Leigh Blashki - Non-Duality, Authenticity and Practicality
This episode is a recording of a conversation between Rane Bowen, Jo Stewart, and Leigh Blashki.
Leigh Blashki is a legendary figure in Australian Yoga. He is also an incredibly engaging speaker and has a deep understanding and love of these practices.
As you will hear in this podcast, Leigh has had influence and training from a number of traditions and teachers, including Sri Yogendra, Swami Gitananda, A.G. Mohan and Dr. Richard Miller. He has taught yoga and meditation for over 40 years and had over 350 graduates from his Yoga teacher training and Yoga therapy training courses.
He was a founding member of the Yoga Teachers Association of Australia, now known as Yoga Australia. He also founded the Australian Institute of Yoga Therapy, is a Past-President of Yoga Australia, a member of the Council of Advisors for Yoga Australia and the IAYT and also served the IAYT on their Standards, Accreditation and Certification Committees. Indeed, he has been instrumental in building the standards and professionalism of yoga in this country and is widely regarded as the father of yoga therapy in Australia.
In this episode, we discuss how Leigh found yoga, some of his key early teachers, as well as his current ones! We learn about how Leigh helped to establish Yoga Australia, and his work in developing the first Government accredited Yoga Training in this country.
He also discusses his work with iRest and shares some incredibly profound statements on being in the world and teaching with authenticity.
Picks of the Week
Leigh - In Touch: How to Tune In to the Inner Guidance of Your Body and Trust Yourself by John J Prendergast - http://amzn.to/2COv8hj
Rane - Journeys into Emptiness: Dogen, Merton, Jung, and the Quest for Transformation by Robert Jingen Gunn - http://amzn.to/2Fccgaq
Click on a timecode to play from that time in the recording.1:56 Leigh’s background
2:30 How Leigh discovered yoga
5:50 Leighs talks about his key teachers and mentors
8:00 Kashmir Shaivsim and non-dual philosophy
9:30 Yoga Nidra and iRest
10:30 Space, Time and Being
16:30 The inner resource, iRest and trauma sensitivity
18:30 Leigh’s health challenges, and how yoga helps.
24:30 Accepting the messenger.
28:00 The beginnings of Yoga Australia
29:30 Desiging the CAE course.
32:30 Commonalities with Meditation Australia
35:14 The role of Yoga Australia - improving the status and professional standing of Yoga and Yoga Therapy in Australia
36:46 Scope of Practice
37:51 Continuing professional development
38:46 Yoga Alliance
40:40 How the internet has affected yoga and the training of yoga teachers.
43:30 Bringing the felt experience of teachers into their teaching.
46:30 Is it possible for a teacher to be too individualised in their teaching?
51:03 How has the yoga teacher training landscape evolved?
53:33 Yoga teachers and mentorship
55:05 “How many times have you felt like a fraud as a teacher? I have!”
58:40 Don’t overthink it/overplanning.
1:01:45 Having a basic structure for your classes
1:04:20 Why are we doing the posture?
1:07:24 Watch how they do their shoelaces.
1:08:15 Leigh’s work around adrenal fatigue
1:11:30 The difference between yoga practice and yoga therapy
1:15:30 Personal practice - what is my mission and purpose?
1:16:32 What is Leigh’s personal practice like?
1:19:24 Picks of the week.
Please email us to report any transcription errorsRane Bowen: Hello. My name is Rane and this is the Flow Artist Podcast. Every episode we interview inspiring movers, thinkers, and teachers about how they find their flow and much, much more. Happy 2018. Jo and I both hope you had a relaxing holiday break and are ready to kick off into the new year. I know we are. We have some really exciting interviews coming up over the next few months, and I can't wait to share them with you. We're starting off 2018 with a great episode, one I've really been looking forward to. Today's episode is a recording of a conversation between myself, Jo Stewart, and Leigh Blashki. Leigh Blashki is a legendary figure in Australian yoga. He was a founding member of the Yoga Teachers Association of Australia, now known as Yoga Australia. He was the founder of the Australian Institute of Yoga Therapy, is a past president of Yoga Australia.
Rane Bowen: A member of the council of advisors for Yoga Australia and the IAYT, and also served the IAYT on their standards, accreditation, and certification committees. Indeed, he has been instrumental in building the standards and professionalism of yoga in this country, and is widely regarded as the father of yoga therapy in Australia. It was an absolute honor to sit with him and record this episode. There's so much good stuff in this conversation, and I've talked way too much already, so let's get into it. Stick around to the end of the conversation for our picks of the week.
Jo Stewart: Thank you so much for joining us today.
Leigh Blashki: You're welcome Jo and Rane.
Jo Stewart: Would you like to start by telling us a bit about your background and where you grew up?
Leigh Blashki: Well, I was born and raised in Melbourne, and my formative years here, I guess you'd say schooled in Melbourne. From a typical middle class family, I went to school up through to finishing year 12, and a little later did some... didn't do tertiary studies straight away, I took a little time did some working mostly into yoga basically meditation early days, and then took up studies later on. Yeah, so typical sort of upbringing, family life, picnics on Sundays and all that stuff.
Jo Stewart: Nice. Would you like to tell us a little bit about your first discovery of yoga in your first forays into that world?
Leigh Blashki: Yeah, it's really interesting that in a way yoga... I can't do yoga... Well, I always bundle yoga and meditation together but I will use the word [inaudible 00:02:42] separate to some extent for the purposes of today. So I really started with meditation in the late 60s, where a lot of my friends were quite happy to experiment with soft drugs. I mean, just smoking grass and few people dropping some pills, and there's no way I was going to touch that because I was actually born with some health issues, congenital heart defects, and some other stuff. So I thought no, I'm not going to get involved with it, so I came across meditation, and that seemed to be something that I was attracted to. And then when they were sitting there saying, hey, man isn't the world beautiful. And I'd say yes, it is.
Jo Stewart: So you just thought another way to expand your mind and your consciousness?
Leigh Blashki: That's right, I had clean lungs and felt the same thing in a way so. So in a way the health issues really were the messengers that brought me to the path of meditation, it's because I was quite interested because of the Beatles going to Maharishi and that was really part of the stimulus of it. And then the physical yoga followed on, in fact I have a dear friend whose sister has just started taking up yoga, and that would have been around about 1970 the physical side of yoga, and I discovered a school not far away with Vijay Yogendra, who was the son of the very famous Shri Yogendra of Santa Cruz, Bombay's, are one of the outstanding yoga therapy centers in the world.
Jo Stewart: Well, that was convenient.
Leigh Blashki: Very convenient, it wasn't far away, I was in St Kilda So that's where that journey started. And it just sort of expanded and grew over the years, coming and going with varying levels of commitment intensity in the early days, but probably within a few years, I knew this was really going to be the direction of my life. And so by the mid to late 70s, that was the focus.
Jo Stewart: And so always from the beginning, obviously, you came at it from a kind of healing yourself perspective.
Leigh Blashki: I think so.
Jo Stewart: As well as the experimentation.
Leigh Blashki: Well, there was the healing of the self, and I was very lucky because early days, I really got what it was about healing the smallest self to being in an alignment with the "capital S" self if you like. Also, because I had a background in what you might call sports sciences, and I was involved with football teams, and other teams, involved as a football trainer, and doing massage, and things like. There seemed to be this fits of yoga with the wellbeing of others. So for myself, it was usually predominantly more what we might loosely call the spiritual unfolding or awakening. And when I was helping others it was probably more to do with their physical wellbeing, and it was later on when I married those two and there was some alignment. So in a way, ironically, I was probably practicing yoga therapy almost from the word go.
Jo Stewart: Yeah. Especially coming from the lineage of your first teacher like that would have just always been part of your practice.
Leigh Blashki: Absolutely, Shri Yogendra was like that, and the following teachers were all from a therapy background whether it be Swami Gitananda, A.G. Mohan, and on it goes, you know.
Jo Stewart: So you've mentioned a couple, are there any key teachers that you'd like to share with us or any maybe really special experiences you've had with key teachers?
Leigh Blashki: At this very, very moment you.
Jo Stewart: Namaste, Leigh.
Leigh Blashki: Because when we sit... and with Rane, because when you sit with somebody they're your teacher, and I really believe that. And in the early days, the belief was you take your teacher, and you stay with that teacher come hell or high water, doesn't matter if you get sore knees or sore ankles, or they physically abused or sexually abused or whatever, you just stay.
Jo Stewart: Yeah, your teachers knows best.
Leigh Blashki: Exactly, teacher knows best, so whether I had an element of renegade or not, I don't know. And I do hold an element back within, I guess, my mindset. But it was not jumping from flower to flower, when I've been with teachers, I've tried to dig a deep hole with them because you don't find the water by digging shallow holes, you dig a deep well, but I do believe you can have more than one day well. And so these varieties of teachers that have come all had some similar streams, and it's probably not a coincidence that most of those were from the southern India from the Tamil Nadu, with the [inaudible 00:07:00] edition and the variety of Krishnamacharya influences coming through A.G. Mohan who influenced me quite considerably in the 90s. And more recently through Richard Miller who I do honor, acknowledge as probably my current teacher, because I think we always maintain a teacher. No matter how much we might be regarded as an elder by others. Mentorship teach and continual studentship is important, I think in yoga and meditation.
