Two Trainers Prepare

TDPT Blog community, Hello!

Marie Hallager Andersen and I are embarking on a year-long project exploring the space between creative expression and our respective yoga practices (I have been working with Iyengar and Marie has been working with Ashtanga Yoga ).

Our intention is to use this project as a preparation towards integrating different styles of yoga and other art forms in an interdisciplinary pedagogy. We wish to inhabit the edges of our respective disciplines of dance and theatre by using yoga as a shared point of reference and by employing tools from artistic areas we are less familiar with. We will do this by employing a task-based methodology and by sharing the process on this Blog.

The title of the posts plays with the well-known title of Stanislavski’s book An Actor Prepares. Unlike Stanislavski’s book though, we wish to both bring attention to the preparation of the trainer, rather than the performer, as well as emphasise the inter-subjective nature of the current project: we will prepare together on our own. (We are also aware of the images of athletic footwear invoked by the word trainer, but we do not wish to play with this, at least not now).

Furthermore and by making our process of preparation public, we wish to de-mystify the idea of the trainer as an expert and develop, do, and reflect upon a series of tasks the potential of which we do not know in advance.

So, this is how this is going to work: Each Monday one of us will give the other a task that will be shared on the Blog. The Monday after the person who received the task will publish her reflections on the given task and give a new task to the other. The next week we will alternate. You can find the rules we have set up for developing and doing the tasks below.

We invite you to follow us on this journey, do the tasks with us, and/or comment on our process.

Continue reading

Task 1

Dear Marie,

this is your task:

Find a place where you can stand in front of a tree in a distance that allows you to hold the entire tree in your visual field. (A window on the first or second floor of a building would work well). 

You can stand either with the feet hip width apart or feet together. 

Go through the following thoughts/actions: 

Allow the space where the base of the neck meets the base of the skull to open. Allow the neck to flow down and imagine the skull is floating up. 

Allow the shoulders to melt away from the neck and imagine the neck free and the head going forwards and up. 

Imagine that drops of honey drip from your coccyx. Let these drops drip perpendicularly down to the floor. 

Keep the legs straight but make sure that your knees are not locked back.

Let the Achilles tendon lengthen and feel the back outer edge of the soles of the feet moving down to the floor. 

Let the entire sole of the feet spread onto the floor. Observe where the weight tends to go and how it might oscillate.  

Do all of the above keeping the tree in your visual field. Once you go through them, keep these actions/sensations going and bring your attention to the tree, how it is rooted down and how it shoots up. 

Leave the spot and the position when you feel ready to. 

 Hope you enjoy it! 

 All best, 

Maria 

 

 

Refections for Task 1 + new Task 2

Dear Maria,

So here are my reflections on task 1. It ended up being a longer response than I intended. Below the reflections you will find task 2!

Task 1 reflections:

I stand with my feet on the wooden floor of my living room, take in the view in front of my floor to ceiling window from my flat on the fifth floor, and follow the instructions you have given me: Find space between top of the spine and base of the skull, check. This automatically lifts my skull up and I can feel the shoulder blades release and relax my shoulders. I trace sensations down my spine and reach my coccyx. I follow the ‘honey-drip-line’ down to the floor feeling the back of my calves lengthen as I gently lift up through my legs. My awareness has reached my feet. I observe their connection with the floor and allow them to become wide for a while and at some point, my weight starts to shift from left to right to left to right. For a long time, I simply observe the different sensations of my feet spreading out on the floor, notice the metatarsals of my right foot are tighter and won’t soften down when I shift my weight to the right. It’s a wonderful sensation of tuning in to this subtle awareness and practice not judging or trying to change but simply letting my body find its own way, by giving it time. I envy the tree across the road that stands tall and secure with its big trunk rooted firmly into the ground. The outer branches and leaves sway and bend in the wind, creating a dance that follow the laws of nature, without wondering whether it’s doing it right or not. I guess it doesn’t get to sit down and drink a nice cup of coffee in a minute. There are some perks to being a human being! And then my head drops forward, my spine curves, and as I roll towards the floor my breath suddenly comes in. How could I have forgotten my breath? I let out a sigh and the breath brings movement to the torso, I roll back up and my arms float up into a little dance with my feet still in the same position.

