In a few days I fly off for two weeks to begin yoga teacher training with my yoga home.
It’s not something I’ve taken lightly. I’ve thought about it so much. I first started looking at teacher training courses roughly two years ago. And each time I would dismiss the idea pretty quickly. For a long while I had a lot of excuses as to why I couldn’t or shouldn’t do it:
- I can’t afford it
- I can’t do every posture perfectly
- I’m nowhere even near getting into headstand or handstand or toe stand or….
- I get shy in big groups and don’t do public speaking, so HOW would I stand up in front of a class
- I don’t know about yoga philosophy
- I was rubbish at biology at school – there’s no way I could get my head round the anatomy
That’s not an exhaustive list, but you probably get the idea.
Once I’d started practising regularly at Yogahaven I saw the course that they offered and my desire to do teacher training was reignited. How I would love to do that course, if only I could afford it.
For a long time, “I can’t afford it” was my biggest excuse. Then I got laid off from my job and got some redundancy pay. So I couldn’t exactly use the money excuse anymore. It’s not that I am rolling in money – it’s scary seeing my bank balance going down so rapidly, with no indication of when or if I will be paid for the freelance work I have done so far. But I instinctively know that now is the time, so I purposefully put some of that redundancy money into teacher training.
But then once the money excuse – my biggest excuse – was off the table, there was still something stopping me. What was it…? I was slapped in the face with the realisation that the money excuse was not my biggest excuse after all. My biggest excuse was:
I don’t look the way a yoga teacher is ‘supposed’ to look.
I felt genuinely shocked and rather disappointed (in myself) at this realisation. As a student I actually don’t expect teachers to look like they could grace the cover of Yoga Journal because in my view and experience what a teacher looks like has nothing at all to do with whether they are a good teacher or not. But I have overheard enough conversations in female changing rooms (not at my yoga home, I hasten to add) to know that some people do think very differently indeed. As dumb as it might sound it really made me doubt myself and question what ‘right’ I had to want to do teacher training. Yoga really is for everybody, but that’s not how it always appears. I’ve noticed that in the last several years especially, yoga has increasingly become more fashionable. And tied up in that I see certain images presented and certain expectations of how yoga practitioners are ‘meant’ to look. I was faced with this myself when someone I met was surprised to learn I practise yoga and actually told me I didn’t look like I had a ‘yoga body’. I thought about that conversation and wondered what the reaction would have been if I had said I was a yoga teacher.
All this concern about what other people might think made me seriously consider not pursuing teacher training at all. I confided in one of my lovely teachers about wanting to do the course and she was kind enough to give me some advice and really encouraged me. But still, I worked myself into such a state about asking Allie, who is the course director, about whether I could apply. In the end I just thought:
When did I start letting what I imagined other people might think stop me from doing something I really want to do? I thought I’d got past that a long time ago.
I’m so glad I got over myself and decided not to let my insecurity get the better of me. I know why I am doing this. And I know that I do want to teach and share the wonderful gift of yoga with others. But Allie gave us teacher trainees some really valuable advice – to see the course as a journey of discovery and not to get addicted to the destination of being a yoga teacher.
I’ve been putting quite a lot of pressure on myself and have become increasingly nervous as the start of the course draws nearer. Over the past week especially I’ve wound myself up into a bit of a panic about it – I don’t feel as ready as the old perfectionist side of me expects me to be. But when I feel myself getting overwhelmed I remind myself of Allie’s advice. I remind myself of the kind words of encouragement and support I have received from all my teachers – such goodwill which I appreciate hugely. I remind myself of how very lucky I am that I get to do this and how exciting it is.
This has been a pretty significant year of change so far. This is the next step in that journey. Yes, I do still have some butterflies about what lies ahead as I embark on teacher training, but now I can’t wait.
I was messing about tap dancing around at my brother’s place the other day (trying and miserably failing to emulate The Nicholas Brothers) when he said something to me:
“You’re becoming just like how you used to be when you were little”.
I stopped mid-time step (triple time-step with a triple break, in fact), brow furrowed:
“What? You mean ‘childish’?”
Turns out that’s not what he meant.
