40 Day Revolution or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Downward Dog

16/03/2012

Today is the day. The final day of the 40 Day Revolution and I come away from the experience with a greater understanding of myself as well as an even more profound love for yoga!

Since the beginning, I have asked myself what I hoped to gain from the Revolution and the initial answers were to find more balance in my life and take the next step in committing to a more steady and consistent practice. I think I achieved both of these objectives but there actually has been one major theme that stayed with me for most of the 40 days though I couldn’t quite explain it until I had an a-ha moment during class this week. It was an unusually small class so the instructor jumped on the opportunity to ‘play’ a bit more (easier to do when there are less people in the room) and helped us discover more space in a few poses including Downward Facing Dog, a staple in any Vinyasa class.

Downward Facing Dog

Downward Facing Dog

For awhile, I didn’t quite ‘get’ this pose. Like I said, it is a staple and a go-to for finding a bit of respite during practice but I have always struggled a little bit. My hands never felt like a solid base, or my legs felt too tight – just found it more stressful than restorative. Then something happened. Over the last 40 days I found myself easing into my down dog with less worry and reached the point of… enjoying it! During this class, the instructor asked us to pair up with one of our fellow yogis for a partner assist exercise, then I really got it! Gently but firmly, our partners were asked to raise our hips toward the sky while in our down dog, allowing more space than what we could achieve on our own. Then they were asked to push against our shoulders, again bringing us deeper into the asana than what we might be do on our own accord. Not only was it a great stretch but also served as an example to show that there is always more space to move into. And this lesson can be applied to our mental space too. A-ha!

The 40 Day Revolution has showed me how to be more aware of my space and also the importance of creating more space in our lives. A pose seems really difficult? Just breathe and somehow, like magic, you can find just a little extra space to move and stretch into. Your mind is overrun with worry and stress at work? As hard as it can be (at least for me it can be!) then that is the perfect opportunity to step back, breathe and put your rampant thoughts into order, thus creating more space and awareness of where your head space is at in that moment. Watching how you feel in a moment can make a profound difference in how you proceed with your next task, day or whatever is coming up.

At times squeezing two meditations into a day plus a 90 minute practice at the studio could be challenging – and there were certainly days when it just wasn’t possible. But the revolution wasn’t about perfection or ticking all of the boxes. For me, it was a journey towards more self-awareness, paying attention to my space and inviting personal growth. I’m so grateful I finally went for the challenge. It has been an excellent experience that has moved me into another level of my yoga practice, beyond the physical postures into something much deeper. And of course, I learned to stop worrying and love the downward facing dog!

If you’re in Sydney, I suggest checking out BodyMindLife. They have beautiful studios in Surry Hills and Rozelle. And perhaps you will feel inspired to join their next 40 Day Revolution!

Let the revolution begin!

07/02/2012

So the revolution begins. A couple of months ago I had written about the incredible transformation that happens when you learn to take yoga off the mat and do it regularly. I also declared I would finally sign up for the 40 Day Revolution, a program and personal challenge to commit to yoga (five days at the studio, one day at home and one day of rest) and meditation twice a day.  I was pretty gung ho but as the first day, 6th February, drew closer and closer I started to question my capacity to undertake such a committment. However, I reminded myself that there is no punishment if something happens along the way and I can’t get to yoga one day or miss a meditation. The reward is in the journey.

Last night was the first night which kicked off with a meeting and I loved listening to my co-revolutionaries share each of their motivations for signing up, ranging from desire for physical benefits and learning to cultivate more focus and balance in life, in particular the ladies who work in advertising and another who runs her own business. A man from the Netherlands, who has only arrived in Sydney five months ago, explained his desire to connect with the yoga community in his new home. And a very honest reason from another guy: “Now that I have paid $300 for this I hope that will motivate me to go more.” We all have our reasons. No judgements here.

Now I feel inspired by the possibilities. Rather than feeling daunted, I am taking advantage of this time to really reflect through yoga and meditation, supplemented by daily journal writing. This allows me to think about and define my intentions during the revolution and observe how I’m feeling mentally and physically. This journey has great potential but only if I don’t allow my own excuses to persuade me that I can’t complete it. For now though, two days in and enjoying the experience so far.

Learn more about the program and the studio BodyMindLife here.

