Very excited to be a part of this flash mob! While the adults get hot and sweaty with some power yoga, I’ll be having lots of yoga fun and games with the kids. Thank goodness London has put on a brilliant day for it, so if you’re around grab your mat (and your kids) and come along!
So the yoga studio where I teach is hosting a series of budget yoga classes, taught by the recent teacher trainee graduates. As one of the chosen few, today it’s my turn to throw a bit of free love to the Lumi Power Yoga community. Here’s a little something I prepared earlier to get people in the mood…
You may be forgiven for thinking this curly-haired lass is usually seen poking out from behind the reception desk at Lumi, offering up coconut water and towels like they’re going out of fashion. And you’d be right! But Erin Dewar is abandoning her post and stepping up to the mat for today’s 2:30pm Lumi Love class, to adopt a multi-tasking role of a very different nature…
Oh boy, how much time have we got?!
I played a number of sports growing up and have been a runner for many years. There’s nothing quite like physical activity, whether playing in a team, or setting out a long, meditative run on my own. But yoga is more than just a physical practice. Yoga is like an old friend – we know each other intimately and yet there’s often times of disconnect.
It often feels like…
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In the same week that I stuffed my bag full of excess yoga pants, nuts and notebooks to leap into my yoga teacher training, my Mum strapped on her walking boots, her freshly pressed quick-dry man suit, adorned her rucksack and took her first steps along the 820-odd kilometres of the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage track. Talk about competition…
But as she and I kicked back over this last weekend in my hometown of London – she still many miles from our Australian home – sipping wine on the Thames, hoeing into gastronomic pub meals and sharing of our stories, I quickly realised how startlingly similar our experiences have been over the past two months.
We both climbed up to cliff tops,
We walked through fields,
We stumbled onto friendships that then themselves found secret crevices of our being to lodge in.
She met people from all walks of life – and loved them all.
I met souls and hearts and minds: I met warriors of love and of grace. I met battle-shielded knights and soldiers of gentle courage. I met wounded children and mothers and lovers. I met angels of luminous energy and light.
We laughed, we cried, we loved, we fought, we broke apart, we held our hearts up to the world and we wailed out into the deafening silence, ‘I am here!’ before planting those pounding hearts back inside our chests and taking one more step.
And just when we thought we’d gone the distance, a great mountain rose up before us. We climbed to the top and there was planted the path of forgiveness, coiling itself round and round into a point at the centre of it all.
Slowly and delicately we made our way into the heart of it. The place where we met ourselves. Where we stared straight into the centre of our universe and said, ‘It’s time to come home.’
We laid a piece of ourselves down and walked away without another word.
It seems the path we choose to take is irrelevant. So to is the destination.
It is the journey that is the thing. And may it always be full of unexpected wonder.
My declaration: I am letting go of my stories of the past and those of the future. I believe that my life is yet to be written. And so as I step into the present moment, it will be with a practice of connection, acceptance and lightness.
I will follow the path of least resistance and trust that this will lead me home.
And that is who I am.
FLASHBACK to The Present: 6 April 2014
I am writing this in the early hours of the day. I love these hours. They are all mine. I still find it fascinating that this is how I see it these days. I have never been an early riser. In fact, if I didn’t sleep for eight hours of a night I was sure to feel quite physically ill during the day. My Mum once told me this was her story about her relationship to sleep. I’m not entirely sure if I used her story to understand my experience, or if it is a story that we share. But these days I am lucky if I get five or six hours a night. My disrupted sleep patterns started after a car accident a few years ago and so I was sure that it was a sign that something wasn’t right, something was broken, and hopefully with time it would heal and I would go back to ‘normal’. According to Chinese medicine, depending on what hour of the night you wake up, relates to a different body part’s ailment. If memory serves me, the 4am slot is associated with the respiratory system and anxiety. With this in mind, I tried to work through where I thought I needed help and healing. But to this day, I’ve never quite managed to go back to whatever I was before. It didn’t quite work out like that. And I find myself up before dawn more often than not. This is the new me. However, what I have discovered only recently is that I haven’t lost my sleep – my all important time for rest and repair – I have gained invaluable time for other things that I always thought I never had time for before. So now I write a lot, I read, I meditate. My story changed and then I changed my story of me.
