Viva the yoga pulse!

The pulse of prāṇāyāma was a magical experience. Lots of people came and participated in both studios – the hot space for the yoga practice, and also the meditative space. The soundtrack of my heartbeat was momentous. I shall describe the whole day.

Firstly I went to Sainsburies to buy about 20 bags of fruit and 4 huge cartons of juice for participants to eat and drink. It was extremely heavy to carry 6 full shopping bags to the yoga centre. A workout! I put it in the kitchen and then took class. My organisation and setting up for the event did not begin until 3.30 so there was time for me to print out the press release and try to make myself look more presentable.

At 3.30pm precisely Theo and I began to set up the yoga studio. My big posters were placed on the doors of the building, outside the studio. I washed and prepared the fruit and juice. Theo fixed the technology for playing the sound in both studios so that they could both run at exactly the same time. I would press play when the people practicing had finished pranayama breathing, and the sound would be heard simultaneously in all areas of the yoga centre. I cleaned windows, we set up the space, and did odd jobs (not so odd, but normal setting up activities).

Then at 5.30pm people started to arrive. My friend Julia Johnson, our professional photographer for today, was one of the first, and she got out her camera and did some test shots. Soon the yoga practitioners turned up and prepared to start the class. Several people had never done Bikram yoga before. They wanted to come and practice because they were interested in my artwork. It was great that my art was attracting new people to the yoga centre, and I felt thrilled that they wanted to experience The pulse of prāṇāyāma. There were lots of familiar faces, also. Lots of friends rallying around to support my work. I was very grateful.

Then, at 6pm, we started. I went into the hot room and gave a short, spur-of-the-moment talk to introduce my project. Then Theo began to lead the practice. Meanwhile several people had entered the other studio and lied down on the mats and bolsters. They put eye pillows on and sank into the floor. I explained that the sound would not be played immediately because we had to wait until the yogis had finished the preliminary exercise of prāṇāyāma breathing.

Then it was time to start the sound. I pressed play. Boom boom boom! The sound kicked in. It was momentous, vigorous, powerful and compelling. I think I can say that, can’t I? I was ‘in charge’, so to speak, outside of both of the studios. People kept on arriving. Julia’s family came. So did my old doctor, the one who diagnosed me by analyzing my paintings. It was such a pleasure to see him and show him my work. I felt proud. He was thrilled to see me looking so well and it was amazing to be able to talk to him as a healthy woman, as an equal, rather than a sick and disabled patient.

People in the meditative space lay down and most seemed to fall asleep – fully absorbed by the artwork. This was exactly what I had hoped would happen. The hot space was viewable because we had left the glass door open. It was amazing to watch people practicing Bikram yoga – I have done it so many times but never watched it before. They practiced the same routine as normal, but with the soundtrack of my heartbeat. Their practice, and the oscillation of their own heartbeat, echoed the sound they were hearing. Sweat poured down their lithe bodies. It was so dramatic and powerful to see this happen.

Other people arrived. Julia took some amazing photographs. Time dissolved. Soon the end of the recording came upon us. I could not wait to hear the practitioners’ comments on their experience. They walked out of the hot studio with sweat pouring off their bodies, red cheeks, bright eyes and wet hair. Beaming.

I went to the kitchen to get some more juice and water. Then I spoke to people and was overjoyed at their reactions to The pulse of prāṇāyāma. Everyone thanked me. They thanked me for the experience I had set up and initiated. They thanked me for my artwork. They thanked me for my initiative, persistence and for what I had made and produced. Thanking me. That would not happen in a gallery. People don’t really thank artists for the experience that their art gives them, generally. This was a new kind of art. And a new kind of aesthetic experience.

The overall opinion was extremely appreciative and interested. This was a participatory kind of art. People had to contort their bodies and enter my installation. They themselves made it a performance – in both spaces. The resulting performance-installation was a collaboration – between me, Theo and Jennifer (in organizing it and putting it on at the yoga centre), and also between me and all of the people who experienced it and helped to make it happen by participating last night.

Some of the people who came out of the hot room were totally zoned out. They said they were overwhelmed and it had been such a powerful experience. They said they needed time to absorb it. There were things to say, but they couldn’t put them to words yet. Not whilst their hearts were still pounding as a result of the extreme physical workout, and their minds were still pounding as a result of the extreme ontological workout that The pulse of prāṇāyāma had initiated and nourished inside them.

Theo, in particular, said he was overwhelmed by his practice. He had lead the whole class – changing posture at the appropriate time (which I had worked out and written down for him. He also had a stopwatch so he knew when each posture ended and began). People were copying him. He said he needed a few days to decompress and respond to this transformative experience. It had been the most powerful session of Bikram yoga he had ever done, he said. I was extremely touched by this reaction to my art.

