Diary of Lazy Ashtangi and Why I Do Not Encourage Practicing Yoga with a Video.

Led Class with Petri RaisanenYep, that’s me ↑ in Petri Räisänen’s Led Class in Purple Valley, Goa, India in February 2010.

As I sit down and finally have time to write my next blog, I realise a month has passed since my last diary entry. Somehow, I lost track of time, like everybody else who has been dealing with the craziness upon approaching Christmas time, in Australia also known as the Summer Holidays.

Of course I love all the busy-ness, I have always relished working under pressure, but it did mean that my daily yoga practice became… well, more of a weekly yoga practice. However, I did manage to come up with some interesting results in this ongoing research of self-motivation to get on that mat as often as possible.

As I concluded in my last blog, I really enjoyed practicing with the video of John Scott’s Full Primary Series. This made me decide to investigate further so in the past few weeks, I have practiced with David Swenson, Petri Räisänen and Lesley Fightmaster. I had never heard of this last name before, but somehow she was mentioned to me twice recently so I decided to check her out.

Below you will find my findings about each video, but first, let me say this: if you a beginner, I do not recommend practicing (Ashtanga) yoga with a video.

I believe that any asana practice should be taught under the supervision of a teacher. And no, I don’t necessarily mean a certified, authorised or otherwise registered person. I simply mean a person with the right experience, able and willing to share knowledge with another person.

In my opinion, physical alignment, breath control and mindful transitions between poses are crucial for a safe and beneficial asana practice. Since these aspects differ widely per person, personal guidance is very important.

Example: if a teacher on YouTube says that for Virabhadrasana B the heel of the front foot should line up with the arch of the back foot, that may be the perfect alignment for herself or the hyperflexible model in the video. However, for a large majority of the other practitioners, especially beginners, this may not be ideal at all.  I won’t go into the details as to why, but you know, ankles, knees, hips, pelvis, lower back, instability, etc…

Google it and you’ll find plenty of good and bad articles illustrating what I mean. However, when you are doing an online class, I doubt you would interrupt your practice to google your alignment options, even when you feel quite unstable and are pretty sure that you don’t look as gracious as that skinny lady in her pretzel pose on your screen.

I think I made my point. If you are a beginner, go to a yoga teacher to learn how to practice asanas. Once you understand the basic alignment principles and more importantly, once you know your own body well enough to understand its strengths, weaknesses, limitations and needs, I think you could benefit from recorded classes as a support and inspiration, not so much for instructional purposes.

My rule of thumb would be that you are ready to practice Ashtanga with a video when listening to the counting is enough and you don’t need to look at the screen to understand what to do.

I can think of at least one exception to everything I said before and that is when there are simply no teachers available to you. Before I discovered Ashtanga, I practiced with Vinyasa DVD’s while I was living in a small village by the Red Sea in Egypt where I later became one of the first yoga teachers. There were no teachers around so there was no choice. Although practicing with the videos may not have taught me perfect alignment nor the philosophy behind the asanas, it did keep my passion for yoga going.

Also a reason why Ashtanga yoga lends itself well for recordings would be that it is a fixed sequence, therefore once you are familiar with it, you don’t need to look at what the video shows you. Listening is enough (see my rule of thumb above). With Vinyasa or any other form of yoga that does not know a fixed sequence, you will probably need to look up from your pose to understand exactly what you are supposed to do, thereby compromising your alignment.

Anyway, don’t let my rant above discourage you. I just try to make you aware of the limitations and risks of practicing with a non-interactive teacher. The same could be said of a teacher that does not do any adjustments and is too busy demonstrating the sequence and poses to properly supervise the students.

So Ashtanga encourages self-practice every morning, either in a Mysore style setting or alone, limited to the asanas that you have been give by your real-life teacher(s). My problem with self-practice at home is that I am simply not good at practicing alone. I miss the energy of fellow Ashtangis breathing and sweating next to me, I miss the observing eyes of the teacher and the incentive of practicing in a group setting.

Practicing with a video kind of fills some of those gaps. It’s a bit like going to a led class with a teacher that doesn’t do any hands-on adjustments. It has the added advantage that you can fast forward to the finishing sequence if for any reason, you are not doing the Full Primary that day, a good reason being that you haven’t been given all the poses yet.

So here are my reviews of the recordings of the Full Primary Series by the four previously mentioned teachers.

I would love to get your feedback on how you feel practicing with these, or any other videos!

John Scott Ashtanga Yoga The Primary Series

Total duration: 1 hour 36 minutes
Practice starts at 3 minutes 25 seconds into the recording
The finishing sequence starts at 1 hour 17 minutes 30 seconds

John Scott guides you through the Primary Series with full vinyasas, meaning that after almost each seated asana, he returns to standing and goes through a vinyasa before getting into the next. Considering that he does all that in just over one and a half hour, you will find that it is rather fast-paced. He does however, give a lot of instructions to get into the pose yet his voice is quite relaxed despite all the cues he manages to give in a short time. Beginners will find that he does not give any modifications though, so be mindful if you haven’t been taught the full expression of a pose yet.

He also gives the exact vinyasa count (the number of breaths) to get into each pose and he counts in Sanskrit, which I love. However, his Sanskrit pronounciation is terribly American and to me, a little bit distracting in the beginning. After a while, I got used to it and I really enjoyed this practice.

Although you shouldn’t be looking at the video while practicing (you’ll never hear him say that the drishti in on your screen), you might notice that he jumps to the side and back to the front to get into and out of the standing poses and has his arms out to the side. I always practice (and teach) to step rather than jump and keep the arms in the waist, in order to bring some awareness to the alignment of the hips. If jumping is your thing, then by all means…

This recording is probably quite a few years old but traditional Ashtangis will certainly appreciate it.

David Swenson First Series

Total duration: 1 hour 56 minutes
Practice starts at 24 minutes 10 seconds into the recording
The finishing sequence starts at 1 hour 32 minutes 40 seconds

David Swenson is another teacher from the old lineage and although the video must be at least three decades old judging by his clothes, his teachings are still invaluable. The video starts with a thorough introduction on what Ashtanga yoga is, what the important elements of the practice are and how to do the Surya Namaskaras and Vinyasas. Very useful for beginners.

Interestingly enough he skips the opening mantra and counts only in English, instead of the traditional Sanskrit. He gives plenty of options for beginners and instructions how to get into the poses, possibly even more than John Scott. Also David likes to stretch his arms out and jump in between standing postures which makes me think that this must have been the way in the old days. This and also lifting the chest and chin on the inhale before getting into the standing poses is not practiced anymore nowadays. When practicing with Sharath at the main shala Mysore, students are explicitly told not to look up or back bending when inhaling before folding over into the pose.

Even though also David Swenson counts a little bit too fast to my liking, I use the time he spends giving instruction on how to get into the pose to get one or two breaths in and so I often manage to take about four breaths, sometimes even five.

It’s a brilliant video and I like practicing with David.

1 1/2 Hour Ashtanga Yoga Primary Series with Jessica Kass and Fightmaster Yoga

Total duration: 1 hour 24 minutes
Practice starts at 50 seconds into the recording
The finishing sequence starts at 1 hour 7 minutes 10 seconds

If you thought the previous two videos were fast paced, than this one will have you hyperventilating. In less than one and a half hour, Lesley Fightmaster has you running through the entire Primary Series. Somewhere halfway, you can hear her sucking on a candy which I found distracting, although I understand that you can get pretty thirsty talking and counting for 90 minutes non-stop.

As she emphasises herself at the beginning of the practice, this is not meant for beginners as she does not give any alignment instructions nor modifications. The girl demonstrating in the video has a pretty practice with a few quirky habits. She adopt Anjali mudra every time in Samasthitih and does Gyan Mudra with her loose hand in the seated poses, something Patthabi Jois discouraged. Indeed, you will see most traditional Ashtangis make a fist, but hey, each their own rituals!

The counting is in Sanskrit and Lesley has a pleasant voice, yet altogether this was much too fast for me. I breathe super slow, but Lesley counts the breath to get into the pose as the first of the five holding breaths and uses the fifth breath to get out of the pose, effectively holding the pose for only three breaths. Perhaps this is how they practice in downtown Manhattan or LA where people live in a constant rush, but my background is the lush jungle or lazy beaches of Bali and India, where everybody has the time to breathe and a full practice takes at least 1 hour 45 minutes. I must admit I have never been to Mysore so I don’t know what the average practice time is at the main shala.

But if you like a deep and intense practice, this would not be a suitable recording.

Ashtanga Yoga Led Primary Series with Petri Räisänen

Total duration: 1 hour 49 minutes
Practice starts at 8 seconds into the recording
The finishing sequence starts at 1 hour 17 minutes.

By far my favourite recording so far, because Petri, another amazing Ashtanga teacher, actually leads a class. It’s not a manicured, staged demonstration with a voice-over and edits. No, this is a real life led class, filled with Ashtangis of all levels and Petri guides the class through the Primary Series adjusting his pace and his instructions to the energy in the room. He does hands-on adjustments throughout and you can hear the shuffling, the panting, the jumping of the students.

He counts in Sanskrit and his Finnish accent make the pronounciation of the asanas much more acceptable to my ears. This class also lasts a good fifteen minutes longer than all the other ones. No rush, time for long deep Ujjayi breaths and best of all, when you practice with the video, you practice with 30 other students. I love it.

Another reason for me to love this recording, is because six years before this recording was made, I was there, practicing with Petri in Purple Valley. I know that shala, its echos, its smells and I know his voice. Petri was the first teacher to help me into Marichyanasa C without any struggle (he is an energy healer and renown for his amazing adjustments) and simply breathing through this practice at the count of his voice brings me back to India.

And to top it off, I also found in my digital archives the led class recorded with Petri when I was in Purple Valley. So last week, I practiced with that video as well and it’s almost identical to the online version with one major difference: I get to practice with my 34-old self and two of my friends who were there with me.

How is that for great company during a lonesome self-practice at home!

 

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Diary of a Lazy Ashtangi – Week 9, 10 and an Epiphany

Sunset over the ocean with water quote

“Water does not resist. Water flows. When you plunge your hand into it, all you feel is a caress. Water is not a solid wall, it will not stop you. But water always goes where it wants to go, and nothing in the end can stand against it. Water is patient. Dripping water wears away a stone. Remember that, my child. Remember you are half water. If you can’t go through an obstacle, go around it. Water does.” – Margaret Atwood, The Penelopiad

I read this quote to my students the other day at the end of a class. It’s one of my favourite quotes from a book that has been described as a “a brilliant tour de force” and that I yet have to read.

