Motivation by Ross Dixon (A Sensible Yoga Teacher Training Research Project)

With this essay I hope to provide a summary of my study of Motivation which has been unfolding generally as part of my natural curiosity. It has solidified a lot for me as part of my yoga teacher training process and apprenticeship with Debbie Farrar (2012-Present). What began as a simple google search has now become a more living understanding. Not that I have resolved all my questions...

I have also been looking at how a few different requirements of life inter relate. IE individual needs, family needs, professional needs, cultural needs and others. This has been practically useful as my handle on these things can be less than optimal. It has been an attempt to get clear on how these things overlap. (Also some ways that these things need to be protected from each other!) I have learned that conventionally productive days have a lot to do with my ability to be bounced around by the current situation without taking things too seriously, which I can tend to do. I have come to wonder is this more about my responsivity than my motivation. Due to motivation seeming so inseparable from other concepts. The study has also formed a springboard into other areas which I have covered where pertinent.

An intellectual understanding of any concept is only so useful. A big part of motivation is unspoken and perhaps even unthought. Our puppy Badger for example has no idea why every muscle in his body fully activates when he senses that it's time to play. Humans can also engage their motivation on a purely physical level. I think this is why I am drawn to Yoga and Movement. The opportunity to notice the physical and not always needing the explanation first. This is different than saying 'postpone all critical thought'. The modern individual's encounters are also difficult to catalog because of the different ways people interpret them. So I have found it tricky to present this in an ordered, traditional fashion. The findings are a mixture of discoveries from my initial online findings, work with various teachers, the teacher training itself, my personal practice, teaching, life and private studies. It also served me as a kind of confessional for my own process and thoughts...

It seemed unfair and unrealistic to attempt a study of motivation without looking at the issue of respect. Also student teacher dynamics are important. For a little personal background I should say here that I grew up in an educational and home environment where the learner was expected to operate on the understanding that there were consequences of not taking leaders literally. At least this was the surface agreement. It seemed to me that everyone at my Schools, my family, on television etc played along with this. I also sense a difficulty in myself around being aware of the difference between the actual words being said and what is meant by them. While it has been a tangible difficulty in my life it is also part of what drew me to a more solitary path of inquiry including Yoga.

I remember early in life (before the age of 10). I would chat with my brother and friends on the street about it;

'Something is wrong with the adults' I'd say; 'they are doing things they don't want to be doing. All the time... what is wrong with them?'.

It was the 1980s and it was a working class estate in Lancashire, on the outskirts of Preston. Our house was like lots of the others, 2 kids, both parents worked full time, TV, summer holidays, football in the street, hide and seek in the woods etc.

Myself, my brother and our neighbor Paul (who was our neighbor when the initial questioning began), exchanged various conclusions, things like the adults either being robot imposters, or under alien mind control. Although of course we never got to the truth, how could we?...

I've learned that curiosity can work like this; we encounter a conundrum, then suggest answers based on our current understanding. As boys growing up in the 80s, with our knowledge of sci fi, TV and primary level educations, we could never accurately diagnose adults with decades of history. Not least in a culture with centuries of momentum. Curiosity seems like a concept that necessarily precedes motivation, as though a natural research period of experience is needed before we know where we want to go.

A similar relationship seems to exist between comfort and our sense of 'normal'. In the adult world for example, we seem to take comfort in narrow paradigms, I call this 'keeping tabs on less'. It is a default strategy I have to be careful of when I sense life getting busy; I will start to panic about my lack of control and start over simplifying the situation. We seem at home in the knowledge that we need other specialists to help with the areas outside our remit. No need to expand, if the toilet breaks, phone a plumber. In this sense to understand motivation, is to understand that new knowledge will always be arriving, and old paradigms will always require updates. In spite of this reality, it seems that paradigm updates are a thing we are reluctant to do until we have no choice. I know personally that my research into yoga and alternative health information was initiated by a health scare for example. I felt I had no choice. It's helpful for me to remember this when I assist others facing their own paradigm edges. We don't necessarily like to rethink our assumptions unless we have to.

