Dealing with My Sh*t in a Sensory Deprivation Float Tank 

images-2This week I tried out the new Sydney Float Centre in Brookvale and admittedly felt nervous about booking my first appointment for an hour long sensory deprivation float tank session.

I’ve always struggled with claustrophobia, but being a yogi and meditator the curiosity to explore weightlessness with no external distractions and gaze inward without the need to adjust a cushion or ignore noises intrigued me enough to get past my fear.

The first four of the eight limbs of yoga aim to prepare us for meditation. The breath, movement, diet and lifestyle of a yogi steer us in the direction of finding inner stillness, which leads to the last four limbs, all focused on meditation.

“Withdrawal of the Senses,” or Pratyahara (the fifth limb) bridges our consciousness from external awareness to internal awareness. It’s the first step of meditation and in an overly stimulated world it can be difficult to achieve. So when I heard about the new Sydney Float Centre in the Northern Beaches, boasting of taking people effortlessly into meditative states I knew I had to try it.

Meditation, Floating and Theta Brainwaves 

Floating, just like meditation, brings people into a theta brain wave state where we are very relaxed but not sleeping, aware but not overly active. We’re in the in-between consicousness, like lucid dreaming. It’s believed that in this theta state we process the experiences of our day and life.

The Ayurvedic system looks at all experiences as consumption, as if we’re eating all the things we hear, see, smell, touch and interact with. We internalise all of it, and just like food we must digest all of life.

Digesting our food means breaking it down, taking up needed nutrients and then eliminating that which is not needed, the waste. And when we don’t eliminate the waste from what we’ve consumed, well, we feel pretty shitty (pun intended).

Yoga and Ayurveda teach us how to digest all parts of our life as best as possible, not just food. But, just like eating food, if we don’t eliminate or let go of the parts of our life that don’t serve us, we end up getting emotionally constipated, and well…feeling pretty shitty.

So much of the healing power of mindfulness relaxation practices like meditation, yoga or floating come from the ability to bring us into the theta brainwave state where we can process and release the experiences of our life.

Sadly, many of us live lives where we don’t take the time on a regular basis to mentally and emotionally let go of the waste. Creating a practice of this is a curtail part of living a healthy life as is actively cleaning out the waste that’s creating blocks within you.

Yoga style detox focuses on cleansing not just with regards to food, but in all areas of our life. In the New Years Yoga Detox starting next Friday we’ll create time, space and systems to process and eliminate physically as well as mentally and emotionally.

Processing In the Float Tank

As soon as I stepped into the room with the alien looking float pod I had a mini freak out about being stuck inside, but Paul the xviyzafe01ilsay40gqicentre directer assured me I was in control of environment at all times.

So I took a deep breath and stepped into the tank and closed the lid. After the first few minutes of nervousness and talking down my claustrophobic feelings I was able to let go and really relax in the  9ft by 6ft spaceship looking pod filled with a water solution of over 500kgs of epsom salt that held me in an anti-gravity feeling float.

Because the water is kept at 35.5 degrees, considered skin-receptor neutral, I started to loose sense of where my skin ended and the water started.

I turned the lights out on the pod, closed the lid to the tank, and in the sound-proof, light-proof room my sense of external world started to dissolve and the awareness of my inner reality became extremely heightened.

I could feel myself slipping into a deep meditative state and enhanced it by using body scanning and deep breathing techniques. I watched as my body, completely free from the pressure of gravity, let go and released tension in areas I didn’t even realise I was holding it. And then I began to watch my mind do the same.

Thoughts, emotions, fears, memories started coming up and there was nothing to distract me from seeing them, feeling them and then just staying in a state of witnessing and experience them past through me until I dissolved back into a state of feeling held and relaxed.

At the end of the session I felt like I was still floating. I felt lighter and could hear my voice sounded more relaxed and at ease. The experience of letting go of all effort, physically and mentally took me to a deep theta wave length state and the crucial act of releasing that which was blocking my system just happened naturally.

More Ways to Experience Theta Brain Waves

  • Meditation
  • Yoga Nidra
  • Deep Breathing, Pranayama
  • Yin Yoga & Restorative Yoga
  • Floating
  • Massage & energy work like Reiki
  • Chanting

Only 4 spots left for the Bali Spirit Retreat I’ll be leading April 1-7

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If You’re Comfortable You’re Missing Out

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We were sitting at a big table in total silence trying our best not to look each other in the eyes. Well, not total silence. The clinking of forks, shifting of chairs, throat clearing and conversations from passer-by’s echoed through the room. Though I tried my best to focus internally, these usually unnoticed noises dominated my awareness.

