family

It takes a tribe to raise a child, so why are we so isolated?

There’s a well-known African proverb, ‘It takes a village to raise a child.’ This sentiment is widespread throughout a number of African cultures. In Lunyoro a similar saying goes, ‘A child does not grow up only in a single home’, and in Kihaya, ‘A child belongs not to one parent or home.’ These cultures recognise that child rearing is no easy feat, and having many parental figures allows one to thrive.

Let’s be honest, no matter where you are in the world, parenting is a tough gig. I would know – I’m a very hands-on Aunty. But, our family isn’t typical in our society. Not because we’re super woke or because we made an informed, progressive decision to raise the children as a village/tribe, but because any other way would have been impossible.

Three and a half years ago, I was living with my pregnant, newly single sister. And after the birth of the new love of our lives I wasn’t going anywhere. For over a year, we engaged in something that awkwardly resembled co-parenting – two young women fumbling their way through motherhood. Most days we had the help of the extended family too – Mum, Step-dad and Dad all did their bit to make sure we all ate, stayed alive, and sometimes even thrived. My nephew became as attached to me as he was to my sister, and as time went on, I modified my life more to accommodate his presence in my world.

Now my nephew is three, and while the landscape has changed a little (we no longer live together, and my sister has a partner and a new baby), the philosophy remains the same: it takes a tribe to raise a child, and so every day we all band together and do what needs to be done both practically and emotionally. And, although it’s still really hard (and not always in the same ways as a more common family set-up), I honestly don’t know how anyone does it alone.

Parenting in a disconnected world

What perplexes me most though is how we have found ourselves so isolated. Parenting is isolating enough. Confronting the highs and lows, and managing your own emotions in relation to the rollercoaster of parenthood can leave you feeling misunderstood and alone, even with endless support around you.

The additional isolation is a relatively new phenomenon. Long geographical stretches between family members, conflict, the overwhelming responsibilities and demands of modern life and our nine-to-five-grinds have all contributed to the common disconnect between extended families and communities. Not so long ago there were no fences between neighbours, and kids were raised as much by the extended-family as the parents. Today we so often go it alone – without family or close friends nearby (or available to help).

How other cultures do it

Many cultures around the world approach child rearing in a more community-focussed fashion. These cultures’ values are expressed from the very beginning of the parenting journey. In Bali, babies can’t touch the ground until they are three months old – they are held constantly to prevent contact with the unclean ground that is believed to taint their purity. In Kenya, mothers carry their babies everywhere, and in traditional Chinese culture, the nurturing of the mother post-partum is seen as essential to the future health of both mother and child. Ingrained in Chinese culture, strict ‘rules’ are imposed for a month following childbirth, including an abundance of family assistance, nourishing meals and more.

As children grow, in many traditional African communities the whole extended family is seen as being responsible for the child, not just the parents. In fact, the child is seen as not just belonging to the family, but to the whole society. Everyone is an aunt, uncle or grandparent of some kind.

The benefit of a tribe mentality when it comes to parenting? Healthier children.

Infants in these traditional societies have been observed to spend less time crying than western children, and grow up to be more self-confident, emotionally secure and creative. They spend less time in front of screens and more time connecting with one another.

Finding your tribe

We can’t just transport ourselves to another time or culture, and there’s no point in chastising ourselves for our lack of family resources (we have enough parental guilt to deal with, right?). The truth is, parenting will pose challenges no matter what, and it’s not so easy to integrate the values of another culture into western society. Imagine the disagreements you have with your partner over parenting decisions being shared amongst an entire family, being a mother who feels she needs everyone to be on board with each decision she makes, or a father who is outnumbered by the maternal family. It’s not all beer and skittles, let me tell you. But, there are some gems of wisdom that we can access from this tribe philosophy.

You may not have a village to raise your child, but you can always seek your own tribe. They may be wandering around the park with their own wildlings, at the local library’s story time, at the farmer’s market or even next-door. Wherever they are, they’re probably on the lookout for you too.

Words by Jessica Humphries for Famlio. 

yoga writer

Find Yourself on an Enchanted Escape

Looking for a unique retreat that truly delves deep? Discover these serene spaces that will move you into magical mindfulness

By Jessica Humphries

Choosing where to take your next retreat is no easy feat – especially for those of us who want more than just an introduction to yoga and a few sweaty asana classes. With so many businesses capitalising on the yoga and mindfulness boom, it’s hard to differentiate the authentic from the money-makers. So we’ve done the hard work for you and scoped out some seriously serene spaces around the world that promise to take you beyond the asana and into introspection. 

