Blog Archives

Reason Plus Enjoyment Conference

I will be speaking at UNSW’s upcoming Reason Plus Enjoyment Conference with quite a philosophical paper about how children experience yoga classes. The conference is all about the ideas of being, thinking and enjoying and I argue in my paper that children do all three in their classes!

You can see the presentation I have created for this paper here:

https://app.emaze.com/@ALZWTRFI/reason-plus-enjoyment

You can also read the transcript for my paper here:

Hi all, thank you for coming. The paper I am presenting today is part of the final chapter of my PhD thesis, for which I am also in my final year of candidature. My research is an ethnographic investigation of children’s yoga practices in Australia. To do this I interviewed over 60 children, teachers and parents who participate in children’s yoga classes, at preschools, schools, after care centres and yoga studios. I am also a children’s yoga teacher myself, so I conducted literally countless hours of participant observation in my own and others’ yoga classrooms. The paper I am presenting for you today is about the notion of becoming, as I saw it being played out through individual children in this study. I will particularly address individual children’s phenomenological experience of being and becoming, whether that is in tiny moments, as particular yoga pose, or more extended beings and becomings, as in a supposed imperative for children to constantly ‘grow up’ and become, or even be, adults. This is quite an unusual chapter in my thesis, because it engages with theory, and where most of my work has been comparing histories and lineages of thought about childhood and yoga to the actual practice I found in my studies. Because this work is unusual, I am still working and thinking through exactly how to apply the theory, so please bear with me, as you see the cogs in motion.

 

One of the dominant questions throughout my study has been how participants approached the concept of ‘The Child’ and ways in which they value it. I have been considering whether The Child was seen as more valuable as a child, where childhood itself was considered a worthy state, or alternatively, as an adult-in-training, where The Child is most valued for their future potential as an adult. In this paper I have characterised these two perspectives as either valuing The Child as Being or Becoming. This is where the child as Being treasures the state of childhood, in often quite nostalgic ways, idealising it above adulthood. The Child as Becoming sees no value in childhood as a state unto itself – its only purpose is to educate the individual in how to become adult, that is, to become not-child. The opposition of these two perspectives pits the value of present children against that of future adults, and extends into many other questions about the purpose and aims of education, the nature of citizenry, the imperative that children be tested against standardised measures as well as each other, and definitions of appropriate children’s labour and achievement.

 

According to Australian law and social structure, the children who participated in this study are not full citizens. Daniel Thomas Cook characterises this as children remaining ‘situated in their “becoming” status as part and parcel…of their position in multiple social and institutional structures’ (3). As a simple example of this, children required parental consent to be participants in this study. The institutional structures that maintain children as minority citizens are heavily weighted in favour of the idea that children are Becomings – their value is in the future contribution they will make to society, as adults. I read this institutionalised value on childhood as a Becoming, against Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus. Here Deleuze and Guattari describe becoming as a mediation between things, such as self and other. Introducing Deleuze and Guattari to this discussion also has the benefit of bringing the notion of experience to the forefront, in a way that practitioners of children’s yoga have so far been unable to satisfactorily address. The most predominant discussions around children’s yoga to date have been in teachers’ training manuals and books, such as Shakta Kaur Khalsa’s groundbreaking Fly Like a Butterfly, Helen Purperhart’s The Yoga Adventure for Children and the Rainbow Kids Yoga Teacher Training Manual. Typically these kinds of texts describe teaching techniques which have “worked” with children. The authors do not give clear definitions for what “worked” means, or how the teacher was able to tell that that technique did “work”. I turn to Deleuze and Guattari because I want to understand more about what a child’s experience of being in a yoga class is, whether they feel something “worked”, what that means, and how they can tell that. Further, I want to know whether the techniques used in yoga classes “work” because they have achieved some goal towards valuing children as children, Being in the state of childhood, or because they value children as Becoming future adults.

