The Koshas


What is the yogic approach to physiology?  The ancient yogis believed that the individual was made up of 5 layers or sheaths of experience and these were called the koshas.   These koshas explain our relationship and experience with the environment, the breath, the mind and higher levels of consciousness.  They provide a way for us to find our way into the subtler layers of our being.

The first layer or kosha which we are most likely to be aware of is one called annamaya kosha  or the body sheath.  It occupies about 75% of our awareness.  This is our relationship with the body, the bones, muscles, ligaments, organs  and how we interact in our environment through the senses of sight, touch, taste, smell and feel.   It concerns the foods we eat, the things we do, our sleeping habits, the media we expose ourselves to, the people in our lives and places we visit.   You may notice that some people or places make you feel content, happy and positive whereas others make you feel anxious, exhausted, fearful.  Similarly you may find that when you get regular sleep and take regular meal breaks with healthy food choices you generally feel better.  The same goes for exercise be it yoga or some other form of physical activity.

Once we become conscious of these things we are able to use yoga to create a steady experience of annamaya kosha.   Some things to consider may be setting a regular time for going to bed,  making changes to our eating habits in terms of what you eat and when( you could even use Ayurvedic principles here).  Making conscious choices about the people we spend time with, not just putting up with it.   Establishing a regular yoga practice and taking time for stillness in meditation.   Creating balance in annamaya Kosha creates a ripple effect to the higher koshas or layers affecting energy levels and or mental balance.

Yoga practices for harmonising the physical body include:

  • asana by toning and strengthening the body,
  •  pranayama (breathing practices)  by increasing breath capacity, physical energy and balancing the cerebral hemispheres
  • meditation and yoga nidra to provide stress relief and balance the fight/flight response
  • cleansing practices like neti, kunjal  to keep mucus membranes and tracts lubricated and healthy

Some of the principles in the management of Annamaya kosha include:

  • regularity of sleep, meals, yoga practice
  • simplicity of food, daily routine
  • moderation – not overdoing any addictive behaviours
  • discipline – not rigid or suppressed but in developing the ability to control the mind
  • awareness i.e.. consciously listening to the body’s needs
  • tapas or sacrifice ..opportunity for fasting
  • cleanliness
  • flexibility
  • adaptability



Restoring the soul

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I have just commenced teaching my first fully restorative yoga class having completed Level 1 training in restorative yoga teaching last year.   Since this course I have introduced a few restorative poses into my mainstream classes to stimulate interest and invested in some bolsters with a view to running a group that was dedicated to restorative yoga.


So what is restorative yoga and why do we need it?  A restorative yoga class typically has only 5-6 poses which are held for longer periods of time using the support of props such as bolsters, blankets, blocks and even straps.   These poses are designed for you to move more deeply into the stretches while your body softens and rests on  the supports.     They include, forward bends, backbends, twists, lateral stretches and passive inversions and many are based on the teachings of BKS Iyengar.  As you are holding poses for longer there is greater capacity to tune into the breath, to explore the effects of breath on the physical body and the mind.

Some of the benefits of restorative yoga include, soothing the nervous system, encouraging mindfulness, cultivating heightened body awareness, creating a sense of acceptance and detachment and feeling safe and nurtured.

At the time when I was looking for a restorative practice myself I was grieving the death of my beloved mum.  I felt that I just wanted to be held in a warm and comforting space where my body could release the tensions both physical and mental that had built up during that time.  It was about letting go of doing anything in particular and just experiencing the present moment in a safe and comfortable environment.

According to Liz Koch international teacher and author “We need more capacity to endure pleasure…we only do something to get out of pain.  We don’t do something because it brings us pleasure; a sense of calm and nourishment.  We don’t know how to nourish ourselves with movement as well as food…we need to learn to take care of ourselves and to explore this concept of nourishment.”

Restorative yoga is about that exploration.  It is about taking more time to feel into poses,  to allow for rest, rejuvenation and not trying to “fix things”.  It is about surrender… whether it is to your day, your life, your pain, your grief (as it was and still is on many days in my case), your happiness or joy, and loving and respecting your body.  So of course what better time to start a restorative class than in winter when we look for comfort and restoration?





