Monday, May 31, 2010

Slowing it down

So I’m standing on one leg at my sink in the Village Guesthouse, Palolem. I have one foot in the basin, washing off the day’s cocktail of sand, mud and India off my feet and I have a toothbrush (loaded) in my mouth, meanwhile I’m attempting to brush my hair. It’s in these, frankly insane, moments I sometimes wish I was an octopus. Where are my eight-suckered arms when I need ‘em, eh? Also, why am I rushing? I’m in India; I’m not late for my sister’s wedding, or to go onstage and give an important talk on… well I don’t know what on, but that’s not the point.

The pace of life at Palolem beach

In the world of yoga, one of the things us ashtangis get accused of is being a little too frantic. The nature of the ashtanga yoga sequence is to flow from posture to posture using what’s known as ‘vinyasas’ - breath and movement combined.  So for example, on the inhale breath you raise your arms; on the exhalation you fold forward. The speed of your practice therefore depends on the depth of your breath. Sometimes you see people practicing ashtanga and it’s like they’re competing for Australia in the 2012 Olympics’100m yoga sprintathon. What’s the rush? (By the way the subject of yoga at the Olympics is a bit of a controversial one, though rest assured they’re yet to introduce a yoga sprint!)

I remember having a discussion with one of my teachers, Nik, about the need to practice the sun salutations with awareness. She likened them to a hairpin. I don’t recall if she used an actual hairpin but she certainly did some sort of up-and-down double wristy action, with the implication that eventually, like the hairpin, we might snap. As you can imagine, that stayed with me… so from then on I decided to slow my yoga down.

Being an ex-swimmer I’ve got quite a big set of windbags (at least that’s what Mum told me) so I tend to breathe quite deeply anyway. Of course when I was ploughing the lengths of the pool I wasn’t really aware of that; yoga has really taught me to get in touch with my breath. Recently I have been revisiting Donna Fahri’s excellent book, Bringing Yoga to Life, as there were two bits in that book which I remembered distinctly. In one of the early chapters she talks of how she always gets people on her workshops to do this little exercise where they just observe their breath in their daily life – when you breathe in and out, when you hold it, when you’re breathing normally etc. Well, what an eye opener that was. I noticed I was holding my breath at the strangest times: opening the fridge, reaching for a towel, sitting on the toilet. Quite bizarre. What it means, I am not entirely sure, but it certainly reminds me to slow things down because when I'm holding my breath I feel a subtle whiff of panic, I'm ever so slightly stressed. If you’re doing that all day, well, it can’t be good.

In another chapter Donna talks of the space we can create in our lives when we do manage to slow it down, using the example of this older chap she knows called Ernie, who looks after the gardens near her house.

A day with Ernie is a day spent with a master: he doesn’t say much but when he does it’s always an incisive observation… You notice an air of stillness around him – he’s just so happy to be alive taking in the day, listening to the birds, enjoying the fresh clean air.”

As you can probably guess, Ernie is not a fast mover; he likes to chat with the neighbours, believing “never any time wasted making friends for yourself.” But, Donna observes, at the age of 70 he's no couch potato, and when he gets to work on the garden he accomplishes “more than most of us do in a week.”

It’s interesting. How often do I find myself gazing down in the lift to avoid the eyes of my neighbours because I simply don’t have time to... to what... have a two minute conversation? To be friendly? Yes, I'm afraid, quite often. 

It's mostly when I am not feeling very present, rushing like a headless chook between errands, getting nothing done. I wonder if it’s because we were taught from a young age to multi task because, speaks the deep, booming voice of dogma, “multi tasking equals efficiency”. Well, booming voice, I am not sure it does. When I’ve got 15 windows on my computer open at once, and I’m half way through doing 10 tasks, half of which don’t get finished very well, I don’t feel like the finely tuned sports car of human engineering. Quite the contrary, I feel like a frantic, faffing rust bucket, with a bumper falling off. Today's lesson - a little more Ernie, a little less octopus.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Lessons from the tea leaves

Browsing the health food shop in Manly yesterday during one of my err… ‘coffee breaks’ I was drawn towards a blue box containing something called Ayurvedic Cooling Pitta Tea. Being, what the ayurvedic sciences know as a pitta constitution, and a bit of a (excuse the pun…) mug for interesting teas, I swiftly bought some and fired up the kettle when I got home.

Magic tea?

