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Purpose And The Art Of Fearlessness

5 Feb

I woke up this morning full of fear.

Fear of what happens next, of where I’m going, of how little control I have over so many things. In my meditation today, I noticed I’m not only afraid of what might happen, but also of what might not. For the first time in a long time, I emerged from my morning sit feeling more anxious than I went into it.

I read an old piece I had written about bravery and still felt stopped. Feel the fear and do it anyway? Not today.

Rather than rush headlong into the day’s to-do list, I headed to Pete Guinosso’s Candlelight Flow class to try and give my anxiety some space to move and sweat.

At the opening of the class, Pete mentioned that today is civil rights activist Rosa Park’s birthday, which is celebrated in California as Rosa Parks Day. And he read us this quote:

Rosa Parks

As I moved through my sweaty vinyasa, twisting, balancing, I noticed how my movements had purpose. I have been practicing asana for a long time and my body knows what to do. Pete says “down dog” and without needing to think, I can move into that shape.

I know what must be done and I do it.

As we built and opened through the class, I worked through little difficulties: warming the hamstrings, noticing my resistance to one more strong abdominal hold, balancing in ardha chandrasana (half moon). These poses challenge me, but they’re possible. A little effort and I can get there.

We move into parivritta trikonasana (revolved triangle) and I remember how difficult I used to find this pose. As a new yoga teacher I was frightened to teach it,  because it required so much concentration to stay balanced myself, let alone balance and talk students through it. Almost nine years later, it’s effortless, to do and to teach.

I think I can

Our peak pose this morning was parvritta ardha chandrasana (revolved half moon). Already sweaty with exertion, I pushed myself into it. I felt that moment of wobble as I moved my eyes skyward, noticed the attention that was required to lift, extend and open. It really took something to hold the pose today. I could feel my muscles straining, my heartbeat in my ears, my breath working hard to be smooth.

But as I worked into one side and then the other, I was filled with a sense of achievement. It was hard and I did it. I didn’t fall. I kept breathing. I overcame.

I look at my life and I see how easy it would be to just keep doing the poses I know: to do things I find effortless and easy. There is a safety in doing what is right in front of you; of taking the options that are being offered. But I know choosing those options doesn’t bring as much growth. Life can be simpler, but it’s not as expansive.

I don’t want to be safe. I want to be BRILLIANT.

I want to inspire and be inspired. I want to have the kind of life that lives up to MY expectations, to do things that make ME proud. To be pulled into every day with purpose and passion.

Living from that space, there’s no room for fear.

Life a daring adventure

Walk Slowly 

13 Dec

Just breathe

It only takes a reminder to breathe,
a moment to be still, and just like that,
something in me settles, softens, makes
space for imperfection. The harsh voice
of judgment drops to a whisper and I
remember again that life isn’t a relay
race; that we will all cross the finish
line; that waking up to life is what we
were born for. As many times as I
forget, catch myself charging forward
without even knowing where I’m going,
that many times I can make the choice
to stop, to breathe, and be, and walk
slowly into the mystery.

– Danna Faulds

On Retreat in Mexico

21 Apr

I’m off the grid for a couple of weeks, teaching two retreats in Sayulita in Mexico.

This week..?
Haramara Retreat Centre.

(Yes. I am pinching myself.)
Haramara Pool

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“If  you have a true relationship with nature, then you have a relationship with mankind.”

-J. Krishnamurti

How to Yoga Festival: Reflections on the Bali Spirit Festival, 2014

20 Apr

I was so lucky to be involved in this year’s Bali Spirit Festival.

Mandala

In the past few days, I’ve been reflecting on what made this festival so enjoyable – aside from the incredible people and program, of course. Like most things, I can see how much my attitude is the key.

1. Let It Go

Bali is one of those places that will give you what you need – and for all you sticklers for time and control freaks, this festival is an exercise in surrendering. Yup, it might rain. You might get muddy. Motorbikes won’t observe the road rules you know from home. Meals might not come out at the same time. Roosters will wake you. Gamelan will play. But the Balinese will smile hugely at you, the hot weather will help your body open and you’ll learn more about who you are in life than you ever thought possible.
And don’t worry, we’re all sweaty. Gimme a hug.

