Saturday, October 8, 2011

Stuff I learned from mountains

Over the last two and half years I have spent a lot of time alone in the mountains, hiking and skiing.  This is me as my best self in my best moments and these mountains have so far taught me a lot of stuff.  Here's some of it so that when you have the choice to stay in bed or  get up and get into the mountains, you might just choose the better option.

  • Mountains need to be loved and respected
  • There are things in this world a lot bigger than any of us
  • I'll always feel way better when I finish than if I never started
  • Life holds surprises around every corner (including marmottes, 4000 meter views, wild strawberries and old mountain men making whittling wood)
  • Life doesn't have to be filled with words, silence is its own language
  • I'm not meant to understand everything in this life
  • Being close to nature is as essential as breathing for me
  • Following the seasons helps me learn about life
  • Staying with the tough stuff yields better results than trying to escape
  • Patience
  • I don't need to know everything before I start
  • Confidence grows bit by bit
  • It's ok to trust your instincts but sometimes you have to learn them first
  • You cannot get sick or bored of being in the mountains

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

How I became a chanting freak

A year ago I’d never chanted in my life.  A month ago I was thinking that chanting Sanskrit and calling it yoga was only for those who had opted out of life.  Two weeks ago I was in a permanent state of panic as I boarded the plane for my first ever yoga retreat that somehow included three chanting sessions a day.  Post retreat and I have officially become a chanting freak.  I don’t know what went wrong (or right….)

I am the girl who crawled under the desk when the school music teacher asked us to sing nursery rhymes out loud.

I am the girl who’s mother told her that she needed a life time of singing lessons just to be able to open her mouth (my rendition of Joan Jett’s ‘I love Rock ‘n’ Roll’ can only have been truly awful).

I am the girl who runs at light speed in the opposite direction of every karaoke bar.

I am the girl who booked a yoga and chanting retreat knowing all of this…… what the f%@*k was I thinking?????

Day 1 and I actually feel like I have a piece of hard cheese wedged in my throat.  My chant is stuck and I am mostly miming the chant.  I ask for tips which are gladly given and realize I am not the only one who feels the hard cheese.

Day 2 and I find the chant moving me into a highly emotional state where if I do let a tear slip out during the chant I am likely to end up howling and sobbing in a pitiful mess on the floor – I have no idea why.  Note that everyone else seems to be crying gracefully and quietly… pressure right?

Day 3 and now I’m wondering why I am the only one not crying during the chant, I think I am insensitive and wonder if I am so scared by life that I am unable to show emotion.  Plus my back really hurts from sitting on the floor chanting three times a day.  I still turn up to every session, it’s starting to be an addiction.

Day 4 and my worst nightmare occurs, we are asked to chant some sounds individually (ok I admit, just sounds, not like real words or anything).  Everyone does it and I actually tell the instructor ‘no thanks I’ll pass’.  Yes just like that I opt out.  I breathe a sigh of relief, I’ve done it, I got away with not having to chant by myself with everyone listening – woooo hooooo!!!! Until I get asked a second time and with the ask I am told that nothing bad can happen because the group loves me unconditionally……… geeeeeeze, how can I say no after that, plus if I don’t chant I’ll probably just cry which would be like way worse in front of my 20 new yoga/chanting pals.  So I do it and I am mortified for the rest of the evening although strangely I seem to have survived.

Day 5 and I actually feel a little better about chanting.  I mean seriously, how can it get any worse than the previous day?  One of the other girls, a seriously hip Parisian fashion designer, tells me I have a ‘smokey’ voice.  I dig it and feel just a little bit soulful about the chanting.  I even open my mouth when I chant at lunch time and I stop miming.

Day 6 and I may just be chanting for dear life.  I feel like a huge weight has been lifted off my chest and that the hard cheese has come unstuck from my throat.  We move from sitting and chanting to dancing and chanting and even chanting whilst staring into each other’s eyes.  I have some fleeting reservations about how super uncool this all is but decide to ignore them and just keep chanting – what the hell has gotten into me?

Day 7 which is the last day of the retreat and I am truly sad that this is the last time I will chant with this wonderful group of people but full of happiness to feel the vibration of the beautiful Sanskrit words as they lift out of our mouths and float across the valley.  I realize that on that cheesy thought, I have become a chanting freak. Om Namah Shivaya rock on!

The Longest Om

Well now that I am officially on holiday for a month in Australia I thought I better get my booty to a real yoga class instead of just jiving to some Kundalini shaking after a beer or two, as I did last night.

At this stage, I must point out that my yoga commitment is to do “some kind” of yoga every day, and I remind you all that yoga does indeed have a lot of different aspects to it—including lying about a lot in savasana. Okay I should also point out that I don’t like rules, so the whole no-food-no-alcohol-before-yoga rule is just dying to be broken, in my book.
I confess that this evening was the first time I ever regretted breaking that rule. I visited a très trendy Sydney power yoga studio which, it turns out, is all about doing yoga really fast in 40 degree heat. Fifteen minutes into the class I was really wishing I hadn’t eaten that baked ricotta cheesecake just an hour before hitting the mat. So whilst I managed to keep my cheesecake in, I didn’t manage to stifle my near hysterical giggles as the class both opened and ended with the three of the longest, loudest Oms I’ve ever heard.

