Yoga in the Cotswolds and breaking free
Well I have just returned from a two night Yoga retreat in Evesham in the beautiful Cotswolds. It is kind of strange how we ended up there, Jackie and I and 22 North Londoners who all knew both teachers and even one another. We knew no one and no one knew us!
Still there is always a novelty to Channel Islanders, regardless of the fact we were newbies to both teachers. Arriving late on the Friday night didn't help. It was one of those days. For one reason or another we had had to take later flights and then I managed to leave my Yoga mat on the plane in Gatwick and then I realised that I hadn't actually charged my mobile telephone properly and I didn't have a charger with me. I was actually quite amazed how easily I let this all go. The mat was a new one to which I felt absolutely no attachment other than the wasted money I had spent. Funny that, if it has been my older mat that has travelled around the world with me a few times I may have been a little more concerned, and that in itself is slightly disconcerting, it is only a mat, after all.
Still it reminds me a little of the way we get attached to where we place our mats in a given studio space. Personally I like to move around and shake things up a little, some days I crave the quieter back corner and other days I like to be right up close and personal. I have noticed in class that some people always take the same spot, and other people recognise that space as so and so's spot. We get attached to the strangest things!
As for the phone. After asking one lady if she had a similar charger and discovering it was the same make but a different size, I decided my energy was probably best spent focusing on my practice rather than on who may possibly have a charger I could borrow. And in any event it was really rather liberating not having the ability to send or receive texts, nor any option whatsoever for the internet, hoorah, no emails all weekend!!
We were staying at Holland House, a wonderful 17th century building, now used as a retreat centre, sensitive to nature and its impact on the environment. Set in 3 acres of stunning gardens, it is a wonderful spot, very peaceful and easy going, you can make teas and coffees as you choose and all the "shops" work on a trusting basis, a little like the honesty vegetable boxes back here in Guernsey. No locks on the doors too. I like that approach to life.
The Yoga was gentle, well gentle compared to my usual style of both practice and teaching. So gentle that at times I really had to make a concerted effort to stay focused as I gently lifted my arm above my head on a long inhale and released it on a long exhale. There is of course much benefit to this approach. Not only is it accessible to all ages (and I shall come to that later) but it also makes one critically aware of the manicness of one's thoughts and racing mind, which eased considerably over the weekend, so that all the "stuff" has come up and come out, in a healing and gentle manner.
I was by far the youngest and Jackie too. This was interesting because I have never spent time with a group of Yogis who have been practicing (and indeed teaching) Yoga for so long. The majority had been practicing for 20 odd years, if not more, and some teaching for as long too. Incredible. Grounding actually. This was Yoga away from the modern day commercialism, back to its roots, of church halls and leotards, or people really dedicated at a time when Yoga was not deemed cool. I like that. I have been considering recently how Yoga has been spun out of control. Too commercial, too exercise-based, too not real, an illusion of all its own, which is so ironic seeing as it is meant to be lifting the illusion from us.
Many of the women on the Yoga course were not your stereotypical looking Yoginis, no magazine-perfect Yoga body and no commercial Yoga branded clothes on display. What a relief. These days there is so much pressure to look a certain way, to have the perfect weight, to wear the perfect clothes, so that all this approach does is to sink us further into the illusion of what life should be, for a Yogi, both on and off the mat. It is all rubbish as ever, marketing, a scam. Yoga is there to help us to move energy, to help us deal with life's challenges in a more balanced, centred and grounded way, and essentially, the physical practice is designed for us to be able to prepare our body for sitting, not least in terms of physical comfort for sitting, but also so one is free from dis-ease and can comfortably sit and meditate and seek some further inner peace and perhaps moments of profound awakening, and heck, maybe some bliss.
Of course there is more to it than that. The very physical movement demanded by Yoga poses coupled with the breath, NEVER underestimate the power of the breath, have benefits in themselves, aside from just preparing the body for sitting. I can't imagine a life without conscious movement and conscious breathing, I am sure I would clog up on the inside! But I have felt a definitive shift within myself recently, that the commercial side has done Yoga absolutely no favours. Essentially Yoga cannot be bought, anymore than it can be sold. Yes, of course, we can buy into the idea of Yoga, but really and truly to experience any benefits its does not matter what clothes you are wearing, how much your mat cost, it matters only that you practice week by week, month by month, year by year. I think it was Pattabhi Jois who said, "practice and all will come". That is truly the gift of Yoga, the doing and the non-doing.
Anyhow I truly enjoyed the weekend, I learnt some things about the body, about my practice, which I can help others to learn too, and I experienced the manicness of my and witnessed the manner in which it slowed down, with the breath, over the weekend. Really quite amazing.
The weatehr was an utter delight. We even managed Yoga in the gardens on Saturday afternoon, what a joy in October to be practising in the sun shine (I am of course now covered in midge bites!).
So to Judy and Richard, Tasmai Shree Gurave Namah, and to Jackie, thank you.
With love and gratitude to all.