I have practised yoga most of my life. I have a childhood memory of watching yoga on TV and sitting in the lotus position. As an older child and young teenager, I used to dance – and ballet was my favourite. I started attending yoga classes when I came to Sheffield as a student in the late '80s and got hooked. I enjoyed the physical gracefulness, which reminded me of ballet, and I also enjoyed the 'sleep' at the end of the class! In the mid '90s, yoga helped me through the birth of both my children. It continues to be an essential part of my life.
My yoga experience and training
I have been a yoga student in my adopted home of Sheffield for over 25 years. This includes: Iyengar yoga at the yoga studio in Walkley; Asthanga classes with Pete Gill; and Bikram classes at the Hot Yoga Centre. But before completing teacher training I mainly attended classes with Chris and Hannah Penn at Sheffield Yoga School. Chris and Hannah are trained in the Satyananda tradition.
I have practised yoga all over the world. If I can find a class on my travels, I will attend; if not, I will always find a place to practise on my own. I have taken a Kundalini class in an ashram in San Francisco, Hatha Yoga on the Costa Del Sol, taught Yoga to fellow holiday makers in Greece. I have also spent a week on a yoga and meditation retreat in Majorca. Back home, I have attended weekend retreats in the Peak District, Lake District and at Wortley Hall in Yorkshire.
Becoming a yoga teacher
My motivation was not just about being a teacher but to extend and deepen my practice. My training was with Steve Avian of Shamayoga. I was fortunate to be among a class of trainees with a wealth of yoga experience from which I could also draw.
My yoga style and philosophy
Yoga is an ancient practice. It has been adapted over the centuries to become a number of distinct approaches; these days you will hear people talk of Iyengar, Ashtanga, Hatha and so on. In the West, most classes focus mainly on the physical aspects, although you can also find workshops that explore some of the spiritual practices more deeply.
For me yoga is a way of being; it is both a physical and a spiritual practice. The eight limbs of yoga not only describe the asanas (postures), breathing practices and quietening of the mind, but also the ethical precepts of the yamas and niyamas.
What my classes offer
My classes focus on a simple principle: the union of the body and mind. The aim is for you to leave relaxed and calm. But also develop physical strength and flexibility.
Practices to quieten the mind
I begin the class by taking a few moments to settle the body and observe the mind, allowing ourselves to be present and ready for the class. We all have busy minds: and being able to observe them can help us to feel less stressed, and more at peace. In turn, this can help us to tune in to our inner wisdom. . In class I use a variety of techniques to help us settle including mindfulness practices, yoga nidra and relaxation techniques. At first, your mind may race away ( its what our minds naturally do) – During the practices perhaps you will feel as though you are drifting off – but, in time, you can find stillness and peace and feel relaxed, whilst learning to acknowledge the mind wandering off and still find some peace.
After the first quiet practice I invite you to find a sankalpa for yourself. A sankalpa can be described as a resolve. When our minds are quiet, we tune into what we need or desire: not a materialistic need, but something that will help you. For instance, you may wish to be more patient, kind, compassionate or peaceful. Or you can use a sankalpa to set a goal. Essentially, a sankalpa is a short positive statement: we repeat it silently three times at the end of a “quietening” practice.
Posture work (asanas)
The majority of the class will focus on physical aspects of yoga: the asanas. Each term I teach a different group of poses. We begin by learning them in detail – finding different ways to get into the poses. Over the weeks, we progress to putting the poses together into a vinyasa flow – moving from one pose to the next and then on to the next.
The pranayama are breathing practices. As we come to the end of the class we focus on a breathing practice such as nadi shodhana – alternate-nostril breathing.
There are different techniques for relaxing the body and mind. Some weeks we practise yoga nidra; some weeks I use a mindfulness practice; and sometimes I will use a simple progressive muscle relaxation technique or guided meditations.