Reflections Task 42 and P.S.

Dear Maria,

Thanks for your Task 41, below you can find my reflections. As it will soon be a year since we started and we are both taking some holiday in August, we agreed that this is the final task for this part of the project. There will be no new task to follow but instead a brief Post Script.

Reflections Task 42 – A Lexicon of Experience

I practice my usual yogasana this week with an awareness of my ‘yoga language’. The verbal language enters first in to my awareness:

‘Feel your breath move up through the spine on the inhalation’.

‘Lift your chest forwards and move your shoulders back’.

‘Let the weight drop down through your sit bones and your shoulder fall away from your ears.’

The phrases are numerous. I have an entire language at the forefront of my mind to describe postures and movements and I find it helpful to have a collection of words and phrases to rely on, as I teach a fair few yoga classes every week. They can however be an obstacle, when they percolate in to my awareness as I enter various poses during my own practice and what I really want to do is empty my head.

The ‘linguistic anchor’ has been securely fastened in my mind but with the instructions for this task a silent language that does not appear in coherent words and sentences appear with unexpected imagery. When consciously moving behind the initial verbal language, I uncover (fragments of) a bodily language. Not that I have not noticed bodily sensations or experienced before, but because I have not paid much attention to how these sensations/experiences might ‘speak’. The imagery is fleeting and I quickly try to capture them by drawing a version of how the experience ‘speaks’ to me. Sometimes words accompany the imagery. When the pictures below came to mind they resembled pictograms: a visual guide that describes the bodily sensation.

Image 1: PolyAHHHHH

During deep back bending words usually stop entering my head. It is interesting how this particular bodily movement silences verbal language and is replaced by visualisation of the body. I often expel deep exhales followed my throat sounds of AHHHHs. This day my spine was floating in mid air in an x-ray-like manner.

Image 2: Sensation Feedback

I am entering one of my final Sun Salutations when I become aware of the the dampness on the surface of my skin, the open pores, the capillaries in my lungs and the breath that moves in between them -all at once. The surface of skin and surface of lungs are in touch with the environment and all of it connects simultaneously. It creates a heightened sense of aliveness.

Image 3: AUM (OM)

This image (not surprisingly) appears after I chant ‘OM’ before beginning my practice. With my eyes close I feel the sound travel up from the back of my throat, resonate through my chest in a big open vibration and land on a spot just beyond my body where the sound ends.

Image 4: TransExtractFiltering

I sit down on my mat to tune in to my body before practicing my yogasana and a vivid image enters me, of something solid moving through a filter of breath and body-space and leaving letters dancing and dangling on the opposite side. It is clearly marking a transition and somehow the seated position (and the ritual) removes clusters by extracting a lightness or freedom from a sensation of compression.

Not unexpectedly, when I look back on the pictograms, they describe a relation between time and space expressed between depth and intensity of how the mark is made on paper, between distance and volume of words, between the simplicity of letters next to each other opposite nuances of the black strokes of the marker.

Post Script

Thanks to the editors of the TDPT blog for hosting this experimental project and to those who read and commented on it.

To you Maria: Two Trainers Prepare has created coherence and consistency of creativity for me during a year of transitioning to a different life. I am very grateful for this time we have spend together – apart. I look forward to the next chapter…

Reflections Task 41 and Task 42 – A Lexicon of Experience

Dear Marie,

many thanks for Task 41. Below you can see my response and below that you can find your Task.

Video by Francesco Cochetto

Video editing by video artist, Hannah Baxter-Gale.

Task 42 – A Lexicon of Experience

More and more I find that the vocabulary I have available to me cannot capture my experience of working with the body. I experience sensations I cannot describe in words. They are thus condemned to a tacit/nonverbal realm. This might not be a problem necessarily, but it can be frustrating when I am trying to explain how or what I sense/feel to someone else. Also, it makes it more difficult to find these sensations again, because without a linguistic anchor I have to rely solely on body memory or mere chance.

I am also quite disappointed at the very dry, cause-effect language that marks the Iyengar Yoga approach on the one hand, and the kind of New Age blather than is often used in other approaches (what I mean by this is poetic and comforting words which however again do not capture the here and now of the somatic experience).

So, your task is to first of all find moments/experiences/sensations in your yoga practice that you do not have the words to describe. Then you have to come up with new words that you think might capture what has so far remained unnamed. You can make up new words, create composites, borrow from more than one language, use sounds etc. I hope you enjoy and who knows you make come up with a new verb to capture what we mean by ‘enjoy’ in this project!

Reflections Task 40 and Task 41 – Windows

Dear Maria,

Thanks for Task 40. I was very excited about the breaking of the etiquette and enjoyed doing Task 40 – Together – together. I’m writing this not knowing what was your experience of sharing the task. Find below my reflections and further down Task 41 –

Reflections Together

I will begin with an exercise of recounting what we did for the task. Further down I will respond to the questions you posed in the email I received from you following the sharing of the Task.

Monday 22 July 2018 in front of Leeds University Union

I wanted to share with you my impressions of what we did for the Task. As I write this I realise that this is a ‘meta-exercise’ that acknowledges that although these reflections are addressed to you, they will be posted online for other readers who didn’t take part in the Task. So this account is also for their benefit. More about the ‘meta-level’ later.

3.34 pm we meet and greet outside Union.

3.40 pm we make our way towards your ‘secret spot’ about 15 min walk through the park. We chat on the way about the task and discuss options of how to spend the hour we have there together. Shall we have one task that we both do or do we give each other tasks when we’re there? Are we doing yoga or something else? How will the posting of reflections work when we have broken the etiquette by doing the task together? After some time we agree that as the task is named ‘together’ we should both do the task and write reflections. As we enter a forest-like backyard of the nearby streets you say that, in the light of recent posts about relations, the task should be about the relationship between our bodies, the body and the environment and what it means to take the yoga practice into a non-typical yoga setting.

3.55 pm we set up in a clearing, put our bags down and start exploring the area.

4.15 pm we work individually and in silence. How we do the task has not been determined so it takes a while before I ‘tune into you’ and feel that we are together.

4.30 pm themes of play and imitation of yoga shapes start to occur. We hang out in trees, balance on tree stumps, our hands or bodies meet in short encounters. I cover your Balasana with sticks and leaves. Postures shape and are shaped by the environment as well as by the other body.

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4.45 pm we face each other in the clearing and a series of postures, mirroring and responding takes place.

4.57 pm we meet at the bench and we break the silence with a smile and a quick chat about the small breath of quiet and air the clearing gives the hustle and bustle of surrounding busy streets.

5.10 pm we say goodbye and part on the streets of Leeds and go off in separate directions.

Was what we did yoga?

I began answering this question by writing a long account of what elements must be present in a yoga practice. It sent me back to previous posts (around Tasks 26-28) where we exchange reflections and instructions around the questions of when postures are correct/right or if making your own postures count towards a yoga practice. After some ambling I realise something I haven’t yet articulated to myself. The only element I could absolutely say is crucial for my own yoga practice is intention. It may be important to practice recognisable postures from a yoga oeuvre, to focus on breath, to choose a designated space or props but with no intention to do yoga and relate the practice to ‘a wider belief system’ (as you describe it in your reflections for task 27) there is no yoga. An intention to dedicate your full attention to the body, breath, alignment, space etc and the connections between all of these in the time you spend doing the practice, is the core of yoga. All other elements are important components that materialise the practice but intention is the indispensable thread that joins them together. For this reason, my answer to your question must be… yes!

How was it similar or different from the practice you normally do?

I have practiced in the outdoors, without a mat, in shoes, impromptu, with no particular aim for postural sequencing, in relation to nature before, but never all of this at the same time as we did on Monday. The intention to draw my awareness to the relationship with the environment shifted my focus and expanded my perception of what I believe the practice to be.

What other things did you think/feel/discover during or after the session?

Well, something interesting happened after we parted on Monday. I left the Task with a peculiar feeling that something was not quite right. I had been very excited about sharing a task so why was I left feeling somewhat dissatisfied? The answer crystallised throughout the evening and the feeling of dissatisfaction transformed into a realisation about the project: Only because we met did I understand that the excitement of the project has been exactly in the non-meeting. The project has been formed around the premise that we meet in cyber space in a prescribed format for the blog. By not being face-to-face in the actual physical exploration the emphasis has been placed on the delivery of my exploration to you – the reflections on the blog. I argued in my Task 39 that the body and the ‘doing’ is the pivotal point for this project but I will now challenge this: The body may be crucial for the execution of the tasks but it is how this is represented on the blog in our online meeting that creates the project. This make me think: What if there are no boundaries between the body and the posting of reflections? We present the labour of our physical work in pictures, videos, a mode of writing and ways of addressing each other. What if body and reflections are extension of each other? Perhaps it is not simply that the body is reflected in the blog but that the blog itself forms the body; perhaps the two are reflexive.

And so I return to the ‘meta-level’. Every other week I address my reflections to you: ‘Dear Maria…’ pretending that my post is written just for you while knowing that the whole world (or perhaps just one or two people!) is watching. You describe this space where we meet virtually very accurately in your reflections for task 39 as ‘the window of our imaginary studios’. A window we have created that frames a project which is private yet public, aiming to reveal a process yet showing an outcome within a narrow predetermined format. Perhaps meeting up stirred the balance between these conflicting experiences and displaced the excitement of negotiating their contradiction.

_________________________________________________________________

Dear Marie,

many thanks for agreeing to meet me and following me to the ‘secret location’ (the name of which I don’t know, I assume there isn’t one). As I explained, this place has made a deep impression on me and all I knew when I met you on Monday at 3:34 pm in front of the University of Leeds Union was that I wanted to take you there. Now, after having read your reflections, I realise that I did not only want to take you there,  I wanted to place the project there. As a project ‘Two Trainers Prepare’, strictly speaking, has no place, but a virtual one.

There are two emphases here, perhaps the side of the same coin. We have been doing the project together – on our own, but also and because of this, the project does not have a place, unless you count the myriad places in which the tasks have been undertaken over the year. So, I realise now, that Task 40 was about breaking both of these conventions: we were together and in the same place. And I realise now that it is this ‘and’ that concerns me more than the individual parts of the equation.

This place is not a yoga studio. But it became one between 4:25 and 4:57, if we both agree that what we did was yoga. To me this was the most important part of out time there together.

In his introduction to Light on Yoga, Iyengar gives a number of guidelines as to how one needs to prepare in order to practise yoga. Under ‘Place’ he writes:

8. They [asanas] should be done in a clean airy place, free from inscets and noise.

9. Do not do them on the bare floor or on an uneven place, but on a folded blanket laid on a level floor (1991 [1966]: 36).

Iyengar’s guidelines involve other lifestyle adjustments too: stomach must be empty, bowels should be emptied, having a bath before starting will ease the practice (1991: 35-6). Of course, in contemporary practice around the world these guidelines are being followed to different extents. I doubt the ones concerning the emptying of the bowels are particularly adhered to.

Yet,  guidelines number 8 and 9 have stuck. In fact, they gave us the ‘yoga studio’. The yoga studio, it is important to remember, came after the development of the practice (for the first few years Iyengar was practising and teaching at home). So, at some point, Yoga went inside and purpose built studios began being built around the world. As you attest, yoga is sometimes practised outside too, but this is considered an ‘alternative’ to the established indoor practice. What is more, even when practised outside yoga mats and even surfaces are still in use.

