The Merudandasana Challenge – Before & After (+ weeks 5 & 6)

Hello McFlys.  Guess what? – Mission ACCOMPLISHED!!

I hope you are as excited about my Before and After shots as I am.  This improvement came from 6 weeks of regular, graded practice targeting hip flexibility and core strength (3 times per week).  Now, the focus is on maintenance (a good, targeted hip stretch around 3 times a week).

There is monumental satisfaction (with a smidgeon of smugness) that comes from setting a goal, committing to the process, and achieving progress.  Of course, strictly yogically-speaking, we aim not to attach too much to outcomes – but well… to challenge the logic, that’s an attachment to an outcome in itself.  So, with that in mind…

LOOK WHAT I MADE IN MY BODY! {runs around like kermit waving arms in the air}.  

Everybody can PROGRESS their practice, regardless of age and ability.  Have a go yer mugs.  Take a before and after shot and send it to me!  Then we can all relish in your glory.




If you’d like to jump on board the Merudandasana Challenge, you can find Weeks 1-4 home pracs in my last two blogs.  Click here for Weeks 5 & 6.

(c) Copyright The Yoga Experiment, 2014





The 6 week Merudandasana Challenge

Hello Peoples,

It’s been awhile.  It’s so good to connect with you and kick off a new year feeling newly inspired!

My 2014 teaching year starts with a yoga asana challenge for my yoga pilates students.  I thought I would share the home practices with you, in case you would like to jump on board?  For optimum results, practice this three times a week (according to the exercise science, strengthening will work once a week but flexibility needs a little more attention).  While my students get the in-class demonstration of all the poses, if you’re doing this from a distance, feel free to ask me any questions on those practices you’re unfamiliar with, or Google is a great friend too.  Please note: full merudandasana is not suitable for people with sciatica, high blood pressure, heart conditions or slipped disc.

If you are joining us – PLEASE take a BEFORE photo after your first session in full merudandasana, so you can take another photo at the end of the 6 weeks and glory in your progress!!  You can start this challenge AT ANY LEVEL – you will progess no matter your starting point.  Watch it unfold!  (I will be posting my own before and after shots at the end of the challenge because I, myself, cannot do the full merudandasana (hamstrings and hips need work!)).  

Excited?  Yes!  A goal is always a great motivator and all the groundwork has been done for you here and you get it all for free!  Feel free to share if you have friends who might be interested!

Merudandasana (Spinal Column Pose) is purported to: tone the abdominal organs, especially the liver (for the wine/beer lovers among us…); strengthen the abdominal muscles (goodbye paunch!); stimulate intestinal peristalsis (ergo, helps you poo efficiently); strengthen and realign the spine (no more buzzard posture!); remove tiredness from the legs; strengthen the knees; and balance the entire nervous system.  Good Lord!  Why wouldn’t you have a go?



Keep your eyes peeled for Home Practices 2 & 3, which will progress the intensity levels and introduce new practices.  If you want a PDF of the home practice, shoot me an email and I’ll send you one.

Love to all.  Have fun!

Jen xx

(c) Copyright The Yoga Experiment, 2014.

p.s. As a teacher, feel free to use this home prac as a class plan.


A Live Experience.

Think of all the people who have made an impression in your life.  When I think of the people who have made a lasting impression in mine and I try to dissect the reasons why, they usually boil down to one of two things: either that person embodies a quality or qualities I would like to have myself; or they embody the opposite.  It’s not surprising that in my travels through the yoga world, I have come across a lot of people who have made lasting impressions on me (on both accounts).  I am always enamoured with those students and teachers whose behaviours and ways of being in the world actually reflect the yoga teachings.  I want!  Likewise, I always feel disillusioned when I come across ‘yogis’ whose behaviours seem to so profoundly contradict the teachings (even though I am more akin to these folks – yes, thank you Jung, I hear you whispering ‘shadow self’ in my ear, you’re awfully clever, now bugger off).

