancy related digestive issues. 

The magic of a Sunday

ImageSunday is one day of the week when wonderful things happen, yesterday was one of those days (till I got sick). In the morning Tom finally decided he was ready to do some yoga but we are still negotiating how exactly that is going to work. I go into most physical activities with an element of steely determination, this is not necessarily a good thing, I’m constantly looking for a softness in my practice and years of practicing without that softness and overworking requires retraining of my brain and body, healing of hardened muscles and allowing flexibility. My initial response to his  pained ‘facial yoga’ and lack of flexibility is that its laziness and a personal insult. I know I sound incredibly uncompassionate, but I’m not, with all physical exertion there are sensations of discomfort, even pain and these feelings tell us things are normal and theses parts of the body could do with a bit of one on one attention. In most circumstances if you listen to your body, it will tell you when things are not right, when you are using too much force, when you are going beyond your boundaries and range of motion. To increase strength and flexibility there will be some discomfort and the more you do it the easier it becomes. Part of the discipline that comes with a yoga practice is acknowledging, things will hurt, but there is a glimpse of freedom next time you do it.

Anyway, we still had a lovely time and I felt so strong in my inversions, Tom confessed to me this morning that he had felt really nice after yoga 🙂

All morning I had something on my mind, I had very long hair and I loved my long hair, lately it was getting me down a little. At my last trip to the hairdressers she had mentioned a program called Beautiful Lengths where you could donate a minimum of 20cm ponytail to be made into real human hair wigs for those undergoing cancer treatment. At the time, though impressed with the program, I was too vain to part with my ponytail. Although, on the magical Sunday morning, I woke up pretty sure I would chop off my ponytail at some point throughout the day.

I washed my hair, and looked at how long it was wet in the mirror, doing my best Brooke Shields Blue Lagoon impression. The morning came and went; yoga, then brunch, reading, a movie, all the while I twirled my hair and contemplated parting with it. I thought about how long I had been growing it and how, I was almost defined by it in lots of ways. In the late afternoon Tom had to go out. Before Tom left he suggested to perhaps wait and get a hairdresser to cut it off, I but I really wanted to do it myself. I tied my hair into a low pony and awkwardly measured the 20cm minimum and began hacking away. I say hacking because my scissors were rubbish and half way through I had to switch to my good embroidery scissors. (This was a very pensive moment when I wasn’t sure if I could actually finish the job, I was having heart palpitations looking for scissors stopping in front of every mirror in the house to assess the hacked at messy half a ponytail!)

Eventually I got through and smiled at my ponytail, my measuring hadn’t been great I had actually cut off 25cm, but i still have plenty. I thought about how attached i had been to such impermanent part of my body. I’m certainly not attached to the hair I pull from the drain or have to unravel from the vacuum cleaner head, it is always growing!

Attachment is a key issue in my life and I am trying to live more simply and learn to ‘unattach’ myself from thoughts, things and behaviors and I think starting with my ponytail was a good beginning.

ImageI can remember so many magical things that have happened on Sundays. Sundays come with a sense of impermanence and can teach us a lot about attachment- throughout my teens I never enjoyed Sunday’s because I kept thinking that Monday was just around the corner. Now they are my most favourite day. Tom and I said we loved each other for the first time on a drizzly Sunday morning, Sundays are for swimming and lounging around, they are for watching Soccer matches at friends houses, afternoon beers, and morning yoga classes and always a special breakfast or brunch.

Namaste

xxxx

Day 1 Yoga Intensive

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I was so excited to get back on the mat this morning, I couldn’t sleep last night! I finished work at 9pm last night and raced home showered and painted my toes bright orange (my favourite colour, does anyone else like to have nicely painted toes when they are doing yoga??!!) before oiling myself in sesame oil and hopping into bed. I kept waking up worried I’d missed my 4:30am alarm. The Yoga Intensive runs for 7 days, 6:30am classes, it runs each new year and is a chance to set an intention for the new year through a series of early morning classes.

