I'm sorry it's been so long

It’s been awhile I know. Just to clear up a few questions I’ve been asked over the past few months.

No, I haven’t gone into retirement early.
No, I’m not in the depths of despair.
No, I haven’t turned my back on yoga.

I’m sorry it’s taken me longer than usual to reply to emails. The past six months have been a hive of activity. My quiet exterior has done well at hiding a hectic undercurrent.

We have constructed a new studio from the ground up. With the doors now open, I’ve realised the process of plastering, painting, tiling, laying floorboards and installing windows has highlighted a few things.

The exhausted joy that comes from physical labour.  The deep appreciation that comes when you don’t outsource.  Knowledge on every button and every sound. Crafting the aesthetics, function, intention and purpose behind everything.

Even more I’ve realised the similarity between building a studio and building wellness.

The joy and relief that comes from moving. The deep appreciation of doing the hard work to understand physical and mental layers, injuries and habits. Flagging when you need help (learnt the hard way via broken tiles, falling plasterboard and chipped marble).

Getting down and working in the trenches has been the only way to create an opportunity to step up and out of the dirt, muck and sweat.  Where I now step is a studio space that does justice to what yoga does for wellness.

I love change. My parents loved buying “renovators delights” (sh*t boxes) so I grew up in more houses than most. COVID for me bought an opportunity for change that I embraced but I’ve been reminded that not everyone shares my change fuelled exhilaration.

In conversations I’ve had over the past six months with change-strugglers, I’ve talked about the whole of 2020 being like a yoga class. It had a predictable start. Lay on back, knees bent, deep breathing. That’s how we start every class.

The middle went to sh*t. The middle of a yoga class takes you to a peak. A peak of work, discomfort and unfamiliar movements, sensations and demands.

The end of yoga is where it all comes together. A deeply satisfying rest. It’s only satisfying because of the work that preceded it. A body that feels different to how it arrived. A new perspective. Joy and gratitude for the change.

And so will be the same for 2020.

So much more than time is needed

Mainstream dialogue over the past few months has tried to make us aware of something. The abundance of time we were all delivered. Albeit the gift of time was wrapped in a blanket of highly contagious germs, but it was time nonetheless.

Someone told us we should use our gift of corona wrapped time wisely. Actually a lot of people said it. The Deans of uni’s who gave us discounted courses. Medico’s trying to make home as appealing as possible. Outnumbered cops.

It also seemed like a fine time for self-development.

In your time starved pre-corona life you might have been restricted to yoga only once a week, maybe twice if you played your cards right.

But since time started showing up in droves, we can do yoga as one hashtag puts it #everydamnday.

Whilst the theory is sound, in reality it’s all BS.

In reality so much more than time is required.

The obvious requirement is motivation. It’s either internally or externally grown. The ideal storehouse is internal so external ripples don’t influence your goals and plans. All rain does is change the location of your run. An unreliable training partner delivers a solo session with music instead of talking.

I was in the Navy with someone who asked me repeatedly to run behind and yell at her to keep running. Whilst I found it absurd and the best way to ruin a peaceful run in the park, she knew her enemy.

Based on the conversations I’ve had with people over the last 12 years and especially the last three months, motivation doesn’t feel like the entire answer.

A fear of not doing the postures right. An expectation that it can’t possibly be as good as in a studio with a teacher. The restraint of time – I don’t have an hour and yoga is always an hour.

Just like my friend, knowing your enemy is powerful.

Some of the following words are yours, some are mine. They are snippets of conversations I’ve had over the past few months that seem to highlight these categories of enemies.

“If you move with awareness, you actually have to go out of your way to hurt yourself.”

“The worst case scenario in doing the postures a little bit right and a little bit wrong is the net value ends up neutral so physically you’re where you began. However what you’ve increased is internal motivation, habit and self-sufficiency.”

“15 minutes of yoga a day is more beneficial than one hour a week.”

“I now realise the value in curiosity.”

“I’ve heard a particular instruction for the past seven years but it wasn’t until I was in my house, doing it by myself that I got it.”

