In 1972 I experienced my very first yoga class. I went with my mother and an ex-boyfriend. It was the Ex’s idea to go – although he subsequently married a Born-again Christian who thought yoga was the work of the devil. We were aware of yoga during the 60s and so didn’t feel we were doing anything especially novel. In those days, yoga classes tended to be run by Local Education Authorities and often took place in schools. I can remember going to class at Rossett School in Harrogate where the teacher was probably British Wheel and at Allerton Grange School, Leeds where we had an Iyengar teacher. During the 80s I went to Zena Mountford’s classes in Wetherby Town Hall. Many years later, when I’d been teaching yoga for a good while, Zena said to a friend of mine that ‘she’d taught me everything I know.’
I became interested in Astanga Vinyasa Yoga when I read an article about Radha Warrell in Vogue in 1991 – see picture above. I got in touch and began learning the Primary Series from Radha and her partner Derek Ireland – they were the pioneers of Astanga Vinyasa yoga in the UK. I travelled all over the place to learn from them – London, Halifax, Skyros in Greece and later at The Practice Place on Crete. I can remember a visit to study with them in Greece clashing with a family holiday and my mother saying “why does it have to be that sort of yoga and why do you want to be strong?” My reasons: I really enjoyed the flowing aspect of Astanga yoga, it got me into a daily practice and I did like the feeling of being physically strong.
It may be hard to believe now but in the early 90s there were only a handful of Astanga Vinyasa teachers in the UK. In theory, only those who’d studied for at least six months with Pattabhi Jois in Mysore and received his blessing, could teach Astanga Vinyasa Yoga. However in early 1997, a little group of yoga teachers in York wanted to learn Astanga Yoga and although I wasn’t in any way qualified to teach, I agreed to talk them through the Primary Series. I probably wouldn’t have accepted but for the ‘blessing’ of David Swenson. I’d taken my son and daughter to a New Year retreat with David where Jolyon said “Mummy could teach yoga!” I think I made some embarrassed protestations but David said to me “you can teach what you know!” Remembering David’s words encouraged me to accept the York group’s invitation.
I’d long imagined that once my children were old enough to leave, I’d go to Mysore to study with Pattabhi Jois. Having actually started to teach, made this more of an imperative. However I was becoming a bit bored with the Primary series – in my practice I’d put music on and get creative. Later I realised lots of other yoga practitioners were doing the same thing and this is how Vinyasa Flow arose. But for me a turning point away from Astanga was an event led by John Scott and Shandor Remete in Abingdon in 1997. It was an introduction to Astanga Vinyasa Yoga Teacher Training. I met people there who are friends/colleagues to this day, for example Sarah Litton and Cat Brokenshire – London Board Members of Yogacampus Teacher Training. In a Yogacampus All Boards meeting recently, Sarah said ‘EVERYONE was there!’ We were the In Crowd of the yoga world 🙂 Anyway, in amongst the usual Primary Series, we were instructed to do 100 Sun Salutations (with jump backs and jumps forwards). After a while I began to experience tingling down my arms and up my face. I took this as a sign to have a rest. Ginny from Brighton, on the mat next to me, also took a break. John and Shandor stopped the whole class, glared at us and said that if ‘we weren’t prepared to put the energy in, then they were going home.’ I slipped out to the loo and then found I’d been locked out – re-entry was refused. I was thoroughly disillusioned by this treatment. I thought to myself that I never ever wanted to teach like that. My love affair with Astanga was over – I began looking for another teacher and started doing BWY teacher training.
In addition to my practice of Astanga yoga, I did a lot of dance/movement stuff during the 90s, some of which would now be described as Somatics. Amongst other things – Movement Ritual, Bartenieff’s Fundamentals, Kathak, Contact Improvisation, Authentic Movement and also Body-Mind Centering®. Around this time I read some articles in Yoga Journal by Donna Farhi and realised that she was using the principles of Body-Mind Centering to inform the teaching and practice of yoga. I was intrigued and in 2000 took a big leap of faith and went to Vancouver to study with her on a two week Advanced Yoga Teacher Training. It was a big of a leap of faith because Donna wasn’t at all well known in Europe back then. Her book Yoga, Mind, Body, Spirit had only just been published and she’d never taught in Europe. My gut instinct to do the training proved sound – I’ve worked with the application of Body-Mind Centering principles to yoga in my practice and teaching ever since. I assisted Donna on workshops a few times when she came over to the UK. Then I decided to study Body-Mind Centering in more depth. Between 2003 and 2007 I studied with Linda Hartley and gained my diploma in Integrative Bodywork and Movement Therapy. The training included the principles of Body-Mind Centering.
In the noughties I taught for the British Wheel on a number of In Service Training days – these took place in venues all around the country and were for the continuing professional development of BWY teachers. I enjoyed being able to share my work in more depth and with professionals. But then I had a little spat with the powers that be at the British Wheel. This led to the termination of my work for them but serendipitously led to the beginning of my work on the Board and Faculty of Yogacampus in the North. I’ve been training teachers for Yogacampus in Hebden Bridge, Manchester and York ever since.
In 1999 I’d moved to Harrogate and in 2000 Harrogate Yoga was born. Over the following years, I taught a multitude of classes in my studio here – around fifty Beginners courses, Level 1 and Advanced courses, plus private one-to-ones. In order to help students develop their personal practice I recorded a number of audio classes. I worked hard to build a feeling of community through partner work and discussion in class, the Harrogate Yoga Facebook page, newsletters, events. Workshops here always included a Jasmine Blossom tea break. For me, the teaching involved the warmth and joy of interacting with all sorts of interesting people.
Twenty years later, the inhabitants of this country were locked up and yoga classes were forced onto Zoom. After a summer of seeing my students via intermittent wifi, through a little bit of glass perched on a tripod, I couldn’t bear the desolation of entering my yoga studio any more. ‘That’s it,’ I thought, ‘I’ll have a sitting room instead, like a normal person.’ I never stopped my yoga practice during the lockdowns but there was nothing I could do on the mat to mitigate the desperate feeling of horror that arose from being forbidden to see my children, my family, or any friends, or indeed my students.
My focus now is working with private individuals on a one-to-one basis. This change led to my decision to get letters after my name. I could’ve done this with ISMETA as a Registered Somatic Movement Educator and Therapist when I qualified in IBMT back in 2007 but as I was mainly teaching yoga classes, it didn’t seem important until now. Of course my personal yoga practice continues and I still want to be strong! In a recent Instagram post, Dan Burt of House of Ashtanga, talks about understanding practice and what that might be like at aged 90 years old compared, for example, to practice at aged 40 years old. ‘It is something that cannot be explained or described. You just have to do it!’
Happy practising everyone!