Day 203 to Day 211 – moving out and on

Day 203 – knowing when to let go

It is never easy to break up, but it seems that when girls break up with friends, it is never without a few tears. It is almost like courtesy, like an offering. I can’t be your friend anymore but here is some clear liquid from my eyes. It isn’t anybody’s fault- nobody wants to seem bitter or angry. Usually girls fall out in a bitchy fight over something that was said or about a boy. This girl is different. She says we are too stressful for her and she doesn’t need the drama in her life. Krystle and I aren’t really sure what she means. We are both quite highly strung so what stresses out our friend Kelly doesn’t seem like a big deal to us. What makes Kelly cry only gets a shrug and a laugh from us. We understand the cyclical and ever-flowing, ever-changing nature of the universe. Kelly is ex-military so her way of thinking is completely different from ours and we have come to a point where we have to part ways with love. I don’t argue or try to change her mind. The true nature of selfless love is knowing when to let go.

Day 204 – pranayama class

At Yogatime, the teachers are now bringing a focus into certain classes and posting that on the facebook page. Today it is my turn so I have offered a pranayama class. We begin with simple breath regulation:

Extending the exhale for twice as long as the inhale, I invite the students to breathe in for 3 seconds and breathe out for 5-6 seconds. When they are comfortable with that, they extend the inhale to 4 seconds and the exhale to 6-8 seconds. Eventually they will be breathing an inhale for 5 seconds and an exhale for 10 seconds. This means that instead of breathing for the usual 12-18 breaths per minute, they can slow their breath rate to only 4 breaths per minute. The sages say that before each soul begins a lifetime, we are given a certain quota of breaths. This defines how long each person shall live. If you save 14 breaths per minute, the idea is that you can live longer. For example, small birds that breathe extremely rapidly live only a few years, whereas a turtle that breathes slowly, less than once per minute, lives over a century. It is hugely underestimated how much the breath can improve life. Simply noticing the breath, becoming aware, keeps us in the present moment. When we are overthinking or stressed, it is the breath that immediately suffers. It gets short, shallow and moves up into the chest. Although the lungs do actually sit in the chest it is better to use diaphragmatic or abdominal breathing. Most people only use the top third of their lungs and breathing in that space stimulates the sympathetic nervous system, the fight or flight mode, releasing massive doses of the stress hormone cortisol. This causes anxiety, insomnia, stress, skin conditions, over-active appetite and poor concentration. Unfortunately, fast-paced city life has us living in this fight or flight mode constantly. It takes awareness to bring us back to a calm and centred breath rhythm. The best way to do this is to pay attention to where the breath is happening and then use the belly to breathe. Once the belly is expanding on the inhale and contracting on the exhale, the muscle that lies below the lungs, (the one that is actually intended for breath), the diaphragm, is working.

Through the class, we incorporate Lion’s Breath, Wood Chopping Breath and full horizontal stretch to feel the lower ribs expanding into the floor, practicing diaphragmatic breathing. To finish, we do my favourite: Nadi Shodhana, the alternate nostril breathing. This balances Ida and Pingala, the Yin and Yang of the body. Ida and Pingala are flowing rivers of energy that spiral around the central channel, Sushumna, which travels up the spine. The lunar Ida, the left side is feminine, it is the yin, the calm side. When the left nostril is dominant (more open), we may be about to sleep or just woken up, or in a very relaxed state. The Pingala nadi, the right side, is solar, masculine, energy. When we are active, agitated or excited, the right nostril will be more open. The nostril changes dominance every 90 minutes. My yoga teacher in India claims one only needs four hours of sleep; two hours for each nostril.

By the end of the class I realise how much information there is to share about breathing; I have only just touched the surface. There are so many more breaths to be taken…

Day 205 – Just another Tuesday

It would be a lie if I said this day was truly like any other. This week I have taken the time off from work to just focus on teaching yoga. One of the other girls is away so we are covering extra classes and this afternoon I am teaching two classes, back to back. I go for a run in the rain, checking the weather. I believe when it says clearing that I will end my run in the sun. Unfortunately the rain seems to be feeling rebellious and it starts pouring down the hardest as I come back towards home. My spray jacket proves how non-waterproof it really is, but when I get home the success is that I have run 10km in much the same speed as I did in the Sydney Harbour 10k Race! I haven’t been able to get to that speed in ages, but it seems the rain gave me motivation to want to get back home! I keep stressing out, thinking I am still in a hurry and that I still need to rush to get somewhere or do something. I don’t think it has sunk in just yet that I can focus on yoga. Tomorrow I will even get to practice a class! I remember being at classes every chance I got and now I rarely step into a yoga room unless I am teaching. I think the justification is always that since I am a yoga teacher, I can teach myself but I never quite push myself out of the comfort zone on my own… And life begins at the edge of the comfort zone. That’s why I run faster in the rain.

Day 206 – cracking open my heart 

I lower myself back down from the fifth back bend, Wheel. I am hot and tired. I wish I had not done the sprints before class, but here I am in Misha’s Progressive class at Yogatime. Everyone is in the mood for backbends but I need to teach the next class and I know that backbends always lead to massive energy shifts and can seriously affect us emotionally so I am a bit nervous and try to just take a step back. I take a rest from another backbend. I can feel my heart cracking open as I rise up for another one. This time it is like an explosion, like a wall being broken. A wall is broken. That wall that I built around my heart, one brick at a time. Each time I felt disappointment in a relationship, I got out a trowel and put another brick down. Now that has just been bulldozed and as we go to the wall for handstand to realign the spine, I can feel the energy pouring down into my head and out into the ground. The dust of that wall falls away. In Savasana I can’t stop crying. In silence, I wipe away the tears. Finally, I can admit to myself that I am vulnerable. I am not made of stone and steel. I can pretend to be, but inside, there is a softness and a sensitivity and there are still wounds that need to heal. I know that if I saw my ex fiancé, my heart would still skip a beat. I know that when I see my dad, I feel guilt that I don’t spend more time with him. I know that despite my never-ending optimism, my ability to laugh it off and see the light in any situation, that I can also allow myself to feel pain and sadness. Those darker times just make us ready for even brighter times.

