17 September 2012

...and why I don't go to yoga classes

Anna Platten, La Parade, oil on canvas 1992/93
Are you still doing YOGA?"

Quite frequently I'll be asked this question, usually by someone I haven't seen for a while, someone whose first thought association when my name is mentioned, is yoga. 
(Today I was asked if I still SURFED by a person who I haven't seen for about 5 years.  As he is a surfer this was our only conversation and what he now associates me with)

When I say, yes I am still doing yoga, the next question is ALWAYS "Where do you go?"
(which translates as: "Which studio do you do classes at?") 

Anna Platten, Curtain and Reflected Eye, oil on linen, 1992/93

So I answer: "I don't go to classes, I do my own practice."

I know the person asking the question has no understanding of the spiritual self enquiry that is actually true yoga practice, yet if I confess that yoga classes no longer provide me with anything useful - not information, or a physial challenge, or relaxation, or inspiration, or assistance, or group support (the list goes on)...I feel egotistical, like a know-it-all!

So why do I no longer feel the need to go to yoga classes or workshops, or seek out a teacher?
What has changed?
Have I learned all I can learn from the teachers in this city?
Am I incapable of being a student any more?
Has my yoga journey progressed beyond the boundaries of external input and into the vast realms of solitary self enquiry?
Am I too lazy to go to classes and too stingy to pay for them, or do they just not provide what I need?

Surely I can learn SOMETHING from another yoga teacher?

Looking for an analogy to help me analyze and understand this, I start comparing yoga students to art students (this is easy because I work in an art school).

People enroll in art classes for all kinds of reasons: recreation, therapy, self expression, or to courageously pursue a career path in this field... They start by attending classes regularly and learning the basic skills: observational drawing, mixing colours, paint application, three dimensional thinking, spatial awareness, conceptual development, art theory, critical analysis etc...basic tools they can apply firstly in a simple context and then with increasing sophistication as the depth of their exploration continues.

After 3 or 4 years they graduate from art school fully equipped to go out into the world and set up a studio, and PRACTICE!

Some of them work alongside other artists in group studios, some work at home in complete isolation. They continue to develop their artistic and aesthetic direction through many hours, days, weeks and years of dedicated investigation, exploration, through mistakes, disasters, creative blocks, knock backs, triumphs, epiphanies.

We yogis are also artists, investigating, exploring, refining and developing our craft.
We too make mistakes, and experience disasters, creative blocks, knock backs, triumphs, epiphanies. 

Anna Platten, Sunlight, charcoal on paper, 2007
Now consider an artist who has completed their visual arts degree, who has set up their studio, and who is now working away in their own intense little universe. They have found a means of self expression where they can create the conditions for the creative force to run through them and where they come ALIVE.
They don't go to drawing or painting classes anymore, occasionally they might do a workshop or masterclass with a visiting 'master' artist who is revered for their expertise. Here they might pick up a few new tips - some they hadn't considered because they don't practice in that style (sound familiar?), or perhaps the master's passion for his craft inspires their flagging motivation, or perhaps they feel comforted and supported being around other artists who also work in solitude and with whom they can share their experiences, their quest for meaning, self expression and get some kind of validation.

Anna Platten, Ourselves as Zoe. A dream, a web, a puzzle, 2011.
Artists who practice at this level no longer go to regular classes to learn the basic techniques.

Their practice is to utilise the skills they were taught and to continue on their journey into unknown realms.

Many artists return to schools to teach and pass on the skills they were taught to the new generation of art students starting out on their artistic journey.

Whether we are artists, musicians, scientists or yogis, the true journey only begins when we cease going to classes and commence the voyage into creative, uncharted spaces.
The classes may stop but the learning continues.

You will know when you're ready for this stage because for a while you will keep going to classes long after they have ceased providing you with anything useful. And you will know: something has died away forever.
You may do a yoga workshop here and there desperately seeking to revive that 'something', looking for the missing piece of information, or inspiration to fill the vacant hole.
But nothing can stop change or progress when the time has come.

We are continually searching outside of ourselves for inspiration.
We look to others to provide instructions and direction, not realising it is within us.

Yes, the time will come when we must throw away the map and fearlessly follow our inner guide.

Anna Platten, The Journey - the gate, oil on linen, 2012

I don't go to yoga classes any more. 
I don't teach yoga classes any more.

I freefall through the deep abyss of my own inner realms, in my solitary space, using the tools I have acquired to navigate my way in the dark. Deeper and deeper I go...and there are no yoga classes or yoga teachers that can possibly see what I am seeing, or feel what I am feeling, or accompany me on this journey and provide any directions.

Instead there is an invisible creative force that guides and supports me, drawing me inward towards itself, inwards towards the realisation and expression of Truth. 

We are all artists and yogis.

Anna Platten, Study for Tree of Possibilities, charcoal on paper, 2007

Anna Platten is a renowned South Australian artist and a lovely friend of mine.
(Sometimes she even does yoga classes)
Anna currently has a major retrospective exhibition at the Art Gallery of South Australia and is represented by Eva Breuer.
Studies for the Tree of Possibilities (image above) were done in my main living room, you may see the similarity in the image below. 


Anonymous said...

Love this post! I can definitely relate to the pull to look within and essentially be your own teacher. This shift really does seem to change the practice.

Anonymous said...

Hey there! Thanks for stopping by my blog to comment. I appreciate that there's more of us out there that need our time alone and away from the modern world in order to feel well!!

I really liked reading this post. I think your feelings are completely valid - you should only go to a yoga class if you want to. If you feel like you have all of the tools you need, then do what works for you.

That said, personally, I always consider myself a yoga student first, and teacher second. No matter how long I teach, I always expect to have a teacher.

Spiritually, I've had the same teacher since 2001. I don't see him very often any more but he's the person I look to for inspiration. Mostly because he's always growing, learning and evolving his own practice.

In terms of asana, that same teacher is a major inspiration. But here in Australia I also look to the teachings of Simon Borg Olivier. Not sure if you know who he is, but he should be classified as a national treasure!

In Melbourne, I practice with one of his senior teachers - someone I also admire. And I see Simon whenever he comes to town.

For me it's not so much about feeling like I always have to have "something" to reach for, as the feeling of humbling myself before the teachings of yoga. I can't possibly know everything, not after a mere 12 years of study and practice!

So... different strokes for different folks. But I think we should always look for opportunities to learn, from any given situation. Not that I think that means you should start going to yoga classes. Not unless you want to. :)

nobodhi said...

Thanks for your comment svasti. Yes we will always be students - it is so true that the more we learn, the more we are humbled by the magnificence of our lives and the teachings that have been handed down to us, from whatever tradition or teacher.

Simon is indeed a national treasure, I remember having dinner with him on a couple of occasions when he visited Adelaide about 10 years ago, he was delightful! I never did his workshops though as his focus then was very technical. Glenn Ceresoli has probably had the greatest influence on my practice and teaching.

Luis Thomas said...

Thanks for sharing these information about yoga classes.
It’s very helpful for me.