cbd oil

Sensational CBD: Why yogis are jumping on board the bandwagon 

Recently, while flicking through Instagram, I saw Yoga Girl’s story – a picture of a vaporiser and a caption expressing her enthusiasm for CBD. If there was anything that solidified the yoga community’s growing interest in cannabis as a healing aid, this was it. At the same time, she released a podcast episode titled ‘What if we all just did whatever the f*ck we want?’ where she discusses CBD oil and how ingesting it through a vaporising pen has had incredible benefits for her asthma. 

Beyond that, there are yogis near and far who are boasting the benefits of cannabis for mental and physical health. @trippytreez @karma_stoned and @yogaandweed are just some of Insta-yoga celebs promoting cannabis as the perfect yoga companion. These yogis share images of toking whilst striking a pose and promote yoga classes that combine the two. The benefits? Heightened sensory awareness, improved ease of movement and a deeper sense of connection – for a start. 

In Australia the legalities around marijuana consumption mean that most of these practices are off-limits for us. But one way that alternative health enthusiasts are accessing the potential of this super-plant is through CBD oil. 

Cannabis, Marijuana, Hemp & CBD: What’s the difference?

Hemp products (like hemp seeds, oil and materials) are extracted from hemp, and CBD oil is extracted from marijuana. The THC (psychoactive compound of the plant) is removed from both hemp seed oil and CBD oil. But because hemp seed oil contains little to no CBD, the benefits of CBD cannot be accessed via hemp oil. However, CBD oil (obviously) contains CBD, and its users can therefore reap the benefits of this particular compound. 

Put simply, CBD oil and hemp seed oil will not get you stoned! And, while hemp seed oil has some wonderful benefits, CBD oil is next level. 

Despite CBD oil’s low levels of THC, and hence no psychoactive effects, it is still illegal to take internally in Australia. So, when CBD oil is sold here, it is sold as a topical product, not to be ingested. 

Celebrating CBD: The benefits 

It’s only recently that researchers have been investing energy into exploring CBD oil. One current study, headed by a Harvard professor, is looking at the potential for CBD oil to relieve women of menstrual pain and discomfort. 

Research from 2014 indicated that CBD has a positive interaction with serotonin receptors in the brain, which may be useful in treating depression. Current studies are looking at CBD oil’s impact on everything from acne to sleep apnoea, and research is even going into how CBD can support cancer patients. Of course it’s early days yet, but there’s at least been a big swing of the pendulum from viewing marijuana and all of its components as terrifying drugs to something potentially health-benefiting.  

Why the yogis are loving CBD

While the research is still growing, there’s so much anecdotal evidence to support the benefits of CBD oil. Yoga Girl credits CBD to not needing to use her asthma inhaler anymore. Jolie Parcher, a New York based yoga teacher and studio owner explains that CBD “helps to quiet that ‘drunken monkey mind’” as well as provide relief for aches and pains and allow students to move more freely due to its anti-inflammatory properties. There’s even a yoga teacher in southern California who calls herself ‘The CBD Yoga Teacher’ who has experienced extraordinary relief through the use of the oil and so integrates it into her classes. She says, “CBD has by far out performed any and every anxiety/PTSD medication I have ever tried.”

Research-backed benefits of CBD oil

While we shouldn’t accept CBD as a cure-all, studies have and continue to support its healing properties. Research has indicated that CBD can help with the relief of:

  • – Inflammation and pain
  • – Depression and anxiety
  • – Nausea and vomiting
  • – Epilepsy and seizures
  • – Diabetes

Words by Jessica Humphries for Australian Yoga Journal. 

self care

The Self Care Paradox

With such a strong focus on #selfcare, yogis may be missing the point entirely. Jessica Humphries explores how we can find a balance between this new trend, and the traditional philosophies of Self-Less-ness in an increasingly disconnected world.  

My dad always said that the truth makes hypocrites of us all. And yogis are no exception. I discover new layers of paradox every day as I immerse myself in this world. Insta-famous yogis flaunting their bikini clad Naturajasanas. So-called “gurus” sleeping their way through Wanderlust. Studios aggressively competing against one another. Teachers nit picking each other’s cueing and sequences. 

Somewhere along the line, the yoga tradition has married philosophies that seem overly focussed on the self and spat out a new age/positive psychology/yoga hybrid that’s often inconsistent and sometimes downright ridiculous. To me, the self-care phenomenon fits into this category. That’s not to say I’m not a fan of an indulgent spa session or a gentle reminder to myself that I am worthy. But an extreme focus on the self takes our attention away from the things that actually make us feel happy and fulfilled: helping others and having a sense of community. Likewise, tell someone who is genuinely suffering from mental health challenges to go take a long bath or recite some affirmations and you may end up exacerbating the problem. 