There’s a picture of me as a toddler in a little stripy dress with hair like Don King. I’ve got a huge grin on my face as I’m ‘making a break for freedom’ down our street. For a long time I wasn’t keen on that picture (mainly down to the hair), but my brother has always liked it and says it’s because he thinks that picture sums up the person I really am. My brother is older than me so he remembers better than me exactly how I was as a little kid. Apparently, I was smiley, determined, mischievous and especially, very playful. On top of that, once I found my feet I was somewhat hyper, a bit like Tigger – a pretty annoying little sister really, though my brother assures me I’m not quite as annoying now…
I do smile more. My yoga practice has made me keen to play more. I’ve noticed this gradually spreading out away from the mat into other bits of my life along with my growing desire to learn more and explore more and say ‘yes’ more. Of course, I still have my fears as we all do. I feel fear often, but little by little I see myself being more willing to face those fears whether it’s practising headstand away from the wall or saying no to work that might be ‘safe’ in terms of a regular income but that I know will be less than fulfilling and be so all encompassing that it will drain me physically and mentally. I feel myself getting a teeny bit braver. Baby steps.
After that comment from my brother, I took a look at that photo of me as a toddler again and instead of cringing at it as I always used to, it made me smile, bad (baaad) hair and all. That was me before the world got hold of me and made me self-conscious. If I am becoming more like that then I’m glad. I take it as a huge compliment. I think that for a long while I forgot how to play. Through my yoga practice I rediscovered that part of myself. And I’m so thankful for that. I have no plans to mislay that part of me again anytime soon.
Which is possibly not great news for my big brother 😀
This time last week I was in Clapham with lots of other South London locals who had shown up with brooms and dustpans and binliners, surveying the aftermath of the events of Monday night. Burnt out flats, trashed shops… I spoke to someone who saw their flat on fire and another person whose home had been broken into. A friend got caught up in the chaos while just trying to make her way home. I am Londoner. I was born here. London has aways been home for me. It was hard not to feel emotional hearing these stories from the people I spoke to and seeing places that had been there for as long as I can remember reduced, literally, to ash. To know that people have lost their homes and livelihoods.
Since the violence and disorder in London and other cities across the UK last week there has been and will continue to be a lot of analysis. For one thing, it has certainly brought out the closet right-wingers. I have been stood at a bus stop while a man I do not know angrily told me he blamed ‘the blacks’ for what has happened (the impression being that I was expected to offer an apology on account of my skin colour). Young people have been accused of being ‘feral scum’ (as though all young people, particularly from deprived backgrounds behave in this way). There has been talk of cutting benefits to the people deemed responsible which might sound satisfying as a politician’s declaration, though nobody seems to be able to explain how that might work or what it means in the long run. Not least, it concerns me to see the assumptions being made about those who were perpetrating the violence, when we know that those out there rioting and looting were of all backgrounds and ages. There is understandably a great deal of anger and heated feeling about what has happened. Yes, there are discussions to be had. This is not a simple situation. It is time to look at what is going on in our society and have a serious debate about solutions rather than the now familiar rhetoric and reactionary soundbites. What started with the shooting of a young man in Tottenham (now almost forgotten in all the debate) evolved into something else and the subsequent violence we saw is, at its root, clearly about far more than people wanting trainers and plasma TVs.
All those angry and at times, violent reactions, understandable as they might be, look and sound a lot like expressions of fear.
I was struck by something the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu said last week in a discussion about the riots when he explained why he was against the idea of meeting violence with violence saying, “…you create more darkness on a night where there are no stars at all.”
One thing that all the talk and all the anger cannot change is what has already happened. The anger will not bring back people’s homes and businesses. What I see that is so heartening is that so many people are saying no to the darkness and fear and are responding with love instead. Regardless of age, race, religion or class people have gathered together to try and help in whatever way they can. This is what true community is. This is love in action.
Some people may say it sounds airy fairy but I would rather let love win. That does not mean it is always the easier route – fear can be so powerful. But, if we are to truly move forward instead of repeating the same old patterns then what alternative is there?
I feel I am not alone in this. I felt this at the clean-up in Clapham last week and since then in Brixton and generally across my home town just while being out and about. I feel there is a shift happening. I hope I am right.