 

All of this probably sounds very wordy and intangible right now, and it is, so let’s now overcome that by diving into some of the real world examples that I came across in the course of my fieldwork. Let’s hone in on one particular technique that the teacher training manuals recommend for teaching yoga to children, storytelling. Storytelling is a major feature of many children’s yoga classes, particularly for younger children. The story drives the class, it is the overarching structural device, which determines the choice of poses and how participants use their imaginations. For example, the class might tell the story of visiting the zoo, and seeing various animals. The kinds of animals that the class encounters determines the poses that they do, so you might do poses for the lion, elephant, giraffe or panda. I wanted to know whether children found stories to be effective or “worked” as well as the teacher training manuals suggested. In interviews, I asked children whether they liked ‘going on pretend adventures’ throughout their classes. Their answers varied, mostly depending on age. Children under the age of about 6 or 7 years generally told me that they liked going on pretend adventures in class, and that it made the yoga more fun.

 

When asked I asked 5 year old Eliza why she liked going on pretend adventures, she responded:

E: Because you get to do stuff, do actions that really happen. Like a rainbow, you might pretend you’re sliding down, the rainbow or…. getting colours on you, and you a bit messy!… Until the rainbow’s all white.

K: Oh, because you mixed all the colours together?

E: No, because you took all the colours with you, green on top of green, and you took all the colour.

For Eliza the story of the class allowed her to engage with more than just her body. The class became a creative journey, where she could explore new possibilities.

 

Although younger children tended to value the narrative of their class very highly, older children seemed to like exploring other ways of engaging. Eight-year-old twins, Helen and Simone told me,  during class, that they wanted to practice in a way that focused more on the poses and alignment, as an adults’ class would. When interviewing Helen and Simone I asked them about this:

K: We’ve talked before in class about how sometimes we’ve gone on pretend adventures – remember we did countries and, you know, all sorts of places and then at some point we talked about it and I asked you guys, ‘Do you want to keep going on pretend adventures?’, and you said no.

S: We actually said, um, we said, um… ah that a little bit of both, so sometimes maybe and other times no….

H: I love when we’re just stretching but working with your imagination, that’s why we asked for a little bit of both.

K: That’s true we should do a little bit of both.

 

S: So poses sometimes, our imaginations and our poses sometimes.

 

Helen and Simone told me that even as they got older, they still wanted stories, even if it were less prominent throughout the class. I want to consider how, in Deleuze and Guattari’s terms, children’s experiences of storytelling in yoga relate to the idea of Being and Becoming. In the process of telling a story during yoga class, children embody poses such as the half moon, dancer’s, downward-facing-dog, dinosaur or kangaroo. I suggest that children like Eliza, Helen and Simone do this by relating the experience of their own bodies to an imagined other. Deleuze and Guattari’s discussion on becoming is useful here because it approaches how negotiation happens at the border of self and other. The authors describe becoming as not:

 

a resemblance, an imitation, or, at the limit, an identification…. Above all, becoming does not occur in the imagination, even when the imagination reaches the highest cosmic or dynamic level.

 

When I first read this statement, it confused me – as a lot of Deleuzian and Guattarian theory does when I first read it. It seemed to me that Deleuze and Guattari were contradicting conventional wisdom, and what my own participants were telling me – that students were using their imaginations when they focused on storytelling in their yoga classes. However, as I looked closer at what Eliza, Helen and Simone had said, there were actually only two times that they mentioned the word ‘imagination’. The first is when Helen describes ‘working with’ her imagination, and the second is when Simone says that she wants our classes to be ‘our imaginations and our poses sometimes’. Neither say that they “use” their imaginations – for Helen the imagination is almost a disembodied entity, which she enlists to ‘work with’ her, while Simone’s imagination is something completely separate from her yoga poses, and she can and does choose to include both in her class. Whether Eliza, Helen and Simone are being or becoming their poses, they have the choice to enlist their imaginations in the process. They can be or become their poses without storytelling, without imagination,  or they can use it if they choose. Imagination is not integral to the process, but often increases the enjoyment of the pose.

