Do I need to be flexible to do yoga?

 
 

To those people who think they’re not flexible enough for yoga. All I can say to you is… Bollocks. This is more of an excuse not to try than anything.

To be super clear - yoga is not about flexibility. Nor is it about physical strength. I began yoga because at the age of 21, I needed help from my partner to get dressed. My back was in so much pain (all the time) that I was verging on crippled. This can be in part attributed to Scoliosis and sitting at a desk for most of my life (school, uni, work, dinner…). Touching my toes would have been a miracle for me.

Whilst it’s a common misunderstanding to have (that you must be flexible and strong for yoga), I am a perfect example that this is not the case. Yes – when I began my practice many years ago, I struggled. I was exhausted with each and every asana. Never before had a practice pushed me to the limits the way yoga did. But with sheer commitment to myself and to healing my body, I too can now touch my toes and beyond. I can do strong backbends, balancing asanas and standing asanas. Of course there are MANY areas I need to work on, but this is all part of the journey. To keep exploring. To keep challenging myself. To find new areas of weakness that I can seek to understand a little more and in turn come to know myself a little better. This is the power of the practice.

Something to also remember is that commonly, the more advanced practitioners have lost their flexibility or strength to do some of the more basic (not simple) asanas. Their joints have become stiff or their muscles too tight. When I ask a person who can do strong handstands to sit straight for 2 minutes, it near kills them (figuratively speaking). Physical strength is not a sign of whole body awareness and control. So never be intimidated by those practitioners. It’s highly likely you’re much stronger and more flexible in many areas they now struggle with.

Remember – this is about your journey, not someone elses. Don’t compare yourself to others. Just accept your body as it is, embrace that you need to start somewhere and just begin. With consistent practice, from here, you’ll fly.

I would love to hear what’s stopping you from beginning your practice? And if you’ve started yoga, what made you finally take the plunge and get going?

Sending huge hugs and love to you all.

Jessica xo

Marathons, cliff hanging and tea. What a day!

I’ve had such a wonderful day. At the moment I’m sitting in a tiny concrete walled room the size of a telephone booth using my new hotels ancient history PC (as there is no Wi-Fi). As I type, I tend to find myself in pitch black darkness as the power has gone off yet again. Every few minutes or so. So funny. I love how humbling so many of my experiences thus far have been.

There are so many stories to tell. Every moment of the day is a new tale with funny, sad, holding on for dear life moments.

To begin - at 4am this morning I awoke to my alarm to practice Vinyasa yoga. It was only an hour practice as I needed to get myself ready for my safari tour on the lake. Although a challenge to get out of bed due to a later night, splashing cold water on my face woke me up nicely. Once I get into this practice I can help but feel so energised. That’s the beauty of yoga. It prepares the body so well for the day ahead. Bringing clarity and a feeling of being centered in the mind and body.

Having limited time this morning forced me to formulate a shorter sequence, hence putting my teacher skills to the test. I also tend to be strict with myself in terms of having to do an entire sequence or nothing - so remembering to be more gentle with myself was an excellent way to start the day. Because let’s face it - anything is better than nothing and placing this added pressue on my training only makes the experience less enjoyable rather than enjoyable. This is one of the many beneficial learnings I have taken from Bharath and will actively apply to my life.

At 6.15am I met my driver who was to take me to the jungle safari cruise. We drove about 5-10 minutes away from the hotel and ended up in a que of buses and cars. I didn’t quite understand the whole process of getting a ticket but I knew there was something important about getting there early. He also kept talking about a second que I needed to get in which cars cannot reach, and explaining something about running… I wasn’t sure.

Anyway, my driver turned off the car and walked to the front of the line (about 300 metres away) to get an entry ticket. Suddenly I noticed all the drivers, who were doing the same, were RUNNING back to their cars. It was like a tidal wave of Indian drivers running toward me - and my driver was part of that wave. The gates had been opened and cars were pushing past and flying through it, near taking each other out in order to get in.

Single file, the cars and buses traveled through the jungle for about 5kms before reaching a car park where everyone stopped. This is when it got mental. My driver started rushing me down the road. I noticed Indian’s were running all around me. My driver told me to run also! I now know this is because there are limited seats on the boats, 60 I think, and if you don’t get one - too bad!!! So I was running for about 1km to get to the next ticket booth! Holding onto my handbag and shawl which was flying around, I powered my way down this windy path through the jungle - following the crowd. Although I certainly wasn’t the first person to start this mini running race, being fit definately worked in my favour. Indian people were dropping like flies - having to stop and catch their breath. Let’s just say fitness isn’t a priorty in India. But it certanly helped me today! One man started running with me, as I was a novelty to run with, and decided to have a conversation with me about Australia winning the cricket. So funny.

When I made it to the ticket booth I was literally in the equivalent of a mosh pit, being shoved in every possible direction and people were pushing their way through to the ticket booth. As I’ve learned to shove back, I managed to get my ticket and make it through the otherside alive and in one piece. This was probably more exciting than the safari cruise. I later learned the reason they are so strict on numbers now is because 45 people drowned 5 years ago when 140 passengers were put on a boat which only had capacity for 80. Everyone went to one side of the boat at once and it flipped. This boat was still on the bank, rotting away. Eerie.