This feels like a pretty amazing time for this kind of reflection to have cropped up, as it is the day that I am about to walk into teacher training and teach my first class with Natalie. Just us. It’s all ours. And so… what is it that is important to me – what do I want to share? What is my intention for the class? Why am I becoming a yoga teacher?! What does that mean to me?
Yoga is not just about a physical practice. Yoga is about connection. And we access this through stories. The stories we read about, the stories we hear about, and the stories we tell ourselves. Stories can be very powerful, wherever they come from. For example, I can read about Virabhadrasana and learn where this pose comes from – why the yogi’s before us have continued to tell this story. Why they – and now we – continue to practice this pose. If you’ll entertain me for a moment, I will summarise it for you now…
Shiva, the Lord of the Universe, had a wife called Sati whom he loved greatly with all his heart. However, her father, King Daksha, did not approve of their partnership. Since the beginning of the universe, his job was to oversee and regulate rituals and make sure they were done properly. Daksha, clearly making a point, made the terrible mistake of not inviting Shiva and Sati to a very special religious ceremony, a fire sacrifice. Distraught, Sati went along anyway and found that the ceremony was a farce; it was more about Daksha flaunting his wealth than any meaningful ritual. More importantly though, how can you hold a sacrificial ceremony without The Lord of the Universe – The Destroyer, as he is known – in attendance, from whom all sacrifice comes?
Sati could not bear it and took it upon herself to be the sacrifice. She threw herself into the fire.
Shiva, upon hearing what had happened, was overcome by grief. This soon turned to rage and he tore a hair from his head and threw it to the ground. This hair transformed into the personification of his emotions. Thus the warrior, Virabhadra, was born – the symbol of righteous anger, nobility and the defender of the innocent.
It is mostly irrelevant to me that this just happens to be a tale attached to the ancient religion of Hinduism, insofar as to say, where the story comes from is of less importance to me than the message behind it. Whilst I deeply respect the religious traditions, for me, yoga itself is not a religion, rather it is an art, a science and a philosophy for life. So, when I come to my mat, it is the message that resonates with me – the religious element does not get in the way for me. When I work through the warriors, yes, I am going on a physical journey; yes, my mental faculties are turned on in order to allow my body to work through the asanas, however what is most powerful is my state during this practice – what am I focusing on? What am I practising? These stories offer a point of focus i.e. what does noble mean to me? Where do I find strength or power? What do I stand in defence of – or quite simply, what do I stand for? Am I a warrior of peace? Of love? Of strength? Or am I practicing sadness, fear, anger, resentment; righteousness born out of ego rather than out of intuition and innocence?
By practicing in this way and by reflecting upon the way in which I practice, I can shift my focus not only on the mat, but also out in the big, wide world that is my life. This is when the practice becomes its’ most powerful. This is how it can open us up to allow our full potential to be illuminated: when we begin to rewrite those stories that we tell ourselves, in particular the ones that do not serve us.
FLASH FORWARD to Then and Now: The Unrelenting Mind Stuff
Righto. Thanks for sharing. So… what? You really think you’ve worked it all out? You think you’re ‘The Shit’?
Wow, ok aggressive…I never said I was ‘The Shit’.
Thank goodness. You’re not. Trust me.
I know that.
Do you? I don’t think you know who you are.
Oh ok, we’re playing that card are we? Careful! ‘Don’t make the baby cry!’ That’s sarcasm, in case you can’t read it.
You really think it’s that easy? You think you can just get up there, spout a few stories, assist a few people, project your voice, pretend you’ve got your shit together and people won’t notice?
Why are you doing this?
Why are YOU doing THIS?
Because I love yoga. I love teaching. I love…
You love…what?! Go on…you can’t even say it.
I was pausing for effect!
What do you want me to say?