There's an interesting polarity going on here with this other motivation-related concept (comfort). As Peter Blackaby pointed out; comfort is how organisms avoid danger (paraphrased from teacher training). It seems it can also become a kind of trap. In the modern context (and to bring in some Vedantic Philosophy) it seems there's something very comfortable about the unreality. If reality means living in a way that is healthy for the body/mind. The difficult part about being a yoga teacher has been seeing people overlooking what to me seems to be a blatant addiction (having my own history with various substances and behaviours), but continuing the abuse in the hope that yoga practice will somehow compensate for it. I am sometimes torn about whether to keep it to myself which I often do, (not being psychologist or GP). Or to encourage them to look at the situation head on, which I occasionally feel it's my human duty to do. This is one of the lines I can find difficult: Remembering that I am not a psychologist or a GP (when people's questions can often be framed in a way that can seem as though they need me to go there). Firming this boundary up and being ready to clarify what I am qualified to cover has been extremely useful for awkward class and post-class questions.

I have also become aware of how exposure to the television/film/comic fantasies of the 80s have somehow blended in with my deeper thoughts and formed a myth base that doesn't have a clear separation between fantasy and reality. This is no simple thing and it feels like a life's work to disentangle myself from all the time travel, aliens, superheros, space travel, music videos and fantasy that my mind encountered, while my body lay in a bedroom in Lancashire. It is mixed up with a few blind spots I am aware of today; for example my difficulty in permitting teacher figures to be human, while allowing them to teach me. It's as though I am always trying to debunk everybody as soon as I sense a weakness in them (why does part of me think it can find an immortal, or even morally superior teacher in a world of normal people? What's so wrong with normal people anyway? What is 'normal'?). This is another thing I practice today, remembering that people can have clear understandings of some areas, and profound blind spots in others. I am accepting that this is realistic, given the complexity of the modern world. It also helps me defend myself against being taken down ridiculous paths (most of the time).

In the movement field, recently highlighted by Ido Portal, it is observed that the heavily specialised roles people have today are proven to have detrimental effects on their general human movement. Our bodies require us to generalise, while our culture requires us to specialise. Although this information seems to be proven and available around the fringes of culture, it's seems the central mainstream has immunised itself against the generalist view and refuses to go there. These difficulties and again just the reality that we are mortal beings that seem to find inspiration in perfect ideals. It seems that part of becoming rational is accepting then adapting to this rift; IE there are people who might talk a good talk and even live a good life (whatever that means), but none of us have the complete picture.

Recent psychological studies of my own have highlighted that the family/social dynamics that we grow up in stay with us for life. With hindsight I can understand that my family and culture's tactic of respecting the father/strong outwardly confident leader unquestioningly has many practical applications. The loud voices after all seem to put a lot of energy into their speeches and investment in our agreement with them, so it is often least turbulent to just follow along and trust isn't it? I have come to understand that the flip side however is that it leaves the door open to what I now see as a very dangerous phenomenon; blind respect. The teaching role really immerses you in this balancing act between finding a functional level of obedience (so the class can be effective), but also being supportive and encouraging of individual experiences.

Before saying more about student/teacher dynamics, I need to say a few things about the modern concept of respect. During the course of the Teacher Training I have really changed from a person who thought they had a bottom line of respect for everyone, especially since this is such a weighty meme in the mainstream culture recently. If a blank cheque of respect isn't handed out to all sexualities and beliefs for example, before we even know anything about individuals, or get the chance to ask, we are made to feel like something is wrong with us it seems like; 'You can't point out **uncomfortable fact** about me, because I am *** and that means you are ***ist, so I don't need to listen to you'.

In my lifetime we seem to have backlashed from a culture that did need to protect against bullies into a society that is now overly guarded against what people say;


esteem for or a sense of the worth or excellence of a person, a personal quality or ability, or something considered as a manifestation of a personal quality or ability'.

