A beautiful gathering of 22 yoga teachers from across the region met for a day of practice, discussion and learning on the 6th of January at The Yoga Tree in Norwich. The first annual Teachers of the East (of England) Gathering was a wonderful testament to the resilience, strength and diversity of teaching taking place across East Anglia. Organised by myself and the lovely Lucy Abel, our aims for the day were to offer teachers a space to connect when, often, we can feel somewhat isolated given the nature of our work. Other than CPD trainings, we rarely get a chance to gather and share knowledge and insight with each other. This day was offered as a space to gather our energies at the start of the new year and make new connections, both inner and outer. We aim to offer this day on an annual basis.
The morning consisted of a silent group self-practice before settling into some warm tea and treats in the cafe space. Next, we entered into some much appreciated discussion on shared principles, challenges and sticky subjects, including talking about abuse within the wider yoga community after the painfully difficult news came out last year of some of yoga's formerly leading lights such as Pattabhi Jois and Satyananda, amongst others. We all agreed that it called for more awareness amongst teachers that there may be students in our classes who come from a background of abuse of various kinds and that our compassion and sensitivity are vital for helping to create a safe space for all who attend our classes. We also acknowledged a shared practice of empathy amongst us and that yoga was, as one participant put it, a 'constant invitation' to serve, to love, to give. Our coloured sticky notes covered the wall as a testament to the ocean of insight that resides naturally in each one of us, revealing so many ways in which we share the same foundations, principles, concerns and aims.
After a delicious shared lunch made up of an array of offerings from all who came, we continued our journey back in the studio with our Traditions session. Melanie Willsher, who runs her own studio in Aylsham dedicated to the work of Vanda Scaravelli, led us through a beautiful practice of releasing to gravity, giving way to lightness, receiving from the ground and (in the words of Scaravelli's book) awakening the spine. Melanie eloquently led us through the practice with gentle ease, introducing some of Scaravelli's key ideas such as:
The rebound from gravity
An invitation to express ourselves through movement
Not holding poses but, rather, passing through them
Receiving from the ground
The body always moving towards ease
The breath on a journey
Finding the soul in the mechanics
The breath moves the spine/the spine moves the breath
The spinal wave
Finding awareness from the inside of the spine
Gravity, wave and breath working together
Earthquakes and volcanoes (in the body)
Growing from roots up to the sky, like a plant does
This was followed by Jane Aldiss (who runs her home studio from Oulton in North Norfolk) giving us an introduction to the Hidden Language of Hatha Yoga, first introduced in the West by the late Swami Sivananda Radha Saraswati (1911 - 1995). Swami Radha was a German woman who dedicated her life to bringing a female lineage of traditional teachings through the development of Yasodhara Ashram in British Columbia, Canada. As one of only 5 teachers of this tradition here in the UK, Jane described the Hidden Language practice as 'body memory and the sub-conscious coming forward' as we bring to mind all inner associations with a particular pose as a way to deeply explore asana and the gifts it can bring on every level, both form and formless. We used Warrior pose as our exploration coming out of the Divine Light invocation. Here are some of my initial notes:
As I held the image of myself in warrior during the visualisation
of divine light and holding my word, ACTIVE, in mind, there felt
a tremendous amount of energy and, although in stillness, a
sense of of movement in the pose. The posture feels like it is
going somewhere.... The mind is active and it is from here, the
activity of the mind, that the energy drops into the body.
We ended the day with chanting along with the harmonium the Pavamana Mantra from the Brhadaranyaka Upanishad:
Asato ma sad gamaya Lead us from falsehood to truth
Tamaso ma jyotir gamaya Lead me from darkness to light
Mrtyor mamrtam gamaya Lead me from death to immortality
Om shanti, shanti shanti Om peace peace peace
And the Guru Mantra:
Guru Brahma, Guru Vishnu, Guru Devo Maheshwara Our creation is that Guru, the duration of
Guru sakshat, param Brahma, tasmai shri gurave namah our lives is that Guru; our trials is that Guru.
There is a Guru nearby and a Guru that is
beyond the beyond. I make my offering to
the beautiful remover of my darkness, my
ignorance; it is to you I bow down and lay
What a great blessing it was to be surrounded by such kindness, compassion, knowledge, joy and stillness. I am already excited to see what next year brings. In the meantime, I will continue to reflect on the power of the day to remind me why I choose to spend my time teaching and learning the path of yoga.