Having said that, something like a yoga or meditation practice as an act of what we now call ‘self-care’ can be absolutely essential for creating the space one needs in order to sift through the contents of the brain and find some clarity and stillness. But that doesn’t mean you need to head off to Bali for another teacher training. In fact, self-care, from a truly yogic perspective, goes beyond individuality and embraces the self as a part of something infinitely greater.   

The paradox of self-care in the yoga world: Isn’t yoga about renouncing the ego or something like that?

The strong focus on the self in the modern yoga world perplexes me. Yoga is supposed to be about letting go of the self, and seeing that there is no separation; we are all one. One of my most influential yoga philosophy teachers, Swami Pujan (www.pujanyoga.com), a long time yoga philosophy teacher, meditator and author of Advaita Vendata for Ordinary People, agrees. 

He explains that traditional yoga philosophies were all aimed at liberating oneself from the ignorance of our separation. He says, “Indian tradition was never about the individual, but about the family and your connection with your wider community. The aim of yoga was to contribute and not to enhance your individuality.” When it came to teachings of the Self, it was all about the realisation of the separate self as the universal self. Contrastingly, modern yoga, he says, “is built around the idea that you need to strengthen your individuality and that is, of course, a reflection of our society which is built on individualism.” 

Lissie Turner, a long time yoga teacher, yoga therapist, and owner of The Yoga Shack (theyogashack.com.au) in the Byron Shire agrees that yoga is not an easy path, and it’s association with self-care could be damaging. Yoga asks for attention, dedication and commitment. It requires us to confront hidden parts of ourselves and sometimes to change, and that can be really hard work. True yoga, she says, “is utilising this work and this willingness to truly look at where we are within, our own prejudices, interpretations and shortcomings that are causing people’s suffering with a deep determination to dismantle those things.” When we put yoga under the self-care umbrella, we make it a luxury, a symbol of the privileged, and something to feel guilty about having time for – not an essential part of our lives and spiritual practice. She says, “We must, as teachers, become committed in looking at how this has happened and undo that story.” 

The dangers of self-care

It’s okay to take time to yourself, to assert healthy boundaries in relationships and indulge once in a while. In fact, these things may all be essential to your physical, mental and emotional health. But being overly attached to the idea of the self can become unhealthy. Swami Pujan points out that connection with others can be lost when we’re too focused on ourselves. He says, “Forms of narcissism develop like constant Instagram photos of yourself. Obsession with physical appearance can take the place of genuine caring and community.” 

Sarah Ball (www.sarahball.com.au) is a mental-health focused yoga teacher and a social worker who knows all too well the downside of focusing on self-care as a solution to a much greater problem. She explains that we need to view both distress and healing in a larger context, rather than isolating ourselves – which is often at the heart of the issue. She says, “If our distress arises in the context of social issues of disconnection – such as isolation, poverty, disconnection from meaningful work, overwork, toxic environments (either literal or psychological), interpersonal trauma…the list goes on – then having our conversation in the yoga and wellbeing community focusing on ‘self-care’ as the primary pathway to healing, is doing a great disservice to ourselves and others.” 

Of course a level of caring for the self is essential. But we are relational creatures who need interconnectivity – something that yoga teaches us. However, self- care sells where community care doesn’t. Sarah explains that when our self-care solutions fail to produce real healing, “we need to remember that this is not the failure of the individual, or a call for even more self-care (which can lead to an obsessive loop of feeling like a failure for not healing), but a call to collective and creative solutions.” The very least we can do, she says, is to “have honest conversations so we can reduce the shame so many yoga practitioners feel when their self-care fails to ‘heal’ issues which are far more complex than the individual.”

Discovering true self-care

Scroll through your social media feed or do a quick Google search and you’ll find endless stories and images of self-care that are primarily related to pampering the body or rehearsing positive affirmations in front of the mirror. But truly caring for the self, particularly in the context of yoga, is far more than this. 

Swami Pujan says, “Yoga was never just a body care – it was a path to Self realisation. The first Kosha is our physical body and most students stop there. But as we know…we have four more Koshas that are covering who we really are. Self-care should really include deeper dimensions as well. Only then can yoga deliver what it promises: Freedom from limited beliefs and realisation of our true nature.” 

If enlightenment is realising that we are all one, or part of a greater Self, then true self-care should take into consideration the society as a whole – even in the context of individual healing. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t focus on healing our own wounds – but that it should be a part of a greater conversation that’s less focused on ‘me.’ 

For Lissie, and for most of us in the yoga world, true healing comes through the discovery of our life’s true purpose – and that often has little to do with what is commonly called ‘self-care’. She says, “If we ask ourselves the question – does this action feed my dharma [life-purpose] or distract me from it, we will find all the self-care we need.”

