Sunday July 5 is Guru Poornima – an Indian Festival which falls on the full moon of the month Ashadh (June-July). This is traditionally a time to honour and pay tribute to our teachers.
As you may know, the IYTA was set up by Roma Blair – sadly Roma passed away a few months after her 90th birthday, nearly seven years ago.
But her memory lives on and so we would like to pay our respects to our founder – Roma Blair.
This article was written a few years ago after I had the privilege of spending several hours chatting with Roma.
NINETY is merely a number to Australia’s Mother of Yoga, Roma Blair. But it won’t stop her having a massive party for her 90th birthday in July.
Roma had a regular TV show and wrote many books about yoga
That’s because every day is a celebration for Roma – who has lived through the trauma of being interned in a Japanese Prisoner of War camp, enjoyed an illustrious career as a model and is credited for bringing yoga to ordinary Aussies.
At a stage of life when most people might be tempted to hang up their leggings, Roma is still practising yoga morning and night, despite suffering a fall, which has left her with a metal rod in her thigh.
And Roma is still the epitome of glamour.
For our interview she’s wearing a chic mint-green pant suit with diamond stud earrings and beige boots.
‘I’ll never dress like an old woman,’ she says.
‘I like to think and feel young.’
It is because she endured unimaginable suffering for three years in two Javanese POW camps, that she is so determined to enjoy every moment of her life.
‘Each morning I know I am lucky to be awake and I will have a happy day,’ she says.
Roma’s positive philosophy is to be patient with people and to give and do a lot for the ones you love.
But it’s not always been easy for this vivacious, auburn-haired Yogi…
The moment Roma entered the world she was born with a caul (a rare amniotic membrane covering her face).
‘You’ll never need to worry about this baby,’ the matron told Roma’s mother, Ivy. ‘She will be a most unusual child.’
Apparently a caul is auspicious and the prediction proved true – but Roma believes it has been her life that’s been unusual, not her.
One of five children, she lived a relatively carefree, happy childhood. And after winning a beauty contest, she embarked upon a lucrative career as a photographic model.
During this time she fell in love with dashing businessman, amateur boxer and ballroom dancer, Leo Ossendryver.
Leo worked in the family business, selling Persian carpets and when he and his family relocated from Sydney to the prosperous Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) Leo assured Roma that once they were settled she’d join them.
It was only after Leo had left Australian shores they discovered single women were not allowed to enter the Dutch East Indies.
The only way Roma would be able to join Leo was if they were married.
So Roma became Australia’s first proxy bride – using a little known Dutch custom.
Two simultaneous ceremonies were arranged – one at the Dutch Consulate in Sydney and the other in Jakarta. Two “stand-ins” replaced the bride and groom at their respective locations
Leo’s Uncle Nikko stood in for Leo in Sydney, while Leo’s brother Maurice was a rather less attractive substitute for Roma!
Their unique wedding made headlines across the Australian media.
And the next day, Leo sent a telegram to his new wife:
Congratulations, we were married today!
It was an unorthodox start to what would prove to be a challenging marriage.
Once Roma arrived in the tropical paradise of Bandung in West Java she was lavished with attention from both her husband and his family. And soon she fell into a relaxed routine of waking late, being dressed by maids, sharing breakfast with the family, and a late afternoon sojourn to the markets with her sister-in-law, Noeline.
Within a couple of months she was pregnant and it seemed life in their bubble of paradise couldn’t get any better.
She felt safe and protected from the ravages of World War Two, which had been going on for the previous three years.
‘We’d been certain the Japanese wouldn’t make it this far,’ Roma recalls. But the honeymoon ended abruptly on March 8, 1942, when the Japanese launched an air attack and occupied Java.
Western men were sent away while the women and children rounded up and taken to a guarded camp.
Luckily Roma managed to stay with Noeline and her three-year-old nephew, Arnold. But it was the start of a tortuous three-year imprisonment.
Both women would give birth to children in the camp. Noeline had a daughter, Shirley, and Roma, had a son, Arnold.
Roma was determined to smuggle in any kind of fresh food she could for her tiny son, knowing if caught, she risked a beating.
Brave Javanese traders hovered outside the barbed wire fences. On one occasion, Roma tucked a couple of coconut cookies into her clothes. But just as she approached the cell, she received a sharp blow to the back of her head from one of the guards.
By the time the guard had finished his assault, several of Roma’s ribs were broken, her head was shaved and she was covered in bruises.
But even this didn’t deter her and a few months later she smuggled in a root of ginger for her malnourished son. This time her actions resulted in solitary confinement. Afterwards Roma came to the conclusion that Arnold needed his mother more than he needed the scraps of food she’d been smuggling.
But starvation and beatings weren’t all Roma had to deal with. The women were expected to work long hours in the paddy fields until their feet became swollen and peeled from being immersed all day in the mud and water.
Infections, disease, malnutrition and rodents were rife in the camp, as was the constant threat of death. And then just as they thought things couldn’t get any worse, Roma and Noeline had to watch helplessly as little Shirley succumbed to fits and fever before finally passing away in the camp.
The weeks, turned to months and months to years. And finally in April 1945, a spy managed to smuggle a radio into the camp – and the women learnt the war was nearly over.
Soon after, Roma, Noeline and their two sons were rescued and reunited with Roma’s family in Sydney. But the horrors of the camp still remained. Arnold was painfully shy and as tall as his 13-month-old cousin. To him Camp was the only world he knew and adapting to the outside world was a challenge.
Eventually he and Roma were reunited with Leo – who had also endured internment in Singapore. But Arnold had to get to know his dad, while Leo was mourning the loss of his father who had died in the camp.
The following year the family moved to South Africa to make a fresh start. But the memories and nightmares continued.
Leo found it difficult to let go and Roma was plagued with health issues including agonising stomach cramps. Eventually after exhausting all medical treatments, a Chinese doctor recommended yoga.
It wasn’t the first time Roma had heard of this Eastern practice. In Camp, she’d been captivated by one of the older women, Madame Kaufmann, practising yoga. At the time Roma was drawn to the calmness and stillness she’d sensed from the woman.
