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

Yoga Me Well Blog Archive

Spring into Yoga: Find a Class

Early Spring, many full moons ago, I was shopping for a class in the yoga Mecca of Prahran. The teacher was Indian so I figured he must be good, coming from Yoga’s heartland. His fair-haired, honey-tanned acolyte wore a kind of loin cloth (probably just daggy shorts), according to my apocryphal memory. But I do recall being rigid with panic as the whimpering girl beyond my buckled body’s sight asked the teacher to release her from a posture, and he refused.

I’ve done hard-bodied yoga with a humourless teacher and gently coo-ing classes with a sweet despairing one, flowing postures with an Earth Mother and cocooned myself in the comforting routine and community of one tradition. If you’ve lapsed over winter and are keen to get your mat rolling with a new class this Spring, here are some shopping tips…

Tradition vs fusion

Let’s divide yoga styles roughly into tradition-based and fusion styles.

Yoga traditions have a spiritual guru or master teacher who develops a style and adheres to a philosophy which is passed down through a lineage. They usually have a hub that nurtures the student/teacher community, providing a like-minded social network and workshops on say, “yoga for back pain” or “stress”, for students as well as teacher graduates. They may even hold full moon meditations and solstice celebrations. Some long standing traditions in Melbourne include Gita International in Abbotsford, Krishnamacharya Healing Yoga Foundation (KHYF) in Middle Park and Yoga in Daily Life in Richmond. While the Iyengar and Ashtanga traditions have loads of teachers here, they have no central hub.

Having said that, many teachers with an entrepreneurial spirit and a rented space create active hives for students.

Fusion classes came about as teachers continued professional development beyond the tradition in which they qualified. Many explore the vast world of yoga styles here and overseas, slowly developing a personal “best of” compilation of teaching influences, styles and philosophies. Many fusion teachers simply advertise themselves as “hatha” yoga, while others have codified their new style and branded it, like Shadow yoga, Anusara and SomaChi.

Format, Pace & Props

Class formats vary hugely but most include some floor work and standing work and transition from one posture to the next (holding each for a minute or so). Breath work and relaxation are generally key elements.

Vinyasa classes meanwhile, offer flowing posture sequences performed in perfect harmony with the breath.

Some styles, like Iyengar, also use props (bolsters, blocks, straps and blankets) to ensure you get the best alignment for your body in each posture. It requires some mucking around between postures, but you might enjoy that micro-break, or find it unutterably tedious and prefer the simplicity of straight mat work.

Consider the pace of the class too. Some styles whip through 25 poses or more in 60 to 90 minutes, which makes working safely difficult for newcomers. It can take years to crack the best alignment for your body in popular classes where teachers are unable to offer sustained individual attention. You may find it more rewarding to consider a smaller class, or one that spends more time in fewer postures, until you build a stable foundation and confidence.

What do I need?

In her search for a terrific teacher, my friend Sal came across plenty with hot bods, outfits to match and the bendy cellular structures of ex-dancers. But, says Sal: “One of my fave teachers of all time was a woman in her 70s who wore spangly old leotards.” Ask yourself, do I want…:

A yoga coach or spiritual mentor?
A class that challenges me, or restores me because I’m a total stress head?
A few private classes to gain confidence and technique?
A studio that offers a variety of classes, ability levels and teachers?
Or a teacher who offers smaller groups and individual attention?
Is personal development and spiritual philosophy important?
A community of yoga buddies with whom to enjoy all things oogie-boogie (spiritual)?

Excuse me, but …?

Ask the teacher:

Are your classes dynamic, or more restorative?
How many postures do you do per class?
What’s the format? (eg: Breath work? Mostly standing postures? Any relaxation?)
Are classes level-specific, or of mixed abilities?
How is your yoga different to others I’ve tried?
Do you offer spiritual philosophy and what are some of your key concepts?
Do you offer individual attention?

What do people say they like about your teaching style?

Search a class

Try these websites for different styles of yoga in Melbourne

Liv Mitchell

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

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DIY Health

If you’re honest about it, how often have you handed yourself over to health professionals to ‘fix’ you? Have you been able to ask: “How did I contribute to my ill-health? What warning signs did I ignore? Am I avoiding making changes that could help?”

I blamed work forever for my chronic ill health. It wasn’t until I accepted that I chose every thought, emotion and action that contributed to it that my healing process began.

