Who or what has been your biggest inspiration on your yoga journey so far?
I was doing a yoga job for a big phone company as part of their health and fitness campaign. It involved me doing my yoga practice in their window on Market Street in the centre of Manchester for 2 hours a day. During one of my sessions a family came into the shop, the parents went to the help desk and their daughter, about 9 years old, had her eyes fixed on me, watching shyly from a distance. She asked the sales assistant what I was doing then plucked up the courage to come over and asked ‘What’s yoga?’ She sat down with me on my mat and we talked about yoga, did some breathing and some postures. She really seemed to hold such a deep intuition, beyond her years, that I was very moved. I taught her tree pose, butterfly and waterfall. She thanked me and left with her parents. I learnt a lot from her openness, curiosity and awe. I hope I will always remain in awe of the world and continue to question without expectation.
Where might we find you on your days off?
I’m very lucky that I don’t consider any days as days off. For me yoga is a life practice and so is present in everything I do whether I am teaching, giving yoga therapy, practising or doing something else. ‘Something else’ often involves being outdoors. I love my garden and can often be found removing plants from my rabbits’ mouths or filling in holes they’ve enthusiastically been digging. Alton Towers is an annual pilgrimage for me. I also love Go Ape treetop adventures and being in nature. The Lake District is one of my favourite places to retreat to.
How do you translate your practice from your mat to the outside world/your life?
Yoga on the mat helps me to cultivate the qualities I want to develop off the mat and gives me plenty of opportunities for all of the experiences you will find in life. I notice tendencies to push myself and I practice restraint and compassion. I notice tendencies towards laziness and I encourage my participation and exploration. I notice boredom and practice contentment. I notice impatience and practice steadiness. I notice ego and practice humility. I notice desire and practice letting go. The yamas and niyamas offer more structured guidance for ethical conduct in yoga. They are written in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and are the first two stages of yoga, before we even get to the practice of postures. They include: non-harming, truthfulness, non-stealing, right use of sexual energy, non-attachment (first stage) and cleanliness, contentment, discipline, self-study and surrender to what will be (second stage). Donna Farhi explains the yamas and niyamas really positively and gives great guidance for applying them in her book “Bringing Yoga to Life”.
How has your practice changed over the years?
My practice started with getting bits of my body in the right places to do the postures. It wasn’t as easy as it sounds as I had never been a ‘sporty’ person and was always the one writing notes to excuse me from PE at school. But for some reason I liked yoga. It continued with physical discoveries and challenges for a few years and was strangely satisfying. It took me deeper into understanding myself, my personality and my place in the world. I began to make friends with my body. The next few years was about developing intuition for listening to my body. In these years I discovered the incredible possibilities which practice could open up. I never thought I would be able to do a headstand, to hold chaturangua or to reach my toes in king pigeon. I thought my body just wasn’t built for that. Arm balances and handstands came next and I spent the next few years really exploring just what I could do if I lingered at that point of self-doubt, fear and the unknown. After ten years of practice I started studying with Dru Yoga as a Yoga Therapist. My practice took a new direction again, this time working with prana, the chakras, the vayus and energy on a very subtle level. I won’t go into that too much here because it can seem quite esoteric and really has to be experienced to be known. I now combine the ‘exciting’ poses which still challenge me physically (sometimes that’s the allure I need to get me going on the mat), with lots of pranayama, visualisation and energy work. I can now sense what is going on in my body on a deep and subtle level. I have harnessed the power of my energy to heal a torn ligament (from gardening!), to release myself from a cycle of mental illness and to heal my digestive problems. My practice is therapeutic and challenging, always with the aim of bringing balance wherever I need it. Yoga is my constant companion.
What do you think are the biggest misconception people have about yoga?
Many people often come up and whisper to me that it’s their first time doing yoga and they’re sorry but they’re not very flexible. That is probably the biggest misconception about yoga. Yoga is about balance. If you’re stiff it can help increase flexibility, if you’re flexible you will build your stability, if you are filled with fear you will find confidence, if you are arrogant you will find humility and so on. Yoga holds a mirror up to you revealing your light and your darkness so that you can learn to embrace both. The most important flexibility yoga will help cultivate is a flexible mind. With that, there are no limits.