Introducing Barbara

Barbara Christians teaches the 09:00-10:00 Pilates class on Saturday mornings at The Hope Centre, 118 Malham Road, Forest Hill.

Barbara Christians qualified as Mat Pilates Instructor in 2015 and holds a Level 3 Diploma in Teaching Pilates (QFC) from the YMCA. Her classes are grounded in the classical Pilates repertoire, bringing in influences from various contemporary Pilates teachings and Fascial Fitness.

Barbara always had a keen interest in movement disciplines: Training in Karate and Judo as a child in Japan, discovering and falling in love with the Brazilian martial art Capoeira in London, and generally trying out as many and diverse dance and exercise classes possible over her past 20 years in London – from traditional African Dance to Contact Improvisation, from Barre to Boxing to Yoga, to name but a few examples. Throughout this, Barbara always kept coming back to Pilates.

Barbara experienced first hand the benefits of Pilates not only to strengthen the body and find ease and grace in movement, but the mental health benefits of fully focussing on the exercise at hand and learning to listen to your body, bringing about a calm yet energised feeling of being at one with yourself.  This experience of the body-mind connection led her to leave her desk based job and retrain as a Dance Movement Therapist, and later qualify as Pilates Instructor.

Barbara decided not to pursue a career as a Dance Movement Therapist, but instead is focussed on building her Pilates career, hoping to facilitate a fun way for others to experience the benefits of this body-mind discipline. She enjoys working with people of all abilities and ages.

 

Qualifications and CPD:

October 2017 Fletcher Pilates ® Advanced Intensive Licensing Course (Fletcher Pilates)

July 2017 Fletcher Pilates ® Intensive Licensing Course (Fletcher Pilates)

April + May 2017 Fascial Fitness Foundation+ Trainer Course (Fascial Fitness Association GmbH, Germany)

March 2017 Level 3 Advanced Stretching & Mobility Releases (Drummond Education)

March 2017 Anatomy in Three Dimensions (Balanced Body)

February 2017 Rolling for Length, Rolling for Strength (Balanced Body)

2015 Level 3 Diploma in Teaching Pilates (QFC) (YMCA)

2014 MA in Dance Movement Psychotherapy (University of Roehampton)

Pilates, Yoga & Garuda Retreat 2018

Join Adam Murby and Marta Soteras for 5 days of Garuda, Pilates, Yoga and relaxation at one of Europe’s very finest retreat locations.

Each full day will incorporate a full morning and a full evening practice taught by either Adam or Marta. The classes will incorporate Pilates, Yoga, Garuda and Yoga Nidra (yoga sleep).

Thai massage will also be available.

The retreat will include plenty of time for rest and relaxation.

The retreat is limited to a maxumum of 19 participants.

VILLA PI BLAU

Situated in the pictureque bay of Aiguablava, 1.5 km away from the iconic medieval town of Begur, VILLA PI BLAU could not be better placed. Atop a pine-clad hill and surrounded by a beautiful Mediterranean garden, Villa Pi Blau overlooks gorgeous crystalline water coves and sandy beaches at short walking distance. Modern and ethically built by Catalan architects, Villa Pi Blau is one of the very best destinations for Yoga and Pilates holidays.

Villa Pi Blau offers a spectacular, purpose built studio (100 square metres). The studio floods with natural shaded light and offers a sea view. Large folding doors bring the outdoors inside allowing you to connect with the surrounding environment. Filled with fresh sea breeze and in the evenings the room is lit with soft lighting, making it the perfect place to unwind.

As well a close proximity to the beaches, the outdoor living areas and hammocks offer comfort and serenity, whilst the saltwater infinity pool seems to almost disappear into the ocean.

Accommodation:

Every bedroom at Villa Pi Blau has been stylishly designed, with most coming with en suites. Mattresses are made with organic latex and Pyrenees sheep wool. Organic cotton bedsheets and linen waffle towels are produced in the South of Spain. Each room comes with hairdryers, fans and free wifi and making each room a little more special are the backout curtian and underfloor heating.

Inside the villa, a large communal living space under the the studio offers the chance to relax in comfort. The owner of the villa has a keen eye for detail, even down to insuating the electrics to avoid electro magnetic fields.

Food:

Villa Pi Blau offers healthy home-cooked Mediterranean cuisine. Meals are often cooked in full view in the open plan kitchen area and are served three times daily.
All the finest vegetables, fruits, eggs, meat and fish are locally sourced. Organic grown is favoured whenever possible.
Vegetarian dishes are offered at every meal.
There is local wine on offer for a small cost and guests are welcome to help themseleves to soft drinks, providing the ‘honesty list’ is used!

