Reflections on Task 27 and Task 28 – Inconspicuous

Dear Marie,

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

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

a.

.

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

b.

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

I hope you got my drift by now…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Task 28 – Inconspicuous

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

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

Dear Maria,

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

Reflections on Inconspicuous

Transcription of audio recording while carrying out task 28:

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

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

(pause)

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

give away that I’m trying to do yoga.

There’s something about the environment here as

being around kids, being around play makes the yoga practice

less visible…

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

(pause)

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

How can I …

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

I think I got away with this one.’

NEW SCENE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(pause … with the clicking sound of trolley wheels)

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

When does the yoga practice become something else…?

(sound of my breathing)

And again… I walk and I did it.

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

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

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

(pause)

Task 29 – Female + yoga = ?

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

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

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

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

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

Bring back any aspect of your reflections to the blog.

Enjoy!

Reflections Task 29 and Task 30 – Lore (Invented)

Dear Marie,

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

Reflections Task 29 – Yoga + Female=? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But something nags me.

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

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

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

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

Task 30 – Lore (Invented)

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

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

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

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

Reflections Yoga Lore

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

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

The full PDF of the Lore is here:

Yoga Lore

Task 31 – Installation of your research topic

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

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

Enjoy