Web design: Get the picture

Orlando-Web-Design

A collaborative medium, a place where we all meet and read and write.
Tim Berners-Lee

[Part 2 of 6 in the web design series, intropart 1part 3part 4, part 5, part 6]

The first picture ever uploaded onto the Internet was a photoshopped gif of a female comedy group at CERN called The Horrible Cernettes. Tim Berners-Lee uploaded the image to show that the Internet could be much more than physics laboratories sharing data worldwide.

The links above complain that it is a dreadful first image for making history, but I think that is in part because Berners-Lee wanted to make a point about what the Internet could be, so the content was the least of his worries. It wasn’t about the content. It was about the Internet being a place where we all meet. And, this is what is ultimately so liberating about our digital culture. We all get a say in what makes culture. And, perhaps physicists have different ideas about what is culturally important which, after all, is what makes The Big Bang Theory so brilliant and funny.

However, if we look at the ancient cave paintings found on the Island of Sulawesi, Indonesai, of hand prints and pig deer, we get a very different feeling. Archaeologists believe that they are at least 39,000 years ago and are among the oldest examples of figurative art, but cannot say for sure what they represent. They are beautiful and I look at them with awe, which is probably why some archaeologists speculate that they represent a belief system the artists held. Or perhaps, they are a world view, like the cave of swimmers, found in the Sahara. These paintings are only 8,000 years old, but have given rise to the theory that the Sahara was a place where people used to swim, before climate change turned it into a desert. We may never know.

I asked my girls what they thought the pictures of hands and beasts and swimmers meant. One said: This is me. Remember me. The other said: Spread my imagination. In other words, my girls think these images were drawn so that the artists could make their mark, record and share their worldview and be remembered, which I believe is why people create today whether it is images or words.

Science research website, Greater Good asked seven artists: Why do you make art? And they got the same response as the ones my junior school girls gave me with a couple of additions/variations:

Making art for fun and adventure; building bridges between themselves and the rest of humanity; reuniting and recording fragments of thought, feeling, and memory; and saying things that they can’t express in any other way.

When they asked Hip-hop artist, KRS-One, he said:

Put a writing utensil in any kid’s hand at age two or three. They will not write on a paper like they’ll later be socialized to do, they will write on the walls. They’re just playing. That’s human. Graffiti reminds you of your humanity, when you scrawl your self-expression on the wall.

Which is so true. The ancient images were drawn on the wall. They are self-expression and remind us of our humanity, which is why they are so moving. Interestingly, hurried scrawled graffiti has been found on ancient monuments, and on the walls in Pompeii. And, in Rome on a church wall, the first words of Italian graffiti, or Vulgar Latin, were written, written like a response, in the vernacular, representing the ordinary person’s thoughts. Today, graffiti is shorthand for unsolicited markings on a private or public property and is usually considered to be vandalism. Yet, some of it is breathtaking and elaborate. There are three categories of graffiti: Tourist graffiti (‘John wuz here’), inner-city graffiti (tagging and street art), and toilet graffiti (latrinalia) described in a fabulous Atlantic article. Graffiti is a way of people contributing to the conversation like when people leave their comments and links below.

As is painting, so is poetry

The Roman poet Horace ut pictura poesis (as is painting, so is poetry) made the link between word and image, which has kept the art world busy for centuries. Aristotle’s theory of drama considered the balance of lexis (speech) and opsis (spectacle) in tragedy. So we can see that ancient theories of memory use words and images, which no doubt inspired the more modern and controversial Dual Coding Theory, which says that when someone is learning a new word, if a meaningful picture is given alongside it, the learner will retain it more easily than if it didn’t have an accompanying picture. This is reminiscent of the ubiquitous meme: lovely quotation, lovely image, shared experience, which has a gestalt feel of something meaningful.

Hieroglyphics

The first written language was a language of images –  the Hieroglyphics. However, the appreciation of their meaning was lost until the decoding of The Rosetta Stone which took so long because the code breakers they thought they were decoding images. It was only when they realised that the Hieroglyphics were a language and needed to be treated as such, did they decode the stone.

