Thanks for Task 40. I was very excited about the breaking of the etiquette and enjoyed doing Task 40 – Together – together. I’m writing this not knowing what was your experience of sharing the task. Find below my reflections and further down Task 41 –
I will begin with an exercise of recounting what we did for the task. Further down I will respond to the questions you posed in the email I received from you following the sharing of the Task.
Monday 22 July 2018 in front of Leeds University Union
I wanted to share with you my impressions of what we did for the Task. As I write this I realise that this is a ‘meta-exercise’ that acknowledges that although these reflections are addressed to you, they will be posted online for other readers who didn’t take part in the Task. So this account is also for their benefit. More about the ‘meta-level’ later.
3.34 pm we meet and greet outside Union.
3.40 pm we make our way towards your ‘secret spot’ about 15 min walk through the park. We chat on the way about the task and discuss options of how to spend the hour we have there together. Shall we have one task that we both do or do we give each other tasks when we’re there? Are we doing yoga or something else? How will the posting of reflections work when we have broken the etiquette by doing the task together? After some time we agree that as the task is named ‘together’ we should both do the task and write reflections. As we enter a forest-like backyard of the nearby streets you say that, in the light of recent posts about relations, the task should be about the relationship between our bodies, the body and the environment and what it means to take the yoga practice into a non-typical yoga setting.
3.55 pm we set up in a clearing, put our bags down and start exploring the area.
4.15 pm we work individually and in silence. How we do the task has not been determined so it takes a while before I ‘tune into you’ and feel that we are together.
4.30 pm themes of play and imitation of yoga shapes start to occur. We hang out in trees, balance on tree stumps, our hands or bodies meet in short encounters. I cover your Balasana with sticks and leaves. Postures shape and are shaped by the environment as well as by the other body.
4.45 pm we face each other in the clearing and a series of postures, mirroring and responding takes place.
4.57 pm we meet at the bench and we break the silence with a smile and a quick chat about the small breath of quiet and air the clearing gives the hustle and bustle of surrounding busy streets.
5.10 pm we say goodbye and part on the streets of Leeds and go off in separate directions.
Was what we did yoga?
I began answering this question by writing a long account of what elements must be present in a yoga practice. It sent me back to previous posts (around Tasks 26-28) where we exchange reflections and instructions around the questions of when postures are correct/right or if making your own postures count towards a yoga practice. After some ambling I realise something I haven’t yet articulated to myself. The only element I could absolutely say is crucial for my own yoga practice is intention. It may be important to practice recognisable postures from a yoga oeuvre, to focus on breath, to choose a designated space or props but with no intention to do yoga and relate the practice to ‘a wider belief system’ (as you describe it in your reflections for task 27) there is no yoga. An intention to dedicate your full attention to the body, breath, alignment, space etc and the connections between all of these in the time you spend doing the practice, is the core of yoga. All other elements are important components that materialise the practice but intention is the indispensable thread that joins them together. For this reason, my answer to your question must be… yes!
How was it similar or different from the practice you normally do?
I have practiced in the outdoors, without a mat, in shoes, impromptu, with no particular aim for postural sequencing, in relation to nature before, but never all of this at the same time as we did on Monday. The intention to draw my awareness to the relationship with the environment shifted my focus and expanded my perception of what I believe the practice to be.
What other things did you think/feel/discover during or after the session?
Well, something interesting happened after we parted on Monday. I left the Task with a peculiar feeling that something was not quite right. I had been very excited about sharing a task so why was I left feeling somewhat dissatisfied? The answer crystallised throughout the evening and the feeling of dissatisfaction transformed into a realisation about the project: Only because we met did I understand that the excitement of the project has been exactly in the non-meeting. The project has been formed around the premise that we meet in cyber space in a prescribed format for the blog. By not being face-to-face in the actual physical exploration the emphasis has been placed on the delivery of my exploration to you – the reflections on the blog. I argued in my Task 39 that the body and the ‘doing’ is the pivotal point for this project but I will now challenge this: The body may be crucial for the execution of the tasks but it is how this is represented on the blog in our online meeting that creates the project. This make me think: What if there are no boundaries between the body and the posting of reflections? We present the labour of our physical work in pictures, videos, a mode of writing and ways of addressing each other. What if body and reflections are extension of each other? Perhaps it is not simply that the body is reflected in the blog but that the blog itself forms the body; perhaps the two are reflexive.
And so I return to the ‘meta-level’. Every other week I address my reflections to you: ‘Dear Maria…’ pretending that my post is written just for you while knowing that the whole world (or perhaps just one or two people!) is watching. You describe this space where we meet virtually very accurately in your reflections for task 39 as ‘the window of our imaginary studios’. A window we have created that frames a project which is private yet public, aiming to reveal a process yet showing an outcome within a narrow predetermined format. Perhaps meeting up stirred the balance between these conflicting experiences and displaced the excitement of negotiating their contradiction.
many thanks for agreeing to meet me and following me to the ‘secret location’ (the name of which I don’t know, I assume there isn’t one). As I explained, this place has made a deep impression on me and all I knew when I met you on Monday at 3:34 pm in front of the University of Leeds Union was that I wanted to take you there. Now, after having read your reflections, I realise that I did not only want to take you there, I wanted to place the project there. As a project ‘Two Trainers Prepare’, strictly speaking, has no place, but a virtual one.
