For the Love of Kali

As we move into autumn and the shortening and darkening of the days, the shadow themes have still very much been circling in and asking for attention. Where previously this might have brought  unease, I’ve been consciously shifting my perspective to see what might happen if I embrace the shadow aspects before they become catastrophic. You know the point at which that happens? Usually when you are so stubbornly forging ahead, either not willing to let go of something or being reluctant to embrace the change you know you really need, that the only way to bring you back to your true course is to smash you to pieces to get you to pay attention. Ouch. I have been pretty familiar with this in the past.

Kali FB imageSo this time, as I have felt Kali get close to me, I have instead reached out to her lovingly and invited her in. Every day, I have been chanting and praying to her, the Goddess of Transformation, of Death, Destruction – and Liberation. I have willingly, daily, invited her to weave her magic of surrender and release, to reveal the truth and the essence of what really matters. At a time when everything is flowing beautifully, rather than waiting until everything has gone to pieces. As we embrace Kali, we invite ourselves to strip away whatever no longer serves us. It’s a daring move, as it often means surrendering things we love or are attached to. And it’s one of the most powerful practices I have ever done.

What I’ve come to realise through this practice is that I’ve been holding back for a long time from offering my deeper experiences of yoga, meditation, ‘spiritual practice’ – from fear that people might think it’s whacky, hippie or inauthentic. I was judged quite hard as a teenager for this, and well, it sticks. So in the end what I have been offering is in some ways what feels to me a fairly ‘kosher’ practice of yoga. But what I realised recently is that I have been holding back from sharing what have been some of my own most profound and transformative experiences. And many of these sit in the realm of the ‘mystical’.

So my daring is to offer what is closest to my heart, to Fearlessness-Quotenot hold back. After all, yoga isn’t really about alignment and inversions. Yoga is about the deepest inquiry into life, the greatest bravery of the soul, the passionate unbridled revealing of the heart. This is what I want to share, because this is what I think is really important. It doesn’t mean that the functional and structural bits will be thrown out, but they’ll just be put into perspective.

In honour of Kali:

Aum aim hrim klim chamundaye viche swaha

May the bonds of ignorance and ego be severed, may we rejoice in transformation, wisdom and truth.

If this calls to you, I would love to explore together this passion for life, mystery, truth and bravery. It’s the theme of my Bali winter retreat “Radical Freedom” (1-6 August – early bird ends 30 April), and it’s what we will explore in my upcoming workshops in May and June.

Death, darkness and ‘spirituality’

candleOn Friday, along with around 500 others, I attended the funeral celebrations of an old friend. Although we hadn’t been really close, over fifteen years we had woven in and out of each others’ lives between Melbourne and Alice Springs, shared dance floors and good food, campfires and stories, theatre performances and communities of friends and loved ones. Trish was one of the most vivacious, loving and brave women I knew. She lit up hearts, dance floors, and a deep love of life in each person she touched. What I didn’t know was that she had been suffering a deep depression, and in the end it overwhelmed her. Despite being surrounded by love. Despite reaching out to close friends and family.

Over the last week, I’ve had many conversations about suicide, loss, and the challenges of mental illness. Working especially with asylum seekers and victims of family violence, it’s hard to comprehend such deep suffering in someone whose outer life seemed so wonderful, rich, free and full of love. But it’s more common than we think. Dark periods can come like a mystery – and they may or may not be triggered by external circumstances. Some of us seem just to be sensitive souls who feel things too keenly, who search deeply for the meaning of this unfathomable life, and who sometimes become overrun by the tyranny of a wild mind. It may be biology, chemistry, spirit or soul, I don’t really know… but death, darkness and suffering are some of the mysteries that are as inherent a part of life as creation, beauty and delight.

I consider myself fortunate to have known a few of these dark periods.

They taught me Beautiful Transformationdeep humility and compassion, and they guided me towards a deeper search for meaning, strength and wholeness. I feel even more fortunate to have made it through.

