Heartdancers (courtesy of Heartdancers)

A Sydney-based yoga organisation is fusing Indian and Indigenous yoga traditions, incorporating the spirit of Aboriginal Australia into the ancient practice. 

Jitarth Jai Bharadwaj, Sophie Verass and Amy
Published on
Tuesday, March 14, 2017 - 16:01
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3.6 MB
7 min 52 sec

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.

"I believe we always need to respect the traditional owners and custodians of the land we do the workshops. There is a similarity also with yoga, ancient yoga, and Aboriginal wisdom."

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.

"Every time that I was researching about Aboriginal storytelling, wisdom, I was so surprised it was very connected. It was very similar, so they use different words, for instance, 'cosmic consciousness'. They use 'The Dreamtime' or meditation, they call it 'Dadirri', which is deep listening. So it is very important also to acknowledge the Aboriginal wisdom. It's very important for us if Australia is our home to know about this wisdom."

The yoga teacher, who is originally from Columbia, started the Indigenous fusion yoga class a year ago.

She recalls how she actively searched for an Indigenous musician to collaborate with: someone who could introduce Aboriginal culture into the yoga space.

"They know the stories, they know the land, they also are open to explore and learn from yoga, also from different cultures. To know in this world, we have different cultures, and yes, we are diverse, we are different, but we have in the very core of all these different wisdom and knowledge around the world, there is something, there is a core, that interconnect us."

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 have an obligation as an Aboriginal woman to share my culture and my stories with everybody that calls this place home, with anybody that wants to listen. By sharing it, I'm preserving it and I'm raising the awareness that Aboriginal people and culture are alive. We are here. The land is alive, it's a spirit, it's living, it needs to be respected."

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 whole yoga postures are based in nature and in the cycles of the moon, in the cycles of the sun. The sun salutations are also based in that cycle. When you're salutating the sun, the 'Grandfather Sun', you know you're salutating the spirit in Aboriginal culture they call 'the very First Family'. So the dancers are based in very First Family that is 'Father Sky', 'Mother Earth', 'Grandfather Sun', 'Grandmother Moon', so everything is so related to mother earth and nature."

For Bayles, it's about drawing on those Indigenous connections, traditions and honourings of the land.

"It all sort of ties in with all living things, whether it be the animals, it's about respecting each other, the land. So whether it be a message from the Aboriginal Dreamtime or a story, it might relate to a pose or a story that Sandra has been given or passed on. There is many ties with the Aboriginal culture and our stories and our culture and our purpose."

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.

"The very first thing that we do is to make them to connect to themselves. There is relaxation technique that they do, the ancient yogis, and also Aboriginal people. So we use live music. We use live music for them, the music that represents the wind, the fire. We use didgeridoo. We use the sounds, the very traditional Aboriginal sounds, to make them connect with themselves."

The Aboriginal philosophy imbedded in the workshop has also deepened the participants' connection to this land.

"A lot of the people there want the time out for themselves. They are there to find that inner peace or get the stresses away or doing the exercise or what have you. But in the actual fact, they're learning on a deeper level about the local things around them that this country that people call home, being Australia, belonging to Aboriginal people. They're actually learning about the country that they call home, the history that they call home, so they walk away with a lot more than what they've walked in there for. There's a sense of belonging too now."

Morales says participants enjoyed the learning.

"And the feedback that were receiving from people after the workshop is like I didn't know that Aboriginal culture have so much wisdom, I didn't know that they have totem animals, and now I have that responsibility to look after earth, to just understand that connection that we have. So, we're bringing a space for everyone to share and also for yoga - to adapt yoga to the needs of the country."

Sharing Aboriginal culture, Bayles explains that sharing culture with the wider community can be conflicting for many Aboriginal people.

"They don't want to share it because they don't know what's going to happen. There's been a lot of misuse, abuse of our culture, from previous non-aboriginal people learning about our culture and then misusing it. So the trust has been broken."


And collaborating with the Heartdancers has been a journey for her to try and find a balance between sharing and protecting her culture.

"This is where me as an Aboriginal person I can gage when and who I can give my information to an how freely but I also pick and choose at what level I'm giving this information."

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.

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