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How did you first get started in yoga?
At 17, I was diagnosed with five bulging discs and knew I had to find a way to heal myself. I was a teen trying to be an actress living in LA and had just graduated from high school in my native Australia. This diagnosis was the external circumstance that brought me kicking and screaming to yoga. I didn’t like my first classes; it was painful, kind of boring, slow and not me. Yet the universe had other plans and it didn’t take long before I fell in love with this ancient practice. Also, I know now I wasn’t settled within until I began to include the teachings of yoga and meditation into my whole life. Only then did I begin to heal my whole self, my body, mind, and spirit. This is the journey toward a life worth living that I share in my book, A Life Worth Living: A Journey Of Self-Discovery, through Mindfulness, Yoga and Living In Awareness.
Can you tell us more about your healing journey?
Throughout my younger years I had been harsh on my body, not listening to what it needed, pushing its limits, and as a result, creating pain. When the pain was triggered by an emotion, I'd be tough on myself, restricting my food intake and reinforcing messages that I'm not good enough, which only worsened it. I was a conspirator in my own self-destruction, unable to feel gratitude for all that my body gives me. I could only see what it wasn't able to do, and it hurt.
I’m not as harsh on my body today as I was back then, but I still have moments where I have to consciously find what is working well in my body and focus on that. It has taken me years, even decades, to get where I am now and with each day I am realising that to love my body is to meet my body where it is. Now, when my back injury flares up, I slow down, observe my breathing, and visualise sending healing waves of peace throughout my body. Some of my physical injuries I believe are connected to old thoughts that I have perceived as true and sometimes they can be triggered in the present moment. When this happens I try to be aware of it and if possible where the root of the triggering is coming from.
Who or what inspired you in those early days?
I studied Hatha, Viniyoga, Iyengar, and Ashtanga with Steven Freedman, Steve Walther, Diana Beardsley, Marla Apt, Paul Cabanis, and Frank White, all highly skilled. A few years later, I continued by training with Erich Schiffmann and Saul David Raye, and established a private and a studio practice in Southern California's Westlake Village area. Teaching yoga contributed greatly to my self-healing, and I've been able to light a spark in others for their healing too. I'm forever grateful for the pain I've had to endure, as it helps bring me to the truth of who I am and how actions have consequences. This injury and compassionate inquiry will probably be with me the rest of my life.
What differences have you seen in your practice over the years?
It is, and has been, a gift to move in these beautifully-crafted positions and quiet the chatter of my mind. Areas that had been blocked, tight, or injured become more open where I feel a true embodiment within. I had a glimpse of this feeling in the beginning and yet today it feels even deeper, like my practice seems to be in a continuous loop of growth and healing. Exhales felt like bridges connecting my body, mind, and heart with my breath. It's like entering the heartbeat of the mother: in the deep quiet, I can feel her soothing me. I embraced a oneness within myself and with all beings I can only describe it as pure love; the biggest hug from the most beautiful being in the cosmos. With yoga, I have the patience and resources to tackle whatever comes up, including the recurrent pain in my back. Today I would tell that young woman in pain: "You'll manage. You'll move through this, and it won't be as consuming as it feels today."
What are the main styles of yoga you practice and teach?
I love teaching and being a student of Hatha yoga, and I feel a respectful remembrance to all of my teachers through the ways in which I have been taught by them and can sometimes feel their energy in the room. Throughout the week I primarily teach a slow, hot, yet gentle flow class in a mindful way. I read the energy of the room, which is something I didn't consciously do so much as a newer teacher in my 20s and 30s. I sometimes have an idea of a theme that I would like to share, yet usually I remind my students that it is they who are the ones bringing the theme into the room as we co-create a space for healing through asanas, breathwork and meditation. Like any of us humans, folks come in with all sorts of emotions they might be processing, energetic holdings, or physical aches and pains. So I feel it's important to acknowledge that by validating their experience by creating 'in the moment' and changing the course of the class if need be. Just last week I noticed so many tight hamstrings, and it really wasn't as apparent until we were about 25 minutes in. So we took a little detour from the vinyasa flow and laid down on our backs with a strap to mindfully open up the back of the legs while observing our breath. We were back in our flow in no time and I found it healing for us to stop and be open to change, just by pausing and being thoughtful as to the why. I also include yoga nidra in my retreats and am grateful to have learned this ancient practice from Channa Dassanayaka. In the end, I feel like I give my students what I have learnt – am still learning – and through my own self-discovery, acceptance and mindfulness, I become a safe haven not only for them, but for myself.
