Mantras vs Affirmation

The question came up in a workshop I taught yesterday: “what is the difference between an affirmation and a mantra?” and whilst I could give my own interpretation of how they differ, it prompted me to go and do some further reading so that next time I am asked the same question, I’ll be able to give a more concise answer. Read on for more on this topic.

Mantras and positive affirmations are two unique ways to cultivate self-care and nourish our mind.

In the Eastern world, it is believed that words – whether thought or stated out loud – can affect our physical vibration and over time impact our perception or circumstances in a positive way. The approach – which has been used in Buddhism for thousands of years – is to repeat “mantras” in accordance with meditation.

Mantras are words, sounds, or invocations either in Sanskrit or any other language, that aid the individual in focusing concentration and deepening meditation while also uniting him or her with a higher power. Mantras are associated with mysticism and spirituality and aim to liberate the mind from thought in order to facilitate inner peace.

Examples of mantras include single words such as “Om” or “Shanti” or Sanskrit phrases such as “Om Namah Shivaya” which can be interpreted as bowing to our true highest selves.


On the other hand, a positive affirmation is a term often used interchangeably with mantras; however, the two have vastly different origins and applications. Positive affirmations were developed in the 1970’s by neuroscientists, incorporating a modern understanding of psychotherapy and linguistics in order to consciously rewire thought patterns towards more desired outcomes. Affirmations can be stated anytime and tend to be complete sentences addressing something we wish to have or be as if we already have it in the present moment.

Examples of positive affirmations include phrases such as “I am whole and perfect the way I am,” “I am overflowing with abundance,” or “I am radiating with love and compassion.”


While you’re likely to hear anecdotal evidence on whether one or both of these methods are effective at creating the positive results we seek, it is interesting to note that some research has been done in the realm of both mantras and affirmations, most notably indicating that results vary depending on the individual and how much he or she actually believes them and what resonates.

When they are effective, both mantras and positive affirmations can help with problem solving, reduce stress and anxiety, increase positive emotions, improve relationships, create inner clarity and increase confidence.

It’s true these methods work better for some than others – we are all unique and should honour what feels most nourishing on an individual level. I would encourage you to give both mantras and affirmations a try and see if they impact how you feel or approach your daily life. If they help you feel better in some way then keep practicing. If they don’t and you feel like a fool muttering to yourself and don’t find any benefits from the practice, stop. It’s great to try out all different kinds of tools and eventually you should find something that really sits well with you. Happy exploring!


10 Reasons why we need at least 8 hugs a day

I am certainly not one of those people who would necessarily relish being hugged, unexpectedly, by a complete stranger or upon meeting someone for the first time, but I do love hugging (and being hugged by) those who I am comfortable with, especially my children. I also know a number of folk who harbour an active dislike of unsolicited hugging – including one friend in particular who has a thing about ears – and so I am not by any means endorsing the idea of abandoned hugging in general. That said, I found this article by Marcus Julian Felicetti very lovely, and thought it would be nice to share to encourage those of us who do hug, to do it more often, and for those who don’t, to consider all the benefits of the simple act (and for those of you thinking of attending a yoga class at my yoga studio in Stellenbosch, fear not: unlike Marcus, I am not known to hug my students, unless they very specifically request me to do so!).

Hugging therapy has been proven to be a powerful way of healing. Research shows that hugging (and also laughter) is extremely effective at healing sickness, disease, loneliness, depression, anxiety and stress, and it is said that a proper deep hug, where the hearts are pressing together, can benefit you in the following ways:

1. The nurturing touch of a hug builds trust and a sense of safety. This helps with open and honest communication.

2. Hugs can instantly boost oxytocin levels, which heal feelings of loneliness, isolation, and anger.

3. Holding a hug for an extended time lifts one’s serotonin levels, elevating mood and creating happiness.

4. Hugs strengthen the immune system. The gentle pressure on the sternum and the emotional charge this creates activates the Solar Plexus Chakra. This stimulates the thymus gland, which regulates and balances the body’s production of white blood cells, which keep you healthy and disease free.

5. Hugging boosts self-esteem. From the time we’re born our family’s touch shows us that we’re loved and special. The associations of self-worth and tactile sensations from our early years are still imbedded in our nervous system as adults. The cuddles we received from our Mom and Dad while growing up remain imprinted at a cellular level, and hugs remind us at a somatic level of that. Hugs, therefore, connect us to our ability to self love.

6. Hugging relaxes muscles. Hugs release tension in the body. Hugs can take away pain; they soothe aches by increasing circulation into the soft tissues.

7. Hugs balance out the nervous system. The galvanic skin response of someone receiving and giving a hug shows a change in skin conductance. The effect in moisture and electricity in the skin suggests a more balanced state in the nervous system – parasympathetic.

