At the start of this year, I set the sankalpa (resolve) that this was going to be a year of courage. I was going to be courageous. As with any intention you set, the universe in turn responds by testing your resolve!
What I’ve learnt so far, is there are two types of fear. The first is primal, it occurs when we are in potential physical danger. It allows us to assess a situation and activate the flight/fight response within us.
The other type of fear * False Evidence Appearing Real * is ego driven.
This blog is focusing on the latter, the ego based fear. Because trust me, I’ve faced a huge amount of fear this year. Mainly around my abilities as a yoga teacher, and rising up to the abundance of opportunities that have come my way.
When opportunities arise and fear kicks in, you have two choices. You can take the safe option, say no and walk away, or you can say yes and face the fear head on.
Given this year’s sankalpa to be courageous, I’ve said yes to every opportunity that I’ve felt serves my highest purpose.
What I have observed, is that I have quite a dramatic physical response. I become paralysed and debilitated, my physical body shuts down. First fatigue kicks in, all I am able to do is sleep. Then my digestion goes completely whacky, the butterflies in my stomach intensify and I become bloated, gassy and am constantly running to the loo. Then there’s the procrastination, Facebook becomes my best friend! I try to get on my yoga mat and I can’t. I even lay it out, step on it and after one sun salutation, I’m too fatigued to move. Sometimes I feel choked as if I’m going to vomit.
At a conscious level, I know I'm very capable in my abilities, all this fear is subconscious, presenting itself through my physical body. And it’s False Evidence Appearing Real. Ego driven. The mind creating obstacles.
What I’ve learned as part of this awareness is it helps to talk about it. First it validates and brings awareness to your feelings , the more you talk about it, the more you realise that others experience very similar fears, and it helps to ‘normalise’ the feelings.
Once you have identified the fear, thank it, make friends with it. Then I like to tell it to f*ck off. Sometimes it does, often it doesn’t!
Be kind to yourself. I’ve stopped beating myself up. If I need to sleep, and that’s all I’m capable of doing in that moment, then I take myself off to bed, guilt-free and sleep.
Have faith in yourself and know that everything is exactly as it’s meant to be. Trust in the flow of life.
Moving out of our comfort zone is uncomfortable. But the reward of experiencing the discomfort is growth and expansion. We are human, we make mistakes. There is no failure, only lessons which assist us on the path of growth. Here are some tools that help me get out of my head and into my heart when I’m feeling fear:
Pranayama – in yoga and life, breath is everything. By practicing pranayama (meaning the control or directing of life-force within the body), it takes us out of the sympathetic nervous system (fight/flight mode) and activates the parasympathetic nervous system which is responsible for the feelings of calm, peace and relaxation.
Chanting – this works on so many levels, when I begin chanting, I feel all the external layers around me soften and dissolve, I move out of the fear frequency and become connected to my heart. Using sound helps to activate the throat chakra (responsible for expression and communication) which in turn helps to tune in and express from a more authentic space.
Meditation – when you are a bundle of anxiety, sitting to calm the mind can be a challenge. However, I find that if I practice pranayama or chant first, the act of focussing on the breath or a mantra helps with stilling and focussing the mind and then I am able to drop deep into meditation. Meditation brings about so many feelings of love, joy and gratitude.
Journaling – often the act of writing allows the subconscious to surface, by bringing our fears to the surface, this gives us the opportunity to acknowledge them and release them.
Asana/physical postures – I’ve left this for last, because as I mentioned earlier, I have such a resistance to this when I’m in the midst of feeling fear. However, I’m also having a love affair with yin yoga (a style of yoga drawing on hatha yoga poses and Chinese philosophy), and all of these poses are done on the floor requiring very little physical effort.
Any pose that targets the inner thighs will stimulate the kidney meridian line, in Chinese medicine the kidneys are the organ relating to fear. I love lying on my back in reclining butterfly, or coming into dragonfly, breathing in courage, exhaling fear.
Camel is also a very powerful pose, it can make you feel incredibly vulnerable and often when I'm feeling fear, this pose can make me feel choked. When this happens, I focus on my breath, breathe through it and do 5 more rounds.
It’s our birthright to experience joy as our baseline, and the simplest way to experience joy is to stay connected to your heart. If you respond to life coming from your heart space, then you are being authentic, and if you are being authentic, there is nothing to fear.
If you have any experiences of overcoming fear, then I would love to hear them!
Love Lili x
Inhale, exhale, inhale right leg, hold, exhale, hold, knees chest, inhale, exhale... One...two...three.... And so it goes on. Again. Repeat. Day after day. Are we on the left or right side. What's my neighbour doing? Oops nope I'm on the wrong side.
