If Yoga Changed Your Life Give Me a Shout! 

It’s something I hear all the time. “Yoga has changed my life!” And I always try to ask, “How?” What amazes me is that the answers always reflect how practicing yoga has changed many aspects of a persons life, not just their body.

I hear things like:

“I’m more calm with my children.”

“I take better care of myself now.”

“I just feel happier since practicing yoga.”

“I have a better community.”

“I’m less stressed and more clear.”

“I breath better.”

“I’m more courageous.”

“I feel healthier, sleep better, eat better, ache less…”

These are really just a smidgen of the responses, and typically when I ask this question people can’t stop telling me all the many ways their life changed for the better and why.

I’ll be honest, sometimes people injury themselves, but usually they learn a lot form it (about their body or pushing too hard) and heal, and sometimes the paradigm shift can throw people into a period of confusion about how they’re currently living their lives. But I’ve seen again and again the most beneficial and profound breakthroughs come after the struggles, both physically and psychologically.

I know for me this practice and all I’ve learned from my struggles with it has influenced my life so deeply and beautifully I couldn’t imagine an existence without it.

So why does yoga change our lives so much?! 

When we step up to a mindfulness practice like yoga, we’re never just working with the physical body. This might be where most of us start, and it may even remain the primary part of our practice. But the physical body is a gateway, a medium, for working with so many other aspects of ourself.

Traditional yoga philosophy says we have five bodies or layers, not just the one physical body. Each time we step to the mat or cushion we’re working with all five layers of ourselves, and the ripple effect into all parts of life is undeniable.

The Five Layers of Ourselves

  1. The Physical Body — Annamaya Kosha koshas
  2. The Energy Body — Pranamaya Kosha
  3. The Mind Body — Manamaya Kosha
  4. The Wisdom Body — Visjnanamaya Kosha 
  5. The Bliss Body — Anandamaya Kosha 

Our most obvious or gross body is the physical body, the annamaya kosha. It’s our tissue, skin, organs, bones, blood, lymph. The matter that creates our form, carries us through space and performs our deeds or desires.

This the layer we often start with in yoga. Anna in Sanskrit means food, so this is also called our food body, and manifests into form all that we’re ingesting. The thing to remember about the yogic and Ayurvedic system’s is that we ingest not just through our mouth, but through all five of our senses (sight, taste, smell, sound, touch). So what we eat through our mouth, but also through our experiences, will be reflected in our physical body.

Through practice we’re aiming to create balance and get rid of stagnation. 

As we work with our physical form, increase awareness of what the body really needs for balance and move through the stagnation within it, we feel and process experiences and begin to notice which foods actually make us feel good.

The clearer and healthier our physical body gets the more we can sense the next more subtle layer called our pranamaya kosha, or the energy body. 

Prana in Sanskrit means energy, and when we work with breath in yoga it’s called pranayama. Breath is considered the carrier of life force energy through us. Seems logical, when we stop breathing we die.

The breath is also intrinsically related to our nervous system. When we’re triggered into a stress response the breathing become more shallow, when relaxed we breath deeper and more fully. While the nervous system state can effect the breath, so too can the breath influence our nervous system. Simply by taking deep breaths we trigger the “rest and relax” state, or parasympathetic nervous system, and this begins to elicit feelings of calm, peace and harmony.

As the body and breath begin to harmonize we’re able to observe and work with our next subtle layer, the mind body called the manamaya kosha. 

One of the greatest benefits of any breath body practice is that it calls the mind into the present moment.

Our mind loves time traveling into the future or past, but our breath and body only ever exist in the present. When we breath deeply and move it’s like we’re telling the mind, “Hey, pay attention, life is here and now!”

This starts to clear the mind body of it’s chattering, worrying, planning, regretting, anxiety building hobby of time traveling. And then we start to feel REALLY good!

When we balance mind, body and breath a quietness arises within us. 

In this quiet space that we’ve created through practice we’re able to hear more clearly the next subtle layer of ourselves, the wisdom body called the visjnanamaya kosha. 

