Exhale and soften


Life is constant change and we are in a constant state of flux.

My default position is wishing for safety, stability and black and white situations. Does this resonate? But reality is different: certainty and clear cut feelings are mirages. Life is never that simple. Ok, almost never.

The other day I was sitting as a teaching assistant in the new intake of teacher trainees at Triyoga. The group felt overwhelmed by the challenges ahead of them. Ha! I knew something about that…

My tutors realised that some reassurance was needed to address the sense of uncertainty which was sweeping through the room, leaving people lost and worried. Exhale and soften was their advice.

When we are confronted with something new, or simply when we are in the face of uncertainty, it is far better to be soft and absorb life as it is instead of feeling overwhelmed, being rigid and, ultimately, reject. If we are panicking, we cannot engage truly and fully with a new relationship, a course, a friendship, a new job, right?

I have now made this a personal mantra. Every time I’m feeling overwhelmed, I exhale and soften – I try to engage with life for what it is without strong judgments, letting go of the fears and going through the motion. I allow myself to be soil absorbing rain. By not shutting the door, new things can appear and spring up in unexpected ways.

Since I started to work on myself like this, good things are happening. I’m learning that my attitude shifts the world around me, not the other way round.

And after all, isn’t it the only way forward anyway?


Endings and beginnings



I have not written on this blog for a while and the widget at the bottom of the page no longer shows the number of months left till my graduation. That is because I have completed it: I finished my teacher training by passing my final assessment last week. I should be happy, but if I’m honest I can’t quite feel neither joy nor satisfaction.

I feel I lost a close knit family, companions who travelled together for two years towards an unknown destination, different for each of us. People who opened up and shared their thoughts and feelings, that were supportive and understanding and towards whom I have grown respect and affection. Of course I’ll continue to see some of them regularly, but our lives will not be marked by the regular monthly meetings of our modules, nor the phone ringing about oh my god what are we writing about this or that.

Last week I have also finally said goodbye to my late friend Gareth, after unprocessed feelings dwelling in my heart and many questions left hanging; unfortunately those unanswered questions will remain unanswered. Last time I saw him it was the day we interviewed for the teacher training, and I can only wryly smile at the irony of life with its powerful circularity. Gaz, my teaching qualification is dedicated to you.

And here is one new beginning: I’ll be assisting my teachers for the next teacher training. As an assistant, I sat in interviews with my tutor, this time on a different side. I thought about Gaz many times when we were chatting to the new applicants.

And another beginning is that I’ll be teaching every Sunday from 26 July 2015 at The YogaNest, in Bethnal Green, London.

Endings and beginning at the same time. Just like the end and the beginning of a breath.

Winter warmer sessions with my tutor


When Movement for Modern Life suggested to be part of a shot with one of my tutors Mimi Kuo-Deemer, I jumped at the offer: having a free ‘private’ session with one of my tutors, with all that attention I will get? Sign me up!

We met one Friday morning and we didn’t have heaps of time as the clock ticked fast while we were trying to fix one of the cameras which seemed to be suffering from an acute case of lens fog-bia. This meant that there was no real ‘rehearsals’ time and what is in the video is the first (and only) run.

We started shooting and it was easy for me to concentrate on Mimi’s voice and instructions as I do in class, but at the same time it was strange to know that I was being filmed while practising. It was clear that all it was asked of me was to be myself in my practice, but it is also true that I still wanted to be my ‘better’ self in front of a camera!

During practice, I felt a bit stiff and contained: I would have probably laughed, smiled more at Mimi and made more ‘breathing noises’ if the camera hadn’t been there. The practice itself felt different than usual, and that was certainly a very interesting element to be aware of.

During the camera-testing phase, I was asked not to speak in order to check noise levels, and I took that so seriously that I kept that awareness throughout the whole practice: I don’t have a Darth Vader ujjayi breathing (far more quieter), but I was still conscious to make as little noise as possible.

This somewhat kept my breath and my physical activity in check: often yoga teachers advise to keep your breath steady and slow, and if it becomes jarred it means that you have gone too far in your posture. This is a piece of advice I always keep in mind; however, being extremely conscious of the sound your breathing – which could be amplified by a close-by microphone – takes your breath awareness to a whole different level!

Also, as almost everybody, one side of my body is stronger than the other: my left side is certainly more stable and stronger than the right. When I start off on a bike, climb stairs or if I step into a lunge, surely my left side is the one that kicks things off first. So when I do balancing poses, I’m usually far more stable on the left than right. However, during the filmed practice, the reverse was true. To my great surprise, all balancing poses on my right leg where far more stable than on the left (you can really see that in the videos!).

And that was certainly another lesson learned which it can easily be taken off the mat: never approach poses (or people, or situations) with a ‘I have done it a thousand times, I know my body, I know what this is all about’ attitude, because every day, truly, is a different day.

If you do fancy practising this winter warmer with me and Mimi, Movement for Modern Life is offering 30% discount throughout January 2015, just enter code WINTERSPECIAL on the subscription page.

I hope you enjoy it!

