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I’m a teacher sat in front of an empty class.  Mat rolled out, incense burning, some Tonal Alchemy playing quietly through the decrepit laptop and awkward speakers I carry everywhere with me.  Cotton, red-dyed bag stretched at every corner and bearing holes from all the yoga/ayurveda paraphernalia I squeeze into it every morning, before heading off to Cowley for my 6.30 am start with other sweaty, dedicated practitioners.

In that darkened, humid space, facing each other, unseeingly, I feel a strong and grounding anchor.  The walls are sweating and we move upwards, and downwards, twisting and stretching, jumping and stepping, breathing and sighing, laughing sometimes…these movements and sounds creating a harmonious energy.  Friendships are being formed – comradery.

In that space, oxygen thinning, and temperatures ever-rising, I feel as if the world makes sense.  My insecurities and fears for my livelihood, my future – arise, and I feel them and greet them, and continue to move and breathe.  They fall away.

In that space, politely manoeuvering myself out-of-the-way of my neighbour’s outstretched leg, fumbling for my fingertips, spine popping, sensations of warmth in my muscles….I am feeling, always feeling, the steady rise and fall of my chest.

I’m sitting in front of this empty class, checking the clock on my phone, one minute past, and there’s all this space in front of me, and I focus on my breath, the rise and fall of my chest.  What’s there?  What am I feeling?

A little bit embarrassed.  No students may be better than one…there are no witnesses.  Words manifest like passing clouds.  Failure, rejection, disappointment.  Broken by rays of acceptance and peacefulness.  All is well.  They will come.  Maybe not today, or tomorrow, but in this space, I sit and wait.  Advice from a dear friend pipes up from somewhere.  If no-one’s there – teach anyway.  Stand up.  Teach as if there are students in front of you.  Teach at every opportunity.  They will come.

Five minutes past.  I hope the fellow teachers don’t peer through the curtain and see me standing there in front of an empty class.

I bring my hands up over my head, can still hear the breath of my comrades, their warmth, and support.  I look to my thumbs, and feel my ribs expand.  I describe how it feels, out loud, and I tilt from the waist and gently fold.

It wasn’t long before the buzzer went.  A student appeared, and I started again.  I smiled at her and let us face this vulnerability together.

I will be there at the front of the class, empty or otherwise, just as I dreamt I would be.  Watching those insecurities pass through me – I was steady, I was anchored.

I think back to when I started yoga.  The many classes I missed, the constant battle to get myself there.  The distractions and deterrents, obstacles and aversions.  I still feel them, I still face them and struggle with them every day.  But as my practice deepens, I find the benefits far outweigh the temptations.  With each year that passes (there have been a few now) I can see the fight is getting a little easier.

I asked myself that question again.  How do I feel as a teacher, sitting in front of an empty class?  I felt happy.  In some respects to simply hold that space feels enough.

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Transition

It’s 6.21 am.  The mornings are very different here.  I don’t have a foot long gecko planted a meter above my head screaming EEEEE-ORRRR, or a rat scurrying through my underwear on the shelf, a croco-modo thrashing about in the pond outside my window eating all the goldfish.  No more Anja peering her head around the wall silhoueted against the sunlight, so we can have our morning green tea and pre-practice catch up.  No more pit-vipers to dodge on the path to the shala…although I still dream of them.  No more Matthew and his omniscient watch over our morning practice…although I still hear his voice.  No more Boris and the familial love and affection we shared; or Gary’s “GO ON GIRL!” to encourage me through the Lion sequence, or Erikha’s smiles and kisses on each cheek, or Pablo’s twenty second hugs, lunch dates with Kirsten, coffees with Jill, music sharing with Christoph or just the general banter over smoothies and fresh coconuts.

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I landed almost three weeks ago now, and the forecast was bleak.  Heavy rain, black skies…an apologetic “welcome to the UK” from the pilot.  I knew it was going to be tough coming back, it always is, but couldn’t the sun have shone down on us to ease the pain?  Wading through puddles in my flip-flops, and drawing out additional layers from my weathered backpack, I turned up my I-pod, and passionately mimed the words to “Youth”, by Daughter, riding out the waves of panic stirring in my gut.  What next?  What to do?  Ahhhh – FUCK!