Storms and sunsets

13/01/2012

Disclaimer: I am not a photographer. However when presented with such beauty nature takes care of the hard work for you – no Photoshop required. Such was the case this week when we witnessed spectacular sunsets and storm clouds. I found myself sitting on the balcony, transfixed on the fairy floss (cotton candy to North Americans) clouds, feeling like all was right in the world.  Threatening but beautiful storm clouds rolled in on another evening. Charcoal and deep blue clouds blanketed most of the sky but left a corner for large, fluffy clouds bathed in the glow of the sunset in the other direction. I love when dusk gives us such visual treats.

Storm clouds at sunset

Year Long Thanksgiving

07/01/2012

Giving thanks. How often do you take a moment to express appreciation for a person, place or something as joyful as that first cup of coffee in the morning? Around the holidays, especially Thanksgiving (for North Americans), Christmas and New Years, we all dig deep to find and share our gratitude with one another which contributes to the very spirit of these holidays. But what about the rest of the year? How often do you find yourself expressing gratitude for any single aspect of your day, week or year?

My awareness for the act of daily thanksgiving changed last year after I read a column in MindFood magazine that pointed out the positive benefits of starting the day with thanksgiving. This made sense to me but between work, household duties, social events, personal development and everything in between, who has time and can remember to do this?

Well, I have come to realize the answer to my question is that everybody has time to take a moment to give thanks for what makes them happy. It doesn’t need to be glamorous, huge or newsworthy. Think about some of the small delights of the day like a delicious glass of wine or it could be the bus driver who made a joke and brought a smile to your face. And as far as having the time goes, I’m finding there are pockets of time throughout the day that can be dedicated to such reflection. In the car while stuck in traffic, the walk to work, while stirring the sauce on the stove top – we all have these slots of time so capitalise on the moment and give thought to what brought joy to your day or something that is constant variable in your life but is taken for granted

The lovely part of thanksgiving is that you can approach it however best suits you whether it is through prayer, reflecting in a quiet space or sharing your thanks with someone. My good friend, Sara Gille, has an inspiring and interesting approach to recognising what she’s thankful for. She has built a visual Thankful collection on Tumblr which you can take a look at here. Such a simple but very profound approach to daily gratitude practice. In fact, Sara is the one who has re-ignited the gratitude spark for me – so I am very thankful for her positive outlook and for reminding me of this very important daily act so now I take pen to journal everyday. No matter how tired or busy I am, I always manage to take a few moments to reflect on life’s delights, big and small.

Do you take a moment from your day to reflect on what brings you joy? Is it a mental list, prayer or do you have a special ritual for capturing the things you are thankful for?

Australian Women Writers Challenge

18/12/2011

As we near the end of another year, I join the likes of many other people trying to figure out how to make their next year more satisfying whether that is through losing weight, doing more volunteer work or one of the million resolutions people can make.

One of my personal challenges for myself in 2012 is to simply read more and diversify the genres that I read. It was shortly after I made this resolution I came across the Australian Women Writers Challenge, a challenge to read and review works by Australian female writers. Having lived in Australia for over four years I realized that I really have not picked up as much Aussie literature as I should have but this will change. In addition to generally picking up more magazines, books and newspapers next year I have signed up (so it’s official) for the Stella level of this challenge, aiming to read at least three books written by Australian women and review at least two of those, which you will find in due course on this blog. I would like to think that over the course of twelve months I can manage to read more than three but I figure that if I can achieve anything more than this will be a happy bonus.

I have been trying to compile a list of what I should read. In addition to signing up for the Stella category I have identified myself as a a ‘Dabbler’ in which I will try to reach out to a variety of genres. Normally I lean towards memoirs and fiction. I would really like to try to read sci-fi / fantasy because this is just one genre that I believe I have not given much of a chance. My partner being a fan of science fiction and fantasy writing has suggested I read and review something by K.E. Mills and /or  Sara Douglass. I also happen to have a Charlotte Wood book The Children on my bookshelf which has been sitting there, unread for the last couple of years so will pick that one up and quite likely wonder why it took me so long to read it (I have a tendency to pick up second hand books at the markets therefore have loads of books on my shelf that are just awaiting to be read!) Also adding to my list of potential reads will be something by Emily Maguire. Emily is one of the writer ambassadors for Room to Read and I have met her a few times. She is a lovely lady and I have read some of her excellent work in the Sydney Morning Herald plus would love to support her since she is so generously contributing some of her time to Room to Read (including helping me put together our bi-monthly newsletter).