Yoga for Every Body

I have just finished reading a great article published in a yoga magazine by a yoga teacher who sounds very much like me.  I am an older teacher who has been practising yoga for over 17 years and teaching yoga for at least 7 of these in the small country town where I live.  Like my fellow yoga teacher I do not travel the world giving demonstrations, write books on yoga or manage a couple of yoga studios.

My role is simply to share what I have learned about yoga with as many willing people as possible.  To help others learn to accept their bodies with all their imperfections and to nurture their physical, mental and emotional selves.  I run classes in a community facility and many of my students are my friends who I would and do happily sit down to enjoy a chat and chai with.

The gist of the article I read was that as yoga becomes more popular and we hear about all the different styles and add ons to yoga we can become confused as to the true purpose of yoga…yoga is not just for young,  fit , skinny, active, injury free,  health aware, new age people.   It is for everybody!  Sometimes it can be overwhelming when you are bombarded with images of lithe young women and men doing incredibly challenging physical poses.

The very meaning of yoga has nothing to do with your age, shape and size.    Yoga according to Patanjali  ‘ is the blocking (nirodha) of mental modifications (chitta vritti) so that the seer (drashta) re-identifies with the (higher) Self.   To me this is when you learn through conscious action about the fluctuations of mind…you practise awareness in all that you do and eventually you begin to realise that you are not your mind or your body….you begin to re identify with your higher self.

Of course this emerging awareness often begins with asana, pranayama and meditation practices.  However you do not have to be able to hold the perfect  Eka Pada Pranamasana (one legged prayer pose) or  perfect Trikonasa to be practising yoga.  Many of the postures or asanas can be performed using modifications to suit you specifically.  You do not need to wear the latest yoga clothes nor hold postures for as long as others in the class.  The fact is is your yoga and yours alone….your experience will be very different to everyone else based on your beautiful individual self.  There is no need for mirrors in my classes, mirrors encourage us to look outward and yoga is about looking inward.  You do not need to watch the teacher ( I only demonstrate if my students appear to be having difficulty with my instructions)  … just need to listen to the instructions, feel into your body and be open to possibility.

My students range in age from their 30’s to 80’s.  I run classes specifically for those with back issues and a class just for the “blokes” in my town.  I run a weekly session at our local aged care facility where everyone practises chair yoga.  My oldest student in this group is over 90!

In my regular classes my eldest student is 82. She lives at home,  rides her bike twice a week, does water aerobics and comes to her weekly yoga class. When I asked her why she was coming to yoga and what she gets out of it her reply was simple.

“I did practise yoga many years ago and found it very relaxing but life gets so busy with its comings and goings.  I have had a lot of stress in my life over the years raising my family of 5, supporting my husband on the farm and working as a nurse.  But I like to keep busy and even when I retired I did voluntary work for many years. Now I am doing something for myself.  I find that yoga keeps me supple and helps me tune into my body more.  I really enjoy the calming environment and the quiet introspective aspect of breathing practices.  I enjoy the practice of yoga nidra and I sleep well at the moment.

I think you have to have a certain openness to practise yoga and I enjoy meeting like minded people.  I enjoy having a coffee or tea together after class and I feel good after yoga. Some of the things I find challenging are the balancing practices and some of the stronger poses.”  When I asked her what advice she would give to other older people contemplating yoga she said”  persevere a little if you are stiff… have to want to become more supple and take it slowly”

So if you are older, have back issues, dodgy knees or are overweight do not let that hold you back from joining a yoga class.  Just find the right type of yoga for you and a skilled teacher who can help you with modifications as necessary and lead you carefully in yogic journey.

yoga pic from Jhoti mitra








The power of the breath


All life requires air to survive.  It is the essential force that creates our very existence and yet it goes unnoticed until we find we cannot breathe.   You know that feeling when the breath becomes faster and feels tighter and each inhalation seems not to satisfy the body’s needs.  You feel light-headed and weak and begin to wonder if you will ever feel better again.  Then somehow either through external intervention or your own ability to regain control of the breath things start to return to equilibrium and your breath settles back into its normal rhythm. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could stay tuned into our breath…to receive the messages from the body about its state by checking in with that incredible force??  Of course you can begin this process by practising yoga and exploring the different breathing techniques taught in yoga classes.