One of the things I really valued in going away this time, was that for the first time ever I didn’t feel like I was running away from disaster.  I’d worked my arse off, and was beginning to build something.  I was encouraged and hopeful for my future.  Bali was a well-deserved and needed experience for personal growth.  To be with my practice.  To be with….well just me…free from the pressures of 3 jobs and a strained social life.  And it was exactly that.  Month one, month two – I couldn’t think about coming back, but if I did, it was still with a smile.  Ahhh, I have so much to go back to.  Budding and deepening friendships, a thriving work schedule, new ideas to cultivate and explore….Oxford’s beautiful in the Summer time.  But as the third month crept by and I began to fall, unceremoniously, into my ever-deepening practice…by that stage the long-term students were just so tired all defences were down…I was bursting open with all the yucky, uncomfortable, I’m-behaving-like-a-petulant-child-and-i-hate-myself-for-it stuff…and something changed.  A part of me wanted to stay, another part wanted to change my flights, dispose of my phone and laptop and disappear…find an ashram somewhere, or just become a perpetual stranger, wandering anonymously through alien streets.  That particular drive was exceptionally strong, and something I took heed of.  A bit of a warning perhaps.  Now is the time to go home.  No matter how settled and grounded we think we are, if you go deep enough – there’s always an earth-shattering truth we will do anything – absolutely anything – to avoid.

Perhaps, in retrospect,with a little more planning and awareness on my part, a Vipassana retreat at the end of all of that would have been good.  A chance to just sit with everything that has arisen, and allow that inner truth to surface.  Instead, I’ve had to hit the ground running.  I’m taking big, risky steps in terms of my livelihood and career, and as exciting and natural as that feels for me right now, there is a sense that something, under the surface, is writhing about – unresolved.   I’m having flashes of understanding of what it’s all about, and as I go through my days and certain things happen and unfold I’m feeling some sort of guidance.

hub4Like, when I walked into the Hub and saw all my oils and incense laid out ready to burn.  Ahhhh, it felt like I was at home.  A baby resting so peacefully with all her innocence, warmth and trust in my arms.  The rain-soaked pilgrimage to the shala in Summertown, and that first sun-salute.  Settling into an afternoon of Kirtan with my beautiful friends.  Heart to hearts over coffee, or under blankets with loved ones; sitting cross-legged, finding my centre in front of a class of students, about to start my first official yoga class… All of these things are wonderful and resonating with me on a deep level; but there are always conflicts and polarities to contend with, and it is through exploring the other side of all of those things, that I’m beginning to identify the gaps.  Feelings of longing, disconnect, uncertainty.  There is fear there too.  Always fear and sadness.

It’s an interesting time, these transitions back.  I realise how important routine is for me, and to find my quiet space to process things; to feel safe.  I have conflict with being insular and introverted, vs the need to belong and feel connected with others.  I’m wrestling with wanting to function and interact on that same level of openness, vulnerability and honesty, but learning that a certain degree of protection is required for wellbeing and acceptance.  I want freedom and the ability to explore the world and venture further into these spiritual places that are calling out to me, but I want to settle and call somewhere home.  Cuddle up to a cat named Arthur, and invite my friends over for a home-cooked meal.  Actually invest in things like cutlery and furniture.

I guess this is where I’m at right now.  It’s a time to be patient with myself, allow the dust to settle.  An opportunity to greet and welcome uncertainty, and all of the fears involved, with an open heart.

From Stillness

24th October 2014

As I draw nearer to the end of my journey here in Bali, I feel that things are escalating and accelerating; yet there is a great stillness and silence too.  Like the eye of a storm.  There have been so many incredible moments and breakthroughs but these past few days have been a rough ride for me.  It started with a dream.  A dream that was so powerful and vivid, that in waking its threatening presence was still there.  I tried to push it away but my body was frozen in fear.  I tried to cry out but my voice couldn’t climb beyond a stifled gasp.  I was tangled in the sagging mosquito net, and my skin was damp with sweat and trembling.  I was reliving something, and I found myself, in this paralytic and helpless state, calling on a loved one who has already passed to come back to me.  I needed his help…his protection.

