Archive for the 'teaching' Category



How the universe gave me a lesson in humility

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Last week I was taught a big lesson in humility by the universe.  Life lessons are rarely easy and often sent to us with such impeccable timing it is hard not to laugh at the synchronicity of it all.

I arrive at the national gym chain where I teach my yoga class.  I go to the studio to prepare my music  (I like to do yoga to the likes of George Ezra and Phillip Phillips).  I plugged in my iPhone, rolled out my mat and glanced at the clock.  Exactly seven minutes before class is due to start.  I love the number seven and was feeling pretty good about life.

If I have not already managed my own practice that day I like to spend a few minutes before class warming up so that I can at least touch my toes!  I also like to spend that short time thinking about what I will say at the beginning of class.  It is nice to start the lesson with a few words about some aspect of yoga philosophy.  I decided that I would talk about how there is no room for ego in yoga.  How it is about your own particularly journey back to yourself.  That it does not matter what the person on the mat next to you can do.  That you should not compare yourself to them.  I have a deep belief that ego is a very dangerous thing and responsible for so much of our worlds destruction so it is a matter close to my heart.  Now I say this but somewhere in the back of my mind is the awareness that there is a degree of ego attached to teaching.  There you stand in front of people, knowing something they do not and being able to physically do things they can not.  I am acutely aware of this and yet it still sits there in me.  I admit I get a kick out of the fact that I am probably well past my half way mark in life and able to do things with my body that most of the class cannot do despite being decades younger than me.  I hope I use it to inspire but I suspect that at times it feeds my ego.  It is a human thing.

Inhaling deeply I stretched up in Tadasana (mountain pose) and folded forward to Padahastasana reaching to place my hands flat on the mat in front of my feet. Something I do every single day at the start of my practice.  As I did this I felt a sharp and rather excruciating pain in my lower left back.  I collapsed onto my knees and muttered some exceptionally non yogi words under my breath. Actually I think I said them quite loudly! I tried to stand and could hardly straighten up.  I am sure you can imagine some of the very unpleasant things that were being uttered by me at this time.  I stayed on all fours and tried to roll my spine.  This was not good.

Only minutes to go and no time to call in another teacher.  Deep breaths Niki.  Deep breaths.  Keep calm and carry on. The doors open and bright eyed students appear with all the eagerness of the sun making its way into a new day.  Meanwhile my eyes are watering as if I have been peering into that sun for far too long.

I welcome everyone and go with what I had planned for this particular class.  I inhale deeply and talk of ego and how there is no room for it in our lives…and so we begin our practice.  I was able to do forward bends and most of the balances, however there was not even the tiniest hint of hope that my back was going to go past the vertical.

Humility.  I explain to the class that I had hurt my back and how yoga teaches us to be aware of our bodies and surrender to what they cannot do and rejoice in what they can.  I then tuck my ego firmly where it should be and ask a student to demonstrate all the poses that are quite frankly completely inaccessible to me right now.

Believe me when I say this was not easy. I admit I had to dig deep to find that humility.

Those guys upstairs must have been listening to my every thought and delivered that message to me with astonishingly beautiful timing.

What have I learnt from this.  I have learnt to show a certain tenderness to those students that find poses difficult.  I have learnt that I too must surrender to what my body cannot do and love it for what it can.  Most of all I have learnt that lessons will come to you at a time when you least expect them and you might not always like it but you really have no choice but to be as graceful as you can possibly be in that moment.

We are here to learn and grow.  To always try and be a better person tomorrow than we are today and   to try to do that with as much grace and kindness as we can muster.  When we don’t be sure that the universe will come along and give you a big flat slap as a reminder.

 

 

 

 

 

To all the fathers out there.

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I have been mulling this weeks subject in my mind for some time, wondering when to post and even if to post, then I saw this quote “your ideas won’t do a thing to help anybody if they are kept inside you”.  How true is that!  In fact the beginning of that quote says “You have as much ability to change the world, write history and shape the future as any other person”.  Perhaps we all need to remember that from time to time when we feel like we don’t matter.

