On permission

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On Sunday Yoga for Pregnancy at Inverloch Shala started back for 2018. Some familiar faces. Some new ones. And a notable absence with one of last year’s mamas, now a new mum, having given birth the day before. Happy days!

For me, this is such a special class to teach. While I do try to sing the song of yoga being an exploration and an opportunity to develop self awareness in all my classes, I find that in the pregnancy class there is a magic bullet in the mix that affects how deeply this is taken on board.

Permission.

When we are nurturing a tiny fellow traveler, we are more likely to drop the inner narrative about all the things that are so apparently very wrong with us. The fact that we can’t bend forward so deeply. Or that our tree pose isn’t Instagram-perfect. Or that our abs may not be strong enough to make plank pose as easy for us as the person on the next mat. I have noticed that the students at my pregnancy classes more often have their focus on the bigger picture. The attention is less on how they are mastering the physical elements of the practice and more on the exploration of the act of moving. Of breathing. Of sensing. They allow. They trust. They take the pressure off themselves to perfect the poses, whatever that actually means. They move with a strong connection to self.

I teach yoga and perhaps my perspective is different now because I am holding the space for my students. But as someone who has practiced for a long time and been to many many classes, I know that old inner narrative all too well. And I know that so much of the narrative we run internally is negative.
We are so hard on ourselves and even though yoga practice is about taking the journey inwards, of svadhyaya, self observation, all too often the distraction of all-that-we-are-not gets in the way.

As people who like to roll out a mat and take some time delving into a yoga practice, I believe setting an intention of permission at the start of the practice makes all the difference in the world.
Permission to be guided by the body. Permission to explore. To be curious. To be compassionate towards ourselves. And to welcome whatever presents. Whether that is the body showing strength or vulnerability, tension or ease. Being aware that it’s all right there. And that every time we touch our fingers to the mat, it is a fresh practice. A new experience. A meeting of self.

People say to me sometimes, “ I don’t know how touching your toes can bring about this yoga zen thing.” And I get that. To someone who doesn’t practice yoga it must seem a bit of a stretch, pardon the pun. But sometimes I think that it’s the gentle unfurling of the spine, being open to the nuances of the movement, having empathy for the areas not moving so well as well as appreciation for the fact that so much of the body does move wonderfully well, that does bring about this sense of well-being and ease that we yogis look for. As they say, it’s not about touching your toes as much as what you learn on the way down.

And at the end of the day, getting that in touch with how we really feel is what leads us to be able to sit with ourselves. Permission leads to acceptance. It’s high time we all liked and accepted ourselves a little bit more don’t you think?

So, whether you’re leading into your practice with a bump out front, a cranky lower back or with few extra kilos at your sides, take a leaf out of the book of my yoga mamas. Give yourself permission to be yourself. To welcome your vulnerabilities as well as celebrating your strengths. To be guided by your body and appreciate actually having the opportunity to do so. To sit with the concept of Sahaj. What is, is. That’s where the magic is.

Written with heart felt intention.

Annebelle xx

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Santi Claus Is Coming To Town

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Well there’s no getting around it. As we move through our December days, confronted by jingle bells at every shop window, and every streetscape adorned with all things merry and bright, we are without a doubt headed for that marvelous celebration. Christmas. And I love it.

I come from a large Catholic family who placed a certain reverence on this special time of year. My Dutch East Indies born father was careful to use the phrase, “Happy Christmas” rather than “Merry Christmas” as that sparkly home-made banner of sentiment was hung across the front windows of our lounge room, facing outwards to the street. I was a little embarrassed by this as a child, wishing dearly Dad would just get on board the Aussie Christmas train and use a bit of Merry in the place of Happy. As I grew older, I came to understand that his deliberate choice of words was just perfect.

The festive season at it’s heart is when we have such an amazing opportunity to be in touch with the small things that connect us to the people we love. This isn’t about retail. This is about moments. Little snapshots of life right here and now. Whether that is being truly present while unwrapping a present, savoring that first mouthful of Christmas cake and taking in all the layers of flavor or mindfully stirring the mixing bowl, preparing with great heart whatever it is that your loved ones salivate over, we all have the chance to stop and be very still in the middle of the frisson and madness.