Traditionally the mind, body and breath practices of yoga aim to ready us for meditation, and meditation is the ability to concentrate and connect to our highest self, our wisdom and the wisdom of the universe.

The more we do this the more our actions come from a place connectivity, we feel empowered, supported and clear about what we’re supposed to do. Living from this places improves our relationships, our creativity, our performance at work or sport. Really, it improves all aspects of our lives, and for me I’ve noticed it heightens my sense of purpose and ability to act on that purpose.

When we live in alignment with the wisdom in and around around us we feel blissful. 

The more we balance our body, breath and mind, listen to our wisdom and live from that place, naturally our last most subtle layer arises, our bliss body called the annandamaya kosha.

And this my friends is why yoga changes so many people’s lives for the better. That simple.

How has yoga changed your life and connected you to your bliss body? Give me shout for yoga! 

YOGA EVOLUTION 22:2

Find out more about the yoga lifestyle program I teach at Qi Yoga starting Feb 22 . Ready to have yoga change your life?! SIGN UP HERE

From Eating Disorder to Body Love

you are beautiful

Last night I was privileged to speak at a fundraiser for the Butterfly Foundation, an organisation that supports Australian’s experiencing eating disorders, and the topic of the evening was about body image.

I’ve been a professional body worker now for 12 years, and have worked therapeutically with thousands of people through the medium of physical touch, body awareness, movement and connection.

The topic of how we perceive our bodies, our body image, is one that’s been at the heart of my professional exploration for a long time. It’s also been central to my personal growth, struggles and breakthroughs.

What I’ve come to learn over the past decade is that cultivating a positive body relationship is intrinsic to our health.

In fact, let’s leave out the words positive and negative and just say cultivating a relationship with our body is intrinsic to health.

Do you feel connected to your body or disconnected from it? 

When I think about and observe negative body image in myself and others I get a sense of real disconnect from the body.

A lack of seeing the body as something to engage with but instead seeing it as an object that we just happen to be stuck with.

Weight and good looks are always in the forefront of body image issues, but body image is so much bigger than that.

I see negative body image expressed in both women and men in phrases like: too fat, too old, too thin, too stiff, too flexible, too weak, too short ect.

In phrases like, “My shoulder just won’t work.” “My hips always give me problems.” “I”m always getting sick, my body just isn’t that resilient.” “I have terrible skin.” “I’m just too old.”

The comments always are about being too much or not enough or stuck in some pattern.

In this paradigm the value of the body is placed on how it looks and what it can do for us, and our self worth and identity are attached to that.

The yoga system tells us that this approach to our existence leads to suffering, and I can tell you from personal experience that it does.

I grew up doing ballet and dancing since the age of 5 and was very much influenced by the feminine ideal of thin and delicate.

I had the role modelling of older dancers exchanging tips on diet pills, laxatives and it wasn’t uncommon to hear someone purging in the studio toilets.

When I was 16 my body attacked itself. I got an autoimmune disorder that attacked my endocrine system and hormones, I rapidly put on weight, and had to deal with a number of symptoms that left me feeling exhausted and unwell.

I cursed my body for not functioning like it should. I felt ashamed of how my appearance changed and inability to dance like I used to. And I felt lost without my identity as a lithe ballerina.

I spent the next few years trailing hormone therapies that had worse side effects than the actual autoimmune disorder and tried to escape my body, anxiety and misplacement of self worth through eating disorders.

AKA: Suffering! 

When I was 19 I quit Uni and decided to go to massage school in search of something more meaningful. I was on a quest to heal and understand why my body attacked itself and I knew that the high stress environment of achievement was not the path.

This is when I started practicing yoga and I began to learn about a whole new value system.

Identity

I think the greatest lesson Yoga taught me was that that our true identity is the pure light within us. It’s called purusha and can be likened to the word soul. It’s the light in our eyes that connect to the light in other people’s eyes, that knows without saying, that we see illuminated in innocent children.

This is the part of us that does not change. Everything else through life changes, our appearance, our relationships, our work, or health everything else changes, but the light within us stays constant.