Getting a good stretch and feeling relaxed are great side effects of our yoga practice, but should not be the goal. Perhaps if we slowed down enough to see this then there wouldn’t be a need for all this damage control. We could create the space, through a dedicated and committed practice (whatever that looks like for you) to see that we don’t need to ‘fix’ ourselves to be happy and fulfilled. We simply need to focus our drishti (gaze) on the bigger picture: each other. 

Words by Jessica Humphries for Australian Yoga Journal. 

Tasmania’s Most Beautiful Camping Spots

The Best Beaches on the Sunshine Coast

The Best Places to see the Southern Lights

You probably have the Northern Lights on your bucket list, but did you know that there are just as impressive aurora light shows close to home?

While tourists flock in the thousands to see the Northern Lights, the Southern Lights are a little more elusive – possibly because of their remote locations, and hence difficulty for travellers to access. There’s an element of magic to any aurora – no matter how perfectly you plan, a viewing is never guaranteed.

Auroras occur when fully charged particles burst from the sun, creating a solar wind that slams into the Earth’s magnetic field and rushes towards the North and South Poles. As the solar particles collide with atoms of nitrogen and oxygen in our atmosphere, their electrons charge, leaving ions that radiate energy in wavelengths and producing a spectacular natural dancing rainbow. This lightshow isn’t always viewable in all its glory to the naked eye, as our eyes aren’t designed to pick up colour at night. So for the best chance of experiencing these natural phenomena you’ll need a good camera.

Adding to the mystery, there’s no peak time or season to see an aurora, and no one really knows until right before it happens. They could glow for minutes or hours at any time of the night.

The good news is, modern technology and social media is on our side, so there are a number of online resources to check in with that might increase your chances of getting a glimpse – including Aurora-Service.net and the Aurora Australis Tasmania Alert NOW Facebook page. However, the further south and further away from the light pollution of cities and towns, and other obstructions like trees and mountain ranges, the better your chances. In other words – an unobstructed view to the south is your best bet. And though technically an aurora can be seen at any time of the year, the clear, dark skies of winter are often best.

Victoria

For your best shot at catching the magic in Victoria, you’ll want to head far south. Point Lonsdale, the south side of Phillip Island, Aireys Inlet and Anglesea are all good options. But Wilsons Promontory is a standout for its pitch-black skies and southerly location. A three-hour drive from Melbourne, Wilsons Promontory National Park offers verdant views and nature adventures by day, a serene starscape by night and, if you’re really lucky, an aurora lightshow. You can camp beneath the stars at Tidal River camp ground or check into one of the local cabins or wilderness retreats.

Starlight reflecting in the rock pools overlooking Bass Strait, adjacent to the Marengo Marine Park in Apollo Bay

Starlight reflecting in the rock pools overlooking Bass Strait, adjacent to the Marengo Marine Park in Apollo Bay

Tasmania

SOUTH ARM PENINSULA

Just a 40-minute drive from Hobart, South Arm Peninsula is a popular destination for aurora photographers. Offering excellent south-facing views combined with little light pollution, this viewpoint also boasts still bays, perfect for reflections. Expect a plethora of people given its proximity to the city and seaside paradise vibes. Head to Clifton Beach or Calvert’s Beach for ideal viewing locations.

BRUNY ISLAND

A favourite weekend getaway for Tasmanians, Bruny Island is also a short drive (and ferry trip) from Hobart, but feels like worlds away with its abundant wildlife, rural atmosphere and expansive beaches. For the best views of the Southern Lights, climb the stairs at The Neck and point your camera towards the south. Even if you miss the lights, you’ll still be pleasantly surprised by the vast ocean views and starry sky. There are plenty of camping options (many of them free), including a privately owned campground with glamping, and aside from auroras, one of the town’s main attractions is its foodie scene – don’t miss a visit to the Bruny Island Cheese Co.

Bruny Island aurora

Bruny Island aurora (Credit: Tourism Australia & Graham Freeman)

SATELLITE ISLAND

Famous for its star-gazing, visitors to Satellite Island (off the coast of Bruny Island) need to rent the whole island to experience a stay here, but some might say it’s worth it, and your chances of spotting an aurora when the conditions are right are pretty promising. If not, you get your own private island with expansive skies for gazing. Stays start at $1950 a night for two guests (extra guests $300 per person with a maximum of eight) with a two-night minimum stay.

CRADLE MOUNTAIN

Nestled in the heart of Lake St. Clair National Park, Cradle Mountain boasts some seriously social-media worthy views and an abundance of natural delights and wildlife. Although beautiful, the mountain peaks and fairy-tale forests will obstruct those aurora views, so you’ll want to head to Cradle or Dove Lake to settle in for the show. Accommodation options are few, so make sure to book in advance. If you want to stay inside the park, book a cabin at Waldheim, a rustic option with everything you need. Or, for a real treat check out Peppers, and make sure to include a soak at its Waldheim Alpine Spa.