 

I wanted to know more about how Helen and Simone conceived of themselves when they were in particular yoga poses, so I asked them about this. Helen replied that in yoga ‘most of the poses look completely different of what you’re actually trying to be’. Simone commented that ‘you can be what you are in the poses’, to which Helen added, ‘instead of actually trying to be what you are’. Yoga made the girls think differently about the things they were ‘trying to be’. The girls use the verb ‘be’ here, rather than ‘become’. This implies that yoga poses, for them, are not just constantly unrealised attempts to transform into the pose, they are fully realised, achieved transformations. They understand themselves to ‘be’ something when they do a yoga pose, and that thing is not just ‘trying to be’. Helen used the example of tree pose, vrksasana, her her, doing tree pose meant being a tree, not just trying to be a tree. Helen also suggested that ‘trees do actually kind of look like that [pose] with their branches sticking out.’ Helen’s concept of a tree had also been altered by being a tree in yoga. The process of becoming a tree in yoga affected how the girls imagined a tree – which is not the same as the becoming itself occurring within the imagination – as Deleuze and Guattari suggested. Helen’s process of becoming tree pose was not Helen imagining herself as a tree, nor was it just Helen, or just a tree, it was a new entity, Helen-as-tree. This becoming produced the being Helen-as-tree. Helen-as-tree then worked with imagination after the fact, to redesign Helen’s concept of a tree.

 

Eliza’s drawings further supported this idea. I asked children to draw ‘what you think of when you think of yoga’. Eliza decided to ‘draw a rhinoceros and me pretending to be a rhinoceros because sometimes you can act like a rhinoceros [in yoga]’. Drawing the rhinoceros, or stegosaurus as it became, meant drawing herself, and ‘the thing that I’m copying so you know I’m copying that… so I can draw a stegosaurus and me in it but not like putting my arms out and pretending I’ve got three horns’. Eliza’s self-as-stegosaurus drawing shows both her own body and the body of the stegosaurus, amalgamated together, to have the one head. The speech bubble emanating from this head states ‘I feel happy’. The drawing does not depict Eliza as a stegosaurus, or a Eliza in the process of becoming a stegosaurus, it represents the final product, a new being, Eliza-as-stegosaurus. demonstrates how students perceive of their becomings as amalgamations of self and other. The picture is not of Eliza imagining herself in a stegosaurus’ body, nor does it depict Eliza’s body, using her arms and legs to create the shape of a stegosaurus. Rather, it shows that Eliza and the stegosaurus’ body come together to create a new creature, Eliza-as-stegosaurus. The becoming here has already happened, we are presented with the new being.

 

Read in this way, children understand storytelling in yoga as a sequence of becomings, which lead to the creation of new beings. These beings are constant reinventions of self-as-other. The new entity, self-as-other, in turn, works with imagination, as a separate process to the ‘poses’, to affect how children conceive of others. What I find most significant about this, is that children’s concepts of being and becoming throughout the class, affect how they understand the aims, goals and effects of the class. Often parents and teachers intend that yoga classes with help children develop skills required in adulthood – such as body control, motor skills and concentration. We can understand this as a way of prioritising children’s futures as becoming adults. Here yoga is one of many forms of education aimed at developing a child’s future potential. However, yoga is also unlike many other activities that children participate in, in that it allows for imagination, storytelling and play. In this way, yoga values many qualities which are associated with childhood, or being a child. That Eliza, Simone and Helen experienced their poses as beings is also encouraging of the idea that they felt they could achieve a level of satisfaction, that they had become their pose, rather than constantly feeling that they had to push to continually become their pose, without ever reaching that goal. Eliza, Helen and Simone seemed to be feel that it was valuable to experience their poses as beings, as achieved states, rather than continual becomings. Perhaps this translates into their feeling like, in their classes, they were also valued for being children, rather than constantly demanded to become adult. I am not sure about this relationship, between individual beings and becomings within class, and the overarching being child and becoming adult that these children experience in their wider lives, but I would like to have a stab at trying see the parallel between the micro and the macro here.

 

So, I am not suggesting that yoga classes are free of the imperative for children to become adult, nor should they be. What am I suggesting is that my research indicates that yoga classes provide some space and opportunity for children to be valued as beings, as children, alongside their necessity to also become. More significantly, children enjoyed and appreciated this space, it made their experiences more fun. This is important because understanding that children appreciate the opportunity to both be children, while learning to become adults, affects the ways we choose to educate our children, far beyond just yoga classes. I would particularly suggest that it has implications for how we approach physical education, which applies not only to how children move, but also how children think about their bodies and the ways they can use them. Thank you for listening, and I look forward to your questions.