Leigh Blashki: So Richard, who I've known for a little over 10 years, just on 10 years, I met him 10 years ago, and really took on iRest in my first workshop with him about eight years ago and started a more formally when he first came to Australia in 2013. Because his yoga background, of course, this comes from Desikachar, whilst his if you like his spiritual and self nourishment sort of awakening tradition really comes from the Kashmir Shaivism. So in a way I've taken on board quite a bit of that Kashmir Shaivism non dual philosophy, which is interesting because in the 80s, and I know I'm jumping around a little bit, it's like that when a lot of [inaudible 00:08:04] you can't tell the mind to be linear. [crosstalk 00:08:08] here's a linear mind really. In the early 80s, I was very drawn to Advaita Vedanta, so the non dual teaching. So it was not a big jump to go from Advaita to Kashmir, so it was-
Jo Stewart: So it was already there inside.
Leigh Blashki: Which is another form of non dualism, but a little bit more open, it's what we call unqualified non dualism, whereas Advaita is qualified there's still something the Advaita says, neti neti, not this, not this. Whatever's going on, it doesn't really exist. It's all just your mind's prediction. Whereas Kashmir Shaivism tradition non dualism says, yes, this, this and this, and this.
Jo Stewart: So it's not, not this, not this, not this, it's [crosstalk 00:08:50]
Leigh Blashki: No, it's all this, and all this is part of non separation. So there is that same thing of non dualism there is just possibly a little bit of semantically different to oneness, but non separation it says everything still is here this actually exists, all these things these are parts of life, but they are part of some other wholeness, some mystery.
Jo Stewart: Would you like to explain how that flows into the iRest practice in a practical sense?
Leigh Blashki: So with the iRest practice and again iRest sometimes misunderstood as just another approach to yoga nidra. Yoga nidra is an important element within the iRest, but iRest is a complete path of meditation based on this idea of non separation. And with non separation what we say is we welcome everything, we acknowledge our physical being, so we acknowledge what Samkhya has to teach us, the idea of the physical sensors, our sensor perception, action, and all the rest of the 25 26 steps of Samkhya up to purusa and prakrti. We welcome those and we welcome them as important messengers and parts of the component of how we live life within the real world, so it's a very real thing, it's not an escapism. But then we go beyond that, and we say, okay, behind that what's really happening?
Leigh Blashki: And we ask ourselves these questions. Well, if I'm a being, and I'm not doing something, if I take away the biography of life at the moment, just have this pure felt-sense of being, what's the sense of space in being? Does that sense of space as pure being have a boundary? An outer boundary or a center, or is it just boundless, spacious? Then we ask the same sort of question about time, when we are just being, what is the sense of time, or is time sort of suspended, are we just beings? Because it's not so relevant? It's a timelessness, and this timelessness settles down, thought settles down. Are we just being, what's missing? Are we lacking anything or is there a sense of perfection and wholeness that you don't need to add anything, we don't have to the get anything just to feel more as being.
Leigh Blashki: And as being, do we need to know more, do we need to sort of... is it something we need to get to learn how to be? No, it's familiar we can just be, we don't know anything completely, we don't have to do anything, it's not dependent upon circumstance in being. Like I experienced this morning, doing a little physical practice, you know I do a bit of rolling because it helps my potential vertigo. I'm going back and forth and it's quite a vigorous thing, and I'm experiencing pure being. Beings just witnessing this movement that is here, so even with something going on being is happening.
Leigh Blashki: So that's a foundational part of iRest, which then creates a few like a bridge between all that Samkhya stuff that we learn about in yoga to that next level of going into this sense of non separation. And then we start asking other questions about well, what is object and subject and how do they relate to each other? And can we just observe, can we step back and dissolve away from being yet another subject when we're observing an object? Because otherwise, we become another subject in order to be observed. Yeah, I am witnessing. Okay, well, I'm witnessing that I am witnessing. I am witnessing, the eye that's witnessing, the eye that's witnessing. And so you have this ultimate infinite regression if you like. In fact, I would probably say infinite progression to the extent where what happens is we deconstruct the sense of self, limited self where I... The sense [inaudible 00:12:57] Potentially, we know Asmita, the one with Klesas?
Leigh Blashki: We'd actually deconstruct the sense of Asmita, and we experience this-ness, and the I somehow just isn't there anymore. And yet, we still see things, we're still in the world but not of the world, and we are not... They don't have the hooks in us anymore. And so there's this lovely sense of just being this, as pure presence, aware in presence, undeniable presence, we can't deny this is here. And everything is contained within it allowed within it, welcome within it. And yes, very quickly when we see that the subtlest bit of I is still there. Until such a stage that we really... And this is the ultimate in iRest where we get to the highest level of we go beyond the sense of I and there is just being-ness, we can come back to the I because we need to function in the world. And that's another key thing with iRest, it's not like... And some people think in meditation you go and you, oh, bliss man, and you reach... Never comes to [inaudible 00:14:05] or you go, and you're up in the clouds.
Leigh Blashki: Well, that's not very functional, so we bring it back. This is called Sahaja, we make it real, we bring it back into the world, and we integrate now. And so even though we've awakened to this deconstructed aspect of ourselves, we then reconstruct components of self for functionality, and then bring that awakening back, so that every moment, whatever we're doing, what we've done before, now is done with the background of, I know, something else. I know, now know, how to tie the shoe laces, when to tie the shoe laces, and who is actually tying the shoe laces.
Jo Stewart: And so it kind of brings to mind the Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi concepts.
Leigh Blashki: It's similar to that, and it goes a little further I think, and because an iRest starts pretty much as all meditation does with you must learn how to focus the mind and attentional practices are great. So a lot of the early practices in I-ness especially a 10 step protocol, elements of that are designed to fine tune our attention skills to build the muscles of attention, as Richard likes to say. And then once we do that, of course, we reach that stage where we are in its flow of that attention which then we might call that Dharana, and then there's Samadhi. And of course, Samadhi there're only types of Samadhi and levels and, you know, with the seed, without the seed, and all the rest. So early days, we certainly still have the seed of... with our Samadhi, but ultimately we let go of that seed, and so I think there is a great compatibility of Nirbija or Nirvikalpa. Samadhi are quite compatible with those high levels of what we experience and we teach in this idea of Kashmir Shaivism.
Jo Stewart: And I guess those earlier stages as well are somewhat of a safety mechanism so that when people get to those unlimited realms-
Leigh Blashki: So important and that's what drew me so much to iRest I think was the fact that it had these clear safety mechanisms, and the idea of the inner resource, which is so key. And I don't think I've ever taught anybody iRest without initially having inner resource. I think I'm just about to have a CD, where I just... I don't have to develop in CD, it will be an e-download. If you've downloaded - a downloadable set of five iRest recordings through the iRest site in the States and I actually say at the beginning, please listen to that first recording, which is about the inner resource several times before you progress because what it does is it gives you this holding space and because iRest is so trauma sensitive, and a lot of people use it, who have found themselves to be vulnerable, hyper vigilance and the various things that come with trauma that there's so many words that are inadequate and can be limiting as safety net. I don't like the word match, it's a century, but it's more than a century there's something more active and holding about it.
Leigh Blashki: But each person makes it their own, and they build it, and not just the concept, it's not a mental construct, what we do is we make it or encourage it and develop it as an embodied felt sense because when all of a sudden, the stuff is hitting the fan, it's very hard for you to bring to mind and get that mind focused on the safe space, or their whatever it is. But if you embody it, and you bring forward that deep felt sense of the inner resource, that sense of safe with yourself, sense of security, sense of ease, deep comfort, that sense of... in your deep, authentic ground of being, and people will have images and sounds and people or not, they may or may not have those things-
Jo Stewart: But it's not prescriptive in a way.
Leigh Blashki: No, mine's very visual and the various components of visual will come to a for more [inaudible 00:17:53] as necessary. And it will morph at different times.
Jo Stewart: Sounds amazing.
Leigh Blashki: [crosstalk 00:17:58] so you know whenever it's coming up and I had some various emotions come up obviously with the recent surgery. And I was doing a meditation, I had to go straight and welcome the inner resource, straight back in. Something was coming up not as a stepping away from the emotions and the thoughts, it was just a little container that, okay, you can welcome these and see what they've got as messengers, but you've got to contain it, holding the safety.
Jo Stewart: And so since you mentioned it would you mind telling us a little bit about your recent diagnosis and surgery and maybe how your practice has changed around that or maybe how it hasn't?
Leigh Blashki: Yeah, right. Well, I suppose a bit. So I was born with heart defects, and again, this is part of the reason that put me to meditation and other aspects of yoga in the first place. And I had open heart surgery in 1959, it was pretty early days for having that surgery in kids, and they left another issues, and said, we may get back to that it might self heal, but it didn't, and in 1991 I had to have another one. Probably should have been done a bit earlier, and I've since found out that if it had been done early, I may not have been having these same issues anyway, so I started having atrial arrhythmias. First they weren't sure without atrial fibrillation or atrial flutter, and those who understand cardiology will probably know more than I because what I know about it from having discussed a lot with folks over the years and more recently, is that more typically the fibrillation is likely to be in the left atrium, and the flutter is more typically likely be in the right atrium, though they can overlap.
