Hellooo – I’m back! I’ve been rather distracted from the blog of late, mainly due to experiencing some fine summer weather at last, and the resultant lure of the great outdoors. It’s been a wonderful few weeks full of simple, natural pleasures: a sunset barbecue at Warwickshire’s highest point, the Burton Dassett Hills (a rather underwhelming ascent for an ex-Lake District resident but stunning panoramic views of the county’s flatlands nevertheless); a solstice camping weekend in the Peaks, complete with hippy-strewn stone circles; and two idyllic surfing weekends on the Gower peninsula. It’s been a reminder that, for me, relaxation comes from stripping away as many of modern life’s complications as possible (technology being a biggie – losing signal for the weekend is blissful relief from the daily grind), getting back to basics and re-connecting with nature, the elements and a more simple way of life. It is sooo good for the soul. I’m currently reading an excellent book called ‘The Earth Has A Soul’, which is an edited collection of Carl Jung’s essays and thoughts on the sad disconnection between humans and nature and how we need to reconnect the ‘modern’ part of our psyche with the ‘archaic’ part. Hear hear, Carl – the more I read of his stuff, the more I feel it hugely resonates with my own thoughts. More on CJ, who is rapidly becoming rather a hero to me, in future posts no doubt…
Anyway, I promised a review of the Hamish Hendry yoga workshop, and I am a girl of my word. So, how was it? It was ruddy fantastic, that’s what it was. Hamish is a senior teacher, who has learnt ashtanga direct from the source in Mysore, India, which gives him a gravitas in the ashtanga world that you can’t help but respect, especially as there is a big emphasis on the lineage of teachers and direct learning through apprenticeships in this form of yoga. Yet he is also a very funny, down-to-earth guy who has clearly led a pretty far-out life and who isn’t averse to peppering his language with fruity swear-words, of which I am always a fan. It somehow helps to break-up the sometimes too earnest and ethereal yoga-speak – what I like to call ‘keeping it real’ on the mat.
More than this, Hamish is also extremely gifted as a teacher. He has the rare ability to ‘see’ the student in their entirety at an initial glance, and by this I mean he sees beyond what is immediately obvious and somehow tunes into the more subtle, emotional signs that we all give off, and that, to those with a highly tuned intuition, visibly leak out through our bodies. What this meant in practice was that, even though I’d never met the guy before, he gave me some incredible adjustments and got me deeper into my ‘nemesis’ postures than I have ever been before. He seemed to know exactly which postures I needed assistance with, and magically appeared at my side for each one, like a stealth elf. His adjustments were quick, firm and no-nonsense. He relentlessly instructed me to ‘relax my shoulders’ into the deep back-bends, way beyond the point where I would usually freeze up with a ‘that’s as far as I can go’ mentality. For whatever reason, I completely trusted him, and found myself accessing a deeper level of muscle relaxation than I have found before, thus becoming putty in his hands and discovering that, yes, I can almost touch my ankles in urdvha danurasana (upward bow or wheel posture) after all – who’d have thought it?! It made me realise how much of my self-perceived body limitations are actually all in the mind – it’s my mind that provides me with all the reasons why I can’t access the deep back-bends through the re-telling of stories of injury and the over-emphasis on strength over open-ness in my practice; and it’s the ad nauseum re-telling of these personal stories that creates layers of tension in my shoulders and thoracic back. The ‘rational’ mind is a tricksy beast, for sure… (Oooh, this all neatly links into CJ’s ‘modern’ [rational] versus ‘archaic’ [unconscious] mind theories too – serendipitous musings today!)
In the afternoon talk, he discussed how emotionally challenging it can be to completely surrender yourself to a teacher’s adjustments. It’s all about trust and letting go, and that can be one of the hardest things to do. But as soon as you do, it’s like a weight lifting from your shoulders (or the opposite, I guess, if you’re inverted in a back-bend!). A little bit more of the ego bleeds away as we humble ourselves to the superior knowledge of a senior teacher, and the feeling is a sweet release. Not only that, but that’s when your practice is likely to take a paradigm shift forward, as you access deeper parts of the body and mind.
Hamish also tackled the biggie in the afternoon session: What is yoga? I’ve tried to answer this myself so many times, and, in my usual cop-out, over-empathising way, always come to the conclusion that it is deeply personal and means something different to everyone who does it. However, for a scholar like Hamish, who has read all the ‘requisite’ texts like the Bhagavad Gita and Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras (I am currently trawling my way through these at the pace of a decrepit snail), he can provide rather more illumination on the subject.
Firstly, he gave us a potted summary of the Bhagavad Gita, for which I will be eternally grateful – does that mean I don’t need to read it now?! It’s an ancient Indian, notoriously rambling ‘story’ that’s basically a very long conversation between Lord Krishna and one of his devotees, Prince Arjuna, covering all kinds of topics such as the nature of duty and how to control the mind through yoga (that’s the terribly inadequate beckymayhem summary, anyway…). Hamish drew from it the following main messages:
It’s important that we find our ‘dharma’, which means our ‘duty’, the thing we should be doing. We need to make sure we’re doing our duty, not someone else’s. It’s about doing the right thing at the right time, and then things will flow. On a practical level, find what you love doing, what resonates with you, practise this thing until it comes easily and you excel in it, then share your passion and knowledge with others without expectation of anything in return. If you don’t expect anything back, the rewards with be ten-fold more – this is karma. The ‘non-expectation’ part of this explanation of karma strikes me as a sweet irony that is oh-so-elusive to the average human bean. The words of a less obvious yet no less inspiring philosopher who I’ve met on my travels, Cockatoo Paul, may seem a more realistic aim for most of us: “Find something you like, get good at it, and the money will come.” But then it would be dull if these things were simple – part of the beauty of life is about the journey of personal development as you move towards a state of higher awareness.
I have so many other thoughts and musings following Hamish’s talk. However, rather than attempt to get them all down here, I will cogitate further and hopefully pick up on some of them in future posts. But, for now, suffice to say it was an incredibly inspiring day, and wonderful to have it at the wonderful Stonemonkey Studio, too.
Finally, as a post-script to my previous post – yes, I was indeed the last one to arrive at the afternoon session despite my inexcusable proximity. In fact they’d closed the front door and I had to skulk in via the back door, man-up to an inevitable barrage of accusatory banter and shamefacedly take my place amongst all the punctual folk, oops. A black mark in my yoga karma book?!