My friend Andrew also practiced the yoga. He also said that he had had a transformative experience. Taking the class with my heartbeat had made him think about life and existence. Several other people said that it had been a very moving active performance. They felt enlivened and touched by this participatory, extreme form of art.

My tutor from Anglia Ruskin, Veronique, came. She was a critic, assessing the exhibition for a module I am doing as part of my MA. She also seemed game to experience the art in itself, besides marking it, since she lay down in the meditative space for a long time and really immersed herself into the work. She also stayed to hear people’s reactions from the hot room, and wrote a lovely long comment in my comments book. I was grateful for her effort to come and experience my work, and I hope that she thinks that it was a successful site-specific exhibition. I hope I get a good mark.

But, besides and way beyond that, it was a successful event because everyone engaged with the installation-performance and came out of it with fascinating comments about their experiences whilst participating with it – in both of the 2 spaces. These experiences ranged from sinking into the vibrating floorboards and falling asleep, to meditating about existence, to feeling their own heartbeats follow, echo or differ from the recording.

Zeynep suggested I play it at other places. I should contact the yoga studios in London – perhaps Michelle at Fierce Grace? There is life for my heartbeat beyond its première at ETHOS. This is exciting. I certainly intend to engage with the same theme and technology for my MA major project at Anglia Ruskin.

I left a comment book on the table. After people had dried off and had a drink, they wrote down their thoughts in this book. We spent a while socializing in the studio. This was a dreamy time. I wasn’t tired, just absorbing the few remaining minutes of this wonderful event. I had an amazing time collaborating with the people who run the yoga studio. It was very different to showing work at a gallery. There were different concerns to deal with about organization – setting up the hot room for the yoga class, setting up the meditative space for the other part of the exhibition, and working out all the technology for playing the recording.

My audience – I mean, the participants – were mostly yogi-fanatics. But there were also some people who practiced in the hot room that have never done yoga before, and others who came to purely engage with the meditation. Participants were open-minded about considering their practice at this event as a work of art in itself. They appreciated my heartbeat as an installation artwork in itself, and they saw themselves as collaborating with this installation whilst they were performing in tandem with it. The consequent performance-installation was powerful and – for some – overwhelming.

There is much more to debrief, decompress, and take from The pulse of prāṇāyāma. It was a dream realized and made true. My truth. My heartbeat. As I said to the participants in my spur-of-the-moment one minute speech before it began, my aim as an artist is to ‘Seize hold of life’. This is a quote from Gilles Deleuze, whose Logic of Sensation guides my academic opus. I want to seize hold of life, but it is ever impossible to capture and will always run away, ahead of me. My art tries to express and sustain some part of this futural duration, so that I do not lose any further part of my existence. This aim comes from the time when I had total amnesia (after a chronic head injury and brain damage, from which I am now fully recovered) and lost everything. I’m trying to grasp hold of life so this never happens again. I realize that it is not possible to capture the essence (or any part) of existence. I can’t tie it down. Hopefully they won’t tie me down again. Let’s not tie anything down! But to express and sustain the glorious qualities the life presents, in its dazzling, synaesthetic beauty, is the point of being alive.

The pulse of prāṇāyāma is a recording of my heartbeat. I have it set. I can play it again. I will show it again. This does not tie down my heartbeat (so it can still keep on beating), but it means that a part of me has been chronicled and will remain beyond the singular event of this recording being played.

It presents, in part, something very personal – the noise of the motor that pumps my blood and feeds my organism. Turning this noise into a performance-installation has enabled me to express the rhythm and drive of my being. It is a tactile sound that beckons participants’ own hearts to correspond, until there is an equilibrium as everyone’s hearts beat together, in time to the exertive heat and exercise of Bikram yoga.

I should now criticize my exhibition. The meditative space was a bit cold. I should have bought more strawberries, and not so many tangerines.

But it is perhaps more useful to think about what I can do next with this artwork, and how will it influence my future works? I plan to record other sounds of the body, at rest, and in other forms of hot yoga (Fierce Grace, perhaps). I will contact other yoga studios in London and discuss the idea of taking The pulse of prāṇāyāma on tour and making other works around the same theme.For my MA Fine Art at Anglia Ruskin, I’m going to focus on the tactile quality of sound and make an installation which provides a tactile rather than purely sonic sensual experience. Sound that touches. This idea stems from the tactile hallucinations that I once experienced as a result of my brain injury. I want to reinterpret these psychotic incidents in a different light: reconstructive as opposed to destructive; nourishing and sublime, rather than punitive and desperate. I want to advocate an opportunity for touch that brings healing, new life and care. I hope to do this by engaging with recordings from the sound of my body functioning, and playing them at a low level bass, until they become tactile rather than purely auditory. These sounds touch the viewer, who enters and feels cocooned, held, softly hugged by this experience.

