We all love a really great yoga class. Even teachers continue to go to classes with other teachers - it is an integral part of practice. The expertise of a teacher, the sequencing, learning new poses, alongside the energy of the group, are incomparable.
I have been practicing yoga for around 5 years. I went to a retreat about 3 years ago with the intention of improving my physical practice and the retreat changed my life.
Why? Self practice.
The retreat was, of course, amazing - everything I wanted/imagined it to be and more. Time away from the stresses, strains and distractions of everyday life to really focus on yoga asana, exploring deeper aspects of yoga such as meditation and pranayama, delicious vegetarian food, like-minded people, and long country walks for starters. However, the best thing I came away with wasn’t a better tree pose or the ability to do a headstand - it was the gift of self practice.
We were taught in the group classes, that happened twice a day, how to move through the sequence as a group but also to tune in to what was happening internally. How to take the body through the range of poses, moving in all directions; balancing; challenging our strength; meditating and chanting. Our teacher often used the phrase “enquiry” – everything we tried was just a simple enquiry to our body. Over the course of the week our teacher made us more aware of self practice and by the last morning we were not led – it was a teacher supervised self practice.
When I got home I was on a high – clear skinned, well rested and enthusiastic. The retreat wasn’t as intense physically as I had anticipated but something inside me had changed.
I started self practice tentatively. I wasn’t sure if it would stick. But it did - not everyday, but most days, and that grew over the following months until yoga became embedded in my life.
Occasionally I would (and still do) use yogaglo.com, an excellent subscription resource, if I felt bored and needed a new perspective or wanted to work on something specific. But 95% of the time, it was me, alone, on the mat. Connecting with my breath, noticing my muscles and joints, observing my thoughts and emotions with more attention- going within.
With time, my repertoire of asanas grew, and I started to experiment with different poses that I learnt in group classes. Self practice also gives you the space to work on the areas of the body that you want to focus on at your own pace and experiment in the privacy of your own home. No-one to see you wobble or fall!
I found that at different times of day, I would do different things. If I practice in the morning (not my preferred time as I am very stiff first thing and definitely NOT a morning person!) I find that I do things more intuitively. My body moves to its own rhythm, without much conscious thinking. If I practice later in the day I feel stronger and more flexible and more likely to follow a set sequence and really go for it.
Some days, even now, I don’t want to do it. I procrastinate - make another cup of tea, ‘prioritise’ doing something else. But once I’m on the mat, have done a few rounds of cat/cow and a downward dog…then inevitably I’ll end up staying.
So I encourage you to get on your mat, at home. Don’t get overwhelmed by thinking “I’m going to do 60 or 90 minutes” and end up not doing anything at all. Say to yourself instead “Just 5 minutes” - start small and see where it takes you. Just you and your own breath, no distractions. My experience is that self practice is where the real magic happens- the going deeper, and coming back to yoga - uniting the breath, mind and body in a totally organic way.
It’s been a while since I've written a blog post. It’s been a busy year with highs and lows, and the main thing I’ve learned is that I will never stop learning about yoga! It is a continuous process and what I know so far is just a drop in the ocean.
I have discovered that I really love teaching yoga. The privilege of sharing what I know about yoga with others is something that I am truly grateful for. Seeing the look of relaxation and joy on the faces of people after a great class is what I do this for. Helping people get some relief from physical, emotional or mental discomfort is humbling.
I have learnt that each person is even more unique that I can ever comprehend. That each person has something beautiful to offer, even if they don’t know it yet.
I see myself not really as your teacher, but as your guide. You know all this stuff already – I am just there to guide you, redirect you and remind you. I personally love to practice and am inspired by the Jivamukti teaching method and I love this quote from one of its founders Sharon Gannon:
“You cannot do yoga. Yoga is your natural state. What you can do are yoga exercises, which may reveal to you where you are resisting your natural state.”
I hope to see you on the mat soon! Namaste - I see the light in you.
Yoga is creating space.
Space in the joints of the body. Increasing flexibility, a deeper range of motion, by creating space in the muscles, allowing fibres and tendons to gently lengthen.
Space in the breath, instead of grasping for one shallow breath after another, breath becomes longer, stretched, warmer.
Space in the day for some precious, often much needed, time to nourish ourselves.
Space for rest and letting go in Savasana (relaxation pose).
Space for honest reflection and self-assessment.
Space in the mind for calmness and still to arise, and perhaps a deeper level of thinking to occur.