8. Hugs teach us how to give and receive. There is equal value in receiving and being receptive to warmth, as to giving and sharing. Hugs educate us how love flows both ways.

9. Hugs are so much like meditation and laughter. They teach us to let go and be present in the moment. They encourage us to flow with the energy of life. Hugs get you out of your circular thinking patterns and connect you with your heart and your feelings and your breath.

10. The energy exchange between the people hugging is an investment in the relationship. It encourages empathy and understanding. And, it’s synergistic, which means the whole is more than the sum of its parts: 1+1 = 3 or more! This synergy is more likely to result in win-win outcomes.

There is a saying by Virginia Satir, a respected family therapist, “We need four hugs a day for survival. We need eight hugs a day for maintenance. We need twelve hugs a day for growth.” Eight or more might seem quite high, but while researching and writing this article I asked my child, “How many hugs a day do you like?” She said, “I’m not going to tell you how many I like, but it’s way more than eight.” That really made me smile and touched my heart. And, I realized how organic and deep the need for hugs is.

As a loving father, I get plenty of hugs from my little princess and her Mamma. And as a yoga therapist, I often give and receive them from my students at the end of a session. I find that love, is a miracle drug.

Published August 10, 2012 at 11:52 AM

About Marcus Julian Felicetti

Marcus became a yoga teacher soon after discovering yoga at University. His classes are fun, passionate and often intense. They offer students the chance to go deep within and connect with their breath and release their emotions. Marcus communicates his love of yoga through guiding each student with insight and compassion, weaving ancient wisdom with simplicity and an emphasis on the student’s experience. His primary objective is to teach a system of yoga that fully integrates the body, mind and spirit, and channels that energy to its highest potential and purpose. Marcus continues to grow his own yoga practice everyday while remaining passionate about helping others connect to theirs. He teaches private one-on-one yoga in Sydney. His business Bodhi Yoga provides quality corporate yoga classes to companies in Sydney. Website:

The 10 Things You’ll Do Once You Start Yoga (that have nothing to do with yoga)

I so enjoyed this article by Lee Anne Finfinger (see that I simply have to re-post it on my blog. It made me laugh out loud at myself and I am sure that all of you that are in any way involved in yoga may also find it amusing. It is such a breath of fresh air to find someone who is clearly passionate about yoga (and especially how it has transformed her life), yet able to do without the worthiness and seriousness that can so often accompany any musings about the subject.

In the same vein, I am currently reading a book by Claire Dederer called ‘Poser’, which I am thoroughly enjoying, even though I am only a few chapters in. I confess: the sole reason I bought the book is because of the photo on the cover: a woman in lotus with a glass of wine in her one hand and a baby’s juice bottle in the other. Finding myself constantly challenged in the daily balancing act of my many ‘jobs’ (frequently grumpy and stressed-out mother of two children under the age of four, not-very-good wife, yoga instructor, to name but a few), this resonated with me enormously. Dederer,  a highly self-aware, smart book critic who has contributed to The New York Times Book Review,  makes some extremely powerful social commentary about the challenges of being a mother, a wife, a woman in our current society whilst being very honest (and incredibly witty) about how yoga helped her to fight her own demons. I have just put my own two children down for a nap and so I am keeping this blog post short so that I can dash off and get back to reading!

So, to finish off this post, enjoy Lee Anne’s ten points about what you’ll do once you start yoga…

1. At least once, you will force yourself to try to be vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian, gluten-free (insert any over-zealous diet here)/ drink Kombucha/ buy bottled water before class and pour it into your sustainable water bottle before the teacher/students/Whole Foods cashier next to you sees.  (If you’re craving meat, just eat it!  On your deathbed, will you really be glad that you didn’t have that steak on your 30th Birthday?)

2. Your iPod will now include a heavy serving of Kirtan music that you will listen to on your very long commute to your yoga studio (It’s cool; if you want to listen to Kirtan occasionally, go for it!  When you start listening to it while driving and falling asleep — time to go back to your old playlists. Do NOT switch over to NPR!)

3. You will pretend not to notice that your ass now fits in a size 6 instead of an 8, but you’re secretly thrilled.  (When you get down to a 4 though, watch it.  People will talk.)

4. You will go back to your natural hair color/ remove your hair extensions/ cut your hair short in an attempt to stop paying so much attention to your vanity.  (Try not to cut it too short — the growing out process is a bitch and then you’ll just need more hair extensions. I did.)

5. You’ll attempt to read the Yoga Sutras, the Bhagavad Gita, or the Upanishads while your stack of fashion magazines calls to you from the next room.  (Really, why can’t I like Rachel Zoe and yoga?  Now that I’m thin enough to actually wear her clothes, why should I pretend I don’t want to?) (See #3.)

