Thursday, 18 January 2018

 There is a saying that the only way out is in.

Our bodies are essentially a place for transformation. Healing takes place, when we can connect the vast intelligence of the body with that of our mind.
Our bodies tell stories; our muscles hold memories and our tissues pulsate in patterns. Sadly we are socialized to learn a more dissociated view of the body and to dismiss our sensations and feelings. 

 Modern living is hectic and puts our nervous system in a constant state of survival base stress: fight or flight, the consequences being as Thomas Hanna calls it, “ a sensor motor amnesia”: forgetting our body’s needs for pleasure and its capacity for vitality.  

It can feel very hard to perceive the body as intelligent when we are so used to ignoring it”- Jill Hayes
Indeed the most supportive action we can take, is to begin listening, inwardly. 
Not always easy, but little by little, building tolerance for sensation. We can trust again. Feel the security of the ground and grow from our challenges.    

Friday, 27 October 2017

Whose arm, whose leg, whose yoga? On seeing people, pain and privilege in yoga

Bodies move in context, we cannot separate our bodies from the world and the environments we live in. Involvement in the outer world will affect our inner experiences. We are influenced by the rhythms, pace, words, actions, aggressions of other people and the systems around us.

Our systems are a product of our history. Given our histories of violence and separation, we find ourselves inheritors of systems of oppression and privilege that stem from colonialism and slavery. As Peggy McIntosh writes in her work "unpacking the invisible knapsack of white privilege", these systems are not taught to us and are not easy to see, but they do influence us.

As yoga teachers and therapists, when we invite someone to raise an arm or a leg, we need to be thinking about whose arm and whose leg? What personal memories, difficulties or experiences are there for that person in this part of their body? We can ask ourselves, how it has been for this person, of this gender, of this race, to raise his/her arm, to reach out, to have been touched or hurt by another arm. We might ask ourselves how is it for this individual to MOVE and be MOVED in this world.

Yoga can be a haven and respite from every day microaggressions; the slights, put downs, jokes (that masquerade as insults), the lack of validation, the isolation and the traumatic stress that puts you in a constant state of fight or flight or freeze. Yoga restores wholeness and connection, dampening down the accumulations of distressing affect in the body/mind.

With the increasing commodification of yoga: celebrities, luxury products, fantasy retreats and fashionable clothing and studios, I worry that yoga is not reaching  those who need it, that it is becoming privileged and conveys a message to persons from marginalised communities “ you are not welcome or entitled to this yoga class or space”. 

I am also concerned about our general lack of commitment as yoga teachers and professionals to talk about oppression's inside of our classes and studios and even between us as we vie for power and control over the way that yoga is defined and practiced. Conversations are happening, yet defensiveness and insular thinking still prevents an honest exploration of how we wield our position and power.

The anonymity of large classes, the non relational demeanour, shortened class times are all harmful developments in yoga that stop us from working with and seeing real people.  We can begin the push back against these developments and dedicate time and energy in our teaching for feeling others, listening more, giving time for check in’s in class, for people to raise their voice, express their needs and get a response. Building relationship is essential, it breaks the isolation and dissonance between mind and body that oppression creates.  

 I have been criticised for bringing up issues of privilege and power because it amplifies negativity and reduces people down to their ‘vital statics’. A response that I often get is to “leave the politics out of yoga”,  “I work with just people”, “I do dot put people in categories” or “we just need to do our yoga practice ".  It is interesting to me, how closely this sentiment echoes the narrative of our colonial past, the refusal of the coloniser to see difference positively; the colour, the identity and the culture of the people they were extracting wealth and resources from. Pain and suffering was  also not acknowledged, the colonised became the ‘other’, the wretched because of their own innate disposition, not because of social-economic- cultural oppression (for more information see the work of Franz Fanon).  This belief system still informs how we refuse to give body symptoms a rightful context, instead attributing their existence to some inbuilt default in one’s biology or race. 

Since we are grappling with issues of cultural appropriation in yoga, I think it is essential that we acknowledge just how much of our past still shapes the way we see the world, it is part of our socialisation and education. We are taught not to see connections or context. 

 No amount of AUMS, statues of Ganesha or “keep calm and carry on” yoga mats is going to free us from our conditioning. Our task is to un- learn the dynamics that manipulate, objectify and silence people. We need to use our power responsibly and acknowledge that we do impact others through our cues or choice of words, use of gaze, our touch, adjustments and organisation of space.

Diversity should not scare us, differences are liberating.  When difference is denied, we come under social pressures to conform, we become fearful and generate fear.  If we can be brave enough to admit how as a society we use difference to disadvantage, then we can open our eyes to the dynamics of oppression and think clearly about its relevance to yoga and our teaching. As yoga professionals,   if we do not acknowledge privilege, then we really lack empathy and we do not see the pain of others.  How then are we really helping? What are our motivations
 and who is this yoga practice REALLY benefiting? 

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Authentic movement revealing Body Soul  

"Dear body, for too long I have treated you as an object, I have not really known you. I have ignored you,  because you were silent, I thought I was in control. When my thoughts went really quiet, I  listened for something else and I felt you.

You are gentle and generous; a container for my life. I feel deeply what is in me, both my pains and joys. I witness my impulses, arousal, sensations and feelings, you hold them so I can care for my inner world. 

You  give me the means to express, to create movement, metaphors and meanings that resonate with my  heart and the heart and mind of others. I speak with ownership and kindness for my personal experience. 

This is a dance between containment and expression, it balances my experience of the polarities of life, it makes me feel  whole. Sometimes I slip, sometimes I fall, but it does not really matter how I dance. My dance is conscious, accepting the shadow and opening to light."

Monday, 9 May 2016

Teaching Student Midwives at The University of South Wales.

Recently I was involved in an educational pilot project for midwifery students. The aim was to deliver  a more holistic perspective of midwifery that values the emotional, spiritual and relational sides of  pregnancy, birth and mothering.  Myself and midwife Carmen Rubio wanted to emphasize the value of learning through creativity and our body. We taught 2nd year student midwives at the University of South Wales. I facilitated body, yoga and movement sessions, giving the students the opportunity to drop into their body, stretch, dance, feel and sense into themselves and explore their self awareness. I taught some self care techniques and the students learnt how to keep centered in their empathy and how to  guard against  burn out.  We also explored the embodied feminine: our  own sexuality and wombs and our own feelings, thoughts, assumptions even aversions about our own bodies and feminine parts.  

Themes that we explored:
  • The value of yoga breathing and mindful movement.  
  • bringing compassion for our self, recognizing where the tensions and holdings are in our body and how to 'ease our load' through grounding and discharging tension
  • Knowing and caring for our body helps us to know and care for another
  • The importance of non verbal empathic resonance.
  • Recognising our limits and how to maintain professional boundaries.

I particularly liked these pictures that the student midwives drew that reflected their empathy for the pregnant women and  how they feel when they engage in  their own self care.

We make the path by walking it