After Berlin and the festival season to end all festival seasons, I had some time to reflect. What's my life all about, what am I working towards, how am I doing - like really, how am I doing.
As we sat in the middle of our mats, eyes closed, James asked us to picture our 7 year old selves sitting in front of us. And as we breathed our ujjayi breath (ocean breathing) with mouths open, each of us looked into the quizzical face of our 7 year old selves as they looked back and asked, 'How are we doing? How are we doing as an adult?'
Now I may have lost most of you already; no doubt gone off to read about the latest horrors of IS on BBC News, or 21 sloths that look like Ed Milliband on Buzzfeed. But hopefully some of you are still with me.
I wonder what you would answer your 7 year old self if he/she asked you that question. I bet that for most, the initial reaction - if you were honest - is 'blimey, what a question, I don't know' before no doubt, perhaps even imperceptibly, jumping to 'yeah, pretty well actually' or 'd'you know what, not so good'.
It's this disconnect with ourselves that I have become so interested in. We live in a hyper connected world. As someone who's worked in communications for the past 5 years, I know. Facebook allows me to keep in touch and make last minute plans with my cousins on the other side of the world in Australia. Twitter means that I can form new relationships with people with similar interests, or connect with brands and even celebrities instantly. We've got 4G and super fast broadband, so we're connected even when we're on the move.
But as the world gets smaller and smaller, it doesn't get happier or more peaceful. Are we really connecting in the right way?
We rush through life, from pillar to post, meeting to deadline, work to play, never really taking the time to be mindful of how we're really doing. "How are you?" "Fine thanks, great. You?" The funny thing is, our 'conscious' self even believes it to be true. But more than ever perhaps, we are disconnected from our (deeper) selves.
We all have goals - short term, long term, realistic, ambitious, whatever. And if you never thought about the future, you'd never have the forward thinking and planning in place that allows us as modern humans to achieve the seemingly impossible, to pull off what we conceive of only in our minds, to get major achievements under our belts. But if you're finding that it's all about the goal, and it's only hindsight (which, as we know, is 20/20) that allows you to see the bigger picture - what it was actually like for you, how you felt, who was with you (or perhaps not with you) at the time - was it worth it?
Perhaps it was. Sometimes it will be. But being mindful of that question as it's happening, not after it's happened, is important.
If, by some miracle, those of you who seriously considered stopping reading as soon as you heard anything relating to yogis and breathing are still following my train of thought, I'd be fascinated to learn what you know about yoga. It's good for stretching out your muscles right? And these days, there's a lot of dynamic yoga classes that can give you a pretty good cardio workout. Or, y'know, it helps you relax 'cos you sit in a quiet space and say 'om'.
Well, sure, I guess. But did you know, for instance, that yogic breathing has been found by a Stanford scholar to reduce the symptoms of PTSD more successfully than pharmaceutical treatments? (The findings have been reported in the past 2 months - you can read more here.)
What the word 'yoga' means is union. And what the practice of it does is to help us find union with ourselves and with the universe. In other words, to be connected. So, the next time you're on the underground or in a field with no signal, instead of thinking 'damn, I can't connect', maybe try instead 'ah, finally, I can connect'.
You can find Yogi James (see image) teaching at FRAME in Shoreditch.