I delivered two very enjoyable workshops to around fifty or so yoga teachers this weekend,totally different topics at each, one was freedom through movement and one was freedom through the breath. However both began as I usually begin a workshop....with some very uncomfortable and big questions about what we are actually doing as yoga teachers and the validity of what we are teaching.
Everyone knows that I like to really question everything about What I teach, How I teach it and most importantly WHY i teach it. I feel it is both best practice and my primary responsibility as a teacher.
If I can't answer the 'why' with absolute sincerity then I simply can't teach, that makes life really difficult for me a lot of the time....
especially whilst Im trying to get things clear in my head about what works most effectively and what REAL value it has. It has meant that I have dropped all of my classes, gone into a degree of 'teaching' isolation and done my usual self-removal from the world while I try to work things out.
Do I truly believe that what I am delivering has the best value, is the most effective, understandable, applicable to modern yogis /humans; fitting for a class format; in this cultural context?
That means that I have to do a lot of research and self study, within yoga and across disciplines.
Those who have bravely embarked one our TT's, one of our intensives or just played at a workshop with me and our crew know that those are very BIG QUESTIONS that most of us AVOID because they are very uncomfortable!
What happens if i cant answer them? What happens if I start to doubt the yoga that I am teaching to the world? Does that mean Im not a yoga teacher anymore. Who the hell does that leave me as? Don't I need a name, label for what I do and who I am? This practitioner, that style, this type of therapist and so on?
Anyway I have spent the last coupe of years as many of you know, exploring, playing. testing all manner of breathwork techniques. Moving out of the familiar framework of pranayama and asking all of the big questions about it. Do I really understand what I'm teaching? Is it really of use? Is it the best methodology I can offer to most people in a modern class setting? And sometimes most worryingly, have I actually doing them a disservice?
Of course my answers weren't simple, they never are. But drawing from the best and most efficient of what I have learned from disciplines as diverse as freediving, WimHOf method, Systema. martial and energy arts, Sufism, Taoism and Buteyko method I have started working with a range of techniques that I simply call Functional Breathwork; as that is basically what it is - effective and functional for modern life and modern problems. As ususal no trademarks; no patented sequences, no making up odd huffing puffing shit just for the sake of being different and saying its mine. Lets face it, humans have been exploring the breath forever, most of them a lot more wise than me, there is a wealth of techniques already out there to draw from. I dopnt need to make up my own.
I have just delivered my first outing of the trimmed weekend version to a room full of experienced yoga teachers and I really enjoyed how it went, got some great feedback and will tweak some parts accordingly. That process will go on as long as it gets delivered.
What's exciting is that to tie in with my work, my friends at Movement for Modern Life are about to release my Ten Day Functional Breathwork Challenge which you can find through the link below. Its a taster of how you might just get your breathing back to some semblance of a normal human animal as well as looking at how it can help us to work with common mental issues such as anxiety. It also gives us all a great opportunity to feedback and share our own findings... a sort of mass group research project which can inform and improve the way that we all teach and practice!
What worked best for you? What fell on its face? What helped with your asthma? Your anxiety? Your posture?
It starts on November 12th to coincide with #Movember. If you sign up for it now you will get each day dropped into your inbox as it unfolds:) Please do feed back on it, its the only way we can ever take things forward with insight !!
One of the questions and worries that I end up dealing with from both our own students as well as other yoga teachers is 'What do I actually have to offer the world as a yoga teacher?'
Although it seems like a moment of anxiety it's actually a really important question and if you haven't ever asked yourself this then you probably should. Of course I can't answer that question for anyone, although I genuinely believe that every single person has something amazing to offer, even if it turns out to be exactly what one person needs at one specific point in their life.
The question that we are asking is really 'What do i have to offer the world as a human being?'
Of course I ask myself the same question as well. Often!
What do I actually have to offer? Would the world, let along yoga be any worse off if I just disappeared into the greenhouse and talked to my beloved tomatoes forever? Probably not!
