Yoga Retreat At Mittersill, Austria

Boy did I need a vacation!

You don’t realise how much until you go on one. You think you know, but once you actually unwind, then you realise just how twisted up you actually were.

sonnberghof mittersill

I went on a wee yoga vacation with the Sivananda people, at the Sonnberghof Hotel in Mittersill, Austria. It was brilliant. I mean, for a start, just look at the view!

alpine views

And that’s just one direction. There were gorgeous views all over the place.

Normally my Austrian yoga vacations happen in Reith, but a couple of times a year the bio-hotel there closes down for holidays of their own, so some of the yogis decamp to Mittersill to run their retreats from there.

They have a nice yoga room,

yoga room at mittersill

and a nice wee meditation hall,

meditation room

for sadhana and satsang respectively. And in between the bouts of spiritual enlightenment the hotel has an outdoor pool,

outdoor pool

as well as a selection of sauna/steam rooms you can enjoy, with a nice lounge area for you to relax in.

spa lounge
 
swing chairs

The routine was the usual Sivananda one of satsang at 6:30am, yoga at 8:30am. Then lunch, followed by free time. Then yoga at 4pm, lunch at 6pm, and evening satsang at 7:30pm.

The luxury of being able to do yoga twice a day is always welcome. You really do feel the benefits of your practise that much quicker when you can dedicate your time wholly to it. Of course it helps if someone else is cooking the food and cleaning up after you.

The food was very good. The kitchen staff at the hotel seem to have really got their heads around cooking sattvic food. I had to limit myself. The tempation to eat way too much was quite high.

The teaching was awesome too. They do offer tailored yoga programs at Mittersill, but I was just there for a vacation. I learnt a lot as we did our sadhana, including some new exercises to incorporate into my yoga, and some new ways to correct people when I’m teaching too. All in all a very profitable vacation.

I even made a new friend while I was there…

making friends 2

If you’re looking for a yoga holiday I can recommend Mittersill. The combination of yoga and spa is an excellent one. I felt incredibly relaxed by the end of my stay, and of course I wish I could have stayed more.

Instead I flew back, drove to the Lake District, and did an epic hike to the top of Helvellyn, lol.

Helvellyn Headstand, Helvellyn, Cumbria, UK

Kind of undid some of my good work, but got another shot for my headstand series so, siwng and roundabouts, eh?

Back in London now, trying to keep on with my daily practise, see if I can’t keep the flexibility I earned in Austria. I also need to prepare myself for the Sadhana Intensive in August. It’s pretty full on by all accounts, and I need to be at the top of my game if I’m going to get the best out of it.

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Sivananda Summer Retreat in Wales, 2015

“Sometimes, life gets in the way.”

It’s one of my old Tai Chi instructor’s favourite sayings, and I tell you what, he wasn’t wrong about that. Despite your best intentions, sometimes your sadhana has to take a back seat to so called ‘real life’.

That’s the position I found myself in recently when it was all change in terms of pretty much every aspect of my life. I’ve had a lot to deal with over the past few weeks, many of which is ongoing, and so my spiritual practice had to take a back seat to the basic practicalities of life.

I found I had to do something to get things back on track, which is why I decided to do the five day Sivananda Summer Retreat in Wales. If a steady diet of double yoga, double satsang, lectures and meditative walks didn’t do the trick, nothing would.

snowdonia mountain lodge

lodge 1

lodge 2

lodge 3

from the lawn, to the valley

The location for the retreat was a new one for me; the Snowdonia Mountain Lodge. It’s a little further than Gaunt’s House, the place I’ve been to previously with the Sivanadas, but I found the drive up fairly straight forward. Motorways and main roads most of the way in fact. From London it was a good four or five hour drive, but with the first yoga class on day one being at 4pm, that gives you plenty of time to get up there.

I actually had an unusual journey, in that I went up the day before – after having picked up a load of stuff from the yoga centre for transportation – and stayed nearby with a friend. It just broke things up nicely for me, and I arrived bright eyed and bushy tailed ready to dive into my sadhana.

Actually, my first bit of spiritual practice was, of course, karma yoga, lol. I helped set up the stuff I’d brought up from London, which turned out to be everything for the altar and things for the boutique.

the altar

yoga room

sivananda shop 1

sivananda shop 2

Our set up was actually in the corner of a much larger boutique that they have at the Mountain Lodge. The lodge itself has strong connections with the Dru Yoga organisation, so any visiting yogis will find their needs well catered for (check out those snacks!).

retreat shop 1

retreat shop 2

retreat shop 3

Karma yoga over with (for now) I got to have a wee scout about before everyone else turned up. I scoped out the Peace Flame,

peace flame

and the Peace Bridge,

lodge 4

peace bridge

by the peace bridge

not to mention the Peaceful Views of the surrounding valley (anybody spotting a theme yet?).

over from the lodge

We’d chosen a lovely day to arrive, and everyone kept telling us it wouldn’t last, but I’m glad to say the sunny weather lasted nearly the whole retreat long, with just the odd shower to liven things up now and then.