Anyway, the past two weeks my practice has been erratic at best. And the last couple of days, I realised that perhaps I should listen to my own advice a bit better. Keep an eye on my objective, stay focussed, go around obstacles when they present themselves and just keep going, zigzagging, ducking, jumping, slowing down or picking up the pace when I need to. Just don’t give up.

Here’s how I came to that conclusion.

Note: Upon request, I have now linked the Sanskrit names of the asanas to a website where the poses and the sequence are all explained in great detail. Very valuable resource for those interested in the traditional way of Ashtanga.

Sunday 6, Monday 7, Tuesday 8, Wednesday 9 November
This reporting period starts with a slacking day on Sunday 6 November. On Monday I get my period. Two more days without Ashtanga and on Wednesday, I am at the tail end of my moon cycle, so I do a lovely long Yin session instead.

Thursday 10 November – 9.30 am
It looks like I am going to be indolent again. I didn’t get up in time to practice before my class and am not proud of it. Only one student rocks up for my class, a practitioner with a pretty steady practice, though only in led classes. I have a light bulb moment and I propose to her that we practice together rather than doing a guided class. That way, she gets to feel what it’s like to practice without the Vinyasas counted out loud and other cues and we get to share the energy of our individual practice. A win-win, the way I see it!

She agrees and we practice until Janu Sirsasana A, I set the pace as she follows me to get the sequence right. After the closing sequence we rest in Savasana and 90 minutes after our first Sun Salutation we get up and both feel the wonderful after-practice glow. Of course I ask for feedback and it turns out she really enjoyed the silent semi-guided practice.

I think I may have sowed the seed for a little local Mysore practice group for in the near future.

Friday 11 November – 10.30 am
It has been a few weeks, but I am back on the mat for a Restorative Yoga class with one of my favourite local teachers. I do have the energy for an Ashtanga practice but a friend is joining me at Restorative and I have tonnes of other things to do. So I skip the Primary Series and dive head first into my busy day after the Restorative bliss and brunch with my friend.

Saturday 12, Sunday 13 & Monday 14 November
I don’t practice for three days. I am not sure what the obstacles are that I am not able to tackle.

It is not a lack of energy because I am super active. In the weekend I am cooking, gardening, sorting through boxes with old memories, reading old letters, sending ex-boyfriends (the ones that I’m still on good terms with) copies of their own love letters and reminiscing about the years that I actually was as young as I still feel now.

On Monday I have just two classes to teach and no other appointments. So it is also not lack of time. It really wouldn’t hurt anybody if I would take two hours for my practice.

I think it is the loneliness. I simply don’t like practicing alone. I like to hear the breathing of fellow Ashtangis next to me, I like to feel the energy of their movement. Despite the eyes on me when I practice at home, it is still only just me.

Tuesday 15 November
It is the largest supermoon since 1948 and the moon won’t be coming this close to earth again until 2034. If there was ever a day not to practice in my life time, it is today.

I heard first hand (from one of my best friends practicing in Mysore at this very moment), that Saturday is not rest day anymore. Instead, at the main shala, Sharat – the grandson of Pattabhi Jois, founder of Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga as we know it today – teaches led classes on Saturday and Monday, leaving Wednesday through Friday for Mysore-style practice. So now Sunday is rest day.

Lo and behold, we are deviating from the tradition! Is the universe going to self-destruct? No, the sun still rises in the East and sets in the West and all is well in Ashtanga land.

Wednesday 16 November
I am teaching at 7.00 am so I really can’t be bothered to get up at 4 am to do my practice before going to the studio. Malesh! (Never mind in Arabic, vocabulary legacy from my time in Egypt).

It’s a busy day. Stefano has not gone to work since Monday, recovering from a little surgical intervention that left him… well, let’s say, very tender. If you are curious about what I am cryptically babbling about, read this blog that I wrote last year and puzzle the answer together yourself. Anyway, I enjoy his company at home, even though I have lots of work to do. Lucky for me, he is not unwell enough to not be interested in food, so when I come home at 7.30 pm from my evening class, a beautiful dinner is served.

Thursday 17 November – 9.30 am
Again only one student in my morning Ashtanga class, but not the same as last week. So I don’t hesitate and propose the same to her: practicing together instead of a led-class. She gets a taste of Mysore style while I get to practice too. Fortunately she loves it as well. My plan to cultivate Mysore style enthousiasts in the neighbourhood is steadily progressing.

Friday 18 November
No excuses, slack slack slack.

Saturday 19 November – 9.00 am
Saturday is not a rest day anymore right? I have a new idea. I google Ashtanga Primary Series on YouTube and select the first Full Primary that I come across recorded by a reputable teacher. You do find an endless number of bad yoga videos online but even if you do find a good led class on the internet, practicing with this is definitely not a technique that I would recommend to beginners. In my next blog I will explain why (click on Follow in the side column to make sure you don’t miss out on the next blog in which I will explain the pros and cons of practicing with a recorded class).

However, for today’s purpose, I find John Scott’s Full Primary Series and I love it despite the fact that my leg is still not well. Trikonasana and Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana go as wobbly as expected and I have to be very careful in the Prasarita sequence. I struggle terribly in Bhuja Pidasana, Kurmasana and Supta Kurmasana. Upavistha Konasana A & B are impossible and the drop from Supta Konasana to the floor is out of control. But I breathe with John Scott through the entire series and Stefano is even back home in time from early morning fishing to lend me his ankles for a modified Urdhva Dhanurasana.

Despite the fact that it is just a on computer screen, I have somebody breathing next to me, guiding me through the vinyasas and helping me to stay focussed.

I do the full Primary Series for the first time again since Sunday 2 October. Best Ashtanga practice in a long time. On a Saturday, of all days!

My little epiphany may prove to be a valuable one and I feel I may have found a way to keep the water flowing despite the rocks that are in the way.

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Diary of a Lazy Ashtangi – Week 7, 8 and some of the Yamas & Niyamas

Yaisa meditating on the beach

“Seeking out people and experiences we would normally avoid provides a fertile place to learn new things about ourselves and about life.” ― Deborah Adele, The Yamas & Niyamas: Exploring Yoga’s Ethical Practice

Sunday 23 October
No luck this first day of the Ashtanga week. Stefano has got a bad case of gastro and is in bed so I have to prepare the house for this afternoon’s pot luck all by myself.

I am expecting a handful of local yoga teachers for lunch and though I don’t have to cook much because every body is bringing food, I still have a few things to take care of. I prepare a lemon-ginger-honey lemonade, clean the living room, prepare a quinoa asparagus salad and lay out the beautiful silverware that came in the boxes with my stuff from Holland.

It reminds me of the times that I used to entertain people almost on a weekly basis, cooking five course dinners for friends, rolling 200 pieces of sushi or throwing a party for sixty souls. Oh well, it’s nothing that fancy today, but enough to not have time to practice!

Monday 24 October – 11.30 am
After teaching the Ashtanga class, it’s finally time for my own practice. I didn’t get up early enough to practice before the class but now the studio is nicely heated up, so I decide to practice here. Like last week, I stop after Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana, not wanting to over-exert my hamstring or whatever muscle it is that feels tender.

I am surprised at how good I feel about not going all the way. Two years ago, I would probably not have considered doing less than a full practice, when I did get onto my mat that is. Five years ago, I would most likely have pushed it even a bit further, going deeper and stronger.

Is it experience and wisdom that have taught me to listen to my body, to allow myself to rest when needed and to accept that being able to take it easy is just as valuable as knowing when to push through?

Or is it simply old age that forces me to slow down?

Either way, Ahimsa, non-violence, no harming, the first of the Yamas, the first limb of Ashtanga Yoga (the philosophy, not the asana practice) seems like a good one to keep in mind at this time of my life!

Tuesday 25 October – 6.55 am
Tuesdays are good for my routine. We are not fasting so I get up in time to make a juice for Stefano and as soon as he is out of the house and I have cleaned the juicer, I get on my mat. Again, I limit my practice in order to give my leg some healing space and take a beautiful long savasana. By restraining myself, I feel that I am giving and taking just what I need. Brahmacharya, the fourth of the Yamas, promotes moderation. And it works. I feel ready to conquer the world after this beautiful practice.

Wednesday 26 October – 7.30 am
Today I decide to do a Yin session and promise not to go easy on myself. The step from Yin to Restorative is easily made, but I stick to my intention. I do all my least favourite poses, such as Saddle and Frog and while I hold them, I practice surrender. Surrender to the pose, surrender to my body, surrender to the energy that surrounds me. The intensity of the poses become bearable thanks to this practice of Ishvara Pranidhana, the fifth Niyama which is about surrender to the higher power.

Thursday 27 October – 9.00 am
Stefano and I had a little squabble yesterday and I am not in the mood. I know it’s going to be okay, it always is, but right now I choose not to practice, be grumpy and stay in bed until it’s time to get up for work.

Satya, the second Yama, means truthful in feeling, thoughts and deed… Am I being truthful to myself? Am I saying the truth to Stefano? Why am I upset, really?

Friday 28 October – 7.00 am
After yesterday’s hiatus, I decide not to slack today, even though Stefano and I have not made up yet. He tried to, before leaving to work, but I was a typical obstinate Aries, Pitta, woman, whatever you want to call me.

During the practice, I realise my leg is still bothering me in certain poses, so I go easy and stop after the standing sequence. I spend lots of time on Urdhva Danurasana though. As advised by Prem and Radha, the teachers I practice with in Bali, I use blocks against the wall to ease into the shoulder opening. I pay particular attention to my legwork, engaging them properly so that I don’t worsen the injury. I feel positive and energised.

In the afternoon, I have an inspiring session with a group of entrepreneurial and creative women where we discuss our life’s objectives and areas that need refinement. I decide then and there that Stefano deserves my apology. At the end of his working day, I call him and ask if he wants to meet up for a beer. In the sun, enjoying a locally brewed beer, we kiss and make up. It’s a beautiful day.

Svadhyaya, the fourth Niyama that is about self-study: by observing myself, my behaviour and the consequences of my actions, I bring about change, in this case for the better. I think we could all use a little bit more of that…

Saturday 29 October
By now you should know that if I have an excuse not to practice, I use it. Official Ashtanga rest day today!

Sunday 30 October
By now you should know that if I have an excuse not to practice, I use it. Yes, again. But today is a big day. I am running a Yin Yoga workshop and I know that even if I would have managed to get up in time to squeeze in a practice before heading to the studio, I would not have been focussed. So I don’t even try.

