Church halls can suck
Church halls are not ideal teaching or practice spaces. I still teach on Thursday evenings in Westbury Park with limited heating, lentils leftover on the floor from the preschool earlier in the day, and don’t even get me started about the red glitter stuck to the yoga mats that will remind my students when they get home that they did cobra posture as the shiny specks remain on their foreheads. But I value these classes in many ways and value the students who come so enjoy teaching them anyway
How I came to own a yoga studio
I didn’t have big ambitions for what I was trying to do, just a space, a resource, to teach what my teacher Paul Harvey had taught me and what I had discovered along the way, and pass on this helpful stuff that I was privileged to be able to have time to study and practice.
Before starting the studio in 2009 I had a good job that I enjoyed and was teaching yoga part-time in the evenings in the church hall. I didn’t really have plans to start a yoga studio. But one morning I was early to an appointment with my hairdresser on Park Row, so was hanging around near her salon and noticed to sign advertising a space that was for rent. A great place for a yoga studio, right in the centre of Bristol. I recounted this to my hairdresser as I was in her chair and she mentioned that their basement was unused and I should take a look. I did and the seed of YogaSpace was planted. The yoga centre at 10 Park Row opened a couple of months later.
At first it was just me teaching classes. Then once the yoga centre started, many teachers approached me to be able to teach there. Naomi started up her Tuesday evening classes which she still runs now. I navigated the changing yoga landscape as best I could, found some wonderful teachers along the way, and hopefully have offered teachings and classes that the students of YogaSpace have found helpful and valuable and created a studio space that the teachers have enjoyed teaching in.
Push yourself, or restore yourself? Or neither...
Eventually though my heart was less and less in it as I found myself managing a centre and lots of other teachers and having less time for my own teaching and study. And also finding that the style of modern yoga practice was changing in a direction that I didn’t feel aligned to. It felt more and more fueled by the need to exert, sweat and push ourselves, or on the flip side of that, to relax and restore. To ‘get’ somewhere with our practice.
How do you 'open your heart'?
Yoga seemed to be becoming more physical, entertaining, challenging, expressive, maybe with a sprinkling of yoga philosophy and perhaps esoteric symbolism. I kept coming across romantic sounding notions of ‘opening your heart’ (symbolically interesting when presented thoughtfully and with context but otherwise a phrase that needs further examination). I needed a rethink of what I was spending my time doing. My compass felt a little off kilter. I had somehow found myself hosting and promoting classes that while enjoyable and of use to those who attend, I didn’t personally love.
Paul Harvey's yoga centre, Yoganjali
Then my teacher, Paul Harvey, decided to pass on his yoga studio as he was going to be primarily teaching smaller groups and 121 yoga ongoing and didn’t have need of a larger studio space. His beautiful studio, Yoganjali, established in 1998 and where I had taken my teacher training was in need of a new owner. It’s an ideal space, down a quiet cul-de-sac in the heart of Bishopston. If you could design a yoga studio from scratch, this would be it - beautiful, quiet, simple, functional, warm, light, tranquil, and just off a bustling high street…
No brand names or styles
So here I am, now based at Bristol YogaSpace in Bishopston, with like-minded teachers who only occasionally teach sun salutations, without a brand name or ‘styled’ yoga approach, just simple, breath-centred yoga in small groups or 121. And I love it.
Good luck to Bristol Yoga Centre!
Naomi I’m sure will do a wonderful job with Bristol Yoga Centre. It is a lovely studio space and I loved the 7-years I spent there building a vibrant yoga community. I miss the teachers and students and I’m sure our paths will continue to cross, but I love where I find myself. I’ve gone back to my roots of teaching what I have a firm conviction about, and returning to study with Paul Harvey for the rest of the year. This time around, I’m hoping to keep my compass more aligned and closer to my heart. I wish Naomi and all those adventurers out there happy travels and very best wishes with all the other wonderful stuff!
All forms of practice have their place at different times in life, and finding what suits you at is a very personal decision. The adaptable nature of viniyoga means it changes with you as your life changes, rather than requiring that you strive to sustain the same standardised forms of practice. Viniyoga is sustainable and supportive as you deepen your yoga practice over the years.
The British Wheel of Yoga is an organisation that offers yoga teacher training and accreditation, and a good standard of teacher training. It is the national governing body for yoga and the largest yoga membership organisation in the country. It ensures a minimum standard of teacher training so that the teacher is experienced enough and knowledgeable enough to safely run a group yoga class for the wide range of participants that each class attracts. Many teacher training courses these days are available to take as 1-6 month intensives however the British Wheel still maintains that 2-years is the minimum time period to fully explore, train and prepare to become a yoga teacher. Part of the yoga teachers job is to guide participants to move beyond their familiar physical and mental comfort zone and to do this safely is key to good teaching. They also require annual continual professional development have a good quarterly magazine.
Anyway, I'm looking forward to teaching at the annual yoga teacher conference and hope to see you there!
