Monday, 1 August 2016

Yoga Retreat 29 Sept-2 Oct 2016

Join me for my 4-day yoga retreat in Sri Lanka this Sept 29th - Oct 2nd 2016!
This retreat is for people who want to explore movement and yoga with fun and friends. 
I will be teaching ways to use your internal power and energy to move gracefully and with ease, to move away from pain and towards free movement.
You will learn the importance of using active movements and how the key to better stability, mobility, and freedom is to learn how to firm parts that need to be firm and, significantly, relax what needs to be relaxed.  
In this retreat I hope to help you move closer to understanding and experiencing how this movement of energy will help every cell in your body to sing!
I have a lot of experience working with people with various injuries and I encourage you to contact me beforehand if you do have some sort of condition so that we can figure out if the retreat is appropriate for you at this time and how I might be able to help you.  
Because I am interested in you learning how to be your own best teacher, I will be offering sessions between the classes for questions and answers and for us to think deeply about particular issues or postures, so come along with some of your own ideas and questions and I can help make the retreat more personal for you. 
Check-in Thursday 29th Sept 1 pm- Depart Sunday 2nd Oct after breakfast by Noon
Venue: TalallaRetreat
Classes: Six 2 hour classes. First yoga class starts on Thursday afternoon at 4.30pm.  From then we will have 2 classes on Friday, 2 on Saturday, and 1 on Sunday.  
Aside from the usual yoga there is the opportunity to relax by the pool or at the beach, surf, get a massage, or just hang out.
Because there are limited rooms I am encouraging people to please consider sharing so that as many people can participate as possible.    Rooms need to be confirmed with full payment received by 29th August 2016.

The rate includes:
   All yoga classes
   Full board (tea/fruit before yoga; buffet style breakfast served at table; a la carte lunch (there is a menu to choose an item from), buffet style dinner)
You need to pay for any extra drinks or snacks you might have if the mega breakfast and dinner and light lunch still leaves you hungry!  
Normal timetable is as follows
6.30am                     tea/fruit (if desired)
7.00-9.00am         yoga
9.00                     breakfast
RELAX                  (have massage, swim, surf, read, have lunch around 1 or 2ish depending on how full you are after brekkie)
4.30-6.30pm         yoga
7pm                     dinner
The prices quoted below are based on 3 nights per person.   You need to find a person to share with if you opt for double or triple and Tilak can put you in touch with other people who may also want to share.  
Full payment is required by 29th  August.  You can make your booking directly with Tilak ( +94-773-912-100) and pay Tilak directly or he can provide a Sri Lankan or Australian bank account details for you to transfer to if that is easier.

Retreat Rates are as follows:
Sri Lankan citizens or with those with a Sri Lanka Resident visa:
Single 3 nights                   Rs. 55,000/-
Double (share) 3 nights     Rs. 43,000/- per person
Triple (share) 3 nights       Rs. 40,000/- per person
Non-Sri Lankan citizens without a Sri Lanka Resident visa
Single 3 nights                   USD 670
Double (share) 3 nights     USD 570- per person
Triple (share) 3 nights       USD 540- per person

Look forward to seeing you!

Much metta,

Saturday, 23 July 2016

10 Minute Twisting Practice in the Olives

I had the privilege of visiting Croatia again recently, to see a dear friend from way back when I lived and worked in Bangladesh.

Her talents and generosity seem boundless and, along with her partner, they produced this lovely video for me.

This is a ten minute sequence filmed by a lake amongst the olive groves that abound in Dalmatia.  The overall effect reminds me of practicing yoga in a Renaissance painting.

My friend, Mejrema, composed the music herself and it is from an album she produced while working with people with autism as part of an art in therapy project. It fit perfectly with the mood. It also fit perfectly with me since my full-time work is with people with autism.  

I did not plan this sequence. We saw a beautiful scene.  We set up a camera.  I stood for a moment, took a few calm breaths, and practiced what came to me in the moment.

The sequence consists of some strong standing balances, but if you were practicing it you could modify it so you either kept your toe on the ground or you hugged your leg to your body, rather than straightening it as I do.

There are also some standing twists and side bends.  Again, you could modify these to your capacity.

When I reviewed the footage I loved how my knobbly arms and legs seemed to blend with the branches of the olives.

The olive is sacred to the people of this area.  I love how their silvery leaves sparkle in the breeze.

I smile when I see this video.  I hope you will too.