2. Patience

Those crazy paths wending through the festival are the bane of my life when I’m rushing. People stop at any given moment to chat, hug, think about whether they’re in the right place…When I’m in a hurry, I feel my jaw clench, my elbows set and my feet stomp. All it takes to get around that is a little sideways step. Yes, sometimes into mud, but that’s also going to slow you down and make you walk mindfully.

bruce-lee-water
3. Be Adaptable

You can’t be in two places at once. (Unless you’re one of those astral travelling yogis, in which case you should definitely run sessions at next year’s festival. Simultaneously.) Sometimes the class you desperately wanted to join is full. Being able to let that go and try something you would never have tried otherwise could open you up to a new style of yoga or a teacher who could change your life. FOMO doesn’t serve anyone.

4. The More You Give, The More You Get

If you’re working with a partner in a class, give them your everything. Pay careful attention to your teachers. If you see trash on the ground, pick it up! If you see someone frowning, give them a smile. There was a woman in Jamie Catto’s workshop who shared something that touched me deeply. I stopped her and let her know. It made her day. Minutes later, I was being fed delicious Sacred Scoops icecream by a generous friend. I don’t usually think Karma works that quickly, but it certainly seems to here!

Ferris Bueller Life Quote

5. Stop. Appreciate.

Take (at least!) a few minutes each day to stop and drink in the delicious madness that is the Bali Spirit Festival. Look where you are! Drink in the green! Curl your toes into the grass and stretch your hands to the sky. You’re in Bali! You’re surrounded by conscious, amazing humans who are as interested in yoga, dance, music and connection as you are. Drink it all in.

bali-spirit-festival8

 

Thailand Retreat: Love Explosion

19 Apr

I am overwhelmed…

I’m sitting in a cafe in Berkeley, California, thinking about the retreat we’ve just finished at The Sanctuary in Thailand.

The Sanctuary Beach
This group of humans blew me away with their willingness to dive deeply into the process, their love of dancing and their huge hearts.

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This retreat taught me how much I need to trust myself: that when I follow my heart and my intuition, amazing things can happen.

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I’m in tears reading the feedback forms:

Megan is such an inspiration. I love the way she teaches! She makes of yoga something modern because she’s gentle and warm but also so much fun! She really has a truly magical presence. I’m so grateful for having been able to join the retreat and just amazed how seven days can change the way you see/feel things for much more time!
Shiny Happy Healthy is now my own mantra!
I feel so thankful for Megan for sharing her happiness, her life lessons, and shininess!
Merci!

– Noémie, Paris

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Thank you to beautiful and shiny Megan for lighting up the way to an amazing new purchase on life. Words really cannot express how grateful I am to you for sharing your knowledge, spirit and intelligence with us. Your retreat is, without a doubt, one of the best things a person could give themselves. I cannot speak more highly of you and the Shiny Happy Healthy retreat experience; nor can I speak more highly of the amazing souls I shared my journey with.

With lots of love,
– Jenny, Melbourne

You can read more testimonials about the retreat and my workshops on the Praise page.

I just adored this space and process – and all of the super Shiny, Happy participants with their enormous smiles have meant I’ve had a dozen inquiries already about when the next one will be held! So, I’m super excited to announce that I will run another Thailand retreat this year!

From September 14th until the 20th, we’re going to infect The Sanctuary with our massive smiles and shiny behaviour.

Don’t miss out!

Sign up by emailing me at shinyhealthy@gmail.com

 

Bali Spirit Festival: Pete Guinosso’s Happy Hour

30 Mar

I’m three classes in and I have nothing left in the tank, but I’ve been dying to experience Pete Guinosso’s teaching, so there is no way I’m missing his Happy Hour Yoga class.

meet-pete

Two hours later, as I bounce off my mat, drenched in sweat and smiling, I’m so glad I did.

Pete has been coming to Bali teaching retreats, but this is his first ever Bali Spirit Festival.