This mornings trip was in some ways relaxing and in others stressful. Everyone is eager to see some animals so it’s hard to keep everyone seated making viewing hard, but generally it was fine. I was on the top deck, seat number 49, and with orange life jacket on I just sat an appreciated the experience I was having - races and all.

The river was full of old dead trees and we were surrounded by the jungle. The lake and mountains were covered in thick fog, adding extra atmosphere to the whole experience. Although there wasn’t a whole lot of activity we did see a number of bids, the eagle being one. We also saw monkeys high in the trees, a group of wild boars and their little babies running along side, and a herd of elephants! With baby elephants also, as we approached the end of the river they came running out of the jungle and gathered at the water. The babies seem quite naughty, spraying water. Although we weren’t very close, we certainly got a wonderful view of them. Apparently we saw more animals than normal on our cruise. We were considered lucky.

Since then, I’ve travelled a further 3.5 hours from Treekadhy to Munnar, which has one of the largest tea plantations in the world. I wish Owen was with me, being the tea lover he is. To get here though, was 3.5 hours of some of the windyest (not a word but it is now), narrowest, highest, most dangerous roads ever. Combine 2000ft mountains with crazy Indian drivers, including bus drivers, and you see my point. Often with no guardrails, we nearly got wiped off the edge so many times. I also get car sick, so the constant snaking through the mountains sure did test my stomach!

Never before have I been so mezmerized by a landscape. I’ve seen some stunning landscapes in my time all over the world, but being surrounded by tea plantations is something else. Perfectly manicured hills/mountains of tea bushes are everywhere. Even the one roundabout I saw was of tea! Tomorrow I have an excursion to some plantations which I’m excited for. Should be amazing.

My new accomodation is on what they call a Hill Station, and I am surrounded by these plantations. I feel very lucky to be here. I also feel sad as my driver will be sleeping in his car for the next two nights. He considers his car 5 star accommodation. I nearly burst into tears when he said that. I’m not sure if it’s appropriate to get a room for him? Probably not. I was warned this sort of treatment can do more harm than good. But it just makes me so sad seeing how some people have to live. And yet he seems so happy. Never complaining. There are certainly many lessons I will be taking home from this phenomenal country.

Ok - enough from me. I should get out of this booth and eat something. Unfortunately pictures will need to wait until I can have access to internet.. Turns out this is a little difficult when on the road. But again, grateful for this old PC!

Lesson for today: Smile and be grateful for all the amazing opportunities I have in my life. Don’t sweat the small stuff. There are much bigger things going on in the world. Appreciate every moment as it is and always look for the positive.

Namaste xx

Graduation Day - 500+hrs TTC complete!

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Well, it’s all over. With laughs, hugs and tears (I think the tears part was mostly me) we all said our goodbyes tonight. Writing this now I’m still in a disbelief that the course has come to an end. I’ve been in Mysore now for 67 days, 69 by the time I leave on Wednesday. Not only has this place become my home, but tonight I’ve also said goodbye to the small family we created during our time here. For those people who have traveled alone for any period of time, you would no doubt be able to understand why these friends are so important.

Today will be such a memorable day. For one, I was one of the four teachers in the final class. Then lunch with the group at the Royal Inn Hotel followed by our graduation. Memories to last a lifetime. 

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Preparing for my led class!

This mornings class went really well. I felt quite confident teaching, even with Bharath at the back of the room observing like a hawk. The last thing I want to do is disappoint that man, so there was some added pressure to teach well. But at the end of the day, it’s about teaching from the heart, and I feel I did that (in between counting asanas, adjustments and teaching in Sanskrit). The feedback from my peers was lovely. They think I’m a great teacher - very gentle. People at home might laugh at that, but it’s true! Somehow I’ve learned to find my ‘inside’ voice when I teach. Who would have thought?! Straight after class I asked Bharath for feedback. He looked at me, nodded, smiled and just said, “keep going.” That was it.

This evenings graduation was really special. We sat in a semi circle surrounding Bharath, who sat in his usual place at the front of the class directly under Om. Each of us shared our experiences with the group, how we felt, what we got out of the course, our gratitude etc. It was really special hearing how this journey has touched each of us. It was also interesting to hear how different the journey was for us all, despite being in the same classes everyday. Then, after one final speech to the group, Bharath called our names one by one and presented us with our certificates. It was a really special moment receiving my 500+hr certificate. 

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I cant help but think back to the moment when Owen and I let go of one another as I had to board the plane, feeling as though it would be an eternity until we see each other again. And now here I am, with two certificates in hand and only 3 weeks off coming home. How quickly time can fly.

