When yoga is found off the mat
Yoga mostly happens off the mat. What we do on that rectangular surface is just a practice for the real thing, which comes elsewhere. I could write a lot about where and how yoga manifests but this month I want to concentrate on a specific, yet perhaps surprising space: the art gallery.
I am gearing towards a period of creation, after 3 years of writing a book. Watch this space for when it comes out in the spring. When one considers something sincerely, it tends to appear everywhere. I have been so surprised at the amount of yoga enquiries I found in artistic practice. Yoga seeps to other aspects of life, including one’s work. A while ago I wrote about how Adrian Piper’s work made so much more sense to me when I discovered she was an experienced practitioner of yoga.
Whatever the material of the pieces, when I encounter them I take them as reminders of how the work I do on the mat transcends it. It is a nudge to remember the integration part of yoga, the connection with something higher than the physical me, the importance of observing, witnessing and listening. I hope you enjoy exploring the examples below and that you have a fabulous November. See you on the mat or in the art gallery.
PS: Excuse the lateness of this post. I have just returned from my 10-day pranayama exams (I passed!). It was intense, but also rewarding, interesting and thought-provoking. Join me in class live or online on Tuesday 8 November to explore what I experienced.
What I have been fascinated by
In recent years, I have been amazed by the amount of works on breath I have encountered. I wrote a piece about this, which will hopefully soon come out in a journal soon. My most recent encounter has been at this year’s Venice Biennale, where Fiona Banner presented the film Pranayama Typhoon.
Of course, these are not instructional works, that teach you yoga techniques. In fact, if you look at the production notes, the Sanskrit word – made strange amongst the English – is rather cursorily explained. These works show the spread of yoga for good and for bad, some of the works I have seen are rather pedestrian and simplifying. But they also demonstrate yoga place as a central axis of one’s life, when the practice takes hold. I used to fight this and compartmentalise my life but now I value the moments where there is integration.
What I have been watching
I was utterly mesmerised by the work current/SEE in the Michael Clark Cosmic Dancer exhibition at the V&A in Dundee. There were many breathtaking works but this one, showing a transition from down dog to shoulder stand (you read right) was my favourite. So much so that I stayed in this room over an hour to watch it again and again. I just wanted to try it, and practice yoga with guitar music.
What I have been reading
I had the fortune to do a workshop with theatre master Nicolás Nuñez a few years ago. His method is inward-looking, connecting us to higher forces so the universe acts through us. It was life-changing to experience and I often think about him. He introduced us to exercises which included something he called ‘Aztec yoga’ and which involved holding poses – think navasana – for 30 minutes or more, observing our inner fortitude and where it came from. I have been re-reading Nuñez’s writing in Teatro antropocosmico (available online for free) and could see how influenced he was by yoga as a form of connection:
Between 1978 and 1981, both Núñez and Guardia worked with Grotowski on experiences which would richly feed and support the development of the dynamics. In Theatre of Sources, Núñez developed the contemplative run, which would become a dominant technique in the Taller’s toolbox. Guardia worked on ‘The Movements’ – ‘a flowing sequence of yoga asanas, performed slowly, with open visual awareness in a multi-directional pattern’ (Middleton & Núñez, 2018: 226). This sequence provided the Taller with ‘a kind of anthology of asana-like postures, or psychophysical “gestures”’ (Middleton & Núñez 2018: 229) for further exploration, and with a model for a form of meditation-in-movement through energetic positions that could act as a kind of ‘key’ to deeper dimensions of experience (Middleton & Núñez 2018: 228).
Kathryn Sowerby, one of our practitioners at YMG gave me her book (Find Yourself) at Constant Falls (Blue Diode, 2022) which collects 108 prose poems. Reading these was like engaging in little meditation sessions. They are full of sensation, very embodied. I often had to mouth the words, almost as if I was tasting them. I loved their rhythms like I love meditating on sound, riding the waves of pulsation, one word to the next, sometimes in unexpected paths that are not straight lines at all. Here’s one poem:
Find yourself leafing through the catalogue of waterfalls. It seems obvious. Everyone is at it. But who cares. The effort of not being obvious is pointless. Pointed. You pointed at the small stack of colours bouncing off the water – the catalogue said you might see one or two if you were lucky and stood at the right angle – and so did everyone else. You booked an upside down workshop, there were only 2 spaces left. Upright is mundane, the catalogue says, the picture in the newspaper showed a waterfall blowing up into the sky. You think you like dreams and movies. You do. But real life is enhanced too. Real life! Juxtapositions. Justice and positions. Contrived and cool, desires remain and they are listed here, page 95. Order them now before they turn blue and vanish.
MY YOGA CLASSES
Join me at the Arlington Baths for Yoga Moves Glasgow’s classes :
Yoga (Mysore) | LIVE |
Tuesdays, 07.15 – 09.00
Thursdays, 07.15 – 09.00
Led Primary | LIVE *and maybe online after a trial in October. Watch this space! |
Thursday 10 November, 07.15 – 09.00
Thursday 08 December, 07.15 – 09.00
Pranayama | LIVE AND ONLINE |
Tuesday 08 November, 07.15 – 08.30, optional Q&A until 09.00
Tuesday 06 December, 07.15 – 08.30, optional Q&A until 09.00
All classes are available for booking here.
Royal Conservatoire of Scotland classes for students are LIVE on Wednesdays 5-6pm and Fridays 1-2pm. Check out the RCS Sports social media for details or get in touch with Meg Baker at the RCS Student Union.