I think I was naturally drawn towards yoga because I have always been pretty flexible. This is probably due to the fact that I took part in dance and gymnastics growing up. I was actually introduced to yoga through a video (back in the day before DVD!). I had the Barbara Currie 7 wonders of yoga. I used to do this every morning before college when I was about 17. At this point I was purely doing yoga for the flexibility element. I liked the feeling of stretching and also improving my balance.
From the age of about 19 to 26 I did not do any yoga or really think that much about it. I moved to London after my travels in South East Asia and joined a gym. I started going to Fitness Yoga and Body Balance which I really enjoyed. I liked Fitness Yoga because it combined my love of anything challenging along with increasing my flexibility. I was also quite good at it which is always a powerful motivator. It was round about this time that I heard about hot yoga. I tried Bikram a few times, I could see it would be beneficial but I found it too hot. I was also put off by the fact that it is the same 26 poses in every class and the classes were 90 minutes.
I moved to Clapham and a new hot yoga studio called 'Yoga Haven' opened. I signed up for the introductory trial and fell in love with it. The founder, Allie Hill, is an incredible teacher and the space was very welcoming, clean and not as jam packed as I had found the Bikram studios. This was the first time I had really practiced Vinyasa flow and it felt great to move my body in this way. I even started to get addicted to the heat, moving my mat directly under the vent so it was the hottest it could be. This was back in 2010 and it was when I decided I was going to become a Personal Trainer. I was debating whether to do yoga but I thought that Personal Training would be easier to get into and I was incredibly shy and lacking in confidence so the thought of standing in front of a class teaching seemed beyond my capabilities.
Fast forward to 2013 when I actually started working as a full time Personal Trainer at Virgin Active in Clapham Old Town. It had taken me until this time to make fitness my career as my battles with shyness and confidence really held me back. It was to remain a problem for me over the coming years but that is a topic for another blog post.
I was very lucky to be working at Virgin Active because they have some fantastic yoga teachers and I was able to go to the 12.30 classes 3-4 times a week. I found my practice improved so much, I learnt how to do forearm balances, realised I could do headstands and started practicing handstands. Because the classes were small I received really individual attention and was certain I was doing things properly because the teachers had time to make adjustments. Two teachers particularly influenced me here. Even up until this point I had been doing yoga purely for the physical practice. I could do it fairly well because I was flexible and as I went more frequently my strength improved. My efforts in the gym helped my yoga and my yoga helped protect my mobility in the gym.
Luis started teaching on a Monday and he was very different from the other teachers I had been to. His main focus was on the breath and as he repeats many time 'if you're not doing it with the breath you are not doing yoga'. It was suddenly made clear to me why I always felt so amazing after yoga classes, it was less to do with the asana (physical) and more to do with the pranyama (formal practice of controlling the breath, which is the source of our prana, or vital life force). The reason yoga had become so integral to my life was because it was the only time I wasn't thinking. Positive or negative, I always had a million thoughts rushing through my mind which is exhausting. More often than not these thoughts would be negative, usually berating myself and telling myself I wasn't good enough. This was my time out from all of this and it felt great!
Having discovered that yoga was a lot more than just making my body get into nice looking poses, I started to get more into the spiritual side of yoga. As fate would have it, Aleksei started teaching Jivamukti yoga on a Wednesday. He always starts the class with a bit of scripture, chanting and setting the intention for the practice. In the past I had always found it quite cringeworthy when everyone chanted 'Om' but now I felt the power of it and just let myself enjoy it without worrying about how my voice sounded.
This brings me to the present day. I still go to classes at Virgin Active and love all the teachers. I still have to work at staying with the breath and not focusing on what my body can do. I have been working with a hamstring injury for the past 2 years which is very frustrating but I have to listen to my body and not push it beyond what it is happy to do. I rely on yoga for my mental well being if I am unable to attend a class for a week I really notice it. I have tried meditating to get the same effect and I know this is something I need to work on in case my body no longer allows me to do this style of yoga.
I am so happy to have yoga in my life and I encourage everyone to try it. There are so many different styles, if you try one and don't like it please don't be put off. See if a different type is better suited to your needs.
For now, namaste 🙂