Yoga and Ecology festival with Satish Kumar, Stewart Gilchrist, Mick Collins and Nick Jankel
The Tabernacle, Notting Hill | Saturday 5th September 2015
There is something enchanted about the Tabernacle. Perhaps it’s the looming towers, the psychedelic sculptures by carnival arts specialist Carl Gabriel, or the role the building has played in a historically diverse and rich community. Whatever the reason, the enchantment was magnified on the occasion of Advaya Initiative’s day of yoga, ecology and music.
At 3 o’clock on a Saturday afternoon, we were ushered upstairs into a womb-like auditorium, with yoga mats spread on every surface, warm red lighting, and giant flowers made out of tissue paper, which were hanging from the ceiling. I quickly found a free mat in the lower area, and sat myself down, enjoying the low murmur and flickering quiet.
Not for long. A willowy man with slate-grey dreadlocks and piercing blue eyes came into my view. It was Stewart Gilchrist, known across London for his merciless Yogasana classes.
Stewart has a powerful, commanding yet charismatic presence that filled up the auditorium, with its 120 yogis, during the entire 90 minute class. His class takes you on a journey – a rich experience, where he fuses yogic teachings with his own philosophies, beliefs and humour.
Stewart emphasised the importance of Sanskrit for anyone who wants to practise yoga in the right way. He also taught us that yoga is not only about softening and opening your body up, but also about hardness and strengthening – keeping your arms as straight as spears during poses like warrior or triangle.
This interplay between hard and soft was a key aspect of Stewart’s class. While he encouraged us to challenge ourselves, he also advised us to use our heads and hold back if necessary. It was during one of these moments of sitting out that I received a delightful massage from one of Stewart’s assistants.
Another thing we learnt was the art of foot-slapping. Lie on your back with your feet in the air, and get a friend to slap your feet for you (in the same way that they might play the bongos). It encourages the blood to flow from your feet to your head, which re-energises you. Forget drugs, says Stewart. Foot-slapping is the perfect solution for waning energy at the tail end of a festival.
Stewart has a brilliant sense of humour. The only problem with this was that the postures that we were desperately trying to hold on to collapsed in an instant.
Near the end of the class, after a strenuous workout, we entered savasana with an astronomical audio recording. This was a perfect way to close, stretching our minds as our bodies recharged. I lay on my mat, feeling like I was lying at the bottom of a lake, with the paper flowers like lily pads or planets, floating above my head.
Next, it was time for the food. As 100 more guests arrived we made our way downstairs and were given some delicious vegan daal, which we ate in the courtyard outside. That done, we headed back upstairs for the talks.
First up was Nick Jankel, author of Switch On: Unleash Your Creativity and Thrive. Nick is an ethical entrepreneur, wisdom teacher, and 21st century shaman, who gives science-inspired, wisdom-wired ways to implement change in our lives. According to Nick, being switched-off is when there is a mismatch of some sort – we blame, we shame, and we engage in repetitive behaviours that don’t serve us. This was the state that Nick found himself in many years ago. After obtaining huge success in his career, he hit a wall, what some call a breakdown. But it was from this that Nick was able to rise, create positive changes in his life, and garner the knowledge that he now shares with the world.
Nick was followed by Stewart, who eschewed the Powerpoint presentation and instead crouched at the front of the stage, his eyes steeped in shadow as if covered in ashes. With the same humour and outright manner, he compounded the fact that the welfare of our environment takes precedence over everything – nothing is more important. If our world is sick, then we are sick. He told us that people constantly tell him to ‘get real’. His response to this is: ‘Look what the realists have done for us.’ Realism, according to Stewart, is an ‘out-dated concept’. Hear hear!
After Stewart came Mick Collins, author of The Unselfish Spirit: Human Evolution in a Time of Global Crisis. A delightful fellow, I must say. Mick’s book builds on what Stewart said about the ecological crisis being a spiritual crisis. The first step to solve the crisis, in Mick’s view, is to understand the full of depth of our interconnectedness with all life. He talked about our archetypal roots – giving the example of the simple, mundane act of slicing bread as resonating back through countless generations.
What was fantastic about the talks, was that each speaker was so varied – each had their own voice. This brings me to the final speaker, revered peace and environment activist, Satish Kumar.
Satish had us all sitting up from the word go, with phrases like: ‘Don’t look for a job, create your own job. Create something beautiful. Be an artist. Be a poet.’
By ‘artist’ and ‘poet’ he didn’t just mean someone who paints or writes, but any creator of beautiful things; anyone who takes pleasure in the work they do. A gardener is an artist. A cook is an artist, and so on. If the work is executed with love, then it becomes art.
He encouraged us to start organisations and campaigns. He encouraged us to get out and explore: ‘This is the time to take risks!’ he told us.