Dates:

Sunday, 29th April – Friday, 4th May 2018

Cost:

£799 per person (sharing)
£1199 per person (single occupancy – subject to availability)

Prices include: 5 nights ensuite accomodation, all meals, water, all scheduled Pilates, Yoga, Garuda and Yoga Nidra sessions and free wi-fi. Tea and coffee is available all day at no charge.

Price excludes: flights, additional food/beverages, personal insurance, massages, laundry and excursions. Airport transfers on our recommended flights, which are £20 each way.

Recommended flight is from Gatwick with Easyjet departing at 09:10 on Sunday 29th April, arriving Barcelona 12:15. Returning on Friday 4th May at 15:20, Arriving 16:50.

Booking & Payment:

If this retreat is of interest to you please let us know and we will hold a room for you. If you decide to go ahead we will need to take a £390 (non-refundable) deposit and the rest of the balance will be due no later than March 25th 2018.

Please send booking requests via email and we will send you details on how to make payment to secure your place..

If you have any questions please email us via:

adamandmartaretreat@gmail.com

or call:

Adam: 07932 402 404 | Marta: 07505 249 217

Pilates, Yoga & Garuda Retreat 2017

Pilates, Yoga & Garuda Retreat

Join Adam Murby and Marta Soteras for 5 days of wellness and relaxation at one of Europe’s very finest retreat locations.

Each full day will incorporate a full morning and a full evening practice taught by either Adam or Marta. The classes will incorporate Pilates, Yoga, Garuda and Yoga Nidra (yogic sleep).
Thai massage will also be available.

The retreat will include plenty of time for rest and relaxation, including at least one half day excursion (optional).

The retreat is limited to a maxumum of 19 participants.

VILLA PI BLAU

Situated in the pictureque bay of Aiguablava, 1.5 km away from the iconic medieval town of Begur, VILLA PI BLAU could not be better placed. Atop a pine-clad hill and surrounded by a beautiful Medditerranean garden, VILLA PI BLAU overlooks gorgeous crystalline water coves and sandy beaches at short walking distance. Modern and ethically built by Catalan architects, VILLA PI BLAU is one of the very best destinations for Yoga and Pilates holidays.

Villa Pi Blau offers a spectacular, purpose built studio (100 square metres). The studio floods with natural shaded light and offers a sea view. Large folding doors bring the outdoors inside allowing you to connect with the surrounding environment. Filled with fresh sea breeze and in the evenings the room is lit with soft lighting, making it the perfect place to unwind.

As well a close proximity to the beaches, the outdoor living areas and hammocks offer comfort and serentiy, whilst the saltwater infinity pool seems to almost disappear into the ocean.

Accommodation:

Every bedroom at Villa Pi Blau has been stylishly designed, with most coming with en suites. Mattresses are made with organic latex and Pyrenees sheep wool. Organic cotton bedsheets and linen waffle towels are produced in the South of Spain. Each room comes with hairdryers, fans and free wifi and making each room a little more special are the backout curtian and underfloor heating.

Inside the villa, a large communal living space under the the studio offers the chance to relax in comfort. The owner of the villa has a keen eye for detail, even down to insuating the electrics to avoid electro magnetic fields.

Food:

Villa Pi Blau offers healthy home-cooked Mediterranean cuisine. Meals are often cooked in full view in the open plan kitchen area and are served three times daily.
All the finest vegetables, fruits, eggs, meat and fish are locally sourced. Orgnaic grown is favoured whenever possible.
Vegetarian dishes are offered at every meal.
There is local wine on offer for a small cost and guests are welcome to help themseleves to soft drinks, providing the ‘honesty list’ is used!

Dates:

Tuesday, 25th April – Sunday, 30th April 2017

Cost:

£750 per person (sharing)
£1100 per person (single occupancy – subject to availability)

Prices include: 5 nights ensuite accomodation, all meals, water, all scheduled Pilates, Yoga, Garurda and Yoga Nidra sessions and free wi-fi. Tean and coffee is available all day at no charge.

Price excludes: flights, additional food/beverages, personal insurance, massages, laundry and excursions. Airport transfers on our recommended flights, which are £17 each way.

Recommended flight is from Gatwick with Easyjet departing at 09:10 on 25th April, arriving Barcelona 12:15. Returning on 30th April at 15:10, Arriving 16:40.