How do you feel when you practice compared to when you haven't been on the mat?
There is a disconnection of the wholeness of who I am; mind, body and soul. It's almost like without being able to practice, on and off the mat, my mind and false ego has more of an opportunity to run the show. So without some kind of consistent asana, walking meditation and present moment awareness practice, life can feel disconnected and even uninteresting.
Do you think anyone, at any age or ability, can enjoy the benefits of yoga?
Yes, I do, but only if it is something the individual is being called to experience. There are so many ways and paths that can connect us to our true nature and for some it is taking walks, or playing with their grandchildren, or listening to music that inspires them. Yoga is magic to those who feel it to be and and others it just might not make any sense to them in their life.
What does yoga mean to you personally?
Yoga has changed what it means to me personally through the years. Today, I feel like we’re slowly stepping into a new paradigm, moving away from a patriarchal power and toward a realisation that the power was always within each of us all along. I haven’t always felt this and went on an inner journey of a lifetime by giving away my power, possibly because I didn’t feel ready to hold what I knew to be true, perhaps because I didn’t believe in myself. I feel that a lot of us do this in our jobs, in our relationships, and yet I know now that no outer manifestation that we might give our power to can be the all-knowing of us. It is only our inner sovereignty and heart that is our truest yoga and anchor. Although we heal in community, we are our own best teacher, healer and life guide. Yoga teachers, influencers and healers can point us to the direction of ‘home’ inside us, yet essentially it is the individual that has the truest connection to source energy, and that we have never been separated from it. Who I am, and who we are, is a living, breathing life form where coming from our own inner authority with self-compassion feels like true yoga. When we do this, the same reactions to things just don’t come up; we almost rewire our whole thinking into living our yoga from the home within each one of us and out into the world and into our life.
How has yoga helped you see yourself, your body and your life over the years?
It has helped me to understand that all of me is loveable. I was in pain for a lot of my life, but I wasn’t aware of the connection between the emotional and physical constrictions or how they have both been messengers of a deeper message. So, these pains continued appearing in new disguises. When I touched the wound of not having much emotional support, nurturing and compassion from my mum or dad, I would blame my partner (at the time) for not giving me enough attention. When I received rejection after rejection trying out for movie roles as a teen and into my 20s when I was acting in Hollywood, I thought it was something about me — my blonde hair or I was too tall or didn’t have enough sass. I didn’t have a foundation of self-confidence to see that blaming myself or others was off the mark, that I had deep wounds crying for my attention, that Hollywood producers had their specific needs for filling specific roles, or my boyfriends had their own needs too. It wasn’t just about me and what I’d done wrong. Not understanding, I’d just get depressed, berate myself, and feel excruciating pain in my lower back. I wasn’t connected to my body or heart, and I paid the price. In addition to back pain, I’d get headaches, have sluggish energy, and my heart felt heavy. I remember feeling old in a young body. When I’d tell this to my friends, they didn’t know how to help. Yoga practice was my one refuge. In class, I’d be in my body for an hour and a half, and it was transformative. With each difficulty in my life yoga has helped me learn and grow. When I gently hold the voices that are in conflict, resolution can come. Being quiet for a while practicing yoga allows me to feel a deep connection to my intuitive intelligence and to make decisions from this place. I feel this inner knowing in my body. It’s not a thought, yet words may come in to guide me, and the more I trust my feelings and sensations, the more clearly I see where I need to be and how things need to go in the moment.
Do you have moments that you feel you are truly 'in the flow' and 'truly alive' – how can we achieve this state?
There are moments throughout the day when I truly feel in the flow and truly alive. I think it is mostly when I am practicing mindfulness in the mundaneness of life, with a grateful and humble heart. Like washing the dishes, and truly being there with the grease or food coming off the plate, folding the laundry while feeling the sun coming through the window, or something way less mundane like making love to my husband. I truly feel alive when I am teaching yoga and am in the zone where nothing could distract me from this place, and we (the students and I) are all so connected to our inner life that a spirit-filled energy permeates through every cell of my being.
