Reflections on Task 10 and Task 11 – Bodytalk

Dear Marie,

many thanks for the task. Below are my thoughts and further down Task 11.

I did the task with Alice Oswald’s poem A Short Story of Falling. Oswald’s poems are intended to be read aloud and following the previous task, I recorded myself reading the poem and then played it over and over again.

It is evening. The studio is a cleared space in a shabby living room. The mover is a cluttered mind in a shabby body. It will do. The poem suggests falling, mentions and sounds like water, follows the cycle of a drop of rain.

Midway through the poem, the cycle is disrupted by an ‘I’ who speaks a wish to be like water:

‘if only I a passerby could pass

as clear as water through a plume of grass […]

then I might know like water how to balance the weight of hope against the light of patience’

It is this part of the poem that had an effect on me – a sense of warmth in the chest – and it is this part that made me choose the poem.

The recording loops on the computer and I move to the poem again and again. A deeply ingrained mimetic impulse kicks in and my first response is to do the movement suggested by the language. Words like ‘falling’,  ‘pass’ and ‘balance’ are immediately kinetic and it is very easy to move according to the meaning of the word. But the task asks for something different.  I try to work away from this immediate response but without imposing another one. There are moments, so fleeting I can hardly register them, where the word amplifies a sensation that is already in the body: ‘every flower a tiny tributary’ enhances a sense of opening as my sacrum rests on the floor; ‘rises to the light’ increases my awareness of an ever so tiny difference between making and closing space at the bottom of the skull.

I re-read the poem and I find in its tale the same paradox that keeps me in an upright position: ‘Oswald’s poem is ‘the story of the falling rain that rises to the light and falls again’. How can something rise while it falls? But isn’t this what happens in standing? When I stand – the words of the poem dripping on me like rain – I feel the back of my heels falling into the floor and it is from this fall that a greater sense of lift comes into the spine. Does this also make me a drop of rain?

Task 11 – Bodytalk

This task is a continuation of task 9 ‘Do As You Normally Do’, in that it focuses on the habitual patterns the body follows in its daily dealings with the world. So, the task invites you to work in and with those moments where the body becomes ‘absent’ (Drew Leder 1990) to the self.

Begin by picking those movements that feel the most ‘natural’, those movements where bodily sensation completely disappears, either because the attention is on the task the body is engaged in or because the mind is entirely elsewhere.  I find activities in my morning routine, like teeth brushing and making tea are like this, probably because I am still half asleep, but you may find that other moments are a lot more habituated and hence a lot more ‘absent’ for you.

Whilst in the doing of such a task, begin to describe out loud what the body/self is doing using a first pronoun (I, my leg, my arm etc) and present continuous tense. Do this bodytalk every day for a few days for the same routine(s). Try to describe those things that come to your attention most immediately. However, as you do the task each day,  see if other aspects of the movement/doing become present to you. Capture them in language, however roughly or quickly. Once you do the task a few times, see if you remember any of the phrases you said during the bodytalk. Write a poem using these phrases.

Reflections on Task 9 + Task 10 – Words that move you

Dear Maria,

Thanks for Task 9. Here are my reflections. Below them you can find my Task 10.

Reflections on Task 9 – Do as you normally do

After the first day of practicing I sat down to document the order of Asanas to make sure I’d remember the sequence for the following day. I looked over it swiftly before my practice on Day 2 and after practicing on Day 3 I started to add some thoughts.

When I described the task to my partner Alan, who also practices yoga, he suggested that I could record my sensory experience as I do the practice: what I see, smell and hear, as an alternative to the more subjective somatic approach of interpreting what’s going on in the body. I decided to give this a go and copied and pasted the order of postures in Sanskrit and added the moments of perception next to the Asana as they stood out for me as I practiced:

Day 1

Green mat, ‘What are we doing?’ Alan asks.
3 x Surya Namaskara A synchronised breath.
2 x Surya Namaskara B
Padanghustasana unsynchronised breath.
Trikonasana
Parvritta Trikonasana
Parsvakonasana
Parvritta Parsvakonasana
Padottanasana shuffle back, giggles.
Sirsasana
My foot slips off my leggings Vrkasana
Surya Namaskara A
Ardha Kapotasana
Paschimottanasana
Purvattanasana I look over to Alan
2 x Urdhva Dhanurasana
Salamba Savangasana
Soft rug Savasana

I was interested in trying out the obstruction that Alan had mentioned but then something caught my attention when I was recording my sensory experience in relation to the posture names. The Sanskrit language of yoga speaks to my senses in a completely different way to the language of English. When I read English, I take on board a meaning of a word or entire sentence through a ‘mental’ cognition. My knowledge of Sanskrit is mainly limited to posture (Asana) names. For that reason, the Sanskrit names of postures do not provide me with a sense of ‘mental’ understanding but give me pictures in my mind and often bodily sensations. I read ‘Padanghustasana’ and I feel my head hanging down and my fingers wrapped around my toes and my belly gently touching my thighs. I read ‘Purvattanasana’ and I see the transition from Paschimottanasana and feel my body stiffen and the stretch over my shoulders as it recalls the effort to lift my hips.