Like all languages, Hieroglyphics are an organised form of communication because you can’t build something as grand as the Pyramids without communicating clearly and communication is a way of advancing humanity. However, Hieroglyphics began as decorative symbols for priests – a gift of sacred signs given from the God Thoth – and were used to record the meaning of life and religion and magic. These were too elaborate for merchants, who adopted a simpler version to preserve their transactions, until Hieroglyphics fell out of favour for the more practical cursive Coptic script, which gave way to Arabic and Latin, languages we recognise today, in which communication was preserved and recorded to enrich future generations.

Images reward us

Research, particularly in the field of neuroesthetics, which is how the visual brain appreciates visual art, shows us that art is a rewarding experience. It is not necessarily the message itself which the viewer finds rewarding, it is how it is delivered. That is to say, it is it is not what is painted, it is how it is painted that lights up the brain’s reward centre. And, we prefer images to photographs, because the brain is free to interpret meaning even though it ultimately prefers to see a representation of what is in nature. And why wouldn’t it?

The asethetics of nature

In nature we find so many pleasing patterns. We also are attracted to art and people who are asethetically pleasing. The golden ratio is a pattern which appears in nature and has been used in art, as has symmetry. The most beautiful people have symmetrical faces and the most average facial features. We are naturally attracted to beautiful people in paintings and real life.

And, we are also influenced by them, which marketers have long recognised. They use lovely images to wrap their products in knowing that us consumers will be more willing to consume something which looks beautiful. This is known as the art infusion effect.

It is the same for newspapers, pictures sell more copy. The Illustrated London News was created in 1842 and had 60,000 subscribers in that year alone, after someone realised that newspapers sold more copies when they had pictures in them, especially ones which showed a face or place. But it wasn’t until 1889 that photographs were used in newspapers.

Images online

And so it is online, Jakob Nielsen says that users pay close attention to photos and other images that contain relevant information but will ignore pictures used to jazz up web pages. Stock pictures of people in business situations get ignored but pictures of people who write the blogs or work in the companies get studied 10% longer than their written biographies which often accompany any photograph. If you are selling a product you need high quality photographs which users can inspect and compare.

Users want to be educated by the images and find out things which is ultimately why they are on your website. Edward Tufte has written extensively about excellence in statistical graphics and visualising data. His says that users are sophisticated individuals so:

Give them the greatest number of ideas, in the shortest time, with the least ink, in the smallest space.

There is no need to dumb down. When a graphic is well created, patterns can be seen and understood on different levels.

In a great talk for An Event Apart, Designer and Developer Advocate at Mozilla, Jen Simmons looks offline at magazines for inspiration and remembers how there was much experimentation and creativity online until everyone adopted grids and fell into a rut. She also outlines ways of using responsive images, for leaner, faster pics, and highlights new cool and practical uses of imagery with the latest tags from W3C.

Images are communications which have the power to change us. Here are some:

Content aside, the urls are precisely named to drive traffic via social media.

However, if all else fails, talk to your user and learn all about what they are looking for, before you share your beautiful art.

[Part 3:Web design: Getting to grips with your user’s experience]

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Conclusions: The limits of the social animal on social media (9)

[Part 9 of 9: The Social Animal on Social Media, Part 1Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8]

Social media may be changing the way we do business and how we connect with others, but I don’t believe it is changing us fundamentally as humans. My theory, after writing this series, is that social media reflects the way we behave, and we behave the way do because we are human. And, because we are human, we just can’t get enough of social media, which really isn’t our fault, it is just the way we are made.

Social media not only lights up the nucleus accumbens, the part of our brain which deals with rewards, but does so randomly, which is called a variable interval reinforcement schedule. Rats or birds who have been trained to get rewards randomly will work harder for rewards, and take longer to give up checking once all rewards for the behaviour is removed. We are the same, we will randomly check all our social media for a very long time, before it no longer rewards us.

One reason is that, social media is much easier on us than the face-to-face contact of daily life and that in itself is a reward for we much prefer people who are nice to us without us having to make a massive effort. For once we are tangled up with other people – as we have seen throughout this blog series – we conform and betray ourselves, we behave aggressively and act with prejudice, all so we can avoid feeling rejected. Then, we feel so bad about our shoddy behaviour that we have to find ways to feel better by reducing our cognitive dissonance and the gap between who we are (good people) and the things we do (behave badly towards other, or towards ourselves, like when we agree to do favours for people we don’t like).

