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Changing the Face of Yoga Podcast

Hosted by Stephanie Cunningham, a yoga teacher herself who is committed to sharing yoga with anyone, especially the over 50's. Stephanie created this podcast to share how yoga can be practiced by anyone with amazing benefits. Yoga teachers themselves will share their stories; discussing why they teach, who they teach, how students benefit. Every fortnight or so, we will release a new episode. We will talk with teachers about teaching children, curvy bodies, the elderly but also those that each yoga to support students with diabetes, cancer and mental health issues.
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Sep 10, 2019

Main Points:                       1) Modern Western yoga pays less attention to the inward based practices in favour of asana.

                                                2) Mindfulness can lead to meditation or vice versa

                                                3) Mindfulness and meditation are different but complementary.

00:42                                     This is Changing the Face of Yoga and this is episode 116, My guest today is Hannah Perkins and she is part of my meditation theme for the month of September and Hannah has been leading mindfulness groups, courses, retreats since 2013 and teaching Yoga since 2016. She is passionate about helping those on the frontline of our community, particularly health care professionals, school teachers, parents and the populations they served. She is a qualified mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR), mindfulness-based cancer recovery and mindfulness school facilitator and offers in-school programs for teachers as well as primary and adolescent school students. In addition to her weekly trauma aware yoga classes offered through her business. Love This Moment. She also teaches from Mindfulness Works, the Yoga Place, Blacksmith and Twine yoga studio here in Newcastle in Australia. So welcome Hannah. I'm so glad that you came on. Our topic today, that Hannah has agreed to talk on and has a great deal of interest and experience in is mindfulness and meditation.

02:12                                     Are they the same? Are they different? What's going on there? I guess I see them being used kind of interchangeably many times. So we're going to explore that idea. And Hannah, is there anything else you'd like to add to that particularly introduction.

02:30                                     No that was a lovely introduction, Thank you.

02:31                                     Thank you. As you can tell, she's extremely qualified in the mindfulness area., How did you come to that and how did that become something that was important to you?

02:47                                     Well, actually it started in my twenties. I was living in Thailand and I was working for a handful of NGOs over there, including Greenpeace for a  period of time. And I found myself on my weekends when I was usually trying to get some relief from the stress I felt at work. Just ending up at the temples in my local area in Bangkok. And I'd sit there and I also understand and can speak a bit of Thai. So I'd sit there listening to the monks, talking about Buddhism and suffering and the Dharma and all of these things I didn't quite understand at the time. But I just felt into their energy and the energy of the people who were going to temple. And I just found myself doing the things that they were suggesting. So I found myself, circling the temples 27 times and bowing to the Buddha and lighting incense and doing these things to try and relate. What I didn't know back then was what I was experiencing as suffering. But I just thought I was under a lot of work related stress.

                                                But, it was not long after that that a friend of mine was riding a bicycle around the world and he was starting in Newcastle and leaving, to go through the northern territory and then get a boat over to Indonesia and Singapore. And by the time he got to Thailand, he needed a translator. So he invited me to ride the legs of Thailand with him. And I at that time was consulting for these NGOs as a fundraising executive and really just was so burnt out in my life and very, very unhappy, probably borderline depression. And I just decided to go with him. So I bought myself a bicycle and I rocked up in Penang on the train and met him. And I've never done anything like this before. And we rode for 2,500 kilometers from Penang in Malaysia up to the top of Thailand.

                                                And during that time I really got to know the chaos that was going on in my mind. I really got to see how crazy I was. And I don't say that lightly because it was quite an endeavor to get on this bike and ride and spend so much time in my own head. And in order to stay places cheaply, we actually would rock up to the Buddhist temples and ask could we stay in their Sala, which is the temple area. And most of them would allow us to do that for free. And they'd give us food and they'd also give us Dharma talks, which I would then translate to my friend. And I started to just really pick up this language around Buddhism, the relief of suffering and started to think, oh my goodness, this is something that could really help me. And so, yeah, it was during my sort of mid-life, mid-twenties life crisis started to explore, these themes of Buddhism and later led me to all the styles of meditation. But it all started with mindfulness and meditation in that sense.

05:51                                     Obviously since you're now in Newcastle, you've come back to Australia and you're teaching a lot about it. How did we get from Thailand to here?

06:08                                     Well, it's also a long story. Later in my twenties, I was actually living in the UK at the time. I was attending a Buddhist Sangha weekly and practicing meditation every day. I had a very healthy lifestyle. And again, I found myself in the depths of depression and feeling very hopeless and uncertain about my life. I was very unwell, had had chronic fatigue for two years and didn't know what was going on with my body.

