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.

Reflections on Task 13 and Task 14 – The Dance of the Skin

Dear Marie,

many thanks for Task 13. It offers an opportunity to look back. Below are my reflections and further below you can find Task 14. We agreed to take a break from the project for Christmas, so reflections on Task 14 and Task 15 will be posted on Monday the 15th of January.

Reflections on Task 13 

I only looked at my own responses and there are several themes, which also resonate with key aspects of yoga practice in and oft itself.

Iteration: There is a sense of ‘repetition with difference’ in the tasks and sometimes tasks evolve from previous ones. If anything, iteration is the very building block of yoga practice. Same poses – in your case – the exact same poses are practised every day, often at the same time and same place, but the  body – self is different. The weather is different too.

Time: This is an important aspect for me, and it underlies this project in a number of ways: taking the time to do the tasks; changing one’s very experience of time (and of what is important and what is not) by doing yoga. I feel yoga produces an experience of time as duration, whereas dance, especially contemporary, prioritises an experience of time as speed. Time as a good we have little of and yoga, indeed this project as a whole, as an alchemical process that changes the very consistency of time.

Language: I feel language, both written and verbal,  is a key part of this project, although we have not directly reflected on it. I can neither see you, nor hear you. I can only read your words and write mine. I can translate my experiences in different mediums, but ultimately, they will be shaped in some kind of linguistic reflection. I hope you understand and if you do not, then that the mis-understandings will be useful too.

Background and foreground: I find that I often refer in the posts to fleeting moments, moments that stand out from the flow of experience. Perhaps, this is what I think ‘discovery’ feels like.  There is a sense of background, how something appears against something else. The two are co-constitutive: what is experienced as a background comes to be experienced as background only when something stands out from it. Something can stand out only in relation to something else. I have a hunch that this relationship can be shifted, but I am not sure what would be the result or value of such shift.

What is my yoga practice?: It is funny, but I have never asked my self this, at least not in a certain way. I ask the question less in the sense of what comprises my yoga practice, i.e. what my yoga practice is made of and more in the sense of what my yoga practice means to me. And the first thing I can say, is that it is a need. I do not think I am alone in this. I have heard other practitioners refer to their practice in similar terms. And this reminds me of Silvia Prescott‘s  suspicion of any attachment, and her advice not to be attached even to our own practice: ‘what will you do’ she would often ask ‘if one day you won’t be able to do yoga?’. Let’s come back to this…but later…I can’ t deal with this question now.

Task 14 – The Dance of the Skin

The skin is an important, if slightly mystical aspect of Iyengar Yoga. Iyengar would often bring attention to the movement of the skin and how it can guide the practitioner: is the skin stretching? Is it relaxing? Does it follow a particular direction? So here is the task: 

Take 2-3 hot water bottles and attach them to different parts of your body. You would need to wear at least one layer, otherwise the touch of the bottles on your skin will be uncomfortable. Keep exposed parts of the skin that do not need to be covered, such as the hands, the face, even the arms. Go outside on a cold day wearing as little as you can, having the water bottles on. Open up to the sensations of the skin and the extremes in temperature. Move in response to these sensations. 

Once back inside, do your yoga practice and note if the skin is more prominent in your awareness. See after how many days, hours, minutes this awareness begins to recede. I hope you enjoy.

Reflections Task 12 + Task 13 – Recurring themes

Dear Maria,

Thanks for your task. Please see my reflections below and your final task of the year Task 13 – Recurring themes

 

Reflections Task 12 – Likes and Dislike

This task touches on something that I have been wanting to address for some time in relation to our respective Yoga practices, yours being Iyengar and mine being Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga. I want to start by highlighting that I find these separations between different Asana systems tricky territory as they are founded in the same Eight Limbs (Ashtanga) yoga system and talking about them antagonistically feels wrong. I have also practiced yoga ‘Iyengar style’ and found it hugely beneficial and informative for my own practice. I think that what shapes by practice and teaching is precisely learning from other styles and disciplines. What seems to distinguish them is mainly different approaches to how to execute postures and the order in which they appear in a practice. With that caveat in place I will continue.

As you may be aware, the Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga system is built on set sequences. When I first began the practice, I wasn’t really aware of this as I just followed the teacher. But when I started the self-practice system called Mysore I realised that the postures were set in an order that was practiced exactly the same every time to a particular breath count. Primary series[1] starts with Surya Namaskara A continues to Surya Namaskara B which is followed by Padanshustasana, Trikonasana, Parsva Trikonasana etc etc. (See the image for full practice chart). In the beginning, you practice up to Navasana in the seated postures and then slowly as you get more proficient, more postures are added.