Being aware of the breath gives you the perfect opportunity to be present.  To truly experience that which we call life.

The practice of combining an awareness of breath with movement is what makes yoga quite different to exercises at the gym.  As you move through poses there is conscious inhalation and exhalation with the exhalation used to soften and relax the muscles…allowing lengthening and gentle stretching of the muscles.

By tuning into the breath you become more aware of the effect of the stretching and strengthening  practices on the body.  You are able to fine tune and explore the pose.  Each breath you take gives you a perfect snapshot of that moment.  For on  your mat there is no past, no future there is just the present.  The mind can jump about in its usual fashion but by allowing thought to come and go and focusing just on the breath …that is how yoga asana can become your meditation practice.  You become absorbed in the present moment. …not rushing to move to the next pose.

Patanjali tells us that asana is one of the early steps in the yogic journey because it requires discipline and a preparedness to explore the present. The only instruction that he offers us is “sthira sukham asanam”,  that the posture should be steady and comfortable.  You may come to your yoga class for many reasons but if you leave with a sense of peace ..a realisation that life is not all about doing …then that class has done its job and you will return because nothing beats that feeling of being “in the moment”..or as I like to think of it “with the breath”.

Let the breath become your friend, your teacher.  Be open steady, be comfortable in your yoga practice and life.



Learning to let go

Autumn is such a lovely time of the year.  I always marvel at the beautiful display that nature puts on before she decides to have a rest over the winter and watching autumn leaves fall is such a peaceful pastime. Recently I was thinking about how clever nature is to cast off that which is no longer needed  and was reminded of the value in doing just that ourselves!

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How often do we get stuck repeating the same old patterns and habits that we know do not really serve us anymore? These old patterns or conditionings are known as samskaras to the yogis.  They are based on past experiences and if left continue to influence the way we function in this world.  Perhaps you find yourself always apologising for your behaviour?  Putting others needs before your own? Not taking time out for yourself,  feeling that you somehow do not measure up or need to work harder, faster, to feel good about yourself??

There may be some things that really push your buttons; people who don’t appreciate you,  people who think differently or treat you in a particular way.   At some stage we all need to ask “is my behaviour and response helping me to grow?”  If this is not the case then perhaps it is time to let some of this stuff go.  Just like the deciduous trees around us it can be healthy and a great relief to just drop it!!

How can yoga help us to do that?

To begin with true yoga requires you to be fully present.  This is something that develops with time and practice.  You make a conscious effort to keep the mind with the practices by following the breath, counting rounds and focusing on different parts of the body as you move into postures or asanas as they are called.

By becoming fully present you begin to notice the mind and how quickly it jumps from one thing to another …how easy it is to be distracted by thoughts.  Some of these thoughts are quite repetitive and they generally have no basis in truth but are based on some past experience where you felt a certain way or reacted to something.  To watch without getting caught up is the secret because this allows us to detach from all the emotional baggage around the thought.

By using particular breathing practices you can balance the breath and learn to control our breathing when we are anxious and stressed by events around us or things that people say.  This creates the space necessary for you to take that step back to “see” your usual reaction or response and decide consciously if this is what you want to say or do.

The practice of yoga nidra (see post from Jan 2012) allows the time and space for physical rest but also offers the opportunity for the samskaras to become apparent and be released.  Particularly when the teacher is using opposites and visualisations as these may invoke feelings and memories that you learn to watch in a relaxed and detached state and they begin to lose their power in your waking state. In yoga nidra you set an intention for your life.   A short positive statement about something you are working toward (a sankalpa) when you are in the deeply relaxed state that yoga nidra brings about  can guide your actions and thoughts in your waking state.

Letting go is not instantaneous  but the benefits of practising the art of “just dropping it” are so worthwhile.  You are no longer reacting to things but choosing how you wish to respond.  It does not matter how many times you need to is the fact that you do which will make the difference.  So take some inspiration from the deciduous trees and stock up your yoga will change your life.