Teaching observed by my tutor: a terrifying experience


As part of my training course, I had to teach one hour class observed by my tutor. If you are a follower of this blog you’ll know how terrified I was about teaching at one point, as well being scared of those uneasy emotions it can bring up. I was so worried about this milestone in my training that I made myself teach classes for months in advance, in order to get used to it and feel more at ease in the role of a teacher.

I taught my observed class one morning and, needless to say, I was very nervous. I had fully prepared, tested the class, rehearsed what to say and wrote things down not to forget anything out. Tested it once more. I was prepared by the book.

I admit, I was so nervous that I did not manage to feel the energy of the people in the class. Quite a few times I forgot that my teacher was there watching and listening carefully, but I felt wired and tense nonetheless.

After class I received my dose of feedback and it felt like going back to primary school when that giant up there you are in awe of, is telling you what she thinks about your teaching skills and giving you a grade (which she actually didn’t want to give as it “reduces all your efforts to a number and that is not fair, neither encouraging”).

As usual, she starts off with a question to which I had to answer: ‘How do you think it went?’. My first gut reaction in that frantic state of mind was I don’t know, I don’t know, you tell me! But then I stopped, breathed, connected to my centre and thought it through. Then I said ‘I think it went well, but I could have added more to the cool down part of the class and I struggled to feel the energy of the students’.

She replied that ‘yes’ the cool down part of the class could have been longer, and that she was pleased with this and that and then… once more, we started to talk about life – not my teaching skills, not yoga.

“You give too many instructions and over teach. You remind me of myself when I started teaching (I took that as a compliment). You need to let people live their experience and not fill the silence with your anxieties”. Touché.

I was so worried about demonstrating to her and the students that I knew all the basic as well as the more complex alignment points, that ticking these boxes became more important than the class.
How many times do I fill my days with lots of activities not to feel a vague but present discomfort? I like to think that I’m pretty connected to my feelings, but maybe I should meditate more to be truly aware, or just sit and do nothing.

At that point I could hear myself saying “But, but, but I was so nervous!” not quite winging in disappointment, but desperately wanting to do so.

“Your teaching practice is part of your yoga practice. You practice with your students, so if you feel nervous, you clear the mental space for yourself too, not only for them. That way you are practising and sharing with them, not teaching from a pedestal”. “You also relied a bit too much on your class plan. It’s all there, you simply need to relax and reduce, shave off a bit”.

My tutor is a great teacher (and teacher of teachers) and her feedback is always constructive and comes from a place of compassion and well wishing and I left the meeting quite encouraged.

Tonight, for my class, although I had prepared a plan, I decided to scrap it. I asked my students if they were up for playing and experimenting and when they agreed, I warmed them up in order to tackle my favourite category of poses: inversions. They are exhilarating, fun, adventurous, challenging and bring up the child in you (at least in me).
No rigid plans, just teaching inspired by my knowledge, my teachers, my experience and by the passion for what I love.

The students enjoyed it and to me it felt one of the best classes I have ever taught (although I could have added more to the cool down part one more!).

I guess what I learnt is: make the knowledge yours, but then get rid of the plan. Forget the head and trust your heart.

Woo hoo, I started teaching yoga!


It has been two months since I wrote my last post. Wow, time goes fast.

Right now, I’m preparing my 6th class. I have started to teach! I still can’t quite believe it.

Since I shifted my attitude from ‘teaching yoga’ to ‘sharing my experience of yoga’, I’m much kinder to myself and relaxed about teaching. I’m still nervous at the beginning of every class, but I get there 20 minutes early so that I can meditate, focus on my breathing and the passing moment and avoid playing films in my head about what will happen during class and how good I will be.

I have started to know my crowd and the more I do that, the easier it becomes. It is like everyone has a “yoga personality”: limits, strengths, expectations, attitudes and the more I get to know those, the more comfortable I become in tailoring the asanas for every person and the general feel of the class. It is great to see the start of my students’ journey into the practice (oh my god, I said ‘my students’ for the first time ever!)

I am learning so much about teaching while making sure I keep people’s body (as well as my own) balanced, use the space fully (front, back and sides), uproot habits (bad AND good), making sure that people don’t beat themselves up because of their physical limits, but help them cultivate acceptance of their own body (and therefore themselves) as well as develop trust that things will come with time, if you sprinkle the practice with love and compassion. Practise, practise and it will come. As with many things in life.

And the most amazing thing is the feedback. When people tell me that their migraine is gone, that they slept really well, that they felt relaxed like they haven’t been in ages or that they feel loose and open – well, it’s all worth it. I feel like I have helped them a little in their lives and this feeling is so rewarding! I understand now what my tutors meant when they mentioned about ‘helping others’.

The unspoken feedback is also just as rewarding. Seeing people coming back again and again makes me feel that they must have found something useful in my class. There is a lady who buys herself every prop I lend her during practice; every time she will have purchased something new, renewing this way her commitment to my class and to yoga. This makes me feel happy!

There is so much more I need to learn as this is only the start of the journey and I still catch myself making mistakes, but hell it feels exhilarating!