Afterthoughts

As I begin the first task of our collaboration I realise how much I have pre-empted my response to it. Before beginning the task, I have already half written my reflections to you. I have done this task many times before: standing with my feet on the ground, paying attention to sensations of weight, of contact surfaces with the floor and of the skull rising up from the spine. This is in no way a criticism of the task, on the contrary, it makes it more interesting to encounter my own expectations to how I will carry out the instructions. The use of vocabulary is deeply embedded in my own teaching and perhaps for that reason I find it difficult to distract myself from the familiarity with the exercise.

I decide to embrace the comfort of the exercise but then something happens. As I carry out the task a few times, my experience of embodying the task, blends with other thinking processes that are present to me. I am currently thinking about how we as bodies and entities define the edges of our form. Is it the skin that defines the edge of me and the bark that defines the edge of the tree? I have a brief moment –as I stand in front of the window looking out on the giant tree across the street– where the tree and I only exist in the space-time between us. It is only a momentary sensation but I realise, that the metaphor of the tree and I as one and the same –standing, grounded into the earth, moving up and out of the top of our ‘branches’– means that we only exist in our relation to each other. I have been doing this exercise of standing and noticing weight etc. many times, but never has it occurred to me that the tree and I each take form in the interaction with the other.

Task 2

Please read the following instructions in the image below. The task comes from the book The Place of Dance by Andrea Olsen, on the chapter Dance and Yoga, page 219.

Enjoy…

Reference

Olsen, A. with McHose, C. (2014) The Place of Dance. Middletown CT: Wesleyan University Press

Reflections on Task 2 & Task 3 -Standing on Paper

Dear Marie,

Here are my reflections on Task 2. Below them you can find Task 3.

At the beginning I felt I needed a lot more instructions/clarifications with this one.

After I have observed my breathing cross legged, do I just sit around, continuing being aware of my breath (for whole five minutes!)?

What on earth is the discriminating mind?

Can I have a book under my head? (And if I do, am I practising yoga or Alexander Technique? Or perhaps the basic position of Alexander Technique is nothing other than Savasana with a book under one’s head?)

I tried to keep the instructions in my mind and follow them, but I forget them along the way. I do the whole thing with my eyes closed and when I finally open my eyes, I realise I am facing in a completely different direction than I thought/felt.

I do let my weight go and I do feel the claim gravity is making on me after a very long day. Giving in feels heavy and thick, a big wave of tiredness coming to finally settle on the floor. The moment I allow gravity to claim me, that moment weight passes through me: it leaves my body and comes to rest on the floor.

Thoughts come and go, including thoughts about how to make this reflection interesting. I let these thoughts go too.

I think I am observing the breath. I realise afterwards that I simply tried to do a very poor version of a pranayama exercise, where the inhalation becomes longer and the exhalation remains the same. I tried to deepen the breath, and the moment I started interfering all flow and synchronicity was lost. I accept that I still find exercises with the breath very difficult, and I decide next time to simply let the breath be.

Why is Savasana the most difficult posture? (Iyengar says the same too).

Where does the difficulty lie? In becoming able not to do? To abdicate from the head, as my teacher used to say?

To inhabit what is otherwise called the corpse posture? I remember Dorinda Hulton talking about Savasana in relation to King Lear’s line when he re-enters holding Cordelia’s body: ‘I know when one is dead, and when one lives; She’s dead as earth’. Dead as earth. Dorinda observed that the earth is fully alive, there is nothing dead about it. Maybe something similar is happening with Savasana? Maybe our conviction that we know when one is dead and when one lives become a little bit unsettled?

Task 3 – Standing on Paper

Stand on a piece of paper with your feet hip width apart. Draw or get somebody to draw the outline of your feet.(You still face a tree, if you so wish).

