How did you discover yoga?
My first contact with yoga was in the mid 1980s and came through the current affair show 60 Minutes. I was a young teenager at the time and I remember seeing Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh with all his Rolls Royce's in Oregon and hearing Sheela's famous "tough titties" line, the whole story went way over my head but I never forgot the audacity of that woman, I was very impressed by her .
In another episode there was a story about the Hare Krishna movement here in Australia, they filmed part of it up the farm in Murwullimbah and I figured that Krishna must be an Indian version of Jesus except these people had more fun than us Catholics. A short while later they opened a restuarant in Newcastle where I grew up and I remember going to the opening and feeling totally freaked out. Before we ate they wanted us to watch videos and chant but the shaved heads, sandalwood paste, robes, incense and picture of Prabupad was a massive culture shock and I thought these people were going to take over my mind and I would never be the same again.I didn't wait around for the free vegetarian meal and got out of there as quickly as i could and went back to Church.
A few years later in 1987 one of my best friends went to the States and stayed on a Sivananda Ashram in Grass Valley,California. He embraced the whole yoga process; asana, pranayama,meditation and vegetarianism. So my first sessions were with him,we climbed some cliffs overlooking the beach in Newcastle and did Surya Namaskar to the setting sun and Nadi Shodana to the rising full moon, it was a good intro to someone who was beginning to read William Blake and listening to The Doors.
When he moved to Sydney I eventually started going to the Satyananda Centre in Newcastle, it was one of the only places to do yoga. They were inspirational,it was my first sangha I felt truly happy for the first time, I had come home. At the yoga centre we did kirtan, learnt basic kriyas, asana,and mudras. I felt I had discovered something mystical and physical and loved every class.
This process brought me to Byron Bayin the early 90's where a new friend took me to Rose Baudin, Rick Birrell and eventually to Dena Kingsberg's classes who I stayed with for eight years,became her apprentice and trained to become a teacher. In writing this I realise what a debt of gratitude I have to these two friends for sharing this with me. To Matt Hartley for getting me to climb the cliffs or Bar Beach and Sharelle Craft for welcoming me so wholeheartedly to the Byron Bay community.
How do you use yoga to assist people in recovery?
Whenever I meet people in early stages of detox from drugs and /or alcohol they want to know if I ever had a problem with substances or addiction issues. I tell them that we are all in recovery from something and that all of us have a glitch in the character that doesn't serve us. It's just that the behaviors you partake in may be more damaging for your health than the ones I do but the human condition is the same regardless and all of us are on the same path except some take some big detours!
I keep my instructions quite practical and translate that asana practice is essentially an exercise class that's main aim is to tone the nervous system. Since the brain is the main controller of the nervous system and that the neurotransmitters and hormones that it secretes effect consciousness, if we can get this balance right then our mind feels stabilised and we thus don't need to go to such extremes just to feel okay.
Yoga is excellent for people in recovery because it represents a sense of self care. If you are committing to a home yoga practice or a class you visit regularly it means you have got the parameters in your life together enough that can help you keep balanced. Whenever I would did follow up calls on past clients I knew they were doing well if they told me they are going to yoga,seeing their therapist and/or going to meetings (NA or AA).
How can yoga be used in cases of trauma?
Trauma is a different kettle of fish, yes the outcomes are similar but the method varies. As you know yoga practice brings you into your body but for someone with trauma that can be a terrifying place to go and being disembodied is safer. So the last thing you may want to do is close your eyes and breath into your belly especially if that brings up flash backs of the past. When working with people with trauma you need to be a skilled psychotherapist or be working in conjunction with one.
So the first thing I always have to do is establish trust with the client and a sense of safety and only when a comfortable rapport is generated can we go deeper.On a practical level,in the beginning, the time frame for holding postures or meditation practices are shorter. It's like you're testing the water and becoming familiar with it, knowing how cold it is and feeling where's the bottom. Practices where you may generally close your eyes I always give the instruction to keep them open with a soft gaze on the floor or anywhere in between. This helps keep the client more present with their surrounds.
There's an intuitive sense that obviously comes into play that lets you know how deep someone can drop.Your skill as a practitioner is tested when you work with a group that has trauma ,drug and alcohol issues or both. People in this scenario can get overwhelmed by too much instruction or too many silences, its a balance to keep them engaged and not bored but not going so deep they get triggered.
The bottom line when working with people in a vulnerable state, whether that's trauma, drug and alcohol or other illness is that you genuinely care. If your responses are generated from a place of compassion then that movement of the heart always brings a state of healing.
What is the role of the deeper philosophical aspects of yoga in today’s modern society.
The teachings of truthfulness, non violence ,love and compassion are always relevant for any society at any age no matter what tradition they originate from. Yoga today finds itself in a precarious position,it is a big business that sells the consumer a product.We buy these products with the aim of making a better version of ourselves through expensive leggings, eco mats, yoga retreats,spa resorts and general "wellness". Its like no one wants to be over 35 years of age anymore and yoga is one of those youthful elixirs that sells that possibility.The deeper philosophical aspects will always be there but what is at the forefront of the business model especially through platforms like Instagram is one of beauty and youth sugar coated with positive affirmations like ,"I will love myself today" . Of course you do, with that naked body on the beach in that perfect location with light shining on you the way it does.There is nothing wrong with youth and beauty but my question to all of you is that is this path liberating?