As the class left to go downstairs and enjoy some jackfruit Bharath’s wife had prepared for us all, I took a moment in the Shala, alone, to say my final goodbyes. To reflect upon the journey I’ve been through in that room over the past 2.5 months - sitting in that Shala all day, every day. I now realise the woman who walked into that room 2.5 months ago is not the same woman who just walked out for the final time this evening. Fundamentally, I am a changed person. Emotionally, physically, spiritually. Maybe I’m a little too sentimental and emotional, but for me that room has been my ‘temple’ if you will, and I have many memories there so it was really emotional leaving it.

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The last to enter into Bharath’s home, I found everyone in my favourite front room with the bay windows, eating pieces of vibrant yellow jackfruit which sat in the middle of the coffee table. Next to the two plates of fruit were two small metal cups, each with a spoon and filled with honey. Bharath told me to try the jackfruit with honey on it - that it’s the best that way. It turns out he was correct. I’ve never tried this fruit before but it was so delicious, and the added sweetness of honey made it even yummier. Bharath explained it’s a fruit you eat before a meal as it’s quite heavy, whilst a mango you should eat after you‘ve eaten a meal as it helps with digestion. Fun fact!

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As Bharath is leaving Mysore this evening at 8.30pm to catch his flight to Belgium, we all said our goodbyes at about 7.40pm. I first hugged Bharath’s wife, and sincerely thanked her for the pleasure of getting to know her. Not only is she an amazing singer and cook, she has this beautiful warmth about her which makes you feel safe and welcome. Every time I saw her, she would smile brightly - and one just can’t help but smile back. This is how people can change the world - one smile at a time.

I then said my goodbyes to the rest of the group and waited patiently to speak with Bharath. The last person in the room and with tears welling in my eyes, Bharath stood from the couch where he was seated and walked over to where I was standing. With his usual gentle smile and eyes which looked at me as if to say “it’s ok Jessica” my teacher wrapped his arms around me and gave me the warmest hug. I sobbed quietly in his shoulder. As though he knew I couldn’t get the words out to say the final thank you, Bharath continued to hug me, making it ok that I was unable to speak at this point. As we parted, I managed to incoherently thank him and wish him well on his next adventure to Europe. I also assured this would not be ‘goodbye’, but ‘see you later’ as I will be sure to return for ongoing advanced training.

As I walked away from the Shala, with tears still running down my face, I felt a sense of calm wash over me by realising the hardest part of this course, saying goodbye to Bharath, was done. Now it’s time to enjoy my mini holiday in India and prepare myself to return home and begin my new life, with the new me, with my little family - the loves of my life.

This course was more than a course. It was also spiritually uplifting - an only now is the journey truly beginning.

Thank you Bharath Shetty. For everything.

Namaste xx

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Last day of training

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My Shala


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The girls

What is perception anyway?

Sitting in my undies has become the latest morning ritual. After our morning vinyasa class my clothes are completely soaked. Over the past few weeks I’ve gotten use to eating breakfast and sipping tea near on naked - which is not something I would not normally do. Believe me! But, in order to dry out, this has become necessary. Chatting with a friend from class tonight, I actually asked if I was the only one swimming in my own sweat each day. He assured he’s the same, hence he bought a cotton mat to soak it up and try to keep some control. I’m just reluctant to get one as it will be another thing I need to carry home to Australia. But, to make the most of this final week, maybe it might be a good investment, as a number of asanas are being compromised purely because my hands and feet are not gripping my mat. Hmm. I shall take a look tomorrow.

After class today Brittany said an interesting thing to me. She thinks I’m Bharath’s favourite student. Firstly, I don’t think Bharath has favourites. He is there to teach us, not take favourites or become buddies with anyone. Owen told me this back when I thought Bharath didn’t like me at all (during the early weeks). Although I think this is completely untrue (Brittany’s comment) it got me thinking about the concept of ‘perception’. How our perception of ourselves is often so different to how the rest of the world sees us. I’ve never considered myself to be a ‘favourite’ of Bharath’s - in fact quite the opposite as I mentioned. And yet someone else in class is looking at me as though I am. Why? What does she see in either me or him that I don’t? All this highlighted is how our neurotic insecurities can completely taint how we view the world and ourselves within it. No view (mine or hers) is right or wrong, but I just think it’s something to be mindful of. That our view of ourselves or others is merely our interpretation, our perception. It is neither correct nor wrong. It’s just a perception. Often we worry about things which no one else sees - like me thinking my teacher didn’t like me. These useless thoughts, which unnecessarily take energy from us, need to be controlled. As Bharath says, “the most difficult thing to control in this world is the mind.” That is so very true. Just something to think about.

Finally, we are doing a lot more training re how to adjust students and help students into and out of asanas like Chakrasana (wheel / backbend). I find it incredible how I can support a fully grown male, who is bigger than me, into and out of asanas. However I tend to get really nervous with adjustments, but I’m sure with practice my confidence will improve. I just tend to worry I might hurt someone if I push too far, but of course I need to remember the student will tell me. Slowly, slowly. It will come.

Namaste xx


Some pictures from my day

Why not?!

Coming home from class. Just happy to be here.

My Indian diary system

The cutest Tic Tacs on the planet!