We all need connection

It really isn’t our fault. Brene Brown, Professor of Sociology, says, that we are neurobiologically wired to want to connect with our fellow human beings. We all want to feel that we matter. So, of course we would choose social media. Why not choose the quickest and easiest way possible to feel connected to others? It seems like less of an emotional investment, but as this series has demonstrated, it really isn’t.

It might have been okay if social media had stayed as it began: easy and quick ways to share pictures, videos, texts between groups of friends, or networks for sharing interests across time and space. But once, we realised that anyone could be a star in the land of digital culture, then we all spent more time there trying to be loved or trying to make money – it amounts to the same thing, after all: money=influence, influence=feeling loved and valued.

And, then once news could get delivered the way we liked it, via, for example, the Huffington Post who serve up the same article with two different headlines and then they go with the headline which attracts the most hits (aka A/B testing), we never stood a chance. Web media started giving us what we want, right around the clock which encouraged traditional news outlets to try and keep up. Consequently in-depth coverage and accuracy seems to have suffered.  Facts are cherry-picked for nice looking memes which can remain unsubstantiated assertions because the rest of the facts don’t get checked half as much as what the crowd says. Journalism is engaging in groupthink.

Limits on friendship

Marketer, Marcus Sheridan, wrote a funny blog called Chris Brogan unfollowed me on Twitter and now I hate my life. How many of us measure our worthiness by the amount of un/followers we have on Twitter or friends on Facebook? How many of these people do we actually know?

Dunbar’s number, proposed by an anthropologist of the same name, postulated a limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships. These are relationships in which an individual knows who each person is. In reality the number is a series: 5 – 10 close friends, then 5-10 x 3 = people you might have to dinner, and so on, until you reach a maximum of 150 (for a wedding or party) of close people you know who are there to celebrate an event in your life. Dunbar’s number is tiny compared to the numbers seen on Facebook.

I’d rather be anywhere than here

Google Designer, Jake Knapp wiped social media and email off his iPhone because he felt that by constantly checking social media apps he wasn’t present in his present moment, which is so true. If we are constantly distracted by our apps, or eager to share or capture a moment, then we are not really present in that moment.

This got me thinking, if we are constantly looking at other people’s moments and memes on social media, then when we get to experience that moment for ourselves, aren’t we having a second hand experience? Will the landscape remind us of a photograph? Will an emotion remind us of a meme? Are we experiencing what we feel we should rather than what would make us feel good?

Get nuanced

Meditation teacher davidji, has said that those voices who are ranting on Facebook are usually the loudest voices (not normally the most accurate or uplifting, just influential) and they have an impact on us. We react to what other people are saying and doing online instead of following our own agenda. daviji believes that we need to get nuanced, and know what we are feeling, so we do not get hijacked by other peoples’ opinions. Otherwise we don’t stand a chance of not being influenced, and this is why we are endlessly fascinated by people who influence us. We want to know how they do it so we can wrestle back our power or try influence others so we can be heard.

I still believe that social media has the capacity to augment us, even though I have seen throughout this blog series the many ways it can diminish us, but that is because we are human, who haven’t yet realised that we all count and are all connected anyway. Social media just can’t do that for us. It is not a brave new world, it the same old world on a small screen. To find a brave new world we have to do that ourselves, and we have to start by looking inside ourselves, instead of inside our phones.

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Liking, loving and interpersonal sensitivity: The social animal on social media (8)

[Part 8 of 9: The Social Animal on Social Media, Part 1,
Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7Part 9]

Being liked is one of our fundamental needs as shown in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, and also a major topic of research in the field of social psychology where much research has been given over to: How should we behave so people like us more?

The fear of not being liked, or rejected, causes us to conform and sometimes betray ourselves. Sometimes we get aggressive, and other times we need to reduce the cognitive dissonance between what we believe we are like and our actions which have caused suffering either to ourselves or to other people.