Building a foundation

DSC_0125As we move into the season of Autumn it could be a great opportunity to look at what is truly important in your life. It can be a busy time over the summer with friends, relatives, holidays, work and getting children back to school.  It is at times like this when our yoga practice can suffer as we get caught up in all the “doing” of life, but one thing is for sure if you have built a  strong foundation in your yoga practice then it will support you as you navigate your way around the “busy-ness” of life.

How do you build a strong foundation?  One of  the most important features of yoga is its ability to keep you grounded.  When all around you seems to be flying off in many directions…taking  time to be still and focusing on the breath is the perfect way to ground yourself.  The many pranayama or breathing techniques taught in yoga provide tools to help (literally)  keep your cool ( try Sheetali or Sheetkari breathing) and focused on the here and now.

Asana practice too will provide you the opportunity to be in your body…. to feel the parts that feel good, the parts that need more TLC, the parts you worry are not quite right and the parts you love (yes loving your body is part of a solid foundation!!).  As you move through a small sequence of postures listen to the messages from your physical body, not the chatter in your head and allow your body to move with the breath.  No matter what state you are in when you move to your yoga mat it is as if all the other stuff dissolves  (sometimes it takes a little longer but it will happen) …

Developing your own meditation practice is also the basis of a strong foundation in yoga.  There are many different meditation techniques and it is worth exploring different ones to find what suits you.  If you find sitting still difficult try a walking meditation.  You don’t have to meditate for very long for meditation to be effective.  Again it is the practice of often being present …of allowing yourself to simply be.  Some people find the regular activity of simply lighting a candle and some incense or exploring nature as way to stop the clock for a brief moment.

All of these practices contribute to what we call a sadhana.  A sadhana  is a regular spiritual practice that helps you to find balance in your life by giving you the opportunity to turn inward.  It is not a religious “thing” ( you may or may not have a connection to some higher God and you could incorporate this)  but it is an attempt to connect with the bigger picture…nature, your place on this earth, the bigger YOU.

Having a sadhana means you are making a commitment to yourself.  It requires discipline (even if it only 10 mins a day) so cultivates this.  It allows you to grow as a person affecting your relationship with yourself and others. A sadhana  provides an opportunity for self reflection…to look at the patterning of the mind, to see your thoughts as they come and go…to discover that your thoughts are not you.  And of course it builds a foundation…just like your sankalpa ( see post from Jan 2012) .  A strong platform from which you can make decisions about your life, your work, your health, your relationships with others.  This foundation is strengthened by the repetition and regularity with which your sadhana is performed.  No matter how small you start, by developing this regular practice you will slowly notice a shift in the constant demands of the mind…you will not feel so swayed by the fluctuations of mind and emotions and find yourself more accepting of yourself and life ups and downs.

So how do you go about this?  First of all find a space that you feel comfortable in – a part of your room,  a separate room, somewhere outside.  Decide how long you wish to practice each day and what your sadhana components will be.  Remember this can be as small as lighting a candle and sitting quietly for a few moments.  It may include asana practice, breathing practices, chanting, singing, meditation, walking in nature…choose what you know makes you feel good.  It does not have to be a long session…it is the regularity that provides the benefit not the length of practice.

I find practising my sadhana first thing in the morning the best for allows me not to get caught up in the day and make excuses for missing it and I always find mornings more peaceful (mind you I am well past the age of having little ones awake before me and making their own special demands on my time!!) so if mornings don’t suit find a time that does and make it your time.

May you find time to be you.






Spring practices to get you bouncing!

Spring is a time of new beginnings when we feel the vibrant surge of new growth amongst the plants and emergence of new little birds and animals.  The bees and butterflies dart from blossom to blossom drawing up the bountiful nectar, pollinating plants as they go.  You can almost feel the energy in the air.

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After a long cold winter everything is on the move again.  If you have been struggling to maintain your yoga practice during the winter now is the time to move forward with renewed vigour and commitment with a few of these simple practices.

