Why Belle Gibson deserves our compassion

belle_gibson_compassionPhoto from here

Unless you live in a humpy, you’ve probably heard about Belle Gibson – she (in)famously lied about having cancer while promoting her app, The Whole Pantry.

Since then, many of her stories have unraveled to reveal that most of what she claimed isn’t true. Belle just appeared on 60 minutes last night, which reignited all the media/social media abuse and public anger. My opinion? Belle deserves our compassion.

Before you get all rage-y and start querying my sanity, let me add a clarification:

having compassion for someone doesn’t mean condoning what they have said or done, or letting people act without consequence.

It means recognising a common humanity – which Kristin Neff describes as acknowledging “that suffering, failure, and imperfection is part of the shared human experience”  To recognize a common humanity is to treat all people with respect – even when you’re angry and upset with them.


I don’t know if you guys have been following either a) Belle or b) the media articles about her, but holy crap! The aggressiveness, insults, and straight-out shaming has been insane.

I understand that people are very angry, hurt, outraged and shocked about finding out that she lied about having cancer – and they’d like to see some consequences for her actions. However, shaming someone (especially publicly) is not a helpful, compassionate or effective way of changing their behavior. Brene Brown says that:

“Shame is about anger and blame, not accountability and change”

and rather than encouraging someone to make amends, actually just leads them to feel “intense pain, isolation, and fear”. So if you’re upset with the action that someone has taken, and would really like to see them being held accountable for their choices, shaming them probably isn’t going to have the desired effect.


Here’s an opinion from someone who knows a bit about compassion – the Dalai Lama

“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive.”

I’m inclined to agree with him. Compassion isn’t something we should give only to those who are ‘good people’ or who ‘deserve it’. Everyone deserves compassion – even those who we perceive as having done something ‘wrong’. I mean, I get it: it’s hard. It seems reasonable to have compassion for a young child who has been rendered homeless by a natural disaster. But a person who deliberately miss-led a lot of people and made a lot of money in the process? That’s a bit more difficult. Does that mean we should stop trying and revert to name-calling? I don’t believe so.

We’ve all made mistakes. We all will make mistakes in the future.

some big, some small. I fully believe that we should be held accountable for our choices, and in the context of big mistakes that might mean things like paying fines or even going to jail – and this holds true for Belle in her situation. But because someone made a choice that you (or even the majority of our society, or our law) disagree with, doesn’t mean that insults, name calling, threatening and shaming are OK.

What do you think about this? Do you reckon everyone deserves compassion or do some choices leave the chooser undeserving of compassion?


Why I made up colleague appreciation day


Last week I took it upon myself to celebrate colleague appreciation day at work.

To my knowledge, no such thing officially exists. I was thinking about how much I appreciate my colleagues (for different reasons) and that I wanted to make some sort of gesture to express that gratitude. I thought about doing some baking to bring to work (a favourite way of expressing gratitude of mine) and I also thought about writing some little notes telling my colleagues exactly why it was that I was appreciating them.


I know that expressing (or at least, being aware of) your gratitude is linked to wellbeing.

A study by Randy and Lori Sandsone states “Experiencing gratitude, thankfulness, and appreciation tends to foster positive feelings, which in turn, contribute to one’s overall sense of well being.” Basically, telling people why you’re grateful, makes you feel good. So I was all set to tell my colleagues how much I appreciated them, knowing that it would likely give them a little boost, but also knowing I’d feel really good.


Photo by Christi

Then I thought – why keep all the gratitude to myself?

If I know that expressing gratitude can improve your wellbeing, why not give my colleagues the opportunity to express themselves too? So, colleague appreciation day was born. I did it the old school way – collected ten envelopes, and everyone got one with their name on it. Then over the course of the day, we all wrote little post-its with expressions of gratitude and appreciation on them and popped in the envelope. By the end of the day, everyone had a nice bulging envelope to take home (not to mention a few cookies in their belly!).


It worked. People felt great.

But you know what the funny thing was? Everyone felt so connected and cohesive as a team – before anyone had read their own appreciations. It was the simple fact of sharing how they appreciated each other that led to the uplifting feelings, not hearing how people appreciate them. The next day, waiting in line for coffee with one of my colleagues, she said to me (again, before she’d read her collection of appreciations): “After colleague appreciation day yesterday, I went home thinking about what it’s like working here, and I decided that it might actually be the best job I’ll ever have.”


