slow, mindful yoga & small group classes in St Kilda, Balaclava, Elwood, bayside

Yoga Me Well Blog

Lingo Phobia

“Let’s begin in Tadasana. Inhale. Exhale, move into uttanasana . . . Place your legs wide, turn the right foot out, moving into utthita parsvakonasana. Sally, not trikonasana. Ian? We’ll do parivrtta parsvakonasana later. Right now, it’s utthita parsvakonasana. Remember? No, like this.”

Sanskrit was the sacred language of Hindu gods, so why are local yoga teachers delivering it to the world’s least receptive audience? For most Aussies, primary-school Mandarin and even `easier’ Latin faves like French broke the brain belt. Yet here we are, a nation of eager yoga students, straining to understand a zombie language barely uttered in India. (About 50,000 of the 1.1 billion population speak Sanskrit fluently). Even Catholics gave up on the Latin mass…

And yet, I love Sanskrit, the way those cascading consonants limber my lips, and it can be wonderfully soothing to chant foreign words, gliding along a soundscape instead of intellectualising its content.

As in all things yoga, there is a profound point to Sanskrit. Its spoken or sung vibration has therapeutic effects on the mind and body, whether you understand it or not. That “Om” tattooed on your “buttock”? You’re better off “omming” it, than wearing it, because its three-part chant delivers a vibrational connection to universal consciousness.

I did, however, spend eight years at an Iyengar school feeling like the slackest twice-weekly yoga student on Earth for not understanding the consonants that tumbled like dry pebbles from my teacher’s mouth. “Do what?” I’d desperately cast sideways for someone already in the pose. It was a big ask, I thought, to absorb kilometre-long foreign words in a one-hour yoga class as we swept from one asana to the next. I felt stupid, alienated.

I still do at times, because Sanskrit wasn’t a major part of my teacher training. There is earnest discussion among the teaching community about the use of Sanskrit for instruction in classes, and we’re divided over the issue.

While we can all appreciate the rousing vibration of a choir in full anthem, it’s only a select few who honour Italian Opera, and they’re given a program to understand the story, which isn’t the norm in an your average yoga class. “Here’s your Sanskrit sheet, now place your shoes to the side.”

You’ll find plenty of teachers who say “Mountain Pose”, “Extended Side Angle Pose” and “This is Really Good for Alleviating Stress Pose” to save the facial anguish that betrays Sanskrit-challenged students. And plenty more who make up lively mnemonics for poses: “Peeling Pelvis”, “Upface Puppy” or “Flopping Fish on the Pier”.

If you want to hook into the mystery of Sanskrit, check out the Sanskrit for the postures you do at Yoga, ask your teacher for a word sheet, or to consider using English translations. And if it’s all a bit beyond you, relax in the knowledge that you’re in the student majority.

Yoga Speak

It must sound weird the way yoga teachers desert street-side English for arcane forms of expression like “breath into your belly” and “linger in your heartspace”.

You’re thinking: “Okaaay. How exactly do I do that?” Then the seemingly impossible
metaphoric task arrives: “Imagine you’re a jellyfish, and as you expand and contract, the cells of your body pulse to receive life force and expel toxins”. (fab photo by Erwin Kodiat).

Teachers strive to make the practice meaningful for you and hope like hell you’ve got the Discovery Channel’s `corps de ballet’ jellyfish in your head, not some mashed-up, beached gelatine. They have some fairly nebulous concepts to get across as they guide your yoga practice toward a spiritual experience, and beautiful, evocative language is the key.

“Breath into your armpits”. You already know your aluminium-free deodorant doesn’t cut it. This instruction is about visualising the loosening of your muscles. Picture your breath, say, as a wave gathering momentum through your body and into the muscles of your armpit region, where it swells and, on the out breath, dissolves the tightness gained from hunching over a computer all day. It’s a far more useful direction, for some, than “stretch your pecs”; particularly if you don’t know what, or where, your pecs are.

“Fill your heartspace with light”. . . sure, the left chest cavity is filled with blood, soft tissue and bulky organ but, energetically (and we are just a collection of atoms), the heartspace is the seat of love, and light is the highest, most pure vibration we can see . Why not fill your heartspace with light, instead of less choice vibrations like car horns, text messages, or aching emotion?