Bloody hell, another vinyasa? I wonder if Vinay will notice if I skip it? Will the other students notice? Actually I'm only cheating myself. I'll just damn well do it! Now which side am I on? The right. So I start with a bent left. I think...?
Broken. Mended. Only to be broken all over again. I felt for the people alongside me. My jaw was in a permanent grimace and I was oozing anger and frustration.
This was my ongoing inner turmoil whilst participating in the Prana Vashya four week intensive. A dynamic yoga practice originating in Mysore, by Vinay Kumar. It's tougher than an Ashtanga class and you sweat more than a Bikram class. Within the first few days I'd already signed up for an extra week.
After our morning practice of the primary series and pranayama we eat. Then I needed to sleep. Then it was off to the shala again to repeat!
Prana Vashya is a 4 week intensive where for 6 days a week you practice the Prana Vashya primary series (2 hours), pranayama (1 hour) and a backbending practice (2 hours) in the afternoon.
After this particular practice of the primary series, one of my fellow students commented that he had observed me staring blankly at the sequence sheet throughout our morning session in the hot and sweaty shala. Ouch. People were noticing my frustration. This was a turning point. A reminder. To surrender.
So I surrendered. And the practice got a little easier. I felt like I was starting to ‘get it’. This lasted a day, possibly two. Then it was back to locked jaw and a permanent grimace throughout my morning practice.
The primary series is a static sequence of 60+ asanas and is similar to the Ashtanga primary series, with the key differences being that the sun salutes (which become the vinyasas) are different (they have a right and left side) and two movements are made with one breath. So each movement has a half breath and no breath is wasted. Confused? I was! For those of you that practice Ashtanga, you understand the need to take a vinyasa after performing one side of each asana in the floor series, in the case of Prana Vashya you take a vinyasa, but you have to think about which side of the asana you have performed to determine which side of the vinyasa you are to take. At the same time you are processing this, you aren’t allowed to waste a breath!
Prana Vashya is practiced Mysore style (practitioners start with the opening chant and sun salutations, the rest of your practice is done at your pace, holding every asana for five breaths). Once or twice a week Vinay would lead a Led Practice and when he was feeling strict, he would announce at the start of practice that if he caught anyone wasting or sneaking a breath, you would be down on your mat for the rest of practice! It was boot camp yoga! This caused me a lot of stress. Isn’t yoga supposed to calm the nervous system?!
I’ve never been one to shy away from discipline and when I set my mind to something, I am very focused and determined. I was determined to master this practice (hence signing up for an extra week within the first few days). However, I never did. And of the people I met (some who return to Mysore on an annual basis to practice Prana Vashya) I got the impression that they were still working on mastering this practice! They have felt in ‘the flow’ with it only a handful of times of all the years they have been practicing.
For me, asana practice is about using the physical postures as a moving meditation. Honoring and respecting the uniqueness of my body on a day to day basis. I’ve been blessed to practice many styles of yoga in as many countries, and have found many practices that have met this goal for me, using asana as a moving meditation.
The perfectionist and stubbornness within me was determined to master Prana Vashya, however in hindsight, I wasn’t being true to myself. As someone who has to actively manage energy and stress levels, this intense style of yoga wasn’t right for me. Instead of letting my ego get in the way, I should’ve honoured the needs of my mental, physical and emotional well-being and known when to let it go.
By the time I had completed my 5 weeks, I had a huge dislike for yoga. To dislike my passion was difficult to come to terms with. It was 2 weeks before I could return to my mat!
This account is my personal experience of the primary series, Vinay is an amazing teacher and cares very deeply for his students. He is compassionate and often has a cheeky twinkle in his eye.
I loved the pranayama and backbending practices of the intensive. Already having a daily pranayama practice, I enjoyed spending on hour focusing on the breath. Everyone is prescribed a program depending on their level and lung capacity including full yoga breath, nadi sodhana (with different counts and breath retentions), shitali, brahmari and kapalabhati.
And as for the backbending, we would all warm up together and then Vinay works with you individually to work up towards some very funky backbends. He had me doing backbends I never imagined myself capable of. If I ever return to Mysore, then I would certainly do the backbending classes again.
If you have any thoughts, comments or questions, please feel free to get in touch!
Love Lili x
Bhakti in Vrindavan
I've recently completed this 10 day cleanse with five other spiritual friends while doing Module 1 at the Hridaya Yoga Centre and loved every moment of the process.
The Ohsawa 7 diet originated from George Ohsawa, the founder of Macrobiotic philosophy. It has been known to cure cancer and other dis-ease and is popular amongst the yoga community to balance the physical and emotional bodies.