So with a mix of trepidation and curiosity, Roma set out for Manie Finger’s, (Yogeswarananda) studio in Pretoria.
Instantly, Roma took to his gentle manner and simple instructions and began to attend classes almost daily. It wasn’t long before her health improved and within a year she was almost completely free of pain.
Yogeswarananda also taught Roma about the spiritual side of yoga, encouraging her to study the Bhagavad- Gita.
Under his guidance, Roma began to surrender her problems to the universe.
Sadly Leo wasn’t able to move forward as easily and they separated.
Roma didn’t give herself any time to wallow, instead she threw herself into her work as a model, and in 1954, the media dubbed her South Africa’s busiest model. But despite the glamour and glitz, Roma desperately missed home, so in 1957 she made the heartwrenching decision to leave South Africa – and her son, Arnold, then 16.
‘I hoped I was doing the right thing leaving him behind,’ she recalls. Arnold was happy in South Africa and remained with his father.
During her first year in Sydney, Roma stayed with her mother and brother and then moved to Potts Point in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs. She continued to model but knew that approaching 40, she’d need to find another career.
At the time, not many people in Australia had heard of yoga and Roma was keen to spread the word about this amazing practice, which had changed her life.
Yogeswarananda was convinced Roma was a natural Yogi and teacher, so using her savings, Roma established a studio in Pitt Street, central Sydney.
It didn’t take long for the students to come – including one girl, Joy McIntosh who Roma thought showed particular promise. Roma began to coach Joy and a number of other students for teaching positions.
At the same time, Roma used her networking skills to promote yoga to a wider audience. She wrote a regular yoga column for The Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mirror and began teaching yoga to the girls at the June Dally-Watkins School of Deportment.
By 1962, The Roma Blair School of Yoga was a huge success and Roma took her teachers to shopping centres across the state to demonstrate the art of yoga.
Then after a TV interview, Roma was asked by Bruce Gyngell to do a mid-morning exercise show on Channel Nine: Relaxing with Roma. The segment proved so popular it was run seven-days-a-week. And then another show commissioned for the early morning slot – Wake up and Live.
Roma managed to juggle her burgeoning TV yoga career, teacher training and classes with a glittering social life and another romance – with another Leo. In January 1962 they had an extravagant wedding.
Soon afterwards, Roma published her first book: Yoga in Pictures.
And Roma’s success in promoting yoga in Australia came to the attention of Swami Satyananda, who invited Roma to attend the first World Yoga Convention in Monghyr, India.
While there, she was bestowed the name Swami Nirmalananda, meaning ‘pure’ and ‘bliss.’
And at 43, Roma became Australia’s first female Swami.
Satyananda’s intention was clear – Roma was to spread the message of yoga from door to door and shore to shore in Australia – which, of course she did admirably!
In 1967, believing Yoga needed standardisation, she established the: IYTA – International Yoga Teachers’ Association.
‘I am very proud of it,’ she says. ‘It was my brainchild and the fact I’m still acknowledged and remembered makes me feel good!
The IYTA was designed to teach the teachers and provide a network of yoga contacts worldwide. That year, Roma organised the first World Yoga Convention in Australia at Camp Yarrimundi, Richmond. She also wrote another book; Yoga for the Family and with Joy McIntosh, produced two records: Learn to Relax and Wake up and Live.
Three years later with the Australian IYTA thriving, she set up a branch of the IYTA in Singapore.
But Roma’s love of Yoga began to cause cracks in her marriage and eventually Leo Kogos and Roma went their separate ways. For Roma it underpinned the message from the Mahabharata: no-one belongs to me; I belong to no-one.
And so Roma focused her attention on the IYTA – developing Teacher Training, regular workshops, conventions and a magazine for members – International Light.
Then in the early eighties, Roma met businessman, Joe Lubrano and fell head-over-heels in love.
In 1982, they moved to Gold Coast, Qld, and they couple began to work with a local charity group, The Giraffes – so called because they stuck their neck out for others.
But after a wonderful 15 years together, Joe eventually succumbed to a brain tumour, leaving Roma heartbroken.
Roma has now moved into a quieter phase of her life.
‘It’s time for me.’ She says. ‘But I still have time to do things and to be there for people.’
Her son, Arnold is still in South Africa and the two have a close relationship. Roma is particularly close to her granddaughter, Arnelle.
He parents and siblings have passed away, but Roma says she is surrounded by love.
She is no longer formally involved with the IYTA, but remains an avid reader of International Light and maintains her daily yoga and meditation practice.
She is amazed by just how popular yoga has become and delighted with the work still carried out by the IYTA. ‘I think the IYTA is wonderful,’ she says. ‘It really is the best thing I ever did.’
Roma celebrated her 80th with an extravagant party – finishing the night with her party piece – the splits! But sadly her days of doing the splits are now over.
Earlier this year she fell, injuring her leg, but despite having a rod in her thigh, she still practices a series of standing postures, followed by sitting poses and a 20 minute meditation – twice a day.
And as for her 90th?
‘The theme,’ she tells me, ‘is pink. Everyone needs to wear something pink, whether it’s a scarf or an entire outfit.’ And Roma will definitely be dressing up for the occasion.
Her brown eyes sparkle and her skin, barely lined, has a rosy glow – which she attributes of course to yoga (and to the moisturiser she applies regularly!).
‘That’s one of the good things about getting old,’ she laughs. ‘You have lots of time to moisturise!’
Her other beauty tips are to avoid the sun, remove make-up at night and never dress like an old woman!’
As she heads off to meet friends for lunch, I know there is no chance of that…
Roma’s life is detailed in the book: Roma – from Prison to Paradise, by Rachel Syers and Karin Cox, 2004, New Holland.
This story is based on information from the book and an interview with Roma Blair.
Roma’s tips for yoga teachers:
* Never think you know it all, as none of us ever do.
* Always be on time and dress presentably
* Don’t tell your class your troubles – you’re there to help your students and not yourself!
