We've just returned from another fabulous weekend in London where I was able to get to two very different and yet very enlivening yoga classes.
I LOVE yoga, there is absolutely no doubt about that, and I LOVE getting to yoga classes when I can, the busier the better, there is something about that group energy that just really does it for me, the classes just seem to flow with the additional energy in the room, like you get into stride with those around you, it is difficult to explain, but those of you who have experienced this will know exactly what I mean!
The two hour class on Friday evening was with John Stirk and took place at the relatively new TriYoga studio in Camden. I adore Camden but it is always a relief to escape the crowds and enter the oasis of the yoga centre (although I must admit it is not quite as spacious or calm as the old Primrose Hill studio, but a welcoming place nonetheless).
John Stirk is an osteopath who has been teaching yoga for over 40 years. The influence of R.D.Laing, with whom he ran body/mind workshops, B.K.S. Iyengar, Vanda Scaravelli with whom he had personal tuition for several years and J. Krisnamurti has confirmed his belief in finding it in and for oneself. As a result his style of teaching Yoga emphasises an enquiry into how one is during and after physical practice.
John sells is practice in his smile, he has a softness and gentleness to him that is very much reflected in his teaching - or perhaps his teaching creates that softness and gentleness, but either way, he is a credit to the practice. The practice itself is gentle and soft. It was a gentle and soft two hours for me, which is challenging. Especially as we didn't actually practice any yoga poses.
But strangely that was also exactly what I - and I guess everyone else in the room - needed. This was not about ego or getting somewhere or doing something. This was about consciously moving the body with very gentle movement that didn't involve us standing on our feet. As John says, "Body consciousness and mind consciousness spring from the same primitive origin. Our minds have grown out of our physiology. Everything that we are, and know ourselves to be, has unfolded from a cellular base bathed in fluid.
As we work quietly and deeply[in your yoga practice], this relationship becomes more and more apparent. We start with a mind that enters into the body and then discover that the body continually feeds the mind. We graduate from action to a profound receptivity, the body takes over, and we surrender to its process."
And it was interesting because I needed to do some surrendering but It happened so gently that I was barely aware it was happening at all. In fact John said to us that we would go home that evening and when someone asked us what we had done we would likely say, "well we didn't really do anything" and then we would be asked, "well did you enjoy it" and we would probably say, "well I'm not really sure really".
The funny thing is, that is exactly what happened! So I kind of fell into a very relaxed state by the end of the session and John said to us that it was like a treatment for the body, we had treated ourselves, allowed healing by the gentlest of movements to the spine. And so it was a bit of a shock going out into 9.30pm-Friday night-Camden and then taking the tube to Old Street and then walking to the hotel from there so that when I finally got to the room and Ewan asked me how it was, all I could say was "well we didn't really do anything", and so he asked whether I had enjoyed it, to which all I could say was "well I'm not really sure", which made me laugh.
So I didn't feel like I had done anything (that's the challenge for me, I like to move and move and move...) and I wasn't sure what to make of it (another challenging one for my over analytical mind) but the fact is I slept really well and I felt spacious the next day. My mind was definitely calmer and my body seemed a little taller somehow and spacious, that is the only word I can use to describe it. It really is the funniest thing. I am very curious about John Stirk!
That same spacious morning, I went along to another two hour class but this time at Dog Eared film studios near Kings Cross with the inspirational Stewart Gilchrist. I happened upon Stewart a few years ago now, in the pre-Elijah days and was blown away by his teaching style, which reminds me a little of my teacher Lance Schuler, in Australia. Both of them are vegan raw foodies, lithe, full of energy and lead classes with a full on commentary and enjoy playing music, and in the case of Stewart, the louder the better!
So it was a bit of a treat to find myself at one of his classes in this kind of different studio with a whole heap of his students who clearly adore him too. It was 10.30am and the room was buzzing as dreadlocked Stewie arrived and before we knew it we were off, one sun salutation after another, one chatturanga after another, one standing pose after another, some crazy stuff, binding, headstands thrown in, and me tuning into Stewart's Scottish accent and the music, and here we go, another chatturanga, and no stopping...
...so that the sweat was pouring and the inner dialogue was going a little like, "OMG this is hardcore, I'm losing my breath, where is the precision, is this too strong, I can't do that, why cant I do that, that girl in front can do that, OMG she can get her whole leg behind her head, his can she do that" and I kind of caught myself at this point and just thought "OMG I'm getting competitive, this practice is bringing out my competitive side and my insecure side and I'm endlessly judging the practice, why can't I just let it be, be ok with where I am at and it is at and we are all at"...
... and then I thought I might cry because the arm balances were really rather tough and it didn't feel like it was happening as easily as it may have done in the pre-Elijah days when I had a lot more energy and wasn't suffering with relentless sleep deprivation from a whole 2 years of not getting a full night's sleep so that I almost felt sorry for myself and then I really did feel the tears coming and I just kind of thought, "its all about trust, I've stopped trusting and started limiting, but I have a choice, I can give into it, or go for it, I can make a million excuses but the fact is I can do it, you've just got to breathe and move and try, breathe and move and try..." and that in itself I realise now was the surrender. Totally different from the night before but a surrender nonetheless.
So I made it through the class, I moved my body much more than I have done for some time on my mat, and I finished the class longing to be able to do that again on a regular basis. Stewart's approach is not for everyone I know, and I am sure I probably wouldn't want to do it all the time, but like Lance's classes, there is no doubt that the classes strengthen the body and strengthen the mind so that one comes to recognises the limitations of the mind, which in turn limit the body and limit one's life. Fascinating stuff!
Needless to say my body was really aching the next day, so not feeling spacious at all like the day before, quite the opposite in fact, but there was a clearness to the mind, it didn't feel so tangled. It really was rather fascinating.
Back here in Guernsey the aching has eased and things feel a little different mentally. But that could be the effect of getting off the rock for a few days and seeing new things and being with Ewan and Elijah and meeting friends and chatting and gaining a different perspective on things. But certainly the yoga helped and I can't wait for the next yoga trip!
because - like Lance - there is no doubt that the practice makes the body stronger but it also challenges the mind too,