Leigh Blashki: Anyway, so I was having a lot of serious arrhythmias that put me in emergency ward twice in the last year via ambulance. You know really quite horrendous, you think his heart is going to jump out of his chest, and he's breathless.
Jo Stewart: How terrifying.
Leigh Blashki: Yeah, it certainly got terrifying. Anyway, but inner resource was there, you know.
Jo Stewart: Yeah, good test of the inner resource.
Leigh Blashki: Absolutely, anyway and so they said look I think we can give you some medication which is very typical stuff, a beta blocker, and some anti-coagulants because that's important if the blood is not clearing from the atrium you've got to make sure that you're not going to have clots in those... because if you have a clot, and it starts moving out, it's going to cause damage. That's not an if, that's going to. So I said no, let's go in and do this thing called an ablation, we don't know though, what you're typing of arrhythmia is, we won't know until we go in. So they went in, and they go in by the groin, through the inferior vena cava - they went by the femoral artery first, which of course where it ends up in the heart is in the right place, it comes into the right atrium. So have a look around there with their little diagnostic tools, which sense whether the electrical signals are, and thank goodness, tough on wood it was what they call a typical arrhythmia which means it was one where they can ablate it with usually reasonable success without a lot of drama.
Leigh Blashki: I was concerned it might have been an atypical one, which would have been more challenging. Anyway. So they've ablated it, which basically is they burn a couple of millimeters of the heart tissue so the incorrect electrical signal can no longer go there, so it should default back into its normal signal from the atrial sinus, actually in across to the AV node in between the ventricles. So anyway, that's feeling good now, but immediately after the surgery, there was such a sense of heart center exposure, invasion, trauma because even though they haven't sawn the chest open, it's still inside the heart.
Jo Stewart: Yes. Still really intrusive.
Leigh Blashki: And doing some damage to the tissue, helpful damage but... So it's I get the whole body's not as traumatized as maybe the chest like it's happened in the past, but it's still major surgery for the heart. But what I found was as much as the physical signals, because they give you a notice, you're going to feel this, you're going to feel that. I felt all those things for approximately the same number of days that they suggested they're going to happen, so I was very typical, and all that stuff. It's just settled down in the last couple of days, and a few more weeks to go for full recovery. But it was the sensitivity to this subtle incursion, if you like, into the heart and what the heart centre means. And that surprised me, but in a way, ironically pleased me. Because well maybe after all these years I'm developing a sensitivity to the subtle way of... which is nice.
Leigh Blashki: Because the time before probably there was so much physically going on, it was... I know if I was that sensitive, but anyway. So the meditation is coming back to that main question of how evolved was this great sense of acceptance of the messages of the heart center, the physical sensations because in iRest, there's a meditation, we welcome whatever sensations are arising at the time. There were lots of physical sensations in the heart, and some were really uncomfortable, some I'm a little disconcerting, though the mind says, that's okay. The doctor says this will happen for a few days. But then behind that letting myself settle back into being and allowing from that place of being to observe what will be really challenging stuff, you know, I mean this is core stuff when your heart is hurting literally hurting because it's been burned, for goodness’ sake, you're going to have some pain. It's not just the heart you're feeling, you're feeling surrounding tissues the Pericardium in particularly, and you're getting pains through the body, which should any other time you'd say go the hospital because that's like heart attack pain.
Leigh Blashki: But I know this is the post surgical pain and to really feel okay with it, and to feel okay that you don't like it. That it's a preference, and this the beautiful thing about practices like iRest, it's not just iRest all meditations that take this approach, that we recogniZe what is the preference, and to say, okay, this is a preference, but I'm okay, if that preference doesn't come about. And then to start watching the doubts, okay, well, it's fine now, but I've read all the data, and it's about 85 percent longer term success rate, and I'm hoping I'm one of the 85 percent, but worrying about it is not going to help. And just reflecting upon the fact Well, you know, you've got emotions about this, what do they say? The emotions say I'm actually feeling at home. So coming back to this heart center meditation time and time again.
Leigh Blashki: But that first week, holding the heart crying with the heart, and just letting that the acknowledgement, the acceptance that it was a messenger that it has a message. And I think that has been the most powerful thing that more than any time before I've really accepted the messages coming from the felt sense and emotional messengers that are here as part of life. Really, really listen to them more deeply than ever before.
Jo Stewart: And that's such a testament to the practice because it's-
Leigh Blashki: I think it is, it's a welcoming practice. Yeah, so it's beautiful.
Rane Bowen: I think I can really empathize with that because I don't know if you know I had stomach cancer, and my stomach was removed. So it's not exactly heart surgery but that point at the center of your chest is sort of now in my case, I guess, all tight and, I think there's a lot of emotion there as well. So, yeah, just getting the chance to observe that and...
Leigh Blashki: [inaudible 00:25:18] and it's good. So you what particular approach to your meditative acceptance of all this?
Rane Bowen: I remember, sort of early on in the pace I had this particularly sort of powerful experience, I was lying in shavasana, and I think we had done maybe a few say fish pose. So you know, I was opening up of the chest, and I was just lying on the floor in shavasana, and I just sort of felt like everything almost opened up and just this energy was coming through. I don't know if I'm articulating this very well, but it just sort of made me realize that there's a lot of stuff going on there, like maybe even some shame and some sadness, obviously, some sadness and grief of losing the stomach. So I think I can empathize a little bit with what you're saying.
Leigh Blashki: So if we weren't in this podcast now I'd be asking questions like, so as you're talking about this sense of shame, where do you actually feel that in your physical body? Because this is what we're doing in iRest, we engage people to say, well, you've got a messenger here, but the mind can confuse the messenger and trying the biography will start getting its different colored glasses on to... like make it feel better, but the body, the physical sensations are you can't fudge them. They are there, they're real, so we won't go to that because we're here to...
Rane Bowen: Yeah, we're interviewing you.
Leigh Blashki: But I have to say I felt this resonance with you and wanted to-
Rane Bowen: Yeah, yeah.
Leigh Blashki: My natural instinct was to go and ask those questions.
Jo Stewart: I know, it was Rane's experience as well, but no matter how much meditation practice you have at home once you're in the intensive care ward, it's such a challenging place to try and tap into that.
Leigh Blashki: It is. You know, I have to say when... Because this wasn't a G.A. (General Admission) I had the option of going GA, said we do need those, all of the [inaudible 00:27:04] let's not do it. But I was quite doped with midazolam which is a benzo. And so when I first went in there, you go into the... it's actually not what you would call and operating theater - it's a cath lab, but it's the same thing, all very stainless steel, and lights, and cameras, and a huge gray TV screen where they can observe what's going on. And you're taking off the gurney onto this, you know, they have this whole skinny little things, and you're planked on like a piece of... something at the butcher's place. And the drips are running in your arm, and the next thing there's noise, and there's people coming and going, and talking to each other, and all this action and I said is it always noisy in here? They said, yep. I said this one of the cath lab and operating theaters and like it's just all action, you know, normally don't about it because you're out by the time you get there normally.
Leigh Blashki: And it can be quite... and so I was doing meditation at that stage, and I said we you go ahead, and I was going to meditate, and because of the midazolam probably...
Jo Stewart: Slightly different flavors for the meditation.
Leigh Blashki: Different flavor than meditation.
Jo Stewart: So this is a complete change of direction.
Leigh Blashki: Sure.
Jo Stewart: But would you like to tell us a little bit about the beginnings of Yoga Australia?
Leigh Blashki: Look, let me wave at something else. Your listeners will probably guess that you've sent me a few questions ahead of time that I might've looked at. And I went through a couple of them and I was thinking actually in the shower this morning, what might I say about this stuff, and then I said, well, I've got to keep it brief because I could talk for three hours in this area. But in the late 90s, mid to late 90s, I was doing some graduate studies in Victoria University and my minor research project was surveying yoga teachers to see whether they were comfortable with their level of professional experience, skill, and training. That came about when I was presenting a couple of medical conferences in the mid 90s. Mind, immunity, and health which was put on by The Gawler Foundation, and some doctors were saying to me, how do you really know what a qualified yoga teacher is like? We are concerned, we like yoga, but we're bit concerned because they really enjoy a very good professional status, you know, we're a bit nervous about referring people because-
Jo Stewart: They're a mixed bag.
Leigh Blashki: Like you said a mixed bag, and that got me thinking, and I discussed this with A.G. Mohan, at the same time, he was thinking about standards of training and discussing with me. And so we had this two-way conversation and then... So I decided to do this survey, and it came back that a lot of teachers thought they would be interested in upscaling, they liked the idea of having a qualification that will be better regarded than what they've had. And there was a range of teachers, there was 130 respondents teachers from across all traditions, including Iyengar, you know, with this really deep, strong training. Yeah, so I thought that's interesting, and I started designing the course at CAE, a for CAE based around loosely some of the principles of the Krishnamacharya tradition, my own experiences. And I thought, well, I want to build this into a standard that is going to be really worthwhile, so I did some research and discovered that one can accredit a training program under what was then called the State Training board. It's now Skills Australia, I think the core elements...
