Yoga and I have had an on-off relationship for 30 years. It was sparked by the hippie van I saw parked in a driveway outside a colourful scruffy house in North Kensington [think Notting Hill, Portobello Road area]. I wanted to know who that van belonged to, what was going on in that house, so I went up to the door and knocked.
And so began my journey into yoga. The date? Sometime in 1986. I was 34 and living in a large one bedroomed flat in an old mansion house in Oxford Gardens, London W10. Four years before that I’d been living in Portugal for a year with a faded jaded rock musician. He died in a car crash and I returned to the UK. After 3 years I’d found the flat and settled into a new adventure.
The ‘hippie’ house and the van belonged to the Sivananda Vedanta Centre. The residents were all yogi’s. They wore white, they meditated every day, they practised yoga on a regular basis, from the spiritual aspects to asanas. Their practice was set around 12 asanas including the headstand. They ate according to the Yogic principles choosing only Sattvic food, that which creates peace, eschewing flesh, mushrooms, onions, garlic, hot spices, stimulants for whole grains, milk, butter, cheese, fruits,legumes,vegetables, nuts, seeds, honey and herb teas.
When they had to close down the Kensington house, the yogis migrated to another Sivananda centre in Putney, SW London, where, synchronistically, my partner and I had purchased a flat . We attended weeky yoga classes at the centre, where meditation and pranayama were integrated into the asana practice. Afterwards we ate an Ayurvedic feast for £1. Sometimes we would practice at home. Headstands were included early on and it was kind of fun doing that.. We were younger then!
The initiation by Sivananda meant that my first experience of yoga was not in a gym or as exercise, it was as a life encompassing spiritual practice, one which I didn’t fully embrace but which was installed as an ember to re-ignited.
I treasured their book, The Book of Yoga, which laid out their lifestyle, and the physical and spiritual yoga practices that they followed. I lost it in one of my many ‘get rid of it all’ moves, but on return to the UK in 2013, I purchased it again.
I subsequently joined a local gym in Putney. The gym was a few minutes walk from my apartment in a modern building with state of the art facilities as well as an airy elegant large studio. I was surprised to find a yoga class which I attended.
My initial judgement of this class was that they had stripped yoga of everything other than the physical and it was being practised as pure exercise for flexibility, strength and stamina. At the time I was a bit snottily judgemental.. being in that ‘I’m more spiritual’ youthful bullshit mode. And, guess what? I wasn’t in my body, I was doing the moves and up in my head judging! Sigh!
I remember asking the teacher if he ever did an ‘om’ at the end. He told me that it wasn’t appropriate in the gym. I only attended a couple of these classes.
My polaristic nature – finding the opposing argument, seeing two sides to a story, led me to see it from another viewpoint. I decided that it was very positive that people were introduced to yoga even in a very one dimensional form. The point was that they were entering a door that could lead them to explore yoga more deeply which in turn could potentially lead them to a practice that embodied more yogic principles and ways of being.
It doesn’t matter how the doors are opened. It does matter that whenever we enter one door we see not a closed room, but many doors to more begging us to explore..
When I moved to Putney, I was working in Hammersmith, as an in-house software trainer for the Education department of the local council. I found another gym very close to my work. It was nothing like the fancy place in Putney. It didn’t have any screens on the machines, the trainer in charge played classical music most days.. It was scruffy but it had separate male and female saunas in the changing room. I started running.
Every day I’d leave home at 6.30 with my clothes packed the night before dressed in my gym gear. The drive was easy and out of rush hour. I’d join several other people from the gym in a 2 mile run alongside the river. We’d return to the gym and work out with weights and machines and bicycles. It was very social.. we all talked to each other as we worked out. We’d then get changed, have a short sauna, and meet up downstairs where we’d go to breakfast in a local Thai cafe. I’d arrive at work in a wonderful state, energised, socialised, uplifted and no rush hour driving. I kept up this routine for 6 years until I went left the council to work freelance.
While living in Putney, I also discovered chi kung. I can’t remember how, it might have been at a car boot sale, but we came into possession of a video tape demonstrating a whole chi kung form. I would put this on and stand in the living room, practising the moves and feeling a sense flowing, slowing and being..more at peace.
This really came into its own when I’d moved to Eastbourne after leaving my long term partner. I had a book deal from Harper Collins to write my first book, Flirt Coach, I was running a workshop and coaching business. I couldn’t afford to rent in London and I was on a deadline. Even though I had chosen to leave my partner, knowing I was outgrowing him.. I still felt the wounds of separation from a way of living, and being that had been part of my life for the last 14 years.