On Monday, the breaking of guidelines 8 and 9 raised for me -again- questions for the ontology of the practice  – was what we were doing yoga?;  its legibility within a social context  – was it yoga for you too? Would it be recognised as yoga by someone else?;  but also the way the physical space structures the practice.

And this is what I found out on Monday: yoga as an established syllabus can and does take place outside, usually under the preconditions I mentioned above, but it does so as an established practice. The relation does not work the other way around. Even when yoga is moved into a different space, not unlike a choreography staged in a different theatre,  and even if the experience of the practice  is different, the practice, i.e. what we identify as yoga,  remains the same. By contrast, what we began to explore tentatively  was creating postures out of the place, the place suggested the practice. Or as you put it: ‘postures shape and are shaped by the environment as well as by the other body’.

I suppose we can envisage the development of a kind of site-specific yoga whereby a place has its own set of postures. Part of the practice would be to find out the postures the place affords.

And this brings me to another aspect of being together, which again I was not fully aware last Monday. On Monday, as you suggest, there was a sense of something not being quite right, which I also felt. You say that something about the ‘excitement’ of  capturing and sharing the practice for one another was lost.

Yet, what we gained was that we witnessed each other. I think it was this seeing that lent some credibility to what was going on. I know, and I know this for sure, that I would never go to this place to ‘do yoga’, had we not gone together.  And here is another thought: has the Blog conditioned our relationship to such an extent that when we meet, the immediate propensity, our ‘first response’ so to speak, is to witness each other’s process rather than become involved in it?

Task 41 – Windows

There is a whirlwind of new connections being formed in my body-mind as a result of this physical meeting and your response to task 39. I feel new avenues of thoughts about what this project is (and could be/come) have been opened for me. I want to fuel this by inquiring further into our ongoing question of relations -and windows.

I want to return to the imagery of the window you use in your reflections for task 39 as the starting point. My go-to-book at the moment for creative inspiration is The Place of Dance by Andrea Olsen. On page 41 I discover the useful term ‘windowing’ (used here in a poem by Suprapto Suryodarmo) and a phrase goes like this: ‘Windowing: making windows into your home, your body self; making windows to look out of your home. Which track to choose?’ Inspired by this quote and by the observation you offer in your final paragraph above on witnessing vs. being involved, this is your task:

The blog is a window and in that window you see a reflection of your own body self or your relation to the blog. Considering this prompt what would ‘windowing’ look like? How can you work practically with reflections or seeing through, seeing in/out, light/dark, from this window and at the same time play with ideas of witnessing the process (looking from the outside) or being involved (seeing from the inside). What does the frame of the window look like and how does it affect what and how you see?

I would like you to try and approach this Task from a practical viewpoint. Let your reflections for this task be evident in min 70% doing/practicing/filming/photographing/moving and max 30% writing.

I fear this Task may be a product of the whirlwind in my head as I recognise I may have created one of the more cryptic Tasks of our project. I hope you can keep your head above water! I look forward to your response.

Reflections Task 39 – Task 40 – Together

Dear Marie,

many thanks for Task 39. Below you can find my reflections. Below this there is the description of Task 40.

Reflections – Task 39

I thought you asked me what is my relation to the Blog. Then I read your post again and I realised that the question is far more interesting: how would I dance with the Blog if it were another body? Well, if it were another material body, because, I think, we both agree, that this Blog is a body, albeit an immaterial one. There are three immediate relations I have to the Blog. One spatial, one temporal and one psychological.

Sedentary: the blog sits me down and in front of a screen. It is not entirely the Blog’s fault,  I could be working on an ipad in bed.  Yet,if the source of your frustration is the two-dimensionality of the types of material the Blog affords, I get frustrated with the seated bodily posture that seems essential to using it. But down I sit, thighs parallel to the floor, shins at right angle to the thighs, head in line with the spine and arms resting in front of the keyboard. There is, of course, an orthoperformance to this relation, not unlike the ‘correct’ and ‘incorrect’ ways of doing a yoga posture. If the blog were a body, we would be dancing a finger dance, I think it is called typing! 

Weekly: The Blog pops into awareness sharply on Monday mornings, time and space needs to be made if I have to post my reflections. During the ‘receiving’ week,  where all I have to do is read your reflections and receive my task,  the relation is calmer, but there is still excitement: ‘what will you post?’, ‘what will you ask me to do?’. As each week we alternate in taking the lead with the project,  there is a  sense of the responsibility being shared (I wonder if there is a similarity here to caring relations: you take the kids one week, I take them the other; you spend Christmas with our ailing mother this year, I will do the next; I take Uncle Bob to the doctor’s, you take him to buy a new hearing aid.) How far can we extend this metaphor of the Blog being something that needs regular ‘checking’ and taking care of? If the Blog were a body we would be dancing a Polka dance, tentatively.

Mutual: The Blog is like a window. Digital technologies, especially those involving screens, are often likened to a window (see for example Galit Wellner’s title A post-phenomenological inquiry of cell phones, 2015); they afford looking out and looking in. By posting the entire project on the Blog, we decided to share it with anyone that might chance upon it. Anyone, might look in through the windows of our imaginary studios. We are also, however, looking out. We refer to other people’s work, we share links with colleagues and friends, we develop a repository of the entire project, to remain after the project is gone. There is another thing that windows do though: when it is dark outside and there is light inside, windows reflect back the life that takes place in the rooms they are windows of. My relation to the Blog is reflective and reflexive. Before anyone encounters the posts, the Blog reflects back to me my relation to a form of practice that has come to define me and through it my relation to myself. Often these reflections take me by surprise, sometimes  they confirm what I thought I knew and yet others they lead me to stuff I do not even know are there. And maybe these ‘stuff’  – realizations, insights, pains, frustrations – were never ‘there’ but only emerged out of the relation.  I wonder how long  they will last for. If the Blog were a body, we would be doing the mirror exercise.

Task 40 – Together

Your task for this week is to meet me at 15:30 in front of the Union on the University of Leeds Campus. Breaking with etiquette, for this task we will work together.

Reflections task 38 and task 39 – A body of work

Dear Maria,

Many thanks for task 38. Below you will find Task 39 – A body of work.

Reflections Relations

This task is clear and to the point and completely central (I feel) to what we’re trying to do and for that reason I have been a rabbit in headlights trying to work with the question. ‘How might a relational yoga practice be represented and disseminated through language and imagery?’ No matter how I choose to respond I will not do the profoundness of this question justice. How can I create images that represent not the postures but what happens in the relation between them? And how can I talk about the relation without reducing the experience of it to a simple word play?

Here are some tentative reflections:

Imagery

Layering the images in goes some way to answer the question of a relationship between postures, between the body and the space etc, but it is still flat and two-dimensional and too literal. The postures – although now in direct relation to  one another – are still fixed and static.

Language

 

SIRSASANA                                                    SAVASANA

 

Virabhadrasana classic Virabhadrasana correct Virabhadrasana athletic

 

 

TRI     KO       NA    SA     NA    TRI    KO     NA     SA    NA   TRI    KO  NA   SA  NA  TRI   KO   NA    SA     NA    TRI     KO    NA    SA   NA   TRI    KO   NA   SA   NA    TRI    KO

 

Task 39 – A body of work

At the end of your reflections on task 37 you state: One thing, however, becomes clear: my injury reveals the very thing that was taken for granted in the task and the photos: ability. I wanted to add to that: the body is taken for granted.The body – and its abilities– are the pivotal point for this project even as sometimes the written reflections and visual outputs take centre stage. This insight is not ground-breaking on paper either but nevertheless one that affirms my experience that Two Trainers Prepare is not a ‘project posted on a blog’ but an exchange between two bodies.

These thoughts lead me to an idea for task 39. For this task I want you to think about relations not just in asana but in a wider context of this project. We have worked together two people in a pair, that is one relation. We have worked individually with our surroundings, that is another relation. There are numerous other relations to mention but I want you to focus one particular one… We have used reflections and writing and uploading and posting and created a more intangible relation with something that is not physical: the blog. I want you to explore ways that the outcome of the project (the blog) can be considered a tangible element in your relationship with it? Where is the blog and how can you work with the proximity/distance between you? Is the blog a deposit of written material, photos and videos or do all the tasks and reflections add up to something more? A body of work?

Imagine this: if the blog was another body how could you dance with it?

I look forward to your response and to seeing you in Leeds very soon.

Reflections on Task 37 and Task 38 – Modern Relational Yoga

Dear Marie,

many thanks for task 37. Below you can find my reflections and below this the instructions for Task 38.

Monday: I am excited and inspired by the pictures you post and look forward to doing the task (which I am not sure exactly what it asks, because I read the instructions very quickly).

Tuesday: I do understand that the task has to do with some form of re-construction, re-staging, adaptation. I am thinking about the re-creating of past choreographies and the function of scoring. So, the photos are my score and I can change anything I want in the composition. A little something nags me, but I am not too preoccupied with it: I have never done, or be taught,  Natarajasana, the posture you are doing with the diggers. I will have to find a way to somehow address this.

Wednesday: I do a bit more reading on the commutation test. It sounds a very interesting methodology. How might the thing, or series of things, I will change in the composition reveal insights about both the original and its reconstruction?

Thursday: SNAP. My back goes and with it all the plans I have for the task.

Friday: I can barely walk or stand. I am medicated to my ears and have no idea how I will respond to the task. Dazed by the pain and the effect of the painkillers, I am thinking about asking for an extension. But this has never happened before. The frequency (yes! the rhythm of the posts) is one of the threads that makes this project what it is. One thing, however, becomes clear: my injury reveals the very thing that was taken for granted in the task and the photos: ability.

Saturday: The pain has eased somewhat and with it comes an idea. What will be changed is scale.

Painting by Margarita Samara

Task 38 – Relations

The last practice I had before I injured myself yielded an insight. Asanas are not postures, they are relations. This may not sound particularly groundbreaking on paper, but it took me nearly 20 years to break the mould of the idea, and practice, of postures and realise that what is going on is in fact relations. What is the difference? Postures are fixed, relations are fluid. Both the translation of the term asana as posture, as well as the photographic representation and instructions of ‘Modern Postural Yoga’ (see De Michelis’s excellent History of Modern Yoga 2004 and Singleton’s Yoga Body 2010), create the impression that yoga involves the doing and holding of fixed positions (even if in practices like Ashtanga Yoga there is a lot more emphasis on the movement between the postures).

Here is your task then: what kind of visual and linguistic representation might we have if we think of yoga asanas as relations? Relations between body parts, between the body and the space, between different weights and pressures, between inside and outside etc etc. How might a relational yoga practice be represented and disseminated  through language and imagery?

Reflections Task 36 + Task 37 – Composition reconstructed

Dear Maria,

Many thanks for task 36.

Blog format

So far it has been mostly an advantage to post tasks and reflections on the TDPT blog where the layout of how we post has its limitations; it has meant that thinking about how the blog entry appears was not something to be concerned about. However, my reflections for task 35 is one of those entries where I feel the blog format restricts my reflections. With composition as the central point for this task, the pre-set font, layout of text and limited ways of adding photos means that there is not much scope to play with the composition. I would have liked to place the images side by side and blow them up much bigger. Anyhow, for today the layout of my reflections below will do.

