Director of Heartdancers yoga studio, Sandra Morales, is passionate about the ancient practice of yoga and fascinated by the fusion of earthly movements, and stretches with the spirit of Aboriginal culture.
Morales tells SBS this is just one reason why she incorporates Aboriginal culture into her popular workshop, ‘Weaving Aboriginal Sounds and Stories with Yoga’ held on Gadigal Land, in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs.
The workshop aims to connect students with the ancient spirituality of this sacred land and pay respects to its traditional custodians by helping them to align their spirit, unite their body and send a prayer to Mother Earth during yoga.
“My idea is that every time you share this yoga knowledge, you have to acknowledge the place where you are,” says Morales.
The yoga teacher, who is originally from Columbia, started the Indigenous fusion yoga class nine months ago.
She recalls how she actively searched for an Indigenous musician to collaborate with: someone who could introduce Aboriginal culture into the yoga space.
“I was working with yoga with different sounds and music and I wanted to collaborate with an Aboriginal musician.”
Fortunately, it wasn’t long until she met Binowee Bayles, a proud Birri-Gubba, Kungalu, Wonnarua and Bundjalung woman and respected musician, dancer and storyteller in the Sydney community, through a friend. Bayles loved the concept from the outset.
“I felt like, as an Aboriginal woman, we actually have an obligation to share this culture and to share this ancient knowledge,” Bayles says, “otherwise we’re in jeopardy of losing it".
“Unfortunately that’s the sad story in Australia where we have lost so much language or dance, culture, knowledge because the effects of invasion.
“This is why I feel as though I have responsibility to my people and to my land to collaborate with people to share and teach my culture. This is our shared history now and that’s the beauty of this.”
Sound healing and honouring the land
Morales and Bayles explain how each yoga class runs. First, the class is dedicated to a different theme such as, First Family totems, ‘The Dreamtime’ or Dadirri (deep listening).
Bayles will begin with a traditional song and throughout the session, she will tell a story that relates to each yoga position, meditation or deep breathing.
“The beauty about some salutations is that it’s about acknowledging the first family, which is the same as Binowee does in her storytelling or her dance or through her music,” Morales says.
“We’re drawing on those Indigenous connections, traditions and honourings of the land.”
Both, Morales and Bayles are firm believers in the power of sound healing. The traditional songs that Bayles performs are designed to transcend participants in the present moment and benefit a person’s mental health and well-being.
“We get them to escape from all the pressure and anxiety of the world and have them really relax, breathe and be in that present in that moment, just learning and listening,” Bayles says.
“It’s not only the physical exercise, but it’s that mental calmness and the emotional side of things. People have given feedback how calm and soothing it is and that’s what I’ve been able to witness.”
Sharing Aboriginal culture
Bayles explains that sharing culture with the wider community can be conflicting for many Aboriginal people.
But collaborating with the Heartdancers has been just as much a journey for her as it has been for the participants learning from her music and storytelling.
“It can be really hard because I’m so concerned about protecting my culture and not exploiting it,” Bayles says.
“I don’t just want to share it with anybody or with whoever’s offering a space to promote Aboriginal culture - it has to feel right.
“It needs to be with the right purpose and the right meaning and it has to come from the right place.”
Heartdancers is a not-for-profit organisation. Participation fees for the ‘Weaving Aboriginal Sounds and Stories with Yoga’ class also helps fund Indigenous musicians and artists in the Sydney community.
Bayles says she believes the workshop aligns with her own personal values and cultural integrity.
“Aboriginal people are here, they’ve always been here…I feel that I have an obligation and a duty for Mother Earth and my ancestors and my culture.
“I feel great. I feel like this where I’m meant to be in terms of promoting my culture and sharing it with other people.”