When it was time to get up I sprung out of bed, here in Adelaide it was 45C degrees yesterday(113F) we are smack bang in the middle of a heatwave, my house was hot (my poor cats can manage a few steps before having to lie on the cool floorboards!) I opened the windows and let the dawn cool breeze inside the house- it was so lovely. I kissed my husband a sleepy kiss goodbye and set off at 5:30am. The world was cool and the birds good morning chatter warmed my heart- they sounded so animated and happy and it really seemed like they had so much to catch up on after their sleep! The world was covered in a cool blue shadow, the roads quiet and there is something really nice about being awake when all around you sleeps. I had found yoga before getting to yoga 🙂

I feel so inspired at the moment by my own health, I am trialing a Gluten Free diet to see if it improves my costchondritis (inflammation of the rib cartilage) as well as a course of pro-biotics and the best thing ever liquid chlorophyll! (Chlorophyll is what give green leafy’s their green and it is so easy to add a couple of teaspoons to a juice or mineral water or just have it straight to boost the nutrients in your diet, there is some really interesting research out there into the treatment and prevention of cancer with chlorophyll)

I can really feel a connection between what I eat and the chatter in my mind, by the time I got to yoga and laid down for pranayama, I was there I was in my body and it was so wonderful. The first asana we did were repetitions of adho mukha virasana and adho mukha svanasana, it felt so wonderful to be in my body the sun rising as I moved.

 

I can’t wait for tomorrow.

Namaste xxx 

 

 

2013

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2012 was such a great year, so many wonderful things have happened; I’m now half way through yoga teacher training, married, have given the house 2 mega spring cleans, am a year older but most importantly I made it through and that is a wonderful achievement all in itself, if you’re reading this- you too made it through- well done!

I used to go over the top every New Year and set myself up for feeling pretty shitty about myself, by making up complicated New Year resolutions that even by my own admission, a few were quite crazy.

For 2013, the wonderful first year of marriage and our first overseas travels and the end of yoga teacher training I’m focusing my attention on the Yama’s and Niyama’s , the Yama’s and Niyama’s are the first two petals of the 8 petal system we know as yoga, and they are basically observances and restraints for skillful living.

The yamas are; ahimsa/non violence, satya/honesty, asteya/non stealing, brahmacharya/ continence, aparigraha/ non greed

The niyamas are; saucha/ cleanliness of body and mind (inside and out!), santosha/contentment, tapas/heat fire- this is interpreted as the fire we build up inside through asana, pranayama and meditation helping us to become the best we can be. Svadhyaya/self study, Ishvara- Pranidhara/ is acting the best way we can, and relinquishing all attachment to the outcome of our actions.

They are blissfully easy and things we practice daily, to certain extent, you can see how their meanings also represent an opposite for example if you are practicing ahimsa or non-violence you are at the same time practicing compassion. Someone practicing santosha/contentment is also working hard to let go of things which do not serve them.

In 2013 I will try to be more aware of my observances and restraints, praise myself for doing something positive for myself and judge myself less when I do something less than perfect.

(I have also vowed to juice each day, get in the garden and master some sirsasana variations and I’m sure ahimsa and santosha will help me if it happens or not :))

I would like to leave you with the beautiful words of gorgeous yogini, Elena Brower

‘My intentions for the new year: Say less, listen more. Work less, sleep more. Judge less, love more’

May your 2013 be simple, inspiring, filled with happiness and health.

Namaste xx

When you have all the tools….

Tonight when I taught I spoke of yoga being a tool for us to use- that yoga is here to service us and not for us to service yoga. It is well documented that yoga is an excellent way to de-stress and relax, to help restore harmony in our bodies in a time, in a world, when we probably need it the most.

It would be my guess, for more seasoned yogi’s or those that attend classes regularly that their is a relaxation response just by stepping on the mat or lying over the bolster with a comforting familiarity. The opening class chant or a teachers voice you know so well. These yogi’s may take deep breathing off the mat when times are stressful, subconsciously or perhaps consciously aware that extending the exhalation calms the nervous system, having a profound effect on our emotions. Or how simply how relaxing it can be to be in your body, watching your breath. These yogi’s may take a savasana to revive when feeling weary, they know exactly which way to twist or stretch when something feels tight and could do with a fresh blood supply. Or even just to know the joy of a a backbend or handstand spontaneously in the sunshine. This is I guess like a ‘yoga toolbox’ yoga’s service to us, a reward for our service to ourselves.

I choose to study yoga because I believe in the wonderful, healing, cleansing effects it has on our bodies, I believe in the science. (yes, I said science 🙂 ). I have a very big ‘yoga toolbox’ of things I have read and experienced as well as wonderful things shared to me by teacher and her teacher and all the other teachers i have experienced.

This week I had a terrible week, I searched and dug deep and I thought there was nothing in my toolbox that could help me; I was too irritated for pranayama, too depressed for dynamic asana that would have given me a bit of sparkle, my head far too jumbled for any serious attempt at meditation.

It was tonight with the wonderful power of hindsight, some clarity of mind and the old saying ‘practice what you preach’ I realised that this week in my darkest moment, I did 5 headstands sirsasana, I knew whilst on my head I had to be in that moment, if I wasn’t, I’d simply fall. The falling didn’t worry me it was losing that tremendous sense of strength. Thank you, yoga. Namaste.

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