Are you ready to grow up?

I think it’s time more of us chose to grow up.

As a culture, we are inundated with information. News media keeps us up to date on all the drama of our times. Our social media news feeds educate us on things we never knew we needed to learn. Podcasts offer a plethora of fantastic and less-than-fantastic conversations. Advertisements bombard us from billboards, magazines, radio, television. On the rare occasion when we’re not being plied with data from external sources, we can find almost anything we want to know with an internet connection and a decent command of Google.

What we seem to lack, however, is mature discernment.

Just because we find it on the internet, an ancient text said something, a “Gold Standard” scientific study proves it or a teacher offers it to us, does not necessarily make the information pertinent to us as individuals. So why do we allow ourselves to be baffled by conflicting stories and studies? Or worse, swallow these things, hook, line and sinker?

The conspiracy theorist in me reckons we have been conditioned out of the ability to think for ourselves to a very large degree. Well-meaning social support services offer us advice on how to raise our children and stay healthy (sometimes based on outdated studies of suspect methods, sponsorship and conclusions). Schools teach children to sit still to learn even though anyone who’s ever watched a child truly engaged with the process of learning, knows they need kinetic energy to support them. Homework conditions them to take work home so they’ll eventually be good employees and creating greater possibility of disrespecting their own boundaries to serve someone else’s agenda. Science is sometimes for sale and subject to manipulation of data. Popular media is controlled by interest groups. And don’t get me started on religion…

For centuries, practices that encouraged our own thinking were deemed dangerous by the powers that be. They were demonised to the extent that “good people” would eschew them in favour of widely approved practices and morality.


My own journey into better discernment has been a lifelong remembering process that has required me to turn inward time and again. It’s been, and continues to be, an ongoing process to learn to trust my own voice, my own bone-deep knowing and at times, to go against the world around me to honour it.

As a child, I was hauled to church, encouraged to accept Jesus as my saviour and taught to worship at the altar of God’s love.

Many things didn’t make sense to my young mind – why did we have to fund raise to send missionaries to “save” people in remote villages across the world? If someone had never heard of Jesus and died, I couldn’t fathom why a “loving God” would condemn them to Hell forever. Why did we have to give a tenth of our income to be part of a community of “unconditional” love and support? What about the poor people with no income? What was the point of arcane rituals that came with no explanation, no internal connection? Why so many rules from the outside?

While I never felt fully at home at the church, I persisted with church attendance and Sunday School teaching (!) until well after my wedding and into my 20’s. Leaving the church was not easy and my father was not happy with me but there came a point where I could do no other.

As a young, impressionable undergraduate, I was indoctrinated into the scientific lineage and taught to worship at the altar of randomised, double-blind, placebo controlled studies.

Again, many things didn’t make sense to me. So many of the studies that met the “Gold Standard” had logic gaps you could drive a truck through. How was a study of 150 undergraduates who were given credit for participating reflective of a whole population, as was often inferred? I was taught to make broad generalisations and to sweep outliers under the proverbial carpet. I became adept at using mathematical models to manipulate the findings of existing studies so that the exact same numbers could be made to show a totally different conclusion. I watched the media further manipulate the results of studies with suspect methodologies to create eye-catching headlines.

While I couldn’t bring myself to delve deeper into this dissonant world of academia by pursuing further study, there was nearly a decade where a huge proportion of my conversations began with the phrase “Studies have shown….”, as a means of establishing the veracity of my point of view.

Finally, as a disillusioned woman on the precipice of my Saturn return, I began investigating Traditional Chinese Medicine, Yoga, Meditation and Poetry – some of the very things deemed “dangerous” by the church elders of my youth and poo-pooed by my colleagues in the science lab.

Suddenly, I felt at home. No one was asking me to go against my internal voice, rather I was being handed tools for remembering the source of my innate wisdom. There was so much that made sense, so many ideas from disparate lineages that converged and ultimately, the encouragement to listen inwardly to test the veracity of what I was being told.

