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Yoga Me Well Blog

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.


Yoga – the New Religion?

Warrior 1It’s no coincidence that yoga is so popular. We are, after all, in the midst of a spiritual renaissance.

In 1901, a whopping 96.1 per cent of Australians were anchored to a particular religion while just 0.4 per cent had none, according to Census data. By 2006, only 63.8 per cent were packaging their god, while 18.7 per cent declared they had none ― that’s a lot of people weighing anchor.

As a spiritual path, yoga must be doing something right to have so many agnostics and lapsed church-goers rolling out their mats each week.

One reason why people gravitate so readily toward it is because they can hide their spiritual aspirations ― and their existential vacuums ― behind a bad back, a desperate need to contact their toes and the after-work stress detox.

Once ensconced in a class, it’s the stayers, who secretly hope this “my body is a temple” fever could work wonders for them too, though it often takes a while to realise it…

At first, only 18 per cent of the 4000 yoga practitioners in the RMIT University “Yoga in Australia Survey” (the world’s largest yoga survey!) saw it as a “spiritual path” or “personal development” tool. But after practising, that figure topped the chakra charts at 41 per cent.

DIY faith

As religious conviction waivers, yoga studios flourish on the corners where churches (and pubs!) once provided sanctuary. It’s not that yoga is the new religion, it’s more that cherry picking your faith is the order of the day ― a bushel of Buddhism, a peck of Patanjali, a chapter of Eckhart Tolle, and a pinch of Oprah ― and yoga’s countless traditions offer the confused seeker plenty of philosophical choice.

There’s Patanjali’s classic Yoga Sutras offering the yamas & and niyamas as your travel guide through life and the notion that a Divine spark exists within us as part of a much larger Creative or Intelligent Force. There’s Tantra, which far from being sex-obsessed, homogenises that Great Spirit ― it’s in everything, so embrace the Divine aspect in that flat tyre, that wily cat, that arthritic knee, that dulcet dawn. Advaita Vedanta goes a quantum leap further, saying that the physical self and world are an illusion, there is only one Divine reality.

So sip from one tradition, nestle into another, then shake it all up by diving elsewhere. These days, it’s acceptable to adopt the bits that resonate best. And if that leads to more self-aware, self responsible people with expansive values, it can only be good thing.

My body is a temple?

Religion, for me, always felt more like an intellectual exercise. I found no comfort on a hard pew in a drafty church on Sunday mornings. The recitation of prayers in arcane language only cured insomnia, and drab hymns failed to hoist me aloft a wave of vibratory joy.

My closest connection to God came in our private chats, which was far chummier than turning to the oration of some ornately robed priest atop his marble altar. I wanted a Bluetooth connection to God.

Yoga, meanwhile, offered something entirely experiential.

Regular use of yoga techniques like pranayama (breath work), physical postures (asana), song (chanting), and yoga nidra (relaxation), leads to that serene lily pad within that activates a reassurance about the complexities of life. Through meditation, the hum of the Big Spirit filters in, and lingers.

Slowly that very god-ness shifts into our very bones, our physical being. When we begin to enjoy stillness and, occasionally, that overwhelming sense of wellbeing during our practice, then we understand how the body becomes the temple.

Once my mind learned to direct tendrils of breath through the body, I became calm, concretised muscles softened, extending limbs felt like working with chewing gum. The very gradual unblocking of my body through regular work led to a lightness of energy, while meditation delivered that pervading sense of “it’s all gonna be okay”.

As for yoga nidra (end of class relaxation), like most stayers, I am ever eager to waft into that expansiveness, that place where the body connects with a floaty feeling of one-ness with all there is.

Spirit, Spirit, Who’s got the Spirit?

If you’ve reached that point in your practice where you’re noticing terrific physical benefits but feeling like this yoga caper promised much, much more, it sounds like spiritual guidance is missing.

Changing teachers to broaden your horizons is hardly like excommunicating yourself from religion. There are plenty of traditions that adeptly weave yogic perspectives into classes, such as the Gita, Satyananda, Shiva and Anusara traditions to name a few, and there are plenty of individual teachers who do not.

It’s the application of yoga philosophy from the mat to daily life that ultimately brings a true sense of direction and meaning to your life (see yamas and niyamas above), so don’t shy from asking prospective teachers if they tuck a little Spirit into your yoga hour.

Liv Mitchell

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

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