Fresh Start: 3 Ways to Embrace Change

06/12/2013

Guilty. I have not made this blog a priority for awhile. Although, I think I have a few pretty good reasons for my ten month absence. You see, I’ve been busy with some pretty big changes. With a new year upon us, I find myself reflecting on all of the transitioning of the past year, and there are two words that repeatedly spring to mind.  Fresh start. Leaving my job, undertaking yoga teacher training, moving (across an ocean), redefining my professional path, bringing home a new mini dachshund puppy named Doug and really, starting over in so many ways. Making a fresh start.

I’ll be candid though. While it has been an exciting year of possibilities and adventure,  I’m also going to hypothesize that I would be slightly super human if I handled all of these changes with complete grace and ease. I cried. I moaned how much I missed my friends. I got frustrated when Doug made a mess. I doubted my choice to forge a new path. I doubted myself.

When we react adversely to a plot twist in life, we aren’t exactly fretting the change itself. We fear the unknown. When we feel groundless and uncertain we experience a disconnection to our true selves. So how can we shift our perspective and bring ourselves back? One way to do this is to remember that not all change is scary and it can provide you with a fresh start. Here are three tips for embracing change and seeing it as a clean slate:

Remember it is a START. When working toward a goal or through a transition, you may find yourself feeling stressed or overwhelmed when things don’t progress as quickly as you’d like. Some change comes slowly. Be patient. And be kind to yourself too. When faced with a new city, job or situation, it can be tempting to think about how good you had it in your old routine. You might forget why change is necessary for living. Look forward and remember that the changes you’re facing are only a start. Big changes like moving or starting a new job take time to settle into. Everything will fall into place. I read a funny yet wise fiction this year called ‘The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window” and I’ll always remember this line which I believe captures my point.: “Things are what they are, and whatever will be, will be.”

Every moment is an opportunity for a fresh start. Try this next time you’re feeling anxious about your circumstance. Close your eyes for a full breath. At the bottom of your exhale, open your eyes. Welcome to your fresh start. Repeat as many times as needed. (I also recommend this great little video on how to meditate in a moment)

I get by with a little help from my friends. If you begin to feel overtaken by life, remember that we’re part of a larger community. If you’ve been dealt with a change too enormous to face on your own then ask for help. Maybe you need to pay for help in the form of a life coach, removalist, financial planner or other professional. But sometimes all it takes is a call to an old friend who understands you and can help put life back into perspective.

The bottom line is change is really only scary because sometimes we’re not quite sure what lies beyond that door we’ve decided to enter. But it can also be exactly what we need. I love this quote by Joseph Campbell. ‘The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure that you seek.’ And that treasure could be your fresh start.

Moon Salutations: Quiet contemplation

26/02/2013

I remember such frigid Wisconsin winter nights when I was growing up. Crisp air that bit at the nose, ice blanketing the driveway and fresh snow hills built up alongside of  the shed. Night arrived early during the winter and by the time our family finished with farm chores for the day, blackness awaited us. While this sounds utterly depressing – and let’s be honest, it was at times – there was also magic in that blackness. Blessed with no light pollution, we could witness millions of twinkling stars in the sky. Stopped in my tracks, I stood on that frozen path between the house and the barn in stillness (maybe slightly frozen) with my head dropped back – completely mesmerized. I still think about those nights in the dead of winter and how for even just a minute, staring at the stars and moon was an invitation to quiet contemplation. To this day no matter where I am in the world, I still find myself captivated by a sky full of bright stars, always leaving me to contemplate my tiny pocket of the vast universe.

For this reason, I felt an immediate connection to Moon Salutations (Chandra Namaskara) when I first came across this slower, inner focused set of yoga poses.  Moon salutations counter the dynamic energy of Sun Salutations (Surya Namaskara), a staple of many hatha yoga classes today. Lunar energy encourages cooling and inward reflection, while solar energy promotes heated and outward focused energy. Classes emphasising moon or lunar energy may be called yin or restorative yoga on your class schedule, which are generally conducted at a slower pace while focusing on longer holds in each pose. If you’re practising yoga in places like Australia or America, chances are most classes offered at your studio emphasize solar energy – which of course is not a bad thing but in the spirit of balance, try incorporating some lunar energy into your practice. Practising Moon Salutations in the evening can be a particularly soothing end to the day especially if you can align your practice with dusk, when day becomes night.

To provide a starting point in exploring Moon Salutations, I recommend this sequence by Shiva Rea that was featured in Australian Yoga Journal. Enjoy the quiet space and contemplation.