The workshop turns out a success and I so grateful that I have the opportunity to give and receive through yoga. For me, yoga is health of body and soul, a feeling of youthfulness and energy, a never ending and never boring journey of self-discovery.

Santosha, the second Niyama which translates as gratitude, is what I feel and hope to practice more of in my life.

Monday 31 October – New Moon
Aaaah… that explains the low energy levels of the past couple of days! After teaching the 9.30 am class, I sit down on my mat and meditate a little. At noon, I have an appointment with the osteo, who confirms that it could be an adductor injury, although very light as it doesn’t hurt when I sit, walk, run or do any of the regular daily activities. It only bothers me when I actively swing my leg out to the side or bend towards my left leg while opening my chest to the side (not something an average person does on a daily basis, I admit). All I can do it be careful and mindful with my practice.

Tuesday 1 November – 7.30 am
The day after new moon. You can believe in it or not, but I feel like I have more energy than the days before. It could also be because I fasted yesterday.

I decide to test my limits and extend my practice by including a few seated postures. When I reach Janu Sirsana B and try to sit on my right heel, it really hurts. I very inelegantly palpate the tender area and finally pinpoint the exact source of the pain. I almost get sad and frustrated about it all. Just recovered from a shoulder injury and now this lingering issue for weeks.

But I need to let go of my greed, of my attachment to the practice as far it will harm me. Yes, there are others out there that have progressed in their practice much faster than I have. Yes, there are people out there that do poses that I might never reach. Yes, it’s one step forward, two steps back sometimes. But thou shall not covet thy neighbour’s asana: Aparigraha, the fifth Yama, is all about non-attachment.

Wednesday 2 November – 7.00 am
Today I choose Yin. I breathe through long held asanas, trying to release tension from the back of my legs and lower back in 10-minute Squat, a very gentle Dragonfly pose, a deep Butterfly and reclined spinal twists. I don’t know where the time goes, but before I know it, it’s time to go for the restorative massage that I booked. Yin and massage. Not a bad way to start the day!

Thursday 3 November – 7.30 am
Today is fasting day again so I am not up at the crack of dawn to make our juice before Stefano goes to work. Nonetheless, I get up early enough to practice before my 9.30 am class. Since I am not doing the entire Primary, I only need an hour or so for the Surya Namaskaras, Standing and Closing. I am pleased to notice that in Urdhva Dhanurasana, my shoulders are feeling open and strong. I have come a long way since the injury that led to a frozen shoulder. I am grateful for the practice as it has greatly helped me recover my health in that department. Now fingers crossed for the leg!

Friday 4 November – 7.30 am
Tuesdays and Fridays are my no excuse days. I am up early to make a juice, I have no early morning class to teach and these are the mornings-after-fasting, so plenty of energy. Now that the temperatures are getting warmer, it’s all much less of an issue for me to get started in the mornings. I have a great little practice.

True, much of the yoga practice is a question of inner discipline. That is Tapas, the third Niyama. But my Tapas, my drive, my inner fire, certainly burns a lot better at 30 degrees Celsius than at 20. Summer can not come early enough as far as I’m concerned.

Saturday 5 November
An Ashtanga-free day, but yoga-filled nonetheless. Teaching two Vinyasa classes and then off to a friend’s garage sale of which the proceeds will go to her sweet dog that needs an expensive brace to walk. Karma yoga, right? I spend the rest of the afternoon pottering around the garden. What a feel-good day!

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Diary of a Lazy Ashtangi – Week 6

Full Moon Diary of a Lazy Ashtangi

In many styles of yoga, full and new moon are seen as the perfect time to practice yoga. The planets are impeccably aligned, there is a peak of energy or it is the ideal moment to self-reflect and set new intentions. New beginnings, lunar energy, you name it. Personally, I love to teach a slow flow with moon salutations or a gentle Yin practice set around the moon energy on those days.

In the Ashtanga tradition however, it is the exact opposite. We do not practice on full moon nor new moon days because our energy is respectively too strong or too weak. The full moon can make us lose control as we feel over-confident, risking injuries as we push ourselves into poses that we should not be doing that very moment. During new moon, our energy levels are low and we should take rest rather than deplete ourselves further with a demanding Asthanga practice.

What is your experience I wonder? I know how I felt on Sunday…

Sunday 16 October
Full moon, no practice, thank the Gods. After yesterday’s party which we left at 1 am, we stayed over at a friend’s place in Adelaide. This means getting up at 7 am so I can get to the yoga studio in time for the yoga for charity class that was supposed to be on the beach. The bad weather has forced us back into the classroom, but with 24 students, it is full on anyway!

Anyway, I am grateful for the break the full moon allows me to take, I don’t think a 5 am practice would have had any value at all today!

Monday 17 October – 9.30 am
The new Monday morning class that I am teaching is not yet taking off, so instead I do my own practice at the studio. I still take it easy, only until Utthita Parsvakonasana this time and with a modified Trikonasana, as that asana seems to irritate the back of my leg most. It feels good, but I miss the energy of other practitioners and teachers. I miss practicing in Bali… sigh.

Tuesday 18 October – 8.30 am
I go to the Old Church early, so I can squeeze in a practice before the class starts. After my Surya Namaskaras however, I get distracted by a Vinyasa flow sequence that pops into my head. I practice it a few times and end up using it for my class starting at 9.30 am. So much for focus…

Wednesday 19 October – 8.30 am
After the early morning Ashtanga class, I have time for a quick practice before I need to clear the studio for the next class. Still no noticeable improvement in my leg, so I work my way around it with a modified Trikonasana and of course bent knees in Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward facing dog). Fortunately, it’s not getting any worse either. Hopefully I won’t injure myself any further until I can see the osteo who is fully booked for the next 10 days… I finish with Parsvakonasana and a quick closing sequence. Despite the limitations, I feel grateful for the practice.

Thursday 20 October – 8.30 am
Like Tuesday, I get to the Old Church early and do a short practice before my class starts. That way, I am already warmed up when I teach and I minimise the risk of further injury. It’s a known cause for injuries among teacher: demonstrating poses whilst not properly warmed up. With this weird injury, I feel that simple Uttananasana can do me harm if I don’t execute it mindfully. So I breathe through several sun salutations and the first few poses of the standing sequence, do some extra shoulder strengthening and core training and dream of an injury free body during savasana.

Friday 21 October – 6.55 am
Determined to gift myself a fuller practice today, I step on my mat with firm resolve and steady focus. I work on my alignment, my breath and Mula Bandha as I flow through the Surya Namaskaras and the standing sequence. For the first time since I admitted to my injury three weeks ago, I dare the standing balancing poses. With extreme care and control of my core muscles, I avoid putting stress on my external rotators. It feels okay, but I decide not to push my luck and stop after Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana. I add some more core training and meditation. Mission accomplished.

Saturday 22 October
Ashtanga day off, but teaching two full-on Vinyasa classes is hardly a rest day… Despite my own internal physical struggle, I get rewarded with real positive feedback from my students. Gratitude and love all around!

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Diary of a Lazy Ashtangi – Week 5 with Timelapse Video

“The two hardest tests on the spiritual road are the patience to wait for the right moment and the courage not to be disappointed with what we encounter.” ― Paulo Coelho.

And since we are all so full of patience nowadays, I give you a 54-second timelapse of my 17 minute practice on Tuesday, read on to peek!

Sunday 9 October – 9.45 am
After a nice long sleep-in, I get onto my mat with two yoga blocks and two balls for myo-fascial release. I am going to see if long held yin poses can help heal this nagging strain in the back of my left leg. I sit on the balls and swing my hips from side to side massage my glutes. I slide over the balls from the cervix all the way down to my sitting bones giving myself a rather intense massage along the spine. Then I do several long yet mindful stretches for my hamstrings, lower back and glutes. I do love yin, but will it help? Will let you now tomorrow what the result is!

Monday 10 October
No noticeable improvement in my left buttock. If anything, my left calf muscle now feels sore, as if I have had a super strong massage in the lower legs. I am disappointed but try to learn from this. I am not sure where it this new ache comes from, it’s not terribly annoying but it does make me wonder. Is it from the hours of gardening on Saturday? And the pain in my buttock, is it my posture? Am I compensating for an asymmetrical pelvis? Is this why I always have more trouble flexing my left hip and externally rotating my right hip? Does this have anything to do with my previously frozen shoulder? I know that everything is linked, in and outside the body and studying my own anatomy is really quite interesting but I can’t seem to connect all the dots just yet. I decide not to practice and rest, although I have to teach, so 100% rest is impossible.

Tuesday 11 October – 7.30 am
The left calf muscle is fine, but the left buttock/leg still feels tender. Nevertheless, I really really want to practice. On the other hand, I also really really want to make sure I don’t get injured any further. So I negotiate a compromise with myself: only a few Surya Namaskara A, Savasana and some Meditation. The short practice leaves me satisfied enough, happy that I practiced mindfully.

I film my practice, just to have something to show you. I haven’t bothered to change into my yoga clothes for this short practice so I am in my most elegant home pyjamas. I even forget to tie up my hair. But who cares. It’s about how I feel, not about how I look, right?

What do you think?

 

Wednesday 12 October – 8.45 am
After teaching the 7.00 am class, I decide to do a short practice at the studio, before the next class starts. Sun Salutations A and B, the first four asanas and Savasana. It feels good to move and breathe, but I still want to be careful, so I practice patience and hold back.

Thursday 13 October – 7.30 am
I am liking my short routine and my leg seems to like it too, so I keep it up. In my home pyjamas again. Nothing like a home practice.

Friday 14 October
Restorative yoga day! I bliss out during the class and walk out into the sun feeling happy and bubbly. Ready for the busy weekend with gardening, a birthday party in Adelaide and teaching a free yoga class for charity. Bring it on!

Saturday 15 October
Ashtangis day off. Happy rest day everybody! In the evening at the party, I wear high heels for the first time in months. I wonder what that is going to do to my leg. All in know at the end of the night is that my feet are killing me. Can’t wait to slide into my birkies again!

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Diary of a Lazy Ashtangi – Week 4

Eyes on me during yoga practice

In 1989, the New York Times describes how the protected Bengal Tigers in the Ganges Delta regularly used to kill people. Someone came up with the idea of wearing a human mask on the back of the head. It was explained that many species use a similar technique to fool predators. Butterflies, beetles and caterpillars have patterns that look like big eyes in order to deter their enemies. It appeared that no one wearing a mask was ever attacked anymore. The tigers must have felt being watched…

Source: New York Times

Sunday 2 October – 9.30 am (feels like 8.30 am)
Friday at dinner, I told Stefano how much I actually like it when he is around while I practice, how it makes me feel “monitored”, even if he is not watching at all. A few minutes later, he asked me if my scanner and printer does full colour without explaining that totally off-topic question. After dinner, he got out his colouring pencils, started drawing, went to the scanner, got scissors out and 30 minutes later, there were pairs of eyes stuck all over the living room, a.k.a. my practice space. Proud of his artwork, he said “Now when you practice, you will feel eyes on you all the time.”

