By her late 30s, Dr Gillian Ross was a successful academic, a wife and a devoted mother of three boys. She was also, by her own admission, very unhappy: “a fish out of water”. The discovery of yoga and meditation and a move from Sydney to the Blue Mountains in 1988 brought a radical shift in perspective. Now the author of 11 relaxation and meditation CDs, a yoga DVD and three books, Gillian lives on a 40-acre property outside of Nimbin, NSW. At 71, she is a committed vegan and divides her time between her practice, her writing, looking after her two horses and two cats, Skyping with her grandchildren and preparing to launch her property as a teaching centre for conscious evolution next year.
Interview by Liz Graham
When you began practising yoga regularly, your marriage had just ended and you were drinking and smoking heavily. How did Yoga Nidra (a body scanning and relaxation practice) help you during this time?
It’s not an exaggeration to say that Yoga Nidra brought me back to life. It got me in touch with the subtle dimensions of my body, it made me feel whole and holy. I began to lose the desire for alcohol and cigarettes. Instead of having a glass of wine to perk me up before the kids came home from school, I did Yoga Nidra. I advise people who have difficulty meditating to begin with Yoga Nidra. Most of the relaxation practices on my CDs are variations on Yoga Nidra.
Why did moving to the Blue Mountains with your children have such an impact on your outlook?
It was like entering a new universe. I discovered shiatsu and a macriobiotic diet. I also met my teacher, Dr Samuel Sagan, soon after moving there, which was delightfully synchronistic. It is said that when you are ready your teacher appears. I’m still a student of the school of meditation he founded, Clairvision, which is in the Western esoteric tradition. The whole community nourished my spiritual aspirations. Being there was an opportunity to find out who I really was, not what the world wanted me to be: a successful academic who held dinner parties and was judged by what I earned, what certificates I had. I spent years getting academic qualifications, but meditation was a far better education. It gave me the skills to discover who I was.
What is your yoga and meditation practice these days?
My first priority is meditation. When I wake up [around 5am], I sit in meditation for a couple of hours or more. That’s my spiritual connection for the day. And then I do my asanas for about half an hour: it’s usually some Sun Salutes, Trikonasana, Warrior poses and Shoulderstand. Yoga Nidra is my afternoon treat—half an hour of deep relaxation. .
Is relaxation as important as meditation?
They have different functions. For me, meditation is not just about stress release, it’s about spiritual connection. I would advise anyone taking up meditation as a serious spiritual discipline to find a teacher and a tradition. If you want to learn how to let go of tension, do relaxation. Meditation is appropriate to do first thing in the morning, more important than a shower or breakfast. Yoga Nidra or other kinds of relaxation is something you do when your energy is waning.
In your latest book, Psyche’s Yearning, you write that at 40 you were a “neurotic mess”. How do you feel at 71?
I don’t get emotionally reactive in the same way. I’m able to, in the words of Joseph Campbell, “participate joyfully in the sorrows of the world”. With a spiritual connection comes an inner joy, an unconditional love. The greatest pain for me would be to be disconnected from my spiritual Source.
Dr Gillian Ross’ latest book, Psyche’s Yearning, is available from www.drgillianross.com