6. You will take a retreat.  Hello, Kripalu!  (It’s ok — those other people probably are weirdos.  So are you.  Eat your breakfast and shut up.  No really, shut the fuck up – it’s a silent breakfast.)

7. You’ll start taking photos of yourself in yoga poses. Often.  And you’ll think that other people care.  It’s like the modern-day version of the vacation slideshow.  No one gives a shit, but they’ll pretend like they do so that you do the same when they whip out their own photos.

8. You will at some point wear mala beads, which will break all over the floor of your 6:15am class.  (Basically, it’ll end about as well as when I wore my Grandmother’s rosary beads to dinner at age 6. Silver Lining: The company was kind enough to re-string them for free, and now I just wear them like a really cool wrap bracelet.  It’s very hippie chic. Thank you September Vogue.) (See #5)

9. You will become a cheap date.  Remember, you just dropped two sizes and you continue to spend at least an hour a day sweating and twisting and breathing.  You’ll be buzzed from one drink!

10. You’ll get over yourself.  If you teach yoga, you’ll hope that people show up because they like taking class from who you really are.  If you practice yoga, you’ll keep showing up and you’ll realize that the other shit doesn’t matter.

Why Meditate? (Who would have thought getting jiggy would have something to do with it?!)

Why Meditate?

The Band asked me this question in recent times (although he already has a healthy meditation practice underway, started during our years in California and which has carried him through many trying times since then). Even though I feel that I can reel off a bunch of reasons without giving it too much thought, I felt that it may be enlightening to do some actual research on what is being said nowadays about this age-old practice.

Anyone who knows anything about meditation knows about how it can benefit your health, concentration, stress levels etc. etc. but what I found quite interesting whilst doing a bit of Google-ing this past weekend is how much scope it’s getting from a sexual point of view! Seems that this is something that, in our stressful days, people are getting more and more wound up about.

This information is predominantly taken from a website called, and is quoted specifically from Dr. Jennifer Berman, author, educator and urological surgeon, who is the medical director of Bermans female sexual function site.

Their vision and mission are to present timely, accurate, useful education and information in the areas of male and female sexual function, prostate health, gynaecological issues, male and female incontinence and male fertility to empower the visitor with information. They do not diagnose nor prescribe but pride themselves on making every effort to inform and educate, providing powerful tools for empowering those who visit their sites. All their information is written by or reviewed by clearly identified medical and health care professionals, generally with links to information about the author.

So, not a bunch of new-age hippie-types, all chanting in tune and floating about in tie-dyed, diaphanous kaftans!  So, here I hand over to Dr. Berman:

“If you had asked me 5 years ago whether I thought that meditation was an integral component of health and wellness, I probably would have shrugged and perhaps even chuckled. Well, since then, I have learned that meditation; in particular it’s effect on stress reduction, is an integral part of health wellness and sexuality and should be incorporated into everyone’s daily routine.

Easier said than done you may say. Take it from me, a Type A, multi-tasking do-it-all woman who can’t sit still for 5 minutes, much less try to clear my mind and to still for 20 minutes.

I am going to convince you about the importance of incorporating meditation into your life and daily routine and give you some simple techniques as well as recommendations. I want to hear back from you after 6 weeks of doing this and hear your thoughts and experience. I guarantee you, and I say guarantee with all sincerity, you will see changes including improvements in mood, sleep, patience, concentration, energy as well as your libido.

Though meditation is usually recognized as a largely spiritual practice, it has many health benefits. You would be surprised how meditation techniques are not only being implemented into general medical health care but also in managing serious medical conditions and chronic diseases. Research studies have demonstrated that practicing meditation can alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression and has eliminated the need for medications in various chronic inflammatory conditions of the skin, irritable bowel, lupus as well as arthritis. It has also proven effective in managing symptoms of ADHD in both children and adults. The bottom line is, in my mind, it has a direct effect on stress reduction, which in turn decreases inflammation.

Everything bad that happens to us in life, health wise, is related to inflammation. Alzheimer’s disease is inflammation of nerve cells in the brain; Multiple sclerosis is inflammation of the peripheral nerves in our body, cardiovascular disease is inflammation of the small vessels of the heart, cancer is basically inflammation gone out of control. Believe it or not, depression is associated with high levels of inflammation, which generally correlate with high levels of stress. When there is inflammation in your body, cells either die at an increasing rate or burst and release more inflammatory mediators called oxygen free radicals. Meditation actually decreases inflammation levels in your body, which is one of the mechanisms by which it has healing effects on your body and mind.

Additionally, during meditation the brain waves actually change from the active alpha waves to the calming theta waves. Theta waves are associated with a feeling of calm as well as increased GABA secretion, which is a neuropeptite that causes feelings of relaxation. I’ve listed below some of the main effects of meditation that have been documented in the medical literature.