I bet you this is the most creative form of support any yoga practitioners has ever had. How much can you love a man?!

So today, even though yesterday we had a heavy dinner with wine, a late night watching several House of Cards episodes and slept an hour less due to daylight savings, my practice feels great.

Is it because it’s the day after New Moon, when energy blossoms again? Is it because for the first time since I got back I don’t need to turn on the heater and the sun is shining outside? Or is it because a dozen pair of eyes are looking at me from all corners of the room?

Monday 3 October – 9.30 am
The start of today’s practice is pretty good, after a nice sleep-in on this Public Holiday. After all, I know I am being watched. But as soon as I get to Trikonasana, I stop. I hate to admit it, but I think I have got a new injury.

For a couple of weeks now, I have pretended it was nothing. But the frozen shoulder is still fresh in my memory. I chose to ignore a little pinch in my shoulder after falling off my scooter and four months later I couldn’t even scratch the back of my head or shave my left armpit anymore. It took me over a year of rehabilitation to get to the level I am at now, which is almost back to my pre-injury flexibility and strength.

I decide not to go down that road again when I feel my body’s alarm bells go off in Trikonasana. I feel a strain in my left leg when I flex and externally rotate my hip with a extended knee. It’s most sensitive in Trikonasana A and Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana but I also feel it in forward bends. I palpate my bum, my thigh, my sitting bone but can’t figure out which muscle is giving me grief.

I stop my practice and get behind my laptop for research. After a while, I conclude it could be one of the adductors or perhaps one of the external rotators. Rest is recommended, so I shall do that and look for treatment. Any recommendations?

Tuesday 4 October 2016
The wind is blowing hard outside, I can hear the rain slapping against the house and it’s cold. Maybe I’ll do some gentle muscle strengtheners later for this bloody muscle injury, but for now, I’m staying in bed for an extra hour.

Wednesday 5 October 2016
No early morning practice today, firstly because of my leg that is still giving me grief and second because I’m off to do a gentle Hatha class after teaching a beginners Ashtanga class. Life of a yoga teacher… 😉

Thursday 6 October 2016
I decide to give my leg more rest. Obviously continuing with my Ashtanga practice for the past two weeks did not improve the situation. I need to adapt my tactic so again no practice today. That in itself is not much of a game changer but the fact that I do not feel guilty about it is.

I do have to teach an Ashtanga class and a Vinyasa class today though. The first one doesn’t worry me, it’s a lead class for students that are already familiar with the first part of the Primary Series so I don’t need to demonstrate. The Vinyasa class however, might be tricky. I will just need to be very careful and be creative with sides when I demonstrate.

Friday 7 October 2016
Going to a restorative yoga class today. I can’t think of anything that my body could better use than that!

Saturday 8 October 2016
No practice of course and my leg seems a little less sore today… but I do end up working in the garden for the entire afternoon after teaching two Vinyasa classes in the morning.  Let’s see how I feel tomorrow morning!

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Diary of a Lazy Ashtangi – Week 3

Ashtanga opening & closing

“These days we spend more time taking selfies than learning about the self.” ― Joseph Rain.

I took these selfies last week. Just to make a point, which is that yoga selfies REALLY annoy me.

One cannot possibly take selfies while practicing yoga. I had to take at least 10 shots of myself before and after my practice just to look like before and after my practice. Seconds before these pictures were taken, I was adjusting the camera on the window sill and setting the timer. While these pictures (and the rejected ones) were taken, I was smiling a little more, a little less, lifting my chin a little more, a little less, pulling my top down a little more, a little less. And this is standing in a simple Samasthiti. Not in an impressive handstand, incredible twist or any other contortionist pose.

So unless a photographer is doing a photo shoot while you are concentrating on your yoga practice, any picture a.k.a. selfie of you in any yoga pose, is fake. It’s not yoga. Just like my pictures above. They have nothing to do with yoga. Even if I would have been in an arm balance, headstand or split, it would still not have been about yoga. Neither do your yoga selfies, you insta-stupid.

Just wanted to make a point. Now let’s get to it. Inhale – Exhale… My practice diary.

Sunday 25 September – 9.30 am
Last night was all about catching up with friends who came to visit from Sydney. I made boerenkool met worst – the Dutch traditional winter dish – with kale from our garden, we drank Moscato wine brought by our neighbour and we topped it off with grappa that Stefano bought in Italy. Then we had some strawberries with coconut icecream and some more liquors (yes, plural). It was a grand evening.

Needless to say that my performance on the mat today is lousy. In fact, half an hour into the practice, as I raise my right leg for Utthita Hasta Padangustasana, I suddenly feel completely drained of energy and collapse into Savasana. I console myself with the fact that as least I made it to the mat.

Monday 26 September – 8.00 am
I roll out my mat full of good intentions then go into the kitchen to drink a sip of water before starting my practice. That’s when I spot Stefano’s two liter water flask on the table and I realise he went to work without it. We are fasting today, so his water would be pretty essential. Therefore, change of plans; I will practice this afternoon. I call Stefano and offer to bring over his bottle to work, taking the opportunity to distribute some flyers around that area to promote my yoga classes.

In the afternoon I first try to finish a copy writing job that takes more time that I expected. No time to practice. Well done Yaisa, well done. But at least I got the writing job done. And I made sure Stefano didn’t die of dehydration. Those good deeds won’t go by unnoticed, will they?

Tuesday 27 September – 7.15 am
Looking back on the two past days, I start without any expectations. Ekham inhale. Dve exhale. One hour and 45 minutes later, I am in Savasana, full Primary done and dusted.

Why can’t all days be like this?

I know why. It’s because it’s the day after. The day after a fasting day that is. It’s amazing how light, agile and energised I feel after not eating for a day and two nights. I am so happy with what intermittent fasting is giving me!

Wednesday 28 September
Hatha class! It’s a style I never liked much, but it’s growing on me. It will never beat Ashtanga though…

Thursday 29 September – 7.15 am
Stefano is at home, another day off because of the biggest storm in 50 years raging over South Australia. So while I practice in the living room, he rummages around the house and is talking on the phone in the other room. Although it’s a bit distracting, I don’t mind. I like the company. I have good energy and feel well motivated from beginning to end. Despite the upcoming storm, my day starts well!

Friday 30 September
Restorative yoga class later this morning, so no Ashtanga practice today, although I feel I could squeeze one in before. I decide not to as I feel that allowing myself the agreed breaks throughout the week will make it easier to keep up a regular practice.

Saturday 1 October
New moon on Saturday, there is no valid reason to do an Ashtanga practice today. Another week has come to and end, where has the year gone… Last quarter of 2016, here I come!

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Diary of a Lazy Ashtangi – Week 2

Cold Feet

“I swing between procrastination and being really thorough so either way things aren’t getting done quickly.” – Freema Agyeman.

Sunday 18 September – 9.00 am
Unsure of how my practice is going to unfold after three days of rest, I procrastinate a little by cleaning up the living room first. Stefano observes me in wonder and asks where my sudden OCD behaviour comes from. My excuse is that I need a clear and clean space to practice so that I don’t get distracted.

Once I am out of things to put away, I get on my mat and am pleased to feel that it’s going well. I warm up swiftly. During my Surya Namaskara B rounds, I think about Gregor Maehle. In his book Ashtanga Yoga – Practice and Philosopy he writes “Do Surya Namaskara B until you start to perspire. Five rounds should be  sufficient under average conditions, three in the tropics and up to ten in colder regions.”

I do six rounds and flow through rest of the practice flows without hesitation. The three days of rest did me good.

Monday 19 September – 8.00 am
Yesterday afternoon, I spent five hours in the garden, ploughing, wheelbarrowing, weeding, potting and seeding. Needless to say that I feel a little bit sore this morning as I climb on the mat.

I start very slowly and am distracted. By the dust gathering under my couch and by the raven knocking on the window. By my lack of motivation and by my to-do list that suddenly seemed extremely urgent. I almost stop after Navasana, but give myself an imaginary kick in the butt thinking about the sad diary entry it would make if I quit for such lame reasons. Surprisingly, the rest of the sequence goes pretty smooth. I guess the diary thing works.

Tuesday 20 September – 7.00 am
Why is it so damn hard to get up early in the morning? During the teacher training course in Bali, I was getting up at 4.00 am, earlier than the roosters without a single complaint.

This morning, when my alarm clock goes of at 5.45 am, I moan, groan, toss and turn and finally drag myself out of bed at 6.00 am. With my squinty eyes, I shuffle into the kitchen to make our fresh juice. Stefano leaves the house by 6.30 am, so that’s my juice-deadline. By the time he is gone and I have washed the juicer, I am awake but freezing. So I take a nice hot shower, which I can’t seem to end. Every time I make a move to get out from under the steaming flow of water, I retract. It’s just too cold out there.

But finally here I am, on the mat. I breathe, I flow and soon, all is forgotten.

Wednesday 21 September
No Ashtanga today. I go to a friend’s Hatha flow class. No need to think, no need to count. Just being guided and breathe. Wonderful.

Thursday 22 September – 7.20 am
From the moment the alarm clock goes off at 6.00 am, I am procrastinating. We are fasting today, so I don’t need to make a juice but I still want to get my practice in before I head off to teach though. Yet, I snooze my alarm clock twice, I take a reaaaaaally long shower and I remember that I need to print something for my students so get behind my laptop.

By 7.20 am I am finally on the mat and decide to turn my laziness into an experiment. My practice takes close to two hours and I am always incredulous when I see other people doing a full Primary Series in less than 90 minutes. When I get to Navasana, some are already in Sirsasana and it is not like I am dragging my feet.

So today, since I have to be done by 8.50 am, I decide to see if I can do my full practice in 90 minutes. It doesn’t feel like my practice. I don’t feel any depth and I don’t warm up. Yes, I sweat but it feels like a superficial kind of sweating. My muscles don’t loosen up and my joints feel tight in all the asanas. Still, I keep going, breathing twice as fast as I usually do. I don’t go too deep in the poses, wanting to be careful. Until I reach Pindasana. I try to adjust my shoulders while I am upside down with my legs folded in Lotus towards my chest and my arms wrapped around my legs. When I bring my legs down to get into Matsyasana, I feel a muscle in my neck spasm and tighten.