On the subject of feeling like you don’t matter. Growing up I had a father who I can only describe as indifferent to me.  He was an alcoholic and died aged 55.  I did not speak to him for the last ten years of his life, a choice I made, not without much thought and hesitation, but can honestly say I do not regret.  I was simply not prepared to go on his alcoholic journey with him and needed to distance myself not only from his self destruction but also the deleterious effect that his behaviour had on me.  I have long ago dealt with most of the deeps issues associated with my relationship with him but here is what I have to say to all men out there who have daughters.

A little girl’s relationship with her father shapes all future relationships she has with men.  It is the most important male – female relationship she will ever have.  It sets the standard.  Her father is her benchmark.  She will look to him, even when she is tiny and unaware, to learn the rules of how a man should treat a woman.  Of what to expect from a man.  Of how she should be treated and loved.  So men, I want you to look at your daughters, it does not matter if they are still very young and have far to go before they begin to form bonds with other males, or if they are already teenagers and tentatively exploring their first relationships, or even fully grown.  I want you to think about the sort of man you would want your daughter to marry and if you are not that sort of man yourself you need to step up and make some changes.  You need to set the benchmark and you need to set it really high!

Lets imagine for a moment what sort of man you would want for your daughter.  Get a pen and paper out and list some of his qualities. Go ahead and list all his qualities if you want.  You might start with these.  Faithful, honest, humble, strong, open, full of integrity and kindness, healthy and fit.  I am sure most of these would come into the equation and probably a whole load more.  The list can be as long as you want to make it.  This is your beautiful baby girl so don’t limit it.  You want nothing but the best for her.  Now, take a really good look at yourself.  Be honest.  Really really honest.  Think about how close you come to being that man.  Don’t just flit over it. Think about it really hard.

If you want your daughter to marry a man who opens the door for her, or carries the heavy bags then do that.  Let her see you do that.  If you want your daughter to marry a man who adores her then go ahead and adore her.  If you want your daughter to marry a man who fixes stuff around the house without being asked then please be that man.  If you want your daughter to marry a man who stays fit and strong so that he can always be there for her then go ahead and do the same.  If you want him to be humble and kind then let her see you be humble and kind. If you want her future husband to be emotionally available then you need to do the same. What and who you are is what and who she will marry.  It really is that astonishingly simple.  She is watching you. She is looking at the big picture and all the little details. She is getting her cues from you.  So be sure to be that person all the time and not just to her.

Here is what is going to happen when you rise up and become the man you would want for her.  You are going to set the standard for what she expects.  She won’t settle for less and so not only are you ensuring that she will marry the kind of man she deserves you are setting a benchmark for all the young men out there too.  All those young men out there have no choice but to rise up and be the kind of men you would want for your daughter.

So go ahead and be the benchmark.  Set the bar really high.  It is kind of like a beautiful pay it forward and one day when you walk with her and hand her over to a man, waiting expectantly at the end of an aisle, you will be really grateful you did.

 

On being powerfully feminine

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This whole media hype that has surrounded Bruce Jenner has been the inspiration behind this discussion.  Now I am not going to comment on him or his life.  That is not my place.  I just want to say this.  I like being a woman. I like that women are, in their very nature, soft and tender, open and nurturing.  I like that we go out of our way to tend to one another.  That we take time to listen when others are feeling vulnerable and in turn are vulnerable ourselves.  That we welcome conversation on a deep soul level.  That we are interested, really interested, in what makes another person pause for a moment.  That we collectively gather when there is a intuitive need.  It is when we are open and soft and vulnerable that we connect with other people on a real level.  That we allow them to see us and they allow us to see them.  Women are not afraid to love one another openly and deeply.  A woman’s love for her children is unparalleled in it’s fierceness and equally in it’s softness.

In turn I like that men are physically strong.  That they are made that way to protect us and in protecting us it allows us to remain open and soft.  It’s such a beautiful balance.  I like that men can do stuff that we can’t.  That they can open those bottle tops that simply defy our strength.  That they can carry the things we can’t.  I like it when they step up to do those things.  As the saying goes the three sexiest words a man can say to a woman is ‘I’ve got that’.  I like that they like to do that for us.  That it makes them feel more masculine and the more masculine they are the more feminine we can be.  I like that they are different to us.  It is why we are attracted to one another.