Happy and safe practicing!

Much metta,

Saturday, 30 April 2016

No warm up backbends

In this video, one of my great teachers (Paddy McGrath, Dancing Spine Yoga) got a small group together so we could give a taste of what you might experience with her (for more of her genius go to

We all met at the beach at 7 am.  For some of us (me in particular) that meant waking up a bit beforehand and heading down.

We spent a few minutes trying to find a place to rest my computer so we could take the video--a handy park bench did the trick--then lay ourselves down on the ground (very bumpy as it turned out with the beautiful tree above us having shed a bucket load of marble sized seeds!).

And this is what we did.

We did a few more things like that, backbends different ways, some backdrops, a few squats, a standing balance.  Then we closed up shop and went for a coffee/juice/tea down the road.

The point is we woke up and a few minutes later we met casually on the beach and did our flicking backbends then left.  We did not spend hours or even minutes 'warming up' or 'cooling down'.

We did do a few 'rolling wall squats' (a type of moving from standing, squatting, standing where you try to keep your weight forward the whole time and prevent your butt sticking up and shifting back while pretending to slide your nose up and down an imaginary wall right in front of you).

Then it was "lights, camera, action" on our wiggling spines.

We all practiced our own variation of backbending.  We all have different spines so that is normal. We are not going to look the same.  But hopefully we all felt the same inside.  That is, with a delicious free and moving spine.

These back bends were as normal as walking.  Just another movement/action in our day.

Hopefully you do not need to warm up to go for a walk or take a swim in the ocean.

And so we practice with our back bends.  As though they are just a normal movement and part of our day.

My backbend at 7am after waking is not the same shape as one a bit later.  Indeed, none of my backbends are ever the same. But if I work mindfully then I can still feel lightness and ease of spine no matter when I practice.

We did not do warm-downs, counter-poses or anything to finish.  We did do a short standing balance pose to 'give back' to our spines, which looked liked this.

And our spines felt delicious.

If your backbends in the middle of the day routinely feel squashed or jammed then you won't be able to do the same thing first thing in the morning and get a different result.  You might need to adjust your technique.

Paddy gave us lots of different ways to free our spines, with specific feedback that was unique to our level of practice, our level of 'mental preparedness', and our level of movement.  That is what makes practicing with her so special.

When you practice in a way that is not striving for a particular outcome, without over-stretching or tensing too much then you find a beautiful space to work in.

Thanks to you, Paddy, for helping us find that space, for freeing our spines, and supporting our realisation that dropping down first thing in the morning to wiggle freely into a backbend can be entirely normal.

To practice with Paddy go to

If you can't make it then you can meet us here in Canberra out by the lake doing our own bit of wriggling.

And finally, I am not suggesting you all wake up and do backbends--especially if you have not learned to do them without squishing.  But perhaps be open to the possibility that it is possible and that there might be some teachers out there who can show you how!

Happy and safe dancing spines!
Much metta,

Saturday, 2 April 2016

Shoulder Variations For Dhanurasana

We introduced these tummy lying backbends in class recently.  There are a whole lot of things you can do with your arms in them.

This post is just for watching and not really for practicing until you come to class and I can talk to you and we can consider what is going on with your knees, spine, and shoulders and figure out what might be safe and comfortable for you.

Always remember you do not need to take your foot at all.  If you have troubles with your knees, spine, or shoulders you should talk to your teacher before you even consider it.  You can just bend the knee and reach towards your foot without actually taking it, as shown below.  For some people this will be enough.

Some other things to consider in the variations I show in the video is the shoulder is rolling out when you take it back.  It rolls in again in some variations and stays there or rolls back out again while possibly doing a variety of other things around the shoulder, shoulder blade and elbow joint complexes.

The point is, there is a lot going on around the shoulder joints and you really need to take extreme care before embarking on any of these variations.

For that reason I am just showing them here so you can maybe take a look in slow motion and have a visual memory of the movement patterns for when you come to class and we can discuss more in person.

The three shoulder variations I show in the video are shown below.  In all of these positions I am basically doing the same thing with my leg, which is to press my shin or foot away and then up. 

In these variations the hand can have a pulling action but I counter it with the pulling action of the shin and foot so that it is not just an arm pulling and tugging at the leg.  
I am mindful of how the knee is feeling and I don't feel squashing in the knee joint.  

