Written by Ed Wood, Lead Instructor at Yogafurie Academy
“One for sorrow, two for joy…”, is the start of a poem about magpies. It goes on to correlate a variety of experiences with seeing different numbers of magpies. Seeing one magpie foretells sadness, whereas two foretells happiness and so on.
Can I blame a bird for my misfortunes? Can I accredit my successes to two birds? I’m not going to try to answer that. What I can say is that people go from happy to sad, and back to happy inside and maybe nothing has changed at all in their external world. Quite how we choose to be happy or sad is just part of being human: the point is, we separate ourselves from events when we take things personally.
What do I mean? Well, if things ARE bad, it’s possible to spend time lamenting our own misfortune – as if life has done something to us in some deliberate act. Or, if things are good, it’s equally easy to self-congratulate and assume we can simply take from life whenever we want to. Either way, we create a notion of ourself as something separate from our life – on a good day we’re taking from it, and on a bad day it’s getting its own back.
Some people buy in to the idea of reincarnation. I can’t say whether reincarnation really happens or not – there’s certainly no scientific evidence either way. But what I would say is that going from happy to sad and happy again mirrors living and dying and living again, at least conceptually. There’s this thing called life: we take it, it takes us, we take it again…in a bit of an endless cycle. Or – two magpies! Great, I’ve got something from life. Oh no, one magpie! Life got something from me. But wait a while…here come two again!
This repetitious cycle is referred to in Yoga texts as samsara. It’s the normal and default state of affairs. Samsara offers a measure of hope: to be in the wheel of samsara is to have eternal life already. Yes, one’s body will die, but some essential essence remains and will get a new body. Death is already an illusion. During teacher training at Yogafurie Academy, we learn how Yoga posits that there’s an easier approach. One where the inherent and already- present eternal life happens without the tragedy of death, or any other one magpie event. The outcome of a dedicated Yoga practice is to unite the person with their life, so to speak. It’s important that our trainees are introduced to these concepts, as it will have a profound impact on what and how they teach Yoga and Hot Yoga.
Thus, Yoga seems to offer a healing process. It’s true that immune function improves – often dramatically. But the healing offered isn’t eradication. The “bad” isn’t going to go away, and perhaps neither should it. Think of how Nature reacts to injury: there will be a scar, a record of what happened, coded into the structure of the organism. I really don’t know much about epigenetics – just that this is how cells alter their replication in response to external stress. This is how evolution happens. In other words, there has to be a scar: it’s how the system improves. The problems really are the enablers; we don’t want the problems to go away.
In practical terms, what’s the transition from taking events personally to active, positive engagement? Again, I’m not qualified to offer advice for others. What I have noticed for myself is that there’s a correlation between thought and feeling. For instance, if someone speaks in a condescending way, one can feel affronted. What does that mean? We’re mentally aware of the concept of belittlement, and experience the uncomfortable feelings of being told off in a parental way. Let’s turn this around. Thanks to what this person said, we can see an automatic and unconscious reaction happening: unhelpful thoughts and feelings are triggered, even though they don’t help oneself or the person who’s complaining.
Suddenly, there is agency. A person could choose to act in a new way. It might take time to actually feel different in that situation, but the option now exists. Life is no longer happening to a person: they are now engaging and participating with it.
Failure begins to disappear. Everything that was perceived as “failure” before now reveals itself as nothing more than an unhelpful feeling. The unconscious reaction that labelled it “failure” is apparent: one can grow beyond it. As we said earlier: the problems really are the enablers.
A person can afford to be brave – perhaps for the first time in their life – and take control of events that previously seemed out of personal control. Taking responsibility for events might sound like a prison of “to do” lists, but it’s actually utter freedom, because then the individual sets their own agenda.
Ultimately, no one can teach freedom. For Yogafurie Academy Yoga Teacher Trainees in Bristol, it becomes clear that their role as teachers is two-fold. Firstly, to explore Yoga and Hot Yoga for themselves, and find that freedom personally. Secondly, to facilitate others in their own Yoga journey – an epic journey from oneself to One Self we might say.