I read an interesting post this morning about a yogi who felt that they hadn't really been practising their asana for sometime and I thought to myself 'Well a vast amount of 'traditional' yoga (if there is such a thing) hasn't resonated with me and I've taught it less and less for a few years now-what on Earth does that say about me as a 'yoga' teacher let alone someone that runs a 'teacher training' ?!'
Sometimes it feels that we don't really know why we are doing certain things or why we are not. When this doubt starts to play on my mind I try to remind myself that I don't actually need to know the reason and the chances are that if i think that I do then I'm probably just deceiving myself.
All I really need to do is to trust my gut, be a complete version of myself (not a half arsed copy of someone else)and do what I believe is best at any given moment. To act with spontaneity and honesty is simple.
I was told by a special friend a couple of years ago that I'm a closet Daoist, I didn't even know what that meant at the time! The more and more I explore Taoism the more I understand what she meant. You can't be a Taoist, I'd argue that you can't practice Taoism, its pretty much about trusting to the flow of life, letting go, giving up resistance, effortless effort - Wu Wei.
The only problem that I can see emerges when you aren't being yourself and you then start to act in a forced way in order to either please others (as a teacher or just as a human) or to appease your own fears such as future financial security. If you start to operate from this standpoint you'll find that life enters a loop that can feel like swimming through treacle, everything is a struggle and loses its joy. We aren't acting purely and truly.
It has happened so often to me that I cant doubt it anymore. I have given up more 'secure' jobs than I can remember; let go of projects, even things that I had worked on and built up for years like my installation art company. If I stop loving our Yoga Like Water trainings, then I'll stop them too, without a doubt.
So far nobody has died as a result,the kids haven't starved and I'm still here to tell the tale!
So for what its worth I'd say try to care less as a yoga teacher; stop struggling against the tide, simply be yourself, deliver what you believe in and see where you get swept to - it might be where you least expect and it will certainly be an adventure! You have to trust that you will get taken to exactly where you and the world need you to be. Of course whether you take that step or not is all a matter of trust, if you don't trust then it certainly wont happen.
I'm not going to say too much about how much I loved these four days; how much respect I have for Jake and David for their willingness to join me in testing the unknown; to Chloe for organising and hosting it; to the teachers that came and played without any idea of what we were going to do; how they all embraced the bits they loved and also the bits that hopefully pushed them right out of their comfort zone. The video is made of parts led my myself, Jake and David as well as many of the teachers themselves. Those of you that have already finished our 200hour TT will recognise some themes and madnesses that have been taken much further as well as totally new investigations. It was all in the spirit of exploration and if nothing else it reminded us that yoga should be fun. Look out for the next Yoga Like Water London immersion for teachers in February or of you are new to teaching then our next 200hour Yoga Teacher training in Devon starts in Feb as well. We are also starting to organise this intensive at studios around the UK next year :)
We have been very fortunate to host our yoga teacher training course in both the green tranquility of Devon and the hustle and bustle of the big city, right in the centre of London. You couldn't pick two more opposite locations if you tried and yet I love each of them equally.
The two courses run in parallel and although the content and many of the tutors are the same, the feel and energy is often very different. The tendency as you would expect is for the London crew to be very focussed, full of energy and able to keep going for days on end at a full on pace. I guess that just tends to be the way of living in any city and it means that those sessions are generally fun, dynamic and full of questions. It is also where people travel in to join us form abroad, catching their flights in and out for each weekend of training. So the mixture of languages, backgrounds and life experience is very vivd and fun!
In Devon, the yoga training draws in students from all over the South West, Cornwall, Somerset, Dorset the Midlands and Bristol being very common although some come in from much further afield. With most of these students being from outside of the cities (and I class Bristol as the most chilled city on Earth) the pace of the weekends tends to be more laid back and in general more 'holistic' in nature. We attract quite a number of existing yoga teachers onto our devon course as well as total newbies to teaching yoga and this makes for a really interesting mix of all round fresh 'no-rules' enthusiasm combined with a lot of experience and knowledge. We also in general have more holistic and alternative bodywork practitioners join us, from backgrounds like massage therapy, physiotherapy you name it, it all goes in the mix!
