YTT: Yogic Wisdom for the Ages

As a primary school teacher, one of my great passions is working with children and young people. So when we were given an assignment as part of our yoga teacher training to run a mini workshop, my topic was a no-brainer. Unfortunately, my excitement led to an influx of books with a variety of similar sounding titles such as Yoga for Kids, Children’s Yoga Games, Yoga Education, Yoga Asanas and Myths, Wisdom Tales for Modern Yogis…I say ‘unfortunately’ for my credit card, but fortunately for me.

I am an actor and a writer. I am a storyteller. I have always written stories or performed them. It is what I love. There is so much value in learning through experience and so much potential and insight to be gained from experiencing a good story – be that through reading it as an internal, individual experience, speaking it as a means to sharing and communicating the experience, or embodying it as a creative, physical experience – that I have decided that storytelling must form the basis of my workshop for children. Children naturally take to creative play in a way that adults can often be mystified by. Somewhere along the way, it gets lost or beaten out of us with the ‘grow up’ mantra of the over-twenties world.

We should celebrate our imaginative selves. We are a highly creative species who have managed to achieve unimaginable things to those who have walked the earth before us. The ‘back in my day…’ rite of passage is an exciting reflection of a world that is in constant flux. It is ever changing, never standing still. We are of a place in the universe that is unconcerned by time – it simply marches on – always in the present, never trapped in the past, and not quite of the future.
But this can be a terrifying concept for many. I, for one, have wrestled with this all of my life and am still certainly not at peace with this human construct we call ‘time’. Some days are better than others – as with all things. And this is when taking myself out of my mind and into a creative, more expansive dimension can be very healing.

In the field of anthropology, symbolic healing refers to the deep structure that appears to underlie the universal experience of healing. This experience often occurs spontaneously in response to a particular myth or a psychologically true story. Individuals recognise, often on a very deep and non-intellectual level, that a particular story ‘speaks’ to their sense of suffering. Their emotions attach to should in the story; and as they hear the story, contemplate the emotionally significant symbol, and experience resolution along with the characters in the story, they experience a healing transformation of a personal dilemma.
In Patanjali’s yoga, we have instructions on how to remove from consciousness everything that is not compatible with the enlightenment that is our natural state. We don’t become someone else, someone enlightened; we become our most authentic self, which is to say, someone who is enlightenment itself, once our self-imposed beliefs in limitation are put into proper perspective.
Through the practise of asana, we become increasingly conscious, not only of our physical bodies but also of our emotional an energetic dimensions. Asana is a mirror for self-awareness.
But the asanas we practice are only the tip of the iceberg. The tip…is so engaging in itself that, as yoga ha become increasingly popular in the West, we seem to have lost sight, or awareness, of what lies beneath the surface. The rich artistic and mythological tradition of India, when brought into consciousness along with asana, transforms each pose into a lens through which we can discover hidden facets of, an possibilities for, ourselves. Together, the pose, the story, and the artistic image enlarge the power and range of our self-understanding; and it’s been my experience that engaging with the poses, stories, and images can elicit a powerful experience of symbolic healing.

– Zo Newell’s Preface to Downward Dogs & Warriors: Wisdom Tales for Modern Yogis


In her introduction, Zo goes on to share her experience of finding yoga as a teenager. Excitingly, yoga is both of the ages and for all ages…

Fourteen is a vulnerable age. More than anything in my life right then, I needed an adult to tell me that in my inmost, realist nature I was valuable, eternal, already possessed of all the wisdom of the ages… As I understood it, sitting in meditation and moving in meditation – asana – were just different aspects of the same process. “Like matter,” said Doctorji, “sometimes a point, sometimes a wave.” He also taught us to chant, the feel of the Sanskrit syllables rolling around in the mouth and throat like grapes: om nama shivaya, or just Om. “It is all you will ever need,” he instructed. “Om contains the vibrations of all consciousness. Om will protect your mind. Om is God himself.

YTT: The Post-Immersion Blues

I know this will sound dramatic but I can’t help feeling as though the last nine days was my life. I came up for air and I took great big gulps and now I’m drowning back underneath the illusion of what I created as my self.