Aurora Australis over Cradle Mountain

Aurora Australis over Cradle Mountain (Credit: Pierre Destribats)

COCKLE CREEK

Sitting upon the pristine Recherche Bay, at the most southerly point of Tasmania in Southwest National Park, Cockle Creek boasts some pretty spectacular scenery with its sandy beaches contrasted against snow-capped mountains. Given its southerly location, it may even be the best place in Tasmania to catch an aurora. It’s just a two-hour drive from Hobart, but it feels like forever from civilisation. You can camp at Recherche Bay Nature Recreation if you don’t mind roughing it, or there are many accommodation options at nearby Ida Bay. You’ll get some decent views from the bridge at Cockle Creek, but if you want the real magic take the 2.5-hour hike (one-way) to South Cape Bay.

New Zealand

There are a number of popular places for Southern Light searching in New Zealand. Christchurch, Lake Tekapo and Queenstown are popular – and Queenstown records the most sightings of the lights in all of New Zealand. It’s such an aurora hotspot that, just like Tasmania, they have their own Facebook group. But if you’re keen to completely escape the light pollution and enjoy a ferry ride, Stewart Island is the most southerly point, and hence a popular choice for real aurora aficionados. A huge percentage of the island is covered by Rakiura National Park meaning ‘the land of the glowing skies’ – so it really doesn’t get much better than this.

Lake Tekapo in New Zealand is one of the best stargazing sites on Earth

Lake Tekapo in New Zealand is one of the best stargazing sites on Earth.

Words by Jessica Humphries for Australian Traveller. 

yoga

The changing face of yoga 

As yoga continues to evolve in the western world, we look to some well-known yogis for their reflections on the yoga of today, and their hopes for the future

My own yoga journey began 20 years ago when I was 14 years old. Over this time, I’ve watched as yoga has come out of the woodworks and into mainstream meccas around Australia and beyond. The practice has moved from community halls and into professionally designed sanctuaries, outdoor Balinese shalas and the homes of the rich and famous. 

Yoga instructors today rarely resemble my original teachers, with their long white hair, mala beads and the scent of patchouli enveloping their aura. These days, your teacher is most likely sporting the latest Lululemons and wowing you with impressive sequences, epic playlists and an anatomy vocabulary that would have impressed Iyengar himself. 

There’s no denying that yoga has changed dramatically over the last couple of decades, and every day we’re stumbling upon absurd new hybrids like goat yoga, beer yoga and rage yoga, leaving traditionalists squirming. 

Yoga, as we know it today, is worlds away from the traditional practices that were created to unite with the divine; to understand that we are all one collective consciousness, and to honour something greater than the individual self (God, the Universe, or whatever your interpretation is). The practice has evolved since its introduction to the western world, and we, in turn, have influenced the way that yoga is practiced in the east. 

While there has almost always been a focus on the physical aspect of yoga, we seem to have moved away from the simple Hatha practices that were created to facilitate one in finding a comfortable seat for meditation, and towards something almost entirely exercise-inspired. Of course, even the most diluted classes often have an element of spirituality – time to be still and look within in Savasana, or a reminder to embrace the philosophies of ahimsa (non-violence) by being gentle with one’s body. And we can’t deny the often valuable spiritual lessons/metaphors available through asana. But, the times they are clearly a changing, leaving so many of us scratching our heads and wondering, for better or for worse? 

Meet the yogis 

Rachel Zinman

Rachel Zinman has been practicing since 1983, teaching since 1992 and teaching teachers since 2000. She’s studied with some of the most influential teachers in the west including Alan Finger and Mark Whitwell, as well as immersing herself in the study of Vedanta. She is the Author of Yoga for Diabetes, How to Manage your Health with Yoga and Ayurveda and writes for many online and in print magazines. 

Simon Borg-Olivier 

Simon Borg-Olivier studied and taught at Sydney University over a period of 20 years. In that time he completed a Bachelor of Science in human biology, a research based Master of Science in molecular biology and a Bachelor of Applied Science in Physiotherapy. Simon is the co-founder and owner of Yoga Synergy and has over 33 years experience teaching yoga, inspiring people all around the world. 

Ana Forrest & Jose Calarco

Ana Forrest is an internationally recognised pioneer in yoga and emotional healing, and the founder of Forrest Yoga – a powerfully physical, internally focused practice that emphasises how to integrate the transformative experiences from the mat into purposeful daily life. Forrest Yoga is now an exquisite collaboration between Ana and her husband Jose Calarco. Integrating their worlds of yoga, music, culture, philosophy, healing and Shamanism, they have transmuted Forrest Yoga into a sanctuary, where students learn to cultivate love and their own renewed sense of hope. 