The Yoga Sutras tell us that identifying with that which changes leads to suffering. We therefor need to learn to identify with our light, our purusha, that does not change.

The Body Speaks 

Secondly, this system teaches us that our body is not just a machine to do tasks or a mask to live behind, but an expression of a deeper truth and a fascinating and complex sensory organism giving us information about ourselves and the world around us.

It is a microcosm of the macrocosm, a dynamic ecosystem containing the mysteries and laws of the whole universe. The yoga system teaches us that everything we need to know is within us, and we simply need to look inwards and listen.

Rather than just looking at my body, I was slowly learning how to look into my body and listen to it. 

And this is what I mean by developing a relationship with our body.

When we’re connected to our body we learn to dialogue with it, when we’re disconnected from our body we place demands on it.

Breath body practices, especially ones with mindfulness involved, like yoga or chi gong, thai chi teach us how to have a working relationship with our body and then the way we value it begins to change completely.

I see two major disconnects that trigger negative body image:

  1. One is that we think more about how we look than how we feel, and 
  2. Secondly we think more about what our body can do for us rather than what it’s telling us.

Awareness of our body is the gateway into who, what and how we are right now in this present moment. It’s a system full of feedbacks and information telling us exactly what we need.

Look at your body as a book full of information about you and giving you information about the world around you. Your body is not just a car carrying your mind around, but is an expression of a deeper truth, it is a manifestation and expression of our beliefs and ultimately our inner light.

Shift into a more positive body image right now!

  1. Remember your true identity is the light within.
  2. Ask how your body feel, rather than how it looks.
  3. Ask what your body is telling you, rather than what it can do for you. 

What has helped you cultivate a positive relationship with your body? 

Hindsight’s a Bitch

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How many times have you looked back on a situation and thought, “Wow, if only I’d seen it from this angle in that moment.” Who hasn’t?! Distance and time always bring clarity,  but it’s so frustrating that we don’t always see so clearly in the moment. I guess that’s why they say, “Hindsight’s a bitch.”

Everyone experiences this because in the moment it’s often hard to have a clear understanding of the bigger picture. This lack of clarity in the Yoga Sutras is called Avidya, or “the veil of misperception.”

This is one of the most important concepts in the Yoga Sutras and sheds light on why all people find themselves suffering.

Ultimately, the purpose of Yoga is to lift the veil of Avidya, and the trusty old Yoga Sutras provides us with four tips for how to see more clearly in the moment (see below). Let’s look a little closer at the concept of Avidya. Here’s what TKV Desikachar says about it.

Now what is this avidya that is so deeply rooted in us? Avidya can be understood as the accumulated result of our may unconscious actions, the actions and ways of perceiving that we have been mechanically carrying out for years. As a result of these unconscious responses, the mind becomes more and more dependent on habits until we accept the actions of yesterday as the norms of today. Such habituation in our action and perception is called samskara. These [unconscious] habits cover the mind with avidya, as if obscuring the clarity of consciousness with a filmy layer.

We seldom have an immediate and direct sense that our perception is wrong or clouded.

Avidya seldom is perceived as avidya itself. Indeed, one of the characteristics of avidya is that it remains hidden from us. Easier to identify are the characteristics of avidya’s branches. If we know that these are alive in us, then we can recognise the presence of avidya.”

Recognising the Four Branches of Avidya as Warning Signs

This gives a tool to see our blind spots. When we realise that one of the four branches of Avidya (ego, aversion, attachment and fear) is showing up in our lives it’s a warning sign that we’re not seeing the big picture.

Ideally, we then catch ourselves and ask ourselves, “What am I not seeing/understanding?” We’ve explored this concept this week in my yoga lifestyle programs and I personally have done a bunch of journaling about this week. It’s fascinating, sometimes scary, but always helpful what can be revealed.

Below I’ve explained the four branches of avidya with a bit more detail and provided thought provoking journal questions for you to dive deeper into what might be clouding your current vision and understanding. Enjoy!

