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.

The power of opposites. Taught by the infuriating Marty-K.

Lately I’ve been teaching opposites. In order to teach more about backbends, rather than doing a hundred of them, we’ve been exploring the contrast of a forward bend. Understanding via the opposite is used in many contexts. We appreciate life more when we brush up against death. We understand what marriage is against a backdrop of divorce. An injury will shine a spotlight on taken for granted wellness.

In my exploration of opposites I was reminded of one of the most infuriating characters I have come across. Marty-K. More formally known as Martin Kaye. Marty-K bought out the worst in me.

In the first year following my promotion to Leading Seaman, Marty-K fell into my team. More accurately he was kicked from where he was and my watch was the first place he landed.

Now the job wasn’t hard but there were a few no-no’s.

Don’t hang your god awful smelling joggers over the ducted air-con vent for the smell to be evenly dispersed throughout the entire base.

Don’t turn up to work late. Turning up at the start of your watch is considered late in the defence force. Being on time is turning up 15 minutes before the start of shift. We call it a handover.

The job required top secret clearance. This, Marty-K implies the need to be more rather than less discreet.

Our relationship was on a steady downhill trajectory from day one. What sealed its fate was the very last time I got hauled into the COs office for yet another Marty-K debacle. The boss didn’t know the exact origin of this latest debacle, only that it belonged to “my part of ship”.

Damn you Marty-K.

Never again.

I went back to my unfortunately completely glass office and called the 6 foot sloth in. Round one began and this is where the worst in me came out.

I would like to say that I began with the following…are you ok fella? Is there anything going on at home? Do you need more training with this or that? Do I give you enough support and guidance? What do you need from me to lift your game a bit matey?

Not one of those words was uttered.

I, in the words of the defence force, ripped him a new a******.

It escalated to the point where Marty-K began sobbing. He reached out, presumably for an invisible tissue but the closest thing was a big cardboard bag of flags. Flags that are normally reserved for hoisting up a ships mast were now dubiously patting away his tears.

My response and this is a low point in the story. Go to the bathroom. Sort yourself out. Come back because I haven’t finished.

Two things came from this. The system didn’t give a sh*t about how I handled the situation. It wasn’t seen as inappropriate. That’s concerning.

The second thing was glass offices are not the most respectful arena to rip someone apart in. Noted.

I like to give credit where credit is due and I think Marty-K may have had a hand in my now much more loving and far less a-holey conflict management approach. My skills then to now are in stark contrast of each other. The old approach didn’t bring out the best in me and it was never going to bring the best out in Marty-K.

The opposite is a powerful teacher.

My experience with Marty-K means that I now ask all the questions I never asked him. I get the back-story, the side-ways story, all the stories so it’s an empathy fuelled interaction. An interaction that shortens the gap in between rather than divides.

Marty-K, I don’t think the defence force was your place to shine but I know there is a job out there for you and I do hope you’ve found it.

Marty-K, wherever you are, thank-you fella.

Hero pose, overalls and Tim Tams

At sea, my home was a little communications centre. It was tucked away directly behind the bridge and had just enough room for two (preferably small) people. It had a cool design feature in that it was all modularised, like old school Ikea. The idea was if a module broke, it could be slid out and a new one slid straight in. New modules could be shipped all across the globe, to places where specialised technicians couldn't. They stayed in Sydney, building and fixing, shipping and receiving.

For the three years I was on one particular ship the HF mod never worked. I think it had been broken for years and years, its broken-ness handed over to each new crew. HF, or high frequency is the backup frequency and used to send distress signals. It has the power to transmit anywhere, ovaries included.

I used this convenient little 6x4 space to store Tim Tams. I could comfortably stack 6 packets side-ways. I had worked out I could relocate four packets at a time, from the galley to my comcen. One of the small joys in wearing overalls.

Yes, I used to pinch Tim Tams.

Not too soon after I arrived on HMAS Hawkesbury, the crew realised I was a little different. No surprises there. Very quickly I found my quietness and the comcen created the perfect outlet. I had a fairly steady stream of visitors from 5am through to midnight and whilst I sent signals, destroyed crypto, fixed internet issues, hoisted flags and deciphered morse code, people told me their secrets. There were a lot of secrets onboard.

I figured that along with my ears, the least I could do was supply Tim Tams (courtesy of the galley).

In comms school I learnt the ins and outs of HF, the technical aspects, the functionality, the design features. In reality my experience of HF was deliciously different. My version of HF was far from broken and ironically still served its purpose as an invaluable port of call in times of distress. Long stints at sea were all the more difficult when travelling with secrets. There were drug issues, palliative family members, broken marriages, affairs, secret relationships and mental health issues.

The point is that everything has a purpose. Every posture has a purpose. The purpose is what unites us but how we get there, is what differentiates us.

Lately knees, wrists, shoulders and lumbar spines have been getting in the way. Getting in the way of many postures, for many people. Getting in the way of the purpose. Supta Virasana (reclining hero pose) is a perfect example.

B. Tight quads creating a compressive arch in lumbar spine.

The main purpose of this posture is to lengthen the quadriceps. If the quads are short and tight, they will pull on the lumbar spine, tipping it forward which compresses and creates discomfort in the low back (image B).

Variations: Reclining back on a bolster means the recline angle is decreased. Keeping the opposite knee bent with the foot flat on the mat gives greater control over the lumbar spine. Ensuring the pelvis is tilted back means the tailbone tucks under. If the quad is really tight and therefore short, it can lift off the mat so rolling up a towel and wedging it under allows the bent back knee to release.

