I know I've been especially missed by the (wonderful) AcroYoga community on the Gold Coast. The last yoga event I lead was a couples restorative AcroYoga workshop over 18 months ago. It was a gorgeous workshop and fully booked out. The people who attended were super sweet and provided such encouraging feedback. The staff at the host studio were incredibly helpful, down to earth and lovely. And I had a fantastic time teaching it.
I receive near-weekly emails from curious newbies asking when I'll be teaching my next Acro workshop or class. I politely turn them away and direct them instead to other teachers.
The best reason I can come up with for my absence from the yoga world?
I just haven't felt like teaching yoga.
And more to the point, up until recently I have pretty much taken the last year and a half off from practising yoga.
Yep. No personal practice, besides the odd yoga class every few months, and some meditation in between looking after a newborn who is now a toddler (i.e. extremely sporadic meditation). My preferred form of movement switched from pre-baby trail running, daily vinyasa riddled with handstands and AcroYoga... to walking, reformer pilates and strength training to prepare for and recover from childbirth, and to build the strength I need to haul a toddler around without putting my back out.
I QUIT YOGA. Turned my back on it almost completely. After over a decade of reasonably dedicated practice and nearly as long teaching.
Basically, two reasons:
1. Once I gave birth to my first child (and probably a bit before that), the personal yoga practice I knew and loved - the dynamic, dance-like, acrobatic, yang-centred practice that is so celebrated in modern yoga culture - suddenly felt like total shit.
2. I had a gutful of how wanky it had all become.
It had become, in one word: shallow. And to me, antithetical to the traditional meaning of yoga.
The beauty standards. The way our body-focussed culture is merely replicated in the yoga body-focussed yoga culture (guess what: it's the same fucking body. Slim, female, muscular but not too muscular, white, and young). The best adjective I can think of for this?
The tendency for yoga teachers I once respected to focus on the physical, external appearance of an advanced yoga practice, even if it meant injuring their students in an effort to publicly cheerlead them into full splits and congratulate them in front of the whole class:
The way that chronic dieting in the form of expensive juice cleanses (aka starvation) and austere clean eating (aka orthorexia, a form of disordered eating that is linked to increased risk of developing a deadly eating disorder) is a well-accepted and even expected part of being a yogi in my city's mainstream yoga culture:
The way that some yoga teachers give well-intentioned but terrible nutritional advice on weight loss to their students, including sharing "inspiring" weight loss stories in class. Keep in mind that this is a population statistically at higher risk of experiencing disordered eating. When this ill-informed advice involves the promotion of the packaged juice cleanse business that is sponsoring the teacher's or studio's latest Yoga Shred challenge:
The way I see Instagram yogi after Instagram yogi with minimal to no years of practice who have millions of followers simply because their bodies fit the cultural ideal AND allow them to do very advanced poses:
The exclusion of groups marginalised from access to yoga classes based on ability, race, body size, sexual orientation, and class. The fact that neither the covers of Australian Yoga Journal nor of Yoga Journal have ever ventured far from the white, thin, able-bodied, well-attired, (read: rich) female ideal, what i call the SSSW ideal:
The brand name tags and overused hashtags used by the majority of unicorn, mermaid and other mythical creature yoga teachers I was following, desperately seeking sponsorship from Lululemon or other yoga companies to give them free stuff, enlarge their following and seemingly validate their value as yoga teachers:
The way so many yogis were missing the potential for their yoga to raise consciousness, take a holistic view on individual and societal problems, and create a more equitable world. The way that instead, I see many yogis focus on how deep their backbend can get, how smoothly they can float up into handstand, how much weight they can shed in a 12-week yoga body challenge, and how sleek they look in their $120 leggings.
The way yoga has been commodified, packaged, and sold to a privileged few:
Wanky as hell.
Don't get me wrong. These things absolutely have their place. That massive yoga studio with dozens of young inexperienced teachers means more people can access yoga for the first time. Being western, the segway into yoga arguably needs to accommodate the bustling western mind. And a dynamic, very physical yoga practice can act as that segway by getting people out of their heads, an important first step.
But when it fails to go deeper than handstands and full Urdhva Dhanurasana and instead people turn their efforts to wearing the cutest yoga outfits and prettiest mala beads? That shit is bananas.
And it happens all the time.
I get that people feel excited at how their once stiff or sore bodies are strengthening, lengthening, and doing things they never thought possible. That is awesome, power to them.
But the risk of a hyper physical practice is that people forget the other limbs of yoga - the meditation, pranayama, self-discovery, and making a conscious effort to draw our awareness away from the external world and outside stimuli (i.e. not buying into shit like yoga culture)... and it just becomes a decorative gymnastic circus act.
I've found a very fine line in approaches such as fast vinyasa flow and AcroYoga where newbies can get so excited about all the amazing feats that they only want to get better and better at that stuff... and the rest of the yoga falls away.
What I did postpartum that backfired
It didn't matter how good I had become at AcroYoga whips or handstands prenatally. That stuff just didn't feel good anymore - physically, emotionally, or spiritually.
In fact, it felt like total shit.
And because I didn't know any other way of practising, I stopped yoga altogether.
You can read about aaalllll the glorious mistakes that this yoga teacher of 10 years made after giving birth, and what I have since learnt is best in terms of yoga for postnatal recovery, here.
Motherhood: 7th series ashtanga
My idea of hard core has changed. Being able to press-up to handstand with ease or float into zero-gravity arm balances? That shit no longer impresses me in the slightest.
