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Ancient and Modern Concepts of Well-Being Blog

WHAT INFLUENCES MY WORK

In addition to being a life coach, Ayurvedic consultant and yoga teacher, I am a social anthropologist with a specialist knowledge of South Asia which influences how and what I share in teaching and coaching.


In my role as a yoga teacher, I view yoga as being a powerful tool, a journey to the Self for the individual and in doing so, yoga helps create a path towards collaboration and peace for us all in society.

 

People arrive on their mats expecting one thing which I deliver technically in terms of sequences and anatomy and alignment instruction but they take away something else as well. This is fed by my age in part. I am at a stage where (the wonderful) vagaries of youth have morphed into a calmer state of just being.  I remember as a new yoga teacher thinking fast vinyasa class was the way to go but the years have taught me that, in reality a student mostly needs a good honest practice where they have learned and leaned into themselves a little before they can dial it up safely.  So that their yoga practice is more than a routine - it is doing what is supposed to do - uplifting physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing in the context of the cultivating peace and harmony in the wider world and returning them to consciousness.


Additionally, my Anglo-Indian heritage and anthropological background means allows me to call upon yoga philosophy in an authentic manner having been brought up with Ayurvedic practices of which yoga is a part. My connection to these disciplines therefore runs deep; I see myself as continuing the work of my ancestors.  Furthermore, my lived experience is brought into the classroom and shapes how and what I teach.  I hope for the student to create a lifelong engagement to the yogic path; aim to create the conditions for the student to want to come back, I guess, in business terms, creating a repeat customer.   My classes are open to all, I welcome questions and see my role as being of service. 


UNDERSTANDING A HOLISTIC APPROACH TO HEALTH


Although I was brought up in the UK, since the 1990's I have lived, worked and studied aspects of the sub-continent.  It has led me to a different understanding of healing to that Western medical model of health which I was raised in.  It has drawn me towards further inquiry of concepts relating to the body and how I understand my students.  In her book 'Yoga, Fascia, Anatomy and Movement', Joanne Avison, refers to the 15th century European Renaissance. 


Here, an understanding of how the body functioned was based not on people who were actually living and breathing - experiencing life in all of its chaos, but rather, it was based on the examination of the organs of inert corpses, where fascia was discarded into the mortuary bins.


Currently Western medical research reveals the relevance of fascia not only to providing structure and support but to an understanding that that a disruption in tissues may lead to a wide range of emotional responses such as stress, anxiety and depression.  The ancient sages seemed to know this already as evident in the practices of Ayurveda and yoga.  These days we are moving beyond pills and potions, beyond talking and into the body allowing people to understand where or why they feel restriction or pain and teaching them how to tend to it.  In my (coaching) work for example, I include not only conversation but also movement, meditation, breathwork, visualisations, music, psychology and Vedic philosophy to help the client move towards their goals. As a Chopra Life Coach, it makes total sense to me that it is only when mind, body and spirit are integrated, using whatever healing modalities are available, can optimal health, happiness and joy be achieved. 


I am always looking to expand my knowledge, working with a team of wellness experts from various fields, or yoga teachers from different lineages.  It is not only fascinating for me but ultimately provides us with knowledge to offer the client a more rounded experience of health options - allowing the client to decide what practice suits them rather than adopting a one-size fits all approach to wellness.   


I am also interested in quantum biology and lean into the science of both disciplines to support my work for my students. It is something I also explore in my Ayurvedic teachings, concepts of the Universe, layers of life and interconnectedness along with practical advice on sleep, nutrition, self care and emotional wellbeing practices which clients can implement into their daily lives. As with yoga, Ayurvedic practices are meant to be lived and experienced, not to stay on the mat or in the classroom and the wellbeing of the practitioner can be evaluated to see what is working for them.


I think it’s fair to say that the general visual representation of ‘yoga’ in the West is that of slim, young, bendy women executing some kind of elaborate arm balance or handstand on Instagram. It is perceived as something which will help us touch our toes. This portrayal in itself may be appealing to the flexible, fast paced, competitive personality to whom these movements are familiar or accessible or to those who enjoy a challenge (in Ayurvedic terms perhaps a pitta dominant dosha or imbalance). (My Ayurvedic training also helps me to read a yoga class). However, this single view of yoga can also be alienating to great swathes of the population; the older or less mobile cohort, men, other ethnic groups, or those with injuries or restrictions for example. Furthermore, seeing the yoga teacher with their legs behind their head may not actually be an achievable goal for some people and the client may get lost or frustrated in attempting to do so. It is my role to guide the practitioner, to facilitate their own journey, to support others in their own process helping them to accept themselves where they are and at whatever stage of the life-course.


