Great Art evokes dynamic contemplation and takes us to a place where, for a moment, the world is soft and clear. Silence, after all, is the most revered quality of The Arts. But finding the quiet amongst the noise is sometimes the most difficult. How do we appreciate Art today amongst the hum and plumpness of life? Melbourne born, Yarra Valley based Chinese Herbalist, Acupuncturist and Yogi, Natasja Fox knows that dialing into your own vibrations and inner sound is the first step.
"For mental hygiene, emotional health and even to heighten your creativity, you should take time to sit down and tune the dial to find out where you are at."
Natasja gets that to engage artistically you first need to be prepared to really feel. "You should know how to listen to your body and heart, it should be louder than the monkey chatter of the should’s and shouldn’t’s of your mind."
"It's easy to look the part, say the right thing ... but it’s total wank if you’re not taking the time to look inwardly, watch your behavior, be brutally honest and work on your mental pathologies."
As we curl up amongst the tea aromas Natasja's tales becomes inspiration for how we can all listen to ourselves and not be afraid of the silence. The crackle of silence on the radio, the stilted pause in conversation, is not something we are used to in our playlist. It has become a sign of awkwardness, unpreparedness rather than a necessary break, an honouring of what came before and a breath into what is to come. Out of silence comes sound. Sound is vibration. Life vibrates. We all jiggle to our own song, but we need to take time and find the quiet so we can hear our beat. Her stories are brave but if you ask her, she’s just good with prioritizing and organising her time.
"People receive awards and accolades for outward accomplishments, for their busy-ness ... but certainly not for taking the time out for spiritual practices. Most people believe that success is achieving lots and being stressed and busy, which typically means paying other people money to sort out their mental, emotional and physical shit, which tends to build up with a life like this.”
I found Natasja devouring her rice paper roll in the foyer, her white beanie sat snuggly on her head, her naturally dried mane sat comfortably around her shoulders. I quickly learn there is no Sacha Fierce alter ego employed to make shit happen, "if I see something's not right then I don't put up with it." This double Aires drives her own horse and carriage. She candidly describes her life as laundry. "I ran away from home a few times, was using a lot of drugs and was heavily drinking by the age of 16 ... and I thought, after I got really ill and overweight, this isn't me." After a long haul of abusing herself she travelled to India, solo, as a 20 year old pup. "I was so lonely, but I felt like I had to re-inhabit myself and completely wipe the slate clean. It was tough, but I had to get away from my habits and the people I associated with. When I came back I felt fresh and reset." Natasja didn't want to get lost in the woods and follow the path to the wolf so she picked up all of her breadcrumbs and plotted her own clean living path. "We have a lot of mental health issues in the family and I didn't want to be on anti-depressants and medication, and that was where I was headed. I knew where trashing my body would get me so I decided to go on the clean living yoga/alternative health boat." It began with a 7 year Chinese Medicine Degree.
"I went to a Chinese doctor when I was 19, he felt my pulse and told me who I was and all of my symptoms before I even told him ... it made me realise, I didn’t want to rely on anybody else to manage my physical health and mood swings. I wanted to learn how to do this for myself.”
She had been put on the pill when she was 14, been given things in packets for a line of allergies, watched her Grandma, her life force, die from a useless medical system at the time. Her body felt old and she felt overwhelmingly depressed by the time she was 18, it didn't compute. She weighed in and got in the ring. "Fuck that shit. I have to meditate." Life isn't a fairytale but there can be a silver lining. She began with learning the Ian Gawler technique from a book and then commencing a 10 year yoga apprenticeship at the Dance of Life Yoga Studio, in Fitzroy, Melbourne. Natasja really is Dr Fox. Not that she mentioned this.
Her rainbow warrior leggings peak out between her boots and oversized woolen cardigan as we sit for tea, her legs curl up. After our chat she is off to a wedding. There is a little black dress rolled up in there somewhere. Next week she heads to work at a music/yoga festival on Stradbroke Island.