Looking at a traditional definition, (and as Jordan Peterson points out) respect feels more like something that should be reserved for people who have earned something. Not a right that every single person starts out with. It feels like there is an abuse of the respect concept at play; a mass consensus through which we all bench our critical faculties, agree that anything a person says about themselves is objective and concrete. That anyone who declares themselves proficient is worthy of our unquestioned faith and money. This is OK if you are trying to revive a dying economy and need some non physical resources and tax generation quickly. Especially if you have a generation of 80s kids who don't know what planet they are on as your customer base. But if you happen to be one of those 80s kids, as I have found and you also want to find your body were it actually is; no amount of positive thinking and self help will ground you and revive your appreciation for natural existence. But a good teacher might (if you let them make experienced judgments and point uncomfortable things out).

This describes where I came from before I started questioning my assumptions around these issues. 'He who is most convincing is the leader'. Although deep down I always suspected and felt that it was too simple. The bottom line was that I hadn't thought it through, so the loudest voice was the one I followed. Despite me even learning in other areas that it wasn't the best way. Surfing, Music, Alternative Research had all showed me that newbs come in, get suckered by the obvious, flail around like they're having a good time and then quit, thinking they know all about the field and themselves. Yet with each new paradigm layer, I become that newb again, happily joining the snake oil que, buying it with a smile, THANKING someone for it. I think this is a psychological mechanism that allows for things to flow in the economics of culture. It gets to the point were you respect it is part of the picture and has a place. While this function has obvious benefit to businesses, providing a nice steady supply of open minded punters for everybody, it also becomes very tiresome and obvious after a while. I also think it's a further manifestation of a culture that creates specialists.

At this end of the process (he says as though it's over) I can see some corrections or refinements that I have made along the way. I would say that I now feel teachers most definitely should NOT be given blind respect (easier said than done when I am the teacher); and that motivation should be context specific. 100% intrinsic and 100% extrinsic (to use Ed Deci's terminology) are the polarities in our 'motivation spectrum': That said, there has to be some level of agreement in student/teacher roles. In order that something worthwhile can happen. I have experimented with these polarities in my own classes. If I become too fixed in lesson structure, it feels like I am trying to turn the students into carbon copies of myself; If I let go of the reins too much, the class becomes chaotic. This is very tricky because the chaos takes many forms, from the innocent and even partly useful (for a break or something) to the dangerous.

The other thing about exploring optimal teaching and learning spaces is the deeply ingrained aspects of ourselves that we live with. My difficulty knowing when people are joking or not for example can lead to tricky moments in class. I have to be aware that if I am allowing for a space of openness and learning then part of this is that we will all see each other and our perceived flaws so that we can learn from them. By not using Yoga to prop up our identities, or whatever it is we are doing when we our hiding our perceived flaws. One of the great pleasures of teaching has been the facilitating of the re framing of perceived flaws, both in students and myself. (what if it's not a flaw but me being too hard on myself?.. Usually). The body is what it is regardless of opinions, after all. This awareness is really helpful because whatever language we try to use to explain the movement or posture we are exploring, a big part of it has to be body derived , from each individual's sense of what they are doing.

Due to my delving into different philosophies and education methods since the time of my official education, I've found that I'm far from the only person to question inherited or assumed paradigms. There is a move, which can even be found around the mainstream information cloud (Ed Deci's TED talk is an example), towards intrinsically motivated learning. By which, the individual follows the natural flow of their own curiosity as much as possible. Proponents of intrinsic motivation think this is the answer. I've found that while it's useful to consider it, diving right in can open the door to chaos again. Allowing for too much intrinsically motivated stuff in class for example will usually mean people will take the Yoga concept into their paradigm and make it fit their established 'comfortable' reality. Nature shows us that adaptation equals survival and with modern people the ability to mentally adapt seems foundational to any meaningful Yoga. After teaching for nearly five years I can see that denying this reality can problematically oversimplify the situation.