I am certain there are heaps of possibilities out there which is why I think reading three books will be no problem and I hope to exceed that. If you’d like to learn more about the challenge and perhaps even sign up, follow this link or click on the image below. What are your favourite books written by Australian women? I would love to hear your suggestions! Until next time, happy reading!

Australian Women Writers Challenge badge

Yoga saves

04/12/2011

When yoga practice becomes more of a way of life rather than an exercise routine done once or twice a week, an interesting transformation begins.Though I have been doing yoga on and off with spurts of consistency for the last 10 years, this year I have made a pact with myself to strive for commitment to yoga and meditation practice. As the days pass, I find myself enjoying life simply by being in the present, approaching the day with more humour and above all, loving. I know that must really sound like ramblings of a hippie but it’s simple really. Love, laugh and be present. In many ways yoga has saved me. Not only am I realizing how to find happiness within but I am also equipped with a stronger confidence and self-awareness.

Frankly, I’m still a beginner. My journey began when I was 17 years old and followed the MTV Yoga video (on VHS!) hosted by Kristin McGee several nights a week. After graduating high school and started university in Minnesota, I was restricted by space and time, so these years my practice suffered as I only practiced once a month at most. There was a turning point when I thought back to how I felt when I did do yoga and wondered why I didn’t do it more. From then I steadily increased my sessions but still never hit the ‘sweet spot,’ so to speak. Now after living in Australia for four years, ten years since I first discovered yoga through MTV, I have unearthed the mental and physical well-being I am capable of achieving.

I am looking forward to 2012 and really allowing yoga to be part of my daily life. For a few years I have been making excuses for not doing the 40 day revolution, at BodyMindLife, a yoga studio in Sydney. The 40 day revolution is a journey and personal challenge, inviting a life changing transformation. The challenges requires five days of studio practice, one day of at-home Vinayasa practice, one day of active rest, and morning and evening meditation over forty days. All of this always sounded appealing to me but also very daunting so have found excuses as to why I couldn’t possibly sign up for such an event. I’ve realized now that it isn’t necessarily about ‘winning’ the challenge but rather about trying and encouraging personal growth.

Everybody who does yoga has a story as to why they first stepped to the mat, whether it was to lose weight, learn to become more focused or to find a bit of tranquillity in a busy life. Yoga is a wonderful way to achieve all of these and being open to it, you can gain some results that you would have never imagined. I for one am loving the journey and learning how to live with more presence, focus and energy.

Who wants pho?

22/11/2011

Oh, pho… how I adore and miss you, especially on this miserable and wet day. Maybe I need to go on a pho trail in Sydney and find the best?

Pho

First pho of many in Vietnam

Macaron Sunday!

06/11/2011

Had to get up at 6:30am just to beat the line at Adriano Zumbo to get my hands on these little delights. Some of the flavours you see here include a lime mojito, watermelon, cola and a surprise macaroon covered in chocolate. Delicious way to begin this bright and hot Sunday in Sydney!

Adriano Zumbo macaroons

Know One Teach One in Hanoi

02/11/2011

The last two weeks in Vietnam have been filled with marvelous sights and stories which I will share when I return to Sydney and am back at my own computer when I can include photos to enhance the stories. However, right now I am compelled to mention a restaurant we visited for lunch today called KOTO (Know One Teach One). This isn’t an ordinary restaurant though. KOTO is a non-profit restaurant and training center in Hanoi (They have also just opened one in Ho Chi Minh City also) who use a holistic approach in helping disadvantaged and street youth in Vietnam through hospitality training and combining this with English language training and life skills to provide the participants with a deeper experience by teaching them how to make key life decisions and become self-sufficient individuals.

Every six months KOTO takes 25 off the streets or out of their impoverished situations to enter into their hospitality training program which starts off with health checks and vaccinations then over the 24 month training period are provided with accommodation, monthly allowance, uniforms, ongoing medical support as well as life skills training (so it’s not just teaching young people how to cook and work in a restaurant – much more than that).

KOTO was started in 2000 by Australian expat, Jimmy Pham, who first started the program with a small sandwich shop but as we saw today has grown into a much larger project, which is inspiring to see.

I appreciate any youth orientated program that looks beyond straight employment skills, like cooking or serving tables in this case. Providing a much more holistic experience by combining English language classes, financial planning and other life skills will not only make the young individuals more employable but more well-rounded meaning a brighter future for them and generations to come, if they one day have children and can continue the cycle of education.