One of the most invigorating practices is the practice of salute to the sun or Surya Namaskara. This practice of 12 postures performed dynamically is designed to stimulate the sympathetic nervous system and the energy channel known as Pingala.  This energy channel corresponds to the left hemisphere of the brain and is said to be concerned with masculine aspects of the self.  It provides an antidote to lethargy, generating heat and burning up toxins in the body.  You can begin with 3 rounds and build up 10 or more.  Be sure to lie in Shavasana for a good 5 minutes on completion of your rounds to allow the parasympathetic nervous system to kick in and maintain homeostasis.

Spring also heralds a time of hay fever for those people who are susceptible and the yogic cleansing practice known as Neti is a great boon for sufferers.  Neti practice involves using a small pot (known as a neti pot) filled with warm slightly salty water to cleanse the nasal passages…this removes trapped pollen and dust from the nasal passages and results in an amazing sensation of clarity.  From a yogic perspective the practice also awakens ajna chakra at the eyebrow centre..allowing you to tap into the energy at this centre.

If the sun is shining, grab your props and head outdoors.  Practicing your yoga outdoors can be a good way to ground yourself and reconnect to the rising energy of season, even if all you do is take your shoes off for a bit and feel the grass underneath your feet.   It helps you to be present and get out of that headspace that we often get stuck in.  Nature has a way of soothing the soul and inspiring a feeling of gratitude.

Guru Poornima

What a wonderful opportunity to get  together with like minded people to celebrate last week’s full moon, the first stirrings of spring ( I know it still seems a bit away but the daffodils and wattle tell a different story!!) and the auspicious occasion of Guru Poornima.

Guru Poornima is a Sanskrit term which when translated means a celebration of the teacher or guru on the brightest full moon of the year.  Of course all the negative publicity recently of fallen gurus makes one naturally suspicious of such a celebration.  Even for myself, with scandal coming from the Royal Commission last year about Satyananda yoga.  I was deeply distressed to discover the pain and suffering of so many people and needed to reflect on my own relationship with Guru or teacher.

There is no doubt that the yoga I was taught through this tradition has been a wonderful transformative tool.  It has allowed me the opportunity to recover both physically, emotionally and mentally from serious illness.  In my darkest times the simplest act of focusing on my breath bought me comfort when nothing else would suffice.

These were the things I had learnt from my first teacher (or guru) although she did not claim to be a guru and I am forever grateful to her quiet insistence that I come to a yoga class.  It was one of the best decisions of my life!

Having discovered the benefits of yoga personally I sought to learn more and came into contact with many more wonderful teachers during my own teacher training and yes I even came into contact with those more often referred to as Guru’s.  But  as we have so painfully learned even gurus are subject to ego and can lose their way.

So what then have I learnt about guru and why celebrate Guru Poornima?  Who is the true guru? If we look to yoga itself for the answer, you discover that the true guru lies within…It is your own inner knowing of what is right for you.  If you practice mindfulness and live your life consciously you will hear the inner voice of the guru.  It is the voice that tells you what is the best type of work for you, how you should spend your time, who are the right people to be around etc…

Of course there is always opportunity for ego to take over…for us to think we have found the one or know what is the best course of action but in reality guru is about feeling …connecting to the inner feelings of what brings us peace and contentment.  Unfortunately in modern life we have become suspicious of our feelings; often dismissing them in favour of what we think will be best for us.  (who would leave their job? partner? based on a gut feeling?????)   These are huge changes in one’s life and we always want that certainty of knowing we are doing the right thing.  The reality is we can never really know if something is right for us.  If someone had of asked me 15 years ago was it the right choice to go that first yoga class I would not have really known.  I could only tell them how it felt.

So when we celebrate Guru Poornima what we are really celebrating and invoking is that inner guru or teacher.  We are consciously connecting to our own intuitive knowing which unlike putting our faith in some external guru to show us the way,  will never let us down.

International Yoga Day


June 21st was declared International Day of Yoga  by the United Nations  last year after India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged the UN to acknowledge the valuable gift of India’s ancient tradition…the gift of yoga.  Thousands of people around the world rolled out their yoga mats in parks, streets, shopping malls, yoga studios and on beaches as yoga enthusiasts sought  to share this wonderful gift.

In my small community we were able to share a beautiful winter’s morning bathed in sunlight at the local park.   It was such a joy to see so many people coming together to not only practice their yoga but to acknowledge the benefits that yoga has brought to their life.  Later that day  I sat down to reflect on just what those benefits that I had experienced were…..