Duncan Peak

Duncan is the Founder, Facilitator and CEO of Power Living – one of Australia’s largest and most successful yoga communities. With 14+ years of teaching experience behind him, he continues to share his modern-day yoga philosophy with the community. Duncan has an anatomy background in NeuroSpinology, has completed extensive traditional yoga studies with Georg Feuerstein and practiced Raja Yoga for nearly 20 years.  He is the author of Modern Yoga, creator of multiple yoga DVDs/CDs and launched Australia’s first virtual yoga platform, Yogaholics. 

Sol Ulbirch

Sol joined Power Living in 2007 and has been the Training & Development Manager since 2011. From a background as a professional dancer and choreographer, Sol has practiced Ashtanga, Hatha, Shadow, Vinyasa and Yin Yoga. He has trained with many leading yoga teachers including David and Simi Roche, Gary Cook, Baron Baptiste and Duncan Peak.

Gina Brescianini

Gina started practicing Kundalini yoga as taught by Yogi Bhajan in 2001, perfect for supporting her busy life with The Australian ballet. Once she retired from ballet she opened a small yoga school teaching Kundalini Yoga and Pilates, then moved on to teach Vinyasa Yoga at Power Living. Gina has been teaching since 2010 and is now a lead facilitator at Power Living. 

Truth Robinson 

Truth’s journey began in 2001 when he embarked upon a worldwide tour through the many flavours of yoga; Ashtanga (UK), Agama (Tantric yoga, Thailand), Sivananda (India), Iyengar (India), and Satyananda (India). Truth is also a practicing and registered Doctor of Chinese Medicine (Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Medicine), which has inspired him to delve into a deeper understanding of the energetic pathways (qi meridians), how movement influences them and their ultimate impact upon our mental and emotional well-being.

Troy Abraham

A much-loved member of the Power Living crew, Troy came to yoga as a way to gain flexibility for surfing and snowboarding. After falling in love with the practice, he went on to study with Power yoga guru Baron Baptiste. With nearly 10 years of teaching experience around the world, Troy has studied with some world-renowned teachers, and has assisted in graduating hundreds of students of his own. 

Thoughts on modern yoga

Duncan 

“I believe we have removed a lot of the mystique that scared people away from yoga practices and made it much more accessible to the everyday person…I think modern yoga is a natural evolution, similar to the original evolution of Tantra and subsequently Hatha yoga, to be able to be practiced by the masses and a doorway to so much more.”

Simon 

“There are some great things about yoga in the modern world for sure…But increasingly, many people who have been involved with yoga for more that just a few years believe that yoga has lost its essence…Real meditation was [once] considered to be very difficult and would take years to master. You would need to have the ability to be able to sit naked in the snow. Now it seems anyone can sit and meditate.”

Rachel

“So many people take the outer shapes to be the meaning of yoga. That if you can bend, stretch and push your body you’ve achieved the essence of yoga. If you sit for a few moments in a beautiful place and take a breath, that’s yoga. And sure all these things give you a glimpse of yoga, but yoga is not a practice! It’s the nature of yourself. Find out who that SELF is and you’ve found yoga. Everything else is just scratching the surface.”

On Instagram

Troy

“What I’ve seen is a flood of students/teachers posting well-produced pictures/videos of themselves looking “divine” and attaching some philosophy that is unrelated to the shot as well as the appropriate hashtags to fish for attention. My view isn’t the most positive, and every well-followed teacher I talk to says, “I don’t like to do it, but you just have to.” So I feel like it’s a few gems of value wrapped in a whole lot of marketing with little substance.” 

Simon

“Instagram photos and videos can show anatomy in terms of strength, flexibility and physical capabilities, but it does not show the physiological features such as the state of the nervous system or the internal organs, the state of mind or the philosophy behind the practice.” 

Duncan

“It’s taken over! But it gives a platform to connect with thousands of people that you couldn’t do if you were just a studio or solo travelling teacher. It’s made the industry very competitive and at times, quite shallow, but this isn’t just our industry, it’s common across any social media’s influence. As a studio owner, it would be silly to think you can survive in our market without being on social media, whatever your opinions, good or bad, it’s a reality.”

On modern yoga sequencing and music

Sol

“I get that it can be fun sometimes, but choreography is different to planning a class sequence that is balanced and informed and appropriate. Too often the desire for unique, new individual choreography with the latest tunes comes at the expense of anatomical foundations, balanced practice and ultimately an experience of yoga. Having to be guided through a complex routine makes it impossible to go within to a state of meditative awareness.”

Truth

“Yoga is yoga. It will meet people where they are at whether that be sweating it out in a New York City loft to a soundtrack of banging beats or in a Himalayan cave doing a Jain practice, it will always bring them back home to their being-ness. This is yoga. “

Gina

“I feel that music can be used in classes but it needs to be done in a way that is intelligent and harmonious to the outcome of the students actually getting to experience yoga…Of course you can do fun classes that are more celebratory in manner to more pumping tunes, but to always practice like that the mind is distracted and unfocused, which goes against the goal of finding concentration/focus and stilling the mind.”

