Posts Tagged 'teaching'



On the art of letting go.

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‘How do I let go of stuff’.  This is a question I have been asked time and time again over the last few weeks.  I have been asked by students after class, by friends and even by people I hardly know.  All of these people weighty with emotional baggage that we as humans tend to carry around.  Heavy loads of history.  Perhaps it is the new year that makes us want to shed these carry on cases.  Maybe we want to step into this new year without all the stuff we carried with us last year and all the years before.  We talk a lot in yoga class of letting go.  Of opening up our bodies, minds and hearts.  We work hard at making space in our bodies.  We work hard at opening up our joints and in doing so we work hard at releasing all the tension and stuff stored there.

Most of the time we are hardly aware that we have stored this garbage away in our emotional piggy bank.  We don’t open the doors there much.  We don’t really like to look into that dark and dusty cupboard overflowing with souvenirs from past relationships.  We save trashy emotional memento’s from events not worthy of remembering and allow them to settle somewhere within us.  We invite them in and let them stay.  We make room for them.  They take up space within us.  Space that could be open and inviting for new and beautiful things.  Yet here we are, storing old things and carrying them around trying desperately not to look at them or even to remember that they are there.

We store them all over our bodies.  Our hips and solar plexus are the usual willing victims.  Our hips get tight and our lower backs suffer under the weight of all the gritty garbage.  There are other places though.  We are ever so adept at making space for all this stuff.  Our whole bodies can be used for storage.  No part of us can escape this dusty trail.

So how do we let it all go?  How do we brave the opening of those dusty doors?  How do we pull out those unwanted emotional trophies one by one and toss them away forever?  After all its going to hurt isn’t it?  There is only one way to let it out and that is through the heart.  Thats the way it came in and that’s the way to let it out.

Here is how you do it.  You open one door at a time.  You find that memento.  Take a look at it.  You are carrying it around with you, all day, every day.  Its heavy and dirty. You don’t want it and you know that if you toss it aside you will have space. Beautiful fresh open space.  For some reason this is the point where we get fearful.  We are nervous of that space.  We are used to the weight of it and there is a comfort in that.  It’s what we know.  It’s who we are.  It hurts to look at it.  Our chest tightens and our heart starts to close.  Don’t let it.  Right at this point take a deep breath and open the heart and let it go.  Get behind the pain and throw that thing away.  Release it with one big beautiful breath.

Yes it will hurt for a moment but then that moment is over and it is gone.  Surely that is far better than carrying it around for another few years.  That is all you have to do. Open your heart and let it go.  It will hurt for just a few moments and then it will be gone.  Surely that is far better than the pain of carrying it around forever.  So why don’t we do this.  Why do we insist on holding on to this detritus.  Why to we litter our bodies with the leftovers of our own personal history.  For one reason only and that it is because it is what we know and what we know feels safe.  It keeps us in our comfort zone and we are spectacularly bad at moving out of that.

So go ahead and drag that stuff out of those dark and dismal corners.  Let it go and move on.  You will be richly rewarded in ways you can only begin to imagine.  Just breathe and let it go.

 

 

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On dishonesty….

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I had a friend who was really dishonest with me.  Decidedly and alarmingly dishonest. Monumentally dishonest.  Perhaps then I should accept that they were never a friend in the first place. There is no place for dishonesty in friendship.  Not in my world.

I will admit that when I found out I was stunned as I had always thought I was a really good judge of character.  I have always relied upon my intuition and this is the first time it had failed me.  My goodness I did not see it coming.  Not in the slightest. Despite the rather massive surprise I got by way of a phone call, I attempted to deal with it in a graceful and delicate way.  I hope a managed, but I have my doubts. Since then I have spent a rather inordinate amount of time beating myself up for not seeing the spaces in his stories.  I totally trusted him as I trusted myself.

I trusted him with my own stories and told those stories with all the soft open honesty I believe is beautiful and essential.  Honesty for me is crucial.  It’s fundamental to who I am as a person.  I don’t think we can connect as humans without good old fashioned open honesty.  I believe it is a huge part of being an evolved and conscious human.  Ultimately I think if you are not honest with others then you are not honest with yourself.  If you are not honest with yourself you are in serious trouble and best you start spending some time alone to sort out that mess.