It lowers oxygen consumption and decreases oxygen free radicals

Decreases cortisol, the stress hormone

It increases blood flow to the brain and increase brain chemicals such as GABA, Dopamine and Seratonin

Increases exercise tolerance and sugar metabolism

Helps with symptoms of PMS and PMDD

Lowers blood pressure and brings high blood to normal.

Reduces anxiety attacks by lowering the levels of cortisol, norepinephrine and ephingrine the fight or flight hormones

Decreases muscle tension (any pain due to tension) and headaches.

Increases your immune system and alleviates symptoms of allergies by decreasing inflammation

Improves wound healing following surgery

Effects of Stress on our Bodies

Normally, any life threatening situation triggers off the STRESS RESPONSE. In everyday life, any number of events can be triggers for stress, including work, children, our relationships, finances, family members, and many more. The stress response is designed to enable a person to act quickly and survive intense, short-term challenges, which require less brains and fast reflexes. This survival response is well suited if we are in a life threatening situation, however the same response is triggered in traffic jams, work related irritations, family squabbles and many such situations-.which results in our body preparing for a life-death situation. And then as these situations don’t come to an end, with a single confrontation, we remain in a perpetual state of stress. As such, our cortisol levels rise, which effects sugar metabolism and we gain weight. Our epinephrine and norepinephrine the fight or flight hormones, remain elevated and we become anxious and depressed and lose our interest in sex.

During stress, the heart beats faster and blood pressure rises. The blood flow is diverted from the internal organs to the muscles as well as the areas of the brain that control muscle coordination. As a result, the rain releases chemicals that help the body cope better with injuries, including those that block pain and help the blood clot faster and less of the feel good chemicals such as GABA dopamine and serotonin. All these symptoms lead to the feeling of being run down, tired, moody and basically stressed.

While meditation is not a magic bullet or quick fix, it is probably one of the most effective means for reducing if not eliminating stress in your life as well as the harmful effects that stress has on your body (not to mention your sex life). Meditation comes to the rescue in such a situation and induces ‘RELAXATION RESPONSE’. Meditation has a counter-balancing effect on the fight-or-flight response in most stress-inducing situations. Relaxation is achieved by countering the stress related activation in your brain. Meditation actual activates areas of the brain responsible for relaxation.

Unlike some medications, meditation has no potential side effects. People with physical limitations may find it easier to practice than strenuous physical exercise for stress relief, plus, no special equipment is required. Unlike enlisting the help of a professional, meditation is free. However, it does take discipline and commitment, so some people may find it more difficult to maintain as a habit than methods that enlist the help of someone or something outside themselves for added motivation. Also, some people may find it more difficult to free their minds of the thoughts of the day, and thus find it more difficult than methods like journaling that involve focusing on these events.

I hope that this has given you a brief insight as to the importance and health benefits of meditation. I urge all of you to start today, and as I mentioned earlier I want to hear back from you in 3-6 weeks. If you attempt to mediate daily, I GUARANTEE you will begin to notice dramatic differences in your life. I am speaking to you here professional as well as from my own personal experience. And as with anything good, it doesn’t come easy and does require time and effort in the beginning as well as commitment to make a change and improve your life, sexuality and health.”

So, that’s Dr. Berman’s take on meditation. Pretty convincing, no?! Seems like one of those wonderful situations where there’s nothing to lose and a whole lot to gain.

A Weekend at Volmoed: Batteries recharged

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I have just returned from a blissful weekend break at a beautifully peaceful place called ‘Volmoed’ (meaning ‘Full of Courage’ in Afrikaans), and I can truly say I feel as if my batteries have been recharged!

Set in 130 hectares of fynbos in the Hemel-en Aarde Valley near Hermanus in the Western Cape, Volmoed is actually a Christian retreat, but it turns out that even yoga-freaks like me are welcome.  My sister (who accompanied me and is herself a Christian) found out about Volmoed when she went on a silent retreat there a while back, and when we discussed our burning desire to just take some time out after the madness of the festive season, she suggested that we go there.  My initial feeling was one of slight trepidation, thinking that perhaps it would be too ‘full on’ and that there would be a bunch of Bible-bashers waiting to pounce on me and beat me into submission until I burnt my yoga mat and conceded defeat.

As it turned out, it was nothing of the sort – just a truly peaceful venue for individuals from all walks of life, for retreats, for family holidays or even conferences.  It is silent, pristine, and has a very special energy about it, perhaps from all the people who go there to seek a bit of peace and downtime, and possibly to deepen their faith, whatever it may be. There is a lovely prayer hut up on a rocky buttress, there is a meditation grotto, and numerous other spots created specifically to invite one to take some time to just leave the hustle and bustle of daily life.