Leigh Blashki: Basically the national bodies that accredits training of various sorts, so people often know it as vacation educational training. So I looked at what was required of that and devised a course that was, you know, two years, at an Advanced Diploma level was eventually accredited. At the time it was going on, and I was discussing with a lot of friends and colleagues, so people were starting to talk out in the field saying he's developing this course, it's an 800 hour program for goodnes’s sake or more. And you know, we've been taught teacher training, we don't even know how many hours. I mean, it might be 200, 300 years we're lucky. And this is a two year diploma like we... Three months of training, or you know, we sat with our teacher for a year in apprenticeship, what's it mean? Are we all going to feel a little inadequate now, some people got angry.
Leigh Blashki: I had to stand in front of some meetings saying this is not the government taking over, this is an attempt to improve the professional status of yoga teachers because we're hearing their colleagues in the field of physiotherapy, medicine, psychology, that they would like us to up our game, so they can have more confidence in what we're doing. So it was a bit like the wagons was being circled. So a range of yoga teachers came together, I was in the first group to support them with that, and a lot of them came from the Gita School of yoga who were very interested in all of this because they like to see what's going on. And they attended because their training is a little different to other trainings, they wanted to make sure they were part of the solutions that were going on.
Leigh Blashki: And so Yoga Teachers Association was formed, 25 yoga teachers came together in a meeting in South Yarra and we all decided to start an association. I think my membership number is five.
Jo Stewart: Nice.
Leigh Blashki: The executive committee members were one to four, and after the first six months I was in a committee for a short time to help develop their training standards, which if you like borrowed something from our training program, because it's seemed to be like a logical place to start, and then other things would tweak from it. We actually bought a few things ironically, from Yoga Alliance, [inaudible 00:31:58] reached an accord, it was very helpful and gave some ideas. So we developed that standard, which was 300 hours shortly after we increased it to 350 hours. Yoga Teachers Association of Australia a few years later turned its name to Yoga Australia on an advice I gave Stephen Penman, suggesting we should do that because there was fitness Australia, it was a much better name to be that the hub for all things in yoga, which it's starting to become now. And of course, Meditation Australia followed the whole idea.
Jo Stewart: That was Stephen involved-
Leigh Blashki: With Stephen involved again there because he's taken those same ideas, and... Because meditation Australia and Yoga Australia really are sharing so much of stuff together, which makes a whole lot of sense. So that's really how Yoga Australia started, and in the early days, a lot of the teachers who didn't have an alumni, their own Association appears from their own training were very interested in joining us, you know, the course at CAE. Yanga had their own guild, IYTA had its own. A lot of teachers had their own Association, so at first it was the non-aligned teachers, but more and more those who had a strong lineage also came on board to the extent now I was surprised I was in the office, Yoga Australia about three four weeks ago taking in half my yoga library, I've given it to them as a donation because they're trying to set up this free borrowing library for young teachers. And I was trying to sort of lighten my load, I don't need books right now, just [inaudible 00:33:22] lucky guy. Sitting on these things forever, you know, a carload of these things.
Leigh Blashki: And I said so how many people now are really... She said their mailing list is 9,000.
Jo Stewart: Wow.
Leigh Blashki: And when I was president our mailing list was two and a half thousand and that's only three years ago. So what happened is we opened this whole thing to the... like the non teaching members who you know, obviously, don't get registered but they get all the knowledge and it's just fantastic. And of course, with the yoga therapy registration now which is sensational, I found out only yesterday just by coincidence that there's well over 100 registered yoga therapist with Yoga Australia now, which is almost double what the old Association and the AAYT has and I'm not sure that AAYT will continue on but it seems to be real amongst some people too, I think long term Yoga Australia will be where that action is as well.
Jo Stewart: Yeah like it will be another stream in that Yoga Australia river.
Leigh Blashki: Basically, and Yoga Australia has such a strong connection with International Association of Yoga Therapists, and with some other international groups in yoga, one called the Global Networking Initiative, and as you possibly aware Leanne Davis the current president of Yoga Australia, she's taking over my role on the Certification Committee in YT, I stepped down from nine years of committee work with them in October. So we have Australian representation, and one of Yoga Australia's other council advisor Janet Lowndes is now also on a committee international association of yoga therapist, seeing how standards for people who are licensed healthcare practitioners and practicing yoga therapy may vary a little different from the people who are certified yoga therapist from a yoga background. So all this is to this common aim of improving the professional status and standing of yoga, yoga therapy and everything to do with this.
Jo Stewart: And they also advocate for yoga teachers workplace rights.
Leigh Blashki: Absolutely. So important. Yeah, really. So I'm just thrilled, you know the little bit of influence I've had with Yoga Australia, I just feel where they're going, their management is strong, the committee is strong, the staff are sensational, really go ahead organization. And as you would have read many times, it's in the process of becoming recognized by the federal government as a peak body. Now they don't hand them out pretty quickly, it takes about five years of hoops, a fire to go through to get this status, but they're well on their way and it's looking like it might be too far away. That basically means that they have the status, that's almost like a real certifying licensing body, really a deep imprimatur for an organization.
Jo Stewart: And you can just tell that when you look at their website, they've got... You can tell it from high yoga teachers, like their code of ethics is really beautiful and very much in tuned with yoga philosophy. And even though it's a little bit about officializing or-
Leigh Blashki: That's right, you need to see those things.
Jo Stewart: Yeah, when you email them, like you're dealing with a beautiful real person who has your best interests at heart and is kind of there to help you as a yoga teacher.
Leigh Blashki: And they're behaving with the spirit of yoga at all times. Now, even if you're in the scope of practice, it looks a little bit sort of cold and clinical, but that's to help other people who aren't Yogi's understand, what does a yoga teacher do and what don't they do. And my hope is that more yoga teachers will read that scope of practice back and forth and really understand it. I mean, scope of practice that Yoga Australia has is almost the same as the one that the International Association of Yoga Therapists have just with the necessary changes of international body, local body, ones therapy, ones teaching. But in essence, they have the same concept and the same framework because when we're teaching yoga, if we understand our scope of practice, we can't help but behave professionally and we can't help but stay within our Code of Professional Conduct, and behave ethically and really demonstrate in our actions, inwards of course, the deep and genuine care for the people that we serving. Because as yoga teachers we are serving, we may earn an income from them, but we're still serving people.
Jo Stewart: There's a CDP, which is your continued professional development and they're very open on the kinds of things you can do for that as well and quite trusting. If you're preparing for a workshop, you can even include your research time as part of your professional development and-
Leigh Blashki: Absolutely. Yes, and the trust is there, but of course there're audits around. I spent two years doing the audits of those, and I think we selected the... We got some advice from someone who understands sampling, and we had to sample six percent to make it a valid sample. So there were several hundred teachers, and several people didn't have staff, and we couldn't accept them. And we had to... So I think about a dozen people were asked to, you better go out and do some stuff because it's just not-
Jo Stewart: Go get some certificates.
Leigh Blashki: Yeah, so we are serious about it, and I say we as a field, and Yoga Australia particularly, it's not just pretend and Yoga Australia is about to start site visits of training providers, not just desk audits. This would be a first model in the world doing it.
Jo Stewart: I think that's a lot of people's criticism of Yoga Alliance, like, oh, you just pay them your money, and then get your stamps and there's no verification. That doesn't mean anything except that you paid the fee.
Leigh Blashki: Exactly. Well, they're trying to change their ways I hear, I had a short meeting with one of their folks recently, I just wanted to ask some questions about scopes of practice and things, and Leanne is now going to be in regular dialogue with them. And it seems like they are wanting to be a slightly better citizen in the field of yoga. I mean, they're big, they have people with 90,000 members worldwide. And it's a big organization, so it's it takes a little while to turn a big tanker around. But I do get a sense there is an intention for that to happen.
Jo Stewart: It's an interesting space as well, because often yoga teachers, well, they have great personal ethics, haven't chosen this path because they like following rules and filling out forms and having someone else tell them what they can be doing so.
Leigh Blashki: Absolutely, which can be a challenge, of course, and as you know, there's a lot of folks out there now running workshops and providing wonderful add-on skills for yoga teachers in this area, the business skills, you know, there's the book McCarthy's, and the Claire Netley's of the world who are doing this wonderful work. And it's so important and people doing the work on how to understand your ethical guidelines, your boundaries and when you're working with in areas of mental health. Yoga for many, many years, have quite a good credential when dealing with people in the physical area and massage therapists and physios were reasonably comfortable, but mental health? Whoa, what do yoga folks know about mental health?
Leigh Blashki: Sure, yoga is a form of psychology such as yoga psychology. But did they really understand so now we have all these courses on yoga for mental health with Janet Lowdnes and Micheal de Manincor. And it's just the stuff that's on offer now it's just so exciting for folks who are new to yoga and because so much can be done online.
Jo Stewart: Yeah, would you like to talk a little bit about that evolution of how, like Yoga and learning you either went in person, or you had a book to read, and then it's evolved to videos and DVDs and internet and online streaming and also, I guess the more frivolous side of that which is Instagram, and YouTube.