I don’t know how long this state went on for, but eventually the cockerels began to crow, the light seeped in through the window, and the dream loosened its grip.  I stirred cautiously and stood under the drizzly, sometimes hot, shower for many breaths.  Eyes closed, thoughts racing.  I changed into my yoga clothes, filled up my water and continued on the path to the shala, hoping I’d bump into Boris.  I wanted to share with someone.  I was afraid to sit with it on my own.

Our paths didn’t cross, and the morning unfolded, as it normally does.  Students silently making their way to the shala, rolling out their mats, collecting bolsters, blocks and blankets, for passive stretching or meditation, waiting for Matthew to enter and lead us through the opening chant.  We chanted.  We did our pranayama, our meditation, and one by one we picked ourselves off of the floor unprompted and began our practices – Lion, Moon, Primary, Intermediate…whatever our bodies were calling out for.

I rarely know what my body wants until I open my eyes after meditation, but this day I was surprised by it being Primary/Intermediate.  I followed its will, hands raised up above my head counting out my breaths…1, 2, 3, 4, stumba, into Surynamaskara A and beyond.  Everything around me disappeared.  All I could hear was my breath.  All I could feel was the dream surging through me.

Frustration began to build as the integrity of the postures floundered, strength and steadiness escaped me.  I should stop.  Be kind to myself, put my legs up the wall – leave early.  It’s ok to do that…although people rarely ever do.  If it was easy I would feel so strong, forgetting that it is the difficulty of it that makes us stronger.

I swore my way through the marichyasanas, gritted my teeth in Bhujapidasana, and prayed that I would be left alone for Supta Kurmasana and Baddha konasana.  By the time I got to Pasasana, I looked down at my thighs.  They’re strong and rather large, and earlier in the week I’d really felt that I loved them just as they were…but in this moment – one towel draped over the left thigh for grip, another towel in my left hand to throw behind me for leverage – it felt impossible!  How will I ever get this?  My thighs are like mountains, and my arms are just normal length, and my hips aren’t open enough for such a deep twist, and my boobs get in the way…and you know – sometimes I find this hilarious and just try again and again anyway – just because that’s what you do in yoga, and I’ll smile to myself with acceptance and move on…but this day, in this moment…it broke me.  FUCK!!!  I fell back, and threw the props to one side.  Stumbled through to my final posture Laghu Vajrasana…a pose I love.  It’s tough as hell, and I’ve almost got it, and I get this rush every time I lift out of it, regardless if I make it or not…but this day….this moment…like the rest of my practice…I collapsed into it…gave up.

I didn’t really bother with the finishing postures, just found my way into an awkward lotus, and observed my shoulders slump, palms hang down, tears falling….the dream whirring through me still.  I wasn’t running away from it…it was there…no postures, or breathing, or observation was taking me away from it…and that’s exactly it….it’s not meant to.  The practice is about bringing us into contact with these things and allowing us to greet them, to meet them, to truly experience them…so that we can let them go.  Sometimes we can remain equanimous and be light in our observations…other times it sucks us in, drags us down…pummels us – and what do we do?  Sit there, and feel ashamed and guilty because we’re not strong enough or yogic enough to cope with it… Hope that no-one can see us, or hear our snuffles…  And then, when somebody does reach across, offer us an act of comfort and support – with a simple, spontaneous gesture…you feel a flicker of connection with those around you, and are reminded that this space is a nurturing space.  This practice is an intense practice – and everyone who’s in there with you knows how it feels to fall apart.

The story behind those moments isn’t so important.  Sometimes it’s just a bad day, and after some breakfast and a cup of tea things rebalance; other times it’s something deeper and longer-lasting.

What I’m starting to see is that whilst the intention of yoga and meditation is to be in the present; we still have our pasts to contend with.  I can see that my ability to remain present in the face of challenging situations is developing.  I can, from time to time: cry in the moment – without too much drama and get on with it; I can love in the moment and appreciate, without fear of loss, that it will change; I can grieve loss; sit with shame; embrace happiness without clinging on…but these are all recent developments and there’s a whole life behind me of shitty situations, and wonderful situations that I denied myself true expression.   So when we start to live in this way.  To be what we are, rather than what we should be, everything behind us begins to unravel.