These are gross generalisations of course and it can depend very much on any number of things but it remains completely fascinating to me how the 'same sessions' can vary completely in their delivery and the direction that they take from one weekend to the next. Regardless of where we are, the flexibility of every session stays the same, something that interests one group can lead us of on a tangent of exploration that doesn't come up in the same session elsewhere and vice versa-it certainly keeps us on our toes but it also means that the sessions stay very 'fresh' feeling in their delivery.
For me though, one of the most important things is that we offer both of the trainings here in the UK.
I have always been a bit puzzled by the need to fly people half way around the world to study to be a yoga teacher when we have maybe the most multicultural and fascinating city on earth as well as the breathtaking landscape of places such as devon, right on our doorstep. It avoids the need to burn up tonnes of aviation fuel and it supports the local economy. We would also never be able to afford to bring in all of the teachers that we do if we had to fly them across the planet.
So for us it all works perfectly, yoga teacher training in devon or london, the best of both worlds!
Our next TT starts in February in Devon; we are already just over a third full but you can join us for our taster day on the 23rd June in Ilfracombe if you are keen to sign up or are just curious about what on Earth we get up to!
One of our lovely students sent me this when she saw it on a wall in Bristol. Its so funny that when you are open to receiving messages they seem to appear all over the place, especially when you aren't looking for them - we start to see wisdom in anything and everything.
I get a wonderful stream of these sort of things in my inbox, from friends who have decided to confront their imaginary fears and start to view their life in a very different and open way, through to students dropping a lot of things in life that they feel they do not need any more, views and baggage that doesn't serve them anymore as they start to unresistingly accept the flow of things as they come.
Non-Resistance is a topic that often crops up on our courses in conversation-generally the idea will initially throw up a lot of resistance in itself!!
You will often hear 'But why do these things happen to me. How can I not resist them?!'
This is one of the greatest misconceptions of human perception, it is typical of the victim mentality, the 'poor me' state of mind that so many of us dwell in.
The clear misconception here is that Life doesn't happens to you. Life Just Happens! You are an integral and inseparable part of life and therefore if cant happen to you. Life, along with you as one of its infinite parts just unfolds as it unfolds. If you choose to assign some sort of separation and victim or victor mentality to this then that is a conscious decision that you have made.
You see 'Why do these things happen to me?' defines the separation that we feel between us and the rest of our perceived 'reality'.
There is, never has been and never will be any separation other than that which we create ourselves in our minds and then play out through our actions and speech.
We just imagine that we are separate. If I'm not 'me' then who am I? And what is left of me when Im no linger 'me' is the great fear. So we then spend the rest of our life consolidating and reinforcing this 'separate me' figment of our imagination, entering into a cycle where we actually do feel more and more separate, because thats exactly the reality that we are creating.
As Buddha said in my favourite line ever 'With our thoughts we create the world'
And if we feel that we are separate from a world that is indifferent to us, that doesn't care for us, imagine how that affects our state of mind on a daily basis as well as our actions and life choices .
So how do we break this cycle?
This starts with self-awareness and ends with self-awareness. We need to become familiar with the workings of our own minds 'We cant fix the problem if we don't know what the problem is'.
Through self awareness and internal observation of ourselves and our minds we begin to slowly realise that almost all of the time we don't even understand our own intentions, reasons and thinking. We start to see how this plays out in our behaviours, fears and judgements as we base them on our misconceptions, aversions and attachments.
It soon becomes very evident that maybe our fixed view of what is going on around us might just be a little mistaken?!
Suck it and see for a day. I dare you :)
This is a story about how things just happen when you let them. It is a story about effortless flow and non struggling so wonderful things can just happen, if you were a Taoist (and apparently Im a closet Daoist), then you would call it Wu-wei, actionless action, effortless effort....
A year or so ago I had this great idea, about bringing all of the Yoga Like Water Crew. past present and future family, tutors, friends and followers, altogether for a big holiday together. We looked at ideas and venues, here and abroad, I even had and have some in mind but then I woke up last week, as I occasionally do, with a total, uncalled for moment of clarity......Hold on, Im teaching at Soul Circus festival, I feel very passionately about that festival (Ill explain why in a bit) why don't we just hook up with them and bring my clan into theirs?