If your low back is uncomfortable and you stay, you've unintentionally modified the purpose to create discomfort in your low back. If your knees are screaming, your new purpose is to destroy your knees one hero pose at a time. Some people need a block under the bolster, others don't recline at all, while some bring both legs back at once. How we get to the quads is what differentiates us, what connects us is a sensation in the quads.

I didn't feel reckless or unsafe not getting the HF mod replaced. We needed those Tim Tams as much as we needed, in times of distress, to dump the weight of the world. I knew that if HMAS Hawkesbury and its strange, loveable crew got into real trouble, we had the VHF radio, the UHF radio, the LAN, the flags and the lights. If all of those options failed and the only other thing was the HF mod, it probably wouldn't have worked anyway, Tim Tams or not.

These things are so underrated

Over the past week these two things saved me. I had a sciatic nerve thing going on for a day or so.  I've been feeling a bit flat. I've been putting in long hours for uni. There is nothing complicated about what I did, the beauty is how simple they are. It's always the simple things that work.

  1. Standing slightly pigeon-toed.
    Let me explain this one by telling you about the opposite way to stand. Imagine a pregnant woman, complete with a beautifully enormous baby belly. There is a significant amount of weight pulling forward and down. To take some of the load, women tend to adopt a wide stance with their toes out (opposite to pigeon-toed). This throws the hips forward so the hips become like ledges, holding most of their belly weight. The hips are over-burdened and the low back is pulled forward and in, creating significant compression. This happens not only with pregnant women but body types that carry more abdominal weight. It happens to us when we get tired and lazy and forget about how we stand and hold ourselves.The opposite is pigeon-toed, turning the toes slightly in. The degree is only slight, you don't want to see a pigeon-toed stance, you only want to feel it. When you adopt this stance, the abdominal weight draws in toward the spine and importantly, the low back adjusts back and out, creating a triangle of space around the lumbar, sacrum and sacro-illiac joint. Ideally we want to be standing like this all the time.
  2. Constructive rest position.
    This is so simple it doesn't even seem like a thing to do. An actual healing thing to do. An amazingly restful thing to do.
    That's it. Lying on your back with your knees bent. Here's a run-down of what's happening...
    This position is all about the psoas muscle. This muscle is buried deep in the body, you can't touch or see it. It's a deep core muscle and structurally connects the top half of the body with the bottom half. One of its main jobs is to stabilise the lumbar spine. When the psoas muscle is tight, it pulls the lumbar spine creating an over-arch (hyper-lordosis). Pain can show up in the glutes, hip, groin, low back, sciatic nerve and S.I joint.  The other thing it does is communicate directly to the nervous system. This is because the muscle is located so deep within the body. When the psoas is tight, it will automatically send the nervous system into the "fight/flight" response. This is why the posture feels so restful, it lengthens and releases the psoas, dropping us into the parasympathetic "rest/digest" system.
    What does the damage. Sitting, running, kicking (martial arts, football, soccer), hockey and cycling are all movements that tighten the psoas.
    How. Have the feet hip distance and slightly pigeon-toed. Most people need to stack a block or firm cushion under their head so neck remains parallel to the ground. Hands can rest on the belly, ribcage or alongside the body. You don't need to do anything once you've set yourself up, our changed relationship with gravity does the work in releasing the psoas muscle. Stay as long as you like but try to aim for at least five minutes.

I've gone minimal

I used to write complete plans for every yoga class I taught. Details on every posture, every cue, every prop. I was flicking through some of these old plans the other day and noticed just how much my teaching style has changed.

  1. It seems I used to try and impart every single thing I knew, in just one class. Bloody hell.
  2. I used to talk a lot. Too much.
  3. My stick figures were dubious. At best.
  4. I wasn't nearly as creative.
  5. I was a bit OCD. Too prescriptive. My handwriting was much neater. Perhaps the neatness got in the way of creativity.
  6. Light bulb moments were few and far between.


I'll never throw these plans out. The tattered red book reminds me of how far I've come. It reminds me of the importance of developing a foundation, a voice, a style. It's also a reminder that we do the best with what we have at the time.

After trekking Milford Sound with only a few necessary items on my back, I realised my teaching style is becoming very minimalistic. You don't need one hundred ways to meditate. You just need one way that works. You don't need 14 different backbends. You just need one way to extend your spine. One accessible way. You don't need seven different ways to feel grounded, just one that feels familiar and works.

This is what the last page in my red book says:

  • Who is in front of you?
  • What is their greatest need?
  • What is the simplest thing in my toolbox to fulfil that need?
  • How can I describe it simply?

The important thing with going minimal is pairing it with awareness. Because you're not buying, eating, doing, earning, making or saying much, it's important that what you are buying, eating, doing, earning, making and saying hits the nail on the head. You don't have surplus, a big net that will inevitably hold something you do need while buried under ten tons of sh*t you don't.

The tricky thing with awareness is that it's not fixed. It's so fleetingly fluid. What you needed yesterday, might not serve today. If you don't notice the change, you'll go out and buy, eat, do, earn, make or say something you don't need today.

Me as a minimalist teacher:
I generally start every class in one of three ways. You might not have noticed this but what I'm doing is noticing. Who is in front of me? What is their greatest need? What body have they bought to class today? How's their bad back? They look tired. They look angry. Distracted.

Me as a minimalist yoga student:
I sit quietly for a moment. Reflect. How have I been using my body for the past 12 hours? Moving or sleeping. How do I feel right now? What is my greatest need? Do I need to wake up properly and start a very busy day or do I need to let go of my day and slow down for sleep?

The start of the forage into minimalism is the hardest. Who are you? What is your greatest need?

We have to talk about it...sweat

Sweat. Necessary. Gross. Scientific. Desirable. Embarrassing. Too much. Not enough.

The short answer of how it works:

When your internal body temperature begins to increase, the nervous system goes to work stimulating and releasing sweat. Sweat, essentially salty water with a few other bits and pieces, sits on the surface of the skin and begins the process of vaporisation, changing from a liquid to a gas. It's a smart system build on the laws of physics. To convert a liquid to a gas requires heat. Sweat uses the heat from your body to transform into a gas.

You end up cooler. Your sweat ends up as a vapour.

What happens when you wipe sweat off?

You disrupt the relationship between liquid, gas and heat. The body responds by registering the heat, producing more sweat and on the cycle goes. Lesson here is don't wipe it off. Try really hard to work around it, embrace it and let it be.


A fit person will begin sweating earlier and produce more sweat than someone not as fit. As fitness increases, the body becomes more proficient at this sweating business. The aim is to be able to sweat, indicating your body has a reliable way of keeping itself cool. This means you don't risk things like heat stroke and exhaustion and you can keep doing whatever it is you're doing for longer.

When what you want is so damn different to what you need

I've been having an ethical dilemma. A teaching dilemma of sorts.

Dilemma 1. Which comes first, yoga teacher or business owner?

Dilemma 2. Should I teach people what they want or what they need?

Dilemma 3. How do I know what they need?  That's a tad arrogant isn't it?

Let's start with dilemma 2. My most useful teaching tool is a spectrum. At one end is flexibility and the other end is strength. If you want a sustainable body you need to straddle the two ends. Plant one foot firmly at each end. Don't water one down. Don't let one erode the other. Pay equal attention to both.

What tends to happen is people have both feet at one end, committed entirely to either the strength end or the flexibility end.  At that point all they feel comfortable with and all they crave is to stay at that end. It's familiar, it's habitual.

Insert my dilemma. Do I teach them postures that will take them where they want to be, which is more of the same or somehow turn their head to glimpse across at the other end. To take a few tiny steps toward it. Do I give them what they want or what they need?

Now dilemma 1 shows up. They are paying. They should get what they want.

Something random helped me with dilemma 3. I'm doing work placement for uni this semester. I have to plan and execute a competitive event and find a sporting organisation to host it. Unfortunately for me, yoga is in no way competitive and try as I might, I couldn't manipulate it to fit the competitive criteria. So I came up with another brilliant idea. Found a workplace. Tick.

For my event I needed personal health and statistical information from five professional football players to use as benchmarks. Difficult. Information not available on wiki. Problem.

I got my hands on the direct contact details for the CEO of a football team. I emailed him. I wasn't rude but I was super direct. I was respectful as I asked for exactly what I wanted. I named the five players and outlined the data I needed. I didn't sugar-coat it. I didn't think about what I was likely to get, I just asked for what I wanted.

I got it. I got every single thing. No kidding.

Learning for me. Ask for what I want.

I couldn't control what I was going to get but I could control what I asked for. Just by putting it out there. So I'm putting it out there for you to think about yoga in the context of want vs need.  Think about where are you on the spectrum? What do you need to get to the middle? Yoga isn't designed to be comfortable. It's designed to keep you balanced. To keep one foot firmly planted at each end.

To keep you strong, resilient, dynamic and active enough. To allow you to be soft, bendable, fluid and gracious enough.

The answer depends on who you ask

What’s a forward bend? Depends on who you ask.

Ask your spine and it will tell you how the movement increases the space between each vertebrae. It will describe how much taller it feels afterwards. It will tell you about the joyous feeling of hanging, just hanging especially after a long day.

If you chat to the hamstrings, brace for a punch in the face. Forward bends are offensive to the hamstrings. Ask Instagram and it only sees value in the ones that look amazing, never mind the knee joints, it needs to look amazingly unachievable.

If you ask your day, it will tell you the last thing it needs is another forward bend, what with the 8 hours you’ve clocked up in front of the computer. If you ask insomnia however, it will feel soothed by the quiet, introverted moments spent folding in, shutting out the world. If you ask yoga, it will scoff at how deeply you go but look instead for how deeply you can release.

The danger in only seeking one perspective is losing more than half the story. You actually lose most of the story.

So who the f*ck do we ask? The refugee crisis might help.

If you listen to politicians talk about refugees, they tend to dodge around them, wishing they would land upon the shores of a neighbour, hoping they might disappear. Not into into the ocean though, nobody needs that sort of sh*t storm.

If you ask the general, mainstream public, they care a lot but feel helpless. They don’t really know the solution but know it’s a big problem. They’ve got a bit of extra money, a lot of empathy but no knowledge on the most effective thing to do.

If you ask South Sudan, they’ll tell you their heart has quadrupled in size on account of the good deeds the’ve been able to do. When they look around their country and see all the displaced people they’ve taken in, they feel pretty good. Their reputation around the world in terms of good deeds done, has skyrocketed.

If you ask terrorists, it’s a great opportunity. If you ask a refugee, the answer is heart breaking.

How does this help? Tell me what compels you?

If you’re interested in politics, then contribute to the refugee problem by lobbying the sh*tty politicians who have the ability to make different decisions.

If you’re compelled by communities and people, start to spread the word, in your own creative way about the reality of the refugee situation. Educate and motivate people with the truth.

If you feel that strongly about terrorists, join the military.

We can’t all take in a refugee. We can’t all give money. We can’t all join the military. We can’t do everything.

What compels you? What do you need to do to feel sated when the day is done? Postures work the same way.

When you do a forward bend you can’t attack it from every angle. You’ll end up tearing the posture to bits until it ends up looking like a bedraggled drunk. What do you need to do to feel sated? If your spine aches, dedicate your forward bend to your spine. If your hamstrings catch every time you stand, then graciously draw them into the posture. If you’re a shocking sleeper, fold inward and forget about the rest.

The posture will take care of you.

5 to 6 kilos

Last semester I had to look at some studies for uni and provide discussion on different methods for losing weight. There was one method in particular that caught my eye.

In the study GPs were advised to identify patients who were 5-6kgs heavier than their ideal, healthy weight. The next step was to plant a seed,  to draw the persons attention to the extra few kgs. Next came a conversation about how easy it is to shift 5-6kgs, while it's such a small number and before it raises any major flags. It's not enough weight to trigger diabetes, heart disease or cholesterol, in fact there's no major health implications for 5-6kgs.

The philosophy was to empower people to take action at the inconsequential marker of 5-6kgs, because while it's easy to effect a positive change, it's also a gateway. It segues quickly into 15-20kgs. Then 25-40kgs. To then a really, big problem.

This approach worked on empowerment not fear. It increased self-awareness so the 5-6kg marker would be more noticeable in the future. It inspired people with a doable plan to circumnavigate something more disastrous.

What if we apply this approach to aches, pains, tightness, inflexibility. To the first night, rather than the fifth that we have a sh*tty sleep. Rather than waiting for a knee blowout, a back breakdown, bursitis, a tear, insomnia or stress induced illness.  What if we did something at the first niggle.

Two things are required for this to work. Notice the niggle first of all. Then do something about it.

Niggles are subtle. They are the first couple of steps you take in the morning as you hobble to the bathroom. By the time you're at the bathroom, gone. No more discomfort, already forgotten about. This is the 5-6kg marker.

It's really easy to go on with your day but also really easy to do something about it.

This method of weight loss returned amazing results. People felt powerful, in charge. They had options. They could start walking a few mornings a week, or swim, or cycle or run. They could make some small, barely noticeable changes to their diet.

The other option might be no option. Diabetes medication for life. Cholesterol meds. A potentially long battle with weight. Gastric bypass. Obesity. Depression.

I had a conversation with a client the other day, a 40 something year old guy who comes to yoga once a week, never misses one. He came to yoga in his 40's because of a lower back injury. He tells me all the time how he wishes he'd found yoga in his 20's. What would his footy career have looked like? What would the state of his back be like, with an hour of yoga a week for 20 odd years?

When you notice a niggle, the options are doable. Totally. Get friendly with your hamstrings. 10 minutes everyday. Legs up the wall. Awesome. Breathe deeply for 5 minutes. Oh the joy!

Niggles. Powerful.

What the hell is a flexible habitat?

Flexible Habitats

It’s a tent.

I found out this fun fact when I worked for the fire service. It was years ago, while I was working up the courage to open my own studio. I answered 000 calls. Soul destroying.

The big problem for me was no closure. The job was to speak with people having the most tragic day of their life and then speak to the next and the next. For 14 hour shifts, keep speaking to more and more people. We never knew how it ended. Did they survive? Did they get out? Can they function? Are they happy?

Back to the tent. The fire service calls tents flexible habitats. They use them to deploy to crisis areas for the crews to create, well, a habitat in. Once I stopped laughing I realised yoga does the same thing.

It uses names to not only describe how things look but how things feel and their purpose. Quite a lot to fit into a name.

Vrksasana. Tree pose. You look like a tree. You want to feel grounded through the feet while remaining fluid and responsive to the elements.

Setubandhasana. Bridge pose. You look like a bridge with the hips elevated and the feet grounded. You’re light enough to take flight but stable enough to withstand resistance.

Trikonasana. Triangle pose. You can create at least four visual triangles in the body. Embody the principles of a triangle, the strongest shape in nature. Allow your weight to disperse evenly throughout the sides, the perfect blend of rigidity and flexibility.

Pashimottanasana. Seated forward bend. East meets west. Your back body experiences a deep stretch as it gradually meets your front body. The blending of two cultures. Nothing to do with the hamstrings.

Surya Namaskar. Sun salute. Gratitude in motion. For the spiritual aspects of the practice. For what makes it different to pumping out reps at the gym.

Savasana. Corpse pose. The body doesn’t move. It fades into the background. Depending on your belief system, the mind, the soul, the untouchable bits connect to something else, if only for a few moments.

Study a tree, a bridge, a triangle. Stare at the sun and get familiar with death. It will deepen your understanding of yoga postures and the sheer intelligence behind the naming system.

Sanskrit is the language of yoga and one of the oldest. It’s seeped in vibration. You can feel yourself saying it, not just hear it. It’s a 3D language designed to ignite the senses.

Back to the flexible habitat. I don’t know that they will ignite the senses but you’ll certainly know exactly what you’re going to be sleeping in.

Yin yoga. It's supposed to be different

Yin yoga is designed to be different. It’s quite scientific and very anatomical. In some ways it’s easier but in many ways it’s harder. Our sedentary lifestyles make yin yoga difficult but so very necessary.

Yoga is typically grouped into two approaches, yin or yang. The popularity of yang classes continues to rise in the western world.  Yang works with muscular tissues which tends to include repetitive, rhythmic muscular contractions. Yang classes are dynamic and fast-flowing. At Yoga Emporium, we call yang Hot Flow.

In comparison yin movements are very slow and deliberate. You stay in the postures for longer, marinating in the sensations. This is HARD. Mindfulness is challenged with a yin approach.

We often use distraction as a way to circumnavigate discomfort. We distract ourselves with heat, sweat, with fast movements, with the people around us. With the pictures on the wall. With our toenails. Yin yoga sets down the challenge to stay PRESENT with the sensations. If the posture focusses on the hamstrings, then follow the sensation down the hamstring. Stay with it.

The benefits of Yin:

  • Develops a deeper awareness of muscles, joints, injuries and tightness
  • The longer holds allow the posture to seep down into connective tissue and fascia
  • It specifically prepares the body to sit comfortably for meditation
  • Works with the principle of applying a slow, steady load to encourage the body to respond with increased strength and length
  • Postures often focus on hips, pelvis and low back
  • Encourages a sensitivity to more subtle cues which is necessary for injury prevention

Yoga Emporium offers three Yin classes per week. Check timetable for details and to book.

Two things I've learnt from drug addicts

Addiction. I’ve been mentored by people who’ve worked with addicts. I’ve worked with addicts directly. I find addiction to be the most fascinating topic. It’s taught me two important things. About rehab.

For rehab to be successful and sustainable, to be their forever story, two things need to happen.

The person needs to acquire strength. Then that strength needs to be tested, almost to the point of breaking. Almost but not quite.

1. Acquire strength.
12 step programs. Isolation. Withdrawal. Letting go of bad influences. Checking into a clinic. Staying in a clinic. Finding a shrink. Talking to a shrink. Every day. Every week.

2. Test strength.
Abstinence. Not abstinence in a rehab centre. Not abstinence because you can’t afford it but abstaining while staring at it. Being able to smell it, hear it, see it and still make a strong choice. Challenge your urge and still fall back on your strength.

Substitute drug rehab for injury rehab.

1. Acquire strength.
Isolate muscles. Build strength. Do repetitions. Create webs of strength throughout the body. Increase knowledge of injury. Understand it. Visualise it. Be clear on how it happened.

2. Test strength.
Also known as flexibility. Presents as an unfamiliar environment. Elongate the muscle and see if it can hold the same weight. See if you can breathe while elongating. Your strength will be tested when you go back to work and bend down to pick up the same box that caused the injury. Will work deadlines cause your strength to waiver, as you fling the box up, bypassing the newly acquired strength in your thighs? Testing your strength shows your limits. It validates step one.

People tend to do one step or the other. Very rarely both. However both are required for success to be your forever story. There is no injury, ailment or disease that won’t benefit from acquiring strength and then testing it with flexibility. Here’s a yoga example.

1. Plank pose, either practiced on elbows or hands. Hold plank. Do reps. Stay. Then stay longer. Then longer again. Notice how you progressively feel less strained and more comfortable.

2. Test plank by adding flexibility. Move between plank and downward dog. Create a little sequence between the two postures. Does your plank hold it’s form, shape and comfort? Can you breathe in the sequence?

Arthritis. Swollen, inflamed joints. Limited movement. No cushioning, no softness, bone against bone. Most sufferers only focus on step 2, flexibility, given the condition depletes so much range of movement. They miss the part where they build strength in the surrounding muscles. Create webs of integrity and stability so the damaged joints have a support system.

Low self-esteem. Requires you to strengthen yourself with good company, positive and motivating friends. An uplifting workplace and taking regular holidays to inspirational locations.

Does the positive self-talk continue on a lonely Saturday night, bored at home in your pjs? There’s the test.

Seek to understand the purpose of rehab. Purpose is power.

How to change your practice

How you can dramatically change your yoga practice

If your practice has started to feel familiar and heaven forbid comfortable and mindless, it’s time to advance.

We often associate more advanced classes with more challenging postures, faster, hotter and with more and more limb contortion. Another way to advance something is by changing how you define it. Yoga. Asana. Deep. Namaste. These words get thrown around as often as downward dogs and with familiarity, their definitions can become uninspired, irrelevant and impersonal.

The best definitions are collections of words that not only describe what something is but add depth and colour; the how, when and why. The following definitions of these four familiar words blend their historical Sanskrit roots with some depth and colour added in.

Yoga. It means yoke which translates as come together or unify. These days the elements often being yoked together, let’s be honest, aren’t exactly deep and inspiring.  On trend activewear, the perfect mat and the most exotic place to practice seem to equal yoga that has been successfully ‘yoked’.

Let’s add the word ‘harness’ to the definition of yoga. To be able to steer something, it must be harnessed. Now we have a way to yoke. Harness the mind to the body. Harness the body to the breath. Harness the breath to the mind.

Asana. It’s generally interpreted as posture, the physical contortion of the body. The importance of asana therefore is what the arms, legs, muscles and joints are doing. Insert Instagram and Pinterest and you can see how asana is put up on a pedestal.

We have to go back to the roots of yoga to find the real and quite surprising meaning of asana. It translates to sitting quietly in the pose. Without fighting or forcing, without shifting or squirming. Asana has nothing to do with the physicality of the body but everything to do with the landscape of the mind. This isn’t easy so instead we choose, and particularly in the western world, to analyse the sh*t out of our triangle pose so we don’t have to contend with the fact that we can’t sit quietly in it.

Deep. Go deeper, move deeper. This cue is often interpreted as force and push your body into a more confronting posture, with nil regard for what’s sacrificed. Get out of the way knees, move over stomach, stop talking low back.

When we work with a different definition of deep, it tells us how and what to deepen. Deepen the breath by smoothing it out and respecting the pauses. Deepen the mental practice by finding a focus point and holding your gaze to it. Deep in this sense has no reflection on how the body is arranged but how we approach and ‘sit’ in the postures.

Namaste. Uttering the word brings closure to every yoga class. There are so many translations for namaste and often the words divinity, spirit, bow, respect and gratitude feature. It’s used in the Hindi tradition as a mark of respect, to acknowledge an elder, as a sign you would like to initiate a conversation. The simultaneous bowing of the head and bringing together of the palms is just as significant as the word itself when searching for a translation.

When we translate from one language to another, we try to find an equivalent but does English have an equivalent word?

Working with a deeper definition, namaste embodies intention. That you’ve approached the practice, the teacher, the person, yourself, with gratitude and respect. That you acknowledge a common connection. A connection that is deeper than us both loving yoga, speaking the same language or even living in the same community. A much deeper connection. Oneness.

The story of the swearing class

Yoga and swearing don’t seem to go together. Certainly not like peas and carrots. But there’s a weirdly wonderful marriage between the two that not only works but is necessary.

This class is designed around comfort or rather a complete lack of.

Now don’t confuse discomfort with pain. I’ve never had anyone lose a limb, break a bone or vomit. And nobody has ever walked out. Never. Not in three years of teaching this class. Rest easy in this knowledge.

But something happens that only discomfort seems to invoke. Over the course of two hours you’re shown the answer to the question…

What do you do when you're uncomfortable?

As adults we don’t hang out with discomfort often. We choose pleasure, we gravitate toward exercise we prefer, we eat what we like, we go to sleep when we like. We choose what we want.

It’s rare we’re in a situation that’s entirely uncomfortable. Absurdly uncomfortable. So when discomfort does come knocking, we abort, we exit stage left, we run for the hills. Hardly resilient.

The class came to fruition because I met a swearing yoga teacher years ago. He dropped some seeds that I collected and played with and then eventually weaved together with my experience in the military.

Now if you’ve never gone to sea, let me describe it for you. Similar to being trapped in a floating esky with 40 people you can’t stand while eating shitty food. For months at a time. It’s not all terrible though, the days highlight is your allocated 30 minutes on a treadmill. A treadmill that requires you to hold onto the ceiling while riding in the event of rough sea.

Escape wasn’t an option, given I’m not a strong swimmer so there was no choice but to survive discomfort. But just surviving is setting the bar fairly low.

When I talk about this class I often refer to the sweet spot in the class.

It’s always between an hour and 20 minutes and an hour and 25 minutes. I’m still trying to work out the science behind the time (will keep you posted when I work it out) but something magical happens.

Insert the wise old guy Shakespeare, “Nothing is good or bad – the mind makes it so”. He describes the sweet spot perfectly. The discomfort doesn’t stop, in fact we keep building to a quite uncomfortable climax.

But our relationship with discomfort changes.

Plus…you’ll develop an entirely new relationship with your hips.


A conversation with triangle pose

I hate this pose.  I'll be honest.

For me it’s right there with childs pose and for a very long time downward dog. I’ve since become one with downward dog but triangle and I could still go either way. Only time will tell. It’s fancy sanskrit name is Trikonasana and the pose is about a play of opposites. Stay grounded or be aspirational. Stay contracted but maintain freedom. When you fully experience what Trikonasana has to offer you’ll sit happily in the middle, right in the sweet spot.

Grounded or aspirational
Create some fire in the legs by contracting the thighs, calves and pushing into the feet. As you exhale ground down into the mat. As you exhale contract the core muscles.  Generate some fire in the belly. From the waist down is grounded. The purpose of inhaling in Trikonasana is to lengthen the spine, to expand the chest and to broaden the back muscles. The inhale creates freedom from the waist up. The challenge is to find the sweet spot which is in the middle of remaining grounded while reaching high.


  • Releases the hips and entire length of the legs
  • Opens the sides of the body, creating space around the intercostal muscles
  • Lengthens the spine
  • Activates core muscles


  1. Begin in a wide lunge with the left foot forward. The back right foot is turned on a slight angle. Both legs are straight, be mindful not to lock the knees in. Lift the arms up to shoulder height and really extend out through the fingertips. Take a couple of deep, slow breaths here.
  2. Begin to contract the thigh muscles strongly and anchor the legs and feet into the mat.  As you exhale start to tilt from the pelvis, only going as far down as your legs will comfortably allow, maintaining spinal length. Rest your left hand on a block/chair if necessary.
  3. Make a conscious choice about where to position your neck and head. The neck is naturally flexible so it craves stabilisation. If the neck allows, the gaze can be up to the top right hand. If not take a more neutral focus point.
  4. As you inhale, elongate the spine from the tailbone to the head. As you exhale, anchor the legs and feet firmly down into the mat.

Hello sweet spot…
The weight feels even in both legs. The breath is steady and deep. The body feels spacious, in the hips, across the back and particularly across the chest. You’ve really ‘got it’ when an instruction to remain in the pose for 5 minutes doesn’t faze you. The sweet spot is sustainable.

Those with bulging discs or herniations need to be careful, either avoid altogether or remain higher with bottom hand on block or chair to assist the spine to maintain integrity.

This pose is about a play of opposites. Stay grounded or be aspirational. 

What yoga has to say about injuries

Our recent Tea and Talk Satsang unpacked the topic of injuries, added a few cups of tea and refreshing conversation. We ended up with these thoughts on the relationship between yoga and injuries.

First thought.

Yoga works in layers and is always prompting the question “what’s behind this layer, and then what’s behind the next?” If there’s an injury in the skeletal layer, say with the shoulder joint, yoga wants to know what’s going on deeper. If you take yoga’s prompt and start to enquire about the layers, you might follow a shoulder injury to a fundamental lifestyle issue. Your lifestyle might not allow you to strike a balance between moving and being sedentary. Fix the shoulder and you’ll be fine for a while but fix the lifestyle issue and you’ll experience much deeper restoration.

Another example are tight hips, a common muscular layer injury. Yoga views the pelvis as a big storage area, holding onto emotional and physical trauma, sexual and childbirth scars. These traumas will continue to accumulate unless we regularly clear out and release what’s been captured.

Working on deeper layers takes time and the deeper you go the less you can outsource. It’s often a case of it getting really uncomfortable and cloudy before you break through into clarity.

Second thought.