Continuing to breastfeed through four painful blocked ducts and one excruciating case of mastitis that nearly hospitalised me - now that's hard core.
Not having a single unbroken night's sleep for the past two years and feeling like I've won the jackpot when Archie only wakes me up once? That's perspective.
Choosing to put career opportunities, education, and countless other dreams on hold so that I can stay at home with my kids and be there for their early formative years? That's dedication.
I'm not here to proselytise about how everyone should breastfeed their child or co-sleep, or whatever - that's not the point. I've wanted very much to breastfeed as long as I could - so I did even though it was totally fucked at times. And my parenting choices are my business only, as are yours. Anyone who tries to tell you otherwise can STFU.
My point is that with the challenges of motherhood and the type of mother I want to be, I started to see how wanky and unimpressive all that fancy stuff that was epitomised in my little yoga world bubble, actually was. Who gives a flying fuck about handstands when you're just trying your best not to screw up the next generation?
A brand new perspective. That's been motherhood's greatest gift to me. And with a new vantage point, things had to change. It would be insane to try to keep things the same.
What brought me back to yoga
Recently, after what seems like forever, I've felt an unmistakable pull towards yoga again. Not the wanky yoga that I describe above, but something quite different.
I've been reeled back in some mysterious force that at first, I couldn't quite put my finger on.
That influence was my unborn child. Being pregnant the first time took me away from the fast-paced practices I once loved, and the shallow yoga world I once thought I loved. Motherhood rendered them completely inappropriate or irrelevant.
Ironically, this second pregnancy has brought me back to yoga. It has gently pushed me, blindfolded, into new and alien yoga territory.
Recently, as I felt the need for stillness, relaxation in what is a busy life full of work, study, family commitments, and all the main trappings of life in the west... plus some pregnancy-related aches and pains that I knew were avoidable... I finally gave prenatal yoga a good shot.
The other morning - after weeks of sporadic little beach practices lasting only a few minutes between being climbed on and pulled at by my toddler - I set up bolsters, blocks, blankets and a strap. I carved out the time. I practised prenatal yoga for a whole hour, something I haven't been able - or willing - to do for a long time.
And it was fucking glorious. Finally, after what I thought was the end of yoga for me, I reconnected with a sense of calm, and of non-striving. I remembered how good it feels just to move my body mindfully, rather than wonder how many more years of practice it would take me to float up to handstand.
I noticed the smoothness of my mood afterwards. I wasn't hyped up and wanting to run under the full moon naked (as I felt in my twenties after one particular night time vinyasa class riddled with backbends.) I felt strangely calm.
In the still, bergamot-scented space of my little home clinic overlooking the bush, I remembered that an individual's yoga practice is at its core, a personal creation. You make it what you want it to be. You need not follow in the footsteps of a commodified yoga culture that has little to nothing to do with actual yoga. That stuff, as a wise dude once said in The Desiderata, is as perennial as the grass.
Egg moon: Joyful movement
This lunar cycle signifies a time of year when I've noticed an urge to Spring clean, and to move - and going by what friends and clients keep telling me, I'm not alone.
This desire to physically move, to clear the way, and to direct our previously Winter dormant energy upwards, mirrors the way the seeds planted in the last lunar cycle are now germinating into upward-moving seedlings that wish to break through the Earth's surface and feel the warmth and life-giving energy of sunlight.
Joyful movement is one of the principles of intuitive eating, an integral part of the non-diet approach that I am so adamant about sharing in my work as a dietitian. It means movement (or exercise) done purely to feel good in our bodies, as opposed to an external focus of trying to burn calories, trim down for Summer, or make up for eating that food.
Maybe like me you've had a hiatus from a previously loved form of exercise, and have needed to wait for the right time to crack open, break through, redefine what joyful movement is to you, and start again. The egg moon seems a wonderful time to do just that - at least it has been for me.
In this blog I've focussed more on my own recent journey of rediscovering joyful movement in the form of yoga. I will explore the general principles of joyful movement, and more about this special lunar cycle, in my upcoming book. But back to yoga...
The yoga i envision
I want to provide an environment where anyone from any walk of life can come and move their bodies without worrying about what they look like while they're doing it.
I want to build a yoga community free of egos and full of heart. I want to see more body diversity in our yoga community, and to see more equitable yoga spaces. To teach my students that "fit" and "yoga" do not have a look, and do not have a diet. That full health is mental and emotional, not just physical. That all bodies are worthy of praise and celebration regardless of what that body looks like or can do.
I want to help other yoga and fitness professionals understand that being a PT or yoga teacher does not necessarily make one a nutrition professional, a mental health professional or a general health advisor. I want to empower other teachers to refer their students to appropriate care when their needs are outside their scope of practice. To value and practice evidence-based science.
I want to help mothers to connect or reconnect to yoga in new ways, just as I have. To help mothers let go of the need to get their "pre-baby body" back and instead, appreciate and embrace their changing bodies and the absolutely incredible things those bodies have done. To discover the incredible richness and depth that lies just beyond the sparkly pants, yoga bodies, and handstands.
And of course, on a personal level - I want to keep exploring the slower, juicier, wildly delicious practices that have opened my eyes to why I fell in love with yoga in the first place. Pregnancy and motherhood have indeed been my biggest and toughest teachers, and for that I am very grateful. I don't think my postpartum yoga practice will ever be the handstand-focussed, Lululemon leggings-themed, acrobatic, fast-paced practice that it once was.