           

Day 2

I’m blinded by big overhead lights 3 x Surya Namaskara A.
Loud Danish kids’ songs.
2 x Surya Namaskara B I try to hear my breath.
Parents looking at phones or minding smaller children.
Padanghustasana
Trikonasana A small boy. I smile at him.
A gust of air as Lisa runs past me.
Alan’s hands on my shoulders Parvritta Trikonasana
Parsvakonasana
Parvritta Parsvakonasana
Silence for a moment Padottanasana then more loud music echoing with the sound of feet running in the hall. The small boy in my vision again.
Sirsasana the sound of a ball hitting the ground
Vrkasana
Lisa interrupts me with a big gym ball. I help her do backwards walkover over the ball.
Lisa on exercise bike.
Surya Namaskara
Ardha Kapotasana A child is crying.
Paschimottanasana
I ask Alan to take a few photos of me Purvattanasana.
2 x Urdhva Dhanurasana
Salamba Savangasana I look into the bright light again. A ball rolls behind.
I lay down Savasana Something flies over my head. I get up.

The juxtaposition of Sanskrit and English became an oscillation between a bodily and mental experience of the practice, of feeling and experiencing postures in Sanskrit through my body and perceiving the surroundings in English through my senses.

Day 3

I take off my glasses. Blurred room.
3 x Surya Namaskara A
2 x Surya Namaskara B
A sweet smell of ice cream. Lisa shrieks with joy.
Padanghustasana ‘Wheels on the bus go round and round.’
The door goes, my dad enters.
Trikonasana ‘How did it go?’ I ask.
Parvritta Trikonasana His account of events.
Parsvakonasana
I gaze towards my fingertips and just see a blur.
Parvritta Parsvakonasana
Padottanasana My dad: ‘That’s very impressive Marie’.
Sirsasana
Vrkasana Fridge door opens – a bottle is being opened. Footsteps: ‘is it not beer o’clock?’ Laughter. Alan and my dad both cheer.
Ardha Kapotasana
The door to the entrance opens. Sound of shoes clicking on the floor. My mum. ‘Hello’, then to Lisa: ‘Har du haft det godt i børnehaven?’.
Paschimottanasana
Purvattanasana cheerful chatter
Alan’s eyes on me Urdhva Dhanurasana
Salamba Savangasana
My mum’s contour above me. ‘hvad spiser I i aften? Savasana ‘det ved jeg ikke’. Eyes closed. She walks off. Loud TV noise of children’s voices. I get up and walk over to Lisa to help her pour a glass of milk. My dad steps on my mat with his shoes. I pick up the mat.

Task 10 – Words that move you

Your task is going to be to seek out a text or a collection of words that have a similar effect on you as to what I describe in my reflections on Task 9: Find words that for one reason or other make you feel them physically rather than mentally. It might be to do with language or perhaps the text brings back a physical memory, perhaps it’s simply their aesthetic appearance that brings on the bodily sensations. When you have found your words/text reenact the physical sensations that the words/text brought on. What is the relationship between the somatic and mental understanding of the words/text?

Enjoy the task!

Reflections Task 8 & Task 9 – Do As You Normally Do

Dear Marie,

many thanks for Task 8. Below you can find reflections to the task and instructions for Task 9.

I was sceptical to begin with about the whole business of opposing the physical relation to the floor to the meaning of the text. My first response was to work with the ‘To Stand’ text lying on the floor. But then I started thinking about planes and how I could explore surfaces that simply would not allow me to stand. I ended it up working with a tree in my neighbourhood I was a bit familiar with. Once I climbed the tree, I first listened to the ‘To Stand’ text while moving on the tree without standing. I then tried to hang from the branches of the tree for as long as I could while listening to the ‘To Be Supported’ text. 

What I experienced often amounted to  a sense of cognitive dissonance: the words alien – but spoken in my voice  – simply did not match my pro-prioceptive reality. Yet, there were quick moments where a phrase or two would fit with my physical sensation perfectly. Amid the midst of dissonance, those flashes of resonance, well… stood out. In those moments, the physical reality deepened and there was almost a relief that the dissonance between physical sense and textual significance had finally stopped. (Quick search on the internet tells me that our tendency is to reduce cognitive dissonance, either by altering our beliefs or by  tailoring reality to our needs. I wonder whether any  word, apart from the exact opposite of what I was sensing,  would have had the same effect of relief. Whether, in other words, I was prone to interpret my physical reality through the text, as long as the two were not entirely contradicting). 

Images by visual anthropologist Vanja Celebicic.

 stand behind

understand

standing into falling

TO BE SUPPORTED

Asthechairimmediatelyaftersupportsmyweightmyheadisheldupbythecolumnofmy

spineandtheblissfulSavasanapositionreverberatesinsidemeSun

Task 9 -Do As You Normally Do

This is inspired by Immanuel Kant (1724–1804), who apparently, from middle age onwards, stuck to the exact same routine on a daily basis. I think he did this so that he did not have to think about all the little choices we have to make throughout the day, and thus he could spend his time philosophising. Or maybe he did it so that he could observe the differences that appear once as much as possible of everything else remains the same.

Think what makes up your yoga routine: the postures, order, duration, pauses, use of props etc. You may not have one single routine that you follow every day, but the task is that you create one out of those things you tend to practise the most. Once you put the routine together, do it every day, preferably at the same time and the same place. Do the same routine even if your body asks for a different one. Try to find and stay in that space between what the routine prescribes and what your body needs. In other words, use the same routine as a form a background that is as flat and homogeneous as possible, so that you can get a better sense of the different body and self you encounter every day. I hope you enjoy it.