Look a the photo above and the photos at the bottom, everyone laughing. Thats my measure of success in a class...oh and if no-one dies, thats a bonus too.
I’ve been trying to untangle the events of Sunday, I talked about magic in my blog last time and it seemed, to me at least, that it was a very magical session. Its just a fluke I thought at first, just the energy in the room so, I spent most of yesterday trying to untangle the class and what happened
I’m starting to truly believe that the REAL potential benefits of a yoga class don’t come from anything that we ‘think’ it does. I’m one hundred percent sure that the number of people who find their back pain is helped by the asana are outweighed by those that aren’t; I’m equally sure that the few whose anxiety or other mental pain is eased by meditation is outweighed by those that just don’t get it or find it too much to be with themselves and never come back.
The process isn’t the problem, if you stuck with it for long enough you might eventually find something, you might not, but really I just think that we aren’t hitting on the things that people truly need from our classes.
I am certainly not saying I’ve got the answers, just a flawed opinion as ever, but I want to try to describe the method behind my madness. On Sunday I guided a 40 minute, breakneck, full throttle class of seventy people I’d never met, at a wonderful charity event organized by good friends in Bristol.
I wanted it to be 40 minutes of PURE YOGA ----- Yoga in its truest sense – YOKING, CONNECTION absolutely NO SEPARATION. In forty minutes.
Connection to OURSELVES AND EACH OTHER – so we threw away the mats immediately, get rid of those islands, they literally make me shrivel up inside to see everyone metaphorically isolating themselves. I’ll do stuff that doesn’t need mats. Simple solution.
We crawled and walked with eyes closed for five minutes; my favourite exercise, totally relaxed in breath and body, allowing ourselves to bump into other humans and forbidden to say ‘Oh ooh I’m sorry!’ if we did. For gods sake we are human, we bump into another human or brush past them and the whole world tenses up. You can feel the room slowly let go of their tension, you remind them to relax their hands, to stop feeling their way, to drop their shoulders, to settle their breath, they bump a few times and realize ‘Hey, it’s not that bad, nobody died and nobody punched me!’ You feel the entire room become grounded.
I asked them to dance, to choose the person nearest to them and then if they knew them to turn and face someone they didn’t know, To CONNECT WITH A STRANGER. This took 5 seconds, why? No time to be anxious. Anxiety involves projecting into the future, simply remove the future and drag everyone into the now. No time for anxiety. They then led each other in spontaneous ways in an infectious magical dancing shuffle to some infectious magical music.
It's ten minutes later, we have connected to PLAY, to have FUN; spiritual people would call it the INNER CHILD, I call it arsing about, being normal humans together and laughing about life. It’s not hard, you don’t need to do a ceremony to connect with the inner child, you just connect because its already there, bubbling just under the surface; it wants to play, and it sees the rest of the room have and no one has had time to be shy, so you just join in and Suddenly…WHOOOSH…the inner child is out and then all hell breaks loose and I can sit back.,,. This beautiful old Chapel, once a place of worship, is a place of worship again ….. FULL TO THE RAFTERS WITH LAUGHTER. And heat. So much energy being released, so much heat you could feel it as you opened the door. And what was generating this heat?? CONNECTION.
To achieve things fast you need to go outside the box, sometimes so far outside the box no one else has the faintest idea where the box is – that’s a concern for later, if ever.
So I played all week with props, small props, light and easy to carry for seventy people, props to create spontaneity, challenge, fun, laughter and connection. Props that could be used with a partner or alone. What did I come up with? Tissues!
I’ve added a little video, though it doesn’t quite capture what I felt watching a room full of adults playing, and yes I even included some asana in there to keep everyone happy, in case they doubted that this was yoga! But asana with tissues J
I did lose count of the number of teachers who said ‘I’m gonna use that in my class this week’. That means it hit a chord, there was a resonance, probably unexplainable, it wasn’t the tissue, it was what they facilitated – PLAY, CONNECTION, LAUGHTER, PRESENCE, LETTING GO.
But if one person does it and says, ‘You know what. I’m saying that this is yoga and I don’t give a f&*% if you don’t buy that, cos we are doing it anyway-because I, really, truly believe it works. In fact I believe it is more functional than 108 sun salutations in silence, because you know what we are with ourselves in our own head all day and I don’t believe that another 108 x 4 minutes is gonna do anything to help that’
Someone else, a past student and a friend came up and said to me, 'You're always just winging it aren't you!?' and the truth is yes, i totally am, I was making up parts of that class as we went along. 80 percent of it i'd never even tried before. But there is such fun in winging it and just accepting that you're winging it and letting people know you are winging it. I think there was a moment when i took a bit of video and shouted 'I've got to catch this I never thought it would work!' Truth i the whole world is winging it, we are just terrified that we will get rumbled at some time. No-one knows what they are doing really, we are all just doing our best to muddle along and maybe do some good while we are at it.
