Yoga, Silence, Emptiness and the Self

As a yoga teacher, I try to be aware of not filling my classes with talk. (Okay, Saturday morning classes may occasionally be a bit more chatty…)

As a yoga student, I tend to feel a little bit frustrated when the teacher talks continually through each pose. Sometimes they will remind you of one of the most important principles of yoga- listen to your body- and then prevent you from doing so by talking all the way through your hold. We need silence to hear the subtle language of the body. As Ursula Le Guin says, “Only in silence the word”.

Eastern philosophy has a high regard for the concept of emptiness. In western culture, emptiness is regarded as a negative state, a lack of fullness. But emptiness is not nothingness; it is a clearing for new growth. As the word can be spoken only within silence.

Silence is the earth in which the seed of self knowledge grows.

In terms of the classical literature, yoga asana practice is preparation for meditation rather than an end in itself. Through meditation we make the mind empty. This is not to achieve a state of “nothingness” as non-existence . It is when we still or empty the mind that we experience the Self.

What is the Self and why should we want to experience it?

The search for Self can sound like a negative thing. Our language spreads a dubious rumour about the word. Selfish, self-obsessed, self-centred… these antisocial traits taint the word, which is why we differentiate our use with the capital S.

Yoga teaches a concept of many bodies. You can compare the model to babushka dolls, one inside the other. There is the physical body, the energetic body, the mind body, the intuitive body and the bliss body. At the innermost core is the Self. [1]

At the level of the Self, we experience a connectedness and a state of bliss. We see that external issues can not touch our innermost nature. We emanate and exist within a state of universal love and peace.

This experience of the Self can be quite fleeting; usually we only glimpse it for a few moments during meditation, or “peak moments” or when in a state of ”flow”. [2]

Apparently some people are able to flip into a permanent state of Self-realisation. This would be associated in Eastern traditions with Buddha-hood, enlightenment, or sainthood in the Christian tradition. These people are always marked by a sense of calm and unbounded compassion. So we can see that this meaning of Self is not about the individual ego. It is the most connective state of being we have ever seen.

Through the yogic practices of movement and meditation, we can at least begin to get in touch with our higher Self and let that Self begin to shape and fulfil our everyday life choices and experience.

Thanks to @Nikita_TF for making her photo available freely on @unsplash

Basket photo©️2019 Unjay


1.Annamaya kosha (food) – This outermost kosha feeds the physical body and sustains the other koshas. In yoga, asanas can affect this kosha by nurturing the body.

2.Pranayama kosha (energy) – This kosha regulates the flow of prana (life-force energy) through the body via the nadis (energy channels) and the chakras (intense points of energy). In yoga, both asanas and pranayama (breathing exercises) affect this kosha.

3.Manomaya kosha (mind) – Manomaya is the kosha that contains and controls thoughts and emotions. Various aspects of yoga practice affect this kosha. For example, meditation and alternate nostril breathing can calm the mind.

4.Vijnanamaya kosha (intuition) – This kosha is connected to a deeper level of intuition and inner wisdom. In yoga, meditation and meditative asanas affect this kosha.

5.Anandamaya kosha (bliss) – The deepest layer, this kosha contains ecstasy, love and joy. Some traditions refer to this layer as the true Self, while others believe this kosha opens the door to the true Self.

Anandamaya kosha is considered to be the part of a being responsible for unconditional love, oneness and complete unity with all beings. Also responsible for peace, love and joy in its purest and most absolute form, it is said to go beyond any emotional or physical experience.

Anandamaya kosha, like all the koshas, is interactive and dependent upon the other layers of the body. It is in anandamaya kosha that the sense of oneness, as opposed to a sense of separation from other beings, is truly realized. Within anandamaya kosha lies the understanding that separation and ego are just an illusion. This recognition is said to total compassion, love and happiness, hence anandamaya kosha being referred to as the bliss body.

[2] …flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does, and a resulting loss in one’s sense of space and time.

How do you feel about the commercialisation of Yoga?

Lotus blooming from the mud

Someone on Quora asked me this today and this was my answer.

I am- gradually- starting to feel okay about charging for my yoga classes. It’s cost me a lot to be a yoga teacher, and continues to cost as I have to pay for a venue, props, ongoing yoga training, publicity, website etc.. When I first started, my impulse, like many yoga teachers, was to give classes for free. Then I charged as little as I could to make it accessible to everyone. Until my students asked me to raise the fee because they felt embarrassed paying me so little!