My daughter and I have had a tradition now for eighteen Decembers of taking the pudding basin, stirring it three times and putting a wish in there. A samkalpa. A heartfelt intention directed specifically towards the people we love. Yes there are currants, raisins, cranberries and figs in my puddings. But there’s a good dash of samkalpa too!

A Christmas full of happiness is a Christmas full of presence. And no, that wasn’t a typo. The very first yoga sutra, At ha, asks us to be present. Right here, right now. Notice. Because being present is a present in itself! While the busy-ness of December can be completely all-consuming, I choose to take each element of the silly season separately. Each ornament I hang on the tree is placed with care and attention in exactly the right place, with my darling Pa’s glass baubles (which may well be from the very first Christmas in Australia, they are THAT old!) hung high just like they are every year, when we all have a good old giggle at Pa leaving us his fragile, shiny green balls.

There is a very specific vinyasa krama that is in place for every part of setting up the Christmas tree at my place and decorating it. And heaven help anyone who throws a wayward downward dog into the vinyasa. This is a sequence well practiced and perfected over the years and every second of it is precious. And every year at the end of the process, I burst into tears. Happy tears. Happy Christmas tears.

Happiness is a sneaky thing. And our yoga practice reminds us of this. We inhale and move the body this way. Exhale and move the body that way. Add a few more luscious breath cycles, a few more movements in the body and a whole lot of focus on being right there in the moment and soon enough it’s a whole vinyasa. Then a whole practice. Perfectly still while being in movement, focused on being present in each moment of each pose, we find that wonderful deep sense of whatever this meaningful and rich practice of yoga means to each of us. And we find presence.

By acknowledging and savoring each moment of our yoga session separately from the next, we can come to the awareness that just like those gorgeous strings of metallic pearls around the Christmas tree are individual parts and yet all attached as one adornment, what we experience moment by moment can be joined together to become one long string called happiness.

I was going to write about adding some more abdominal twists into your practices to assist the digestion which seems a rather weighted issue in December. Pardon the pun. But I decided instead to write this piece about my December wish for you all.  To be blessed with a happy Christmas. We can have the Merry any old time! Santi, santi santi to you all and your loved ones. Santi, Sanskrit for peace, is coming to town I’m sure. Notice and witness your tiny increments of time. String them together if you like, and swirl them around your tree. Draw your precious moments inwards, just like those beautiful, prana-rich inhalations we yoga teachers encourage in our classes.

And exhale your Christmas presence to the people you love. Mindfulness seems to be front and centre in so many articles these days, and how wonderful that the best seller lists for literature in 2015  are heavy with mindfulness coloring in books. Even the Christmas windows at David Jones feature decals of these mindfulness art books as part of their display. Amazing. Retailers take note. I think things are shifting. Perhaps we are all hoping for lots of Christmas presence.

Prada or Nada

 

 
Blinded by the dazzling sunshine and stepping onto the descending stairs yesterday after safely touching down at Denpasar Airport I was pressed with that thump of tropical air that stamps you with your first of various formal arrivals processes,  ” Landed in Bali”. The air is so thick and moist. It’s like your whole system is being dipped in slightly cooled melted chocolate. Sweet. Rich. Devilishly indulgent. I felt like I had entered a chocolate wonderland with my senses ready to be seduced. There was my first Bali breath. And then my first Bali smile.
Take care of the exhale and the inhale looks after itself. That’s the sentiment I took away from the yoga therapy weekend workshop with Leslie Kaminoff I was immersed in, just a few days ago. When the lungs are emptied, the forces of gravity and pressure in our bodies’ cavities ensure that the next inhale is generated. You don’t even have to think about participating. Brilliant. It was such an interesting experience to exhale the breath that came from inside an air conditioned aircraft and inhale Bali with this concept in my thoughts. Breathing in luscious Bali. Oh yes. My inhale is definitely going to look after itself here. And my exhales will be slow. Easy. Therapeutic even. Just being on this lovely island fills my soul with sunshine.
 
