Why I teach an immersive experience

In 2016 I took a month off to do my yoga teacher training in Bali, Indonesia.  I've found that yoga is a great way for me to keep fit - it works your whole body, builds strength, provides time for meditative thoughts and you can do it in a hotel room when you're stuck inter-state and don't want to go for a jog around a foreign city after dark.

So teacher training was a way for me to learn more about how to practice and the intent was that I could then design my own classes and continue to deepen my personal practice.  I've taught in the past and thought it could be a bit of fun on the side to add to our local community and run some free classes too.

 

Around two weeks in, our teacher says to us that for this morning's practice, we need to bring something we can blindfold ourselves with.  It's a bit of a laugh, we all rock up with tea towels or scarves and think it'll be 10 minutes with our eyes closed - no big deal, I often practice with my eyes closed.  Right?

2 hours later.

We finish, and our teacher asks if anyone wishes to share their thoughts, or a reflection on practice that morning before we break for breakfast.

"I hate you" one person speaks up.  "I know what you were trying to do but I was not ready for it, it just wasn't what I wanted to do this morning, I'm *SO* angry with you right now.  It hurt. Physically.  It was really painful.  I know we weren't doing much but my body screamed at me the whole way through, all I could feel was the burden that all of you put on yourselves, how hard you push yourselves, how nothing's ever good enough, you're all so driven and pushing so hard and you need to be much kinder to yourselves.  It feels horrible and it was all I could feel the weight of everyone's collective self-pressure all practice."

I remember thinking "they've just popped, man they've got some stuff going on this morning!"  I mean, aside from thinking everyone else had taken their blindfold off and maybe I missed it and looked like a dork, the yoga wasn't that bad this particular morning.  No biggie.

 

We broke for our morning meal and I thought I'd take a seat at the silent table, just to settle a little after practice.  Besides I was a bit tired this morning.  We'd designated one table as "silent" and were encouraged to take at least one meal at the table in silence during our stay.  This felt like the place for me to just chill a bit, take it easy before we get into mid-morning class.

Another hour and a half passed at the table.  I spoke to no one.  No one sat with me and as mid-morning class approached I remember feeling the fear at not wanting to leave, not wanting to have to interact with others.  "Wow this is weird."

And then, I look over to the pool to see two other guests who I'd met the day before, playing in the water.

The first is a little girl who we'd met that week.  She would be around 3 or 4 and she was staying with her grandfather on holiday.  She used to come racing out to play with us after morning practice - she loved hanging out with the yogis and laughing and splashing and sunning ourselves before next class.  An absolute delight.

The second person was a woman who I'd met who was on holiday with her husband.  A couple of Aussies, let's call them Dave and Sarah.  Dave had called out to me that morning on my way to morning practice and said "hey! we wanted to apologise.  Yesterday when you waved, we felt awful - if Sarah doesn't wave back it's not cause she's being rude, she can't see you, Sarah's blind".  "Oh!" I called back "no worries at all, next time I'll yell at you to say hi!" we all laughed.

So as I'm watching the pool I see this little girl sitting on the edge of the deep end and having trouble with her goggles.  Sarah is her play-date this morning and as I watch, she reaches up to adjust the little girl's goggles.  It is a moment of pure and utter tenderness, to watch a blind woman help another to see.

And the tears pour out of me.

I fold entirely in on myself as the feeling goes right to my core and I realise in that instant that something profound is happening.

Our teacher had said nothing out of the ordinary that morning.  In fact all she had said was "step your right foot to your right thumb" - a series of physical cues that helped us into various familiar postures.  And yet, what she had done, without any of us being prepared for it, without any of us really knowing what was going on, was to open up a space for something deeper in us to come through.

Ask any of the 40 people I was with that morning and I've no doubt they'll all have their own incredible memories and experience of what happened.  For each, almost certainly unique, yet underpinned by commonality.

In that moment I came to understand that here is a way to speak to people on an entirely different level.  Our office world is constructed of conversation, of rational thought.  Coaching, consulting, working, is all about talking it through with someone, an interaction of the mind.  It's mentally taxing work.  And here, here was a way to bypass that whole system of communication and speak to a person through their body.  An incredible toolset that we've entirely neglected - office environmental design and architecture are but a drop in the ocean of how we might influence people beyond the conversation.

It's why I teach an immersive experience.

For example.  I can gift you the *physical* feeling in your body of dealing with uncertainty and ambiguity, by asking you to stand on one foot.  Try it now.  Stand up, and lift your left foot up.  Don't think about it, just do it.

Did you wobble?  Did you feel yourself grab (mentally or physically)? Did you have to drop the foot and rebalance?

Try it again.

This time I want you to feel the weight in your right foot.  Anchor down through big toe mound, inner heel, outer toe mound and outer heel.  Draw your big toe mound towards your inner heel, wiggle your toes and put a slight bend in the knee as you do, soften the hips.  And now as you feel weight in that right foot, ground down through it and begin to lift the heel of your left. Soften your joints and bend your left knee to bring the thigh parallel with the ground.

What changed?

As we learn to deal with the wobbles in our own body, we learn that to grab can often throw us off balance entirely, whereas to tune into those wobbles, to take our time, we can stand a little longer on one foot and feel more stable.  Same applies the week after you leave one of our retreats and the boss throws you a curve ball about that project you had planned out.  Instead of grabbing in an attempt to rid yourself of the feeling of uncertainty, instead of making a premature decision; can we create just enough space to pause, just enough space to take half a breath and then move, with purpose.  The outcome may indeed be the same - we lift our left foot - but that brief moment to feel the wobbles (maybe have a giggle) and learn to work with it could make all the difference.

 

- D.

 

You might also be interested in:

The Attacker's Advantage - a book on navigating uncertainty by Ram Charan

The Heart Aroused - a book on poetry, corporate life and soul-searching by David Whyte

Amazing yoga by Meghan Currie