 

What does your yoga practice mean to you?

Every time I hear this amazing song I am reminded of exactly what my yoga practice means to me: that I have found a way to live in the presence of God. At its deepest level, what does your yoga practice mean to you?

Not in Cansas anymore Toto

image

image

4.20am: Katmandu.

Have we reverted to the 80s and a game of Where in the World is Carmen San Diego? No. This is waiting for first flight out to Lukla, the town at the footstep of our trek towards Everest Base Camp. Over the next ten days our little band of four (my dad, brother, cousin and I) plus guides and porters are SO EXCITED and a little nervous to encounter the world’s most majestic (in many sense of the word) mountains. Having spent three months living and working in India in 2006 I am no stranger to the chaos of this culture, but I am already astounded by how much I have changed in the interval between visits. The posters, greetings, advertising, writings on temples are all very recognisable to me now – more thanks to my years in yoga classes and study than anything else! I have a lot of thinking and walking to do in the next ten days and here is only a tiny nibble of the images and thoughts to come… bon appetite!

Namaste 🙂

Tina Fey and Principles for Life

image

I’m reading Tina Fey’s Bossypants at the moment (and loving it!) and had to share these abolutely gold principles for life:

Tina Fey’s Rules of Improvisation That Will Change Your Life and Reduce Belly Fat*

The first rule of improvisation is AGREE. Always agree and SAY YES. When you’re improvising, this means you are required to agree with whatever your partner has created. So if we’re improvising and I say, “Freeze, I have a gun,” and you say, “That’s not a gun. It’s your finger. You’re pointing your finger at me,” our improvised scene has ground to a halt. But if I say, “Freeze, I have a gun!” and you say, “The gun I gave you for Christmas! You bastard!” then we have started a scene because we have AGREED that my finger is in fact a Christmas gun.

Now, obviously in real life you’re not always going to agree with everything everyone says. But the Rule of Agreement reminds you to “respect what your partner has created” and to at least start from an open-minded place. Start with a YES and see where that takes you.

As an improviser, I always find it jarring when I meet someone in real life whose first answer is no. “No, we can’t do that.” “No, that’s not in the budget.” “No, I will not hold your hand for a dollar.” What kind of way is that to live?

The second rule of improvisation is not only to say yes, but YES, AND. You are supposed to agree and then add something of your own. If I start a scene with “I can’t believe it’s so hot in here,” and you just say, “Yeah…” we’re kind of at a standstill. But if I say, “I can’t believe it’s so hot in here,” and you say, “What did you expect? We’re in hell.” Or if I say, “I can’t believe it’s so hot in here,” and you say, “Yes, this can’t be good for the wax figures.” Or if I say, “I can’t believe it’s so hot in here,” and you say, “I told you we shouldn’t have crawled into this dog’s mouth,” now we’re getting somewhere.

To me YES, AND means don’t be afraid to contribute. It’s your responsibility to contribute. Always make sure you’re adding something to the discussion. Your initiations are worthwhile.

The next rule is MAKE STATEMENTS. This is a positive way of saying “Don’t ask questions all the time.” If we’re in a scene and I say, “Who are you? Where are we? What are we doing here? What’s in that box?” I’m putting pressure on you to come up with all the answers.

In other words: Whatever the problem, be part of the solution. Don’t just sit around raising questions and pointing out obstacles. We’ve all worked with that person. That person is a drag. It’s usually the same person around the office who says things like “There’s no calories in it if you eat it standing up!” and “I felt menaced when Terry raised her voice.”

MAKE STATEMENTS also applies to us women: Speak in statements instead of apologetic questions. No one wants to go to a doctor who says, “I’m going to be your surgeon? I’m here to talk to you about your procedure? I was first in my class at Johns Hopkins, so?” Make statements, with your actions and your voice.