The Four Branches of Avidya, Misperception

1. Ego – Asmita Ego pushes us into identifying with things that change, with something other than our inner light (purusha), and expresses itself in statements
like, “I’m the worst/best/right one.”

Journal questions: Recently, what impermanent aspects of myself or life have I been strongly identifying with? How has this been influencing my decisions, interactions and beliefs? When I take a step back, and identify with my observer mind and inner light , what is the deeper truth or bigger picture?

2. Attachment – Raga Attachment shows up often as demands, cravings, resistance to change and a feeling of needing something we don’t need or know is bad.

Journal questions: Recently, what necessary changes have I been resisting? Or, what have I been craving and/or demanding and is this necessary? How has this been influencing my decisions, interactions and beliefs? When I take a step back, and identify with my observer mind and inner light , what is the deeper truth or bigger picture?

3. Aversion – Dvesa Aversion expresses itself as rejection of people, thoughts, experiences and especially things that are unfamiliar. Not wanting to see what something is mirroring back to us about ourselves.

Journal questions: Recently, what ideas, thoughts, people or new experiences have I been strongly rejecting? Why? What is that idea/thought/person/experience showing me about myself? How has this been influencing my decisions, interactions and beliefs? When I take a step back, and identify with my observer mind and inner light , what is the deeper truth or bigger picture?

4. Fear – Abhinivesa Fear appears in many aspects of our life and is perhaps the most insidious of the branches. It manifests as uncertainty, doubt, hesitation, anger, depression and in many other ways effecting our decision, interactions and lifestyle.

Journal questions:  What have I been afraid of, worried about, anxious about lately? How has this been influencing my decisions, interactions and beliefs? When I take a step back, and identify with my observer mind and inner light , what is the deeper truth or bigger picture?

How do you remind yourself to see the bigger picture? 

A New Definition of Purity 

Saucha

The idea of living a life of purity used to bring to mind virgin angles sheltered from the world, untouched by the sometimes harsh experiences of life, or celibate sages living in far off ashrams or monasteries. In other words, not the reality most of us live in, and as such I didn’t really understand how to strive for it as the Yoga Sutras suggests we should.

But I’ve discovered a whole new meaning to purity in recent years as I’ve explored more deeply the meaning of Sauca.

Sauca, means purity or cleanliness, and is the first of the niyamas, or attitudes of a yogi as outlined by the Yoga Sutras.

The more I use yoga practice to read my life in terms of energy rather than stories or ideas, the more logical all of these practices become.

Energy, or Prana, is the stuff of life, and really all of our yoga practices aim to improve the flow of life-force into us and through us. As Darren John Main says, “Prana is the difference between a block of wood and a living tree. It is the difference between a corpse and a living body.”

I’ve learned through practicing yoga and studying Ayurveda that the most important question isn’t, “Is this good or bad?” but rather, “How is this effecting my prana?”

In this way we can make decision based on what’s best for us as individuals, not based on a list of should’s, and the more we do this the more we learn to trust and take care of ourselves.

So, from that perspective I’ve redefined purity and cleanliness, Sauca: anything that improves my intake and flow of life-force energy is pure; anything that depletes, blocks or stagnates my life-force energy is impure.

In my yoga lifestyle programs this week we’ve explored how Sauce based on this definition plays out in our lives. And how we can make Sauca a practice rather than simply an esoteric ideal.

We often hear people taking about practicing purity in how we eat and cleanliness of the body, but below you’ll find some of the less commonly looked at areas of our life that we’ve been practicing Sauca.

Practicing Purity of Place

If we’re surrounded by clutter and mess then the energy around us will be blocked and have a big impact on how we feel, think and act.

Today, simple take some time to clean up the space around you.

Even if you only have 10 minutes just clear out some small drawer or your wallet. If you have more time and energy go to town and get cleaning! Notice how your energy feels afterwards.

Practicing Purity of Speech 

When our communication is unclear it means that the interactions surrounding that communication is not flowing optimally. Remember, think about everything in terms of energy and how it flows or stagnates.

