Life, yoga and other adventures

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Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Facebook fury

OK, perhaps 'fury' is a bit strong, but I am a bit put out. You might have heard the discussion on the Today programme on Monday morning between Paul Fox, chair of the British Wheel of Yoga (of which I am a member) and Swami Ambikananda from the Traditional Yoga Association. The subject of the debate was the possible introduction of National Occupational Standards for yoga. This is not the place to go into the rights and wrongs of this; suffice to say it has been the hot topic in yoga forums in this country and beyond.

For many months now I have been in a closed group on Facebook just for  yoga teachers and with the aim of offering mentoring and support. It is supposed to be a nurturing, safe environment in which you can ask, for example, such and such happened in class and I didn't know what to do. Has anyone else experienced this? It is not supposed to be a general discussion forum, but understandably this BWY vs TYA topic has prompted a lot of interest. I put in my two-penn'orth, of course, but was responded to with such venom from some people that I have decided to leave the group completely. No great loss to them, but a huge relief to me.

The point of this story is that it made me realise how easy it would be to let this situation escalate into full-blown cyber-bullying. I'm sufficiently grown-up not to want to have the last word on this occasion, but I can quite see that once you start the ping-pong exchange of insults and abuse, matters could quickly get out of hand.

There is a saying oft quoted in yoga circles that we cannot control what other people do or say, we can only control our response to it. Good advice, no?

Monday, 3 October 2016

Yoga on a Sunday

Last few places remaining on Sunday's yoga session.

I hope you can join us (advance booking only)

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Making space

Last night I taught a Wednesday evening yoga class for the last time. My other classes will carry on, but from next week this one will be in the capable hands of Claire.

I've been with this group for about seven years, which hardly seems possible. We've shared some good times. For instance, there was that memorable night in June when the council folk turned up at the school to set up for polling day and I forcibly evicted them for being noisy. Just because we're tranquil (ahem) doesn't mean you can push us around. Even last night, there was a funny moment when proceedings ground to a halt while a visiting spider was evicted, with considerably more care than the polling people, I might add.

Over the years, we've had news of new babies, weddings and other celebrations; and also some bereavements and other upsets. Through it all, my yogis have been loyal and turned up rain or shine to do some bending and stretching, some mindful breathing and some lying down.

I'm giving up this class to make space for other things, and it will free up quite a bit of time. It's not just the 90 minutes of the class itself, but also the half-hour either side for travelling and on-site admin: plus, of course the behind-scenes planning and follow-up paperwork. Perhaps I'll finally get round to writing that next yoga book. Watch this space.


Friday, 20 May 2016

Putting on the style


The second question that potential new students ask me is usually, ‘What sort of yoga do you teach?’ I generally answer that I am BWY trained in the hatha tradition, but that I have absorbed elements from various teachers and experiences over the years. (The first question is, ‘How much is it?’ Rarely does anyone ask me where – or even if – I qualified.)

There seem to be so many different styles of yoga around. Let’s start with hatha, ashtanga, Iyengar, kundalini, Dru: the list goes on and is growing. Add in Scaravelli, Bikram, viniyoga and yin, and those that are purely descriptive, such as dynamic, power, restorative, for pregnancy, and trendy ones like barre, aerial and acro – not to mention hybrids like Yogalates and Body Balance. I’m confused, never mind my students!

So, what style of yoga do I teach? It depends. I always have a lesson plan, but adapt it according to who turns up and how we’re all feeling. Sometimes we work really slowly, sometimes more dynamically. Sometimes we have a very precise class, but sometimes we’re more mellow and we just go with the flow, literally and metaphorically. Sometimes, the age of my students on the night means it’s accidentally an over-50s session. Other times the boiler is playing up and we inadvertently have a session of hot yoga.

I don’t want or need a label on my classes. What you get is ‘Julia’s yoga’, whatever that is.

Saturday, 23 April 2016

Just a coincidence - probably

I met a friend today that I hadn't seen for a long time. She has a very particular set of skills relating to counselling, coaching and healing. It was lovely to see her. What made it all the more special was that I had been thinking about her for a couple days. Let's call her Carol.

Another friend (Elizabeth, for the sake of argument) is going through some tough times and I have been trying to find a way to help her, beyond offering a nonjudgemental ear and a hug. It occured to me that Carol could have just the resources that Elizabeth might benefit from. Strange, then, that Carol should walk back in to my life today - literally. I saw her walking towards me in the street.

I'm not a fanciful woman. I'm quite prepared to think that this was just a coincidence. It might even be that I'd seen Carol at the start of the week, but only registered it on a subconscious level. That would explain why I'd been thinking about her. Even so, odd that she should appear just when I needed her.

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

How Indian are you?

Don't worry: this isn't going to turn into one of those Facebook quizzes that show you what sort of a car you are, what film character you identify with or how much people love you. It's just that I've become aware of an increasing number of non-native Indians (as I heard Meera Syal call them recently) - that is, people who dress, speak and behave as though were born and raised in Mumbai when actually they come from Manchester.

I mean no disrespect, of course, but I wonder about the sincerity of those pure-bred Brits who build shrines to Hindu deities, sport a bindi and favour a flowing robe. Isn't it just a bit - you know - pretentious?