After 3 weeks at my parents, which was a big challenge [not easy to write a book when mother is appearing and flapping on about the books on the window ledge or the curtains being askew] I found myself a flat to rent. It was on the ground floor of a big old house in a tree lined, wide road, very close to the sea at the quieter end of the shoreline. The living room had French doors onto a huge garden. At one end the garden was backed by a tall wall, and it was walled and fenced on the other sides..
In this flat I wrote my book, entertained friends for weekends, saw clients and from there drove up to London to run my weekend courses [4 a year].
I looked around for a class in chi kung. I felt that this was what I needed right now, knowing it was imperative to keep my surroundings calm and conducive to writing. I found a wonderful teacher, a guy of 70,who was also a naturopath. The youngest in the class, which was held in a church hall up in the Meads, was 45 and the oldest participant was Ben, a former salesman turned travelling hippie teacher and crystal bowl facilitator. Ben was 90 and practised chi kung every day. He and I became firm friends..
It worked. When I was stressed or emotional, I’d stand in that garden and do chi kung. I’d go running along the sea front and afterwards would step onto the deserted beach and do chi kung.
A few years earlier in the early 90’s I’d gotten into a whirl of workshops, seminars and all things ‘personal development’. I’d been on a Tony Robbins workshop, done a firewalk, got charged up and motivated, met a lot of cool people and had idea about diet instilled in me. I attended a ‘get out all your shite’ week long EST-modified style course and a follow up that was even more exposing and raw. I’d gotten into Neuro Linguistic Programming, taking a 10 day practitioner course in London and attending all kinds of talks every week until I started in 1997 with Richard Bandler, one of the two founders of NLP. Over the years, I took all the courses, hypnosis, trainers training, master practitioner, and other more esoteric ones, that he had to offer and I’d assisted on many of them for 8 years or so.
Bandler incorporated a myriad of fascinations and inspirations into his work, trancing us out for days on end, instilling a desire to explore topics we’d touched on, experienced and gotten a taste for.. feldenkrais, martial arts, ayahuasca, shamanism, energy work, remote viewing.. I was inspired, following many paths, being introduced to a lot of bodywork. And I was doing chi kung spontaneously, at bus stops, in my home, anywhere I felt the urge.
During this time and through the NLP connection, I discovered a mentor, Joseph Riggio, whose courses I attended when he first appeared in the UK in 1994, after a friend of mine had brought him over. I took over his promotion which gave me access to his classes and his powerful wisdom and abilities. The work he did was a combination of a process he’d devised that was somatic in nature, bodywork from martial arts,drumming, and a lot more. I studied to become a facilitator of his work and used it in my own courses, my books and with my coaching clients.
I travelled a lot, to the States, St Lucia, and Denmark to attend retreats and courses and stayed with an American girlfriend who was also attending a lot of courses.. She was into yoga and took me along to her classes. New York Yoga a very different experience to yoga in the gym here and yoga at the Sivananda Vedanta Centre.. I exposed myself to a lot of different teachers.
When I finally settled back in Hampton buying a small apartment on the edges of South West London and a stone’s throw from the River Thames, I started running in Bushy Park, taking it slowly and stopping in secluded beautifully peaceful areas to do some chi kung.
I also found a wonderful gym, state of the art, with steam rooms, restaurant, outdoor areas, sauna, studios and equipment and a wide variety of yoga classes, often two to four a day so I could cherry pick.
I threw myself back into yoga.. arranging my life and work so that I could attend the classes I wanted to… Iyengar on Mondays, Vinyasa Flow on Tuesdays with the wonderful Gary, Vinyasa Flow on Wednesday with Nathalie, Thursday’s yoga was with Tuesday [yes that was her name – she’d taught yoga for years and was involved in the Phoenix Project teaching yoga in prisons] On Saturday Sima ran a class in the mornings..It was demanding. She went on to be a Buddhist nun.. I attended about six classes a week, all with different teachers, many of whom were highly skilled and very experienced teachers.
I also started a chi kung course. It was run by a lady of about 60, who had studied with Michael Tse and was immersed in chi kung and very skilled as a teacher. We didn’t just learn the forms, we learned about the TCM points, and the relationship of moving hands across certain points. We practised in a pleasant hut-like building on the edge of the River Thames, near Kingston. And when it was good weather, we were outside on the grass, barefoot. We could not progress to the second set of forms until we had got the first 12 and been examined on them. It was a great discipline and an uplifting experience that kept me in the bodywork flow.