Booking & Payment:

If this retreat is of interest to you please let us know and we will hold a room for you. If you decide to go ahead we will need to take a £390 (non-refunadable) deposit and the rest of the balance will be due before March 20th 2017.

Please send booking requests via the booking form or via email and we will send you details on how to make payment to secure your place..

If you have any questions please email us via:

hello@adammurby.com

or call:

Adam: 07932 402 404 | Marta: 07505 249 217

About Charlotte

Adam here. Regrettably the 11am – 12:15pm Saturday yoga class that I had originally set-up become a tricky slot for me to maintain for one reason or another (mostly personal). I asked Charlotte Taylor if she would like to take this class on and I am delighted that she has agreed to do so. Charlotte attended my class for a good while in the past and I have every confidence that she’ll be a good fit with my existing students, whilst at the same time attracting her own followers. You can find out a little more about her and her approach to teaching below:
Charlotte was drawn to yoga by the physically challenging asanas, but it was the therapeutic effects on the mind that kept her coming back. Each class became a moving meditation, offering a welcome respite from the endless chatter of the mind. Charlotte was a regular fixture in Adam’s yoga classes in 2014 when she first moved to Sydenham, and after a year of practising dynamic yoga she decided to incorporate yoga and its philosophies more fully into her life. She completed her teacher training with Hot Power Yoga in 2016 and now teaches in a variety of studios and gyms across London. In her personal practice, Charlotte is exploring the idea of balance. Balance between strength and flexibility, mind and body, and effort and ease. Forever the student, Charlotte has also trained in Rocket Yoga and is always looking for ways to grow her practice and her teaching, because ‘Yoga is the best investment you can make in yourself’.
Charlotte teaches a dynamic form of yoga that links movement to the breath, generates heat, and improves strength and flexibility throughout the body. She is interested in sharing the healing benefits of yoga and likes to bring in elements of mindfulness to the practice so that students may walk away from her class feeling lighter and brighter than when they arrived. Students like Charlotte for her strong flowing sequences, her clear and calm teaching style, and her gentle and understanding nature. Expect lots of hip and heart openers, and come ready to sweat, stretch, and smile!
For more of Charlotte you can view visit her Instagram profile here.

About Gina

 

Gina teaches the following pre-natal and post-natal classes that Kirsty Mathieson runs.

Wednesdays, 09:00-10:00, Malham Road Christian Centre, Forest Hill (pre-natal)

Thursdays, 10:30-11:30, Forest Hill Pools, Dartmouth Road, Forest Hill (post-natal)

Saturdays, 10:15-11:15, Malham Road Christian Centre, Forest Hill (pre-natal)

For more information about these groups or to make a booking please contact Kirsty directly.

 

 

 

 

 

Yoga with Candoco

Candoco were the first professional dance company in the UK to focus on the integration of disabled and non-disabled dancers. It is a company that I have followed since the start of my own dance career back in the early 1990s, so I was absolutely thrilled when they recently asked me to come in and teach company yoga class.

With this post I would like to share my experience and some reflections.

The first thing I noticed  a couple of days before starting, was that the thrill of being asked was beginning to transform into some kind of angst bordering on terror. In fact it even crossed my mind that I should cancel I was worried I might not be up to the job!

My fear was borne out of some concerns and questions, which I was struggling to reconcile.  How could I possibly stick to the given brief of getting all of the dancers warm and prepared for a day of dance rehearsal when there would appear to be the need for so many individual adaptations? How does an able bodied teacher begin to presume how yoga postures or sun salutation sequences might be best experienced by people who use wheelchairs, wear prosthetic arms, or those who would appear to have only one leg? How ethical is it for an ‘able’ bodied person to make presumptions about what is or is not possible for those who are deemed to be ‘disabled’? Even if different sequences of yoga might be prepared for each individual, how do you deliver those sequences concurrently to everybody at once? What language does one use when the ‘normal’, “put you left foot here and the right foot there” might not be applicable? And how does one do all this, whilst simultaneously meeting the needs of the ‘able bodied’ dancers who should be prevented from waiting around and getting cold?

I felt a little stuck between going in with planned sequences based on ignorant assumptions of what might or might not be possible for bodies I had no first-person experience of, and going in without adequate preparation and the fear of being exposed without a clue on the day!

So here’s what happened. I acknowledged the fear and did it anyway. Much better to dive in with the hope that I would come out the other side a little wiser, rather than cancel. There’d be no prospect of growth with the latter!