In my early twenties, following a period of intense meditation and Tibetan practices, I had an immense ‘breakdown’ – a complete crisis of meaning that took me years to recover from. Though deep down, I knew also it was a spiritual breakthrough. Had I sought ‘professional’ help, though so necessary for some, I’m quite sure I would have ended up with a ‘diagnosis’ that I might have attached myself to for a lifetime. What I had instead was a wise friend with a kind ear, an overwhelming lack of judgement, and a soothing pot of vanilla green tea whenever I arrived at his door. It was his unerring support that initially got me through.

At the time, I punished myself so severely for not being able to live up to the spiritual ideals in my head, all the Buddhist teachings of righteousness and equanimity, that I completely shattered. Until finally I had to realise that whilst my mind might be lightning quick and so clever, and my moral high horse so high, my emotions and my heart needed time to catch up. They needed to be heard, they needed to be accepted, and they needed to be loved. I needed to become human – in all of its mess, its beauty, its confusing paradoxes, and its pain. I discovered that ‘spirituality’ isn’t a set of ideals and practices to be followed. It’s the process of becoming fully human. And it’s a journey that is unique to each of us.

It was in this first years-long recovery period that I discovered yoga. It was the practice I 055needed to get me out of my head and into my body. It was the practice I needed to strengthen my sensitive nervous system and to find ground. I was also fortunate for extended periods of vipassana meditation, that gave me the mental strength and insight to let go. To trust that I could let go of a thought rather than clinging onto it and riding it like a wild horse in a frenzy for days. And when I did that, I discovered nothing bad would happen. And even better, it would eventually pass. Letting go was actually the sweetest blessing. A challenging practice at first, but with the practice of coming back to the moment, to the breath, to simply observing and accepting what was happening within my body, I eventually found a freedom and a strength that I would not have believed possible.

When later breakthroughs (read: ‘breakdowns’) happened, I could knowingly sit in the immensity of pain, grief and inner torment, and surrender to the destructive force of life that clears the way for new growth and beauty. With patience and practice, it can come. Yet even in the trust and surrender, it was terrifying and exquisite at the same time.

It’s a terrible thing to be so sensitive, to be so inquisitive about life and so questioning of the ‘reality’ and the measures of ‘success’ that are presented to us. But it can also be a gift. Through our lack of satisfaction, through our darkness, and through the tender experience of our own deep suffering, we can learn great compassion and we can shine great light. We can plumb the depths of what it is to be human, and hopefully rise again to the surface with jewels that shine a brilliant light for others to follow.

follow your bliss womanFor those who have done this, we must reach out to those who are still struggling in the depths, with love, compassion and the tools that might begin to weave a web of wholeness again. And hope that this is enough.

But ultimately, life is a mystery. Without judging, accept. Even in the midst of the deepest pain, seek grace. Go sweetly in the not-knowing, with love and with compassion. And as my beautiful friend Trish would say, be kind to others, for you don’t know what pain they may be suffering.

 

The importance of getting inspired

The importance of getting inspired

Being ‘inspired’ is probably one of the moment’s biggest buzz words. For us free-living modern folk, life is all about ‘getting inspired, discovering your purpose, and living your passion.’

It gets bandied about so often and in so many circles, almost as a given, that we seldom stop to really ask what it means. Or worse, I’ve heard people say how much it makes them feel like a failure for not being inspired, not knowing their purpose or their passion. I get it. We don’t feel inspired all the time. Some would probably even say that we can’t feel inspired all the time. And there are necessary periods of life in which we fall apart, lose direction, and seem to flail aimlessly (probably whilst the next wonderful thing is brewing…). These are all part of life and our growing.

But inspiration is important. And what’s more, it is beautiful.

Mei Lai with giant amazing treeInspiration is that mysterious awakening that makes our cells tingle and become vibrant with excitement and joy. It is that brilliant stirring force that tugs on the strings that connect us to a sense of something larger than our individual selves, and to that something larger within ourselves.

The word comes from the Latin root ‘spirare’ – spirit, or breathe. Inspirare means ‘to breathe into’, and in Middle English inspiration was synonymous with divine guidance. Inspiration is that sublime feeling that arises when we are in direct connection to spirit. It is our direct connection to the essence of life – to breath – that gives us energy and sustains us. In my experience, you can’t possibly get enough of it. And if you care about living a joyful and meaningful life, it’s vital that you get it.

