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.
There is a voice that speaks from some place hard to know; that seems to reside both deep within and far without. It arises mysteriously, often at times inconvenient to the trajectory you have set out as your ‘life’; sometimes as quiet as a whisper, and sometimes soul-deafeningly loud. And it is a voice that often doesn’t make sense to the logical mind that questions, analyses and evaluates.
Some call it the voice of the heart, the soul, the higher self, of divine guidance, spirit guides, intuition, or greater wisdom. Whatever it is, and wherever it comes from, one thing is for certain: it needs heeding. For it is the voice of your calling, of your truth that will lead to back to your Self. And quite likely, into greater joy, greater peace, and a true sense of your purpose, of Dharma.
It is this voice that arose that led me to undertake doula training three years ago, in a move that made very little sense at the time: I wanted to explore women’s work, the divine feminine, for my own unfolding and growth as a woman. I researched a huge range of women’s courses and programs that would fulfill this purpose, but the voice was still there – do this doula training. I questioned and doubted and got confused: why would I do that? It’s really expensive. I don’t even want to be a doula… The questions went on. But the voice persisted, hinting that there was something there for me to dive into birthwork – the primal mystery of life and creation.
Three years later, and not only does supporting birthing women feel like the most beautiful, natural thing for me to be doing, but Birth for HumanKIND has been fully birthed and is going from strength to strength: a not-for-profit organisation of volunteer doulas who support disadvantaged and vulnerable women including refugees, asylum seekers and young women. Birthed as a result of me listening to that voice and taking the training, against all reason.
It is the same voice that has brought me now to Peru, in a move that again seemed against all reason and convenience. But having experienced the overflowing blessings of listening to that voice in the past, I knew better, so
I did just that: listened and followed. So here, in the jungle of Peru, I have swum naked in the freezing cold stormy blast of Gocta Falls, the third highest waterfall in the world; I have visited the Dr Seuss-like magical beauty of the pre-Incan ruins of Kuelap; I have meditated in an ancient stone circle in the incredible nature surrounding the small town of Pamashto and been gifted with one of the most spectacular sunsets I have ever seen.
But more significantly, I have spent 14 days doing dieta (a traditional plant medicine retreat) at my friends’ gorgeous healing center, El Jardin de la Paz. Here, I have had my path reaffirmed and deep, simple wisdom reinforced: love really is the most powerful medicine. To sit in love, to practice love, to bring love into every encounter and every situation, to be love, this is the most powerful work we can be doing. And to support that, we need trust, patience and the strength to constantly banish doubt whenever it creeps in.
This is the true gift of my path and purpose that I have been given from listening to that voice: to practice love, to be love, and to serve the world from that place, with trust and with patience. And true to that purpose, I am about to head back out to El Jardin to provide support, to serve and to offer yoga and meditation on the next dieta, as the next courageous group of people do their own powerful healing, spiritual and wisdom work… Before I travel onwards to Greece where I will be assisting my teachers Tara Judelle and Scott Lyons on the very first Embodied FlowTM 200 hour yoga teacher training. Ultimately, it is all the same work, the calling that I know is true – serving this world with great love. And what that calling will look like for you is whatever makes your heart truly sing.
So until I reemerge from the jungle, here are some tips on how to follow your own calling… doing the beautiful, rewarding work is up to you.
SIX TIPS ON HOW TO FOLLOW YOUR OWN CALLING
1. Sit in the silence
Sitting in silence is the best way to let that voice emerge. Meditation is a great way to sit in that silence, but it is not the only way: it may emerge for you as you go for a stroll out in nature, watch a beautiful sunset, or even as you surrender to the peak hour traffic on your way to work. Let the thinking mind go, drop into your heart space, and listen for that little (or great) thing that truly makes your heart sing.
Even if the voice is a tiny whisper, or even if it whispers to you a seemingly tiny, insignificant thing – trust. The path of your true calling often requires you to sit in the unknown, allowing things to emerge and unfold as they will. Purpose does not always have to equate with ‘action’. Your purpose may be an attitude, a state of being, or a quality, for example, being love or living each moment with gratitude. It may be grand, or it may be small – but really, who is to know the value and meaning of your calling until you follow it.
3. Set your compass – be clear in your intention
You have to know where you want to go, what you are moving towards. In yoga, this is called ‘sankalpa’ – your intention. A powerful sankalpa is like a laser beam that lights up the way and keeps you on track. Without a clear goal, it is like wandering around in the dark or with a blindfold on: it is too easy to get confused, bumping into things, and ending up right where you began. Again, an intention may be a goal of action or a goal of ‘being’. Most importantly, take a moment at the beginning of every day to clearly set your intention – and remember it as much as you can throughout the day. It is the guide that will direct your attention back to your purpose in each moment and situation.