Reflections on Composition

I did not manage to track down the exact image from Joan Jonas work that you were referring to so I took the instruction from your task and paired it with what I imagined the still image to look like.

Image made on self-timer


Photo by my dad, Niels Andersen

Photo by my mum, Kirsten Hallager

a) The body-in-yoga

The yoga posture I chose for each photo was inspired by how I felt they would work best compositionally in the surrounding environment: what shape would either contrast or mimic the objects in the space, what was actually physically doable and be visible within the frame.

b) The surrounding environment

I did not have time to construct a set-up for the photos and as a result my everyday activities and surroundings had to suffice for photographing myself doing the task. Inspired by the yoga photos by Polly Penrose and other artists (like Julie Blackmon who photographs everyday life in (sur)real set-ups), I used places and spaces that I pass through and interact with daily. I was particularly interested in how the yoga postures were sometimes camouflaged in the untidy and ‘busy’ surroundings yet adding an ‘oddness’ to the photo. It was an interesting process for me to compose the photographs with myself in a yoga posture and relate to my bodily experience of this position in a new environment.

c) The object

The object was not at the forefront of my mind so I would mostly just grab what was there on the scene. Holding an object as part of the posture removed any remaining experience of doing yoga. I was simply posing with an iron, a brick or… a child. I did consider what I was wearing for each of the photos. Mainly that I wanted to avoid yoga wear but again, time limitations meant that I would pose in whatever I was wearing, which then became part of the narrative of the image.

Without having paid much attention to it while composing these images, each of the elements (a, b, c) add their own visual ‘rhythm’ to the images. I was so glad you clarified in your reflections for task 34, that syncopation is not rhythm out of synch but different rhythms  in relation to each other that either compliment or complicate the overall pace. I want to play with this further for task 36.

Task 36 – Composition reconstructed 

I loved the idea of visual rhythm and have in my reflection on task 35 discovered a different way of ‘seeing’. Composition as a manifestation of rhythm between objects, bodies and environment is an obvious choreographic tool where movement is central but I had not articulated to myself that rhythm could apply specifically to images.

For your task 37 I want you to reconsider one or more of the images I composed for task 36 and reconstruct it/them as close to ‘my original’ as you can. For obvious reasons the environment and objects will be completely different so try and resolve the compositional challenge rather than matching objects. Perhaps think of it as a commutation test where you investigate an image by identifying ‘signifiers’ that you substitute with your own environment, body, objects, colours etc. How does keeping composition (more or less) intact but exchanging elements in the frame agitate the visual rhythm of the image? Bring back to the blog the image(s) you create and any reflections on the process.

Enjoy

Reflections Task 35 and Task 36 – Composition

Dear Marie,

many thanks for task 35.

I engaged with the task quite a lot during the week through the way it conditioned my intentionality (this is a fancy way to say that I basically started noticing a lot more the rhythms around me). However, I only got round to actually doing it yesterday. It was then that I discovered that the task required quit a bit of skill, which I evidently do not have (I did suspect this earlier in the week but I was hoping that I will find a short cut. I did not).  The video below shows a very poor attempt to at least keep two rhythms at the same time: with my feet a rhythm that is mercifully recited for me, and with my arms another one (it doesn’t matter which, as long as it is different!). Having these two actions in a syncopated relation was beyond the tricks I can master in a week, or indeed this lifetime. 

Beyond my apparent failure, your task made me think about both syncopation and rhythms. First of all I thought about the various rhythms that go on in the body: circadian rhythm, menstrual cycle, the heart pumping the blood round the body, the secretion of insulin and other hormones etc.  So, the body is made of rhythms and is of course situated within rhythms; day and night, the seasons, the cycle of the washing machine, the football world cup every four years and on and on. However, syncopation is slightly different, because, from the little I figured out yesterday, in syncopation the two rhythms are in relation to one another, the syncopated rhythm fills the spaces between the full on. It complements and complicates the rhythmic structure. I tried to listen or feel instances of syncopation arising spontaneously but I did not manage to trace anything.  The following task is partly an attempt to continue with this search but in terms of visual rhythms, rather than auditory ones.

Task 36 – Composition

I saw an image by Joan Jonas dating from the 1970s. A performer is standing in Vrksasana (Tree Pose) holding a piece of paper that has a painted triangle on it. The performer is part of a wider environment, and probably the still is an image from a recorded performance.

This, and my experience of Task 35, form the basis for Task 36.

Develop structural forms/sculptures with your body in one of the yoga postures positioned in relation to an aspect of a background, foreground, texture of your environment and/or in relation to something you hold or wear, for example an object, a painting, a drawing, a costume etc. Think of a. your body-in-yoga, b. the surrounding environment around and behind the body, and c. the object, if you decide to use one, as one composition. Do this with as many postures, objects, places as you wish. Take a picture of the compositions and bring them to the blog.

Reflections Task 34 and Task 35 – Syncopation

Dear Maria,

Thanks for Task 34. Find my reflections below and you next Task 35 – Syncopation

Revisiting task 32

A few weeks back I received task 32 in which you asked me to decide ‘in the moment’ to close my eyes, focus on the breath and inhabit it. When I received task 34, I understood that in my reflections of the first task, I had subconsciously sidestepped your original intention. Here is why: There was a temporality issue in the task I could not solve. From the moment of reading the instruction I would await the task to happen but, in that anticipation, hinder the possibility of surprising myself in the action. It felt significant to the task (in my reading of it) to not plan the moment and for the week of testing task 32 I had daily flashes of thinking ‘now I will do the task’ but feeling untrue to it because I had planned it. It did give rise to a real-time exploration in timing and breath which was very fruitful. It left me with questions such as:

When am I being present in my breath and can this be planned?

When does the breath begin and end?

What happens to my sense of timing when I realise I am now in the moment of carrying out the task?

How does the timing of a task interfere/interact with my own timing and daily rhythm?

Reflection on Task 34 – the breath and the gaze

So I welcomed the prod that asked me to reconsider this task as it prompted me to reflect on it again. At the same time, you gave me a second even more unachievable task, which was to photograph what I see when I open my eyes. Unachievable because I was only interested in the immediate gaze I would have after completing my breaths, I did not wish to postpone taking the photograph.These are (some of) the photos i took:

It became awkward at times as i remembered  the task half way through practicing yoga

Sometimes obvious when enjoying a moment at the beach

And dangerous when it popped into my head while cycling

and driving…

Task 35 – Syncopation

It strikes me now that my task 33 ‘what if..’-task was a response to my own inner struggle to grasp your instruction for task 32. Yes, it was incredulous and unwieldy to intellectual meaning. Like something out of synch that doesn’t beat to the same rhythm.

For this reason – and further on from the question that arose from reconsidering Task 32 – I want to think of timing out of synch. 

Consider this image showing a beat-level syncopation

Decide on two (or more) actions that you do throughout the day that has different sense of rhythm. They could be breathing or running down the stairs, playing with a child, reading an article etc. Now try and do the actions at the same time or overlapping and explore how it changes your sense of rhythm of the synchronal action. Bring back any traces of reflections from this.

Enjoy

Reflections on Task 33 and Task 34 – The Breath and the Gaze

Dear Marie,

many thanks for your reflections on Task 32. As it happens often with this back and forth between Task and Reflection, your response to Task 32 took me entirely by surprise. Reading the post again, it strikes me that you have put together a score and I do wonder how this score could with different kinds of material, say torn pages from a diary, and how it might shape into a piece. Maybe something to return to?

And thank your for Task 33. Below you can find my reflections and below that the instructions for Task 34.

Reflections on Task 33

The task still doesn’t make sense and I suppose this is part of its charm: an incredulous ‘What If?’ barely making it through the barriers of meaning. I wonder if it is precisely because the task is unwieldy to intellectual understanding that it may open up different ways of making sense.

I have no idea how to go about the task. Perhaps, the easiest way is to let it be. I read it once, I get confused, there is so much information coming at me that day, I turn the Blog off and move onto something else.

Every now and then, the task reminds itself to me. What if…the words jumble, what are the instructions again? What if every cell could feel every breath? Before I even manage to put the words in order, or check on the Blog to read the task again, something has happened to the breath. One breath, this one breath  becomes fuller and seeps deeper. So breath in-breath out, a week passes again, punctuated by Task 33, which –  it seems more accurate to say – engaged with me, rather than the other way around. This leads me to think about the duration of the tasks. Is Task 33 finished then? Have a I done it? Is it done with me? Is this reflection a marker of its/my accomplishment? Or, once planted, the Task takes a life of its own, demanding to be done, meddling with the horizon of those things that rise to consciousness? Maybe something to return to?

Task 34: The Breath and the Gaze

I am aware this sounds like the name of a pub and maybe a pub should be named thus. This task takes you back to Task 33, which this time I would like you to do following the instructions of the task and adding one more step.

Without planning in advance, you decide on the spot and say ‘Now I am going to take a breath’. Wherever you are, close your eyes and take one breath. Try to inhabit and be present to this one breath as best you can. The first day you take one breath, the second day two and so on until on day 5 you take 5 consecutive breaths.

I invite you to pay attention to the impact this task may have on your gaze. How do you look at the world before and how  do you look at the world after the task? What happened to the eyes and the musculature around and behind them? What is the connection between breath and gaze?

As an additional and final step to this task, I would like you to  photograph the first thing you see once you open your eyes after the breath. You don’t need to take the photograph straight away. You can go back and search for this exact thing you looked at and take a photo of it later. Bring the photos and any other aspect of your response back to the Blog.

 

 

Reflections Task 32 and Task 33 – ‘What if…?’

Dear Maria,

Many thanks for your task 32. Find my reflections on the task below and your new task 33 – ‘What if…?’

Reflections – Breath

Shortly after reading your instructions for task 32 – Breath, I opened an email from Independent Dance in London that advertised a workshop aimed at dance artist named The Breathing Archive. It is described thus:

I was intrigued by the sound of this work and wanted to attend the workshop, but alas, it being in London, that was not an option. What I could do was adopt some of these ideas and fuse it with my Breath task. I don’t know of Anouk Llaurens’ work, so the adaptation invented below is purely from what I imagine components of the workshop might be like.

What I did

Three ideas came to mind from your task and the workshop description:

  • Breathe once, twice etc and inhabit and be present with the breath
  • ‘Crumple and un-crumple printed A4 pages’
  • Texts, scores and pictures that represent a physical manifestation of ephemeral work

I print out 6 pages (I was going to print out our entire 71 pages of Two Trainers Prepare correspondence but didn’t feel it was justified to exploit nature for my reading/crumbling experiment) and lay them out. How can I breathe and be present with the work and relate directly to the documents?