And now I come to address your Task: Because the series of postures are the same every time I am bound to do postures I don’t like. I avoided postures like Supta Kurmasana and Marychasana D for a long time, I simply skipped them because I had decided ‘I couldn’t do them’. I needed the set practice (and a patient and insisting teacher) to confront me with my ‘dislikes’. Beginning to do these postures was a painful experience both physically and mentally. I have tight hips and these two aforementioned postures are deep hip opening postures but doing them eventually started to break down my assumption that there were things in life I would never be able to do. I wrote a blog post about the challenges of the sequence in the Ashtanga Vinyasa practice in 2012.

My current practice is less orientated towards sticking to the exact sequence of postures (as a full practice is time consuming) but I think the psychology of having gone through the set sequences for years has primed me for being aware of confronting and engaging with postures I do not ‘Like’. There are however still postures I dread or look forward to. There are postures I dislike and some I really like.

Here is my list:

Dislikes:

Urdhva Dhanurasana

This deep back bend requires openness in the back and shoulders and a lot of control and strength. Part of me loves it because it so satisfying after I’ve done it but I find it difficult to breathe through the discomfort in my back and shoulders. I actually try and practice this posture most days as I feel it keeps my spine healthy and mobile.

Supta Kurmasana

Bringing both feet behind your head at the same time seems like an impossible thing to do, even unwise some might say. This is what this posture asks the practitioner to do. I struggled for many years to cross my ankles behind my neck. When my hips finally were open enough I one day sprained my sacroiliac joint which gave me pain and problems with all forward bends for a long time.

Marychasana D 

Due to a knee injury I have a difficult relationship with this posture. It is practiced on both left and right side. On the right side, I have made good friends with it because it’s a deep twist and hip opener which is intense but satisfying. On the left side, this posture has caused me knee pain and possibly contributed to more damage to a meniscus tear.

Kapotasana 

This has been my number 1 mental and physical challenge for many years. It is an extreme back bend and shoulder opening. I lose my breath in this Asana and can only focus on pain. It sits like a looming posture waiting for me a third into intermediate series in the Ashtanga Yoga system. In all honesty, I haven’t spent time on this posture for a long time.

Purvottanasana      

This posture is agony on my stiff shoulders and I always get a cramp in my calf muscles. It just feels impossible to do.

Savasana    

I wasn’t sure if I could classify this posture as a dislike as it is –for obvious reasons– a very pleasant and relaxing posture. I do find it very hard to give myself time to do it and stay in it for long enough to feel rested at the end of the practice. I suppose it feels hard because it is an act of kindness towards myself I rarely take time for!

 

Likes:

Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Dog)

This is my default yoga posture that is easy to do anywhere: I find myself doing it on train station platforms, airport lounges and when I pick up my daughter from nursery. It does so many things for me: stretches my hamstrings and calves, opens my shoulders and mostly it helps me connect with my breath and focus my attention.

Uttanasana    

In a similar way to Adho Mukha Svanasana this can be done almost anywhere and relieves a sore back and helps me relax my jaw. I will do this before going into a situation I’m nervous about.

Parvritta Parsvakonasana         

This twist and lunge is a deep posture that squeezes my lungs and organs and wrings my spine. I always find myself doing a version of this posture when I do my practice. It leaves me feeling detoxed and refreshed.

 

Task 13 – Recurring themes

For the final task I invite you to look back at the 12 tasks we’ve done so far since September 2017. Printing them out and looking at them would be ideal but perhaps not great for the environment! So perhaps you can skim each of the posts and write down or draw the following on a big sheet of paper:

  • words and phrases that are recurring throughout the posts
  • a diagram or mindmap that shows themes and subjects that reappear
  • your own brief reflections on what stands out for you

If you find time after this take a moment to lie or sit on top of the sheet and do a short meditation/relaxation on your reflections.

Can you find any threads that run through the posts and that tie them together?

Enjoy!

 

[1] Primary series is the name of the first sequence you learn when you begin the practice. For many practitioners, it is also the only sequence they will ever do as it is quite challenging.

Reflections on Task 11 and Task 12 – Likes and Dislikes

Dear Marie,

many thanks for the task. Below you can find the reflections for Task 11 and further down the description for Task 12.

  • Savasana with book under the head: A symphony of the intestines.

Once the mind quietens down a bit and the space in the neck opens, the body begins sounding. John Cage said that listening to a busy avenue never ceased to surprise him. I would say the same for my bowels: rumbles, growls and gurgles in all sorts of duration and pitch produce. A deep sense of gratitude emerges: ‘thank you for letting me speak. This is the song I have been writing the whole day and now I can finally sing it’.

  • Crouching position (not exactly a yoga posture, looks a bit like Malasana): WOOOAAAA

If I spend enough time in this position and bring my attention to the small of my back, it  lets go. It says ‘Fiiiiiinaly’.