The events of the past last week affected me quite directly because they happened on my doorstep, but as we know, the whole world feels like it is being shaken up right now. Not least economically and environmentally. Increasingly, I believe that ultimately the solutions don’t lie with politicians or the police or the armed forces… The solutions, even if we’re not quite sure what they are yet, lie with us. Fear is rife. Can we have the courage to let love win?
I’m sitting in a calming country house courtyard, reading and enjoying the warmth of the glorious Sussex sunshine on my face when Miko the cat appears and decides my lap is the perfect resting place for the afternoon. It’s not how I usually spend my Saturdays but I could get used to this…
It’s the second day of Sally Parkes’ blissful weekend yoga retreat at Tilton House. I practice Astanga with Sally and I credit her with helping me get past my fear of this style of yoga. It’s also with Sally’s guidance that I got into my first ever headstand in my life. Ever. So, when Sally mentioned her retreat and I realised I was actually free that weekend I leapt at the chance to go. To be honest though, as soon as she mentioned we’d be doing yoga in a yurt I was there!
Friday – Yoga Nidra and Yummy Cashew Cream
Sally collects a few of us from the station and I meet the first of the lovely fellow yogis I’ll be hanging out with over the weekend. On the drive through Lewes I already feel myself starting to de-compress from a stressful few weeks.
On our arrival at the instantly impressive Georgian house we are warmly welcomed by Polly and Shaun who run the place and Willy who is also a very knowledgeable gardener. We meet a few other residents too – cats Miko, Maui and Hector, and gentle Weimaraner, Barclay.
Shaun gives me a quick tour of the house which was once home to economist Maynard Keynes – a key figure in The Bloomsbury Group – and his ballerina wife Lydia Lopokova. From the bright open kitchen, to the library, courtyard, conservatory and gardens (complete with hammocks on the lawn) there are ample inviting spots for quiet reflection or to curl up with a book. In fact, I note there are many books all over the house available for guests to read. Shaun shows me the room I’ll be staying in – the welcoming Mezzanine with one bed located up a ladder (bagsied by my room-mate). In fact, the beds look very comfy indeed and I note that there’s a good selection of books here to flick through as well. There’s also a stunning view of the South Downs from the window and I spy a couple of horses in a field just beyond the house.
After getting settled a few of us wander across the lawn, past the hammocks, fire pit and up a little path through the trees to discover… The Yurt! It’s actually, bigger than I’d imagined and from the inside it looks a bit futuristic with the pattern made by the wooden supports across the ceiling. I can’t wait to practise in there.
As everyone gradually arrives it soon becomes clear that the group gathered for the weekend is a lovely bunch of people. There are varying degrees of yoga experience among us, from regular practitioners to the quite new to those who do the occasional class, DVD or self-practice when they can.
Our welcome yoga class in the yurt with Sally is beautifully calming, allowing us to recover from the Friday afternoon traffic and trains we’d endured to get there. By the end of the class there is the feeling that we are most definitely officially on retreat!
Our first class is followed by our first meal. We gather around the table in the garden for a delicious bean chilli with cashew cream. The food for the whole weekend was a revelation! So hard to do justice with words. Everything was vegetarian or vegan and expertly prepared by resident chef, John who catered to the various food requirements among the group. Speech is replaced by lots of satisfied noises around the table with one lady determined to get that cashew cream recipe by the end of the weekend.
As darkness begins to fall we make our way back to the yurt, now comfortably full from dinner for some Yoga Nidra. The yurt is transformed with candles and blankets. Sally talks us through an incredibly relaxing sequence. (I think I might have actually fallen asleep part of the way through…) We wander back to the house snugly wrapped up and pleasantly sleepy. Time for bed.
Saturday – Massages and Meditation
I wake up early on Saturday morning having had my best night’s sleep in weeks. (That Yoga Nidra is magic!). So, 7.45am Dynamic Yoga doesn’t feel like a rude awakening. And I always love practising to a bit of music in the morning.
Sally takes us through an invigorating sequence. There is lots of laughter among the group (Sally’s giggle is quite infectious) and I really like that Sally doesn’t teach in a forceful style, as can sometimes be the case with dynamic practices like Astanga. It means that the postures feel more accessible for everyone and Sally offers modifications along the way for whoever wants to use them.