“I forget stuff that is said to me all the time but I don’t think I’ll ever forget the realisations I’ve come to on my own. These realisations I feel rather than think.”

There’s also another big player in the enemy game. It’s been at the heart of many conversations.

Who’s responsible?

I find the answer to this baffling, interesting, infuriating and provoking.

As humans we crave independence. It’s liberating. But of all the independence we seek, wellness doesn’t seem to be one.

We routinely hand ourselves over to doctors. We follow chains of referrals without asking questions. We pop whatever pills. We follow apps and trainers and years later still have no idea about our biology.

I couldn’t wait to be self-sufficient in yoga. I viewed it as a mark of independence. The interesting thing was that entering into self-sufficiency didn’t result in my never attending a class, enrolling in a course or interacting with a teacher. I did all those things. I did it with purpose though. I actively sought out information in areas I wasn’t yet self-sufficient in.

So who is responsible?

When you view responsibility through one lens it can look a lot like hard work. When you view it through another, it looks a lot like freedom.

Holding on tight

Starting Monday 23rd March I’ve made one phone call a day. Each day the recipient was different, randomly selected from a list.

I’ve spoken to one of you everyday since the doors of the physical studio shut.

I’ve spoken to lawyers. I spoken to ER doctors and nurses. I’ve spoken to people who lost their job and others who’ve been at work for many more hours than usual.

Unless you previously worked from home, had no children, never visited friends or family, was a non-shopping minimalist who didn’t pay attention to global activities, then life changed.

As my list of called names continues to grow, I realised I was speaking to two groups of people.

The first group spoke about corona as if she were a loving but strict mother, who sat them down to have a difficult but heart to heart conversation.

You’ve been working too much lately. You’ve haven’t been eating properly. You haven’t spent enough quality time with your kids. You haven’t hung out with your partner for ages. Get some sleep – you look like sh*t. 

The other group moved into struggle street. The language in the phone call was vastly different.

I miss the gym. I miss yoga. I miss my friends. Homeschooling is BS – I’m not a teacher. I can’t work the way I need to from home.

Common across all the phone calls were references to the roles we play. Essentially the hats we wear. Parent, worker, self-employed, carer, banker, nurse. What corona threw at us all was the need to take on other roles, wear hats we may have never worn before. Unpaid teacher, child psychologist, marriage counsellor for own marriage, yoga teacher to self, cook, toenail painter, eyebrow waxer.

This is where the two different groups emerged.

The people in the first group took off their usual hat, flung it into the wind and looked around for some other hats to try on. Even ugly, too small, weird hats got a shot.

The people in the second group gripped their hat like it was the only f*cker between them and death.

Because our tendencies in life have a way of showing up on a yoga mat, the group you’re in might also be reflective of how you do yoga.

People tend to identify with one way of doing it. I only do hot yoga. I only like fast, flowing yoga. I only do slow yoga. I only do yoga in a studio. I only do yoga with other people. I’m a morning yoga person.

Corona forced me to put on a hat I’d been holding at arm’s length for years. The hat of technology. What has come of it is an online offering of fast, slow, morning, evening and everything in between yoga practices.

If you reflect, really reflect on how you do yoga, there are often lessons there on how you do life. If what you learn is that you’re in a group you’d rather not be in, then use yoga to practice a different way rather than to reinforce the old.

If you encourage variety into your yoga practice you’re giving yourself an opportunity to practice wearing different hats. This tendency will inevitably seep into life off a yoga mat.

What corona demanded of us was the need to wear different hats. What it offered was the possibility of finding comfort and joy in these other hats.

For me the outcome of corona hat wearing have been varied. My kids now know I’m sh*t at maths but they have learnt about all the muscles in their legs.

Our most fundamental role is human. Our most fundamental yoga practice is mindful movement.

Some of what my technology hat produced.

A homage to real

Whilst I hold professionalism in the highest regard, I’m all about real. If it doesn’t fit into real life, what use is it. It’s not realistic to teach as if everybody does yoga every day, once or twice a week is much more where it’s at. It’s not real to assume yoga and vegetarianism go hand in hand. Active wear…not real daytime attire.