The program for the course ran the same as it does for the TTC:

6am – Morning Satsang (medtiation, chanting and short lecture)
8am – First Yoga Class
10am – Brunch
11:30-3:30pm(ish) – Lecture & Meditative Walk, alternating depending on weather, and of varying lengths and start times, with a break in between
4pm – Second Yoga Class
6pm – Evening Meal
8pm – Evening Satsang
9:30pm – Finish/Bed

Apart from meals, every event lasts about an hour and a half (except the lecture which is about an hour) so there’s time in between to relax a little bit, but not too much. The program is pretty full on, but such practice has great benefits, as it really brings you out of your daily life and makes you concentrate on your sadhana. And that, after all, was the main reason I was there.

Two full yoga classes a day really improves your asana practice quite quickly. I’m not saying I could touch my head to my knees within the five days, but I did end up being able to do a very rudimentary Pigeon which, whilst not pretty, is at least fully realised (and I’ll let you figure out what I mean by that for yourselves, lol).

There were two levels of class on offer, a beginners/intermediate class and an intermediate/advanced class. Tempted though I was to give myself a break now and then, I stuck with the more advanced class. I know I’m lazy, and I need to be pushed, and so it was the perfect one for me. The teaching was provided by Narada and Sundari, two of the staff members, and was excellent as always. Though I often went into a class a bit tired, I pretty much always came out more energised (and generally quite hungry, lol).

soup and salad

pasta

crumble

retreat lunch

crumble and custard

Food was provided by the staff at the Mountain Lodge, but cooked using Sivananda recipes and under guidance from the staff, and I must say they did an excellent job. Everything we had was tasty, and I had to literally restrain myself from having thirds (seconds was a foregone conclusion) a lot of the time.

And so many nice puddings too! Never had so much sweet stuff on a Sivananda retreat. Not only at the meals, but after the walks as well. From chocolate mousse to rice pud to crumble and custard, I dare say everybody’s sweet tooth was more than satisfied.

Thank goodness was had the walks to burn off those extra calories, lol. The region around the Lodge had lots of great walks we could go on. A couple we could do right from the front door, and a couple we had to jump in the cars to go do.

The first walk was to a nearby hillside lake (what I would call a Tarn, being from Oop Norf as I am).

A five minute drive up the valley and a short walk brought us to the lake. NB: The walks are done in silence so that you can concentrate on calming the mind, linking your breathing to your walking, or just enjoying the energy of the beautiful surroundings.

meditative walk to the lake

yogis contemplate by the lake

Here we had a short meditative contemplation before carrying on around the lake to the other side.

from the far side of the water

second meditation

at peace

From here we could see back down the valley to where we were staying. Our accommodation is one of the white dots near the road in the first picture, but I honestly can’t say which one anymore, lol.

back down the valley

a valley peak

As Swami Jyotimayananda said, it’s amazing how invigorating being in nature can be. You forget the stuff you do day to day, but walks and scenery like that stay with you for a long time.

The other big walk we did was to Newborough Beach on Anglesey. This was a new one for everybody so Swamiji asked me to drive out there in the morning to check out the route and see what was what. It meant missing the lecture, but since it was on Positive Thinking and I’d done the Positive Thinking Course at the London Centre with Swami Jyotimayananda, I really didn’t mind.

I felt the responsibility of getting everyone to the beach. We were a convoy of about seven cars all in all, and I had to pull over a couple of times to allow everyone to catch up. We lost two cars along the way, but thanks to sat nav, and making sure everyone had a nearby postcode, those two cars actually got there before the rest of us, lol.

The beach was gorgeous, and we walked the full length of it before heading out onto a spit of land for our meditation (and a bit of a lie down).

a meditative walk on the beach

newborough beach

in the footsteps of a swami

yogis at the water's edge

yogis by the beach

wales from anglesey

yogi at rest

As I said, and as you can see, we got really lucky with the weather. Lovely sunshine and gorgeous views; what more could you want?

I thoroughly enjoyed the summer retreat. I won’t lie to you, it was tough at times. You know me, I likes my sleep. But I persevered, and I certainly felt the benefits afterwards.