“Bali is something special,” he smiles. “It’s a whole culture of ceremony and offering and that fits into what my offering is, which is creating sacred space in every moment, creating ceremony in every moment.”

That ceremony involves loads of upbeat, punchy pop music: when I arrive to the workshop, Macklemore’s Thrift Shop is bouncing around the Main Pavillion. From there it ranges from Nina Simone to Lorde; Supertramp to Alanis Morrissette.

Pete opens the class with a quote from US poet Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself:

“Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, (I am large, I contain multitudes.)”

These multitudes are what he brings to the practice. Who says yoga practice and fun are mutually exclusive? That popular music can’t support meditative movement? Can I be joyful and focussed? Dancing within a pose? Singing along? 

Pete believes exploring these boundaries fits perfectly with the Festival:

“Bali Spirit Festival takes it up a notch. We bring all these people and there’s such a strong community and there’s all this music and all these different offerings. It’s really a nice event that I think has an offering for everybody. That’s why there’s such an inspiration about it.
I love it because Ubud is a beacon for all these people to come and practice yoga.” 

Pete Guinosso’s  teaching is inspired by Forrest Yoga and his primary teacher Ana Forrest, something made very obvious by his encouragement into strong bound poses (revolved bound moon pose, anyone? How about lifting one arm and one leg in dolphin to create a dorsal fin knee pointed to the sky?) and intense one sided vinyasa sequences.

Presenter: Pete Guinnoso, Class: Cup of Morning Vinyasa

“Sometimes we laugh, sometimes we cry, but no matter what, we always work on building strength and flexibility. And we always sweat!” 

Pete’s multilayered approach really speaks to me. After class, he tells me about his Buddhist work (“Buddha and I are tight, we go way back,” he laughs) and how he draws inspiration from all aspects of life. It’s a good reminder to take life in it’s totality, rather than resist the bits we don’t like.

As I sink into a grateful savasana, accompanied by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ One Love, I almost feel teary. It’s surprising, when I had been laughing a moment before. Pete’s practice seems to encourage a rawness, where emotions are expressed.

“It’s nice to offer playfulness and serious yoga as well, depending on what is there in the moment.” he says.

His amazing assistant Amy Beley gives me a fantastic head massage that beautifully aligns my neck.

We finish class sitting campfire style, belting out Journey’s Don’t Stop Believing. Everyone was beaming at each other and making eye contact while they sang. (I’m not gonna lie. I did a couple of power ballad fist pumps.)

“It made me stretch into my boyish smile,” said Rodolfo

Megan was equally effusive: “Even after a long day, Pete’s class was a breath of fresh air . Yoga for the soul.”

I thought back to another quote Pete shared at the start of class, from Five Rhythms founder, Gabrielle Roth:

“In many shamanic societies, if you came to a shaman or medicine person complaining of being disheartened, dispirited, or depressed, they would ask one of four questions. When did you stop dancing? When did you stop singing? When did you stop being enchanted by stories? When did you stop finding comfort in the sweet territory of silence? Where we have stopped dancing, singing, being enchanted by stories, or finding comfort in silence is where we have experience the loss of soul. Dancing, singing, storytelling, and silence are the four universal healing salves.”

Yup. It’s definitely happy hour.

Bali Spirit Festival: Learning to Fly

28 Mar

Acro Yoga.

It sounds so fun, doesn’t it? Wheeee! Let’s lift each other up! Let’s fly! Drape all over each other!

Presenter: Alexander Ruis & Pau Castellsague, Class: Acro Yoga

When I heard my friends gushing about Mexican AcroYogi Alexandra Ruis, I made her session with Pau Castellsague one of my must-attends for the festival.

Full confession: I’m only doing this session because I’m terrified. Even as a child, I was easily injured in falls and while I have scarred knees and wonky joints, I’m most afraid of further damaging my fragile spine. I’m also 5’10” and not exactly small. I’ve been in Acro classes before and feel reasonably comfortable being a base, but today I’m going to stop weaseling out of flying and get off the ground more than once.

