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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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

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

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