When joy leaves

A few years back I experienced an extraordinary sensation.  I was in a yoga class and at some stage I had a powerful feeling of joy leaving me. I could feel it and almost see it, watch it leaving the room. I felt bereft.  It’s not unusual to have strong emotional experiences in yoga; some poses, especially deep back bends, open the heart, others open the hips, where lots of emotions are stored. In ancient Indian philosophy  (especially Kundalini and Ayurveda) there is a belief that there are energy centers within the human body – chakras – that help to regulate all its processes, from organ function to the immune system and emotions.  There are yoga poses associated with these chakras and many yoga teachers use these poses to work with chakras: to balance and align.

I haven’t been a believer in chakras.  I’m not a spiritual person.  Yoga was for me a form of physical exercise which eventually became something more powerful; I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it was spiritual, but it certainly made me feel much better –  less anxious, calmer, happier, better.  I always marvelled (and still do) that no matter how I felt and what my intention was for going to a yoga class, somehow I always came out feeling like I got exactly what I needed – and this is contrary to what I thought I was after. I would always walk out more energised, smiling, grateful for the class.  

So having this experience of being abandoned by joy has felt devastating.  This was some 2 years ago and I still have this sensation that joy got up and left and hasn’t yet returned.  I miss joy.


A note on chakras:
There are 7 chakras positioned throughout the body, from the base of the spine to the crown of the head. Each chakra has its own vibrational frequency, that is depicted through a specific chakra color, and governs specific functions:

  • Red is the color of the root chakra (first chakra); it’s located at the perineum, the base of your spine.  It symbolises safety, survival, grounding, nourishment from the Earth energy. Its function is concerned with earthly grounding and physical survival. 
  • Orange is the color of the sacral chakra (second chakra); it carries meanings associated with emotions, creativity, sexuality, and is associated with water, flow.
  • Yellow is the color of the solar plexus chakra (third chakra) and symbolises mental activities, intellect, personal power, will.
  • Green is the color of the heart chakra (fourth chakra) which is connected with love, relating, integration, compassion.
  •  Blue is the color of the throat chakra (fifth chakra); it symbolises self expression, expression of truth, creative expression, communication, perfect form and patterns.
  • Purple (or deep indigo blue) is the color of the third eye chakra (sixth chakra) which evokes intuition, extrasensory perception, inner wisdom.
  •  White is the color of the crown chakra (seventh chakra) and is associated with the universal, connection with spirituality, consciousness.


Yoga and the chanting of mantras

When I first started practising yoga in Sydney it was usual to start and end the class with a collective ‘Om’ which is sounded out as A-U-M – three different sounds with a vibration felt in your throat and then your lips (although in the Hindu tradition its just a very nasal reverberating Oh sound).  It’s a sacred sound and mantra in Hundiusm, Buddhism, Jainism and Skikhism and is traditionally chanted at the beginning and end of yoga sessions. 

It’s a weird thing to do at first – the expelling of breath whilst projecting the sound – you never know how your voice is going to sound out loud and there are always concerns of self-consciousness: “will I sound off-key?” etc.  But it’s a powerful way to connect and at the end of a class its always interesting to experience how much more energy and freedom that mantra emits.  It’s a great way to open and close the practise and gives a tangible sense of connectivity.  Rolling Oms are my favourite: it’s where you just keep chanting Om in your own breath cycle and it creates a beautiful mellifluous sound because everyone’s breath cycle is different.  It also removes the fear that you will start before anyone else.

Having moved to the Sunshine Coast I’ve discovered two lovely yoga studios – one of which incorporated a more elaborate mantra (Shanti Om) which took me a while to figure out (and therefore left me sitting with my discomfort).  But the other studio I joined doesn’t Om.  It struck me one day that there was this sense of incompletion at the end of each session and I realised that what I was missing was chanting this mantra Om.  I asked the yoga teacher who informed me that it was part of studio’s policy (part of their ‘brand’) to not Om.  Why?  Because it might put people who are new to yoga off – make them feel uncomfortable .  She suggested that I could always chant inside my own head.  But that defeats the purpose. Two things struck me as being really strange:

  1. that the yoga studio considered itself a brand; and
  2. the assumption that people couldn’t cope with having to make the Om sound. Conversely it was considered OK to sit with hands in a prayer mudra and all say ‘namaste’ at the end of class.

What gives? 

It led me to think about the business of yoga: what yoga has become/morphed into and how muddle-headed it all is.  On the one hand it’s promoted as the contemporary panacea to all the world’s (individual’s) ills, yet on the other hand it distances itself from the root of its origins as a spiritual practice. 

I have to say, I have had the privilege to be part of what I consider a truly authentic yoga studio and have come across many wonderful yoga teachers , and it is thanks to them that I have been able to develop and deepen my understanding of yoga – physically and beyond.