Given all this realness, I thought it high time to pay homage to some of the real yoga moments that have been the last few years here.

  • To the group of you that may or may not attend each week on a day that begins with the letter T. The day you locked me out of the studio when I went to shut the gate bought me sheer delight.
  • There’s more than one of you that grin like little kids while giving me the middle finger when I lovingly put your eyebag on. If your eyes weren’t covered by a bag of sweet smelling lavender, you would see me grin from ear to ear.
  • To the hordes of you that reply to my deep and philosophical chalkboard musings, with your often inappropriate and always amusing scrawl around the edges of the chalkboard…you make my day.
  • To those of you that have quite literally broken into the locked front gate on account of running late to class…I feel privileged that doing yoga was far more necessary than the law.
  • To those of you that have asked if alcohol is ok on a yoga retreat…I love your bold realness. We all have a vice. A most gracious cheers to that.
  • Thank you to the person who called before showing up to ask if nude yoga was something on offer. This followed an informative segment on the Today Show.
  • No thank you to the person who called to ask if he might sit in the back of the studio to scope us all out for potential swimsuit models. Whilst I hope your new business venture is going well, I’m not sorry for the spray I gave you.  I must though, thank you for the ongoing entertainment at your expense.
  • To those of you that despise sun salutes and go as far as mouthing profanities at me when we sweep up for chair pose…know that salutes are good for you and also that I have a little giggle when you fold forward in downward dog.

Our current global situation is teaching us what’s real and it’s actually a very short list. If it’s not real, then why bother.

Finally to the guy who asked me years ago what the word is that we all say after class…no it’s not I-wanna-stay but sometimes I think that’s a damn fine translation.

It doesn't work the way you think it does

Our landscape has changed. People are being asked to do things they’ve not been asked to do before. To step into the role of an educator. To become tech savvy. To become phone counsellors. To be their own personal trainers.

To lead themselves in their yoga practice.

In pivoting my business from face to face to now online teaching, I’ve been thinking back to my early teaching days, 13 years ago.  Thinking back even further to the 22 years I’ve spent doing yoga. What tools did I use?  What became crucial in creating my foundation?

In answering this I keep circling back to a question I’m continually asked.

How is it that every single class is different, even after coming to Yoga Emporium for years? 

Without consciously setting out to do it, I’ve been creating the conditions for spontaneity.

What I’ve come to understand about spontaneity is that its not actually spur of the moment. There’s a whole method that comes before it and what looks like intuition and creatively sequenced classes that ooze with challenge and variety are actually a product of this method.

On account of you being there and me being here and the whole corona chasm between us, I’d like to share some of this method. I don’t mean in this post though. Unfortunately I can’t fit the whole method in 600 words. There’s too much. There are pockets of information you’ll have to commit to memory. There are underlying movement principles you’ll need to look at technically to then understand experientially.

You’ll see there is so much more going on than you thought but also so much simplicity in creating the conditions for spontaneity.

Some of the method will be contained in these weekly posts. The more in-depth information will be released on the subscription platform.

The sweet rewards at the end are creative, intuitive ways to move, breathe, think and practice. Spontaneous ways to live.

Hell. We can’t use time as an excuse as more.

Anxiety. Let's get practical about this sh*t.

It’s highly likely that what you’ve previously never given any thought to, is now a source of anxiety. Grocery shopping, walking past someone, interaction with a neighbour. Finances. The health of parents. The health of kids. Herd immunity. The future.

If it’s any consolation at some point in the future, date currently unknown, we will return to a space when these interactions are no longer a source of anxiety. That doesn’t help us now though.

At the moment this wave of anxiety is what keeps us physically safe. We need a bit of anxiety to surface during each of these interactions so we don’t become complacent. The danger is anxiety remaining activated post interaction.