Have you ever watch a man walk into a room full of women.  He will be overcome by a sort of terrified look.  All that powerful softness in one place.  It has a kind of energy to it which the masculine does not understand and he will shrink and flea in haste.  In contrast if a woman walks in to a room full of men, in general all the masculine energy will turn to her and she will soak it up like a great big soft sponge.

There is intense power in a woman’s femininity.  There is such strength in her softness.  It is her openness and softness that raises the children.  On that point there is no more vulnerable or brave moment in a woman’s life than the moment she gives birth.  It is then that she has to become soft and open in a very physical sense otherwise childbirth simply wouldn’t happen.  There is a beautiful and extreme vulnerability in childbirth and yet at the same time it requires a strength that leaves men in awe.  Doesn’t that just sum up a woman.  Childbirth just pushes all that she is to the extreme.  Think about it, in order to give birth to a baby you have to be as open and soft as is physically possible while at the same time being incredibly mentally and physically strong.  It is all rather exquisite because without that combination of softness and strength the human race would not survive.

There is so much strength and power in being open and soft.  If you are closed it is simply a sign that you do not feel strong enough to be open.  That your ego won’t allow you to be vulnerable.   Being soft and tender and open takes bravery and all that bravery makes this world a better place.  Ego does not.  Ego is what we all need to loose.  Don’t mistake ego for pride.  Pride has its place.  Ego has no place in our world.  Ego is the ultimate destructor.

I think we should celebrate our soft nurturing tenderness.  I think we should  celebrate being brave and open and feminine.  If you are open and soft you are vulnerable, but if you are vulnerable you are courageous.  If you are courageous you can be proud.

Teach and learn…be good enough.

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There is a strange breed of person out there who likes to closet away their knowledge.   They squirrel away tiny pieces of information, holding it tight in their fists as if letting one fraction of it out will render them useless.  Perhaps it will.  Perhaps this is all they have, but guess what, we are all in this together, all trying to eek out a meagre living hammering away at our art, whatever it may be.  If you are skilled enough and have an intimate relationship with your creativity, your work will stand out.

So perhaps, like me, you live in a smallish city.  There are only so many safe locations available for shooting and then one day you discover a new one.  Perhaps it is only temporary.  I will give you an example.  There is an enormous amount of building going on around me.  Office blocks are rising from the dust on a daily basis and new roads seemingly appear overnight.  There is a block near a park which has been marked off with green siding boards, all weathered and antiqued in a beautifully un-obvious manner,  Here the roads are empty.  New roads devoid of the clutter of city life.  One day I discovered this when location scouting and I literally slammed on my breaks and jumped out of my car in a state of ridiculous excitement.  Perfect backdrops for portraits.  Rows and rows of green and blue exquisitely weathered boards available whenever I wanted.

I wanted to shout it from the rooftops.  I wanted to share this with every other photographer I know.  Why would I not?  If they use the same location it is hardly going to distract from my work.  It is not going to make my technical ability dwindle or my creative soul float off into the ether.  Who cares if they shoot there too.  Who cares if everyone shoots there for the next month.  How is that going to make my work less?

Lets get down to the technical stuff.  I am only too happy to share any technical knowledge I have.  There is a joy in mentoring fledgling photographers. Watching as they develop and learn.  Seeing the excitement when they master a new skill or find a way to create what it is that has been making home in their mind for so long.  The only reason you would not do this is because you are insecure about your own creative ability and if this is the case then sorry for you. Then you probably suck at your art and seriously need to take up a new creative outlet.

There is immense joy in sharing and teaching but here is what is the most important thing in all of this.  When you teach you learn.  You learn about yourself.  You find new ways to express yourself.  You sometimes even acquire new technical skills.  No one knows it all and we all, however skilled we are at our craft, have something to learn.  Every sweet encounter with teaching is a lesson for you.

Go ahead and share your locations.  Share your skills and mentor and encourage someone who wants to learn.  You will, in all this, not only improve your own art but you will find great joy and freedom.  Be secure in your own skills and find your own growth in the process.

If you seriously want to become a master at your craft you need to teach.  It is an essential part of growing your own knowledge and skills.  Through teaching you will learn.  You will learn of yourself.  What moves you and what doesn’t.  You will find new inspiration and stir the flames of your own creativity and best of all teaching encourages you to unlearn what you think you already know.


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