Elliot Aronson in his classic text book, The Social Animal, asks: How do we pick our friends? And, says that we pick them for similar beliefs and interests, skills, and abilities and competencies, and quite simply, we pick people who like us.

We also like people who give us maximum good feelings for minimum effort. A recent social media study shows us that when we receive positive feedback about ourselves from Facebook likes, our brain lights up its reward area, the nucleus accumbens, in a way that a money reward does not.

So, it is no wonder many of us spend time on social media in search of validation.

However, if praise is too lavish, we tend to mistrust it, and view it as manipulation. Indeed we saw in Part 5, if someone gets us to do them a favour, we are more likely to like them because we convince ourselves that they are worthy of the favour, even if they are not. This is because it is much easier for us to believe rather than admit that we are chumps who got duped, again. And so, it makes sense that a like or heart is a great reward without having to get involved with people who might want to manipulate us.

Physical attractiveness

We like attractive people because the way they look is an aesthetic reward. Research shows that the anterior insula, the part of our brain which lights up when we eat food or find a life partner, things which are biologically important to us, is also used to appreciate aesthetics.

Many studies show us that attractive people are more likely to succeed in life because we are hard-wired as babies to prefer beautiful people . This is enforced by our culture as we are constantly fed images of beauty from Walt Disney to the American stereotype of beauty with nice white teeth. And we are constantly bombarded by advertising as to what is good and bad and how we should improve ourselves to become more attractive, more likeable.

Consequently we treat people who are more attractive, better, which is known as the halo effect. We assume them to be nicer and more intelligent that they are, simply because they are attractive, which is a self- fulfilling prophesy because when you treat people well they respond well. And, then people who mix with attractive people are viewed as more likeable and more attractive and so we want to be perceived as attractive by attractive people, and be with them.

There are many articles too on how to be more attractive on social media to gain more followers and to become more popular.

It is cyclical. Research show that we are more likely to be attracted to befriending people who share our opinions. We all want attractive and intelligent pals, and if they are like us, they socially validate us.

However, if we perceive that people don’t like us, we are less ready to like them. Even, if we have no proof. Research done by social psychologist, Ray Baumeister, has shown that it is enough to for us to anticipate being rejected, and we will begin to make unhealthy choices and start to believe that we are worth less.

As Aronson says:

The greater our self-doubt and insecurity, the more we like people who like us. The needier we are, the more willing we are to befriend anyone who likes us.

Matthew Liberman, author of Social: Why our brains are wired to connect, says that these feelings of being liked or being rejected are exacerbated by social media which leads to approval seeking anxiety.

Likeability

So, it makes sense that to reduce our anxiety we don’t want to be friends with people who are perfect. We prefer our people to be human and not too perfect.

Aronson did an experiment where researchers were recorded answering questions. In the first instance they answered the questions perfectly. In the second the same only, at some point they threw coffee down themselves. In the third instance they answered the questions in a mediocre manner. Ditto, the fourth plus the coffee trick.

Everyone preferred number two – smart but still human, which has become known as the pratfall effect. We prefer it when we meet people who are vulnerable. In the same way, we like it when our friends fail as it gives us a holiday from own self-esteem issues.

Gain-Loss Theory

But how do we measure our liking for people? Aronson developed his gain-loss theory to find out, and discovered that we feel more strongly about other people when their liking for us changes. So, if there is an increase or decrease in the rewarding behaviour we receive from another person, it will have more effect on us than if someone constantly likes or dislikes us.

Obviously, we like best of all the people who started out behaving negatively towards us who have changed to behave more positively towards us. Inversely, we like least of all a person who starts out behaving positively towards us and becomes negative towards us. This is often demonstrated by twitter spats between celebrities who go on to become firm friends or deadly enemies.

The triangle of love

How do we fall in love? Apparently, proximity and similarity play a role, whilst psychologist, Robert Steinberg, has defined love in a one-to-one relationship as made up of three factors: Commitment, passion, and intimacy which he calls the triangle of love.

  • Intimacy refers to feelings of closeness and connectedness for the experience of warmth in a loving relationship.
  • Passion refers to romance, physical attraction, and sexual consummation in a loving relationship.
  • Commitment refers to the commitment needed to maintain that love.