In her poem “Wild Geese”, Mary Oliver eloquently summed up the relief I felt at this homecoming into awareness:


Ultimately we are unique creatures with so many factors at play that no one outside of us can possibly track them all to determine what’s best for us in any context. We abdicate authority in our own lives when we hand over discernment to others. At best, other people, including well-studied experts can only be our guides, offering suggestions for experimentation. We must take responsibility for observing the results of those experiments and making skillful decisions about how we proceed in the current season of our lives.

It’s an ongoing commitment. For example, what you learn about how to manage yourself in the winter in your 30’s might might bear no resemblance to what you need in the summer of your 50’s or the autumn of your 70’s. To truly own our capacity to thrive, we must take nothing for granted and stay wide awake to our lived reality as it evolves.

These days, it’s my mission to help people conduct n=1 studies to learn how they think, feel and respond to something. Everything else is actually irrelevant. Even the frameworks of yoga, meditation and lifestyle techniques that I use are just that – frameworks. They give us a jumping off point for the investigation and ensuing conversation.

Taking ownership of the investigation of ourselves, what the yogis called svadhyaya, and the decision making at the very deepest level of our lives is not for the faint of heart. Make no mistake, the challenge can be immense and it is tempting to hand back authority when the going gets rough. But the potential payoff is incredible – developing the skill of discernment opens up vistas of possibility in every sphere of our lives, including how we can serve the people around us and our planet.

Now that’s what I call being a grown up.


If you’d like to join me for a journey into remembering how to discern subtleties for yourself, let’s have a conversation about how we could do that and what tools we could use. There are options – from in-person private sessions, to group processes, to distance learning and incorporating techniques that range from yoga to meditation to lifestyle habits to deciphering scientific findings as well as many other things. 

Share

How to create a home practice

For me, the point of practicing yoga is to get to know and appreciate yourself better and to facilitate your ability to connect and celebrate life. Going to a public class is a great experience particularly for the connecting and celebration but but spending time on your own, exploring your own practice is where some of the juiciest experiences of yoga can happen. Yoga class is great for gathering information about the practices and poses, for connecting with like minded people and for consulting with a teacher about questions you might have so that you can build confidence in creating your own practice.

Ideally, yoga is a practice that meets you where you are, no matter what. When you practice on your own at home, you get a chance to tune into exactly what your body, mind and spirit need at that particular moment. It helps you to cultivate the aspect of the yoga practice where you get to know yourself better.

Yes, practicing on your own can be daunting, particularly at the beginning but the obstacles are the path. Facing and dealing with the obstacles are part of maturing into yourself. Figuring out how to deal with all of those obstacles is part of the yoga. Getting really honest with yourself about what you are and are not willing to do to make it happen for yourself will help you prioritise in the most appropriate manner for you.

I think there are two main things you need to consider to do a practice at home:

1. What do you really need from your practice on a given day?

Ideally, practice is an expression of what is alive in you on that day and what needs to be balanced or taken care of. Home practice isn’t necessarily about doing all the fancy poses or “staying in shape”. It’s about increasing your self-awareness – noticing your patterns of attraction and aversion, your reaction to challenges and easefulness, to constancy and change. As you learn more about yourself, you can learn to use your home practice to  enhance your overall wellbeing so that you can address all of the other things in your life the way they need to be addressed. Using your yoga practice to serve your life, not the other way around.

The practice has to be satisfying at a deeper level than ego or intellect or you won’t want to stay with it. The key to getting that satisfaction comes from cultivating a deep level of listening to yourself. The only way to do that is to spend regular time with yourself. Yoga is not the only way to develop this relationship but for some of us, the physical aspect helps us to access parts of ourselves that are otherwise difficult to access.

2. How to decide what to do, sequence wise.

There are many theories about how to go about this. While I will give you a light framework for deciding your sequence, I wholeheartedly encourage you to explore and experiment to find the alchemy that works for you.

Before you start:

Decide on a regular place to practice. You may be able to dedicate a whole room for your practice space but it isn’t necessary. In fact, when I first started practicing in my “own yoga room”, I felt almost like I was being punished. Being in this austere room meant to be kept only for yoga and meditation felt really awful to me. More often than not, I would pull my mat out into my favorite sun spot in the lounge or outside on the patio.