  • Downward Dog: Aaaaaaah

Hamstrings and calf muscles give a big yawn whereas the shoulders make a ‘hamphhhh’. ‘You do realise we have been working all day long’ – they say – ‘and now you push us further’. But after the first complaint they grow quiet, especially when the armpits silence them with another yawn. ‘Ahhh’ the armpits say as they flatten and get a good perspective of the world.

  • Tadasana: Back to mute

I come to standing and this standing feels different from all the standing I’ve done during the day. The heels murmur to the floor ‘I am smitten, I want to become one with you’. The front pelvic rim comes out from its hiding place and says ‘Here I am’. The shoulders lose their grip on the neck and retreat without a sound. The neck says to the shoulders: ‘I appreciate this. I would be really grateful if you stayed where you are. You don’t need to wrap me and hold me. You stifle me, you know? I can stand by myself! I do not need your protection!’. It continues murmuring a bit more – sometimes in a language not fit for a blog post – but I can’t blame the neck. The shoulders can be bullies sometimes. Once it lets off steam, the neck does what it knows best: it puts my head back in its place. ‘Go on you can do all the talking now’ the body tells me ‘and I will withdraw back to absence’.

Task 12 – Likes and Dislikes

The above sequence is one I repeat more or less every day. It feels nice and as you can tell it does not ask a lot of the body, in that it is neither vigorous nor athletic. The task below comes from this place of comfort as well as a certain perplexity I keep grappling with.

I remember my yoga teacher complaining that we (the students) tend to practise the postures we ‘like’ and avoid practising the ones that feel difficult (as you can see in my case, she is right!). There was the assumption that if we only practise those postures that feel ‘nice’ we keep deepening the same old furrows in the body and mind and thus miss the opportunity to move beyond and outside the very habits that the practice is grooving. There is often this sense in yoga, at least in Iyengar,  that a posture, when it really ‘works’, i.e. when it takes the bodymind to new territory, should cause discomfort, a bit of pain, or at least a sensation of unfamiliarity. It should have a bit of ‘grit’. Hence, my teacher’s admonition that we ‘shouldn’t be lying on bolsters!’.  When I started working with somatics, I encountered a different approach. Here comfort was not only accepted but sought for as a ground of exploration. At least, lying on bolsters did not make me feel as guilty…

I have made discoveries in both ways, and I still cannot tell for sure whether one way of working has to offer more than the other. But I do wonder what are the differences between the ‘easy’ and the ‘hard’ way in terms of what and how one learns. So that was my big preamble for a simple task:

Make a list with the postures you like and the ones you don’t. What you like and what you don’t like depends on whether the posture feels comfortable and you want to do it or whether the posture feels hard and you would rather avoid it. You can have a third category with postures that do not fall in any of these two categories. Once you have made the lists, next to each posture write the ‘thing(s)’ that define your predisposition.

Reflections on Task 10 + Task 11 – Absent vs Present

Dear Maria,

Thanks for this task. Please find my reflections below. I am interested in the subjectivity/objectivity of the body and habitual movement patterns we are exploring in our tasks at the moment so Task 11– Absent vs Present, will dig a bit further at this.

 

Reflections on Task 10 – Body Talk

The first thing that comes to mind when reading the instructions for this task, is a scene in the film Fight Club (1999) where the main character discovers a series of articles written in the first person by Jack’s (or Jill’s) organs: I am Jack’s colon. I wondered if instead of me talking about the body, the body could speak for itself? What would the body say if it was able to articulate what was going on as it was engaged in a particular action? I thought of everyday tasks that I do. You mentioned making a cup of tea or brushing your teeth but what would be even more day-to-day than that? What is the most essential activity my body is engaged with? Two things come to mind: walking and breathing.

How does walking speak to me in the first person? How do my legs speak to me when they begin the forward movement of walking? What would my diaphragm tell me if I gave it a voice?

 

I am Marie walking 

I am Marie’s hamstrings that contract and propel her forwards

I am Marie’s knee cap that shifts forwards and leads the movement

I am Marie’s vertebrae C7 that neutralises the movement of the spine to stabilises her head by supporting C1-6, the neck bones

I am Marie’s spine that acts like a wrench to offset the forward propulsion of her legs

I am Marie’s right heel that, with my fat pad, cushions her foot and the entire skeleton when the weight falls down through her right leg

We are Marie’s eyes that work together to keep her balanced as she walks and make sure she steers in the right direction

 

I am Maries diaphragm

I am a large muscle moving like a jellyfish in Marie’s abdomen. I do one simple, continuous movement as I contract and release when I receive a nerve impulse from Marie’s brain. I am Marie’s diaphragm. In my contraction, I pull down which opens up her ribcage. This movement creates a vacuum inside her chest cavity which draws in her breath and fills her lungs with air. I by-pass Marie’s awareness. Until the day she stops breathing I will have done this millions of times and 95% of the time without her being aware of how I supply her heart with oxygenated blood which keeps all her vital organs working. She tends to focus her attention on other muscles that contract and release to satisfy her needs to eat or move. I, on the other hand, move constantly and persistently, even as she sleeps.