Steinberg says that in order to keep love alive, people in long term relationships need to keep all three sides of the triangle going. This means that they must be authentic and work at communicating well with each other.  However, this is difficult to do, given that we are so afraid of rejection.

Our loved ones have the power to really hurt us with their comments in the way that strangers’ comments don’t. Our loved ones can make us feel so vulnerable. Conversely, our loved ones’ compliments do not carry half as much weight a stranger’s compliments, perhaps because our we have heard our loved ones’ compliments before – familiarity, it seems, really does breed contempt.

Professor of Sociology, Brene Brown says that being vulnerable, which she defines as: exposure, risk, uncertaintyis our best measure of courage, in whatever area of our lives. People who are willing to be authentic and risk rejection, are those people who live most whole-heartedly, and most happily, without regrets.

Brown say that connection is the reason for our existence and if we want connection then we need to live whole-heartedly, which means that we must be ready to be vulnerable and risk rejection, for it is the only way which will enable us to find our way back to each other.

[Part 9]

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Prejudice: The Social animal on social media (7)

[Part 7 of 9: The Social Animal on Social Media, Part 1,
Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 8Part 9]

When you have an intact, healthy sense of worth, you value other people. You know who you are, which means you can accept others as they are. When you are not sure that who you are is good enough, you will do your darndest to prove that you are better than someone else.  – Iyanla Vanzant

We have all experienced prejudice, or been prejudice towards someone else at some point in our lives. Social psychologist Elliot Aronson, in The Social Animal, defines prejudice as:

A hostile or negative attitude towards a distinguishable group of people on the basis of generalisation derived from faulty or incomplete information.

Prejudice behaviour can be based on gender, race, sexuality, religion, class, location, looks, intelligence, and so on. The list is a long one.

Spiritual life coach Iyanla Vanzant said on Supersoul Sunday that prejudice – she was talking in particular about racism – is a form of dishonesty, and has in the US historically taken the form of : I am superior because I said so. And even today, sections of US society still function on some dishonest assumptions. If certain groups of people look and behave differently, then they are inferior and deserve less. Vanzant said that the US must have a conversation about this dishonesty and find a different way of living together, otherwise more tragic acts of violence will occur.

Subtle prejudice

We all like to think we are educated and thus, we know that prejudice is wrong. However, Aronson says that sometimes we fool ourselves and behave in a prejudice manner even though we don’t believe we do. We engage in subtle prejudice. For example, when people deny that racial or sexual discrimination continues to be a problem, and behave antagonistically towards any group which encourages conversation around these discriminations.

Men may behave in what they deem to be chivalrous manner, and provide protection and affection to women which really is just prejudice. They are judging women to be weaker and crossing boundaries. This behaviour is not chivalrous, it is just patronising. It is benevolent sexism.

Aronson’s research shows that people will engage in prejudice behaviour if they can deny it. Otherwise, they may try to justify their words and behaviour. For example, citing the Bible and referring to family values instead of acknowledging their prejudice towards people who are gay or bisexual.

Stereotypes

Stereotypes facilitate prejudice and deny someone their right to be seen as a unique individual with their own positive or negative traits. Instead, we attribute characteristics and we self-attribute characteristics negatively and positively.

Apparently, this is left over from our decision making abilities back when we were living in tribes. We saw very few outsiders and when we did, we immediately had to decide if someone was friend or foe. So, we used stereotypes as shorthand to categorise the people we meet and imply lots of information about them.

Because, stereotypes encapsulate a lot of information and are a handy short cut when communicating, they are regularly used and new ones created today by mass media.

Think how the media normally describes: the single mum, the banker, asylum seekersthe WAG, or how Islam and Muslims has been confused, simplified and represented by the press since since 9/11.

Research shows that thanks to advertising and TV women are still taught to feel that they are less important than men, and behave in silly ways.

We tell stories about others and about ourselves to encapsulate information, which can be negative like stereotypes, or they may be just a way of identifying ourselves with labels or things that we do. For example, I am: female, computer scientist, yogini, mum, cat lover. These are our social identities.