I was invigorated by my time in Wales, and that carried through into the following weeks. I keep getting up early and doing things, which is crazy for me. Getting everything you want to do done and then looking at your watch and finding out it’s still morning just blows my mind, lol. I mean it’s great, but with so much time in the day what do you do with yourself? πŸ˜‰

I’d recommend giving the retreat a go if you haven’t been on one before. It’s not as far as it seems, and once you’re there the benefits you gain far outweigh the effort required in getting there (much like yoga itself, lol).

The 30 Day Hip Opening Challenge

“If you always do what you’ve always done,

you’ll always get what you’ve always got.”

∼ Mark Twain

 
You’ve got to challenge yourself in life. And sometimes, other people have to do the challenging for you, just to keep you on your toes.

My girlfriend challenged me to try for thirty days the hip opening exercises she’s been doing recently to see what effect, if any, they might have on me. After all, I’m already pretty flexible in the hips when my knees are out to the side – years of sitting cross legged on my bed because I didn’t have a chair have seen to that – but other than that my range of motion in the hip joint could certainly be improved.

She gave me two exercises to do, thirty seconds on each side, so just over two minutes extra work each day. Doesn’t sound like much, but even then I had trouble squeezing it in sometimes!

Here’s what I got up to…

Exercise 1 – Gomukhasana: Shoe Lace Pose, yin variation

Kneel, sitting on your heels, then sit off to one side and swing the upper leg over the lower until your knees are above one another. If you can’t manage this, and not everyone can to begin with, just get as close as you can. As long as both buttocks are comfortably on the ground you’re doing fine.

hip opening exercise - 1a

Inhale, then exhale forward and hold for thirty seconds.

hip opening exercise - 1b

With each exhalation see if you can go a little further forward, remembering not to strain or force while doing so. Relax the muscles around your hips to help deepen the stretch.

hip opening exercise - 1c

After thirty seconds release and do the same again on the other side.

Exercise 2 – Agnistambhasana: Fire Log Pose, yin variation

Sit with your lower legs one on top of the other, both buttocks comfortably on the floor. You’re aiming to have feet and knees above each other, but just do the best you can. And if it means laying your legs one in front of the other on the floor in front of you, so be it. Use cushions or blankets to support your knees if necessary.

hip opening exercise - 2a

If you find there is a gap between your upper knee and your lower foot place a blanket or cushion there so that your knee can rest comfortably.

hip opening exercise - 2b

Inhale, and then exhale forward. Hold for thirty seconds.

hip opening exercise - 2c

Place your hands on the floor in front of you for support. With each exhalation see if you can go deeper into the posture, again without strain or force. Remember to relax your hip muscles.

hip opening exercise - 2d

After thirty seconds release and do the same again, changing over which leg is on top.

If you can sit comfortably without the blanket for support you should do so, and feel free to go as low as possible without risking injury. Always support yourself with your hands.

hip opening exercise - 2e

Personally I prefer doing both exercises with a straight back when I go forward, as I find it more beneficial, but you can also do them with a curved, relaxed back for a more ‘yin’ experience.

You may also find in both exercises that one side is easier or more flexible than the other. This is perfectly natural, and may also change day to day. Only do what is comfortable for you on the day, and if it is ever too much for you then stop immediately.

The Result

To begin with I was a little stiff (to say the least!). My knees in the first exercise were nowhere near being above each other, and my top knee in the second exercise was way up in the air. But, you can only start from where you are, so I just went with it. What the hell, it was just for thirty days!

On the days where I did a full yoga session it was easy to integrate them into my practice. On the days when I had to go to work it was tolerable, but still ok. On the days when I was all over the place and only just remembered to do them before bed it was… interesting. And on the days where I forgot I just forgot, lol.

Slowly I became happier in what I was doing, and I found myself able to go deeper into the exercises, eventually able to do them ‘properly’ (as it were), and without any support even (in the case of the second exercise).

On the days where I just did the exercises and nothing else (usually right before bed) I found them to be very freeing after a long day of sitting at work, and just those few minutes brought a lot of relief to my hip area which I quite enjoyed.

As you can see from the final picture above, there was a noticeable effect after just thirty days. I found myself able to go much deeper than I had in the beginning, and I was comfortable holding the posture for longer also.

I found the exercises to be quite beneficial, and I’ve since incorporated them into my daily routine (time permitting – mornings can be quite a rush when you have to be out the house at 7am!). I can recommend giving them a try, and if you do please let me know in the comments below how you get on.

I’m on a new mission now: The three minute daily Plough. I want to get back to where I was by the end of the Teacher Training Course in 2012, and this is the way to do it I reckon. I’ll let you know in a few weeks how things work out, and how long it takes for me to get my tootsies on the floor once more.

