Yoga has grown in popularity in ways I never imagined it would when I first started back in 2000. Yoga studios were few and far between – non-existent to me growing up in the suburbs – and classes were limited to church and village halls and the odd gym. Fast forward 16 years and yoga is well and truly mainstream. Studios are everywhere, mini Meccas to devotees who want to sun salute, awaken their kundalini or vinyasa flow to their heart’s content.
Despite the immense popularity of yoga, one thing still missing is a dedicated focus on personal development. Many classes make claims about how yoga can help connect to your ‘true inner self’ but often the way this is done during yoga classes is clunky and clichéd. Most of the time it’s not present at all. Often because there simply just isn’t time.
My long-term colleague, Liz Naylor, and myself are running a personal development course from our charity, Foundation for Change, starting in October. We have long maintained that the personal development work we do with former drug/alcohol misusers is relevant to everyone and so for the first time, we are running a course that is open to the public, with all proceeds going towards running costs of the charity.
It is unlike any other course I’ve seen in my Googling on such courses in London. I’ll write info on it at the end of this post but first… what’s the point of focusing on personal development?
UNDERSTANDING THE PAST
The first thing to say is that the ethos underlying the course is that it’s impossible to understand your present without first understanding your past. A great deal of the 10 week course is structured to do exactly that. Understanding your past through the prism of specific psychological theory helps to connect the dots between life events in the past and your current behaviours, drives and characteristics.
Your yoga practice is a metaphor for your life, and what has happened and is happening OFF the mat, you will most definitely be bringing TO your mat. A classic example is the over-achiever, the one that grunts their way through their practice, putting way too much effort into the poses and into progressing through Primary Series despite it being only their second week. It is more than likely that they have a fragile ego and are quite insecure – perhaps they had an over-bearing father who demanded they be the best at everything, leading to said yogi feeling like they were just never good enough. Injury is very much on the cards for such a person unless they gain some awareness of this particular character trait and how it manifests on their mat.
Yes, very much a textbook example – something felt by most people when they study psychological theory: they aren’t as special/unique/different/radical as they thought they were and are very much theory and studies presented in black and white. The beauty of studying theory, is that you then encounter connectivity: you realise you aren’t alone in feeling what you feel or behaving how you behave. Similar things have happened to others and have resulted in similar traits. And learning this in a group reinforces this, an experience which is often incredibly liberating in itself.
WORKING IN THE PRESENT
Gaining awareness of your past, of how needs that weren’t met as a child are often the drivers of day-to-day behaviour, provides you with the power and the choice to do something about how you respond in the present.
Yoga is a beautifully experiential practice – as you gain awareness not just of your body but now also of your mind, your practice enters a new phase. You have the awareness to spot behaviours that stem largely from childhood arising on your mat and learn how to respond to them in healthier ways. Tackling them on your mat teaches you ways to tackle them in the wider world… something that will more than likely happen without you even realising.
ENHANCING YOUR QUALITY OF LIFE
Gaining awareness of the baggage (or luggage as my mum calls it) you have been dragging around for most of your adult life and, more importantly, understanding where it came from, enables you to do something about it. Knowledge is power – the course will provide you with the tools to at least begin the process of slowly removing the shackles around your ankles that you don’t need to carry around with you anymore.
REACHING YOUR FULL POTENTIAL
All of the above will hopefully lead to you developing a healthier relationship to yourself and more fulfilling relationships to others. We study attachment theory to help you understand how the quality of the bond formed when a child influences the relationships you form not just with others but with the world around you. We explore unresolved grief and the importance of closure through the prism of one of my favourite pieces of theory – the Gestalt Cycle of Experience.
All of the above will support the process of reaching your potential, both on and off the mat. Understanding your psychology is a crucial thread to your yoga practice – exploring where the body can go is a way of exploring where you can go. Both require a certain mindset and attitude which can be cultivated on the mat and taken out to the world. Of course, the same happens in reverse – letting go of the baggage in your life that may have been relevant at one point in your life but no longer is will affect the quality of movement and being on your mat.
The course runs on Tuesday evenings, 6-9.30pm for 10 weeks, starting Tuesday 11th October and finishing 13th December. We are limiting the class size to 8 people and the course will be held at our premises in Shoreditch. More info can be found here or drop me a line for more information.