Of course the obvious is an increase in my flexibility and strength which  is probably the primary reason why many people join a yoga class. Then  I thought about the more subtle changes in my life.  The fact that I was often “noticing my breath” , observing how my breathing changed with the different situations I found myself in.  By practicing the pranayama in class I had become attuned to the relationship between breath, activity and  most importantly emotions.  I had learned ways to control my breath and use this to alter what was happening in my body and mind.

I have also found it easier to relax.  The techniques I have learned mean that it is quite easy to develop stillness in my body by either sitting or lying down.  It is as if my body now has a cellular memory for being relaxed  as soon as I get into a comfortable sitting (padmasana)  or lying pose ( shavasana). My body wants to become still and as my body stills, my mind seems to follow suit.  Of course this does not mean that I never experience tension in the body and mind but it is as if I have found an “escape button” when things seem overwhelming.

By practicing yoga I have become more attuned to myself and subsequently more attuned to others and the world around me. I see flocks of birds wheeling in the sky in perfect formation sparkling like bits of tinsel; I see small shoots bursting forth defiantly from frozen ground, lambs playing “tiggy” as they dash around the paddock, with all four legs leaping off the ground.  I see sadness or joy  in the face of strangers.  I see hope and triumph in the faces of children as they learn to master new skills.  I hear the rain, the wind, the silence ….the songs of nature. I smell the freshness of the country air, the sweet scent of lemon gums, the rich soil beneath my feet.  My world has become so much more three-dimensional.

Yoga has also taught me about discipline.  The need to set aside time for myself for physical movement not associated with work, for relaxation, for fun, for reflection.  I am continually developing the ability to simply “be” not “do” and it is wonderfully liberating.

Yoga has given me the opportunity to share  all of these benefits with others by teaching.  There is nothing more rewarding for a teacher than to see the joy of discovery on his/her student’s faces..that “ah ha I get it” moment and in my many years of teaching, especially in my yoga teaching, this has been nothing short of pure joy.

When you first set foot tentatively on a yoga mat, hoping this might ease a bit of stiffness in the body,  you could not imagine how profoundly it will change your life.  So thank  you President Modi and members of the UN, thank you to all those students who came to join me in the park and thank you to the ancient yogis for sharing this beautiful gift.

A day in silence

Having just returned from  a wonderful yoga retreat in Ubud Bali I would like to share some of my experience of the the beauty of a day of silence.  What better place to explore the joy and peace of silence than in lush tropical jungle surrounded by timeless rice paddies.


On waking on the day of silence I was able to be fully present in my surroundings to explore the splendor of nature.  To notice the vibrant colours of the birds, the vivid and varied shades of green of the jungle, to  see dragonflies and insects industriously going about their day.   Everything I observed seemed to leap out at me …as if I was truly seeing it for the first time.


Each mouthful of food was savoured as there was no distraction from conversation to the business of eating.  I was able to discern subtle differences in taste and sense of smell was heightened.

There is something very freeing about not having to speak to make conversation ( which I might add I normally love!).

I spent my time simply using my senses to be fully present at each moment as the day stretched out.  It seemed almost timeless with no pressure to be anywhere or do anything in particular.

We were given instruction to try to avoid reading as reading in itself engages the left brain.  If anything we were encouraged to explore using our right brain….to be creative.  I chose to make a flower mandala and found this to be very calming.  Playing with the colours and textures of the flowers felt so natural and I was soon deeply engrossed in the activity.


Earlier in the day I spent time simply staring out into the jungle whilst  using the singing bowl ….feeling the vibration of the sound in my whole body.  Eventually every cell in my body began to sing with the sound.

singing bowl

It was not until the following morning after practicing our sun salutations to the rising sun overlooking Lake Batar and the surrounding volcanoes that we were able to speak again.


It felt strange to hear the chatter of voices and although I was pleased to talk with others and share my experiences I could not help feeling a little sad that the time of silence was over. Experiencing a day like this is something we could all incorporate into our lives, allowing  the richness of silence to fill our hearts, minds and souls…it is so refreshing!