Back to impressions.  Today I am introducing you to one of those yogis who, for me, embodies that first category – the kind of person who has qualities you wish you could somehow absorb by osmosis.  I met Christina (I knew her as Cetanarupa) during my yogic studies.  Impression number one: always smiling (positive sign).  I got to know her better when we shared the same karma yoga bush regeneration group (oh yep, hi to the snakes and leeches up in the mangrove bushland, you were a blast).  Cetan had a softness and a lightness and a sincerity about her that I really appreciated.cetan 

But there was one situation in particular that I still remember today (several years later) that left the biggest impression.  And it wasn’t a huge event.  It was just a very quiet, gentle lesson for me.  Cetan and I were in a student group together discussing some yogic concept or another (yep, always the group sessions throughout a 13 hour day to test your metal) when one of the other group members became really agitated because she didn’t like the direction of the discussion.  Now this agitated student had been sticking in my craw a bit as it was (her tightly wound strings were bouncing off my tightly wound strings) and I turned to Cetan and yep – I rolled my eyes.  I’m not proud of it.  But my eyes just went off of their own accord (as they are wont to do).  Cetan just gave me a really gentle smile and then turned to the agitated student and made an effort to include her in the discussion, without placating or humouring her – just by treating her as if she was a human being (while I had viewed her more akin to a witch or something).  And at that moment I thought, ‘yep, you’re the real deal sister’.  I could have felt like a bonehead right there and then but Cetan’s compassion had extended not just to the behaviour of that tightly-wound student but to mine as well.  And, incredibly, I felt no shame – just a self-realised desire to try harder.  There was simply a non-judgemental acceptance from Cetan all around.  And it held up a mirror to me that didn’t crack when I looked into it.  Now that’s pretty cool.  You can see why it left an impression.

As with a lot of people who seek out yoga in life, Cetan has a really interesting back story that has shaped her approaches to life and to her teaching, which she has permitted me to share with you.  The fact that she has developed such a non-judgemental attitude towards others reveals just how much work she has done on herself because she wasn’t always so self-accepting.  She started practising yoga asana from a young age but a preoccupation with body image and a drive for perfectionism led her away from the more spiritual aspects of the discipline and towards the ‘grosser’ aspects of asana practice.  This obsession with body developed into an eating disorder that found Cetan trying to numb her own feelings of inadequacy through a roller-coaster ride of binge-eating, purging and fasting.  This yo-yo dieting saw her swing from being underweight to thirty kilos overweight.  Treacherous times.

As life got more destructive and unbalanced, Cetan re-directed her ambitions towards self-development, to a process she describes as trying to find ‘her Truth’- a ‘higher’ part of her self beyond her pains and sufferings.  But she still carried her drive for perfectionism with her and a lack of internal connection led her to continue to seek answers outside of herself – an extreme immersion into books and self-development courses, an array of different healing modalities, strict exercising and ‘healthy’ diet regimes that left little room for intuition and internal listening.  Still caught in the ‘no pain, no gain’ mentality of her earlier years, Cetan militantly exercised and drank 3-4 litres of water each day, believing she was caring for her body in the best way possible.  Unfortunately, this extreme discipline led to a depletion of sodium in her body and one day she fell unconscious, sustaining a hypoxic brain injury from lack of oxygen.  She awakened from a coma to find her life completely changed. 

Doctors weren’t sure if or how Cetan’s brain would mend.  Thankfully, Cetan was able to draw on her earlier experiences of yoga to help her heal.  She complemented years of brain training with yoga nidra in particular, which saw her recover most of her brain function and change her sleeping habits from 18 hours a day to 8. 

This ordeal, however difficult, gifted Cetan with deep insight and she came to realise that which we all know intellectually as obvious but find harder to spiritually experience – this idea that ‘wellness’ is not an external job.  From here, she abandoned her ‘real world’ occupation in the finance sector to follow her passion for yoga, re-training and then teaching yoga in gyms and studios, before taking the enormous leap into traditional yoga training where she found herself living, studying and teaching in Satyananda yoga ashrams around the world for several years.