We spoke with Chandrika Gibson about her yoga journey, the wonders of the nervous system and the Polyvagal ladder…
Q: What is your yoga journey and what work are you currently doing?
My brother and I started yoga when we were children thanks to a small Indian yoga book that somehow found its way into our home. It felt like a homecoming when I first attended a class aged 20. I had the privilege of learning from some wonderful teachers in WA including Iyengar Yoga electives during my naturopathy studies, and many wonderful classes, satsangs and philosophy talks at Beacon Yoga Centre (Sivananda Ashram). I graduated as a yoga teacher in 2005 and began teaching classes for people with cancer almost immediately. I have also taught corporate classes, pregnancy, parent and baby, and children’s yoga, as well as alcohol and drug recovery programs. Along the way I have undertaken further Anatomy & Physiology training at Masters level, yin yoga teacher training and more.
I have been employed by Cancer Council WA, Endeavour College of Natural Medicine, Cancer Support WA, and am currently a Research and Education Consultant for Solaris Cancer Care. I’ve been on the faculty for Wisdom Yoga Institute (formerly Yoga Space) teacher training since 2007, and developed a post graduate Yoga Therapy training in 2012, which was the first program of its kind in Australia to be accredited by the International Association of Yoga Therapists. Along with seeing private yoga therapy clients and teaching in my home studio Surya Health, I am currently in my final year of a PhD at Curtin University investigating compassion-based interventions for people with head and neck cancer.
Q: What is Polyvagal theory and how did you first discover it?
Polyvagal Theory was originally developed by Stephen Porges in 1994 and posits that the tenth cranial nerve known as the Vagus (meaning wandering) nerve is central to the autonomic nervous system responses to threat and safety. I first came across this theory in relation to pranayama as I was curious about the mechanisms by which yogic practices influence the mind by altering the body and vice versa. I have been investigating Polyvagal Theory more intensively recently as it is relevant to the trauma experienced by participants in my PhD research.
Q: Why is it beneficial for yoga teachers to understand this concept?
Yoga teachers are well placed to support people who have experienced trauma, those living with mental ill health, pain, chronic illness, or simply not thriving due to the many stressors of modern life. Our impact on our communities is powerful and we have numerous techniques in our repertoires that can quickly help students climb the Polyvagal Ladder (see diagram). It’s helpful for yoga professionals to understand the ‘why’ behind what we do, and to consciously work to make our classes, studios, workshops, and courses, healing spaces. Polyvagal Theory adds to our understanding of the nervous system, anatomy, physiology, and the human experience. Teachers and students are in an intricate dance and this understanding of how our brains, nervous systems, and bodies influence each other is both fascinating and practical.
Q: What will participants be doing in your workshop?
In this two hour workshop we will cover the fundamentals of Polyvagal Theory, look up close at the anatomy of the Vagus Nerve, and discuss how yoga techniques can move people from dysregulated states for example, “numbed out” or hyperaroused “sympathetic” states, and return to “ventral vagal” – the biological seat of safety and connection. The theory component will lead into a workshop style class where we will experience and reflect on the effect of yoga practices including asana, pranayama, and chanting through the lens of Polyvagal Theory.
Q: How does the polyvagal theory complement a restorative yoga practice/ yin yoga/ meditation practice?
Polyvagal Theory explains a great deal of how and why restorative yoga, yin and meditation can support healing. It can also explain why sometimes these practices are distressing, confronting, or uncomfortable for students, and how we can make them safer, more inclusive and effective for our students.
Q: Do you plan to run this workshop across Australia? What are the next plans you have?
I would love to bring this workshop to yoga teachers across Australia. My plans for 2020 are largely to complete the PhD and so my teaching capacity will likely expand in 2021.
If you are lucky enough to be in WA – then book on now for Chandrika’s workshop.
It’s on Sunday, April 5 from 9.30am – 11.30am at the Greenwood Yoga Academy in Wangara. More details here:
My name is Alyssa Bird and I am the new Post-grad Manager for the Seniors Chair Yoga, Restorative, and Pranayama & Meditation courses.
I am a mum to three young daughters and live in Manly, NSW, where I enjoy being by the ocean and spending time with my husband and kids.
My yoga journey began ten years ago when I was doing a lot of running, and I decided to try out some kind of stretching and strengthening exercise to compliment my exercise routine. I’d always been curious about Yoga, so I went along to my local Vinyasa class to try it out. I went in thinking I would be doing some easy stretching, but came out 90 minutes later sweating and amazed and how challenging it was and how much upper body strength I lacked! I kept going back because I loved the physical workout, and it really did help my running! I began going along to short courses run by the teacher on Yogic Psychology, Pranayama, and Meditation. After my first experience of a full Yoga Nidra, I was hooked!
When I had my first baby, I had to slow my practice down and fell in love with the slower pace and deep restorative poses in the prenatal classes I attended. Since then my yoga practice has guided me through the ups and downs of raising three children away from family support, and a relocation from NZ to Australia. It has allowed me to deepen my connection to my intuition and opened up a spiritual practice for me, becoming an instrumental part of my daily life.
After I had my third baby, I had time to complete my Yoga Teacher Training with IYTA in 2019, which I absolutely loved, and which took my personal practice to the next level. I have recently started covering classes as I dip my toes into teaching. I feel like I have been so well prepared through my training last year and I am so excited to progress in this journey.
My role involves liaising with the lecturers in setting up the courses, taking enrolments and being the point of contact for each course. Making sure the course participants have all the information required and helping them navigate our online platform. I look forward to working with the IYTA team to bring existing and new courses to various locations around Australia!
This role came along shortly after my youngest started preschool and offers the flexibility I require as a stay at home mum, so it felt like the stars aligned and the perfect opportunity! I feel so lucky and excited to be part of an organisation that I have learnt so much from and even better that it’s all about my passion: Yoga!
Rebecca found her face-to-face classes have moved almost seamlessly online – here’s how she’s made the transition:
For someone who hasn’t had a TV for ten years it really did seem crazy for me to do something so modern as to teach yoga online.