Armed with some simple advice from Artistic Director of the company, Stine Nilsen, to ‘give people time’; words that formed the foundation of my approach to the day.  I gave up any need that I might have had towards being ‘the teacher’ or the person in control. Rather I sought to honour all of the individual company members via a person centred approach. This was overtly stated at the beginning of the class with a reminder that each person there, and not me, was the expert of their own body and practice and that they had the freedom to depart from anything that I might be teaching to try out their own movement approaches. This meant that my role became less about being didactic or being the person ‘in power’ and shifted more towards the role of a facilitator, allowing others the time to find their own way into poses or sequences based upon the common principles of those poses or sequences. Instead of me giving an instruction on what any posture should look like, it became a question of  “How might a downward dog / sun salutation / triangle pose, etc.,  be best approached if you have one arm? One leg? Are out of the wheelchair?”. Time was then given for principles of the postures to be explored. Crucially individual dancers were not left in isolation ‘just doing their own thing’. Once a position was found, I would then try to interact by asking questions about what it felt like and if it might feel better with a small tweak here or there. Language was adapted where possible. Where I might usually use the instructions like, “Ground through the soles of your feet” or “move your left leg forwards” it simply became “connect into the earth” and “move you left leg or side forwards”. I felt it was also important to give permission to those who already had experience of yoga asana in their bodies to go ‘off-piste’ and repeat a sequence or embellish what I had given according to their own needs and expertise. I felt this would solve the potential problem of having some dancers waiting around and going cold whilst I might be needing to spend time working with another individual. I was also mindful that it would be fundamentally important to regularly bring the group back together so they could feel the energy of being a group, rather than to let the overall experience dissipate too much into individuals just doing their own thing. For me these communal moments were not only important in terms of overall class structure, but mostly because they were moments where the yoga of the group could be felt, perhaps a little like musical codas.

I was really pleased to receive the news afterwards that the dancers had responded well to the session. It was also a little heartwarming to be told by one of the dancers that he really appreciated the time given to ‘find the posture’ as part of a process of dialogue with the yoga teacher. ‘Yoga teachers often say at the beginning of a class that they are open to giving adaptations, but often it can feel like lip service as you are often left on your own to figure it out whilst the rest of the class is gotten on with’.

Dialogue was becoming the thing. Perhaps the takeaway point of my time with Candoco. “Yesterday was your first day back with a choreographer after a few weeks off. How are the bodies doing today?”. Cue groans and a pretty unanimous shout out for “hip openers!”. So that informed the work that day. On the last day Stine suggested that I lead the company through a ‘yoga nidra session, which is normally done with people lying on the backs listening to instructions. But how do you approach this if someone has a hearing impairment? And what are the ethics of doing a ‘rotation of consciousness’ around various parts of the body if some members of the group do not have those body parts to place their awareness in? I didn’t have the answers to these questions, so I asked. The person with the hearing impairment suggested that I tell her the structure of the verbal instructions beforehand, so that when she would bw lying down and couldn’t hear me, she would have a structure to follow imaginatively. I should tap the floor near her head to indicate when the end had come. The people who don’t have four limbs in the same way I do, thought it better for the group to not omit the limbs from the rotation of consciousness by sticking to a torso based rotation.

On my final day, Celeste Dandeker OBE, one of the  founders of Candoco Dance Company, was in the studio. After a brief chat that word ‘dialogue’ came up again. “This company is all about that”.

Indeed. Just a few days later I dropped into a lecture at my university on ‘Disability Theory’. It was put forward that all of us have a tendency to categorise people through a process of ‘othering’. When we ‘other’ other people or groups we tend to automatically reduce those people or groups to our conceptions of them. And our conceptions are always reductive. I would argue that the opposite of othering might be considered to be a form of yoga. I am really pleased I got to experience this kind of yoga with Candoco. It was transformative and I feel that I have grown as a result.

Candoco dance company’s performance schedule is here.

 

 

 

On ‘having enough’

In my last post, I wrote a critical piece about yoga teachers and the culture of ‘gratitude preaching’, a phenomenon that frankly makes me wince. I did acknowledge though, that it would be quite wrong to be against the practice of gratitude per se, which would surely be an untenable position. I do actually think though, that somehow, I managed to dwell in that untenable position for a number of years. When I was a younger (less reflective; more stupid?) man I actually hated the word content. I put it in the same bracket as settling (for less). And that wasn’t for me. I was aiming for amazing, perfection and more than. Only a loser would settle for content.

What I have realised, and sadly only relatively recently, is that this quest for perfection or more than is actually something of a thief. ‘Not good enough’ can rob you of feelings of satisfaction, achievement and happiness. Shame is a word I thought I knew, but I actually didn’t;  I never knew that it captured feelings connected to ‘not good enough’.