After a hearty, healthy breakfast including a tasty green smoothie made by Sally, some free time beckons, so a few of us go for a walk. With the help of some directions from Shaun we head up the flint path round the corner then climb upwards to find the sea. Along the way we pass horses, sheep, cows and I think I even spot a couple of grouse (I’m a city girl – I get very excited about these things and being surrounded by green!) It is such a gorgeously bright, sunny Saturday morning – one of those days where it feels like the colour dial on the world has been turned up to ‘full’.
We work up such a sweat getting up to the top of the hill that we almost expect a round of applause from the sheep in the field for making it. But it is worth it – the expansive views of the lush Sussex landscape are incredible – a perfect backdrop for the paragliders we see, and in the distance there is a clear view of the beach at Seaford and the English Channel.
We make the downhill walk back to the house in time for Pilates. My last Pilates class was a good few years ago. It’s not quite the same as yoga and I find I have to be really conscious of my movements. The class is challenging yet enjoyable and it reminds me of why I used to like Pilates so much. It makes me think about getting back into it.
The ‘Tilton Leaf Salad’ which accompanies our red pepper soup at lunchtime prompts me to explore the vegetable garden at the house during free-time that afternoon. But not before making sure I get a piece of Carrot and Cardamom cake for dessert…
The vegetable garden is delightful and well-stocked, from artichokes and peas, to tomatoes and rhubarb, some of which most likely makes its way into the scrummy rhubarb and ginger trifle we have for dessert that evening. (Do I sound pudding obsessed?)
After a bit of chill-time reading outside I peel a reluctant Miko from my lap for my afternoon treatments with the lovely Natalie. We go for a bit of a walk around the gardens to discuss the treatments and I also learn that Natalie will be guiding us through meditation that evening. I go for reflexology, an aromatherapy massage and a holistic facial. All complete bliss. I float into 6pm yoga – our third class of the day – a few minutes late. Some of the guys are surprised I showed up at all after my marathon treatment session. Little do they know I rarely miss any yoga opportunity!
Our Saturday night dinner of beet burgers with that rhubarb and ginger crumble is yet another winner. That confirms it – I really need to be more inventive with my cooking at home.
A little later we have our meditation class with Natalie. She teaches us about the Metta Bhavana – the Buddhist loving kindness meditation – and guides us through practice. I’m really grateful to Natalie for this – I’ve struggled with meditation so far but I feel the Metta Bhavana is something I can take with me and build into my day.
Sunday – “If I’d known all it would have taken was balls and Bob Marley…”
The walk across the dew covered grass to Dynamic Sunday morning yoga reveals that some of us are feeling a little less energetic than the day before. I think it’s a combination of that ‘wanting to stay in bed on Sunday morning’ feeling and not really wanting to go home later. There are still a lot of laughs in class though and we even manage a bit of headstand practice. By the end of the class we’re all much more bright-eyed. And ready for breakfast (of course).
That morning there’s time for a bit of chilling out with the Sunday papers and enjoying some more sunshine before Pilates. The weather for the entire weekend could not have been more perfect.
When we get to the yurt and see the balls we’ll be using as props it is funny how everyone instantly reverts to a child-like state and starts playing. We’re definitely more alert than we had been at 7.45am. Then Sally puts some Bob Marley on for us practice to and we perk up even more. “If I’d known all it would have taken was balls and Bob Marley, I would have done this before,” Sally jokes.
Still warm from the oven corn-bread accompanies our soup for lunch. Some of us are a bit wistful that the yummy fruit tart with cashew custard will be our last dessert of the weekend. Any chance we might be able to recreate some of what we’ve had at home? A few of us managed to corner John the chef about some of his ingredients. And my fellow yogi succeeded in getting that cashew cream recipe.
The last couple of hours whizz by all too quickly, but there’s time for a quick wander up the path to Charleston Farmhouse – home of The Bloomsbury Group – to look round its quintessential country garden before we have to go. There are farewells and some exchanging of contact details before Polly kindly gives us a lift to the train station.
On the train back home I am feeling fully restored. I’d been looking forward to this weekend so much because it would be a long overdue break. I had an inkling it would be good but the retreat way surpassed expectations. A few of us talked about coming back for future weekends, so hopefully there will be more trips to Sally’s retreats to come.