The beauty of Acro yoga is the safety and control that’s possible. Pau and Alexandra assure us at the outset that proper alignment and using the architecture of the bones removes the need for any great strength. They show us how to stack our feet over our hips; wrists over shoulders and how to give and receive pressure to help our partners fly.

Alexandra and Pau are adorable presenters, switching from English with us to rapid fire Spanish between each other. They definitely make it look fun and easy but I guess physical comedy comes easily to folks who are used to flying and falling and throwing each other around.

Presenter: Alexander Ruis & Pau Castellsague, Class: Acro Yoga

After some basic warm ups and getting to know our fellow participants a little better (hand holding and booty shaking, what else?!) we break into groups of three: a base, a flyer and a spotter.

We switch between the three roles, working up into the Acro basic, Front Bird. With your base’s feet on your hip bones, you push up, look up and extend your legs behind you. The base also has straight legs and arms, and with the right alignment, it can be super comfortable for both yogis. I fly for a few seconds, but feel pretty good when we run out of time and I have to come down.

“Our highest aim is to bring individuals into a state of union with themselves, with each other, and with the divine. From this place of mutual support the true self can be realized, celebrated and shared for the benefit of all.”

Next we work into a chair position, which feels easy to me as a base, but frighteningly out of control as the flyer. But then something interesting happens once I’m up: I start to feel ok. Then my spotter encourages me to close my eyes. I momentarily panic: I’m going to fall! But they have me. I’m steady. It’s such a small thing, but for me, it’s a massive release of control and a huge rush of trust.

Presenter: Alexander Ruiz & Pau Castellsague

For our final pose, we move into a therapeutic flying pose, the folded leaf. This requires the flyer to really let go and relax their body over the base, even to the point of letting the arms flop to the floor. Watching Alexandra demonstrate, I can feel my heart rate rising. How am I going to relax enough to do that?

 As I move from Front Bird forward into my Leaf, I have my spotter, Matt, and another experienced Acro Yogi, Bex, both there. While I’m shaking and scared, I start to relax and when it comes time to push back to Front Bird, I feel the strength of my base beneath me and WOOP!
I’m up! I’m flying! I feel teary with relief and pride.

We manage another transition and this time, I really let go. I notice how much easier the transition is when I let go of control and just allow it to happen.

Absolutely a metaphor for my life off the mat.

Bali Spirit Festival: Les Leventhal on Life, Bali & Spirit

26 Mar

Since last years festival, Les has relocated to Bali.

P1040395But the road to paradise is not always smooth. Les spoke to Megan Flamer about his transition from life in San Francisco to life in Bali and how yoga, as always, is the perfect metaphor for life off the mat.

How are you finding living in Bali? 

Bali is amazing…

It’s the absolute opposite of everything I thought living in Bali would be! It has an interesting way of challenging all the things that were super comfortable for how I lived in the States and illuminating my fears about things.

Culturally things are just so different and Americans, at least this one, are used to having things scheduled in a certain way. Bali just has this way of letting you know, time is not important and that everything happens in a way that flows in a way that is like nowhere else I’ve ever been in the world.

It’s allowed me to look at myself: my expectations of myself and others, my judgements of myself and others and my grand thoughts of how relaxed I thought I really was. I still have room to grow!

GASP! You’re human?! So what are you noticing about your reactions? 

Quite human! I’m noticing those moments where I react really fast instead of just stepping back and thinking, “how does this affect me, how does this affect the people around me?”

It’s about taking those extra breaths before you even move a muscle.

Presenter: Les Leventhal, Class: Vinyasa Flow Basics

I know you’ve moved house this week, so this Spirit Festival has come at a really busy time for you…

We’ve moved four times in the nine months we’ve been here!  I’m a person who has always had home, at least since the whole recovery process started, I’ve always had this steady, steady home, an anchor.

Trying to find some comfort in the uncomfortableness of change in such a compact period of time has given me super crazy seeds and roots of things to practice and to notice where I’m stuck in my body and those differences – some not so good, like some injuries.

I have to teach that – I cant hide that – it would make me a hypocrite and I can tell you I’ve tried that path already and it doesn’t work.

What’s your favourite thing about Bali? 