In an ideal setting it plays out like this:

  1. Anxiety starts to rise on route to shops.
  2. Get to shops. Anxiety surfaces as you grab trolley.
  3. Move through aisles fast and focussed.
  4. Return to car. Anxiety begins to decrease as groceries packed in boot.
  5. Anxiety decreases again as you enter house.
  6. Wash hands, groceries away, wash hands again. Anxiety disappears.

This cycle, while it might seem completely ridiculous when we’re not in a pandemic, showcases a highly desirable response. The nervous system is able to “fire up” our alert mechanisms quickly and efficiently when required and once the threat has passed, deactivate just as quickly.

The sweet spot is not getting to a place where we don’t have anxiety, fear or heightened alert responses but to get to where we can reset quickly and efficiently.

The problem is that we don’t know how or don’t have the time to reset. You might not even know it’s a thing.

  • Resetting is not sleeping. It’s not relaxing on the couch with a book. It’s not at the bottom of a wine glass. These things are relaxing. What we need is to reset.
  • Once you reset, you’ll feel the huge difference between relaxing and resetting.
  • The more often you reset, the more efficient you become at it.
  • The longer you put it off, the more sh*t will require resetting.
  • In an ideal world we reset immediately following each wave of upheaval.

There are so many instances when it’s not safe or possible to reset immediately. We go from spot fire to spot fire. Don’t stop doing this. Spot fires will become insurmountable if they get some wind behind them.

When it’s safe. When it’s possible. Reset. Don’t not do this. Upheaval will become insurmountable if it gets some time behind it.

Every night is ideal. Once a week, it’s going to take a bit longer. Once a month, f*ck. A good few hours.

It’s can be a completely different story for some. Front-line workers. Emergency services. Parents. People who struggled before a pandemic. There’s F.A time to reset. Honestly, it’s as much a logistical problem as a not knowing what to do problem.

13 hour shift.
Drive home.
Walk in door.
Wash hands.
Hug kids while peaking that your hug is the touch of corona death.
Dinner. Try not to talk about it but it creeps in.
Kids to bed. Pretend everything is ok.
Watch sh*tty Netflix.
Pass out from exhaustion on couch.
Wake up at midnight still on couch.
Check on kids. Kiss them. Look at them while worry peaks again.
Go to bed.
Look like you’re sleeping for four hours.
Not sleep.

This is challenging work but a life skill. The ability to reset with regularity is a life skill. Post pandemic.

In 2019 I taught a 6 week pilot program, Affected 24/7 which went through the process of resetting. The feedback was staggering. I have put together an abridged pandemic version of this course. Still 6 weeks. Free. Because it’s important work and it’s the right thing to do.

The course will be available from Sunday 19th April. You’ll be able to start then or when you like. If you’ve done this course before, do it again. Please.

If you’d like to pre-register, touch base and I’ll send you some pre-reading prior to the 19th.

Three options

Pre-Corona I taught a Slow Release masterclass every six weeks. The class is a little different to most and always opens with instructions of what you can’t do for the following two hours.

The first 10 or so seconds in a posture are for you to work out where you need to be. After that don’t move. Don’t adjust. Don’t even make small movements you think can’t be seen.

The similarity between this and how we’ve been instructed to deal with the current global circumstance now seem striking.

ScoMo’s directions to us. Get yourself home, from international travel, from interstate travel, from Corona-infested cruise ship travel. Once you work out your home and your immediate circle of people, don’t move. Don’t adjust. Don’t change the parameters. Settle in for the long haul.

After delivering this list of what you can’t do in a Slow Release, I spend the next two hours unveiling, uncomfortable posture by uncomfortable posture, the options you do have at your disposal.

Option 1. Change the way you’re breathing. During a Slow Release each posture is held for exactly three minutes. If you get control of your breath and slow it down to a count of seven, all you need to do is take around 12 slow breaths in each posture.

Option 2. Change what you’re choosing to focus on. I’m going to quote myself here for maximum effect. “How the f*ck is it helpful to focus on what is uncomfortable right now? Scan your body, find some part of you that is happy in this sh*tty position and focus on that. Even if the only part you find is your nose, then focus on that for 12 slow breaths.”