Dude! Seriously, like when did Om-ing become an Olympic sport?

You probably think I’m exaggerating about the Om, and far be it for me, as a newbie yogini, to judge what is and isn’t a good looking Om, but I must assert that when your insides jiggle from the sound vibrations and you want to clamp your hands over your ears because you feel like you’re inside a horror movie, the Om is probably over the top.
Of course this whole Om palaver (palaver is one of my favourite words ever, and if you don’t know what it means then you should definitely look it up) only served as an in-my-face reminder of why us Aussies are so good at sports… it’s the competitive streak! I have it; you know youhave it; and today I think maybe it was in the yoga class with that Om—just a little bit. And if it wasn’t the Om Olympics, then the only rationale answer is that these très trendy power yogis are just so bloody fit that they have huge lungs just dying to OOOOMMMMMMM. This was an actual real thought I had in class today.
On the plus side, I think the high temperatures caused me to sweat out all the cheesecake toxins and forced me to put aside my anally retentive neurosis about other people’s hygiene as I watched my yogi neighbour sweat the entire liquid contents of his body onto the ‘communal’ yoga mat. Actually, I’m lying. I don’t think I can go back, just in case the mat I would end up using was once that of my sweaty neighbour.
And as I’m on holiday, I’d rather eat cheesecake (and probably some lamingtons and a nice custard tart) at whatever time of day I bloody like, thank you very much.
Phew, looks like I will be on that mat a lot this month if I want to retain any kind of yoga-like body. There could indeed be worst things in life.


We love them unquestionably, we’d walk on hot coals to make sure they are ok and seriously consider evil deeds against anyone who threatened them.  Why then do some of us (i.e., me) find it so challenging to spend any length of time with our families?  Don’t get me wrong, I have a great time when we all hang out but I’m always happy to grab an hour on my own and to eventually escape the family hold.  Logically I know that because I live thousands of kilometers away from them and only see them every few years, that by default I rely on my close friends to be that family on a day to day basis - (big up and thanks to all my lovely friends for being family).  Things that I may have discussed with my parents or my sister if we lived in the same country now get discussed and debated with girlfriends.  It’s been like that for the past 21 years since I flew the coop and went off to university, it’s probably not going to change now.  But somehow when we see each other, we all have an expectation that because we are family we have the same kinds of friendships with each other than we do with our friends who we see much more regularly.  Doesn’t make sense when you think about it does it?  On the other hand I also know that what better way to make me crazy than to hold up a plethora of mirrors reflecting my every best and worst trait and ask me to spend a couple of weeks with those mirrors.  Because if nothing else we are all indeed a genetic and sociological reflection of our families, maybe not entirely but enough to make me nervous.  And whilst it’s great to have someone say how lovely it is that you are clever like this aunt or sporty like that uncle, it’s a bit of a shock to look and recognize the negative traits which you know you have inherited as well.  
So I can’t help but ask myself what the lesson is here.  I certainly feel grateful for all the incredible qualities I did inherit.  Those blue eyes which are ever so boring at home are far more exotic where I live now.  If it wasn’t for my parent’s love of travel I’d probably still be sitting on my butt in Australia.  Being made to read all those Pollyanna books as a child and being forced to play the glad game has given me the gift of gratitude and the ability to turn almost any negative situation into a positive one.  My uncles love of geneology explains my interest in different cultures and my aunt’s work at the National Library explains my ferocious reading habit.  But of course I also have the pleasure of understanding why I am many things that I don’t want to be.  So in the spirit of Pollyanna, today I choose to be glad that I can see my faults, that I have a greater understanding of why I have developed some of them and that I have the power to change the way I behave and become a better person.  And I have my family to thank for that.


Just when I thought it was possible to be so over traveling and airports, I flew into LAX from Monterey.  Let me just start by saying that it seems like I’m having a gold star airport day.  It started with a fantastically cheery and down home American cab driver who took me in the middle of Monterey’s worst storm to its tiny little airport.  He knew at a glance whether my flight was going to go despite the weather, that it was on time and directed me straight to the check in counter.  Monterey Penninsula Airport at 5am is like a sleepy little community waking up where everyone knows each other and where they just can’t believe you are going to fly all the way to Nairobi from Monterey :-) 

The flight to LA only gets better as I watch the sun rise over a stunning cloud city.  It was like it was getting me ready for the descent over and into one of the most awesome cities on earth.  Whether you love or hate LA, you have to admit it is impressive and stunning because of its size and because of the beautiful complexity of its highways, roads and neighbourhoods.  Just when I was recovering from the spectacle of the LA landscape, we landed in an entirely new sub-city called LAX.  This place is insane with its own road system, sub sub cities and buses giving way for planes which cross within what seems like just meters of you.  Is it possible to be in love with a giant monstrosity of an airport, hmmmm airport love, I think my crush just moved from Dubai to the City of Angels.