I begin by crumbling the first page while I read out the text. I notice the connection between reading out loud and breathing. Was I ever aware of how/when I breathe when I read? On page two I make a little ‘tick’ on the text for every breath I take while reading. Page three becomes a mark-making experiment where I keep the pen on the paper, I follow my reading with the pen and make a little peak for every breath. Page four takes into account your instruction to breathe more than once. So instead of taking one I take three breaths when stopping to inhale while reading the text out loud. It becomes a question of ‘words-appearing-between-breaths’ rather than the breath merely being a necessity for speaking. Page five is an image from my yoga lore from task 30 and portrays Surya Namaskara A. I practice Surya Namaskara A while crumbling and un-crumbling the page for every breath. Finally, I combine them all for the last page; I read out, I breathe three times when I run out of breath and crumble and un-crumble the page and lift up into Urdhva Dhanurasana. The (un)crumbling reveals a pattern of how the paper folds when the action is repeated. The breathing that connects with this action has a similar quality and I connect with the image Llaurens gives above about the cells breathing and moving. The folds create a landscape across the page and the pages laid out together become an illustration of the stages of the breath.

Task 33 – ‘What if…?’

Thinking about cells and the body as cellular draws my attention to Deborah Hay. Her work has been very influential in my thinking and approach to my own choreographic work. She practices exploring questions in her dance beginning with ‘what if…’, allowing the response to be open and playful. I will borrow a question of Hay’s and give it a twist to satisfy my idea for your next task:

Explore your yoga practice with this question in mind:

‘What if every cell in my body at once has the potential to perceive every breath passing?’

Enjoy

Reflections Task 31 and Task 32 – Breath

Dear Marie,

many thanks for Task 31. Below you can find my response and below that the instructions for Task 32.

 

You asked me to develop an installation that captures the research I am currently undertaking. That got me thinking: what is the research I am actually doing? Yes, I am writing a book for nearly two years now and I am doing research as part of this. But is this my research? It feels to me that my research is a lot less defined; something I have been involved in all along and still remains inchoate and without a name. Yes, it involves writing and performance making and practising yoga, and dancing but is neither of these things alone nor all of these things together. In a way these practices feel incidental to something more urgent, more fundamental. In some ways, this project feels part and parcel of this ‘research’. Employ an interdisciplinary methodology, play at and with boundaries, and sharpen a practice of yoga that has been nourished for so long and now at long last it feels available to me, serving me at every turn of the yellow brick road.

What you will see below is a game/installation I played with a group of second-year theatre and performance students at the University of Leeds. It is informed by an exercise by American choreographer Susan Redhorst and described in her book A Choreographic Mind (2015). Redhorst’s exercise is simple: in a pair you choose a set of objects, and you take turns arranging them in a space marked between you. I love playing this game, and every time I invite others to play it with me it is totally absorbing. In the beginning I thought of it as a way to develop compositional skills, but as I went along I realised it also exercises responsiveness, imagination, new ways of seeing, and an appreciation of affordances. More importantly, the exercise is extremely gratifying but without being competitive or strenuous; maybe because it develops a sense of co-presence between human as well as non-human partners in a situation that continues to unfold.

So Redhorst’s exercise formed the basis of a piece that a group of students were creating for a larger performance that took place at the Leeds Art Gallery in May 2018.

Their piece, called Re-arrange’ was a response to Anne Hardy‘s installation Falling and Walking (phhhhhhhhhhh phossshhhhh crrhhhhzzz mn huaooogh) that was shown at the Gallery during the same time. Responding to Hardy’s piece, which used made and found debris to create an installation the visitor could walk in, ‘Re-arrange’ similarly used mundane objects. Unlike Hardy’s piece, though, the visitors at ‘Re-arrange’ were invited to move and position the objects in the space. Also, unlike Hardy’s piece that had a prerecorded soundtrack of found sounds that marked the duration  of the installation, the objects used in ‘Re-arrange’ could produce two types of sound: natural sounds generated out of the object’s material and movement and recorded sounds that were generated by sensors located in the objects, which responded to the visitor’s movements (at around 2:50 of the video you can see both sounds working together).  The video captures an impromptu play that took place, when we were testing ‘Re-arrange’ prior to its installation in the Gallery. I consider this to express my research as articulately as it can get (which is not very much): my research is the process that unfolds between people as they engage in a creative exploration, which has neither a pre-determined shape nor expected results, and seek to relate with whatever reveals itself to be on offer.

Players are: Ed Coulden, Jacob Justice, Joe Kent-Walters and myself. Video by creative technologist Christine Farion.

Task 32 – Breath

It suddenly struck me that we have been doing this project for some time now and we have worked with the breath very little, if at all. I know the breath cycle is part of the asana practice in Ashtanga, but in Iyengar the approach to the breath is very different: you leave it alone for the first few years, and then you begin to practise Pranayama (Breathing exercises) in a meticulous and technical manner on par with the postures. I studied Pranayama for 4 years with Silvia, but the practice never felt mine. I experienced the breath like a wild horse, kicking and running away the moment I tried to tame it. The last couple of months, though, my breath surprises me. It comes and sits cross-legged right in the middle of my awareness. It fills me, and lifts me and occupies me with a clarity and generosity I never felt in the Pranayama practice. Maybe it’s the spring.  So your task is this:

On day 1, decide on the spot and say ‘this is the moment I will take a breath’. Wherever you are, close your eyes and take one breath. Try to inhabit and be present to this one breath as best you can. On Day 2, do the same but take 2 breaths instead. Increase one breath per day until you get to 5 breaths. You can do this anytime of the day at any place, and it should not be planned in advance. Bring back to the Blog traces of what happened.

 

 

Reflections Task 30 and Task 31 – Installation of your research topic

Dear Maria. Thanks very much for this Task. See my reflections below and your next Task 31– Installation of your research topic.

Reflections Yoga Lore

I immediately knew how I wanted to carry out this task: I envisaged my own yoga book. How would it look? Which postures would I include and what would I say about them? Would I talk about their alignment, their do’s and don’t’s, their origin, would I ponder my relationship or history with the postures? Would I get spiritual and philosophical or simply practical and pragmatic? Since starting my MA I used an app on my iPad to take notes because I like that I can combine writing, drawing, taking pictures and recording audio. The note-taking-app I have used to make the images below are from this app, it’s called Notes Plus.

My Yoga Lore is a ‘Desert-island-Discs’ of the postures I would take with me if I was stranded somewhere. If I can hold onto these ones…

The full PDF of the Lore is here:

Yoga Lore

Task 31 – Installation of your research topic

I have begun a collaboration with an anthropologist in Denmark and we are currently looking to do some work that explores the bodily knowing in patients who are undergoing treatment or surgery for back problems. It is opening up a new and exciting  avenue for me of working creatively between movement and science/medicine. I know you have been/are working outside your primary discipline with technology and digital forms. I am curious to find out more about this work. And so, this next task involves your own research.

For task 31 I want you to think of your current research topic or an area of it and make an (art) installation that reflects or captures (some of) your ideas or questions. Use materials or environment that inform your work and put it into a spatial relationship. If it makes sense to move with or around the installation you can add a movement score to the instruction. You can photograph or film the outcome or dance and bring back any aspect of your installation to the blog.

Enjoy

Reflections Task 29 and Task 30 – Lore (Invented)

Dear Marie,

many thanks for task 29. Below you can find my answer to the equation and further down the instructions for Task 30.

Reflections Task 29 – Yoga + Female=? 

Reflection 1: If there ever was a can of worms, this is the one! I have no idea where to start, and I am worried that whatever I say or do will inevitably cause offense. This probably says quite a lot already!

Reflection 2: I decide to take menstruation as the most obvious way in, most obvious to me that is! Menstruation, pregnancy and more generally ‘women’s health’ is an area that is well covered by Iyengar Yoga.  There are clear do and dont’s, but then again there is discrepancy in the way these guidelines are followed.

Memory: In classes with Silvia, we had to go and tell her when we had our period. Then she would ask: ‘Beginning, middle or end?’ and according to the answer she would say something like ‘take it easy today’. If you were found out doing strenuous standing poses on the first day of your menstruation, you would get a proper told off. In a class with another teacher I trained though, any aberration from the class she was teaching was unacceptable.Everybody was doing like everybody else and if you had your period and didn’t feel well, you should have stayed at home!

Reflection 3: There was something empowering about going to Silvia and letting her know about my menstrual cycle. There was an intimacy I enjoyed but also a sense of pride: yes, everything is working, everything is tick-tocking, I am a woman and yoga is doing me good.

As my way into the task, I revisited the short essay The Practice of Women During the Whole Month written by Geeta Iyengar and published by the Iyengar Yoga Association UK in 2009. This was probably a lecture Geeta gave for an Indian audience but through its publication it also reached practitioners in the UK.

Reflection 4:I am surprised to find that Geeta sounds a bit tentative at the beginning, maybe she had the same walking-on-egg-shells feeling that I got when I received the task. She asserts that ‘as far as the practice of yoga is concerned, there is no difference between men and women’ (2009: 1). And then she continues: ‘however, we must recognise some basic differences as far as the biological body is concerned’ (2009: 1). The question then is ‘how we adapt the practice so that it brings a proper balance’ (Iyengar 2009: 1). The rest of the essay gives a brief account of the hormonal changes that the female body undergoes during a month and then offers suggestions and programmes of practice specific to the various points of the menstrual cycle.

Reflection 5 (With apologies for over-sharing): I roughly calculate that I am in the middle of my menstrual cycle, and since I haven’t experienced problems with my fertility, I can do all the poses without adjustments. Again, there is a sense of empowerment and pride: I feel good that I am able to take care of myself and that I am doing something which seems designed to keep me healthy, and would I wish for it, fertile.

By this time, the equation is looking something like this: Yoga + Female = Mother.

Reflection 6: In view of the psychological and physical toll that infertility can take on men and women, it would feel callous to find anything wrong with this. What can be at fault with a practice that has a good understanding of the reproductive system, it is non-invasive and can help with the maintenance or restoration of hormonal balance?

But something nags me.

Reflection 7: There is something Apollonian in the equation. I see in it the glow of health, I hear in it the laughter of children (to come), I sense in it the deep satisfaction that comes from a body that works well. Hormonal imbalance is to be treated; yearnings, misfits, bad moods, pains and aches are to be minimised; the body, and with it the woman who owns, is, and takes care of this body, needs to be regulated.

Reflection 8: Add a bit of early Foucault in the mix, and the equation turns into a recipe for governmentality. Yoga becomes a method for disciplining the (female) population. But this is early Foucault and if anything, we know now, as Foucault understood, that there can be (em)power(ment) in discipline. But the nagging continues.

Reflection 9: It crystallizes around a sense that not enough space is made for suffering. Not that yoga shields one from it.  Rather, that the practice does not offer the space to sit with it, to acknowledge it, to see it, to find meaning in it.

Why am I surprised? Yoga, is after all, supposed to shed light onto our darkness. But what happens to our darkness, I ask? Does it by default remain that which we are running away from, one sun salutation at a time?

Task 30 – Lore (Invented)

Publications on yoga asanas tend to consist of photographs and written text.  This often describes how the posture needs to be done, then there is a list of the health benefits and in some cases there is a bit of information on the name of the posture and its position within the Hinduist pantheon. B.K.S. Iyengar’s Light on Yoga is probably the first publication that set up this model.

With this task I would like to invite you to invent your own lore for postures of your own choice. Feel free to arbitrate on what a posture may be good for, when it should or should not be done, which parts of your culture it might echo and which aspects of your history it is connected to. You have to choose existing postures, but you can choose any ones you want. You have total freedom as to what can go in the text.