In reality I was inspired by ancient yogic text, The Bhagavad Gita, where Krsna counselled Arjuna to ‘do your duty’. I was also guided by the Yama of Ahimsa, non-harming.
As news of this highly infectious virus, Covid-19 came through, it became evident that to do my duty while doing no harm would require some changes. I run seven yoga classes from my home studio every week so I decided to confer with all my students in early March.
We were already washing our hands and mats as well as having hand sanitiser where we keep our pens and sign in cards. From our discussions some students wanted to stagger smaller classes, others suggested classes in the park or beach. I am forever grateful to one student, Tanya Silveira, a talented music therapist who mentioned she has been teaching online using Zoom and offered to show me how.
It was so easy to set up a $20 a month account (which gives us hour long classes instead of the 40 minute limit on the free Zoom option) schedule the week’s classes and email students their regular class invitations at the beginning of every week. Administration was further simplified as for the last few years the students have been buying 10 class passes, (I have them printed with Vistaprint, they are like the reward cards you see in coffee shops). The only difference now is that I fill out their sign in cards for them with the date and take a quick photo on my phone and text it through for their records.
I believe that my IYTA teacher training deserves to be highlighted and applauded here, as all I had to do was apply the health and safety training I learnt so many years ago; display your qualifications, have insurance, have students fill out an online student consent form and ensure that both the teacher and student can see and hear each other at all times.
But what amazed me was the really positive response! I have learnt so much from the feedback. Students texted that they felt really supported by keeping their regular routine in a time that is far from regular and where most of their daily routines have been upended. Some students who are now working from home have opted to book even more classes as they love being able to access not just the physical benefits of yoga, but also the support that pranayama and meditation bring to their mental health. Other students who are now interstate or overseas joined the classes online and were thrilled to catch up with their old friends.
Because of their valuable feedback I have been emphasising regularity, familiarity and Sangha or association.
The yoga room is set up so that the students can see all the things they did when they came to my physical classes; the wall mandala, yoga props, plants and salt lamp.
Even more exciting has been witnessing a deepening of Sangha. We open the class a little early and check how everyone is doing. Students have been able to support each other, particularly those who have lost work due to the Covid-19 restrictions. Importantly, students have also been able to share jokes and happy news, even the announcement of pregnancy!
I understand that yoga is a pretty big tent and that what works for some does not work for every one. However I am happy to share my experience and hope that others will see teaching yoga on an interactive online platform as a viable option. If I can do it, anyone can.
As yoga teachers we know how to be flexible in body and mind, but the Coronavirus has challenged this adaptability in ways that none of us could have imagined. Whether we taught in studios, gyms, community centres or with groups of friends, we’ve each had to reinvent ourselves, and in many cases learn new skills in a matter of days.
This has meant teaching online – figuring out the technical issues of live streaming and working out our Zoom from our Loom (yes, that’s a thing too!) while still looking after our families and keeping ourselves centred and sane.
Every day seems to bring about new challenges and hurdles to overcome. Yet change doesn’t have to be negative – there are positives that come from even the bleakest situation and that is what we need to hold on to.
As an organisation IYTA has had to overcome its own issues – from quickly adapting the Diploma of Yoga Teaching course from a face-to-face learning environment to fully online with interactive lectures – somehow Astrid and Amy managed to do this with the support of the DYT lecturers and last weekend saw the latest IYTA DYT students adapting amazingly well to this style of learning.
We’ve all had to navigate this new world. Personally, I’ve been running live, online yoga classes via Zoom and have recorded classes too – it’s been a roller-coaster ride. I’ve had moments where I’ve thought this will work and possibly prove even better than before and other moments when I’ve crumpled in a heap on my yoga mat feeling dejected and disheartened.
I’m certainly not an expert and I’ve been learning as I go, but here are ten things I’ve learnt from this experience so far…
LIVE and ONLINE: Nothing beats live, online yoga classes. Sure pre-recorded classes are great but no substitute for the interaction and connection that you get in face-to-face classes. You can get this connection online – it is possible. A chat at the start of the class, a quick check-in during and a chat at the end of the class. Anyone who doesn’t want to talk can simply unmute themselves or switch their video off. Encourage your students to book classes with you – either as a course or a one off class or workshop and conduct the lesson by Zoom.
COMMUNICATE: There’s a lot of free content out there, but it varies in quality.. Communicate with your students – tell them what you are planning to do and keep them informed. They are likely to feel stressed, uncertain and in need to routine and relaxation. Yoga is particularly important at this time for you and your students. Send out an email via your database (if you have one) and your Facebook page (if you have one).
ZOOM: This seems to have been the buzz word of the month. If you haven’t already, download it – it’s free. I’ve found this is the easiest platform to navigate – it’s here: https://zoom.us/downloadYou don’t have to pay a membership but you can upgrade to the pro plan which is around $20 a month and means you will have up to 24 hour meeting/session times and up to 100 participants. The free version will switch off after around 40 minutes and you’ll have to schedule another meeting.
HAVE A PLAY: Once you have Zoom – play around with it. There are videos on the Zoom website which will help you understand the features, and you can even book into a live webinar – these are in US times – so either in the middle of the night or at 8am! But it’s a great idea to experiment with a few friends on the site first. Have fun with it – you can create virtual backgrounds or upload a photo of your own for the background(great if you have kids running around or dishes piled up in the sink!).
EQUIPMENT: Once you have your Zoom set up – you may need to purchase some equipment… this is a bit of a challenge as the world and its dog has bought every web cam and wireless microphone ever made… but if you do get hold of them great. If not, don’t worry! You can still do this with the camera on your device and the computer audio. It’s just a bit sharper and clearer with the web cam and microphone.
LIGHTING: – this is very important. You don’t want to be in shadow – so play with the image that your students are likely to see. Put a light behind the camera to light up your face – and be mindful of the background. I’ve got a white screen door behind me – which you’d think would be great, but if the light is too strong then it creates a flickering effect. If you are using outdoor light then be mindful the lighting conditions will change and for consistency it might be better to close blinds and curtains and use indoor lighting. You don’t have to spend much, a spot light from Target or K-Mart might be all you need or just rummage around your house and nick everyone’s bedside lamps!