I find myself settling into my Bali-self so effortlessly once I arrive. Every single time.  Like falling into šavasana at the end of a vigorous asana practice. Effortlessly and gently. Another take-away line that seems to stick, from studying with my mentor Rosie. 
 
I love that no matter how long or indeed how briefly you come to yoga class, there are always these little gems of information that become part of your life. Little take-away notions that become big ticket item themes if you let them. You come to embody these gems because for whatever reason, on that day in that space they resonate with you. They become the yoga equivalent of Oprah Winfrey “Ahah!” moments. Like the little flame of Agni in your guts just burns a little brighter. Like the perfectly obvious just became, well, perfectly obvious. And that’s a great reason to turn up to class even when the procrastination police have taken you over. 
 
Because you can never anticipate this happening either. Whether it’s a suggestion to approach an asana differently, to use the breath to support it in a fresh way or whether it’s a as blunt as my dear friend Steffi dropping the most helpful bombshell of a line on me midway through my teacher training, “Get over it!”, it’s all there just waiting for you to be ready to be nourished with wisdom. Incidentally, Steffi was referring to my apprehension about tackling shoulder stand when I was working on moving past my vertigo issues. She meant that comment specifically for the asana. But oh my stars I heard so much more. It was a very powerful message for me and I was so empowered by hearing it! Yoga works in mysterious ways. 
 
I find a lot of people banging on about FOMO lately. Fear of missing out. I don’t really subscribe to that concept. Simply because I firmly believe that what ever is meant to find it’s way to you will. There is no missing out. Just as long as your heart is open and your mind can be still enough to understand with clarity what is being given to you every single day. 
 
Of course it also means that you are challenged to be open to stepping back from your emotional interpretations and attachments to prior experiences, your samskaras. To actually see the truth of what is there for you at any given time. The concept of Avidya in yoga challenges us to consider that perhaps we don’t know what we think we know to be true. Perhaps some of our thoughts about situations are simply delusional, or at least these situations may not necessarily be tagged with negative, or positive. Just experiences. Coloured by samskaras. By our experiences and how they made us feel. And moving further down that train of thought, how many of us have had the richest and most rewarding wisdom come from experiences that at the time seemed so hideously painful? That black turned out to be white after time and perspective kicked in. Or at least a rather ordinary mid shade of grey. 
 
Here in Bali it’s pretty hard to avoid the black and white visual element everywhere you look. The checked black and white Saput Poleng
cloth that wraps the shrines and deities at every temple has a specific significance. 
 
In this culture the energies of good and bad are treated with the same level of observance and this cloth weaves them together physically using the tones of white against black. With shades of grey in there too. And the locals see a gift in both the good and the bad things that happen to them. I do like this Balinese reminder to pay attention to Avidya. 
 
And there’s some kind of irony in the shopping to be done in Bali when thinking about the idea that what you see isn’t necessarily what you get. That Chanel wallet for a hundred dollars? That Polo Ralph Lauren shirt, really? Those Gucci sunglasses? Come on. Avidya in action. IllusionsAnd it’s cousin Pramana which asks us to exercise discernment. Plus it throws up issues of authenticity. Of truth. Satya.  You do know they’re all fake, even though to the eye they appear to be the real deal. And yet all those black and white temple cloths are also in your eye-line through your walk into the busy Jalans. Buyer beware! Don’t say they’re not warning us all the time. It’s a funny reminder that both energies are present in our days and are as valuable as simple experiences as each other. Black and white. Prada and well, Prada and a earnest commitment to not supporting sweat shops. That, however is an entirely different blog post to be written. Prada and Nada. 
 
The Balinese I have met have generous and amazing smiles and also a cheeky sense of humour. So the irony of retail therapy and yoga philosophy being in the same article also seems to me to be rather entertaining. Here comes another one of my Bali smiles. 
 