That’s easy. I can be having a terrible day – which I call cacasana – and all I have to do to change that is take a walk or get on my scooter and smile at any Balinese person. Even if they’re busy doing crazy work, they always smile back.

I can only imagine they make less money in a year than I even make in a month and all I have to do is smile at them and they smile back bigger.

It reminds me that all that stuff we long for in Western culture is just stuff. It’s an illusion and we want to attach to it – but there’s something about the Balinese culture that they don’t attach to that stuff so all that happiness just comes up, it’s it’s just there.

This is your fourth Bali Spirit Festival and you’ve taught some amazing classes this year, including your famous Rock and Roll Vinyasa. I’m assuming you have a new playlist this year? 

What do I ask of my students in class? I ask them for everything, I want them to pour their heart out. For my playlists this year, I thought if I don’t make new ones and add some amazing things that really speak to what I’m rocking out about in my life, then what’s the point? So, I have new playlists.

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Les’ Ubud Secrets

Yoga
– Of course, come to Yoga Barn and see me

Food
I love my Indian food:

– Warung Little India: I love Siddhi, she’s full of heart and she makes everything from scratch.

– Queen’s Tandoori: because it reminds me so much of Indian restaurants in San Francisco. I almost cry when I go there. I remember when I took my first bite of the chicken Tikka Masala and the channa marsala, the spices are just perfect.

– Saraswati: also Indian food. I love it.

– The Ginger Lime Honey tonic at Sari Organic. It’s a concentrate so you’re supposed to dilute it but I don’t mix it with anything.

Jammu (Balinese turmeric/lemon drink) from Angelo’s almost every day

Massage

– I’ve been coming here since 1999, I’ve had hundreds of massages and I still love Nur Salon. When I landed here, Christmas 1999, we dropped our bags, went straight there and I still go now. It’s amazing.

– I adore Nyoman at Blue Moon

– Ngurah at Yoga Barn – it’s a little more expensive but still so cheap by western standards.

***You will soon be able to see loads more travel and yoga recommendations on Shiny Happy Healthy’s Travel page. Make sure you sign up to get it all first!

Bali Spirit Festival: Bending Over Backwards

23 Mar

The precision in SuMei Shum’s instructions leaves me in little doubt that she spent many years in the corporate legal world.

Combined with the spectacular anatomical knowledge of her counterpart, Lynn Yeo, their Bending Over Backwards session was an exercise in accuracy and alignment.

Presenter: Lynn Yeo & Sumei Shum, Class: Bend Over Backbends

If you’re wanting to have a lazy session on your mat, I would not recommend coming along to one of Sumei and Lynn’s workshops. If, however, you’re looking for breakthroughs in your practice and to solve some of those pesky alignment issues, you would be hard pressed to find a better pair to guide you.

“Claw the top of your toes into the floor,” Lynn instructs me as we move into our first bhujangasana (cobra). FIrst the first time in a long time, I don’t feel pressure in my knees and ankles when strengthening my legs in the pose. Yes, I’m wrecking my pedicure but my joints are happier for it. I add an extra foot of width to my triangle and suddenly, my inner thighs ignite, my spine grows and the lateral flexion feels effortless.

By picking apart poses you’ve experienced hundreds of times, you’re suddenly finding space and length where you thought you had none, or strength where you had stagnated in a pose.

Presenter: Lynn Yeo & Sumei Shum, Class: Bend Over Backbends
I particularly liked Sumei’s instructions for gomukasana (cow face) arms. This pose is possible for me, but always uncomfortable. Sumei encouraged us to shift the biceps by extending the arms sideways and back and then retracting the armbones to create more space in the shoulder socket. Voila! I was holding more comfortably than I ever have.

Another alignment I enjoyed was their use of “robot arms.” Before moving into setu bandasana (bridge pose) press your elbows into the mat beside the body with the palms facing each other and pointing to the ceiling to create more lift in the upper back. Combined with the natural curve in the lower back, I found even more space in my spine.