As I begin to speak to the next class, I am surprised to hear my voice is shaky. All of that energy that has shifted and exploded from my heart is still bubbling away and I have to take a moment in silence before I speak again. After class I eat with a friend and then take a moment in my car to just be with myself, to hug myself and just allow the dust to fall away. Another pivotal step in the journey.

Day 207 – the universe will provide

By some twist of fate, the money for the bond of our new apartment has not transferred and is still stuck in banking limbo. I am running around like a mad lady, picking up pay, counting out my tips and separating coins. It is just enough to cover the holding deposit. I spent my whole childhood feeling my mother stress about money and always told myself that I wouldn’t be like that. I just feel like if I put faith in the universe, know that abundance will come and just allow the energy to flow, then I will always have enough. I have never felt poor. Even with nothing, I have had an amazing life and feel like I have never had to miss out on an experience because of money. As we sign the lease, I am aware that I have no full time job. I am teaching yoga, working sporadically and yet here I am, signing over every dollar I have to move into a beautiful little art deco apartment in Coogee. I have faith that I will get the perfect job for me. I trust the universe to provide.

Day 208 – get yoga stoned

We have moved! It takes us all day but we move beds, the fridge, the boxes, clothes… The new apartment is beautiful. The morning sun shines in the windows and the floorboards stay warm all day. I can’t even remember the last time I had a room of my own. I have my own space. I have my own bed. I feel settled and ready for this new life. Our unit number is unit one. This means new beginnings, which is quite appropriate for this period of drastic change in my life. New job, new home, new friends… I love change. When everything is changing like this I feel like I am in the flow and things will just all fall into place. I have to leave Krystle setting up her bed while I go to teach yoga. Friday night’s Flow n’ Let Go class is one of my favourites to teach. I get to slow the pace down, play relaxing music and watch the students get nice and loosey goosey. By the end of the class, a short meditation, I love seeing everyone open their eyes lazily and look around from that place of peace and calm. “Yoga stoned?” I ask and they all nod. Ah, the natural high of yoga. I used to do a Yin Yoga class every Sunday afternoon and then go straight to work at a cocktail bar in the middle of Kings Cross. Everyone thought I was getting stoned because I was so relaxed and my eyelids would be a little droopy. That is true yoga, the union, the balance, the stillness, the natural high. If you walk away with only one thing from my yoga class, then I hope it is your sleepy smile.

Day 209 – to each his own

Some people eat meat and some don’t. Some people like AFL and some like League. Some people want to get married and have children. Some do not. The older I get, the more sure I am that I never want to eat meat again, that I will never understand AFL and that I don’t want to get married and have children. And the funny thing is, this seems common among women. It is usually men that still want the traditional lifestyle. I remember watching a documentary about relationships and it said that marriage was initially created as a contract of ownership. As humans evolved, they initially began living together in small groups of ten so women only had one or two options to procreate as they would instinctively go for someone who was not a direct relation. This ensured the survival of the species. As the groups got larger and humans began living together in groups of one or two hundred, then it became possible for a female to procreate with multiple partners within her monthly cycle. On a primal level, males needed to ensure that their own DNA was the one being passed down and so, in order to keep the women under the control of a single male, the contract of marriage was created. I always said I never wanted to get married so it is amazing to me that I was ever actually engaged. As a single woman enjoying her freedom, I find that I often get into this conversation with people, particularly with men. They want to know why it is that I choose to be single? Why is it that I don’t want to get married? Why don’t I want children? Is this all really so unusual? I see the world, an overpopulated, consumer driven society where people die of obesity on one side of the world and people die of starvation on the other side. I see a world of beauty that is slowly becoming extinct, one species at a time, because of the human race. I see my niece and nephew in their parents’ SUV and know that by the time they are my age there will be no more polar bears in the world. How could I want to bring another human being into this planet? It is through selfless love that we care for our children. It is through selfless love that I choose not to have a child. As to marriage, why would I sign my life away? I would never criticise another person’s decision, nor question it. Allow me to be who I am. Let me eat tofu. Let me watch League. Let me be alone.

Day 210 – first supper

I love to cook. I race back to mum’s house and get a few pots and minimalist items for the kitchen. I take all the curry spices. Mum never makes curry anyway. I look up a recipe but I don’t agree with it so I throw everything in my own way. Krystle’s last housemate cooked a lot of Greek food so she jokes that I have a lot to live up to. I am confident as I serve her the quinoa and vegetable curry. We eat on the floor like Morroccans. Someone has offered us a lounge but since the house is so small, we feel like it would be cluttered with furniture so we just sit around on the rug with cushions everywhere. This is common for me. I am a floor dweller. When I come over and get offered a seat, I usually sit on the floor anyway and lean against the carpet. People probably think this is strange but it is probably just the yoga mat. I have grown accustomed to being low to the ground and I feel strange sitting on chairs and sofas, especially if there is nice carpet. We eat our first meal in our new house. I have suitably impressed Krystle with my food making. I had looked up a recipe but dismissed it and decided to just follow my instinct. So here is my curry in a hurry:

CHICKPEA and SWEET POTATO CURRY

Ingredients:

1 chopped onion

1 tsp chopped ginger

1 diced capsicum

1 sweet potato, cut into chunks

half bunch silverbeet

1 can chickpeas, drained

1 can coconut milk

1 tomato, chopped

fresh coriander

1 tsp ground coriander

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp ground turmeric

half tsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp curry powder

salt

pepper

dash of hot chilli powder

Heat oil in pot, add onion and ginger and cook for 3 minutes. Add capsicum, cook for a further 2 minutes. Add spices and mix well. Add vegetables and enough water to almost cover all the contents. Mix well and cover. When sweet potato is softening, add chickpeas, coconut milk and spinach and fresh coriander. Cover and allow the spinach to cook in the steam for two minutes with the stove off. The heat of the pot will steam the spinach, keeping it raw enough to still enjoy as much of the nutrients as possible.

Can be served over rice but I prefer to use red quinoa. Boil one cup of quinoa in two cups of water with a pinch of salt.