I pretty much knew that they'd say yes because thats the sort of family they are too! However I was thinking about next year -2019, when i emailed Ella and Roman, the founders of Soul Circus a couple of days ago with the idea. Being Roman of course he just turned round and said 'Wicked, why wait? Lets do it this year'.
So here we are two days later, a few calls, emails and messages down the line, and the Yoga Like Water lineup is confirmed for Yoga Like Water does Soul Circus and we will be in attendance with fifteen of our tutors and teachers contributing their madcap sharing skills, including the crews most beloved anatomy geek Lolo Lam, Gemma 'Any more chilled and Id be comatose' Peppiatt, the blistering Toni Ann Roberts; Kat 'Movement for Modern Life-I'd quite like to talk about dogs' Farrants and my boy Jacob 'I can flip upside down quicker than you can flip a coin' Smart.
Ill tell you when Soul Circus really sold itself to me. The first festival they did. I'd already spent the past ten years of my life working at festivals, running stages and building huge flaming installations, up all night waiting for the DJ to finish so i could unplug gas lines and speakers and go to bed, so to say I was jaded with Festivals would be an understatement.
Im teaching a Saturday morning hand balance slot in one of their hot tipis and being up early I go into the tent to discover that their is no power for the amplifier or the heater. I have a little curse, recognising that in festival time, locating someone and getting this fixed could take forever. I fiddle with a few leads, start tracing them back and there I find, already awake, the person running the festival, out the back of the tent, also following cables and trying to sort out the problem himself by fiddling about with a non-running generator! Not the site electrician, not a volunteer, not a contractor, but the guy running the entire gig, in his wellingtons, looking a bit the worse for wear after Friday night. And of course it got sorted and it was awesome and it has been awesome ever since. And thats why I like them, because they are a real family, doing stuff and being nice at the same time and it just works.
So what to expect in our Tipi? Free-flow movement, Yoga Nidra, Yoga for Climbers and yoga for Surfers, Yoga Dance, Yoga for kids and families, Rocket, some crazy ass sequencing wizards, Plenty of off the wall YLW style games and play and a whole lot more.
So if you haven't already got your tickets drop me a mail through our contact page as I can get you a special YLW discount
The Role of the Yoga Teacher - are we blindly asking students to follow our lead??
Should we be present to share rather than to teach? To share is a natural process, dissemination of ideas which are by nature of sharing are open to discussion, adaptation, mutation?
Just as we cannot take on the path of another- we cannot emulate the way that others have found their spiritual path-we must encourage others to find their own way. We can of course help them on their way, encouraging and offering guidance if we feel equipped to do so, but the years of lessons and introspection from our own personal journey cannot be passed on as a ready-made, off the hanger garment for others to wear. We are misguided if we think that way. At the same time however, the classes that we host are undeniably ours in the sense that we have to hold the space; our personality will guide the feel of our classes; we teach what we feel is necessary in each session.
We should try to lead classes with enough freedom that every student can find their own level and way of practising. We remind them that they should rest out whenever they need to, to take a variation of their own that feels good or even take a totally different pose if they feel that they need it. Encourage some spontaneity, be lifted and not downbeat when in class there is a student who decides to do something totally different. They are truly listening to themselves and hopefully you have been a part of bringing this about.
Eventually the sign of success is that the student shouldn't need to come to class at all. Our bank manager might not like that, but it is a good sign of a job well done.
Yoga in the Modern World
It would probably be fair to say that in the last 50 years, the practice of yoga has expanded to include more people than all of the combined yogis that practised in the possibly thousands of years prior to that. ‘Yoga’ as we practice it today is no doubt very different to how it was practised in the past. There is a heavy tendency towards physical asana practice, to the extent that it is now for most people synonymous with the very term 'yoga'. This isn't to say that we are doing anything wrong, it is wonderful how everything we practice evolves, and there is no specific reason that we should stay stuck in methods better suited to other ages and civilisations.
