Malvern Wells Yoga

Smile, it's yoga! Yoga classes in the Malvern area.

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Feeling a bit philanthropic

So I’m feeling a bit philanthropic.  I’ve just been writing about Asteya, the 3rd Yama or restraint.  Asteya means non-stealing.  Not only does it mean not shoplifting or stealing tenners out of your husband’s wallet (I would never do that :-p)… but there are many deeper meanings too, that I may write another blog post about at some point.

Anyway, I got to thinking about what I give back.  Yesterday I took part in the International Women’s Day Celebration Get Together at The Grove in Malvern.  The whole day had been put together by a group of women who wanted to give something back and to help other women not as fortunate as themselves.  I just rocked up at the end with some yoga mats and candles and taught a Moon Flow class… but I didn’t really contribute to the day.

I’ve been toying with this idea for some time.  I was going to do it for my 40th birthday…and I still will, but I also want to do something now – well, in a few months.  To celebrate my 36th birthday on 14th August 2013 I am going to do 36 Sun Salutations on top of the Worcestershire Beacon.  At 425m, the Worcestershire Beacon is the highest point in the Malvern Hills.

I am hoping to raise £360 (£10 per Sun Salute) for the Hidradenitis Suppurativa Trust.  I have suffered from HS since I was about 15 years old.  It is a chronic, debilitating skin disorder estimated to affect around 1% of the UK population.  People often suffer in silence because the areas affected tend to be of an “intimate” nature and they are too embarrassed to seek medical advice about it.

The aim of the Hidradenitis Suppurativa Trust is to increase public knowledge and educate the medical profession on the symptoms, treatments and severities of Hidradenitis Suppurativa, and to provide vital funds for the purpose of research into causes, prevention and treatment.

So why 36 Sun Salutations?

I’m a Vinyasa Flow Yoga teacher.  I began yoga in the first place as a way to lose weight (something that can exacerbate HS), plus I found that yoga is an excellent way to manage stress (which also contributes to HS) and pain.  A flare-up of my skin can cause chronic pain that can last for days, weeks or even months.  Some people aren’t as lucky as me and they never, ever experience pain-free days.  Whilst HS is a recognised medical condition, there is no cure for it and the medical profession remains mystified as to how to control it.  I hope that by doing my 36 Sun Salutations and raising £360, I can contribute in a small way to the work done by the HS Trust.

Please give generously to help raise awareness and to help end the silent suffering.  Thank you.  Namaste. xxx



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The Time is Now!

The lovely ladies from my Wednesday evening class are all busy this Wednesday, apart from one!  So rather than cancelling the class and because I want to encourage more people to come along and give it a try, for this week only (06/03/13) if you come along and bring a friend, both of you only pay £2.50…

That’s right – £2.50!!  That’s less than the price of a sandwich.

And if you need any more of an incentive, read this article.  It speaks sense about why it is a good idea to practice yoga and why yoga is accessible to anyone, regardless of age or ability.

Tell everyone!  This offer will not be repeated on a regular basis!!

The Time is Now

The Time is Now

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Bird Karma

Everyone knows I love birds.  I will stop mid-conversation to watch a buzzard soaring majestically above me.  I have narrowly avoided driving into hedges having been distracted by a kestrel or formation-flying geese.  I even have Emma Bridgewater Bird Fabric covering my dining chairs!  Bird poses are my favourite yoga poses: pigeon, king pigeon, bird of paradise, heron, eagle…

In the last week I have killed two blackbirds in separate incidents.  One whilst driving to work and the other on the way to orchestra.  Each time I’ve been utterly mortified and howled my way onward to my destination.

Ahimsa, meaning non-violence, is the first Yama (restraint) in the first of Patanjali’s eight limbs of yoga.  In my mind it means kindness and respect for all living creatures.  I showed neither kindness or respect when I ploughed my car into my winged friends at 50mph.  On the one hand, the birds were flying very low across the road, but on the other hand I would perhaps have been able to brake if I’d not been going so fast.