Delicious.

Day 211 – inspiring the kids

Krystle is an artist. When I wake up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom I find her in there, her hand is blue and she just looks at me and says sorry. I look up at the mural on our bathroom tiles. I hug her. This is what I love about this woman. Freedom. Love. Truth. Beauty.

A young 15 year old girl is doing work experience with us at Embrace this week. She is timid and quiet. I keep forgetting she is in the shop. I take her for a walk and we have a chat. I know exactly where she is in her life because I have been there: too shy to be herself because she is still figuring out who she is. I talk endlessly and she tells me that my life sounds awesome. I end up giving her this whole spiel about how positive energy attracts more positive energy. Put out the awesomeness and you receive awesomeness. (I guess this is the 15 year old version). “Every person you meet is a reflection of you, honey, so send out good vibes and you will be surrounded by great things. The best thing I ever learnt is that I can do exactly what I want to do. As long as I always do things with good intentions and come from a place of love then there is no reason to feel guilty for following your heart. It has taken me a long time to do that but I feel that I am walking my own path and that it is right for me.”

She asks me if I ever feel bad when I think about other people, like my ex-fiance when I broke up with him. I tell her of course it is hard to hurt someone but if you don’t want to be in a relationship, then you will hurt the person more by staying. “You need to live for yourself, you need to love yourself first before you can love others otherwise you expect them to make you happy and then you make their life miserable when they can’t.”

She grows quiet. I guess it is a lot to take in. I draw some cards from the Angel deck, thinking about my career and how this junction of change I am in will affect me. When I start pulling cards, I am more and more amazed at the result.

Trust – trust your feelings and dreams to guide your career path.

Meditation – Siddhartha Gautama Buddha.

Yoga – your life is enhanced by yoga, stretching, and exercising.

You’re on the Right Path – keep doing what you’re doing, because it’s working.

Travel – Your life purpose involves travelling.

I realise the Yoga card has another card stuck to the back of it so I pull it out…

Writing – You heal, inspire, teach and entertain with the words you write.

Ok, universe. Message received. Loud and clear! Thank you for the reminder. Thank you for the opportunity to share what I have learnt and thank you for the beautiful people who remind me where I have come from and where I can potentially go.

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Day 164 to Day 171 – what am I running away from?

Day 164 – the Third Eye Sandwich

When we imagine the breath, we usually just visualise the in and the out around the nose. In India, we were taught to loop the breath, exhaling down the front of the body to the tips of the toes and then inhaling up the back of the body to the crown of the head. This morning I use this breath to centre myself, to calm down and focus my mind. When I feel ready to bring my attention to the third eye centre, just at the centre of my forehead, the loop continues and creates what my friend, Chantal, calls a ‘yummy third eye sandwich’. But when I remember this after only 10 minutes, I find myself thinking of a real sandwich. It is mid morning and I still haven’t had anything to eat yet. I need to go running and before long my mind is racing with a whole list of things to do before I start work this afternoon. I can’t focus. I give up and decide to get ready. I can tell it is going to be a long week.

Day 165 – time to sleep

I have had less than four hours of sleep and despite the early morning rise, I feel alive and energetic. Waking up early and missing out on sleep can happen for many different reasons; anxiety, insomnia or work… but it is yoga that makes this truly worth it. After I teach, I practice for another hour by myself in the studio. Time moves too fast and I need to race through breakfast in order to get to work. Once again I am chewing as I get dressed. I really miss eating with reverence and peace. I always seem to be chewing while driving or showering. It isn’t until halfway through the afternoon when I hit the wall and need a coffee so desperately, I barely taste it. It is in this brief moment of pause between cleaning beer taps that I realise how quickly my life is moving now. I barely have time to sleep, let alone practice, let alone eat! In between training for races, teaching yoga, working and trying to make sure I get time to practice and then write about it, I feel like I never actually stop to catch my breath. Life is just a never-ending sprint. This is the whirlpool if city life. I recognise it. I have been here before. I can’t wait to sleep in. Then another voice chimes in from deep within my latent habits… “you can sleep when you die.”

Day 166 – feedback

Nobody likes bad feedback, but without a little criticism we can never improve right? Well, the ego still takes a little beating. I try not to look sad about this but I can feel this inner disappointment with myself and I want to just yank it out like a grey hair. I talk to my mother about it as I put on my makeup. I am getting ready and even though I am training for a race in a few weeks and nervous about injuries, I still make the decision to wear my new ridiculously high heeled boots, because let’s face it; high heels can make a girl feel like she rules the world. As my mum listens, she tries to find something wise to tell me from the book she is reading. It is called The Magic and is the sequel to the bestseller, The Secret. I have heard that this book is all about gratefulness. Well, I look at her and tell her thank you for listening and reassure her that everything will be fine. I have so much to be grateful for, but especially grateful for the feedback that will help me move forward as a yoga teacher. Feedback is just like that vegetable you don’t like eating. You learn to love it because it is good for you!

Day 167 – making friends and illuminating people

I am reading an article in Marie Claire about making friends. The writer goes on a month long experiment to find new friends. As an adult who works mostly from home, she finds it difficult to make new friendships and goes about joining running clubs, writing groups, networking and other painful situations in the effort to meet a new best friend. I wonder at this predicament, but looking through my own life I realise how hard it has become to make time for all the friends in my life as it is. I am lucky to have picked up friends from yoga circles, university and pubs I have worked at but it takes serious co-ordination to make time to spend with all these friends. I am sitting in the Globe cafe in Coogee by myself eating the most amazing Haloumi stack and realise that I could easily have a friend beside me right now, but, like the girl at the next table I am extremely happy to be sitting here alone. I have spent the entire night with friends and apparently stayed up until just before the sunrise. I feel young and happy and free. And I am sitting here with my best friend. She is me.