I figure that it’s a time to be grateful.  We are being given a chance to finally make peace, and when you’re practicing steadily and consistently, like we have been these past few months – an inner-confidence and fire is ignited – it’s like the silence and stillness in the centre of me is strong enough to allow for this chaos.

Blog Picture Oct 23 2014

The Lion…..

Tears splashed across my mat, crumpled tissue dissolving in my scrunched up, sweaty hand.  Matthew, kneeling just across from me- patient and kind.  I fell apart today.  It was ugly, and not how I envisaged my final week of the second month course to be.

“The lion sequence has kicked my arse…” I snuffled, really hoping the savasana bodies lying next to me couldn’t see me, couldn’t hear me….I didn’t really want Matthew to see me either, but my voice had piped up without any real control.  What was said, needed to be said.  Like releasing a pressure valve.

The Lion Sequence is the one up from the Moon sequence; and energetically sits between the Primary and Intermediate Series.  Having practiced Primary for three years now, Moon for two, and recently ventured into the first segment of Intermediate it makes sense that I learn it.  I was excited about it.  The standing sequence is long and tough on the thighs…and ahhhh – it feels good to work on the thighs again! About half way through you get to throw your head back, cross your eyes, stick your tongue out and roar.  There’s a spiderman pose, and super man pose (unofficial names….) and, well, it’s something new.  What a relief to inject something extraordinary into a, as much as I love it, regimented practice.

So why am I hating it so much, and feeling all of these negative emotions?  It began last Tuesday.  First session of self-practice learning of the new sequence, and I hit a wall.  Couldn’t get my legs into lotus (first stage of the pinnacle lion pose) and I felt this insane rush of frustration and rage pulsating through me, generating all of this heat in my face and behind the eyes.  I’m not warm enough; there’s not enough hip stuff; why can’t I do this?; I’m not good enough!  I was irrational, but it was so strong I was just grateful that I could take even the smallest step back to see that.  I carried on.  The dolphin section – working so deeply into the shoulders -hitting spots I’ve never noticed before.  I felt sick.  Rabbit section.  I couldn’t remember it.  Sent to back-bending.  Didn’t know that section either.  Can’t remember.  Not good enough. Want to go back to Primary.  Savasana.  Couldn’t stay there.  All of these intense feelings of inadequacy and frustration, it’s not fair….and….ahhhh….a revelation.  This isn’t about Matthew, or the sequence…this is a trigger.  This has hit something that’s making me feel like an angry, hyper-sensitive, misunderstood, pubescent kid again.

Next day.  A new day.  Try again.  URGGGGGHHHHHH!  Fucking sequence!  I’m not used to feeling angry.  I don’t want to vent and rant and throw things and think about all the things that have been unfair and hurt me.

Day three.  Another new day.  Try again.  Surrender.  Just for this week.  Go on.  You’ll get it.  Everyone says you’ll get it.  Grrrrr.  But I make light of it over dinner.  Daddy doesn’t love me issues rearing their ugly head – oh the unforgiving flashlight of yoga shining on my shadow-self.  We all laughed about it, but when I went to sleep that night my chest constricted and throat closed up.  Under the jokes, there’s so much sadness.

Day four.  Moon sequence.  Ahhhhh, the nurturing, lovely moon.  With bolsters and blankets, and eyes half-closed.  A cat licking her wounds, I settled back into Savasana with a smile, and danced my heart out later that night with all of these incredible people I get to practice with each day.

Monday.  Back to Lion.  I’m getting it I think.  Starting to find a fluidity.  Committed to memory, my body is starting to get hold of it…but the back bends.  Again I feel the  emotional wave, and self-doubt.  Another sleepless night.  Don’t want to go to practice.  Just want to stay here, eat chocolate biscuits and watch True Blood.

This morning I wanted to do moon, but something inside propelled my arms over my head for the first Surynamaskara A.  Really?  Are you sure???  Are you up to a two and a half hour practice, featuring all of your arch nemesis postures?  A masochist at heart perhaps…or perhaps deep inside I knew it was exactly what I needed to break the downward spiral and admit defeat.