We all know it feels so much better when we’re understood or when we’re understanding someone else clearly, and that when this isn’t happening there seem to be problems.

Today, simply remind yourself to speak from your highest self and deepest truth.

If you’re finding it hard to speak your truth take a moment to ask yourself, what is the limiting belief that stops me from communicating clearly? And, what is the deeper truth?

Practicing Purity of Thought

Our beliefs and thoughts are truly what create our lives.

Purity and cleanliness in thought means flowing and liberation of energy. The biggest way to stop the flow of energy is to have negative thoughts about yourself.

Unfortunately, this negative self talk also seems to be a universal trait of man kind. A lot of our modern culture actually perpetuates this negative self talk, particularly the advertising industry that plays on our feelings of inadequacy to sell us something we don’t need.

Today, let yourself hear the self limiting thought that is arising, acknowledge that there is a deeper truth beyond that self limiting though that will liberate your energy. Write that deeper truth down! Repeat it to yourself as much as you can!

How do you practice purity?

Curiosity, an Act of Self Love?

 

“Curiosity is an act of self love.” Whoa! 10625000_10205131255750845_3181629407312370686_n

I was listening to an interview by Geneen Roth, author of “Women, Food and God” and this statement just rolled off her tongue like it was the most apparent thing ever. 

But for me, in that moment, those words hit me light a lightening bolt. I felt like a cartoon character with bulging eyes and almost jumped up and said, “Eureka!” 

Along my journey of figuring out how to live a content, joyous and healthy life, I’ve again and again come back to two big things. 

No matter if the topic is food and diet, relationships and communication, fitness and yoga practice or business and purpose in life — there seems to be a re-occurring theme. It’s almost like the universe is singing her answers to me in a little mantra. 

I ask, “What should I do with my life?”

She answers, “Self reflect, self love.” 

I cry, “My relationship is falling apart, what should I do?”

She answers, “Self reflect, self love.” 

I tell her, “I totally F*#^ed this one up! I’m lost, desperate, shamed.”

She answers, “Self reflect, self love.” 

I say to her, “My body is sick and I don’t understand why.” 

She answers, “Self reflect, self love.” 

OK, ok, I get it. Self reflect, self love.  

Self reflect. 

And so I do my practice. Sometimes is hard. It’s hard to self reflect, to look inward and see what’s there, when what’s there feels dark and uncomfortable. My throat tightens and the fear of facing a thousand writhing monsters that live in the dark places grips me. 

But I do my practice. I breath. I move. I close my eyes, and simply FEEL it all. It’s harder and takes more courage than any epic warrior sequence or crazy upside down balancing posture. This is the yoga that requires my true warrior energy. 

The Yoga Sutras calls this Svadyaya, self study, and lists it as one of five (meaning it’s pretty important) of the personal practices we need to cultivate for health and enlightenment.  

It’s harder still to stick to it. 

To keep looking, keep being curious and keep breathing when the practice of self reflection starts to get uncomfortable. 

A part of me desperately wants to wait and see what’s there and what will happen if I just relax into the sensations and feelings of observing.  

But, another part of me screams, “Save yourself, run away!” convinced that looking at the dark side will break me. Or worse, become me. 

And there in lies the basis of all of my fears — the belief that I am or can become defined by the uncomfortable mistake, terrible experience, sickness, broken heart, confusion, ect. 

The ironic thing is that when we fear looking at the hard stuff because we don’t want it to consume us, the running away from it ends up controlling us. 

We become like bouncy balls ping ponging around a room. Each time we hit a wall we don’t want to look at we go flying in the opposite direction ad infinitum. Our path becomes determined and controlled by our desire to run away.

I’m fiercely independent, and seeing how running away controls me, motivates me to stop and face those walls. 

So I’ll self reflect, but I’m not going to like what I see or love myself for it. 

I tell myself, “Ok Morgan, I’ll look at that ugly wall. Maybe I just need to admit that this is part of me and I’m ugly, just give in to it.” 