YOUR YOGA SPACE: This about your studio set up or space – create a warm, uncluttered and inviting environment. Have your yoga props around and perhaps even your pet can join in!? My puppy Minty used to wait patiently at the door of my yoga studio while I taught and now she can curl up at my feet as I teach – she loves it and I’m sure it makes it a bit more entertaining and reassuring for my students!
PRICING: Run a free trial class for your students – this way they are more likely to join you and it’s a good idea to keep to your usual yoga class days and times – so you retain the routine. Don’t be disheartened if you don’t get a huge response – everyone is dealing with their own stresses, it might just take a couple of messages to check in with them or a call to check they are ok. Decide if you want to continue to teach for free or add short video sequences online and then longer paid classes. There’s a lot of free content online, but we still need to make a living! You may want to continue to charge what you did for face-to-face or offer discounts if your students are suffering financial strain. It’s up to you.
OTHER OPTIONS: You might like to try Instagram Live or Facebook Live – I’ve not had time to investigate these options. I do know that Facebook owns the content – so it’s important to bear that in mind when recording classes. You can also record via Zoom or your device and then upload the videos on to Vimeo or You Tube. I’m still investigating these options! That’ll be my next blog
BE YOURSELF: It won’t be perfect. Far from it. I’ve recorded and re-recorded lots of times – there’s the neighbour’s barking dog that is bound to go off when you do your Yoga Nidra or you’ll simply feel a bit odd delivering a class to a screen – you can still see your students on the gallery, but it is totally different to teaching face-to-face. You may even find that some classes are a bit easier – there’s no rent to pay and the commute is easy – good luck and remember to let us know how you go
We’ll be running regular blog posts* like this one from Rebecca Lean on how some of our IYTA members are making that transition to virtual studios and online. We’ll include their advice and tips for what has worked and hasn’t worked!
My restorative yoga journey began many years ago when I introduced some poses within my pre-natal yoga class… at first the students were a little bemused when I demonstrated Reclining Goddess – suddenly we were more like engineers than yogis – using blocks like building bricks and carefully folding blankets.
But it didn’t take long for the students to crave the poses. Within a couple of sessions they were easing their aching shoulders over an inclined bolster – enjoying the seemingly instant relief from bothersome heartburn.
Blankets would be beautifully wrapped around feet and legs – the weight promoting a sense of security and safety. And as the tips of thumbs lightly touched index fingers in Gyana Mudra, minds would begin to let go, inviting a gentle slide into the natural rhythm of their breath and body…
After five to ten minutes I’d coax the students out of the shape, but most simply wanted to stay put in the loving embrace of the earth.
And that’s when I could see the true beauty of Restorative Yoga. A practice which gives you time to explore the physical body, truly connect with your energy levels, to sit with your emotions – suspending judgment and expectations.
As the pose was held it was an opportunity to explore more deeply – to connect with the intellectual and spiritual bodies… and in time noticing muscular tension dissolving, heart rates slowing and frustration evaporating.
I found myself bringing Restorative Yoga poses into my general classes too. It became standard practice to use blankets and blocks to fill in gaps within postures, to create support, comfort, stillness and softness.
To practice Ahimsa – kindness, especially in this crazy, busy world where we are all overscheduled and overwhelmed.
Personally and professionally I have embraced this practice wholeheartedly.
Now in my general classes I teach a blend of Hatha postures and practices with Restorative Yoga movements and shapes. I also teach specific Restorative Yoga classes – connected with the season or perhaps with an issue such as anxiety.
And I’ve been lucky enough to create a two-day course in this beautifully nurturing practice for the IYTA. The first day focuses on understanding what Restorative Yoga is, exploring stress and how it affects the mind and body, the benefits of this practice and setting up a safe space. The second day focuses on poses which require more props –how to use the props as well as teaching practice and tools to explore within each pose.
It’s a wonderful two day retreat – where you will rest, rejuvenate and relax at the same time as discovering new techniques and tips to integrate Restorative Yoga into your general, yin, pre and post-natal classes and run specific Restorative Yoga classes.
Here are a couple of comments from students who attended our recent training:
“I loved the lecturer’s positivity and personable presentation. A perfect balance of practice and theory – hard to attain.
The audio lecture pre-course was outstanding to set the academic scene. Excellent. The content of power point/presentation was succinct, achievable and questions were thoroughly answered.”
“Katie has a lovely calming manner and a wealth of knowledge about restorative yoga. I’m very relaxed and I’m sure my students will be too.”
Many of us have struggled to wish people Happy New Year when a large proportion of country is on fire. It’s soul destroying seeing images of people losing homes, animals suffering and our beautiful flora being wiped away.
But what is heart-warming is seeing how the community has come together to help – and as yoga teachers, we can all play our part – offering our wonderful classes while raising vital funds and awareness.
This is what one IYTA teacher has been doing – Julie Atkinson was devastated when she saw the news footage of the fires, so at the weekend she held her first class by donation in Melbourne to help raise funds for Firesticks an indigenous organisation which teaches cultural practices to fire management.
Julie has been an IYTA member since 1989 when she completed her Diploma of Yoga Teaching. She’s been holding classes ever since and is also a shiatsu practitioner and qualified in Okido Yoga.
This isn’t the first time Julie has stepped up to help – after the Black Saturday fires in Victoria in 2009, Julie took her massage chair and made several visits to Kinglake – massaging volunteer firefighters and members of the community.
Julie says: ‘The weather forecast for this day was for extreme temperatures and strong winds and despite many warnings in place, 173 people lost their lives.’
Julie was so moved by the loss of life and properties that when a call went out for massage therapists, she jumped at the chance to do something to help.
She says: ‘Arriving at the camp set up near Kinglake -one of the most severely affected communities – at the nearby Whittlesea Showgrounds for the CFA & other emergency service workers just tore at my heartstrings. There were so many people offering their help, working behind the scenes …an incredible amount of food donated and such a feeling of kindness and goodwill.