I racked my brains to think of something I could do to put something  into nature as a tribute to the poor creatures whose lives I took.  I even spoke to my sister about it.  She thinks I’m a bit mental.  My friend Melanie understood, which spurred me on and I finally decided I was going to join the RSPB and pay a monthly fee to try to ease my conscience.  Something still didn’t feel right though…

I related all this to my husband the other night who came up with a much better idea, one that would actually involve some effort from me and that I would be responsible for.  He’s very clever, my husband.  He’s one of the most zen people I know.

He suggested that we consciously enhance our garden to turn it into a proper bird haven, as opposed to assorted feeders hanging off trees and hoping that the birds will come.  We are lucky enough to live by St Wulstan’s Nature Reserve on the slopes of the Malvern Hills.  We have various bird visitors at all times of year and some daily visitors who can keep us distracted for hours.  As I write there is a chaffinch in the bird house eating pink suet pellets.  We have three cats, but that doesn’t seem to bother the birds.

My husband’s idea is to put some nesting boxes high up in the trees, away from the cats, in time for spring nesting.  We want to place the feeders more intelligently and get the squirrel his own feeding platform so he stops having to vacuum seeds from one of the feeders.  We’re going to have plants and shrubs that attract birds so they get a wide variety of places to roost and different berries to eat.

I feel much more positive now that I can give something back to the birds in a personal way and contribute to their well-being, at least in our little corner of the Earth.

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About me and about becoming a yoga teacher

This was part of a questionnaire that I did for a yoga website, but they never published any of it.  I spent a lot of time on it and (I think) it’s interesting reading, so I’m publishing it on my blog.

If you are thinking about doing yoga teacher training then it’s definitely worth reading that part of it.

If you are interested in my yoga “journey” and how I became a teacher, then read on too!

Malvern Wells Yoga Well

Kat from Malvern Wells Yoga, on her own personal garden well.

Yoga background

 How did you discover yoga?

I’d always wanted to try yoga and one day I saw an advert in the local paper for an Ashtanga class starting soon at the rugby club.  I knew I just had to go!

What got you ‘hooked’ on yoga? What’s yoga to you?

In my childhood I did gymnastics and dancing and my sister and I were very active children, every day after school we were dancing or swimming or going to gymnastics at the weekend.  We were always prancing around the living room at home, making up dances and practicing handstands!

I think it all started to go a wrong when I was in Sixth Form and then at university.  I didn’t have time to eat properly because I was so busy and I didn’t really know how to cook properly for myself.  I must point out here that it wasn’t for want of trying on my mother’s part, I just wasn’t interested in learning.  On top of that, at university I used to get very lonely, especially when I lived abroad.  Comfort eating became the norm for me.  At my biggest I was a UK size 20.

At the time I went to my first yoga class I was about 23 years old and a UK size 16-18.  I’d gotten to the point where I didn’t want to be fat anymore.  I can hear myself like a stuck record, “Does this make me look fat? and “Does my bum look big in this?”…and quite honestly, it did! I used to wear black all the time in an effort to hide my body.  When I went to my first class I think my body remembered how good it feels to stretch and bend.  I think my body was hooked and my mind followed naturally!

Yoga to me is a way of life now.  It has helped me achieve balance between my mind, my body and my spirit.  It has educated me about what my body is for and how I must look after it.  Yoga has contributed to my level of self-confidence and self-belief.  My life now has perspective.

 Why did you decide to become a yoga teacher?

I decided a long time ago that I wanted to do teacher training.  I know that I can help people to become more aware, more mindful and to look after themselves better, to appreciate themselves, to find courage, to let go of the little things and embrace the big things… the list goes on.

I was made redundant in February 2012 and I was lucky to get a decent payout.  I used some of the money to pay for my teacher training.  If I hadn’t been made redundant my dream of being a yoga teacher may never have been realized.

 For you, what are the main qualities of a good yoga teacher?