Since graduating from Satyananda teacher training, Cetan has started her own online yoga school (called Satya  Live Yoga), using her experience and knowledge to teach others how to use yoga to improve their lives.  Satya Live Yoga recognises yoga as a holistic discipline that works more than just the body but every aspect of the human make-up from mind to emotion to spirit, and it channels this philosophy into practical methods that are accessible to everybody.  ‘That means everybody,’ says Cetan, ‘regardless of age, ability, fitness level, or life circumstances.’  This is about teaching people tools for life.

For Cetan, yoga is the path to self-knowledge.  It’s the platform from which she has been able to come to experience that ‘truth’ she was so desperately looking for in all the wrong places all those years ago.  ‘It is so easy to get distracted,’ she says.  ‘For years I was lost.  I was relying on external substances and people’s approval for happiness.  It didn’t work.  I now know that nothing outside of me will ever give me real happiness. It has to come from within. I often forget this and my yoga practice gently reminds me.”

 Hm. Just as Cetan gently reminds me (unbeknownst to her) every time someone, or something, sticks in my craw.

(Satya Yoga runs classes and workshops in Victoria, Australia, retreats in Bali and its speciality is online courses.  Visit for more information and to get in touch with Cetan/Christina.)


© The Yoga Experiment, 2013

Abhinivesha in a Liberal Age

Well, nothing quite sets the rajas/tamas pendulum in motion like a federal election. Particularly when your fellow countrymen elect an ultra-conservative party geared to set any form of social liberalism back by about two hundred years.

Without going into the boring hows and whys of the politics involved (for those who don’t live in my country or who don’t have much education or interest in politics), I can dilute the predictable outcome into one neat sentence for you: under the newly-elected Australian government, citizens who have enough (and anything upward of enough) won’t notice much difference to their quality of life while citizens who have little, will have even less. And let me assure you, when you already feel as if you’re hanging on by a financial thread, this is a legitimately terrifying idea that keeps you awake at nights and anxious throughout the days.

There’s your rajas.

It’s also profoundly dispiriting. Because, not only will disadvantaged people have less access to practical resources (and have to weather the knock-on effects, ergo less opportunity to ‘thrive’ in life), we’re also having to process the idea that the majority of our fellow countrymen who actively chose to vote for an even LESS PROGRESSIVE government than the one we already had, are either (a) profoundly ignorant, or (b) don’t really care. Either way, a jagged little pill.

If you’ve struggled to be ‘economically productive’ in life in one way or another and have needed welfare assistance then it’s highly likely you’ve already endured your eternity wearing the labels of ‘bludger’ or ‘loser’ or ‘rorter of systems’, if not overtly by people around you, or via the media, then via the dehumanising attitude lurking beneath the various human services systems that essentially make you beg for your rights and continually threaten to take them away on the grounds of superfluous un-ticked boxes. You’ve probably had many more than one person say to you, ‘at least you’re not living in {insert country far worse off}’ – Poof! There goes your right to any legitimate claim of suffering. Such ingratitude for the things you have. Never mind you’re desperately afraid and socially isolated. Never mind that.

For your own emotional and spiritual survival, you’ve probably had to re-create some other sense of self-worth in order to survive a society that doesn’t really seem to, on the whole, value you all that much. What are you ‘contributing’ if not taxes or economic productivity? Why should you have access to all the things that money buys when you haven’t worked for them? Why should ‘hard-working’ people share their spoils with you? Apparently in the same way than ‘unsuccessful’ people are responsible for their ‘failures’, ‘successful’ people are alone responsible for their ‘success’, not because of any opportunities they’ve been advantaged with themselves (and that includes robust mental or physical constitutions, or aptitudes or personality traits that they are blessed to have been born with – not that they have earned).