Leigh Blashki: That's right Facebook clips have got... you know, you want to be a [crosstalk 00:41:00] and thank Mr. JP Sears who keeps the light for us. So I was one of those folks who, you know, came back 50 old years in this field, the whole idea of anything but in face training was anathema. And even to the early days, when the IYTA, was running what was essentially their... what used to be called correspondence courses, and you still have to go face to face for a week or two or whatever. And I was a bit iffy about it, even though the course was is very a good course. I mean, they ran a very good course. But over the years, things have evolved, they've changed, and they've suffered a lot to the extent where I think I'm quite enthusiastic about the new medium... I mean new media, as long as we understand the difference between synchronous and asynchronous, electronic learning, synchronous meaning you are live, and you can contribute. There is a dialogue, there's an interaction between the teacher and the students and you're hearing the other students as well.
Leigh Blashki: That's great, because now you're on an online classroom. And yes, there might be a little bit of resonance missing by not being face to face. But is that better than people not getting the training. To me, it's damn side better than being sent a book to read, and a workbook or DVD to watch, and then fill out the workbook and getting it map that's pretty shallow distance learning. Synchronous learning can be supported by asynchronous learning, which is yes, look at this DVD and fill out a workbook that's going to be supportive. And so when people design online training now. They clear this many hours and these certain comments, these must be covered, synchronous, and if it's asynchronous, we used to got non contact, is supportive in a certain number of hours with [inaudible 00:42:37]. If you look at, for example, the Yoga Australia, yoga therapy standards, it clearly shows this many hours we want to have full context, of which certain amount can be synchronous, online training, and on a certain number it can be asynchronous.
Jo Stewart: And it would be so much harder to wrap your head around some of these concepts without being able to ask questions and hear other people's interpretations. Like it just be such a hard slog?
Leigh Blashki: Yes. And again, you can't make it your own, and make it real if it's not synchronous, and what ends up happening with trainings, which the old style corresponds, is you end it with clones, because people will have to give the same answer in the workbook. And so therefore, they think this is the only one approach and the thing they're feeling about, what they've experienced may not be right, and so they go with what the book says. And you end up with people who are clones rather than bringing forward what their experiences are, and what Yoga is to them.
Jo Stewart: You don't realize that this is many right answers as there are people in the group sometimes.
Leigh Blashki: Unfortunately, even the face to face trainings, the older style ones was the teacher stands up and says, this is the way, and so one came up with exactly the same thing. I mean, people still do it, learn the same 26 postures in the same script and I'm not naming any particular brands of course, but... I'm sure there're strengths in all those, but where's the personality? Where is the individual person being their felt experience of yoga in their life and sharing it with their students because that's ultimately how the great teachers taught. How did Iyengar teach, how did Satchidananda teach, how did Satyananda teach, how did [inaudible 00:44:19] their yoga in their life? Here's how I experienced it that's why Iyengar's teaching is different to Pattabhi Jois' is different to Jessica [Chars 00:44:26] although they've got the same teacher, had the same teacher because they made it real into their own life.
Jo Stewart: And this really circles back to the CAE course, which to my knowledge is pretty unusual in having teachers from different disciplines or different lineages.
Leigh Blashki: Yeah, so it was the first one to really do that, and I think the IYTA course probably was like you called eclectic. So it was consciously we did that on purpose to say let's give people the richness of flavors, the underlying weave of the course was there. I think we actually had a document what was the the mission and the weave of this course which hang around the principles of Krishnamacharya taught by Mohan. And all these other things that wove into it from the tantric tradition and [inaudible 00:45:06] tradition and Donna Farhi's and Judith Lassiters and satchidananda all the stuff were being taught for the different teachers.
Jo Stewart: And even when I was a student in the course, it was always part of what we learnt, like a teacher might be teaching you a certain Asana, and they might say, I will instruct it this way. But this other teacher will have this other point of view. And so from the beginning, it emphasizes us to find our own truth, and to also teach in a way that allows students to find their own truth in the practice.
Leigh Blashki: As you have done. And that's right, because it's your own voice, your own truth, your own yoga, and my dream would be if there's... let's say we estimate there's between 15,000 and 20,000 yoga teachers in Australia, I'd love to see 15,000 to 20,000 styles of yoga, if we had to use the word styles. I mean, I don't like the word because yoga is yoga, but really that's what it ought to be. Now, some people will see that as heresy, particularly some of the Indian traditions, that's says this is the way and it's a different approach to things, that you're taught this way, and this is exactly the language you use, and everyone gets this thing at the same way. And look, a lot of good has been done for lots of people that way, but it doesn't seem to work that well in the West.
Jo Stewart: It was one of the things that drew me to the course, the fact that it was a real diversity of styles and approaches, do you think that it's possible to take that too far? And to kind of let your own ego maybe take over a little bit, and try to make it yours?
Leigh Blashki: Well, yes, there's a potential for that. And that comes back to two things, maybe one or two things, but two came to mind of me. One, is the maturity of the student coming in to do teacher training. If someone's a neophyte in yoga, generally. I mean, I like the idea that someone's had five or 10 years of personal practicing yoga, before becoming a teacher then there's less likely to that. The second is the quality of the structure of the course, and the people teaching the course, so for example, the course it used to be the CAE and as you know now run from what was called Academy of yoga running now, as of a week ago, so this is will be the first time this will be heard online, they've changed their name to Academy of yoga and Mind Body education.
Jo Stewart: Not same.
Leigh Blashki: And so run by [inaudible 00:47:26] and others have come on board with her to run it. And the faculty that she has around her for the training that she's running is exactly like that. They understand scope and know what you can and can't do, and yes, we want you to explore, but remember if this is perineum, there are still some guidelines in perineum. And this is Asana, yes, we want you to take your approach that's a bit individualized, et cetera. But where does Asana stop becoming Asana, and just becoming mindless exercise? When does the philosophy become more generalized life philosophy and when can you no longer say it's a yoga philosophy? That's a gray one, I would argue with myself many times on all sides of that argument.
Jo Stewart: Well I'm on duel here.
Leigh Blashki: On duel, exactly. No, there's only one side of duel. But yes, so I think there is a safety in having a reputable organization with really good quality stuff and that the person is matured enough when they come to teacher training. It's not the necessary step, I've done yoga for two years, I think I want to become a teacher. It is not the necessary step. Some people will absolutely be ready for that and just fall right into it, just like it's not a necessary step that I've been a yoga teacher for five years, I should be a teacher trainer now. That doesn't happen, I didn't become a teacher trainer until I've been practicing for 30 something years.
Jo Stewart: And what really helped me with that process is the fact that the course went for two years. Was that a conscious choice or was that just how long it took to put in all the things that you wanted to put in?
Leigh Blashki: Both, see [inaudible 00:49:03] Kashmir shaivism yes and yes. Because when we looked at the course and when it first... First iteration was a Diploma then became an Advanced Diploma because when it was re-accredited, the State Training Board said, no, this is stronger than a diploma it should be advanced diploma. They've changed their thinking now, they've swung it all the way back. And so two years was diplomas could be one or two years, so we were encouraged one or two years within no time to mature into this. That's a type of practice, a lot of people not just come and cram and so even if people came along and they didn't have quite enough maturity of their practice, this would help develop the maturity. And you know yourself then a matter of practicing and journaling, and even summer break, or up in the army [inaudible 00:49:43]
Jo Stewart: I wasn't very excited about that [crosstalk 00:49:47] summer break.
Leigh Blashki: Yeah, there was always something going on. And that was the primary reason that it's time to mature and for it to be an achievable thing for people so that it wasn't just too intense at the time.
Rane Bowen: You know my course was just one year and I think I needed all of that to integrate everything that I got, and I didn't even feel like up until the second half of it that I was really sort of getting anything.
Jo Stewart: And you had a yoga teacher at home, to ask all the questions [crosstalk 00:50:15]
Rane Bowen: Exactly, I could take about it every night so.
Jo Stewart: And did.
Leigh Blashki: So you understand this idea that it takes some time to mature. And nowadays most people aren't going to commit themselves for two years very often, so what's now happening with [inaudible 00:50:31] with their new course is one year, and then you get that qualification, which gets you to your level one Yoga Australia. And then the next year, [inaudible 00:50:39] year so your next level, and so it gives you this option to add-on. You can come finish at one year, which is what iRest does, you have your level one stop if you want to, but you're still really only part way there. Level two, great now go on and become certified if you want to really be.
Jo Stewart: I think it's a really good approach.
Leigh Blashki: Yeah.
Jo Stewart: How have you notice the yoga teacher training and even just the yoga teaching landscape of evolve through the time that you've been teaching and living in Melbourne?
Leigh Blashki: I've seen two things occur. One is, in certain areas, a great deepening and professionalizing of the trainings, so the professional status and standing of yoga teachers is growing. Then I've also seen almost the opposite occurring, where it's like the hotdog store of yoga training on the side street, and there's a small number of courses obviously, course they ran and Kaye subsequently runs, is in that field of depth and artificial acceptance, IYTA course like that, Iyengar courses, I mean, some of these really deep... going right down deep courses. There are some sitting in the sort of halfway between the Academy of... straight into Academy of yoga, those sorts of courses, you know, one year courses that are little eclectic, and they sort of bit of depth. Perhaps not quite enough for they're, you know, there's-
Jo Stewart: Maybe are more of an emphasis on the individual [crosstalk 00:52:06]
Leigh Blashki: Yeah. So they are those in the middle. But then there's the larger number of the ones that are literally go off to Bali for three weeks and do the course and come back. And they're the ones that Yoga Australia says, look, we can't really call these folks yoga teachers, because of that minimum standards, we call them provisional teachers. And within three years, if they can get their extra 150 hours, ensure they've been mentor during that time, then they can get their full membership. And so, and there's a lot of those around some give a surprisingly amount of good training for the short amount of time. Women's [inaudible 00:52:39] pains but very, very big one that's up in a very nice place in north New South Wales.