One empty mat #findgareth


photoDear Gaz,

Yesterday I practised yoga on my patio, the one Natasha and I are so proud of but you haven’t seen. I laid down two mats, one for you and one for me.

I met you so long ago I cannot remember; we didn’t know each other that well and always met because we were brought together by somebody else. But we liked each other.

Then one day, I randomly found you in a yoga workshop – you came to say hello in your green top as I didn’t see you. I was surprised to see you there as yoga and the-Gaz-I-knew didn’t go together, but so pleased at the same time cause I had discovered a side of you that I didn’t know before.

We coupled up in the workshop and we were asked to discuss what was our vision of an ideal future. I came up with some self-centred comment of “being more understanding of myself” while you shyly and simply said in a small voice “I would like to have a family”. That also was a surprise, and I felt honoured that you were comfortable enough to share that wish with me.

We talked about yoga and meditation, the fact that I was flexible while you were strong, and I also told you that I was going to apply for the teacher training course. You called me a few days later saying that you wanted to do that too and you were going to give it a try. I was very happy – how amazing would have been if we both managed to get in!

Last time I saw you we spent the day in Primrose Hill for the interview for the training course. You had bought some new hot pants to go to Bikram which made me laugh as they were super revealing. We went to the bookshop on the hill and you asked the man to dig out some obscure books about gems; or was that jewellery? Then we went to buy some flip flops for me and you laughed as my last pair caused me to sprain my ankle and I was still hopping.

We had lunch on the hill and you were telling me how you calculated how much the course would cost per hour. I was stunned – I would never think to work out how much an hour cost, but then I thought ‘he is an accountant after all!”
In the evening we went for dinner at that Italian place nearby. I went to look for it a couple of days ago and it is not there anymore; somehow I felt better about not being able to find it at the time, but I don’t feel like that now, I don’t want to forget.

We agreed that the first one to hear about the course would tell the other. I heard first and you were disappointed; you weren’t offered a place in the end, so you stayed in London for little longer and then took off to travel to Asia. Few days ago, a friend of yours wrote a comment online about the fact that you wanted to settle there and become a yoga teacher – from that comment I learnt that you still wanted to do it.

Lately, I have been complaining a lot about how intense and tiring this training is, and I felt stressed when my friends wanted to see me and I had to say ‘no’. I have learnt many lessons this week, but two of them are: 1) I’ll stop seeing offers to meet up as stressful but will look at them as acts of love, and 2) I’ll find the time to balance it all out and spend time with them. Because it is important to tell and show people you love that you love them.

I will now carry on this training with renewed motivation: I want to be the best yoga teacher I can ever be in your honour and memory dear Gaz, yoga buddy for too short a time.

That obstacle called ‘fear’


Today I had my first tutorial meeting. Me and my tutor, talking about ‘how I am doing’ almost a year after my course started. I was so terrified that I dreamt about it last night.

My tutor is an amazing teacher and is also a great teacher of teachers. For her, I feel the same respect and the same intimidation I used to feel for my English Literature professor when I was at uni: pure awe, just as defined by the Oxford “a feeling of reverential respect mixed with fear or wonder”.

We sat down on the floor and she asked me how I was feeling about the course. I started talking about fears described elsewhere in this blog, but most of all fear of being a bad teacher and be judged as such.

In training, we talked about the fact that as teachers, we are vehicles through which the knowledge of yoga is passed on. This came up in our conversation today, but from a slightly different angle: if you approach teaching as ‘sharing’ what you know and your own experience of yoga, there will be no space to worry about what your students may (or may be not!) be thinking about you. You are there to share, not to perform. Maybe I will not call myself a yoga teacher, but a ‘yoga sharer’ to keep this in focus.

Then, my tutor asked me what I thought I was good at. Blank. I’m so worried about what I’m not good at that I never thought about what my strengths are. She asked me to think on the spot and I suggested a few things for which I received good feedback on from my peers, but struggling to recognise them deep down. And this made me ask myself: how many positive traits do I have I can’t even see? Sigh.

Then, she told me what she thought: my instructions are clear, my homework is strong and on time, my alignment is great and improved a lot since I was contemplating applying for the course 15 months ago (blimey, she remembers my alignment back then?). She told me nice things and this made me emotional; I’m not used to pat myself on the back.

Then she said: “physically you have great potential and I’d like to you take your practice to the next level. Let go. Get sweaty and dirty, don’t hold back, you are holding back”.
That really struck me. “Let go”, the most difficult thing to do for me, because of all the fears that I kindle. And she can see it. She can see the potential as well as the obstacles I put in front of it. This was like a smack in the face.

There is such a strong connection between our bodies and our mind and yoga has made this link very obvious to me. If I don’t try something that I think is difficult on the mat, it is likely that I’ll do the same in life, giving up before even trying. All because of fear. And this made me think “Oh dear, I’m missing out on life. I’m so afraid that I don’t experience life to its fullest”. I better do something about it and quickly.

She gave me few recommendations and the meeting was over. I left shaken, knowing that she had given me a lesson on life, not (only) yoga. Thank you tutor, I’m indeed very lucky.