It consists of eating brown rice (or other grains such as wheat, buckwheat, millet, oats, barley, bulgar or spelt) for 10 days. The intention of this cleanse is to balance the yin and yang aspects of our being, bringing us into a more harmonious state, physically and emotionally. It is believed that in today's society, we are very yin, so by shocking our bodies with yang based foods (brown rice is very yang) we reset our bodies back to their natural equilibrium. Also, the blood, which plays a huge part in detoxification, purifies 10% each day so at the end if the 10 days you have reset your system.
Having experimented with many fasts over the years, I have to say that other than one day where I felt a little nauseous (which I put down to emotional purification), I found this incredibly easy. It helps that I love brown rice! Having the support of friends and eating all our meals at the school was also an advantage.
I was averaging 4 - 6 bowls of rice per day, you can eat as much as you like and are allowed to have dry toasted sesame seeds and Himalayan rock salt for a little flavour, and I was never hungry.
My meditations got much deeper due to the fact that the rice is also very sattvic (no spices or stimulants to activate the mind) and some days I felt so much joy bubbling inside of me that I would have to stop myself from laughing out loud in the meditation hall! All of us were feeling very elevated, glowing, and full of love supporting each other along the way. Due to my digestion not having to work too hard, I was also only needing 4-5 hours sleep every night.
The biggest benefit for me though was losing my attachment to food. I realised I used to spend a lot of time thinking about food, mentally planning what I was going to eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner (especially when my tummy rumbled during meditation). When brown rice is your only option, there isn't a lot to think about!
At the end of the 10 days, all of us entered into a silent retreat. This meant that when enjoying our first non brown rice breakfast on day 11, we were in silence, unable to communicate with each other. Silently, I wished everyone buen provecho, and savoured the sweet flavours of mango and papaya.
If anyone has had any experiences with the Ohsawa 7 diet, I would love to hear them.
Love Lili x
I've been quiet the past few weeks as I've been on a roller coaster of a journey. Not a physical geographical journey, but an emotional journey, as I navigated my way through the Moon Course at Las Piramides, San Marcos, Lake Atitlan. This course was the reason Central America was first on my travel itinerary when resigning from my job last year.
After a couple of relatively introspective years in 2012/2013 I had been enjoying the social side of travelling that I'd been experiencing since beginning my travels in Guatemala, and was a little apprehensive about spending a month in one spot being introspective again.
However, the moment I walked into the grounds of Las Piramides and was shown to my pyramid set amongst lush jungle vegetation, met my fellow 'moonies' and experienced our first evening of meditation in a beautiful pyramid shaped temple on the lake, I knew I was exactly where I needed to be.
The moon course is a month long course focussing on esoteric yoga, meditation and metaphysics. We covered many topics, at a high level, such as lucid dreaming, astral travelling, tarot, numerology, the tree of life and much more.
The first week was based around the element earth and the physical body. Yoga focused on detoxification and I developed a stinking cold. I usually have a cold once every few years so this was frustrating, however I observed that by having such a cloudy head, I was able to enjoy deep states of meditation where I could feel the joy bubbling up inside of me.
The following week we focussed on the element water and the emotional body. The first week had been subtle, but this was the week where things started to shift. Emotions started to come from all directions! I also did my Reiki Level 1 training this week which was a very special process shared with some of my fellow moonies.
Each week got progressively more intense! Week three was focussing on the element air and the mental body (the mental body being where we store all our belief patterns) and this was the most intense week for me. I also attended a 5 day breath course where using an ancient pranayama technique we shifted past traumas stored at a cellular level in our nervous system.
Each day we had to regress through a specific time period of our life and journal about that period. I experienced everything from anger and rage to grief for everyone I've lost in this lifetime, followed by deep sadness that lasted for several days.
Although it was intense, after years of avoiding my emotions it was very healing to be in a such a supportive environment where I could experience and sit with the dense emotions.
This breath work was incredibly powerful involving breath retentions, and although it triggered some intense feelings, it also took me to other dimensions which involved a lot of psychedelic imagery! This was the fun part! I also passed out on one occasion. Not so fun!
The final week focussed on the element fire for our spiritual body. It was also the week of our five day retreat which involved five days of silence and fasting (we were given two juices and one soup each day).
To start the retreat we were taken up to El Arka, another retreat centre up in the mountains. Getting there was a trip, we caught a boat across Lake Atitlan to Panajachel then a shuttle up into the hills. After being mainly based at Las Piramides for almost four weeks we were behaving like a bunch of rowdy teenagers! It was a lot of fun and cemented our close friendships even more.