And that is why, I am not averse to styles or systems, to asana or pranayama, to qi gong or karate, to Buddhism, Christianity or any other religion, but why I will never settle on, or conform to any one thing. Because they all have magic, but it can get lost in the practice and there is so much more magic out there when you open up to combining them with a catalyst like a simple box of tissues and all of a sudden you have rocket fuelled connection…….and yes the the tissues did get recycled before I get lynched.
I can't claim to have much wisdom, I suppose I do have a little knowledge and possibly at times a timely dose of magic! The first two -knowledge and wisdom-are very different things and we can often forget that. You need both to plan a good workshop or weekend or teacher training. One without the other is very unstable. I have been to (and delivered) workshops that were full of amazing exercise but somehow fell flat and others that were understated and simple yet really hit home. It can be an elusive and confusing world to inhabit, no wonder so many yoga teachers avoid them like the plague!
At the moment I am putting together the upcoming Teachers Functional Breathwork Weekend in London. As you can see from the photo, I have literally dozens of pages of notes (they start off handwritten, get typed up then changed and evolve constantly), probably a dozen or more books (many are digital as well which i cant show here), am currently studying courses and have studied various breathwork methods in the past.
These are the ways in which i start to put together the knowledge that I need. It is a case of exploring the techniques on offer, the methods and reasoning behind them, the background anatomy and physiology in this case and so on. Just like a London taxi driver, I am learning, absorbing, putting pieces together and developing the most efficient and fluid routes to get people where I want them to go.
I suppose in reality the knowledge building stage has been going on for years, from suffering with asthma as a child right up to the present; my studies at medical school and teaching as a science teacher, my enthusiasm for reading, learning, watching, absorbing and cross referencing information form as many sources as possible. This stage of planning has been quite intense for a few months now, as I start to put all of the pieces together in a logical format, you know that you have the entire jigsaw at this stage, you just aren't sure how it pieces together!
As the title says though Knowledge is not Wisdom. This full weekend version has now been delivered in shorter formats of half a day at various times. Those half day sessions take the knowledge and start to test it out in real life. Although I may have practised all of the techniques that I want to include, that is very limited research until you get more real life guinea pigs to research on! Some exercises work and some don't, demonstrations that look great when i plan them can fall flat and vice versa. Sometimes something works great with one class and then falls flat with the next.....we start to learn about group dynamics, holding space, timing as well as things that we cant quite put our finger on.
We put into practice the techniques, we test and try, we freedive, struggle to relax with asthma in the middle of the night, paddle our surfboards wth repeated breatholds and get better at controlling our airflow, restrict our breath during exercise, play with hyperventilating, breath holding, breath patterns. Make mental and written notes. What happens? Why? Is it even important? Useful?
This is the development of wisdom. Understanding the relevance of knowledge.
Like the taxi driver with knowledge of all the roads around London, now that you start to actually drive people around, you finding that some of the roads that might look good on a map are actually always clogged up or busy at certain times. Now you are starting to develop wisdom to accompany your knowledge. Thats why the older more experienced cabbie will get you there in half the time of the newbie.
A Touch of Magic
Thats not to say enthusiasm doesn't count, there are plenty of jaded teachers, yoga and otherwise who have plenty of knowledge and theoretically buckets of wisdom in delivering their content, a million qualification and hours of practical application and yet their sessions can seem stale, uninspiring, dry, as if a spark is missing to ignite the magic. That spark is the secret ingredient! I often talk about it on our Teacher training courses, it is a mixture of passion, enthusiasm and a capability to slip into the flow state. To do that you have to totally let go and jump into the river. I often say that good teachers will keep you enraptured whether they are sharing tips of handstanding or on knitting; the knowledge is almost secondary with a good teacher.
At times I have seen it happen to absolute novices with very limited knowledge and experience.
For example occasionally one of our new student teachers steps up to guide the room and my mind gets literally blown. Often they simply move to the front and you can feel them almost crackling with energy before they even open their mouths, you look round and the whole room can feel it too. A few people, not many, slip into this flow state very naturally; others learn to access flow over time and some never quite manage it. If you can control that energy then you can draw the room into group flow with you and things get very special, if you can't, then things can get chaotic very quickly :) Its a skill just like any other.
So there you have it, a super brief, very imperfect contemplation on some stuff. I still haven't worked it out, I probably never will and it doesn't really matter, but maybe knowing that is some sort of wisdom in itself!