Okay… I’m just going to interrupt my story for a second. For those of you unfamiliar with the Eastern science of ayurveda, the five basic elements - so that’s ether, air, fire, water and earth - manifest in the human body or constitution as three ‘doshas’, which are known as pitta dosha, vata dosha and kapha dosha. We all have elements of at least one dosha and many of us have aspects of two or three. Ayurveda is a Sanskrit word meaning ‘the science of life’ and, crudely put, the principle behind this ancient science is to heal our selves by balancing our doshas. Ayurveda has been practiced in India for 5000 years so naturally when I was there recently, I took myself off to the Ayurvedic Hut at Purple Valley to get my doshas tested by an expert... the Ayurvedic doctor.

The hut at Purple Valley

So Doc started off by asking me a few questions about my digestion (aherm, not fantastic); how I respond to problems (I get angry, goddammit); and my dreams (ever since I was a kid had nightmares about my house burning down to the extent where I kept a bag of my favourite things by the bed so I could make a swift exit!) Then after delving into these and other, clearly revealing, stories she examined my tongue and nails and took my pulse, before confirming that I’m primarily pitta (fire) with some vata (air) and should avoid meat, alcohol, tomatoes(!) and chilli (no WAY!) to increase my earth and water (or kapha) elements. Great, that’s gonna be easy then.

So, back to the tea. Now because us pittas have this fire issue, as you’d expect we can get rather hot headed and lose our rag somewhat. So to prevent this from happening to what was fast becoming one of my favourite days of early retirement, I thought I’d better get some of this nice cooling tea down me, pronto. Well to my surprise and delight, on the sleeve of each tea bag were some words of advice for us pittas:

Now I like the sound of that, so I resolved to spend the afternoon following this sage advice. I’d had a pretty busy (but awesome) day already and was teaching in the evening at Lululemon, so I thought: that’s it, today I am gonna laugh and play. If I do any more on the computer at all this afternoon I’m in grave danger of overworking, so I’ll play it safe, have a chilled, relaxing afternoon; whilst trying my best to avoid stimulants.

So, I had finally settled myself for a Thursday afternoon the sofa (ahh the joys of retirement!), with my Cooling Pitta Tea and some light reading (If you're interested I’ve started to read the seminal Ashtanga text by Pattabhi Jois called Yoga Mala – which is interesting but not exactly laugh and play material. But never mind, three out of four isn’t so bad). Well the irony was not lost on me as I enthusiastically took my first sip... OUCH!… Man, I didn’t add cool water to the top and now I’ve got cactus tongue! Dear me, I’ve gone and burnt my tongue on my 'cooling' tea.

I really think there should have been a warning on the side of this tea. Us pittas have a tendency to rush things, to try to do too much (hence our need to practice moderation) and we need to just slow it all down a touch. It was a valuable lesson for me however, as luckily the tea seemed to have had some medicinal properties. It's taken less than a burnt tongue to turn me into a raging, red faced pitta in the past I can tell you (as can my husband). So who knows, whether it was my fantastic day, or the tea... I can honestly say I took it all in my stride, and laughed (and played) it off.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Alright Grandma

I feel like I've retired! Sitting here in my winter woolies and snuggly boots, lapping up the orange glow of my brand new 24KW electric heater I am happier and toastier than a freshly baked Granny.

Well, the Sydney weather took a nippy turn last week, so after a couple of days typing in my stripy gloves (one day they’ll invent keyboards for paws) it was time to go shopping.

The heater was bought in a bit of a flurry from David Jones. Not knowing much about portable heaters (central heating is fitted as standard in darkest England), I asked for some no-nonsense advice. Well, the shop assistant worked me out straight away and shot back: "I don’t know exactly what you’re after but old folks love this one." so naturally I snapped it up in two shakes of a tartan slipper.

So, heater buying aside, it’s been an eventful few days. Hubby has been in New Zealand on business so the whole concept of time has ceased to exist for me. I can literally wake up whenever I want, and sleep whenever it calls (hang on, this is what retired people do isn’t it? I’m always calling my Mum during one of her 2pm naps…) However, thankfully some deep-rooted sense of life’s purpose has let me resist hibernation and get on with all these funny little projects I’ve set myself. This isn’t sounding very eventful is it? Well, I assure you, by Grandma’s standards, it has been. This morning my website went live! Minus the logo/branding and some little tweaks it’s ready to be rolled out to the masses (my 3 followers, thank you guys)! So, taa dah, here she is: You’ll see at the moment it’s just a wee Baby Bear site, you know just some basic information and contact details. In time, as my technical (and small business) skills grow, hopefully we’ll be seeing a bit more of Mummy Bear…

So back to my eventful week. With the thoughts of last week's post fresh in my struggling yogi mind, I have been very conscious of resisting any attachment to outcomes, whilst still following my goals. For instance one of my ever-so-casual-not-bothered-too-much-okay?! goals is to become a yoga teacher. And this week I saw some outcomes (should I be happy about this, I mean I feel happy but is that an attachment? Anyway…) This week is looking pretty busy folks, as I am due to teach seven classes, two of which were last night due to unexpected sickness (hooray! – sorry, but it was only a cold!); one private class this morning; a community class at Lululemon; and another couple over the weekend.