Only the most super-conscious can protect themselves from absorbing the subliminal (and not so subliminal) message – you’re a ‘drain’ on society and you’re not ‘worth’ as much. If only you were a better person. If only you worked harder.

There’s your tamas.

So how do we (I) get back to Sattwa? How do we (I) generate a sense of peace and balance when we have lost trust in the world to help us when we need help? How do we (I) dilute the bitterness we feel at being perpetually labelled and misinterpreted and punished with a violence that is so insidious and covert that most would not even recognise it as such, including those who issue it?

If we consider yoga philosophy in earnest, then the ultimate way of dealing with the terrors of such things is to have no emotional attachment to any earthly happenings or sufferings, including the biggest one – our own mortality (try it, it’s really easy!). That, or have absolute faith that whatever happens to us is designed for a ‘higher purpose’ or is an expression of our own karma (excuse me if I and any other struggling people choke on the idea of being subjected to such a sadistic learning process for ‘our own good’).

Let’s be honest – it’s impractical to go fundamental with the yoga in this case (for this little duck, anyway).

I do know what I could embrace though – and here is where I’m not a victim of external circumstances and do have choices. I could, for starters, switch on the parasympathetic nervous system with the breath (ujjayi, yogic breath, bhramari – any of the ‘tranquilisers’) . I could consider how the yamas and niyamas might guide me (and be ok with ahimsa sitting last on my list for now). I could work the tensions out with some asana practice. I could go and do some karma yoga – help out somebody else. I could do some Om writing to calm the mind. I could read my yoga texts for hope and inspiration. I could antar moun it for twenty minutes – oh, no wait, who am I kidding? I’m not going to sit in a corner and be still and quiet. Things are a little too ‘gross’ to be subtle right now. I could engage in a little swadhyaya (self-study) by writing about my thoughts and feelings in a blog post… now there’s a grand idea.

(c) The Yoga Experiment, 2013

Yoga for a heavy heart.


Lots of people I know seem to be going through tough times at the moment.  They’re in the valleys of life, rather than the peaks.   I don’t care what anybuddhi says, sometimes life really is a big pile of poo.  And as much as we can reassure ourselves in hard times that ‘this too shall pass’, sometimes we just want to punch the platitudes in the face because, frankly, we are emotional and sensory beings, we feel things, we can’t always simply choose to feel happy – although we’re often pressured to feel it’s this simple.   

Often, when we’re trying to find silver linings, see the forest for the trees, or look on the bright side of life, we forget to give expression to the true feelings.  We feel we should be able to somehow rise above them.  But there are times when, despite our most optimistic efforts, the heart grows heavy.  We feel it there, water-logged in the chest, but we don’t know what to do with it.  If we open the gates, we might get swept away.

This is the part where I say yoga fixes everything, right?

Well, no.  That’s not a promise I’m willing to make.  Theoretically, yoga, like Buddhism, creates a distance between our self and our suffering.  Enlightenment is just that – it is the dissolution of the heaviness that comes with being human.  With a simple switch in perception (that comes to us through practice), we see that we are not our thoughts, or emotions, or bodies, or senses, or jobs, or relationships, or wealth, or social status.  These are anchors that bind us to suffering.  Transcendence sets us free.  Alas, achieving transcendence is about as easy as being able to lick your brain through your left nostril.

So, I’m not going to tell you yoga will eliminate your suffering.  But I will say this: yoga seems to have this uncanny ability to shift things – even if just for fleeting moments.  Sometimes fleeting moments are enough to lift the spirits to hope. 

When the effort of living is reduced to putting one foot in front of the other, yoga might not erase all your pain but it can be the friend who holds your hand. 

©The Yoga Experiment, 2013

A trip to fantasy island.

Do you ever daydream about being somewhere else? And in that daydream, life is wonderful and you’re wonderful and everything’s… wonderful?

Look at these photos (I command you). These are the types of pictures you’ll find me routinely posting to my facebook profile, along with variations on the caption of ‘gee, wouldn’t it be horrible to be here?’ Not only do I indulge my own longings for escape but I like to lure others along with me.