There are two emphases here, perhaps the side of the same coin. We have been doing the project together – on our own, but also and because of this, the project does not have a place, unless you count the myriad places in which the tasks have been undertaken over the year. So, I realise now, that Task 40 was about breaking both of these conventions: we were together and in the same place. And I realise now that it is this ‘and’ that concerns me more than the individual parts of the equation.
This place is not a yoga studio. But it became one between 4:25 and 4:57, if we both agree that what we did was yoga. To me this was the most important part of out time there together.
In his introduction to Light on Yoga, Iyengar gives a number of guidelines as to how one needs to prepare in order to practise yoga. Under ‘Place’ he writes:
8. They [asanas] should be done in a clean airy place, free from inscets and noise.
9. Do not do them on the bare floor or on an uneven place, but on a folded blanket laid on a level floor (1991 : 36).
Iyengar’s guidelines involve other lifestyle adjustments too: stomach must be empty, bowels should be emptied, having a bath before starting will ease the practice (1991: 35-6). Of course, in contemporary practice around the world these guidelines are being followed to different extents. I doubt the ones concerning the emptying of the bowels are particularly adhered to.
Yet, guidelines number 8 and 9 have stuck. In fact, they gave us the ‘yoga studio’. The yoga studio, it is important to remember, came after the development of the practice (for the first few years Iyengar was practising and teaching at home). So, at some point, Yoga went inside and purpose built studios began being built around the world. As you attest, yoga is sometimes practised outside too, but this is considered an ‘alternative’ to the established indoor practice. What is more, even when practised outside yoga mats and even surfaces are still in use.
On Monday, the breaking of guidelines 8 and 9 raised for me -again- questions for the ontology of the practice – was what we were doing yoga?; its legibility within a social context – was it yoga for you too? Would it be recognised as yoga by someone else?; but also the way the physical space structures the practice.
And this is what I found out on Monday: yoga as an established syllabus can and does take place outside, usually under the preconditions I mentioned above, but it does so as an established practice. The relation does not work the other way around. Even when yoga is moved into a different space, not unlike a choreography staged in a different theatre, and even if the experience of the practice is different, the practice, i.e. what we identify as yoga, remains the same. By contrast, what we began to explore tentatively was creating postures out of the place, the place suggested the practice. Or as you put it: ‘postures shape and are shaped by the environment as well as by the other body’.
I suppose we can envisage the development of a kind of site-specific yoga whereby a place has its own set of postures. Part of the practice would be to find out the postures the place affords.
And this brings me to another aspect of being together, which again I was not fully aware last Monday. On Monday, as you suggest, there was a sense of something not being quite right, which I also felt. You say that something about the ‘excitement’ of capturing and sharing the practice for one another was lost.
Yet, what we gained was that we witnessed each other. I think it was this seeing that lent some credibility to what was going on. I know, and I know this for sure, that I would never go to this place to ‘do yoga’, had we not gone together. And here is another thought: has the Blog conditioned our relationship to such an extent that when we meet, the immediate propensity, our ‘first response’ so to speak, is to witness each other’s process rather than become involved in it?
Task 41 – Windows
There is a whirlwind of new connections being formed in my body-mind as a result of this physical meeting and your response to task 39. I feel new avenues of thoughts about what this project is (and could be/come) have been opened for me. I want to fuel this by inquiring further into our ongoing question of relations -and windows.
I want to return to the imagery of the window you use in your reflections for task 39 as the starting point. My go-to-book at the moment for creative inspiration is The Place of Dance by Andrea Olsen. On page 41 I discover the useful term ‘windowing’ (used here in a poem by Suprapto Suryodarmo) and a phrase goes like this: ‘Windowing: making windows into your home, your body self; making windows to look out of your home. Which track to choose?’ Inspired by this quote and by the observation you offer in your final paragraph above on witnessing vs. being involved, this is your task:
The blog is a window and in that window you see a reflection of your own body self or your relation to the blog. Considering this prompt what would ‘windowing’ look like? How can you work practically with reflections or seeing through, seeing in/out, light/dark, from this window and at the same time play with ideas of witnessing the process (looking from the outside) or being involved (seeing from the inside). What does the frame of the window look like and how does it affect what and how you see?
I would like you to try and approach this Task from a practical viewpoint. Let your reflections for this task be evident in min 70% doing/practicing/filming/photographing/moving and max 30% writing.
I fear this Task may be a product of the whirlwind in my head as I recognise I may have created one of the more cryptic Tasks of our project. I hope you can keep your head above water! I look forward to your response.