4. Choose your tools
Just as an adventurer setting out on a long journey needs tools to protect, nourish and facilitate her way, so do we need the right tools for the journey of following our calling. The tools we need are the ones that keep us connected with our inner voice and our hearts, that focus the mind, and build strength and suppleness in the body – so that we are ready for whatever the journey brings. This might be meditation, yoga, time in nature, qi gong, prayer – whatever practices resonate with you and bring you joy. They say the Buddha taught 80,000 different types of meditation for the 80,000 different types of people. So choose what works for you, and dedicate yourself to cultivating your tools, every day.
5. Take the first step
So you have heard the voice, you have built your trust in it, and you have cultivated the tools and strength you need. What now? Take the first step. This often feels like a leap of faith. It may be booking the plane ticket to your dream destination, going to your first salsa class, or picking up the phone on a hunch to call that old friend you haven’t seen in ten years…
Even if the whisper of the voice was almost too qui
et to hear, taking the first step will bring the clarity you seek. As Anandamayi Ma says, “If you sit with all doors and windows closed, how can you see the path? Open the door and step out, the path will become visible. Once on the way, you will meet other wayfarers, who will advise and guide you as to the path. Your job is to muster whatever strength you have to get underway – thereafter help is assured.”
6. Practice gratitude… and keep going
Never underestimate the power and importance of practicing gratitude. It is like the prayer that invites beauty and abundance into your life. For life truly is a mirror – what you offer into the world determines what you will receive in return. For every step, be grateful, knowing that you are on the path, and that you are fulfilling your purpose through these simple a
cts of listening and following the calling. You never know what is coming around the corner, and often what may seem ‘negative’ is that blessing in disguise, clearing you out for what is ready to shine forth, or an opportunity to strengthen your practice and resolve. So in every moment, practice gratitude. Keep listening, keep trusting, stay clear, stay focused… just keep going.
Life cannot help but fulfill itself when you offer yourself to her wisdom in this way. And her gifts are beauty, joy, peace and that quiet inner radiance that lights up everything within and around you.
“Following your bliss is not self-indulgent, but vital; your whole physical system knows that this is how to be alive in this world and how to give to the world the very best you have to offer. There IS a track just waiting for each of us and once on it, doors will open that were not open before and would not open for anyone else.” – Joseph Campbell
‘Doing what you love’ is something everyone dreams of, but how many of us really give ourselves the opportunity, or have the daring to take the leap, potentially giving up financial security, risking the opinions of others, or having to overcome feelings of ‘not being good enough’…
Doing what I love has always been something deeply fundamental to me. It doesn’t mean I haven’t been through the struggles of difficult decisions, others’ opinions, letting go of society’s and my own expectations, the call of responsibilities, or financial sacrifices. It’s just that doing what I love has always been a deeper force, like a silent serpent weaving through my life and again and again shedding whatever doesn’t fit the heart-weave. Sometimes I think it’s because, growing up, I heard umpteen times these words from my beautiful mother: “Whatever you want to do, I’m a hundred percent behind you. If you want to be a doctor or a check-out chick, you have my full support.”
And those words went deep – they followed me through starting a degree in physics (I wanted to be an astrophysicist, ha!), to finishing a degree in environmental studies and international development, canning plans for an honours degree to play music, performing, touring, recording as a violinist in a band, to a cellist/singer with my own band, to work out on Aboriginal communities in the Central Desert, back to Melbourne to work with asylum seekers and embarking on the journey to becoming a full-time yoga teacher, into training as a doula and setting up a non-profit free birth support organisation. And now somehow combining all of these loves and passions into a rich, varied and exceptionally rewarding ‘career’ – and one that gives me the flexibility, freedom and diversity that I love.
Throughout this whole journey, my practice of meditation and yoga, which began in my mid-to-late teens, has been the loving guide back to my heart’s calling – sometimes gentle, and sometimes decidedly fierce. But the more I have trusted and gone with these callings, the more joy, freedom and trust I have found, and the more support I have received from those around me.
Which amounts to two things: 1) GRATITUDE, and 2) continuing to follow my bliss…!
So, my dear friends and fellow yoga adventurers, I’m heading overseas on 16 May for four sweet months of study, adventure, teaching and discovery, with an itinerary that looks something like this:
Bali, 4 weeks: Embodied Flow advanced yoga training
Melbourne, 1 week: I’ll be teaching an Embodied Flow weekend workshop 20-21 June at Gertrude Street Yoga Studio
Peru, 5 weeks: spending time at a friend’s healing centre in the jungle of Peru, teaching yoga, and a few little adventures
Greece, 3 weeks: assisting on the Embodied Flow 200-hr teacher training
Bali, 3 weeks: teaching two retreats: Women’s yoga, ayurveda and bellydance retreat (Aug 29 – Sep 5) and Embodied Flow yoga retreat (Sep 7-14).
If you are in Melbourne, please join me for the Embodied Flow workshop 20-21 June. Otherwise I will be back teaching regular classes again in the last week of September, and I am already excited about the wealth of experience and discovery that I will have to share with you when I return.
