Archive for August, 2014

6 am – I’m stirring gradually, sensitively… It was the led Lion Sequence yesterday, and I’m interested to see where the stretches and aches have settled.  Hips are a little bit tingly (but that’s often the case), stomach a little bit sore…I turn onto my side….ahhhh….gently roll up into seated, feet dangling over the side of the bed…stretch my arms over my head with a yawn…ohhhhh……that’s where it is:  sides and shoulders.  One of the reasons Matthew created the alternative sequences is for that purpose – hitting the spots a regular Primary series practice doesn’t.   And yeah….I can really feel it.

We’re over half way through the first course now and I can’t express how grateful I am that I’m here for three.  My energy levels picked up a little bit last week, and it feels like I’m only now getting into a rhythm of sorts, practicing Primary most of the week, with the moon sequence to supplement it.  I wasn’t sure whether I’d be siphoned off to learn the Lion Sequence in self-practice this week, but it’s been agreed I stick with Primary for the first month with an introduction to the first few intermediate postures.  I’m happy with that.  A part of me is intrigued by the Lion, and looking forward to throwing in something new, but instinctively it feels right to take things slowly, steadily, and I don’t know… Matthew asked us the other day to think about what we wanted from the course, and for me, I want to see what I’m capable of.  In everyday life…particularly this last year – with three jobs on the go and so much change, it’s been difficult to really settle into a regular practice and take it deeper.  I’ve been tiding myself over with the occasional stint at the shala, a led class here and there, and a sporadic self-practice in the shed, often on weekends, or the rare evening.  I’ve been missing the regularity and consistency, which is where you can really find yourself.  The equanimity required and general strength and stamina, pushing into boundaries and redefining yourself.  You need a LOT of strength to practice Ashtanga.  I’m feeling it in my core, my shoulders, chest and back.  And with all this time to dedicate myself, I can really explore that.   At home, I’m needing to conserve energy, using my practice to ground and to nurture.  Here, I can challenge, build, fall apart if I need to….

I’m waking with excitement, yoga clothes laid out…taking each practice as it comes and finding there is no rhyme or reason.  Some days are strong and invigorating, others painful and exhausting.  The meditation is slowly building, and having been tentative with Vipassana over the past couple of months, I’m beginning to feel confident and safe, and scanning my body once again.  For the first time the pranayama is making sense to me.  Every morning we practice three different techniques – before meditation and asana, and I’m noticing the creation of space in my lungs and spine, and subtle tensions are coming to light…in my upper back particularly.

The insecurities I faced in the first week of the course have subsided.  It now feels like we are all equals regardless of where we’re at – Primary, Intermediate, Advanced A.  My body image crisis dispersed…BECAUSE I allowed it, met it, let it go.  That particular process has really inspired me to continue on that path.  Put less emphasis on what I should be thinking/feeling, and just go with the free flow of insecurities, fears, hopes, desires…whatever…it doesn’t matter how embarrassing or “unyogic” they seem…shying away and denying them gives them just as much importance as over-analysing and holding on.  I see that now.

When I’m not on my mat, or sitting cross-legged on a blanket, I’m with friends.  We talk and laugh, open up to each other and share stories of hilarity, heart break and our own journeys through yoga and life.  Without TV, an intermittent wifi, we paint ridiculous pictures, sing, dance, watch the afternoons darken.  Butterflies flutter through the branches, Cleopatra (our adopted cat) shyly approaches us for attention.  I can see how these months will pass me by, without any real drama, or adventure.  It’s offering is one of peacefulness and quiet.  Something that, in these times, is a rare and special gift.

