Beginnings My decision to move to Harrogate was made back in 1999. I thought I’d find aspiring yogis in the town and I wanted to minimise travel by car. So I searched for a property with some space for yoga classes that was near the centre of town and the train station. When I found Fulton House, 31 York Place, it seemed to fit the bill. I reckoned I’d be able to walk to places for most of my everyday needs; I noted the big sitting room and resolved to get rid of the carpets and turn it into a mini studio asap.
In early 2000 my neighbour’s son, Leigh Richardson of www.vipertech.co.uk, said “you should have a website, Amanda, and www.harrogateyoga.com is available!” Hence Harrogate Yoga was born and the first website was created! Initially my bigger classes were held at the Friends Meeting House and the Academy. But whether they’re big or small, my aim has long been to create a sense of community via the classes I deliver. It’s the main reason why I don’t teach drop-in classes. The experience of students in a drop-in class tends to be impersonal – there’s less opportunity for the teacher to get to know them, and that can lead to safety issues. Some people may prefer the anonymity of a drop-in yoga class – they can go to the gyms for that. I personally want to get to know my students, I want them to experience care and continuity, and to have the opportunity to get to know each other.
Charity events The first big community project I organised was a yogathon in 2001 in aid of RAWA – a charity that helps women of Aghanistan. The event involved 12 hours of yoga classes, massage/bodywork sessions and food provided by an Indian restaurant in town.
On Boxing Day 2004 we were saddened to hear of the Indian Ocean tsunami and its disastrous effects on the many surrounding countries. One of the countries was Sri Lanka where I’d attended yoga retreats and been a guest teacher at Ulpotha Sanctuary. When I heard that Ulpotha had set up their own charity to help tsunami victims — Lanka Aid, I decided to organise another yogathon to support them. We used the same format as before – I hired the Friends Meeting House, 12 hours of classes were taught by local teachers volunteering their time, massage and healing sessions were provided, local businesses donated prizes for a raffle, tea and biscuits were donated by Betty’s. An especially popular class was for Men Only. The funds we raised for Lanka Aid helped build 98 new homes with toilets, re-equip many carpenters, masons and plumbers who’d lost their tools and provide fishermen with replacement boats.
The most recent yogathon was held in 2013 to raise funds for the Finlay Cooper Fund. Again, a lot of fun was had by all, I think the pictures in the slide show below give a good idea. But the poignancy of the charity’s origin remained in our hearts – Julie and Colin Cooper lost their little boy Finlay when he was three years old and the charity was set up in his memory.
A little help from my friends My first video was filmed by a friend on the island of Skyros – the setting was gorgeous, Gabrielle Roth and the Mirrors very kindly allowed me to use their music, Jonathan Wilkinson designed the cover. Emboldened by this first venture I asked Jonathan if he’d film and produce another video for me. Helen Wilkinson joined me in demonstrating the asanas. Jonathan spent a long hot summer doing marathon edits. We called the video Yogaheaven and Jonny designed another great cover!
In the early noughties I met Dan Burt – he originally came for some private sessions to help with his Astanga practice. He became a friend – one who was very generous with his time. He not only recorded and edited most of my audio downloads but also saved all my data when my computer crashed one Christmas.
Collaborations with friends have also included retreats and holidays: I’ve taught at Ulpotha Sanctuary, Sri Lanka with Paola Ceccarelli. In Dahab on the Red Sea I co-led a holiday with John Harris – I taught yoga and he taught tango. We called it Tango with a Twist! In the early noughties, Giles and Claire Murphy used to come for private yoga classes, at that time they were running a bar in town. They moved on to bigger things – bought a chalet in the french alps and invited me to run yoga holidays there. There are pics of these holidays in the Harrogate Yoga is 20 years old video below.
Sweaty Betty Ambassador When Sweaty Betty first came to town I was their Harrogate ambassador. Amongst other tasks, I was required to demonstrate yoga moves in the shop window!
Yogacampus In 2010 I received a phone call from Elizabeth Stanley of Yogacampus, “what do you think about a yoga teacher training diploma in the north?” she asked. By the beginning of 2012 we had a team organised – a faculty of eight teachers, with me, Jane Craggs and Graham Burns on the Board for the first training course in Hebden Bridge. Nowadays two training courses run concurrently in York and Manchester. Although no training courses have taken place at Harrogate Yoga, it’s been the setting for many a yoga teacher trainee honing their skills in mentor meetings and assessments. There are now a number of Yogacampus trained teachers in Harrogate.
Beginners classes After nearly 20 years of teaching beginners classes, in 2018 I asked Yogacampus graduate – Laura Henry if she’d consider taking them over from me. Six months of discussions and planning later, Laura became Harrogate Yoga’s beginners teacher. Laura is also well on the way through training to be a children’s yoga therapist – she’s currently offering free sessions for a limited time only.
Classes Over twenty years I’ve now taught thousands of classes! The ones I’ve taught here in my home studio have always had a more personal feel to them than in the bigger venues. Once I’d made the decision to dispense with a sitting room, knock through and make a bigger space, all my classes have taken place here and the more intimate, personal vibe has prevailed. What I’ve loved is getting to know so many different people, learning a little of their stories and helping them towards greater well-being in their lives. My students and clients have enriched my life too!
Happy practising everyone, see you in class and may your yoga practice bring you joy! Amanda