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.
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.
Inspiration 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.
Seek 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.
It’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!
Since 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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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!”
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.
I recently returned to Melbourne from 4 intensive weeks of advanced yoga teacher training in Bali with the formidable team of Tara Judelle and Scott Lyons. Dubbed “The Embodied Science of Yoga”, the training was Tara and Scott’s first official offering of Embodied Flow – call it a style, a school, a practice, a method… it’s a term that captures a means of inquiry using the art of yoga, practices of embodiment (the felt sense of experience and anatomy, drawing on Body-Mind Centering and somatic psychotherapy), and science.
As we discovered together on the training, it is an offering of awakening practices that draws on both the ‘old’ and the ‘new’. And to me, it felt like home: a weaving together of all the things I love, a freedom to ask and to explore all the questions I have (did someone say ‘infinite’?), and to perhaps even experience something that feels like an answer… But mostly just learning how to swim in the unknown and the unknowing, and learning how to have fun whilst doing it…
Acknowledging the importance of tried-and-tested tradition (ie. the lineages of yoga or other spiritual traditions), what I really awakened into on this training was an understanding of the constant evolution and expansion of consciousness, of knowledge, of awareness.
As universal and timeless as the teachings and practices of the traditions seem, what if what we knew then, and how we knew it, is not the be-all and end-all? What if our capacity to awaken is even greater now than it previously was? Or what if we can find new ways for awakening that are more accessible and more attainable for those of us living in the 21st century. After all, isn’t that what the Buddha did, for his own time?
So amidst all the practices, the explorations, the sensing of glands and organs, the dancing from bones, the videos of breathing lungs and glistening fascia, the discussions on evolution, the brain gym exercises, the creative expression, the expansive meditation and the effortless asana that emerges from being embodied, my one true gift from these four weeks was this simple question, emerging from deep wonder and reverence: What does this make possible?
My sense is that this is what today’s lycra-tight yoga really needs: a practice of genuine inquiry that engages the entirety of our body-mind-heart-soul, and calls upon us to be fearless in the asking of questions, in the discovery of our own experiences, and the diving into the challenge and freedom of not-knowing. And we need a physical practice of yoga that emerges from within, from a deeply felt sense of being and connecting and experiencing, rather than an exercise routine that makes us look good and think we are better.
So it is with a deep sense of honour and gratitude that I have been invited by Tara and Scott to officially offer Embodied Flow. For those of you who already know me, it does not look so different from my “regular” teachings. But as teaching emerges from experience, well, I can say that I have experienced and discovered so very very much over the last month or so, and I have been gifted additional tools with which to offer these experiences.
So if you are a curious and fearless inquirer, I invite you to come explore, play and discover with me. While all of my classes will continue with this flavour and experience, my Friday 5.30pm class at Gertrude Street Yoga Studio is now my official Embodied Flow class, starting in the first week of February. Woven into your asana practice you will find embodied anatomy, some developmental embryology and movement patterns, partner work, and plenty of questions for you to ask and experience. There will be time to break it down, explore, play and yes… maybe even dance. Because really, what is yoga?
With love and curiosity,
Mei Lai xo
FYI – Here is the official Embodied FlowTM description from Tara and Scott:
Embodied Flow™ is a continuum of movement and expression that draws from the discoveries of various hatha, tantric and somatic movement systems in order to experience yoga as a living art form. Embodied Flow™ provides the technology for a deep sense of ease, strength and connectivity in the human form. This in turn, empowers the practitioner to be their own greatest teacher as they expand, integrate and facilitate awareness in their entire body-mind.
Yogis love change. This is how we do it: we get more flexible, stronger, more calm, more grounded, more open-hearted, and more alive. We stretch and we grow, we breathe and we flow, we accept all the challenges, the successes, the failures… and we glow. It’s the sweet glow of transformation, and if you’ve ever done it, then you know exactly what I mean. Most of us don’t know why, but we do it – and it works.