The Buddhism lineage unfurls its deep roots as we speak. Her Grandparents were both born in Burma of Burmese, Jewish German and Danish descent. Together they trekked into India when the Japanese invaded the country. "My Grandmother was pregnant with my Mum at the time." They lived in India for eight years before moving to England before landing, permanently, in Australia. "My Grandma had been doing yoga since she was young, she learnt from Buddhists and Yogis in Rangoon and Mandalay in Burma (Maynmar) in the 30’s and then in Bangalore in India in the 40’s. We did weird yoga when I was a kid ... mostly breathing and doing Asanas to Kate Bush, it wasn't really all that cool in the 80's ... now it is funny that yoga is so hip and fashionable." She rolled her eyes. It seems DJ Tasja has always been in the house, she just arrived before the party started.
Drawn to the strong cultural worlds of Japan and India she bounced between the two countries throughout her studies and beyond, each time, noticing the rubbings of the Buddhist three treasures- the Buddha, his teachings and spiritual community, grooving into her bones, community being the one that resonated deeply.
"Spirituality isn’t something that’s part time, it’s not a class nor a course, it’s a way of life. It is your habits, your job, your friends, how you communicate, your presence when you drink a cup of tea and how you choose to spend most of your time within the week.”
Natasja doesn't do mediocre but knows that doing life can water down ideals. "It’s really tricky as a practitioner to have clients who are exhausted, their hormones are out of balance and they have digestive upset and want a therapeutic outcome with herbs and supplements but they sit down for 10 hours a day in an air-conditioned office, typically eating nutritionally deplete foods, and getting very little sunshine and rest."
"There is no magic bullet, you can't just drink green smoothies and snort kale and not change anything else and think you are going to pop out the other side with balanced hormones and a healthy gut."
"But this is how our society is – people think they can buy themselves peace and health. She continues thoughtfully. "Our culture can be pernicious. You have to pull yourself out of it from time to time ... and I think travel can be really good for that.." Infusing her 7 year degree with regular trips to India and Japan to study and live with yoga masters and the like. Then doing volunteer aid acupuncture in India, led her to establishing a charitable organization, an environmentally sustainable, holistic, integrated hospital in 2007 in one of the poorest states in India called Traditional Healthcare India.
"In Jharkhand ...there are more disadvantaged and poor people than within 26 African nations combined, you have to sit on coal train to get there and then get motor biked into the village."
Natasja takes a stand and backs herself. She is not stubborn, open to growth and to have her opinions modified. She doesn't reinvent herself, she is who she is, but does find new ways to fall in love with old practice. She sees how the trash can build up in people's life and the dial gets stuck on one setting. For work, Natasja fronts a non-for profit and business, Jing Healthcare, in Lilydale, working with Chinese medicine and nutrition for hormonal imbalance, fatigue and gut issues. I found her a few months ago teaching yoga at Breathe Yoga in Melbourne CBD, a man (Dex) in woolen socks sits in the corner and plays acoustic guitar and the Chinese harp.
"Dex and I adlib, we play off each other, and the class hums. The tranquility that arises from a sonic yoga class is palpable."
Our minds tell us we are different, but we all search for the same things. The cynic in Natasja says her upbringing didn't give her a faith, the optimist says she was given the permission to choose. "I think what is missing in our culture is faith. It's become a slippery, tricky word in a world that believes nothing is worth believing in until its proven by a clinical trial." Natasja doesn't know if faith is given as an innate dose or something we learn, unlearn, relearn.
"You need faith to throw yourself into something that makes your heart sing, and know that it’s going to work out because you love it; even if your family or society do not give you accolades for doing it”.
"Conversations that we partake in and daily habits will fuel how we vibrate. When we meditate we begin to alter our frequency." Apparently it takes 21 days to change something. Some people say a lifetime. Over time learning how to be quiet improves. "I can get really cerebral and tie myself up in the philosophy of the spiritual conversation but that’s just a spiritual ego stroke and brings no peace or lasting change." After reading and studying Yogic and Buddhist texts, Japanese Zen Meditation offered Natasja the most clarity.