I was afraid that if I spoke up and shared what I was feeling….that I would be perceived as weak, a failure.  That perhaps the opportunities I’ve been so excited about would be taken away from me because I’m not ready, or good enough…so very far away from perfection.  All of which are the accumulation of various strands of conditioning that hold me back, deplete my self-confidence, and make practicing with self-love so unbelievably difficult.

Matthew has told us time and time again that we are perfect just as we are.  How does it feel to hear those words?  Alien, hard to digest, unfathomable, but alongside that a flicker of warmth.  Inhale…breathe into it….fuel that flame.

When I finally spoke up, and was able to share my emotional “weakness” some of those fears began to fall away, and I could feel the tensions in my chest and throat begin to ease.   To hear the words, we are perfect – just as we are, doesn’t have to be so strange.  It doesn’t have to be such a difficult thing to believe.  We are conditioned to think otherwise.  We are conditioned to be hard on ourselves, be cruel to ourselves…It’s our responsibility to break that, to change that.

It’s why I’m here I guess.  In practicing self-acceptance I must confront the screaming, ugly voices in my head.  I must sit with them, and feel the discomfort as they writhe and stir.  Working through them isn’t easy, it isn’t pretty.  What must the other students think of me?  A snotty, puffy-eyed blob on a purple mat?  It was afterwards, when I returned home to find a note of kindness in the door from my housemate; received a group hug from the girls in the shala before the afternoon session; and heard words of encouragement from my yoga friends – that I could see what they see, and what I see in others when they surrender to their vulnerability: strength and humanity.

I left the shala that morning and the hate I’d been feeling for the Lion sequence had transformed into gratitude.  I may take a day off – and be super kind to myself with a gentle moon sequence – but I’m looking forward to rolling my eyes back and roaring up to the ceiling again soon, and seeing what else comes from it, what other triggers may be lurking about in those untouched places.

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I’ve been in Bali for just over 6 weeks now.  Feeling a little bit guilty for not blogging nearly as much as I’d initially intended.  I have tried.  Just wasn’t happening…much like my attempts to bind into Marichyasana D on the left side without assistance.  DAMMIT!  Truth is…I’m not sure where to start.

It’s incredible to wake up here on a Saturday (rest day), sun already shining down on the Paddi fields, make a cup of green tea on our 70’s style stove and come out here onto the balcony to listen to the village gently stirring.  The chorus of birds and geckos would have started many hours ago, but for the first time since I’ve been here…I slept right through it.

In this moment, I feel very peaceful.  Like there’s something warm and steady anchored at the base of my belly.  Of course – that might just be the relief from an 8 hour (and counting) break from Bali Belly….(MAN alive – what a way to practice…), but I reckon it’s much more than that.

In terms of practice I’m clawing my way into the Intermediate Series, which is something I didn’t think I’d ever do.  As much as yoga isn’t meant to be about achievements and goals, of course it feels good!  It’s comparative to starting out on those sweaty, spluttering, clumsy 20 minute runs on the treadmill at the local gym, and a few years later finding yourself at the starting line of a marathon.  Although, having done both – my experience of yoga has been much harder.

I was introduced to Laghu Vajrasana yesterday – the pose just before Kapotasana.  Kapotasana is the pose that brings many ashtanga journeys to a close, and I’ve been sitting with that for a while and wondering how I feel about it.  Do I mind if my practice ends there, or has the Ashtanga series become something I’m deeply attached to?  For now, I feel great with what I’m doing.  With all the additional postures and drop-backs – I’m excited again.  Yeah, I’m exhausted by the end of the week, and spend at least half the time feeling like I’ve stuck my fingers into an electrical socket, but I’m being truly and deeply challenged by this mammoth sequence in an environment that is just so nurturing and kind.  I can cry to myself on the mat when a baddha konasana adjustment goes too deep; scream “BALLS” and laugh out loud when my arms get stuck, I lose momentum and roll onto my side in garbha pindasana, and have to wait for an assistant to put me up right and push me back into motion again; share knowing glances of despair and humility to my “Team Intermediate” comrades as our bodies shake, redden and clench trying to lever ourselves back up from Laghu Vajrasana to kneeling….an explosion of emotions expressed in a single glance.  Matthew always watching over us….even if you can’t see him, and you’re trying to get a difficult posture in discreetly, he’s always watching – with compassion, encouragement, and most importantly – humour.  Perhaps it isn’t the Ashtanga Series itself that I have an attachment to, but the mysore (self-practice) element of it.