I am mindful of how the shoulder is feeling and I don't feel over-stretching at the shoulder joint.

I am mindful of how my spine is feeling so I take action to ensure I am not bending through one part of my spine only.  In fact, I keep my pubic bone and lower ribs on the table, do a sit up in my tummy, and try to lengthen and wriggle my spine forward and up so that there is never squishing in my lower back and this pose ends up feeling great in my spine for all variations. 

I make sure I can breathe naturally (although the breath tends to quicken here).  I relax and soften my face.

These variations are tough.  They are not for everyone.  But remember the first option is also a good one (where you do not hold your foot) so you stay there as necessary.

Just for fun I also made this video of natarajasana on a table, which shows the same arm variations.  It is more tricky because you have to balance as well.

Learning on the table beforehand helps you sort out the feeling in your spine.

We might try a few of these at my retreat in April but will definitely be working on them in class when I come back.

Canberra students, keep an eye on my timetable for April as I am away for a few weeks but here for a few classes!  Hope to see you somewhere soon.

Happy and safe practicing.

Much metta,

Saturday, 26 March 2016

Easter Monday Class!

Come join us Easter Monday for a class by the lake, 9-1030am.  Hope you can make it!

Saturday, 19 March 2016

Knees Away Groins Emerging

This week I will be running a workshop delightfully titled 'Groins Emerging'.  Here is a little taster of Harry and I doing a little bit of synchronous work along that theme!

One of the key things we will be working on is the idea of softening and lengthening around the front of groin area as one of the 'tricks' to free the spine in back bending positions. I call this position knees away, groins emerging.  They don't get pushed or forced up.  They 'emerge' and soften as the knees move away.

This is slightly different to how many people are used to initiating a backbend.  To people newer to my class what I see are lots of pelvic curls and groins thrusting going on.  I don't want to suggest that this is a wrong movement.  But for my spine freeing purposes it can tend to jam you in the lower back.

So we will be working on figuring out some ways to first get length in your lower back.  

Then we will move to some arms away and chest emerging, as shown below.

From there we might work towards combining those two elements (knees away, groins emerging and arms away, chest emerging) to see how it can support a possible spine lengthening back bend.

From there some people will possibly work on a bit more arms away and chest emerging to go deeper. But that is pretty tricky.  It is not for everyone.  

Harry and I went back up to our backbend to take a foot up.  But you could also do this (and we can try in the workshop) with the elbows on the ground like in the start position.  Maybe not.  I will be there to see what type of position will be helpful for you and it might be something different.  

We ended up where we started.  In our case this was on the road in front of what turned out to be the rubbish tip.  No wonder it smelled so bad.  Still, through it all we smiled and kept in touch with the core theme of knees away, groins emerging.  
Finishing up with a bit of eye contact, some shared laughter at our antics.  This felt beautiful to do together, almost like we were synchronised swimming yogis on the road.  

So join us for an extra special workshop on Good Friday if you are round, 9-11am (probably a bit later).  This is not for 'advanced' or 'extreme' back bending but for people who want to learn to move more freely in their spines, stop over arching their lower back and feeling all scrunched, and who want to hang out and share a few laughs.  

Happy and safe practicing. 

Much metta,

Friday, 11 March 2016

Screaming Sounds of Silence

Quiet sitting with Yoga Frog
Struggling with silence?  In this post I try to dispel some myths around silence, highlight my own fall from a pedestal I had put myself on, and give a few thoughts on how you might manage the silent class.

The back story
About 10 years ago I lived alone in Sri Lanka in a small room.  I had no radio or television.  Just a room with a bed, table, a little kitchenette, bathroom, and myself.

I was busy working and not at home that much.  When I was at home there was plenty of street noise going on.  A temple down the road chanting over load-speakers, horns horning, buses belching.  There was a war going on at the time so there were sirens wailing intermittently.

But at home there was never any spoken words.  I was by myself after all and am not prone to talking aloud.  But there were still the silent words.  The silent voice.  The one inside my head chattering, commenting, planning, and wondering.

When I was busy doing something like cooking or washing up or getting dressed or cleaning the floors or practicing my yoga it was less chatty.  The voice had only had a few things to notice or mention.

I relied on that voice most when I was not busy.  That was not much of the time mind you as I avoided non-busy time (more on that shortly).

I was a little smug that here I was living this life without the trappings of technology (no wifi or smart phones then either).  I would sometimes think I was on a good road to a simple and mindful life.