See Clara's group yoga class schedule >
1) Friendly teachers
All of our yoga teachers are friendly, supportive, and are there to help you experience yoga and its benefits in a way that suits you. We are all different, need different things from the class, and friendly, approachable teacher will help you get there.
2) Health info
When you arrive, it is best to arrive 5 or 10 minutes prior to the class starting so that you can fill in a quick health questionnaire and meet the teacher. We like to know about any injuries, fitness limitations, health problems, relevant experiences that might benefit from additional supervision, instruction or adaptation of the practice to ensure it suits you. Every body can practice yoga safely and getting started at the right level will help you get there.
3) Smaller classes
We have a max of 15 in each yoga class, most classes are smaller. We strongly believe in supporting each individual and providing a good level of attention that will get you started safely. In a smaller group this enables the teacher to observe your practice and develop it when the timing is right.
4) Teacher-student relationship
Our teachers will get to know you and your health background, will observe how you practice yoga, where your interest develops, and be there to offer guidance during the class and talk through any questions both before and after class. There is no substitute for an experienced teacher to guide you along your yoga journey once you get started.
5) Step by step
All our classes are taken step by step, maintaining and developing your ability to practice in a group class and perhaps at home safely once you are familiar with the movements, techniques and ways of practicing yoga. Every body is able to participate and any postures or techniques that don't suit you, or are inaccessible for whatever reason, will be adapted or substituted suitably for you to enable you to get the most from practicing yoga..
6) Feel better
A new class should leave you feeling energised, settled, refreshed, more relaxed and spacious, both mentally and physically, than when you arrived. The benefits of yoga should feel immediately apparent and enjoyable. Then with regular practice to help you learn them, the tools of yoga, the movements, breathing techniques, meditation techniques and approaches that you learn in class, may well become a lifelong support...
Do you know anyone who isn't busy? Really busy? Chances are you have a long list of things to do (once you've done all the things you need to do). And once you've done that, you'll find something else to keep you busy.
Radio 4 recently had a short article on how we are 'addicted' to being busy and I have to say it rang very true. As a society, it is almost a badge of achievement to say your really busy. We value you, the idea of doing, achieving, getting more things done. Really it is easier to be busy than to not be busy. But are 'busy' things distracting us from bigger objectives?
We're so used to our time being filled that I'm not sure we'd be entirely comfortable with having nothing to do. When we might actually get a chance to turn our attention beyond the daily distractions. Unfortunately stress, health dilemmas, being 'burnt out' are all modern day results. And what have we really achieved?
The idea that we are too busy to take care of ourselves, to maintain a balance in our lives between doing, achieving, and being and experiencing is a conversation we should probably all have with ourselves along our journey - regularly. Yoga practice, and other meditative practices try to encourage moving away from 'doing' and entering a state of 'being' as a regular habit. To become familiar with other aspects of our lives and see what arises as we do this. At least weekly, preferably daily, try simply 'being' for 5 or 10 minutes. Try sitting, gazing, breathing, meditating, a moving meditation such as yoga, whatever you like. Try it and see what happens...
Thanks to those of you who came and made our new Bishopston yoga studio open day a huge success! It was lovely to welcome so many new faces to our beginners yoga, viniyoga and gentle yoga classes. A big thank you and hope to see you in class again soon.
Yoga offers us a chance to take practices that will help make our body and mind stronger, more stable and less rigid and allow them to come back to a more harmonious and well-balanced state of being.
If your a beginner to yoga, you may have an advantage to those experienced in yoga practice. You come to class being open and curious to what is about to happen. The uncertainty of not knowing what you are going to be doing in your class, the unfamiliar postures and ways of breathing all demand an attention and a focus to pulling it off. There is an openness and natural effort, and less expectation. These are qualities that are essential ingredients in cultivating a healthy body and mind and enabling all that yoga has to offer to unfold for us.
Without the right attitude of attention and alertness in our yoga practice, our mind and body will stay in its usual patterns. Most of us are creatures of habit -- we're slouching, breathing poorly, thinking about the same old stuff (e.g. what is for dinner or mentally shopping for whatever has captured our attention...) -- all habits that we aim to change through yoga practice.
Once we become experienced at yoga breathing, posture, technique and focus we can lose that fresh edge and that natural effort. We can become comfortable, perhaps complacent, or develop more unhelpful habits rather than less.
The freshness of the beginner is a gift and something experienced practitioners may need to strive to retain in each yoga practice. Those with experience can become mechanical and repetitive as they practice during class, missing the potential of each posture and each breath. The full physical and mental harmony available by taking simple practices, can be missing for the experienced practitioner.
As beginners to yoga we often feel like we don't know what we are doing. We should see this as a gift. Familiarity in yoga postures, breathing and the mechanics of meditation can be a double edged sword. Trying to maintain a 'beginners perspective' will help to benefit more fully from each practice.