Day 168 – Kundalini shaking

I met this teacher, Galina, only a couple of weeks ago and have not had the time to join her class until now. I want to run but I also feel tired and I am seriously curious about the type of meditation she teaches. After a short talk about energy shifts and the change in planetary vibration brought about by the planetary alignments of this year, she tells us to get up. We stand and move about our joints, circling from ankles to the neck. Then she tells us that we are doing a Kundalini meditation. It is a style of meditation I have heard about through the Osho tradition and I know it is practised at the Ratu Bagus ashram in Bali. It is a shaking meditation. We close our eyes and shake the body, moving with energy. Even as my physical body gets tired, I can feel my subtle body expanding and I start to make bigger movements, feeling like I could keep moving forever. When we finish, I feel light, as though I have raised my energy levels and now I am floating. The heaviness and tired ache in my bones from a late shift at work has disappeared. I leave to go and meet a friend for lunch and the sun seems to be shining brighter. I can even take my jacket off in the sunshine and feel hot. I indulge in oysters and arancini balls at Ravesi’s as we look towards the sparkling blue water. It is said the kundalini shaking meditation acts like ‘an energetic shower. It shakes you free of your day and leaves you feeling relaxed and mellow.’ I definitely feel showered, relaxed and clean. My day has only just begun. My life has only just begun.

Day 169 – what are you running away from?

In racing around this city, I found some time to write to my teacher in India and ask some questions that were arising. In writing the email, I referred to myself three different ways; as Elizabeth, Eliza and as Lizi. He laughs at my Vata tendencies and when I tell him about the constant running and sprinting and failing to find time to honour my practice like I did in India, he asks the simple question: “What is Elizabeth running away from?”

I stare at the computer screen in more stillness than I have felt in a long time. What am I running away from? My past? My ex? My disappointment? My fears? My doubts? Myself? My ego? All of the above? This simple question has made me stand still for the first time in days. I don’t know if I know the answer, but I certainly feel the anxiety of getting stuck with whatever it is that I am running away from.

Day 170 – I used to be a rock

I am taking my friends down the coast. We decide to check out the blowhole at Kiama, but the tide is low and the hole is not blowing. We laugh and climb over rocks to get as far out to sea as we can. The sun is sparkling against the deep blue ocean and the wind is gentle against our warm skin. I keep pointing at the rolling countryside we drive through, saying, “isn’t it beautiful!” Krystle is Irish and James is Canadian, but I feel like the real tourist. I feel like I am seeing this beautiful place for the first time in my life. We stop at a small winery on the way to Berry and taste some chocolate wines as the sky clouds over and the sun disappears. The wind picks up and we are glad we went to the beach early. In a shop we are looking at some crystals when James starts to tell us that he used to be a rock hound. His ADD kicks in mid-sentence and he ends up saying, “I used to be a rock… hey! Tiger’s Eye!” We crack up laughing about his previous life spent as a rock. It is funny, but leaves me wondering about previous lives spent as rocks, or Tiger’s Eye, or tigers, or earthworms, or grapes? Could one have been reincarnated as a vine? They say that we are definitely inhaling the same air that was once inhaled by the Buddha. There is no doubt that the earth recycles and reuses everything and continues to move things through the endless cycle of life, but does this extend to inanimate objects? And if you get reincarnated into plastic, when do you truly die, since you are not biodegradable? My head is spinning and then I remember this fast-talking Canadian’s accent telling us that he used to be rock and suddenly I can’t breathe from laughter again.

Day 171 – just stand still

I am getting ready for work. Time seems to be moving quickly this morning. I don’t know how much time I will get alone, since I have to drive up to Sydney in peak hour. I am already tired. I get out of the shower and tell myself to just stand still. Even if it is only for a moment. I stop and breathe, I feel the loop and despite the mind wanting to just move and keep getting ready, I force myself to just stand still. It is like the eye at the centre of the storm. I know I need to just unplug from the world and wind down. I need a few days off. I need to retreat into silence. I look up into my reflection and I can see myself already moving towards my clothes. Time to get dressed. If time is an illusion, why can’t I just stay here in this stillness? The storm catches up to me and once again I am in the whirlpool, rushing around, trying to do a million things at once. But it is easier after I stand still. That is the secret. Stand still. Every day. Even if it is just for a moment.

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Day 148 – Coogee to Bondi coastal walk

I have never seen a blue quite like the Pacific. It is cold despite the bright sunshine. I am walking slowly and talking quickly with a friend from school who I haven’t seen in years. It is like no time has passed. There is no point catching up on so many years- Facebook has kept us more or less in the loop about how our respective lives have changed. So we just chat and laugh the whole way. The entire coastal walk should only take 45 minutes to an hour each way but we take about 3 or 4 hours as we stop to take photos and have a coffee at Icebergs, Bondi. The walk is beautiful. Sandstone cliffs hanging over the white foaming waves, crystal blue water and ships in the distance. The cold weather means that the beaches are empty so the sand looks clean and bare. The south end of Bondi is really windy as we stop to take a picture. It is only Autumn so the air is only going to get colder and colder as the day goes on. I feel happy, despite the cold. Winter can’t seem to shake me this year. Despite the break-up, despite coming home from four amazing months away, it feels good to just enjoy simple things that make Sydney so special. The beautiful coast, amazing coffee and great friends- all the ingredients of coming home. Even in the cold, we warm up from the exercise. People jog past us on either side and I miss my jogging as I haven’t done it since Friday. It is seriously addictive, this running business! It is the endorphins, the breathing, the fresh air, the sense of achievement when I extend my endurance another few minutes. And then there is the gentle twitch of muscles when I finally stop to rest. After we ascend the small hill and come around to the bottom of the cemetery at Clovelly, I can feel that same twitch in my thigh. That physical reminder from the body that it appreciates so much movement.

When we get back to the car in the afternoon, my eyes go straight to the sign advertising gelato and I have to remind myself that it would defeat the purpose of the walk to go and eat so much sugar right away. I think I have succumbed to my sugar addiction too much lately. I seem to be eating chocolate nearly everyday. After dinner, as I eat the burka cupcake my mum brought home from the Muslim function she attended with my aunty, I make the decision that I can no longer use chocolate as a comforter. For the next week, if I feel like indulging in sugar, I am going to drink water, then have a cup of herbal tea and then a piece of fruit. I have heard the reward system works best for things like this so my reward for each day without sugar is that I get to buy a new song from iTunes. When I finish the week, I can buy a new album. Sounds like a good deal… until I remember that Wednesday is my nephew’s fourth birthday. Oh god, there will probably be cupcakes! Well there is always this beautiful coastal walk to make up for the cupcakes!