But I’m not at all certain about the business of yoga.  The yoga studios who set up chains and become a ‘brand’.  What does that mean?  My experience is that they train their staff in a certain way and present their classes in a certain way (despite each yoga teacher having their own personal style, it remains very formulaic) and are not really interested in their community unless it benefits them.  That sounds cynical doesn’t it?  It is.  And I hate that I’ve become cynical.  But I also hate the imposition of a certain way of being that is purported to be either ‘zen’ or ‘yoga’ that really has nothing to do with what yoga is about.  A lack of authenticity.

So I’m curious:  to Om or not to Om?


Signs & omens

Some people believe in signs, that when bad things happen they signify something: that random acts are actually meaningful – you just have to figure out what the meaning is. I’m not one of those people; I’m not superstitious (yet, oddly, I don’t like to walk underneath ladders), I don’t really believe in anything and certainly not ‘signs’.

I’ve been painting in a friend’s studio, taking the opportunity to put together a body of work for a show.  Its been an incredibly rewarding process.  Being able to work on a number of canvases at the one time, my painting has developed and whenever I’m stuck over one I can move on to another and keep working and push through to see where things go.

I’d been really pleased with a number of the paintings I’d finished and perhaps this was hubristic.  There were two in particular that I really liked.  As a painter I often get caught up in painting as a means of expressing something innate and unnameable – unknown. It’s an act of creation that I sometimes need to immerse myself in. I’m never sure how good my paintings are – or whether  they are good at all – but that’s not why I paint.  This session has been remarkable because I have actively sought to paint in order to have people see and hopefully like/buy my work. And so the two paintings that I particularly thought were good also did my ego good.

And then disaster struck.  Yesterday I went in and found myself unsure of where I was going with a number of paintings – didn’t have the right yellow for one and didn’t want to touch a couple of others for fear of ruining them.  I really should have just sat there with them, but I couldn’t resist those paints and brushes.  So I was working away on one and needed to hang it up to see it from afar.  I hung it precariously on some hanging wires (having first taken down the ‘favourite’ painting and placed it on the floor leaning against the wall).  I stood back to look – and CRASH – the hanging painting fell. Picking it up, I realised that it had fallen onto the other painting.  A hole in the canvas.  I held my breath hoping it wasn’t true.  But it was.  Suddenly, I felt bereft.  The one painting I had really liked – and was proud of – was ruined.  I knew I could never reproduce it.  It was gone, yet it is there as a reminder.  None of the other paintings I had been working on were going well.  I even ended up over-painting one of the ones that I wasn’t going to touch.  And so I wondered:  was this a sign? I thought it was. I thought it was a sign to tell me that I was just kidding myself, being a dilettante and that my paintings weren’t really very good at all. Why was I kidding myself?  I should be happy just to be involved in the creative act and not fool myself into thinking it was anything but that.

Signs & signifiers.

Yesterday in my yoga class I forgot to take away a block that was behind me and when I went to lie down on my mat my head crashed into the corner of the block (is there something here about corners perhaps?).  And then I felt joy depart. It was a gradual realisation which culminated in a feeling of deep sadness.  A feeling of being lost.  Of course, yoga can do that – back bends are heart openers and all kinds of emotional stuff comes up – but today I suddenly thought maybe that was a sign too.  Signs from above and signs from below.  What was the universe trying to tell me?

When I think about it I have to come back to the realisation that its all Greek to me:  nemesis always follows hubris, and I should just be more careful.

Hubris=a great and unreasonable pride, often bringing misfortune to the person who shows it in the form of Nemesis.  Nemesis was the goddess of indignation against, and retribution for, evil deeds and undeserved good fortune.

Those awkward moments….

Oops, just had one of those awkward moments at the yoga centre where I needed to have a shower in the very open communal shower space and realised I only had a small hand towel with me.
My intention was simply to wipe down my sweat with a towel and change back into my clothes to go to my acupuncture appointment. At first I had thought of just going in my yoga clothes but thought better of it – too sweaty. For some reason I hadn’t planned on a sweaty class but by the time it was over I was drenched and a wipe down would not do.
The shower cubicles at my yoga studio are located between the men and women’s changing rooms but they’re right at the end of the corridor for everyone to see. No problem if you have a towel to wrap around yourself. Problematic if you don’t. Reason being is that the cubicles are designed in such a way that there really isn’t anywhere to put stuff so that it remains dry – just one hook on the back of the door. So its not like you can take you clothes in with you.
What to do? Solution: I had worn a dress so I could take that into the cubicle, hang it on the back of the door and hang my very tiny towel on top. Sweaty yoga pants were kicked beneath the door into the communal space. Quick shower, quick dry – amazing how easy it can be to dry yourself with a little rectangle – stop my feet dry on the sweaty 9and now wet) yoga gear outside, and back to the changing rooms. Whew! Just as well I wasn’t wearing anything more complicated (like jeans that would have required somehow drying my feet and holding the jeans up high to step into so they wouldn’t get wet).
So note to self: do take a larger towel. Just in case.