Paradoxically though ‘not good enough’ for many years acted as a kind of fuel. I was stoked up and propelled by it. I suspect many who have a background in professional dance know it quite well. It is part of our job description to not go wrong and do things right; to perfect movement through constant polishing and refining. More than this, a dance career is brutally competitive and an extremely difficult and gruelling career to do well in and sustain. I wasn’t even that naturally talented at it compared to a great many people I met along the way (in terms of bodily facility and technique), but as a result of being driven to do and be better I probably had a more successful career, based solely on the number of dance companies and projects I was involved in, compared to the vast majority of all the people I trained with at undergraduate level. There is no doubt that being a male helped too.  My ultimate dream was to dance for Pina Bausch’s Wuppertal Tanztheater. Very few dancers get to talk their way into doing company dance class with ‘the world’s finest dance company’. I did. The week I spent with them; doing company class, learning the ins and outs of how the company works and getting to know some of the dancers, was a priceless experience. That week ended though with me being informed I wasn’t strong enough to be put in front of Pina for a private audition. For a number of years, this experience tainted my entire dance career. I felt that all of the other very considerable achievements I had attained were clouded. I wasn’t good enough to reach the pinnacle. How terribly sad. What a shame.

Learning to feel that you are enough or have enough can be a very powerful and liberating thing. But it takes practice. One element of yoga that recurs throughout the ages is the steeping of the microcosm in the macrocosm.  Taking the individual out of their normal ways of interacting with their mundane world and placing them into the larger framework of something bigger. There are a gazillion ways of doing this, which many people would not necessarily equate with yoga practice. An example in popular culture is portrayed in the 90s film Grand Canyon when one of the characters (Danny Glover?) tells us that he goes to sit in the Grand Canyon when he is low to get some perspective on his life. Becoming a part of something bigger made him feel better. For me, that experience can be called yoga. I go for walks in a beautiful local park for the same reason. It gets me out of myself. The feeling of connection (might one say communing?) with something larger makes me feel qualitatively better. Walking in the park is a lovely form of yoga.

A surprisingly similar experience awakened in me whilst doing my family tree.  The more ancestors I discovered the more I felt I was connected to a bigger whole. It has enabled me to place myself in part of a much larger framework, which has quite a humbling narrative. I discovered that nearly every single life that preceded mine was endowed with more poverty and hardship than I could ever imagine. And my family history is not at all unusual in this respect. In fact it is indicative of life for the majority. The fact is that the kind of people who are able to read this blog post, live in one of the most comfortable blips in human history. We sit at the pinnacle of a breathtaking growth in prosperity. The Radio 4 podcasts ‘A History of Britain in Numbers’ are well worth listening to. In the episode on the nation’s prosperity, Andrew Dilnot, Chair of the UK Statistics Authority, Nick Crafts of Warwick University and the economic historian Bob Allen inform us that the recession and austerity that we are experiencing today can be described as a fairly small hole that begins at the end of a giant hill of enormous prosperity. A housemaid in 1890 earned £14 per annum. The adjusted figure for today is £1400 per annum. That is 1/10th of the minimum wage today. In ‘real wages’ the average person now earns five times more that the average person who lived on the eve of the First World War. Just imagine that for a moment. Take your present income. Take away 80% and leave all prices the same as they are today. That is the reality for a time that is barely out of reach of living memory. Transport people back to 1930 (one year before my parents were born) and we would feel worse off. And not only in terms of surviving on a shockingly low income to outgoings ratio; there’d be no television, no mobile telephone and no antibiotics.

These stats can become more meaningful when we connect our ancestors to them and our own lives in comparison. Recently I temporarily felt a little deflated when a lecturer on my MA course told the class that 100 years ago, ‘even the most stupid academic would speak several languages’. I feel less inclined to be deflated when I remember the ‘X’ that my G.G. Grandfather has for a signature on his son’s marriage certificate. The vast majority of my ancestors never even went to school. Compulsory schooling was only introduced in England in 1870. In this light, the fact I am able to study for an MA at all becomes a gift to appreciated. Similarly if I get depressed by the nature of politics today and question whether voting is important or not, I try to remember the arson campaign that my suffragette relative and her friend Kitty Marion got arrested for in their fight for the right to win the vote for women. A fight that was only won in 1928. And if I occasionally feel that I don’t have as much money as I would quite like to have, I try to remember a great uncle of mine who died as a ‘pauper woolcomber’ in a workhouse for the poor and the destitute.

