The start of 2016 has incredibly seen some 40+ brand new yogis coming to my classes, all coming for different reasons and motivations. Some have stayed with me and are continuing to develop and grow their practice with me each week and others have just tried it out once or twice. Either way I am glad that our paths have crossed and that I have had an opportunity to show them “my” kind of yoga.
Every yoga teacher has their own style and way of teaching and that’s because we all have our own personalities and we all come to teaching from different backgrounds and with varying experiences of yoga. I don’t mean in terms of training because in real terms one usually has at least a couple of years solid experience of yoga before even beginning to think about teaching (usually more) and then the real learning starts when you actually start teaching and continues long after the teacher training ends.
Equally everyone who comes to yoga is looking for something different. Some come purely for the physical exercise, either to keep fit or to help alleviate some kind of physical discomfort (back pain, shoulder pain, etc.), some come for the peace and stillness that it brings to their minds, others just want “me” time and there are those who seek a spiritual experience. So a wide variety of wants, needs and expectations. The great thing is that yoga can provide all of these things and you can get all of these from one class.
However, every teacher will present these aspects slightly differently and may lay more emphasis on one aspect over another. This is why I know that “my” kind of yoga can’t possibly suit everyone, because people have different needs and expectations from a yoga class and I can’t possibly appeal to every single person. However, it will and does appeal to those it is meant to appeal to and I believe wholeheartedly in this. I also know this because I have many incredibly devoted and loyal students, some who have even been with me since my very first class, and I am so grateful for this and that I am able to offer them what they need from yoga.
So, what is my kind of yoga?
On my ashram stay in India
I take yoga very seriously. I don’t do yoga just for physical exercise, instead I eat, sleep and breathe yoga. It is quite simply my life. There is pretty much not a single moment when yoga is not on my mind (just ask my children and my other half!). I came to yoga for the physical side – initially at about 14 years old and have been practising now for over 25 years. At the outset, I loved (and still love) the blissful feeling that stretching your body gives you, that amazing feeling of release after stretching tight legs, tight shoulders, bunched up muscles, easing out your back, etc., but I stayed for everything else. The breathing exercises that bring your awareness to the present moment and connect you deeply to your body, the meditation that stills your mind and brings a one-pointed focus, the philosophy that gives you guidance in life and helps you see clearly, the way of eating that brings health and longevity to your body and the chanting that speaks to your soul. I love all of it and I live all of it.
What to expect from my classes?
So, while I mentioned I take yoga very seriously, I don’t take myself seriously. The reality is that we don’t live in a little village in India, or in a mountain range in the Himalayas, we live in towns close to London and have very real and busy lives with countless demands placed upon us. Therefore our yoga has to be relevant to us, it has to fit into our busy lives and help us to cope better with the lives we lead. For this reason I teach classes that last for an hour because this is a length of time that we can easily commit to each week without it impacting too much on everything else that we need to fit in every day, every week.
I try to keep my classes fun, friendly and lighthearted. I don’t like yoga classes where we all have to have serious expressions on our faces, feel competitive towards the person next to us or apprehensive to try new things. I teach how I would like to be taught. I think yoga is more enjoyable when approached in a lighthearted manner and it also means you are more open to trying new things without fear. This doesn’t mean that my yoga is any less serious, it just means we can enjoy ourselves when doing it.
I have such a wide range of abilities within each class – from absolute beginners to those with a few years experience and sometimes even other teachers – that it is important to ensure everyone just focuses on their own practice and isn’t concerned about what the person next to them is doing. This is why I offer so many options within each posture so that people can work at their own pace, within their own ability and see their own progress from one week to the next.
In terms of class structure I have a basic structure that I work with and then just vary the postures, breathing exercises, relaxations, etc. that we do each week.
Every week I build my classes around a central “theme” – this could be something as simple as focusing on a particular area of the body – shoulders, back, hips, etc. or could be related to the seasons, the moon cycles, the chakras, etc. – but this theme just provides a guideline around which I sequence the class. We open each class with a few minutes of breath focus where we bring our awareness to our breathing and quiet our minds, we then progress to gently warming the body before moving onto our Sun Salutation sequence which we include each week. Other yoga postures will then follow which will include a combination of balances, standing, seated and supine postures and then we finish in relaxation – the much-loved savasana and then close the class.
I hope this has provided a little clarity for those of you who are new to yoga, maybe made it seem more approachable. I have so many people asking me about coming to yoga but who perhaps feel a little hesitant which I believe is down to not knowing or understanding what it is that we do. From what I can tell there are two popular trains of thought: one is that we spend an hour laying down in our classes – which then deters the fitness fanatics – and the other is that everyone is made to put their legs behind their heads – which deters the “self-proclaimed” inflexible. So as you can see from my post above, yoga is neither. My yoga classes are a combination of mind, body and spirit: we quiet our minds, we stretch and strengthen our bodies and we renew our spirits. What’s not to love?