Wish me luck! πŸ™‚

The Yoga Barn, Ubud

If you’re in Ubud, and have some time on your hands, chances are you’re going to do some yoga at least once. There’s loads of it about, and there are many shops selling all kinds of paraphernalia you didn’t know you needed.

Chances are also pretty good that you’ll end up doing it at the Yoga Barn, Ubud’s biggest yoga establishment. I went there several times, and each time a good proportion of the class was new to Yoga Barn, and many of them had never done yoga before.

yoga barn

Getting there can be half the fun, especially considering some of the ‘maps’ they have available in Bali (NB: Google Maps – very unreliable!).

Never mind the pot-holed pavements,

getting there is half the fun

the streets and shops in Ubud aren’t the best sign posted. Thankfully though, the information gleaned from their website that they were “…just behind Siam Sally…”

down the alley next to siam sallys

proved to be not only accurate but easy to follow (even if the map on their Find Us page is oriented different to every other map of Ubud I saw).

Even so, “just behind” stretched the meaning of the phrase a little bit.

alley 1

alley 2

But since I was there to be stretched who was I to complain? ..lol..

and there it is

You arrive at an upper reception area, but the reception for classes is down at the ‘barn’ itself, so they sent me down the stairs and through the restaurant (I’ll be reviewing that on my next post; ‘Vegan Ubud’), where I was surprised to find this waiting for me.

amphitheatre, from the cafe

the amphitheatre

the yoga barn

I had no idea it was so big. But I guess that’s one of the joys of building somewhere like Bali, they’ve got the space to let your imagination run wild, and it’s fairly affordable.

you are here

I did four lessons there while I was in Ubud. I had bought a five class card – 450,000IDR = Β£25 – and though they do have a massive class schedule, there were only a few types of yoga I really wanted to try out, some of which I’m afraid were too early and sleep got the better of me. Well, I was on holiday after all. πŸ™‚

There are two main asana halls, a smaller one at the back of reception, and a massive one upstairs,

the upstairs asana hall

and I ended up having two different classes in each of them. Here’s what I got up to;

Yin Yoga with Tina

I’d been looking forward to doing some proper Yin Yoga since I first did it atop the Sydney Tower Eye, so this was the first class I went for. It was similar to what I’d done before, but this time we used a lot more bolsters and blocks to support our bodies.

Because there were so many new people Tina gave an excellent explanation of the purpose of Yin Yoga, and how it works – holding the poses for longer to soften up the connective tissue of the joints – before we got down to the asanas themselves.

Unfortunately I didn’t do so well in the postures as she concentrated a lot on the hips, and there were a lot of forward bends which I just can’t do. My hamstrings are too tight and I can’t even sit upright with my legs out in front of me, never mind getting any part of me on my knees/thighs.

I enjoyed the class, and I’m glad I went, but I was looking forward to something a bit more vigorous the next time.

Restorative Yoga with Tina (again)

Unfortunately I slept through the class I was going to attend, the Morning Flow at 7am, so instead I went for the Restorative Yoga session, as it was the only one I could fit into my schedule that day.

This one was upstairs, in the early evening, and we had the same teacher as the day before (this was her normal lesson; I think yesterday she had been filling in).

Our lesson started with us donning mozzie repellant, as we were warned they would be coming out in about 30 minutes. They were right, they did, but not so you’d really notice, or at least I didn’t anyway.

I had hoped that ‘restorative’ would mean ‘invigorating’, or ‘energising’, but in fact it was meant ‘resting’ and ‘relaxing’. To be honest, it turned out to be very similar to the Yin Yoga of the day before. A few different asanas, but also a lot of the same forward bends we’d done previously, so once again I wasn’t able to get the full benefit because of my intractable hamstrings.

Yoga Nidra with Gypsy

After my previous two lessons I really wanted to do something more vigorous and challenging. However, there was only one opportunity to have a go at Yoga Nidra in the schedule, and that came the next day. So off to that I went!

Yoga Nidra, for want of a better explanation, is like one big, long, final relaxation. There’s a bit of breathing, and some meditation, but the lion’s share of the lesson is done lying in shavasana, which we did length-ways on a bolster with the soles of our feet together and cushions supporting our knees.

There’s to be no strain while you do it. The idea is to mentally relax every part of the body, and with that the mind, taking the time to do it in great detail and often imagining different types of light at different areas. The final part is a relaxation of the mind, sending it out into the Universe and allowing yourself to feel a certain oneness with everything.

Yes, I know, very hippy, lol. But I tell you what, it was very interesting to do. And I didn’t fall asleep once, which is amazing (for me anyway, hehehe). I came close a few times, but I managed to stay focused and not let The Snooze over-take me.

