Through yoga we can become intimately aware of the mind/body connection. Mindfulness trains our mental muscles and with it comes a spectrum of possibilities and approaches: from developing simple body awareness to the capacity to work with constantly changing mind states. We talk to teachers Hugh Poulton and Sarah Haden about their IYM – integrated yoga + mindfulness approach and how it encompasses all these aspects.
What exactly is IYM?
Integrated Yoga + Mindfulness is an approach to yoga and movement in general where we work with our mind as much as our body. It gives a way of bringing our “1st brain”, the logical, conceptual, problem solving brain and our “2nd brain”, the intuitive, feeling, emotional brain into balance which is directly experienced in the yoga asana practice. Expressed through the felt experience of our senses, we tune into the subtle and not so subtle tension both in mind and body. It tells it as it is; it doesn’t know how to lie, e.g. as well as the knot in our stomach, the physical agitation of impatience, the tightness in our heart and all that cannot be thought away or suppressed with distraction, it is also the more subtle tension that takes us out of balance.
IYM develops the capacity to “softly listen” through a process of successively more subtle tension release. It is very dynamic yet non-aggressive and requires implicit compassion as part of the physical practice. Minimizing the possibility of injury whilst encouraging expansion to the limit of our capacity, the insight it brings cultivates an experience of movement and yoga that becomes self-teaching, self-correcting and self-healing.
When and how did you come up with IYM?
IYM has its origins about 10 years ago when Hugh sustained a back injury that prevented him from practising and teaching his usual Ashtanga approach.
Whilst he has practised both mindfulness and yoga for over 30 years and had been an established teacher since 1995 it was this injury that became the catalyst for a new direction in his own teaching. “The presence of such acute pain encouraged me to embed mindfulness much more deeply in physical movement working with mind states as well as body awareness," says Hugh. "It took seven weeks before I could teach without restriction and by the end of three months all sense of limitation had gone. During that time I had completely re-assessed how I taught and the real cause of limitation in my body.”
Hugh’s recognition of the value of mindfulness in this wider way ran in parallel with the rapid growth of the ‘new’ secular mindfulness movement and the rise of mindfulness based cognitive therapy. He became involved with that approach in 2009 when Prof. Mark Williams invited him to join the OMC teaching staff to co-teach the 1st mindfulness based cognitive therapy public courses in the UK.
Alongside this, Hugh’s yoga based approach continued to evolve. From 2013 Sarah recognised its wider relevance as a contemporary movement based embodied practice not only to those new to yoga but also to schools and the corporate environment. Naturally expanding Hugh’s mindfulness training in these sectors, today the IYM approach has a mature methodology, yoga specific mindfulness practices as well as new course formats and presentations.
What is the meaning of “integrated” in IYM?
IYM enables us to recognize and work with mental states expressed in the body and the impact they have on the experience of lightness, flexibility, balance and ease, for example: fear, anxiety, boredom, anticipation or excitement. As we become familiar with this we can tune into the subtle and the challenging in the same way. Our body becomes a map of our mind in an intuitive and accessible way. We then develop the capacity to work with our mind through the body and our body through the mind.
What can one expect from regular IYM practice?
When we start to listen, connect and communicate using both our 1st and 2nd brain intelligence, we gain a toolkit to self-reference with all our natural intelligence wherever we are and whatever we are doing. With this comes the recognition that we are often self-limiting and the choice is ours to do something different.
What makes IYM different from other forms of yoga, and are there any distinct differences in perhaps postures or sequences?
IYM is an approach that can be incorporated into many physical expressions. There is less emphasis on specific postures compared to balance. This is because in allowing our body and mind to express balance (felt as the body and mind without excess tension) an effortlessness to our practice emerges.
There are sequences that demonstrate the impact of IYM very easily but the principles also apply to the body basics of how we sit, stand and walk.
We have developed several yoga specific mindfulness practices including the “body scan for yoga” and “the weather in your mind”. These are the building blocks for training our mental muscles in physical practice.
Should yoga and mindfulness be practised separately?
When we initially learn these practices it is often helpful to focus on an individual component although the IYM approach is to integrate them.
How is a typical class structured?
The IYM approach is based on the Ashtanga form with its incorporation of Bandhas and Ujjayi breathing, although beginner groups are working more freestyle and often include the “body scan for yoga”. Pranayama is included as well as the “weather in your mind” before dynamic practice. We like to use warm ups to introduce key IYM principles that are then reinforced through the sequences. In the following clips Hugh explores the approach to "floating" in this workshop.
How often should yoga and mindfulness be practised?
The best approach is to try and embed a practice in daily life: doing activities mindfully, taking breathing spaces throughout the day, not in a way that is disruptive but supportive, and also using them when really busy or under pressure. (Try this breathing space.)
On the physical level, becoming aware of how we sit, stand and walk as much as possible is a great start. This involves learning to work with the IYM principles including releasing the lower back into balance and being aware of the tension in the mind as much as elsewhere in the body. We see so much unnecessary tension that students carry in the hips and shoulders as well as other areas of the body and this can include practitioners that have advanced practices. It is also quite common for those new to yoga to have become afraid of their physical form so re-learning their natural capacity for balance and being kind to themselves while they do so is what it’s all about.
These building blocks can then extend into a formal yoga practice – at home and in classes. When time is tight or before students are familiar with a wide range of postures and sequences for a self-practice, even a brief 8-minute practice checks them into where they are and opens up the body and mind. We suggest three sun salutations, a forward bend, a sitting twist and a back-bend first thing in the morning. Developing a short routine like this sends a clear message to the brain that we are making time for ourselves. Let it become as essential a part of your morning as teeth cleaning.
How can one further develop their IYM practice?
As well as regular classes and workshops we hold an annual Spring weekend retreat in the Cotswolds and a summer holiday immersion near Honiton in Devon (this year’s dates are 10-14 August). There’s also the opportunity to train in the IYM approach over an extended period in Ibiza each summer (this year’s dates are 16 August – 4 September).
Throughout the year we run 8-week mindfulness courses and 5-week extension courses (including loving kindness and forgiveness practices) in Oxfordshire and via skype.
For those interested in learning to teach the IYM approach we will be running our next 200-hour IYM Teacher Training accredited by Yoga Alliance UK in 2016. The course consists of three one week modules with the last week of teaching at a retreat centre in Ibiza where participants run their first public classes (the 2016 dates are May 28 – 4 June, July 23 – 29, October 22 – 28).
Starting this September, we are also offering two people per year the opportunity to join our Mindfulness Teacher Training. Based in Oxfordshire, this 18-month course provides an in-depth mentoring for delivery of 8-week mindfulness courses with real-time teaching opportunities.
What else is happening in the IYM community?
We are teaching our Allowing Leadership course in various management environments including the financial sector, social care and education. The course draws on our both Sarah and Hugh's professional backgrounds; Hugh with 20 years’ international management experience and Sarah representing government agencies and blue-chip companies as a City lawyer.
We are also currently working on the content for a 10-day teaching tour in Israel in November, as well as teaching in the desert at the Arava festival and at workshops at studios around the country. We have the opportunity to share the IYM approach with Palestinian women in Bethlehem and in the Hand in Hand schools which are trail blazers for a different approach in the face of conflict. Here is the message from their website:
"Current events threaten to pull Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel apart. Fear, anger and violence are undermining shared living. But this is not the case at Hand in Hand. Our schools and community activity continue unabated in our five schools and communities. As we begin 2015, and as our network of bilingual schools and communities expands, so does our message to Israeli society: THERE IS ANOTHER WAY. "
Do you have any experiences with Integrated Yoga that you would like to share with us? We would love to hear from you.