Warm up with Winter Solstice Yoga

Julie Atkinson spent the first International Yoga Day at the UN headquarters – this year she’ll be leading our IYTA Winter Solstice Class. Here she shares some thoughts about Japanese yoga and warming winter practices..

Q: How do you normally celebrate the International Day of Yoga?

For the very first International Day of Yoga I was living in Geneva and there was a big celebration at the Palais de Nation – United Nations Headquarters hosted by the Indian mission. It was held outdoors with a big attendance with the beautiful Lake Geneva and The Alps as the backdrop.

I’ve been lucky enough to attend similar celebrations at the UN on subsequent years. Last year whilst in lockdown, Rich (another yoga teacher) and I organised a day of yoga (on Zoom) as a fundraiser for the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre here in Melbourne. Lots of people supported us and we raised around $1100. This year I’ll be leading this yoga class for the IYTA to celebrate and also mark the Winter Solstice.

Q: Will you do anything to mark the International Day of Yoga in the class? 

Yes I’m working on ways to bring us together as a group, to feel our inter-connectedness and acknowledge the important role that Yoga has in all our lives.

Q: How easy is Japanese yoga for people who have never done the practice before?

Japanese yoga is very accessible. There are so many aspects to the practice as well as Yoga postures and exercises including, Do-In, self-massage, corrective exercises, chanting, meridian based exercises and meditation. Many of these can be practiced whilst seated in a chair. I offer many options and encourage participants to listen to their bodies and to work in a comfortable and steady way using the Yoga principles of Sukha and sthira.

Q: What can they expect from this class?

The class will include chanting, Okido exercises to help us feel grounded and centered, acupressure & tapping or rubbing on meridians with a particular emphasis for the water element and Kidney and Bladder meridians which are related to Winter. There will also be an emphasis of letting go of unnecessary thoughts, feelings and making way for new possibilities as we begin to move back into the light.

Q: What is your daily practice? And is there anything you will be doing that you do daily in this winter solstice class?

My daily practice is in line with the seasons, the current weather conditions and the time of day that I choose to practice. Since Melbourne’s first lockdown I have offered an online practice virtually daily. Often my own practice is playing around with ideas and themes for the zoom session. Okido Yoga would normally include some partner work which of course hasn’t been possible since Covid – whether online or in face-to-face classes. And so I’ve found different ways that we can give ourselves shiatsu or apply acupressure. In daily practice I include self-awareness, chanting Aum and do-in or self-massage including using a foam roller.

Q: How is winter celebrated in Japanese yoga and do you have any tips for nurturing bladder and kidney meridians?

In Okido yoga we mirror the seasons in our practices. Winter is the most yin time and the winter solstice is like the yin within yin. It’s seen as a time to consolidate, slow down, rest more and spend more time in meditation. Practices to improve our circulation – stimulate kidney and bladder meridians such as supported or restorative forward bends and rubbing ears and kidneys.

Wearing a hara maki – a traditional Japanese under garment around our lower back kidneys is recommended to support our kidney energy and keep us warm. We can improvise by wrapping a scarf or similar around our waist (I will demonstrate in the IYTA class).

On winter Okido Yoga retreats ginger foot baths were recommended for their warming qualities and if possible we would have a gathering around a wood fire, with time for sharing stories, performances songs etc. we might choose to write down three things we were ready to let go of in our lives and then burn the papers in the fire.

Q: Any final thoughts?

The class will acknowledge that although we are in this most yin time we are beginning to move into the light. We will very gradually over the remainder of winter see the days lengthening and begin to prepare for the more upward and out wood energy of spring. Now is a good time to plant the seed of what we would like to manifest or invite into our lives in the months to follow ?

To book into Julie’s Winter Solstice Class, please click HERE

Karmic Korma

This recipe (by Lee Holmes of Super Charged Food) has been sent in by IYTA pre-natal yoga lecturer, Julia Willoughby. This delicious mild curry is Julia’s favourite soup as it’s easy to digest, nutritious, filling and tasty.