Now look at the following photos. These are photos of where I live.


Am I friggen nuts, or what?? Why would I long to be anywhere else?

Actually, I’m not nuts. I’m just unenlightened (although perhaps there’s not much difference). What is nuts about my incessant fantasising of greener pastures is that it is a gooddamn illusion and not much lasting good can come from it.

Yes, it’s a lovely little visual feast that momentarily sparks excitement within but you can bet your arse if you actually found me sitting in one of these amazing fantasy settings I’d be there with my computer, posting some other facebook picture of some other greener pasture I needed to get to in order to feel completely happy and fulfilled. Oh yeah, I’d be amazed for a day or two but inevitably, when the novelty wore off, the void would re-open and I’d be looking for something else to fill it. Oh, to be free of all life’s insecurities and pains! All I need is to be somewhere beautiful.

Yoga is wise to this insanity. Patanjali (a big cheese in yoga) explains the roots of these fantasy traps through the concept of the ‘kleshas’. Kleshas are largely unconsious earthly desires and aversions we carry with us as we live our lives. These desires blind us to a deeper experience of peace: we’re endlessly attached to what we like and dislike and suffer when deprived; we’re ceaselessly attached to our physical selves so we constantly seek to satisfy our needs and desires through sensory experiences; we’re so attached to ourselves as material beings that we think what is happening outside of ourselves is what mostly affects the inside.

Ergo, if I’m sitting on fantasy island with the sand under my feet, sun on my skin, waves gently lapping at my feet, hot man in g-sting feeding me grapes, and nothing to think or do, then surely all my suffering should cease. I should be instantly content. Life should wonderful.

But if sun, sand, water, and beauty were enough, I wouldn’t be fantasising over pictures of more sun, sand, water and beauty.

The fabulous and insightful meditation expert, Jon Kabat Zinn, wisely said, ‘wherever you go, there you are’. What a smart cookie.

It’s not the environment I’m looking to escape. It’s myself. It’s this inability to simply be where I am, with who I am, without needing to be or have anything more.

Going to fantasy island will never erase my neuroses. It won’t suddenly make me more disciplined, more meditative, less anxious, more kind, more compassionate, more successful, less identified with my ego, less afraid of dying, and all the other mores and lesses I want to have and be. Once the island becomes a reality, the fantasy reignites elsewhere.

Fantasy island is no remedy for suffering. In fact, fantasy island is a trap for more suffering. It deepens the void by deepening the sense of not having enough, of needing more, of needing things to be different, of perpetually chasing something that actually doesn’t exist outside of ourselves.

Fantasies aren’t all bad, when they impel creativity and invention and action. But endless fantasies that can’t be fulfilled create bigger holes.

Voids fill themselves when we let go and let be.

Yoga teaches us how.

(c) The Yoga Experiment, 2013

The REAL Secret.

006I read The Secret when it first hit the stands and frankly, I wanted to punch it.  That, or wipe my bum with it.  Apparently, all you need to do to have everything your heart desires is genuinely believe you can have it. Of course!  It’s so simple!  If only the starving African children made vision boards filled with pictures of money and food their poverty and starvation would be eradicated for good.  If only cancer sufferers believed hard enough, they could spontaneously heal.  If only we believed it enough, we would never die…

I also wondered this… what if 1 million people bought a lottery ticket and (applying the principles of The Secret) they all genuinely believed they were going to win?  Would they all win?  The Secret and similar philosophies have an out-clause to explain this improbability – if you don’t win, or you don’t get what you want, it’s because you don’t really believe you can have it.  So, I guess most of the time, only one person (or a small few) REALLY TRULY believe they can win the lottery?  They must have superior skills of belief.

I’ll say it loud and with heated passion – I can’t stomach this kind of simplistic nonsense.  Life can’t be abundant and fair for everybody.  Where somebody ‘wins’, there are others who lose – and through no fault of their own but because of the nature of life.  Our needs compete.  This is the nature of survival.