‘The people who came for the massages include firies, emergency service workers, people from the local communities & victims of the fire. Through your hands you could feel you were making a difference to tight overworked muscles and in relieving stress and other emotions. People were very grateful and appreciative of our help and the massages were very popular.’
Julie and her husband Roger a retired meteorologist, often take motorbike rides through the Victorian & NSW High Country – areas such as Mount Kosciuszko, Mount Hotham and Falls Creek – areas which have been severely affected by the recent bushfires.
She says: ‘We love all these beautiful places and communities and really feel for all those affected in so many ways. I usually sit on the back of the motorbike taking photos of the beautiful country that we ride through and can only imagine the devastation that has taken place. I remembered Black Saturday & wanted to do something no matter how small to make a difference.’
She adds: ‘I have friends making bat wraps & pouches for koalas and wanted to find a way that I could help. I feel that yoga is a wonderful way to help others who are not directly impacted (although we pretty much all are now with the hazardous air that we are breathing) are feeling overwhelmed with all the heartbreaking news.
Traditional Chinese Medicine teaches that anxiety, overthinking and sympathy are the emotions which affect our earth element and Okido Yoga offers various practices to help ground us and nourish the stomach and spleen – the organs and meridians associated with the Earth element. Its practices include partner and group exercises which help forge connections and a sense of community.
So Julie decided to take action and last Saturday held her first class. She says: ‘I was offered a room to teach, so I made up an event in Facebook. I didn’t know how popular it would be – but within a couple of days I had about 84 people interested and 12 people saying they’d come! It was a bit of a squeeze – but ten people turned up and the class went really well.’
Julie made a total of $230 from the class which has gone to the Firesticks.
She focused on helping people feel connected to the energy of the earth and poses to relieve anxiety and clear the mind. At the end the students did a heart opening visualisation.
It’s been an action-packed year with four successful events: a teachers’ catch up in February, an interesting and informative morning with Reiki practitioner Kelly Ayoub on the Authentic Self in May, The IYTA Seniors Yoga Course presented by Beryl Broadbent at the end of June and a workshop on myofascial aspects of yoga with Kellie Brett and Justin Kiely in August.
Our rep Pam is already planning 2020 – so make sure you check out our Jan enews for dates and details!
ACT and Surrounding Regions
During the first half of the year, Glynis Whitfield ran a one-day workshop looking at An Exploration of the Yoga Energy System.
The second half of the year saw three mini events with the introduction of Sunday Sangha’s. Designed to be simple, free 2-3 hour local opportunities for fellow teachers to gather, learn from each other, sing and celebrate all things Yoga.
The ACT committee was and is committed to creating regular opportunities for our local members to come along, tapping into some excellent talks by fellow experienced teachers, catching up with old friends and making new ones, and supporting our teaching community. The generosity of teachers was evident in the way people attended, volunteered their studio, time and knowledge on a vast range of topics.
Our ever-popular AGM and Annual Retreat was held in the beautiful grounds of the Brahma Kumaris in Wilton, NSW. And Karen Nicoll ran a fabulous workshop on yoga for Hips and Shoulders. There were also numerous post-graduate trainings on Yin, Meditation and Pranayama and Seniors Yoga.
Mary-Louise Parkinson ran a soothing session titled: Nourish your Body, Mind and Spirit. There were also fun Sanghas held throughout the year and the Qld members flew the flag for the IYTA at the Sunshine Coast’s Yoga Fest event.
In 2020 there are already plans for Sanghas in March – including one Sangha on the Sunshine Coast. Plus, there’s a Somatic Yoga workshop in July with Katrina Hinton.
Beryl Broadbent ran her popular Senior Yoga course at the end of the year.
And there are plans for more workshops next year.
As we move into 2020 we’ll be unveiling an exciting timetable of trainings, workshops and events.
Jo Blackman and June Greenwood – two loyal IYTA members were both awarded with Life Membership at the 2019 AGM in Wilton, NSW. And Mary-Louise Parkinson and Dyan Ostrow were given a Certificate of Appreciation.
“It was a great honour for me to receive the IYTA Life Membership Award, and completely unexpected. I was very disappointed not to be able to attend the celebrations as I was travelling overseas (in Japan). One never thinks of one’s own efforts as being so great but as just doing what you can and part of the collective.
“I completed the TTC in 1987 and over this time I have seen so many people give so much of their time and energy so freely. Often quietly without drawing attention to themselves. Each with their own vision to incrementally ensure the IYTA grows and remains vibrant and engaging to a very different yoga teaching world that 30 and 50 years ago. I have seen so many lives transformed including my own.
“While I no longer teach, I still feel very much part of the IYTA family. This is one of the IYTA greatest strengths – a membership for everyone.”
Jo Blackman, Dulwich Hill, NSW
“I completed my IYTA training in 1985 after going to India with Howard Kent and group from Australia. While there, I met Mary Johnson and she convinced me and to do the IYTA course – which I did by correspondence. After graduating I worked as Treasurer for the South QLD group and organised lots of workshops just about every weekend!
“Over the years I have nominated and mentored many students to do the IYTA Teacher Training Course as I felt that it was the best course available.
“I was also on the panel of assessors for students doing their class for the finals of their teacher training course when assessments were held in Brisbane.
“IYTA – has been my life and it’s formed me. I’ve loved everything about it from the friendships to the students, the course, everything. I taught continually from when I graduated to just a year ago when I took a break from teaching.
Olivia Hammerschmidt is one of our Post Graduate Managers – we’ve asked her a few questions so you can get to know her a little better…
Olivia Hammerschmidt with IYTA Mascot Opal
Q: What is your role with IYTA?
I work part-time on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. I look after some of our post-graduate teacher training courses: Yin yoga, Pre & Post-natal yoga and Restorative yoga. This entails answering member and non-member queries, liaising with the lecturers, organising training weekends, communicating with participants. I also manage IYTA’s Social Media such as Facebook, Instagram and Google.
