So after a profound Vinyasa session, and some good early discussion on the Facebook group, we met last night for our Wild Yoga Experiment Satsang. It was a small group again – just Helen, Rachel and myself. Honestly, the discussions and wisdom coming out of these small, intimate sessions is a deep joy to me, and I believe those present are finding them precious too. What this means is that we are able to have a conversation where people are dipping in and out, depending on what sessions they can make, and the coherence, the sense of a thread and a centre still holds. That’s important to me. It is still all held together in some way by myself, by the process, and by Jill, Sue and Helen.
What’s also starting to emerge is a way of working – which is the other side to the experiment – a way of sharing and finding yoga together that I can hold in a more democratic way. The Vinyasa sessions continue to conform to a simple structure, where we are starting to find a rhythm and a process that works. There is a Welcome, of participants and what they bring, and of the spirits of place and our respect for the inner teacher of the heart. There is a follow-along Opening, led by myself but not narrated, in which we tune in to ourselves and each other, connecting above all to our senses of observation. Next a Flow around the circle, where each takes a turn to lead. This leads naturally to the Wild section, where we find our own practice in community, inspired by each other, connected, but finding our own expression. As that slows into stillness, then comes Bhakti, where we sing together, share poems and sacred words, join hands and give thanks for what we have discovered in this place, at this time. From there, Stillness is reverent, easeful, and I offer the lightest of instructions for relaxation and meditation. Finally, the Return, sharing a little food and light discussion and re-entry into the mundane world.
It is a process that works well, already, and I know I can repeat it – offer it out to other times and places and groups. Whilst for the Satsang sessions, structure is increasingly falling away – long threads of discussion weave and fray and braid together again in a way that needs little to hold it. I feel ever more content to just see where the session takes us. And still, yet, we come together in the end to hold hands, offer thanks and say a prayer together.
It is worth emphasising that this ritual, this prayer, this sense of the sacred is, for me, a reclamation of such practices of self-knowledge, nurture and community building from ‘religion’ as we might have known it growing up. No gods are mentioned unless an individual wishes to mention one, not even the catch all of ‘all gods are the same god’ that makes me so uncomfortable. If we do have gods, let them be personal, individual, reflective of our own uniqueness in how we see and experience them. We honour and name everything from loved ones to the food that feeds us or the wind that lifts our spirits. Our prayers are not calls for some supernatural being to save or feed us, but pledges to love and hold that which is dear to us. I am, as most of you know, an animist: everything that moves has life, everything that has life has some form of agency, some kind of awareness. And everything moves, from the tiniest sub-atomic particle or wave to the majestic waltz of galaxies. But because of that sheer diversity of life, communicating with others is always a partial process.
We are as we are because of how we move, the shape we make in the world and the speed and direction of our travel. This shapes our thoughts and words and further actions. And so to move like someone is to attempt to understand them by in some small way becoming as they are. And thus we ‘embody’ – we bring others into ourselves and thus our understanding by our mimesis. From this comes our theme this session: Embodying the Warrior.
Helen gave us our first pause by struggling with the word ‘Embodying’, which to her implies “a certain fixedness”. This contrasts with the permission or even responsibility that a warrior has: not to accept, not to just be, but to battle and find change. I’ve also been contemplating the word embody, which to me has echoes of ‘imposing on’ the body, rather than ‘emerging from’. Maxine Sheets-Johnstone writes of how we are better to use the word ‘animation’ than ‘embodiment’, but it’s a word that has so many other meanings and can be awkward to use in practice (Animating the Warrior sounds wrong, somehow). In Satsang we played with terms to replace it – terms like ‘stepping into the Warrior’ and ‘reclaiming the Warrior’. There were no conclusions, but the discussion was still fruitful.
And we talked also about how many ways there are to be a warrior, many of which were evidenced in the Vinyasa session, as people moved around, behind, and straight towards. We were always standing, though. I asked if we can feel like a warrior whilst lying on our back. And Rachel shared her experience of the all the yogic variations on what is known as ‘Warrior pose’ as feeling unstable, opening, even vulnerable, and not as she imagines a warrior to be. The Warrior in the yogic bodied form is balanced, fleet of foot, aimed – more of an archer than a brawler. And I remember the long descriptions of battles in (the Hindu epic) The Ramayana as a series of missiles rather than a series of blows. But then a warrior does have technique – is more than a wild beserker, and we talked about all the techniques we use to channel our force for change in the world: how we write, and articulate, and hold our space, and choose to stand and sit and meet others when we know we need to be strong. How that knowledge is born of experience and reflection, and changes with age. How Suzanne feels that her life is easeful, and she has less need to be a warrior now.
We asked also how we nourish, support and maintain that inner warrior, as a force of positive anger in the world. A force for justice, and honour. A force that fights for those that cannot fight; speaks for those who cannot speak. Of where our boundaries are, of what makes it safe, and stops us burning out. Rachel mentioned a TED talk on standing like a warrior for two minutes a day – I’m hoping she will share a link, and I will add it here.
For we three in Satsang, there was a common understanding that the physical shape or form we associate most strongly with the warrior is the wide-footed, standing-high-squat, taking-up-space, low-centre-of-gravity we find in Goddess pose. Despite such female associations in yoga, the stance is also seen in the most masculine of martial arts, as the ‘horse’ stance; and we also associate it with the Maori haka, which is performed predominately by men. Online, Suzanne had wondered if we could have ‘learnt’ and shared a haka in Vinyasa – and there must be a way to explore this whilst honouring the culture that birthed it (not breaking any taboos or disrespecting the practice’s origins).
Of course the haka is a practice of sound as well as of stance and movement, and this led us to a discussion of such techniques as Lion’s Breath and Kali grimaces in a general yoga class; especially how many people are uncomfortable with practicing techniques that might make them look foolish. These stances, these moves, these sounds and grimaces – none of them are elegant, or polite, and certainly not ‘feminine’ in the traditional sense. And so we ask ourselves – how much do we deny the warrior within for the sake of being liked or seen as respectable? How often do we shy from such ways of being, even in a yoga practice, which is, for most of us, the space in which we can most easily play with and explore new ways of moving, sitting, breathing, and being? What are the consequences of eliminating whole ways of standing and sounding from our physical repertoire?
Looking foolish, battling on, when we fight and when we choose to lay down our weapons – these might all be ways of approaching our next theme: Growing Old (Dis)gracefully. We have just a couple of weeks before our next Vinyasa session on that theme (1st April). I hope you can join us.