The way yoga was originally designed is not often how we practice it. If we have knowledge of the system and practice with it in mind, our practice would start with very subtle movements, rotating and manipulating each and every joint, limb and muscle. First sitting, then standing, moving from top to bottom, side to side, moving slowly in every direction. This conscious rotation of movement allows you to paint a picture, clearly signposting the locations of tightness, discomfort, pain and injury. In the same way a meditation practice shows you the landscape of the mind, a physical asana practice shows you the state of the body.

The postures you then do specifically target the imbalances you’ve observed. Yoga thinks it absurd to practice a whole lot of forward bends if the issue lies with bending the spine backward. In this way our practice caters to what we need, not what we want or what we’re already good at.

Other gems that came up:

  • Nobody is as vested in your wellness as you are.
  • Most people feel inferior a lot of the time. This is especially true in the company of GPs, specialists and other health care providers. While they specialise in their field, they don’t specialise in you.
  • Long-term injuries do so much damage to our expectation of wellness. We start to accept that feeling like crap is normal.
  • We often don’t know which questions to ask. This makes getting the right answer near impossible. The question is just as important as the answer.

Some injuries are left unexplained for people. Sometimes no x-ray or scan can explain how something came to be. They walk away thinking that’s the end of the story, that’s how they are going to be for the rest of their days. If that’s the end of the injury story, if no amount of research and questioning can give you answers, then what’s the start of the next story? The next phase of becoming friends with our injuries and inviting them home for tea.

The hot yoga story. Written by Any Man

I’m severely outnumbered but find comfort that this will be the best thing. In finding my future wife. The odds are stacked in my favour guys to girls.

I hear the teacher talk about the advantages that males have over females in yoga. Funny but it doesn’t appear that way. I’ve laid eyes on a possible future wife and my legs don’t move the way hers do. I’m struggling to even understand how hips operate that way. My belly seems to be a bit of a problem.

I’m hoping she finds profuse sweating attractive.  My ears perk up to listen to my so called advantages.

My arms are longer along with my torso which makes something called a jump-back easier. Doubtful. I am more strong than flexible so I can hold the postures for longer with greater ease.  Arm balances and inversions will be easier due to my upper body strength.

I hear the name of the next pose. Splits. Granted there was the word preparation before it but still. I don’t know if my choice of shorts will withstand any sort of split preparation. I don’t know if my now wife and I will be able to  transcend what happens in the splits. I will have to write irreconcilable differences on the divorce application.

I’ve just realised I’ve fallen in love, got married, fallen out of love and divorced all without a single thought to the way I’m breathing. Am I doing it right? That reminds me I need to be at work early tomorrow.

I am lost in thought. Would it be rude to take my shirt off? What does yoga protocol dictate when ones singlet has become like a second skin.

What the teacher says next gives me a clue that I may need to purchase the 10 class pass rather than just the 5 to nail this yoga thing.

“This is not cross-fit. We are not doing WODs. The hands and feet land softly. The breath stays fluid. We’re building awareness. When you stay aware, you won’t get injured. When you stay aware, you can respond not react. When you stay aware, you can stay aware.”

I thought this was just lying around breathing. When did breathing become so hard? I’m not sure how I feel when the teacher breaks the news that we’ll never master yoga. It’s not designed to be mastered. It’s designed to be practiced.

The teacher then appears to let me off the hook, telling me that not everyone will benefit from yoga. Thank god! 24/7 gym I’ll see you tomorrow.

If you’ve never been anxious, depressed, stressed or p*ssed off. If you’ve never had a sore low back. If you don’t want to get better at the other sports you do.  If you think you have two lungs so one is a backup. If you think insomnia is a weird, personality quirk. If you think great sex is dumb. Then yoga will not help you. Sorry.

What I won't miss about big studios

What I don't miss about big studios

In 11 years teaching yoga I've spent eight of them getting into trouble. Daily.

There are seven things I’ll never miss about teaching in a big studio.

  1. The sales pitch directly after savasana. Tell the students about upcoming workshops and the new mats on sale plus the retreat at the end of the year…and tell them directly after savasana. I refused to punch though the peace of savasana we worked so hard to get to with upselling. This was a weekly slap on the wrist. How much money must I have lost those studios.
  2. Not knowing every students name. When the class has 40 plus people, you only get to know the die-hard followers, the loud ones. There is no possible way to connect with the quietly intriguing students who set up in the back corner.
  3. People wandering in after the class has started. No, you cannot lock people out of yoga. If they arrive late, accommodate them. My argument of respect fell on very deaf, very business orientated ears. Respecting the students who arrive on time, respecting the teacher who has already starting teaching and respecting yourself to do the entire class took second priority to making an extra $20.
  4. The question “how many students in your class?” is always asked before “how did your class go?” How competitive we teachers can be. It would seem the ethical branches of yoga do not extend to the studio staffroom.
  5. Zero student feedback. With so many students moving into and out of classes, there’s only the occasional “great class” thrown about. While this isn’t a need for compliments, the conversations before and after a class can be so enlightening for teachers who really listen. This is when intuitive sequencing and perfectly balanced classes are planned. The student who mentions a headache receives an adjustment to their neck. The chaotic day everyone seems to be having results in a much needed, slow and juicy practice.
  6. Overthinking student adjustments. With so many students packed into each class, you can’t possibly adjust every downward dog (although lord knows you need to). So instead you must remember who you’ve adjusted, how many times and who you’ve missed. You’ve done a great thing when you’ve managed to touch 40 people at least once. I never could.
  7. The smell, oh the smell. No further explanation required.

There are no rules for how to practice yoga.

I did an yoga

I recently realised the effects of doing almost 30 hours of yoga a week. Something dawned on me that I may have forgotten. With my crazy teaching schedule plus personal practice, my expectations of what people can do sometimes exceeds their reality.