If you google the word honesty you are more than likely to find this: ‘Honesty refers to a facet of moral character and connotes positive and virtuous attributes such as integrity, truthfulness, and straightforwardness, including straightforwardness of conduct, along with the absence of lying, cheating, theft, etc. Furthermore, honesty means being trustworthy, loyal, fair, and sincere’.

That is pretty much how I saw him.  I liked what seemed to be a straightforward way of talking.  I liked the pauses in his stories.  Those stories of his that appeared to be so full of integrity.  I listened to each and every one with an open mind and soft heart.  I liked what appeared to be a sincere interest in my own silly stores.  How could I have misjudged this one so badly!

Perhaps in a another year I might have seen things differently but this came in a year when I been monumentally disappointed in a lot of people. People I trusted.  People I loved.  Perhaps they too are disappointed in me but at least I can say that I was never, ever dishonest.

In a year of big lessons this was just another one.

He does of course have options.  He could step up and email or message me and explain.  I will not email or message back.  I am not interested in having the last word, but it would be nice to know why.  He could call but that would take courage and I now doubt that he has that.  If he had any moral fibre at all he would sit down with me and share this particular story over a cup of tea.  He would tell me why and he would say he was sorry.  I promise to be compassionate and listen with a gentle heart.

Sadly I doubt that he will ever read this.  I doubt that he has the integrity to apologise and explain.  I doubt he has the courage to face me over that cup of tea.

Why do I want him to do this?  So that I can trust that I was not so totally wrong about him.  That I did not misjudge it all so badly.  That he really is the person I thought.  So that I am not so terribly disappointed.   So that I can start to believe again.

I don’t want to be disappointed in people.  I really really want to believe that we are all good and that we all understand that we are connected.  I just want people to be nice to one another.  To be truthful with one another.  To not disappoint when not having to is an option.  We are all struggling to get from one end to the other.  Please can we just do it with kindness and honesty.

As in the words of Gandhi: Be truthful, gentle, fearless.

Practicing non attachment

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A confidence crisis is not confined to an artist.  However, anyone who practices any kind of art will at some point or another face some sort of wobble in their confidence at some point during their creative life.  Probably several actually, and if they are anything like me then they will have them on a regular basis.  They will doubt their technical knowledge.  They will wonder if their creative pool has dried up and they might even want to sell all their kit convinced their last ever piece of create work has long since been produced.

Recently whilst standing before a class of eager and expectant faces I wondered what it is that gives us confidence.  What gives me the confidence to go before people and teach despite the fact that I still have so much to learn? What gives me the confidence to write these words that may will be shunned with hefty giggles and dismissive vocabulary? How do we take confidence into our hearts and lives.

For me confidence simply comes from non attachment to the outcome.  When I first stood on my mat before my very first yoga class I had to overcome a moment of anxiety.  Could I teach? Would they like me? Would they come back?  I reminded myself that every person there that day would have a different opinion of me.  Some would like me and some would not.  Some would eagerly return for the next class and some would go on a search for another teacher who resonated more with them. I let go of the outcome.  I reminded myself that it did not matter what each of their individual opinions were and that it was more important to teach in a way that resonated fully with me.

I believe our education system has to take a great deal of the blame for the collective confidence of the human race.  Imagine, if you will, the young child who stands before her parents and siblings in full confidence singing out a tuneless nursery rhyme.  She has no attachment to the outcome and is glorious in her unadulterated joy.  Fast forward a few years and put her in front of her class where she now has to recite a poem or speak on some inane subject she has no interest in.  Now she is told very clearly there will be a rating attached to her performance.  She simply has to be attached to the outcome.  She is taught to be attached to the outcome.  Each and every day, in everything she does she is learning attachment to the outcome.  In the words of Buddha ‘the root of suffering is attachment’.  She spends twelve years in education being taught to be attached to the outcome of everything she does. She is doomed until she has spent an enormous amount of time working on herself and unlearning this very thing.

There are seven billion of us on this madly spinning planet.  Each and every one of us has a different perception and reality.  If you are creating something every single person that views that work will have a different reality of it and if you attach yourself to the outcome of each of those realities you will end up at the very root of suffering.  Create what resonates with you.  Detach yourself from the outcome.  Write the words that sit pretty on the page before you.  Take the photograph that is breathtaking in your eyes alone.  Paint on that canvas in the way that feels exquisitely beautiful to you.  Run the way that you want to run.  Move the way you want to move.  Sing the way you want to sing.  Detaching your self from the outcome allows you to do and say things that you otherwise might be reluctant to do or say. It frees you from your comfort zone and somewhere out of your comfort zone is where all the good stuff lies.

Try it for a day.  Detach yourself from the outcome of every single thing in your day and see how it feels.  Learning to detach yourself from the outcome is an incredibly liberating thing.  It frees you up to be your true self in all your magnificent glory.  It gives you incredible confidence.  It brings you back to yourself and in that place is all the joy and happiness you could ever want.

 

 

All the lovely lulls in life

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I was recently reading something I had written long ago in which I had said that yoga was about getting the inside right while working on the outside.  I was glad to have gone back and read this as I have been feeling, over the past few weeks, that my own personal yoga practice had hit a plateau.  I have been watching the students in my classes make leaps and bounds and taking much delight in their individual journeys.  It is in enormous privilege to be part of this.  To watch them blossom and expand.  To see them face their fears and overcome anxieties.   To engage with them as they make space in their bodies and lives.

Within my own practice I have become frustrated with seemingly little progress over the last month.  I have felt tightness in my hips and this has resulted in not finding the depth in my flexibility that I desire.  I have found that I have not mastered a new challenging pose for a while.  Watch my ego talking here.  Ego ego ego.

So upon re-reading my own words I am reminded that plateaus are okay.  That they are an inevitable and necessary part of life.  More than that though, I was reminded that reaching a lull in my physical practice does not mean that work is not being done.  Everyday when I roll out my mat and use that 6 x 2 space to twist and bend my body into unimaginable poses I am wringing out my stresses and engaging my heart.  I am making space in my body and mind. When I go upside down I am listening to my breath and finding stillness. I am pausing.  I am reminded that, with all things in life, we need these lulls and plateaus.  We cannot be seeking, growing and expanding every day.  That there will be times when we go forward in great leaps and bounds and then time when we pause and reflect.

It is during these pauses and reflections that we do most of our internal work.  Imagine for a moment it is a beautiful sunny Sunday afternoon.  You decide to tackle a moderate mountain or hill climb.  During the climb you concentrate only on putting one foot in front of the other.  You are engaged with supplying your muscles with oxygen and with the process of moving your muscles.  Then finally, after much effort you reach the top.  The plateau.  Here you pause.  You inhale, expand and your heart fills with joy and pride.  You stand for a moment or two just taking in the beauty of this exquisite planet we call home.  Deep breath after deep breath you fill yourself up.  You smile.  Perhaps you sit for a while in quiet thought and contemplation.  You made it and now you are full of pride and happiness.  As your breath becomes calm you lose yourself in all that is.  You think about how you have just challenged yourself.  How you did not think you would make it but you did.  You begin to think about the meaning of life.  Your mind wanders to some of the challenges in your own life.  Somewhere there on top of that mountain you find answers.  So you begin the slow gently climb down.  It seems easy compared to the climb.  Your heart is happy and your soul content.  Your mind is quiet and you feel a new sense of peace.

So it is in life and yoga.  There are lulls in everything as there was on top of the mountain and it is here in these lulls that we do our contemplation.  We cannot only be doing the physical work.  We need the lulls and quiet to make sense of it all.  So I am reminded that this lull in my physical practice is similar to that time on top of the mountain.