At this point a fascinating thing always happens. I look. I see the ugliness — the pain, the shame, the fear, the anger. I stop the ball bouncing and flying, in other words, I stop my mind spinning me out into stories around this thing. I just see it. 

So many sensations come up in my body, in my throat and heart and belly, and in a way it does break me — breaks me out of the cage of stories I had trapped myself in. 

The minute I really stop and simply observe, the self criticism, worry, judgements and projecting also stop — in it’s places comes a sigh (or sob) of self acceptance. And it is the biggest and most wonderful relief ever! 

Self love. 

This is what Roth meant when she said curiosity is an act of self love. When we truly approach ourselves and our lives with curiosity we step into the observer mind, like a child, not judging and criticising, just wondering and watching. 

All of the wisdom traditions of the world teach us the importance of observing objectively and gazing inward, either through meditation, prayer, chanting, ritual or service. And all of them teach this as a path to liberation, or God, which to me are one in the same. 

Every time I stop the stories I’m reminded of who I was before the story. The innocent child born into this world full of light, peace and purity. And every time I remember that self it feels like coming home. It feels like safety and happiness. And I cry out of relief and joy, just like I always have the feeling of crying when I see my mom after being gone for too long. 

I’m reminded that this is not a game of changing who I am, but of coming back to who I’ve always been, and that it never was and never will be those monsters I make up in my head. And then I feel strong. 

10 Reasons Why Traveling Alone is Not So Lonely

 

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I’ve travelled across the globe as a solo traveller many times and personally know the spontaneous magic that can come out of being independent while abroad. However, after spending a week with our last group of entirely single travellers for the Bali retreat we realised that attending a transformational retreat alone creates magic and connection like we never expected.

I was blown away with the depth, sharing and pure fun the whole group had. I’ve seen it in other’s who’ve come to our retreats alone and we’ve been discussing why single travellers get so much out of the retreat.

Our retreats are more than a destination, they’re a journey. Just like travelling alone, taking the journey through self transformation can be enhanced when we strip away the boundaries of our “normal” identity and open ourselves up to new ways of being, thinking and interacting.

I wanted to share with you our insights and hope to inspire you to take courage and get out there on your own!

Top ten reasons why travelling alone actually creates magic and connection. 

1) More open to connect with others

With each retreat I’ve watched many new and genuine friendships forged between people who just days before were complete strangers. I think it’s because on our own we’re naturally more open to people we otherwise might not speak to, and this can give us fantastic new perspectives on life and ourselves. Opening up to new people in a safe and respectful environment rekindles feelings of trust and belonging in the world, and at the end of the day this is what we all deeply desire. The group from our last retreat bonded so much they’re already planning a reunion retreat for next year.

2) Readily see similarities rather than differences

Many people come alone but quickly find they’re surrounded by like minded people and not at all alone in their interests, intentions and issues. In fact, because we are a community of similar people, the retreats can make us feel far less alone than we do in normal life. I’ve personally found this again and again through my travels, and meeting the people out there that have a similar take on life is one of the reasons I’ll never stop travelling.

It’s also reassuring to discover that we not only share similar values but also similar struggles. At every retreat I see people from all over the world, with various ages and walks of life relate to each other over the same inner feelings and life issues. What comes out of it is a huge sense of relief knowing that everyone faces these same life challenges and the conversations and support that follow are always inspiring.

3) No guilt about personal time

Most people go on a retreat to rejuvenate, relax and give themselves the precious “me-time” they rarely get in their busy lives. They feel free to do as they please, nap when they want to, lounge by the pool, read a novel without interruption or simply sit and think without guilt, pressure or worry about anybody else. And this alone can replenish our energy and enthusiasm for life like nothing else.

4) Less Inhibited by expectations 

Taking ourselves out of our “normal” life roles and being surrounded by people who have no expectations of us can really free us from the expectations or boundaries we’ve been living in. Sometimes we don’t even know those boundaries and limiting beliefs existed until we removed ourselves from the situation. And then when we do we speak our mind more freely and have less fear of judgement because we don’t have a history with the people around us. When I’ve travelled alone this freedom of expression has generate creativity, inspiration, insight and helped me become confident in who I am.