Reflections Task 28 and Task 29 – Female + yoga = ?

Dear Maria,

Thanks for task 28. See my reflections below and your new Task 29 – Female + yoga = ?

Reflections on Inconspicuous

Transcription of audio recording while carrying out task 28:

(Im at a busy opening event of beach front in Horsens (Langelinje) with events, games and stalls. Imagine kids running around and loud music playing)

‘I just spotted one of my yoga students about 20 feet away…

(pause)

I decide to attempt an inconspicuous Sun Salutation – knowing I will probably fail – or at least have to amend the movement to not ….

give away that I’m trying to do yoga.

There’s something about the environment here as

being around kids, being around play makes the yoga practice

less visible…

Parents play with their kids – pick them up – there’s lots of physical activity happening. Perhaps I can blend in…

(pause)

The first moves are easy, I can stretch my arms over my head and have a little yawn. Second movement is easy enough. I bend forward and pretend to tie my shoelaces. I lift my head up and extend … and look… out over the sea … and then it gets tricky.

How can I …

do Chaturanga and not clearly be doing a yoga posture, or I suppose any exercise posture. I crawl forward and pretend to be looking for something in the grass. I skip Upward Dog as this seems to be too obvious. On walking my hands back, I lift my hips up a little bit and come into a half-hearted version of Downward Dog. Eventually I come back to checking my shoelaces again and then rise up to standing.

I think I got away with this one.’

NEW SCENE

(shopping in the local supermarket. Music playing in the background and there are sounds of trolley wheels and occasional chatting.)

‘I’m self-consciously continuing my testing. Luckily it’s Saturday after 6 pm so it’s not so busy. I am – nevertheless – aware that there might be CCTV cameras everywhere. I look around… yes there are cameras.

I’m in the vegetable department which is empty. I look for spring onions and decide it’s a good idea to test whether I can get away with the three postures I have decide on: Tree posture, half moon posture and mountain posture

I do tree posture. I can hide behind the cucumbers.

Half moon posture… I bend forward and raise one leg up…

(here I realise that it’s partly a question of how long I stay in postures that makes it inconspicuous or not. Anyone can drop an apple and bend over to pick it up with one leg raised and get away with it.)

I do mountain pose. Again –apart from looking like I forgot what I came into the shop for – I can get away with this pose.

(pause … with the clicking sound of trolley wheels)

I’m in the coffee department. I’ll try it one more time.

When does the yoga practice become something else…?

(sound of my breathing)

And again… I walk and I did it.

It’s quite satisfying actually. It’s completely changing how I experience my food shopping. I suddenly hang out in the supermarket. Spend time here. For the first time ever, I notice the ceilings and the changes of temperature between different areas.

(the task makes me forget what I came to the shop for and I browse around for a while up and down the same aisles.)

I map the layout of the frozen goods and the tinned food. I notice that there are different types of pasta if I look further down.’

(pause)

Task 29 – Female + yoga = ?

Since task 26 and your reference to the work of Polly Penrose – ‘I was never good at yoga’– (and perhaps also thinking back at a blog post I wrote years ago together with some female yoga friends about women and yoga) my thoughts have been circling around the subject of gender within the practice of yoga.

It has been a condition for our project from the outset that we were two women working together. I am curious to bring this aspect to the surface for this task. It may be an interesting subject, it may also be completely irrelevant for what we’re doing. It felt important to acknowledge it, though. I’m conscious of the weight of this subject and so am trying to make this task as open and non-prescriptive as I can. Here it goes…

For your next task I want you to consider the following:

What is it to do the yoga practice in the awareness of being female? The task does not prescribe a certain understanding of what ‘female’ means (to you or the world) and whether this applies to biology or politics or social conventions. The task is to do your usual practice with this question in mind.

I am interested in you exploring the multiple ways one can both physically test and mentally consider this question. How can these multiple ways of considering the two words ‘female’ and ‘yoga’ create a network of possible ways to understand their relationship?

Bring back any aspect of your reflections to the blog.

Enjoy!

Reflections on Task 27 and Task 28 – Inconspicuous

Dear Marie,

many thanks for task 27. You can find my reflections below and then the instructions for Task 28.

Let’s start with a quiz.Have a look at the two pictures below and tick the right answer (pictures by visual anthropologist Vanja Celebicic):

a.

.

  1.  the posture shown in both pictures is Virabhadrasana I (Warrior I).
  2.  the posture in the left picture is a variation of Virabhadrasana I, whereas the posture in the right picture is the ‘classic’ pose.
  3. the posture on the left is a bad version of Virabhadrasana I, whereas the posture on the right is done ‘correctly’ (or at least this is the intention).
  4. the posture on the left is the original Viravhadrasana and the posture on the right is a later, more athletic, development.

b.

  1.  the posture shown in both pictures is Garudasana (eagle pose).
  2. the posture on the left is a variation of the posture on the right.
  3. there is no connection between the two postures.

I hope you got my drift by now…

It is funny that in some ways I started doing task 27 before you set it for me. On Sunday the 22nd of April I went to a yoga class after 7 years. It also happened that this was the first  non-Iyengar yoga class I attended in 19 years. I enjoyed the class a lot, but I often caught myself thinking ‘this is not yoga’. Of course, since I had not attended any classes for 7 years, it is highly likely that I am out of touch with developments in the curricula, let alone the emergence of new schools and approaches.

Then I received the instructions for Task 27  and I decided to attend the same class again and try to capture how what I was being taught mapped onto what I knew already. And the answer is that the relation between the two is neither direct nor definitive. Yes, both the thing I know and the thing I encountered the last two Sundays are called yoga; yes, we all had a mat and a bolster; yes, we all placed ourselves in neat lines and a teacher sat in front of us; yes, there was reference to a set of postures I knew already and invocations of OM.

But apart from that the class was very very different to everything I knew. Which is very annoying for someone who is tasked with finding the ‘right’ posture. Moreover, I feel that your question about the conditions under which a posture is right, as opposed to ‘wrong’ is at the heart of a larger question: what is yoga? And I mean the question in two ways: what is this thing called yoga? Which of the things we know and do would count as yoga?

To this question, one might say that the postures – their shapes, their lines, angles, duration – is less important and what counts more is the intent, the frame of mind with which one practises these postures whatever they might be. In fact, in its aphorism of yoga, the Archbishop of Albania, Anastasios said precisely this: ‘in the same way that genuflections are not simple movements of the body, but they are related to a wider belief system and express a specific attitude and psychic disposition that has a spiritual purpose, in the same way – as far as this kind of comparisons can be made – the more complex yoga exercises are related to Hinduism  and aim towards spiritual, religious experiences’ (quoted in Savvidis, protothema.gr, 21/06/2015, translation from Greek mine). 

Not bad for someone that has never practised yoga, right? There is, I find, in the Archibishop’s statement  a certain clarity and  insight, in that he acknowledges the  nexus between complex physical movements, spiritual experience and religious belief. And although yoga practitioners might not be comfortable with references to Hinduism, if we substitute Hinduism for a more open, ecologically driven New Age spirituality, then I don’t think the Archbishop is far of the mark! (It is also worth noting that exclusionary tactics are not restricted to the Orthodox Church. One of the teachers I was taught by not only would deride any other school of yoga other than Iyengar; she would not permit her students attending the classes of other Iyengar Yoga teachers. At least, she knew what a ‘right’ Virabhadrasana looked like and had no doubts about what yoga was.) 

I, on the other hand, don’t. And I don’t even know to what extent the rightness of the posture matters in the end and to whom…When we do a posture badly, do we still practise yoga? Can we practise yoga without doing any postures at all? Does the practise continue when we get off the mat? When does yoga begin and when or where does it stop? So, with these questions in mind, I invite you into Task 28.

Task 28 – Inconspicuous

Your task this week is to practise as many postures as you can in public and/or social settings as inconspicuously as possible. So you have to find ways to do postures of the existing syllabus in public places but in way that allows you to merge with your surroundings and thus preventing others from recognising what you do as ‘yoga’ or indeed as anything else other than what is expected in the specific social situation you will find yourself in. Pay attention to the moment you start the practice of each posture  and the moment the practice comes to an end. Your reflections on the task can be in any form.

Reflections Task 26 and Task 27 – The ‘rightness’ of a posture

Dear Maria,

Thanks for task 26, you can find my reflections below and your next task 27 –  The ‘rightness’ of a posture.

I found it very moving to read your response to task 25. Your report of yours and Dimitris relationship to the yoga practice and how it resonates so differently on your respective cultural and environmental circumstances felt very true to the idea of the project: to creatively explore the potential of the yoga practice. And it made me excited for the many avenues of tasks and responses that remains to be discovered for the last part of the Two Trainers Prepare-journey.

Reflections Task 26 – MYOYP

First thing to say is that I was very excited to do this task, how wonderful to get license to practice yoga ‘off the script’. The topic of ownership of the postures also addresses issues I’ve had in relation to my own yoga teaching syllabus: at what point does Trikonasana stop being Trikonasana when a student’s general physique doesn’t enable them to make the posture look remotely like my idea of what the shape should be? I will return to this question further down.

Polly Penrose’s photographs are beautiful and to avoid replicating her idea and postures – and perhaps because I am afraid of doing postures and pictures a lot less interesting than hers –  I decide to abandon my initial thought to photograph myself in ‘non-syllabus-postures’.  I am very interested, though, in your instruction to relate my own postures to my environment and wonder how I can think of environment not only as my physical surroundings but also more widely as my circumstances as a dance artist and a mother living in Denmark. Penrose uses furniture and yoga props as obstruction/facilitator for her images. My obstruction/facilitator is the perpetual presence of my four-year-old daughter. I want to embrace the reality of regularly being interrupted on the yoga mat by her, when she wishes to teach me her own postures. I am curious to find out what practicing yoga means to a child who takes part in and observes many asana practices but who is not restricted by the bounds of ‘yoga postures’.

The Flip

So here is what I did: As we were walking home from my daughter’s kindergarten, I asked her to teach me some of ‘her yoga’. She immediately started moving around and wiggling and jumping. I said: ‘I was thinking more of those moves you do when we practice together on the yoga mat.’ She stopped and looked at me with sincerity: ‘this is yoga’, she said.

For her, yoga is movement, not individual postures separate from each other. This brought my attention to the movement I do in between postures. The following days I spent some time practicing and dwelling on the transitions that are outside the syllabus of Ashtanga Yoga, the moves that link the ‘formal postures’. One movement is the jump from Samastitihi (Tadasana) at the front of the mat to standing postures like Trikonasana or Parsvakonasana. In the short clip below you can see us practice this. I call it The Flip.

 

Task 27: The ‘rightness’ of a posture

I return to the question posed above: at what point does a poorly execution of Trikonasana disassociate the posture with its name?

For your next task I want you to focus on variations and modifications of one posture of your choice and come up with as many different versions as you can. Using a search engine to find e.g. ‘images of Utthita Trikonasana’ is completely valid. You can write your reflections as a description of each variation or take photos of yourself practicing them to feed back to the blog. I am particularly curious to hear whether you, with an Iyengar background, have a set of criteria that determine the ‘rightness’ of a posture and, if so, what they are and when you know they have been achieved.