We are so fortunate in the modern era to have available to us not only countless lifetimes of 'spiritual' teachings that have been passed on through the ages, but an absolute explosion of scientific and technological knowledge that has come about very recently, in a infinitesimally short time span. We now know that many of the concepts understood by the ancient yogis from an intuitive and experienced point of view can be verified by current scientific understanding. I say current because we should remember that scientific knowledge is changing all the time, it isn't concerned with proving facts to be true, but instead with disproving theories, which are very different matters. Good research is unbiased and ready to yield to new evidence that might arise, just as good yoga should.
So for the first time in human history we have an opportunity to guide our yoga practice, not only through hearsay and the word of gurus but though actual (hopefully) impartial scientific evidence. That is not to say that ether is more valid than the other; we can certainly see that the yogis and rishis of the past intuitively understood the benefits of certain yogic practices, not just asana but pranayama and meditation as well, however now we can draw upon sound scientific knowledge from particle physics to brain scans to confirm many of their suspicions. Moreover we are now also able to understand more about the precautions and contraindications of particular asana and so protect ourselves and others from possible harm. Because this huge bank of knowledge and understanding are now available it should be our obligation as yoga ‘teachers’ to pass it on. To deny any aspect of it would be both pointless and irresponsible.
Whilst the popularity of yoga has grown exponentially and the way that we practice has probably altered beyond recognition, I would question whether the way that it is understood and taught have evolved at all. In fact I question whether we are potentially going backwards in both our understanding and methods of teaching yoga. I don't believe that this is a result of the western world practising more physical asana or being less concerned with other yogic techniques. In fact I'm certain that it doesn't matter in the slightest what you are practising or what you are teaching; what I do think is important is how we are practising and it and how we are teaching it...in fact whether we should be teaching it in the sense that we do at all.
The Teachers Role
In an average yoga class teachers are more than often ready to give and students are expecting to receive cues and instructions: to breathe in this way; place the foot in that orientation; extend the arm in this manner and so on. We are, both parties, consciously or more often subconsciously reinforcing separation, whether we are the teacher or student.
If I am leading a class I try to remember that I am simply present to hold that space; to facilitate the practice of others, so that they might understand themselves better just as when I am practising alone I try to remember that I am simply present so that I might understand myself better.
Whatever way you look at it, there is no doubt that as a yoga teacher you are going to become, wittingly or not, willingly or otherwise, role models for many of those that come to your classes. Bearing this in mind we should remember that we are on show when holding the space and what we do and say will be examined by many who perceive us to be their guiding light in the ‘science of yoga’.
In this light it is probably wise to have our own codes of conduct as with any professional organisation. There are certainly plenty of yoga organisations out there that you can join if you choose to and they will all have their own sets of guidelines, some of which are similar themes and some of which are more specific to their system of beliefs.
Yoga is changing. There’s no doubt about that. Of course it has always changed to suit the times and the culture that it exists in but the change now is more dramatic.
I had already sensed this in the yogis that I knew; I kept coming into contact with more and more respected teachers who seemed to share a similar way of thinking. It wasn’t until October 2015 though that I realised how significantly it had changed.
I had been asked if I would like to run a teacher training course, something that I had up until then been very much opposed to. There are more yoga teachers in the world than we will ever need and I know very few people that actually make a healthy living out of yoga, so selling it as a ‘new lifestyle’ was not for me. The freedom to deliver my own teacher training, in the particularly anarchic style that I’m know for was certainly appealing, but the most significant incentive for me to actually start this immersion had been one of my most popular workshops ‘How to Develop a Home Practice’. I noticed that it was always full and with good reason. People expressed that even if they had been attending classes for a long time, they just weren’t sure what to do on their own, without someone leading them. They were ‘afraid’ to do the wrong thing, to get ‘yoga’ wrong. I found this truly sad and it left me worrying about the state yoga was in. Were we disempowering yogis rather than liberating them? Shouldn’t the point of classes be to encourage yoga as a part of life so that eventually they wouldn’t need to attend class anymore?
So I decided that I’d at least put the feelers out and gauge from the response whether to continue. So I posted a simple Facebook message, not an advert, not boosted, and as far as teacher training courses go it must have been the most negative advert ever.