"Zen cuts the bullshit, it just is, you can't mouth off to that. Zen teachers can nullify your tangled brain with a koan,... I love that...just do the work and the work is silent.. So shut up already"
She pauses, her galaxy is a big place but that is where it is at, finding quiet amongst the noise. "In the beginning there can be a fair bit of window shopping spiritually, and even a belief that if you look and eat a certain way then you must be a good person. I think you’ve found a spirituality worthwhile when you find what rips you open, makes you feel dumb and egotistical, bare bummed, raw, exposed maybe even a little ashamed then you’ve found it. It’s a slap in the face followed by an unraveling and then the bliss arrives."
Making space and time to be still and in the moment is hard in this time poor day and age. Everyone is feeling that squeeze. We are all time poor." Having time is a choice, choosing spare time and what consumes your spare time and better time management is a choice. "People say they’re not very good at meditating, but I wonder what that even means. They think other people's minds don't think things? They think that some people were born with the ability to sit still and quite their minds? If you haven't sat down without looking at a computer, reading a book, having a conversation, or being entertained for a while and tuned in, then your mind and body are going to be like, 'hey, there are all of these things I have been trying to tell you while you were ignoring me, I’m going tell you all of it right now'. Don’t expect a quite mind if you don’t take regular quite time to tune in. The fragmented bits of the mirror realign and we can see, ourselves. The mind will not still, like a lull in a conversation will not occur, until everything that needs to be said is said, that takes time, listening and practice.
"Then there will come a time in your sitting practice when you have caught up with what your mind and body need to tell you and there is this quiet moment, where your no longer just inhabiting your body but you become space."
Her traditions are still honoured through her practice but a class with Natasja is a mindful dance rather than a mindless robot. I will have a couple of poses in mind when I teach but I take into consideration what the class wants to do and how they are feeling, sus out their energy levels. Inquiry drives her thinking. Yoga poses become songs. "If you know how to freestyle a song then you can play." All wise artists analyse a work of art's formal properties first. But then Natasja gives herself permission to feel.
Natasja's training is Hatha based, balancing the Yin and Yan aspects of the body through movement and breath. But this is just one style of yoga. KarmaYoga is more about the acts of love and kindness towards ones community, Jana Yoga is a knowledge and wisdom based practice to attain freedom, and Bhakti Yoga is a loving and devotional practice based on the gratitude of life and the cosmic connection. The Gundecha brothers, Dagarvani dhrupad singers, align the body’s energetic system via the harmonics of sound, this is known as Nada yoga. "The Gundecha brothers have come from an ancient lineage, balancing the vibrations of your body through sound." But what many of us know of Yoga today is different to our forefathers. "What is being taught in the West today is only what the West wants, and it’s typically self-absorbed." Natasja knew the un-air brushed Yoga world in the 80's and 90's. It seems the yogi roots today have been covered by a sheath of Gorman leotards and Chelac nails.
"In the 90's and early 2000’s you would arrive, do some chanting, do some asana, shavasanya, pranayama, meditate, and that was a 2 hour class, and then we would sit down and have breakfast together and have a talk."
Today classes are often considered a way to toned muscles rather than a toned heart and mind. This is not wrong but it has been squeezed down the mainstream tube and become fashionable glossy yoga we know of today. Knowing the roots of an art form is something we should all take a little time to know. Knowing ourselves takes a bit longer. Being aware takes a lifetime. "Some people have built up such a shell of impenetrable idealistic belief systems about life and spirituality without really understanding why they hold onto them.”
"Don’t swallow what you hear, inquire, do the work, do the time."
Life, it seems, is a whole bunch of messy notes rather than a perfect cadence in a Mozart Sonata.
Natasja prefers the birdsong to the traffic clutter and now lives in the Yarra Valley."Birdsong is so beautiful. When I die the thing that I will miss the most inhabiting my body on this planet, is birdsong."
Art can be many things, but it is always personal, a skill, that draws from a well of experience. Are you brave enough to feel, to hear, to see, to be silent? Well, you don't have to be. Just be organised.