Enjoy!

Reflections Task 25 and Task 26 – MYOYP

Dear Marie,

many thanks for Task 25. As the task necessitated the involvement of another person, below you can find my reflections and the reflections of my friend, Dimitris, who joined me in the last part of the task. Below these, you can find task 26.

Dimitris and I trained together in Iyengar Yoga for a couple of years in early 2000s and he has been following our project for some time. When I last spoke to him in summer 2017, he was eager to re-connect with his yoga practice. Dimitris has been living in a Christian Orthodox monastery for four years now. He is therefore aware of  the Orthodox Church’s position that  condemned yoga as ‘incompatible with the Christian Orthodox faith’ (Savvidis in protothema.gr, 21/06/2015). In a comment he made on task 20, he invited us to: ‘Do the next task as if you were living in a monastery where yoga is considered demonic and while you are doing it say the names of the poses loudly!!!!’. So when we connected on Sunday the 15th of April through WhatsApp, Dimitris and I shared a common practice, which proved very influential for us both,  but were in diametrically opposite cultural contexts, at least in terms of yoga. My culture is one that has embraced yoga and turned into a staple of ‘busy’ western lifestyle. Dimitris’s  environment – to put it mildly – has remained immune to such influences.  I practise in my bedroom overlooking the drive of a quiet northern English urban street; Dimitris practises in one of the storerooms of the monastery overlooking the Aegean sea. 

 

After some deliberation, we decided to do the following five postures:

  • Setu Badha Savargasana , supported.
  • Downward Dog x2
  • Trikonasana x2
  • Parsvokonasana x2
  • Tadasana

Going against the convention we have followed so far, i.e. addressing our reflections to each other, Dimitris’s reflections are addressed to me and my reflections are addressed to him. Both texts are below in italic.

———————————————————————–

Dear Maria,

I feel grateful for the chance you gave me to collaborate in this task.

The part of practicing together at the same time was a great motivation for me, because I haven’t practised for very long and it was something I really needed to do, but I wouldn’t do it by myself. So, the highlights of practising together definitely are this great motivation to practise. Secondly, it was really beneficial that I had to keep myself in a specific and well timed sequence because I usually have a very vague and chaotic way of practising. Thirdly, I felt it as a very nice personal communication with you in a such unique way. Fourthly I had a glimpse of being in a yoga class, an experience which I miss a lot!!!

On the part on practising the sequence by myself I focused a lot on how setu bandha savargasana supported adhomuka svanasana when done in this order. I am so amazed by the fact that setu bandha makes my body do such a better dog pose. So inspired from that I tried to bring the feeling of setu bandha in all the asanas of the sequence and indeed it was so successful!!!!!! I was very happy and amazed. I don’t know if this effect happens due to my specific body needs or that it can be generalised…. It would be very interesting if you try as well and tell me.

In terms of the second part of the task, to imagine that someone observes, I chose to imagine to be observed by a friend who is an osteopath and I am planning to collaborate with her in order to apply osteopathic treatment on the body while doing asanas. Although throughout the practice I kept reminding myself that I am being observed, this didn’t influence my practice, because I was very concentrated on the practice itself and on the fascinating investigations of how the setu bandha feeling influences the rest of the asanas.

That’s all! 

Thank’s again a lot for giving me this beautiful chance of distance training – practising. I have never imagined how nice it can be.

Yours, Dimitris

———————————————

Dear Dimitris,

many thanks for agreeing to do this task with me. It felt as a way of (re)connecting with you and did take me back to the classes we used to attend together 15 years ago. I did not like the idea of starting with Setu Badha Savargasana, but I did enjoy having my practice hijacked/altered/influenced by you. The practice of the remaining  postures had a more focused quality than usually. Every time I found I had slipped into a mechanical execution of the movements, I thought of you in two dimensions, simultaneously: one was the present we were sharing during the very moment of the practice. The other was the past. I would imagine that I was in a yoga class and you were somewhere nearby in the studio, totally absorbed in your doing. 

Both of these helped me staying present. A particularly strong moment was in the end when I stood in Tadasana looking out to the familiar view of  my window. There was both a sense of inhabiting my body – in that moment, in that position – as well as a sense of dispersing, extending into space and time, becoming relevant to someone else. I think what I am trying to say is that, after years of solitary practice, I felt in someone’s company. 

Task 26: Make Your Own Yoga Posture (MYOYP)

I have been thinking for some time the wider questions and legal battles that have emerged in relation to yoga copyright: who owns it, who can make a claim and eventually money out of it, who is its rightful proprietor? The radical differences between my and Dimitris’s environs also makes me wonder about the cultural context in which the practice is situated, grows, and changes. Finally, I got inspired by the work of Polly Penrose, who created a series of photographs of her own yoga postures.

So your task is to create a set of 3-5 yoga postures that are new, i.e. not part of the existing syllabi, and relate to your everyday environment. You have to name the postures and practise them for a few days, before you bring back your reflections to the Blog. You do not have to do the postures naked, unless you want to!

 

 

Reflections Task 24 and Task 25 – alone/duet/phone

Dear Maria,

Thanks very much for your Task 24. Please see my reflections below and your next Task 25  – alone/duet/phone

I really enjoyed following your train of thought between the different challenges of Task 23 and how they led you to Task 24. I was fascinated by how, the moment the ‘discriminatory mind’ was switched off, you experienced a sense of detachment from your own body in what you saw on the photos and the video from the dance class. I feel differently: Perhaps I have simply become accustomed to scrutinising movement and body – a consequence of looking at myself in the mirror as a dancer for years – so this has become intertwined with my experience of the movement.

I recalled filming myself practicing yoga for Task 21 –emerging forms– and finding it really interesting to practice with this awareness of ‘being watched’.

Reflections Task 24– Confirmation?

For task 24 I was practicing alone in the house so I had to think up an alternative solution to having a photographer pointing a camera at me. I called up my partner, who is still in Leeds, and asked him to act as a ‘camera’ by instructing him to imagine my joints as we were practicing yoga together.

The Breathing App for synchronising our breath

We started by synching our breathing pattern in a shared meditation while being in contact online. After eight minutes of this we disconnected our conversation and did a prearranged set of postures: Sun salutations A & B, standing postures, Shalabasana and Urdhva Dhanurasana completed with a short relaxation. Whoever finished first would send the other a text message to mark the end of their practice. While we were practicing, we each had to imagine the other thinking about or looking at our joints as we were (presumably) in the same postures at roughly the same time. When we both finished (with 1-2 minutes apart) we called each other up and reflected on the experience.

 

Task 25 – alone/duet/phone

This topic of ‘being watched’ is something I discussed with a friend recently in relation to movement improvisation. She was explaining the big shift in her awareness, as a teacher at the culmination of an improvisation workshop, had asked participants to continue improvising but to now imagine one side of the room as their audience.

This is your task 25:

  • choose an activity that you can repeat 3 times. This could be a set of yoga postures, moving to a piece of music or doing mark-making. Decide a rough time frame for your activity.
  • the first time you do the activity be in a space on your own
  • the second time, either ask someone to witness you do the activity or imagine someone there. Decide whether they move around or stay in one place.
  • the third time, arrange to speak to someone on the phone/online, connect with them and ask them to ‘be present with you’ after you finish the conversation while you do the activity

Bring back to the blog reflections from any part of task. Enjoy!

Reflections Task 23 and Task 24 – Confirmation?

Dear Marie,

many thanks for Task 23. It really came as a breath of fresh air and opened up a possibility I had not previously considered. Below you can find my reflections and then the instructions for Task 24.

So the bottom line for my engagement with Task 23 is that I failed entirely. The task made a lot of sense to begin with.  Before doing the task, I began thinking  whether treating visual images of the body as a cause/source  of its objectification is in and of itself a conditioned response and whether, as you rightly suggest, I can move away from it.

Pictures of me were taken while I was doing my practice and this time I was a bit more prepared for what I was about to see.

I looked at the pictures after my practice and I look at them again now. I try to quieten the ‘discriminatory mind’ (do you remember Task 2, Andrea Olsen?) and resist the ease with which it identifies shortcomings. Once this mode is switched off (I know. A totally mechanical metaphor, but how else can I talk about this?), I simply have no connection to the image. It could have been someone else’s body, for all I know. Nothing stirs in me by looking at the photos, there is no memory, there is no response.

It happened by chance that during the week I watched a video of the dance class I take every week. Again, my first and predominant attitude was to spot deficiencies and corrections (what are my shoulders doing so close to my ears???), but there was nothing beyond this. I could not remember the sequence from which the movements came from, I could not remember doing these movements,  and watching myself doing them brought nothing back, apart from criticism.

I do wonder if there is any point in trying or hoping to rehabilitate some kind of visual connection to my practice. It seems it has been completely taken over by the logic of orthoperformance. But I have no idea of how to go about this. Maybe another medium, say sketching,  would be more expressive and allow for a better connection? Or maybe the time lapse between the actual practice and its encounter in photographs needs to be longer?

In addition to this wall, it seems, I came up against, there is also something else that happened and this might be potentially productive.

Task 24 – Confirmation? 

While I was doing my practice yesterday and before having the photos taken, I began to imagine the work of the camera. How the person who was about to take the pictures might zoom in on specific body parts, how they might take pictures from angles I could not possibly access without a camera. While I was playing with this, I also noticed that awareness of those body parts, on which I imagined the gaze of the camera, was greatly heightened. Imagine a camera over my toes and there! they come to life, they respond, they press, they lengthen, they become active in preparation for the photo that will be taken of them. The pose for a selfie!

So, I would like, if possible, to test this with you. You would need to have someone with you when you are doing your practice and ask them to take photos of you while you are practising. If you cannot find someone to do this, then you can just imagine the camera in the way I did. Notice what the presence of the camera, there and then, does to the practice. You can bring back to the blog any part of the process.

 

Reflections Task 22 and Task 23 – Merge seeing with felt sense

Dear Maria,

Thanks for the Task, no need to apologise.

It feels somewhat ironic that you should present me with a task to study how my practice looks on a week where I cannot even touch my toes. It was a week that was marked by challenging circumstances: illness (flu, first my daughter, then me) very little sleep (due to the former), spraining my back (due to both) and travelling back and fro to Norway by car/ferry which made time limited. I spent the first four days thinking about the task as I was not able to practice. Saturday afternoon I mustered enough time and energy to test it but never got to the ‘corrections’ part. I therefore send an apology back to you – I simply have not been able to carry out the Task the way you asked me to.

Task 22 Corrections

I decide to stick to the Ashtanga sequence as a barometer for my practice and begin my Sun Salutations – I have my camera set up to take photos every 5 sec to capture the progression of my postures, alignment etc. As expected the practice is very difficult and painful but as is always the case when injured/sick I am hyper-aware of my body and the practice feels very fulfilling. My attention bounces between my back, my head and my joints, connecting me with sensation and the internal spaces in my body. It brings up images of joints and muscles working together, blood carrying oxygen around my body and nerve endings that are overstimulated. I realise I have no interest in the camera nor in the photos that will come out of it –perhaps because I know what they will show: a decrepit woman doing half-versions of postures in an Ashtanga sequence.

When I look back at the images, the postures are hardly recognisable. It makes me smile, as there is a direct relationship between how I feel in the practice and how it looks: pretty awful.