Bali 108i



11th August (4.50 pm)

The full moon peaked at 2 am last night.  Disturbed sleep, vivid dreams, an unsettled air…Feel like I’ve been hit by a bus today.   Fairly certain there’s an animal with teeth in my room.  A bottle of oil drained out onto the desk, fragments of plastic scattered to one side; an energy bar torn in two and partially consumed.  Best remember to tuck my mosquito net into the mattress each night, in the hope that it may act as a deterrent…

Second day of Primary.  Yesterday was a self-practice, all round.  As in Matthew and the assistant teachers were on their mats alongside us.  I can’t help but feel intimidated by that – and find myself, not too obviously, seeking the furthest corner to practice in.  Yesterday was strong.  I felt flexible and fluid, resting back into savasana with a satisfied smile on my face….always, always with “anicca, anicca” echoing in the back of my mind….Good job too, ‘cos this morning I was about as elegant and graceful as a lumbering walrus.  Urgggghhhh…as I eased myself down into my first forward bend of the sun salute…Thighs as thick as old oaks, shoulder creaking, stomach grumpy and bloated.  It’s just one of those things.  I would like Matthew to see what I’m capable of…I would like to be as light and carefree in my practice as I have been in the past…but right now, it just isn’t happening.  I have to just be with it…be the heaviness and disappointment and bleurrrgghhhh…and just stay with each breath and movement.  Anicca, anicca.  It will be over soon.

One of the great things about Matthew’s teaching, and something that definitely drew me towards him in the first place, is his absolute acceptance of us all – just as we are.  He is always patient, and encouraging…allowing us to own our practice.  If you want a quiet, meditative practice…so be it…if you want to push yourself and test your boundaries – so be it.  You decide…and he makes it very clear from the outset that he passes that responsibility over to us….and in doing so, I’ve found that I also own any sense of inadequacy or insecurity.  He’s not putting the pressure on me to be a certain way…I am.

I do feel insecure.  My body image is something that I’ve had to work with all my life, and admittedly, since I discovered yoga it’s improved dramatically, and most of the time I feel confident in myself and happy with all the lumps and bumps – just as they are, but it goes in cycles, and always takes me by surprise – how debilitating it feels when I find myself suddenly feeling conscious of my happy belly, and feel the need to hide my thighs under my sarong, wishing my boobs were smaller as I try to twist, and twist, and wedge my elbow on the outside of my knee in preparation for mari D.  I do look around me – see slim, athletic bodies with strong, graceful practices, and wish, for a moment or two…that was me.   I assume it isn’t very “yogic” to admit such things, and intellectually I understand that it is a form of aversion…not accepting what is…but I’m trying to live what I practice…and that means allowing and meeting whatever feelings arise.

When I’m in the massage world I see all types of bodies, and find beauty in all of them.  Not just aesthetically, but how people move, and carry themselves.  The stories that are told by scars and injuries; the difference just a small amount of self-belief, and confidence makes, regardless of dress size.

I guess, right now, I’m just on a self-confidence ebb.  It makes sense.  Focusing so much time, energy, attention into feeling every single part of the body, through every posture…Primary is beautifully brutal in that regard.  There is no running away…brushing past a section you don’t like.  You have to face yourself.  All of yourself  – under a microscope.  And that isn’t always great fun.  Particularly when you’ve not really made the time to look after yourself for a while…

But, that’s why I’m here.  This is part of the process.  I’m already starting to, not only feel in myself, but see in others too….the arising of personal difficulties.  There’s so much excitement, laughter, and silliness in the first few days, as we reunite/get to know each other while cafe and juice-bar hopping in between practices….but then a time comes when the smiles and banter start to fade, and some seriousness creeps in.  Not so much, that we all stick our heads up our arses…just a recognition that through intensive practice stuff comes up, and it can be ugly and uncomfortable….and finding the space, free from distraction, to sit with that is important.

Things are different for me this time.  I don’t have the shock of a recent bereavement to contend with, or a surfacing trauma from my early twenties to work through….as I said before, life is pretty good right now.  But sometimes that can make the downturns harder.  There’s no real reason to feel sad, or insecure….it just is.  There’s no answer, or looming revelation or breakthrough….just a subtle, ongoing effort to allow, meet and accept the rise and fall of emotion.  The secret is to not hold on.  To not wallow.  To not NEED a label, or a reason.

Anicca, anicca.   Even in the time it took to write this entry, some of the heaviness has begun to lift.  I can smile at my insecurity and look out onto the terrace, where Sofia is painting, and the sun is setting, the strumming of Boris’s guitar climbs the stairs…

The week of silliness and fun is a useful one.  We make friends, find people we trust – a support network transpires.  We reach out to those that are having a tough time, and allow the hugs back when our own tears fall.

