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48 hours in Ubud

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I wrote most of this a few weeks ago in the midst of our family holiday in Bali. I know it probably sounds a bit melodramatic, but I feel as though this brief, but very intense experience really changed me.

Here we go.

My idea of bliss is a yoga retreat. Imagine one of those magical locations in a tropical forest in the mountains, a huge open air bamboo hut, gentle mystical music drifting through the trees, tranquility infusing the air. Perfectly peaceful…bliss.

I’ve been green with envy in the past, when friends have announced they are off to Bali on a week long yoga retreat or detox of some sort. It’s a dream I’ve had for some time…and now I’ve done it. Mine wasn’t exactly a retreat, and it wasn’t exactly a week, but it was blissful all the same. I’m calling it my 48 hours in Ubud.

So it came to be…two happy yogis in the back of a Bluebird taxi, waving farewell to a gaggle of children and a pair of Dads. Heading to the mountains for an intensive yoga, meditation, food and relaxation camp. An extra special side trip to a family holiday, which fell serendipitously into place only a week before it actually happened.

We arrived at the beautiful home of one of my best friends an hour or so later. The house just happened to be essentially vacant while we were there, and it served as a fantastic base, and place to sleep. The same lovely friend had given me a detailed list of all of the best places to go, to eat, to drink and most importantly, very explicit directions to The Yoga Barn, a yoga Mecca in these parts. We went straight there, and essentially mapped out a plan to do as many yoga and meditation sessions as we could. We also booked in to see the Cranio-sacral therapist/healer my friend had raved about. I’ll be sharing some thoughts about that soon. So we sat, we ate, and then we started…and it was incredible.

I think a kind of honesty of the soul occurs when you focus so much of your energy on quietening down everything inside of you. There’s nothing but calm. The energy just flows…it doesn’t take any actual physical or mental energy. The experience of being a Mother is generally the antithesis of this. You become connected and tuned in to your little people, and aware of yourself, but not deeply connected to yourself. That’s my experience anyway.

Before kids, I wasn’t into meditation, and had limited yoga experience, so they are both relatively new interests for me. Doing both activities so intensely made me feel as though I was exploring a whole new part of myself in Ubud. I can’t really describe it adequately, but I’ll give it a try.

All of my senses were heightened. My intuition was heightened. I knew exactly how I was feeling, and what I wanted at every moment of the day. I knew exactly what I wanted in my life! It felt very raw, as though every thought I had was a small life epiphany. Truth flowed through me. No crap. Just pure, honest, truth. I was completely connected to who I really am, and acutely tuned in to my body, and my mind. Everything just felt so right. Now every time I meditate or practice yoga, it’s as though I’m building on something which started to evolve in Ubud. I’m still quite stunned by the fact that I continue to feel so transformed by a simple two day experience…but that’s just what happened.

Linked to With Some Grace for FYBF

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what is a simple life?

Our morning walk
Our morning walk

A simple life is a completely subjective concept. For some people it means having free ranging children and chickens, producing all of your own food, and going off-grid with water and power, or being somewhere along that path. For others, it means reading or sitting peacefully for a small part of each day. Or it could mean finding peace within yourself by just ‘being’ more, and doing less. Every person interested in a simpler life, has their own unique interpretation of what that actually means.

For me, simplicity means being as well as I can be. It’s a reciprocal arrangement. I live simply to stay happy and healthy, and I’m happier and healthier because I choose to live simply. Pretty much everything I do, has become a part of my life with wellness either directly or indirectly in mind.

A small window into my simple life, is not me saying that my life is great, and yours is crap. It’s me saying that my life before slowing down wasn’t working very well. Only certain aspects of my needs were being met. I was always very fit, but not always really well, and not always doing all of the things which ultimately I’ve discovered make me feel more me.

When I wake early to meditate, it’s a conscious decision I’ve made to be a calmer person. To step away from a life where stress and raised cortisol affected every part of me. Meditating every day has been the best decision of my slow living life. I’m not simply hoping for peace in my day, although sometimes it does just happen by chance…I’m doing something which literally calms my nervous system, and sets me up, generally, for a peaceful start to the day. My morning mantra for the entire family is ‘Start each day, in a happy way’. Hollie Hobbie. A corny flashback to my seventies childhood.