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Day 115 – why is my mind shouting so loud?

I sit down to set up for meditation. I have completed ablutions, pranayam, internal dialogue, locked the “p” line, which shuts the lower celestial doors (so as not to lose energy out through the lower doors) and my head neck and trunk are straight, my mastoid pivots elongating further up to the sky with each exhale. I bring awareness to the bridge between the two nostrils, I breathe in the loop, exhaling down the front of my body for twice as long as I inhale up the back of my body.

Suddenly manas, my lower mind, pipes up, “Good! Now that I finally have your attention, there are just a few thousand thoughts we need to go over. Are you listening to me? I SAID…!!” It’s like my mind is actually yelling at me, like a naughty child suffering from serious ADD, “AFTER BREAKFAST DON’T FORGET TO BRUSH YOUR TEETH! YOU SHOULD BUY SOME HONEY ROASTED PEANUTS TODAY! COFFEE WOULD BE A GOOD IDEA! IS THAT A HAIR TICKLING YOUR EAR? LOOK AT ME LOOK AT ME… LOOK.AT.ME!!!”

When did meditation become so hard? What happened to that yummy feeling? The floaty velocity and beautiful light radiating from within? When did this become a battlefield? I get out to go for a run. This is now the only place where the meditation comes a little easier. I set up my peripheral vision, regulate the breath and start my slow jog along the river. It is a little later in the morning so less people are about. It is not unusual to notice a roughly dressed man slowly enter my peripheral lense. As I approach, he reaches down to his pants to offer me a free show. Grateful that I am short-sighted and NOT wearing my glasses today, I break into a sprint until I am far away. Seriously, somebody had to ‘cock up’ my running meditation AS WELL?! The good thing is that I don’t let go of the breathing rhythm, despite the suddern burst of speed. Suddenly I am homesick for the sound of magpies in the early morning, my mum’s vegetable soup and the halfway decent mental health system that keeps crazy men (and all their bits and pieces) safely homed and off the streets.

Our teacher is leaving today, so as I catch him to say goodbye, I hesitate to ask but it seems like Shal and Pri want to hear the answer too so finally I spit it out.

“Elizabeth is experiencing a challenge… She is following the steps and going through the set-up but as soon as she turns inward, the mind just gets really loud, like absurdly loud. Isn’t meditation supposed to be fun?”

Knowing my vattic tendency so well, he says that it is a problem of being in a “hurry curry worry” and that Elizabeth needs to really use Sankalpa Shakti, determination and Power of Will. I realise that although I say my sankalpa, I have lost faith in the words. It has become a line. There will always be challenges and as long as manas feels like it is winning, it will start to take control. There is no battle except that I am not letting go and allowing. The good thing is that I have acknowledged, now I need to accept and release. Teacher says this is like taming a wild horse, first you must apply the soft rope, then allow it to run, so it doesn’t realise it is securing itself in the bridle. Offer a sugar cube, rein it in. Offer some more sugar, until finally you have the mind, the horse, your friend, within reach and then, with tender love and compassion, you can begin to direct it.

My internal DJ is playing Wild Horses… by the Rolling Stones.

Day 100 to Day 106 of the Self Transformation Program, Sadhana Mandir Trust, Rishikesh, India

Day 100 – the descending force

In meditation last night, I experienced a strange feeling of velocity, as though everything inside of me is being pulled upwards. It is so profound, I can’t even describe. We are told to let go of such experiences as they can lead to expectations and false delusions. Today, Rafiki tells us that when you reach the stage of meditation, all the steps of asana (postures), pranayama (breathing and prana regulation), pratyahara (withdrawal of senses), and dharana (concentration) all fall away and it becomes effortless. The ascending and descending forces start to work and it is as though the divine reaches down and pulls you up, to home.

After dinner last night, we sang Kirtan lead by Radha who sings classical Indian song. Her beautiful warbling voice filled the room and while it was not Pratyahara, since music uses the senses rather than withdrawing them, it still feels like the sound of the divine. After Kirtan, we snuck up onto the roof to listen to John play his Yukalele and have a little bit of a sing along. We were like naughty children and at 9.30pm we had to retreat to bed, knowing we need to be awake early. This course is pretty intense- like spiritual boot camp. A part of me can’t wait to sleep in, but another part of me knows that this is a long term commitment and that I could keep up this routine forever. I just need the Sankalpa Shakti- the determination, the power to will and the one pointed focus.

 

Day 101 – Swaha, letting go into the river

I find a letter today that I wrote at the beginning of the year. The person it was for refused to read it, so I never threw it away. I guess I felt like I wasn’t being heard and that whatever was in the letter must be important. Without reading it, I take it down to the Ganga. Standing in ankle deep cool water that flows from the Himalayas, I easily tear up the pages into small pieces. I let go, release the attachment that is associated with it and let go of the past. In class, we constantly check our footprints on the yoga mat. The yoga mat is the Guru and it shows exactly how you use your feet. When we step onto the mat we always step forward, never backwards, never stepping into the past grooves. As I release the pieces of paper into the water and watch the current float them away, I can feel the cool energy of the river creeping up my legs. Silently, I chant swaha, which is the offering into the fire, the burning of past karmas and samskaras. The hand motions from the stomach and opens out, almost like vomiting up the excessive emotions. For the first time in a few nights, this person who refused to read what I wrote is not in my dreams.

As CS Lewis wrote, ‘There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.’

 

Day 102 – ants in the pants

Lying down for systematic relaxation, I become aware of an ant crawling on my collarbone. I try to ignore it, hoping that it moves onto my clothing, but I can’t focus and I am missing key points in the relaxation. I reach up and scratch at it quickly. After a few seconds I can feel more on my feet and legs. I rub my legs together but they don’t go away. I can feel a whole line of them crawling up my stomach so, frustrated, finally I sit up and lift up my shirt to see… nothing. There are no ants. Suddenly I am panicking. If there are no ants, then I must be hallucinating? What is going on? I can feel them! I am sure of it. I keep moving, twitching and scratching at my legs and stomach. Then they are all up my shirt, just tiny ones marching in lines across my body. When the relaxation finally ends, I sit up and look all over the mat and in my clothes. Not one ant.