When I left the UK for America in 2008, I hired two of my favorite yoga teachers from the gym [I missed pinning down Gary] to give me private sessions which I recorded and took with me. I still use them today. Both of them have a fabulous way of doing what I call ‘talking yoga into the body’.
While I was in the second jail in the States for three months at the end of 2012, leading up to my deportation, I found space to do yoga.. in a corner of the pod which had no tables and no traffic. I would spontaneously do a few asanas, some chi kung.. whatever I felt like doing.. The practice was erratic to say the least, given the emotions and stress that welled up in that kind of environment. One of the girls told me that a Korean hooker had run classes.. she asked me if I’d like to do it and I was about to enquire if we could have time in the room used for ‘church’ when I was put on a plane back to the UK.
On my unwilling return to the UK in 2013, I arrived at my parents home in Eastbourne to to face two years of looking after them. My dad died of cancer in October 2013 and the following 18 months had me caring for my mother who had dementia. This, and the pushed aside grief manifested itself in my body, which was already 28lbs overweight after 5 months of jail ‘food’ and comfort processed snacks. I knew I had to do something.
I worked on a barter basis with a holistic therapist who was TCM qualified, as well as holding a number of holistic disciplines, including 30 years of teaching yoga. He got me back on track with a diet.. which was almost raw and he gave me the 8 brocades set of chi kung moves to practice.
I found time to practice some yoga at home [my mother’s large flat]using the two tapes I had of my teachers when my mother was in bed or out at day care, I could use the living room which had a massive picture window and a beautiful calm view across the playing fields and town.. I was on the fourth floor. This helped keep me sane, but my practice was erratic… sometimes having to stop because my mother appeared… or not making time..
I started looking for local yoga classes. The first one I tried at the Yoga Life Studio, was too yin for me and very much a beginners course. Eventually I started attending a class at the same location, run for The Golden Years. Tess, the teacher, is always exploring new avenues, and making her yoga class uniquely her own. She adds in shakti dancing, sound bowls and chanting and I love the group of nearly always only women aged from 52 up to 70 plus and enjoy the yoga.
Timing is important for me. I don’t want to get up and go to an early class because often I have interrupted sleep, where I get up and do stuff before I go back to sleep.. so I allow for this in planning anything. This one starts at 11 and finishes at 12 on a Monday and perfect timing if I want to plan meeting friends for lunch.
I met up up with an woman here in Eastbourne. I’d known her back in the NLP days. We met at various conferences although we never trained together. She went on to do hypnotherapy and eventually chose to yoga teacher training. She’d been teaching yoga for years and now specialised in Kundalini. I loved her classes, held in a Yurt on a farm about six miles away.
Her classes were in the form of a monthly workshop which lasted two hours and was beautifully put together and facilitated. Inspiring and energising.. For various reasons, she decided to stop running this class.. Kundalini Yoga is very precise in how it is taught, and although I love it, it is for teachers who are capable of great order. It requires a lot of preparation… I miss that experience but I learned quite a few things from it..
Gill got me back into chanting. We did quite a lot of chanting in the workshops. I explored some of the music she played and downloaded an hour long chant to my computer. I often put it on and chant along.. it’s so empowering. I’m very auditory and I love chanting for the same reason I loved singing gospel songs in church.. it’s rhythmical, I can reach down to the depths and let it flow.. It’s uplifting and empowering..
I have noticed that British ‘reticence’ often gets in the way of people being able to let rip on the chanting front. I’d like to encourage more people to flow into it freely and feel the benefits..
By now I was growing more aware that I needed and longed to re-immerse myself in yoga, remembering how fantastic it felt to have a daily practice and how it permeated my life to the point I’d be going about my daily life, sitting at the computer, writing, walking and would find myself sycnhronising my actions to my breath, feeling my feet on the floor, pulling my shoulders down to the lower back, breathing deeply to the point it became a moving everyday meditation. This is why I say we don’t need to meditate specifically because when it gets into our psyche and body, we begin to move and be much more yogic.
I looked for a local training and found Janet Bond in Newhaven, about a 25 minute drive away. She is a very experienced teacher who has also immersed herself in different styles of yoga and been a mainstay in the British Wheel of Yoga. She ran British Wheel of Yoga Teacher training courses. I was attracted to the Yoga Foundation course – 10 day-long sessions that were designed to help us get a real grounding in all aspects of yoga with two 1.5 our asana practices in every session.
The courses take place at Janet’s beautiful home in her state of the art studio with a tiered garden that runs up to the downs.. it has a meditation hut and lots of seating areas. decking allows us to do yoga outside if we choose.. and the flowers and shrubs add to the beauty.