The thing that struck me most of all, upon reading some of the Christian meditations in the prayer hut in particular, was how clear it is that, whatever you call your faith, we are all looking for the same sort of thing – some sense of spiritual safety, belonging, meaning, protection, answers, explanations, acceptance, truth, a way forward.  My sister and I have had a long and interesting tug-of-war since she decided (whilst at University) to become a reborn Christian and I decided to rather (continue to) find my own way (our parents are deeply spiritual people who nevertheless are atheists, and felt strongly that they would not advocate any religion but rather leave us to make up our own minds when we were capable of doing so).  For a number of years, she was very sad for me that I didn’t see things the same way that she did (and I love her for that, because she has always just had my own best interests at heart) and I was deeply sceptical of the organised religion that she chose as her path. Perhaps it’s time that has mellowed us both, but we now are in a very comfortable place of mutual acceptance and respect – each to his own, with neither of us trying to proselytize to the other.

We were only there for two nights, but it felt like a week (and how I wish I could have stayed for at least two!). There were so many highlights: waking up early to do yoga on the lawn out the front of our cottage as the sun came up, and once again as the sun started to set and the sky was painted in beautiful shades of red, amber, orange, purple and blue; the peacock that came to visit us and eat our supply of muesli out of our hands; the huge troop of baboons that made their way past our cottage, scaring us half to death with their shrieking and squabbling; the 2 hour hike we did to the top of the mountain on the next door property, Camphill. The chance to catch up with my reading, to just spend time thinking, meditating in such a stunning environment, and of course catching up with my truly wonderful sister who has been around all my life and who I see regularly but now that children have come along, we somehow never seem to get more than a few snatched sentences between nappy changes and the inevitable chaos that surrounds small children. All in all, a magnificent and restorative weekend, hopefully to be repeated in the not-too-distant future.

About Volmoed (from the website Tucked away in it’s own little valley within the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley lies a peaceful place called Volmoed. As the Onrust River makes it’s way from the heights of Babylon’s Toring through De Bos Dam it tumbles down into this little valley with a waterfall and lovely natural rock pool, setting the scene of tranquility and natural beauty that are the hallmarks of this Retreat and Conference Centre.

It all started in the early eighties when Bernhard and Jane Turkstra felt called to establish a place that would minister to people who felt shattered by their life’s experience. After sharing their vision and buoyed by the prayers of their supporters, they formed a Trust and moved onto the property in April 1986. The property has always been known as Volmoed (meaning full of courage and hope) and the previous owners asked that we please keep the name – and what more appropriate name for a place of healing and wholeness! The valley first came to prominence as a place of healing during the 18th century when a leper colony was established here, and more recently when Camphill (next door) opened its doors to the sufferers of Downes Syndrome.

Topless Swimming: A truly uplifting experience

Being 38 years of age and having breastfed two children, suffice it to say that my previously perky and proud breasts are, sadly, no longer quite the upstanding citizens that they used to be. Don’t get me wrong: all is not lost and I can certainly hold my own in a plunging neckline, should this be required. But there have been changes. This in itself doesn’t particularly bother me, as I firmly (no pun intended) believe that paying for a good bra, one that is supportive whilst remaining pretty, sexy, lacy, feminine or all of the above, is one of those necessary evils and fortunately can hide a multitude of sins. I am aware, however, of time taking its toll and am observing with quizzical interest how my body has changed over time.

Many of my friends are in a similar boat, and one (who shall remain anonymous, for obvious reasons) morosely described her boobs as ‘’n lang haas wat langs my op die bed le**’ after a few glasses of Chardonnay with the girls one evening.  As such, it’s probably not such a surprise that the issue of boob lifts / enhancements has raised its head in recent times. A few of my friends have had work done already, some are toying with the idea, some are vehemently opposed to it and some are saving up for their second time on the slate, so thrilled have they been with the results the first time around.  I am somewhere in the middle: at this moment in time, I don’t feel any burning desire to get myself pumped up, tightened, lifted or otherwise enhanced, and in principle I embrace the concept of ‘growing older gracefully’ and learning to live with one’s body as it changes over time, rather than doing something as drastic as going under the knife. That said, I reserve the right to change my mind at any point (and certainly, as time marches on and my bra size keeps going down, I fiercely defend that right).

What intrigues me is why so many women feel that they need to do something about the subtle but insidious southward slide of their breasts.  Is it a completely personal issue, or does it have more to do with the relentless pressure in our modern day lives to look eternally youthful? Is it to do with keeping our men happy and close to our sides? I have another friend (who shall also remain anonymous) who mentioned to her husband that she was considering having a breast lift done. His response: ‘Where is the benefit in that for me?’ He feels that a lift is pretty much pointless (sorry), and would much prefer a full-blown enlargement, both to justify the not-insubstantial cost as well as to know that he was also going to get something out of the whole thing. It made both my friend and I shriek with mirth at how her boobs had somehow become shared property – that rather than making a decision for herself to have an operation on her own body, paid for with her own hard-earned money, it also had to have a tangible – literally – ‘benefit’ for the spouse.