Then go through the instructions of Task 1. Allow the neck to flow down and create space between the base of the skull and the top of the neck. Feel the scull floating up and the whole head moving forward and up. Let the shoulders melt away from the ears, and the shoulder-blades moving away from each other so space is created in the dorsal spine.

Allow the lower back to widen and lengthen and imagine drops of honey dripping from your coccyx perpendicular to the floor.

Let the soles of the feet spread and open on the floor. Let the Achilles tendon lengthen and feel the back of the heel going into the floor. Feel the cushion between the base of the big toe and the second toe going down into the floor. Feel the outer edge of the whole foot also flowing down towards the floor. Let the metatarsals turn from the little toe to the big toe, and down to that point between the big toe and the second toe. See what happens to the arches when all above points are active.

You can spend as long as you like playing with these instructions. Once you feel you have explored and/or established these points observe where your weight is and the contact between the different parts of the foot (the front/the back/the inner/the outer or any other point that may come to your awareness) and the floor.

Step off the paper and fill in the outline with the different weight imprints.

You can do this task as many times as you wish, but it would be good to try and do it at least twice and preferably at different times of the day, so you can compare between different imprints.

Once you are done you can also look at the imprints in relation to a pair of shoes that are worn out and carry a mark of your weight placement.

Hope you enjoy!

 

Reflections for Task 3 + Task 4 – pen and scissors

Dear Maria,

Thanks for Task 3. It was enjoyable to expand a bit on Task 1. Here are my Task 3 reflections.

08.46 am – first try with ‘Standing on paper’

I feel the weight in my heals and it falls more prominently on my right foot. It feels more like tension rather than a softening. My body recognises that, standing with my eyes closed and my arms hanging down by my side, is really just an upright version of Savasana. I imagine the imprint my body makes on the surrounding air and the room I’m in. How much can I let go of the body in this upright position without collapsing on the floor? If Savasana is one of the most difficult postures to do how difficult is standing with your eyes closed?

2.10 pm – second try with ‘Standing on paper’

I look at the flaming red feet I have drawn on the paper and I’m reminded of the importance of feet as my contact point with the earth. The earth that is ‘fully alive’ and that in its vitality supports my forward propulsion as I push my feet into the ground when I walk. The outline of the foot has become blurred as the vax from the crayon has spread across the drawing. I like the idea that perhaps my feet can become wider and spill outside the given outline of my foot to give me a sense of trust that the earth is supporting me. Perhaps I don’t even end where the outline suggests?

5.14 pm – third try with ‘Standing on paper’

I step onto the paper for the third time completely intuitively without wondering where my feet should be placed. I draw the first outline, then want to move, and make a new set of outlines. I repeat this a few times eventually stepping of the paper. Intrigued by the multiple footprints I grab a green crayon and start drawing on the outlines. It quickly becomes clear that I have lost track of the footprints. One line continues into another and soon I find myself circling the crayon around, following whatever trail it passes. The task you gave me, to pay attention to weight and mark the imprint in the outline, has been replaced by the movement of the crayon across the paper and the emphasis of the imprints’ relationship to each other.

I move back from the drawing and notice a reverse choreography emerging in the imprints. It appears as if the final green print steps into the second red print, that finally settles into the first brown/black print.

 

Task 4 – pen and scissors

What you will need to carry out task:

A couple of blank pieces of paper

Scissors

A pen/pencil

Glue (optional)

My task for you for next week is linked to the dance class you take Tuesday evenings at Northern School of Contemporary Dance, so I hope you get a chance to go this week. If not, you should be able to carry this task out in a different context. I will leave this to you.

After your dance class (or as soon after as possible) sit down for 10 minutes (you can set a timer!) and do continuous writing, noting ideas, sensations, experiences, thoughts that come up from the class. It can be full sentences, words, images, accounts of exercises, whatever comes to mind; most importantly don’t think too much about it and try not to stop writing during those 10 minutes.

This next bit can be done at a later stage:

Cut up the paper so the words and sentences are divided into separate slips of paper. Then mix them together. Take a fresh piece of paper and now randomly pick the words and sentences and place them (or glue them) onto the paper to form a new piece of writing. You can use as many of your cut up words and sentences as you like.

