Yoga – where it all began…
I took my first Yoga class 27 years ago in my early twenties and have been hooked ever since. What I love about Yoga is the rich diversity of practice available and I have experienced lots of different approaches and styles, ranging from the outright bonkers to what I now acknowledge as my life support – an intelligent, intuitive based practice.
My first love was Iyengar Yoga, it appealed to the ‘physically driven’ side of my nature and seemed to fit in beautifully with the high intensity exercise classes I was teaching. I loved the strong, dynamic feel of the postures and the thrill of being able to tackle exciting poses which challenged me mentally as well as physically and kept my ego constantly entertained! I was teaching all kinds of approaches to fitness – aerobics, STEP, weights, circuit training, aqua aerobics and Pilates, but Yoga was always my ‘go-to’ for me.
Over time I have certainly calmed down a huge amount and through my Yoga Teacher Training with the Inner Yoga Trust, I have come to appreciate Yoga in a very different way. At the age of 52 and with 25 years of back pain under my belt I now run with a nurturing practice which helps to support my emotional well-being as much as my physical body. The truth is that in my heart I know that my practice in the early years probably contributed to the rupture of my lowest lumbar disc and what I now have to manage in terms of my vulnerable lower spine. As a result of many years of having to manage back pain, I have come to appreciate that the best way forward for me is to keep my spine as the core of my practice and with this is mind, I am very strongly drawn to intelligent practices which show a greater understanding of how the the body is connected and to teachers who have been influenced by the teachings of Vanda Scaravelli and ‘The Awakening of the Spine’.
Yoga on the water…
When we left the UK last year I was totally floored by the effect that leaving my classes and private clients behind had on me. I hadn’t fully appreciated just how much my work had supported me emotionally and physically and without the focus of standing up in front of a class, I suddenly realised that I was unsure about where I was at in my thinking regarding Yoga and in practice terms I felt lost and very alone.
My Yoga mat remained in its’ bag on my shelf last summer and the regular practice that I had had back in the UK, went out of the window completely. I found myself moving around the boat, doing odd little pockets of Yoga here and there, basically trying to respond to the new demands and challenges which were being placed upon my body by our new life on the water.
My body was being awakened in a very different way and it was not completely happy with the new experience. We were living in a pretty confined space and it felt difficult to mark out special time for myself and what had previously been a solid practice. Even my established meditation went out of the window, as I struggled to get up early as I was used to doing, to settle my mind before the day got underway. Meditation had become a firm part of my morning routine back home, but I just couldn’t figure it into my day.
During the first few months of leaving our lives behind I was anxious a lot of the time and I could feel that how I felt emotionally was being reflected in my body. I had plenty of time to sit and contemplate what I was feeling and I realised that I needed to bring myself back to a new starting point for my practice, I was adrift without my students to guide me. For years I had been responding to the needs of other people’s bodies, standing up in front of my classes, looking out at my audience and trying to respond to what I could see in terms of their need. This had naturally affected my own practice as I always tried to reconcile what I felt in my own body, with what I could see in the bodies of my students. That was how I taught and it had worked well for both my students and myself.
When packing to leave I had made some of my most cherished Yoga books a priority in personal belongings (more books, less shoes!) and was grateful for the time to explore their contents more mindfully. I started flicking through each of my favourites and focusing on sections which appealed most on the day of reading. This was an interesting exercise and I found myself very drawn to Pete Blackaby’s Intelligent Yoga. I read the book from cover to cover and realised that my feelings about Yoga were very in tune with what I was reading, especially in the discussion about East versus West!
So this now brings me to the point where I come clean and speak honestly about my views on Yoga…. I have considered this over and over again since my Teacher Training and have not been able to find the courage to stand up and be properly honest, particularly within the teaching community, as there are a LOT of very strong opinions out there (particularly on Facebook – very scary sometimes!). I have never truly been drawn to Eastern Philosophy, even though it was a strong feature of my Teacher Training. I loved reading the set texts on my course and marvelled at the wiseness of it all but have not attempted to teach this in my classes. Okay so now I will be stoned to death by traditional Yogis but honestly, does that mean that I cannot teach Yoga? I have battled with this for a long time, but found the courage to admit this to myself after deciding to take myself off the boat to go on a Yoga retreat with Diane Long and Robin Stamm in October last year.