And then one day it starts to spill over the edges of our own skin. There’s something about that inner glow that just can’t be contained. Call it presence, compassion, love, passion, delight… it’s the warm and fuzzy bedrock of human connection, and it’s fostered through the practices and perspectives that we call yoga. Almost without realizing it, it’s suddenly not enough just to want a good life for ourselves: we also want it for others. But where do we start?
Or maybe you’re the other type of changemaker who knows just where to start: an activist, a passionate volunteer, a social entrepreneur, an eco-hero or an outspoken advocate for justice and peace. Creating change in the world around us, but sometimes burning out, not taking the time to rest and be nourished, to look within, to be peace rather than fighting for it…
The beauty is, at some point the inner and the outer have to meet, and the spark of change that happens at this sweet spot, where balance is struck and opposites merge and unite, burns brightest of all. New-age speak or not, life is holographic, fractal magic: the macro and the micro are in essence one and the same. So what we do – inside or out – matters.
It’s this point of union that I love most. It’s here that a changemaker becomes someone who weaves real transformation born of immense heart and immense intelligence, with inner and outer integrity, with the wisdom of knowing that our own happiness is bound up in the happiness of others, who believes in and sees clearly the impact of their own actions – and is not afraid to get out there, do it, and inspire it in others.
If this rings true for you, let this be a call to action, a call to adventure. Because that’s what life is, if you embrace it.
For inspiration, check out these communities and projects: www.changemakers.org * www.offthematintotheworld.org * www.theglobalwomensproject.com.au * www.birthforhumankind.org * http://www.socialtraders.com.au/
LIGHT THE SPARK!
“Be the change you want to see in the world.” – Gandhi
Some of us want to do something to make ourselves feel better. We want to be fitter, stronger, happier, more successful, more vibrant, more alive. Absolutely, yes please.
Some of us want to do something to make the world a better place. We want to help others, create peace, share love, make beauty, create social change and justice. This is the path of compassion, of purpose, of connection.
Now sometimes we do one, and forget about the other. There are many who improve their own circumstances at the expense of others, or who don’t give a second thought to those less fortunate. And there are those who do ‘good’ to simply to prove themselves, or who are martyrs who forget to nourish themselves and end up burnt out and sick.
But ultimately we are both an individual who deserves happiness, health, and abundance, and part of a collective being (Humanity-Earth), which when it is cared for, harmonious, and thrives, gives back to each and every one of us.
Through being involved in both yoga and social/environmental change for over 15 years, I’ve discovered that yoga is a path that ultimately leads to both – in a deeply authentic way.
Even if you start on the path of yoga purely to make yourself feel better, soon enough, the benefits should start to awaken you to the impulse to connect and serve life – for the benefit of all beings, yourself included.
But for this, your practice needs to be committed and authentic, your understanding needs to be clear and intelligent, and of course it helps to find guidance, inspiration, and support on the path!
So I combined my passions into a 4-week workshop series called Light The Spark! The idea is to help you deepen and commit to your own purposeful yoga practice, understand the connection between personal practice and ‘service’ (seva) for the world, receive guidance and inspiration, and connect authentically with others who are on the path.
We do this through meditation, asana, philosophy, creative and intuitive practices, and group discussion. And you’ll also be supported to develop a daily practice. It is a practice for personal transformation, and a practice for social transformation. It’s for both for already committed or aspiring yogis, and also for ‘changemakers’ who are curious but might not have started on the inner journey yet.
If this sounds like something for you, please get in touch! Round two of the workshop is starting this coming Saturday 3rd May at Gertrude Street Yoga Studio, 1.30-4.30pm, and it would be wonderful to have you there for the journey!
You can create beauty.
You can create magic.
You can create love
Know your own power
It is as vast as your imagination
Know your own strength
It is as immense as your heart
Know your own love
It is as deep as the oceans
nourishing the lives of countless beings
Know your own magic
It can transform the smallest grain into the grandest architecture.
This is the architecture of your soul.
Craft your castle of the finest, strongest filaments
let light pour in as prism weaves refract leaps of colour
as if they can only spiral in and out of passion
let your tongue dive in so that the walls are carved from kisses
and invite this golden web of your own splendour to catch only beauty
Touch your fingertips in reverence to this delightful earth
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…