In our ‘default modes’ we don’t tend to see these things. We tend to not look back. We forget. We forget to place ourselves in the bigger picture. Our perception is perhaps based more on how well off we are compared to our contemporaries. By keeping up with the Joneses. But by remembering to connect to a larger picture, we might feel that in comparison to most who came before us – in some cases perhaps all who came before us – we do have enough*. And it is with this realisation that feelings of related unease can be dissipated. Now that is a practice of gratitude which I can subscribe to!

 

* This post was focussing on overcoming feelings of not having or being enough. Being thankful for what one has certainly does not mean that one should acquiesce to ever increasing levels of inequality in society or to not, on occasion, get angry about it. There is obviously a larger context.

 

 

 

On ‘Gratitude’ in Yoga: A Critical Perspective

Today is Thanksgiving Day in the USA (and may all my US friends have a joyful one). This post is not about that though, it just seems like an opportune moment to blog about some thoughts I have had for a while now on the subject of ‘gratitude’. No person could surely ‘be against gratitude’ right? That would be an untenable position. But here’s the thing; I sometimes have to work hard at not audibly groaning when yoga teachers mention the word ‘gratitude’. Does that make me a bad person?!

Let me explain myself; I do actually believe gratitude is a wonderful thing to practice. In my second blog post on this subject, ‘On Having Enough’, I will talk about how I do just that. But today I want to probe into why it is that the word is so seemingly omnipresent wherever yoga teachers congregate. I would happily be corrected, but to the best of my knowledge there is no ancient Indian yogic text that specifically describes a process for the practice of gratitude per se. Equanimity and contentment yes, but gratitude? So perhaps something else is going on. Something sociological. Perhaps like street talk? It seems many yoga teachers like to use the word ‘gratitude’ a lot. Almost as frequently as they use that other word ‘abundance’. It’s part of the lingo. A lingo that others have felt compelled to question and poke fun at with tongue in cheek. Hang around in a yoga studio long enough and you’ll perhaps pick it up too. You’re quite likely to become unconsciously conditioned. And that is surely an irony for a practitioner of yoga.

I came across a great word about the process of this unconscious conditioning last year at Uni. That word is ‘habitus’. For anyone interested in a more academic take on it, (all two of) you might be interested in reading an essay I wrote on the subject in relation to my yoga practice.  The basic gist of habitus is this; in all social contexts one operates there are unwritten and invisible ways of behaving and speaking that individuals pick up and take on. You might look at Prime Minister’s Question Time at the House of Commons in the UK Parliament and think why on earth do they behave and speak like that? Chances are though that if you became an MP, you too would be saying ‘Hear Hear’ when one of your party speaks and be ‘Yah Booing’ the other side within a matter of weeks. Not because any one would tell you to do it, but because that context would pervade you and act upon you. If you want to ‘fit in’ and gain ‘social capital’ you have to play by the invisible rules. Another example would be the taking on of a certain way of walking down the street within a tough neighbourhood. The ‘neighbourhood’ of the yoga sangha (community) is no different. Certain phrases and ways of being get picked up, overused and can become stereotypical. The genesis of my inner groan, I think, might be stirred by an encounter with cliche. It might not be the most elegant response on my part, but I am working on it.

What is yoga?

An answer to the perennial question (without a single reference to postures)

Most yoga teachers, on being asked ‘What is yoga?’, will probably pause for a moment  to think about who is asking the question and how best to answer it, because the truth is there is more than one definition and the answer does require some reflection.

When asked, many teachers will perhaps refer to the etymology/root of the sanskrit word yuj, which is often translated as meaning ‘to yoke, join or unite’. It can then be implied that yoga means a union of mind, body and spirit. This is certainly not wrong, but it is only part of a much larger picture.

Across thousands of years the meaning of yoga has meant different things at different times. Even more confusingly it is a word that has been used differently in the same period of time across different communities.

Perhaps it is more helpful to think of the word yoga as an empty vessel, into which whoever uses the word fills the vessel with meaning. In short yoga means different things in different contexts. For dualists like Patanjali and for Buddhists yoga is not ‘union’, but some Buddhists do maintain yoga is ‘union’ and some commentators think Patanjali’s yoga is not dualist! In the Vedanta philosophy yoga is union; as is the case with Tantra later on. Those seeking the answer to the question ‘What is yoga?’ discover that there is active competition for the word’s ownership.