"I don't need a TV.  I don't need a radio," I would think.  I was pretty chuffed at what I thought was as my lack of attachment to those things.

Instead of radio or television or videos I sought out newspapers, books, and journals.  Things that I thought of as somehow better.  More nourishing brain food or mind food was the line of thinking.

Whenever I was not doing something I had those books or readings handy.  This included the 'not-doing' activity of eating.  

One day I came home and realised I had read all of the newspapers that week, all of the books, and it was time for dinner at my little table and I had nothing to read.

I went into a panic.  The voice inside was a bit frantic.  'What will I do? What will I do? What will I do?'

It was a bit like the rabbit from Alice in Wonderland looking at his watching saying 'I'm late, I'm late, I'm late' and just as anxious as well.

I could feel the anxiety in my body.  My heart pounding, body tensing.

I suppose I was lucky I had the good sense (and perhaps the good reading of a few books on Buddhism behind me) to stop and notice and think 'Hey, look at you all in a panic!'

To stop and ask, 'Is this something to really be worried about?'

And to have the presence of mind to be able to pause and wonder and realise in one of those eureka moments, 'By gosh, you have become attached to busy-ness.  And you have become attached to those words.  You think you are comfortable here on your own but you are not.  You need to anchor yourself to those words to distract you from being on your own.'

What I realised is that I had simply found something else to do to keep my mind occupied.   Far from being present and mindful I was just substituting one form of distraction for another.  Instead of moving images across a screen or sounds vibrating in my ear drums, or the movement of my body to rock and calm me, I had that voice reading aloud some words on a page.

When I was busy doing things and moving my body I found I did not need that voice--perhaps because I love movement and I love to sense the movement and I can go inside and just feel and sense and be.

But when I had to be still with something I was not particularly interested in (I have never been a foodie and I suppose some people would find it delightful just to feel and sense and be with their food and would never want to be distracted from that) I found I had an enormous challenge.

I had to be quiet, and pretty still, with just me and my thoughts to occupy me.

It was a bit scary.  I realise for me I was scared of my own thoughts.

Fortunately I had enough insight (but obviously not that much that it took me so long to realise this) and some basic practice in me that I could start to sit down and just eat that night without the need for  those written words.
Me learning some mindful eating!
Smiling away at this delightful dhal and pol sambol.

So I sat and ate in a much truer silence.  The silence of me, my body, and my food.  I continued that practice for some time.  It was hard and I suppose that is why it is called a practice.  I tried to just chew and eat and enjoy that experience.  It took much longer to eat and was a process of retraining myself for this simple task.  I tried not to allow myself to then get distracted by some internal mental chatter and would keep bringing myself it my eating and (again trying to apply some of the things I had been reading) perhaps just had some nice thoughts about the food and who had grown it or where it had come from (trying not to whizz away on other thoughts from there).  I guess it was an act of appreciation.

Sounds of silence?
You are never in complete silence.

Even if you can stop talking there are still sounds.

There are the sounds around you and the sounds within you.

Thoughts are not sounds but in the sense that you can 'hear' yourself talking they are.

My dad has chronic tinnitus and the fire alarms, as he calls them, that are going off in his head are not sounds to me but are a very real and disturbing noise to him.

There is stuff (very technical word) inside most of our heads going on all the time to produce some internal noise or clutter.

If you can sit and be quiet and manage to quiet your inner voice (very hard) you might notice your ears drawn to sounds like the birds chirping, your clothes rustling, maybe your stomach gurgling, a pulse in your ears.

Or, conversely, if you draw your attention progressively to those sounds you might help yourself to quiet your inner voice.

I have had meditation teachers who  have used that type of progressive turning of attention to various sounds as a way of supporting concentration on something other than your own chatter.

Our silent class that we rotate through every 9 or so weeks is another way of practicing silence and practicing drawing awareness to something else than 'hanging on' to the sound of your teacher talking you through how to do everything.

There is a time and place for verbal instruction but there is a time and place for letting go.

But without the teacher's words to hang onto what do you do with your auditory sense?

Language and language processing take up a massive part of our brain's processing capacity.  One of the reasons I believe you can feel so calm after a silent class is because your brain has not had to use all of some much energy on processing language.

But what if words are what you cling to?  Not just words but the sound of words?  Even if they are the sound of silent words you speak in your own head?