The school I taught at last night have a philosophy to restrict numbers to a maximum of six per class, thereby letting the teacher give more personal attention and specific modifications to individuals. Both were quite mixed classes so this approach was particularly appropriate; and each had an older chap who’d just started yoga. It’s interesting when you teach people like that, (so accustomed as I am to Ashtanga classes which are mostly full of fit young folks, leaping and floating around the mat like spring lambs) and I sometimes wonder to myself if they are getting as much out of the classes as the more advanced practitioners. But then I considered my early experience of yoga, (when on a physical level I couldn’t touch my toes let alone understand what a deep ujayii breath was) and I remembered how it felt. What a sense of achievement! As my private student texted me this morning to say, “Thanks for the class, I felt quite smug for being up at 5.30am” yoga feels like it’s good for the soul. There was a subconscious sense that it’s awesome to be up so early, moving about; a vague idea that you're making some quality, nourishing time for yourself. Now that I am up early most days, practicing or teaching, I sometimes, rather guiltily, feel I’ve lost that sense of the amazing power of yoga and I’m grateful for the class last night and my student this morning (also a complete beginner) for reminding me.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

I am finally getting the whole techy thing

I'm not gonna beat around the bush here. I am pretty happy with myself today, and more specifically, my Mac. Oh beautiful Mac. Having worked in the digital industryfor a couple of years and, more recently, the world of social media, I was always a little ashamed of myself for still not really understanding that techy stuff. Okay let's put aside jargon because that's a whole kettle of fish, I mean the basic stuff like what happens when you send a website live, what exactly is going on on that big world wide web. What does hosting mean? I mean, if I am a luddite and I've worked in the industry then what the wotsits must your average Josephine think of this tangled web that is the internet?

Well. Fellow luddites, today I managed to design and publish a website live, and buy a domain name. And, in 48 hours, the domain name will (fingers crossed) point to the website (or the other way round) and I am officially gonna be L.I.V.E!

I've gotta hand it to the Mac though. With this little old iWeb program I've created something which looks okay. I mean it's not winning any design prizes, but, it's clear, easy to use and with the help of some free fonts purchased on Da Font, my yoga website is looking pretty, pretty good. I'll post the link once I've got the domain name set up.

Yogi Bear website live!

So, that's it now, no excuses. I've got the website, I just need to start drumming up some business! But, this is progress kids. Progress.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Reality checking

These strange, occasionally lonely, days remind me of an absent auntie who suddenly notices her 'baby' nephew is a six-foot tall teenager. So, I’m now two weeks into this new life ("gosh you've grown, how time flies" etc.) which means the days are rapidly becoming weeks; and like our gawky teenager I'm finding my routine is starting to find its own slightly awkward, socially reclusive, but nonetheless not-too-disastrous shape.

Err err err err errr.. That's my 5.30am alarm (it's got a very urgent, insistent sound) and then I’m up and off; either to practice with my teacher Sam (Mondays and Fridays) or to teach a private class on Wednesdays; and a group class Thursdays (although the Thursday class has managed to attract a bit fat zero number of students so far, hence my gawky awkwardness…) When I get home I spend a few hours online, looking for opportunities, openings, it often feels like I’m having a mini-brainstorm with Google, and then I might check in on Facebook, Yahoo, BBC news. After that I’ll start thinking of some ideas for this blog. In the afternoon I’ll run some errands, arrange to catch up with a friend, or fellow yogi folks, or possibly an ex-colleague for a coffee... Networking! Then I’ll pop to Coles or Harris Farm to pick up some food for the evening, some veggies, cereal, a loaf of bread and a pot of your finest organically grown guilt.

Now, I’ve never really questioned my own productivity before. For the last 10 years or so I’ve sat obediently at a desk, in an office. I’ve worked hard, sometimes late, and met deadlines tighter than Wonder Woman's shorts. I’ve had my fair share of office down time too: surfing the net, shopping, emailing friends, knocking off at 5.30 on the dot. But by and large my time was accounted for, my productivity justified. I commuted, I worked full time. I was in an office. What more do you want?

