"The beauty of practising yoga is that your own experience is the real teacher"
When did you first get into yoga and how did this happen?
I started yoga seven years ago when I moved back home to Toronto from university. Before then, I had only tried a few classes while studying but at that time it didn’t resonate with me. It was only when I moved back home that I felt open to trying a class again... I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life - I had big decisions to make that felt scary and overwhelming. I think these outside forces brought me back to yoga - the second time around, something just clicked.
Had you done any exercise prior to this and were you nervous going into your first yoga class?
I like being physical and enjoy running outside. When I was much younger, I took dance and ballet classes and for a few years I was hooked into kick boxing. However, even though I knew I was somewhat flexible and strong, I was still nervous going to my first yoga class. I didn’t know what to expect. But I realised that there were also a few other new starters in the class and while there were others who were certainly more “advanced” or experienced than me, each of us had different things we were working towards. I remember being strong in some areas, but with still a lot to learn in other areas. I think it’s important to remember that we all have to start somewhere. We all begin as beginners, even yoga teachers!
How did you arrive at the style of yoga that you teach now? What do you particularly like about this style?
The first class I went to in Toronto was a hot ‘vinyasa flow’ class. Vinyasa yoga, also referred to as Flow classes, Dynamic Flow or Vinyasa Flow, is a modern style of yoga that draws from Astanga and Iyengar. Like Astanga, moving with the breath is an integral component. The hot element means that the class rooms are heated to help warm up the the muscles during class. However, when I moved to London in 2008 there weren't any hot vinyassa classes around, so I decided to try out a few different styles like Jivamukti, Iyengar, Vinyasa and Anusara. Today, I teach Vinyasa yoga. I tend to guide students in moving from one posture on an inhale and to another posture on an exhale. If you are interested in going to a yoga class, I would recommend trying out a few different styles and seeing which one resonates with you. You may not like or even love it the first time, and that’s OK. What you may like now, may change over time which was certainly my experience. I found that trying out different styles of yoga strengthened my practice because it showed the gaps in my own learning.
How does yoga help you mentally?
The practice of yoga helps me to work through my own daily mental and physical experiences. Because yoga brings awareness to our inner bodily sensations, it reflects what’s happening in our mind. Let’s take anxiety for example: anxious thoughts can show up in the body. For example, if you receive criticism from your boss, your heart might start racing; you might become sweaty; and you may have a strong urge to yell. This example illustrates what happens to our bodies when we perceive a threat: our autonomic nervous system (ANS) – which regulates important functions of internal organs like our heart, stomach and intestines - activates our sympathetic nervous system (SNS) which then goes into fight-flight or Freeze mode. Stress in life is inevitable but too much stress can be harmful to our body and mind. Yoga works at relaxing the body. It tells our ANS system to rest and go into digest mode. It kick-starts the relaxation pathway in your body which in turn, relaxes the mind.
What about the pain, discomfort, and need for discipline in yoga – could you talk a little bit more about that?
Yoga teaches you how to relax and come into your body but that doesn't mean that yoga is easy. It can be an uncomfortable process teaching your body to relax and let go. Our body can hold a lot of stress and repressed emotions that we are not aware of. We do not pay attention to the signs from our bodies that tell us we are doing too much or are out of sync with ourselves. When we start to delve inwards by stepping on our yoga mat, we may be surprised to find out what we've been ignoring. We might feel this physically through tightness or we may feel calmer, lighter even, after a yoga class. The beauty of practising yoga is that your own experience is the real teacher. You will find that unpleasant sensations or emotions are only temporary and that regular practice will build not just physical strength but also, emotional resilience.
Teacher training with Mollie McClleland Morris
Apart from when you’re on the mat, how has yoga helped you in everyday life?
Regular practice is the key. How we experience the world when we are off the mat is reflected in our yoga practice. So how we practice yoga can teach us to live more emotionally balanced lives. In a city like London, you see a lot of students in a class who are on autopilot. They’re like; “Do! Do! Do! Go! Go! Go!” They are disconnected from their own body’s experience. That is something I still struggle with but to rebalance myself and get back in sync, I need to practice regularly. A mind-body practice such as yoga forces you to slow down and take a look at yourself. To actually be with yourself. This has had a huge impact on how I relate to the outside world: I feel calmer, less reactive to stressors, have increased focus and energy. I'm sure that I am a much nicer person to be around and nicer towards others too.
Is yoga for every - body?
Yes! Yoga is not about being the most flexible and bendy person- though the more you practice, the more flexible and bendy you will become. Just start from where you are now and see where it can take you.
Where would you recommend someone who knows nothing about yoga, starts?
A lot of people learn by simply dropping into a yoga class but I think a beginner’s course is a great place to start because you build knowledge from the ground up. Beginners’ courses usually offer one class a week for 4-5 weeks. Yoga takes time and cannot be learnt in one class. It's a lifelong learning process because ultimately, it is learning about yourself. If you can approach a yoga class with an open mind, the benefits will come easily.
Can you recommend any online videos to a beginner wishing to stretch over the Christmas period?
I wholeheartedly recommend Jason Crandell’s morning yoga sequence - great for any yogi, whether you are a beginner or not!
Lauren is a Vinyasa Flow teacher in London and Senior Research Officer at the Mental Health Foundation. She teaches dynamic and varied classes which weave strong, slow-moving Vinyasa sequencing with grounding and centring postures. She holds a BSc in psychology and MSc in mental health.