When I’m writing, I’m happy. I am expressing myself creatively in a way which has satisfied me deeply since I was a kid. I love words. I love playing with them to create meaning and truth. Writing is such a powerful art, and for me it feels as though I’m touching on my ultimate purpose every time I put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard. My Mum was the first to instill the thought that I should become a writer, and it has been dancing around in my head ever since. It’s a very happy place for me.

When I crochet a tiny granny square of a greater rug, there is joy not only in the making, but also in the visual art of the project, and in the connection to my creative past. To my mother who taught me, and to all of the women who preserve the gentle arts as a part of their daily existence and tradition.

The same joy drives me in food production. There is happiness and health at the bottom of every jar of sauerkraut. I love picking cabbages, and feeling that connection with the earth (especially when I have to hunt through the layers of leaves for slugs and snails!). The whole process allows me to become entwined in the mystical elements of fermentation. There’s an enormous sense of accomplishment which comes from producing complex food. A cupboard full of ferments, learning to make sourdough bread, waiting for a batch of Kombucha to finish brewing. It’s not necessarily easier or a more efficient way to live, not at all, but it brings such positive energy into my life. It’s useful, and I have the knowledge that my food is living, simple and as unprocessed as it can be.

When I grow my own food, I know exactly where it has come from. I’ve had the chest swelling pleasure of watching it grow, and the enjoyment of seeing it become part of a meal. I love to pick and collect vegetables and herbs to make juice. It’s deeply satisfying, and it feels very right to me.

These are some of the elements which make up my simple life. It’s nothing dramatic, it’s just me being, and enjoying the very basics of life. It’s not about money, or having or doing. It’s about peace and happiness and wellness. I enjoy every small part of the life I’ve created, rather than feeling stressed or overwhelmed by a life that’s just whizzing by.

That’s what a simple life means to me.

Shared with Essentially Jess for IBOT.

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goodbye overwhelm, hello calm!

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I’ve been fascinated for quite a while with how stress affects my body, and with all the incredibly simple things I can do to change that. One of the practices which is right up there on my list of amazingly simple ways to relax yourself, is alternate nasal breathing or ALB.

It’s a cleansing and calming yoga practice, which recreates the natural alternating nostril breath pattern which should happen over the course of the day, but which happens less and less frequently as our bodies age and become more diseased.

This is how it’s done. Hold your right hand in front of you, with your palm towards your face. Block your right nostril with your thumb and inhale slowly through the left nostril. Then move your thumb away, and block the left nostril with your little finger, exhaling through the right side. Once you’ve exhaled, breathe back in through the right side, keeping the left blocked, and then exhale through the left, with the right side blocked. Repeat this for as long as you can, with a breath rate of around 5 per minute. Ideally you do it for at least 15 minutes, but I often use it as an emergency manoeuvre where I do it for about a minute, and it brings pretty much instant calm.

Because it’s almost impossible to really think about anything else while you’re doing it, ALB becomes a meditation in itself. As with all relaxation techniques which involve slow deep breathing, ALB has an instantaneous effect on your heart rate, slowing it down, by stimulating your parasympathetic, or calming nervous system. There is a bucket load of research out there on the practice, and how it affects your nervous system and your cardiovascular system, but something which interests me is the idea that the effects are not just temporary. They are at their peak in the first 15-30 minutes following practice, but there is evidence to suggest that if you practice long term, then your parasympathetic nervous system is essentially trained to become more dominant.

That sounds like a dream come true to me…a sea of calm! I’m going to perform an independent study on myself, and see what happens. I’ll keep you posted!

Linked with Essentially Jess for IBOT

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the happiness of the universe

Charlie the magpie
Charlie the magpie

For the past few weeks, our family has been engrossed in the activities of a small family of magpies nesting high in a gum tree in our backyard. The parents have swooped Bob the dog mercilessly, but have tolerated our interest in them without much concern. We’ve sat outside for meals to watch them, enjoyed the squawking of feeding time, and followed the movements and progress of the babies as they learn to fly. Late on Saturday afternoon, we were horrified to find one of ‘our’ babies on the ground, clearly injured but still breathing. With all of the adults birds guarding the baby from the tree, it felt completely intrusive to be taking him, but it was obvious he had done major damage to a wing and needed help. It wasn’t long before baby maggie, since called Charlie, was wrapped in a towel inside a shoe box and on his way to a native animal rescue centre to be assessed for damage.

Our connection with this little magpie family has been so joyful and entertaining. For just a brief moment in time, it has felt like we have had an extended feathered family. Our interest and our nurturing instincts have been piqued by our mostly airborne neighbours.