                                                And I took off to Plum Village, which is where Thich Nhat Hanh the Zen master used to reside. And I checked myself in for the winter retreat for three months. However, after two days of being there, I fell very ill. I started to bleed from my intestine and I later found out that I had non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, so a type of cancer and I had to make the decision what was I really going to do in order to wake up in my life. So I decided to come back to Australia and heal here and I also recognized that I needed to do a lot of healing in my family, towards my place of birth and where I grew up and that sort of thing as well. So I've been back ever since. I've had some trips away for retreats.

                                                But yeah, I've really established myself here and it was not long after I recovered after surgery and chemotherapy and I started to heal that. I started a Buddhist Sangha in that tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh here in Newcastle and that was in 2013 and that went on for about two and a half years. I just held a space that was by donation. People can come and I would just teach them what I was learning about meditation through using it to heal my body and my mind. And whilst I was doing that, someone came along to those sessions and she saw what I was doing and she invited to support me, mentor me to become a meditation teacher. And she very kindly sponsored me to go and do my MBSR teacher training.

                                                MBSR is a global globally recognized, scientifically proven course of secular mindfulness training. So it's an eight week program, which is often offered in clinical settings in hospitals and mental health outpatient units and also in schools. And so I trained in that in 2014 and as these things happen, one thing led to another where just opportunities would arise for me to teach this. And I was learning more through doing my own practice and through applying it to my life. And that's where the movement component came in as well because I was suffering from chronic pain post surgery that I had in 2012. And so I've recognized that I actually needed to apply this in lots of different ways in my life, not just sitting on a cushion.

                                                So I've been trained as a yoga teacher and started to merge these two worlds of mindfulness and movement together, which actually they are married, they already were synonymous with each other. It's just that I think modern yoga has taken a lot of the awareness based inward practice away from the actual physical form of the movement. And my teaching is not just asana-specific, it's very much about the hatha yoga principles of asana leading to Pranayama leading to chanting a mantra and leading to meditation and these different stages of meditation. So we have the Pratyahara of withdrawing the senses and Dharana which is more the mindfulness component of concentration, focusing our attention leading to Dhyana, which is where we can connect with an object of our attention and that might be a higher power or it might be an image or light or a being and then eventually to Samadhi. So yeah, my movement practice and movement I'm teaching is not specifically asana focused. It's very much about how can we be in a state of meditation while moving sitting, walking, daily life, that sort of thing.

10:19                                     Why don't you give your definition of what mindfulness is and then we'll do meditation.

10:30                                     Well this isn't actually my definition, it's comes from Kevin Zinn who started the MBSR program. But I like it cause it's very simple and it breaks it down. So his definition is that mindfulness is paying attention, which most of our waking life, we're not paying attention, our attention is distracted on other things. So we're paying attention in the present moment, which is the only moment we can pay attention to whatever's happening now on purpose. So it actually directing our attention to some things, whether that be the breath or a sound. Maybe something in the visual field or it might be sounds in the outside world.

                                                 It might be what we're feeling, what the emotive field is saying to us inside. And it's also paying attention in this nonjudgmental way so that we're not actually saying that this moment is a good moment or it's a bad moment. We're not wanting things to be better; we're not wanting things to go away. We're just being with the moment as it is. And that's what I would use to define mindfulness as paying attention in the present moment without any judgment on purpose.

11:41                                     And meditation?

11:43                                     Well, meditation, I really, believe has so many different definitions because it's come from a wide variety of wisdom traditions that actually put into practice meditation and it means different things for different people. My, I guess, experiential definition of meditation is the state that we can move into or even towards after we've learned too quiet the chaos of the mind. So I would say that meditation both enhances mindfulness, expands mindfulness and mindfulness, the concentration on some thing, can lead us into a state of meditation, which is actually of no thing eventually.

                                                So meditation is more than expansive awareness where we are just holding in communion, some form of reverence towards something. And that might be in your words, it might be God or it might be spirit or it might be universal power, but meditation for me feels more like a communion with something that's bigger and wider and outside, well also inside, but outside the field of the mind, if that makes any sense. It really is an opportunity to still the mind that is always getting in the way of us connecting with that other thing.

13:23                                     I took, Hannah's class. I wasn't a very good student but I took it and had some incredible insights because of it and I wasn't expecting that at all. I was doing it for a whole different reason. And so I think these insights can come from either system, shall we say, either mindfulness or meditation. But, I like the way that you've put that together cause they really are on a spectrum aren't they? It's a range. You start with the mindfulness of getting the mind, focused and in the present, and then you can then move on to meditation isthe way I thought you said.