Later, in theory class, Rafiki asks if we have anything to share but I keep quiet. I don’t need everyone thinking I am loopy. I can ask him about the ants later. He is talking and notices me scratching my arm. He starts laughing and yells, “Stop scratching! Be here NOW! What, you think those were really ants biting you all over? Hahaha! I nearly laughed my head off! You just missed an important step in the process!” Suddenly three other people pipe up that they also experienced the ants crawling or biting or feelings of energy shooting all over the body. I say, “Well I am glad it is funny, but I am worried that I was hallucinating!” He says I was. He won’t tell me why, but says to just let it go. Let go, let god, let guru.

 

Day 103 – thoughts are people

I am walking the path along the beautiful river Ganges when I see a group of monkeys foraging in the dry scrub to my right. They seem content enough and ignore me, so I continue to walk. I see a baby ahead but its mother isn’t bothered since I am keeping my distance. What I don’t see is the big male sitting to my left. By the time I see him, he is running towards me with his finger in between his bared teeth in an open threat. I stop and for a moment I think ‘fight’ but realise my only weapon would be my rubber sandal so I opt for ‘flight’ and run back a few metres. He sits down in the middle of the path and stares at me, making sure that I don’t come closer. I stand and watch him, laughing. This is just too symbolic. In yoga, the mind is often referred to as the ‘Monkey Mind’ and Swami Rama says the mind is a ‘drunken monkey’. Here I am, on the path and before me is an angry monkey, feeling threatened. As I watch him, he opens his legs and starts scratching himself. He probably isn’t itchy; he is making a point. Eventually he gets distracted and wonders away and I am free to pass.

The people in my mind are running amok and it is distracting me from meditation. During relaxation I lose focus entirely and my imagination takes over the reigns when I am supposed to be melting into the floor. I can’t sleep, I can’t focus on eating and I can’t even make sense of the thoughts and people and people and thoughts. When thoughts come up in meditation, we say neti, which means ‘not this’. It has worked like a dam and now all those thoughts are flooding through, outraged at being held back. These people are attachments; they create bondage and misery instead of peace, harmony and bliss. Since blocking them makes no sense, I allow them to come through. I once again find myself at the Ganga with a piece of bottle brush- each red fibre of the bush flower represents an attachment, a person, a thought that is limiting my path and I let it go. Each day, I say my Sankalpa Shakti at least 4 times before meditation. It is the intention, the determination to practice.

I now take another step on the path towards enlightenment. Nothing and nobody can take me from this path. Least of all and especially not myself or my mind.

In the evening, I can’t sleep and so I sit up to write a list of unfulfilled desires. We are taught to practice santosh, contentment, so that we no are longer slaves to our unfulfilled desires. However, it is acknowledged that certain desires must be fulfilled so that one can feel contentment. One need not renounce the world, but rather live in it and above it, unaffected by events. My list is not long and I can’t help but add a few at the bottom just so that I can cross them out. This is a kind of encouragement. Like reminding myself how easy it is to fulfil desires.

Go to India. CHECK!

 

Day 104 – running in the rain

Pria, John and I sneak off to my room with the Yukalele and a small parcel wrapped in tissue. My neighbour managed to sneak in some contraband and we feel like naughty children. Behind the closed doors, we open up the tissue to reveal the trademark purple wrapping and can’t decide which one to open first- dairy milk or fruit n’ nut. Pria says she thought this was Indian chocolate, but I thought it was Australian chocolate but we are corrected by John, the Englishman, haughtily tells us that Cadbury is an English company. However, since both countries were part of the British Empire, Cadbury is sold there too. It is gone far too quickly, so we indulge in breaking the other rule- the rule of santaya. Here at the ashram, we are told to remain silent as it is the only truth. We are supposed to be having quiet time right now but being the three youngest means we are suffering from conversation deprivation so we sit and chat for two hours. Our teacher is an omniscient presence in this ashram and he has thrown some disapproving looks our way lately when talking about the importance of silence.

Although summer was here a couple of days ago, the weather has turned and the wind, cold and rain is making my Vattic bones ache. Halfway through the morning, I have been thinking a lot about how much practice we have to fit in every morning. I need six hours sleep, but at this rate I wake up at 3.45am! And lately I have been running after breakfast, instead of at dawn. I start to stress over all the things to do every morning when I decide to go for a run to clear my head. The rain parts for enough time for me to borrow a rain jacket from Pria but by the time I am up on the road, the light sprinkle has become a steady drizzle. I am jogging at a slow trot. We have been told to practice with a breath ratio of 2:1 when doing dynamic movements so asana, meditation preparation, walking and jogging especially means exhale for 10, inhale for 5. This detoxes the system and makes sure that the carbonic acid is being removed from the lungs so that lactic acid can’t build up. It also means that once I get used to the rhythm and pace of exhaling for ten steps and inhaling for five steps, I can jog for much longer. I love to jog but I gave up a few years ago because I wasn’t seeing any improvement. With this new method of breathing I can feel my endurance increasing and my lungs expanding. The rain is beating down on me, but I could keep on going. I have to stop because it is almost time for class and I am soaking wet. I slow down to a walk and turn my face up to the sky. My eyes closed, I lift my arms up and I can see bright orange/yellow light radiating up to the heavens all around me, like it is going to lift me up to another plane…. Like something out of Star Trek. That descending /ascending force again? Samadhi through running in the rain, reaching a new level of endurance… Apparently it is endorphins, and the neuro-chemical reaction of the blood vessels stimulated through nostril breathing but enough meaning making. It feels good.

On the way back, the rain has gotten heavier and my pants are falling down, heavy with water. I decide to sprint the last few metres but suddenly I step on something sharp. It is so sharp, I am sure it has pierced the thin sole of my runners but I can’t be angry; only grateful at the reminder to stay grounded.