I am done in. One hour later, I feel like Sylvester Stallone, I can’t look over either shoulder, nor up or down. I teach two classes nonetheless, I am after all quite experienced already in teaching with an injury. In the evening Stefano gives me a wonderful neck massage but I go to bed swearing that I will never again try to hurry through my practice. It was definitely a bad idea.

Friday 23 September – 10.30 am
My neck feels slightly better and I am lying on my mat, but for a beautiful restorative class with another yoga teacher. I had planned this already, but with all this tension happening in my neck, it’s even more of a blessing.

Saturday 24 September
Day off, yay!

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Diary of a Lazy Ashtangi – Week 1

Clock 7.05 am Ashtanga Yoga Practice

Sunday 11 September 2016 – 10.00 am
After three months of practically no alcohol, meat nor dairy and lots of local, fresh Asian food, I am back home and have some catching up to do. After a Saturday with meat and cheese galore, a few glasses of wine (more than I had during my entire stay in Asia) and a GoT Season 6 binge-watching session until 2.00 am, I find myself on the mat on a late Sunday morning.

The heater doesn’t work, it’s cold in the living room. From the first Surya Namaskara A, I know it’s going to be a struggle. I feel sluggish, cold and stiff. I decide to go easy on myself but it takes all the energy I have to stay in the flow and plough through the practice. For some reason, my shoulder and neck muscles feel super tight. After a meagre attempt at Shalabasana and Halasana, I finally give up and go straight to Yoga Mudra. During Savasana, I feel despair arising. Are all my self-practices going to be this hard from now on?

Monday 12 September – 8.30 am
Discouraged by yesterday’s practice and feeling the cold as soon as I stick my nose outside of the covers, I linger in bed a little bit longer than intended. By 8.00 am, I have gathered enough courage to get up. There is a plan of action: pre-heat the living room (and pray the heater is working again) to a blasting 23 degrees Celsius (we don’t want to do hot Ashtanga yoga, now do we?), take a steaming hot shower, put on leg warmers, wrap on a woolen wrap vest and get on that mat.

From the first Surya Namaskara A, I know it’s going to be fine. Yesterday, I had a super healthy diet, with roasted artichokes, potatoes and stir-fried broccoli and cauliflower leaves from our veggie patch. Okay, I had one campari soda and a bit of cheese from the farmer’s market too. However, we went to bed at 10.30 pm and the heater is doing it’s job again. I feel rested, strong and energised.

Well, a little distracted perhaps.

Inhale grab wrist around foot… Perhaps I could write a blog about this. Exhale there… About how the exact same practice can be so different from day to day. Inhale there, look at toe… Perhaps I could keep track of a few practices and then write a blog about what makes me fail and succeed in my daily practice. Exhale fold forward… Oh wait, that’s it! That’s what I need to do! Five breaths here… Yes! I’m going to keep a practice diary and publish it as a weekly blog. Inhale look up… That’s the commitment I need to make to get on my mat every day. Exhale there… Well, not on Saturdays of course, nor moon days… Inhale release, cross legs, pick up… And on the days I go some else’s yoga class, I won’t have to do Ashtanga either, let’s not exaggerate. Exhale jump back, Chaturanga Dandasana… But at least, if I commit to writing about it, I will put myself out there. Inhale Urdhva Mukha Svanasana… The more people I tell about my intention to practice every day, the more chance that I will actually do it. Exhale Adho Mukha Svanasana… Yep, I will blog it every week. Inhale jump through… And today after practice I will write the intro article. Exhale into Dandasana… Wow, I feel so much more open today. Inhale prepare for Marichyasana A…

Tuesday 13 September – 7.05 am
At 9.30 am I am teaching a Vinyasa class, so I need to get my ass in gear. We went to bed at 10.30 pm last night, so getting up at 5.45 am is not too hard. The living room gets heated up while I make our cold pressed juice and after my liquid breakfast, I hop in the shower to warm up. By 7.05 am I am on the mat.

I feel good.

Somewhere halfway the practice, I notice a weird twinge on the left side of my back when I come up in Urdhva Mukha Svanasana. It could be the latissimus, the teres or perhaps the serratus anterior. I experiment with different opening angles of my shoulder as I breathe into Upward Facing Dog. Rolling my – previously frozen – left shoulder back and down and externally rotating my left upper arm more, results in no pain. Basically, I need to open the front of my body more. Problem solved. Full practice, full satisfaction.

Wednesday 14 September – 4.30 pm
There were no bookings for my 7.30 am class this morning, so I thought I would use that time to do my own practice. Unexpectedly, one brave student showed up, despite the raging storm that is still blowing over the Fleurieu Peninsula, so no morning practice for me.

At 4.30 pm, I finally manage to get on my mat, in the Old Church where I’ll be teaching a 6 pm class. I need to hurry. It’s freezing cold. The heater is blowing right at me but I can’t seem to warm up. My toes are frozen and hurt when I jump back and roll over them in the Vinyasas. I struggle through the whole standing sequence too. After the Paschimottanasanas I give up. I am still freezing, I can’t focus and I have a zillion other excuses to stop.

In the evening at home I discover that my period started. Aha, that explains a lot.

Thursday 15 September – 6.35 am
After a nice warm shower, the living room is heated and I am ready to start. Trying to get into better habits, I remove my rings before practice and I notice that my fingers are bloated. The one on my middle finger won’t even go off. Never mind, let’s get to it. vande gurunam…

Warmth makes such a difference, I feel good. I breathe through the Suryanamaskaras and get ready for Padangusthasana. As I grab my big toes, I feel my ring rubbing against my second toe. The bloated fingers are probably due to my menstruation… Wait? Shit! I am having my period! Why am I practicing? I should not be practicing… I completely forgot!

I stop, dead in my tracks. What to do? Continue? Stop? It was going so well… After mimicking a Madame Tussaud artefact for about 30 seconds, still half holding my big toes and blankly staring somewhere in between my feet, I decide to stop.

If I am to keep up a regular practice, I must take the “imposed” rest days. By taking Saturdays, full moon, new moon and menstruation days off, I will have enough breaks and no excuse to skip practice on other random days.

So I sit down, practice some meditation, pranayama and by 7.35 am, I am behind my laptop to make this diary entry. I actually already wrote it in my head during my attempt at meditation. Terrible meditator I am.

Friday 16 September
No practice today: still on my cycle and I am going to a Restorative yoga workshop that I booked a couple of weeks ago. Couldn’t have planned it better!

Saturday 17 September
Full Moon on Saturday: double whammy, no practice for sure! I am teaching two Vinyasa classes though, so I breathe through a few sun salutations and poses after all. Looking forward to tomorrow’s full practice again. Really? Really.

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Diary of a Lazy Ashtangi – Intro

Feet on yoga mat

As I am flowing through the Primary Series in my living room, I suddenly have a brainwave: I need to keep a yoga practice diary and blog it.

Recently, I have been worrying about how to keep my daily Ashtanga self-practice going. After a year long struggle with a frozen shoulder (not yoga related!) and hence a long break from Ashtanga yoga, I am finally able to go through the full Primary again.

For the past three weeks, I have practiced under the guidance of two of my favourite teachers, Prem and Radha at Ashtanga Yoga Bali. Tuesday was my last practice with them. The weather was warm but not too hot. I felt focussed and energised. The vibes in the shala were in tune with how I felt. I almost shed a tear when I sang the closing chant. It was a great practice.

After travelling home on Wednesday, I allowed myself a day off. On Thursday, I went to a friend’s Vinyasa class and Friday, after sleeping in, I finally climbed on my mat again. It felt good, but not as good as my last practice in Bali. I was missing the energy of the shala, the presence of the teachers and fellow practitioners. Saturday no practice of course, but a few glasses of wine, a delicious meat stew made by our neighbour, lots of cheese, up till late and what do you know, when I finally made it to the mat on Sunday around 10 am, I felt like crap. The heating system in the living room wasn’t working, I was cold and unable to warm up. My body felt tight and rigid. Energyless, I skipped a part of the closing sequence and I was frustrated from beginning to end.

Am I really going to let all the progress I had achieved go to waste? After three weeks of daily practice with dedicated Ashtanga teachers who – as usual – re-polished my alignment and gave me all the practical modifications I need for my still rather tight shoulder joint, am I really going to fall back into my undisciplined routine?

It’s time for a change.

I will from henceforth commit to a daily practice again – Saturdays, moondays and “ladies’ moondays” excepted. Also, since I really don’t want to be an Ashtanga fundamentalist, I will allow myself to skip an Ashtanga practice if I go to another yoga class – Vinyasa, Hatha, Yin, anything. Variety is the spice of life, after all.

However, as my husband and several others close to me will attest, is it not the first time that I set that intention. And frankly, my self-practice track record is deplorable.

So here is where this morning’s brainwave comes in.

Instead of committing to just the practice, I will commit to writing about it. By creating a potential world wide audience for my acte the présence on the mat with my blogs, I will pretend that the entire world is watching over my shoulder. Even if not a single soul reads my blogs, I will feel the pressure of having to show up. I will ujjayi breathe my way through the practice feeling the piercing eyes of an anonymous crowd following my moves.

And perhaps, as a bonus, I will inspire some other lazy Ashtangis out there. Maybe, my stories will help others to find strength, knowing that they are not the only ones struggling with the discipline of a daily practice.

So here’s to the birth of my weekly blog, the diary of a lazy Ashtangi.

See you on the mat!

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Happy Anniversary Babe.

CollageYou, beautiful human.

I love you from top to toe.

Your long curly hair that is soft and springy after you have just washed it and guarantee that I will never have a bold husband.

Your big green eyes that can gaze for hours to the tip of a rod or that become twinkle stars when you smile.

Your crazy broad grin that makes you look like the happiest child in the world or like a madman on photographs.

Your large rough hands that work so hard in the vineyards, around the house and yet are always warm and comforting.

Your thankfully pretty hairless chest that I can snuggle up to on the couch or in bed and the solid heart that beats inside.

Your funny toes that hate to be trapped in shoes and hate my cold feet in winter even more.

Okay, perhaps not the beard that you grow while I am away for two or three months and maybe also the belly is a bit bigger than what I would wish for.

But yet, I love those too.

For the long beard that you manage to grow during my absence, is a symbol of the freedom you give me and allow yourself. You let me wander around the globe for weeks on end, letting me do my things. You patiently wait at the other end of the digital line that keeps us connected while you take care of our house, our vegetable patch or your parents. The length of your beard is a measure of the amount of space we are able to give each other.