Every lingo has its place. Imagine translating media footy-speak from “Juddy dug the ball out of the pack” to “Chris pulled the football away from his competitors”…

The language of yoga, be it bizarre, analogous, metaphoric and figurative, is about getting you to view your mind and body as something far more than just a physical presence. It’s about heightening your awareness on every level in order to peel back the layers to reveal your innate spiritual centre.

Lisa Mitchell is a hatha yoga teacher, relaxation instructor and freelance writer/editor who specialises in holistic wellbeing.

Liv Mitchell


Liv Mitchell is a senior yoga teacher and freelance writer/editor.

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Yoga-ing thru the Ups & Downs

If you’ve fallen in love with yoga or are newly exploring it, you’ve probably met at least one teacher or fellow student who radiates that something special you’d like more of. What is it about being bendy that makes you a shinier person?

Your teacher tells you how asanas rejuvenate your innards in multi-fabulous ways, but how exactly does yoga create nicer, calmer, more even people that others like to be around? How does mat practice help you yoga through the ups and downs of life?

Off, On, Off, On, On, On: For too many of us, the autonomic nervous system’s “fight or flight” stress response is jammed to “On”. Each class retrains your body to move quickly between the “On” response during heart-pumping asanas and the parasympathetic nervous system’s “Off” response when you’re instructed to take a micro-rest. Outside class, how quickly can you recalibrate after an argument? Can you employ the same focussed will to quiet a racing mind or heart? Be the duck – let the small stuff trickle off your back and you’ll swim more smoothly through life.

Surprise! You’re in charge: If you take just one breathing technique from class and use it to alter your state of being when you’re anxious, snappy, exhausted, you’re doing the world a big favour. It breaks that reactive cycle of lashing out when you’re not centred and, just as it does in class, it glues the fragmented pieces of you together again.

Adventure inward: Yoga is a multi dimensional practice and an adventurous journey. Your first destination is focus. You can spend years foraging here, working out when a stretch is heading for a strain, learning which postures ignite, or wipe, your energy. You practise catching your mind’s participation (and impact) during class as it meanders from critical thought to useful observation. Focus introduces you to feelings that bubble up on the mat, like restlessness, superiority, boredom, irritation and defeat, and asks you “Why?”.

Outside class, that multi-level directory of awareness begins filtering into your day until you become the expert observer of your own foibles. You’ll notice how many times you barely breathe, you’ll catch your shoulders hanging out with your ears, and any damaging thoughts before they become words or actions. You’ll learn to feel your feelings and deal with them, instead of stuffing them into your cellular structure where they backlog energy, swell and flare into dis-ease.

Theme of the week: Many teachers structure their class around a theme to give you a philosophical anchor and new perspective. It might encourage you to practise acceptance, gratitude or compassion. If it resonates strongly with you in class, consider that your spiritual homework for the week ahead. My favourite? Imagine your thoughts are on loudspeaker…

Roll the mat, nicely: Being asked to fold your blankets a certain way and to stack them neatly shows respect for the next student and respect for the property. Why forget those small acts of service outside class? The shiny person doesn’t mind changing the office toilet roll and hasn’t forgotten the Nod of Gratitude to the driver who lets them though. They put their own dirty clothes in the laundry basket and wash their own coffee cup at work, and maybe someone else’s.

I surrender!: In class we learn to “give in” and “let go” in between postures to allow the body time to assimilate the benefits such as nourishment received (richly oxygenated blood), improved energy flow and toxin/tension release. When we surrender in relaxation, the reward is an exquisite sense of wellbeing and connection with something bigger. Much bigger.

In life, sometimes when we’ve considered all the angles and still feel stumped, the answer comes through surrender, that process of turning it over to a higher power and saying “I’ve sat with this situation long enough, I’m dismissing it from my thoughts and handing it over. I’ll wait for a sign. When I see it, or feel it, I’ll know how to act.”

Life, it’s all practice: At a recent Yoga in Daily Life teacher’s workshop Gita gently reminded us: “It is just practice after all.” As on the mat, so in life. Yogis live by the credo that every moment of every day is an opportunity to grow. We’re practicing to be better people. When things go awry in life, practise new responses until you find what works. If you’ve learned to arrive at the mat with an open heart, and to practice without judgement and to accept where you’re at physically, emotionally and mentally during that hour, just roll that attitude up and take it with you. That way, you’ll keep practising.

Lisa Mitchell is a hatha yoga teacher, relaxation instructor and freelance writer/editor specialising in holistic wellbeing.