If you don’t have a fully dedicated space, it’s a good idea to have a very short set up ritual, which helps you to transition into your practice mode. It could be as simple as being very quiet and mindful as you clear the space for your practice, gather your props, journal, tea and roll out your mat.

Quite often, we can look at the set up as a hassle, an obstacle to practice but you can actually make it part of the practice itself, by choosing your attitude. You might like to bring meaningful objects into your practice space, like sacred symbols or beautiful flowers. Lighting  a candle can be nice as well, kind of like the OM at the beginning of a class.

Decide how much time you have to practice. It doesn’t matter if it’s 5 minutes or 5 hours. Deciding a minimum will help you honor your commitment to yourself. You might even like to set a timer that will go off a few minutes before the time is up so you have time for savasana or meditation.

To start your practice:

It’s super important to make a couple of minutes to check in. You might like to sit up, lie down or even stand up to check in. Do a body scan, noticing what feels good, what doesn’t. Observe what’s on your mind. Notice your breath. You may like to write down your observances in a journal. Those observances are going to help you to know what to do in your practice.

Once you’ve checked in, you may like to deepen your breath in your “check in” posture or you might like to go to child’s pose or down dog. Ujjayi is a great breath for focusing your mind and for smoothing, heating the breath. From there, you can begin to build your sequence, either by simply starting with some general warm-ups to see where your body takes you or by planning which kinds of postures you want to work towards. If you have a specific set of peak poses in mind, it pays to plan accordingly.

Suggested sequence of poses:

Warm – ups

Most of the time, a general warm up will be suitable for any kind of practice you’re about to do. It can also be helpful for determining what kind of practice is appropriate. There are a couple of ways to tackle home practice – either targeting a specific thing or kind of practice no matter what or a deep listening practice where how you’re feeling determines where you’ll take your practice. Both types have great value to them – sometimes at the beginning of a home practice, it can be useful to have a target, a goal. But I’d just caution that sometimes being too rigid with a plan can take the juice and the joy out of the practice and thereby defeat the purpose.

Examples of warm ups: cat/cow; wrist vinyasa; foot massage; lunges/pulsations; shoulder openers; gentle twists; supine ab work – good idea to move with the breath to begin with, rather than to hold anything static at this early point in the practice.

Namaskars (salutations)

These are heat building sequences designed to increase the energy in the body and loosen everything up. They are great for building strength and flexibility. Common salutations include Sun and Moon salutations.

Core Cultivation

Simple core strengtheners early on in the practice serve to prepare the body for the deeper work to come. Boat poses, planks, side planks and reclined core work are great optins.

Heating Inversions

It’s a good idea to do the preparation for and practice of heating inversions early in the practice while you’re still fresh and your energy is high. These poses require lots of strength and stamina so if you’re feeling a little off, it’s best to leave them till another day particularly if you’re not overly familiar with them.

Heating inversions include things like handstand, headstand and forearm balance. If you’re not overly comfortable with these types of poses, dolphins and box-poses at the wall will serve to build your toolkit for eventually practicing these poses.

Standing poses

Standing poses are hugely useful for just about any type of practice. They help to build strength, stamina and opening in a very safe manner. Depending on which class of peak poses you may be working towards, you can pick and choose the postures that will create the best opening. Even if you’re not sure what poses open up what, a general practice of standing poses tends to cover a lot of basis. And if you’re not sure what each pose is useful for, I highly recommend getting into the poses and trying to feel what muscles are working, which ones are stretching and generally what’s going on in your body. As I’ve said, yoga is about listening. Getting on the mat to listen to what’s happening in your body is a great way to learn to sequence like a pro.

Twists

There are variations of twists from light, gentle ones (good for the beginning and the end of practice) to intense, deep ones within various classes of poses. Twists are a great way to prepare the spine for backbending but the deeper ones could be your peak postures all on their own.

Arm balances

You may choose this class of poses as your peak. Lots of hip and shoulder opening are key for getting ready for these poses and a good smattering of core work will help too.

Examples: crow, side crow, elephant trunk

Backbends

Backbends are great for waking you up and making you feel great. Ideally, they should be practiced earlier in the day so that they don’t interfere with your sleep. Anyone who’s ever done huge backbends at 8pm at night will probably have a tale to tell about a challenging night’s sleep afterwards.