It would be great to show you the wonderful photographs that Julia Johnson took of the event. But I can’t yet — I’m waiting for permission from ETHOS. Here’s one of me, looking so content to have made art that touches people (one of my life aims):

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The Pulse of Prāṇāyāma

Pulse Poster

 

Those who wish to practice will need to pay a nominal fee of a regular drop-in class at £15 (or free for ETHOS members):
http://goo.gl/Bm1xRT

The exhibition in the other studio is free for all but pre-booking by Thursday 8th May is required to provision for drinks and nibbles:
http://goo.gl/s5e0Gx

 

 

A fairytale on Ryanair about Pedro the Spaniard

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The amphitheatre for bull fighting in Málaga

It’s absolute carnage here. I’m on board the Ryanair plane to Málaga. It looks like there aren’t enough seats for all the passengers, who cram the (very) tight space and race to get the best seats. Relatively speaking, that is. This race is not exactly speedy but there are so many people trying to get a seat with air hostesses barging everyone out of the way, getting in the way, trying to make space for the luggage, so it’s all very competitive. Panicky, even. And as for “best” seats, well they’re all the same, sordid, plasticised minuscule boxes to park one’s derrière into. It’s rather ferociously uncomfortable: there’s barely room for the length of my legs, whilst my arms are far too long and basically I simply don’t fit in.

The two people on my right, I have so far inferred, are Spanish. One (in the middle seat, which is just next to me) is playing a Spanish game on his iPad. This game has brightly coloured characters that resemble the pic-n-mix sweets that children eat at the cinema, or those fruit mix gambling games you play in pubs or at the fair — where you press a number of the buttons trying to reach a certain score so you can win a prize. Decidedly dull. Oh well. The man in question has now given his iPad to his friend, who has changed the game to Solitaire. I’m not sure how entertaining it is, but both these copains seem enthralled.

One is lanky, with long greasy hair and stubble. He has very hairy arms, peeping out of his black airtex top (which has a sprinkling of dandruff on the shoulders). Oh dear — the air hostess has just told them to turn off their iPad whilst the plane takes off. They look bored. Still, at least the plane is taking off. We’re on the way! How very exciting. Anyway, as I was saying, this man, with the hairy arms. He also has a clumpy watch, which has three faces. I imagine he must travel lots and so needs to see different time zones at the same time. I imagine he’s a professional bull fighter from Madrid, who travels the world to different Spanish colonies like Argentina, Africa (I’m sure one of the countries in Africa is Spanish) or Peru, or the moon, or Saturn, where Richard Branson’s company Virgin imported bulls, who are crazed at the heat. Pedro (this Spaniard with hairy arms) is on his way to Saturn, via Málaga. He’s stopping off in Málaga to celebrate Palm Sunday with his mother, and be principle maestro at the grand procession. Easter is big in Spain (it’s a Catholic country). The new pope, Francis, is going to be there and he and Pedro are giving Mass together. The Pope wants a layman to help him give mass, particularly a Spaniard, because of the new democratic, down to earth and accessible ethos of his papacy. Pedro has been chosen to fulfil this role because he represents both an ancient Spain, as a bull fighter, and also as a modern man, because of the way he has transformed bull fighting into a dance with bovines. Rather than attacking, wounding or slaughtering the bulls, and engaging entirely with The Death Instinct and relishing blood, Pedro has invented bovine dressage, where he teaches the bulls to dance with he and his dramatic, red cape. It’s a bit like that dog Pudsy on Britain’s Got Talent. In this case the Pope is Simon Cowel, and the setting is a relic of an ancient amphitheatre, rather than ITV. Pedro whispers to the bulls — he is a “Bull whisperer” and they perform together like a form of poetry in motion, in time to the jangling percussion of buskers whom Pedro (and Richard Branson) employ to provide the sound for he and his bulls’ performance. It’s like a Big Issue Seller scenario, except with music and bulls, since Pedro uses homeless buskers who live in the street.

Richard Branson comes in because he’s exported bulls to Saturn, and cows as well, a whole herd, with baby calves, who thrive, surprisingly, on the molten landscape, due to some magic ointment that Pedro himself invented, which he puts on their hooves/trotters (whatever they’re feet are called) and because of his mother’s special Spanish tapas, which the cows love to eat, far away on the planet. And Richard is launching “Saturn’s Got Talent”, either on ITV, or BBC3. There’s a massive price war going on at the moment, with these two channels in a bid to win the rights to air this show. My guess is that BBC3 will win it, since Pedro’s bull (pseudo) fight is artistic and balletic. It’s about culture. No more blood and guts. And We Don’t Want Any Adverts to disrupt the flow of artistry as Pedro dances with his bulls. So I’m sure it’s more suited to BBC3 than ITV. Although I expect ITV will pay Richard more money, which he needs, since financing the hole project in Saturn is ridiculously expensive. I mean, how does one (i.e. the cows, or Pedro, or the other contestants (use your imagination) on Saturn’s Got Talent breathe? Well, indeed, quite.