Life lessons in the Art of Assisting

19/02/2013

When we open our minds and leave our comfort zone, we can be led down an unexpected and wonderful path. Such was the case last year when I enrolled in a four day course at my yoga studio called ‘Art of Assisting’ which is designed as a yoga teacher training course but also open to regular practitioners. I normally wouldn’t find myself in such a course because  surely there was some reason I didn’t belong there. I’m not a qualified yoga teacher nor can I do handstand – simply not advanced enough. But I turned up with excitement (and slight nervousness) only to meet others who were just like me and were there to deepen their own practice. A few teachers were in the midst but I realized after the first few hours we were there to support each other and learn together.

After relaxing into the course, I quickly found myself interested in more than how I could learn to adjust my own poses. Helping students through assists allows them to chart unexplored territory, physically and mentally, which can be incredibly rewarding for all parties involved. Once the course finished, I decided to continue onto the optional next step of assisting in public classes at the studio, which has been a journey of lessons – applicable to life off the mat too – and isn’t that what yoga is all about really?

Have faith in yourself: When I practised assists on my peers and mentor, the main feedback was always along the lines of “I liked what you did and it felt great. But you just need to be more confident.” Oh how this one piece of feedback has always followed me – at school, jobs and now in the yoga studio! I once read that yoga is a practice of faith and observation – to have faith that you know what to do and how to do it while observing your thoughts without judgement. I tend to keep this in mind while I assist, and do anything for that matter.

Nothing is permanent: During one of my practice assisting sessions, I was not in a good head space and I knew it as I walked into the studio. While I assisted to the best of my ability, I felt attacked and tearful when the girl I assisted confirmed that “I didn’t do very well.” OK – that’s not actually what she said or even meant (I can only assume anyway) but my sensitive mind interpreted it in such a way. My reaction to her feedback rattled me for a good day or two after. I was frustrated with the tears and just simply would not let it go. Those spells of bad luck or stressful days can sometimes feel like they will never end. But the simple thought that none of it is permanent can be a relief. That one average assisting session was temporary and a lesson to learn from. We will always have those days when we are not on top of our game. Which brings me to the next point…

Have compassion: After beating myself up for days after that practice assist I reminded myself of compassion. How we can find compassion for others so easily but then when it comes to ourselves, we have the least amount of patience. Being compassionate to yourself is not selfish. It just makes sense. Think about how you treat others in your daily life. Would you give someone at work such a hard time, for days, if they made a mistake? Probably not. So why would you do that to yourself? We are only human living complex, busy lives – why make it more challenging than it needs to be?

The yoga journey is constant, filled with depths and heights. On and off the mat. What are some of the lessons you have experienced in yoga practice, as student or teacher, and taken into the world?

Barossa Valley, South Australia

13/01/2013

A wine weekend escape is fabulous – and intensely hot in the summer! Recently when my fella and I travelled to the Barossa Valley in South Australia,  my romantic idea of cycling through the vineyards faded quickly after our one (and only) trip down the road from our hotel! Suddenly biking and drinking in temperatures reaching around 40 degrees (Celsius – so roughly 100 – 110 degrees Fahrenheit) didn’t seem wise much less romantic. An air conditioned vehicle became our chariot. Apart from the scorching sun, the area is stunning – which is hopefully evidenced by some of the photos below. Everyone we encountered was friendly, helpful and seemed passionate about what they do. I loved hearing about each winery’s history, the stories and its people. One of my favourite tidbits came out of Yalumba, who honour an individual who has made a significant contribution by acknowledging them on the label of each release of their renowned Cabernet Sauvigon / Shiraz blend, The Signature. That wouldn’t be a bad little mantelpiece.

The beautiful backdrop and pleasant people enhanced the experience but it was mainly about discovering divine wine and food. Some of our favourite spots included Villa Tinto, Langmeil, Charles Melton and Artisans of the Barossa (collective of seven small wineries under one roof). For dinner, I highly recommend 1918 for the atmosphere, lovely service and fresh food, prepared with care and thoughtfulness. Lunch at Maggie Beer is a treat – look out for the turtles in the pond out back. If you need to have a short break from wine, Barossa Valley Brewing makes for a decent retreat.

Another amazing Australian experience – here’s a short highlight reel:

Vineyard

IMG_20121222_153838

Everything in the Barossa seems to be made with love.