Lots of heating and preparation is required for the deeper backbends like upward facing bow, bow pose and camel. Thigh stretches, shoulder opening, leg strengthening, twisting. Ideally these big poses belong toward the end of a longer practice. There are no shortcuts to a safe backbend. The preparation has got to be done.

Forward bends

Heating the body & warming the hips & legs is important to being able to find good arch in low back to do the deeper work of seated forward bends. It might be best to work with standing poses for many months until you develop sufficient strength in the legs to keep them active while seated (supports low back curve). Grounding femurs. Very good for night time, calming, cooling. Examples: seated forward bend, easy cross legs, head to knee pose.

Inversions (cooling)

By this I mean shoulderstand and it’s variations. Ensure your upper back & neck are sufficiently warmed up and use blankets to elevate your shoulders if need be.

Restorative postures

This class of poses can make up your entire practice on some days when you just can’t face a full sequence of asanas. They can also be a nice way to wind down towards relaxation and meditation. For these poses, you set them up so that the minimal amount of effort is required to maintain good alignment. You may opt to hold these poses for 2-15 minutes but stay aware of what’s going on in your body. You’re not looking for stretch sensation or any fatigue at all. If you begin to feel uncomfortable, make whatever changes necessary to feel completely supported. Examples include reclined bound angle, legs up the wall, supported twist, supported backbends.

Pranayama and/or Meditation

Breathwork is a great way to prepare for meditation and savasana. Choose calming breaths rather than hugely stimulating breaths like kapalabhati at this late stage in the practice. Alternate nostril breathing and ratio breathing are good options.

At this stage in the practice, you might find you effortlessly slip into a meditative state. It can be nice to just sit for a few minutes, basking inside yourself.

Savasana

No matter what kind of practice you’ve done, always plan to have at least 5 minutes (and ideally 15 minutes) in relaxation pose. This is where everything you’ve done settles into your body mind and becomes part of you. Ensuring you take proper relaxation will be incredibly nourishing for you at all levels and facilitate your progress on the path. I’ve seen people struggle to gain any ground with their postures and sense of wellbeing when they skip this most important part of the yoga practice. It’s the difference between walking the path and running it.

As I’ve mentioned all of these are my suggestions for approaching your own home practice. There are numerous other valid ways to go about it. The most important factor is whether it’s sustainable and beneficial to you.

Share

Happy 11-11-11!

Today is thought to mark the shift from the time in the world where we sought to dominate other each other, to acquire power, money and status to a time in the world where we seek to know ourselves as innately strong, wise and knowledgeable. Our challenge is to find our way inward to that truth, rather than taking the path our ancestors took outward – looking for answers from “out there” and seeking power over each other.

Meditation is one of the key practices we can use to get to know ourselves better so that as the world changes around us, we remember our own eternal, bright auspicious nature and hold to that light so that we can help others to do the same.  No matter what you do for a job, where you go in the world, when you have mastery over your own power, even just a little bit, your presence becomes a blessing and a beacon for others who are seeking to reconnect with their own power. Continue reading “Happy 11-11-11!”

Share

Power walking prowess

Wellington's Stunning Oriental Bay
Wellington's Stunning Oriental Bay

I think I have reached a new level of yoga geekdom. This morning while I was out on my “power” walk around Wellington’s stunning Oriental Bay, I had a breakthrough due in no small part to the loops of Anusara yoga.

In recent years, my tendency to be a speed demon has abated somewhat. As much as there are times when blasting around town is tempting and necessary, by and large I find myself much slower than I used to be. I’ve turned into more of a plodder than a power walker, truth be told. This is not great when you want to get your blood zooming around and bring a rosy flush of life to your face.

This morning within seconds of deciding to pick up the pace a bit, I realised why I’m reluctant to walk too fast these days. It’s not laziness, old age, the shoes that I’m wearing or the type of walking surface I happen to be on. It’s because when I try to achieve greater speed, I automatically go into hyper-extension mode. A-HA! Continue reading “Power walking prowess”

Share

Adapt or Attack?