Q: When, why and how did you become a yoga teacher?
I started teaching in 2016, then really ramping my classes up in 2017 to about 18 classes a week, but now just 13 classes – a lot more manageable. I also teach Pilates.
Q: How did you discover IYTA?
Since I was young, I have always known of IYTA as a credible and reputable association.
Q: Why do you love your IYTA?
I love this organisation because I work with really fun and down to earth people. I enjoy talking with members about all things yoga and getting involved in all the events and training sessions we run.
Q: What is your personal practice?
Every Wednesday morning is my set time for personal practice – it’s my opportunity to visit new things or try out the old or work out new combinations for myself. Often then, I’ll introduce it into my classes for the following week. Saturday afternoons or evening I often hit the books to learn more about various things, especially functional anatomy.
Q: What can members do to help you in your role?
I would love members to make more use of our Facebook and Instagram forum by sending me news items that I can post on our page to inspire, encourage other members and visitors.
Q: What are your favourite things to do in your spare time?
Cooking up storms, eating, all things cheese, bike riding, hanging out with friends and our kids, playing outdoors and aerial yoga!
Feeling a little restless? Then it could be the transition from Winter to Spring, help ease your mind and body into the new season with this nurturing Yin sequence
The Chinese believe that the seasons have a direct influence on our mind, body and hence the organs of the body, with relative excess qi and blood in different organs, meridians and collaterals in different seasons.
In spring the extra qi and blood heads to the liver organ, you can see it as the yang qi in the body starts expanding and growing and moving to disperse upwards and outwards. From a mental perspective, you feel growth, expansion, ideas that start embracing new opportunities and allowing an enthusiastic energy to flourish.
But be warned, the Chinese ancients have an old saying, for good health, you are best “Muffling the body in spring and freezing the body in autumn” – so wear the proper amount of clothing to keep the body warm to resist wind and cold, allows the human body conform gradually to the spring climatic changes.
So, the Liver, Gall bladder and the Spring energy is sensitive to wind and draughts and you might also notice disturbances of the Gall Bladder during 11pm to 1am and for the Liver 1am to 3am (so a night on the town with plenty of wine – you might well wake in the middle of the night).
So in this series of five yin postures, we will stimulate the connective tissue along the path of the Liver meridian and provide breathing and meditations that echoes that theme of growth and expansion.
1. Wide Knee Child Pose (Tadpole)
A good starting point to find the ground and bring your mind to the mat. In this pose I have chosen not to have props and keep it simple. Take care with those with knee issues and support your body weight as needed to take the pressure out.
Breathing: Soft Chui or Golden Thread breath: Passively in through the nose and soft, slow, steady, smooth exhale through pursed lips.
Feeling the body soften as you exhale. This is a descending energy bringing you to the mat – and nurturing your foundation ready to grow.
2. Shoe Lace
Folding left leg over right – feel the pressure along the inner leg and groin. If there is tightness in the hips (or pain in your knees, sit on a folded blanket. Alternatively sit with legs crossed (NB: care with hip replacements).
Apana Mudra Link thumb to middle two fingers – little and index straight
Gertrud Hirschi (in Mudras: Yoga in your Hands) suggests that used regularly this mudra stimulates the liver and “The power of the liver gives a person patience, serenity, hope and a vision for the future.”
Repeat the other side. And then release the hips coming onto your hands and knees, close your eyes and move with a simple cat/cow or as your intuition suggests.
Before starting this pose, get a feel for the meridian path of the Liver. The liver meridian begins at the inside of the nail of the big toe and runs along the top of the foot. It climbs the front of the ankle and up the inside of the leg until the pubic area. From here it curves around the external genitalia and goes into the lower abdomen where it enters the liver and gall bladder. Rising higher it branches into several directions with one branch connecting to the lung meridian. Rising still higher it follows the throat and connects with the eyes before branching again – one across the cheek and circles the lips with the higher one crosses the forehead to the crown where it links with the GV meridian.
See how the Dragon pose finds a way to follow the path from the foot to the chest. Then, use the breath to “brush and clear” with your awareness. Inhale up the meridian and exhale back down. The Chinese phrase “yi tao, qi tao” comes in handy here and translated suggests – where the mind/intention goes, qi follows.
So, from hands and knees step left foot to hands and slide the right foot/knee back. Feel appropriate pressure to the groin to the left and an open tension to the right. Chest can rest on your left thigh. Hands to the floor or on blocks. If you are hypermobile you might like to have a bolster under the back thigh to lean into. Neck issues keep the alignment and draw the crown of the head forward and up.
Often when I practice Dragon Pose, I pause between the left and right side, to lie in Savasana and feel the energetic changes that the pose has given and then repeat on the other side and feel again.
Finding a comfortable seated Butterfly. I love the noodles supporting my shins. You might also like to have a folded blanket under your pelvis if your hamstrings are tight.
The Wood element contains the power and pleasure of springtime, of new beginnings, of tackling and shaping visions of the future.
“Let us close our eyes and imagine:
A walk in nature, perhaps a nearby woodland… be with your family… appreciate the flowers… and scenery around you (pause)… Together with your family, imagine yourself begin to skip – feeling youthful and light… maybe beginning to sing and dance… Feel a sense of lightness… Freedom… See the sunlight in shafts of light enchanting the scenery in glades… Feel the gentle breezes and hear the stirring of the branches above your head… See the bright fresh new leaves… hear the birds calling excitedly from the boughs above… Enjoy a sense of harmony with the nature.“
Rest in Savasana and allow the effects of the postures, breathing and visualisation to resonate through your being.
Sarah Manning was trained by Bernie Clark and has been teaching yin yoga teacher training since 2008 in Shanghai, Australia and Singapore.