Suddenly, deprived of those external words from the teacher, you are left with no words but your own.  It can be difficult and even disturbing for some.

Trying to slow down this internal chatter is one of the most challenging parts of our practice.  And it is a practice.

So what can you do if you are in one of my silent classes, or even at the end of the class in meditation?

A few tips for the silent class and meditation
If your thoughts are really chatty and you find yourself caught in the whirlwind of their currents, you might need to anchor yourself to something else and draw your concentration to that.

If you have a part of your body that needs relaxing you could try to sense that part and do what you can in each posture to release and relax it.

You could try to bring yourself back to natural breathing, and just keep bringing yourself back to that.

You could try to bring yourself back to relaxing your tongue and lips--these are parts of the body that tend to get tense even without you thinking about it.

You could do a mental scan of your spine each posture and check in that it feels good and then do something about it if it does not.

All of these would be techniques of drawing your concentration to one (internal) thing.

You will likely find that you soon forget about that thing and your mind has wandered and you are thinking about something or chatting to yourself.  That is normal and ok.  Just notice that it has happened and remind yourself what you were trying to concentrate on or notice.  Try to be forgiving of yourself rather than judgemental at those times.

With that in mind it is perhaps helpful to think of something you could use at a sort of 'anchor' while you practice if you need it.  Perhaps think of it before you start the practice if you can.

Over time and with practice you might find you do not need that anchor to be firmly secured and you can allow yourself to float and wander free without flying away.
Being part of the group can help.

Some other thoughts I had would be, if you are in the class, is to make sure you keep some proximity to the group.

I tend to find that people positioned outside the group or way to the side tend to get more 'lost'.  A bit like Nemo swimming out of the reef.  The group practice is time to be a part of the group.  A part of that school of fish--swimming around and moving with the group.

It does not mean you are doing precisely the same thing.  I like to think of this silent group practice as like the troupe of Botswanan dancers I saw recently who kept a general rhythm and movement but still had individual personalities and moves that were distinctly their own.

You need to remind yourself to free yourself of comparison to others, that it is ok to be doing what you are doing.

Remember what I say at the beginning of each class?  Try your best, but without being attached to an outcome.  Without stress or strain.

Remember what I say before that?  The main purpose of this practice is to move circulation and energy through your body.  That happens best when you move slowly, stretch less, tense less, think less, and breathe less.  All of these things, done in excess, will actually block your practice.

Remember what I say at the end?  Be content with what you have done, and where you are right now.

It can be helpful to enter the silent class with an overall attitude that reflects you will try your best, without being attached, and being content with whatever comes about.  Who knows what it will be?

In sum
To be clear, I am not a meditation teacher.  I have some experience with it but I could never think to be telling people or teaching them about it.  But I have had some great teachers in the past.  If people ask me about learning meditation I try to pass them on to someone who has a long lineage that stems from a whole life practice and philosophy that supports a meditation practice.

To be clear, I am far from perfect in any type of practice.  I am still practicing.  I am practicing moving.  I am practicing being still.  I am practicing being a good person.  I still have lots of fails.  I still needs more practice.

To be clear, it is not that I am trying to suggest you stop thinking.  You won't.  You might, however, learn to be a little less attached to those words so you don't start flying away or get carried away with something that immobilises you from practicing and being.

As an addendum I remember saying to a lovely meditation teacher friend around this same time that I did not want my mind to be quiet.  I remember telling him how I wanted to have my overwhelming enthusiasm and joy and be able to speak all of those things and be awash in those lovely feelings.  I had misunderstood the essence of the inner peace and calm and joy of which he was speaking.

Perhaps I still misunderstand (very likely).  With practice I have come to sense that there can be a most wonderful glow of joy and peace that can radiate from this beautiful quiet stillness that is much more powerful and longer lasting than the temporary thrill of excitement that comes with an over-aroused nervous system.

These are things I have learned from some of my great teachers Paddy McGrath and Simon Borg Olivier--google search and find all sorts of amazing wisdom from these beautiful humans.
And finally, to be really clear, my intent in writing this is to support you in a joyful and peaceful practice that is long lasting.  It is not to tell you what to do or what you should be doing.  If it does not feel right then don't do it.

Take care of yourselves and others.  And why not try all or some of these things in my upcoming yoga retreat!  We will be in Sri Lanka in April 2016 enjoying moving, breathing, nature, ourselves, and each other (um, don't read too much into that last bit!).

Much metta,