 

Day 105 – the story of the King and the Jin

This story was a Swami Rama story, as told to me by our teacher and guide at the Sadhana Mandir Trust. Poetic licence has been taken in the retelling of this story…

Once upon a time, in a Kingdom far away, a festival was being held. This festival was full of music, bright colours, dancers, fire breathers and small stalls selling anything and everything a person could want. In one small, unnamed stall sat an old man who had only one item to sell. It was a very small, very unremarkable little wooden box. People would stop to enquire about this mysterious box, but the old man would tell them it was too expensive. No matter how much they offered to pay, the old man would say, “I am sorry but you can not afford this.”

The King and his Queen entered this colourful festival. After watching some performers, the Queen wanted to go shopping. The King suggested they go through the stalls systematically but the Queen was impatient. She spotted this tiny stall with the box that nobody could afford and she dragged the King straight over.

“I want this wooden box, my King. Please get it for me. I must have it to show all my friends when they come over tomorrow.” The King was reluctant but, being a good man, he wanted to please his wife so he approached the old man and asked the price of this small, unremarkable, box. The old man shook his head,

“I am sorry, my Lord, but this box is not for you,” the old man said.

“I can afford it, I assure you so please name your price,” said the King.

“You misunderstand me, sire. It is not a matter of price. I cannot sell this item to just anybody. It must go to one who can handle its contents,” insisted the old man.

“Whatever do you mean? I am the King! I am sure I can handle whatever small and ordinary item might be inside such a container.”

The old man sighed. Knowing the King to be wise, he finally agreed to give him the box, however he did not let the King pay.

“I cannot take any money from you, my Lord. Only promise me this; that you will never, ever, under any circumstances, open this box.”

“Yes, yes, whatever. As long as it is in my care, it shall remain unopened.” The King promised this, forgetting that it would not always be in his care. Feeling that the old man was good at heart, he went away, instructing his Prime Minister to make sure that the old man and his family would be taken care of for the rest of their lives in the kingdom.

Emerging from the market stall, the Queen quickly snatched the box and marched straight back to the castle.

“Don’t you want to do some more shopping?” Asked the King.

“No, no. I have what I want. You go on, I am going home.” The Queen hurried away.

The King knew his wife very well, so he followed her up to their room where he found her excitedly hovering over the box.

“Now, remember we aren’t to open this ugly little box,” the King warned.

“Oh don’t be an old fool. That man was nothing more than a swindler. He would have given you this damn thing; you didn’t need to go and give him a house!” The Queen, being stubborn and excitable, could not wait any longer so before the King could reach her side, she opened the tiny, unexceptional and unsightly little box.

All of a sudden the box exploded in a huge cloud of ancient dust and from within the haze emerged an enormous Jin with terrifying, glowing red eyes and skin blacker than the moonless night. It hovered over the royal couple, drooling ethereal saliva and smiling a wicked grin, it folded its enormous bulging arms over its bare chest.

“At your service, Master.” He growled.

The Queen stared open mouthed and then her eyes rolled back into her head as she fainted and collapsed in a heap on the floor. The King, in his shock, did little to help his incapacitated wife.

The Jin continued, “Your wish is my command. Only tell me what it is that you want and I shall complete any task you set for me. The only condition to this is that you never stop. The moment you have no work for me, I will be forced to eat you up!”

And so the King and Queen thought they were very lucky. Despite the hideous appearance of their new acquisition, he performed remarkably well and brought them anything they needed. This went along fine until a few years later, when they realised that their whole castle was full of useless things. They couldn’t possibly ask the Jin for anything else and they realised that they would seen be eaten alive by their own monster if they didn’t think of something. The King consulted his very wise Prime Minister who assured the King that he would solve the problem. So the King and Queen left the Prime Minister in charge, instructing the Jin to take his orders from the Minister until they return. They left in haste, thinking that the Minister would surely be eaten before long.

The Prime Minister, however, had an idea. He approached the Jin and said, “Please fetch me the longest and strongest piece of bamboo in the entire world.” The Jin disappeared but within a few hours was back from the humid jungle of Sumatra with the longest and strongest bamboo in the world. The Prime Minister was impressed.

“Ok, Jin. Now put this bamboo in the ground in such a way that it can not be moved, bent or broken.”

The Jin shoved the stick hard into the earth and no matter how much it was flicked, hacked or pushed, it indeed could be moved by no force.

“Now,” said the Prime Minister, “Listen carefully, Jin. This part is important. I need you to run up and down the bamboo. Do not stop until I come and tell you to stop!”

The bamboo is the spine.

The Jin is the mind.

It is running and breathing.

As long as the mind is focused on the breath running up and down the spine, it cannot eat us alive.

 

Day 106 – The Great Escape

Over breakfast I try not to look at the others. As soon as we finish eating, John, Pria and I hurry to get dressed. We feel like spies trying to exit the ashram separately so as not to arouse suspicion. As I walk out, the manager sees me and says, “Holiday today!” and I say, “shh, we are escaping!” to which he only laughs. After two weeks of silence, mindful conscious awareness and the sheltered life of the ashram, the world outside is a bombardment of noise, colour, movement, smells and velocity. We catch the rickshaw to the market and then change to go up to Lakshman Julle. All we talk about is all the amazing food we are going to eat. First stop is an iced coffee accompanied by baked cheese-cake and a chocolate ball. John has to stand still as his eyes cross over from a sugar overdose. We join the throng of people crossing the bridge and are lucky enough to find a gap where we can stop to take photos.

The whole purpose of this outing was so that I could get some clothes- it has been really cold the past couple of days and I only brought summer clothes so I need some leggings and a jumper. Of course, now that I am actually shopping, it has become boiling hot again! No doubt this weather will stay hot for the rest of my time in India, rendering my purchases redundant. Either way, my lower mind is excited to be shopping and I have to remind myself that I still have a lot of moving around in India before I can start filling my bags with incense and books.

I am dying to eat some street food but Pria talks me out of it. The samosas look greasy and dirty and delicious. After all, I don’t feel like I am truly in a country until I eat some dirty street food and make myself extremely ill.