My extremely generous students had presented me with a wonderful gift of cash on my last night of teaching last March and I had decided to use the money to take myself to Yorkshire, on a much needed weekend Yoga retreat organised by the very wonderful Ruth and Jules of The Little Yoga Company. (Thanks guys, the money was well spent!)
Diane and Robin are teachers who embody the teachings of Vanda Scaravelli – Diane having been a student of Vanda and Robin a long term student of Diane and this weekend seemed to be just what I needed!
My own Yoga school supports ‘Intuitive Based Practice’ and also acknowledges the influence of Vanda Scaravelli, but it also maintains a firm footing in traditional Eastern Yoga Philosophy and to my mind, this is different. Our weekend in Yorkshire was about intuition, awareness of the spine and the life that our spinal awareness brings to the body in practice. For me, just as importantantly, it also offered a suggestion that it was okay to step aside from what is essentially an eastern support system that sometimes creates conflict with western beliefs and lifestyle and confuses practice.
Now Yogis can sit down and contemplate what I have said until the cows come home and at the end of the day, sometimes we really do have to stand in our own truth. Here’s mine… I am a westerner, I have been brought up as a Church of England Christian and I do not want to preach Eastern Philosophy and refuse to believe that we cannot embrace the joys of an honest Yoga practice without it! There, I’ve said it – phew! So, my question to Diane Long during that weekend was ‘can we still call this Yoga’ and her answer to me was, what does Yoga mean? My answer? ‘It means unity, a connection between body, mind and the bigger picture.’ So yes, this approach is still Yoga!
My body gave the biggest sigh of relief that weekend and it felt like I had finally off-loaded a heavy sack of guilt that I had been carrying around for the last 12 years. I flew back to Sicily like a new-born Yoga teacher, excited for a fresh start and a new practice that was honest and true to my beliefs as well as my body and mind.
Teaching Yoga afresh!
Since we have been in Sicily I have started to teach Yoga again, to my fellow boaties. I decided to offer up my services as a volunteer, inviting others to come and hang out on their mats with me and experience the intuitive practice that I was exploring and I was overwhelmed by the response. Before Damian and I left to go travelling we met three times per week and every session was full with members of my new sailing family, all open hearted and willing to be guided in a practice which encourages us to listen to our own bodies. My new audience are receptive to change, irrespective of any other Yoga experience and teachings they have experienced.
These classes have been a real fresh start for me and have encouraged me to explore a different honesty in my own practice and it feels wonderful. I believe that Yoga should make the body ‘sing’ with lightness and joy and if it doesn’t? Then we’re probably doing the wrong ‘kind’ of Yoga!
Taking it back home…
When I flew back to the UK in November to teach on my regular Cornish Yoga retreat, I was very nervous about working with students who were used to what I had previously offered. I told them where I was at and continued through the week, half holding my breath, waiting to see how things would pan out. I have to say that everyone was very supportive and encouraging while we were together that week and this gave me the courage to explore further.
I know that my new found honesty did not suit everyone who came away with me and a couple of people were disappointed that I had slowed things down so much. They were used to me arriving at class like many of my students, tired from a full day or overloaded by family life, often stressed and anxious or just trying to pack too much into the session. This was surely reflected in my teaching previously and the new, calmer me was potentially a bit of a shock.
Since then my practice continues to evolve as I grow in confidence again. One of my new, very enthusiastic students and very good friend in the marina Tom, has helped me to make a video that I am incredibly proud of and excited about.
Tom and his wonderful wife Tammy carried me along on a wave of enthusiasm and great humour throughout the video making process (with some special help from Mac the Cat!).
Essentially the video was made in the interest of helping my new Yoga buddies to keep their Yoga practice going, whilst Damian and I were away backpacking in Thailand and Bali for two months, but after sharing the video with a wider audience outside of the marina I have decided to try and continue to offer the opportunity to follow my new Yoga journey. The video offers a baseline practice and my intention is to grow this steadily and share my own explorations with anyone who wants to join me for the ride!
If you would like to check out the video please click the link below and be sure to feedback your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org.Click here to open the video
Scroll down and hit the ‘subscribe’ button to receive notification when my next BLOG is out. Coming soon, details of ‘Yogisal Yoga Adventures’ which kicks off with my first retreat in Sicily in April (fully booked I’m afraid), followed by an extended booking in Cornwall in November (a few spaces available).
Thank you for joining me as always…
Instagram – sallyraff66