I am sure by now that you have heard the word ‘hŷɡɡə’, which by definition (on Wikipedia at least) is a Danish and Norwegian word for a mood of ‘coziness and comfortable conviviality with feelings of wellness and contentment”. But have you heard of ‘Onthaasten’? I certainly hadn’t until now. I have a feeling that this word will soon be as well known and it actually means is ‘de-hurry, something we are being encouraged to do more and more. In this fast paced world of digital technology, fast food, 24 hour shops, 24 hour gyms and same-day deliveries, we can often forget to take a few breaths and stop for a moment. When was the last time you held a hot drink and cupped your hands around it, took small gentle sips and savoured the taste, the smell and perhaps took the time to take in your surroundings?
As a coffee lover, this is a favourite morning ritual of mine and one that includes making the coffee in a traditional stove-top coffee pot. I love the look of the coffee pot, washing it, the aroma from the coffee canister and how it fills the kitchen the smell of fresh coffee when it comes to the boil. From reading about Onthaasten (which I’m reliably informed is pronounced on-tasst-en), I then went on to find out more about ‘The Slow Movement’. I found that it originated from a huge protest about McDonalds opening in Rome near a very popular piazza. In 1986, Carlo Petrini was so incensed by this fast food concept that he set up a movement to promote traditional ingredients, farmer’s markets, organic food and local dishes. All of the things that we have started to fully embrace, particularly in the last decade.
Fashion is also known for its frequent revisiting of past decades, and the rise in popularity of vintage clothing feeds this desire to be different, as well as promoting the increasing awareness of sustainability. Other comebacks are vinyl records, baking, knitting, analog photography, vinyasa yoga (slow yoga) and letter writing. All have the commonality of taking time to do something and, yes, intentionally slowing down to appreciate the moment. Another book I read about in Flow magazine was ‘In Praise of Slow” by Carl Honore, and rather than tell you about the author myself, here is his TEDx talk about his observations and book. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UhXiHJ8vfuk
He actually mentions ‘speed yoga’. I’ve heard of speed dating, speed networking and speed reading, but wow…speed yoga, that really is a contradiction!!! or is it…watch the talk?
What does slowing down do, and what do we really mean by taking things at their intended speed? It means that, as well as appreciating the moment, we will make room for more creative ideas such as reading and taking notes, drawing or doodling, colouring in, kneading bread, planting those seeds or maybe, simply washing up. It means our minds will slow down and our senses will be heightened. It’s worth remembering that this isn’t all about our time at home life, it is about business too. How many times do you feel that you have to respond to a text or email immediately, fearing that if you do not, then something may be missed, or a client won’t think you’re on the ball? Have you considered that they might think you’re not busy or that they may get used to your fast turn around and expect it every time? Either way, by not allocating specific times to responding regularly, rather than immediately (using some common sense if it’s urgent or an immediate deadline) will eventually lead to unnecessary, or what I term as ‘fake stress’.
I am becoming increasingly aware of how much technology has advanced, and find it simultaneously exciting and a time-drainer. Most of us have heard of having a ‘digital detox’ akin to giving up alcohol, sugar, coffee or chocolate for a set amount of time, well coffee would be a real challenge for me. What would you find hard? You probably know, prior to lockdown, from walking down the street, sitting in cafes, pubs or travelling on public transport or since lockdown with home work and restricted travel, how much screen-time is taking over our lives!
I am increasingly tired of typing and I going back to making voice calls, writing with a pen and, instead of leaving messages via voicemail, I am using voice texts. I find it much better than leaving a message on an answer phone, which would require the receiver to dial into a different number to access them. When we need information, the days of leafing through large hardback heavy reference books are dwindling. The conscious activity of the written letter, using your favourite pen and paper had almost disappeared, but I am glad to both witness and hear that it is making a comeback. In my experience, although writing with a pen takes a lot more effort, I enjoy giving it my full attention and taking pleasure in forming the letters in an artistic way. When we discuss using our screen time for social media and its ability to connect, there is a plethora of opinions, both positive and negative. Social Media has become a place of unconscious and time consuming activity for some. One way of decluttering the mind involves consciously reviewing your screen time on a weekly basis. My iPhone regularly informs me too, which is sometimes quite alarming.
How many times have you scrolled through one of the many social platforms and wondered how time can disappear very quickly, yet the last ten minutes of school or work seemed an eternity? Again, I believe that when we are ‘clock watching’ we are consciously aware, whereas scrolling is unconscious. Why not make room in your busy schedule to do something other than look at a screen? Plan some time away from it and log out of apps you regularly use like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, and turn off the notifications. Arrange to meet a friend for coffee (social distancing applied), a walk or call them if they are far away and catch up in conversation. Try not to use your phone as a morning alarm, although I know some find this is difficult for those who don’t have landline to fall back on it, in case of an emergency. At least put it face down.
Start looking out of the window on public transport. I think one of the reasons I have grown to love train journeys is that there is an opportunity to work, rest and play. The longer the journey the better, because now and again you can look out of the window and lose yourself in the landscape. Listen to a podcast or music in the car, write a letter while having your coffee, read a short story and simply be present when you’re out for a walk, run or cycle. After spending some time in Italy, France and Spain, I’ve noticed that it really is about taking time over those everyday processes and using the fast lane only when it’s absolutely necessary. Write a letter to yourself on mini break or holiday and then post it, tapping into what you see, hear, taste and feel.  It’s a lovely way to relax and a reminder of some nice memories.  (Note – send this home only if you are feeling happy on holiday. If you’re not, write it and destroy it, it’s a good cathartic exercise.) With Simon & Garfunkel telling me to “slow down, you move too fast, got to make the moment last” in my head. I will now take heed of my own advice and finish this blog to go have some lunch away from my desk and in a comfortable part of the house, preferably next to a window.

Zooming in on the Purpose of Yoga

Zooming in on the Purpose of Yoga

I haven’t written a blog for a couple of months now so to get started again I thought I’d reflect on what lockdown meant for me as a Yoga teacher and the difference it’s made not only to my classes but also to my understanding of what exactly it is that I do!

Lockdown came at the end of March and it was both sudden and shocking for us Yoga teachers. Literally overnight our face to face, real life classes came to an end and as I write this over three months later, they still haven’t resumed.

At first, we were all a bit stunned and there was a great deal of uncertainty about how long it would last. Was it just a short-term blip where we would miss a couple of weeks and then be back on our mats as if nothing had happened? It soon became very apparent that wasn’t going to be the case.

Once that sank in two things happened:

  1. I realised I no longer had any yoga classes.
  2. I wasn’t going to see the people I was used to meeting on a weekly basis and they wouldn’t see me or each other either.

When I put those two things together it began to dawn on me that I was dealing with something much more than just a loss of income from not being able to teach.To be fair I still had my job in the NHS and that was taking on even greater significance as the pandemic progressed. What I had on my hands was the breakdown of a whole community of people who practiced Yoga together. That sense of community had just evolved quietly in the background over time without me planning it and without really being consciously aware of it. Now there were these small groups of people who had started out as strangers but who had come to know each other by their first names and also to know what was going on in one another’s lives – who was waiting to be a grandparent, who had lost a loved one, who was changing job, who was missing their families and who, without saying a word, just needed to feel welcome and supported. And with that I also realised that I had a responsibility to that community! I really didn’t want to lose contact with those people and I absolutely believed that Yoga could be a way of keeping in touch and supporting one another mentally and emotionally.

So, what to do?

It was about then that I also became aware of a shift within the Yoga world. Lots of people were taking their classes into the virtual sphere and beginning to teach on-line.

Now for all I’ve worked in management for many years and I’m confident speaking in public, working with groups and doing some of the more unpleasant tasks around staff and workload management I’m not at all comfortable in front of a camera. That was a barrier that needed to be overcome if I wanted to be able to live up to those responsibilities. I decided to start small and set up a private Facebook group. It was just for people who were already coming to my classes and that complied with my insurance requirements at the time which were to only teach existing students. That little group changed everything. I was able to do live “Bitesize” sessions a couple of times a week which only lasted 15 minutes or so and focused on one aspect of a general class such as asana or breathing or relaxation. I kept them free of charge, so they were accessible to everyone especially those people who had suddenly found themselves a lot worse off financially.

The people from my classes were able to join me online and they were just amazing! They got to grips with the technology and some of them even joined Facebook for the very first time. They engaged with the practices and most importantly they stayed in touch. Time and again they commented on my videos to tell me how much they looked forward to the practices and how helpful they were for keeping them connected to the world outside of lockdown. Those sessions also became my virtual training ground. As the weeks passed, I gradually became more confident with speaking to the camera and the more I relaxed the more natural my delivery became. In Yoga terms I started to detach from my ego or to put it in more general terms I began to “get over myself”. Eventually I reached a point where I was ready to just step that little bit further out of my comfort zone.

I set up my very first Zoom class on the 16th May! I kept the time down to an hour as that seemed more realistic for an online session. I stopped stressing about the state of my living room – it was tidy but not pristine – and about how I looked and sounded. I bit the bullet and sent the information out to my existing students! And once again my community rallied round me! They signed up and supported me and after that first week I knew I had found a way forward. Now most of the people from my classes join me at least once a week and they can still see each other and be part of the group. Of course, not everyone is online, but I also send out newsletters and email and text the others where possible. Insurance rules have also relaxed a bit so providing I complete a health assessment I can begin to welcome new people again. Our community can continue to develop and grow.

So, when all of this is over will I continue with online classes? Well yes and no.

I will very definitely go back to face to face teaching because nothing replaces the sense of togetherness that comes from a real-life class. However, I may well stay online for early morning sessions and monthly workshops. I’ve certainly moved out of my comfort zone but in doing so I’ve opened up a world of opportunity and can reach out to people who may continue to find it difficult to get to a face to face class. I am so pleased I’ve been able to continue teaching but most of all I’m really grateful for finally understanding the real meaning of Yoga. As I’ve said for years the word Yoga means “to yoke or to join” but now I know that isn’t just about bringing together “mind and body” or “breath and movement”. It’s about bringing together the people who are at the heart of my classes and making sure we can continue to care for and support each other long after this pandemic is confined to the history books. And for that knowledge and understanding I am truly grateful.