Option 3. Surrender to what is happening. It’s out of your control. It’s going to happen regardless. Surrender is often seen as a weak option but in fact surrender is the most powerful thing you can do. To get yourself in a position where you are not affected by the comings and goings of discomfort. To stay steady.

Generally in life we have a desire to continually improve, to build more knowledge, to increase wealth, to increase career prospects, to keep ourselves and our family moving forward. Insert a global pandemic and this desire is severely impacted.

Look at the pandemic through the lens of Slow Release. The class is not about improving the technical aspect of postures, it’s not about improving anatomical deficiencies. The sweet spot in a Slow Release is getting yourself in a position where you can hold steady and weather the discomfort that will surely arise over three minutes.

During this pandemic, none of our house prices are going to increase. None of us are going to build wealth. Our fitness is not likely to improve leaps and bounds. Our mental health will not likely become rock solid.

We can however position ourselves to hold steady. Forget about building wealth and instead how can you hold onto the money you have. Let go of improving mental health and instead how can you retain the tools and techniques you used pre-pandemic. Release the burden of your child’s education and instead how can you help position them to come out of this no worse than when they went into it.

Three options. Progress. Go backwards. Hold steady.

The other Slow Release options also come in handy. Change the way you’re breathing and change what you’re choosing to focus on.

The similarities keep showing up

Sometimes you get to the end of a yoga practice and realise it was just crap. Completely crap. Same teacher, same studio, same mat, same class. Last week it was great. This week crap.

It’s often not easy to pinpoint where the crap-ness has come from or why during that particular practice it decided to show up. Why it chose to ruin your yoga experience.

During a practice, teachers draw attention to a handful of elements.

  • Establishing a steady gaze point
  • Creating a steady foundation
  • Distributing weight evenly
  • Anchoring before elevating
  • Maintaining steadiness of breath
  • Protecting vulnerable body parts

Cues never contain:

  • Dialogue about the outcome
  • The word should
  • The word normal
  • Reference to aesthetics

I can’t help but feel guided by these cues in formulating a response to the current global circumstance.

The outcome is unknown.

Normal has gone.

Aesthetics are not even a consideration.

Prior to the onslaught of the C-word, many people arrive at yoga to ease discomfort in the body, to assist with injuries or deficits and to soothe mental health concerns. Yoga is exceptional at assisting with these things. It can also be a very influential voice in navigating challenging circumstances.

Steady gaze point. Be incredibility discerning about where you access your news. Ensure sources prove their legitimacy before you set your gaze upon them. During the week I found myself in the 2 metre presence of a liberal candidate running for re-election. I heard her tell a group of people that ScoMo had just announced we have to stand 4 meters away from each other outdoors. Confusion and fear went through the group. I walked 0.5 meters closer to her and told her that every interaction she has with people, particularly in her capacity as an MP has the power to either dampen down or incite hysteria. That was not at all what ScoMo said, please check your facts before you engage with people. Please make wise choices about your interactions.

Steady foundation. Lean into the simple structures of living; food, sleep, movement, sunshine, fresh air.

Distribute weight evenly. Many of us have historically given too much of ourselves to work. The current situation allows the opportunity to spread efforts evenly between work, family, meaningful conversations and deeper connections with fewer people.

Anchor before elevating. Before elevating into each uncertain, disrupted, potentially frightening day, take the time to anchor down. Find your feet, spread your toes and then lift your arches. Let the lift grow from the ground up.

Steadiness of breath. Slow, deep breathing provides an intrinsically rhythmic and dependable pattern both in sound and feeling. Given our current climate, with so much uncertainty and disruption to routine, carrying and connecting to something dependable can be a lifeline.

Protect vulnerability. This has become the epicentre of the pandemic. During a yoga practice, wrists can be abused plank after plank after plank. We protect the wrists by not using them, staying away from them, redirecting the muscular effort to bigger, more appropriately designed muscle groups. Recognise at risk populations and create a spacer of love between you and them.