And it is the creative essence of evolution. It is what makes us human and what continues to unfold us towards greater beauty, love and creativity. Without inspiration, we are merely fighting for survival. What’s more, inspiration is unique for each one of us – what may be dull to one person may completely fire up another’s inspiration, and lead them to the next amazing discovery, project or creation. Inspiration is not just what makes the world go round, but what keeps it evolving. It is the creative force of life itself, bursting forth with astonishing beauty. And it is contagious.

So ‘getting inspired’ is as important as every single breath you take. And it keeps getting better – the more you have, the more you give, and as Joseph Campbell says about love: the more you give, the more you have. Everyone reaps the benefits.

Many people think that getting inspired is something that happens randomly, an accident of fate. But it’s not like that. Just as you can cultivate the breath through pranayama, you can cultivate inspiration – simply by seeking it out.

Rainbow architectureSeek out things that give you that tingling feeling of excitement. You know when you feel it, it’s fundamental. Read inspiring stories, watch movies and documentaries that move you, visit incredible architecture or wild valleys, seek out great art and music – whatever gets your creative juices flowing.

And if you’re not sure where to start, don’t waste your time wondering about it – start somewhere and just keep looking until you find it. Because you will. It’s as fundamental as your breath and the revolving of the planets around the sun, you just have to cultivate your awareness to know it for yourself. And when you find it, relish it. Roll around in it. Let it tickle your taste buds and draw you onto the next greatest thing. And know that it’s a never-ending spring. There is always more.

Let inspiration be the force that unfolds your life – into beauty and greatness.

Because it’s your own innate creative essence. It’s your birthright.

Cultivating Compassion – a yoga workshop for the new year

Happy new year beautiful people!
After an inspiring 12 days assisting Tara Judelle on the second Embodied Flow™ 200hr yoga teacher training in beautiful Bali, I’m so excited to bring all that inspiration and love home and give you my first offering for 2016. Compassion. Love. Yoga. You got it.
with love,
Mei Lai xo

Cultivating Compassion – an Embodied Flow™ Yoga workshop

Saturday 16 January 2016, 12-2.30pm
Gertrude Street Yoga Studio, 202 Gertrude St, Fitzroy

“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive. If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” – Dalai Lama XIV

This 2.5 hour Embodied Flow™ workshop offers a rich exploration of the heart of compassion through science, philosophy, meditation, backbends and arm balances.Unlock your curiosity. Discover your own magnificent heart. Understand the difference between compassion, empathy and sympathy. Learn essential tools for the practice of compassion on and off the mat – for your own peace and support, and for the love of all.

The essential way to begin a new year… with love and compassion.

$35 (20% discount for Gertrude Street Yoga Studio members)

Bookings required.
Please go to www.gertrudestreetyoga.com.au to book your place

About Embodied Flow™ Yoga

Combining hatha yoga, tantric philosophy and somatic movement exploration, the practice of Embodied Flow™ shines the light of awareness into the layers of our being, providing a deep sense of ease, strength and connectivity in the human form. This in turn, empowers you, the practitioner, to be your own greatest teacher as you expand, integrate and facilitate awareness in your entire body-mind.

The A to Z of Yoga: F is for Fire

fire phoenix

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fire burn and light up this wild, precious life
passion in my heart
desire in my soul
I know to stoke your unforgiving flames
so you will shine as a constant light
when things would
crumble.

Burn away the debris
of what I no longer need –
and never needed.

I know it is you

that stirs forth creation
from beginning to end and beginning
again
so that I rise up renewed
as pure essence
refined like the purest gold
in your searing furnace

nothing less and nothing more

I offer to you my strength and my weakness
my purity, my defilements
the beauty and the ugliness
of my light and my shadow

your brilliance of not discriminating
is the gift of your flame. Take it all.

Sun of my heart
may you turn my offerings to ash
and ash into gold
as phoenix wings rise iridescent
and eternal.