What do you believe is your true calling in life?
I think my purpose in life is to show up fully inside the life I am co-creating with the universe. That probably sounds very woo woo...yet woo woo works for me, if we want to call it that! It means to be grounded in my 'beingness' even though any real-life human emotions, frustrations, rage, boredom and unworthiness that can sometimes make visits. It also feels to be my calling to experience all the joys in life. And how we treat ourselves and those around us probably is our truest legacy. So I think my calling is something much less grandeur and more of a moment-to-moment practice of being present. That being said I also feel I have a gift in being with folks on a private one-on-one basis. I continue to offer spiritual and mindfulness counselling, meditation coaching, and yoga with yogic breathing practices. I know that when I show up fully in my life a magical feeling touches my heart. Yet life isn't always an easy dance, as life is going to do what life is going to do. And I know now that I don't necessarily need to put myself in a cave or temple to become more peaceful, as there is simply enough juice for conflict, heartache, and heart opening right in the family that we have chosen to learn more about ourselves. I almost feel as if the hardest yoga i ever do is in the raising of my children and the nurturing of my relationships.
How do you raise your own vibration?
Creating, tending to myself and my home, cooking, yoga, meditating, drinking a latter, walking, laughing with my hubby and children and swimming in the ocean.
What do you love to do when you are not practicing yoga?
Being out in nature, watching my son Charlie play basketball, grabbing something to eat with my daughter and then going shopping, and simply going on a date night with my husband.
What are some of your self-care practices?
Hermit-ing or retreating to my home yoga space, Thai massage, acupuncture, going to a local yoga class, laying down in meditation at our local Salt Cave, lighting incense while saying some intentions or prayers in my own words, going to the movies with my kids and husband, shopping with my teen daughter, walking on the beach and just being kinder to myself and others.
What are your plans for the future?
To cultivate more inner freedom. To love and to be loved while continuing to live, share and serve my community from this energy. My forgiveness practice is something that continues to serve me too, so I hope to always remember to drop into it when life gets busy or overwhelming. I also love being a mum to my teens, Leela and Charlie, so watching them grow, learn and open themselves up to being all that they would like to be is so exciting and rewarding.
Meet Mellara at the OM Yoga Show
What can people expect from your classes at the OM Yoga Show?
Lots of inspiration, love and deep feeling as we flow gently inside to our own inner landscape and truth all while creating asanas together.
Any messages to readers who have not been to the show before?
Well, just being in the energy of so many like minds and hearts is going to be electric. And I bet it might have the opportunity to spark a light inside that can only support us in feeling good in our body, balanced in our mind, and love inside our open heart.
Favourite yoga, spiritual or self-help book?
A Path With Heart – by Jack Kornfield.
Go-to health food or drink?
Barley Life – Barley Leaf juice powder by AIM.
Holistic remedy you swear by?
“What you seek is seeking you” - Rumi. Although this quote means different things to different people it reminds me to simply show up to life with an open heart rather than push or react. I used to do all of that before I knew who I really was. In reading Rumi’s words it allows me to feel more gentle with myself as I connect with the energy inside me. When I do this I feel much more peaceful and feel a real knowing sensation throughout my body, that might translate in words like 'your vibe attracts your tribe’.
If you could take a class as a student with any teacher from anywhere and from any period of time who would it be with and why?
So many! Anandamayi Ma. Why? Mostly because she must have been so incredible to be around and so before her time. She was a contemporary of well-known Hindu saints like Paramahansa Yogaananda and Neem Karoli Baba (the guru of the late spiritual teacher Ram Dass). A central theme of her teaching is the supreme calling of every human being to aspire to self-realisation; all other obligations were secondary in her eyes. What I love is that she welcomed and conversed with devotees of different paths and religions such as tantric, Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Sikhism and Buddhism. She also advocated spiritual equality for women; for example, she opened up to women the sacred thread ritual, which has only been performed by men for centuries. It would have been a dream to sit with her and experience her style of teaching including jokes, songs and instructions on everyday life along with silent meditation. Her name means ‘Joy-Permeated Mother’.