The single most important thing about yoga

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How flexible I am, is not important.

How strong I am, is not important.

How present I am, is very important.

All too often people come to me and say they cannot do yoga because they are not flexible or strong enough. I cannot stress enough that this is not the goal of yoga. We can be the most flexible or the strongest practitioner in the room, but if that practitioner is not present then the point has been lost.

There are days when I power through my practice. I feel rushed, perhaps I feel bored or just cant be bothered. Whilst I’ve completed my 90 minute sequence, I don’t finish feeling like I have deepened my connection to myself in any way, shape or form. Rather, I’ve treated my asana practice like a gym practice. Get it over and done with then rush into my day. This is far from satisfying. During a practice like this I tend to feel weak, sore and inflexible.

The interesting irony is the slower my practice, the stronger I feel and the more flexible I am. Why? Because I’m taking time to actually observe where I need to switch on, where I need to relax, where I need to take my breath etc etc. I’m witnessing, observing and experiencing what my body needs in every moment which allows me to delve deeper.

Yoga means to yolk. It is about the union of body, breath and mind. Yoga does not necessarily need to happen on a mat. Last year, during the four hour drive from Bangalore, India, to Mysore (where my teacher lives) I asked my driver if he practices yoga. His reply has stayed with me as I found it so vulnerable and inspiring. “No mam, I do not practice. I do not have time to practice yoga. Driving is my yoga.” I was mesmerized by his answer. This man spent his days driving people from here to there and back again, and he found solace through this. He was totally present to what he was doing, making driving his meditation, his yoga. 

You see, it is not important what a pose looks like or how ‘good’ we are at the pose. Whilst it’s nice to ‘achieve’ a pose, it’s quite a shallow way to look at the practice. For if we are not there to experience it (the pose) then what’s the point?

Granted, some days you will be more present that others. And that is OK. Yoga is a devotional practice. One must practice daily to experience one’s full potential. To notice the fluctuations of body and mind. This is how we come to know ourselves better. This is how we develop strength and flexibility, not just of the body, but more so of the mind.

Practice every day. Let go of any agenda. And if it’s a distracted practice today. Don’t worry. Try again tomorrow. And the next day. And the next.

If you’re ready to get started with yoga and feel a little nervous, then our Beginners Yoga: 4-Week Intro Program might be just the thing for you.

Warm hugs,

Jessica xx

How do I stay so positive?

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I was asked a question via Instagram about how I stay so positive all the time. I sat and pondered this question for some time before replying.

I firstly thought to myself - wow, how awesome is it that the world sees me as a positive person. I know there have been times in my life where I would never have been considered a positive person, so there has certainly been some sort of fundamental shift over the years.

Upon reflection, I then agreed that I am a positive person. I do my very best to remain positive regardless of uncomfortable, dire and what can feel like hopeless situations which still appear in my life. So why is that? What have I tapped into that perhaps others have difficulty finding?

My immediate thought was “Gratitude”. I know gratitude has been key to feeling happy in life - for appreciating both the good and the bad - however the answer is deeper than just gratitude alone. So what was it?

My reply. Decisiveness.

Let me explain. Life is made up of a collection of choices. We can choose the career path we head down. We can choose the relationships we cultivate and those we let go. We can choose what food to put into our bodies. We can choose how we feel in any given moment, happy or sad.

For me, a positive and happy life has stemmed from being decisive. I’m choosing my path. I’m choosing every single step I make and I accept the consequences of those steps. I do not put blame onto others if things don’t turn out as I’d planned. Rather, I accept wholeheartedly and willingly that my life is mine and I am solely responsible for it.

Over the years (mostly pre-yoga career) I’ve worked with clients who were quite happy to blame the rest of the world for why things were not working out as they had hoped. It was rare to come across a client who actually took a step back to acknowledge their part in their life, their injury or illness, and take responsibility for the next steps to move forward. They waited for, and allowed, other people to make decisions for them. And let’s just say the decisions made were rarely what the client would have chosen had it been up to them. But they played the victim game and then this gave them another excuse to blame the world for their lives not turning out as they wanted. And so the cycle continues. This makes for a very negative, unhappy existence.