But now things are different. I am facing a whole host of other challenges. Should I be doing more, but what, and then how to motivate myself to do more? My slippery mind starts to cook up ideas like a frenzied chef who starts one meal, then moves onto the next without finishing the first. Maybe I should get involved with some volunteering projects, work for a charity, something worthwhile. My inner voice pesters me, a nagging niggle in my ear "this is a such waste, what are you doing?" 31 years of having the "time is precious, use it wisely" mantra hammered into my head by my folks, has taken its toll. Of course there are risks, moments of amazing self-belief, rudely interrupted by a wave of utter loss and defeat, and I haven’t even started yet. Then I find myself thinking “I’ll just go back to the 9 to 5, work in an office, find a nice little job in marketing and get my normal life back thank you very much.”

I remind myself: I gave up the marketing career with the sexy Surry Hills office to be able to give something back to people. I wanted to be a yoga teacher and to share this amazing yoga thing with people; this practice that has baffled my natural inclination to cynicism (‘it’s just stretching, how boring is that?’) and has somehow kicked and screamed it's way into my life, and made everything brighter.

One of the aspects of the yoga texts I found most difficult to understand was their thoughts on goals. As your average middle class girly living in middle England I was taught to aim high, reach for the sky. Mediocrity was not an option and goals were rewarded; all the better if you actually hit them - whether it's getting that A in Geography or bringing the school rounders team to victory (which I did incidently, still one of those amazing life-defining moments!) Now yoga doesn't say we shouldn't have goals, but it does say we shouldn't get too cosy with them. One of the goals of yoga (yes I know that might seem paradoxical) is to get yourself to a place that challenges you. For most people this is achieved fairly quickly on the yoga mat, as many of the postures present immense challenges. So bendy girl over there might have no problems getting her leg behind her head, but she's not doing yoga until she's struggling (at least a little bit). It's here, (reaching for the cup on the third shelf and not necessarily the sky!) where we learn; it's here where we come to accept ourselves as we are, because if we push ourselves too far we fall.

Purple (Valley) bruising. A reminder from Goa, India on why I shouldn't push myself too hard!

Now it's starting to happen. I realise now that off my yoga mat, right here in front on my Mac, this is yoga. I am learning, and struggling now. I am out of my comfort zone and here is where the journey begins. Goals are great, but I need to accept where I am (santosha), to learn from what's happening in my day to day; to pause and just be.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Grizzly Bear Tuesday

There’s some building work going on in the apartment upstairs so I was startled into Tuesday by the screech of a 7am drill. Man, this incessant din is ringing in me ears!!! Not to mention the arrival of an unfamiliar May chill in the air (goodbye summer, hello brrrrrr,) which turned my skin unattractively chickeny. I padded to the kitchen, to greet the soggy, miserable day outside and felt decidedly blah… Maybe it was the early morning dental appointment, or my thwarted efforts to get some inspirational reading material from the library (I was refused the books without any photo ID because my account had expired apparently) or maybe it was because I decided not to practice today to give myself some much-needed rest; but today seems to have set itself up to be a bit of a stinker.

(Having just one of those days....)

So, the first day of my yoga blogging experiment and I feel like I have started to lose whatever calm, poise and free-spirited determination my travels may have blessed me. So I decided to wallow in it, to loiter in my pyjamas and flick between BBC news and the Today show until 9am, also known as D-Day.

But in fact the dentist was fine (with dentists, it's the fear isn’t it? Have the teeth-crumbling sugary lollies I couldn't resist when I was working in an office, and the constant cups of tea finally decided to come back and bite me?)... Phew, no fillings a bit of a polish and the mandatory reminder to floss every day. All good.

But then I decided to go to the library (buying books is so last season). I must admit I was utterly ashamed at myself for turning on my heels and not even giving the chap in the library the dignity of eye contact, as I huffed out the library, tossing an indignant “yeah whatever” at his very reasonable offer to keep the books behind the counter for me until I returned with my ID. What a teenager. I mean seriously, you call yourself a yogi and you can’t even cope with a bit of grizzly weather, a better than expected visit to the dentist, and a wasted trip to the library. You’re not even working! It’s not like time is precious is it, you’ve got all afternoon to find your ID and get back there (that’s if I can bring myself to face that gentle-faced librarian again)....