Leigh Blashki: Yeah, often not because they run themselves, but some of the training... and I've dealt with people who have done that training, and I've seen them as clients and had them in sessions, and they actually learn a remarkably good amount of time. So it's a well designed program, and you get others you think are you serious? What are they learning, and they come to do something with this, and they've come to see me for private sessions or come to iRest and you talk about some basic stuff and they've never heard of it. And they've done supposedly four teacher training program. They're not taught yoga sutra, they taught... There was a yoga sutras, he's why I recommend, read it in your own time, you don't have to have a teacher, then how are you going to do it? Who's guiding through the text, it's not a reading text, as you know.
Jo Stewart: And you're like poking your ass if none of it is making sense.
Leigh Blashki: Precisely, so because of all of that I have a very strong belief in, I don't know that I'll stop believing in this and I will very quietly and keep encouraging that teachers should be mentored. Yoga Australia I think will eventually get around to it, but they're open to the concept that there is an established set of mentors listed and people can say okay, I'll select this mentor. Okay, let's go for this once a month. I'm supervising five people at the moment for their iRest certification, I mentor a couple of others, we can be on Skype and I've been taught. So I mentored couple of folks in the state as major. And of course, my dear friend, colleague, Foucault is still my mentor here in Australia, he's more senior than I in iRest. And if I want mentoring something in yoga, I've got so many peers and colleagues that we sit at the... it's no hierarchy, but we've been around for a long time, we can chat about things and help each other.
Jo Stewart: And also those conversations are awesome.
Leigh Blashki: Yes.
Jo Stewart: This is really interesting stuff to talk about and still continuing that process of making sense of these things in your own mind, or maybe going through a situation that happened in class that you weren't sure how you handled it to be able to unpack that with other yoga teachers, even if it's people who have had the similar amount of training and experience to you is so valuable.
Leigh Blashki: Absolutely.
Jo Stewart: It's such a solo occupation when you teach me.
Leigh Blashki: You're right, Jo, that's the whole thing where we're up there individually sitting on our own, and we're being the one that, the teachers know all the answers. And you're starting to think, oh my God. How many times have you felt like a fraud being a teacher?
Jo Stewart: Oh, yeah.
Leigh Blashki: I have, and I still would, starting to think serious, I'm meant to know all that stuff, you know.
Jo Stewart: Even when people will put... It's a beautiful compliment, but they'll say something like oh, those two sessions with you healed my back. And it's like I just don't actually think that's possible. It's really great that you're feeling so much better, but it's not me healing you. It's what you've done for yourself.
Leigh Blashki: Exactly, it's their practice all we're doing is we're the guide by the side, as I like to say. Yeah, when we're teaching whatever we're teaching, we always feel humbled, in that am I really in a position that can be guiding this person because ultimately... But all we can do... and it's just something I think one of the greatest learnings from [inaudible 00:55:46], anybody can teach me the iRest protocol, and I could have learned it. But having learned from Richard from a guy who has such a remarkable ability with presence and with resonance that's where he's awakened into, to bring out of myself, that same idea of being able to resonate and sit with somebody just as an authentic human being with them, authenticity just being there, whether it be face to face, Skype to Skype, whatever the environment is, and really connect and say, well, we are not separate. Let's just welcome whatever there is here in the room just now. And in any moment, we're doing the best we can.
Leigh Blashki: And it is both humbling and empowering that because you know, you cannot go wrong, because whatever you do, if you do it with that sense of authentic open heartedness and genuine sense of the bottom of our hearts you know, Sutra 133 this idea of friendliness, joy, compassion. If that's really where you're coming from, and you're sitting with somebody one on one or a class of 50 people, you cannot go wrong because you are being authentic, you're being true. You are now the Rose in that rose bush, just offering itself and nobody can question it, and so that gets rid of this idea of am I a fraud? You know, because I don't know if I've ever spoken with a teacher who said, I don't know if I did anything with these people or that I should be doing this or... and I've had my own teachers who have been teaching as long or longer than I have, who said the same thing to me. You know, I often wonder whether I could be teaching what my teacher taught me?
Leigh Blashki: We've got wiser as [inaudible 00:57:37], we have the right because we are authentic human beings sitting here in resonance with other human beings, inviting them to their authenticity.
Jo Stewart: And I think that's it when it's you sharing your own practice and encouraging people to feel into themselves, then that's true. When it's you trying to tell people that you know everything and they're doing things the wrong way, because that's not how it looks in the book. That somewhat really getting into murky waters and-
Leigh Blashki: Unfortunately, like you, you know, you live with the Yogi's and so do I, even though she's recently retired but Heather was one of those remarkable yoga teachers that so often she would come out from class and say, you know what, I just didn't know what to do. I said, how did the class go? But ironically it was wonder, because and there's this honesty, and she'd say to folks in class, you know just absolute honesty about what's going on today. And it always worked out because of that honesty.
Jo Stewart: I've actually found that some of my classes that I really felt haven't hit the mark are the ones that I've been the most prepared for, ones are like oh, I'll play this music and I'll do this sequence, and I've been really excited about it. It just hasn't quite had that magic.
Leigh Blashki: And so you can have a plan and think it through too much. And this is a great lesson for new teachers.
Rane Bowen: Absolutely.
Leigh Blashki: Don't overthink it and that you trust... and for all teachers who's listening to this that you trust what you have behind you, that it will come forward, if you get out of the way. Get some of your biography out of the way, allow the truth of that to come through, and with the simplicity and not trying to make things complex. We often say, as even we further say in the course, less is more, most of the time in teaching any form of yoga or meditation. And we don't have to impress anybody with putting more stuff in there.
Jo Stewart: I think as well sometimes as a teacher you kind of worry about people getting bored in your class, so oh, I've got to like think up some new sequences and some new things. But I actually don't remember ever feeling bored in a class myself, so I think it maybe comes from a little bit of insecurity as a teacher that you have enough to offer without trying to fancy it up.
Leigh Blashki: Yeah, yeah. And that sort of raises a question, and I vaguely recall this might be on your list of questions, or something along that line of practice evolving and all that sort of stuff, and we've sort of touched on that before. But to me, if it is truly yoga, it must evolve every session. Evolve doesn't mean better, and stronger, or longer. It's not a hierarchical or directional thing that you can do each session with a sense of newness and openness and not knowing because we come in singing yesterday when I did that posture I remember I had to turn that foot a little bit this way or when I sat and you know, I got a sore nostril, pushing one side to hard, forget all that, that was yesterday.
Leigh Blashki: And if we're just being, what's time? And that is really encouraging because then what happens is you have a practice, which might really fit for you. And the practice I have at the moment my own personal morning physical practice, what we might call my Asana practice, it was given to me by a dear friend and colleague whose had about the same experience as I. But I saw him in some respects as a senior colleague because he published a beautiful book and just so loved overseas. And he gave it to me in 2008, or nine in the United States. And I still do that same practice with small light variations at times as the body for feel, but are coming with its open mind each time. And so it is really fresh every day and occasionally little things might weave in and out of it, but the central framework of it is exactly the same. That's [inaudible 01:01:28] was the teacher, by the way, passed away a few years ago.
Jo Stewart: I think as a teacher as well, especially if you teach slightly different every class it can be very freeing to have a bit of a framework for your own practice. So you can just shut off your creative inventing brain, and... But things will still go differently, like you're saying and often you do... that is when the inspiration actually comes when you're not trying to force anything.
Leigh Blashki: Yes, a lot of teachers particularly Indian teachers would say that if don't have a regular personal practice that has its structure, how do you know it's going on for you becomes your starting point, your bases. It's your control in your personal study on yourself, otherwise it's like weighing yourself once a week and having different set of scale each time.
Jo Stewart: I think everyone as well has probably... They've got like a little niggle, or a little tight spot, or tight side of their body, you've got your poses which you might like check even poses to see how things are feeling that day.
Leigh Blashki: So that's a regular personal practice but it doesn't mean you can't go and do other things, so there'll be days when I'll get on that ball and roll around, I'll get in that vibrating machine do stuff on that, or I'll just do something outside, and as a way of... just another exploration, and you look at the master of personal workshopping and exploration named Donna Farhi, that's why she is such... has really almost created her own style, in a way, she doesn't like that term, but it's almost that.
Jo Stewart: Seems like the great teachers don't.
Leigh Blashki: Exactly, and because she'd spend hours getting on the floor and just... She talks about rolling around, and exploring things, and workshopping things. So that is still valuable, and I'll have to do that with the little 15 minutes of my little practice each day is the little touchdown.
Jo Stewart: Often, it's the jumping off point as well, so it's like okay, whole body warmed up, I'm moving to something else.