Space for love – love for ourself, working on accepting our flaws and acknowledging our strengths; love for others - our family members, our friends. That time to practice yoga can refresh and renew our patience like no other.
Relax and enjoy the space of yoga and all the benefits it brings. Even if only for 5 minutes, you won’t regret it.
Namaste (I see the light in you),
When I first had the idea of doing yoga teacher training, I asked a couple of the people closest to me what they thought, and I got an unexpected response. They said they really couldn’t see me as a yoga teacher.
I know that no harm was meant by the response but it totally knocked the wind out of my sails. So it seemed that the idea was dead and buried.
However the seed was still there. It was just dormant and after a few weeks it started to take root again. My regular yoga teacher, Conrad Paul, had a teacher training school (Yoga Professionals). I had a tentative look at his website, and really started to mull over the possibility of making this real.
In some way, the response from my nearest and dearest turned into defiance. I started to think ‘hang on a minute; I think maybe I could be a yoga teacher, at the least I should try….I’ll prove you wrong’. And this actually motivated me.
I spoke to Conrad and asked him what he thought. I was expecting him to say that I was not there yet, and that I had to develop my practice more before I would be ready. My confidence in my practice wasn’t that high... I am not naturally flexible or strong, and I thought that I would have to reach a lot more ‘milestones’ before I would be good enough. Like nailing a handstand. Or maybe even scorpion pose.
I was therefore surprised when Conrad said he thought I had a lovely practice and that I should go for it. He told me what the course consisted of, that it was a lot of work, but was achievable with determination.
So I seriously started looking at course dates and before I knew it I was enrolled. I went into the course with a totally open mind and heart. I didn’t know whether I would actually end up teaching but just thought I would go along for the ride and see where it took me. At the least it would deepen my understanding and knowledge of yoga.
But I knew that if I did teach, I would especially like to help people like me – that didn't think of themselves as ‘physical’ people, that had maybe never been sporty, or naturally flexible. I wanted to connect with people and show them that they could eventually touch their toes (0r whatever "thing" they feel is impossible) and they could maybe even one day do a headstand. It just needs a little bit of work and dedication but most importantly kindness to, and acceptance of, yourself.
Maybe it was always my path and destiny (if you believe in that kind of thing of course…). I read somewhere that you may have practiced yoga in a previous life and death interrupted your journey, and this life is where you pick up where you left off. An interesting idea… but whomever I may (or may not!) have been before, I am only truly present in this moment, and this is where I hope to have the privilege of sharing the light of yoga with others.
Namaste (I see the light in you).
I didn’t really have a ‘proper’ pet experience when I was growing up. When I was really young we had pets at various stages but they all met untimely deaths: Sandy the dog bit me when I was about 3 and got sent to doggy heaven via the vet’s syringe; a budgie which got its claws caught in the carpet overnight and must have had a heart attack; and my brother's goldfish which my Mum boiled alive after leaving their bowl under the bath tap to refresh the water but accidentally put the hot tap on – oops.
I had a couple of goldfish myself when I was about 9 or 10, and I named them ‘Crockett and Tubbs’ (a time when Miami Vice was cool...) and they were, well, goldfish. They didn’t do much except swim around, and sometimes when I badly needed to change their water, float there all forlornly and on the edge of death by suffocation.
When I grew up, moved into my own home and made my own life, and then had my daughter, having a pet wasn’t really on the agenda for various reasons…space, time, money, plus my ex-partner wasn’t really an animal person. I was also a bit worried about the hygiene stuff and how I would cope with it. Despite this my daughter, of course, always wanted a pet, and I finally relented when she was 13.
The timing was good…I was working from home so there most of the day, and it just felt right. We decided to get a kitten as we both wanted the experience of having a pet that we had known when it was tiny and watch it grow up.
We contacted Cat’s Protection and went to see some kittens being cared for by one of their fosterers who had recently collected a mum and 5 kittens that had been found dumped in a park (people can be so cruel). My daughter and I both fell in love with these tiny, mewling, bundles of fluff that were only a few weeks old. We picked the one we wanted – female tabby – and brought her home when she was around 8 weeks old.
We named her Millie. Millie has taught me a lot, most of which I really wasn’t expecting. From what I can gather about cat’s (having never had one before), Millie is fairly typical i.e. she is either totally uninterested in you or just uses you for food/strokes/love/affection. She doesn’t really seem to, well on the surface anyway, reciprocate our adoration.
But how much I love her surprised me. I understand her routines and rhythms, and I think she understands mine too.