Through all this, I haven’t changed my commitment to offering accessible, authentic yoga to my community. That is the heart, and the reason for what I do. The heart of yoga, as I understand it, is bringing together body, mind and spirit to perceive the divine unity and come to a more complete consciousness.

So, finally my answer to you would be that yoga which is shaped by market forces and trends and is motivated by opportunistic greed is unlikely to be authentic. Anyone who tries to “own yoga” by patents, copyrights and specifying regulations of which they are the sole guardians (I’m talking to you, Yoga Alliance) is likely to be inauthentic.

But nature will find a way. I came to yoga through a very diluted, syndicated yogalates practice at a gym and realised I was not satisfied with it; it led me to seeking out more knowledge about actual yoga. So the profusion of commercial yoga Studios means more people will have the opportunity for at least some exposure to the yoga way and may want to dig deeper.

The other consideration is that even the most commercial studio chain is very likely to have some sincere true yogis teaching within it, so there is another opportunity for people to come into contact with a more integral yoga practice.

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Creativity is the core of creation


Creativity is the first principle of the universe.
In our world, creativity is under threat. Regulations intended to protect us from catastrophe such as terrorist activities effectively curtail our human rights. Similarly, policies and procedures intended to provide safety at work or assist productivity have become so much more important than the work itself. The necessity of conforming to an established practice and of being able to prove that you have override the impulse to innovate. In our current social climate, the rule is conform or be thrown out.

But this runs counter the very nature of the creation we live in. We can equally say it runs counter to the very creation of nature we live in. Let’s trace it back to an origin story, say, the Big Bang. Science admits of neither time nor space before this proposed moment of beginning. So isn’t that the ultimate word in creativity? That time and space themselves should spontaneously arise out of nothing? And at the same moment all the laws of physics, known and unknown, are set.
From here we come to the formation of stars from one or two elements, helium and hydrogen. From clouds of hot plasma, distinct, individual dynamic suns. Billions of them. As some of them explode as super novae they give rise to all the elements we know in a creative riot of nuclear fusion.
And those elements combine in literally countless ways within molecules, eventually producing self-replicating life forms, and, ultimately, us. We are star dust.
Any creative act we do, not only in an expression of an art form, but any creative solution to a problem, any creative way of offering service to a living being, or to maintain the integrity of our natural environment, is completely in line with the nature of the universe as a whole. Creativity is the way of things. It is the reason we are here.
So follow your creative impulses, knowing that you are in flow with the core of all that is.

Build community from your dreams!

There is nothing more powerful than an idea. 
There is nothing more dangerous than a human with a belief that their idea is absolute truth.
To be certain is to be out of touch with reality- because we must know we cannot with certainty know anything. 
Astrophysics tells us this. Particle physics tells us this. The world’s biggest machine, the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, was built to find out what stuff is made of at the most basic level. And we still don’t know for sure.
So, choose. Choose honestly and wisely what your faith, what your picture of the Universe, is. And act as though you are right but be open to being wrong.
In light of this understanding I approach yoga or meditation. Without dogma. Without a guru.
My friend Vani is from the rich, ancient culture of India and has a legitimate direct transmission of practice from her guru.
I am from no particular culture, or no single culture anyway. And although I sometimes envy people like Vani who know where they fit and who their people are, I think my situation is more representative of the current age. The age of individualism.
Western European culture has been elevating the individual above the collective since at least The Renaissance, arguably since the High Middle Ages. That’s five or six hundred years of social, philosophical and spiritual evolution. And we have lost a lot in the course of that evolution. Westerners are more isolated, lonely and depressed than ever before. But we have gained the ability to stand on our own and say, “This I believe; this is me.” And that is empowering.
It is when we have no belief, take no position, that we fail so miserably. Then we fall between a place of community and individual faith. It is then that society degenerates into a hopeless, chaotic, alienating dystopia.
I think that, moving into the future, we are going to be ever more discarding the received authority of traditional cultures, traditions, social structures and religions. This can be frightening and so there is a temptation to join the backlash of the backward-looking. The offer of the certainty of the past through right-wing political nostalgia, fundamentalist religious beliefs, nationalism, militarism. All of these give you something to belong to, something to be part of. That sense of community, of “unity with”, with which we in the West seem to be losing touch.
I value individualism highly. I also acknowledge that we are fundamentally social beings. Nothing is more damaging than isolation. So how do we resolve this dilemma?
Follow your heart. Follow your dreams. Be open to exciting choices. Then look at ways those choices give you opportunities to build community. Or join community. 
My own mini “Eat, Pray, Love” story is one of leaving my teaching position and going to Byron Bay to do yoga teacher training. There was a time of uncertainty when I came home- I just wanted to go back and disappear into the seductive endless summer of a surfie/yoga/hippy Mecca. But then my friend Heather said to me, “Go and build community in Semaphore”. Her words were clear, true and inspired. One of those precious times when you know that what you are hearing is absolutely right. So I came home and Christy and I, with support from our kids, started Shala Om, a tiny yoga community in Semaphore. 
It’s not on a world scale. It’s not a commercial success. It’s not even a business really. There are only a few people who know about it. But it’s our little contribution, and it is so valuable to me and to others. 
It is community born of individualism.