5) Time and space for self reflection  

Along the same lines, being alone means we’re not distracted away from self reflection. I see many of the single people on the retreat really take advantage of all the self reflection exercises and make this a time to take a bigger picture look at their life and future decisions. Because of this, people tell me every retreat that the experience has been life changing. I know my life changes from the perspective I get almost every time I travel, but especially on all the journey’s I’ve gone on alone.

6) Feel more courageous and empowered

I see that this deeper self understanding is also massively empowering. When we make decisions on our own without the influences and opinions we’re typically surrounded by, we can feel profoundly strong in our resolves and clear in our intentions. Having this kind of clarity always makes us feel stronger.

7) More open to new identities 

One of the biggest things we work with during the retreat is how we view ourselves — in other words, what are we identifying with. Much of the research I’ve read shows that we live up to our self perception and act based on these beliefs about our identity. If we want to change our actions we always need to look at the self belief that is influencing that action. Again, being alone and away from anyone with stories or expectations about us can loosen up and shift the beliefs we have about ourselves.

8) Live in the present moment

When new people surround us we’re more likely to focus on the present moment because we have no history or future plans with the person. And this present moment living is what the Yoga tradition, as well as Buddhism and really all mystical traditions teach us to cultivate. When we live more in the present we can actually take in the wonder and splendour of this world. Truly taste the food, absorb the sights, feel the energy of the moment and ourselves. Cultivating this sharpens our intuition and ability to make moment by moment decisions that make us feel good. And this can be a game changer. Our life, after all, is only an accumulation of moments.

9) Build a wider network

On the last day there’s always a massive exchange of emails, addresses, phone numbers and Facebook links. People have even gone on to travel together after the retreat that din’t know each other before hand, or make plans to connect when they get back home. After having fun, connecting, diving deep and forging new, powerful friendships the last thing people want to do is say good bye. The amazing thing about our modern era is that we don’t have to, which means our network of likeminded people just gets bigger.

10) Simply being who we are 

One of the best parts of traveling alone is simply being exactly who we are and want to be in that moment. One of our guests, Michael, said it best, “I think attending a retreat solo allows you the freedom to just be as you are, as you’re feeling at that particular point in time with no filter. Being part of a group of like minded spiritual travellers is always an empowering experience.”

For more information about the Bali Yoga Retreats visit luxuryretreatsbali.com.au

Pay Attention. Be Astonished.

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“Pay attention. Be astonished. Share your astonishment.”~ Mary Oliver

No one could have epitomised this quote better than the 74 year old man reading it with passion from the podium of the crowded hall. These three are the most important things in life, he told us.

We were showered with other such inspiring quotes by poets and scientists, rappers and rabbis, warriors, priests, prophets and philosophers all speaking about the same understanding, the same message — that the divine exists within everything, and the path out of suffering is simply through paying attention and acknowledge it.

This shower of wisdom and quotes came pouring out of the most animated, enthusiastic, scholarly and radically non-traditional 74 year old I’ve ever met. Mathew Fox, a theologian and ex-priest (kicked out of the church for his compassionate, inclusive and liberal teachings) eloquently wove together the true meaning of spirituality, ritual and mysticism — beyond dogma, religion, cryptic languages or dower practices.

And that meaning, he told us, has everything to do with our fate as individuals, as a species and as a planet.

I often feel uncomfortable using the word God. In fact, I mostly avoid the word spiritual.

They bring to mind either oppressive, confining religious systems that seem to have no spirit, or over the top, airy-fairy, ungrounded practices that seem rooted in denial or separatism.

Ironically, I’ve also chosen a life and career dedicated to deepening relationship to spirit — my own, that of others, the planet and the whole universe. Part of that dedication however is about demystifying spirituality and our understanding of subtle energy. Rather than putting it in the sky or cave or far off ashram where it may feel inaccessible to the majority of people, I like to frame and find spirit within our everyday life.