What comes out of this? How did you experience the process?

The reflection may simply be the new piece of writing and/or additional reflections on it.

Hope it makes sense. Enjoy the task!

Reflections on Task 4 – Pen & Scissors and Task 5 – A Word for a Place

Dear Marie,

Many thanks for Task 4. Here are my reflections. Below the images you can find Task 5.

Out of the studio, right into the corridor, down the stairs, left through the doors, across the car park, into the cab, the dance continues. Even though my body becomes immobile into the seat of the car, the beat of the drums still lingers. The speed of the car matches the inner rhythm. I dance vicariously.

Not this time. This time the cab is late, and the rhythm that is already working inside me becomes frustrated as I scan the empty road and pace up and down. Once inside the car, I am overwhelmed by a sensation similar to the one  I have whilst executing a fast sequence: will I make it? Will I make it on time? In both cases, time feels too fast, while I become despairingly slow.

Reflections on the class can only be written a long time after it and as I ponder on the hasty car trip, I think that to dance is to tame time.

With the collages I tried to capture some of the shapes that the bodies make in the space, fleetingly as they move from one position to the next. I got inspired by Nathan Walker’s talk at the University of Leeds on his recent book Condensations, where he talked about the way the arrangements of the words on the page of his book responded and reflected the landscape from which those words originally emerged and/or were written for.

There is nothing of the fleetingness of the dance in these collages, just words glued on paper. As I cut my reflections late into the night, I think that the breaking up of sentences, the shaking up of the words, their re-positioning is not dissimilar to dance, and yoga: how it can take the body apart and put it back together again. And in this taking apart and putting back together, meanings and experiences become re-arranged, weights shift, and new relations emerge. Yoga and dance as a practice of collage of the self?

Task 5 – A Word for a Place is inspired by Paul Auster’s New York Trilogy, but I wonder if there is a whiff of the Situationists here too. I think it is a good one to do when one visits a new place, but perhaps it is also appropriate for a familiar one. I always had a sense that this is a task for a city, but maybe it can work just as well in the countryside.

Think of a word that captures the sense you have of the place (if the place is an unfamiliar one) and/or what the place means to you (if it is one you know well).

Following the paths, roads and grids that already exist in this place, write the word by walking.  You can trace possible routes on a map, so you can see in advance how you might create the letters. Or you can trace your route on the map afterwards and see whether you managed to write the letters you thought you were writing. (You can also follow your changing position on the map of your phone as you walk but this will not record a  permanent trail).

You can walk the word as many times as you wish and the walk can encompass as much of the actual area as you want/or are able cover. For example, you may wish to cover with one word the entire city or just one neighbourhood. You can take pictures along the way and/or audio-record sounds, memories, impressions.

Straight after you finish the walk, lie down in Savasana and note the sensations that emerge. What kind of imprints did the walk leave on the body and mind, if any?

Then do a sequence of yoga postures of your own choice that undo the imprints of the walk. Take the body apart and put it back together again.

In your reflections, you can comment on the whole task and/or use the material you  have created during the actual doing. I hope you will enjoy it.

Reflections Task 5 + Task 6 –Constraint Satisfaction

Dear Maria,

Thanks for Task 5. There was so much in this task and I wish I had been able to spend more time on it, but I had such a busy week arriving in Denmark. Perhaps a Task to revisit?

Reflections on Task 5

I carried out this task on my bike in the town of Horsens, Denmark, where I have relocated. My reflections are a transcription of the audio recording I made on my phone, while carrying out Task 5 –A Word for a Place. I then go on to add some reflections on the yoga posture instructions that followed.