We have a problem. Australia’s ageing population is catapulting toward us and our healthcare system is unable to sustain it given society’s bandaid approach to healthcare and the rising costs. We need to take charge of our health through preventative measures  self-awareness of contributing factors, supportive nutrition, lifestyle changes  if we’re to turn things around.

The holistic approaches that are integral to complementary and alternative health systems are part of the solution. Thankfully, there are signs of a break-through as clinics offering “Integrative Medicine” (IM) sprout in the suburbs. Alongside GPs, clinic practitioners might include a naturopath, nutritionist, acupuncturist, masseur and osteopath; yet to edge their way in are more alternative practitioners, such as homeopaths, herbalists and kinesiologists.

Professor Kerryn Phelps, president of the Australasian Integrative Medicine Association (AIMA) says cancer patients and “thinking consumers” are forcing change.

“. . . Over 80 per cent of cancer patients are using complementary therapies, most often without the knowledge of their doctors, and that consumer-driven push has really encouraged cancer specialists to look at what they’re doing,” she says, citing hospitals such as St Vincent’s in Sydney and Sir Charles Gairdner in Perth as Australia’s early adopters of IM.

Melbourne’s Austin Health is on the starting block, currently fund-raising for the Olivia Newton-John Cancer and Wellness Centre, which “is likely to include” meditation, relaxation, art and music therapy, massage and aromatherapy.

Says Professor Phelps: “We’re a long way behind the US . . . somewhat behind the UK and a long way behind countries like Germany which have been integrating conventional and herbal medicine for centuries. We’re really just at the beginning of the curve.”

The Australian Bureau of Statistics Australian Social Trends 2008 report confirms it: just 3.8 per cent of the population (748,000 people) had consulted one of seven selected complementary health therapists in 2004-05. By contrast, the European Information Centre for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (EICCAM) reckons 40 per cent of EU citizens have a clear preference for, and are regular users of CAM, while the 2007 US National Health Survey found 38 per cent of Americans were CAM-friendly.

We’re so much more than our physical bodies; it’s time to adventure deeper into the layers of being that profoundly influence health.

Who’s Who in ‘Voodoo’

Energy practitioners are here to stay and like the yogi pioneers to Western culture before them, news of their life-shaping expertise is destined for your grapevine.

The list of modalities is ever-increasing  Alexander and Bowen technique; craniosacral therapy; reiki; kinesiology; reflexology; thought-field therapy; pranic healing; somato-emotional release therapy  and the number of private educators training practitioners is growing. As in western medicine, there are good and bad operators, so nothing new there.

I’ve had enough treatments to know it’s worth exploring for me, with my responses ranging from energy upheavals that feel worse (lethargy, aches, disorientation) before they feel better (back problems resolved, a weight lifted, clarity, shifts in unhelpful, long-held attitudes and wellbeing).

Our physical bodies are, ultimately, just energy on the sub-atomic level, but we each also have a unique electromagnetic blueprint that influences our health, which has been researched and measured by many including medical intuitive Caroline Myss in her work with Harvard-trained neurosurgeon Dr Norman Shealy, and bioenergy pioneer Dr Valerie Hunt, a scientist and Professor Emeritus of Physiological Science at the University of California, in her work with Nasa.

Energy work is not only for the CAM-initiated, says Jeanette Young, president of the Energetic Healing Association.

“We do find people who have been to a lot of other medical practitioners and haven’t found an answer but have pain in their bodies that the medical system can’t diagnose . . . and that’s because it’s in the energy field . . . when we come to an understanding of the subtle energies via the meridian and chakra systems, we can start to read the story that the body has for us,” says Young.

How do you begin to navigate the ocean of possibilities?

My rule of thumb has always been word-of-mouth. Young agrees, and advises you to go with your gut.

“Obviously there will be a bit of nervousness when doing something new, but the key factor to a positive shift in your energy is a sense of trust and safety in the practitioner. When in doubt, don’t.”

Top 5 Health & Wellbeing Reads

Here you go: five fabulously accessible, enlightened perspectives on self-aware approaches to health and wellbeing:

  1. Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom, Dr Christiane Northrup
  2. The Creation of Health, Caroline Myss and Dr Norman Shealy
  3. Quantum Healing: Exploring the Frontiers of Mind Body Medicine, by Deepak Chopra
  4. The Breakthrough Experience, Dr John Demartini
  5. You Can Heal your Life, Louise L. Hay

Liv Mitchell

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

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Hair Today, Toxic Tomorrow

Australian women can’t be too fussed about the long-term consequences of dying their hair or our hair colouring industry would be less bouncy  the retail market for salon and DIY dyes is a staggering $1.056 billion according to industry market researcher, IBIS World.