Heart Sutra Mantra variations 

Lotus blooming from the mud

गते गते पारगते पारसंगते बोधि स्वाहा

Gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha *


Gone, gone, completely gone

Gone to the otherside, the farthest shore



Alone,alone, completely alone

Sighing waves, blank sands blow

Seagulls wheel in the emptiness of sky


Sadness and sadness, deepest sadness,

Separation, awakening my heart,

Opening in tears


Around, around, all the way round

Salt sea washes, confused and crashing

Against itself, in turbulence, impassable


Oversea sun sets

Somewhere far away a lotus opens to greet her

Exposing the golden jewel,

Sun to sun, hidden treasure,

Earth echo of the star song,

Perfumed light and perfection

From the deepest dark beneath depths



*This is the mantra from the end of the Heart Sutra. 

Nobody really knows what it means, but it is said 

to be one of the most powerful mantras of all.

The first verse of the poem is a literal translation of it,

or at least as far as one can translate it, because the 

Sanskrit grammar is endlessly debatable by the 

learned in such things.

The Dalai Lama’s translation says

“go, go, go beyond, go thoroughly beyond, and establish yourself in enlightenment”.

Text and photo ©2016 Unjay

How can you tell if someone is good at yoga?

How can you tell if some one is good at yoga?
Ha! Trick question- you can’t.
Yes, of course you can see if someone has tight hamstrings and finds forward fold challenging, or if someone cannot balance in tree pose.
What you can’t see is the internal process of someone else’s awareness.
And yoga is all about awareness and acceptance.
I would rather see a student trying, failing and trying again to be that tree with equanimity and good humour than a student looking smug and trendy and self obsessed as they execute a perfect eagle pose or ashtanga jump-through.
But even then, who am I to judge? I don’t know the trials of that lululemon girl’s life; I don’t know if that perfectly built guy without a shirt in hot class has a mother in hospital. Despite appearances, we do not know what someone else’s life is like. So how can we judge them? Maybe their attitude is all front when really they are clinging on for dear life as it falls apart beneath their fingers.
So we should limit our judgement to the edges of our own mats. And even then, yoga teaches us to be actively accepting of the present moment. If that moment includes struggling with a vinyasa flow, then the only important thing is whether we are fully present to that experience. And if we are not, then let’s accept that too.
And again, asana, which is what most people think of as ‘yoga’ is only one of eight dimensions of living a yogic life. So even if someone has perfect alignment and amazing flexibility in class, it doesn’t mean they have a strong meditation practice, or live compassionately or have any of the other yogic virtues.
My advice to students: don’t compare yourself to anyone else in class; spend that energy instead on focussing clearly and closely on your own practice- and enjoy being in that moment no matter your distance from “ideal form” or “full expression”.
That spark of pure, perfect, divine essence is in you anyway. What else could you possibly add to that? 


We are back with three classes a week in 2016!

Yes, I stole the motto from a cereal box, but does that matter really? It expresses what we do in yoga class pretty clearly, so I’m happy with it!

Shala Om now has three sessions every week to be happy, be real, be relaxed and be yourself.

  • Tuesday     6.30pm  Uniting Church, Semaphore, 146 Semaphore Road (next to the Exeter Hotel)
  • Thursday   6.30pm Uniting Church, Semaphore
  • Saturday     9.00 am   Timeball Tower lawns, Cnr Semaphore Road and The Esplanade (outdoor class, weather permitting)

See you on the mat!