Satish is a risk-taker, and an explorer. He and a friend did a peace walk from India to America, without a penny between them. Martin Luther King was so impressed that he agreed to meet him.
According to Satish, Martin Luther King had prepared a completely different speech to the one we all know, written on cue cards, which had little impact on his audience. Luckily a friend of King’s, a famous soul singer, tugged at his sleeve and said, ‘Martin! This speech is boring. Tell them about your dream!’ And so he told them about his dream.
Like King, Satish’s voice possessed a hypnotic, musical quality that was extremely powerful. I wish I could transcribe his whole speech here, for it was utterly marvellous, but I can’t, so I will simply rehash the extraordinary effect that it had on us – as evidenced by the moving standing ovation at the end.
This brilliant, transcendent day finished, suitably, with a celebration. After a beautiful acro yoga dance display to acoustic drumming, we were honoured with a sizzling performance by London Afrobeat Collective – a 10-piece band, rich in brass and funky beats, with socially conscious lyrics penned by vocalist Funke Adeleke, who was arrestingly fierce in her red and gold feathered headdress!
A big thank you to all those who organised it!
By Augusta Bruce
Speaker and Teacher Bios
Stewart Gilchrist is one of London’s most popular yoga teachers leading inspirational classes packed with long-time practitioners and conducting annual teacher trainings. His soft Scottish accent and contagious laughter conceal the fierceness of what is to come. The asana is incredibly swift and intense but Stewart’s charisma, knowledge and discourse will carry you through the challenge, adding a newfound strength and stamina to your yoga practice.
After working as a teacher and completing his legal studies, Stewart literally fell into the world of yoga when he broke his back and embarked on a long process of rehabilitation through intensive Ashtanga yoga. He studied yoga and he began teaching the Jivamukti method in the early naughties. As his practice and knowledge flourished, so did his teaching style, eventually morphing into the exquisite, energetic practice of Yogasana. He is a Registered Senior Teacher with Yoga Alliance and leads annual retreats in India.
A former monk and long-term peace and environment activist, Satish Kumar has been quietly setting the Global Agenda for change for over 50 years. He was just nine when he left his family home to join the wandering Jains and 18 when he decided he could achieve more back in the world, campaigning for land reform in India and working to turn Gandhi’s vision of a renewed India and a peaceful world into reality.
Inspired in his early 20s by the example of the British peace activist Bertrand Russell, Satish embarked on an 8,000-mile peace pilgrimage together with E.P. Menon. Carrying no money and depending on the kindness and hospitality of strangers, they walked from India to America, via Moscow, London and Paris, to deliver a humble packet of ‘peace tea’ to the then leaders of the world’s four nuclear powers.
In 1973 Satish settled in the United Kingdom taking up the post of editor of Resurgence magazine, a position he has held ever since, making him the UK’s longest-serving editor of the same magazine. During this time, he has been the guiding spirit behind a number of now internationally-respected ecological and educational ventures including Schumacher College in South Devon where he is still a Visiting Fellow.
In his 50th year, Satish undertook another pilgrimage – again carrying no money. This time, he walked 2,000 miles to the holy places of Britain, a venture he describes as a celebration of his love of life and nature. In July 2000 he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate in Education from the University of Plymouth. In July 2001, he received an Honorary Doctorate in Literature from the University of Lancaster. And in the November of that same year, he was presented with the Jamnalal Bajaj International Award for Promoting Gandhian Values Abroad.
His autobiography, No Destination, first published by Green Books in 1978, has sold over 50,000 copies. He is also the author of You Are, Therefore I Am: A Declaration of Dependence and The Buddha and the Terrorist.
In 2005, Satish was Sue Lawley’s guest on Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs. In 2008, as part of BBC2’s Natural World series, he presented a 50-minute documentary from Dartmoor, Earth Pilgrim, which was watched by over 3.6 million people. He also appears regularly in the media, on a range of programmes including Thought for the Day and Midweek.
Satish is on the Advisory Board of Our Future Planet, a unique online community sharing ideas for real change and in recognition of his commitment to animal welfare and compassionate living, he was recently elected vice-president with the RSPCA. He continues to teach and run workshops on reverential ecology, holistic education and voluntary simplicity and is a much sought-after speaker both in the UK and abroad.
Author of The Unselfish Spirit, an essential 21st century guide to unlocking the secrets of how we as a race can collectively grow our consciousness to solve the complex web of challenges that threaten life on Earth.
Nick Jankel is a Cambridge-educated scientist turned leadership & life-change expert. He is a best-selling author, professional speaker, independent philosopher & BioBreakthrough Coach.
LONDON AFROBEAT COLLECTIVE
A politicised party machine channeling the spirit of Afrobeat via bass-heavy rhythms guaranteed to make you move. London Afrobeat Collective's reputation as one of the most unique and exciting bands in the UK today, having created a highly accomplished work with international flair that’s culturally relevant from London to Lagos.