Just over three years ago Owen and I made a decision to pack up and leave Adelaide, moving to Melbourne. It hasn’t been an easy road. Let me assure you of that. In fact, coming here has been the toughest years of my life. But they have been the happiest too. Why? Because I’m following a path chosen by me. I make decisions about how I want to live my life and I go after that. It doesn’t always work. Sure. And I’ve been knocked back time and time again. But I choose to look at every knock back, every medical scare with little Lola, every challenge with clients, as a positive. As opportunities to learn on this path chosen by me. It doesn’t make the difficult experiences any less difficult, but it makes them valuable. Worth going through. Because at the end of the day, if we cannot look for the positive in every situation that presents itself to us, good or bad, then we end up living our lives on edge and unfulfilled.  We are always looking for an easy path which, frankly, doesn’t exist. It’s tough the whole way. But it’s because of the struggle, the challenge, that life becomes meaningful. And this is what makes every experience, good or bad, worth it. That is how I stay so positive.

Big hugs and so much love,

Jessica. xx

Always so good at giving advice. How about receiving it?

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I’m feeling really apprehensive at the moment. We’re coming up to one year since our little Lola suffered severe liver disease and we nearly lost her. It was an awful time. We’ve also been in and out of the emergency vet for the past month for other reasons that have kept Owen and I on edge.

I’ve managed to keep myself together for the past few weeks, knowing I need to be strong for her. But this last emergency visit, last Saturday morning at 5.00am, was the final straw. I broke down. I couldn’t stop crying. Devastated by the awfulness this little girl is going through. I can’t stand seeing animals unwell. It breaks my heart to see something so precious, so vulnerable unwell and at our mercy to help them.

As we waited for the vet to return with some medications (Lola was given anti-nausea medication for chemotherapy patients!) I stood in the consultation room sobbing. I was desperate for Lola to feel better. It’s been awful knowing she’s had such a terrible life being neglected and abused, bred for her puppies before being palmed off because she was no longer valuable to the breeder (re-think where you get your animals from people). My dream for her is to have a happy, healthy rest of her life, putting that trauma behind her. And so seeing little miss still unwell was so upsetting.

As I sat with tears in my eyes and a feeling of being completely hopeless, Owen said to me – “Jessica, remember to breathe.” He was using my words to remind me of my own teachings. And he was right. I needed to slow down and breathe. As I did this, the thoughts began to slow, the panic became less and my mind became more rational, logical.

This got me thinking. Yoga is not going to fix everything. It is not a band-aid solution for the troubles we have in our lives, nor will it mean we no longer have a care in the world. Not at all. Rather, yoga is a tool to help us get through these difficult times. To be more present in every moment of every day – whether that be a ‘good’ day or a ‘bad’ day. Yoga can help us to pull through when we need that extra bit of support. In short – yoga wont stop the experience or event from happening, but it will change how we deal with that experience or event.  

Thinking back to the very first time I sat in the emergency room as Lola was rushed into the hospital, I sat staring at the photo of these four flamingoes up on the wall. A black and white image of these elegant birds all perfectly aligned. My breath was out of control. I was on the verge of hyperventilating because I was that scared and upset, until I remembered. Breathe. Whilst the tears still streamed down my face, with my breath under control my heart began to slow, my thoughts became clearer and I was able to calm down. The situation hadn’t changed, but I was dealing with it better. What happened next was out of my hands. I just needed to be strong for her and accept that what will be will be. To be patient and wait, and do my very best not to fall into the darkest corners of my mind – where I naturally wanted to go.

Pain will always exist. It is a fact of life which is why we can appreciate beauty and the special moments so much more. We waste so much time worrying about the things we cannot control. The petty things that, at the end of the day mean nothing.

Yoga taught me to let go of the petty stuff. To cultivate love, kindness and gratitude. Why? Because this is all that matters at the end of the day. Stress, worry and anxiety is only life taking. I use to take my life for granted but yoga changed that. It taught me to see the world as it is. To appreciate every little detail – the good and the bad. Whilst seeing little miss unwell is awful, it is a reminder to appreciate every moment we get to spend together. Every little snort she does, the snuggles at night, the walks at the park, taking her to the toilet in the middle of the freezing cold night. This is all special. Why? Because she is alive and healing, and what more could we ask for.

Lola can't rest when she is unwell, but she also stumbles around like she is drunk. We think it's Vestibular Disease but doctors are not certain. She needs to be crated to force her to rest. Notice the head tilt.