Most of the young people who enter the program are at high risk of getting involved in drugs, crime, prostitution and exploitation. Having this opportunity allows them to go down a different path by raising their confidence and providing the tools and resources required in creating a sustainable future, which is key in any successful business model. We all know the saying ‘Give a man a fish, he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish..’ And well, you know the rest.

Aside from the excellent mission of KOTO, I really enjoyed my plate of Halong Bay crab ravioli and a special Mint Julep created especially by the trainees – creativity is also encouraged! We were touched by the young people we saw at the front of the house (and back!) who were smiling and seemed to be thoroughly enjoying themselves.

Check out more information, facts and also about stories from some of the graduates of the program at www.koto.com.au. And of course, check out the restaurant if you find yourself in Hanoi! Delicious food, drinks and lovely service for a great cause!

Hunter Valley weekend

09/10/2011

Last weekend I headed up to Hunter Valley, wine country with a few of my close girlfriends for a few days of good food, wine and catching up. Despite the grey weather and buckets of rain we all had a wonderful trip (even though the last day ended with me getting a stomach bug…)

Our accommodation was at the lovely little Adamae B&B which was so thoughtfully laid out and just perfect for our girlie weekend away. The owners even left us with a bottle of Margan’s Chardonnay (a winery we would visit the next day) to kick off the trip right. We were invited to eat any fruit or use any herbs on the property unfortunately we weren’t in the right season to partake in fresh fruit though Clara’s eyes did spy fresh rosemary which we used for our roast dinner. on Saturday night – can’t beat freshness sourced from your own yard. All in all, a win for accommodation and got us started right.

Adamae B&B

Our lovely little home for the weekend

On Saturday morning, after a debate about whether we should get the bikes out and cycle 20 km to the Smelly Cheese Shop, good sense prevailed and we hopped in the car to get our cheese fix. As we drove to the shop we noted all of the hills and were confident we had made the right decision to use the car for this leg of the trip. The Smelly Cheese Shop is part of a larger complex which also contains some larger wineries, one of which we stepped into and immediately exited based on the crowd and music akin to that of a nightclub. Not exactly the relaxing, wine tasting experience we were after. But we did get lots of cheese to have as our dessert later that night (picture of that layout to come) Mmm…. cheese…

Hunter Valley Smelly Cheese Shop

A few of the cheeses at Smelly Cheese Shop

Once equipped with sufficient cheese levels for the weekend, we hopped on our bikes and headed around to some of the local wineries in Broke. First stop was Stomp, a boutique winery ran by a couple – one a food technician, the other a chemical engineer of some description – the dream team I call it. Whatever they are, they produce some great wines. We were all won over by the Sparkling Verdelho which does not have a cork or screw top but rather a bottle top which is a bit interesting. This winery also acquired another label called Pssst & Broke. Can’t say I was blown away by that label’s wines but I do so love the name.

While at Stomp, we really started to get a real feel of community on this side of the Hunter, especially with these smaller, boutique wineries. The four of us were the only ones there and we were told that this is generally how it goes. One small group comes in, tastes then as they’re leaving, another small group comes in – makes for a steady day and allows the winemakers to really explain their craft, which I’m not sure we would have received that same treatment at the larger fore mentioned winery (ahem Tempus Two). We said farewell to our new friend at Stomp, who recommended we next ride to her neighbour’s, Whispering Brook. Ah, the community support continues.

Girls at Stomp

Ladies at first stop, Stomp Wine

Whispering Brook, about a 10 minute bike ride away from Stomp, was a nice little ride to get our blood pumping and take in the gorgeous scenery of the Hunter. Luckily at this point we had not been caught in the rain but as you see in these photos, the clouds were turning slightly threatening. Did this stop us? Nah. We’re here for the wine!

Hunter Valley
Girls on bikes
As the clouds grew darker and darker, eventually more of a black colour we though we should start to head back in the general direction of Adamae but not without a pit stop at Margan. Though a bit more corporate and large than the previous two wineries we figured why not stop in. Even though we had arrived 10 minutes to closing time, the staff still allowed us an opportunity to try a couple of whites and reds. I felt like the rush didn’t really give us a good chance to taste the wines, rather just suck them down, make our buy and get out. Margan had chooks though. So that was kind of cool.