Appendix

‘I’m taking a right turn onto Christian M. Østergaardsvej. I knew straight away that this was the area I wanted to explore when I read your instructions to do this Task in a place that is not familiar. I was born in Horsens and lived here till I was 18 and I have now moved back. There are roads and areas of this town I have never visited because they’re not in the trajectory of movements between my childhood home and school or my gymnasium (Sixth Form) or shops or the train station. So, although this area -where I am now standing- is only 10 minutes cycle from where I grew up it feels like a kind of a… an…

… APPENDIX

That’s a good word. I like it. It’s quite a visceral word. As I’m standing at the side of the road looking towards what seems like a blind area, the word ‘Appendix’ describes this feeling of an unknown place. This place is attached to something else that is familiar but it doesn’t have a purpose or even a function for me. Not yet, anyway.

And there’s something else…

I haven’t got an inner map of this area. It’s a strange feeling. I know most other parts of this town so well and the psychogeography of it; I know where streets are in relation to each other, I recognise potholes and road signs and where the hill gets a little bit steeper and even shops and houses that haven’t changed for the past 16 years. But I haven’t got a sense of this neighbourhood. I’m standing at the cross roads between a very familiar street and an area that is completely unknown to me. I have no idea what to expect. I know it’s a residential area and that a new college was built here recently. That’s all. I feel a bit unsettled, perhaps also because of my own prejudice that this neighbourhood is a slightly rough part of town. Will I lose track of where I am? Will my presence be questioned?’

(15 minutes later) 

Cycling

‘I am now on streets that I don’t recognise: Hybenvej, Pilevej and Bakkesvinget. I get really confused about the ‘left/right side of the road’ driving. I was walking for a while but then as soon as I got on my bike my brain couldn’t decide whether to be on the right or the left side of the road. My body is drawn towards the middle and I end up veering on my bike towards the centre. I know I need to be on the right side but because the streets are unfamiliar I’m confused. It’s almost a cross-wiring of my spatial brain.

I recognise this feeling. Because my movements around the city of Leeds are very much experienced from a cycling perspective, being on two wheels in Horsens, taps into my default relationship with the road, which in Leeds, obviously, is on the left-hand side.’

(15 minutes later)

Losing track of APPENDIX

‘I realise I have completely lost track of the word for the place. It is at least five minutes since I was tracing the ‘N’ in APPENDIX. I set off on this task with the intention of spelling out each letter. Now I have lost my whereabouts in between identical apartment blocks and paths, hedges and trees. I’m confused about keeping left or right…  this definitely doesn’t feel like anything that I know.

(12 minutes later)

I have reached a woodland area and I have a view of the inlet from the fjord. It’s amazing how the relationship between water and land anchors me in a place. I see a path that I recognise, running along the water, but I have no idea whether following this path would take me closer to or further away from home. It is very disorientating. I think I will take a right between the trees and see where it takes me…

(8 minutes later)

Ha… I have come full circle and the path has taken me back to the top of the road where I started the journey. Funny how this new information is instantaneously updated in the map in my brain. And what felt like an unfamiliar neighbourhood –an appendix, something dispensable– has become an integrated part of the town. I will enjoy the final leg of the journey and see if perhaps I can trace the ‘X’ as I make my way back to the start.’

Further reflections from second part of Task 5 –A Word for a Place

It is several days after my exploration on bike that I get a chance to do the second part of Task 5. I lie down for a prolonged Savasana and undo the cycle trip with some yoga postures. I carry these additional tasks out after transcribing the audio recording, so I still feel the residue and imprints of the first exploration.

As I lay down for Savasana I feel a heaviness in my body that I haven’t experienced for a long time in this posture. An image of anchoring comes to mind, like the anchoring experience I had when catching sight of the fjord inlet on my journey. From that image, I spontaneously start to trace my awareness through my body as if I’m mapping a landscape. I follow the curves of the spine and move my awareness into my legs and take a trip through my body to uncover areas that seem like blind spots.

I move into yogasana and follow an instinct to do some challenging balance postures: Ardha Chandrasana and some variations, where I twist the spine and catch my foot. I’m (re)discovering ways of moving in my practice and when different limbs, that haven’t connected for a while, join up, new pathways are created. My body is put back together.