When we are open to just hearing, just seeing, just feeling, then amazing gifts are bestowed upon us. And they don’t come with a certificate of authenticity and a velvet dustbag. They are perfect in their own right. Perhaps the biggest piece of the puzzle is allowing our minds to settle just enough to be present for the presents. 
 
And that right there is another reason to continue practicing your yoga. It’s a system set up specially to do just that. The very first sutra of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali tells us “Atha”. Be here. Wonderful things can happen when you do just that. 
 
Namaste from the view over my coconut juice ✨🙏✨

Hear Me Purr

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We humans are by nature designed to wish to survive. The fight or flight mechanism in us that is there specifically to help us survive can be called into action at any time. But with chaos all around living the busy lives we do, many of us get stuck in “flight” mode. If you would prefer to channel your inner lion today when confronted by a situation that stresses you, remember to take a moment to think. Is this really one you need to run away from or is that it just “feels” that way based on prior experiences?
Viparyaya, movements in the mind that are incorrect knowledge or perceptions can keep us in a state of anxiety.Take a moment to breathe and choose today. ‘Fraidy cat or lion? You can choose how to respond at any time with breath, clear thoughts and logic. ✨🙏✨

A Fashion Inversion

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It’s no secret that when I stopped styling in television in a network wide capacity last year that my exit was questioned by many and left people scratching their heads a little.

In styling, the fundamental principle in play after you have dressed somebody is Judgement. That Judgement is also shared around with make up artists and hairdressers who may or may not have their work appreciated and applauded.

I have been very fortunate in my long television career to have worked with amazing and exceptional artisans who put their heart and soul into every brush stroke, every detail of every look. Every day.

But in the lasts decade I was becoming more and more aware of the fashion pendulum swinging strongly in one direction. Where it was straight up entertaining to pull apart red carpet looks for fun. This wasn’t limited to every fashionista’s favourite show, The Fashion Police. Copycat segments in many lifestyle shows and magazines sprung up everywhere. I myself was asked to be a judge in the 2008 Best and Worst Dressed copy of one magazine here in Australia. I didn’t really think too deeply on it as I penned my thoughts on the red carpet moments. I was probably more concerned with my next shoe purchase to be honest. But I do look back now and see that I was also feeding the beast called Fashion.  Interestingly, the fashion credentials of the people asked to slay the fashion choices in so many of these critiquing panels are not exactly in the same league as say, Tim Gunn or Suzie Menkes. Sometimes severe judgement is offered by people who in my opinion might not be best qualified to be voicing these sentiments.

I stopped watching The Fashion Police over a year ago because many of the “critiques” seemed to me  simply being nasty for the sake of making what we in the industry call “good TV”. Watchable. Inflammatory. But for every red carpet moment that might be broken down on air there was also a variety of designers, stylists, make up artists and hairdressers whose good work and fine reputation might also come under fire behind the scenes. All for the sake of ratings. The Yoga Sutras  discuss a concept called Ahimsa. It asks us to consider a non-violent approach to life. That is in our thoughts, our words and our actions. Good on Kathy Griffin and Kelly Osborne for challenging this fashion blood sport this month on their exit from The Fashion Police. I can almost hear the talented people on my side of the frocks and brushes breathing a sigh of relief.

I would like to think the pendulum is swinging back the other way.

Because fashion should be about personal expression shouldn’t it? Styling is about helping people express who they see themselves to be visually. When someone is slain for choosing the “wrong” shoe or wearing a colour “too old” for her what are we actually as a culture saying? Are we saying you don’t have permission to be you?

Yoga teaches us to suspend judgement.

In a yoga class there is wonder and beauty in watching people move and breathe at their own pace, in their own time. Adapting poses to suit your needs on that particular day is encouraged. The variety of modifications and levels of pace in a room of yogis moving through Sun Salutations is something quite breathtaking to behold. It’s the same vinyasa. It’s a group made up of individuals. And it’s perfect.

So for those still scratching their heads about me deciding to spend more time preparing for the yoga mat and less time preparing for the red carpet, this might help bring clarity.