However, like stereotypes, social identities can be used negatively. And, then once we believe something about someone or about ourselves, we take that as truth, as reality. For our beliefs create our reality.

Causes of prejudice

Evolutionary psychologists believe that we are basically predisposed to favour our own tribe family, culture, and to fear outsiders. However, as the film Zootopia so aptly demonstrates, if we all just decide to believe that we are biologically programmed to behave a certain way, then nothing will ever change.

We have to take responsibility for our prejudices.

Aronson has a list of reasons as to why people are prejudice:

  1. Economic and competitive: If resources are scarce and people are competing for the spoils then this will breeds prejudice. One example is how Chinese immigrants were treated very badly during the Californian Gold Rush and railway construction.
  2. Displaced aggression: If people feel that they have been treated badly, then they will seek to retaliate and blame others. Like Hitler’s horrific behaviour towards Jewish people, blaming them for World War I.
  3. Maintenance of self-image: It is easier to live with ourselves if we think of other people as sub-human – like the slave trade.
  4. Dispositional prejudice: some people are prejudice towards others because they have learnt that from their parents and/or it is prevalent in the culture within which they live. When this is so entrenched, it is difficult to find another way of thinking.
  5. Comformity: People are prejudice because it is a social norm and everyone behaves the same way. We are conformists for so many reasons.

Prejudice on social media

Prejudice online is not new. Even as early as 1995, feminist Jude Milhon was urging women to toughen up online when faced with bullies and abuse.

In this series we have seen that social media facilitates aggression and hatred. People will conform and only say what they think others want to hear online. Or, they will find liked minded people in order to vent their anger or justify their behaviour.

It is very easy in a tweet to encapsulate an argument and misrepresent what someone has or hasn’t said in order to prove a point. This can stir up emotion and because people respond more readily to information which causes a reaction, this can quite easily escalate towards aggression, argument, and all the other bad behaviour we witness online.

However, not all is lost, social media can be used for change because people reach out and support one another more easily than they could do in the real world, crossing groups and providing inter-group support.

Reducing prejudice

Aronson says that if you engineer society to facilitate inter-group support – if you set up different groups of people so that they have equal status and equal contact between them, then prejudice is automatically reduced. This is because regular exposure to the groups of people you might have prejudice towards reduces the dissonance of beliefs you may hold. And, a proper mixture of people reduces the need for anyone to reach for their social identity and band together. Interdependence forces people to work together and get to know people.

Other research has show that if we reduce competition in class and make winning a dysfunctional activity, kids learn to work co-operatively, instead of operating a zero sum approach to life.

Only by getting to know people do we learn to empathise with them and empathy is key. We learn empathy and we can teach empathy. However, we can’t just wait for the next generation, as Iyanla Vanzant said, we need to be honest about the dishonesty behind prejudice and we need to question the beliefs we hold in order to discover truth. We need honest, empathetic conversation. Once we do, we will be better equipped to advocate the next generation into a more equal world, one without prejudice.

Part 8

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Yoga lessons: More Bikram wisdom

the 26 Bikram yoga poses

I sometimes wonder if, when someone found Pantajali’s Yoga Sutras after it had fallen into obscurity, did they think: What on earth is he on about? Which is what I have often thought when I am in the studio following the script in Bikram yoga, until I listen with focus and make an adjustment and then I think: Ah, that’s what it means. Consequently, I am beginning to think that Bikram Choudhury is a genius.

Here are my latest Bikram observations which I am taking off the mat to make positive changes one day at a time.

Practice, practice, practice

If you want to get good at something, you practice everyday. If you learn the piano you systematically practice scales in order to get them right. And, it is the same with Bikram, each day I practice the same sequence of asanas and each day I get better at them. Some days I learn something new about being in that pose and I feel different. Some days I don’t feel that I have learnt anything at all, and that is fine too. Overall though, I am achieving results. I am getting stronger legs and a stronger core. I sleep better. I feel better and my anxiety levels are going down.

On top of this practising, when I come out of Bikram, I tend to choose healthier food, I drink less alcohol and caffeine because my body doesn’t always want them. I am happily surprising myself with my choices.