So in attempting to define what yoga is, where best to start? Perhaps a good place to start would be by reframing the question and asking what the goal of yoga is in the system it is practiced.  At the considerable risk of falling into the trap of being too reductive; throughout the ages, the fundamental goals of yoga have been two-fold:

  1. Spiritual liberation – transcending one’s given circumstances
  2. The attainment of powers – heightened abilities to control one’s worldly environment  and circumstances

There are various techniques of discipline and methodologies of practice that are said to lead to the above attainments and spiritual liberation is often cited as being by far the most superior goal of the two. The techniques of yoga ultimately equip and empower the human individual with a technology that helps them navigate their worldly circumstances more skillfully, which perhaps helps us better understand what people mean when they say, ‘Doing yoga makes me feel better’.

The 5:2 diet

A Yoga Teacher’s Perspective

I never thought in a million years that I would ever embark on a fast. I’d previously placed fasting in the category ‘not for me’, alongside things like marathon running.

It is then a testament to the power of the BBC Horizon programme Eat, Fast and Live Longer presented by Dr Michael Mosley that I was immediately persuaded enough by the health benefits to give it a try.

For any readers curious enough about the programme, it is still available to watch as a series of clips on Youtube. Since it was aired there has been a lot of media coverage including an excellent article in The Sunday Times magazine (behind paywall) and the following article in the The Telegraph by Dr Mosley himself. And since first writing this post Dr Mosley and Mimi Spencer have released a new book and website called The Fast Diet.

The 5/2 diet is essentially an intermittent fasting (IF) routine which means you eat as you normally would for 5 days of the week and for the two other days of the week eat a maximum of 600 calories.

After doing a little more research I settled on Brad Pilon’s version of the diet: Eat, Stop, Eat (ESE). Via this version of IF you consume all 600 calories of your allocated daily allowance in one meal and then go for 24 hours until the next meal. i.e breakfast to breakfast or dinner to dinner. I found his argument to be quite persuasive on physiological grounds as to why this is a more beneficial way of IF, compared to splitting the 600 calories into two meals over the day, but of course it is a matter of personal choice. 

After a bit of a false start; I succeeded with the first attempt but folded on the next two attempts, I cracked it. I am now able to do it relatively easily and have been doing it for 3 weeks.

The results have been quite pleasing and surprising. The pleasing aspect is that I have lost 7 lbs and have gone down a good couple of belt notches. I was not exactly porky to begin with, but since ahem turning 40 it is almost like my stomach was waiting for that number to begin noticeably expanding! It is quite amazing how quickly this has been turned around.

There are two things that have surprised me quite a lot. The first is the lack of hunger that I encountered. I imagined that I would be famished and perhaps a bit light headed and wobbly. I have felt hungry, but it passes relatively quickly and herbal teas can be surprisingly filling. The second big surprise is an increase in energy levels. I guess it wasn’t until I tried fasting that I could have experienced just how much energy is expended simply digesting meals. This was a real eye opener.
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Contemplating Death

It’s not the downer you might think!

“It’s only when you’re aware of death… that life screams at you with all its intensity”.
Philip Gould

Nobody likes to talk about death. Of course people find the subject morbid and frightening. Whilst understanding this, I have at the same time always found people’s aversion to the subject quite odd, as it is only by taking the time to look right into the face of death, that perhaps one can feel the forceful vitality of life and all its splendor.

My mother learned this lesson first hand in the five years between her first diagnosis with cancer and her death. Saying this was a bleak time for our family is obviously an understatement and there were some very low lows along the way. But there were also some very significant highs and the larger point of this post is that positive transformation and growth can happen when faced with death.

After a period of anger and grief my mother quickly gained a new ability to see what was truly important in her life and that which wasn’t. Time became finite and life became something to take your time with and truly savor. Her zest for life became more vital and she gained a brand new appreciation and ability to sense the true value of things, especially in terms of the relationships with those around her.

The good news is you don’t need to be terminally ill to learn all of that. You don’t need to be shocked by horrific news to get jolted out of taking things for granted and letting the weeks go by in autopilot mode.

I was just 18 when my mother died. I consider myself fortunate to have been at her side learning this lesson early in life. At the time I was working in a printing factory, which had a single window (behind a cupboard) overlooking Leicester train station. Before losing my mum I used to stare out of that window and daydream about having a more exciting and purposeful life in London (It was a kind of promised land in my teenage fantasy life!).

Four years later I was in a leotard (a leotard!) standing next to ballet barre having won a scholarship to study dance at The Laban Centre. Not only was I literally dancing with joy, I was living in the promised land of London – Well, New Cross Gate to be exact!

Getting up close to death was one of the very best things to have happened to me. Life became a magnified gift.