Whether you dye your mop for fashion or to cover crinkle-cut greys, at some point you have to question whether all those chemicals are good for you.

We know that skin is porous and that what it absorbs swims directly into the bloodstream (eg: Nicotine patches). I can’t imagine that our bodies have evolved fast enough to safely process the flood of chemicals that now bombard it through polluted air, `sanitised’ water and overprocessed foods.

According to research into hair dye and various cancers (breast, Annals of Epidemiology 1992; leukemia and brain, American Journal of Epidemiology, January 2004, November 2006 ; bladder, University of Southern California 2001), hair dyes are high on the “potential risk factor” for causing cancer, and studies recommend further investigation, particularly of darker permanent hair dyes.

In 2006, the European Union (EU) added 22 chemicals to a list of 50 hair dye chemicals now banned overseas after being linked to the University of Southern California study that identified high risk groups susceptible to bladder cancer. Dyes used for 15 years or more tripled a person’s risk factor, and darker dyes, because they use more chemicals, further increased the risk.

Among the primary nasties are peroxide, resorcinol, ammonia and paraphenylene-diamine (PPD).

Even if you down-grade to semi-permanent colours, they’re still likely to contain one or more of these chemicals in small amounts in order to activate the colour. Safe alternatives are around, such as henna and vegetable-based rinses, but they’re short-term and don’t hide a full grey mop well.

Ultimately the safest colour is your own, but when, if ever, will a prosperous beautification industry celebrate your innate features as good enough?

The Inconvenient Truth

In Australia, the assessment of hair dye chemicals and the labelling of dye products provide safety-on-paper. Sure, they’re tested on animals (cringe) for weeks, sometimes months, but not years.

Take the colour, Basic Orange 31. In 2006, Australia’s National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme (NICNACS), which assesses the public and occupational health and safety risks of such chemicals, did a report on Basic Orange 31.

Animals were “sacrificed” due to severe ocular irritation” and guinea pigs injected with the stuff apparently experienced “a normal development of the local symptoms” which included severe inflammation, swelling and rotting skin. Basic Orange 31 also caused orange colouration in the urine and faeces of animals tested, so we know it penetrates physiology well beyond hair follicles.

And while the report found there was “no significant public health concern” regarding its use in small doses, Basic Orange 31 still needed to be classified as a “hazardous substance”. The NICNACS recommended labelling was pretty standard for permanent hair dye: “may cause sensitisation by skin contact” [which means regular use may create abnormal sensitivity to a range of chemicals]; “risk of serious damage to the eyes”; “avoid contact with skin and eyes”.

I’d like to know how you avoid skin contact when applying hair dye.

I asked my friend Adrian (name changed), a hair colourist for 24 years, about his experience with hair dye. His homeopath ran tests that found he had the same level of heavy metals in his system as a chemotherapy patient.

For a check list of offending chemicals, go to the European Union website for the latest updates.

Go Grey, I Dare You

I started greying (and dyeing monthly) in my early 20s. By mid 30s, I’d buy the “ammonia free” hair dyes and nestle into the safety of denial over the lung-locking fumes, constant itching and chronic dandruff that long-term use of colour 5N seemed to cause. I got jack of it, shaved my head, went overseas and returned grey. Friends were polite, but relieved, when I hit the bottle again.

Last year, during a long bout of brain fog, I contemplated the myriad possible reasons behind my flagging cognition. Niggling insistently was: “hair dye, monthly, 20 years”. So I grew a ‘GT’ stripe for 4 months, covered it with groovy headbands then adopted a short cut with silver highlights. Over the next 7 months, I allowed myself to go grey.

You don’t see too many 44-year-old women sporting their “natural colour” as my sensitive stylist,Brian, calls it.

Upon sighting my new do, my partner’s workmate quipped: “That shouldn’t be allowed.”

I went grey before I realised that Lady Gaga, Kelly Osbourne, Pixie Geldof and Ruby Rose were also at it. What were they after, I wondered, wisdom in a bottle? Could their generation look at mine and celebrate camaraderie-in-colour, or would they cringe at that thought?

To go grey when Nature dictates, first, stock up on conviction. Second, if you’re in transition, consider light strategic streaking until the grey predominates. If you’re well advanced, take all that money you spent on dye and invest it in a six-weekly, kick-arse hair cut with a great stylist who doesn’t shrink from your progressive approach to ageing beautifully.

Liv Mitchell

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