Besides which, is it not incredibly egocentric to think that we, as individuals, have the power to manipulate the universe to our own will?  Life is a complex inter-play of the needs of billions of people.  Why do we expect to always be avoiding suffering and getting what we want?

Yoga will tell us the same.  We can be free of suffering but it won’t be through the manipulation of external forces to get ‘what we want’.  What we can control is our internal reactions to things that happen in the outward universe (allegedly.  I’m still working on it).  Yoga also teaches us to release expectations – it is the ‘hanging on’ to the need for certain outcomes that creates suffering.  We are bound by the fears and disappointments of not being able to accept what is.

As an opponent of fundamentalism, I’m not going to head in the other direction and wipe out the power of positive thinking altogether because that would be bull-headed and dumb.  And besides, I love science, and the science supports a middle ground.

Imagine you believe you are an ‘unlucky’ person.  When you believe you’re unlucky, you effectively become ‘blind’ to luck.  There could be a fifty buck note fluttering on the footpath in front of you and you can walk right past it.  Because you’ve focussed on being ‘unlucky’, you fail to see a lucky opportunity (‘good things never happen to me’).  The belief becomes your reality.  Everything you ‘see’ validates the belief.

Similarly, if you were to focus your attention on positive goals and possibilities you are likely to find opportunities ‘springing up’ in the universe around you.  You might envisage having more money and then walk past that fifty buck note fluttering on the footpath and think ‘See? I put it out there and the universe gave it to me!’  But is that really a wish granted?  Or an opportunity recognised?  What if these opportunities are always out there in the world and your belief didn’t will them into existence, it just opened your eyes to them?

I’m about to pull some science on your ass so put your specs on please. Act academic.

The Reticular Activating System (RAS) is a part of the brain that filters sensory information, ignoring the bits that aren’t valuable to you and holding onto the bits that are.  It helps human beings stay focussed on the things that matter to their survival.  And it’s very subjective.  The RAS is a radio that tunes in to the things you put the most focus on. If you put the focus on fear and feeling insecure, the RAS tunes you in to fearful and threatening experiences.  You jump when a door slams.  You find human beings ugly and untrustworthy.  You sense ‘negative energy’.  Nothing ‘ever goes your way’.  Your beliefs paint your world.

If you put the focus on positives or possibilities, the RAS tunes you in to positive experiences and these dominate your perception of your world: you see the beauty in things, you see opportunities to be kind and loving; you see your own human potential and opportunities that will allow you to develop it.  (This can go the other way too though where certain unpleasant realities can be denied).

In essence your RAS creates the world around you.  We see what we believe – these beliefs can be both conscious and subconsious.  This is why it’s a grand idea to focus our thoughts and goals and beliefs about ourselves on positive things and to become conscious when negativity clouds our perception and robs us of progress. This gives us the greatest chance of recognising opportunities. Having said that, this doesn’t mean that if we just ‘think positively’ we will be immune to hardship.  Sorry brothers and sisters, a cold reality I know.  There are things out there in the material world that are beyond our control (although the ego persists in trying to convince us it should and can be otherwise).

But that’s why we have yoga.  We don’t try to control suffering; we don’t deny its existence with wishful thinking and fantasies; we learn how to transcend it by seeing EVERYTHING for what it is. We don’t allow our RAS to trick us into ONE WAY of seeing things.  We don’t allow it to either cripple or delude us.  We can float above the world, looking down on it all without wanting or needing to believe anything.

Sankalpa is one yogic way of orienting the RAS to positive experiences. But there is almost a contradiction in using this yogic tool to create a particular desired experience – if one considers that enlightenment comes from being free of want and desire.  My brain is still chewing on this and will spit out something in the following weeks.

In the meantime, I’m off to buy a lottery ticket (my RAS is choosing to ignore any information out there regarding mathematical probability…).

© The Yoga Experiment, 2013.