Burn in my heart as fierce, soft love
My love.


 

Yoga takes us into the essence of life, the essence of self, the essence of creation. Like the sun, fire is at the source – it is the force that transforms, energises, cleanses, ignites, inspires and keeps us going. It is the source of our desire, our will, our determination and dedication, our undying, eternal, essential love. This is tapas.

Genuine tapas makes us shine like the sun. Then we can be a source of warmth, comfort and strength for others. – Georg Feuerstein

 

sun in the sky 2

 

Hungry for more?

Here are a few more F-words to add to your yoga lexicon. Let these words take you down the rabbit hole of your own research, exploration, contemplation and experimentation!

Freedom, focus, foundation, faith (shraddha)

Gathering community – free community kirtan

Gathering community – free community kirtan

kirtan dancingIt’s been a big few weeks since returning home of new life schedules, becoming even busier with study and work as I have commenced a counselling placement with asylum seekers and victims of family violence, and most recently navigating the passing of a family member. Yes, life has been feeling quite full…

But the gift of it all has been realising the need to spend dedicated time in reflection, in dreaming, in reconnecting with what is most meaningful to me, and with what I really want to create in this one precious life.

As I sat in reflection over this weekend, I remembered that it is fundamentally connection – helping people to connect and find support with one another, inspiration – inspiring people to celebrate life and live it to the fullest potential, and love – generating genuine love and compassion, and sharing that with as many as possible.

And that I want to create an offering from my pure desire to share these things into the world, that is a simple exchange of energy and connection and enjoyment, and nothing to do with anything you have to pay for (hallelujah!). So I am starting with a free community kirtan – an opportunity to come together for the pure love of it, to sing, to chant, to use the healing power of sound to connect, inspire and create love.

I would love you to join me in building our inspired community in the incredible acoustic space at Good Vibes Yoga Studio next Sunday 25th October:

Free Community Kirtan – Chant, Sing, Connect, Celebrate

Good Vibes Yoga Studio, Northcote, Sunday 25th October, 7.15-8.30pm.
Bring an open heart, mind, and voice – and it’s free!

FB Event link here <3

A to Z of Yoga: E is for Experiment

life_is_an_experiment_by_dzeri-d4ztdgySince I was a teenager, I have found myself coaching friends to follow their dreams, their heart, their joy, their inspiration. To trust and believe in themselves and to just go for it. And of course what I have seen, is that what holds people back is fear. Fear of failure, fear of success, fear of breaking out of the mold, fear of instability or a lack of security, fear of ‘not getting it right’. I have also been one of these people.

But the reality is, we come into this life not knowing what it is, or what it is for. Although ‘society’ might tell us that it’s about money or success or security or power or family or joy or whatever million other things humans find to create meaning out of, thousands and thousands of years of ‘seeking’ and looking for the meaning of life has still not really brought a definitive answer.

So my answer to the fear that paralyses us is this: Life is one giant experiment. Whatever you want to do, dive into it head first knowing that it is just an experiment. If you ‘fail’, well that’s what experiments are for. Brush yourself off, and move onto the next great experiment. Or try again.

And here’s a tip: set yourself a timeframe. Want to dive into the music career or business venture you’ve been dreaming of for so long, but have been too terrified to start? Give yourself six months, give it everything you’ve got, and then decide on your next step from there.

It is a simple attitude, but unbelievably powerful. And why? Because it gives you permission. Permission to follow your dreams, permission to get creative, permission to get dirty, permission to not know, permission to fall over – and to gracefully pick yourself up again. Because it was just an experiment.

But the beautiful thing about it is, that more often than not it leads to success. Why? Because it liberates us to follow what we love most, even if it is what we are most afraid of. And when we follow what we love, it lights us up, and that light becomes like a beacon that draws to us whatever we need to take the next step…

As Brene Brown asks, “What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?”

You won’t know until you try.

InspirationalQuotes.Club-life-advice-inspirational-wisdom-play-game-Plato

Hungry for more?

Check out Brene Brown’s book “Daring Greatly”…

And here are a few more E-words to add to your yoga lexicon. Let these words take you down the rabbit hole of your own research, exploration, contemplation and experimentation!