Leigh Blashki: Exactly. Yeah, I felt something on that side? Now let's think about this what could I think of, or I went to this workshop last time and I discovered something different. And there's a workshop in Montreal in March this year. Discover something beautifully in my... I love lying twist. I mean, it's top of paravritti, you know, it's combinations. If you had to pick a favorite posture that probably would be mine. And I just learned some other little magic thing that I just thought was sensational. Now, I've incorporated that, I've taught it to some people on a retreat, and they thought, wow, this another... just this little wow- so much, you're always going to learn something everywhere you go.
Jo Stewart: Yeah, the same pose and just that slightly different emphasis.
Leigh Blashki: Easy on something, that's right exactly, yeah. Sometimes it's counterintuitive to think really? On that breathe not the other one? Wow, that works.
Jo Stewart: Well, also that's that moment where you're like oh, I was just doing it this way, because this is how I've been taught. And I've been told not to do it that way. But actually, when I do, it opens up this whole different realm.
Leigh Blashki: Yes, exactly. Well, that brings up the other thing in yoga, and we say, well, why are we doing the posture? That's the question the mind always ask, why are we doing it? What's it for? People say, oh, I'm doing so... How did you do so and so? Okay, why are you doing so and so? Well, shouldn't it be part of with the yoga class, and yeah, shouldn't we also allow it too in our yoga class? I don't know, what's the purpose? What's the goal of the class? What's your personal goal for your practice? People have this assumption you have to do something.
Jo Stewart: And I think that can be really helpful for people, especially if you have a personal dislike or struggle with a pose to just have that understanding about Oh, here's all these other benefits, that don't actually have to do with how far I can reach my arm or how well I can balance on that leg, because that means you can get the benefit of that pose at that moment. It's not something you have to work towards, and be better.
Leigh Blashki: Well, one of the adages, that's mine and Desikachar both used is do the least in order to achieve what you need to achieve. For example, I like to invert. Now for absolute straight body, straight back, straight leg shoulder stand doesn't do me much good anymore. A niggle in the neck, a little arthritis in the neck, that level of inversion maybe not so great with my cardiovascular syndrome but a really soft half shoulder stand just connects for me. And I think to myself Well, is there any benefit that I was looking for which is the inversion, reverse circulation, the work on the baroreceptors in the neck, reversing... opening up prana and vayus, they're the things I was looking for. Absolutely no different, full shoulder stand offers me nothing there.
Leigh Blashki: I don't do trikonasana anymore it does nothing that I can't get with postures that are much more kind on my body, polite. And I think this is another key to practice, we need to be kind and polite. It's certainly a feature in iRest because you know iRest has it's, well you may not know, has this thing called body sensing, which is like movement. It looks a bit like Asana but it's actually more of a movement that comes from the introspective sense of the body's energy and then the movement may unfold out of that. It's very polite, very kind, so really as him so starting at home, starting their own practice, and I think a lot of teachers sometimes miss that.
Jo Stewart: Do you think it's a little bit of a symptom, maybe in teachers and in students and just as a society of a lack of self love and self acceptance to feel that we always do have to push ourselves and do that bit more and we're not quite... I don't know if worthy is the right word, but that's striving and that goal-driven approach[.
Leigh Blashki: Probably only about 98.5 percent have that problem. Yeah, striving and having to prove it to ourselves more often than not, or to some imaginary other...
Jo Stewart: Because most teachers are very nurturing and tell you that you're enough, and not to push, and not to hurt yourself.
Leigh Blashki: And then go home and watch how they do at shoe laces. Yeah, because that's the measure of a person's practice have they really learned, how to do their shoe laces, when to do at the shoe laces, and who's actually doing them?
Jo Stewart: What does that say about me that I'm too lazy for laces and all my shoes are slip-ons?
Leigh Blashki: It might well be that you've asked the question even why shoe laces?
Jo Stewart: Yeah, I have to take my shoes off four or five times a day, forget laces.
Rane Bowen: I'm going to be very careful tying my shoes laces.
Leigh Blashki: That's a metaphor for any number of things in life, in fact the Desikachar was famously asked on many occasions. How do you really judge the benefit of persons practice? And he says, look at their relationships.
Rane Bowen: One of the things you are known for is your adrenal fatigue workshop. Would you like to talk about that? And perhaps what's important about it?
Leigh Blashki: Sure. What I discovered with use of yoga therapy is that a vast number of people have a deep fatigue, and the medical profession a few years ago started to recognize adrenal fatigue as really a differentiator or diagnosable condition. So I developed this workshop based on my own personal experiences and certain some ideas perceived many years ago, some came from all the way back to Shri Yogendra, some quite a few from Swami Gitananda's approach and [side blaze 01:08:49] of own experience. And the workshop essentially helps people understand this connection between their breath, the mind and prana. So where the breath goes the prana goes, and the mind goes where the breath goes and prana goes and all that. And therefore, if the mind is being taken outward into an external locus of awareness, we not worried about this thing, about that person, and we... past, future, the mind's out on holiday somewhere, stressing prana is going out.
Leigh Blashki: And so we are draining ourselves, so that's like the yoga physiology component, if you like of it. Then correlating that then to what's really happening in the HPA, the Hypothalamic Pituitary Adrenal axis and the production of adrenaline and cortisol, etc. What that does to the system and how it builds up, and what happens if there's too much cortisol and you end up with a fatigue and cortisol, obviously can be produced and you collapse. And so these set of practices, so simple, and the idea is that they're very simply having movements with particular breath patterns, where at times we retain the breath, at times we suspend the breath. And the times of retaining the breath we are consciously taking energy into the particular areas that the movement has facilitated to open up. The suspension of the breath we're taking the mind into that quietness, so about energizing physically in the panic body and trying to reduce the hyperactivity of the mind and there are some sound work with it as well and body breathing practices.
Leigh Blashki: But the nice thing about it is the movements are really simple, they can be adapted and dumbed down to anybody's capacity.
Jo Stewart: Back to doing the minimum.
Leigh Blashki: Exactly, back to minimum, they can be done in a chair. And this thing comes in sets of four just for convenience, four rounds of this, and four of that, and the breath cycles in counts of four. But a person starts with one each, and they go two each, depends on the level of recovery from the exhaustion. And I was just thrilled by the number of people who found benefit from this over the years and I know Gina McCauley from Yogahara in Bendigo is now of the main people starting to carry this forward and then teaching others, and a few people have started to teach it now, which I'm thrilled about that. It's really exciting when people take something and just say, oh, we've now just done a workshop, we think this is good to pass on to others. So that's been great.
Jo Stewart: Yeah, lovely. And what a needed contribution.
Leigh Blashki: So, needed. Yeah, I mean, it's... I know we could have done, but even if it's just a few hundred it's nice that those people are been helped.
Jo Stewart: I guess this a little bit flows into a question that I hear a lot. What is the difference between yoga practice and yoga therapy?
Leigh Blashki: So yoga therapy is taking all the yoga tools and you sit with somebody generally one on one, can't happen in a group, and they have an individual requirement and you delve down deeper into their individual requirement, and you work out what is behind their presenting, let's say these signs and symptoms. You, with them work out priorities for where they want to go, then you arrange a set of tools. Now that's called the vyuha model [inaudible 01:12:05] this actually comes from the yoga sutras as well. And so when you work in that model, that's yoga therapy, you need more training for it because you got to learn how to evaluate and assess people. So you are assessing each person, depending upon the yoga therapy background, they might do pulses, diabetic assessment, they may do a lot of biomechanical assessment. There might be questionnaires of various sorts, some people just need to look, some people pick up the energy of people.
Leigh Blashki: So there's a range of ways of assessing but when we're assessing across the [inaudible 01:12:35] model, the five koshas, we are sometimes looking at Doshas, we may be looking at the state of the gunas, and the subtle aspects, and of course, the physical aspects, the psychological aspects, there are so many overlays that can occur. Now, most people get that one on one yoga therapy, but there are people who can do yoga therapy in groups. And when I was involved with the International Association of Yoga Therapists, one of the things that we did on a committee was to specify what differentiates yoga therapy group sessions from just a yoga class, which might be just aiming at people with special needs because you might have, it's yoga for pregnancy yoga therapy. If you did an individual assessment for each person, and they all had special needs, and they're all coming on with some issues in their pregnancy, and your individual assessment and you reassess them pregnant intervals, then you can call it a yoga therapy session, or in a situation where they've been assessed by somebody else.
Leigh Blashki: So people will go to a clinic sometimes the physio or the doctor with a psychologist assess somebody, so your level of assessment as yoga therapist is a little less with each individual. But they still had an assessment and they're being re-assessed by a fellow practitioner, so that certainly the yoga therapy group works and that's clearly that exact description can be found in the scope of practice both for Yoga Australia and Yoga Therapist under IYAT.
Jo Stewart: Great answer. Thank you. Do you have any career advice for teachers starting out or mid career or really anywhere on their journey
Leigh Blashki: Absolutely, keep going. It might seem challenging at times, but keep going. Now, keep going doesn't necessarily mean do the same thing all the time, keep going might mean I'm going to stop teaching [inaudible 01:14:27] classes for a while, it might mean I'm going to do something else for a while or I'm going to go off and do a further study, or it may mean I hope or I hope it means go to the Yoga Australia conference at least every year or two. March 16th of 18th in Melbourne 2018, for example, and connect with your peers. If you've got alumni you studied with, you've got a connection already. Work with them, and you may will have group mentoring or supervision or you might have individual mentor. I think mentoring is probably the greatest thing you can have though. I think of all things, an individual mentor who will then advise you what they think may be helpful.