It had been a while since I’d practiced Nobel Silence in a group setting, and I was surprised at how the experience of intentionally not speaking with or looking at the people around me revealed just how much I think about and focus on them, thus losing connection to my inner experience.

I struggled to bring my attention back to the tastes, smells and feelings in my mouth and body as I ate, but the urges to comment, look or react to the others kept rising like waves that I’d have to beat down. I could feel the group around me going through the same struggle.

Needless to say, it was uncomfortable.

 

I was attending a friend’s event for mindfulness meditation, and the exercise of Nobel Silence lasted only 20 minutes. During my training in India we ate every meal for 6 weeks in Nobel Silence and I spent 10 whole days in Nobel Silence for Vipassana, so this was nothing new to me. But, something about being out of an ashram and doing it just for a short part of the evening created a contrast between “normal” life and my consciousness practices that was both uncomfortable and amazingly insightful.

I realised that while I can easily drop into my inner experience on a mediation cushion, yoga mat, surf board or alone in nature, I needed to work on cultivating and maintaining this connection amongst the pulsing chaos of crowds and “normal” life.

What made the experience even more meaningful for me was later in the evening when the host of the event publicly shared how uncomfortable he felt during the Nobel Silence. He wondered if everyone would think he was crazy and doubted himself for making this exercise part of the event, but ultimately realised he needed to trust in sharing the processes that have taught him so much.

He then told us that one of the greatest things he’s learned from meditation is that “discomfort” is not synonymous with “bad,” and how he hoped to teach his two young daughters to distinguish between the two.

 

The host and I were uncomfortable for very different reasons, as I’m sure each person in the room had a slightly different trigger that made them uneasy. But, it was the same experience of sitting with our discomfort that brought us to our growth edge and made the experience the opposite of bad.

I teach this all the time in my yoga classes — learning how to differentiate between discomfort and pain — and that working with rather than avoiding physical discomfort ultimately leads us to breakthroughs, liberation and healing.

Sadly, most of us are socialised to run away from discomfort. I’m reading an amazing book right now by Brene Brown called ’Daring Greatly,’ and she points out that discomfort is an essential part of learning and growth. When we’re unwilling to experience discomfort we limit our growth potential, our creativity and our ability to engage.

One of the big things I’m getting out of Brown’s book on the importance of vulnerability is that at the heart of all problems and all suffering, social or personal, is disengagement as a response to fear of discomfort.

When we are brave enough to be engaged and be vulnerable, yes it might be uncomfortable and scary, but it is this vulnerability that Brown calls the birthplace of learning, creativity, connection and innovation.

 

I think it’s easy for us to believe something is “wrong” with us when we feel discomfort rather than see it as a universal experience. When we feel like we’re the only ones uncomfortable or struggling the process gets even more scary, we want to run away, and if we do we miss our opportunity for growth.

Brown says, “At first, I was terrified by the idea that if education is going to be transformative, it’s going got be uncomfortable and unpredictable. Now, as I begin my fifteenth year of teaching at the University of Houston, I always tell my students, ‘If you’re comfortable, I’m not teaching and you’re not learning. It’s going to get uncomfortable in here and that’s okay. It’s normal and it’s part of the process.’”

She encourages normalising discomfort as a way to shift our culture into more engagement, vulnerability, connectivity and growth. This particular Noble Silence experience epitomised both how discomfort breeds growth and normalisation of discomfort breeds courage.

I’m starting to shift my associations with discomfort and see it as an opportunity for expanding and learning. The more I share my experiences and have the privilege to hear those of others in my retreats, workshops, classes and life, the less scary discomfort gets.

Lifestyles to Die For

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I was recently telling someone about my background getting a degree in Environmental Science and they commented, “Wow, now you’re doing something completely different.” But, I don’t see it that way. The deeper I go down my path as a wellness provider through yoga, bodywork and lifestyle coaching the more I relate to my environmentalist background; rather than working to clean up external ecosystems I’m working to clean up internal ecosystems. And it’s just as socially, culturally and globally revolutionary as other environmentalist work.