I like to replaced the word “God” with “Universal Energy,” but I know that it all means the same thing. And most importantly, I know that everyone, everything for that matter, has spirit within and for that simple reason is intrinsically spiritual.

This is why I’ve been so drawn to study and practice Yoga. It’s non-denominational (even though culturally influenced by Hinduism) teach us many practical ways to live in deeper connection to universal spirit.

Pay Attention. 

One of the most common phrases in the yoga world today is, “live in the present moment.” Though cliche, there’s a damn good reason it’s repeated over and over again.

If our consciousness does not reside in the present moment, we can’t paying attention to all of the wonder around and within us. When we’re lost in worry or regret, planning or reliving, we’re distracted from the awesomeness of life. These fluctuations of the mind, the Yoga Sutras says, lead to suffering.

Hatha yoga teaches us how to pay attention. We begin simply by observing our breath and sensations to climb out of the racing thoughts and bring our awareness into the moment. It’s a simple method but highly effective.

The minute we start to pay attention we begin to see, feel and acknowledge spirit. And something magical happens — not just to a select blessed few, but to everyone.  Our nervous system calms, we feel more connected within ourselves as well as with others, and this simple paying attention changes how we interact with ourselves and the whole world.

Be Astonished. 

The more we pay attention, the more awe, wonder and amazement of the world within and around us arises. We become dazzled and amazed with our own existence, and this naturally leads to gratitude.

Fox said at one point, “Humanity will not be saved by more information, but by more appreciation.”

He explained that this “radical amazement” not only leads to joy but also to courage, because all beauty contains terror. He spoke about how wonder is an act in which the mind confronts the universe, and this can be equally awesome as terrifying.

But, it is this confrontation with the universe that we need to heal ourselves and our plant. In Fox’s workshop he spoke about how disconnect the modern world is from the cosmos and the universe. This is not some far out notion, the universe and cosmos are simple the stuff we’re made of.

Another of my favourite moments was just before he dismissed us for lunch Fox threw up his hands and said, “The cosmos are not an abstraction, they are the tomato in your hand!”

All food, all life for that matter, is nourished by the sun, the cosmos. With each bite we are taking in the magnificent, complex interconnectedness of the universe. How often are we taught to remember that?

Fox asserts that it’s this lack of realising how much we are part of the bigger whole, the entire universe, that leads to our lack of self care, environmental degradation, war making and psychosis.

Spirituality is about finding that connection and having the courage to confront a universe that’s full of uncertainty and terrifying beauty. This courage is all about opening and strengthening the heart. “Courage” after all comes from the Latin word for heart, which also implies inner strength.

Share Your Astonishment. 

Fox spoke about the four paths of spirituality we all walk down. The first, the path of positivity, joy, astonishment and the second, the path of negativity, facing the terror and finding courage, leads to the third. The path of creativity.

Sharing our astonishment, in what ever way, is an act of creativity that comes from the heart and requires courage.

Sharing our astonishment is what we’re here to do. In yogic terms they call it “dharma” and is a word with many meanings that very much echo Fox’s message. Dharma on the one hand refers to the cosmic order of the universe. It is also spoken about in terms of individual dharma.

I like the way Deepak Chopra phrases it, “Following our dharma in the deepest sense means that we’re not really obeying the laws or regulations set down by society. Dharma isn’t about the external world but about aligning with the pure spiritual force within. When our intentions, thoughts, words, and actions support our life’s purpose, we are in dharma. And then we bring fulfilment to ourselves and everyone else affected by our actions.”

When we feel ourselves guided by creativity, not just in the sense of fine art but creativity in all aspects of life, we know we’re connected to spirit. This creativity from spirit leads to the fourth path of spiritually, the path of transformation. Just as Chopra said, when we are in our dharma we are fulfilled and everyone else is affected by our actions.

At the end of his lecturing Fox exclaimed, “Our activists need to get more spiritual and our spiritual people need to get more active. We are the first species on the planet who can choose whether or not we go extinct.”

So, call up that courageous heart and share with us your astonishment! You may well be astonished with out it transforms the world around you.