At the end I felt quite relaxed, and a wee bit spaced out. The teacher recommended taking it easy as you headed back into the world, and I could see why. If you hadn’t done this kind of thing before it’d be too easy to wander off into traffic or something equally as dangerous. So everyone took a moment to have a sit down and a drink of water before once more braving the insane roads and crazy drivers of Ubud’s tiny roadways.

Hatha Flow with Carlos

So, Hatha Flow. Finally I was going to get the exercise I had been craving. Well you know what they say, be careful what you wish for…

Hatha I was familiar with. It’s what you do at the Sivananda Centres. Flow I’d heard about, mostly in the context of Vinyasa (though I’ve yet to do a Vinyasa class as it doesn’t sound like the thing for me). How the two related to each other I didn’t know?

What we ended up doing was a lot of asanas in a big long sequence, our ‘relaxation’ being to hold ourselves in Down Dog (Inverted V) before moving on to the next bit.

Again there was a lot of people of mixed ability in the class, and I noticed a few left early, though whether it was because of the yoga or they had somewhere to be I don’t know. The teacher was very enthusiastic, and obviously knowledgeable, but he didn’t explain things in great detail sometimes, and his accent was a little hard to follow too, so much so that even I got confused now and then (and I kind of know what I’m doing, so it must have been especially difficult for new beginners).

But mostly it was ok. The asanas were quite challenging, though he gave alternatives for those of us (notice I said ‘us’, lol) who weren’t quite up to it. I found it hard not having as much relaxation as I’m used to, and had to bow out now and then to just rest up in Child’s Pose (the suggested alternative to Down Dog). But by then end of it I felt like I’d gotten the workout I’d been after, and then some, and I was glad I’d gone to the class.

jata ganesha, jaya ganesha...

After each class it was nice to just hang around the centre for a bit, relaxing and re-hydrating before heading back out into the world. There are loads of little nooks and crannies you can deposit yourself away in, not to mention the excellent cafe that I frequented on more than one occasion.

their organic garden

to the healing hut

shopping!

yoga barn cafe

That’s the real plus of the Yoga Barn I reckon, having somewhere quiet to hang out in Ubud, away from all the hustle and bustle of the main road. We all need that bit of time out now and then, and the restorative power of somewhere peaceful to sit and relax should never be under-estimated. πŸ™‚

Yoga In Toodyay, WA

It’s all very well doing your at home yoga practice, but it’s nice to do it in a group, not only for the camaraderie, but also so there’s someone there to give you a bit of a push when you get lazy. So when I spotted the sign outside Toodyay IGA for yoga at the local community centre I jumped at the chance.

I went to the Friday morning class (two, as it happens, teaching on the second one!) and as I’ve already outlined previously, the morning of my first lesson was quite eventful already. By the time I got there I was in need of a bit of relaxation.

The teacher, Sally, who’s also a local Councillor, was very welcoming, even trying to get me to teach the class there and then once she found out I was qualified. But I was there to practice, so I got my bit of wall space and got ready.

It was quite a large group, mostly ladies with a bit of life experience, and the asanas were tailored to their level of stamina and flexibility. I actually found it very similar to some of the Yin Yoga classes I’ve attended.

That’s not to say it wasn’t challenging. My heart always fills with dread when the spread-legged forward bend is suggested. I can’t do it to save my life, and just sit there feeling silly and utterly inflexible.

It was a good class, and they very kindly invited me to tea afterwards, which was nice of them. We had a good natter, and I found out a lot of of gossip about people I have never and probably will never meet, lol.

the ladies of yoga

At Sally’s suggestion I turned up the next week with a lesson plan in hand. I was going to do a full Sivananda lesson, with chanting and everything, but with modified asanas more suitable to their level of experience. The ‘normal’ Sivananda lesson can be quite challenging, and I didn’t have the notes with me to be able to teach them a proper beginners class.

That’s not to say we didn’t do everything. There were forward bends, back bends, side bends, twists, inversions, breathing, chanting, and of course a proper final relaxation.

I’m glad to say they all did very well. Everyone had a good go at each posture, even the more difficult ones, and there were even a few smiles here and there, which is always a good sign.

They did better than me anyway. I messed up a bit, getting all lefty-righty during the Sun Salutations, and giving some wrong instruction for breathing during the neck exercises, but in the end I hadn’t broken anyone, and they all seemed good and relaxed, so I’m chalking that one up as a win, lol. πŸ˜‰

Considering it was only my second ever time teaching yoga (don’t think I mentioned that to them at the time) it went very well. I didn’t make any major mistakes, and I only ran five minutes over time, but since we started late anyway I’m not counting that.

It was great experience, coming up with my own lesson plan, then adapting it as I went along, making allowances for both time and ability. I hope they enjoyed it as much as I did, and I’m very grateful they allowed me to share this experience with them.