Lola can't rest when she is unwell, but she also stumbles around like she is drunk. We think it's Vestibular Disease but doctors are not certain. She needs to be crated to force her to rest. Notice the head tilt.

Trying to feed Lola some boiled chicken. She's dropped 1kg since falling ill.

Trying to feed Lola some boiled chicken. She's dropped 1kg since falling ill.

A recovering Lola. After days of no sleep, nausea and gastro she is finally resting.

A recovering Lola. After days of no sleep, nausea and gastro she is finally resting.


Knee pain and yoga

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This blog post has been transcribed directly from an audio recording by Jessica Dewar. This is me literally thinking aloud.
— Jessica Dewar

Knee pain is the worst! I recall a period of time where I would sit cross legged, and then after a little while my left knee was not only on fire, but I needed help from my partner Owen to actually get up. I then spent the next hour or so feeling as though my left leg was going to collapse from under me as I was hobbling around the house holding onto whatever I could for support. For those of you who think this might have been a long time ago, you are incorrect. This was actually only about 3 years ago that my knee was in such a bad state that I needed this sort of support and help to move around.

So what can we do to manage knee pain and use yoga as a way of helping our knees to regain strength and mobility?

Well there's a lot of things we can do. The first thing we can do is RELAX. And what do I mean by relax? I mean relax your mind! When we're in any sort of pain the first thing we tend to do is panic and think that we are going to be in this pain forever and ever and ever, and that if we do anything to move that knee (or that part of the body) then we're going to break ourselves! Does that sound familiar? I know this because I have been there many many times.

So once you're relaxed, and you've accepted that you're about to begin your yoga practice, (and that some things are going to be a little uncomfortable because as we know yoga is all about pushing boundaries from a physical and psychological point of view), then I want you to make sure that you have with you some props. 

Props could include blankets, bolsters, blocks and straps. If you don't have any of those things with you, use a pillow from your bed. Sometimes the folding of your yoga mat is more than enough as an added cushion under the knees. My yoga mat has acted as a pillow many times under my knees.

How we support our knees will depend upon where the injury is, how long the injury has been there and how severe the pain is. For example, some people might have had full knee reconstructions, others may have issues with their AC joint. There is an array of things that can happen to the knee. So I'm going to speak to you from a very general point of view here...

One of the best things that we can do not only for our backs, our hips, and of course for our knees, is to sit in a cross legged position. If you have really tight hips and you find this really difficult to do sitting on the floor then just get yourself a pillow or blanket so you can sit upright for a period of time. NOTE: I don't recommend sitting for half an hour first off the bat. That would be silly and very unhelpful for you. You'll end up needing help to get up off the floor and will be hobbling around the house just as I was not that long ago.

So what I recommend you do is get a couple of pillows to prop yourself up in a cross legged position, then closing your eyes and placing your hands on your thighs or in your lap. Make sure that your hands are not resting on your knees because I can assure you after just 30 seconds to a minute suddenly your hands will start feeling like 20 kilo weights on top of your knees. What I do recommend you do is start small. And by that I mean sitting for one to two minutes at a time. You can then stretch your legs out open your eyes and that might be your meditation for the day. Plus it's great movement for your knees.

The beauty of being able to sit for this period of time, and gradually build your sitting tolerance, is this process is also conditioning your hips, your back and your knees to maintain this posture for longer. And what's so wonderful about being able to sit cross legged is it will open your hips, it will strengthen your back and it will release any tension that you may have in your knees. It will also start to improve your overall mobility of the entire body.

But I'm not going to lie to you here and pretend this is an easy process. It's not. At first this can feel very very very uncomfortable. You need to be prepared for the discomfort mentally hence why our first choice is to relax the mind. To trust in the process. We are not trying to win any awards here, and it is not helpful if we can prove we can sit for 10 minutes if that means that we are then crippled for the rest of the day or week. Rather we want to give our bodies a chance to open up and get used to being in this type of position.

Kneeling postures are also something to be mindful of. Note, I said mindful not weary of. It is important to have a blanket underneath your knees, or to fold your mat, for some support. If you don't do this then you'll be adding unnecessary pressure and load to your knees that could lead to a more serious, permanent injury which is absolutely not what we want to happen.