I cautioned that trainees were unlikely to make a healthy living if any at all as a yoga teacher and pointed out that a piece of paper certainly wouldn’t make them a ‘teacher’ anyway except in the eyes of officialdom. I also encouraged that any motivation to attend should be for their own self-growth and indeed that an intention to be a yoga teacher was probably a very poor one indeed to start with. I waited about thirty seconds and the likes started rolling in, then the comments, then the messages and by the end of the next day I had over sixty firm enquiries from around the country. By January I had all but sold out, I added two more places and they were filled just as quickly.
So why were people so interested in this course? A course that effectively promised to teach them nothing but to give them a glimpse of everything.
I certainly wasn’t interested in making a ton of money, I had already invited 5 guest teachers to contribute and was looking at many difficult months ahead of me, putting together a course that effectively encouraged those attending to understand themselves, their asana, their pranayama, all from their own point of view, not from mine or someone else’s.
I had no desire to teach endless asanas with suggested variations and adjustments for them to remember, nor to teach fixed techniques for meditation, mantras and mudras. I certainly didn’t want to throw out all of the yoga teachings that we already have in such great abundance, those would be delivered in a separate manual so that they had all of the traditional teachings to draw upon as well. Yet at the same time I didn’t want to just regurgitate all of this second-hand information as if it were fact and then encourage these fresh new minds to go forth and redistribute it yet again to an exponential number of people in their classes. As advanced as we are in the modern world, with both a wealth of ancient wisdom and cutting edge scientific information to draw upon, we forget to think for ourselves. Many of us are more inclined than ever to take what we hear, read and see as fact, without investigating it, questioning its validity or checking to see if there is a maybe a better way; a more logical explanation or something that is simply more suited and resonates more deeply with us.
I discovered quite quickly that it is very difficult to write a teacher training manual with no particular ‘style’ – not Vinyasa Flow, Ashtanga, Yin or any other sub-division of yoga that we see today. It is very difficult to teach the anatomy of poses without specifically indicating the joints and muscles that we might want to position, engage or relax. To teach meditation with the most minimal of guidance so as not to encourage others to follow your own methods and to incorporate mantras, mudras and the significance of Om when you yourself don’t practice them because you think they are superfluous.
But of course that was the entire purpose of the ‘course’, which from the very start I had called an immersion, because that’s what I hoped it would be. I wasn’t hoping to teach them anything more than to understand yoga for themselves and then hopefully encourage others to understand yoga for themselves. So I set out to explain how to feel an asana for yourself, to see how it fits your body and the bodies of others and encourage others to find their own form; to understand the logical process of meditation, to realise that it isn’t ‘spiritual, mumbo jumbo or religious’ though it can be all of these; to see the relevance of mantras, mudras and om and why we have them as tools but to realise that they, as with all of yoga are a product of somebody else’s understanding that has been passed down through countless hands and mouths. Whilst we certainly do not need to reject anything, the techniques that we might arrive at through self-exploration can be just as valid and potentially more effective to us, as they are far more personal.
More than anything I wanted to free the participant from fear. The fear of exploring their practise, the fear of letting go of teachings that didn’t resonate with them, the fear of teaching in a manner that isn’t necessarily out of a textbook, written by some other ‘authority’ on yoga.
That was when I realised that there is a growing mind shift, a very noticeable ‘awakening’ amongst yogis today. Everyone that joined the course, almost without exception, noted that they had enrolled because they knew that this was exactly how I taught, or to be more correct, this was exactly how I didn’t teach and they knew that they didn’t want to teach in that way as well.
So ‘Yoga Like Water’ -formless, shapeless, boundless yoga- inspired by Bruce Lee’s similar approach to the martial arts was conceived. I hope that it delivers what it promises-nothing at all-and that more and more people will start to wake up to their own yoga practice rather than taking on someone else’s version for themselves.
On my 42nd birthday, I decided to post a little video of my average morning wake up and shakeup session that keeps me so young and vibrant......whatever. Moving, shaking, stabilising, handstanding, sitting in freezing water. All before breakfast :)