Having got this experience in the body, it came as no surprise to me in my studies on the subject of yoga to come across a whole series of practices, which might be termed ‘Death Yoga’ or contemplations on the nature of impermanence. It is a subject I will perhaps write more about in future, but for now I would wholeheartedly recommend, to anyone interested in investigating this further, Akiro Kurosawa’s fabulous film Ikiru. The other is the short film above about Phillip Gould, which contains much wisdom.

Memories of Dr. Marion North

A Student’s Tribute

In May of last year, Dr. Marion North, the former Principal of The Laban Centre sadly passed away. There were a few obituaries at the time, a couple of which I have linked to below, that do a much better job than I ever could of describing her work and listing her many considerable achievements in the dance world. The spectacular ‘new’ Laban Centre on Creekside is a truly fitting legacy that she leaves behind. This post is written from the personal perspective of a thankful former student who remembers her fondly.

Like she was with many students, Marion was very generous to me whilst I was studying at what was then, The Laban Centre for Movement & Dance. Pretty much the entire trajectory of my life changed when I met her in an interview whilst auditioning for a place at the school in 1994. She looked at me over her glasses that day and said, ‘You’re not quite as ferocious in the flesh as you are in this photograph, are you? [I had a shaved head on my application form photo]’. A few minutes later I think she had pretty much decided that she was going to give me a scholarship, which was absolutely crucial at the time as the Conservative government in the mid-90s would not provide any funding, at all, for students who gained places at reputable dance or drama schools.

Over the next couple of years we often met whilst passing in the long and winding corridors of the old Laban Centre in Laurie Grove and I, along with others, sometimes got called in to her office to talk about how things were going.

As a third year student things got difficult for me. My father died and I was evicted from the family home I had lived in for most of my life. In the last term of the third year my overdraft ran dry and with no parental support (my mother had died a few years before) and very little chance of finding other work (a typical Laban weekday in the third year is 8:45am-9pm with rehearsals for graduate pieces at weekends), I was in a pretty perilous position.

I went to see Marion in her office, she picked up her phone and summoned the caretaker and the buildings manager (Charlie & Lewis)  and informed them the building was looking shabby and that they could do with an extra pair of hands. She basically put me on the payroll; and for the final 12 weeks or so until graduation I did the early morning caretaker rounds and other general odd jobs. She really saved my bacon that day and I know for a fact that I wasn’t the only one that she helped like that, often out of her own pocket.

One such job, she also gave me was a ‘furniture moving job’ at her home just off Tottenham Court Road. I went round one Sunday and she asked me to move a chair from her living room to her kitchen. After I had done so, she told me to sit down, gave me £60 and poured us both a dram of whisky. We had a lovely chat about what Rudolph Laban was like – “A proper Austro-Hungarian gentleman”, her background, “I’m a Yorkshire lass you know” and Riverdance, “Ghastly. But it just shows you how much people like patterns”. Her husband, Mac, then turned up and he started reciting W.H Auden poems from memory – All in all it was quite a memorable day!

After our third year graduation shows I found out that I had been shortlisted for the Student Choreography Award, which I was pretty chuffed about. Marion called me into her office to talk about it, “Adam, I know the choreography staff like it, but I’m telling you, your piece is boring! You must stop doing all of this improvisation stuff and start crafting dance properly!’.

Marion was infamously direct, but I didn’t mind her ‘firm kind of nurturing’ as it was coming from the heart and she really cared.

After graduating we still kept in touch and I think the last time we met was around 2008 when I went to visit her. She had started to become affected by Parkinson’s disease, which must have been devastating for someone who has spent their entire working life analysing movement. As we were talking she moved her arm and there was a tiny tremor. “Did you see it?!”. I told her it was barely noticeable, which was the truth. But to her it was massive and I think upsetting. After meeting her that time I’ve heard since that she and Marina Benini, who she was very fond of, set up Musical Moving, a dance group for people with Parkinson’s at various locations in London.

I know Marion’s work was incredibly important to her, which is perhaps why she pushed so many people around her to go further and deeper into the fields of performance, dance education, choreological studies, dance movement therapy, Ph.D. research, etc. On reflection I think she might have been knowingly trying to do her part to build a community that would ensure the continued health of the discipline she was such a pioneer in.

Now that the baton has been passed on, I hope those of us who were influenced by her or directly touched by her life might continue to be advocates for movement and dance.

Obituaries

Trinity Laban Obituary

The Telegraph

* Thank you to Mark Whitfield for permission to use the photograph