It’s International Women’s Day, and as part of a global community of yoginis, there’s an important conversation that needs to be amplified and shared far and wide.
As I’ve been participating more in the world of social media of late, to share about my heart & soul project social enterprise yoga school Yoga for Humankind, I’ve become more and more dismayed at the representation and popularisation of yoga – sexualised, impossibly gymnastic and massively glamourised. It’s the antithesis of Yoga – the quiet, inward journey to peel back the layers of false identities, beliefs and constructs, and find the Truth of what remains after all that is shed.
‘Inspiration’ is great, but this kind of yoga-glamourising creates an image of yoga that feeds into exactly the kinds of day-to-day social stigmas, ideas and values that create problematic and harmful self-image, self-worth and impossible ‘goals’; that take us outward instead of inward; that ultimately harms bodies instead of harmonises; that alienates instead of unites… and that the genuine path of yoga actually seeks to unravel.
It’s been building within me to write on this topic, and it’s totally impassioned me today, on International Women’s Day, to read these insightful, poignant and powerful words… thank you to Roopali, the powerful woman who wrote this great blog post on the topic.
Yogis, Yoginis, HUMANS – can we please stop the sexualisation, physicalisation and glorifying self-promotion in the name of yoga? Can we please instead promote the common denominators of being and humanity, such as: the Self that is our collective ground of being, belonging, vulnerability, resilience, imperfection, befriending ourselves and our bodies, and our real stories of love, hope, loss, peace, struggle, devotion and community.
It’s not often that I post ‘yoga’ photos, as yoga for me is about so much more than the body, and I’m not into promoting yoga as ‘image’, fitness or even ‘spirituality’, when it’s seen as a commodity or a ‘lifestyle’. Of course it can be those things, but moreso, it is the deepest quest that emerges naturally in the heart of human beings, for truth, for love, for peace and for the mystery of life.
But I am unbelievably grateful, because the practices and philosophies of yoga have been a huge part of my unique, winding life journey that has brought me home to my Self, allowed me to know and rest in a peace deeper than the ocean, and shown me that one thing can be as vast in shape and meaning as all this universe contains. And by this, I’m talking about both Yoga and the Self. ‘One’ thing that is vast and diverse in appearance and expression. And so I share my ‘yoga’ through quiet and simple images of my everyday. Of nature, of inspiration, of people, of ideas that remind me of connection, of beauty, of love, of the Self.
It is of course also one of the most powerful tools for healing, for remembering, and for celebrating life. And today I am celebrating slowly recovering from a shoulder injury that had me unable to move, lift my arm over my head or weight-bear much for many months. It just feels good to move!
And this is something I’m also committed to sharing with the world. This is how Yoga for Humankind began, a international social enterprise yoga school offering trainings in traditional and contemporary hatha yoga, trauma-informed and community yoga – as a platform for cultivating and sharing a ‘yoga’ that is accessible, suitable, empowering, compassionate and brings true well-being for all, at any stage of life, with our unique personal histories and stories. It is for connecting and cultivating community, and for recognising the Self that is at the heart of all our individuality, uniqueness and diversity, and that is our common humanity.
It’s been an incredible 12 weeks of back-to-back teacher trainings and retreats, doing and sharing what I love so much in some of the most beautiful places in the world: Yoga… which for me is no different than life, exploring and living it to the fullest for love and freedom and beauty. Whatever specific ‘forms’ it might take, it is the path of awakening more of the potential of who we are on every level, from philosophy and evolutionary ideas, to the life force of movement and breath that is both guided and intuitive, sensing and feeling from the gross to the subtle, to deep dives into self and consciousness through meditation and sound, from traditional to experimental, from ‘spiritual’ to ‘science’. It’s all the joy of turning inwards for Self discovery, and then flipping it inside out. It’s both creative drive and surrender, dancing between form and formlessness.
One of my greatest lessons and joys is that I am forever a ‘student’ – ever learning, growing, evolving, being challenged and making mistakes, being delighted and humbled, slowly slowly learning how to navigate my way through life with more grace, ease and love. Thanks to this path that I started on really as a child – curious, seeking, confused, delighted. Wanting to be ‘better’, wanting to suffer less, wanting to ‘know’ more, not knowing what the hell I was doing but being drawn to something that felt bigger, greater, helpful, miraculous and unavoidable.
And it is with the highest gratitude that I get to share what I love and what I have discovered through my own turning inwards. That somehow the years of striving and struggling and internal analysing and ceaseless inquiry have led to something that looks like a bit more wisdom and a lot more love.
So this is a big shout out to all of my teachers – the formal and the informal, the life events that have turned me upside down, my family, friends, those who have challenged me and been challenged by me, to each person who calls themselves a ‘student’ of yoga and life and love… thank you for your gifts, insights, offerings, and the ways in which you have guided my life.
