Friday, February 11, 2011

Geoffrey Wiebe on Mirror Neurons and Beloved Yoga Teachers: Free, Life-Affirming and Dangerous

(Geoffrey Wiebe)
T he word vrtti is an interesting one. It rolls off the tongues of yogis fluently, and I always imagine that word has the power to invoke bring on a ringing in the ears, a deafening hum of unwanted frequencies oscillating like a funnel cloud.
 "O h the vrttis... It used to be that I couldn't sleep till five in the morning". 

Amused and shaking his head, Geoffrey Wiebe was rolling his pale eyes upwards as if he couldn't possibly describe the nature of the outgrown predicament. The winter light was brighter than usual, like a flash flood through the wide perimeter of the cafe window, and Geoff was all smiles as he unfurled his lithe arms along the rough hewn wood counter. O those vrttis: the rapid-fire neural activity, that vortex of gapless thought that leaves us exhausted and wide-eyed in the dead of night. He was answering my question: "So how has yoga changed you?"

Sitting with Geoff it's not hard to imagine that the scope of his intelligence and energy could invoke a burden. Ask Geoff a question and you'll get a hundred intricate and vastly different answers; each thought digressing gently, the path dotted with Vedic tales, Zen koans, dialogue from screenplays and quotable one-liners from indie bands. Creativity and agility are no issue. And if you've ever been in one of Geoff's yoga classes the same is true. Exacting and detailed as a teacher, his one-on-one approach with students is as gentle and reassuring as he is in a face-to-face conversation.

The only child of a professor (of the philosophy of science and religion) and a registered nurse, growing up on campus in England was rich with opportunity, and Geoffrey Wiebe was introduced to yoga at 5 by an upstairs neighbor- though interest soon faded in favour of sport. The next invitation came over 20 years later with the ashtanga practice, taught by Diane Bruni and Ron Reid, with whom he completed teacher training in 2001. Other teachers include Mathew Sweeney, Richard Freeman, Chuck Miller & Maty Ezraty, and Geoffrey continues his study at the Downward Dog, Toronto. A graduate of U of T, Geoffrey has studied and worked in theatre (Canada, the UK, Germany, and Italy), made a film, and competed as a cyclist and rock climber.

(Geoffrey Wiebe, Teaching at One Love Toronto 2011)
As if all of this isn't enough, Geoffrey also presented an intriguing paper at last year's Yoga Festival Toronto entitled, Our Rishis Have fMRIs. The paper generated a wave of interest at the festival sparking ongoing debate about establishing teacher training standards. Drawing heavily from ongoing research in the area of neuroscience, it examines the critical role of "mirror neurons" in the yogic learning environment.

 In our chat Geoff is outspoken about his experience studying with beloved teachers, the yoga of surfing, his views on "grace" in a practice and how a yoga practice can make you free, life-affirming and "dangerous". And you'll notice he asks as many questions as he answers. It really is amazing that he can sleep at night.

(Geoffrey Wiebe)
"Modern neuroscience has shown that learning alters physical brain anatomy (neural plasticity) and can do so throughout a lifespan.  We become our patterns and our patterns shape us; and we exist more as a wave than a thing.  The theraputics of yoga sits in the ability to hone and shape this patterning (samskara, literally stain in Sanskrit)  through directed effort...  From a bad back to bad choices, and the two are inextricably linked as is our mind & body".  (Geoffrey Wiebe, excerpt from "Our Rishis Have fMRIs")