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


Yoga Me Well Blog

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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Well, Well, Well

How to be Happy

If retail therapy is your thing, you can scrub Happiness from the wishlist. Unless, that is, you’re prepared to step away from the shiny sportscar and delay that iPad spree.

According to new research, people who acquire life experiences are far happier, and far better liked, than those who chase Happiness through material acquisition. The object obsessed also have less satisfying relationships, and fewer of them.

Far better, then, to jump out of a plane, holiday at an Indian ashram, join an amateur theatre company and volunteer for koala counting.

The longitudinal study by psychology professor Leaf Van Boven from the University of Colorado (plus co-authors) published in the April edition of the Personality and Psychology Bulletin, also confirmed that materialists are more prone to depression.

In the pursuit of Happiness, some of us eventually learn that objects, at best, offer meditative moments of great beauty. At worst, they pad lives, as if they might cushion us from its ups and downs. They don’t challenge our limited horizons or world view through stimulating interaction, save perhaps for the natty iPad. Ultimately, the materialist risks spiritual suffocation in a chamber of chattels.

Years ago, I read another study that defined Happiness as losing yourself in the flow of an activity, so that time, cares and To-Do lists evaporate in the spaciousness of pure focus. Gardening, painting, reading, walking … We all know how, it’s more a matter of scheduling moments for Happiness to glide in.

In the Black

Now that the poster child of antidepressants, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), have been outed as useless to all but the severely depressed ― as published in the not-for-profit Public Library of Science Medicine journal ― you have to wonder why it took 20 years for the research to emerge, and why they’re still the most popular choice among GPs.

Prescriptions for SSRIs rose from 5.1 million in 1990 to 8.2 million in 1998. In fairness, GPs dispensed them far and wide because their predecessor, the tricyclics, produced such unpopular side effects as desert-mouth, fat gain and libido slump. Doctors’ enthusiasm was also fuelled by a combination of “commercial pressures, professional opinion and greater readiness on the part of patients to discuss their symptoms,” according to the Medical Journal of Australia’s “Making new choices about antidepressants in Australia: the long view 1975–2002”.

But how many of those mildly depressed millions also received appropriate education about the significance of nutrition, thought patterns and exercise in the development of ― and recovery from ― depression? No pill in the world will permanently cure the recurring Black Slump if you’re still carrying the emotional baggage, mental turmoil, destructive habits and world perspective that got you there.

As Mum advised during one of my bouts with the Big Black: ”What you need is a healthy diet and a good haircut!”.

Gourmet Pets

Millennia ago, when man first befriended pet, Rex and Fluffy hunted and scavenged happily for their supper. At what point then, did they become biologically receptive to nutritionally deficient Gourmet Foil Surprise? Actually, they didn’t, say holistic vets. But the turning point was circa 1965 when, with mass convenience in mind, Uncle Bens released commercial pet foods in Australia.

Four Corners’ story on pet food irradiation last year certainly prompted concerned owners to look for alternatives. But even premium vet-promoted foods are not the answer, says holistic vet Dr Bruce Syme, who has developed a range of natural pet care products. Nutritional value is lost, he says, due to the extremely high temperatures of food processing required to meet Australia’s importing standards.

“Dermatitis, arthritis, gingivitis and dental caries, renal failure, diabetes, pancreatitis, inflammatory bowel disease, FIV, leukaemia . . . make up the long list of degenerative diseases which are now simply ‘accepted’ as part of growing old [for pets] . . . [but] are actually the result of years of nutritional abuse,” says Dr Syme. “I still see vast health improvements when dogs and cats move … onto a natural raw food diet.”

Megan Kearney, president of Australian Holistic Veterinarians (part of the Australian Veterinary Association), reckons vets promote ‘premium’ foods because “they’re seen to be scientifically balanced” and offer a quick fix for inadequate diets based on table scraps.

“The solution might be to feed them premium commercial food where a specific meat is listed as the first ingredient, rather than saying, ‘meat and other derivatives’, as well as fresh home-made food,” says Kearney.

Ask your vet about a raw-food diet plan.

Wise up

“Peace is the result of retraining your mind to process life as it is, rather than as you think it should be.” Wayne W. Dyer There’s a Spiritual Solution to Every Problem.

Liv Mitchell

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