105 g natural cashews

1 tablespoon ground coriander

3 tablespoons curry powder

2 teaspoons ground turmeric

1 teaspoon ground cardamom

1 teaspoon red chilli flakes

¾ teaspoon ground fennel

¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon

400ml tin additive-free coconut milk

1 ½ tablespoons extra virgin coconut oil or 3 teaspoons ghee

1 onion chopped

4 garlic cloves, crushed

2.5cm piece of ginger, peeled and grated

1 large tomato, diced

½ medium cauliflower, cut into florets

1 large turnip, peeled and diced

150g green peas (fresh or frozen)

250ml filtered water

Celtic sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste

1 handful of fresh coriander (cilantro) leaves optional to serve.




Soak the cashews in hot filtered water for 30 minutes. Drain.

Combine the spices in a small bowl and set aside.

Whiz the cashews with the coconut milk in a food processor until smooth.

Melt the oil or ghee in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onion, garlic and ginger and cook, stirring frequently for 3-4 minutes or until starting to soften.

Add the spices and cook, stirring frequently for one minute or until the spices are aromatic. Add the tomato and cook, stirring frequently for a further minute. Add the remaining vegetables, the water and the cashew mixture, then stir to combine and cook for a further ten minutes. Add a little more filtered water if necessary.

Reduce the heat to low and cook for 35 minutes adding more filtered water if the sauce starts to reduce too much.

Remove from the heat and season to taste, then allow to cool slightly. Puree in a food processor or blender until smooth. Serve sprinkled with coriander leaves.

If you liked this recipe you’ll love others by Lee Holmes. Check out her websites here:




Seeking out the meaning of Samkhya

It’s a bright sunny afternoon in Collaroy on Sydney’s Northern Beaches and I’m at the IYTA’s annual residential on the Diploma of Yoga Teaching course where David Burgess has just stepped out of an afternoon of lectures on Pranayama and Meditation.

I’ve taken the opportunity to have a chat with him about his upcoming two-hour online workshop: The Place of Samkhya in Yogic Philosophy on Saturday, June 12.

Samkhya is a vast and multi-layered topic and I’m wondering how we will manage to do it justice in the sliver of time we have to chat.

With his trademark honesty and humility, David explains that preparing for this lecture has been all-consuming and daunting. He says: “There’s levels of knowing about Samkhya of course. Some call it the knowledge paradox: When you become somewhat conversant in any subject you begin to realise the vastness of what you don’t know. I’ve actually been doing a tertiary level course with Philipp Maas on the Samkhya Karika to help me prepare for this. Now there is a guy who knows his Samkhya!”

“I think it’s important for Samkhya to be understood as a darshana of its time – it’s not saying that it is the ultimate description of reality as we understand it to be in the 21st century. It was conceptualised, give or take a few centuries, around two thousand years ago and when we judge it with modern eyes, we can say well that doesn’t perhaps quite stack up. You see it is on one level just an ontological map as seen by ancient thinkers trying to describe their understanding of the nature of reality well before possessing the technology and insights we have today. Still, it is I believe, profoundly informative and a must for yoga teachers who are wanting to understand the philosophy that underpins the classical yoga of Patanjali in particular. While we may not choose to become authorities in this area, we should I believe have some level of literacy in that which is the foundation of what we propound. ”

“And another thing, it is so wide reaching – it covers it all: arguably it is our first theory of everything without recourse to myth and tradition – it is talking about self, the nature of mind and it’s talking about cosmological truths. It’s talking about creation. It’s talking about the unmanifest and the manifest. It obliges you to look at your own beliefs surrounding an explanation for the creation of the material universe, and inevitably to decide where one stands on the hard problem of consciousness.”

He adds: “Even today with all our technology we encounter a huge variation intellectually and linguistically in what we define consciousness to be. I can think of many definitions of what consciousness is – from simply being awake as opposed to being unconscious. Is it to be able to think to be “conscious”? What about sentience and what about “self-awareness” and what about “pure consciousness”? Is mind a product of consciousness or of the brain or both or the other way around? Do only humans possess consciousness, why not animals, why not all life forms and how about inanimate objects? the list is long and challenging and that is before we even ask is consciousness an evolute of material reality or is it an eternal autonomous entity? Samkhya has an opinion on all of this!

David adds that in the workshop he will be looking at the historical origins of Samkhya and how it is (and isn’t) applicable today. And to be seen in the context of all the other darshanas that collectively underpin what we describe as yogic philosophy.