I think a yoga teacher should be reachable… let me explain.  I’ve met yoga teachers who are ethereal.  They waft into class and out again like minor celebrities… I’m not like that.  I’m me… and I don’t waft anywhere, nor do I own a kaftan or regularly paint henna tattoos on my hands.  I don’t exude a ‘more-yogi-than-thou’ attitude.

I think a good yoga teacher is attentive to the needs of their students, is encouraging, can relate to their students… and most of all, lives in the real world.

 Do you plan to earn your living mainly as a yoga teacher?

Yes, eventually I’d love for that to be possible.

 If so, did you have a different career before this? If not, what’s your “day job”?

At the point I was made redundant, I was a marketing manager in the packaging industry.

Right now I am a procurement manager in the food industry.  I buy blueberries!  This is not to be confused with blackberries, or mobile phones.

The teacher training program

 How was your teacher training?

I loved it!  It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but also one of the most rewarding.

We were a group of around 30 ladies and one gentleman and we came from all four corners of the globe.  There was the inevitable amount of tears, pain, self-doubt, bitching, homesickness…  What do you expect when living with 30 other females for three weeks?!!  The amount of asana practice naturally brings out the emotional side of even the hardest of people!

The great thing about Suryalila is that the accommodation is in little houses which allows you to bond with your roomies.  This really helps when you are suffering bouts of inadequacy and inability to do a proper yoga handstand and not a gymnastic one!

 What did it cost? Did you travel to a far away place for the program?

Euro 2975.00

I went to Andalucia in Spain.  The beautiful scenery helped both mind and body.  There’s a whole spirituality around Suryalila and the people who work and volunteer there.  It is a very special place.

Did your teacher training fully prepare you to become a yoga teacher? Are there aspects that you wish had been covered more in depth/differently?

Yes… and no!  I think continuing education is important and it is vital to start teaching as soon as possible after you’ve finished your course.  We were advised to teach ten classes for free as soon as possible after our course finished.  I finished teaching my ten classes at the end of 2012.  I taught my ten classes to a group of beginners made up of my beautician, her best friend and her best friend’s mother-in-law!  They have been the most fantastic, encouraging group.  Two of them were complete strangers when I started and I think that helped!

As regards what could have been more in depth about my training: more advice about teaching beginner classes.  Perhaps more in-depth training about dealing with injuries… I’d like to understand more about anatomy.  The anatomy training was very good and it has whetted my appetite to find out more about how the body works.  I also wish there had been one more teaching session.  We did two 75-minutes of teaching each.  It was THE scariest thing.  I wish there had been one more, just to give me that extra bit of confidence and teaching time.

What advice do you have for people looking for a yoga teacher training program?

Do it!!  Don’t be under any illusions that it’s easy though.  Being away from your husband and other loved ones for three weeks was the absolute hardest thing, you have to be prepared for that!  It’s not for the faint-hearted and no amount of pre-prepared fancy yoga poses will give you the mental strength you need to get through it.

What criteria should they be looking at?

To be perfectly honest I would say that if you are spending that amount of money, location needs to be a factor!  Why do it in rainy old Britain when you can go to Thailand and Costa Rica!!  Obviously there are other important factors, like the quality of the principal teachers.  Do your research about who they are and their experience.  Plus, look at the contents of the program.  The important things are time spent on teaching asanas to people, deepening your own understanding of yoga and building your ability to actually teach a class.

Being a yoga teacher

 What is the yoga community like where you live? (big/small, welcoming/hectic,…)

Malvern is quite a holistic community.  It is a very spiritual place.  We are small town in Worcestershire, but there are plenty of yoga classes around the place at all times of day.

 Do you do private lessons? Teach classes in a yoga studio? In a gym or health club?

I want to be able to teach private lessons.  At the moment I’m teaching one class per week in a local church hall.  In the New Year I’m going to be starting as a teacher at a retreat that is opening up near my home… as well as doing a full-time job… and I would like to get another class going on a Monday evening – y’know, after the weekend and all that 😉 – hangover busting, energizing, Monday night work out!

 What do you enjoy most about teaching yoga?

I love it when my students are coming out of Savasana and they uncurl on their mats like little flowers seeking the sun.  They tell me they feel relaxed and peaceful.  I love the effect yoga can have on people.