It was great to have two teachers working in this way: Sumei did most of the class instruction, while Lynn hustled between students, adjusting, shifting, refining. I had a strong, seamless practice with loads of one-on-one attention. Both of them have more than a thousand hours of Anusara yoga training and it certainly shows.

I have some serious spinal issues and have developed a backbending practice around them. It was invaluable to me to have Lynn pick apart my technique and poses to take still more pressure off my lumbar spine. Moving in and out of urdhva dhanurasana (full backbend) she stayed with me and refined, encouraged and best of all, completely understood the anatomical issues I’m up against. After several refinements, I understood how to shift the angle of my hands, shoulders and legs to activate different muscles to the ones I’d been using.

Presenter: Lynn Yeo & Sumei Shum, Class: Bend Over Backbends
After the practice, I was left with a warm glow in my lower back rather than my usual twang , and when I came into a couple of backbending poses later in the day, they felt fluid and effortless using Lynn’s cues. I’m incredibly grateful.

Our final pose, ustrasana (camel) to urdhva dhanurasana (wheel) might not seem like a simple or elegant transition, but with tucked toes and a few timely cues, I somehow managed to do it.

As we gratefully sank into savasana, Sumei shared a quote from one of their teachers, Christina Sell: “Instead of making yoga your life, make your life your yoga.”

If I can make my life as effortless and elegant as Sumei and Lynn made my backbends, I think I’m already halfway there.

Bali Spirit Festival: Returning to Source with Tara Judelle

21 Mar

I’m working as a blogger for this year’s Bali Spirit Festival in Ubud…
So I thought I would share some of my thoughts with you here, too.

You can read more and find out more about the festival here

It’s my first class of the festival.

Mandala

It’s Nicola’s, too. She’s come over from Australia and as newly qualified yoga teacher, she’s relishing the opportunity to be “be a student again.”

As we walk into Tara Judelle’s 8am class, Nicola is buzzed: “I’ve watched Tara online and done her classes, but never in real life! I’m super excited to be here!”

The theme is Madhya: Journey to the Centre. Tara explains Madhya is the space between things: from sunset into night, or the dawn to the day.

“It’s the space between the in breath and the outbreath or the space between thoughts. The space at the centre of the body, the space from which you grew.”

She links the shushumna nadi, the body’s central energetic channel, to this idea of space and returning to centre: “If you were an apple, it would be your core.”

Strengthen Core

Throughout our practice, we return again and again to this idea; returning to our centre, to our core, both literally and figuratively.

“When we go back to source, origin or ground, we naturally start to embark on a journey that seeks wholeness and wellness.”

Tara Judelle is certified in the Anusara method, but has a background in dance, Tai Chi and movement improvisation. Her sense of breath, flow and focus are exquisite – whether she’s teaching you a class online at yogaglo.com or in person, her commitment to vinyasa is unquestionable. I never feel lost with her breath cues and always leave her classes feeling a part of something bigger.

After attending her class this past weekend at Desa Seni’s Yogathon fundraiser, I was excited to learn more from her in person. She’s one of those rare teachers who can drop in complex anatomical terms when describing alignment and biology without sounding completely pretentious.

Today’s class ranged from discussion about Caroline Myss’ Anatomy of the Spirit to the sense you get when you’re entering the edge of consciousness to the other name for the pineal gland (the epiphysis. Who knew?)

For those of us used to a more dynamic practice, this was a beautiful, calming class. Tara encouraged us to move into a space of softness, with soft, wide eyes and soft movements. Despite moving into dynamic poses like koundinyasana or ardha chandrasana, we moved with softness and quiet purpose, always leading from the centre.

As we moved deeply into eka pada rajakapotanasana (pigeon) with a long twist, Tara invited us to dive into the space, the Madhya, where all things merge.

“Be the canvas,” she said. “Co-create with the elements as they exist.”

We were surrounded by activity: music from a nearby Zumba class throbbed beside us, chanting filled the air and the chatter of passersby. But as we breathed through rounds of kapalabhati pranayama and settled into a grateful savasana, I couldn’t help but think it was the perfect practice to begin the festival.

A masterclass in finding your centre amid the colour and the noise and always, always being prepared for sweaty surrender.