I've always maintained that yoga can be amazing for our bodies however this comes with a caveat that it must be practiced safely. All too often I've seen people push too hard too soon and ended up injuring themselves. And this is how we make yoga far worse for us than good.

As you begin your a practice, be really mindful that this is your practice and your practice alone. Don't worry about what other people are doing in the studio. Don't worry about the fact that you might have five times more blankets or bolsters than other people. This is all about you and what your body needs in that moment. It is when we start getting competitive about the practice that we can suffer more serious injuries. Believe me I've been there!

So if you're or somebody who has troubles with your knees then grab as many blankets, bolsters or blocks that you feel you might need in the class. Chat with your teacher beforehand and see what they have in mind because they will know what props you should have with you for that class. And gradually you will be able to to apply more weight on your knees, or remain in a cross legged position for longer. You will start to notice quite quickly, especially if you are consistent with your practice, i.e. a daily practice, that the tension or sharp pains that you feel in your knees will start to disappear. You'll go from noticing pain daily to maybe once every couple of days, to maybe once a week, too maybe once every 3 months.

Your body is using pain and injury as a way of finding balance. When your knees feel better, just be prepared that something else in your body is going to start to show itself to you. And that could also be an uncomfortable ache in your body. This is the reality of life.

Grant yourself permission to nurture your body and cultivate the right mindset for a strong and healthy practice, then before you know it your body will start feeling stronger, healthier, and you'll be feeling much happier.

If you're somebody who has any trouble with your knees, and would like some very specific advice around what you can do, feel free to comment below. I'd love to hear from you.

Sending so much love and hugs your way,

Jessica xx

Why are you vegan? Do I need to be vegan to practice yoga?

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It is well understood and accepted that the diet of a Yogi is a vegetarian diet. Not necessarily a vegan diet, but a vegetarian diet. This is for many reasons but one of those reasons it because meat is very heavy in the body. It takes a lot of energy to digest. Meat is also the result of bringing harm to another creature and for those of you who are familiar with patanjali's yoga sutras, you would know that a non violence is a very important part of yoga.

So why am I vegan?
Well, in all honesty it has absolutely nothing to do with yoga. I have been a vegetarian from most of my life and at the time of writing this, I have been vegan for about 6 or 7 years. My decision to be vegan was not to better my practice although it certainly has helped in many regards. My decision to become vegan was purely a moral and ethical decision. Many of you who have gotten to know me over the years would already know just how special animals are to me. The idea of bringing harm to anything or anyone is extremely disturbing to me on so many levels.

I believe as human beings we have a responsibility to take care of other creatures. I don't know why but for whatever reason so many of us have used our intelligence as a means of taking advantage. An abuse of power if you will. I don't care what people say about us being the greater species, and that we as humans have the right to kill and eat other animals. For one, humans are not meant to eat meat. We don't have the teeth for it, nor do we have the digestive system for it. Our bodies find it extremely difficult to digest. This is going to get a few people up in arms but the reality is, and when you start looking into the research even deeper, you will find that our bodies are absolutely not meant to eat meat or other animals products.

But regardless of whether we are or are not meant to eat animal products, which is a huge discussion in itself, I personally cannot be responsible for inflicting harm on another creature. Simple. And just because meat comes nicely wrapped in plastics in the supermarket, does not mean that the process of it reaching the supermarket was in any way a nice process. In fact it was no doubt horrific.

So this is why I choose to be vegan. I want no part of that industry. In saying that however, as I've gotten older and a little wiser, and let's be honest a little less judgemental, I have come to accept other people's decisions to eat meat and other animal products. Whilst I do not agree with that decision, I accept those decisions. Of course my dream would be for the world to be vegan l, which we all know would lead to a much kinder world, but if I remain in a place of judgement then I am constantly harming myself. Rather, my hope is that those people who do decide to eat animal products are making kinder choices around where they get those products from.

So whilst in the yoga world a vegetarian diet is recommended for many reasons, it is not a requirement of the practice. If you eat meat, it should not be a reason not to practice. Of course the more consistent you are with your practice the more in tune you will become with what your body does and does not want (and so your diet may change), but no it is not necessary to be vegetarian/vegan to practice yoga.

Sending love and warm hugs to you all,

Jessica xx