What, when and where was your first experience of yoga? and What made you decide to move from student to teacher?
I started practicing yoga in 1996 in Prestwich, Manchester, with a wonderful teacher called Jovita Derbyshire, who not only was in her eighties by then but was a vision in colourful Lycra and blew me away with her energy, flexibility, humour and zest for life! She was my first teacher and an extraordinary inspiration. I had found yoga whilst seeking some support with anxiety and depression and after a few years, knowing and having experienced the effects of the practice which had transformed my life significantly, I decided to train as a yoga teacher in order to work specifically with yoga and mental health.
Where did you complete your training?
I trained originally with the BWY and was blessed to have Di Kendal as my main tutor. Over the years my inspirations and teachers have shifted and changed just like my practice. The most significant influences for me have been (and still are): Erich Schiffmann, Donna Farhi, the Bihar Tradition and School of Yoga, Vanda Scaravelli, Don Stapleton, Shiva Rea, and Angela Farmer. Over the last decade my practice has been informed by 5 rhythms dance, somatic movement, and what it means to work on all levels: mind, body, heart, spirit and soul, in an earthy rooted but clear way. I also completed an Arts Psychotherapy Diploma in 2004 and offer workshops and private sessions combining yoga and the creative arts for health and wellbeing.
How long have you been teaching yoga for?
I have been teaching yoga since 2000 in a wide variety of settings and classes over the years from ‘healthy hearts for the over 70s’, ‘women only’, ‘yoga for stress’, high school teenagers, university, housing association staff, Bolton NHS primary care trust, ‘Yogaspace’ Manchester, ‘Bodywise Natural Health Centre’ (Manchester Buddhist Centre), Cooperative Insurance Services, HMP Forest Bank men’s prison (through the prison phoenix trust charity), ‘Start in Salford’ mental health charity, and many group and private classes.
What is it you enjoy the most about teaching yoga?
I love teaching. That in itself is such a joy to me. And every single class without fail I am aware of what a privilege it is to teach this ancient practice and that I am in service to the students before me. It might seem like a cliché but it is true that it is my students that are my teachers, and teaching a part of my practice. For me teaching is a dialogue, fluid and alive, and responsive. I believe that is the best way to be the most effective teacher. Of course ego gets in the way and I really do notice the difference if I am teaching lead by ego not soul. It is a constant learning and I am deeply grateful.
Over the last five years or so my own practice and thus what I am teaching has shifted. I am no longer interested in simply imposing shape after shape on the body. I am fascinated by the questions of ‘Who is home? Who is moving you? Where are you?’ so that the practice becomes more of a moving meditation and a chance in each moment to drop into authenticity and embodiment, and/or to allow what is in the way to be there. I believe that originally yoga was a shamanic practice. Think about it. The original yogis were interested in exploring what is was to be a fish, a bridge, a tree, a warrior, a bird etc. They were shape-shifting in my opinion, fluid and playful and curious. I hope that my teaching echoes and reflects this and that each class becomes an opportunity to inquire for oneself how to move from shape to shape in a real and honouring way. Yoga is a practice for returning home, of becoming, of living alive and free.
What teaching tip has had the biggest influence on the way you practice? And the way you teach?
It is in having a beginner’s mind each and every time I step on to the mat. No matter how many thousands of times I have taken a particular posture or sat for meditation or began a breathing practice if I come with an open and curious mind then I will learn something and my practice will be fresh and alive and of the moment. Oh and also that yoga is not just what we do when we roll out our mats. It is in the way we move through life, in how we converse with others, in watching what thoughts and beliefs are our familiars and making choices based on expansion and life and love rather than safety and familiarity and fear. Yoga is a constant shifting practice.
What does your own self-practice involve?
This changes all the time. I underwent major abdominal surgery two years ago and though I am healed, I have to be more cautious about certain movements that I would have taken for granted previously. My physical practice may be a straightforward yoga asana session, or a mindful movement one, or a mixture of the two depending on how I feel. Just ‘sitting’ is a big part of my practice now. I also journal often. To me this is a form of prayer which is another huge part of my practice, alongside ritual such as lighting a candle.
Who/what is the biggest inspiration on your yoga journey at the moment?
I would have to say that alongside my students and clients that I work with one to one, my biggest inspiration is my teacher in Spain. I would highly recommend ecstaticrhythms.com to anyone interested in deepening their body work practice.
What do you hope your students experience when they practise with you? What can people expect when they come to your workshop?
I hope that they realise and find a relief in the fact that this is ultimately a practice for returning home, for remembering all that they already knew but have just spent a lifetime imposing over and hiding away from, and for reclaiming the trust of the wisdom and knowing that resides in them. I hope that my classes and workshops enable the student space and freedom to explore and become a navigator of the map of their own body and the inner landscape of their own heart and mind. This is unique to each of us. I believe that truth is universal, but it is expressed and understood often in our own way. We have spent all of our lives living as others have told us, thinking how we should think, being like we are told to be by society and culture, etc. I hope that during my sessions some of that can be peeled away so that a student may have a glimpse of what it truly means to love in integrity and authenticity and as simply them.
Which yoga text could you not live without?
I have always had a soft spot for the Bhagavad Gita. It’s such a beautiful text and would definitely be on my desert island list. I also love all books written by Stephen Cope. He has a rich, creative and wonderful way of translating the practice of yoga into everyday life. I would have to include ‘Bringing yoga to life’ by Donna Farhi, and ‘Insight Yoga’ by Sarah Powers. I would also include anything by Pema Chodron, her books and writings have a habit of sustaining us in the trickier moments of life!
What do you think are the biggest misconceptions people have about yoga?
That it is mainly a physical practice and that you therefore have to be physically fit and flexible to do it! Yep the bit about being bendy. If I had a pound for every time someone has told me that they can’t possibly do yoga as they are not flexible at all well I would probably be a millionaire by now! But sadly that is how yoga is seen today, but if you start by desiring a better body then get drawn deeper into the more spiritual aspects of the practice then hey that’s great. But ultimately, rather than can you stand on your head, how about we ask ourselves whether our practice makes us kinder to ourselves and others, more compassionate, wiser, lighter, and really, more human and real.
What are you doing when you are not teaching yoga?
I am also a writer and artist, In fact I have been offering and facilitating yoga, movement meditation, and art workshops and retreats since 2004. I am currently crafting my first novel and love writing articles, blogs and general musings on life, art, creativity, soul and anything that tickles my fancy really! My new business and website ‘becreativegenius.com’ will be launched this summer. I also love to dance and go to music gigs, pure food for the soul! And I am a complete film geek! And I’ve just got an allotment after being on a waiting list for nearly 2 years. As a city dweller it is quite an eye opener and an absolute diving in to the unknown!
Finally, what does yoga mean to you?
It is anything that brings us back in alignment with our essential nature. I think it is a lot simpler than we have made it to be honest. For me, yoga is a returning home.
Heidi is offering a series of three workshops over the summer: Exploring and Creating Embodied Relationships On & Off the Mat. These workshops explore the deeper questions about the yoga practice and our selves and can be taken individually, or as a series of three. Find out more about the workshops here.