And the little bit of extra weight you put on over the years is but a consequence of our mutual love for food. You love to cook and I love you for that too. You prepare and eat your food with so much joy, that it’s impossible not to share that passion with you, even though I try to cut down on meat, cheese and pasta, all your favourite ingredients.

We found each other whilst we weren’t even looking. The sexual attraction developed into an unexpected fondness and true to our ways, we got serious while we were in fact 7.000 km apart. The connection that we both felt became love and kept growing until we realised we had a common vision for the future.

Getting married was not the objective. It was rather a means to achieve our dream. But boy did we have a good wedding party.

I came to realise that, although I am the verbally dominant one in the house (hey, I have an excuse, I am Pitta), you are the driver behind the two most important decisions of our life: the move to Australia and the choice not to have children.

It took some work for you to convince me, as initially I struggled with both ideas. I wanted something different and I usually get my way. I am stubborn, but you are patient. Oh so patient.

You are a fisherman, not only when it comes to catching fish. You have the ability to wait, to remain calm while I run around like a maniac, to think things through while I have already acted on impulse. Sure enough, you are sometimes excruciatingly slow, quiet or indecisive but hey, you have an excuse, you are Kapha.

So here we are, childless and in Australia. Well, technically speaking you are in Italy and I am in Bali and we can never be 100% that you are childless, but you know what I mean.

I would not have wanted it any other way. These were the best choices we could have made.

We are a free and independent pair, we are distinct individuals. You are you, I am me. We have not melted into an inseparable and annoying “we” couple, yet I want to spend the rest of my life with you. We don’t finish each other’s sentence, although we know each other’s story through and through.

You give me love, trust, respect, warmth, stability, support and a home. You make me laugh, you make me come, you make me stop and think. You catch dinner, forage lunch and make dreamcatchers. You bake cookies, clean the toilet and drink my green juices.

You let me be what I want to be and you try very hard to be what I want you to be, while always staying true to yourself. Grounded, steady and always there. Even when you are 12.000 km away.

I miss you, you beautiful human, and I can’t wait to be with you again.

Ti amo, see you at home soon.

Posted in All, Random contemplations, Travelling | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

My First Vipassana

Right foot, left foot, right foot, left foot.

My first steps out of the gate were slow, inquisitive, almost like a kitten allowed into the garden for the first time. The words “right foot, left foot” resonated in my head over and over again, like a mantra.

After a few hundred meters and reacquainting myself with Asian traffic, the natural spring started to return into my stride. My photographic eye was drawn towards objects that needed to be digitally framed and I forgot about the “right foot, left foot”.

I took a deep breath and headed towards the nearest café with free wifi to reconnect to the world.

11 days earlier, I checked into a Buddhist meditation centre in the middle of Yangon wanting to experience this “Vipassana thing”.

On the one hand, I wanted to deepen my meditation practice, for both personal and teaching purposes. On the other hand, a Vipassana retreat sounded like an economical and useful way to spend time in an otherwise pricey Myanmar – a Vipassana costs nothing unless you choose to leave behind a donation (dana).

Instead of going to a Vipassana course, providence led me to Panditarama, a Buddhist centre with resident monks and nuns where (aspiring) meditators can stay for as long as they want. Whilst specialised Vipassana centres only run courses with a fixed starting and ending date, yogis arriving at Panditarama simply join the ongoing flow of coming and going meditators.

Of the roughly 60 female meditators during my retreat, only three were foreign, including myself. The entire structure is set up to for locals, the only luxury for foreigners being private rooms instead of dormitories.

The day I arrived, I was asked to change into the required clothes and not wear anything else during my stay: brown longyis (traditional Burmese sarong), a white shirt with long sleeves and a shoulder scarf, called a lawbet.

The initial introduction was succinct but the instructions were clear: I was to meditate 14 hours and sleep no more than 6 hours a day, with wake up call at 3 am. I was to move slowly and mindfully during all other waking hours of the day, was not allowed to speak or communicate otherwise with anyone unless absolutely necessary. Basically, I was not do anything else but meditate.

Every other day, I was to report to Sayadaw – the meditation teacher – about my progress with the sitting and walking meditation.

Some additional rules were given in a booklet, the only thing I was allowed to read during my retreat. The rest of the socially and culturally appropriate behaviours however, I had to discover during the course of my stay through observation. Although I was supposed to exclude the rest of the world as much as possible from my mind, I couldn’t help but watch everything that was happening around me.

It was an immersion into meditation as much as it was a discovery of Buddhist and Burmese culture.

Being a total Vipassana beginner, the whole meditation experience was rather intense. Sitting still in a cross-legged position for a whole hour and that several times a day was a physical challenge, to stay the least.  Every single part of my body ached at some point or another and my spine would crack from cervical to sacral with the slightest movement. The first few days, I was exhausted beyond belief. Just from sitting and walking ultra slowly. Thankfully, my body eventually got used to the new routine, the pain ebbed away and the sitting became bearable.

But then there was the mind stuff.

The first stage of the sitting meditation was to focus on the abdomen rising and falling with the breath. If any other thought, sound, feeling or other sensation would distract my mind, I was told to give it a label in my head: thinking, planning, hearing, pain, itch…  After labelling that distraction, I was to go back to the rising and falling of the belly.

So there I sat. Breathing in, rising belly, breathing out, falling belly. Rising and falling, rising, falling, rising, falling, expanding, contracting, expanding, contrac… Is it contracting or should I say relaxing? Expanding, relaxing, expanding, relaxing… No, that doesn’t sound right. How would I say it in a yoga class? Perhaps I shouldn’t use the words expanding and contracting at all. Maybe just rising and falling. Yes, rising and falling. Or just inhale and exhale? Yes, that sounds easier. Oh, damn! I’m not focussing on my belly. Back to the breath. Rising, falling, rising, fall… Oh no, I forgot to label the thoughts that I had before. What was I thinking again? Ah yes, I was thinking about teaching meditation during a yoga class. So the label is teaching. Or is it thinking? Or is it imagining?  Aaaargh!!! I’m thinking again! Focus! Deep breath. Focus… Okay… Here we go. Rising, falling, rising, falling… Ouch, my knee is starting to hurt and I think we’re only five minutes into the session. Shall I open my eyes to check the clock? No, I shouldn’t. I should get a little pillow for under my knee though, that could help with the pain. I hope they have any spare ones. Where did I see them? Ah yes, in the blue bag in the back of the hall… Oh crap, I’m thinking again. Eeeehmmm, label, what label… pain. Yes, it started with pain. But then I was thinking and planning as well. Never mind, focus, focus! Rising, falling, rising, falling…

And that went on for 60 minutes that sometimes seemed to last for 60 hours. I will spare you the millions of useless, crazy, anxious, stressed, hilarious, ambitious and obsessed thoughts that crossed my mind in all those hours. I had a very busy monkey in my brain.

Dhamma Hall, Female Meditation Hall at Panditarama, Yangon, Myanmar

Waiting for samadi. Or for Dr Spock to beam us up.

The walking meditation seemed easier: take very slow steps and keep your mind focussed on your feet. If any distractions arise, label them, let them go and go back to the feet.

So there I went. First breathing and stretching the utterly unbearable stiffness out of my body after the seated meditation and then turning my attention to my feet.

Left foot, right foot. Left foot, right foot. Now slow down the pace and focus on the lifting and the placing of each foot. Lift, place, lift, place, lift, place… Slow down even more and focus on the lifting, moving and placing of the foot. Right foot lift, move, place. Left foot life, move, place. Right foot lift, move, place. Left foot lift, move, place.

Easy enough, right?

But at a pace of about three steps per minute, my mind was racing as if I was on speed. Thoughts about everything and even thoughts about nothing were distracting me from what should be the object of my focus: the movement of my feet.

I thought I was never going to get to that moment of total focus.

A few days into the retreat however, when the physical pain subsided and the novelty of the new environment had worn off, I finally did manage a few minutes of pure focus. Distractions were swiftly labelled and set aside, followed by more minutes of blissful breathing…

Just me and my breath. Or me and my feet, moving slowly through space and time.

After those sessions, I would feel deeply grateful and peaceful within.

The simplicity yet the depth of the Vipassana practice was a true eye-opener.

When I left the centre, left foot, right foot, 11 days later, I already knew that one day I will be stepping back into this wonderful place to find more inner truth.

But first, internet and catching up with the world.

 

 

 

Posted in All, Random contemplations, Travelling, Yoga | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

#oversaturation

That’s it.  I’ve reached my limit.

Since mid-March, roughly 50 days ago, I’ve slept in at least ten different locations and I’m not even counting the number of times we moved the tent while we were camping in during our fishing trip in Australia.  I went from our rented room in Perth via caravan parks and holiday villas to airplane seats and friend’s houses.  I’ve gotten to the stage where I need to lie very still in bed when I wake up, just to give my brain the time to figure out where I am, on which side of the bed I should step out without banging my head against the wall and which door leads to the toilet and not into the wardrobe.

If I listened to my body and brains, I would now stop right here right now and not move another inch for at least one month.  But I can’t.  Such is the life of a nomad, I chose it and I need to carry on.  For another few months at least.  However, there is a big fat carrot dangling at the very end of the long tunnel: permanent residency in Australia.

Now, before you get the impression that I’m sinking into a deep depression or going completely bonkers, let me get things straight: I’m stable (aren’t I?), very happy, in love, grateful for all the great adventures of the past months and very much looking forward to the things to come in the near future.

But I’m just really getting annoyed by having to pack my things in my back pack and trolley every five to seven days again (amazing how much volume I can manage to stuff in those two small pieces of luggage!).

What have we been up to, you may wonder?  I left you hanging in Kalbarri, Western Australia, where Stefano and I where fishing and camping beginning of April.  Since then, we’ve been back in Perth where we stayed with Nicole, I’ve been in Bali for some yoga bliss and I’ve stayed in Singapore for the wedding of the year.  And now I’m in Holland, on my mom’s balcony (while she is out eating mangosteens in Bali), typing my blog in the Dutch spring sun.   You just read that last sentence in 10 seconds and that’s pretty much how fast those travels went by in my perception.  I’ve not only lost geographical bearings it seems, but also my sense of time…

Saying goodbye to Australia was kind of weird.  The visa application process for permanent residency is going to take at least eight months.  Although we may find out earlier that it’s a definite no, we won’t know for sure whether it’s a definite yes until the end of the process.  So we packed and stored our things assuming we’ll be back, but are we going to see our car and belongings again?  Of course we prepared for a positive outcome and said “See you soon” rather than “Farewell” to our friends.  It was emotional nonetheless.