*    *   *   *   *   *   *

12th August

It’s 6 am, and the sun is starting to rise.  Boris has already left for his early morning practice, and I find myself alone in this basic but beautiful house overlooking the paddy field.  Am slowly getting used to co-inhabiting my room with some sort of animal with teeth, who chews through my belongings – and did some sort of body slam against the bed post last night.  Ordinarily, that type of presence would have sent me into a panic-stricken frenzy but strangely enough, when I’m traveling my tolerance for such things grows and I tuck myself in, take a few deep breaths and go back to sleep.  In my mind it’s a little, curious mouse, who has a taste for sesame oil and energy bars.  I’d rather not turn on the light and challenge that perception….just in case….

Sastsang last night appeased my insecurities, and I felt more at peace once again.   We discussed the cycle of the moon, asana, the ashtanga tradition and alternative sequencing.  He asked us to be intuitive with our practice and our energies, to try not to predetermine what sequence we’ll be doing; and he asked us to inhabit the space that is our own, followed by the space that is shared, and if we favour one, then to challenge ourselves and venture into the space we ordinarily retreat from…face something that we find scary….because where there is fear, there is excitement too.

It got me to thinking about what I’m afraid of, and there are many things, but these past couple of years have shown that venturing spirit is already in motion.  I have faced, and continue to face, many fears and discomforts.  I get a feeling I already know what’s next…

I better go have my shower now, change into my yoga clothes, roll up my mat, slip on my flip-flops, put on my i-pod shuffle, make my way down the winding path to the shala and see what today brings…


In Feeling

Week one draws to a close with tomorrow morning’s self-practice, and life’s feeling pretty damn good!  I’ve had a very moon-sequence-centric start, and have wrestled with a few self-challenging questions as to why I’m lacking that ashtanga fire that seems to be thriving so brightly and energetically around me.  But with some reflection, a confident outburst in yesterday’s candlelit satsang, I’m coming to terms with the fact that this is just where I’m at right now.  I was practicing today, looking out into the fields through my soft gaze, those white duck heads popping up and quacking between the tall blades of grass, and just enjoying being in my body.  I was relishing the calm, the steady, the penetrating sequence that wrings incessantly deep into the hips and spine.  Breathing steady and rhythmic, 4 counts in, pause, 4 counts out, pause.  4 counts in, pause, 4 counts out, pause….every movement led, propelled by the breath.  Feeling completely alone, yet energetically connected to the rows of flowing bodies either side….all silently moving, bar the soft, warming hiss of ujjayi breath.  When I finished, I rolled up my mat, bypassed the breakfast gathering and took a stroll out into the back pathways of Penestanan, listening to my music, weaving my feet through the greenery, and jumping across breaks in the cement taking heed of the shed snake skins, and darting dragon-flies, noticing the subtle vibrations in the base of my spine, and finger-tips…looked out into the fields around me, bracketed by sweeping palm trees, and caught my breath and the rush of warmth inside….This is me connecting once again….beginning to feel my environment and surroundings, and making contact with the sensations as they arise and that expanding joy of embracing everything that’s around me and feeling so profoundly grateful….



Tomorrow, I move away from the shala and settle into a cottage with a new yoga friend.  I’ll be able to unpack my things, go to the supermarket and stock up the kitchen – make a home, albeit temporary, in this beautiful place.  It often takes me some time to adapt and adjust to these new settings and however idyllic and incredible it all sounds and looks…the immersion into such an intense schedule of yoga can be quite terrifying and overwhelming.  We are usually strangers, bearing our most vulnerable selves to each other right from the get go.  This time I was able to kind of take a step back and observe the process….the intimidation and self-consciousness slowly transmute into acceptance and…I don’t know…a sense of lightness and fun…comradery with those you connect with, interest and inquiry into those you haven’t been able to resonate with just yet…

You have no real expectations of what’s to come but are conscious and aware of patterns that start to come to light.  I know that there will be moments of great joy, followed by moments of great difficulty.  Moments of perceived achievement and satisfaction, polarised by feelings of frustration and failure.  I know I will feel great waves of love, crashing against self-loathing and loneliness.  It is humanity.