Is picture above simply another beautiful sunset, simliar to ones you have seen before, or the start of an unexplored and unique day ahead...
Beginners and those with experience, bring along your beginners mind to our new Beginners classes starting with our new 7-week term which gets started June 5th.
Most of our day is spent doing things we are comfortable and familiar with, the routine of daily life, perhaps along with a few challenges and changes throughout the day. But what if we routinely asked ourselves to do things that we didn’t think were possible? Things that perhaps took us outside of our comfort zone.
Your response might be ‘why on earth would I do that’? But why wouldn’t you try new things, and extend yourself into new experiences? These are the things that will show you what you are truly capable of, and it is probably more than you realise.
'Thinking' is the key word here. Our minds maintain comfortable boundaries for us, often for good reasons. But do we get complacent? Remind yourself, the way kids do so naturally, that exploration, challenge and being comfortable with feeling uncomfortable are an essential means to extending yourself and leading on to a more fulfilling life. Even when your thinking mind tells you that it is impossible.
A good way to rediscover your potential is to start with small daily practices to remind you and demonstrate to yourself that you can do more than you think you can. Yoga practice is one of the ways we can do this.
What is you started to explore a posture that at first seems impossible. But with daily practice, and approaching it with sensible steps, you might just amaze yourself and remind yourself that you can do anything you set your mind to.
Warning…Your mind will say:
“You can’t, what you are thinking? You’ll never be able to do it, it’s a waste of time.”
(notice your mind doesn’t say watching 3-hours of tv is a waste of time …)
Then your mind might say:
But your response could start to be
“I may not be able to do it, but I can start to work towards it.”
Then get on your yoga mat or to your yoga class and get started. A weekly class is a good start. Then maybe talk to your teacher about a small home practice - which is even better as it brings positive daily habits into your life and the outcomes can be greater than you ever imagined…
Have a clear out
Have a physical clear out. Sort out a room, a cupboard, perhaps even just a drawer. Empty it out and only put back the things that you use and need. Creating physical space is a wonderful way of feeling more spacious internally too.
Let go of something old
We need to let go of something old first. Perhaps move on from a commitment, a habit, a club, a stagnant relationship, anything that feels like it isn't positive any longer and not worth reinvesting in. Re-assess your commitments and see what would be worth replacing with something more positive and vibrant.
Take a moment to count your blessings. Feeling grateful each day is a wonderful practice to cultivate. It enables you to appreciate what you have, to re-envigorate your enthusiasm for them, and importantly, to break the cycle of always wanting something that you don't have. Gratitude can help you feel more spacious and avoiding taking on more things that you may not actually need. Hey, I have opposable thumbs, thank you!
Move and breath
Yoga and other embodied meditative practices are wonderful at creating a feeling of physical and mental space. They support you to physically become stronger and de-compress yourself, enabling your body to be more more stable and move more easily and naturally - ie. feeling more spacious. Easing out tensions, stresses and blocks enables us to feel more comfortable with ourselves. And using the mental discplines of breath focus, moving and still meditations to allow us to let go of unhelpful thought patterns and feel mentally spacious and open are all essential to our wellbeing.
Notice the present moment
Practice being in the present moment more often. We often spend our days carrying around old memories and worries, or bring along anticipations and fears of the future, and perhaps feel burdened and weighed down. Try letting go of these and practice appreciating and fully experiencing each day and moment as it unfolds.
I always love reflecting on the Dalai Lamas 18 rules for living this time of year too.
Happy new year!
Yoga classes have begun to polarise. From the fast and sweaty vinyasa flow and Ashtanga yoga, to the restorative and Yin yoga classes that have emerged. They seem to be on two ends of a wide spectrum of modern postural yoga classes.
People turn to yoga for a range of different reasons. Perhaps you've come to it to feel stronger or more flexible, or you enjoy the heat and sweat that it can build. Perhaps you enjoy the stillness and calm that it offers, or the good nights sleep it gains you. You may have an injury or pain that you are looking to sort out, or perhaps you just want that elusive feeling of wellbeing. They are all good reasons to practice yoga, and finding the right approach for your practice is more than just the immediate feeling it leaves you with. Your practice should leave you feeling better than when you started, and progressively better in the long term.
You may be surprised that I even need to state this. But I regularly speak to practitioners and even yoga teachers who switch between two extreme styles of yoga practice in an effort to keep themselves balanced.
Taking a strong vinyasa class supplemented with a Yin or restorative class seems a simple contradiction in approach. It's nice to change pace and explore from time-to-time. But to pursue the challenge and energy which then leaves you needing restoration to enable you to continue this cycle seems worth reflecting on. It is a cycle we often undertake in life which we then replicate on our yoga mats.
Yoga practice is for the long term. It should support your primary aims as well as deepening your sense of internal balance with consistent practice.
The balance of yoga doesn't begin on the mat, it beings before you get there, with your intention and choice of how to practice.
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