Thursday, 18 February 2016

The best laid plans of mice and men...

... are filed away somewhere.

Are you a planner or a spontaneous person? Do you like to know what's coming or enjoy the thrill of the unknown?

Anyone who is even a passing acquaintance will know that I'm a bit of a control freak: OK, I'm bossy. I can't help it - and if you think I'm bad now you should have seen me before yoga worked its magic. I do try to live in the moment, honestly I do, but sometimes I really need to have all the details to hand before I can decide what to do next.

When it comes to lesson planning, I'm still following the template that I developed when I did my training. I'm no longer writing a word-by-word script, but I always have not just the topic but also the basics of the sequence written down before my lessons. I'll admit that sometimes I run out of time and have to resort to something handwritten, but even then it's pretty solid. That's not to say I don't vary the session in response to the mood and requirements of my students, but I'm always in control of where we're going.

I have been following a Face Book conversation about the joys of teaching without the safety net of a lesson plan. There are apparently some people who turn up with a theme in mind and then wing it. Rather them than me!

Monday, 1 February 2016

The authentic self
This was the title of a workshop I went to on Saturday with the amazing Andrea Kwiatkowski, and it fitted well with the lessons I've been teaching (though I wouldn't claim to be anywhere near Andrea's level). We returned to the Bhagavad Gita, specifically Chapter 3, and more specifically still:

35: And do thy duty, even if it be humble, rather than another's, even if it be great. To die in one's duty is life: to live in another's is death.

Many's the time I turn in for bed with the thought that I've had a day of many hats: I've been yoga teacher, copy writer, music student, friend, wife, mother, head cook and bottle washer. This variety is what I love most about my life. I'm lucky enough to earn a living doing what I enjoy  and I have a lot of freedom about how I do it. Does that mean I'm leading an authentic life? I'm not sure: I still have moments when I catch myself thinking 'I don't want to be doing this'; but if we're going to be involved in society, surely sometimes we just have to grit our teeth and get on with stuff for the sake of the greater good.

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Are you willing and able to let go?

Are you ready to fly?
Book 1 of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali introduces vairagyam, non-attachment: 'The consciousness of self-mastery in one who is free from craving for objects seen or heard about is non-attachment.' This doesn't mean being disinterested, but rather it is acceptance of the philosophy that any practice without non-attachment is bound to fail.

I have been thinking about this in the context of my weekly classes. Am I too attached to my teaching methods? Am I reluctant to try something different or frightened to change gear in case my students leave? Am I doing them a disservice? More importantly, am I encouraging them to become attached to their practice and making it hard for them to find stillness of mind?

On a practical level, should I switch the class around so that they can't lie in 'their' spot? We're all creatures of habit, but unless we release those things we do on automatic pilot, is anything ever going to change?

Sunday, 10 January 2016

We're all students

Source: kettering 50plus adventure club
Before I became a yoga teacher, I found it difficult to work on much of a home practice, but my Thursday evening class was sacrosanct. I rarely missed a week. Then I qualified. Now my home practice is daily, but I find it hard to get to a regular class. Certainly I go to plenty of IST days, but that's not the same thing at all.

That's why I'm grateful to teachers like Carrie who let me drop in and out of their classes. I don't often say that I'm a teacher when I attend as a participant (unless some asks the direct question), because I don't want to draw attention to myself. I don't want special treatment and I don't want people to watch me to see how I'm getting on. I like to sneak in at the back and do my thing.

I'm also lucky enough to have two regular students in my class, Angela and Claire, who are doing their teacher training at the moment. They pick my brains sometimes, which keeps me on my toes, but they are also a useful source of updated information and fresh perspectives on everything I thought I knew.

It doesn't matter how long you've been practising, there's always something to learn.

Sunday, 3 January 2016

Why I haven't made any New Year resolutions

There is a school of thought that says you should start any challenge at the most difficult time - for example, go on a diet on a Friday so that you can get through the weekend when your resolve is strong. Wait until Monday, and by Saturday night you will be weak with desire for whatever your food fancy is. Other people say: no, do it when life is easy so you can get several successful days under your belt before you start to wobble.

I used to make resolutions when I was a child: be kinder to my little brother; do my homework on time; pick up my clothes off the floor before bedtime; then later it was the usual things like losing weight, getting fit, cutting down on the tea and biscuits. I never lasted much beyond February.

My yoga classes start again tomorrow after the Christmas break. I've already had quite a few enquiries from newbies wanting to join us, and I shall be glad to see them. However, I'm expecting that many of them will come for a few weeks and then something will stop them: they are too tired after work, the children need help with schoolwork, they forgot to eat at lunchtime and can't wait until after the class for their supper, or it's too cold to venture out. These are all valid excuses.

What works for me is to set weekly or sometimes even daily targets. It's easy to begin each morning by saying 'I shall go for a walk today' than to resolve to take a daily walk for a year. It's too much to ask, too big a target.

This week I shall be asking my students to consider a sankalpa, an intention just for that one class. This might be as simple as 'I shall open my heart and mind to what this session has to offer.' I shall be doing the same myself.