Yalumba

Beautiful setting at Yalumba

View from Novotel

View from private balcony at Novotel

Cellar door at Charles Melton

View from Charles Melton cellar door

Turtles at Maggie Beer

Lunch with the turtles at Maggie Beer

 

Sculpture By The Sea

27/10/2012

Imprisoned caterpillars, a skeleton walking a balance beam and giants made of staples. Sounds like characters from a fantasy novel but these are actually some of the things you will find at the annual spring exhibition, Sculpture By The Sea, another favourite event for Sydneysiders. I am continually impressed by the focus of cultural events in Sydney, one trait that makes this city such a special place. SBTS is a treat for photographers and while I went along equipped with my little point and shoot, the exhibition presents plenty of opportunities for even the most amateur photographer (ahem.. me) to play around with. Cameras aside though, the purpose is to get outside, take in the fresh ocean breeze and enjoy art.


Lorikeet invasion

08/07/2012

Remember the classic Hitchcock film The Birds? I felt like I was in a much more pleasant and not so deadly version of that the other day. I was working at home when I glanced outside to see one beautiful rainbow lorikeet perched on the balcony railing. Generally, I’m not a big fan of the bird family but the colours on a rainbow lorikeet are remarkable. When I quietly stepped onto the balcony to snap a photo of the little fella (or lady) I noticed this particular bird wasn’t very shy. Suddenly, I found my balcony invaded with rainbow lorikeets, most of which seemed to love the camera. In addition to their playful personalities, I was also struck by the contrast of their vibrant feathers against the grey, stormy skies in the background. A little while later when the rain had stopped and the clouds began to disappear, so did the lorikeets into the concrete jungle.

Rainbow lorikeet

First there was one.

Pair of rainbow lorikeets

And then there was two.

Group of lorikeets

Suddenly an invasion of rainbow lorikeets.

Pair of lorikeets (love birds)

Huddling for warmth

Lorikeets looking mischevious

This pair looks like they’re up to no good.

Another pair of lorikeets

The one on the left is showing off his Blue Steel look.

A lake, a cave and a world away

01/07/2012

The beauty of the Blue Mountains never gets old, even after several visits. Seeking a peaceful weekend escape that wasn’t too hard on the budget and close enough to Sydney, Matt and I booked a secluded studio that overlooked Lake Lyell, near Rydal (past the main hubs of Katoomba and Leura). We arrived in the evening – perfect timing for spotting nocturnal wildlife, which we were fortunate enough to pick out a wombat who stood still long enough for us to take a picture. Alas, I did not get the night setting on my camera on before the little fella wandered off into the darkness. Not a rare sighting perhaps but exciting nonetheless as neither of us had seen one in the wild – especially significant for Matt who was born and raised in Australia. Showing up in the dark also meant being able to take in one of my favourite parts of travelling to the countryside – the promise of an unpolluted sky that’s packed with stars. I am easily transfixed by the sight.

The following day was dreary but even under the blanket of grey, the scenery was refreshing. However, when it’s raining in the Blue Mountains it can be a bit tough to enjoy outdoor activities, which is one of the draws of visiting the area. One popular indoor attraction around those parts are the Jenolan Caves, which I never made a point of visiting simply because I didn’t think it would be very interesting. The rainy Saturday finally made me ‘cave’ in (terrible pun which was definitely intended) and I’m glad I did. Much to my surprise the caves were quite beautiful and fascinating. The mere history of the caves is enough to wrap your head around. In one of the photos below (third from bottom) is the Angel’s Wing and while the picture might not do this wonder much justice, consider that the wing grew at a rate of 1cm in 100 years. At least this is what the tour guide claimed. It’s not an exact science or formula but does illustrate that it took this formation a really, really long time to grow. A bit mind-boggling actually.

As the rain limited our excursion options, the rest of the weekend was filled with indulging in food, wine, beer and a cosy studio warmed by a log fire. Not entirely a bad way to spend a chilly winter weekend in the Blue Mountains. Before we knew it, the weekend was coming to a close and we were already on the road back to Sydney. A short escape but thanks to a lake, a cave, and a wombat, we felt like we were a world away. Here are some of my favourite shots, which kind of make me wish I could be transported right back.

Lake Lyelle - view from studio

Alpacas strolling by

(Above) Our neighbours out for a stroll

Lake Lyell
Temple of Baal - Jenolan Caves
Angel's Wing in Temple of Baal

Temple of Baal - Jenolan Caves

Jenolan Caves

Vivid Sydney

10/06/2012

One of my favourite festivals here is Vivid Sydney, particularly for the amazing display of lights. This past weekend I joined the crowds in a dazzling and stunning collection of lights, sculptures and art. While I’m not brilliant with photography I managed to capture some of the magic from the night.

Customs House Vivid Sydney

Old MCA at Vivid Sydney
Bicycle image on MCA
Vivid Sydney(Above) The kids in front of the screens controlling the movements projected onto the building.