Where else though could I practice more consistently to see the results I feel would improve my life?

I have everything I need

Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.~ Rumi

I have tight hips and so I thought that I needed to practice extra hip-openers to get more open hips. However, practising has made me realise that there are enough hip-openers in the Bikram sequence – Vrksasana (Tree pose) and Trikanasana (Triangle pose) spring to mind. But, all standing poses, twists and backbends are hip openers. So, each day because I was thinking I had to do extras I wasn’t paying attention to what the poses were doing for me. I am doing enough. The sequence gives me everything I need.

In the studio, I have space on my mat, and someone guiding me through 90 minutes of asanas reciting the script with a group of like-minded people are around me inspiring and doing the same as me. Sometimes, I might think I need more space, or more light, or might heat, or less chatter. But I don’t really. I just need to let go of what I think I need and focus on what I have.

And, this is the same outside the studio, often I think I need to buy one more book or listen to one more lecture, or do one more course to achieve what it is I want. However, when I focus on what I have already done, or what I have already listened to or read, perhaps I already have everything I need to achieve what I want, I just haven’t understood that yet.

Being present

One of the teachers said to me that the script was a mantra which is really an amazing way of looking at it. She is so right. I thought a mantra was a short phrase like Om,  which it can be. But, a mantra is also a sacred thing. It is an instrument of thought to focus the mind.

So, the script as a mantra helps me to focus my mind. Sometimes when I let go of the focus my mind wanders and when I look up I find that I am holding the wrong pose or drinking water and I am not in synch with the rest of the class. This is nothing to feel bad or wrong about. It just means that I am not getting as much as could out of the present moment because I am elsewhere.

So, when I return my mind back to the script, I am doing what I came to do. I am relaxing my body and mind by engaging in the present and working hard.  Also, when I am focused, I don’t need anything to be any different.  I don’t need anyone to behave any differently, or for it to be hotter or colder or less humid. It just is. I am working with this present moment and I am in the flow: The place where we find happiness and where we feel most alive.

Mirror, mirror on the wall

Yesterday I was clever so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise so I want to change myself. ~ Rumi

I have blogged before about staying on my mat and not wishing for things to be different. It occurred to me the other day that when I get annoyed on the mat or off the mat with people – it is always a reflection of myself- and then I read this Iyanla Vanzant’s post on Facebook:

We all have somebody in our lives who has the uncanny ability to push our buttons. We think it is the other person. Surprise, surprise! The problem doesn’t lie in the other person, it lies in us! No one can push our buttons unless the buttons are connected. Detach whatever fear, guilt, shame, or anger we have attached to the issue and people will be unable to push us.

Iyanla Vanzant, Facebook post 23/4/16

And, after thinking about the above, I got chatting to a yoga friend who was telling me that she doesn’t try to do the poses which she might fall out of in case she disturbs someone else. And, then another yogi said that she gets annoyed when people don’t attempt poses properly near her because it puts her off doing her poses properly.

Often we look to others to change their behaviour so that we can change ourselves. But, as Iyanla said, other people are a mirror of ourselves, and so if someone is or isn’t doing something which affects us then it is really us who are affecting ourselves. We have handed over that power to someone else instead of digging deep and owning our own abilities. We need to be the change we want to see.

And, this is the same in life: Our suffering doesn’t help anyone who is suffering. Our shame, guilt, fear, self-consciousness does not free anyone else least of all ourselves. Only empathy and love can do that. However, we can only give love and empathy to others if we first give love and empathy to ourselves. Instead of us mirroring others, let us be the change we want see too, and then the mirror of others will give us what we want to see.

Refilling the cup

emptyfull

I used to think that I couldn’t take 90 minutes out of my day to take care of my body. I had so much to do. It was such a false economy. I have so much more time and energy to live my life after a yoga session. I am fitter and healthier and happier.

Bikram yoga might look like a bendy, sweaty carry on in a mirrored room far removed from mystical yogic meditation, but it is one and the same. It is a moving meditation which exercises mind and body in a way I am sure even Pantajali would appreciate if he was around today.

I am so grateful I found it when I did. Namaste.

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