According to a landmark global study by The Lancet Group, lifestyle diseases like heart disease, diabetes and cancer are now the leading cause of death and disability globally. The study shows that since the 1970’s men and women worldwide are living longer but they also spend more years living with injury and illness caused by bad lifestyle choices like drinking, smoking, poor nutrition and too much stress.

In both Australia and America lifestyle disease is the leading cause of death – with heart disease begin the most prevalent, followed by cancer.

So why are we choosing lifestyles that kill us?!? And what motivates us to choose a lifestyle of heath?

I don’t have the answer but I’m on a mission to try and find it. So far on this mission I’m realizing that everything starts from within and from our deepest beliefs about ourselves and the world. My meditation teacher gave a great analogy about the process of calming the mind: you can train a dog to sit next to you, but it will still be full of energy wanting to run around, or you can give the dog a bone and it will happily sit next to you and chew the bone.

Forced external rules on how to live tend to make us feel like a dog trapped on a leash, and while we might be abstaining from unhealthy habits, there’s always a part of us that wants to break the leash and run after those things we’re abstaining from. I don’t consider this healthy, and I’ll go as far as saying it can even create stress…which is one of the leading causes of heart disease and other physical and psychological diseases.

So what’s the bone we can give ourselves to keep us sitting happily next to health? 

I think the bone of satisfaction and motivation is a strong positive self identity. In yoga we do this with the practice of Sankalpas. Yoga teaches us to recognize that we already have and are everything we could need or want, we must simple clear what’s covering up that light within.

A Sankalpa is a positive affirmation like, “I am healthy.” The practice is to repeat this daily. The more you chew on this identity, the more you not only believe it, but also act based on it. You start to live up to that identity effortlessly simply because it feel right.

According to habit change research people stick to identity-based goals far more than to performance-based goals. Habit change expert James Clear says, “The key to building lasting habits is focusing on creating a new identity first. Your current behaviors are simply a reflection of your current identity. What you do now is a mirror image of the type of person you believe that you are (either consciously or subconsciously).”

This Sunday I’ll be leading a 5 week journey with a group of people ready to uncover the light within, reinforce and deeply ingrain a positive self identity of healthy living. I can’t wait! There are still a few spots left so if you’re craving lasting transformation join the yoga r-evolution. Check out the 30 Day Yoga Evolution program at Qi Health and Yoga.

What is your positive self identity statement, your sankalpa? 

Stop Should-ing on Yourself

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What if we never felt we SHOULD eat better or exercise more or do yoga or meditate?

What if we simply craved all of the things we know make us feel healthy and vibrant? Likelihood is healthy living would be a whole lot easier. In fact, living would be a whole lot easier.

So why can’t we just crave the things that make us feel our best?

Recently I’ve been studying more about habit change. Learning what enables us stick to practices and what sets us up for sure failure. Looking at this, speaking with friends and students and reflecting on my own path of habit transformation, I’ve started to see that this one little word “should” is more of a roadblock than a on-ramp to healthy living.

Often the most simple and obvious things are also the most elusive. One brilliant blogger I follow, James Clear, talks about three R’s of successful habit change. The last R stands for reward.

Clear says to successfully change a habit we need to either reward ourselves each time we do the new action with positive self talk or acknowledge the benefits and rewards of that new action. It’s really simple. When we are rewarded by something our mind starts to create a desire for that reward. This motivates us to repeat the new action, until ultimately it becomes a habit.

The irony is that when most people try to change their life and create new patterns it’s often accompanied by a barrage of negative self talk, self criticism and a whole list of should’s that feel far from rewarding. We tend to go gun-ho for the new change and follow up each attempt with what we should have done more of or different to be better or progress faster. Each time we do this our mind feels punished for our efforts and rather than creating a desire for the healthy habit we actually cultivate resistance around it.

On the flip side of the same coin is our affinity to SHOULDN’T when trying to improve our life and health. I shouldn’t eat that chocolate or drink that wine or stay up too late. While this might be true, when we repeat like a mantra the things we know make us feel less than optimal, what happens? Those very things stay in the forefront of our mind, and by thinking about them more we end up craving them more.

So how can we acknowledge the habits we don’t want and make changes toward those we do want without should-ing on ourselves?

The first step is to focus on the positive changes we’re already attracted to and very slowly and incrementally reinforce this change. Trying to change too much too quickly is a sure plan for failure. Instead we want to teach our mind to desire and crave these positive changes, but if it’s too hard our mind will only build a pattern of resistance.