Ana & Jose

“A lot of modern music and uneducated sequencing in yoga today borders on absolute nonsense and leads to injuries. With Forrest Yoga, we use music organically and live, including music from the first nations. Music has the power to get into places words cannot and helps us delve deeply into the subliminal parts of ourselves.”

On 200-hour yoga teacher trainings

Troy

“I did start teaching after 200 hours, but I also travelled and mentored with my teacher for three years, and am very grateful because I was able to observe and absorb a lot of subtle nuances that have helped me as a teacher today. This is where I learned to teach vs. instruct. These days, the allure of being a yoga teacher has outweighed the desire to share the practice, in my opinion, and people rush to market themselves before they invest in their ability to genuinely connect with fellow humans.”

Simon

“To do a 200-hour course is great, but no one should realistically be able to be a teacher after it. A good yoga teacher should have the combined abilities of a medical doctor, a physiotherapist, a psychologist, a master educator and a master yogi. Not even one of these traits can be learnt in one month.”

Ana & Jose

“On the whole, 200 hours is not enough for the majority, as a yoga teacher has the added responsibilities of also being a spiritual teacher and guide these days. The 200 hour course should be just the beginning of their education!”

On yoga online

Duncan

“Well we have our own Yogaholics website, so I see it as something that supports our community and provides a modern day platform to connect with people. Like any online course, it’s limited in what it can teach, as it lacks the ‘classroom feedback’ environment…If I’m honest, there’s a part of me that wishes online yoga had never begun, but I’m old school in that way. Yet I am smart enough to know it’s a reality in our future and my best personal alignment to it is to let it evolve, not resist it.”

Sol

“Like all modern evolutions there are benefits for accessibility, reach and communication of knowledge that may otherwise be inaccessible. It can be very helpful for more academic study areas in particular such as anatomy and philosophy. However, it is not a replacement for quality direct connection and transmission of knowledge under supervision from a skilled teacher.”

On philosophy

Truth

“If you want to just teach the Scandinavian gymnastics that have been assimilated by the Indians and then exported back to the west, then it’s not very important. But if you want to delve into the philosophy for yourself and then to add complexity to your classes, to offer moments of reflection to your students to help them help themselves in their daily life, then it is really important.”

Gina

“Applying and understanding the ancient teachings and how to live them in our modern day world is where personal transformation is possible. Really, at the heart of the practice it is about how to transcend unnecessary suffering, be more mindful, present and aware. As yoga teachers we can bring the richness of philosophical tradition and make it relevant to our current world for our students in class.” 

Ana & Jose

“The more a yoga teacher knows, the better. Be it nutrition, anatomy, world affairs, philosophy etc. These days a yoga teacher needs to play many roles.”

The commerciality of yoga/yoga hybrids like Beer yoga and Goat yoga 

Rachel

“On the one hand I am inspired to see yoga available everywhere, but on the other hand there are so many iterations of yoga that it’s hard to recognise that it’s actually yoga anymore. I am referring to CBD yoga, Beer yoga, Goat yoga, Whatever yoga! I wish everyone could just chill out and recognise that yoga is actually what’s happening in every second. We are the yoga itself. The expression of that is in the diversity of creation.”

Duncan

“I remember over 15 years ago I sat at the feet of a well know enlightened man in India. He knew I was a ‘Power yoga’ teacher back then and had very little understanding of the great practice.  Somewhat embarrassed I was sure, in his eyes, I was the epitome of ’too commercial.’ Yet, rather than judge me, he loved me and was genuinely interested in how yoga was working through me. He was/is simply an example of where the path can lead us. After that experience, I never judged someone for being too this or that, I started to accept that everyone has their own ideas, beliefs and paths.”

Troy

“Personally, my favourite students are the ones who get dragged in by a partner and have already decided to have a bad class. If I can turn them onto what yoga can be, as opposed to what it should be, I have done my job, and they can implement some of the practice into their lives. In the same way, if someone needs a goat to get started, rock on! We all started with some for of training wheels.”

Gina

“There is nothing wrong with a bit of fun and having a laugh. If it introduces the student to yoga and they actually attend a full yoga class after that then great – it did its job. We each have a different journey to begin the practice. Whatever encourages more people to practice yoga I’m all for.”

On the future of yoga

Simon 

“I believe that if yoga keeps going as it has been going over the last few decades it will become even more watered down. Gradually I think it will also become less popular due to this phenomenon.”

Truth 

“I see the Australian yoga movement really growing in its desire for mindfulness. Yin and meditation is really growing in popularity and all the styles and practices that I learnt in the ashrams of India are starting to become more mainstream, which is great to see. People are learning that they are a two-part being, both mind and body. When the mind is out of balance and then the body will be too.”