I watched the most amazing marine biology video that someone posted to facebook the other day. I have to admit that I’m not one to watch every single thing that appears in my facebook feed or I’d never get anything else done! The comment associated with this video, however, said that the footage contained had actually made a marine biologist scream. That compelled me to click. Marine biologists don’t seem like an over-excitable lot so this had to be good!

And it was. The video started with a shot of a sea bush, flowing in the water and as the camera got closer to the bush, all of a sudden, a huge patch of it turned white and an eyeball appeared.  It was an octopus that had camouflaged itself into the sea bush as a means of hiding from the marine biologist that had been following him for an hour. Only when the camera got too close for comfort did the octopus go into startle mode, shoot ink at the guy and flee the scene. Continue reading “Adapt or Attack?”

Share

Hiding? Yes…but from what?

Someone asked me a provocative question this week. We’d been having a discussion about the fact that the path of tantra (the perspective from which I’m teaching) considers everything from the mundane to the sublime to be a means of waking up, to living fully, to remembering our own best and brightest nature. I had told this person that I used to be a successful IT executive but that I had hated, hated, hated it but that I am struggling to make ends meet as a yoga teacher. So he asked me, “If you’re really living a tantric lifestyle, why aren’t you working in an office instead of hiding in a yoga studio?” Continue reading “Hiding? Yes…but from what?”

Share

Barefoot bliss

Yoga doesn’t always happen on a yoga mat. Sometimes a yoga mat can get in the way of a decent yoga practice. Bear with me while I digress somewhat.

One of my favourite things to do is to walk barefoot in the woods. Although I loved it as a child, I was only reminded of it recently by my Osteopath. He suggested that I walk barefoot over uneven, natural surfaces to help my body use deep, intrinsic postural muscles and in so doing, unwind some tricky internal knots that he normally sorts out when he works his magic. While my hips and back feel absolutely fantastic after a barefoot traipse through the trails, that result pales in comparison to the state of my heart and mind. Continue reading “Barefoot bliss”

Share

Is your practice serving you?

Kelly Fisher
How do you feel?

How does your yoga practice make you feel? Most days, at the end of it, do you feel more in tune with yourself? Do you feel easier in your own body? Do you feel freer in your mind and more open in your heart? Do you feel more yourself and less your persona?

Even if it’s just a little, or only subtle, when you finish a practice and feel better than when you began, you can be sure that you’ve contributed to improving your wellbeing on many levels. The flow on effect of that healing will begin to positively impact upon everything you do, every relationship that you have and every choice you make.

If, on the other hand, you end up feeling depleted, wound up, twitchy and frustrated perhaps it’s time to examine the kind of practice that you’re doing (one size most certainly does not fit all) or the way in which you’re approaching your practice. Practicing yoga helps you to cultivate a deep knowledge of yourself and in order to derive the benefits of this practice, it must be approached with a deep respect for yourself. If your practice isn’t serving you, do something about it!

The best place to start is to examine your attitude and motivation. Why are you practicing yoga? What do you hope to experience or receive from the practice? Taking that into account, how will you approach your practice?

When you begin from a place of self-respect and care, invariably you are able to develop more sensitivity, more receptivity and greater self-harmony. And in my opinion, that’s the whole point really. It doesn’t matter exactly what kind of practice you’re doing, it matters how it serves you. When you’re practicing with the goal of taking care of yourself, you will know if a certain kind of practice is helping you or not.

I practice yoga to reconnect with the deep innate wellspring of truth, consciousness and bliss. When I take the time to connect with that part of myself, I notice everything changes. When I first started practicing, it was only subtle. Little by little though, as I collected these moments of time spent in remembrance of and connection with myself, it began to have a flow in effect to the rest of my life. Every day I become more authentic, more empowered, freer to be exactly who I am, how I am and through natural extension of that, I feel like I’m able to be of far greater service to the world around me.

How is your practice improving your life?

Share

Clearing Out

The part of purging that I’ve never heard anyone talk about is the re-experiencing that happens in the final letting go. I myself have never really gone through the grief associated with letting go until recently because grieving has always seemed terrifying to me. I got quite skilled at skipping through the mourning period and just moving on. Through the practice of yoga, I am becoming braver and more willing to feel each emotion fully. I am learning that the self-compassion I’ve developed through my yoga practice is the key to allowing the grief to move through me so that I can truly move on.