Is there anything that you find challenging/difficult when you’re teaching?

I’m still a little scared about getting off my mat and assisting people, especially beginners.  I don’t want to push them too far or hurt them.

Have you found it easy to find teaching gigs? Are there a lot of opportunities for you and you have to turn down classes, or is it hard to find jobs?

Well, I’ve gone out and created my own teaching gig.  This was pretty easy – a few willing victims(!) and a small room at the church hall.

As I said earlier, I am going to be teaching at a newly-opened retreat too and I found that by generally searching for ‘yoga’ in my area.

How do you market yourself? Do you find it easy?

I’ve not really started marketing myself yet.  I have a domain name, and that’s it.

So now that you are a yoga teacher, what’s your immediate plan (if you have one)?

I need to contribute to my half of our mortgage!  I would dearly love to throw in the corporate towel… but right now I have to be realistic.  I love yoga and I want to continue to teach it for the love of it rather than the financial gain… and I also need to pay my way on a 200-year old cottage.  Unless I am assured of a reasonable financial gain from teaching yoga, I cannot afford to give up my full-time job just yet!

In an ideal world, as regards your yoga teacher career, where do you see yourself in 10 years? What kind of teaching will you be doing, to whom, where, etc? Will you be rich? Poor? Happy?

Oh, in 10 years I know I will be happy!  I’d love for yoga to be a full-time career for me.  I’d love to own a yoga studio, or build my own and offer all sorts of different types of yoga and have a space that appeals to everyone…  somewhere you can come and feel safe and at home, knowing that you are amongst like-minded people.  I’d have a vegetarian café and a shop selling lovely yoga-esque goodies.

I don’t care if I’m rich or poor, as long as we still have our lovely house and we are both healthy and happy.

If you had one piece of advice to give to someone who wants to become a yoga teacher, what would it be?

Believe in yourself and remember why you wanted to be a yoga teacher in the first place.   Yoga is an addiction for me.  I can’t get enough of it.  If you have that drive, it can only carry you forwards.

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Being a Yoga Teacher, Being Me

English: Vrksasana, the tree position, a Yoga ...

Vrksasana, the tree posture. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am inspired to write this blog post after reading this article on the Yoga Journal web site.

Like the author of the article, I’ve been practicing yoga for over a decade.  Each teacher you come across has their own, unique teaching style.  Some have been better for me than others.

Years ago I used to attend a class where the teacher would sweep in about 30 seconds before the class was due to start.  If the teacher was in a bad mood, the whole dynamic of the class was skewed.  The teacher also used to exude a holier-than-thou-I’m-the-guru attitude.  It was actually a bit scary.  I was definitely hooked on the yoga, not the teacher.

I’ve met other teachers like this too.  They are inaccessible; preaching from a pedestal at the front of the class.  You can’t ask them anything because there is an unspoken rule that they are not to be approached.  Sometimes I’ve felt like I’ve been looked down on by a teacher because I am not as ‘enlightened’ as they are.

Then there are the classes where you are not allowed to speak.  You go in, do your asanas and leave again.  There is no interaction between you and anyone else in the class.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think classes should be a huge social event, but silent solemnity can be extremely off-putting for people.

Now that I’m a teacher too I am very conscious of how I interact with my students.  To that end, here are a few things I’ve learned in my very short time as a teacher:

1. Stay present.  You can’t teach a class if your mind is elsewhere.

2. Laugh.  It is very difficult to hold a balancing pose whilst trying to instruct a class.  I have fallen out of tree pose a number of times, especially when explaining that you can’t balance properly unless your mind is clear!

3. Be normal and approachable.  Students need to be able to relate to you.  They can’t relate to you if you are removed from the reality of daily life.  They don’t want an ethereal-kaftan-wearing-patchouli-smelling-someone-who-thinks-they-are-a-goddess.  Make your students welcome.  Give them that warm, fuzzy feeling.  They are loved and cared for and you are happy they come to your class.