E is for: embodiment, enlightenment, eka pada koundinyasana, evolution, experience, empathy, expression

The A to Z of Yoga: D is for Dying

The A to Z of Yoga: D is for Dying

This is a straight from the hips offering for those who love yoga, who want to know more, and who sense that it is a path of endless discovery. Because it is.

This A to Z of Yoga is hardly definitive. It is an invitation. I hope you will be delighted and inspired to dive deeper into your own journey of yoga as a fearless adventurer, a pioneer into the frontier of the incredibly unique and unfolding experience that is you.

D is for Dying

If yoga teaches us the art of living, it also teaches us the art of dying.

In its deepest essence, it initiates us into this great mystery of life and transforms our relationship with it.

Over the past few weeks I have watched the Facebook posts of Edo Kahn, as his wife and love Jo made the transition from this earth from a painful stomach cancer, diagnosed only two months ago.

Edo and JoEdo and Jo offered music, yoga and seva (selfless service) with so many, as they travelled the world as a devoted, loving duo, sharing their gifts and their love at retreats, gigs, and festivals. They also founded “A Sound Life” – a charity dedicated to sharing free music and yoga with those in need. It was a perfect offering and a perfect love story.

And their grace continued through the completely unexpected, earth-shattering turn of events. Even in extreme pain, Jo continued to sing, to share her love and wisdom, and passed with an awe-inspiring grace to “return to the lotus feet of her guru”, Sakthi Amma. Even following the death of his beloved, Edo has continued sharing openly with insight, love and wisdom.

In one of her final diary entries, Jo wrote: “I asked Amma “how can the whole universe be within me? Please show me.” Amma took me on an astral travel moving from “me” to the city, to the country, world, universes, galaxies, where so many planets exist. We kept flying through space. “But Amma, how does this all exist within me?” I ask Her. Just then, the travel continues through the galaxies and then ends in my heart. “See Jo, there’s no separation, Jo is there ” pointing to the origin where I am the size of a mustard seed. “and Jo is here too” – with the entire universe within me. She took me for a good ride that night…”

cosmos

Yoga – through meditation, devotion and the mysteries of grace – can give us deep insights into the nature of reality and experiences of fundamental oneness, that help to reframe our understanding of life and death, bringing us greater peace and acceptance even in the pain of departure.

This heartbreaking but grace-filled meeting of death reminds us that life is indeed a great mystery, with seemingly little rhyme or reason. That great pain and death can come ‘early’ in the most unlikely of ways, and to the most unlikely of people. In the tradition of yoga, many may call this ‘karma’ – the unfolding of cause and effect from previous lives. Whatever it may be, it is a great teaching of the power of spiritual devotion, perspective and love, and a powerful reminder to make the most of this incredible gift of life whilst we have it.

There are so many good things to do in this life, so many ways in which to continuously unfold into greater consciousness, into higher self, and into love. How could you want to live ignorantly and selfishly, and miss out on the beauty of a life lived in service, in wisdom, and in love…

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” – Mary Oliver

bluebird

Hungry for more?

Here are a few more D-words to add to your yoga lexicon. Let these words take you down the rabbit hole of your own research, exploration, and contemplation.

D is for: devotion, dharma, downward dog, drishti, durga

 

 

 

The A to Z of Yoga: C is for Connection

The A to Z of Yoga: C is for Connection

This is a straight from the hips offering for those who love yoga, who want to know more, and who sense that it is a path of endless discovery. Because it is.

This A to Z of Yoga is hardly definitive. It is an invitation. I hope you will be delighted and inspired to dive deeper into your own journey of yoga as a fearless adventurer, a pioneer into the frontier of the incredibly unique and unfolding experience that is you.

C is for Connection

Step onto the mat, into your breath, and into your body, and by the time you’re finished with the practice, there’s a sense of feeling home again, of feeling whole, of feeling reconnected.