Glowing (Above) Glowing in the light from the blue egg

Chandelier on the Harbour
Bubble lights
Sydney lit up

Performing goal maintenance

30/05/2012

Here we are. Standing on June’s doorstep. The midpoint of the year when we all start (or continue) to wonder where the year has escaped to. Recently I’ve been reflecting on the goals I had set for myself at the beginning of the year. While I’m going well with some of these intentions, like maintaining a steady yoga and meditation practice, and carving out more time for journal writing, there are other goals that I have not progressed as far with. This is due in part to external factors but it is fair to say that the drive and fired up attitude I possessed in January has slowly faded.

I don’t think this is an uncommon issue for many people. However, how many of us actually take the time to reflect on and evaluate the progress we have made on goals? For some, it might be easy enough to resign to the lost motivation. But if you’re like me, you have a hard time throwing in the towel, especially when deep down you know that you have not yet used all of your effort or resources. Now is the perfect opportunity to perform a little maintenance. Whilst I am certainly not a self-help guru I have put together a few ways that can help reignite the passion and drive:

1) Reading past journal entries: Returning to the pages that were penned during a time when you felt particularly inspired and motivated can be a great boost in reminding yourself that you indeed possess drive and are well capable of getting back on track. Don’t write in a journal? Start one! If anything, just use it to jot down your key goals and actions. Record your progress.

2) Enlisting your partner / friends / significant people in your life to do the same: I firmly believe we feed on the attitudes and actions of those that surround us. If you notice that your spouse or friend has lost a bit of passion in working toward their goals, have a chat with them and see if you can get back on track together.

3) Celebrate your achievements, big or small: This is important. On the road to success, you need to celebrate any achievements made along the way. Each one of these milestones are a stepping stone to the bigger vision, so celebrate.

4) Be compassionate: Just because you have set yourself a goal, actions and a time frame doesn’t mean it will happen exactly the way you had imagined. Sometimes life happens. Sometimes goals needs to be adjusted to become attainable. No matter what happens, it is the journey and if you fall a little short, show yourself a bit of compassion.

As stated before, I am not any kind of specialist in this area. I’m a regular person who is striving for a fulfilling life, doing what I love. For further reading, there are resources abound on this topic. One book I recommend is The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. Not so much about goal setting but is a very easy, practical read that will help you think about how you approach life, which I believe is the foundation for anybody who is chasing their dreams. The second book, a bit more applicable to this topic, is The Nerdist Way by Chris Hardwick. In this book Hardwick describes his own experiences when he lost direction and how he managed to turn it around by redirecting the focus he once devoted to beating video game villains into something much more meaningful. The redirected focus turned into an empire including a highly rated comedy podcast, YouTube channel, blog and television show on BBC.

All of us have experienced feeling unsure, lost and uninspired. It is also quite likely this uncertainty will resurface several times throughout our lives. This is only natural but the key is to ensure those feelings don’t end up trumping your dreams.

Review: The Children by Charlotte Wood

17/04/2012

A month or so ago I finished the first book of three, which I have pledged to read and review as part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2012. It has taken me awhile to get around to the review part but the detail of The Children by Charlotte Wood is still lingering my mind, which might give you some indication to how powerful this story is.

Set in a rural NSW town, the story starts calm and quiet, essentially capturing the pace of this small town. Interestingly as the drama builds in this book, that calm element manages to underline the story, a tactic that I admired.

The Children is about a family who come together, physically, when Geoff, the father, falls off the roof of his house and ends up in the critical care unit with severe head injuries. Mandy, Stephen and Cathy, the children, come home to support their mother, Margaret. Mandy returns from her highly intense career as a foreign correspondent, which has led her to live in war torn countries and tragic situations – a career that has rattled her soul and has disconnected her from an ordinary life, including her relationship with her family and husband, Chris. Cathy, the most normal and sympathetic child I would say, in the sense that she does not have some twisted or disturbed view on life (except perhaps having to deal with siblings who are dramatic and removed from the family, or even themselves). The youngest, Stephen, who has detached himself from everyone, with little reason as far as we know, returns home after many years.

As the novel progresses, clues behind each individual’s past is unveiled and provides some insight into the dysfunctional characteristics (or perhaps, just ordinary) of the family. One thought that occurred to me while reading this was the family seemed so broken but yet I found myself relating to what a character was thinking or saying, and led me to think about whether ordinary actually exists. As details of the past weave into the present, I can actually feel the tension build with each turn of the page.

My initial reactions to this book was the great attention to detail – careful description of ordinary moments come alive, intense moods of the characters are felt in my own depths. This is a very stellar start to the Australian Women Writers Challenge. By all accounts and reviews I have read about Charlotte Wood she is an Australian author to watch and I can certainly see why. I look forward to reading (and re-reading) Wood’s work in the future.


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