 

Task 23 – Merge seeing with felt sense

I was sad not to have completed your Task 22 and am happy to repeat again next week in its entirety if you feel that would be interesting.

Personally, I feel it is very useful to be made aware of how postures look. As you mention yourself, the function of a teacher is for her/him to see you from the outside and when practicing yoga on your own, the focus become inwards directed and some attention to the ‘form’ of postures is lost.

But is it an objectification of the body to look at it from the outside, like you mention? Does using vision always mean judging or objectifying? Is there a way of looking at the postures where seeing is merged with the kinaesthetic intelligence experienced in the body?

In other words, could the felt experience of the posture harmonise with a visual impression or simply add another dimension?

Your Task for this week is to start like Task 22: Practise postures and make a record of them on video/photos. Continue by studying the visual material but instead of looking for areas that can be improved, merge your ‘seeing’ with the felt sense in the body when you were doing the postures. Maybe your reflections can be a poetic rendition of what happens in this space between seeing and sensing.

Reflections on Task 21 and Task 22 – Corrections (with apologies)

Dear Marie,

many thanks for task 21. In the following you can read about the process and below there is a link with some visual responses to the task. Then, there are the instructions to the next task.

Task 21 proved a lot more difficult than I expected. In a less known publication, The Art of Yoga (1984), Iyengar notes how he saw yoga postures in his surroundings, such as sculptures and iconography in temples and caves. He also talks about the postures figuratively, for example he refers to Virabhadrasana 2 (Warrior 2)  as the Scales of Justice (Iyengar 1984:42). In a respect, he did something very similar to what we have been exploring: he saw the shapes of postures in both everyday and religious objects. So, I expected that I also would be able to recognise postures everywhere. To my surprise, I wasn’t.

On Wednesday and Thursday all I could do was look bewitched at the snow. By Friday,  I began wondering whether there are any caves in Leeds or whether I should go searching for a Hindu temple. I dismayed that the exercise was pointless, the snow had simply coated everything. I look more intensely: the trammelled snow, the  pasta in my bowl, the soap in the sink, the chimneys, the cars, a piece of string.

Frustrated I  cannot see anything remotely resembling a yoga posture. I try a different angle. Maybe I should not be looking for shapes after all; maybe I should be looking for sensations and movements that somehow resonate with the inner sensations generated by the practice of different postures. This does not yield any results either. I run out of time.

By Saturday morning,  I begin to get worried. Armed with my phone, I go out determined to find these images no matter what. 

Perhaps a more assertive attitude, a sharpened intentionality, or simply fear that come Monday I would still be empty handed, opens my perception a bit more.

Reflections Task 21

I go back home and I practise these postures. But I do not so much think of this practice as an instantiation of the object I photographed. I am thinking more about the end result: how we, the object and I, can fit together in one frame. And here is a word I often feel when I work outside: I want to merge with my surroundings. An impossible thing in reality, I try to realise this longing by merging the images.

Yet, make no mistake: the images are also strategically superimposed to cover deficiencies in my practice. And this brought me to the next task and to a place I wish we had not reached.

Task 22 – Corrections

There was often bewilderment and frustration, when I was taking yoga classes. My teacher’s instruction to stretch more, to turn more, to do whatever more, felt absurd: but I am turning, stretching, pressing, lifting. And yet, there was more space, there was more movement. Since I stopped taking yoga classes, I work with a knowledge of how things feel and how they are supposed to feel. I do not know how they look. And I never wanted to.

I always thought that looking at the posture from the outside leads to an objectification of the body and to an attitude that focuses too much on technical perfection rather than kinesthetic intelligence. So, when I had to look at photos of my postures for Task 21, I did not like what I saw and I did not like that I did not like what I saw. The postures simply felt much better than how they looked. This not only hurt my ego; it also opened up a methodological question I thought I had answered. Long ago I had decided to trust the body, its impulses, its responses, its yearnings as a way to navigate reality. This project is part of this wider decision.

The photos were deeply unsettling, therefore, because they showed that things, and my body included, do not look the way I think. Actors have this problem often, but so I think everybody else. So here we are. In one of his most famous quotes, Wittgenstein argues that ‘a main cause of philosophical disease is an unbalanced diet: one nourishes one’s thinking with one kind of example’. So heeding Wittgenstein’s advice, I am asking you to do something I would never have thought I would ask you to do.

Pick a series of postures. Practise them while you take stills or a video recording of them. Study the visual material and look for areas where the posture can be improved. Identify specific things you think can be worked on more in each posture and do the postures again. You can bring back any aspect of this process to the Blog.

 

 

Reflections on Task 20 & task 21 – Yoga postures around you

Dear Maria,

Thanks very much for your task. See reflections below and your new Task 21.

I decided that rather than looking at the sculpture and finding postures ‘in the sculpture’ I would study it for a while, draw it from memory and then let go of connecting the shape of the sculpture with yoga postures. Could I allow the memory I have of the shape from looking at it and from drawing it, to emerge in my body during my practice. Could I feel and experience emergent forms?

I filmed myself doing a 30-min yoga practice on time lapse. I was interested in trying to embody the shape of the sculpture without trying to imitate its shape. What was the relationship between feeling that shape move through me, the texture of it in the way that the sculpture provides looking holes –windows that you can see through– as a way of framing the world? And what might that mean in my yoga practice?

I am trying to frame, trying to capture a fleeting moment of seeing the world from a different perspective. This happens literally when I change into a headstand or when I look under my arm tomorrow towards my finger or toes. Changing the perspective through the practice.

I didn’t spend much time in each posture, so moving through the practice was a way of being emergent. There was never a sense of being static. It was always going somewhere else.

That was interesting, I was aware of how this was going to look on the film —What shapes would be visible on the film? Will my ‘sensing of’ the emergence of the shape be recognizable? Is that coming through in the recording?

I am very slow in my movement, also being self-conscious I am being filmed. I’m pushed up against the wall and have lost the volume of my body. I have no space to move my arms. My body against the wall looks flat and two-dimensional. 

The time-lapse format of filming gives a sense of continuous movement and captures what happens between postures, the emergence of the postures. When I look back at the video I notice the wall behind me, contrast in colours and contours as well as recognising postures.

Movement is slow as I am aware and a bit self-conscious of filming myself. It looks really rushed on the film. Makes a strange discrepancy in timing between the feeling of the practice and the watching it.

Slow vs rushed. Time as emergent. Form as shapes always changing.

Task 21 – Yoga Postures around you

I want to invite you to see yoga postures in your everyday life around you. if you can, photograph them, or make a record of them by writing them down in details, explaining what you see. On the last day put them together into a sequence of yoga postures. When you practice them, imagine yourself as that person/statue/tree/building in the moment you recognised the posture. In your reflections you can share any part of the experience.

Reflections on Task 19 and Task 20 – Find the Yoga Postures

Dear Marie,

thank you for task 19. Below you can find an audio recording I did the first morning I took the weight off, after wearing it for two consecutive days, and then some written comments. Further down you can find instructions for Task 20.

 

 

You asked me to attach a weight on me and you gave me the opportunity to choose the side and part of the body where the weight would be attached.

I chose to work with a handful of coins, set in a plastic bag, which could be easily tied around my ankle. I chose to work with the left side. There is a big bad knot on the left side just under the left shoulder-blade, I think,  as a result of scoliosis on the right side. This, I think, shortens the entire left side and the left leg. So I thought that a weight on the left ankle could nudge this side down.

Now that I write all this, I realise that I chose to approach the whole task as a corrective procedure. Attaching a weight somehow had to have a rationale, it had to make sense, it had to be ‘good’ for something. And I also realise that what the audio clip captures is my attempt to convince myself that there must be some benefit to this. And yet, the task was not set as an exercise of correcting anything. This is what I brought to it, in my attempt to make sense of its absurdity: the only way to make sense of the task was to somehow construe it as an orthopedic procedure. And although I am critical of such an approach, I now see how deeply ingrained it is: of doing and undoing stuff to the body in order to correct it, in order to make it better. Such approach is not limited to yoga, but it is exemplified by it. 

I did not do Urdva Dhanurasana with the weight on. I barely practised yoga the days I was wearing it, I was too tired!  Yet, I was convinced of the necessity of it, in order to undo all the tensions that were set up after carrying the weight the entire day. So there we are, I approached the task entirely through the orthoperformative approach that underpins yoga, and this created the need for doing yoga…I think I will continue doing for all my life, but  I would like to start doing yoga for other reasons.

Task 20 – Find the yoga postures

I want us to play a bit with the idea that invitations for movement are everywhere and all we have to do is see them. Have a look at this sculpture by Austin Wright: https://library.leeds.ac.uk/events/event/1900/galleries/12/austin-wright-emerging-forms

and find all the yoga postures that may be in there. Create a sequence of them, in the same way postures are sequenced in Ashtanga. Share the sequence, and anything else you would like, in the Blog.

Reflections task 18 + Task 19 – Vertical orientation

Dear Maria,

Thanks for your task. You can find my rambling reflections in the audio file. Below I have also transcribed fragments that stood out as important from this voice recording. Some of them are amended to correct meaning and take thoughts further.

Secrets

Getting annoyed is a good thing. It taps into a place of emotion and shaking up habits. It means change.

There is nowhere to hide. The importance of curves and irregularities. Things not being in line, not being predicable and as you’d expect. Otherwise there is nowhere to disrupt a flow. In my neighbourhood, houses and paths don’t have irregularities. Lawns and hedges are neatly trimmed. I have to bend the task so that the instruction to crawl into a hole, fits the linearity of the place I’m in.

I look for a place to fit into something, a hole or a cavity. Or is there a way of doing this internally? Instead of me fitting into a hide-away, the hide-away fits into me?

I find myself in a hedge. On a tree, against a tree. The trunk spreads into many branches. If I can’t talk my secret injuries away from the world but instead I have to speak into an open tree or a bush will the secrets not be kept secret? How does it affect how I speak and what I speak of if the tree doesn’t hold onto the stories?

I realise all my injuries, aches and pains are on the right side of my body: my right ankle, my right knee, my right psoas muscle, even a sprained finger on my right hand as a result of a play fight with an ex-boyfriend in 2007. Through time, they have moved up my body, defying gravity.

hmm

Task 19 – Vertical Orientation

You need to choose whether you’re going to place your focus on the right or the left side of your body. Whichever side you choose must wear a weight of some sort – a sandbag around the arm or a brick on the foot. (Avoid hanging something from your shoulder though) Wear it as much as you can when you’re around the house but also on the journeys you make during the day.

Now when you move let this ‘weighted’ side respond to your vertical orientation of the space you’re in. Go to your yoga mat and practise Urdvha Dhanurasana with the weight on.

Reflections Task 17 and Task 18 – Secrets

Dear Marie,

many thanks for Task 17. Below you can find my reflections, jumbled as you asked, and then Task 18.

I am lying on the yoga mat. The room is dark and it is late. Outside the leftovers of the super blue blood moon still shine brightly. The back of my wrists are against the skirting board and my elbows are bent and facing the ceiling. I am about to go into Urdva Dhanurasana (bridge posture).

Secret No 1: I haven’t done Urdva Dhanurasana for more than six years.