This is the power of yoga, of uniting mind, body and breath, and expanding our awareness and states of consciousness through the practice.

synapsesFrom the Sanskrit root yuj – to unite, to join, to yoke – yoga is about connection. It is the connection of self to Self, of self to other, and to all of life. For ultimately, life is about relationship and our experience of self, which we come to know through the ways in which we relate to everything around and within us. As so many spiritual traditions teach us, all of life is interconnected. Through fields such as ecology and quantum physics, science has been slowly ‘proving’ what the ancient seers have revealed over thousands of years ago. In Tantra, this is known as Shiva: absolute conscious, the unified field, the underlying awareness-presence of life.

The beauty of practices such as yoga, is that they enable us to have a direct experience of this fundamental interconnectedness. And this experience of interconnectedness starts to alter the ways in which we relate to ourselves and to others, from the profound understanding that we are neither different from each other, nor inherently separate. With this understanding, we naturally begin to generate the qualities of compassion, peace, and love, and the fundamental feelings of belonging and wholeness that we all long for, as we take that essential journey from self back to Self – to arrive right where we started, perfect and complete.

And all we require is our very own body-mind, a curiosity and longing, and the heartfelt cultivation of awareness.

boygirldaynight

Hungry for more?

Here are a few more C-words to add to your yoga lexicon. Let these words take you down the rabbit hole of your own research, exploration, and contemplation.

C is for: Chakra, Chit, Consciousness, Craving, Chandra

The A to Z of Yoga: B is for Body, but…

The A to Z of Yoga: B is for Body, but…

This is a straight from the hips offering for those who love yoga, who want to know more, and who sense that it is a path of endless discovery. Because it is.

This A to Z of Yoga is hardly definitive. It is an invitation. I hope you will be delighted and inspired to dive deeper into your own journey of yoga as a fearless adventurer, a pioneer into the frontier of the incredibly unique and unfolding experience that is you.

B is for Body, but…

five bodies

But what? It’s kind of obvious in our body-conscious society that yoga is about the body, right. It’s now one of the most popular forms of exercise in the West. It’s a great way to build strength, flexibility and vitality, which also improves our mental and emotional wellbeing; and even better, it has the extra perks of ‘spiritual fitness’.

But… it runs so much deeper than that. The body really is the vehicle for awakening. This is the radical teaching of Tantra, that emerged in India only around the 5th century (remember that ‘classical’ yoga was birthed from around 500-200BC).

Departing from the dual split between matter and spirit that was the hallmark of the ancient Vedic traditions, Tantra offered a radical acknowledgement of the body, this human form, as an aspect or an expression of the divine. In Tantra, there is no separation between matter and spirit, mundane or divine. So this human body – that is both clumsy and agile, that feels aches and ecstasy, that we worship when it is slim and toned and curse when it is overweight or misshapen – is the divine form we have for experiencing and discovering life, and for awakening into all that we can possibly be.

In the words of Eckhart Tolle, “You are the universe, expressing itself as a human for a little while.”

To fully awaken into this realization starts right here, in your human form, in your body. The body is the vehicle for awakening.

This is what my pioneering teachers Tara Judelle and Scott Lyons see as the underlying principle of a genuine modern yoga practice focused on awakening (check out Embodied Flow Yoga).

It is an invitation to become ‘somanauts’ – explorers into the inner world of our very own body-mind, deep into our own experience. To not only move the outer form of the body, but to really feel and sense inside the body with the fullness of our awareness, to discover its sensations and bring alive the consciousness of our tissues, our organs, our bones, our very cells.

Why? To discover life, to discover self, to understand and experience more of this awe-inspiring reality, to become awake, literally, in all the cells and fibres of our being.

Fortunately for us, we not only have the ancient and evolving tools of yoga, but also the incredible discoveries of science (see the video link below, for example), and new forms of movement and somatic exploration such as Body Mind Centering to add to our toolbox of practices of awakening – our practice of Yoga.

Hungry for more and ready to be awed?

And, here are a few more B-words to add to your yoga lexicon. Let these words take you down the rabbit hole of your own research, exploration, and contemplation.

B is for: breath, bhakti, Body Mind Centering (BMC), bandha, Bhagavad Gita, buddhi.