Reference for further exploration of this theme:
Bernie Clark: The Complete guide to Yin Yoga
Bernie Clark: www.yinyoga.com
Ted Kaptchuk OMD – The Web That has no weaver – Chapter 3 – The Organs of the Body – Liver and Gallbladder characteristics
Mudras by Gertrud Hirschi – Apan Mudra page 74
Sarah Powers – Insight Yoga – Chapter 8 – The Liver and Gallbladder
“The Taoists thought a healthy liver chi so central to well-being that they nicknamed it “the general of the army”. It is the military leader who excels in strategic planning, making sure the flow of energy within us happens harmoniously.; Liver chi co-ordinates and regulates the movement of chi everywhere within us, which is responsible for creating an easy-going disposition and internal atmosphere.
Liver chi balances the emotions. When we have a liver chi imbalance, we have a propensity for uneven, irregular emotions; chronic anger; explosive impulsivity; a defence of personal boundaries and awkward social behaviour.
When we are experiencing liver chi imbalances it is helpful to diminish our preoccupation with our irritations and gently turn to our feelings. Increase our sensitivity towards ourselves and how to stay attentive and connected to our bodies.
A healthy Liver chi is related to our capacity to make plans and put them into action, exerting a sense of control. The essential feature is flexibility and an ability to change and adapt. When there is frustration in the system it is hard to think or plan.
An excess of liver/gallbladder chi we tend to make rash decisions and when depleted we experience hesitation and timidity.
John Shaw is manning our IYTA stand at the 2019 Sunshine Coast Yoga Fest and will be presenting a Hatha Yoga class at the event.
He says: “I will be teaching a gentle Hatha yoga class to give new and also experienced students the experience of exploring the breath and being in their bodies with movement and stretching.”
John began practicing yoga in 1996 with Lesleigh Camm in Toowoomba. With Lesleigh’s encouragement he did the IYTA’s diploma of Yoga Teaching in 2000-2001. He then taught with Lesleigh at her school until 2012 when he relocated to the Sunshine Coast.
John now teaches one small class each week and says: “Yoga has changed my life and made me a more confident person and I have made many great friends in that time.
“I was lucky to have great teachers through IYTA during my course with Moina Bower as president.
“Over the years besides Lesleigh, people such as Matthew O’Malveny, Louise Wiggins have been great influences on my teaching and I have been lucky to do workshops with Donna Fahri, Michael Lee, Dr Ananada Balyogi Bhavanni and many others associated with IYTA.”
Would you like to get involved and help out at IYTA? Please contact us – we’re always looking for volunteers!
Gary Drummond has come on board to help manage the increasing array of Post Graduate courses offered by the IYTA. Gary is working alongside Olivia Hammerschmidt on the IYTA’s Yin, Seniors, Pre and Post Natal and Meditation and Pranayama courses.
Q: What does your role involve?
I am managing the Seniors and Meditation & Pranayama courses while Olivia takes care of the Yin and Pre and Post Natal Yoga courses.
It’s early days but my new role at the moment is ensuring our students have support before and during courses. I assist with any questions and follow up with the instructors when need be. Once a student purchases a course / workshop I set their access up. I am also responsible for assisting with setting up the workshops for those courses.
Q: Why did you decide to take on the new role?
I have learnt recently to not overthink things, as in I try to follow my gut response (first response). When I was informed about the role I said yes straight away, so intuition.
Q: Why should people consider doing the post graduate courses?!
Post graduate courses are one way of staying current about what is happening in the yoga space. All the IYTA instructors are leaders in the yoga world so we are really fortunate. One of the great things about the courses and workshops is that you meet lots of other people, so therefore it’s also an opportunity to really immerse yourself in yoga and learn from other students.
Q: What do you do the rest of the time you aren’t working in this role?!
My hobbies are taking photos and this year I had a book of my photos printed, so that was very cool.
Q: Any other jobs?
I call them my “Portfolio of Revenue” so lots of jobs to make up my earnings. I work as a project manager at Telstra Broadcast Services 4 days week. The Telstra job being currently my main “investor” at the moment!
Other jobs include: teaching yoga at Manly Yoga, setting up a mens’ yoga and circle at Manly Yoga with another bloke, setting up an international men’s group online.
Working as a qualified life coach and writing a book. So there’s a lot going on!
Q: your personal yoga practice?
I practice pranayama and meditation everyday as well as doing my own yoga practices.
A Dru Yoga Energy Block release and Yoga Nidra have been suggested as a way of rounding the year off. If you would like to contribute by presenting one of these or have some other topic you wish to explore, we would like to hear from you.
If you are interested in coming to a future Sangha but are unable to make this one please get in touch. We would love to see as many yogis participate so please RSVP via this email as space is limited.
Many hands make light work and we recently farewelled long standing committee member Glynis Whitfied, who has taken off for her 4wd life adventure. If you would like to volunteer on the committee please give me a call to learn more about how you can get involved.
Martha Luksza, IYTA’s ACT Representative
Remember to check the IYTA website regularly for news, tutorials, further study, discounts, job opportunities, articles and other workshop offerings that you may be interested in attending.
Please feel free to send your ideas, suggestions and comments by either calling or emailing ACT Rep Martha.
NB: For safety sake we don’t publish personal contact info on general blog pages, so if you don’t have Martha’s contact details, please contact us and we’ll connect you.
I completed my IYTA 460 hour Diploma in Yoga Teacher Training in December 2018, which I undertook after much research of yoga trainings on offer both in Australia and overseas. I started the course to dive deeper into learning more about yoga and its many aspects and wasn’t sure if would take up teaching yoga but as the course unfolded my confidence and desire to teach grew.
As I work full time in executive management, I’m not about to open a yoga studio sometime soon but I have been holding free weekly yoga lunch time sessions at work which keeps me honing my teaching skills.
I have also held a yoga class over the Easter long weekend in a community hall at Second Valley on the beautiful Fleurieu peninsula which was such a lovely experience that I’ll be holding more classes in other locations.
My style is simple and gentle, coordinating movement with breath and providing a safe, relaxing, fun and nurturing space. I reside in beautiful Adelaide and noticed that IYTA did not have a state representative for SA so I’ve put my hand up.
I look forward to getting together with other IYTA graduates in SA to brainstorm some ideas for Yoga workshops and events, so this will be my first task.