Rachel

“I am hopeful that there will be a swing back to simplicity. That people will want more depth and they will come to realise that yoga has answers to questions we haven’t even thought of yet. Finding the right teachers and a tradition is key to that. I think over time teachers of the tradition will shine like diamonds amongst the dross. Eventually there is only so much you can do with your body. The big questions like why am I here and what is this creation all about will still burn regardless of how great your handstand is.”

Duncan 

“I hope functional movement continues to influence yogasana and I hope that meditation becomes a thriving industry too so it touches more lives.

I think before we judge yoga’s evolution as ‘bad’ we need to remember, it’s all good for the world, so the more people are involved in even yoga’s most basic message ‘we are all one, thus I have no judgment of you and can find compassion for your suffering’, then it’s a positive thing.”

Words by Jessica Humphries for Australian Yoga Journal.

yoga emotions

Yoga and your emotions

Our practice has the potential to bring up and release an array of feelings – from grief to joy and everything in between. Jessica Humphries explores what’s happening beneath the surface of this yoga phenomena.

I remember my first yoga meltdown. As a fairly new student, hip openers were unexplored territory, and half pigeon left me feeling constricted and angry.

The teacher’s soothing voice echoed in my mind. “You’re ok. It’s ok. Whatever you feel is ok.” I allowed the feelings to emerge fully, and it wasn’t long before hot tears streamed down my cheeks as I delved into a place I hadn’t been before. A place that, when touched, opened a new door to a deeper level of self-enquiry and, ultimately, acceptance.

This cathartic release is familiar to many practitioners, but few of us actually understand what’s happening during this process.

Emotions as messengers – Connecting body and mind

Dr Lauren Tober is a Clinical Psychologist, Life Coach and Yoga Teacher who explains that simply having the space to be with ourselves and feel is often what leads to these emotional releases. She says, “for many of us, we were taught to supress or deny our emotions from a very young age, and we’ve spent a lifetime doing this.” But emotions don’t simply disappear when we supress them. Instead, Tober says, they wait to be re-met. If we’re in the habit of continually supressing our emotions, “we tend to get an accumulated build up of them…so when we do get around to feeling what we’re feeling, it can be pretty intense,” Tober explains.

As the yogis have known for many years, there is no difference between the body and mind, and the practice of yoga allows us to understand this experientially.

Carrie-Anne Fields is a Psychologist, Yoga Teacher and owner of My Health Yoga, a yoga school incorporating yoga, psychology and healing. Carrie explains that mindful movement combined with releasing different parts of the body, “brings awareness to stuck, rigid and painful areas within our body/mind” enhancing our understanding of this connection and ultimately releasing the patterns that prevent us from living joyfully.

Emotions and the physical body

And so we begin to see how yoga and the mind are intimately connected, relating to and reflecting one another in every aspect of our lives. Erin Bourne holds a Bachelors of Exercise Science as well as extensive training in yoga and myofascial release. She teaches the anatomy of yin yoga on teacher trainings and is writing a book about yoga and fascia. Bourne explains that, as a result of stress and trauma, our bodies brace or tense. Over time these patterns become stuck in the body, along with the emotions that cause them, changing the hormones circulating to the blood and impacting the whole body.

Bourne explains, “It is thought that the fascia [web-like connective tissue running throughout our body] becomes a store of memories. Collagen is deposited along the lines of tension imposed or expressed in [the fascia] at the molecular and macroscopic level.” When we experience strong emotions, this has a physical or postural response. Our postures and movements dictate where collagen is deposited and so a tensional memory is created which can lead to “modulation of gene expression patterns, inflammatory and tissue remodel”, says Bourne. She explains that if we do not release emotions, we literally remodel the internal structure of the body. “The release of a substance from nerve endings driven by the hypothalamus following emotional trauma, may alter the collagen structure into a specific hexagonal shape, referred to as “emotional scar.”

When we practice yoga, particularly the longer holds of yin, we release the fascia, stretch it out, and change the way tension is held, both physically and emotionally. “When we release the physical, we access the emotion behind it. This is why sometimes in a practice we suddenly burst into tears, face old memories or rage that we hadn’t realised was still there”, says Bourne.

Emotions and the Nervous System

Russell Young is an Exercise Physiologist and Yoga Teacher of 20 years who lectures at university in anatomy, functional anatomy, physiology, exercise physiology and biomechanics. He is also the co-owner of Younga Yoga Studio in Wollongong. Young remembers a class at the beginning of his yoga career with a room full of students in frog pose having intense emotional reactions to the asana. Young’s curiosity of these emotional outpours inspired him to explore the topic further during his academic studies. He discovered that, “there are a large amount of nerves running through this [the hips] area and it is very closely linked to the spine which has an expressway to the brain”. He says, “Here enters the Autonomic nervous system.”