I’m moving house at the end of this week and preparing for that move has crystallised this realisation. Given that I’m headed to a smaller place, I’ve been combing through my possessions, culling rather extensively. I’m not a hoarder by any stretch at all. When I moved to New Zealand (for the second time) six years ago, I only brought suitcases with me. Enduring two overseas moves has taught me that most “stuff” is more trouble than it’s worth to me.

Theoretically this downsizing shouldn’t be laborious. The problem is that I feel I’ve only kept things that are meaningful or useful. It is therefore emotional and exhausting, trying to decide what goes and what stays. A lot has happened in the last six years of my life, much of which I’ve not completely processed. A shortlist includes: Continue reading “Clearing Out”

Share

Fluid potential

pigeonIn honour of spring and inspired by a conversation with Auckland yogini Karla Brodie, as well as my study of tantric philosophy, I am reconnecting with my own internal experience of potentiality. I am delving deeper into the idea of connecting with my natural inner buoyancy as a way to allow the poses to emerge from the inside out, to breathe, to live, to be animated with my unique expression of prana – life force. Consciously tapping into the water element in my body has been crucial to that exploration.

Water is a powerful element. It changes form, depending on the temperature of its surroundings, without changing its composition. It changes attitudes – from calm and gentle to wild and raging and everything in between. It gets into small spaces, cleans them out and opens up more room for itself and other things to flow. It patiently rubs up against rock over centuries to create entirely new forms. It blasts through barriers to destroy existing formations in a heartbeat. Water can soothe and it can destroy. It is responsive and potent.

Being that adult humans are comprised of about 70-90% water, the ability to connect with our fluid nature helps us connect with the life force and the resilience that are our birthright. Within many studies of ancient and modern philosophies, water is seen as the element that nourishes, purifies and heals. Water carries nutrients, vibration and subtle information to every cell of our bodies. We can cultivate healing in our bodies by opening to the wave movement that already exists internally. The modern science of quantum physics and the ancient art of yoga both tell us that wave motion is the underlying movement of all creation. Our entire being experiences more ease when we step into the flow of wave motion, rather than resisting it with rigidity and overemphasis on outer form.

In my practice, I’ve been experiencing a remembrance of the power available to me when I balance creating the structure of a posture with allowing my body to express itself from the inside out. There is the potential to channel so much energy, and thereby tap into so much potential, by creating good physical alignment. The power, however, seems to be subdued if I become overly concerned with the outer form and alignment of a pose. There is no authenticity or life visible when I rigidly perform perfect postures. In contrast, when I use what I know about alignment to set my foundation intelligently and then allow myself to experience that internal current of fluidity, the pose becomes a joyous expression of who I am and how I am at a given moment. It becomes a jubilant flow of breath and body that nourishes my muscles, joints and organs and also buoys my spirit and soothes my mind.

In my life, although I’ve still got quite a lot to learn, I’ve been experiencing a greater ease in my internal response to challenging situations by consciously cultivating this self-liquefaction. When I am clear on my boundaries and needs, the potential to be happy, safe and effective is increased. I thwart myself and my relationships with others, however, if I become too unyielding or demanding. In contrast, when I know my needs and limits but stay open to possibilities, my heart and mind stay more buoyant and responsive. I become a surfer of life’s waves, rather than a victim of them.

In my classes this week, we will be reconnecting more consciously with this fluid element, inviting more ease in the organs and joints. The hips and lower back will derive particular benefit from this type of practice. The water element is associated with the sacral chakra. The sacral chakra governs these areas of our bodies as well as our emotions and our sexuality. Learning to flow on the yoga mat can free up all sorts of possibilities in the relationships in our lives as well as in our bodies.

This spring, I invite you to explore your own potential by reconnecting with the flow of your body, breath and mind. Whether you do that on a yoga mat, on the dance floor or in the ocean, you will experience the joy that comes with riding the waves. I hope to see you in the flow soon!

~Kelly Fisher

Share