Prema Shanti – Daintree Rainforest, Australia

Set amidst world-heritage rainforest, Prema Shanti offers yoga, meditation and the opportunity to explore the area with the guidance of long-time local hosts. The focus is on slowing down and looking within, and the space expresses this perfectly – with humble, zen-inspired rooms and plenty of communal areas to connect and enjoy the verdant views. Your hosts are true yogis who walk their talk, warmly inviting you into their community and helping you to find what it is you’re seeking. Visitors are invited to join in on the early morning meditation session and evening yoga, and soak up the richness of Mother Nature’s offerings in between.  www.premashanti.com.au 

Billabong Retreat  – Maraylya, Australia 

Located just an hour northwest of Sydney lives a nature-abundant retreat centre that allows guests to leave the hustle and bustle of city life behind and immerse themselves in this lush, quintessentially Australian landscape. There are many programs to choose from, with yoga and meditation as the main focus. The airy yoga shala boasts breathtaking tree-top views, inviting instant stillness and serenity. The many accommodation options take advantage of the beautiful natural surrounds, the food is healthy and colourful, and the on-site spa offers a smorgasbord of delicious treatments that integrate native Australian plants. www.billabongretreat.com.au 

Yoga Barn – Ubud, Bali

If you’re an experienced yogi looking for a DIY-style retreat in one of the world’s most vibrant yoga hubs, then look no further than Bali’s famous Yoga Barn. A yoga mecca within a yoga mecca, Yoga Barn is often overflowing with hipster yogis laughing and socialising. But it’s not all designer tights and man buns – there’s also a sensational smorgasbord of yogic activities – from ecstatic dance to breathwork, meditation and everything in between. Despite its popularity, any yoga lover can easily slot into the community and enjoy all it has to offer – including spa treatments and delicious vegan treats at the on-site café. You can stay in style at the deluxe on-site guesthouse, or choose from a plethora of nearby, more humble accommodation options. www.theyogabarn.com 

Kripalu Centre for Yoga & Health – Stockbridge, Massachusetts, USA

If you’ve read Stephen Cope’s Yoga and the quest for the true self then you’ve probably already been tempted to check this place out. Cope is a senior teacher and one of the founders of Kripalu – one of the biggest yoga education centres in the world. Surrounded by the forested hills of the Berkshire Mountains, your stay includes as many sessions from the schedule as you can squeeze into the day, which comprises of workshops on asana, meditation, detox, chakras and more. The accommodation is simple, peaceful and comfortable, ranging from dorm-style to slightly more stylish, private rooms. www.kripalu.org 

Parmarth Niketan Ashram – Rishikesh, India

Rishikesh is often dubbed as the yoga capital of the world, and is home to an overwhelming number of yoga retreats and centres. Parmarth Niketan is by far the biggest – with 1000 rooms nestled in beautiful garden surrounds, perfect for yoga and meditation. It’s an ideal place to soak up the true traditions of yoga through a vast variety of programs and activities in inspiringly authentic surrounds (you can even experience the deeply spiritual sunset aarti at the river Ganges). The ashram recommends staying for at least three weeks in order to completely soak up everything the magnificent space and its teachers have to offer. www.parmarth.org 

Rhythmia Life Advancement Centre – Playa Avellana, Costa Rica

A truly tempting, luxurious yogic treat, Rythmia is situated in one of the world’s famous Blue Zones – known for the longevity of its inhabitants. Encased in an enchanted environment, visitors are surrounded by stunning shorelines, magical mountains, picturesque waterfalls and all the sights and sounds of the rainforest. And that’s just the beginning. The retreat is perhaps most famous for its herbal medicine journeys and programs that focus on transformation and personal development – topped off with twice daily flowing yoga sessions designed by Shiva Rea. www.rythmia.com 

Nilambe Buddhist Meditation Centre – Nilambe, Sri Lanka

A stay at the Nilambe Centre promises to leave both new and experienced meditators with a practice that they can use to bring a deeper sense of mindfulness and peace to their everyday lives. Not for the faint-hearted, guests may be challenged by the 5am wake-ups and the abundance of compulsory meditation on the schedule, but it’s also a perfect opportunity to delve deeply into the practice in a reasonably gentle way. It differs from a traditional Vipassana meditation retreat in that visitors can choose a shorter stay and the program is not quite as rigorous. However, it’s still a silent meditation retreat based on traditional Buddhist philosophies. While it’s a far cry from your typical yoga holiday, the surroundings are exquisitely peaceful and the profound work will surely turn your world upside down – in a good way. All retreats are by donation only. www.nilambe.net 

Words by Jessica Humphries for Australian Yoga Journal. 

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.