14:14                                     Yes You could do it in that way around or you could also say that if you were to practice meditation and there are many routes to meditation. I myself am very interested in the different dharanas from the Daoist and the Tantric traditions, which are actually quite Bhakti and devotional focused often towards a deity or towards energy in a certain form, very visual, that sort of thing. And those kinds of meditations actually I find through practicing, actually practice regularly, can improve mindfulness in everyday life as well.

                                                So I wouldn't say that mindfulness always has to be a precursor to meditation, if what I mean. It can be either way, but I love also a TKV Desakichar's description of Samadhi in his book, the Heart of Yoga where he's talking about that when we succeed in becoming so absorbed in something that our mind becomes completely one with it. We are in a state of Samadhi. He says Samadhi means to bring together, to merge. So sometimes we actually, when we practice yoga and then maybe find ourselves in meditation at the end, we're already in that state of being merged with something and it's very indescribable. It's hard to actually put into words what that is. But I'm sure most people who've been practicing for a while, I've had little glimpses of that experience.

                                                And I would say that then when you get out of that experience and you go on with your daily life, that changes the way that you interact with the moment. So you are often more mindful after an experience like that. And just an example from my own life, I was on a nine day meditation retreat when I was on that bicycle journey and oh and I think it was day seven or something like that. I had one of these experiences where I was completely merged. It's something that was indescribable, couldn't actually name or even really visualize. It just felt like my mind was completely still. So my whole body was very peaceful and calm. And, it was a different experience than I've ever had ever again. And afterwards I got back on my bicycle and for about two or three days, the only thing that was in my mind was the thought of placing my foot on the right pedal and then the left pedal and then the right pedal, and then the left pedal. And then eventually I'd come to a shop where I needed some water and all my full attention was on having the conversation with the shopkeeper. Or walking back to the bike, I became incredibly more mindful, aware of my body of my mind, my thoughts and feelings and emotions due to having had that experience.

17:12                                     What do you think, I don't like this term, but the average person would get from mindfulness. You've studied for many years and you've gone into great detail and you have depths of knowledge. What about someone who's coming to it new or might learn about it in a yoga class? What do you think the benefits for them might be?

17:47                                     Oh numerous. And I think different for everyone as well. But I would say that most people who come to my classes, the thing that they say is the most powerful sense for them is actually to just be remembering in the moment that they are breathing and that the breath is actually keeping them alive. And that in itself is a very powerful thing.

                                                It changes your perspective on life because when you come back to the breath and you realize that this moment in itself is a complete miracle and the fact that I'm breathing there is so much going right with my life really helps to bring things into perspective. But in addition, there are so many health benefits from practicing mindfulness, from slowing down our attention and coming into the present moment. And those include a decreased heart rate and reduced stress, I myself have used it very much to do with the journey I've had with pain and that has been I think a life-saving tool because living five years with a chronic pain condition that I really had no control over in that time, really severely affected my mental health.

19:03                                     But with the practice of mindfulness, I always, I will too see what was happening and feel the sensations and be with it and in not such a reactive way. I mean, there were times where I couldn't do that and I would react to it and I would scream or howl or I would need to get some pain relief. But I think the only way I could've coped with that for five years, and still remained on the whole, happy and well and able to teach. And feel like I had a sense of purpose in life was because I was able to see things clearly from my mindfulness practice and know that this too will pass eventually and it always did.

                                                And just keep on coming back to what was here. So the breath was moving in my body or I could feel these bodily sensations and I could actually learn how to be with them, how to explore them, how to open to them being here rather than constantly trying to push them away or numb them or react to what was happening.

                                                It's helpful in chronic pain. a lot of studies have suggested that it helps with depression in that it's less likely that depression will relapse when you have a regular mindfulness practice. So you may have experienced the initial depression but there is a reduced rate of relapse in clinical depression from practicing mindfulness. And there's numerous health benefits from this: better sleep, reduced anxiety and worry, increased self-acceptance and compassion towards ourselves. I think which is a really, really important piece. I've heard so many times that mindfulness without compassion is actually just pure concentration. Anyone can do that. But as a society on the whole we are very reluctant to use the tools of self-compassion and self-love towards ourselves. And mindfulness with compassion becomes heartfullness and that is a totally different practice from just the straight Dharana practice of being concentrated on an object can sometimes feel a bit cold and harsh.

                                                So the practices of meta meditation, loving kindness, even just using some self-talk interventions, when we notice that the mind is very busy or maybe there's a self-critical voice, noticing that and then just coming back and telling yourself, okay, it's okay. I don't really believe that. That's just my thoughts. Well then might be a bodily sensation. It's not who I am. So these tools can also be really helpful in calming a very busy or chaotic mind, one that often takes us away from who we truly are.