What they made of the fact that I started teaching in jeans, as I’d forgot my mat and yoga pants, I do not know. Or what my brother thought when he turned up with said mat and pants, to find me sat in a room full of people chanting the Gajananam, I can only imagine, hehehe. I guess it was a world of new experiences for everyone that morning.

At least nothing gave birth this time. That would have been something else!

Sivananda Strikes Again!

Another day; another Sivanada centre, lol.

After Waitomo, Lena and I headed down to New Plymouth on the south west corner of the north island of New Zealand. We were there for two reasons; one, it’s on the way to Wellington, where we had to get the ferry to the south island; and two, there’s a Sivanada affiliated yoga centre there (the only one in New Zealand, I think).

sivananda yoga new plymouth

The centre was a ‘short’ walk from our hostel (which was good as our hostel was a long walk from everything else, including the city centre) so we actually managed to get there early for once, giving us time to chat a bit with the people who ran the place.

Our class was run by Claire, a graduate of the TTC course in Australia in February (just four months earlier), and also a former karma yogi at the Melbourne centre just before I got there, helping them turn an old office into a new yoga centre.

asana hall

It’s almost ridiculous me reviewing the class here, I’ve written about so many Sivananda classes in this blog already, and without exception they’re always good. We did the usual exercises – pranayama, sun salutations, twelve basic postures – peppered, as always, with the teacher’s own specialist bits of knowledge and understanding.

The class was thoroughly refreshing, as always, and Lena and I both felt great coming out of there at the end of it.

both of us in front of the altar

We had a lovely chat with everyone at the end, trading karma yoga/TTC stories, and giving a little feedback to Claire on her teaching technique, after which she very kindly gave us a lift back to our hostel; providing us with a chance to collect yet another inspiring ‘I quit everything to move to New Zealand and start teaching yoga’ story, as well as some very handy restaurant tips.

claire and I in front of the altar

We loved it so much in fact we went back the day we were due to leave for another class, this time with Ram, a former staff member from the Ashram in Canada of many years standing, and the director of the centre along with his partner who’s currently expecting… or was a few weeks ago anyway. She’s probably given birth by now, lol.

I tell you what, you could tell he was used to teaching in a much bigger hall. Talk about a booming voice, lol. Not much chance of you falling asleep during the relaxation, or not for long anyway, hahaha. But seriously, it was a great class, and very interesting to compare with the one we’d had two days before. Two very different techniques, different levels of experience, yet each enjoyable and rewarding in their own way. Certainly set us up right for the bus journey to Wellington.

That’s almost it for the north island from me. Got one more post to do then it’s on to the chilly south island, where much fun was had, much rain came down, and much inspiration for the future was found. Coming soon… πŸ˜‰

Yoga Tree, Taupo

In an effort to do more yoga (and being far more diligent than me) Lena is always on the look out for somewhere near where we’d be to do a bit of ‘meditative stretching’. That was how we ended up at Yoga Tree in Taupo.

yoga tree, taupo

Because Lena had looked it up I had no idea what to expect. It was meant to be a hatha yoga class, but there seemed to be an awful lot of blocks and straps and belts knocking about for that. But what the hey, it was about doing something new too, so we got our mats out and got down to business.

yoga bits and pieces

Our teacher, Beth, was very nice and smiley, which is always a good sign of yoga well practiced I reckon. And she gave some very detailed instruction regarding body position, which I found very interesting not to mention a little challenging (doing one thing with the front of your calf while you do something else with the back, lol). But it was good to get the anatomical information which is often lacking in other classes. I don’t know if I’d want it all the time, but it was nice to know exactly what I was meant to be doing for once.

And there was a lot of sanskrit, lol, which is something I really need to work on. I can never remember the ‘proper’ names of all the asanas. And maybe that’s why the detailed instruction, because who could remember all that sanskrit and do the asanas at the same time, hehehe.

We used the straps, we used the walls, we used bolsters and chairs and the ropes on the wall, all to get us in the right position. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it seemed to be a lot of kit for something I’ve practiced with just a mat, a cushion and a blanket for a number of years. But these are all roads to the same place, and it was certainly interesting giving it a go this way. A touch of Iyengar in my Hatha. A new experience for me and no mistake.

me and beth

All in all I enjoyed the class, and it was certainly a good workout, as my thighs could testify by their inability to walk without complaining the next day, lol. And I came away with a new way to help/do The Bow, which is really good. Any day you learn something new and useful is a winner in my book.

