Yoga on the Island.
Churchill Island is a small island in southern Victoria. It is accessed by a single-lane, wooden bridge from Phillip Island in Westernport bay. It was once frequented by the Boonwurrung/ Bunurong Aboriginal people before being settled as a wheat farm by Europeans in 1801. Today it is a tourist attraction boasting original settler buildings, ancient trees, rose gardens and sweeping lawns. It is still a working farm with Highland cattle, sheep, turkeys, horses and chooks.
In 1998, I was approached by a Nature Parks ranger asking if I would take a yoga class on the lawn there on a Saturday morning over the summer holidays. The class would be at 9 am before the island opened to tourists. It was promoted as Yoga With The Birds. The setting was so beautiful and peaceful that we soon had regular students.
However, Victoria isn’t known for consistent weather, and it became obvious we needed some shelter for rainy days. The heritage buildings were small, and the sheds were occupied by animals, so we were given a large tarp strung up between the trees. This did the job, but it was wise for students to arrive early and place their mats away from the edges of the tarp. The rain water would pool on the low points of the tarp and when a gust of wind came through, it would lift it like a sail and pour a torrent of water over the sides, splashing everyone nearby.
With the eventual construction of a visitors’ centre, providing us with a room when needed, we were able to continue the classes year round. There was a dedicated group of locals who came all through Winter, but in Summer the classes were hugely popular. One beautiful, sunny morning in the holidays we set a record with 57 students dotting the lawn on their mats. Flies, mossies, heat and cold were no competition for the ambience of looking out to sea, surrounded by nature.
On another day, the Highland cows escaped from their paddock and stampeded through the middle of our class. Students and cows scattered in panicked confusion, but we were able to regroup once the farmer gathered the herd.
The resident peacocks would strut their stuff between the mats, occasionally pecking at someone’s shoes, and leaving small landmines of dung in the grass.
The most memorable visitor though, was a koala. He made the trek across a ploughed field, under a railing fence and up a small, nearby tree about half way through our class. He sat there, watching, until everyone was lying down in Savasana, then quietly climbed back down and made his way back across the paddock, his curiosity satisfied.
When my first son was born, my partner would bring him along in a pram and they would have all the farm animals to themselves while I ran the class, then I could breast feed him at the end. However, by the time I had my second child, I felt it was time to pass the class on to someone else. It ran for a few more years, re-branded as Yoga At Churchill Island, finally finishing after almost 20 years from those first classes under the rain-filled tarp.
Yoga can take you to some very special places.