Now, back to topless swimming. Today was one of the hottest days this summer. At midday, my car thermometer read 43⁰ Celsius, and it was parked in the shade. This is hot. So hot, in fact, that when I dived headfirst into the pool in the late afternoon, it even felt too warm to wear my bikini top. Fortunately our garden is beautifully secluded and no one can see in from the street, so I did my 100 lengths sans bikini top. That in itself was a glorious, unrestricted and liberating feeling. But it got better. Way better. As I rested in the deep end after my swim, with my elbows supported by the pool edge and just my head and shoulders sticking out above the water, I happened to look down at my submerged body. ‘Halleluja’ is all that I can say. We all know about water’s ability to defy gravity. I have subsequently found out that there is an actual physical principle describing this very phenomenon. It is called Archimedes’ principle and is stated thus: “Any object, wholly or partially immersed in a fluid, is buoyed up by a force equal to the weight of the fluid displaced by the object”. And let me tell you what: it works with boobs too! Miraculously, I was restored to my former glory, resembling myself back in my early twenties, and was quite giddy with delight at finding myself buoyed both physically and emotionally by the kind, gentle water in our pool.

In a way, it was a dangerous discovery because it absolutely made me see how much room for improvement there is in my chest department. But for now, I am perfectly content to just whip off my top and go and loll about in the deep end should I ever feel the need for a fleeting moment of feeling pert and completely supported by the elements of nature.

At the end of the day, I believe in women having the right to make their own choices, particularly when it comes to their own bodies, and I genuinely support (oh dear, how do these tired puns keep creeping in here?) anyone who does something that boosts their confidence and makes them feel better about themselves, whether it’s having highlights put in their hair, their nails manicured, running a marathon, going on a shopping spree, a yoga retreat, whatever floats their boat, as long as no-one is getting hurt.

And when I look at my two precious children, I don’t regret a single cup size that’s disappeared as a result of their appearance.

** Roughly translated from Afrikaans: ‘a long rabbit lying on the bed next to me’.

‘Sitting with Depression’ and an enlightening visit to the doctor

Following on from my Bah-humbug post, I may as well confess that the ‘joys’ of the festive season got on top of me so much (or rather, I allowed them to) that I ended up going to see a doctor, thinking that something dreadful must be wrong with me, seeing as I was the only ‘drol in the drinkwater’ ** and everyone else seemed to be having such a ball. He was very professional, asked a lot of questions, and eventually diagnosed me with stress. With all due respect, this wasn’t particularly helpful since that was the reason I was there in the first place, and also since when he posed the simple question, ‘How are your stress levels at the moment?’, my reply was ‘Through the *&%$*^& roof’ (to quote my dear friend Nicole).

Nonetheless, during his line of questioning, specifically about my history, I told him that I had had a pretty nasty and traumatic experience when I was in my teens, and that it had crossed my mind that perhaps this was rearing its ugly head (even though I was pretty confident that I had long since processed the whole thing and moved on). His advice was clear cut: Do Not Think About That Stuff. Ever. And he used the analogy of a drawer (actually pulling his drawer out from his desk to demonstrate, in case I didn’t quite get the analogy) that you can pack all this ‘stuff’ into and then firmly, decisively, push it shut again. You know that the ‘stuff’ is in there, but God help me, you do not look at it again. Just in case I hadn’t cottoned on to his theory, he then used the analogy of having a beloved dog that dies. He said that yes, you will be sad that the dog has died, but that you make a point of not thinking about the dead dog because you know it will make you sad.

At the time, I remember feeling something almost physical, like a switch that went in my head, where I realised that him and I have clearly different approaches, live on different planets and have totally different world views. I took it all in, gave him the benefit of the doubt and didn’t express my disagreement with him, but I definitely was thinking ‘hmmm, he clearly has some Stuff that he is too terrified to even look at’, whilst thinking about what Freud called the “return of the repressed” – the result of ignoring the shadow side of our personalities. I majored in psychology at university and admittedly only learnt enough to make me dangerous when it comes to having opinions in the field, however I do believe that by simply refusing to deal with, or acknowledge, any issues or traumas or whatever it may be, you run the risk of setting yourself up for trouble and discontentment further down the line, when these unresolved issues come bubbling to the surface. But that’s just me.

So, it was with great interest that I read an article in Yoga Journal a few days ago, touching on exactly this subject.