One of my favorite exercises during my detoxes is getting everyone to write down the cravings or habits they once had but wouldn’t in a million years do now. Go on, take a moment and do it yourself.

Doing this reminds us of a few things. Firstly, that we do indeed change. No matter how solidified one of your current bad habits may seem, just remember back to the old habit that seemed just as solid and now has completely dissolved. Secondly, that change likely happened slowly, not over night, and with many small relapses.

Clear says we should plan for failure when attempting to change our patterns and have a strategy for getting back on track. If we recognize that getting off track is just part of being human and part of our individual evolution we stay out of negative self talk and instead stay connected to our deeper desires for health and happiness. Clear says what separates top performers from everyone else is that they get back on track very quickly.

Not only is relapsing a part of the process of change for EVERYONE, but it can also powerfully reinforce the new lifestyle.

My mom shared a great story with me recently that demonstrated this perfectly. She and my stepdad have been focused on healthy eating for quite a few years now, but before that ate the standard American diet (not so healthy). So one night recently they decided they were sick of health food and went out for a nice Italian meal with lots of cheese, wine, pasta and meat. Because they’ve been eating so cleanly the meal hit them both like a ton of bricks, they felt heavy and awful and it made them crave the light clean meals more than ever.

This is what we want! We want to want the new habit, not feel like we should do it. And when it becomes a craving and desire then it becomes effortless and enjoyable, not a chore.

When cultivating a yoga practice what we’re really doing is cultivating the desire to practice yoga.

When I first started yoga over 10 years ago I got my fix going to class twice a week. Then the desire grew to more and more classes, then to a daily Mysore morning practice, then to workshops, my own home practice and teacher training. There were many relapses between all of this and each time I got back on track I fell even more in love with yoga. Now I can’t imagine going a day without my yoga, breath work and meditation practice.

This evolution hasn’t come from a should base mindset, the dedication comes from wanting to do the practice to feel the rewards (it makes me feel good). I don’t worry much about doing it perfectly but just know what ever bit of practice I can do will make me feel better.

The new 30 Day Yoga Evolution program I’m leading at Qi Health and Yoga is all about cultivating that deep desire for your practice which will lead you into effortless, joyful and sustainable healthy living habits. And doing it in a group rather than on your own makes it that much easier and more fun. The program starts this Sunday April 27th, so if your wanting to want a stronger yoga practice there’s no better time than now!

Stress Reduction, a Simple Equation

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by Morgan Webert

In the past week my meditation teacher dropped a number of lovely gems into my bag of memorable quotes, a number of which all relate and brought some simplicity and clarity to my understanding of stress.

First he said, “Stress is when a demand for change or adaptation is put upon us and we don’t have the energy to meet that demand for change or adaptation.”

In other words, we get stressed out when our energy levels are low because we just don’t have it in us to deal with the demands being asked of us. When we have sufficient energy the same demands very easily could be fun and exciting, or at least not stressful.

He then went to define, “Suffering is when we put energy into resisting a change that needs to be made.”

I’m beginning to see a cycle!

Putting our energy into resisting a change that needs to be made depletes our energy reserves, and less energy means that demand for change becomes even more stressful, leading to more resistance and more suffering.

So how do we get out of this cycle? If the change can’t be avoided then the only thing to do is put more energy into the system.

We do this intuitively, but sometimes not always sustainably. We grab a cup of coffee or afternoon sweet treat to get an energy hit to deal with the demands of the day (and when I say we I mean it, I’m no stranger to this habit). But, the sugar and caffeine buzz wears off quickly, often leading to poor sleep and is physiologically taxing on the body, ultimately depleting our energy reserves more and creating more stress.

And this my friends is where yoga comes in! Yoga is all about capitalizing on our natural energy, our Prana. In fact, most mind body breath practices do. This is why we feel less stressed after a beautiful yoga session or meditation, it fills up our cup of internal energy in a natural, sustainable way. Have you ever felt stressed about something, gone to a yoga class, and afterwards thought, “What was I worrying about, I know exactly what to do now.”

So how does yoga refill our energy reserves?

1. Deep Breathing.

The name for breathing practices in yoga is pranayama. Prana refers to life force energy and is synonymous with breath. Yoga teaches us to open our breath channels and in doing so oxygenate our brain and body and draw in lifeforce. When we breath deeply throughout the day we think clearly and feel alert. When our breath is restricted so is our energy. Try this practice, it will only take one minute, no excuses not to do it! Close your eyes, take 30 very deep breaths (Billows Breaths, or Bastrika in Sankrit) and then sit with your eyes closed for the following 30 seconds and feel the effects of oxygenating your system. Better than a shot of espresso. Try it now! Do it often!