We are all connected.

I meditated this morning to the dulcet tones of my good friend Deepak, and with his parting words he left me with this centreing thought, which has stuck in my head all day, for lots of reasons, but just a little bit for Charlie.

My happiness is the happiness of the universe.

It’s a beautiful thought, and a perfect way to exist in this universe. In a completely symbiotic state of mutual happiness.

I am quite certain after listening to Deepak speak, that the depth of meaning of this statement is greater than anything I could even begin to imagine. But what comes to mind for me, is the simplicity of happiness and interconnectedness. When I smile, you smile back…generally. Laughter from one person infiltrates the emotions of others. Laughter in itself generates feelings of happiness. Being in nature can trigger happiness. Seeing a family of magpies in a tree can trigger it. Showing warmth and kindness to another generates deep happiness. Giving of yourself does the same. Children readily absorb and reflect the moods of those around them…we all do. The way we decide to reflect our mood to the world influences everything which happens to us. What a huge motivation to be happy!

It’s Sunday today, and I said a little prayer for baby maggie Charlie, hoping he’s OK. The rest of his family have been poking around outside all day, closer to the house than usual…looking for Charlie perhaps. He’s unlikely to be returned to the wild here. They are highly adaptive apparently, and will find new birds to hang with wherever they are, singing and spreading their birdy happiness everywhere. They do swoop a bit I know. They swoop to protect their kin from threat, sometimes for hair for their nests (according to my mother anyway). It is funny the way that when something penetrates your world, you notice it so much more. I’m seeing magpies everywhere, and I’m looking at them quite differently too…they really are quite lovely birds.

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start as you mean to go on

This morning in Perth. Photo courtesy of Erica Daneel.
The calm before the storm. Photo courtesy of Erica Daneel.

I’ve mentioned before that I like to meditate in bed before I get up. It’s not actually the ideal place to meditate, but I persist because I find that if I don’t do it then, the chances of it happening before 10.30 at night are slim, and at that point of the day, the meditation becomes more like sleep. Point lost.

What I like about morning meditation, is that it sets the peace dial inside my head to high, and I feel as though it should stay there for most, if not all of the rest of the day…that’s the theory anyway. With centreing thoughts like “Abundance surrounds me” or “I am free” drifting though my mind as I face what can often be a fairly chaotic start to the day, there’s little room left for unhelpful thoughts and emotions.

I strongly believe that the energy you hold within you, has the potential to influence the energy of those around you, and is capable of generating either positive or negative group energy. It is actually impossible to control the energy that others bring to the metaphorical breakfast table, but it is always possible to take charge of my own. That’s why I feel that early morning practice is so important. Even if I’ve overslept and it’s going to make us late, I still do it, knowing that it will completely change the flow of my day.

On Thursday morning after a particularly deep meditation practice, without interruption and without a whisper of noise in the house, I was literally humming with good energy as I got out of bed. I made breakfast, packed school bags and my children for the first time in the history of my family, ate breakfast and got completely dressed without any form of encouragement from me. We all flowed, and it felt incredible. It was of course a one-off, and Friday was another story, BUT it was a small victory for positive energy advocates everywhere! If I bring the right energy with me, it means that I am less reactive to everything and everybody else. It makes me more resilient and less likely to absorb the negativity of those around me. I feel happier, and am more focused and efficient. The flow on effects seem to be limitless. It is without question the best use of 15 minutes in entire my day.

Linked to With Some Grace for FYBF

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if you do nothing else – meditate

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A few years ago, I was gently nudged onto a course through Perth Meditation Centre called ‘The 5 Minute Meditator’, by my book club buddies. You may have read one of my earlier posts, I thought swimming reduced your stress levels . At the time, I was unknowingly in the midst of a stress crisis, and it took this nudge from my friends to set me on my meditation path, to life as it is now.

The meditation technique was simple. Relaxation came within about a minute, through 3 deep and completely mindful breaths. I found myself using it constantly. I needed to use it constantly! As the noise levels in the back of the car peaked, I would slip into meditation mode. The boys would notice a shift in my breathing and ask what I was doing. I was honest. “I’m meditating so that I don’t get upset by you arguing,” or “I’m feeling really stressed right now, and this helps calm me down,” I would say. Then there were the moments where one toddler, occasionally two, would completely lose the plot over the way I’d cut up a piece of food, or something equally as devastating. I would shift my breathing into the deep mindful mode I’d learnt. And it worked! But with little kids, I found that I was almost always emotionally simmering, never far from tipping into stress mode. My quick methods were keeping me sane, but not really solving the deeper issue of my almost permanently raised cortisol levels.