In the meantime, I look forward to sharing the next month of classes with you before I leave, and I will keep you up to date on my adventures via my newsletter and blog while I am away.
From one heart to another, I wish so much for you to also experience the joy of following your own bliss, and I would love to hear of your own adventures and breakthroughs as you do this! Please stay in touch – I love receiving your news, discoveries, thoughts, and experiences – we are all in this together!
In love and adventure,
Mei Lai xo
CONFESSION OF A YOGI…
Instagram and the Gymnastics of Yoga: Please join me in a conversation…
Now I know that human beings are human beings. And one of the truths of being human is that we like to be wowed. We love tricks. We even teach them to our dogs. And a one-handed scorpion is certainly impressive and most likely the result of a lot of physical discipline and practice. But if we get stuck there, we miss what yoga is really about…
I was very recently introduced to the world of Instagram yoga: courageous fun-loving super-flexy yogis posting pictures of themselves in extreme contortions from all corners of the globe. My friend told me some of these yogis have thousands upon thousands of followers, and have veritably built their yoga ‘career’ through instagram.. My mind boggled at the concept, my eyes boggled as I perused some of the poses, my friend exhorted to me that I needed to get with the Instagram program (which, incidentally and amusingly to me, I did), and I wondered cheekily whether I could build up a following of thousands by posting pictures of myself in serene meditation somewhere new and ‘daring’ every day.
Because the question it brought up for me is: why are people so drawn to the ‘gymnastics’ of yoga? And is the ‘wow’ factor actually leading us astray?
The physical practice of yoga – ‘asana’ – is a foundational practice in the path of raja yoga – it creates a strong and healthy body, a strong nervous system, and if practiced properly, a deep embodied awareness. It prepares the body and mind for the deeper practices of pranayama and meditation. It has innumerable benefits. But if practiced solely for fitness, without proper intention, awareness, and breathing, it is what I recently heard Yogrishi Vishvketu laughingly call ‘jumping pumping’ (imagine this in your best Indian accent). It is not yoga, and will never take you deeper…
But for many, the allure of being fit, strong, and capable of impressive tricks, is what draws people to take the first steps on the path of yoga. It is only a matter of time, as they discover its deeper benefits, before they start to gain more of an interest in the path as a spiritual practice and as a way of life. Bingo! Everyone wins.
However, as I thought more about this, about the merits of inspiring people through mad handstands, and as I started to contemplate my own foray into the world of instayoga, a more interesting question arose for me – why are the ‘successful’ yoga teachers mostly ones who can do crazy gymnastics? Is that what it takes to have credibility as a yogi or a yoga teacher now? And what is the message that ‘modern yoga’ is conveying: “Real yogis do scorpion on one hand while drinking a raw smoothie”?
Now I know that human beings are human beings. And one of the truths of being human is that we like to be wowed. We love tricks. We even teach them to our dogs. And a one-handed scorpion is certainly impressive and most likely the result of a lot of physical discipline and practice. But if we get stuck there, we miss what yoga is really about. Does it matter if I can do a one-handed scorpion, or does it matter more that I have a practice and the tools to cleanse and calm the mind, open the heart, transform the spirit, shatter the ego, and develop immense insight and compassion.
And we may also miss the importance of the journey of the practice… because most of us do not embark upon a practice of yoga with a ‘perfect’ body.
Which leads me to my own confession: I have moments when I am confronted by others’ superior physical abilities, and in those moments of weakness I have even wondered about my own credibility. Have I not put in enough dedication and hard work? Have I not been doing the practice properly? Am I a ‘fraud’?
Well actually, the answer is pretty simple: we all have different bodies, we all have different histories, and we all have different journeys. The point is to honour the one we are on. I am not one of those super-flexy crazy pretzel yogis. I was not a gymnast or a dancer, or even into sports at all, and I am not ‘naturally’ flexible. I couldn’t touch my toes as a teenager. I never even kicked up into a handstand as a child. I’ve had injury after injury (from life, not from yoga) that have compromised by neck and left shoulder, my lower back, both of my ankles, my right wrist, and hip and pelvis problems that no amount of asana practice seems to resolve. BUT, as a result, I have been on – and am still on – a journey with my body, my mind, and my heart that has taught me patience, love, and awareness – for myself, and now for my students who arrive in class with ‘less-than-perfect’ bodies. I have also derived an immense and particular satisfaction from this long and difficult journey, which I would never have had if I had arrived at my yoga practice already strong, flexible and physically capable.
But most importantly, this ‘struggle’ with my body has constantly reminded me and kept me dedicated to the deeper journey of mind, heart and spirit that is the true path of yoga. This is the journey that should take us towards selflessness, wisdom, authenticity, liberation, compassion and love. If we get to a one-handed scorpion and never make it to these other qualities, we have not been practicing yoga… we have just been doing gymnastics.
I would love for this to be a conversation – please share your comments, your thoughts, your own journey… yoga for every body…
Now, off to Instagram my meditation… <3
xo Mei Lai