We hosted our 2018 convention at Woodbrooke Quaker centre in Birmingham for the second year over the weekend of 27th to 29th July.  Woodbrooke is a slice of calm in the busy cake we all live in. A welcoming setting allowing us to catch up with old friends and be inspired by some wonderful teaching. The convention was full this year which provided a lovely mix of familiar and new faces – some even travelling across the Channel and the Atlantic to be with us.

Our plenary speaker was François Lorin who, along with other teachers, allowed us to look at the subject of Yoga and Fear.  François encouraged us to think of Yoga not as a question of learning but as one of unlearning.  With this unlearning comes honesty, which allows us to look within. Fear is never far away from any of us.  We know it as a kleśa – abhiniveśa – our survival instinct.  It is therefore important in our lives but equally a fundamental foe.  François translated abhinivesa as ‘going somewhere and coming back but with great resistance’.  We do grow through our lives, and fear can aid that growth, but François asked us ‘If you change something fundamental with you or your life are you still who you were?’

I enjoyed some excellent sessions.  I was teaching myself on Yoga with Teenagers, but attending two sessions and two early morning practices.  Marion Hacking Gaines led us through a practice focusing on ‘Opening to Fear’, working with purvatāna āsana to open us up.  She asked us to think about: ‘how does fear manifest for us?’ Fear is an activity of the mind, but then the imagination can get involved and we can become disorientated or taken over by the fear.  Does your practice help you with the fear within and the fearful situations you encounter?

I started Saturday morning with Sue Chudley guiding us through a practice based on YS 1.20 and 3.31 working with prāna vāyū, creating space in kurma nādī allowing us to develop our inner strength, our inner courage.  This inner strength allows us to emulate the strength of the turtle to stay stable and upright even in the choppiest of seas; very necessary when we are faced with fear.

François discussed the fact that, when we encounter fear, there is hope and vice versa.  Hope and fear are good friends to each other, but not necessarily to us.  François gave us all a short āsana practice that we did in pairs, with one of us observing the other, not to judge or to correct but to sense the rhythm of the practitioner.  A lovely way to observe, he encouraged us to be poetic in our feedback. My partner observed me as a strong trout swimming up river but catching a fly every now and again. It made me wonder that even in my practice food seems to be on my mind – not sure if that’s a positive, but true to character!  Do we as teachers sometimes get drawn in by the structure of a practice and not always connect with its essence.  It made me realise this is what I try to do when teaching teenagers, as their physical practice can change due to their growing bodies, but I hope to encourage that connection with the essence of the practice.

My last session on Saturday afternoon was a group meditation lead by Jane Slemeck.   How lovely and supportive it is to meditate in a group. Jane used a thought provoking quotation from Ken Wilbur at the start of the session ‘It is the nothing, the mystery, the emptiness alone that needs to be realised; not known but felt, not thought but breathed, not an object but an atmosphere.’

Debbie Kerr-Nesbitt and Eleanor Dawson ran a short evening session with sound and simple movement.  We could all make whatever sound we wished and in a room full of people the combined sound had a profound effect on me, touching something incredibly deep.  Just goes to show the power of sound and that of a simple practice.

On Sunday morning we woke to rain, the heatwave had broken so, unfortunately, Melissa Lomas could not lead us in a practice in the gardens.  We all gathered something from the garden and brought our practice inside.  The theme was ‘cultivating appreciation’ and we felt that actually being indoors added to our sense of appreciation of all the it ems that had been discovered.  The beauty in nature is awe-inspiring, yet we so often do not have the time to stop and truly appreciate it.

François left us with a question to consider on Saturday night.  ‘When is it that I feel at ease when I act?’  Spend a few moments with that question yourself and see what answers you come up with.  The responses we all gave on Sunday morning were many and varied.  François connected abhiniveśa with sraddhā – the courage to face the reality of life.  He said Yoga is to learn to stay awake as an individual in front of difficulties.  We then worked as groups of 8 each choosing an āsana and allowing the practice to develop as we went around the group.

François suggested that instead of translating chapter 2, sloka 50 of the Gita as ‘yoga is skill in action’ think of it as ‘yoga is to act in a “silky” way’.  The Sanskrit word kauśalam literally translates as ‘made of silk’.   He concluded by telling us to enjoy Yoga so we have a life that feels like silk – but don’t think that life of silk will last forever. We all have ups and downs, fear is part of that path that may remove the silkiness from our life.  Hope will hopefully bring it back.

There were many other sessions over the weekend on aspects of anatomy, chanting, the Sūtra-s, the Gītā and the Upaniads, Yoga therapy and work with cancer. All promoted discussions at breaks, along with the very moreish flapjacks and brownies provided by the kitchen at Woodbrooke.

A special thank you to Debbie Kerr-Nesbitt for her organisation, and to her team of helpers for making sure everything ran so smoothly, and to all of the staff at Woodbrooke who made our stay comfortable and made us feel welcome and definitely well fed.  An enjoyable and inspiring weekend. Roll on 2019, when we can enjoy Ravi and Sheela Shankar on the theme of Yoga and Music.