While Stefano left for Italy to be with his family, I flew to Bali for a happy reunion with yoga, delicious vegetarian food, refreshing fruit juices, giant coconuts and of course, my yoga buddies.  Darja, for one, whom I had a lot to catch up with and some other friends from all over the world who seem to keep on coming back to Bali, like me.  Best of all, I got to stay with Rob & Marianne who rented a house next to my favourite salad bar in Penestanan and offered me one of the bedrooms.  So this time round instead of staying in a small (but always cute) homestay, I was hosted in a beautiful villa in the rice fields, with swimming pool, gazebo, lounge area, cook, driver, maids and of course, the very enjoyable company of my friends and their kids.  How to top that next time???

The next highlight of the trip, and perhaps of the year, was Timmo’s wedding in Singapore.  It was special not only because my mom and I were invited (how many people do you know who invite not only their ex, but also their ex-mother-in-law to their wedding?), but simply because I still care about Timmo dearly and it was a beautiful event.  The couple looked radiant, their speeches were emotional and heartfelt, Ping looked amazing in her wedding dress and Chinese outfit (yes, it was a two day event), it was super cool to catch up with all the friends that came over from Holland, the food was extravagant and the bubblies where flowing royally.  It was a wedding I wouldn’t have missed for the world.

In between getting dressed up and dealing with alcohol intoxications, I also managed to meet up with several friends around Singapore.  Thankfully, I was again kindly hosted by Erik & Dannie, who provided me with an ass-kicking bed in the shape of a race car – my favourite bed on the list, wifi and daily company.  Dealing with hangovers would have been much harder in a dorm in a backpackers hostel…

My favourite bed

 

And now I’m finally back in my little orange country, where everybody is recovering from the last Queensday and getting used to the idea of having a King rather than a Queen.  I missed all the festivities, but no sweat.  I had other priorities.

I arrived early morning and the sun was shining.  Lovely day to relax, right?  But before even unpacking my luggage and showering after the long flight from Asia, I was already digging in the boxes that I stored in my mom’s garage and attic to find the folder with all my diplomas and certificates.  Then I spent the rest of the day behind the laptop, scanning, emailing, checklisting, dropboxing, googling and word-processing.  Also my brand new Samsung Galaxy S3 mini (yes, I’ve finally entered the world of smartphones and I’m hooked!) was used extensively, placing phone calls to several organisations and to catch up with friends.  It is a good thing I bought a prepaid top up card with unlimited calls, sms and 1GB of data usage for the next month…  Well past midnight I crawled into the next new bed on the list and fell asleep watching a re-run of the King’s inauguration.  At least I worked through my jet lag in one day.

So you’d think I’d stay put for a while, having landed in my home country in spring.  But noooooooooo…

After three days in The Hague, I will make my way to Amsterdam tomorrow (yay!) but just for a week.  The first phase of document gathering for the visa is pretty much done, so I will have time to relax and run (or cycle rather) around to catch up with friends.  Ryan Air will then take me to Milano where I will spend time with Stefano whom I haven’t seen for three weeks by now, only to come back ten days later as the second document processing phase will start, for which I need to be in The Netherlands.

After that, who knows…. Italy again?  Holland for a while longer?  Egypt perhaps?  India for that Yoga Teacher Training I’ve been going on about?  Pffff… I get tired just thinking about all the travelling ahead of me.  But the thought of seeing all my friends again, being with Stefano and even more importantly, the future we are working towards, keeps me going.

Gotta go now, need to pack… 🙂

 

 

 

 

Posted in All, Life Travels IV ~ Nov 2012 - May 2013 | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Tales of a fisherman’s wife

The bullet went through the church and the knot has been hacked through.  For those who don’t speak Dutch, I’ll use a proper English expression: the die has been cast.

On 19 March, I signed an agreement with a Dutch migration agent operating in Australia, to assist me with the application of a Skilled Nominated visa, in other words for permanent residency in Australia for myself and my partner, in casu Stefano of course.  Our second three month tourist is visa is soon ending and after all these months of living in Perth, travelling in South WA and now fishing and camping along the coast North of Perth, we have decided that we really want more of this.  Kind of a big decision, applying for permanent residency in a foreign country.  But what once was Stefano’s dream has now also become mine and we are going for it.

Ahead of us are long months of gathering documents, filling in forms and doing all sorts of tests, such as medical and English language.  And long periods of waiting.  We won’t have a final decision for at least 6 to 8 months, if not longer.  The Australian immigration procedures are fair but strict and applications can take a long time to process.  I’m sure I’ll vent about this in some of my next blogs  😉

Anyway, we will leave Australia mid-April, I will do a quick stop over in Ubud for some yoga (I simply can’t fly past Bali without getting off the plane) and Singapore for Timmo’s wedding (very chuffed about that!) and then we will spend the summer, autumn and probably part of winter in Holland, Italy and Egypt.  Again, our travel plans are vague until the last minute, but hey, that’s the way (aha aha) we like it!

But for now, we are enjoying our last few weeks in this country.  The weekend before Easter, Nicole and Marcus invited us to stay with them at the beautiful holiday house they rent regularly down in Margaret River, a beautiful forestal region, with wineries and breweries serving superb meals.  We ended the super relaxing weekend in Dunsborough having a healthy lunch at Samudra, my favourite yoga hangout in WA.

We prolonged our stay in Dunsborough with Rob and Marianne who are travelling around the world for six months with their two kids aged 2 and 4.  How cool is that!  That’s the kind of parent I want to be when I grow up!  We went fishing on the beach, cooked the only fish worth cooking which was caught by the 4 year old and then drove to Busselton to visit the longest jetty of the southern hemisphere.  Or so they claim.  True or not, it was raining so we ended up eating a mouth-watering lunch instead of walking the jetty.  While we were hanging out, we realised that I have met up with Rob and Marianne on four of the six continents (or is it seven?):  Europe, Asia, Africa & Australia.  My kind of friendship!  Next common stop, one of the Americas?

Anyway, back from the South, we cleared the room we were renting in Perth, packed pretty much everything we own in our station wagon, bought some basic camping gear and set off North.  Objective of the mission: fishing, fishing, fishing.  Oh, and fishing.  So that’s all we’ve been doing since we left Perth.

First stop was Carnarvon, where the One Mile Jetty is famous among serious fisherman.  We had barely set up the tent when we set off the jetty.  The wind was blowing at 40 km/h, but that was not enough to deter Stefano.  And since I’m no wuss either, down we went, carrying rods, camping chairs, bait and tackle box along the 1,6 km long jetty.  The sun was setting when we started walking and it was dark when we got to the end.  I couldn’t see where I was casting, when I put my head around the corner of the little shed my lenses would almost blow out of my eyes, I knew that down there, there were sharks and other big scary fish, the jetty was shuddering and shaking on its pylons, but I hung in there, for hours and hours.  When finally Stefano was done fishing, we stumbled back to land, leaning into the wind, trying not to trip over the tracks of the jetty train that during daytime takes tourist up and down while juggling rods, chairs, buckets and what was left of our beers and wine.  Fun?  Yes, actually, it was.

The next day, it was my birthday, so not only did Stefano cook breakfast and dinner (yummy yabbies!) for me, but I think he actually made an effort to not push it to the limit.  We fished only for about 15 hours that day, from a relatively wind sheltered boat ramp.  Unfortunately, still no legal size fish worth eating.  So the next day, we decided to flee from the wind and drove up north a bit more to Coral Bay, which is about 1.200 km from Perth.  There, the numbers of caught fish started increasing.  Uncountable GT’s (some of which ended up in our plate as sashimi and pan fried), a huge shovel nose shark, bream, snappers and lots of other “small” stuff.

By then, I was over my “eeeeh, there is sand in my tent and you smell of fish” phobia.  It always take me a few days to get past that point, but once your hair is conditioned with a mix of fish oil, sunscreen and sand, you have irremovable fish blood under your nails and your fingers are full of scars due to clumsy hook handling, it all doesn’t really matter anymore.  In the end, seeing Stefano’s dream come true makes it all worthwhile.  And the food resulting from it helps too.  So far, from our own catch we ate mackerel (sashimi and pan fried), mud crab, flathead, taylor, dart, queenfish, tuna and GT’s.  Of course, all sharks, rays and undersized fish are released as Australian regulations are very strict – hey, did I mention that before somewhere?

There is one thing I have to say about fishing, regardless of whether you are pro or con, it is a great way to see places and meet people.  Like scuba diving really.  Once you reach a fishing destination, you just walk up to the next guy for a talk that starts more or less like this:   “Hey mate, haw’zit gawin’?  Catchin’ anythin’?” Or, if you were Stefano, it would be something like: “Gello man, catch any feesh today?” Either way, usually a long conversation starts from there, about where to go to catch which fish, which rig and bait to use, with or without floater, with or without trail, with or without weight and so forth and so on…  Let’s say that I’m happy for Stefano to start the socialising.

And of course, Stefano would not be Stefano if we would not end up with new friends.  We got to know a great couple (she British/he Aussie) that drove down back to Carnarvon with us and pitched their camp next to ours.  The wind had come down, the One Mile Jetty was a big success and thanks Nigel & Jojo’s 4WD, we got to places we would never have been able to go to.  We spent four very enjoyable days together, fishing, drinking, talking, laughing, fishing some more and laughing some more, playing Uno and drinking some more (funny that, last time I played that game I was in Australia too, but then on the East Coast and more than 5 years ago!) and to top it off, fishing some more.

So now we have about 3 days left of our camping/fishing trip before we have to be back in Perth.  We arrived in Kalbarri today, around 600 km north of Perth and as soon as we arrived at the camping at 5.00 pm, Stefano threw the camping gear out of the car and tailed it out of the caravan park, in search of a fishing spot before sunset.  I leisurely set up the camp, popped (or rather screwed) open a bottle of white wine and plugged the charger into my laptop.  It’s now 8.00 pm and I’m not expecting him back before midnight, so I might as well make myself comfortable, right?

I believe I have done a good job as a fishing partner, not being a passionate fishing person that is.

Facebook 14

It seems it’s even been more hardcore than when we were here four years ago.  I’ve dragged fishing gear across a gully with water up to my waist to reach a sand bank, I’ve sat up shivering on my camping chair holding my cup of wine while he was still fishing until deep into the cold and windy night, dreaming I was holding a rod (fortunately the dream never ended in me catching a fish), I’ve re-learned how to rig my rods, unhook fish, bleed them, gut them and fillet them.  I’ve eaten more fish in the last 10 days than I have in the past year (oops, except for sushi).  It’s been a blast (see video’s).