It’s why practicing here with Matthew is such an inspiration.  In traditional ashtanga practice I couldn’t practice everyday.  I can’t run a marathon everyday.  Here, with the moon sequence as a part of it all, being allowed to meditate the whole time if I so choose, or put my legs up the wall for an hour if I’m not feeling so well, having alternative sequences to play with and explore.  It is my choice, and something that I can see myself doing for the rest of my life.  So when I think about Kapotasana potentially being the end of my ashtanga journey – it doesn’t feel so daunting, or challenging.  If it is, it is.  I have plenty to work with for now, and I feel in my body, my heart, everything else – that my yoga is the self-practice, not the sequence or series I so happen to be doing at the time.

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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…

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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….

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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.

 

Adieu…

Shelves are empty, floor scattered with clothes I can’t decide whether to pack, or put into storage.  Reluctant to put away my photos, afraid of looking under the bed, and…urgh…I still have the kitchen to contend with.   I know I’m only going away for 3 months – that’s nothing really – but as I fold everything away and say goodbye, over and over again, I realise I’m cutting myself loose from the things I’d relied on to protect me.  The 9-5 job that ensured the bills were paid, a room in a house that contained my little world of belongings, and gave me that space to sleep peacefully.  It is scary to say goodbye to those things, even when deep down you know it’s what you have to do.

I know I have to open up my life to the possibility of an alternative livelihood just to see if it can flourish.  To experience first hand, whether the things that feel so right….are.  I’m not afraid of failure, nearly as much as I’m afraid of regret.  And when I think back to everything I’ve learnt and gained from stepping foot on this path – must be 5 years ago now – there is, most certainly no regret.  I feel gratitude, happiness, love, compassion, patience….vulnerability, openness, and peace.  I guess that’s all worth a spot of uncertainty and momentary panics about whether I’ll have a bed to sleep in or enough income to keep myself afloat.

It’s worth it, because I can’t imagine doing anything else.  It’s worth it because I find that all of those fears and anxieties that do stir and rear up on occasion, are always appeased by my morning practice, or the moment when a client walks into the room and I ask them how they are.  I’m beginning to feel like I’m stepping into myself.  There is something harmonious happening, not just within, but all around me.  The relationships that have deepened, wonderful friendships that have sprung up with such vibrancy, a practice that was once compartmentalised into classes – now a way of being.

I don’t know what I’m going to come back to.  I don’t know what I’m risking by going away at such a pinnacle moment in starting out on a new career.  I don’t know what will fade, and what will thrive in my absence.  Of course I have certain hopes and desires….ideals that skip through my imagination with rainbow roads underfoot…but I don’t hold onto those images for too long.  It seems that whatever happens, whether it be incredible or terrible, there is always an opportunity for great things.

I hope to write while I’m away.  Capture the essence of what it is to go into retreat for so long.  But, I’ll play it by ear, as I always have done.  Sometimes I want to recoil and shut myself off from the world.  Other times, the art of articulation is as much a part of the process as the yoga itself.   I’m looking forward to getting back into my practice.  To living in leggings and vest tops, and sweating all over my mat.  I’m looking forward to feeling my body each morning, making my way to the shala and working out whether it will be a primary, or a moon day….experiencing the fluctuating dynamics of a group of students who are opening up to each other in a place of trust and compassion.  I’m looking forward to asking questions, and seeing what resonates and what challenges.  I’m looking forward to the moments of hysterical laughter, and putting our arms around each other for comfort.  I’m looking forward to the stillness, the silence.  The space to allow whatever I’ve been buttoning down to surface.

And something else, that means a great deal to me, and shows me how far I’ve come…I’m looking forward to returning home at the end of it all – to see how well the planted seeds are coming along.

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