El Arka is a beautiful baron space, in the mountains overlooking Lake Atitlan, and here we shared our last meal together before attending a ceremony in the temple where we all dedicated the consciousness generated by the retreat to those in need. Silence then commenced and we had time to meditate in the grounds before silently making our way back via shuttle and boat to San Marcos.
The retreat was beautiful. I enjoy being in silence and not being distracted by the outside world. I look forward to doing many more silence retreats in the future. We were given daily assignments to contemplate and to journal about which gave us a focus. By having less external distractions, I find time in silence enhances my awareness of the beauty around me. Lake Atitlan has an abundance of butterflies and bird life and I loved lying in the gardens at Las Piramides marvelling at all the wildlife, flowers and vegetation.
Fasting on the other hand I find a little more challenging! I have a hearty appetite and find having restricted calories leaves me very low on energy. Day one and day four were very challenging, I barely had the energy to do my assignments and would have to spend most of the day resting.
Everyone's experience of the moon course is different. Some people come and find their life purpose, for me it just confirmed I am on the right path.
If you are after a strong asana practice, you won't get it here. The yoga is very gentle and some days you barely get off your butt. We only started doing sun salutations in week four. By week three I hardly made it to yoga. This is very unlike me, usually I'm very disciplined with my yoga practice, however, I found that with all the emotions I was working through, sleep and journaling were more important.
The meditation always started off with 30 minutes silent meditation and then the last 30 minutes would either be a guided meditation, selecting oracle cards for contemplation, AUMing continuously (my favourite) or expression meditation where we had to meditate on a question then pair up with the person next to us and express ourselves in relation to the question.
So in summary, this course will not necessarily get your zen on, but it will assist you in working through your sh*t! And the people you meet, become your family. Friends for life. And as always it's the unconditional love and support from family and friends that makes life so special.
I stayed in San Marcos for another couple of weeks after the moon course finished, San Marcos is a spiritual mecca and I needed some time to get reacquainted with the outside world and have time to explore the area as well as all the healing modalities on offer.
I've completed training in breath therapy and now have the skills to teach people to breathe properly and to prevent and treat many illnesses, visited Dr Bill the infamous channeller/psychic, attended Keith the Chocolate Shaman's cacao ceremony, gotten high from a cacao/kundalini workshop (many people come to San Marcos for cacao as it helps with meditation and opening the heart chakra), explored epigenetics, chanted uplifting mantras at Kirtan, attended vegetarian and probiotic cooking workshops, climbed Indians Nose for the most breath taking sunrise, eaten lots and lots of 'grounding' food and prepared myself to move forward with the rest of my travels.
It was an intense time. The energy in San Marcos was dense, everyone was feeling it, but energies have shifted and I now feel lighter and brighter and ready for more adventures.
Until next time amigos!
Love Lili xx
40 Day Challenge
My mama Kristina and I have recently completed a 40 day challenge with the Sa Ta Na Ma meditation. This powerful kundalini meditation uses mantra repetition and mudras (hand movements) and is known as the meditation for TRANSFORMATION. The mantra is known to move through different levels of consciousness when repeating the mantra out loud, in a whisper and in silence.
It also has the following benefits:
Kundalini and vulnerability
This article from Mind Body Green has just come through on my newsfeed and it is so appropriate to the activities of the past week since being home in NZ.
I discovered Kundalini yoga while in Rishikesh, India earlier this year. After practicing it daily for a week with our beautiful teacher Lauren Levine, I felt like a shadow of my former self. This yoga is mind blowingly awesome! Kundalini pushes all your boundaries using mantras, asana, meditation, pranayama, sound and dancing. The effect of these tools leaves you with the deepest sense of joy.
However, the reason this article resonated with me, is that my step father John has been home for the past few weeks recovering from major surgery on his spine. Being a staunch family provider and man about the house, I know that this surgery has forced him to take a step back and be vulnerable.
He has embraced this change and has been treating his recovery as a holiday rather than recovery. What has thrilled me the most though, is that for the past few days, John has joined my mama and I for a daily kundalini practice. Each morning we gather together and chant the opening mantra and then do 20 minutes of pranayama followed by meditation and the closing mantra.
Pranayama is a series of breathing exercises which promote proper breathing to supply our bodies and its various organs with oxygen vital for our health. It is good for eliminating waste products and toxins from our body and it is also believed that these techniques can help the prevention of major diseases and cure minor illnesses.
All of us are enjoying the discipline of this daily practice. The practice is energising, detoxifying and sets us up for the day. Each morning we invite John to stay on and do some more with us, but he quietly declines with a smile on his face and gets on with the rest of his holiday.
Until next time, keep breathing.
Love Lili x