I want you to say ‘I accept who I am. I love all of my weaknesses and all of my strengths!’
It’s just fucking yoga. You don’t need to get so intrusive.
Oh yeah? Go on then. If it’s just ‘fucking yoga’ then say it.
Why should I?!
Because it’s not ‘just fucking yoga’– this is ‘your fucking life’. Wake up. Get involved.
What’s that supposed to mean?
It means, stop ignoring this conversation with yourself. It means keep blogging, keep exploring. Keep in touch with people. Be vulnerable. Actually find your edge, don’t just look at it. You need to stay on the path to your authenticity. Only then can you truly start to live in the present. Enough of this flashing back and forward in time, arguing with yourself, with your habits of mind, your ego.
Really practice. Really live. Really talk to people. Really love. Really feel. Really connect. Really be here. In your body. In the world.
‘Unite the blueprint with the reality. Be the change I want to see.’ That kind of thing?
Are they your words?
Well, no, but I believe them.
Ok. But what’s your story?
‘Only you can create your own happiness’. You said that, remember?
Yeah, yeah. I remember.
What are you waiting for?
It’s time to fly…
…are you coming?
I’ll tell you what, if you like stories so much, why don’t you start here…this should get you going…
What is yoga teaching?
Are we really what or who we say we are?
Or can we simply allow things – ourselves – to arise and just see what comes up?
‘When you teach from your own practice it resonates more profoundly with your students.’ As a primary school teacher, this was a revelation for me as often you need to keep you as ‘Teacher’ and you as a ‘Human Being in The World’ quite separate. Clearly, it is all too easy to be blocked by my own ideas of what ‘teaching’ is or what it should be.
New teachers often have a natural ability to or affinity with trial and error. They don’t necessarily have the density of experience weighing on them. Of course, they have a gammett of other weights dragging them down – am I good enough? Do I know what I’m doing? Will people like me?
We have to let ourselves off he hook to be who we are as yoga teachers so that our students feel they have the space to do the same.
The habits of mind are extremely powerful. What we tend to practice is what our mind is focusing on at any given moment. When we use it as a focusing tool or energy source it can be a very powerful teaching tool. Often students don’t realize they have this access point, but as teachers we can see things that they can’t or may not realize that they are practicing. It saddened me to learn that more often than not people are practicing disgust for their bodies. Furthermore, the amount of information coming at us in today’s technological age is continually reminding us why we should continue to live in various states of fear.
However, if as teachers we can identify this in the moment, our language can ease them off of their self-punishment and direct them somewhere else. In this way, we can take students from distraction to direction. Distraction is our most common state of mind, but often this leaves us in a heightened state of anxiety or fear. The physical practice of yoga can be a great source of releasing students from these distractions.
Teachers are like tuning forks: we vibrate our energy out and others tune in. We make offers and our students are invited to try on these tools and ideas. But as teachers, we are always students. Teaching, in itself, is a practice. The contradiction of teaching is that we have to bring ourselves to the class but also get ourselves out of the way.
The restraint of the modifications of the mind-stuff is yoga – Book 1, Sutra 2
What we practice on the mat as movements of our mind, this is what we take into our yoga teaching.
The books by the mystics say that what we are is LOVE.
Love is being the other.
Love is wanting for the other what they want for themselves.
Love arises when the division of connection is no longer present and we become an expression or extension of the other.
In practice: When we feel separate from our students we feel fearful, but when we are in it together this dissipates. When we want for them what we want for ourselves, then our self-concern for ‘doing a good job’ falls away. In other words, whatever the student’s get, I get too. Often we assume that the role of the teacher is one where they hold a position of ‘I know more than you and/or am better than you and you should listen to me and do things my way.’ Rather, the practice of yoga and of love is such that, as teachers we come to the practice with an attitude of ‘Here I am, sharing this experience with you.’ When we drop the limitations that we put on ourselves, we become more affective. What we are working towards in our personal practice and in our teaching is that the contrast of how we are before class is not so different to when we walk out. In this way we can live as an expression of our yoga, and our teaching.