Instead of saying “Where are we?” make a statement like “Here we are in Spain, Dracula.” Okay, “Here we are in Spain, Dracula” may seem like a terrible start to a scene, but this leads us to the best rule:

THERE ARE NO MISTAKES, only opportunities. If I start a scene as what I think is very clearly a cop riding a bicycle, but you think I am a hamster in a hamster wheel, guess what? Now I’m a hamster in a hamster wheel. I’m not going to stop everything to explain that it was really supposed to be a bike. Who knows? Maybe I’ll end up being a police hamster who’s been put on “hamster wheel” duty because I’m “too much of a loose cannon” in the field. In improv there are no mistakes, only beautiful happy accidents. And many of the world’s greatest discoveries have been by accident. I mean, look at the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, or Botox.

*Improv will not reduce belly fat

-From Bossypants

Take What You Need

‘Thus hath wisdom, most secret of all secrets, been given to thee by Me. After exhaustively reflecting about it, act as thou desirest.

Bhagavad Gita XVIII, 63.

So Krishna invites Arjuna to come into his yoga practice. Krishna says that yoga is about considering all  the wisdom and beauty in his teachings, but only taking from them what is necessary and useful for yourself. It is completely non-dogmatic. As well as energy saving! Instead of asking Arjuna to invest all his time and energy into completely changing his life and habits according to every yogic principle, Krishna says that Arjuna actually doesn’t need them all! Arjuna learns that everything is a suggestion, everything is an invitation – and each practice is only meant to be taken as needed to help Arjuna live the life he was already living in a more healthy, happy way.

Often as we get more and more involved in our yoga it can be easy to forget this. We think that we should be able to do every pose in class, have the perfect savasana, forget every thought in meditation, practice all the breathing techniques and constantly be chanting. But Krishna reminds us that this is actually not necessary. Not only are not all of these practices necessary for all of us, they are not even appropriate for all of us. There are certain paths that each of us will naturally be drawn to and they reflect our constitutions and personalities. The path of action, for example, will tend to draw those who have a lot of determination and fire (pitta and rajas) and find that doing lots of active asana workouts helps them burn off this energy. The path of knowledge will draw those who tend to spend a lot of time up in their heads (vata and satva), studying, thinking and creating will help these people feel they understand peacefulness on an intellectual or emotional level. The path of devotion might tend towards people who have a great deal of nurturing and caring energy (kapha and tamas) as it helps them express the huge amounts of love they have to give.

Many of the practices developed in yoga are used like prescriptions for the energy systems in the body to restore balance. Considering this it becomes easier to understand how some of the practices may be useful for restoring energies we naturally lack but others may have a negative effect as there is the potential to reinforce already ingrained imbalances. For example, a person with a great deal of pitta (fire) may find that hot yoga asana increases their anger, aggravation and aggression whereas a people with vata (air) may find it grounding, settling and calming and people with kapha (earth) find it invigorating and energising.

The important thing to remember when attending any class, and within a class, is that everything is a suggestion. If you tune into your own intuition, allow yourself the space and presence to ask if it will serve you, then you will soon find that your own body can be your guide. You will never find a more powerful or true guide than yourself.

The one AS the many

image

I love spring. The world is just bursting to show its joy to you. It’s so easy to just relax into the new warmth, early sunshine, blooming colours and bouquet of smells. And allow yourself to be breathed.

My cat has recently been joining me in meditation (she is so much more talented than me – just wafts away into waves of purrs and forgets about everything else in the world) and its been a great opportunity to practice the one AS the other. It’s amazing that the air I breath out, my kitty breathes in, and the air she breathes out, I breathe in – we are separate but so intimately connected and composed of precisely the same thing.

Considering this means overcoming our ego, which can be a very difficult thing. The ego loves to feed on ’empty’ fuel that, like white sugar, gives momentary satisfaction but can’t sustain us. Yet the ego also gives us that essential quality of separateness that is necessary between each other. The ego has a bad rap, but I was so inspired to recently read in a translation of the Bhagavad-Gita that ego could also be translated as individuality – a much more positive outlook! While we definitely want to curb the ego, and be very selective about only feeding it ‘whole’ nourishments, it is the golden egg that makes us us! That individuality is a unique combination in us. All around us we can recognise how it is manifest elsewhere, in other combinations, also completely unique but all created from that same energy, that same breath that we share!

So today, as you jump into spring, try celebrating your individuality and how it allows you to appreciate everything else.

Namaste 🙂 Xxxo

%d bloggers like this: