om gam yoga

Melbourne yoga instruction by Sophie Langley

Category: Hatha yoga Sydney

Saying Goodbye

This is my last week teaching in Sydney. In fact, this is my last full week in this city full stop. Next week, I’ll be leaving Sydney to have a little holiday, and then moving down to Melbourne. Leaving a place is always strange and sad and exciting and scary. I’ve written here, here and here about some of the emotions I’ve come across in knowing that I’m about to leave a place. Transition creates such an odd frame of mind.

These last two weeks I’ve really started saying goodbye. I’ve started teaching last classes in places I’ve taught for some years, and saying goodbye to students I’ve known for as long. And, to be perfectly honest, it’s been exhausting. Every class I teach lately is tinged with sadness — my own, mostly. And it’s take a great deal more effort to stay focussed on the class.

The goodbyes themselves are always odd. Strange and sad and really very surreal. It just doesn’t feel quite real that I will not see these people next week. I will miss each and every one of them.

The student/teacher relationship is a surprisingly intimate one. The intimacy, I suppose, is surprising because it’s not always very obvious. As a yoga teacher, you spend a lot of time watching your students. Watching how their bodies respond to your instructions, to your sequences. You look out for minor (usually) alignment issues, you look out for signs of distress (physical or otherwise), and you come to care a great deal about how what comes out of your mouth affects the people in the room. When I plan classes, I keep in mind the make-up of regulars in my various classes, and think — sometimes in great detail — about how a particular shape or sequence might affect certain students with injuries or off-centre bodies. (Well, all of us have off-centre bodies, but some of us notice it more than others.) If there’s one thing that being a yoga teacher develops in you, it’s a really profound sense of tenderness and compassion for other people’s struggles.

Saying goodbye to my students is upsetting in a way I’m not quite sure yet how to deal with. It’s a sadness I’ll carry with me for some time, I’m sure. I’ve been trying to practice sitting with those emotions, just letting them be, letting them work themselves out. There have been tears. It hasn’t been easy.

But that sadness also makes me feel incredibly lucky. I’m lucky to work with people in the way that I do, to introduce them to tools that will help them through tough times. But, as is the case with any kind of teaching, I’m lucky because teaching others also shows me things about myself. I’ve learnt an incredible amount about my own strengths and limitations these last few years, and I hope I’ve become a better teacher — and indeed a more resilient person — as a result.

So, to any of my Sydney students reading this, thank you. And keep in touch.

Saying goodbye to Sydney, of course, means saying hello to another place. I’ll be teaching yoga in Melbourne, but I’m not sure yet of the details. When I’ve got a better idea, I’ll be sure to update things here.

~

This is cross-posted on my writing blog.

Lying on the floor

Walking home from teaching one night, on the phone to my Mum, I rounded a corner to find a woman and her tiny dog, waiting to cross the road.

That dog’s on a long leash, I thought.

“Watch out for my dog, lady.” the woman said.

“It’s okay, I can see him.” I said, probably impatiently.

“Yeah well, how would I know? You’re looking down.” She snapped, and crossed the road.

“Yes,” I said, “Down. To where the dog is.”

And all of a sudden this woman and I were yelling at each other across the street, until she stormed into her apartment building and the door slammed, and I became aware of my Mum, on the phone I still held to my ear, saying “Sophie, who are you talking to?”

As I told her the story, and as is often the case for me, my indignation turned to guilt. “I can’t believe I yelled at her,” I said to Mum.

“Don’t worry,” she said “You’ll never see her again.”

And it’s true. I’ll probably never see that woman with her tiny dog on a stupidly long leash again. But it’s highly unusual for me to yell at strangers in the street. If I am, it’s a pretty good sign that there’s something not so great going on for me. Anger, frustration and grumpiness are usually an indication that I’m feeling overwhelmed by or stressed about life—often I don’t even know why.

I’m pleased that this is something I know about myself. It means I can make some little adjustments to how I organise my days, so I get enough downtime or rest. Because rest is usually the answer to stress. But it’s not always easy. In this recent piece, one of my favourite yoga writers, Yogi J Brown, discusses the ways we should (and usually don’t) deal with stress. Intimacy with ourselves, he says, is the best antidote—that is, spending time with ourselves in a way that allows us to see what’s going on. Noticing the anger or frustration is the first step.

When I was a teenager, I used to spend a lot of time lying on the floor or my bed, just listening to music. One afternoon, my Mum came into my bedroom to find that I’d actually fallen asleep on the floor, my head just centimetres from a speaker that was blaring music. It’s easy to be dismissive, to say that I could afford to do that then because I didn’t have the responsibilities I do now. But that’s a load of crap. Yes, I do have more responsibilities now, but surely that just makes it all the more important that I get some downtime, so I’m able to deal with those responsibilities… well, responsibly.

In my essay for The Emerging Writer, I explored some of the benefits for writing of doing nothing (well, almost nothing—listening still counts as something, really) with the physical body. To briefly summarise that part of the essay, doing nothing allows the body and the mind to process stuff, and potentially to make links between things that might not be immediately obvious, or that the brain might not have made otherwise.

Obviously, this can be good for writing. But it’s also just good for us on a more general level. Rest—waking rest, as well as sleep— is really important. (And ‘rest’, by the way, is just as metabolically active as activity—it just uses energy in different ways.)

In this piece on the benefits of the yoga pose savasana (which translates as ‘corpse pose’ and basically involves lying on the floor doing nothing), Sydney yoga teacher Brooke McCarthy writes in detail about what happens when we relax deeply—and how to do it. After reading this piece I decided I needed savasana to make an appearance in my life every day. I haven’t quite managed that yet, but on the days when I do get to it, everything seems just a little calmer. Honestly, lying on the floor for ten or fifteen minutes when I’m really busy makes the world of difference to my state of mind. And, really, if I’m feeling overwhelmed anyway, what am I really going to get done in those fifteen minutes?

And while I’m on the subject of ‘busy’. That words makes me cranky. I’d never really thought about why until I read this piece about the trap of busyness (interesting: my eyeToy autocorrects busyness to business). Writer Tim Krieder suggests that being busy is an avoidance tactic—if we’re busy, we don’t need to face ourselves, and all those things that are worrying us or upsetting us. And the more I teach yoga, the more I realise that everyone has at leat some of that kind of baggage. Facing it is hard, so makes sense that we don’t want to do it. But avoiding it doesn’t make it go away. For me at least, avoidance often makes the worry warp into something else—like yelling at a woman and her dog on the street.

My response lately to the question ‘how are you?’ has been ‘busy’. And after I’d said it a few times, I realised that it, along with the crankiness I was carrying around, was an indication I was doing too much.

All of this is a very roundabout way of saying that, once again, I’m returning to that teenage habit of lying on the floor listening to music on a regular basis. I’m trying to get some nothing into each if my days. It’s amazing. I feel instantly less busy.

Donna Farhi on the body’s systems

I’ve begun reading again Donna Farhi’s Yoga, Mind, Body & Spirit, and am once again struck by how beautifully she articulates the experiences of yoga. This, for example, where she’s talking about the body’s systems in yoga:

In yoga practice we attempt to visualise, sense, and feel the actuality of these systems — we not only become familiar with the map, we also take a walk through the territory over and over again until we know it like the back of our hand.

To experience the [cellular system in the body—the most basic part of our existence], then, we must allow the habitual background noise of the mind and the distraction of activity to diminish so that the quieter voice of the cells can be heard. This is the process of meditation.

The bones are our most enduring body substance, surviving as evidence of our lives long after the rest of the physical body has disintegrated.

I also love the way this book looks — it’s set out with plenty of room in the margins for notes (in my copy there are plenty of these!), and uses a combination of photography and illustration to show poses and exercises. If you’re interested in finding out more about the deeper workings of yoga, this is a wonderful place to start.

~

You can buy this book on Amazon here.

(Note: I’m part of the Amazone Affiliates program, which means I make a very small commission if you purchase the book through this link.)

Yoga and Writing in Adelaide

Yoga and writing: two things that are, pretty obviously, close to my heart. My lovely Twitter friend, Vanessa, is running a yoga and writing workshop at the SA Writers’ Centre in Adelaide in September. If I was in Adelaide, I’d be there in a heartbeat!

From the website:

Yoga has a unique way of unlocking your creativity. It guides you to connect with something greater and can help to shift the dreaded writer’s block. This workshop will include explorative yoga asana classes and meditation to help you find peace within and open that part of your mind and heart where you create from. It is ideal for people new to both writing and yoga who want to enjoy a day of yoga coupled with creative writing exercises.

If you’re interested in more details, you can find them here.

New Beginners’ Yoga Courses Sydney

I’ll be teaching two new beginners’ yoga courses in Sydney, starting next week. The classes will be held at the Yoga Factory in Camperdown, and will run for 8 weeks. The cost is $140.

Mondays
(starts Monday 11/06)
6-7.15pm

Wednesdays
(starts Wednesday 13/06)
7.45-9pm

If you’ve never done yoga before, or have taken a few classes but feel like you’re not entirely sure what you’re doing, beginners’ yoga courses are the way to go. Over the 8 weeks, we’ll learn the basics of yoga breathing, as well as some of the most common yoga poses, and hopefully by the end of the course you’ll feel more comfortable heading into a general class. You don’t have to be flexible to do yoga — I sure as hell couldn’t touch my toes when I started. The practice will help you build flexibility and strength, of course, but it will also teach you the way you a lot about your body and your mind work, and help you to manage the inevitable stresses we come across in general life.

I love teaching beginners’ courses. It’s such a wonderful opportunity for me as a teacher to see new students beginning to understand how their bodies work. And beginners often come up with the most interesting questions, because they’re coming at it with fresh eyes — and this means I learn a lot too.

Bookings are essential for these courses, so if you’re interested, you can book here. Alternatively, send me an email (sophie@omgamyoga.com), and I’ll book you in.

Restorative Yoga in Redfern, Sydney

A while back, I was going to a restorative yoga class every Wednesday evening. I remember trying to explain to a friend of mine that I often left that class feeling rather drunk—the lovely floaty, happy kind of drunk. I’d walk home, my legs feeling almost fluid, like they were moving with no effort on my part. I slept like a baby every Wednesday night (and never woke up with a hangover!).

Sadly, my schedule changed, and I was no longer able to attend that class. I’ve missed it enormously. So I was really excited to hear that a lovely Twitter friend of mine, Kat Selvocki, is running a restorative yoga series at House of Yoga in Redfern, starting tomorrow. I’m not going to be able to get to all the classes, but I am determined to make it to as many as I can.

As someone who is very bad at taking time out to just refresh, a restorative yoga class provides a structure that helps me do that. If you’re looking for a relaxing way to end your weekends, and a way to start the week feeling refreshed, I can’t recommend this series enough. Details are here.

Stillness

Stillness is not the absence or negation of energy, life, or movement. Stillness is dynamic. It is movement, life in harmony with itself, skill in action. It can be experienced wherever there is total, uninhibited, unconflicted participation in the moment you are in—when you are wholeheartedly present with whatever you are doing. ~ Erich Schiffmann ‘Yoga: the Spirit and Practice of Moving into Stillness’

I must’ve read this paragraph at least ten times over the last two years. It still strikes me every time. Stillness, on the rare occasion we manage to get it right, is dynamic. I love that idea.

Yoga flow video from YogaChick

I love this flowing sequence from YogaChick. She’s recently been experimenting with short-ish videos of her own practice, and they’re really lovely to watch — and have given me lots of ideas for my own practice, and for teaching! If you’re interested in seeing a few more, you can find them on her blog, or on YouTube.

My words in Death of a Scenester

Melbourne ‘zournal’, Death of a Scenester is launching its fifth issue, Food, next Saturday night in Abbotsford in Melbourne. Some words of mine on growing my own food and the subtleties of vegetarianism will appear in this issue.

Unfortunately I can’t make it to the launch, but if you’re in Melbourne, do try and get along! I’m really looking forward to getting my hands on a copy of this issue.

Yoga: Changing The Brain’s Stressful Habits | Psychology Today

This is perhaps the most accurate description of why, once I started, I continued to practice yoga. Physical exercise, sure, but mainly because it’s helped me manage better my stress reaction. Think calm blue ocean, calm blue ocean, calm blue ocean.

As a neuroscientist, despite my initial incredulity, I came to realize that yoga works not because the poses are relaxing, but because they are stressful. It is your attempts to remain calm during this stress that create yoga’s greatest neurobiological benefit.

via Yoga: Changing The Brain's Stressful Habits | Psychology Today.

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