Set an Intention for Teaching Your students leave feeling better than when they arrived. They leave your class and they feel equipped, they feel recharged, they feel more inspired. They feel more capable and they go home feeling better about themselves and their lives. They may not know how or what made it happen but they do know that it happened and if they stay with it their lives will get better.
As a primary school teacher, one of my great passions is working with children and young people. So when we were given an assignment as part of our yoga teacher training to run a mini workshop, my topic was a no-brainer. Unfortunately, my excitement led to an influx of books with a variety of similar sounding titles such as Yoga for Kids, Children’s Yoga Games, Yoga Education, Yoga Asanas and Myths, Wisdom Tales for Modern Yogis…I say ‘unfortunately’ for my credit card, but fortunately for me.
I am an actor and a writer. I am a storyteller. I have always written stories or performed them. It is what I love. There is so much value in learning through experience and so much potential and insight to be gained from experiencing a good story – be that through reading it as an internal, individual experience, speaking it as a means to sharing and communicating the experience, or embodying it as a creative, physical experience – that I have decided that storytelling must form the basis of my workshop for children. Children naturally take to creative play in a way that adults can often be mystified by. Somewhere along the way, it gets lost or beaten out of us with the ‘grow up’ mantra of the over-twenties world.
We should celebrate our imaginative selves. We are a highly creative species who have managed to achieve unimaginable things to those who have walked the earth before us. The ‘back in my day…’ rite of passage is an exciting reflection of a world that is in constant flux. It is ever changing, never standing still. We are of a place in the universe that is unconcerned by time – it simply marches on – always in the present, never trapped in the past, and not quite of the future.
But this can be a terrifying concept for many. I, for one, have wrestled with this all of my life and am still certainly not at peace with this human construct we call ‘time’. Some days are better than others – as with all things. And this is when taking myself out of my mind and into a creative, more expansive dimension can be very healing.
In the field of anthropology, symbolic healing refers to the deep structure that appears to underlie the universal experience of healing. This experience often occurs spontaneously in response to a particular myth or a psychologically true story. Individuals recognise, often on a very deep and non-intellectual level, that a particular story ‘speaks’ to their sense of suffering. Their emotions attach to should in the story; and as they hear the story, contemplate the emotionally significant symbol, and experience resolution along with the characters in the story, they experience a healing transformation of a personal dilemma.
In Patanjali’s yoga, we have instructions on how to remove from consciousness everything that is not compatible with the enlightenment that is our natural state. We don’t become someone else, someone enlightened; we become our most authentic self, which is to say, someone who is enlightenment itself, once our self-imposed beliefs in limitation are put into proper perspective.
Through the practise of asana, we become increasingly conscious, not only of our physical bodies but also of our emotional an energetic dimensions. Asana is a mirror for self-awareness.
But the asanas we practice are only the tip of the iceberg. The tip…is so engaging in itself that, as yoga ha become increasingly popular in the West, we seem to have lost sight, or awareness, of what lies beneath the surface. The rich artistic and mythological tradition of India, when brought into consciousness along with asana, transforms each pose into a lens through which we can discover hidden facets of, an possibilities for, ourselves. Together, the pose, the story, and the artistic image enlarge the power and range of our self-understanding; and it’s been my experience that engaging with the poses, stories, and images can elicit a powerful experience of symbolic healing.
– Zo Newell’s Preface to Downward Dogs & Warriors: Wisdom Tales for Modern Yogis
Fourteen is a vulnerable age. More than anything in my life right then, I needed an adult to tell me that in my inmost, realist nature I was valuable, eternal, already possessed of all the wisdom of the ages… As I understood it, sitting in meditation and moving in meditation – asana – were just different aspects of the same process. “Like matter,” said Doctorji, “sometimes a point, sometimes a wave.” He also taught us to chant, the feel of the Sanskrit syllables rolling around in the mouth and throat like grapes: om nama shivaya, or just Om. “It is all you will ever need,” he instructed. “Om contains the vibrations of all consciousness. Om will protect your mind. Om is God himself.