We got invited for coffee with the group afterwards, which was really nice of them. Beth is British, so it was good to hear her story, not to mention inspiring. I’ve got an idea forming of teaching yoga in New Zealand (wait for my Queenstown post to know the full ‘plan’), so it was nice to chat to someone who has done it and made it work.

NB: I’ll be doing a few posts retrospectively for a while. I’m back in Oz now about to head up through Alice Springs to Darwin (with a stop off at Ayers Rock). And Lena is now back in Germany, trying to adjust back to ‘normal life’. We just did so much fun stuff over the past few weeks it’s been impossible to keep up!

Got about half a dozen posts to do, which I’ll be releasing every couple of days hopefully. That should get me caught up. Then I can get back to blogging about stuff I do as I do it. So prepare yourself for two more yoga reviews, along with glow worms, whale watching and a Lord Of The Rings Tour; all coming real soon!

White Lotus Yoga

There’s just a few things I really wanted to do when I came to Oz, and yoga at White Lotus is one of them.

White Lotus Yoga is run by two former yogis of the London Sivananda Centre, where I began my yogic journey, one of whom was my first ever yoga teacher! And since it was her love for, skill in, and enthusiasm about yoga that helped me realise it was the thing for me, I was looking forward to seeing her again (since you could quite concievably say that all this quitting work and leaving London to train as a yoga teacher and travel the world was in no small part down to her).

white lotus yoga

White Lotus Yoga is just down the road from Byron Bay where we were staying, but, true to form, we got there just as the lesson started and barely had enough time to change and get into sivasana before we were up again and sitting cross legged ready to begin.

The class was led by Madhava, whom I recognised from the London Centre but hadn’t had much interaction with before he left. I had had a class with him before though, in London, so I knew he was a good teacher, and I’m glad to say nothing much has changed in that respect. πŸ™‚

The class was a mix of absolute beginners, intermediates, and yoga teachers, so the teaching was skilfully given on several levels so that everyone could practice to their own abilities.

I have to say, for all the self practice I’ve been doing, and the other classes I’ve been to in Australia, it was really nice to go to a proper full length Sivananda class again. I really managed to get a good work out from it, with some good stretches and some proper relaxation in between. By the time we’d finished I felt the same joyful invigoration that I always felt coming out of Putney on a Wednesday night.

And there was that special moment too, when you get a good bit of correction and finally find some comfort in a posture you’re not quite happy with. For me it was in the Half Spinal Twist. With just a few adjustments, and a little physical ‘encouragement’, I was able to go much deeper and further into the posture that I have ever done before.

yoga studio

When class ended Lena and I got to have a good chat with Madhava and Shyamala (his partner, and my former teacher). It was great to catch up, to have a look round their new centre, and to discuss what plans they have for the future. Madhava might be going to the new Melbourne Sivananda Centre where I did my karma yoga in February to help out for a while. They’ve finally got their permit through, so it’s all hands on deck to get the place up and running. (NB: That was the reason I had to hide my first Melbourne post, because they were worried it might give the impression that the centre was operating without a permit, and they didn’t want to mess up their chances with any misunderstandings.)

shyamala, madhava and me

All in all it was a great night and, as I’ve said already, it really reinvigorated my joy of yoga. It is amazing what a difference a kind, attentive, skilful teacher makes. All I can say is the folks of Lennox Head and Byron Bay are blessed to have not one but two right on their doorstep! πŸ™‚

Yoga In The Sky

Well, I had a most unusual experience this morning. I did some Yin Yoga (my first of that kind) 258 metres up in the air, at the top of the Sydney Eye Tower (or whatever they call it).

morning views

I found it quite by accident when I was looking to book the Skywalk, where you get to go round the outside of the tower! They do it on Wednesday mornings, and charge just $25, which is pretty good when you consider the views. I mean you pay nearly that much just to go up the Observation Deck itself.

getting ready

yoga in the sky

Places are limited to 35 because, as you can see, there’s not a lot of room. You have to book in advance, and online, and it’s run by Yoga By The Sea Instructor Sasha (actually, I have to admit, I’m not sure it was her, but I think it was – next time I’ll ask).

Getting there was a task for me, mainly because of the early start; 6:45 for 7am. Because I was going to do the Skywalk afterwards (at 10am) I had to book out of my hostel and stick all my bags in a storage locker, as I was moving to a hotel later that day. So my alarm went off at 5:45! Which, I have to say, was a bit harsh. It was also a little harsh, when I got there, being stuck in an elevator with a bunch of jabbering 20-something Aussies first thing in the morning, but anyway…

The class was nice. Like I said, it was classed as Yin Yoga, which is basically a Hatha Yoga class concentrating on simple stretches and relaxation (as far as I could tell – I don’t know the dictionary definition). It was open to all, so the poses started off easy with more complex variations for the more experienced yogi, a situation which worked great for me as I landed on my face trying to do the Scorpion the other day and injured my neck, so I’ve been recuperating since then. I needed something to ease me back into my practice, and this class did the trick. A nice gentle start to the day (with moments of invigoration, lol.) Don’t get me wrong, just because it was simple doesn’t mean it was easy. :))

There were some nice leg stretches, and a lot of twists. All good stuff for loosening the back up. Unlike a normal Hatha Yoga class the relaxation was just at the beginning and the end, I guess because of time constraints; the Tower opening up to the public and people having to get to work.

