“Everything we’re doing is planting a seed that will come to fruition at some point” – Cyndi Lee
I’ve been thinking about these words ever since last month when I had the pleasure of attending a training workshop for yoga teachers with Cyndi Lee. An extra thrill for me because I am a child of the 1980s and Cyndi choreographed music videos for, among others, the likes of Rick James, the Dirty Dancing Soundtrack and Cyndi Lauper’s, ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’.
The above words came from Cyndi at the beginning of the workshop, which focussed on teaching beginners: breaking down poses to their component parts and creating sequences.
I wanted to do this workshop for a number of reasons, but one of them is that I remember how I used to feel when I first started practising, imagining that I would look ridiculous in a room full of bendy, athletic-looking people. I think it’s this fear that sometimes stops people from even trying yoga. On this subject one of the things Cyndi said was:
Say to students: You have the right body and mind. You start with the mind you have and the body you have right now.
A discussion then followed about the meaning of ‘vinyasa’: to place in a special way.
Cindy told us a story of a class she attended taught by BKS Iyengar saying (when he was in his eighties) that he had spent around the last seventy years exploring what happens to his sternum when he presses his big toe down.
This reminded me of my last session with Sarah where we spent the best part of an hour working solely on chaturanga, and the session before that where we focused a great deal on observing what happens when you really ground through the soles of the feet in Tadasana.
Paraphrasing another comment Cyndi passed on from Mr. Iyengar: the arms and legs are the organs of action (rather than the abdominals, which are more the stabilisers). When the arms and legs are organised then the abdominals do pull up. Or as Cyndi described it (again, I am paraphrasing), you can’t really ‘do’ any pose without using your abdominals, whereas the Bandhas – that’s energy work and not ‘about’ the muscles.
By really observing you come to see that one thing cannot happen without the other. For example, in that chaturanga practice with Sarah by paying attention it is evident that when my arms, feet and hips are organized – placed in that special way, if you like – my pelvic floor and abdominals pull up without me trying to consciously create that action. A very clear demonstration that it’s about connection not isolation. The body parts work together.
Yoga is connection. Yoga is relationship.
In many ways I haven’t stopped learning since the end of teacher training last year. In fact, I feel my desire to learn continues to grow and grow. During this workshop with Cyndi I could see the dots connecting between many of the things I’ve been learning since the end of my course last year and it all feels very natural.
Afterwards, when I spoke to Cyndi she mentioned that this was her first time in London in about seven years. I also learned from chatting to Cyndi that she is good friends with Judith Hanson Lasater. Is it a coincidence that I am being drawn to certain teachers?
I came away with lots to think about from this workshop, but overall it served as a wonderful reminder that the postures are not the yoga. There was something I read recently also alluding to this, the comment being along the lines of, if it really was about the postures then Cirque de Soleil performers would probably be the world’s most advanced yogis. It is easy to forget that an asana practice that is beautiful aesthetically does not equal ‘advanced’, though that is how it is often viewed in the West where we tend to place so much emphasis on the physical practice. But, for instance, can you sit with those moments of discomfort when they arise without trying to or wanting to change them, whether you are on or off the mat? That’s hard. One of my favourite quotes on this comes, again, from Judith:
“The yoga is not the asana. The yoga is the residue that the asana leaves.”
So, my hope is that as I continue to grow as a teacher, I am able to (as Cyndi so beautifully put it), create the causes and conditions for peacefulness to arise, for mindfulness to arrive.
For yoga to arrive.