Leigh Blashki: And I'm really blessed to have four or five teachers, you know, who have I've been mentoring from the many years now. And it's just the most beautiful relationship to have with folks and because you know some of their journey, and they can trust you, you can trust them. Of course, what happens is, if I'm looking for somebody to refer to, you know, it is a networking thing which occurs as well as the self development. This idea of personal practice, yes, you've got to have personal practice, but it doesn't necessarily mean you get on a mat for 45 minutes doing an Asana practice that you did five years ago. It may or mean different things, but the key is that each day you get up thinking, what is my mission and purpose, what will give my life purpose, meaning and value today?
Jo Stewart: And do you have any specific practices that have been really helpful for you that maybe you could share with the teacher because I know that say you've been in traffic you're running late you've got to go and teach your class you don't have time?
Leigh Blashki: You know the old saying about you don't have time - one of those old parables
Jo Stewart: When that happens, you should meditate more!
Leigh Blashki: Guy goes, I'm very busy, busy businessmen and goes to the roshi, he says I only got half an hour to meditate, what can you give me? Haven't got time to meditate okay, you need to meditate for an hour, [crosstalk 01:16:29] half an hour. So these any number of practice, so this is the key it's not even what is the practice it's the fact that you have committed to it. You know the whole be thankful for the red light. [inaudible 01:16:42] I came across this situation this morning, and I caught myself getting annoyed by somebody coming into a traffic, and she coning up the side street and there's traffic coming, and she could have gone round, and I... come on lady, you can go [inaudible 01:16:54] and I thought, I've got 30 seconds here. Wow, this breath is nice, this nostril is nice, [inaudible 01:17:03] up to this moment. But by the time I'd finished she'd had already gone, I'm the next one who should have been going - there was someone behind me saying what's he doing?
Leigh Blashki: There's a range of beautiful little mini practices that people can do, whatever the tradition they come from, there will be some, whether it be just that you know you're feeling yourself present, feet on the floor, the backside of the chair, you know, those simple things we do when people come to sit down. Any of those can be useful, what we're doing is just saying, acknowledge the present. I mean, one of the lovely things about some of the publication that Richard Miller has his PTSD, iRest for PTSD. And his what's called a six CD set, they have these little mini practices, everything from four minutes up to the 44 minutes. And these are little snippets of short things that you can do, so valuable. So I think it's good for teacher to learn those little things, you can borrow little packages of them or make up your own stuff. Sometimes doing your own recordings can be useful, you know you really harassed, and you haven't got that way with all... just let the mind anchor into the present.
Leigh Blashki: If you've got a recording of yourself doing that little quick thing that can be very helpful, play in your new car, or have it on your phone, all that sort of stuff. Really useful little tool just to make that little full stop end of a sentence, and a little space between the various paragraphs of your day.
Jo Stewart: I think psychologically as well, there's something nice about your own voice encouraging you to do something like it's very intentional.
Leigh Blashki: It is, it's very intentional, very real. I was completely taken back when I first did a few of them. You know, who doesn't hate my own voice on recordings, I mean, it's a universal thing. And I thought I was going to be horrible. And then we settled into it okay.
Jo Stewart: And it makes you a better teacher, and a better speaker if you've noticed those vocal ticks in yourself as you do your own recordings.
Leigh Blashki: And we stop saying so at the beginning of every sentence there, don't we?
Rane Bowen: Sometimes.
Jo Stewart: So that's a beautiful book recommendation, have you got any other resources that you'd like to share?
Leigh Blashki: Yes, there's a book by a guy called John Prendergast P-R-E-N-D-E-R-G-A-S-T called In Touch. And In Touch is a book on self discovery, it is the non dual teachings. John Prendergast like Richard Miller was a student of Dr. John Klein, who is a Swiss and he was born meditation teacher in the 70s and 80s and died in late 90s. And in his [inaudible 01:19:50] is still online, you can get some of his books online. They've got a few recordings on YouTube of his but John was one of his students, so this book is a lovely compendium of self reflections. There's lots of exercises thought of how to be in touch with all of this.
Leigh Blashki: So it's very much like book on non separation, on welcoming, so it's very compatible with iRest. In fact, Richard often quotes John's work. I think it's a lovely book, I can judge the books that are important to me by the number of little yellow stickers sticking out. This thing looks like a pompom with postit notes sticking out of it. There literally has to be over 100 of things sticking out of these pages. Heather said to me only yesterday I was showing the book to another teacher who was [inaudible 01:20:39] said, why are you marking all of these pages, just read the whole book again. I said but sometimes there's only that one little inspiration on that page [crosstalk 01:20:47]
Jo Stewart: Or you start out thinking I'll just do a couple of key points and then when you look back over you're like oh, that's pretty much every page now.
Leigh Blashki: Well it's a bit like that when I was doing a book review for him. That's how it started, I'd put these little highlights for oh, that's another gem, you know. So I do encourage, and in fact, I think it's nice for yoga teachers and anybody aspiring on a path is to have something that they can read each day a little daily reading, it could be an audio book of some sort. But a daily reading is really, really useful. I have two or three books otherwise I've been in these, there's a little bit that I read each day, and it might be two or three pages, new inspiration, could be the poetry, even have a roomie on hand, or can even [inaudible 01:21:31] write on hand just these little things because what it does is it just creates a mindset of we are acknowledging the importance of these things in our life, rather than I've got five minutes to spare, I'm just going to check my Facebook again.
Jo Stewart: And my emails.
Leigh Blashki: Yeah, that I've got five minutes to spare I'll do this thing, you know. Then what happens is it's much easier step to say I've got five minutes to spare, wow, just being. Nothing else you see, just being. And in just being it's not that nothing's here, everything is here.
Jo Stewart: Beautiful. And I think of the Leigh comes in two parts. First part if you haven't been to the dentist lately, you should go because sometimes as yoga teachers, we take care of some aspects of ourselves and little bit less likely to go to the dentist.
Leigh Blashki: Good call.
Jo Stewart: Don't leave it for 16 years like I did. So, first part about it. Second part, I have a recipe for a homemade mouthwash which was recommended to me by my dentist and it's so simple, just water, sea salt and bicarb equal parts maybe build up to have salty and bicarb if you want your water to be and then just a drop of lemon myrtle essential oil. And what it does is if you have an acidic environment in your mouth, you're more likely to get gum disease, you're more likely to get tooth decay. And this is just an alkalizing rinse out and refresh. It took me a while, it took my dentist telling me to do this twice in two separate visits but I'm really feeling the benefits now. And I wasn't going for teeth whitening, but I've noticed how much whiter my teeth look.
Leigh Blashki: And so a particular magic of the lemon myrtle, so if someone say add mint instead or?
Jo Stewart: The lemon myrtle was camouflaging the taste of the sea salt and the bicarb.
Leigh Blashki: So you could use mint or something else?
Jo Stewart: Yeah, lemon myrtle has its own anti-bacterial properties.
Leigh Blashki: I thought yes, because unfortunately teatree oil would be great but it doesn't taste very nice.
Jo Stewart: No, that's what it took for me to actually enjoy using this. And now I'm like, yes, every time I'm home had a meal swish, swish. And I've also started tongue scraping.
Leigh Blashki: Yes. Yeah, I might try your mouthwash. Beautiful.
Rane Bowen: Nice. And my pick of the week is a book called Journey Center Emptiness, Dugan, Merton young and the quest for transformation. And it's a great book about these three great spiritual and psychological seekers and their commonalities and their concept of emptiness so it's a really great book and it's by Robert Jingen Gunn. So yeah, check that out.
Leigh Blashki: Fantastic.
Rane Bowen: Thanks so much. Thanks for your time and thanks for your insight and wisdom that was fantastic.
Jo Stewart: Namaste, thank you so much Leigh.
Leigh Blashki: Can I just finish with... I'd love to finish with remembering [inaudible 01:24:18] said and talked, I know that place in you where the entire universe resides a place of peace, of truth of love and light. When you are in that place in you, and I'm in that place in me, we are in the same place, and we are one. Namaste.
Jo Stewart: Namaste.
Rane Bowen: Namaste. So there you have it, Leigh is an absolute inspiration to me and has been a teacher and mentor to countless other yoga teachers both in Australia and abroad. And our next interview we will be talking to pilates Louise Taube. Louise as an influential figure and the Australian pilates scene, having taught countless other pilates teachers and has an energetic and engaging personality. I'm really looking forward to this one. Just before we leave you, I'd like to ask that you subscribe or rate us on iTunes or wherever you download your podcasts. It will really help us get the word out there so we can bring this podcast to the world.
Rane Bowen: Finally, we would really love to hear from you. You can drop a note on our website at podcast.flowartist.com email us @email@example.com or look for us on Facebook or Twitter. The theme song in this podcast is Baby Robots by Ghostsoal and used with permission. Do yourself a favor and get his music from ghostsoul.bandcamp.com. Thanks again. Big, big Love.