There were so many warm and fuzzy feelings going on, I felt a real sense of bonding with my workmates. Have you thought about expressing your gratitude and appreciation in your workplace? Do you think your colleagues would be into it?

Sansone, R. A., & Sansone, L. A. (2010). Gratitude and Well Being: The Benefits of Appreciation. Psychiatry (Edgmont), 7(11), 18–22.

The major factors to consider when choosing the right yoga class for you

Often when I tell people that I work with peeps who want to use movement to help manage their mood, they respond with ‘Oh yeah, like yoga and stuff’.

There’s a reason that yoga is one of the first places peoples’ minds jump to when they think ‘movement’ and ‘mental health’ – several studies have shown results like decreased rumination (focusing on unpleasant thoughts), improved sleep, decreased severity of depression and improved quality of life. One study even found that a yoga intervention worked better for improving depression symptoms than pharmacotherapy (drugs)! So, there’s certainly validity in using yoga as part of a movement practice to improve mood. But, the difference it makes can depend on a few variables…


Photo by Leo Prieto

The style

Of course, the style makes a huge difference, and there’s no ‘better or worse’ –it depends on your purpose. If you want to work your muscles, get warm, and sweat it out, and increase energy, power yoga or vinyasa might be good for you. If you want to chill, breathe, stretch and find some calm, perhaps yin yoga or restorative is a better bet. I recommend doing some research, taking some time to think about what you want to get out of your practice, and then make an educated choice about which style you choose. And why not try a few different styles to see what works for you!


The teacher

Having completed many yoga classes with both fantastic teachers and those that made me go ‘meh’, I can say from experience that having an experienced teacher who is in it for more than the fitness aspect is a totally different experience than a class run by someone who is mostly about building muscles and improving flexibility. My favourite classes are always those that have some greater meaning or message built into them, whether that be in the form of a theme for the class, or just a few words that the teacher offers during savasana. Traditionally yoga is much more a spiritual practice than just physical poses, and teachers who offer a little bit of something for the psyche on top of teaching the physical movements are always my faves.

2309429837_376cf88225_oPhoto by MorkiRo


The time

I’ve done classes that go for 45-50 minutes, like group fitness classes in gyms, and I’ve always found they don’t really allow enough time to do a proper stillness practice. Some have written about savasana (the corpse pose) being the most important asana (pose) in yoga and it’s certainly important from my perspective. I love the practice of it in the studio, of taking a moment to let your body consolidate what you’ve just gone through in the last hour or so, and just focusing on breathing. I also love taking that concept into the rest of your life – allowing time for processing, resting, and taking a breath before moving on to the next thing. In shorter classes, there is usually only a couple of minutes of stillness, which I reckon isn’t enough. My fave classes go for 75 – 90 minutes.


The environment

I’ve done yoga in some pretty picturesque places. Like open, bamboo studios surrounded by papaya trees and jungle, or huge, converted warehouses with exposed wood beams and huge windows through which the afternoon sun streams in…And, while it’s not 100% a prerequisite for a good class, I reckon the additional calm and peace that comes from spending time inside a beautiful studio (as compared to a plain walled room with minimal natural light or air flow) is important.



That’s what I reckon has the most impact on what makes a good class. The other stuff, like the mat or the clothes: less important from my perspective. Although having a good mat is a nice luxury – I’m currently using a really ratty old mat that sheds little pieces of rubber every time I use it. It’s kinda annoying. (Recommendations for good brands of mat welcome!)


Did I miss any important considerations for a good class? Where’s the most beautiful studio you’ve practiced in? Let me know in the comments…

Why I’m grateful for the fire


“Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude.”
A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh


Last night I went to a friends’ house for a dinner party.

It being Melbourne, and it being winter, it was cold. She has a wood fire, so someone went off to light it. Thirty minutes later there were calls of ‘does anyone know how to light a fire?’ and I went and took over tending the smouldering coals. I got that baby cranking in no time, with an adjustment of the air flow and adding some well-placed sticks.As I sat watching the mesmerizing flames take hold, I thought about how handy a skill it is to be able to light a fire.


When I was growing up, my family home had wood fired hot water.

Even though we lived in rural Western Australia, it was still old-school. And yes, it meant that any time we wanted more than a kettle-full of hot water we had to light a fire and wait half an hour. And yes, this was very annoying. (It also meant I learned the handy skill of chopping wood with an axe, but that’s a different story).