I’ve just arrived in south Portugal for the next 2 months to sit in satsang (to be in the company of the Truth) with Ganga Mira and Mooji. To keep turning inwards to Life.
I’m unbelievably grateful for this opportunity and time to sit with humans – real people – who have woken up and turned their lives and themselves in pure love and wisdom. Endless inspiration and the most profound guidance…
So I’m having a 3 month break from ‘teaching’ to be even more fully a ‘student’. Following the inner and outer cycles of life.
However ‘busy’ life gets, remember to take some time to turn inwards, to ‘forget’ everything you have learnt and be open, fresh and innocent – ever ready to be surprised and delighted by this miracle of life.
With the beauty and power of southern France still rippling through me, I arrived in Lisbon at the end of April for a satsang intensive with Advaita master Mooji, to dance the wild inner terrain of the Self. His only interest is in liberation, freedom, awakening, and his ‘pointings’ to the direct truth of who we are, are so direct and powerful that I feel my deep yearning catalysing and all my ideas and concepts falling away. To know, first you need to ‘unknow’. My experience in the satsang intensive was so powerful that I cancelled my flight to Nepal, and as I write this, in a couple of hours I will be going to stay at Mooji’s ashram for the next week or two, followed by a silent retreat at the end of May, for a full month of immersion. I can’t say exactly what is happening, except to say that something is changing, and it is so sweet.
I am also excited to announce some upcoming offerings in Melbourne, Bali, and Thailand, including a 30hr Mantra and Nada Yoga Certificate in Bali in June, where I will get to weave in my insights, experiences and discoveries to share with you. All the details are here, if you are interested to join me somewhere.
And all of life is a continuum, an evolution, an unfolding… and although it’s a little ‘late’, I offer you some words and some images from my experiences in southern France, because it is, in fact, timeless…
In the lifetime that has been the last 2 weeks, I have climbed mountains, held all-night vigil and slept in caves, traversed gorges, wandered through the most enchanting forests, become lost and found in the weavings of a natural labyrinth, been blessed by innumerable waters in the form of sweet and salty rivers, creeks, lakes, seas, natural springs and thermal springs, waterfalls and deep pools in deeper gorges, I have spoken with a thousand trees and rocks, and listened to the songs of a thousand birds. I have been blessed by a snake, giggled with glee at flamingos, and enchanted by the patient, awkward wisdom of beetles.
I have followed that silent inner voice to mystery and synchronicity, and I have spent most of my waking and sleeping hours in the sweetest solitude, finding my place in the nature of things, and never feeling alone.
I have visited daily all these sacred places of nature and the sacred places of humans: churches, basilicas, cathedrals, chapels, abbeys, grottos, castles, towers, and initiation caves. And I have been learning the importance of weaving the greatness of each into a single thread of life-giving and life-sustaining connection.
I have been diving into the history of two thousand years, the stories and renderings of the lives and teachings of Mary Magdalene and Jesus, the Romans and the Gauls, the peaceful Cathars who were murdered as heretics by the Catholic church, the troubadours and the knights, the kings and the crusaders, the people who lived, walked, loved, built and were shaped by this land across the centuries.
In each of these places I have meditated, prayed, and sung. And I have been meditated, prayed and sung to. I have contemplated the great mystery of life, god, the sacred feminine, the profound and the mundane, the dual and the non-dual, peace and war, spirituality and religion, spirit and soul, love and forgiveness, and renewed my constant prayer for freedom, love and awakening – even though I do not even know what that is anymore. I have let go of ideas and found nothing to replace them with.
For a mostly non-coffee drinker, non-dairy eater, I have drunk countless coffees and eaten way too much cheese and croissants and loved every moment of every flavour. I have discovered the mirror-selfie and the timer-selfie, and taken one of each. I have become really good at saying, “Pardon, je ne parle pas Francais…” and people are still kind and sweet and patient.
I have been re-wilded, sweetly contented and utterly awed at every turn. I am both still and whirling with joy. But mostly I have found only that I know nothing. Which makes everything possible.
It started as a calling. Whether it came from within or without, I’m not sure. But it blew in like a strong wind, the foreboding of a great storm that threatens to dismantle everything, to blow to pieces everything you’ve known and carefully cultivated.
I’ve felt it before. I’ve walked out into the storm before, both willingly and unwillingly. And so this time I knew the serpentine song rising from my soul, even before it wove its magic around me. I felt the pull to the wilderness of the Unknown, to adventure, to the one true home. And I said yes.
Because I’m a total sucker for adventure. Especially one where you know that parts of you will die and there is no choice but to emerge completely transformed.