My solution, albeit a little extreme, was to cut back on my mat time during a recent month long holiday. Cut back to what many people would do, one class a week. My intention was to emulate a more ‘typical’ body and mind and just see what happened.

Week 1.

I happily lapped up my first 40 minutes of yoga then firmed my resolve to not practice yoga again for the rest of the week. After two days of no yoga I felt achy, my back felt ‘sticky’ and I had a crappy night sleep. Stay strong – no more yoga for the week.

Then something happened I wasn’t prepared for. After five or six days, I noticed a mental shift. Lazy crept in, lethargy took hold, inner calm started to waver.

Week 2.

Another surprise. As I was still operating in lazy, lethargic mode, I had to almost force myself to do yoga this week. Now here is the crazy part, I went for a 20 minute run AND I DIDN’T STRETCH AFTERWARD. If I was going to do this experiment I was going to do it properly and I know so many people run, don’t stretch and do yoga once a week. My knee now hurts, really hurts. I had to buy a knee brace-thingy.

Week 3.

I did my hour of yoga this week and felt amazing. The rhythmic sound of my breathing was calming and reassuring. I had to modify a lot of postures on account of my knee but it felt good to be on my old faithful mat. I struggled to sit cross-legged, again on account of knee so my meditation practice felt a little interrupted.

Week 4.

Knee getting worse and starting to become concerned with studio opening soon and unable to sit comfortably cross-legged. Perhaps my quest for wisdom was misguided. Since 1st December I have done one class of yoga a week and run for 20 minutes. Crazy hey?

What made these four weeks so valuable to my teaching ability were the observations and reflections on how most people live. My body became like a beginners and my mind fragmented and unfocussed.

After a week of teaching, I am right back to where I was. My approach to life has once again became calm, my creativity has exploded, my quality of sleep is refreshing and revitalising.

Knee brace-thingy gone.

“Do not suppress it – that would hurt you inside. Do not express it – that would not only hurt you inside but cause ripples in your surroundings. What you do is transform it” (Peace Pilgrim)

Yoga for me transforms anger, impatience, ungratefulness, fear, stagnation and injury into something positive I can use to evolve.

Observations and reflections…

  • Most people have very low expectations for wellness and how good their body could feel.
  • Amidst the craziness of daily life, we all have a calm and peaceful centre. We just pay more attention to the crazy than the calm.
  • It doesn’t take long to lose it but it doesn’t take long to get it back.
  • Our bodies are designed to move.  Movement equals freedom.
  • Inner peace requires some stillness and inward awareness everyday.
  • Improvement doesn’t require a big hit of massive effort. It requires consistant and committed effort. Everyday.
  • Yoga makes a huge difference. Simple.

The dirty word in yoga

Unless you’re 80, pregnant or recovering from surgery nobody wants to do gentle yoga. Gentle is like lukewarm tea…why bother. People often start with a so called gentle class with the intention of progressing enough to then do proper yoga.

Here’s a few ideas about gentle I’ve picked up along with way.

  • You can’t heal an injury without gentle. In 12 years of teaching I’ve never worked with any injury that force has healed or made even the slightest bit better.
  • What we love in life we are gentle with, our children, our partners, the teapot that’s been handed down for five generations.
  • Ever seen a retired footballer or ballet dancer? That’s what being hard on your body all the time does. The harder you are on something the faster you wear it out. Neither a footballer nor a dancer is worth much to their sport beyond age 35.
  • Alignment doesn’t keep you safe in a pose. Being gentle does. Any posture, when held for a long time, will go from safe to unsafe unless you inject gentle.
  • Gentle speaks its own language. It’s called inhale and exhale.

I teach a super gentle class every Thursday night. I’ve taught this class for almost two years and it’s only just got off the chopping block. Week in and week out I would teach my favourite class of the week to a half-full class if I was lucky. So many times I questioned whether to change it to a hot and dynamic class, all of those classes were bursting at the seams. But then the masses ‘got it’…

You don’t have to sweat to work hard.  We have moved on from the no pain, no gain slogan of the 90’s. We don’t ‘do’ gentle in life so it’s become what we desperately need.

Gentle is incredibly challenging. It’s so easy to force and push and lever and manoeuver. It’s challenging to be patient. It’s challenging to understand the breath and how to use it to pry open deeply buried tension and stress.

When you learn the language of being gentle, the reward is immeasurable. You can now stay in a very challenging pose with ease. The difference is that you’re not in the most advanced variation of the pose, you’re at maybe 80% capacity but you’re able to speak the language of gentle, breathing in and out comfortably.

Ego and being hard go together. Ego will make you go to 100% capacity and hang on for dear life in the pose. Just survive it and then get to the next one. Gentle requires you to restrain yourself to 80% but allows you to remain alive in the pose.

Here’s an example of gentle in action. I’ve worked with many shoulder injury over the years, rotator cuffs, bursitis, tears and my conclusion is that shoulders are funny things. We don’t use them in the way they were intended which makes them difficult areas to rehabilitate. We use them incorrectly as prime movers, to bear weight, to twist and to change direction.

Students with shoulder injuries who learn gentle first make extraordinary progress. They learn to inject gentle around the shoulder girdle, protect and nurture it not unlike a nurse caring for their patient. They learn to strengthen the core and the upper back which will keep the hardness from creeping back into the shoulder.  I have no doubt if they went straight into a more dynamic practice the language of gentle would be much more difficult to grasp. Once gentle is learnt, the speed, the tempo, the heat, the postures, all become irrelevant.

For the past six months the gentle Thursday night Restore class could be filled twice over. It’s finally here to stay.