Can you focus for long?
According to research, our attention span has markedly decreased to the point where we now have shorter attention spans than goldfish. In 2000, we were trumping them with a 12-second attention span, but now we’re around eight seconds, and Goldie is at nine.
Oi – are you still there?!
“Monkey mind”, according to Buddhist principles, is the term that refers to being unsettled, restless or confused. Struggling to focus or calm our minds, we leap from idea to idea mentally uncomposed.
The opposite could be said of Raymond Island nutritionist, Swan Cove managing director, yoga instructor and meditation practitioner Kirsten Mackintosh.
But, the journey to inner tranquility isn’t often straightforward...
“Prayer is speaking to the universe. Meditation is listening to it.”
Born in Bairnsdale in the 1960s, Kirsten began her yoga and meditation journey as an 18-year-old seeking exercise that would help alleviate her painful scoliosis spine and improve her flexibility.
“I couldn’t come even close to touching my toes and my upper body was particularly weak,” says Kirsten.
“My first teacher was Ulla, a German lady, who was an inspiration. She lived and breathed yoga; her posture was of ease and grace and she could stand on her head! I thought she was amazing to be able to move her body in so many different shapes at her age. She was about 50 then, which seemed old to me. Now, I’m in my 50s!”
A curiosity in the human body and science, coupled with an eagerness for reading, was present in Kirsten from early on.
Her first degree was a Bachelor of Education majoring in Home Economics from Rusden College, Melbourne. After graduating, Kirsten returned to Gippsland and began work as a journalist for the local newspaper: combining her love for food with her writing, a passion that was fueled by working with Beverley Sutherland Smith early in Kirsten’s studies. At that time, Beverley was writing food articles and restaurant critiques for The Age, as well as penning a number of cookbooks.
Kirsten collaborated with her on the production of Taste of Independence, a cookbook for young adults released in 1986.
Kirsten taught food and nutrition subjects at Gippsland Grammar in the early 00s and became a Life! Facilitator for Diabetes Victoria in 2010. During this time, she was also running her own women’s weight loss and exercise centre called Healthy Inspirations, and was a registered public health nutritionist.
The Life! Program shows eligible Victorians how to reduce their risk of developing type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Eventually, Kirsten became one of the largest providers of the program in the state, thanks to her business savvy and passion.
In 2011, Kirsten was inspired by another wonderful yoga teacher who had arrived in Sale. By this time, Kirsten had been diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis, a painful and debilitating autoimmune disease.
Through her new yoga practice, Kirsten began to learn that “pain is not meant to hurt you. It’s not meant to make you feel unhappy, lost, alone or helpless.”
“On the contrary, pain is meant to help you return home – back to yourself, to your true nature, and back to being all that life created you to be… if you learn to treat pain with love, respect and compassion, it will help you cleanse yourself of yourself.”
Kirsten also undertook brain training for pain at the Royal Melbourne Hospital Pain Centre, saying that she “loves the nexus between ancient thinking and how it can marry with modern Western science”.
In 2012, Kirsten decided to train as a yoga teacher with Power Living Australia Yoga, then study yoga for pain.
A passion for growing and eating good food, and the impacts that has on your body, led Kirsten to nutrition. The repetition of yoga’s physical movements was proving to be remarkable in addressing the pain associated with her arthritis. Now, Kirsten’s intuition and curiosity was leading her to turn further inwards through meditation.
Kirsten shares the concept, “Prayer is speaking to the universe. Meditation is listening to it.” Wanting clarity, a still mind, was the key to being able to hear what the body needed.
While it appears difficult initially – and she gave up several times early on – losing the restlessness in your thinking takes an approach Kirsten describes as “little and often”, where you continue to build a habit or practice each day. Even beginning with ten minutes of sitting still and silently each morning and night is a terrific start.
Kirsten has now completed two levels of iRest Yoga Nidra meditation and says that meditation practice has become part of her “inner well-being”.
Evidence-based research has shown that mental health effects of meditation include increased awareness, focus, clarity, compassion and a sense of calm. John Hopkins University found that general meditationprograms helped easepsychological symptoms ofdepression, anxiety and stress-related pain. A Harvard study supports this latter point, finding that meditation can dampen the genes involved in the inflammatory response linked to stroke, heart disease, cancer, diabetes and other serious diseases.
Most recently, Kirsten has discovered Kundalini Yoga, which has become her main focus, and in 2018 she travelled to Crete and completed 200 hours of Kundalini Yoga and meditation with the renowned Maya Fiennes, saying “it changed my life”. She has also been focusing on her mantra meditation.
“Mantra chanting is the sound vibration that helps you to bring your whole body into a higher frequency… it manipulates the smallest particles of the sound into effective patterns, which creates changes in the neurotransmitters and commands the brain to resonate with infinity.
“By awakening the higher consciousness, this process promotes healing within the body. Specific mantras act as healers and are the fastest entry to meditation.
“Through the many practices of yoga that I have explored, I’ve found the most powerful to be those that lead me to a state of meditation, where inner knowledge is revealed to me.”
Kirsten has said to her, “yoga is embodied philosophy”. While you could easily sit in a lecture with a great speaker and hear why we’re here and what is our purpose on Earth, Kirsten prefers to “feel these messages right into my body, my core being”.
And, as an observer, you feel that 18-year-old Kirsten is now embodying the “graceful ‘old woman’ of 50 with long, flowing grey hair” that first unlocked the secrets of yoga to her: the “woman who stood tall, strong and entranced me with her youthful look that belied her age”.
With a calm life at the peaceful Swan Cove on Raymond Island with her partner, Tony Beaman, they welcome guests to the natural beauty they enjoy every day. And, given her focus on the mind, body and spirit, Kirsten can easily uncoil the snake that is Kundalini energy sitting at the base of her spine and send any meandering monkey scampering.
Kirsten’s prescription for a good life in Gippsland is being involved in the community, appreciating the diversity of everyone and what they have to offer, as well as spending time in the many varied natural landscapes of our region.
To learn more about what Kirsten and Tony offer at Swan Cove, please visit swancove.com.au.