Thoughts are circling: Matisse, Iyengar, the effect of the moon on the waters, and a persistent whisper: ‘you will get injured’. I note the irony between my predicament and the movement of celestial bodies. Quite literally I do Urdva Dhanurasana every blue moon. ‘You will get injured’. 

Secret No 2: I practise back bends so rarely, I can no longer remember the names of basic postures.

I have prepared somewhat by doing some thigh stretches and ______ (can’t remember the name). I do remember how the posture should be done though, and how it  should feel when it is done ‘right’. ‘You will get injured’. 

Secret No 3: I tried Urdva Dhanurasana about two years ago. My shoulders were so stiff I couldn’t lift up. I hovered over the mat for a few seconds, my elbows helplessly locked. I came done defeated. I have not tried to do the posture since.

When I first looked at Matisse’s lithograph I  saw an imperative. The acrobat was to all intents and purposes doing a bridge.

I do the preparatory posture, whose name I can’t remember,  and try to evaluate the likelihood of an injury.

The two acrobats side by side conveyed to me a sense of ‘before’ and ‘after’. First was a body full of contours and mountains. After was a shape devoid of the exuberance of its surfaces, a body devoid of its unevenness.

I also remember to take a deep breath as I lift into Urdva Dhanurasana. To my surprise I notice my elbows straightening without a hitch, my thighs stretching, my feet remaining in parallel. I come down and wonder if I will manage to go to sleep. I lift three more times. 

Observing the two images  from right to left there is a slow realisation. I ‘know’ what has happened here. There is an elision of surface I can recognise. The changes from one acrobat to the other have an uncanny resemblance to the instructions of Urdva Dhanurasana:

  • the ankles need to be in the same line with the knees.
  • the flesh of thighs needs to move towards the thigh bone and the thighs should stretch.
  • the buttock flesh needs to move away from the lower back and flatten towards the body (have chapatis buttocks, Silvia used to say, not rotis).
  • The armpits need to open.
  • And the most virtuosic detail of all: the lower back needs to be at a right angle to the sacrum.

I play with the idea that Matisse knew about Iyengar Yoga. Or maybe Iyengar saw the Acrobats?

I make a mental promise to you Marie: to practise Urdva Dhanurasana more often. 

Task 18 – Secrets

You need to find a space that somehow can contain you, a hole in the ground,  the hollow of a tree, a corner between two walls. You need to be outside and alone, even if you are surrounded by other people.  Place yourself in this place with your face looking in and away from the world. You can close your eyes. List out loud all the injuries you ‘ve had. Stop when you can remember no more. Make sure you have some time afterwards to do your yoga practice. You can bring back to the blog any aspect of your experience of the task in any form.

 

 

Reflections Task 16 and Task 17 – Uneven surface 2

Dear Maria,

Many thanks for your Task 16 – Uneven Surface. Here are my reflections and your next Task 17- Uneven Surface 2

uneven surface

I’m balancing on one foot with soft grass underneath me. It’s mossy and wet and gives way. The texture of the wind becomes my uneven surface as it throws me to the side and pushes against my body and challenges my balance. There is no predictable rhythm to the wind so it takes me by surprise and creates a sensation on my body that I have to resist to not tumble over in Downward Dog. It holds me up and suddenly presses against my skin reminding me of the surface of my own body. As I breath during a Sun Salutation the wind surface that pushes against me enters my body and the uneven surface goes inside me and gives me an internal experience of weight. I imagine the wind against the surface of my lungs and this image of the wind as an internal sensation of weight and gravity blows my mind. I begin to understand that surfaces are created in the moment I touch the world. I understand in the world. Seeing is a surface. There are snowdrops pushing through the ground and ten variations of green in the mossy grass in front of me. Branches stick out and move in the wind and create an unsteady surface for my eyes. I do tree posture against a tree connecting with the meaning of it as it sways and brushes against me. I am In and On uneven surfaces

Task 17 – uneven surface 2

Have a close look at this lithograph. Work with your own body as an uneven surface.

Henri Matisse: Acrobats (1952)

When you write your reflections write them in a reverse or uneven order of how you would normally structure your thoughts/argument. E.g start with evidence, continue with reasoning then summarise and conclude and then give introduction.

Good luck, I hope you enjoy!

Reflections on Task 15 and Task 16 – Uneven Surface

Dear Marie,

many thanks for Task 15. It is very relevant to work that I have been doing on movement sonification, so I really welcomed the opportunity to explore and reflect upon sound in relation to my engagement with yoga. After some thought, I decided to take literally your instructions to ‘invite’ sounds into my yoga practice. So I started thinking of ways to sonify my practice and I came up with the idea to use bells. There is a phrase in Greek that translates as ‘people will hang bells on me’. It is a playful phrase referring to some sort of social sanction when someone is breaking  the rules or behaves in an unconventional manner: when someone says ‘people will hang bells on me’, they mean that people will stop taking them seriously, they will laugh at them. And I really liked how this idea of hanging bells on my self made a yoga practice, which often takes itself too seriously, a bit ridiculous. So I hung bells on myself.

I chose two Christmas ornaments, made of cheap metal with one tongue each. Silver and guy. I attached them on various parts of my body using pegs and elastic bands. I am positive I looked ridiculous.

I knew that doing yoga invites quietness. I knew that some schools of yoga, and Iyengar especially, work with duration. Each posture is diligently entered, maintained – while attention is given to the breath and all sorts of minute movements – and  released dynamically and carefully.  Yet, I was little prepared for what I heard:

Ding -a- ding -a- dang-a- ding

Nothing

Ding -a- ding -a- dang-a- ding

Nothing

Ding -a- ding -a- dang-a- ding

Nothing

The bells were clear: when I am in a posture there is no sound. Or at least the bells are not sensitive enough to capture the micro-movements that take place. There is  a lot of commotion before I go into a pose with the bells responding to every step and every movement of my limbs and then there is nothing. After a while, the racket becomes annoying – the silence equally loud. The bells tell me that when I do yoga,  my body is quiet. I wonder if it is also mute.

Task 16 – Uneven Surface

The video you posted as a response to Task 13 worked slowly on me. I did not understand what the video was capturing, but after a couple of days, and as I was thinking how I was going to respond to Task 15,  I found that I became more sensitive to textures. First to the textures I was stepping on and then  – wild with joy – noticing that there are textures above me too. As David Abram observes: ‘we are in the world’. Walking on a route I have been taking for years, I also observed that the texture of the surface was uneven. (All these years, I am sure my feet must have known this but kept it to themselves). And what hit me then was another thing I knew all along: that we practise yoga on even surfaces. The artificiality began to bother me. I started thinking that in this way yoga already sets us upon a futile search for a utopian place. A place with even surfaces that does not exist, unless you make one for practising yoga.

So your task is this: Do your yoga practice, any poses you choose, any time of the day, on uneven surfaces.  Try to work with and against them. See how they affect your practice and what you might be doing in order to accommodate them. I hope you will enjoy the task.

Reflections Task 14 and Task 15 – Textures of sound

Dear Maria,

Thanks for your task 14 –the dance of the skin.

In my previous post ‘Two Trainers Prepare –for what?’ I mention the tendency to plan a response to a task – rather than being spontaneous – as something I find challenging. As an improviser, I’m always interested in the immediate reaction to a given instruction and reading a task way ahead of carrying it out, can hinder the spontaneity. For that reason, it was ironic that I read your instructions for this task when you posted it mid-December, knowing I had three weeks to consider it before my reflections were due on the blog. I remember feeling terrified for how I could possibly solve it: “I don’t have any hot water bottles” (we don’t tend to use them much in Denmark as houses are very well insulated!) and ”it’s below freezing outside”.

It has now been three weeks since I read the task and I can’t recall any details of it. It was something to do with wearing hot water bottles and the sensation of the skin. That’s what stuck with me. I decided my challenge would be not to give in to the urge to re-read the task and instead to go by solving it from what the idea of skin and temperature would trigger as a response. I feel strangely like I’m being disrespectful to you by not obeying the task, but decide to go with my plan. Here’s my response:

 

Task 15 – Textures of Sound

For this task I want you to work with the textures of sound or the sound of texture. How does sound feel? Work with three sounds that either please you or annoy you. Dance with them, walk with them, invite them into your yoga practice.

Enjoy!

Two Trainers Prepare – for what? Status after 14 tasks

As one would expect when embarking on a (for us) untried project, the focus and intentions shift and questions come up. In late December 2017 Maria and I met in person – speaking for the first time since starting the project in September 2017– to talk about the collaboration and to check in with each other. How are we getting on with tasks? How do we manage time? Should any of the rules for tasks or reflections be tweaked?

In our meeting, these are some of the questions and thoughts that came up:

What is a Task?

Is it necessary for a task to have a clear outcome?

We discussed the difference between a task that asks for a specific type of response and one that is completely open. We both agreed that reading reflections that divert from the task they respond to are more exciting and inspiring to read. Can we be aware of not turning expected or desired responses into tasks?

How do you give a task? 

Does a task need to be written with clear intentions? Could a task simply be a few words, a Koan, a conundrum? How can we explore the widest spectrum of task-giving from very detailed instructions to abstract ideas?

How do you capture the process? 

An  blog related to an academic invites a particular way of responding. Both of us spend time writing and re-writing reflections in order to be clear about what we want to say. Could a response be more intuitive, more personal, less coherent? Could a reflection also be capturing the process of thinking about how to respond to the task and thereby making decision-making and choices more transparent? Could a reflection simply be quoting or rendering thoughts, images or ideas from someone else?

What is the role of time between reading and carrying out the task?

What happens in the gap from reading a task to carrying out the task? We both experience the challenge of not planning how to respond to a task between the moment when the task is read Monday evening till the point when one finds time to try the task out. If an immediate response to a task is essential, perhaps the beginning of task can specify that only when the person has time to carry it out, can the full ‘instructions’ of the task be read.

How does environment and space influence how the tasks are carried out and what part do they play when we construct tasks?

How does furniture, trees, people and busy streets obstruct or liberate tasks? How does one carry out a task, say about sprinting, if one has only 5 x 5 sf to move in? How is use of space and environment when carrying out the task reflected in the responses we give on the blog?

How can we question or challenge the tone and phrasing of reflections and tasks to push our habits of working?

What are our individual habits of setting tasks and responding? What is the tone of writing? How do we make sure not to fall into a ‘groove’ of responding in a customary way or to anticipate that the other will do so and perhaps therefore interpret their task accordingly?

Is the project moving in the same direction as we set out to do? Are we still working towards a pedagogy of training or are we moving into an artistic practice? What is the difference between the two? 

In the initial post, we described the project ‘as a preparation towards integrating different styles of yoga and other art forms in an interdisciplinary pedagogy’. The project has certainly taken a more creative course than the original idea intended. So, what are we as Two Trainers preparing for?

As we are based in different countries (Maria in UK and me in Denmark) the gap between us feels like an added dimension to the project: What does it mean to work on practical tasks with someone every week when we never meet in person or hear the other’s voice? Does the physical distance have an impact on how we read each other’s tasks and reflections and how we ‘sense’ each other? Not having the opportunity to talk and ‘perceive’ the other allows the question of ‘which direction the project is going’ to remain open.