Exploring a new environment and creating pathways is done through the action of physically mapping the terrain with my feet (and bike wheels!). It is while treading this new ground that my prejudice that the neighbourhood I visited is rough and unsafe, is put to shame. I think of the Situationists: This is psychogeography and politics at the same time.

 

Task 6 –Constraint Satisfaction

I wanted to dwell a little further on your task, so Task 6 reels of your Task 5. It has made me think of an article about Constraint Satisfaction by Stephen M. Kosslyn from 2011 from the book This Will Make Your Smarter. The next task is inspired by this article and a blog entry I wrote on it in 2012.

Here is Task 6:

Think of your route to work or perhaps another familiar journey you do most days of the week. Now come up with 3-4 ‘constraints’ that will change how you carry out this journey, and for the next week add these obstructions to your trip.

Here are some suggestions for constraints that you could use:

  • If you usually drive or take the bus, walk your journey.
  • When you pass a bus stop, cross the road and walk on the opposite pavement.
  • Make eye contact with as many people for the duration of the journey as possible.

You can take my suggestions or if you think of some constraints that would be fun, doable -but a bit challenging- that might work better for you, you should use those. You can do all of your chosen constraints on the same journey, one after the other, or perhaps dedicate one to each day.

Doing Task 5 made me think of how exploring a new environment tested my patterns of movement. What happens when you place obstacles on a familiar journey?

After your final exploration, lie down in Savasana and notice the sensations that emerge. What kind of pathways are you noticing in your body?

Then do a few yoga postures with ‘pathways’ as your anchor point.

How do you feel about your route?

Enjoy the task!

Reflections Task 6 & Task 7 – To Stand and to Be Supported

Dear Marie,

many thanks for task 6. Below you can find reflections on Task 6 and instructions for Task 7.

The task made me think a lot about the routes I am taking and my attitude to them. I realise that a route is a means to get from A to B and time is of essence. The route, however pleasant, needs to be completed in the least time possible. The key constraint that has to be satisfied then is time and every possible change in the route I could think of entailed making the route taking more time. The task also made me think about Mithila Folk Painting. The practice originates from Bihar, India, but when I was in South India I remember seeing women, at the break of dawn, drawing with chalk intricate shapes in the front of their house. As I understand it, the shapes were drawn as an offering and a means to ward off evil. I thought about these women and whether time was also of essence to them, in the same way it is for me.

So, this the constraint I came up with:

On a short and very familiar route, I put the timer on my phone to ring every 3 min. The moment the timer goes off, I have to stop and draw something on the exact place I stopped. The first thing I draw is a fish, as done in Mithila Folk Art, but at subsequent stops I play with the texture of the paving stones. At the last stop, I am facing a weak sun, that is just breaking from the clouds. I wonder if my drawing is an offering to this timid autumn shining.

Later in the day I do the same route with the 5 year old. I show her the drawings and tell her that she can add to them and/or do other ones. The constraint this time is this: we do not leave the place until the 5 year old suggests so.

More than the self-consciousness of stopping chalk-in-hand on a really busy road, the suspension of cajoling/instructions/threats to ‘let’s go’, ‘move on’, ‘come on’ leaves both of us confused. The 5 year old looks at me and waits for the usual phrase. I have to stop my self every other second from actually saying those all too familiar phrases (at one point the words come out out of sheer habit before I can stop myself).

Eventually, we move on.

When I do yoga, the move from one position to the next feels as familiar as the route I took earlier in the day.  If anything, yoga is about taking time and making it one’s own. But is time of essence here to? Or is every stop, every position an offering? 

Task 7 To Stand and to Be Supported

Do a set of standing postures, Tadasana, Vrksasana, Trikonasana, Virabahdrasana I and II, all of these poses can work quite well.

Immediately after write a piece of text on standing. What it means to you to stand? What does standing mean? How is the word ‘to stand’ used in language?

Then do a set of recuperative poses, preferably with support, such as Badokonasana, Supta Virasana, Savasana. Write a piece of text about when and what makes you feel supported. See if you can use passive voice.

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!

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 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 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 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 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 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 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.

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 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!

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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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’. 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

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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 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!