Richard at first tried to import air from earth, in a specially adapted cow-friendly cylinder, whilst Pedro had to do special training at the Astronaut Academy in Hollywood (another expense). But eventually it was my yoga friend, Theo, who has a PhD in something scientific, who came up trumps. He invented a device which uses the pranayama breathing exercise we do at the beginning of Bikram yoga. Theo transported this and transduced its biomechanics in a schizoanalytic fashion, which meant that All Could Breathe On Saturn, suddenly. It involved teaching both the cows and Pedro how to do Bikram yoga, but that wasn’t hard. Obree (Theo and Jennifer’s dog) helped, and so did Alejandrro (the Spanish Bikram teacher at T + J’s studio). All sorted. So Pedro’s off to Saturn, after Easter in Málaga with his mum, and the Pope. But now, by now, still on the plane, he’s fallen asleep. Luckily (for me) he’s not snoring. His friend is continuing to play Solitaire. Engrossed on the iPad…
IMG_1233Me in Málaga

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Bikram Yoga

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I had a euphoric moment in Bikram yoga today. I went to my friends Theo and Jennifer’s new studio, Ethos Hot Yoga, in town, and practiced in both of their classes. I ‘did a double’ (with my packed lunch and lots of coconut water in between). This experience brought me a momentous bodily nirvana as a trolled along to my Sunday’s duration.

The first class was lead by Theo. As I exerted my body to the maximum, trying to achieve the perfect muscular alliance and traction during each pose it occurred to me that I have become so besotted to Bikram because it seems so like my previous love (and obsession): dressage. In both arts there is a set sequence of movements which never change: in dressage you follow a particular test, trying to perfect each movement, which is judged and marked out of ten. The tests might change, as you progress and advance to a higher level, but the movements stay the same. You are always trying to improve and interpret these movements with greater correction, pureness and poetry.

Just so, in Bikram the 26 poses are repeated in each yoga session, and they do not change. But every time you practice you try to improve and interpret each pose with greater correction, pureness and poetry, just like in dressage. And, in both arts, every time it feels different. In Bikram, the body reacts and plays differently, as the heat changes in intensity, whilst you can feel your muscles being stretched and your internal organs being massaged in different areas, with different amounts of pressure, as you attempt to perfect each posture.

Equally, in dressage, the horse and the rider always feel different in their interconnection and in the ways they align and communicate to interpret each movement. I used to talk to my horse with my body, through pressure from my seat bones and our connection through the reins, and with our synchronised breath and muscular harmony we could communicate and reassess each movement, always trying to advance the power of the horse’s body and show the meaning of beauty. We did this by practicing each movement, and using this process to enhance the muscular anatomy and poetic brilliance of the horse. In dressage this is an endless search and a lifelong journey that changes and is always different every time the horse and rider come together and perform.

It’s the same in Bikram yoga, my new-found love. The poses are always the same, but each effort to move the body to create them is different. I always lose my balance in ‘Standing Bow’, or during the three bounces to test the balance in the third part of ‘Awkward Pose’. During these poses, and in fact in every pose, I am tested to my limit.

But today this test erupted. There was a tsunami of sweat, as I melted (and came in the heat) and an oozing evanescence between the boundary lines of my body and my mind as they came together and performed each pose. Within the set barriers regulated order of the sequence there was a continued effort to grasp a purity or essence that might be obtained if you can ever achieve the pinnacle of perfection by doing each of the postures properly. You trust that the muscles of the body will be compressed and stretched, massaged and realigned to their ultimate benefit by doing these postures. You can really feel it happening, or, at least, that’s what I felt today. Like dressage, the practice has the aim of improving the anatomy and reaching a pinnacle of health and wellbeing, as well as achieving or creating an artistry and genesis.

Today I felt this come to fruition. Jennifer led the second class and I was determined to test my body to its utmost. It was hot. I felt so situated inside this flesh, and aligned by my practice that I took off my long-sleeved black t-shirt, which I always wear during every Bikram class. So, for the first time, wearing my crop top, I bared my arms and their scars, my stomach and its weight, and the meaty covering over my ribs, which used to protrude and now are no longer visible (even during the pranayama breathing exercise). Most of all, I bared and shared my body with myself, and felt at home there, as the sweat flushed and dripped down me. I put my all into each posture and, despite wobbling around during most of these attempts, there were moments when I could really feel the benefits of this practice. I felt fit and alive. I could see the scars, as relics of my psychotic, destructive, detained past, in the mirrors, but I no longer needed to create them, or to hide from them. I was surrounded by new friends, a new life, and the discovery, or self-discovery, of a healthy way of being inside my new body. This was my euphoria.