There are lulls in all areas of our lives.  In our relationships and in our work.  I cannot possibly be constantly creative in my photography.  I need the time of the lulls to retreat back into myself.  To find the quiet contemplation that is the seat of all our creativity.  The lulls and plateaus are when we do our internal work.  It is when we turn inwards and apply what we have learnt.  It is a little like dreaming.  We cannot be awake all the time.  We need to rest and sleep and during our sleep we dream.  During our dreams our minds are sorting and making sense of what we learned during our waking hours.

I think to some degree we fear these lulls.  We fear that we will not move forward again.  That it is not a lull, and that it is perhaps a wall.  This is rarely the case and if it is we simply feel our way along the wall until we find the edges and a new way round.

So remember to engage fully with all the beautiful lulls in your life. Sit in quiet contemplation until such time as it is done.  Do not rush this process for it is here that all the answers will find you.

 

 

So many brave warriors

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This last weekend I braved an early and somewhat cold start, attached my fastest and biggest lens to my camera and headed off to take some action shots of the Ironman triathlon being held in Durban.  As I left my house the sky was alive with promise of a beautiful day and I felt the sweet breath of anticipation somewhere deep within me.

I arrived at the starting point just as the sun was edging its way into the new day, creating black palm tree silhouettes against a flaming red sky.  Three and a half thousand men and women stood shivering in their wetsuits waiting to start this half ironman competition that started with a two kilometre swim out past the back line and in again further up the beach.  From here the competitors cast aside their wet suits and head out on a one hundred kilometre bike ride. When done with that they would then have to face a twenty one kilometre run before they make it to the finish line.  My goodness this is only a half Ironman!! Families, friends and strangers mill around waiting for the start before walking the distance to where they come out of the water to start stage two.  I am struck by the tense sense of excitement.  An almost breathless anticipation of the day ahead.

The competitors came in all shapes and sizes along with all ages.  Each one of them prepared to push themselves physically and mentally beyond the norm.  Each one of them setting themselves an seemingly impossible target.  The waves that day were enormous.  Probably over three metres and to be honest, not being a water baby, there is not even a possibility I would have ventured out there in a worthy vessel let alone under my own steam.  As the swimmers came back towards the shore you could see the massive waves filled with tiny black dots being swept high and pounded down to be tossed about like buttons in a shaker jar.  Not for the feint hearted.  However, age was not a deterrent to these people.  There were plenty of competitors considerably older than me.  Size was not a deterrent.  They came in every possible guise.  As they stumbled out of the water I was already in awe.

They set off on their bicycles and we made a dash to drive to a half way point.  Firstly because it had coffee (having been up since five thirty this was becoming a priority in my life at this time) and secondly so that I could get some photographs like the one above.  This guy is smiling.  Seriously!

Then we drove back to the finish line to watch them run.  The run was done by way of a ten or so kilometre loop so the runners came past several times.  Supporters lined this route, leaning up against the barrier and passing endless words of encouragement to the runners who by now are starting to look like finishing is not even a possibility.

I was overwhelmed by the support these complete strangers gave to the competitors. Every man and woman that passed was handed a huge dose of kindness.  Their names would be called and words of encouragement would follow.  The people next to me made sure not to miss out anyone.  They clapped and cheered and gave courage to those that had seemingly lost their own.  This was beautiful.  By now the sun was warm and I found myself surrounded by strangers helping strangers.  The unknown supporting the unknown. I soaked it up and revealed in the joy of being human.  How incredibly sweet this all was.

We are capable of so much more than we think.  As humans we have the mental capacity to overcome almost anything.  Seeing these people push themselves to the limits of their endurance and physical capability moved me in a way I cannot describe.  They were truly courageous.  Each facing whatever it is they have to face and doing so for their own reasons.  Each with their own story.

The kindness that humans show to each other is so beautiful it is beyond words.  Why I ask myself do we have wars and why are people so intolerant of one another.  It is not our nature.  We are not born this way.  We are born with soft open hearts and this is how it should stay.  When people come together like this, hold each other up and open their hearts to one another there is an energy that sinks deep into your soul.

It should be like this everyday.  Be kind to one another.  Open your hearts and hold each other up.  We are all courageous and we are all just writing the pages of our own stories.

As in the words of Ram Dass – “We are all just walking each other home”.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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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