>Megan Jones is a qualified yoga teacher who is well-known to Manning-Great Lakes residents, having taught in the area for 23 years. Megan has also studied aromatherapy and remedial massage and is currently studying an Advanced Diploma of Naturopathy, to ensure her clients have an holistic approach to their ongoing healthcare. Megan tells us about some of the the benefits of practicing yoga, with a specific focus on women’s health …
You started practicing yoga in 1987, learning the craft from your teacher Maaida Palmer, the Principal and founder of Turiya Yoga Foundation in Australia. How long did you train with Maaida, and what was the learning experience like?
I had only been attending yoga for about 8 months when Maaida asked if I wanted to do teacher training. I was quite overwhelmed, as I was 24 and my son, Max, was only 2. I couldn’t imagine myself teaching or being able to study, so I only stayed on for a few more months, and then I dropped out of yoga. I feared I wasn’t ready: my personal life was a bit messy, and I definitely didn’t want to take it on if I couldn’t give it my full commitment.
Six months later, after missing the subtle ways in which yoga had improved my life, I went back. Maaida just smiled and said to me, “Now you have to teach”. So I did. I studied, mostly one on one with Maaida, for 10 years, receiving my first qualifications from the Turiya Yoga Foundation in 1990, only a few months before the birth of my daughter, Ali.
Maaida had learned Raja Yoga, the yoga of the mind, in India with her teacher Shri Yogendra from Santa Cruz, Bombay (now Mumbai). She had also picked up a practice called Kum Nye Relaxation, which is a Tibetan form of yoga taught by Tarthang Tulku. So we spent many hours in meditation, pranayama (breathing techniques), Kum Nye and deep discussion. I had never met anyone at that stage in my life who had inspired me to extend myself as much as she did.
Maaida wasn’t one to give anything away; I had to work it out as I went – with her guidance, of course. “Yoga is experiential,” she would say, nothing that you can learn out of a book. So we got into the practice in a very deep way. We had study sessions after class once and sometimes twice a week, and we would also sit in her lounge room and talk about philosophy, the science of yoga and any parts of my study that I was struggling with. I really enjoyed those times, as the conversation was lively and informative and encouraged me to inquire, strive and explore.
I began the diploma paper in about 1994, but shelved that in 1996, as teaching was then taking a huge hunk of my time. I had also started my studies in complementary therapies, and I was after all a mum, which was my first and most important role.
Maaida passed away in October 1999. There was a lot left undone for me at the time, but now 13 years later, it is all falling into place.
Maaida gifted me an amazing life direction, which has not only given me purpose, but at the same time meaning and joy. The bonus too is all the amazing people I have met as a teacher and student of yoga.
In Western culture there tends to be a huge focus on practicing yoga to improve one’s aesthetic appearance, yet traditionally yoga has been practised to improve one’s overall spiritual and mental wellbeing, hasn’t it?
Yoga practice originally unfolded out of a need to be healthy and strong, so one could sit for hours in meditation to reach enlightenment. Over thousands of years, the practice has developed into a series of asana (postures), pranayama (breathing) and meditation practices to quieten the mind, change the subtle energies of the body mind and harness a deeper understanding of our true nature. That is the traditional way.
There are forms of yoga that are more focused on the physical aspects of the practice; hence, we find that the emphasis may lean towards aesthetic appearance. But truth is once you get on a yoga mat, no matter what you are practicing, change happens.
Tell us about the philosophy of yoga according to your understanding of it …
Well, that’s a tough question. The yoga philosophy is one of the oldest known to man; there have been many books written on the subject, and I’m still pondering. But from where I stand today, yoga helps us to bridge the gap between what we think and perceive our immediate world experience to be and what is.
The way in which we approach this is via the Eightfold Path, which literally takes a student through eight steps to reach self realisation. This was developed by Patanjali, who through a discourse encourages the student to address certain moral and ethical practices, called Yama and Niyama, that help to cleanse the mind and body. Asana: movement that cleanses, tones, and heals the body. Pranayama: breathing techniques for calming the mind and subtle energies. Pratayahara: sense withdrawal to bring the focus inward, and then the three higher steps, Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi, which reveal the higher levels of awareness, consciousness and the ultimate Self Realisation.
This system helps us to let go of the kleshas (attachments) and withdraw from sensate experiences, moving into a place where inner peace resides and expands into our internal environment. This then hopefully spirals outwards, touching our families, friends, communities and all life. It is an ancient theory, but in its simplest form is a very powerful tool even today.
There are often dedicated women’s health classes at yoga centres … how can practising yoga improve a woman’s ever-evolving life stages, such as during pregnancy, birth, menstruation, menopause and throughout their sexual life?
One of the aspects of yoga I love so much is that it encourages change. Women are in a constant cycle from birth to death, and yoga practice helps us to be mindful in the moment and able to balance those changes in our life.