4. Teach what your pupils need to learn.  Don’t start demonstrating your yoga prowess by jumping into Bird of Paradise in a beginners class.  The class is about the students and their needs.  It’s not about you.  Similarly, most yoga students attend class for the physical exercise.  Don’t get straight in there and start talking about Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras until you have a good understanding of your students and how receptive (or not) they might be to learning about the more spiritual and philosophical aspects of yoga.

5.  Leave your own crap outside.  Don’t walk into a class and announce to everyone what a rubbish day you are having.  The students are paying you to teach them.  They are not paying to listen to your problems.  If it’s a small class, take five minutes at the beginning and end of the class to let the students talk about their day, if that’s what they want to do… of course, not everyone wants to share and that’s ok.  Some people seem to be able to concentrate better if they can shed some of their baggage before the class begins in earnest.

6. Be prepared to adapt.  It is allowed to move away from your meticulously-planned class structure if you feel you need to, or if it becomes apparent the class you’ve planned is too easy or hard… use your instincts, use your eyes and ears.  You have to be able to improvise and modify depending on the needs of your students or even the dynamic of the class that day.

Last year I went to a small, local class for about six weeks whilst I was between jobs.  The teacher is absolutely lovely.  Very attentive, very creative, very caring.  A real, genuine person who uses her life experience to try to understand and make a connection with her pupils.

I’m just starting out on my journey, but I want to make sure that I am becoming the very best teacher I can be without losing any of myself along the way!


Man with Dog

I have a 45 minute commute to my day job in Evesham.  It’s a lovely drive through the countryside and I usually see something interesting, a buzzard or a kestrel, sometimes even a deer.

One day, not long after starting this job, I was driving through the riverside town of Upton-upon-Severn and I noticed a Springer Spaniel standing up on his back legs giving his owner a big hug.  The owner was making a huge fuss of the dog and both of them were clearly enjoying themselves.  I must have been grinning madly at them because the owner noticed me driving past and grinned back.  I was so pleased and continued on my way to work feeling that all was right in the world.

The next time I saw them, the man gave me a smile and gradually over time the smile evolved into a nod of acknowledgement and a smile.  Then one day he gave me a huge wave.  Now I can’t drive through Upton without looking for them both.  I’m disappointed if I don’t see them and when I do see them it totally makes my day!

This guy doesn’t just wave at me, he waves at a lot of people.  I don’t know if they are friends, or just other commuters he sees every day.  I wonder if the smiling and waving brightens up the day of these other people too.  How amazing that he even does this at all!  We British are generally so serious and reserved.

When my yoga students are coming out of Savasana in class and they come to sit at the top of their mats with their eyes still closed, as they open their eyes I always ask them to give me a smile.  Smiles cost nothing and they light up the world.  I’m not saying you should go around smiling at random people in the street, but just try occasionally acknowledging someone you don’t know.  Give them a grin.  See what effect it has!asmilecanchangeaworld

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Don’t let The Guilts get you down!

I’m in the office today, doing the day job.  I would rather be at home doing a vigorous yoga practice to work off all the calories I’ve consumed.  I did two excellent detox practices over the weekend, but when I got dressed this morning my favourite red skirt felt tight.  I allowed myself one “OMG, I’m fat!” moment, but rather than bursting into tears and throwing a crying fit at 6.30am, I decided not to bother wasting my energy on beating myself up about something that is already done.

Do not allow yourself to enter into a negative pattern of thinking, accept what you’ve done and move on.  Don’t try to justify that 17th mince pie to yourself.  You didn’t have to eat it, but you did.  Move on!  Don’t put off doing anything about it until tomorrow.  Don’t think “Oh, I’ve already eaten badly today so I may as well put off starting any diet or exercise until tomorrow”.  Don’t sit there procrastinating and feeling sorry for yourself.  The only person who can change how you feel is you!

My first yoga class of the year starts on Wednesday 2nd January, at 6.30pm, St Andrew’s Church in Malvern.  Come along and start 2013 as you mean to go on!  Hope to see you there.