What is Yoga? And really, what is it for?

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.

If this speaks to you, I wholeheartedly invite you to get in touch join our community at Yoga for Humankind – either through a training (200+hr foundational training in Bali Nov 2018, and advanced trainings in 2019), our upcoming community retreat in Bali July 2018, or in conversation.

Much love,

Mei Lai xo

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.

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

Consciousness, autonomy, the profound and the ordinary  –   Insights from Continuum Movement: At the Crossroads retreat

Consciousness, autonomy, the profound and the ordinary – Insights from Continuum Movement: At the Crossroads retreat

Amber Gray

Amber Gray

I recently had the pure delight of spending five days on a Continuum Movement retreat near Sydney with my dear friend and inspiring teacher Amber Gray, who, amongst many other skills and credentials, is the only Continuum teacher to regularly visit Australia and offer this rich practice.

Continuum Movement was developed by Emilie Conrad, a US dancer who spent five years living and dancing in Haiti in the 1950s. It was during this time that Continuum Movement was birthed out of a deep curiosity and insight, into a rich practice of somatic inquiry. It is a practice that uses breath, sound, movement and an evolving philosophy of life to tap into and awaken the natural intelligence of the body and its fluid resonance. In my experience, it fosters an easeful practice of listening and a profound state of open, alive awareness that I have not encountered so deeply in any other practices or traditions.

water flow creek

The title of this particular retreat was “At the Crossroads”, drawing on Amber’s experience in the vodou traditions and ceremonial practices of Haiti (out of which Continuum emerged). With our Continuum ‘dive’ structured according to the phases of Haitian ceremony, Amber wove the history of Haitian vodou and insights from the philosophy and tradition through the retreat. The crossroads is the place, the plane, the movement between birth and death, light and dark, love and fear – that, like the yin-yang of the Tao, ultimately reveals these polar opposites as one and the same, inseparable and interdependent. During the retreat, we were invited to bring our questions, our desires, our offerings and honourings to this crossroads and receive our own insights through the practice.

Veve of Legba - Guardian of the Crossroads

When I talk about Continuum, I often find myself describing it only as ‘weird’ or ‘amazing’, at a loss for words as I am still trying to find ways to articulate what the practice is and why it is so powerful. The most ‘useful’ way I have discovered to describe it recently is a “moving sound meditation”. But even that does not do justice to the richness of the practice, which alternates particular patterns of breath, unusual sounds, and simple movements with “open attention” – where you rest into echoes of the patterns and follow the impulses and sensations that arise into spontaneous movement. In this space of open attention, you can experience profound physical unwinds, emotional releases, deep rest, trance states, or the experience of the body ‘being moved’ by some natural intelligence that is awakened. Or perhaps you are simply present and awake to the very ‘ordinary’ experience of being in your body and your everyday mind.

One of the most potent lessons I have received through my practice of Continuum is that the ‘profound’ states and the ‘ordinary’ states are equal in value. They are all expressions of consciousness, of being, of life: consciousness doesn’t change, only the states of the mind change. And they are all equally precious, equally wonderful, equally ordinary, whatever they may be. Many traditions teach their students not to go chasing ‘spiritual’ experiences, as the very chase can lead you astray from the discovery of awakening into simple being.

Alex Gray image

A key element of Continuum is an emphasis on what Emilie called being “self-referential” – which we might also think of as autonomy. Rather than simply doing what you’re told to do moment to moment, as in many traditions of discipline, you are taught the sound/movement sequence (the “dive”), and then you make your own way through it. In this way, your experience emerges through your own intelligence, wisdom and self-reliance: through listening. You become your own guide, your own teacher, and the master of your own experience.

In a Continuum ‘depths’ retreat, there is an ‘all-nighter’ – this is a period of time, often 24 hours, in which you are in silence and you continue to practice the dive throughout the night in the hall. It is through this ‘all-nighter’ that I felt the potency of the practice in awakening this sense of natural autonomy. Although the space and the ‘dive’ is there as the guide and the container, and at certain set times the group comes back together to sit for a few moments in silence, the beauty of this practice is that you can do just as you feel during this whole time. Unlike other practices of ‘discipline’, you are encouraged to have a cup of tea when you like, go for a walk, take a break, spend time in nature, rest, sleep, journal, draw – you follow the impulses that arise as an expression of your own being. So I did just that. And at the completion of the ‘all-nighter’, and a whole array of profound, mystical and very ordinary experiences, the only words I had to express were, “I just feel so natural!”

woman standing with clouds and sunrays

In a conversation with Amber on my constant monkey-mind musings on what the practice is, what it’s for, what are we doing, Amber’s simple response to me was, “You know what it is. It’s a life practice.”

And I finally awakened to that simple realisation.

 

 

In deep reverence and gratitude to Emilie Conrad, who passed away last year; to my dear friend and teacher Amber Gray; and to all of the Continuum teachers who are keeping this evolving, rich practice of discovery and life alive.
Emilie Conrad