In satsang yesterday – an opportunity for us all to sit in a circle and share our experiences, thoughts, questions, fears – I felt that it was in that moment that the retreat really began for me.  Friendships are beginning to embed and real voices – the voices that resound beyond the initial stage of polite introductions -are piping up, and Matthew talked to us about non-attachment vs detachment.

Detachment is to physically and emotionally remove yourself from a situation…non-attachment is to allow and to meet the situation head on…to be IN feeling, without reacting.

We spend so long closing ourselves off and protecting ourselves from things that make us uncomfortable – however they may manifest…and here….we are undoing all of that.  We are learning to be in feeling….to allow, and to meet our humanity.

First Day in the Shala

Bali 028It’s breathtaking.

We practiced a led moon sequence this morning to the sounds of ducks chatting in the rice paddy fields, shimmying palm leaves, and a gentle breeze brushing past us as we all moved, in sync, to Matthew’s instructions.

I still can’t quite believe I’m here, and have passed up a handful of invitations to explore Penestanan, the art village of Ubud,  in order to just sit here and absorb my surroundings.  I’m staying on site for a few days before moving into a small cottage with another student at the end of the week.  The rooms are ridiculously beautiful, with open air showers and bougainvillea climbing up the walls.  Chickens are scurrying about, one at my feet as I write this blog; swimming pool stretched out behind me.  You have to walk along winding paths through the paddy fields to get here, coconut trees stretching incomprehensibly high into the sky.  It’s peaceful.  No roads and that incessant buzz of traffic.  Just fields and trees, and gentle, casual banter.

The group is larger than I expected.  More than 25 I think, and from all around the world – from Puerto Rico to New Zealand; Argentina to Slovakia, with varying degrees of ashtanga experience.  I’ll comfortably inhabit the beginners’ back row, once again.  If there’s one thing I’ve learnt from the various workshops and intensives I’ve been to over the years – I’m no longer masochistic; but gentle with myself, and patient.  I’m happy with that – even if it does mean I have the occasional flash of insecurity about my lack of “progress” and whatever that actually means in terms of yoga… As Matthew pointed out to us this morning – Asana itself is a yogic contradiction.

I’m being drawn, right now at least, towards isolation and introspection.  My energy levels are pretty low, and I just want to feel the ground beneath me, listen to my breath, and take the time, however long that may be, to build myself back up again.

You never really know how much stress, tension, worry you’ve been carrying until you step away…and no matter how well you think you’ve been managing and coping, it is the stillness, the quiet, nature itself that brings it all to the surface – enables you to take a bit of a look at yourself and notice where the tensions have gathered.  The imprints they’ve made.  Physically – I can’t seem to get enough sleep.  Every part of me is weighted down by this deep exhaustion.  Something that I must allow for, not feel I need to justify or feel guilty for.

Socially – I’m feeling shy.  I’m innately shy, but masked it for years by over-compensating on the socialising (and drinking) front.  Now, I’m learning to come to terms with my nature, and all of the awkwardness that entails.  Stilted conversations, and forced smiles.  Nervous eye movements and misplaced jokes.  Acute physical awareness….and not being able to just flow…. It’s in my practice.  I could feel it in the stiffness in my joints, and the resistance I was feeling to surrendering.   It will take some time for me to trust, to feel comfortable, to let go…

Emotionally – I’m suffering some disconnect.  The happiness and gratitude is certainly beating strong, but my experience of it is just muffled ever-so-slightly by the jet lag and general discombobulation of adjusting to a new environment and coming to terms with the fact that I have, by some miracle, carved out a WHOLE THREE MONTHS to do nothing other than meditate and practice in a place that doesn’t fall short of paradise.

With an afternoon of meditation and pranayama to look forward to, and however many days ahead to get deeper and deeper into this world I’ve grown to love so much, I have no doubt that whatever disconnect I feel in this moment will vanquish.