 If they had tried to tell me at the time…

I was reflecting last night on how grateful I felt, that I had this skill of fire-lighting, and laughed to myself imagining how I would have reacted if, while grumbling about having to light the fire, my parents had said ‘you’ll be grateful for this one day!’ And, thinking back on it, I wouldn’t choose to do it again. It was annoying and time consuming, and I would prefer to be able to jump in the shower as soon as I arrive home from the beach freezing cold. But I can also see the benefit I got from the experience.


Which I thought was a great example of what gratitude means (to me).

To express gratitude for something doesn’t need to mean that you would choose the same thing over, if you were given a choice. It doesn’t need to mean you’re stoked that what happened, happened. It just means that whether the experience was enjoyable or not, you can see that there was some outcome that was meaningful for you. Sometimes it’s really easy to find gratitude for things we perceive as pleasant experiences, and it can be harder to be grateful for things that are less pleasant.

Have you had a shitty (at the time) experience that you can look back on and be grateful for? Let me know in the comments

Five things I learned from running a mindfulness and communication retreat in Bali


I define connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.

– Brene Brown

bali_retreatPhoto by McKay Savage

I recently co-facilitated a mindful communciation and movement retreat in Ubud, Bali, along with my Mum (Marg Pontin) who is a certified trainer in NVC (Non-Violent Communication). We delved into mindfulness practices, including sitting, moving and walking; mindful listening, to others and ourselves; and mindful communication, expressing ourselves to others and asking requests of others and of ourselves. We discussed shame, vulnerability, and self-compassion, and practiced prioritising self-care the whole time. All in all, it was a mind-blowing week of learning, growth and connection. Here’s a few gems that I took away from the retreat…

1) It really is “all about connection”

That was the name of our retreat: ‘it’s all about connection’ and wow, did it turn out to be true. Of all the learning exercises we did, all the group discussions, so many just came back to that single point. How important it is for us humans to be social, to have a tribe that we belong to – to be connected to others. It’s such a powerful thing.

2) Allowing yourself to be vulnerable can be excruciating – and can also lead to incredibly deep connection with others

Once you’ve agreed with number one, it begs the question – how to get connected? And wow, the connections that were forged in our 7 days together were incredible. It never ceases to amaze me that the sense of connection with others always comes after the tears, the talking about deep pain, or fear, or anxieties, all the uncomfortable places to go. There’s just something about someone seeing those tender parts of you and saying (not always in so many words) ‘I see you, I hear you, I’m with you’ – which is what we were practicing doing throughout the retreat (otherwise called ’empathy’).

mindfulness_retreat_baliPhoto by Hadi Zaher

3) You can still have crappy days and/or moments – even when you’re in a tropical paradise

It’s so easy to leave home for a holiday, leaving behind all your literal and metaphorical baggage, and then fall into that trap of ‘oh, life would be so much easier/happier/relaxing if I just upped and moved to Bali/Prague/Iceland…’ and I actually find it somewhat comforting to remember that life happens, wherever you are. Going on a holiday (even a working holiday!) can be a great break and a breather, but putting your ‘stuff’ on hold doesn’t get rid of it – and if you were to stay in your paradise, eventually you’d still have to deal with it. (And I did).

4) Dancing is the best

I rediscovered my love for salsa (LA style, in case you’re wondering!) and somehow found the time to go to three group lessons and three social dancing nights…and yes, an amazing 2:1 semi private salsa lesson held in the meditation bale of my accommodation – total bliss, it has to be said.

I also noted how many of our group lit up when we did the private lesson for our group of eight – I so love the beautiful way that moving our bodies, especially to music, can bring us joy. And the best part? When our salsa teacher explained to the group at the end of the lesson that in salsa, ‘it’s all about the connection’. It was like we paid him to say it! (We didn’t!)

bali_retreat_mindfulnessPhoto by Trent Strohm

5) How deep the sense of contentment and fulfillment is when you do what is really meaningful for you

All I have here is wow. The overwhelmingly positive feedback from the retreat just blew me away. I amazed myself with the energy I had for other people during the sessions – even on a busy day, when I sat down one-on-one with participants, I was so focused and in a state of ‘flow’ that the time flew by. To finish the day tired, but with a sense of ‘yep, I did something that is authentically me’ – and added a bit of value to someone else’s life in the process – is so immensely satisfying. I want more.


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