It was also quite difficult for me to accept my reality at that moment. I had to acknowledge that I was a complete stress ball…and I’d never been that person. The image I had of myself was of a chilled out human who could handle pretty much anything. So it took me quite a while to acknowledge that I needed to do more. I essentially had to make the decision to create a daily meditation habit which would become a permanent part of me. It took another few years to really commit. I practiced randomly for a few days here and there when I remembered, or when I was feeling particularly overwhelmed. Then I started putting in place a whole range of other measures to reduce my stress levels, and meditation became a feature most days. I began to notice the impact it had on me, and realised it was the one thing I couldn’t do without. I could go a week or two without doing yoga and I would be fine, but not so with the meditation. It completely shifts how I feel internally. I do feel like a chilled out human a lot of the time now, and I know I can handle most things.

I had a drink with a really good friend the other night who has a super busy life. We had a very practical discussion about how she could factor some stress reducing stuff into her already jammed schedule. I know so many women just like her. So much going on, and this burnt out, can’t budge from the couch feeling every night. And then they can’t sleep very well once they do go to bed. As Sara Gottfreid author of The Hormone Cure calls it ‘tired but wired’. I suggested to my friend that if she could fit in just ONE thing, it should be meditation. We talked about her running an Epsom Salts bath a few times a week, and doing a short 15 minute guided meditation through the Chopra Centre for Meditation while she was bathing. She said it was do-able, not too overwhelming, and I know that once she starts, she will embrace the peace of the meditation bath. What’s not to like?

I sense that in this fast paced world, where we worry so much about toxins in our food and environment, that stress is quite possibly the most toxic thing to our inner and outer health. It’s seems very strange to me, because the solutions to the problem inevitably involve practices which are deeply satisfying and pleasurable. It’s just really hard to find the solution when you’re in the midst of the chaos.

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i thought swimming reduced your stress levels

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A few years ago, a group of friends gave me a birthday gift which was a kind of intervention in disguise. At the time, I had a new baby who didn’t seem to appreciate the value of sleep at night, and a very jealous 19 month old. For some reason I felt the need to push myself with a strict routine which involved getting to the pool as early as possible most days, having the baby asleep at exactly the point of arrival at the pool crèche, and then pumping out a minimum of 2 km as quickly as possible. I would then zoom to the showers, grab the kids from the pool crèche and by just after 10 we would all be in a park somewhere doing the next thing, or meeting people, or something…you get the idea.

So essentially I was running on empty before I even got out of bed in the morning. Then I was pushing myself unnecessarily to achieve stuff. To be fit.

So one day I was at the pool swimming up and down like a lunatic, when I came up behind another swimmer. We were close to the end of the pool and I politely tapped the swimmers feet, which in international swimming language is the sign for ‘please let me past at the next turn, I am much faster than you’. Unfortunately the swimmer ahead didn’t speak international swimming language and she carried on at the next turn. Mmmmm. I was a bit peeved. There were a lot of swimmers in the pool and it was going to be hard to go past but I did it. I went really fast and furious, I went a bit too close and I pulled back in front of her probably a bit too soon. When I turned at the next end, she had crossed the lane and was standing up in my path. I stopped, I stood, and before I’d even taken a breath she had accused me of kicking her in the head when I had passed her. I then proceeded to explain the international language of swimming and what she should have done to avoid the passing scenario. She got really angry with me as I tried to explain it all, then she turned to swim away. And this is when things went from bad to well…really bad. As she launched herself off, (in front of me again!!) I reached out and grabbed her leg and pulled her back. Obviously with hindsight and a brain which now gets sleep, I can see that at that moment I was probably lucky not to have an assault charge placed against me.

So after being very embarrassed for quite a while and not telling a soul about it, I mentioned it to a friend. It then came up at a book club dinner. Then came the intervention, I mean birthday. And it involved this same cool group of book club friends giving me a voucher for a meditation course. It was my debut into meditation. It was amazing, and a real turning point for me. I don’t think I realised just how fragile I was. I had always assumed that if I was exercising then my stress levels and my mind would be OK, but I was just doing it all wrong.

Shared on With Some Grace for ‘flog your blog Friday’.