EWF, yoga, writing and keeping active

It’s May. I’m not sure exactly how that happened… but I am excited that this month is here, mostly because it means the Emerging Writers’ Festival is just around the corner. And this year I’ll be involved in some sessions at the festival, which makes it doubly exciting.

This year, the second weekend of the festival will be held at the beautiful Abbortsford Convent, which is one of my favourite places to wander around on a weekend anyway. That weekend, The Writers’ Retreat, is focused on wellbeing for writers, and the program includes events on parenting and writing, health and writing, balancing writing with life, and nature writing. You can view the full list of events here.

I’ll be involved in two events on the weekend.

Workshop: Yoga and Writing
11am-12.30pm, 1 June 2013
The Salon, Abbortsford Convent
Tickets $15, $12 concession

I’ll be running a workshop on yoga and writing on the Saturday morning. I can’t even begin to articulate how excited I am about running this. For me, yoga is an absolutely vital part of my writing practice. I use it in all sorts of ways, from a remedy for the physical ills that come with sitting hunched over a desk, to supporting and enhancing (I hope) the intellectual and emotional wrangling necessary to get words on a page.

The workshop will be an opportunity for me to share some of the ways that I use a yoga practice to help my writing, but I also want it to be a pretty open format. I’ll be running the class through some of the yoga postures and other practices, but questions and discussion will be most welcome.

I always hope in my yoga teaching to help people develop sovereignty with their own bodies (and minds, for that matter), so that they can begin to use on their own the tools yoga offers for whatever it is that they need. This workshop is no exception. So come along and ask me as many questions as you like!

Seriously. I love it when people ask me questions about yoga.

Symposium: Keeping Active in the Arts
2.30-4pm, 2 June 2013
Rosina Auditorium, Abbortsford Convent
Admission is free

I’ll also be involved in a symposium-style event on the Sunday called ‘Keeping Active in the Arts’. In this session we’ll be talking about the benefits of staying active, and how to actually do that.

Having recently gone back to a job that keeps me at a desk three days a week (as opposed to teaching yoga full-time, like I was in Sydney), I’ve spent a lot of time in the last few weeks mulling over exactly these questions. I’m really looking forward to discussing some of the ideas I’ve had, and getting some new ones from others.

But honestly, the whole weekend sounds like it’s going to be wonderful, so even if you can’t make it to my events, do come along. Here are some pictures I took on a recent visit to Abbortsford Convent — it’s worth coming just hang out in the place.

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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 yoga blog.

Writing and Life and Doris Lessing

There’s a beautiful piece by Melanie Joosten up on the Meanjin blog today about writing and how it fits (or doesn’t) into life. Joosten leans on the writing of Doris Lessing, looking for answers. Lessing, she says, “tackles that familiar feeling of inadequacy — that the artist writes out of an ‘incapacity to live’. She reminds me that writing is a way to make sense of the world and to order my thoughts.”

To my discredit, I’ve not yet read any of Lessing’s novels, but I do re-read her 1965 collection of short stories, A Man and Two Women from time to time. I’ve always been struck by the clarity of Lessing’s observations. I agree with Joosten when she writes: “I cannot think of a more electric writer, one whose words speak of things always precisely of the moment.”

But, before now, Lessing is not an author I’d have thought to look to for advice about how to fit writing into my life. Perhaps I should look to her now. Joosten’s thoughts are very familiar: “When I ask myself what kind of person I am going to be, I realise that ‘a writer’ is only part of it. If one of the ways we live our lives is to seek happiness, we have to understand what happiness means. To me, the happy life is an amalgamation of the creative life and the moral life.”

Retraining as a social worker, Joosten seems to be asking herself many of the same questions I am at the moment. Questions about how I want my life to fit together, how I want to fill my days. I realised some time ago that none of the things I currently do, I’d want to do full time. Both writing and teaching are fulfilling, but somehow more so when I’m trying to do them both, turning my life into a fairly complex puzzle. I feel like I’m just starting to get somewhere with it though, like I’ve perhaps got together all of the edge bits and a small section in the bottom right hand corner. And I’m beginning to understand now why my mum, and her mum too, love to do puzzles. Working so slowly to fill this puzzle out requires patience, and rewards that patience with a steady stream of small satisfactions.

~

If you’re interested in reading the full post by Melanie Joosten, you can find it here.

Busy

Lately I’ve been busy. It’s easy to forget that I’m busy sometimes, when I’ve got whole days at home, spent in my house clothes, drinking multiple cups of tea. I forget that I’m working on those days too — planning and writing.

Other days I leave and re-enter the house three, four, sometimes five times a day. I spend lots of time outdoors, and my shoes are well-worn.

I have a whole list of things that have fallen by the wayside, waiting (sometimes not so) patiently for a quiet week.

I’m tired. I don’t sleep well because I dream all night about the things I have to do in the coming days: banking, catching buses, doing laundry. Process dreams, I call them. My hips, my knees and my shoulders buzz, reminding me to stop every now and then. I find myself sighing when my work day is over.

But I like being busy. Especially because I’m doing things I love. My days are filled with yoga and reading and writing. I just need to remember that it’s okay for me to sleep in occasionally.

The social function of literature?

On Thursday I rushed (quite unnecessarily, as it turns out) from a lunchtime yoga class I teach at UNSW to get on a bus to Canberra to visit my family. I’ve written here before about how I like catching a bus or a train somewhere by myself. It means I get Thinking Time.

I’ve got a lot to think about at the moment. Exciting plans, not-yet-plans, writing, reading, family stuff, money (sigh). When I slumped back in the seat on the bus yesterday, I realised that it’s actually been quite some time since I’ve given myself a break to think. I mean, I think a whole lot as I travel all over the place to teach yoga and various forms of writing. But it’s really been ages since I’ve let myself just think. When you’re travelling to teach, there’s only so far you can let your thoughts wander, in case you end up missing the bus stop or distracting yourself so much that you end up referring to your students’ feet as their hands and inadvertently instructing them to tie themselves up in strange knots. (I frequently say things like, “Inhale, walk your feet forwards between your feet… I mean…”)

Anyway. That’s a (very) round about way of saying that I got some thinking time yesterday. I put my headphones in, found some thinking music and stared out the window.

One of the things that’s been on my mind lately is the social function of literature. In my ramblings on writing as activism I touched on the idea that my writing is often an attempt to understand the world from someone else’s point of view. I’m starting to try and unpack that idea bit by bit.

Allow me to be embarrassingly earnest here for a moment.

Essentially, for me, trying to put myself in other people’s shoes in writing is about compassion. Most of the things that anger me most about the world come down to other people’s lack of compassion. Human beings seem to have this innate ability to lose all compassion for other people. And then they’re jerks to one another. It drives me nuts. (Happily, I’m also often pleasantly surprised by people’s capacity — sometimes those very same people — for compassion.) I’m guilty of it too, of course, and I reserve my harshest judgement for myself.

One of things that interests me most about yogic philosophy is its teachings on compassion. Yoga teaches compassion for all living things, human or otherwise, because all those living things are really part of the same thing. Atman, Brahma, the Self, the Buddha Self, the Universe. A whole lot of names for the same idea. Whatever you want to call it, and whether or not you’re interested in identifying yourself as belonging to one of the traditions that teaches this stuff, the idea that we’re all connected to one another — all dependent on one another — is intriguing.

When I write, I certainly don’t sit down and think, “I know, I’m going to write a piece that teaches everybody that they’re equal to the homeless man they wouldn’t normally look at.” I’m not out to write didactically. But I don’t think it’s possible to write or read stories about human beings — particularly fiction — without being pushed in some small way to think about the world from another person’s perspective. Even if just for a moment. And hey, we might not always feel compassion for the people or characters that we’re reading about (especially if you’re not a bleeding heart, like I apparently am), but even just a glimpse into that perspective, I think, has the potential to shift something in the writer and the reader.

For me, this is what literature is all about: exploring and presenting different perspectives, suggestion and question. The word that I use to explain that process is compassion, because it makes sense to me. Compassion doesn’t mean agreeing with the person or character’s perspective, but it does mean attempting to understand it. Which of course means, for me, also attempting to understand the perspective of the people in the world who are jerks to each other.

Let me get down from my soapbox now. Pack away my pompous wanker pants.

Talking about compassion and linking it to the social function of literature is problematic, I think. I’m an eldest child, and was often accused of lecturing my younger brothers (most of the time the accusation was probably spot on). As a result, as an adult I’m really conscious of not lecturing people. Saying that literature teaches people compassion makes me uncomfortable, as if I’m advocating the kind of writing that’s overtly didactic, even patronising. Writing that lectures, in other words. That kind of writing, I think, actually creates obstacles in people’s thinking, rather than chipping away at the obstacles that are already there. I certainly observe that reaction in myself.

I’m not sure how to resolve this discomfort. I don’t know where the balance is. I don’t know if I even need to resolve it.

This is really the beginning of my thinking on this topic — it’s by no means an exhaustive exploration of what’s in my brain (although I do feel slightly exhausted after typing it all up). I feel like my thinking has a lot of room for development. Any thoughts on the matter (the social function of literature or the need for brain development on my part) would be most welcome.

Moving House

This last fortnight I’ve been moving house. And it’s been harder than any other move I’ve made. Harder even than moving out of home, or moving from Melbourne to Sydney. It’s strange, because I’ve only moved from one end of Newtown to the other. Both the aforementioned moves involved a great deal more distance, and probably more obvious emotional upheaval. So I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about why this move has been as difficult as it has — and wondering whether I’ve just turned into a big wimp.

It’s been different to any other move I’ve made though. For starters, it was a reluctant move. My housemates and I got a phone call halfway through December telling us the owner of our house was returning from the UK and would like her house back. Two of my housemates were already planning on leaving (they’re travelling around Australia this year in a pop-top van — you can read about their adventures here), but Housemate Three and I were planning on staying in the house. When we realised we’d all be leaving the house at the same time, the phrase “end of an era” found its way into conversation more than a few times.

This house had become home, these housemates like family.

So I guess we began the process of sorting, packing and moving with… well, heavy hearts. Sometime towards the middle of January, I found myself thinking about how I’d only walk this route to a yoga class (or get off the train at this station, or stare out my bedroom windows, or go for a walk in this park, or see this or that neighbour on the street) a finite number of times. And every now and then the four of us would be standing together in the kitchen talking and/or cooking, and one of us would sigh. Sentimentality became a big part of our last weeks in the house.

Then I suppose there was the move itself, which was a bit of a shit fight, if I’m honest. We were really settled in that place. Which is really just a nice way of saying we had a lot of crap, spread out all over the place. Packing, sorting and cleaning was not fun.

For the fortnight it took us all to pack up and move out, I felt like I didn’t really have a home. My new housemates and I had picked up the keys to our new house, so a lot of my stuff was in the new place, but so much of me remained in the old place. For the last week I was sleeping at the new house, and getting up each morning to go to the old house to work more on moving out. That week felt more like ten weeks.

That last week the five of us (four housemates plus Housemate Three’s girlfriend) went out for dinner and drinks — a kind of farewell. I had such a great time with my little sharehouse family.

And I drank a little too much wine. Getting up the next day was difficult.

When we finally handed the keys back last Friday, and went out together for a final housemate breakfast, I think we were all ready to leave. We were glad the move was over (we were also very hungry — we’d all been up since 6 or 7am and we were eating at midday). So in a way, I guess the sadness that had made the process so difficult in the first place was kind of worked through by the horror of the move itself. Or at least pushed to the background for now. I’ll miss that house, and I’ll miss my housemates, but for now I’m ready to focus on what’s going on in my life right now.

I’m excited to be working again. I’ve got writing projects slowly starting to make their way from my head onto paper; next week I’m going to Adelaide for Format Festival’s Academy of Words; and I’m preparing for some new yoga classes I’ll start teaching in the next month.

This move though, and the process of moving in general, is still flitting about inside my head. I’m writing about moving for this month’s Monday Project theme, and I’m thinking again about some of the other writing I’ve done on travel, moving and connection to place.

As difficult as it’s been, moving house has certainly got the cogs turning again. Change, as they say, is as good as a holiday. Except that I feel like I need a holiday to recover from this particular change.

Yoga and Resolutions | om gam yoga

Sydney yoga is interesting in January: classes are busier; summer deals at various yoga schools allow students to try out classes they might not otherwise or attend more classes than they usually would; yoga rooms are steamy with the sticky Sydney summer weather and extra bodies. There’s a sense of expectation in many Sydney yoga classes – and no doubt in other classes that involve moving your body around.

To read the rest of this post, pop over to my yoga blog here: Yoga and Resolutions | om gam yoga | Sydney yoga, Yoga Sydney, Yoga class Sydney.