In genuine personal styling there is no right or wrong way of doing things. It’s all about expressing your own perspective. In fashion styling, however, it’s a whole different story bound cover to cover in Judgement. On the yoga mat, it’s all about being guided to find your most stable and comfortable way of moving through the asanas. The yoga sutras call it Sthira Sukham Asanam. It’s about what meets your needs. Physical. Emotional. Spiritual. On that day.

Don’t get me wrong. I still love a frock. I am still left breathless by some of the beautiful art that is expressed in cloth and metal. But the weight of my intention, my San Kulpa,  is sitting on that pendulum which I sense is swinging back in the other direction now. Where it is just fine to be just who you really are.

Namaste.

A Fresh Perspective

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Some days you just want to pinch yourself don’t you? Mindfulness at it’s most glorious best.

Tonight I filled in for a teacher at The Yoga Institute who is just so wonderful. I love her classes. Massive shoes to fill. Or perhaps Birkenstocks..? I was quite apprehensive about stepping in. I imagine her regular students would also enjoy her classes the way I do. B I G  B I R K E N S T O C K S  T O  F I L L ….. I was preoccupied blabbing all that silly negative self-talk we all do from time to time. But then I remembered my own words from my last blog post.
” Your breath is unique. You are you.” Indeed I am.
And suddenly I felt so much more ready to step into those glorious Birkenstocks. It’s funny how sometimes you just need to take a step sideways from yourself to refocus. But refocus I did! The class was exactly as I hoped it would be. And I left there very content. Note to self. Listen to yourself. You always know a little bit more than you think you do. Have faith.
It was such a pleasure to hold the space in that beautiful studio which has nurtured me and allowed a path of wonder and learning to unfurl in front of me. That little statue of Patanjali, crowned with a thousand serpents which sits in the corner of the studio has been in the outer reaches of my gaze for so long. And those beautiful brass chimes ending many a rich and luscious šavasana were tonight in my hands.
I can’t express enough gratitude for the training I undertook at The Yoga Institute. Without a doubt the richest personal development and teacher training I could have had.
To hold the space in the studio tonight was so very special to me.
I’m deeply grateful that everything in my life brought me to this special place.
Namaste.

Breathe

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I took this photo in Bali last week. I was there to learn more about yoga from a woman who was such an inspiration to me last year. She knows S T U F F! I feel sometimes like I would like to just shadow her, day in, day out and absorb all that she knows about yoga. If only it was that simple 🙂 I know I can only learn the lessons I need by being present. And that’s just fine.

The beautiful villa where we stayed had lily ponds either side of the area where I would do my daily practice in the mornings. One of the things we were working on was to try to get more movement in my rib cage upon inhales, allowing for a deeper, fuller breath. Various yoga therapy suggestions went into play, and these were so helpful in starting to feel like my ribs were coming on line. ( Hello ribs, are you there? Can you hear me? ) Adapting asanas by changing the position of the arms, and sometimes by reversing the breath direction was just so interesting. And helpful.

But the most powerful thing to start to open my chest up was watching these beautiful lilies just doing their watery thing. Watching them unfurl in the late afternoons as the sun lost it’s sting was quite magical. Effortless. Opening gently and fully. And as the mornings warmed up, I watched them close again, just as gently and effortlessly. This inspired my breathing.

As I closed my eyes at the start of my practices and visualized those lilies opening and closing with each breath I took, I sensed my ribs responding. My ribs seemed more empowered to open up, taking in Prana rich breaths, and also  to be able to exhale more fully. It always amazes me how powerful the brain can be in gently sending an instruction that the body will respond to. Amazing. All the efforting in the world may not produce a reaction like this. I suppose the difference is willing some change to happen in the body, or painting a picture in the mind that the body organically responds to. One is forceful by definition and the other is gentle.

Ahimsa, one of the principles of yoga is all about non-violence, towards yourself and towards others. Perhaps the simplest action of Ahimsa is as simple as allowing gentle visualizations to suggest a new direction for your practice. If nothing else, it adds a lovely dimension to your journey inward.

Namaste from the lily pond in my mind.