Mark Epstein is an author and psychiatrist in New York and has been a student of Buddhist meditation for 25 years. He describes himself as a ‘therapist influenced by the wisdom of the East’ and he recently wrote an article in Yoga Journal titled ‘Sitting with Depression’. The tagline is ‘Depressed people think they know themselves, but maybe they only know depression.’ This was enough to make me read on since the Black Dog (as Winston Churchill called his own depression) has hounded a few of my nearest and dearest in recent times, however as I read on I was intrigued to find that he, in a much more palatable manner, seemed to echo what my doctor was trying to say.  It also brought to mind a quote by Mark Twain that I have always loved: ‘Drag your thoughts away from your troubles…by the ears, by the heels, or any other way you can manage it.’

He talks about the merits of attempting to disentangle oneself from one’s problems, rather than going more deeply into them, and he expresses his confidence that ‘there is another direction in which to move in such situations: away from the problems and into the unknown. If we stay with the fear this often induces, we have a special opportunity to see our own egos at work, defending against the unknown while hiding out in the very problems we claim to want freedom from. Buddhism is very clear about how important it is to move in such a direction.’

It has been extremely thought-provoking for me to hear two clearly well-read and qualified therapists saying more or less the same thing within a two week period, and flies in the face of everything that I have thought for a long time. It’s not that I am a navel-gazer who gets enjoyment from obsessing about myself and my Problems (who doesn’t have them? Problems, that is, not navels), it’s just that I have always felt that it may be healthier to face up to them and deal with them directly and not pretend that they don’t exist. Now, I am revising my opinion. And as with everything in yoga, thinking that it’s surely all about balance.

It’s funny, ever since all our house guests have left and I have my home and my children to myself again, my stress levels have plummeted and I am more content and ‘chilled’ than I’ve been in a while, so there probably was no need to have gone to see that doctor in the first place.  That said, I’m really glad that I did as it has given me a whole new perspective on how to go about working with oneself and any issues that one may be carrying. To end with one of those dreadfully tacky quotes (which I secretly quite like): ‘Don’t look backwards. That’s not the way you’re going’.

For anyone who is interested in the full article (which is really worth a read), you can find it at

** Afrikaans idiom meaning ‘the dung in the drinking water/town well’.

Generosity vs charity

My wonderful nanny, Noloyiso, has just moved her 10 year old son down to the Western Cape from where he’s been living in the Eastern Cape with his granny (her mum), like so many other families where the mother/father/both have to work far away from home in order to earn the money required to support the family.

It is school holidays at the moment (so my 3 year old son, Daniel, is at home with my 11 month old daughter, Isla) and so I suggested to Nolo that she brings Zukhanye to work with her the next few days before she goes on leave. She agreed and they both arrived here this morning.

Daniel immediately fell in love with Zukhanye. He is a charming little guy with bright eyes and a dashing mohawk. The two of them have spent the day playing themselves half to death, with not a harsh word between them. They have bounced on the trampoline, done circles on the back stoep with the two (motor)bikes, built sandcastles in the sandpits, made a house under the table on the front patio, played with all the toys, read books, and even caught a few zees when all the excitement got too much and they succumbed to sleep.  They shared lunch, strawberries, toys and giggles, and seemed to find a way of communicating perfectly, even though Danny can’t speak Xhosa and Zuki can’t speak English. Danny howled when it was time for us to take Nolo and Zuki home, and his last words before he drifted off to sleep tonight were ‘I love Zukhanye’.

Why, then, have I had this prickling sense of discomfort the entire day? All I had thought by inviting Zuki around was that it would be nice for him to be near his mum after almost a year of not seeing her, that it would be nice for her to have him in her sights rather than wandering around Khayamandi with some ‘cousins’, and that for Danny it would be nice to have a buddy to play with. And of course the fact that I love playing ‘happy families’ so somehow for Nolo to have her little boy and my little boy (her usual charge) together, it would all be a bit lovey-dovey.

I was gripped by how very much, how sickeningly much, we have. The size of our house, the fact that when I said to Danny to show Zuki his (Danny’s room), I knew that it is twice the size of Nolo’s entire ‘house’ (container). The fact that I was the fun one who was playing with the kids while Nolo cleaned the toilets and mopped the floor. This perpetuation of the stereotype of the white ‘baas’ and the black ‘worker’. Every thought that I had about how much Zuki would enjoy the various things that we have on offer here, was counterbalanced by the realisation that we have so very much, and that perhaps, instead of having the desired affect of making Zuki happy, it would make him sad for all that he didn’t have. Danny with his dozens of toy cars, and Zuki mesmerised by just one. It made me want to pack them all in a bag for him, but then again made me shudder at the thought of giving this beautiful, proud child the impression that he was a charity case.

I am probably overthinking this, but wow, especially in the run up to Christmas and all the mindless overspending that goes with it, it has made me stop and consider how much we take for granted and how very, very much I have to be grateful for.

