Bali Spirit Festival, Ubud Bali May 7-11th, 2025

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To Give and Receive

“What’s the functional purpose of practising asana?” asks Denise Payne. The entire room waits with bated breath. “Service. It’s fine to be all cool with your asana practice but ultimately, if it’s not assisting you in serving others more effectively, don’t bother”.

A sobering thought. Yoga’s a scene these days. Flick through the pages of a glossy yoga magazine, or browse the shelves of an upmarket spirit-oriented boutique, and you could be forgiven for thinking that the primary purpose of this ancient art and science is to look good in yoga pants.

Not that that isn’t important, of course. Incidentally, if any yoga clothing designers are reading this, please expand your range for men. We like to look good in yoga pants too.

I digress.

At the time of writing, I’m apprenticing with Denise to teach yoga, so naturally I’m closely aligned with her philosophy. One of the most fundamental aspects of becoming a teacher, I’m finding, is discovering as much joy in the breakthroughs of others as in my own.

Today, I’m assisting Denise as she teaches an inversions and arm balances workshop. Many of the people ranged before us on their mats think that they don’t practice handstand, or that Bakasana (crane pose ) is beyond them. By the time the two-hour class concludes, many of them will change their minds.

Cynthia rocks Eka Pada Koundiyanasana B. (Photo credit: Ulrike Reinhold)

Denise, with her three-decades-plus of experience practicing and teaching, is undoubtedly the prime catalyst of that shift. I’m only a role player in this drama. Nonetheless, I believe I make a difference.

I assist a guy who’s fairly new to yoga in understanding the dynamics of Bakasana, and becoming more confident in the pose. I convince a Herculean Russian that he’s got the flexibility to attempt Parsva Bakasana (side crane pose). He has. I kneel beside numerous dubious practitioners of Eka Pada Koundiyanasana A (pose dedicated to the sage Koundinya) and say “OK, now jump back”, only to watch them float deftly into Chaturanga Dandasana (four-limbed staff pose).

Most satisfyingly of all, I introduce a Jakartan teacher to a new arm variation of Pincha Mayurasana (feathered peacock pose). Initially, she looks at me in disbelief. Then she tries it, and discovers herself capable of it. “I want to practice with you”, she declares. Considering that I’m not yet qualified to teach, I’m both flattered and a little gobsmacked.

By the time the class concludes, I’m confident that I’ve managed to offer something of value to most of the participants, even if it’s only an adjustment in Adho Mukha Svanasana (downward dog).

“Is this good information?” Denise asks the assembled practitioners halfway through the session. She’s greeted by a chorus of enthusiastic affirmations. With a bit of luck, a few dozen people are walking around Bali with a new perspective on their abilities this evening. They can do more than they thought they could. If they translate that attitude into other areas of their lives, perhaps they’ll serve others more effectively.

“Okay, who glued my head to the floor?” (Photo credit: Ulrike Reinhold)

PS: By the time the class concludes, I’m utterly exhausted. I lie out on the grass, attempting to summon the energy to write this blog. My friend Carlos approaches me and administers some healing Thai massage that restores me to vibrancy. Without his generous service, this blog may never have been written. If you’re hearing this in your head right now, you’re not the only one.

Written by : Robert Wolf Petersen


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