 

By letting my body speak for itself I start to question my idea of ‘myself’. If feels banal yet quite profound to take time to really allow parts of my body to have their own experience and to listen to what they have ‘to say’. I’m surprised by the stream of ideas, sensations and thoughts that appear in my reflections from taking time to listen to organs and muscles. It makes me wonder if ‘I’ am simply made up of many different parts each with its own agency? I think about the body as an ecology of agencies where the body as an intricate system of neural networks, organs, blood supply and coordination together create what is me.

 

Task 11 – Absent vs Present

Doing task 10 made me think of Deborah Hay who talks about the body as made up of trillions of cells. In My Body, The Buddhist she asks if ‘I’ is the configuration of my body into fifty-three trillion cells at once?’ (Deborah Hay, 2000, xiii). Task 11 aims to consider Drew Leder’s ‘absent’ body and Deborah Hay’s ‘the body as present at a cellular level’ simultaneously.

This task will also take you back to Task 9 – Do As You Normally Do and start with a yoga routine that you can repeat every day. Your task will be to become aware of the moments in your practice when you feel your body is ‘absent’. When you do the practice notice what parts of your body are ‘neglected’ or not in your physical awareness. This may be a specific muscle or a large or small area of your body, inside you or on the surface. Now try to bring that muscle/area into the ‘presence’. You may want to do this by talking out loud while you practice –as you suggested to me in task 11– or you may reflect on it after the practice. Allow the area/muscle to ‘talk’ for itself and perhaps invite different ‘absent’ areas that have come to your attention to ‘speak to each other’. What will they say, how will they say it and in what way does this affect your yoga routine?

Enjoy the task!

Reflections on Task 10 and Task 11 – Bodytalk

Dear Marie,

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

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

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

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

‘if only I a passerby could pass

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

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

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

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

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

Task 11 – Bodytalk

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

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

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

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

Dear Maria,

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

Reflections on Task 9 – Do as you normally do

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

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

Day 1

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

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

           

Day 2

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

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

Day 3

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

Task 10 – Words that move you

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

Enjoy the task!

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

Dear Marie,

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

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

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

Images by visual anthropologist Vanja Celebicic.

 stand behind

understand

standing into falling

TO BE SUPPORTED

Asthechairimmediatelyaftersupportsmyweightmyheadisheldupbythecolumnofmy

spineandtheblissfulSavasanapositionreverberatesinsidemeSun

Task 9 -Do As You Normally Do

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

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

 

Reflections Task 7 + Task 8 – read, record, dance, write

Dear Maria,

Thanks for Task 7, that really made my brain curl into funny shapes as a constraint satisfaction on writing. It was fun but not sure how successful I was sticking to your instructions! See my response to the task below and following that Task 8.

 

TO STAND

Stand up, stand in, stand for, stand towards, stand over

Stand down, stand out, stand behind, stand away, understand

Standing is always in relation

Standing as waiting, standing before i move, 

standing into falling…

‘I see it, I want it
I stunt, yeah, yellow bone it
I dream it, I work hard
I grind ’til I own it’*

Just standing can be seen as passive

TO BE SUPPORTED

The mat was laid on, rested on by my body. Before getting to this passive state a long and active cycle took my body there. When yoga is done a sense of relief follows. As the chair immediately after supports my weight, my head is held up by the column of my spine and the blissful Savasana position reverberates inside me. Sun shine is mastered by the universe, leaving me feeling warm and light. The recuperating, recovering, readjusting rest, rolls me into the Friday feeling and it is said that this will mean the weekend is on the way.

*Quote and frame grabs from Beyonce’s video ‘Formation

Task 8 – Read, record, dance, write

Read out and record the two reflections I have made for the previous post: Task 7 To Stand and Be Supported. For the first ‘To Stand’ text make use of the spaciousness between words (in the way i wrote them) and read out accordingly. For the second ‘Be supported’ text ignore any full stops, commas and grammar when you read it out.

Make a gap between the two texts or record them separately.

Then find a space where you can move and use the two recordings as a soundtrack to improvise to. Your obstruction for the dance is as follows:

For the To stand recording you cannot stand

For the Be supported you cannot be supported

What is the relationship between the experience of the words when you look at the text and record? How does this relate to hearing the sound of the text and how it feels to move with them?

Enjoy the task!