She brought me and my daughter closer together and gave us a common bond, which is a bonus, especially during the sometimes tricky teenage years.
Millie also taught me to be a lot more relaxed at home, and that I don’t really care about scooping up cat poop, and a little bit of cat hair about the place, and the fact that she ruined my wicker laundry basket with her claws. Yes, it’s not pleasant to clean up poop but it’s no worse than changing a baby’s nappy, however the joy that my daughter and I get from her, make it more than worthwhile. Life is about this moment, the here and now, and enjoying it fully, and the other stuff, like having a perfectly clean house at all times, is really quite superfluous.
Millie also helped me with one of the ‘Yamas’ in the 8 limbs of yoga – Ahimsa (non-violence). This often equates to vegetarianism, and I definitely started to feel a lot more uneasy about eating meat after loving and caring for an animal. So naturally and organically, my appetite to eat meat diminished. I am not dogmatic about this and won’t say that I’ll never eat meat again…if my body needs and craves the protein, I will eat it. But for now, my body (and my mind) says NO.
And having Millie has helped me with unconditional love. It has reinforced the understanding that you can’t change anyone else – even if they are ‘just’ a cat – and you just have to let them be. I can’t will Millie into being an affectionate lap cat. She can be moody, and if you’ve upset her (for example by making her come inside when she is not ready) she will hold a grudge for a little while before she forgives you. But that’s OK. I can’t change the behaviour of anyone/anything else, and just have to love them for who they are without attachment to the result.
So I thank you Millie, you are my guru! And I’ll try to remember this next time you are furious with me and are staring at me like you want to kill me…I know you love me really!
So, after many months of very hard work I passed my yoga teacher training! I am thrilled to be able to say I am now a yoga teacher.
After the emotionally draining final assessment day where I had to teach a full class, it was then swiftly followed the next day with some crazy final holiday preparations. My daughter was going on a school trip to Barcelona and I was using the opportunity to have a mini break in Spain with my best friend.
Yes I was tired and drained, but also elated and looking forward to having a break from my everyday life.
After a very early 3 am start, my daughter and luggage deposited on the school coach, and way too many hours of travel, my friend and I finally arrived in Tarifa, Spain, a beautiful, unspoilt, beach town and apparently one of the worlds most popular destinations for wind sports (not that we tried any!). The beaches were breath-taking – undeveloped, wide, fine sand, beautiful water, peaceful and quiet, especially early in the day. We drank one mojito each (OK, maybe a few…), ate some amazing fresh seafood, did some yoga, and laughed more than I thought possible. Then I came home.
I was expecting that after qualifying as a teacher and spending some amazing best friend time in a beautiful, peaceful location, to feel motivated, full of energy and raring to go for the next stage of my yoga teacher journey. Instead I felt nothing good, just flat and a bit empty and I wasn’t sleeping all that well either.
I couldn’t be bothered with anything. I didn’t even practice yoga. In an endeavour to feel better and try and figure out what the heck was going on, I had many heartfelt chats with my best friend, I clicked on lots of yoga articles on my social media news feeds, and I tried to read some of my favourite yoga books. But nada, nothing, zilch…I still felt the same. I started to think that, dare I say it, I was a tiny bit depressed.
Of the many negative thoughts I was having, one of them was that I wasn’t sure about the reality of actually becoming a yoga teacher and what it would entail…self doubt was starting to creep in.
I knew I should be doing something, anything, for my new career, so when I was able to muster a thimbleful of energy, I started to do a little bit of work on my website and social media pages in preparation for when I feel it the right time to make them live and put myself ‘out there’. It was whilst researching other teacher’s websites for ideas/inspiration that I stumbled across and watched a famous teacher talk about yoga and depression.
She didn’t say anything that I hadn’t heard of/read/thought about before, but it’s good sometimes to hear something in a new format. She said that the spark of your own happiness is your birthright. It made me feel a little emotional…so often we get bogged down, without realising, with deep emotional baggage. But what she said is true. Each and every one of us is made to be happy, it is our entitlement. And when that happiness isn’t there, we tend to look outside for things to fill us up, but we know really that this never works in the long term. Really it exists already within us and to find this, we need to connect with the true nature of our inner being and for me, that is through yoga. So my quest starts again to find that happiness. And that place is back on the mat, and hopefully the rest will follow. I will get back on the right track and find my place in this life, and I feel/hope that my place is to share the light of yoga with others through teaching.
Namaste (I see the light in you),