Bill Plotkin (“Soulcraft”) calls it the journey to the underworld, a descent into the dark mysteries of the individual soul.
It is the journey of initiation that we need to undertake to find our unique gift, our unique place, and our unique offering to the world that both serves the world and brings us our greatest joy.
It is not a running away, a rebellion, or a purposeful destruction of the fabric of one’s life out of despair or desolation. It is not a denial of the ‘light’, of the ultimate oneness of consciousness or ‘spirit’ from which we came from and to which we will return.
It is the acknowledgement and weaving together of the multiple threads of our existence, into beauty, magnificence and wholeness. It gives us purpose, clarity and love, and leads us more and more to taking up our own unique place in existence, in service.
A few days ago I arrived in Sweden, after three super busy glorious weeks in Bali in an Embodied Flow yoga teacher training with Tara Judelle. I had been invited by my dear friend Anja Bergh (Yoga Buddhi), another Embodied Flow teacher, to teach on her advanced teacher training in Gothenburg.
As the plane touched down, I got a thrill of excitement at arriving in a new place, somewhere I have never been. I remembered that it is one of my favourite things – a new land, new culture, new environment, new taste of the air and light of the sun in a different atmosphere. I was excited to have several days to explore before the teacher training would begin.
Worn out from the travel, I eyed Anja’s bookcase and announced that I might read something and have an early night. Without sparing a moment, Anja handed me ‘Soulcraft’, and that was that. Something sparked.
I woke up the next morning sick and heavy with a cold. My body unwilling to venture out into the cold and the rain, my soul as happy as a cat purring on its blanket, having all this time to dive inwards into Soulcraft, to put new words and ways of understanding to this journey I know intrinsically so well inside myself.
So instead of being out in the wilds of nature, I am cosied up in my friend’s house in the gentle woods of Sweden, with a book that is lighting up my inner wilderness, my own untamed and limitless self. Making the call of my soul even louder and brighter and clearer. It is exactly this, right time, right place and right circumstances. Putting context and words to the soul journey that I got thrown into at the end of last year.
In other cultures, these rites of passage are still woven into the fabric of the culture. In the West, they’ve largely been lost. There are some of us for whom the calling comes unavoidably like a freight train derailed into the centre of one’s life. And yet I believe it is there for all of us. It must be, it is our nature.
The ‘work’, I believe, lies in stripping away the layers of conditioning piled on us by society, family, and culture like dank wet blankets. Pulling out the weeds and preparing the ground for what must inevitably come, in its own way and in its own time. Kneading the self, that wily ego, so it becomes soft and vulnerable. Learning to listen with the ears of a wolf to the stirrings of the wind in the silent space of the heart. So that when the time comes (and it will), we can brazenly cry “Yes!” and trust ourselves to dive in to Life, even in the face of fear, resistance or even terror. At that time, Life will tell us which way to go. We just need to heed the call and go for it, without needing to know a single thing.
This is Yoga. Not the asanas and the pranayamas and the meditation techniques that make us feel better, stronger, healthier, more calm, more ‘spiritual’… but the heart of it – the way of life, the new ways of seeing and being, the light and the dark, the willingness to fall apart or be ripped apart, to not know, to surrender whole-heartedly to the beauty and the terror of it all.
The tools and techniques of yoga are just the plow that prepares the soil of the soul, that break up the hard clods of the ego, that nurture the dark womb of the heart that – when the time is ripe – births love and joy. It is both the downward and the upward journey, so that we can become freedom right here and right now, home in our very centre.
I love this adventure more than anything. As I travel the wild terrain of my own soul, I know that I’ll survive with only the parts of myself intact that are worthy of living. I’m down with that. I’m willing to risk sacrificing the rest: my ego, my identity, my ideas, my concepts, constructs and comforts. I’ve done it before and risen from the ashes.
And right now, I’m in the darkness. But it is far from bleak. It is the fertile place of the Unknown. This place I love so much.
I have plane tickets, and a teaching schedule, and plans. Places I’m supposed to be and things I am meant to do. I love it and celebrate it all, and I am full of gratitude for the opportunities. But somehow I also know that none of that really matters. My practice is to let go of any ‘shoulds’ and follow the whispers of my heart and soul. Anything possible at any moment. All of it leading me to exactly where and whom I’m meant to be, a mystery unfolding moment by moment.
And what excites me most is that I know I’ll come back with treasures and hard-won jewels, wrestled from the jaws of giant pterodactyls. I don’t know what they’ll look like, but I know they’ll be my precious gifts, my offerings of beauty to myself, this world and to you.
This is my prayer for freedom. And I will walk the Unknown with love and joy and ferocity, so that I can become my own living prayer.
So that we can all live wild and whole and free.
…if you’d like to come and explore some of this wild path of yoga with me, here are the opportunities.