Crossing back over the thin bridge, I can feel it swaying beneath our feet. Monkeys are perched along the cables, screeching at the crowd. Children with wide dark eyes, a black kohl marking in the centre of the forehead to keep the evil spirits away and completely shaven heads stare up at the creatures calmly while the parents nervously move away. In a sudden surge, we are pressed up against the cables and metal grates of the bridge and look around the oncoming motorbike to see an enormous bull standing in the metre-wide walkway. I am starting to believe that these cows aren’t just wondering around aimlessly. For a cow to join a huge crowd of people and get onto this narrow bridge implies that he must have business on the other side.

We have missed lunch at the ashram but find a small restaurant overlooking the river where we get dosas and lassis. We may be silent as we eat but it is because we are so busy enjoying the food. We don’t eat as slowly as we know we should, but the dosa just tastes too good! We know we will arrive back later than expected to watch the afternoon Swami Rama lecture DVD, but we have bought chocolate to supplement our lateness. Chocolate fixes everything.

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Day 86- one thousand crunches of doom

Don’t worry, it is a misnomer. I don’t really do one thousand crunches. I do one hundred. It is a trick I made up, I break it down into four lots of twenty and then two lots of ten; the first twenty crunches with feet on the floor or soles of the feet pressed together and knees wide, the second and third set of twenty with both knees to one side, the fourth set of twenty with both legs straight up and then ten for each leg in a scissor legs position. I have PMS so I wake up and have no energy or will to live, let alone get out of bed. I try to sit down and meditate but I can’t sit still, the cramps are just making life very uncomfortable. I am craving poached eggs. I feel a little dazed and spacey. How is it that every month I can be thrown completely out of sync like this?

I may be acclimatised enough in Indonesia to wear jeans but a hot water bottle would be beyond extreme so to deal with my cramps, I decide to exercise. I want to do a full flowing practice but I just don’t have the energy or the motivation. Since it is my abdomen giving me hell, I am just going to give it hell right back. With my ‘thousand crunches of doom’. The repetitive nature of the exercise clears up my fuzzy little mind and my irritability slips away, at least for the time being.

In the afternoon, the cramps threaten to return so I do another set of crunches of doom then plank, side plank, single leg lifts, reverse crunches and any other core exercise I can think of. When I practice asana, I generally leave out the core exercises, feeling like it turns my flowing yoga practice into too much of a workout. It’s like I think there is no room for the sacred when you do crunches. But today, I find the sacred in my crunches. Even though my body is moving, inside I find stillness. If nothing else, it is meditation in ACTION.

Day 66- fasting, meditation app and detox tea

I wake up to the sound of cats. I am surprised it is morning, since I fell asleep at 4pm yesterday. I think I can hear a cat screeching, but it sounds strange, almost like a child. Then I hear Pat barking and I hope he doesn’t get it. I slept all the way through dinner last night but I am surprised to find that I am not hungry. There is always a part of any detox that encourages a fast, for digestive and spiritual reasons. Many religions practice regular fasting as it is believed to bring greater mental clarity and help one feel closer to the divine presence. I am happy that most of it happened while I was sleeping anyway since I have never actually gone a whole day without food because I find it so difficult. Watching Top Gear, Mark Hammond said something about “a heart of stone and a soul made of custard…” and all I could think was how much I wanted my soul to be made of custard. When I get up, I find Sooly awake. He says that dinner was loaded with MSG so I am glad I missed out on that. He asks if I heard the commotion- apparently the cat I heard was actually a Palm Civet, known for its expensive pre-digested Luwak coffee. Sooly managed to get Pat away from it while it escaped, but unfortunately it didn’t leave any droppings behind. If there is one thing I miss about Sydney it is a good soy mocha!

I start the day with Oil Pulling and then brush my teeth. Once again I am tricking my iPhone into thinking that I care about it by using it for meditation. I have downloaded a free meditation app called Silva Meditations. The morning meditation is only thirteen minutes, but I am not worried about the time anymore, especially since watching this video by Swami Rama. As long as I sit down and close my eyes for some time, I know it makes a difference. The guided meditation is quite motivational and sounds like it would be really good for someone going to work with a lot on their plate, as it encourages visualisation of the accomplishment of goals. After the meditation, I move straight into asana. I am still sore, so I go easy on myself and build energy slowly. I can’t seem to get my mind to be still. I am thinking about India, wondering about transport methods, ashrams, money, do I have enough long sleeved tops and pants? Finally I just shut off the music and lay down in Savasana. Could it be that the meditation on ‘getting things done’ has made me believe that I actually have a lot to do? I don’t know, but I feel like I am itching to get started on some study, which is always a good thing.

I add a little coconut oil to my smoothie, since it provides good fat and has so many health benefits including improved digestion, which is great during a detox. Although it is a saturated fat, the type of triglyceride makes it healthy for the heart and has been shown to help with weight loss. After breakfast I sit down for some peanuts and a nice detox tea. I have two types of detox tea. One that I have in the morning is from Mighty Leaf, the Detox Tea Infusion, which has peppermint, burdock root, dandelion root, spearmint, liquorice root, red clover flowers and basil. It tastes quite minty which makes it a refreshing morning tea. The other tea is Clipper Organic Detox Infusion, which is bright fuchsia when you steep it and is it made of hibiscus, nettle, liquorice root and aloe vera extract. It tastes delicious and makes for a good 3pm tea. Both teas are very delicious and gentle (don’t worry, the liquorice root doesn’t have you running to the bathroom!) Although I might miss coffee, tea has a soothing and comforting nature. Many have philosophised and meditated over the culture of tea and it is easy to see why. In Australia, there is a lot of importance placed on a good ‘cuppa’ and there are some days when it is the only thing that gets me out of bed in the morning. There is a special kind of serenity that comes from wrapping both hands around a hot cuppa, closing your eyes and gently breathing in its delicate aroma. The ritual of tea can provide a stillness, a pause in the day, and even though my mind was swimming after the morning meditation, these gentle herbs bring me right back to my centre.

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