He explains the reason why it is so helpful for yoga teachers to consider these matters is because: “there are a good deal of unsubstantiated or incomplete propositions and conclusions regarding what yoga is out there.” He says: “There are so many different understandings of what yoga is and isn’t and that is not to say that this workshop will totally clarify what it is and what it isn’t, but it is certainly a consideration of what it is and what it isn’t! ?

David refers to a quote from Mark Twain which he feels sums up the importance of the topic for yoga teachers: “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. it’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”

To book into this workshop and discover more on this wonderful journey through yogic history and philosophy then click HERE.




Spiced Winter Porridge

This quick and easy warming porridge is perfect for breakfast (or anytime of the day) to give you energy and vitality during the winter


2 cups of oats

2 cups of water

1 cup (or more) depending on your preferred consistency unhomogenised milk

1/2 teaspoon of ground cardamom

1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon

1/2 cup of raisins

3 tablespoons of almonds, 2 tablespoons of pepitas

(you can use any combination of chopped nuts and seeds)

maple syrup/ honey – optional


Heat oats and water in a pan

Add milk as required, but ensure it doesn’t boil

Stir regularly as you add in raisins, cardamom and cinnamon

After a few minutes turn off heat and sprinkle in seeds and nuts.

Serve with a drizzle of maple syrup or honey. If using honey ensure the porridge has cooled. Enjoy!




Ease into Winter with Japanese yoga

Sarah Kearney is drawing upon her knowledge as a Shiatsu Therapist and Chi Yoga Teacher to help us transition into Winter. Here she shares her yoga journey plus what’s in store in her May workshop…

Why did you become a yoga teacher?

I first attended yoga classes in my twenties during university, and practiced yoga on and off for ten or so years. After working for NSW TAFE in Health and Recreation Curriculum Development for some time, I decided in 1996 that I wanted to have my own business in the world of natural health. I studied Shiatsu Therapy and started a clinic in Dee Why, on Sydney’s Northern Beaches, with a fellow student. Study in Shiatsu Therapy requires a lot of body movement and yoga studies as well as learning to provide Shiatsu massage. One of my Shiatsu teachers started a school in Bondi Junction called the ZEN Renaissance Centre just after I finished my course, where he wanted to teach the principles of Oki Do Yoga, applying meridian studies to yogic theory. I decided to further my studies there and by the year 2000, when I completed the yoga instruction course, I had begun to teach classes in both Bondi and Dee Why.

What’s your personal practice?

My personal practice involves constant mindfulness (I emphasise the word practice here!), attention to the environment around us as the seasons change, as well as regular asana, breathing and meditation practices. I try to put each practice into my day wherever there is a chance to do so.

How is Japanese Yoga different to Hatha Yoga?

Firstly it is based on the meridian system (the same system as acupuncture) and not on the Chakra system. It has its roots in ancient Chinese theory but was also practised in Japan.

The style I teach was inspired by the late Japanese zen yoga master, Masahiro Oki who blended Traditional Chinese Medicine with Hatha Yoga. Oki Do Yoga includes tapping and massaging with a lot of floorwork , but in my particular teaching I also incorporate many standing postures as well as flowing styles.

How can this practice help you connect with nature and the seasons?

It’s mostly about us being in touch with the changes of the seasons. We might not notice that in the winter a lot of us feel a bit lonely or things are too quiet or we have gone inside ourselves. You can use the energy of the kidney and bladder meridians in the Winter to help you feel grounded and present during this change.

What will the workshop focus on?

I’d like to let others know about the benefits of Japanese/Oki Do yoga perspectives. The practices support us in feeling more connected with the world around us as we are working with the same transforming energies in our bodies.

We’ll cover simple yoga practices that make a big difference to energy flow and state of mind. We’ll focus on balancing energies and the nervous system so the body can come back to its natural healing state and will work through a yoga practice that is felt on energetic as well as physical, emotional and spiritual levels.

What is your yoga teaching schedule like at the moment?

I teach nine classes per week (when I don’t have a broken foot – Sarah freakily broke her forefoot in February after a falling over the kids’ toys!) I teach both community and private classes. My classes are in Port Macquarie and Wauchope mainly, though I have taught in other nearby communities – Byabarra and Comboyne.

Winter Transition Japanese Yoga is on 1.30pm – 4.30pm AEST on Saturday, May 29 online and live via Zoom.

To book, click HERE

pic credit Tim Gouw at Unsplash