At the time I began reading around the subject, at the beginning of my Yoga Teacher Training, I was very attracted to this idea; that we should be intrinsically motivated to learn. I think it appealed deeply to my sense of not feeling allowed to follow my own inquiry. A sense of injustice that I have lingering around thoughts of my own childhood and education. As this research project began, I assumed that my parents, teachers and the ideologies that possessed them were responsible for this feeling of injustice. Now I see a different situation; In which the cultural terrain has changed so rapidly over the last century (or three), that we seem to be struggling on a personal and collective level to even know what is real anymore. This sense of unreality has been with me for a long time, and the aforementioned 80s seeded fantasies provided a lot of fantastically false conclusions as I struggled with the conflict. After lots of consideration I see that this was my unwillingness to look at the often neglected day to day situation around me.

Similarly, it strikes me that the phenomenon known as the spiritual marketplace seems to have actually created an industry out of people's projected desires/fantasies, which on one level seems useful (re. the 'imaginary resource' point earlier)...

'OK, we've run out of physical resources, oh OK, lets imagine up some new ones' or 'lets imagine up some new methods of fixing real world problems because y'know... placebo effect....'

It seems that there are whole industries, whose bread and butter is generated from imaginary, if not fallacious or at least drastically over simplified views. Yoga is at least partly one of these dependent on where you draw your lines and the list of abused concepts gets bigger all the time it seems (or maybe I am just noticing more outward conflict as I become aware of my inner stuff).

At the end of this research period, I believe that the reality is more complex. Telling people 'we should all just follow our natural intrinsic motivation' is not the best piece of advice. While I believe at certain times that we set aside for growth and learning (conventionally we could think of that as our school/college lives). I've learned that to be a functioning adult, while I can still, and probably should view all of my time as growth and learning time; Life also requires me to get on with the mundane, the difficult and to sometimes even surrender my intrinsic motivation altogether while I deal with the essential.

I think that while we should honour our urges, curiosities and impulses we have to also accept the reality around us (the present). To begin to face the reality that shaped us (our past), so we might have a hope of sorting out our genuine motivations from our coping strategies. By now they have likely formed very deep, addictive grooves in our behaviour (therefore becoming very difficult to separate out from real, intrinsic motivation anyway). In my Yoga teaching, most of the genuine conversations I have with students seem to be about this, either in themselves, or a partner or family member. They can't seem to engage their own reality in some way, somehow they seem to feel that they are missing the point of life and they are highly frustrated. At this point they have the easy option; buy in to whatever the cool thing that everybody is doing happens to be; or the real option.. start noticing the conflict, in their practice and their life.

Steven Rinella has a nice way of explaining what he calls the two types of fun: 'Cheap Fun and Wholesome Fun', whereby Cheap fun is something like: 'switch on TV, open convenience snacks, consume'. Wholesome fun might be: 'Plan activity that will be uncomfortable, but allow you to meet and be challenged by others and grow as a person'. Motivation has a similar inherent nuance I now feel. Our motivation models need to be very context specific; In the Yoga class teaching situation I might choose one model; but for running my business I might be required to hold a different model, or even let go of models altogether and try to vulnerably meet the reality around me. So to conclude I think while it's useful to be aware of the motivation model being used- I think it also needs to always be in the back of our minds that the current model might not be the optimal one (in ourselves an others). Beyond this, it also strikes me that while studying and modeling motivation can be very helpful, the present situation is impossible to map accurately without over simplifying. So while models are needed for teaching and learning, the willingness to endlessly refine them and let them go at the appropriate times is also vital.



Debbie Farrar – Sensible Yoga

Pete Blackaby – Intelligent Yoga

Ido Portal – Movement Culture

Marc Acquaviva – Inspired Yoga

Jordan Peterson – Maps of Meaning

Ed Deci- Self Determination Theory

Steven Rinella – Outdoorsman/Writer

Ross DixonComment