Several people have asked me recently what style of yoga I study / practise / teach, so I thought I’d explain a bit about my own yoga journey and what it’s led me to share.
I fell in love with yoga in Australia around 11 years ago. My very first class was a vinyasa flow with an amazing teacher in Brisbane called Stacey Louise, and it was love at first Down Dog. At the end of class Stacey asked me if I was sure I’d never practised before. She said that, as strange as it sounded, she had a strong feeling I was going to teach someday. I practised regularly with her for a few months, and then it was time for me to return to England and learn my first big yoga lesson – that yoga teachers vary wildly, and I would struggle to find anyone locally who resonated with me the way Stace did. I tried a lot of different classes, and to be honest, had some of these subsequent teachers been the ones to pop my yoga cherry, I think I would have written yoga off before I was even out of the starting gate. That’s why I encourage people to try several different classes – not everyone is going to be your teacher.
Just as I was starting to lose hope, I came across senior Astanga teacher Sarah Vaughan at The Yoga Hutch in south-west London, and I knew I’d found both my next teacher and my practice. I quickly fell in love with the discipline and introspection of Astanga, and I enjoyed the balance of guiding and independence of a Mysore style practice (where you practise the Astanga sequence in your own time without being verbally led, but the teacher moves around the room assisting students individually – like a private class but within the shared energy of a group). Astanga was my dedicated practice for the next five years, during which time I did a lot of reading and independent study about the wider aspects of yoga such as philosophy. I also established a daily meditation practice, which became a real cornerstone of my life.
By this time I was beginning to suspect that Stacey had been right, and I was going to end up sharing what I knew. I couldn’t yet envisage how that would come about, as I already had a career in the music business which I loved and was in no hurry to give up; still, I knew yoga was now a part of my life forever. I was ready to dive deeper, and so I decided to do my teacher training. I needed something that I could do intensively as a regular course wouldn’t work with my touring life, and I wanted something that taught the whole of yoga, far beyond the postures. I came across Santosha Yoga Institute who were running courses in Bali, and it seemed a good fit. I enrolled and it remains one of the best things I ever did.
Santosha’s brilliant teachers trained me in Viniyoga – a lesser known branch of the Krishnamacharya lineage which includes Astanga and Iyengar. Viniyoga is a highly individualised practice which adapts the practice to fit the student rather than imposing (for example) postures on a body type which for which they may not be suitable. This principle is at the heart of Yoga Therapy, which I went on to study years later at YogaCampus in London. Yoga Therapy is an active complementary therapy, meaning that the client and therapist work together to devise a practice which will address the client’s needs at that time, and which the client will practise independently at home. The individualised principle is something I believe should be applied to all yoga teaching, regardless of style – to teach the practice as it applies to the student, not as it applies to you. It underpins everything I teach.
So what can you actually expect in my classes? Well, I have four main offerings.
The first is my Yoga Therapy workshops, which are usually 3 hours long and targeted at different issues, for example anxiety, insomnia, symptoms of menopause etc. These involve interactive discussion as well as exploration of what’s happening physiologically, interwoven with appropriate practices which can be helpful in addressing the issue at hand – typically these will be a mixture of the physical postures, breathwork, meditation or visualisation, mantra, and deep guided relaxation, amongst others. The intention is to give the participants practical tools to take away and use in their everyday lives to help themselves feel better.
My second offering is what I teach on the Find Your Balance retreats, which is a deeply nurturing blend of slow Hatha, Yin and Restorative yoga, topped off with a long guided realaxation or Yoga Nidra. Much of modern life is high-presssured, stressful, and at odds with what humans need to function optimally. These classes are a chance to redress that balance at a fundamental level.
Thirdly I teach what I call ‘Juicy Vinyasa’ – a dynamic, flowing class with fun challenges which I teach to a carefully curated soundtrack, enriched with philosophical teachings and incorporating pranayama, meditation and deep relaxation.
Finally I teach meditation, usually as part of a short course. Meditation is not separate from yoga – it is one of yoga’s eight branches, just as the postures are a branch and pranayama breathwork is a branch. To me, meditation is the most precious jewel in yoga’s treasure box – it has changed my life for the better in so many ways, and I am passionate about sharing this wonderful practice with others.
Why does yoga work where other modalities fall short? Because it addresses all aspects of a human being. In the yoga tradition a human is made up of five ‘koshas’ or sheaths – you can imagine them like a Russian doll. We have the Annamaya kosha – the physical, anatomical body with which we are all most familiar. Then there’s the Pranamaya kosha – the energetic systems of the body incorporating both our physiology (cell reproduction, digestion, immunity etc) and how we use our energy. Next is the Manomaya kosha or the mind and mental processes. Then, getting more subtle, we have the Vijnanamaya kosha, wich can be described as our intuition and connection with our inner voice. Finally we have the most esoteric Anandamaya kosha, where we find a sense of peace, unity and joy.
A rounded yoga practice works on and with all five of these koshas, bringing us closer to a state of balance in all areas of our being. A system that only works with one aspect of a human can have a great degree of success, of course, but it’s never the whole story. When yoga is used as therapy, it is not as an alternative to conventional treatment, but as a beautiful complementary cohort which enhances the success of whatever other treatment might be offered (such as modern medicine). No one system ever works in isolation – the five koshas describe the whole environmental make-up of a human. And when these aspects work in harmony – when we are physically healthy, energetically balanced, mentally alert yet calm, in touch with our inner wisdom and experiencing a sense of connection and peace, then we feel truly balanced and WELL.
That’s what I teach. And THAT’S why yoga works.