They had music playing, which as I’ve said before I’m finding I like in a yoga class, and after you’d finished there was a light breakfast provided of fruit and fruit juices; though you had to be quick to get some. I was chatting with a lovely lady named Julie afterwards, so when I went to get my fruit it had all gone. All I got was a small bottle of OJ.

kiki and sasha

All in all, with the views, the yoga, the brekkie, and the uniqueness of it all, I’d say this was a good value for money class. I had planned on doing the Skywalk right afterwards at 10am, but as you can see the weather turned nasty and it didn’t prove possible.

wet and windy

I’m going back later tonight though to do it, so it’s all good. πŸ™‚

If you’re in Sydney give the Yoga In The Sky (they call it Yoga From The Sky but I like my way better ;)) a go. It’s worth trying at least once, if you can get up that early that is, lol.

Karma Yoga, Melbourne Style

Well, it’s been an interesting couple of weeks in and around Melbourne. After the dramas of my arrival I then went and spent a week with my friends Tom and Petra, and their two little ones Lexie and Cian (more on that in another post).

Then on Tuesday (6 days ago) I came back to the city and moved in the new Sivananda Yoga Centre that has opened up here (their first in Australia).

SVYC Melbourne

Perhaps ‘opened’ is a bit of an exaggeration. The building is occupied, and it is mostly set up, but since a change of use license has to be applied for, the centre cannot officially open for a little while yet.

But still, there’s plenty to do to get things ready. I mean, downstairs is a bit spartan (we are awaiting delivery of some pictures to put up),

SVYC Melbourne, downstairs

but upstairs is starting to look nice,

SVYC Melbourne, asana hall, 1

SVYC Melbourne, asana hall, 2

and the whole place has a nice energy about it too. With all the natural light and open space it feels very comfortable, and will be a great place to do yoga once we have a few students.

Like I say, we cannot ‘officially’ open just yet, but if people want to pop by and come have a look around they are most welcome to do so. Evenings are good, Mon-Fri after 6pm; or Sat/Sun around 4pm. That’s when we’re there for sure and open to visitors. If you need more info just message me below and I’ll get back to you.

Apart from building Ikea furniture, guess what I’ve been doing most of? That’s right, cooking. πŸ˜‰

SVYC Melbourne, kitchen

I have to say, it’s nice to be back in the kitchen again. I miss the opportunity to cook while I’m traveling about. The state of some of the kitchens in the hostels, you wouldn’t want to cook anything in them. So to have a kitchen all to myself, even one as compact and bijou as this one, is a real blessing.

And to have somewhere decent to stay for a while too! So nice to be able to spread out a bit and not have to worry about your stuff. I mean initially I was camped out on the floor for a day or two, as we had two Swamis and only two bedrooms,

SVYC, downstairs, Melbourne

but now that we’re down to one permanent Swami and me I get a room to myself.

SVYC, upstairs, Melbourne

Still on the floor, but I’m not complaining. Just nice to have a chest of drawers to unpack into.

Also nice to be able to do my sadhana (spiritual practice/asana) on a regular basis again. I mean it’s only been a week, but already I’m noticing a marked improvement in my flexibility. Just starting to get back to where I was, but after the last two weeks of exercising just once a week (if that) it’s great to finally indulge myself a bit.

Have to get used to the early starts again though. Satsang at 6am every day. More chanting and meditation, which is tough for me that early on. I’m a sleep in until 9am kind of guy. But it’s good to challenge yourself now and then, and it’s only for another three and a half weeks.

I’m here until the 26th of March, then I head off to Sydney. Just the right amount of time to relax a bit, get a bit more flexible, and maybe get a bit of rest (fat chance, lol). Either way, it’ll be nice to stay put for a while. All this traveling around, trying to figure out where to go, how to get there, and where to stay when you do get there can be a little tiring. It’ll be nice to enjoy a bit of familiarity for a while.

So if you’re in Melbourne do stop by! We’re at 86 Tope Street, South Melbourne. And anyone wanting to help out with a few hours of karma yoga, I’m sure we can find something that needs doing. πŸ˜‰