I am part of the shift away from a one-dimensional way of seeing what is a complex and fascinating discipline and something beyond the physical field, the core at which is raising consciousness of the individual and the collective. However, due to how yoga has evolved in the West it seems to be stuck joined at the third stage (of an eight limbed path) where the focus is on asana on a mat. So too, do I start here. Some people come to class after all, just to complete a routine, with no desire to delve deeper into the practice. Whilst yoga is my bread and butter I understand that this is not the case for many. The ‘spiritual’ aspect is daunting also to many as they simply not be interested. Some people may confuse yoga as a religion rather than what it actually is, the science of the mind. It is by creating a welcoming environment and communicating with people effectively, to establish what they want from their practice that I can help them move nearer their goal and plan a class that they enjoy and want to come back to. For me, it is therefore important to recognise and read the room and offer advice and support where needed. It is also relevant for me to understand why a person may wish to contort their bodies in such a manner also. It could be an aesthetic reason or desire to simply understand the pose and gain a sense of achievement or purely ego driven. That said, I understand the power of the ego and like many, still marvel at feats of extraordinary pretzel making but just have to temper that in class.  From a physiological, anatomical, spiritual and health point of view I can explain the reasons why I teach yoga as I do and what benefits may be derived from such a practice, carried out in a certain manner over a certain duration. I have found that patience and dedication to the discipline reaps most rewards as does a desire to learn. The onus is on the student as much as the teacher. It is a responsibility for us both to share and this can only be done with respect and trust on both sides and I endeavour to do this as I teach.


I also teach breathing and meditation practices to invigorate, steady or calm the student, helping with attention and focus. I draw attention to the role of the ego and consciousness - obviously these non- visual features are complex and thus not easily measurable on paper but more often than not, rather revealed in conversations about feelings and emotions. Building a relationship is thus a very relevant part to the yoga experience. The way I teach yoga at times, involves a slowing down, a stilling of what is known as the ‘monkey’ mind. It is a self-reflective, productive and sometimes counter intuitive practice. Some people, for example, fidget incessantly in savasana – they simply cannot stay still and do not like the experience, it can be the symptom of an over active mind (too much Vata air/space component in their personality maybe). It is my role to facilitate their discomfort and encourage them to revisit and eventually hopefully find peace in this space.


At a very practical, physical level, my anatomy instruction helps the student understand what part of the body they are working on and why and how it may be accessed. I also provide hands on assists and use equipment so that the practitioner may achieve what they are supposed to achieve in a posture ‘sthira sukham asanam’ loosely defined, as practicing yoga with strength and in a relaxed manner. Keeping people safe is my main goal, through stages of movement according to factors such as ability or temperament and working within existing constraints or limitations to attain realistic goals and help progress their journey.


I like to entertain all the senses in class whether it be through the careful choice of music and I use of Doterra essential oils to uplift or calm the space. I incorporate storytelling and myths so that the student may embody the qualities and characteristics of the pose itself and Sanskrit at a level that is accessible. I aim to help the student to channel and redirect their energies; explaining features of the subtle body such chakras and meridians and teach them how to utilise various pranayama techniques to access the body and mind. The aim is that the student brings their practice to life both on and off the mat. I am able to convey this in a subtle way through discussion, description, self-reflection practices, team work etc. In the instance of seeing a student struggling for example, I may teach the concept of ‘ahimsa’, non-violence. From a physiological point of view they would learn that the body will not open up if under too much duress, so we aim to move away from a locked in flight or fight mode to that of rest and digest.


Humour plays a role as does humility, gratitude and kindness. I am able to explain my own 'imperfections' easily. I do this quite purposefully as I find this gives space for the client to also accept their body, feel comfortable in their own skin and to treat themselves with compassion, acknowledging that no two days are the same in their yoga practice, no two bodies are the same either.



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