It’s just that though. I feel like I should know better. It’s a constant inner battle between reacting to those things that niggle you, that look set to turn your day into something ugly and inevitable; and of trying to remain calm, put things into perspective. Now that I have hopped aboard my little yogi boat, I’ve put all this pressure on myself to be a world-class sailor. If 16-year-old Jessica Watson can sail around the world on her own, with no human contact for 7 months, facing Atlantic storms, sleepless nights and a whole host of other unimaginable dangers, surely I can manage my little boat, bobbing around on Sydney harbour. I am twice her age after all. But surely Jess had her off days and I am having one of mine today.I'll ride this little storm (it's only a small one) and let’s hope tomorrow is a little less grizzly bear and a little more yogi bear.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Leaving Las Rat Race

You’re giving it all up and becoming a yoga teacher – how exciting!”

“Aren’t you brave, that’s so fantastic!”

“We’re so happy for you, it’s great to be following your heart like this”

“We really wish you all the luck in the world!”

As you can see, when I told my lovely colleagues I was leaving my job in a busy, successful Sydney marketing agency, they were over the moon for me. Who knows, maybe they were looking for a reason to bid me farewell… but, no, I don’t think it was that. I mean I wasn’t that incompetent. I think one reason was their silent acknowledgement that if there’s one profession that would top the Sydney Morning Herald’s listings of Most Desirable Jobs for Those Escaping the Corporate Treadmill (not the zippiest of titles admittedly), you’d find the Yoga Teacher right there at the top, all pastel shades and glowing vibrant health, doing a cheery leap, whilst infuriating an entire readership of this imaginary feature, who are probably stuck on a train or bus heading off to their well-paid but somewhat soulless city jobs.

But let’s just take a step back. Let’s forget those pictures I’ve been painting over the last few months of me; beside the gently lapping waters, sitting serenely in meditation. All my ex-work mates’ kind words of 'good luck' and'bravery' were really just the honey which blunts the sting. They meant well of course but behind their sugar-coated salutations they could see that it will be a dusty, bumpy old road ahead, Yogi Bear.

(That's me in the middle wobbling through a Warrior 3, lapping waves yes! Image credit:

Misty rimmed visions of the perfect life don’t come served up and ready to eat like banana pancakes. This lifestyle you’re proposing is gonna take some work. So here I am, sharing with you the ‘journey’ – sorry I don’t like that word – ahead. Yes, I know most people would write their story with the blissful retrospection of it already having worked out just fine, thank you very much. But no, here I am with sticky stuff on my fingers and no immediate plan for escaping this honey pot I’ve found myself not exactly drowning in, but sinking slowly.

So, I have predicted that either a) I’m going to descend into madness spending all this time alone, with just my brand new MacBook for company (still not worked out much of the functionality on this machine, but damn its silky keys feel so good beneath my fingers) or b) my success as a yoga teacher will be heard like the roar of a lioness throughout the land; either way I wanted somewhere to share that experience.

This is the first time in my life when I really don’t know what’s round the corner. I just don’t. But I do know, it’s in my hands. If I sit here all day watching re-runs of Lost or Gavin and Stacey, I will not find that cheery, leaping me – however tempting it is to switch on the Foxtel.

But, luckily folks. I have yoga. Yes, yoga is going to be my faithful puppy, my guiding star and my patient partner (okay my husband will probably help a lot, but it’s surely too much for one man...) Over these past few years, I have religiously rolled out my yoga mat and accepted what happens in my practice – the good days, the bad days, the injuries that set you back, the moments when there’s nowhere else you’d rather be, the times of loneliness and pointlessness – yep, it’s more than just a 90 minute stretch out there. Now I really need to put this yoga thing through its paces and apply some of that very same thinking to these strange, lonely, wonderful few days, weeks, months ahead…

So, to put you in the picture of where I am right now (always good to have a benchmark to measure my roaring success/madness against...) Currently I am self-(un)employed. I am looking for work as a yoga teacher, wondering if I should try and go it alone, and trying to pick up some freelance writing work to keep the sanity/pennies in tact. Oh yes, I’m also writing a blog. There, that’s the Big Plan, which I spent the last two months cooking up.

Which brings me to the next point: where I have come from? I’ve just returned from a travel and yoga adventure in India. After leaving the corporate world I decided I needed to do some solo travelling (having never done that before) so the idea was to get me into the yoga-mindset of living each day as it comes, to learn from some of the world’s most experienced yogis, and give me lots of juicy inspiration for my teaching. And yes, It did that – it was fantastic. But that's for another day.

So, this is where I am right now. It’s early days, but I’m pleased to be able to share it with you Mac, my old pal.