Liv Mitchell

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Liv Mitchell is a senior yoga teacher and freelance writer/editor.

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Well, Well, Well

The End of Zen…?

Well, well, well. . . it’s sadly ironic that complementary health practitioners serving the rapid expansion of the `wellness’ industry are on the cosmic trail to burn out.

Melody Jansz, director of spa industry recruitment agency SpaPeople, watches the Zen sap from their altruistic intention: “It’s not unusual to see candidate resumes that list four to six-month average lengths of employment due to poor pay and burn out”.

Kylie Saunder, a business consultant to the wellbeing industry, conducted an internet poll via Linked In to find that one in two yoga and pilates instructors and personal trainers experience physical and emotional exhaustion.

It doesn’t help, says Saunder, that many wellness professionals are stuck in “poverty mentality”, feeling obliged to heal the world for free, and struggle as micro-business operators with few business skills.

Energy healers (reiki, kinesiology, emotional freedom technique) and physical therapists (massage, yoga, personal training,) are also leaving home-based offices, community centres and parks for higher profile wellness centres, studios, shared shop fronts and gyms, where working conditions are often lacking.

I’ve worked for one corporate-style wellness centre whose altruistic philosophy was as thinly applied as the paper of its promotional brochure. Then there was the massage centre sanctuary whose office manager and therapists were either burning-out or despairing and hollowing with resentment over conditions – high rent and brand-marketing costs, anchored to shifts despite few appointments, working nights, weekends and back-to-back appointments without breaks to make up for slow weeks. A common story, they said.

The reliable churn factor and Medicare subsidies that keep medical clinics viable is no business model to emulate given the “six-minute medicine” and drug prescription-driven GPs it creates (see media report).

Let’s hope the wellness industry finds a better business model before its shining star fizzles to cinders.

Meditation Kids


At Geelong Grammar School, meditation teacher Janet Etty-Leal takes a glass jar filled with water and glitter and shakes it well, creating a chaotic whirlpool of colour. Grade 4s watch as the glitter settles and water clears. “That’s how we feel on the inside sometimes,” she explains, all churned up and messy, but when we meditate, everything becomes still and clear again.

Why on Earth would kids need to meditate? Preventative health, for one: the last national survey of mental health problems among children in 1998 (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare) showed 14 per cent of adolescents suffered from mental health issues.

Etty-Leal’s students use her techniques to get to sleep, to face the goal posts on a tricky kick or for vaccinations. They say they focus better in class.

To prove the efficacy of her mindful meditation program, Etty-Leal joined with Dr Andrew Joyce, from the Department of Health Sciences at Monash University (and co-authors), to publish a peer-reviewed report on a 10-week mindful meditation pilot program delivered to 10 to 12-year-olds at two Melbourne primary schools.

Children were assessed before and after for behavioural and emotional problems such as hyperactivity, inattention, emotional symptoms, depression and anxiety, and peer relationship issues. Post program, those who fell into borderline or abnormal categories in the forementioned areas showed a significant decrease in those behaviours.

Says Etty-Leal: “. . . they need to learn how to build up mental health . . . basic self awareness skills. A lot of our attention gets taken up with things we have to deal with in the outer world. There’s often a deficit of inner knowing . . . [which] is really an imbalance . . . for children, their cyber self is often stronger than the authentic [inner] self. . .”

Etty-Leal is publishing a book about her program called Meditation Capsules: A Mindfulness Program for Children. Worth a read!

Meditation `Cheats’


If you fall into that category of recalcitrant meditators as I do, here’s hope! On rare moments during meditation, I linger in the empty corridors of my mind, but more often, I wonder who cancelled the cleaners. Clutter everywhere. We can look beyond forcing ourselves to sit in a candle-lit room to access that meditative state. Here are a few that have worked for me: being fully present as I nurse my purring ginger cat; watching the cloudscape shift; close-up observation of flowers and bugs (nice ones); stopping to admire street-side visual vignettes; feeling the pulse on the inside of the body and following it to become aware of 1000 tiny little pulses in the nostrils, toes, belly, behind the eyes…

Wise up


“The difference between somebody who does what they love and someone who doesn’t is that the former identifies their fears and has a strategy to break through them.” Dr John Demartini, The Breakthrough Experience.

Liv Mitchell


Liv Mitchell is a senior yoga teacher and freelance writer/editor.