Video Part I: http://youtu.be/ofQu6uNs8rw

Video Part II: http://youtu.be/MynRy1ZMZdk

Video Stefano’s day in paradise: http://youtu.be/-qBICTVFgjI

But now I’m longing for yoga, vegetarian delights and detoxing.

Bali, here I come!

Big fishy kisses from down under to all!

Posted in All, Life Travels IV ~ Nov 2012 - May 2013 | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

About hopes and dreams

Dear friends & family,

Many of you have asked us by mail or Facebook how things are going on the job and visa hunting front in Australia and it’s been a while since I posted an update, so here goes.  It’s a long one again so if you’re not that interested or short of time, I advise you to jump to the text below the picture… 🙂

When we arrived in October, we had no idea what our opportunities were and how to go about it.  Now, more then four months later, we have learned a great deal and also had a lot of fun along the way.  We are leading what resembles a sedentary life and are enjoying it.  Finally, after years of living in the desert or in the middle of the ocean, we have access to all possible cooking ingredients and are making dishes we haven’t tasted in years.  We can drink nice beers and great wines.  I own my first car and we have driven more miles in the past four months than we have in the past four years (our previous trip to Australia excluded).  Stefano is fishing all over the place.  Yesterday he had the biggest catch since his arrival: a fully equipped fishing rod, in perfect condition! 🙂  I’m doing yoga regularly and am super grateful for all the time I get to spend with Nicole and her family.  And I could go on.

One thing is clear:  yes, we would love to settle in Australia for the foreseeable future.  And no, we don’t want to work in diving while here: too cold, too many sharks and much too hard work for too little pay.  So that’s off the table.  It would anyway have been very hard to obtain a work permit in that industry.

Indeed, the bottleneck in our quest is getting a work permit.  Jobs are available, everywhere and of all sorts, but since we are looking to settle here permanently (whatever permanent means), it is not an option for us to accept black, cash in hand jobs such as admin jobs, waitressing, handy man, casual farming jobs, etc….  They are easy to find and it would pay good money.  We could do three months stints in the country for as long as we don’t get caught – the tourist visa allows us to stay in the country for three months at the time – but the risk of immigration getting suspicious after a while is present and that would earn us a big red stamp in our passport and make us persona non grata in Australia for at least five years.  Not what we would want at all of course.

So legal is the only way.  There are dozens types of visas that allow foreigners to live in Australia, ranging from temporary to permanent, from study to sponsor employed.  The younger you are, the more certified skills you have, the better English you speak and the more you have work experience and qualifications that are in shortage in Australia, the better your chances.  We match many of those criteria, but not all, and not necessarily in the right combination.  After speaking to a migration agent in Perth back in November, we came to the following conclusion:

My education profile, age and English proficiency give me a lot of points to qualify for Permanent Residency (PR) but I don’t have skills that are in high demand.  Also, applying for a PR visa, takes a long times (lead time minimum 5 months).  I could however, try to find a sponsor for a job that doesn’t require much qualifications or experience, but is in the category of “sponsored occupations”, such as in the hospitality industry (horeca). In banking they don’t need extra labour, so no sponsoring available.  If I would have been a nurse, a baker or an electrician, I would probably have 79 job offers and a PR invitation by now.  Alas…

Stefano however, has a skill and qualification that is highly in demand in Australia: welder/metal fabricator.  Yes, for those who only know him as the tireless dive guide and entertainer, he actually used to punch holes in metal plates and handle explosive blowtorches in a previous life.  Unfortunately, he is over 40 and his work experience in that industry is a little outdated so he does not qualify for PR.  Finding a sponsored job for him therefore seemed the best, short term realisable option and would give us two years in Australia at least.

Our focus for the first months therefore, was aimed at trying to find a sponsor for Stefano.  Why not also for me?  Simply because over the past few months, I have thought hard about what I want and the only thing that keeps on popping up and pushes away any other option, is my strong desire to do a Yoga Teacher Training course and become a yoga teacher.  The thought of having to work full time in an office or anything else that I’m remotely qualified for just makes me unhappy.  I want to give this yoga thing a shot and I don’t want to postpone this again for years.

Because that’s how it works: when you find an employer that wants to sponsor you, you need to stay with him for two years before you can apply for PR.  Once you have your PR, you can do pretty much want you want.  But if you lose your job before those two years are over, you lose the right to stay in the country.  And since I don’t have any yoga teaching experience, heck, I’m not even a qualified teacher yet, there is no way I would find a sponsor in that field.  Which leads us back to Stefano.  Even though his experience as welder is a little outdated, it was deemed easy  according to all sources, for him to find a sponsor.  While applying for his working visa on that basis, we would simultaneously lodge an application for me, as his de facto partner, to have the right to live here.  I would be able to work when, where and how I want.

However, despite our relationship being very serious and obvious to us and to all those who know us, the Australian immigration requires hard core proof and that is more complicated than it seems. We have no common possessions (who buys a house together when leading a nomadic life like we have been?), we have never held a lease for a house together (thanks to employers providing accommodation and friends and family who have housed us all over the world), we have no joint bank account (hmmm, why not?) and quite obviously, we are not married… So how to prove you have been together for over four years?  Here the hunt for all sorts of “circumstantial” evidence starts:  passport stamps and flight tickets to prove we’ve travelled together all over the world, work contracts to prove we’ve worked together for several seasons, references from employers that they hired us as a couple, statutory declarations from friends that they know us as a couple, credit card statements to prove that we were at the same place at the same time, email correspondence between us to prove that we have been maintaining our relationship even when we were apart, pictures of us together throughout the years, and so forth… I’ve already started on this document called “proof of relationship” and it’s like writing a novel, reconstructing our whereabouts, digging and researching for the tiniest details that will convince the authorities that we have loved each other for years, still love each other and plan to love each other for the foreseeable future.  I might publish it one day… 😉

Anyway, for months now, Stefano has been replying to job posts online, has been talking to friends and friends of friends trying to find a sponsor.  We printed dozens of his CV and went knocking on doors of all the metal fabricating companies that we could find in the yellow pages in Perth.  You have to start somewhere.  After a while it became slightly demotivating: the demand for welders/metal fabricator doesn’t seem to be as high as we thought.  Many companies are actually sending people home and almost all of them are telling us to come back in a couple of months, because there are no projects happening now.  The fact that his experience is from 15 years ago and that it’s not only a job but also a sponsor we are looking for doesn’t make it any easier.

A week ago, we had another meeting with the migration agent in Perth and she didn’t really offer us any comfort.  Time and options seemed to be running out.  Honestly speaking, we were about to formulate a plan B, or an exit strategy as someone described it.  Somehow we felt we needed to start thinking about what to do if no concrete prospects would pop up by 21 April, the date that our second three month tourist visa runs out.  Staying here for another three months without at least some guarantee of a job in the near future is not a financially attractive option.  We haven’t worked since June last year and Australia is not a cheap country.  Unless one of us wins the jackpot in the lottery, some form of income generation soon would be kind of nice…

Then, a week ago, I found another migration bureau via the internet: run by a Dutch couple, good reviews by clients and they gave a swift and professional reply to my initial mail.  We decided to invest another sum and engage them to make an assessment of our situation, despite the discouraging results from the other agent.  A second opinion if you will.  To our delight, their assessment of our chances and more importantly the assistance they seem to be able and willing to provide suddenly make things looks much brighter.  Yay to the Dutch!

Our first Australia day

There is actually a small chance that, with some creative thinking, I may qualify for PR, based on my experience as a diving cruise director and dive centre manager.  Though it may require some careful formulation in CV and reference letters by my ex-employers, it is possible that I may get a positive skill assessment by the Australian authorities, which would make me eligible for a sponsorship by the state of Western Australia, which in turn would give me a high chance of getting the PR status.  Advantages of getting the sponsored PR:  aside from the restriction that we will have to live and work in Western Australia for two years, which is hardly a punishment for us, we can take on whatever job we wish, full-time, part time, as a yoga teacher, gardener, farmhand, fisherman, dog trimmer, open our own business, run a B&B, sell tupperware door to door, anything we want, even bum around if we do win that jackpot.  We will be permanent residents and will have the right to stay here until the end of time.  Cost of this whole procedure: thousands of euros (4 zeros kind of thousands).  But hey, what is a little money in return for the life of your dreams?

And suddenly, the tide seems to have changed.  Not a week ago, Stefano’s CV was passed on by one of those workshops we visited but didn’t have a job for him, to another business in the neighbourhood.  Not a metal fabricating business, but a company that builds commercial cold rooms (like the ones where you keep your meat frozen).   And yes, Stefano would actually be interested in that kind of work, although working as a gardener suddenly seemed to have sparked his interest and of course fishing is still his biggest passion.  More importantly, the owner might be interested in sponsoring him.  Might, because also in this case there are quite a few hurdles to tackle.

But still, from no options at all one week ago, we suddenly have two slivers of hope.  I emphasise that it’s way to early to pop the champagne and that we still have a lot of things to sort out, but compared to a couple of weeks ago, the outlook is much brighter.  And we are chuffed.  The Australian sun seems to shine brighter (or maybe it’s the skin cancer coming through) and spending a little more of our savings to stay here now seems justified.

Either way, it looks like we will be going to Europe soon.  If we don’t succeed here, Italy is on our list of priorities, as Stefano’s mom has been diagnosed with bladder cancer and, although it is not a critical situation as we speak, Stefano obviously wants to see his parents as soon as possible.  After that, well, plan B is on hold for a while, so who knows…  However, if Stefano succeeds in finding a sponsor, it will take a couple of months before the visa is processed anyway, so we’ll have time for a quick trip around Europe and Egypt, to visit friends, family and pick up some of our belongings scattered here and there.  If we decide to go for my PR application, which will take five months at least, I’ll have to go to The Netherlands anyway to dig up my original diplomas, birth certificates, etc… so a tour d’Europe/Egypt will be on the agenda too.

Then, it looks like I will finally have the opportunity to do a yoga teacher training course, probably in India or Thailand, either because the Australian dream will come to an end or because I will have time to kill before the visa is processed.  Remember that little seed that I have been writing about in several of my blogs over the past couple or years?  I believe it may start sprouting soon… 🙂

Dearest reader, if you’ve managed to plough through our entire migration procedure adventure, I congratulate you and thank you for your interest in our funny little life down under.

A final word: never give up fighting for your dream and make sure you have many dreams to fight for.

Love you all and hope to see you soon, somewhere on this planet full of dreams!

Posted in All, Life Travels IV ~ Nov 2012 - May 2013 | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments