Here I am, finally reporting in on last weekend, where lucky, lucky me got to spend a day and a half learning from the wonderful Simon Borg Olivier.
Simon is all joyousness, fun, passion, love, enthusiasm, knowledge and wisdom. His teachings make so much sense, and yet some of what he has to say flies in the face of what is taught to many yoga teachers.
Seems to me that many of the most interesting yoga teachers out there each have pieces of the “yoga puzzle”: reviving and expanding modern-day western-world yoga from the benign practice of “stretching”.
Simon is another of these teachers.
In this particular workshop – a day and a half of teachings and practice – Simon spoke of Hatha yoga as being the right-hand side of Tantra (which concurs with all of my previous training). Tantra, of course, being a series of practices designed to bring awakening of consciousness via raising kundalini energy. He also spoke of a little of left-hand Tantra – which includes practices of extremes and taboos to achieve the same result.
[Note: my training in Tantra has included these aspects, but also a strong focus on various forms of meditation, ritual and deity yoga.]
Far from being the generic name for yoga until it branches out into Iyengar, Ashtanga and all the rest (the refrain of “all yoga comes from Hatha yoga” being extremely common), Simon speaks of Hatha yoga as being about creating internal forces. These forces, if used in the correct way, can bring about awakening of kundalini.
And it’s with this view that we began the workshop (the room was packed wall-to-wall with yogis).
So let me give you a taste of the weekend, if I can. There’s so much to say and my puny brain has no hope of remembering it all, let alone fitting it into a single blog post…
Simon’s style of practice has a very funky flow to it – lots of beautiful flowing arm movements and both small and large movements of the body. There’s plenty of video footage on Simon’s website and blog for you to check out if you like.
He walked us through making tiny movements with the body that are in effect the same as the grosser movements – forward, side and backbends, for example. But rather than a side bend that focuses on the bending side of the body, Simon asked us to think of lengthening the non-bending side. This still creates a side bend, but without jamming the spine.
Another thing Simon asked us to focus on was keeping our lower belly “baby soft”. By that he means not sucking the belly to the spine in most instances – instead, the belly is engaged by pushing the belly button away from the spine. This action creates strength and space, but also once again, does not squish what shouldn’t be squished. In fact, it’s possible to create firmness in the belly while keeping it soft, and still be able to hold a conversation without gasping for air.
We also focused on circulation of blood/energy (they’re one and the same, right?) by engaging all body parts – the trunk, arms, legs, fingers and toes – in each asana. Not just having some parts of the body come along for the ride. I have to say that being quite sensitive to energy as I am, this part of the work had a huge impact on me!
Simon posits that if our circulation is working properly, we don’t waste energy. That profuse sweating and/or numbness or coldness in our body while practicing suggests our circulation isn’t working as effectively as it could.
All very interesting stuff!
And hey, I know I’ve got some work to do on the circulation front. Coz okay, I might be a pitta/kapha constitution, but I sweat a hella lot even when practicing in a cold room!
Another important point from the workshop surrounds the common yoga teacher instruction of making sure your shoulders aren’t raised when you bring your hands over your head. How many of us were trained with that instruction and have in fact, said just that to students?
The thing is, that by pressing our shoulders down when our arms are above our head, we are in fact jamming the spine. Which isn’t particularly helpful for circulation and the flow of energy in the body, yes?
He also emphasises a point that I’ve never forgotten from his teachings 12 years ago: that yoga creates artificially tense situations for the body, in which we need to learn how to relax. In fact, Simon says that he relaxes throughout his entire practice (even in all those “fancy” poses, as he calls them), which is better than just waiting for savasana at the end!
Interspersed with all of these lovely little wisdom nuggets, we completed three full practices over Saturday afternoon and all day Sunday, while Melbourne’s grey skies opened up intermittently. With lots of intense instructions to go with the asana, wow did I sleep well Sunday night!
The other brilliant thing about re-connecting with Simon via this workshop is that I discovered there’s someone teaching his style of yoga right here in Melbourne, and actually not far from where I live.
Can I hear a HUZZAH? Coz this yogi now has a new yoga studio to call home.
I’m not sure if Simon teaches much further afield than around Australia and Asia, but if you ever get the chance to do some yoga with him then go for it! Not only is he a lovely, adorable person but he’s got an encyclopaedic knowledge of the body and yoga.
Enough for now. My brain had a wee melt-down this weekend and I need some rest…
More about that soon.
P.S. Please note the above are my recollections of the workshop, so if I got something wrong, my apologies!
P.P.S. There’s also a lot of stuff Simon covered that I haven’t mentioned above. There just isn’t the space here…