Within twenty-four hours of being launched back into the world, I have managed to drag my physical shell to work and back, flat as a tack on the inside; called to action all the troupes and all the semi-automatic weapons for full-blown attack on my officially-no-going-back-now ex-boyfriend of angry, bitter insults in a ‘selfish’, ‘heartless’, ‘asshole’ minor key; and worst of all…used this and a myriad of other minor reasons (including ‘better finish that writing piece so I don’t embarrass myself tomorrow’, and ‘oh look it’s dinner time…pass the hummous to demolish’) as excuses for why I didn’t (read: couldn’t) make it to practice on time.

It is hard to put into words the transformation of last week. But what is perhaps most challenging – and at the moment, the most saddening – is how quickly my mind takes over my true self. It was quite a revelation to hear the valuable qualities my fellow YTT buddies gave me as we closed the immersion week. As we sat in a circle and took it in turns to look each other in the eye to give and receive a couple of simple words, I barely recognised myself in them. Words like ‘full of life’, ‘great sense of humour’, ‘funny’, ‘old soul’, ‘impactful’.
Or perhaps the point is, it is now that I don’t recognise myself, that I feel I have lost a bit of that – or rather, the dormant me has gone back into the safety of its warm cave. Something isn’t resonating. My cylinders have stopped running on full. And so quickly, I’ve lost myself at sea.

So what am I practicing? It should be Ahimsa, and yet my daily morning meditations are fraught with battles of the monkey mind. It keeps me separate and isolated, when I know all any of us want as human beings – as spirits – is oneness, connection.

Right…I just left my lunch on the bus because my focus was on writing this post. With my beautiful scarf – a gift from my lovely aunt back home. Brilliant. I knew I would too. Now I’m kicking myself. Again… Ahimsa, who?

Breathe…

I am better than this. I’m bigger than all of it. And yet I am fast realising the immense power and strength of the mind. It wants to win. It is unrelenting. And perhaps the lesson here is that I need to be ok with the fact that it managed to get the better of me. Today.

But tomorrow is another day.

And until then I just need to refocus, ground my mind and let go and what was in order to move into the Now.

And so…

What am I practicing? What is the practice of my life?

Day 3 YTT: Equanimity

When we come out of our head stuff – the mental systems and thought patterns that say we can’t or won’t – we suddenly realize the ways we are limiting ourselves. Just for the moment, forget what you believe you can’t do. The on-the-mat truth is that very often our body is stronger and more flexible than our faith.

– Baron Baptiste on Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana A (Standing Leg Raise, Front) from Journey into Power

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Day 2 YTT: Vitality

Today I woke to an unintended but inspired flashback to my graduating year of high school. As I wandered, bleary-eyed into the kitchen, my muscles pained from the day before, my housemate greeted me with Baz Luhrmann’s 1999 hit ‘Everybody’s Free to Wear Sunscreen‘. Take a moment. Listen.

1999 was a good year. And yes, I was making myself my acidic morning coffee (I’m a Melbournian at heart, what can I say?). But rest assured I followed it up with my newest ritual of my alkalising hot lemon water chaser.
Everybody’s free…to feel good!

A baby chick develops the strength and vigor it needs to survive in the world by the very act I pecking, pushing, and twisting it’s way out of its protective shell. If you broke the shell open for the baby chick, it would not survive, because it did not go through it’s own process of struggle and freedom. Remember, the prize is in the process!

– Baron Baptiste on Parivrtta Alanasana (Revolving Crescent Lunge) from Journey into Power

Day 1 YTT: Awakening

As we launch into our teacher training immersion week, I have quickly realised that blogging every day is a tough ask!

However, while I sit and ponder (and let’s face it, with a giant shovel try to calmly cram the sequences into my brain), rather than the alignment descriptions or the building blocks that I know I need to learn, it is the Spiritual Focus that Baron writes about that awakens something in me and pulls me in to his yoga world.

So with that in mind, I thought it important to document the ones that force me to pay attention. They may just be the road map to my own journey in all of this.

Resenting our present condition can cause us to try to “grab the bull by the horns” and struggle to get to success quickly. But just being in the present moment and playing your own edge is enough and allows you to grow naturally. It’s like the story of the tortoise and the hare: The tortoise took slow and steady steps, and he achieved his goal before the pushy and fast-footed hare.

– Baron Baptiste on Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend) from Journey into Power