2. Conscious Relaxation and Meditation.

Many studies have shown that mediation and conscious relaxation can be more restorative to our body than sleep. If we watch a child or partner fall asleep we’ll notice their breath become very soft, the body very still and heart rate really low, but then when they fully fall asleep the breath rate increases, the body twitches slightly and the heart rate lifts again. This is an evolutionary defense mechanism. When the mind checks out to the unconscious state of sleep the body metabolism increases so that we can physically respond quickly to any potential danger. When we practice conscious relaxation and meditation the mind is alert to any potential dangers so the body is sent signals that it’s safe to deeply relax and release. This is also why energy work like Reiki or a massage can be so rejuvenating.

3. Movement and Rest Pulsation.

While an hour of meditation and conscious relaxation can be more restorative than an hour of sleep, nothing fills the cup of energy like a proper nights sleep. But, so many people in our culture struggle with sleeping, deprive themselves of it or simply don’t get quality sleep. New parents aside, this often has to do with either having too many stimulants in the system (as mentioned above) or having too much physical stagnation. Good exercise and good movement leads to good sound rest, whereas stagnation in the system and sitting all day leaves us physiologically restless.

4. Eating energy filled foods.

Finally, we all know we are what we eat, and yogi’s focus on eating sattvic foods. That means fresh, wholesome, nourishing foods that will make us feel light, energetic and clean. Anything that is too heavy requires a lot of energy to digest and therefor depletes the system even more. Anything too stimulating and spice can cause us to burn up our energy reserves faster than we can refill them. Sattvic food keeps us balances and full of energy.

Share with us how you bring these yogi practices into your daily life to refill your energy cup?

Do You Know What Stillness Is?

BKS Iyengar focused and still in sayanasana.

We’ve all heard references to “stilling, quieting, clearing or bringing peace to the mind,” and as many times as I’ve heard such phrases only recently did someone challenge me to ask myself how well I really understood what it meant. 

You’d think studying yoga for ten years or sitting in a silent meditation for ten days would provide ample time to grasp this most pervasive idea.  No doubt I’ve FELT a still and peaceful mind in sivasana  or Vipasana meditation, whilst surfing or finding a steady forearm balance, but not until I took an 8 week course on the Yoga Sutras with Michael De Manicor did I intellectually look deeper into what stillness really implies.

The second sutra, perhaps the best known of the Yoga Sutras, is often translated as “Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind.” 

In other words, Yoga is stilling the mind.  Influenced by Buddhist philosophy, I, like so many others, took this at face value to mean stopping the mind and thoughts, but De Manicor insists that this is NOT what the sutra means.  Key to his point is realizing that stillness is always relative.  Lets for example look at two people sitting next to each other on an airplane. Relative to each other they are still, but relative to the Earth they are moving hundreds of miles an hour.

As I thought more about this I began to see stillness as synonymous with harmony, cooperation or union (another yoga catch phrase).  When two or more things move in the same direction, at the same rate, toward the same purpose they cooperate or harmonize and generate a sense of stillness between them.  This could apply to people in an airplane, strings on a guitar or thoughts, breath and movement.

When I further applied this idea to myself, or any other individual, I decided that another synonym for stillness was focus (epiphany light bulb: dharana).  I examined the moments when I’d felt a sense of mental stillness and realized that my thoughts didn’t stop but that every part of me was focused on what I was doing; all of my thoughts, movements and breath cooperating and harmonizing.

Dharana or concentration is the 6th of the eight limbs of Ashtanga Yoga as described in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. Dharana leads to dhyana (meditation) which then leads to samadhi (mystic absorption, the highest state of consciousness).

Mental stillness therefore does not mean that the mind or thoughts stop, this would perhaps be death or at least serious stagnation, rather it implies we can choose thoughts and actions that an any given moment cooperate, and by working together create a sense of relative stillness.

So lately in asana practice, in my classes and in life I’m viewing struggle or mental clatter in a slightly different light.  I’m asking what thought or action is out of sync with this moment to cause the internal discord, and what thought or action can I replace it with in order to generate harmony and thus lead me closer to a feeling of stillness.