In frog pose, the students who were having strong emotional reactions were probably operating in a sympathetic capacity (fight or flight). When this happens (i.e. when we are very stressed), Young explains, our frontal lobe (the thinking brain) shuts down, and our brain stem takes over, creating reaction rather than contemplation. “As the brain stem is the site of raw emotions, it takes us into a state of raw emotions and can expose things that may be deep seated.” Yoga allows us to move through these emotions, however, he says, it’s important that students have choice, only delving deeply if they feel safe to do so.

Yoga’s impact on trauma

Sarah Ball is a yoga teacher specialising in trauma sensitive yoga, a counsellor, social worker and a huge advocate for yoga as therapy to heal trauma. She says the practice, “can support us to re-learn ways of self-regulating and integrating experiences of trauma.” From a trauma-sensitive yoga perspective, Ball explains, “a return to equilibrium can happen in this very moment, by attending to the body in the present in a safe context, and using the body as a way of reconnecting with a sense of agency, empowerment and choice – all of which may have been lost or disconnected from at the time of the traumatic event/s.”

Bessell van der Kolk is a psychiatrist, researcher, teacher on post traumatic stress and the author of The body keeps the score: Brain, mind and body in the healing of trauma.Van der Kolk explains that while stress hormones may have a bad wrap, they are actually good for us, helping to give us the energy needed to cope under extreme situations. What can sometimes go wrong, however, is that we are prevented from using our stress hormones (if being held down, for example). He says, “your stress hormones keep going up but you can’t discharge it with action – so the hormones start wreaking havoc with your whole internal system. But as long as you move, you are going to be fine.” Van der kolk’s perspective that movement is a key aspect of healing trauma is anecdotally supported by the deep calm we so often experience at the end of an emotionally cathartic yoga class.

Emotions and the Koshas

Nikola Ellis is a certified yoga therapist, psychotherapist, and counsellor who has been immersed in yoga for 25 years. She explains how we can look at the connection between yoga and our emotions from a traditional yogic viewpoint.

Ellis explains that our emotions are how we consciously experience our subjective interpretation of interoceptive sensation (the sense of the physiological condition of the body). She says, “we feel an ‘emotion’ based on the information coming from the body. How we read that information is often based on deep-seated patterns of belief (samkaras), meaning we ‘read’ the information coming from the body incorrectly. For example, a physical sensation that you or I may consider ‘hunger’, may be interpreted as a ‘threat’ by someone with anorexia nervosa.” Through yoga, she says, we can rest the stories of our samskaras and experience the messages of our body more sincerely. “We let go of that ingrained patterning and experience the body, thinking mind, intuition and ‘spirit’ (koshas) as being all on the same page, rather than being in conflict with one another all the time”, she says.

The experience of catharsis or emotional release that we experience in our yoga practice comes as we move towards an understanding of our innate whole-ness.

“We’re letting go of the ingrained thoughts, feelings and behaviours that keep us feeling separate, in conflict with ourselves and out of synchrony with the universe- what a relief!”, Ellis says.

The Koshas

In the Tattiriya Upanishad, an ancient Tantric yoga text, a human being is described as having sheaths or layers, known as the koshas. Like an onion, these five koshas interpenetrate each other, encasing the soul and covering every layer of our being, from the gross (physical) to the subtle (spiritual). Through yogic practices, we release blockages in these layers, which often hide fears and unexpressed emotions. By working through these layers, strong emotions can arise as we move towards a greater understanding of our true self.

Emotions and the Chakras

According to ancient yogic philosophy, the chakras are the seven main energy centres that exist within our subtle/energetic body. These chakras, explains Carrie-Anne Fields, create a “bio-feedback system to the state of our emotional health, as well as physical, mental and spiritual health.” When we learn to tune into the feeling within each chakra, she says, “we become aware of any areas within our emotional life that need attention, balance or healing.” Chakras can be blocked or flowing, unhealthy or healthy, and the state of our chakras is reflected in both our physical and emotional health. The fifth chakra, vishuddha(throat chakra), for example, is associated with expression. A blockage in this chakra could manifest as a sore throat or in issues communicating with others. Practicing a chest opening asana can impact the associated, heart chakra, leading to feelings of compassion and love. However, during the process of bringing awareness to and healing this chakra, we may experience grief and hurt (symptoms of a blockage in this chakra).

It’s been seven years since that first emotional release in my yoga practice. Since then, I’ve come to intimately observe how my body and mind interact, exploring corners of my psyche that, without yoga, may have stayed dormant forever. There’s no doubt that our body and mind interact in miraculous ways that can, when explored, invite emotional awareness, release and ultimately healing. As both eastern and western philosophies continue to understand the ways in which this happens, this is really just the tip of the iceberg. As always, I encourage you to keep diving in – both on and off the mat.

Words by Jessica Humphries for Australian Yoga Journal.