22:00                                     I think you've been amazingly clear in explaining this. I think that it's really valuable to the listeners, but I always like to end the podcast, which has another few minutes to go yet. But, is there anything that you would like to tell the listeners that we either haven't gone into enough depth or something that we haven't addressed it all?

22:32                                     Yeah. I would also like to say that mindfulness is something that can be practiced anywhere and anytime. It doesn't have to be on your meditation cushion or on your Yoga Mat. So in the MBSR program, we have a distinction between the formal practices of mindfulness, which is the dedicated time you take to build your mindfulness muscle, to actually learn the techniques and embed them in your mind so that when you're in your daily life and you're participating in the normal routine activities of your daily life, you can be more mindful.

                                                So for the past seven years practicing and teaching mindfulness, I have tried to be more mindful while brushing my teeth, for example. However, every time I go to the dentist, my dentist says, you're still brushing too hard. I have a habit of trying to rush. Certainly this process of brushing my teeth or just trying to get it done. And probably from childhood where I probably felt stressed or too hurried to do this properly. So it's been a real habit break. It's actually every morning when I brush my teeth, try to slow it down, be there, look at myself in the mirror, feel the bristles on my teeth, feel the warmth of the toothpaste. I mean, I'm really picking something apart, but we can apply mindfulness to any situation. Walking from our bedroom to the bathroom. First thing, it can become a walking meditation or when you're driving the car, you can see your hands on the steering wheel. As you turn, you can notice sounds as they come in to the ears or you can notice how your heart starts racing when you have to jolt and stop because the car in front of you stopped suddenly.

                                                So mindfulness is something that we take on the road with us. And meditation is not so easy because it actually takes you, I wouldn't say out of the present moment, but into states of being that are so relaxed and so maybe even into different brainwave states that you can't really participate in daily life whilst meditating, I would say. but you can be mindful in every moment of daily life. And that is a real art in practice. And again, Thich Nhat Hahn has been the most influential person on that to me.

                                                His whole premise was around being engaged in the world through Buddhism and mindfulness. So yeah, even little sayings that you can say to yourself while doing something. So washing my hands, I feel peaceful and calm, that sort of thing. Or whilst holding a child, looking into their eyes and just appreciating that moment. He's very into applying mindfulness to every situation with daily life. And that's where it can really bring about more joy, more contentment and more ease. Really just dropping into the present moment and realizing that there's so much to see and witness that can bring pure joy when you pay attention to it.

25:35                                     Ff you all would like to contact or might like to go to one of your yoga classes. she's at hannah@lovethismoment.com.au and her website is: lovethismoment.com. au Now about your mindfulness best based stress classes? May come about. Okay. Occasionally, shall we say.

26:12                                     Yeah. So the general public that is, however we can also offer that in workplaces and we do from time to time get requests from different corporations to come and offer it to the whole staff body or something like that.

                                                But to the general public twice per year, usually in Autumn and in Winter. And I have another colleague in Newcastle who also runs them in Summer and in Spring, Lisa Pollard, her name is, and so between us there should be four courses a year usually.

26:42                                     And would people find out about those?

26:45                                     g

                                                Go to either lovethismoment.com au or to huntermindfulness.com to find out about the eight week program. Oh, I also ran a four week introduction to mindfulness, which is more like a taste of the practice and shorter practices. Because mindfulness-based stress reduction actually does involve quite a lot of home practice and you would have witnessed that when you did it. Stephanie, you're expected to do between 30 and 45 minutes a day of home practice, which is a lot for some people to manage. So this other course that I run, which is called an introduction to mindfulness, is four weeks, one hour a week, and just 12 minutes a day of home practice to just dip your toe in the water, see how you feel about it and see if you'd like to apply it. And a lot of those people go on to do the MBSR program after that.

27:36                                     Probably your best bet, listeners, is www.lovedthismoment.com.au and you can get information about the different kinds of things that Hannah is offering. And I want to thank you. I think you've done a great job of explaining this and it's much clearer in my mind now and I think it will be in the listener's mind and I certainly thank you for agreeing to be on.

28:09                                     Thank you so much for having me. It's been lovely to reconnect with you. And I think every day is an exploration. So my definition is a working definition, but it's based on practice and we can only dive in and see what happens for ourselves. Through this exploration, we might become a little bit more clearer in terms of who we really are at our core.

28:31                                     Yes. And that's always important. Thank you so much.

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