In 2017 I'm sticking with tradition and changing things up ;)
This week, I made the decision to leave my job – to prioritise my health, to build a life around our farm, our friends and the things we love close to home, and to commit to working with regional communities like those I grew up in. I’m finally getting comfortable with the idea of my working life looking different to the type A “career” I thought I wanted, and beginning to think through what life might look like if I step away off this trajectory – maybe just a little way, or maybe completely.
At this risk of becoming the total embodiment of a white girl "Eat Pray Love" cliche, I'm kicking this off with some time in Bali doing yoga.
This Yoga Life
I’ve had a kind of distant love affair with yoga ever since the first classes I can remember, during my first weeks of college when a friend and I discovered it as a Saturday morning ritual and a great way to escape the cultural haze that consisted of hundreds of people in varying stages of drinking, drunk, and hung over. Those early hatha classes were an awkward pleasure – a way to learn to navigate the adolescent body I still didn’t understand, and a way to find stillness and ritual in a crazy and uncertain stage of life.
My next exposure to yoga came when my mother and I accompanied my boyfriend to classes while he undergoing chemotherapy for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. The intended distraction may have had that affect for him, but I found myself lying there during the final savasana with thoughts racing through my head. I must admit it was nice to have the time to just let them…
The closest I’ve come to yoga monogamy is when I discovered Bikram Yoga at 22. That first class was possibly the hardest physical thing I’ve done, when my instincts were working against me, and it took all my focus to remain upright. I ignored instructions and followed my instincts – leaving the room to catch my breath and prevent the contents of my stomach from ending up all over the mat.
Bikram became a welcome relief from the daily chaos of my life – self-employed and studying full time while completing the CSL Fellowship Program, I would fit my regular Bikram classes in around my morning CrossFit session and my bike commute. The routine of the same 26 postures and 2 breathing exercises over and over freed up the headspace I was lacking, and let me stretch, sweat, and feel like I could achieve something in just a 90 minute session.
For a period of 5 or so years, I would dabble in other styles of yoga, but I craved the routine and the adrenaline rush that I got from Bikram. I ignored the fact that the ethos and ethics of the Bikram Yoga business (and the man himself) didn’t quite jive with me. At one point, a friend remarked that I was such an overachiever that even my yoga was full on. But by this point it was a full-fledged addiction, just like my habits of overworking, overcommitting and overeating.
It wasn’t me who put the brakes on in the end – my body did it for me. With what can only be described as burn out arriving unceremoniously just weeks after I got married. After slogging it out in the lead up to the wedding, trying to shed the weight I was gaining despite many hours in the gym, on the bike and on the mat, I’d hit my limit. I worked all through my honeymoon but when I came back I found I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t get out of bed, and I couldn’t keep doing what I was doing.
My doctor told to me my adrenal system was under too much pressure, and that it was buckling. She told me to give myself a break, focus on my health, and to avoid anything that wasn’t gentle and restorative. I tried to comply. Sometimes. But reverse programming the things I'd been doing proved to be a challenge...
It took time to kick the habit of Bikram, and even today I still crave it, and indulge my cravings from time to time, but I've also found vinyasa and yin to be an ideal substitute for the adrenaline rush of the hot bikram room - challenging my body in all the right ways, and giving my brain a chance to rest, restore and find focus, and my soul a chance to open softly.
My first steps into vinyasa were at a studio that suited me perfectly and settled into a daily ritual of vinyasa, flow and yin. For me, Amy's beautiful morning vinyasa flow and hot yoga classes at Yoga Corner were very special - helping me find a practice that nourishes my mind, body and soul, rather than making my body stronger to the detriment of my emotional and spiritual wellbeing. The consistent routine didn't last long, but left me feeling nurtured and refilled.
2 years ago my husband and I made the decision to dial back the hustle and bustle and move from inner city Melbourne to central Victoria, close to where I grew up. He has been working locally ever since, but I couldn’t quite let go of the pull to climb the career ladder, so I’ve been commuting for 4 hours every day into town for work, all the while feeling jealous of the lifestyle he was living close to home, and building up resentment for the situation I’d created for myself. Sadly the choice to follow the “corporate career path” has meant my physical and mental health have taken a back seat for the last 2 years and I’ve witnessed my habits, mental health, body and energy tracking in a direction I wasn’t happy with.
I've tried to carve out time for yoga, with visits to Yoga 213 and Le Yoga closer to home, as well as the occasional Bikram class satisfying me in grabs. But my tired body and mind knew it was time to shift gears a little...
From mid-January, I'll be spending 5 weeks in Bali doing a 200 hour Vinyasa Yoga Teacher Training at the very lovely Serenity Yoga in Nusa Lembongan. I must admit, the teaching part didn't initially appeal to me - this time was more an effort to re-embed a more regular yoga practice into my routine (which has dismally failed since I've been commuting these past two years), but the more I think about it the more I think perhaps I'm under-appreciating the potential of being a teacher.
A month with Serenity is a huge first step. I’m so looking forward to focusing on the theory, the practice and the methodology. I’m craving the reset and recalibration opportunity it presents. I also see it as an opportunity to start unpicking some of the thinking and habits that got me here in the first place. I know I have plenty of work to do in this regard. I’m excited at the prospect of making a regular yoga practice a central part of my life again, and I know this will be a core element of an ongoing investment in my physical and mental health.
In anticipation, I've got a long list of materials to get through before I fly out. Here's the hit list recommended by Caroline at Serenity.
- Light on Yoga – B.K.S Iyengar
- Teaching Yoga – Mark Stephens
- Yoga Sequencing – Mark Stephens
- Yoga Anatomy – Leslie Kaminoff & Amy Matthews
- Bhagavad Gita – Easwarn/Stephen Mitchell
- The Yoga Bible – Christina Brown
- The Women’s Health Big Book of Yoga – Kathryn Budig
- The Key Muscles of Yoga – Ray Long
- Yin Yoga – Bernie Clark
I also picked up Duncan Peak's Modern Yoga after a thoroughly incredible Power Living class in Manly recently. Adding it to the list.
Despite this (somewhat intimidating) list of work ahead of me, I know that the majority of the work I do during this period (and forever really) will be internal. There's an awful lot of reverse programming to do, a lot of rethinking to happen, and a whole stack of challenging my assumptions that I need to undertake unless I want to find myself back in the same position at the same time next year.
I’m very much looking forward to the adventure.
So tell me yogis - does any of this sound familiar? Is there hope for me? What have you found most challenging about getting past this point?