I am nearly at the end of that course and already enrolled on the British Wheel of Yoga Teachers Training Certificate course. This will be a similar format, only comprise 24 day long sessions over two years. I will be required to develop a daily practice including pranayama [breath work] and the philosophy and teachings. I will also have to develop lesson plans and start teaching. I can do this in March 2017, when I do the yoga first-aid course which is a pre-requisite of getting insurance with the Wheel.
I am excited about this.. and already contemplating where I will do it, what I will do, and for whom, keeping it simple.. I love teaching 101, so it’s ideal for me. And as I do that with real people, I’ll get feedback and more inspiration to develop my own thing..probably not exclusive to but likely including yoga prominently.
As I get more into it, I am learning so much about myself, being made to face my not-so-nice doo doo stuff, and finding new ways to achieve calm to be more present and peaceful… and I am feeling the inspiration to incorporate yoga with all the stuff I know so well and am re-membering and incorporating into me to enable me to facilitate workshops designed to generate confidence and hope.. and a lot more.
I also have this thought to teach beginners and run classes where beginners can come to experience different asanas fully, to learn to breathe in synch to movement and to be able to feel their bodies and where they notice the effect of the asana.. I don’t know yet what will emerge, but I have set vague big picture intentions and I will know the path as I progress..
So, this is where I am at, now in November 2016. The Foundation ends in December and the Teachers training begins in February.
I have found it challenging.. I curse myself for not doing a daily practice.. which is so silly, after all, we know how demotivating it is to be discouraged or brought down.. so why the frack do I do this to myself. My awareness of this and my other shortcomings are forming the basis for the work I need to do on me.. and it is a holistic journey.
Yoga is a door to more for me.. and a door to the revival of my inner spirit and strength, a purification and also a portal for re-membering all the stuff I’ve learned over the years and incorporating it into my unique me-ness.
Today is Thursday. I have the dogs on Thursday. They arrive at 7.00 am and usually I get back into bed and snuggle up with them. Today I was up at 5.30 after going to bed early. I cooked and started practising parts of the lesson I’ve had to create as part of my course. I fully get now why home practice is vital.. and not just listening to a video or a tape..
Practising asanas and flows, noticing what works, using words as if I were teaching, noticing muscles that move, dangers of going too far, how to modify, what to keep people focused on. It is a fascinating adventure of discover. You can only teach when you have learned through your own experiences…
I didn’t go into this to become a yoga teacher. My first motivation was to immerse myself more deeply into yoga. As the course progressed I received inspirations and awarenesses of how I could incorporate it into an offering that was unique and beneficial and to whom.
The workshops I ran for many years, [called Flirting for the PR benefit, but really confidence building focused on people looking for relationship] were about facilitating people to become more of who they are at their best, using stories, experiential work, activities, music, movement were a joy to me. And I sense that I can find a way to update this and offer it out. There are so many people who are held back by ‘lack of confidence’ and who could blossom if they could access their own personal signature story and power.
I feel drawn to work with people again.. I am acquiring new skills, working on myself, gaining experience that I can share.. for I do believe that you have to go through the fire before you can ask others to follow your lead. And since the last time I’ve taught, I’ve gone through some pretty heavy duty fires and am emerging.. renewing..
I also don’t believe in followers. I don’t want followers as such who hang to my coat tails and divest all their power to me. I want to generate independence, I want to facilitate people to find and follow their own path.. I want to kick them out into the world a little shinier, a little more curious and a lot more aware of their own potential..
As Joseph Campbell says of the Grail Quest… the knights did not all enter the forest at the same place. They entered where it was darkest for them.. treading a path that no one had trodden before, but inspired and encouraged by the knowing that others had taken their journeys and emerged, changed, cleansed closer to their own personal Holy Grail. It is not one thing we seek, it is not the same thing we seek, it is the emergence of us, the jewel of who we are, uniquely shining in all our glory, fitting neatly into our setting in the universal consciousness. Like a jigsaw puzzle piece, we are all uniquely formed and there is a tailor-made slot for us.. we just have to find our shape and emerge from the imposed senses of who we ought to be.
I write spontaneously and the next post will be impressions of a Yoga Foundation course day… It is my intention to blog regularly on my progress, what stops me, how I overcome it, my emotions and anything else that in the telling will encourage and inspire others to step into the adventure of their own life..
This step into adventure is ongoing.. each new one brings new learnings, sometimes forged through pain of some kind but bringing with it fertiliser for new growth…