Bike at Margan
Bikes resting at Margan

Ladies at Margan

Quick snap at Margan before they boot us out

Chickens at Margan

The Margan garden and chooks

After our whirlwind first day of Broke wine touring we headed back to Adamae for a dinner of swordfish, rice and asparagus which I did not take a picture of because I was much to busy eating and washing it down with a delicious Chardonnay  we had obtained that day. However, our dessert round complete with a glass of Stomp’s Sparkling Verdelho did call for a photo because it was delicious and kind of a work of art.

Dessert round

Round two ...

So.. Sunday was interesting. We all woke up to the pitter patter of rain hitting the windows. I stepped outside and acknowledged the puddle of rainwater collecting on the front step. Hm, I thought. Are we really doing this? There really wasn’t a debate or question. We all had rain jackets, the will to taste wine and create some memories. And understood that pneumonia was a distinct possibility. Nevertheless, we got out the map and pin pointed our destination: Krinklewood. About 7km each way, which doesn’t sound like much but when you’re facing the kind of rain that isn’t just sprinkling but rather coming down in sideways sheets… that distance is great. Fortunately I have a snowboard jacket which I received at Christmas but never got to use due to flight cancellations screwing up a trip to Lake Tahoe… not that I’m bitter. But now, the jacket would come in handy! I stripped the jacket apart wearing the lighter bit and using the outside shell of the jacket to cover my backpack. Genius!

Clever backpack shield

You can hardly tell I have a backpack on!

Now on a normal, sunny day Krinklewood would have been the perfect picnic spot (which we had sandwiches packed just in case!). Even in the rain, this was probably one of the most beautiful vineyards we visited. It is a shame that we weren’t able to be there when the sun was out. More delicious wines and more strange stares from the people who were in the cellar. Psh – where’s their sense of adventure? Right before we left, the lady told us that a couple of people who were tasting just before us came in and said “You won’t believe we just saw some crazy people on bikes out there.” And as if on cue, we come barrelling in soaked to the bone but still smiling! So maybe we are a little crazy? At least we have a story to share.

Departing from Krinklewood we arrived back at home base in much quicker time than it took to get to Krinklewood. We decided that as long as we were already drenched we may as well forge ahead. Three or four kilometers later we were at Mount Broke, an old cattle shed essentially. As we arrived, shivering, one of the staff came out and said “Really? Did you just come here on bikes?” Yes we replied, as if that was a ridiculous question. Very kindly he offered us all a warm beverage while the last group of tasters finished up. At this point we thought this would be as good of time as any to enjoy our “picnic” so unwrapped our sandwiches, sipped on coffee and looked out at this:

Mount Broke on a rainy day

Mount Broke view

And bless the girls for still trying to put on a happy face
.Girls still trying to smile despite rain
Once inside with the heater everyone was much happier!

Girls inside and happy at Mount Broke

Heater... wine... makes for much happier ladies.

Again, we were treated with much more education as the guy took us out to the vineyard and actually showed us the vines, explained the growth process and the kind of grapes grown. This kind of experience is not something you would expect at larger vineyards I suspect. We all agreed that though the wines here weren’t out of this world, they were still delicious and given the efforts of the staff, we couldn’t leave without a few bottles (well, actually we just bought them and someobdy came around to drop them off for us – which actually all of the wineries did for us. Ah, small town). For me it was also a matter of supporting the smaller operations. I grew up on a small farm and know first hand the hard work that gets put in when you don’t have the large number of employees. It’s also about passion. With all of the places we stopped at (maybe with the exception of Margan) the passion in their craft of winemaking was something they wanted to share with all visitors. Not just get you in, taste a few wines, get you to buy and get out – no – as I said earlier, there is a really great feeling of community and support for one another in this part of the Hunter. I can’t vouch for other parts because I have not visited them but I can say that I was really impressed by the warmth and service we received at each of the vineyards.

As we bid farewell to Mount Broke, we made our way back to Adamae because at this point, we were still drenched and just wanted a hot shower, heater and a nice glass of wine to wrap up our rainy Sunday ride. Once back we re-assessed our purchases of the weekend and holy cats we did well (This does not include purchases made on the way home on Monday).

Wine purchased

Some are for gifts?

A great weekend indeed. Through rain, shine and hail we made our way, tasted some remarkable wines, and even learned a thing or two! All in all a success.