The physical aspect of yoga helps to keep us toned, fit and strong, giving us a sense of confidence. Asana stimulates the systems of the body and encourages balance on all levels. That said, the practice changes as we change from the beginning of menses, through puberty, being in love and loved, sexual awakening, pregnancy, motherhood, menopause and beyond. A woman’s cycle is like the slowest pulse within us and it is very real, so our physical practice needs to adapt, as we do, through every day, every month and every experience.
The quiet practices are rich and nurturing as the breath, our life force and the pathway into the mind, when balanced brings mental clarity, space and calm. Meditation and relaxation aid deep healing and rejuvenation.
Interestingly, yoga was developed by men and only practiced exclusively by men for hundreds of years. In my understanding, it wasn’t until the Tantric system came into being that women began to practice; it then became a more common tradition for householders.
Men can practice strong yoga from a very young age, right through life, never altering or changing – unless of course, they become sick or injured. Women, on the other hand, need to alter their practice monthly; it might only be slight changes, but it is wise to change with the cycles.
I believe that yoga can be a woman’s constant companion through life – a gift that sprouts meaning and purpose and encourages self love and self respect. Yoga has certainly provided me with an amazing foundation to balance my life.
What about yoga and weight control … there is a school of thought which says that yoga doesn’t assist with weight control, as it isn’t intensive enough, cardiovascular-wise …
Some of the more flowing styles of yoga can be very energetic, elevating the heart rate and burning calories and helping to detoxify the body, and of course, the mind. Some yoga is performed in a hot room to intensify the detoxifying nature.
Even so, I find that many women who practice yoga are discovering that a new level of self respect develops. Even though some of the gentler practices of yoga might not be burning calories, one becomes more conscious of what they are doing with their bodies on every level, including what they put into it.
Yoga does help to regulate the digestive system and can fan the inner fire that burns off toxins.
Mind you, it’s not a given, but many yoga practitioners become vegetarian over time, as meat feels very heavy in the body. And there is also the moral aspect of respecting all life, (Ahimsa – non violence; the first of the Yamas), which for some yoga practitioners brings about the choice of not harming or killing any animal for any reason, including not to feed themselves.
You also run the Dhirata Healing Clinic at Smiths Lake. What types of complementary therapies do you offer, in particular the Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis, and how this actually works.
Dhirata Therapies has been evolving since 1997 to encourage inner calmness and sense of being comfortable in one’s own body mind. So at the clinic, I incorporate aromatherapy and remedial massage with lymphatic drainage and yoga as a therapy. More recently, I have added Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis. This is a wonderful way of keeping a close eye on some of the deeper aspects of our health, that we often aren’t aware of until it emerges as a health problem. The hair gives us a history from a cellular level of what has been happening over the past few months, depending on how often you cut your hair. Sometimes the results show us that we need to make a few minor adjustments to our diet or lifestyle and if it goes deeper than that, I refer my clients on to a qualified Naturopath.
You have completed studies in aromatherapy and massage and are currently also studying an Advanced Diploma in Naturopathy, which you say will help to offer your students and clients a more “holistic approach to their ongoing health care”. How is this so?
I have been in the health industry for 23 years now, and I have a love of how our bodies have a natural healing ability given the right environment. I believe that we all too often sabotage our health by the life choices that we make. There are many toxins and stresses in our life today that weren’t around even 50 years ago.
So to me, if we can provide ourselves with a healthy environment, good fresh food, exercise, relaxation, positive mental attitudes and great support from our community, then we have a better chance of surviving intact into old age and enjoying the journey. I am studying because I would like pull together my knowledge and experience into a qualification that allows me to become part of that larger support for my clients and students and those that I cross paths with in the future.
Tell us about the international retreats you facilitate?
In 2011, my partner Troy and I took some students over to Nepal for a Yoga Trek in the Annapurna Ranges. I took another smaller group this year, and both experiences were fantastic on so many levels. Just to be able to holiday and practice yoga daily with friends and students is a treat. I’m sharing my love of adventure and my love of yoga with anyone who wants to experience something more than just what is.
The Himalayas are extraordinary and the Nepalese people are amazing; they have so little materially, but give so much of themselves. The trek company, HiOnLife Himalaya, that I travel with are amazing and treat us all like family.
Next year I have two Yoga Treks organised: one in Nepal in March and another in Sweden in July. The Swedish trek with HiOnLife Sweden has been organised as a way to celebrate my 50th birthday. Some of my family and friends are coming and a few students are starting to put hands up, so it should be a great adventure. Everyone is welcome to join us on either trek, and no yoga experience is necessary.
How can people find out more about what you do?
I hold Retreats, Intensives, Kirtan and Yoga classes, and my clinic is open by appointment only, so an email or phone call is welcomed to discuss options. If you want to know more about my work or would like to get in touch, then visit my website: dhirata.com.au
Thank you Megan.
Interview by Karen Farrell.
This story was published in issue 66 of the Manning-Great Lakes Focus