Processes – a work in progress

i’ve begun a printmaking course. I was inspired by a series of Alan Mitelman prints on my last trip to Melbourne -he’s one of my art heros – and so I thought I would find a printmaking studio in Sydney and start on a series of etchings. I had an idea in mind that I had sketched out and knew how I wanted it to look but was unsure of the process. What eventuated was a double plate image with chine colle (a process whereby you place very fine paper directly into the plate so that it adheres to the paper you’re printing on). One plate was to be a dark drypoint – essentially a heavily cross-hatched plate which would absorb a lot of ink and produce (hopefully) a deep rich velvety colour; the other plate would be an etching of fluid lines. I etched this plate three times so that there were three levels of bite with some of the lines very fine and others much deeper etched and therefore darker.

Printmaking is a slow process. Its a discipline that doesn’t allow shortcuts. First you make marks on your plate – wether drypoint or etched into ground and then dipped into an acid bath – then you print. In order to print you have to do the following: create a registration sheet so you know where to put your plate and paper; soak the paper in water; prepare the ink, ink the plate, rub the plate back (so that the excess ink is removed and you only have ink in the etched surface), then place the registration sheet on the press bed, place the plate in the designated spot, dry the wet paper and place it over the plate and then finally, roll the plate through the press. Only at this stage can you see the results of your effort. And now begins the real work: figuring out where it needs more/less. Oh, and the printed image is the mirror image of the plate which makes for some difficulty in working out where you need to further scratch in or burnish back (particularly when the image isn’t an ‘image’ but abstract lines).

And so you begin again – soak paper, work on plate, ink up, print. And hope that the results are getting you closer to what you had in mind. I was pleased in my second session to have achieved a print that was going in the right direction and thought that week 3 would see me with 3 prints: one with a Prussian blue background and black surface lines, another one the same but with more marks on the background and the final one with chine colle (I was going to use a fine textured bamboo paper to add both colour and texture).

Sadly my printing didn’t go to plan. I couldn’t get my background dark enough (one of the problems of drypoint is that the more times you run it through the press the flatter the marks become and so the ink doesn’t absorb as well) and my first sheet of paper was too wet (adding to the difficulty of absorption) and to top that off, my registration was out.

Printing with two plates imposes another level of difficulty for the novice: you have to be very careful to place the second plate in exactly the same position as the first so that it looks as though it was just one plate. This is something I struggle with – not one of my prints have been spot on in terms of registration. I suspect that this will come with pracitse.

Printmaking can be very frustrating – it takes so long to see how the printed image looks – but its just part of the process. And its something that I really enjoy. Methodical. No shortcuts, just go through the process carefully and meticulously. So very different from the immediacy of painting.

Despite not having achieved my goal (3 prints) I came away from this session feeling OK. I had two bad prints but I knew where I was heading and I knew what I had to do next.

At the start of this course I suspected that it would take me to the end of the year before I had the print I wanted. Along the way I’d try various things – different colours, different papers, different techniques. It is a work in progress. A long steady, meditative process. Its like yoga: some days you can do a pose, other days not. There is no end point. Its just the doing. As they say: sometimes you’re the dog and sometimes you’re the tree.

I need a holiday!


It’s my last day in Ubud. 7.30am and I’m still in bed. Admittedly awake since the sun came up and the roosters crowed but still lazing in bed. Can’t face early morning yoga. Can’t face yoga period. I’ve done 10 classes in 5 days. That’s 4 hours a day. 40 hours over 5 days. I’ve been stretched and twisted and challenged and wrung out. I thought yoga here would be a breeze and I’d be relaxed and comfortable. Hah! There are some serious heavy duty yogis here. I’m just a novice. The things people can do with their bodies – amazing.
I don’t aspire to ever get there but it has been good to give it a go. And I do feel stronger. But my body is sore.
There have been same amazing teachers who push and challenge. There’s no room to hide or not try. It’s like Nike (just do it).
I also did a really weird class. Yesterday morning I felt I couldn’t do hard core and thought I’d take the easy option –  Hatha yoga. Except this was Hatha with a twist: tantric. Ancient yoga that came with a warning that serious energy gets shifted and that some people find it deeply disturbing. In other words: magic. 
Well, I was there and didn’t really want to come back later (there was breakfast to factor in), so I thought I’d give it a go. Whoa! It was seriously weird. In fact it was one of the weirdest things I’ve ever experienced.  The teacher – and her 3 acolytes – sat with their eyes closed emitting strange sounds, bodies jerking as though possessed. And that was just the beginning. I had no idea what to make of it. It was supposed to be a purification practice – a detox. It was just plain weird. And it has sworn me off trying classes I know nothing about. There are so many of them here- catering for all levels of weirdness. Ubud seems to be the place where lots of weird people come (obviously the tantric yoga practice had no effect on me – one of its goals being the dropping of judgement).

So now I’m sitting on my balcony overlooking the rice paddies, enjoying  a leisurely breakfast and planning the remainder of my day. Thus far all I can manage is a much needed massage. I feel like after all this I will need a holiday!