And I hope that for Zukhanye the fact that he is with his mum at long last is good enough for him, and more than makes up for any lack of toys, trampolines, books etc. I’m sure it does.

Yoga for people who can’t be bothered to do it

A great book review by Getaway Magazine’s Adel Groenewald: I was automatically drawn to the title and had a good giggle when I read the final line: ‘…the wandering, fragmented journey is an enthralling read for anyone not looking for self-help and inspiration’.

Reciting this rather lengthy name in a bookstore usually results in a referral to the yoga/self-help section. Yet this collection of travel tales is quite literally the opposite. Geoff Dyer is on an undirected, and rather unmotivated, search of his home. He’s certain that his real home is not it, one of his reasons being that the most memorable moments in his life happened away from this home. Yoga for people who can’t be bothered to do it is a memoir of personal experiences as Dyer explores the world in his laid back fashion, guided by his own curiosities and moods rather than guidebook activities.

Whether it be in New Orleans or Paris, Dyer is never a tourist. Rather, he goes to these places to do ordinary activities in them. While in Cambodia he writes: “Some men are fussy about always going to the same barber – or hairdresser, rather – but I like having my hair cut by cheap barbers all over the world.” He tends to deromanticise places, making them seem even more attractive than in standard, idyllic descriptions. Yet there are a few places that forced even him stop in his tracks and stare in amazement.

Dyer is an honest writer. While in Ubud with his girlfriend he admits to completely forgetting some of the scenery and casually confesses that these details are lost forever. When lonely in Detroit he makes no secret of his less than enthusiasm for being there, but knows that it’s better than being at home. His conversational style gives the reader the privilege of being his best friend on the road, there for the crazy times and there for the sad times.

Each chapter jumps to a different, and sometimes unexpected, country. But there’s a lot of fun to be had as Dyer takes the reader to a full moon party in Taiwan and chases after the ultimate Amsterdam experience. He stays true to his personality and tends to find himself in several hilarious situations. Whether he finally finds his true home is for you to find out. Either way, the wandering, fragmented journey is an enthralling read for anyone not looking for self-help and inspiration.

Yoga for people who can’t be bothered to do it (257 pages) is published by Vintage and costs about R120.

I’m so happy for you

I recently read a lovely thing that said ‘Take delight in the good fortune of others to create more happiness for yourself’.  It made me think about how often I am surprised by how many people seem to struggle to rejoice in other people’s good fortune, luck, success, achievement, joy, happiness – call it what you will. 

Case in point: having had the staggering privilege of my firstborn coming into this world healthy and happy and, within a relatively short period, sleeping through the night, I was astounded when not one but two of my dear friends commented, when I fell pregnant again: ‘well, you’re going to get your comeuppance with this one’ and other comments along the lines of ‘you’ll never get so lucky a second time around’. It was all I could do to stop my jaw from literally hanging open.  Never  mind the fact that we worked hard at it (thanks to a fairly strict bedtime routine – it doesn’t work for everyone and not everyone approves, but it worked like a charm for us), whatever the reason for our good fortune, I would have really thought that the wish would rather be for me to have exactly the same wonderful ‘luck’ with the second baby (who, by the way, slept through even earlier than my son). I know it’s unyogic to gloat, but I did have a little, tiny, miniscule gloat as I typed that. As I said, I  have a way to go along my ‘evolutionary path’ (as my yoga teacher calls it) and I obviously have a lot to learn from Patanjali’s teachings…

 I was reading recently about the brahmaviharas (the yogic teachings on love), which show us the way to a kinder, more compassionate relationship with ourselves and others, and thought how interesting it is that so many people seem to be scared of yoga, finding it all esoteric and a bit spooky, where in fact the teachings of the ancient sages are actually so beautiful, so helpful, and so very focused on helping us become more. I was amazed when I first read Patanjali’s Sutras and realised that they are actually very similar to the Ten Commandments – only, in my opinion (and it’s all subjective, obviously), more user-friendly and easier to digest. 

More than two thousand years ago, both Patanjali and the Buddha taught the practice of mudita as an antidote to the feeling that your happiness is threatened or diminished by the happiness of others – mudita is the ability to take active delight in others’ good fortune or good deeds. In one of the Sutras, Patanjali advises us to take delight in the virtue of others as a way to develop and maintain calmness of mind. We’ve all probably experienced how painful envy can be, and how much it affects our mental well-being, and the fact is that any feelings of envy that we may harbour don’t diminish the happiness of those we are jealous of, but they do diminish our own serenity. And then I read a lovely thing about the Dalai Lama who speaks of mudita as a kind of “enlightened self-interest.” As he puts it, there are so many people in this world that it’s simply reasonable to make their happiness as important as your own; if you can be happy when good things happen to others, your opportunities for delight are increased six billion to one! It works for me!