A yoga practice is a breathing space to respond to the challenges and inspirations of our lives; helping us in the search for greater wellbeing. Although it can be used as pure exercise, some experts class it as a ‘neuro-motor’ practice: one that aims to manage physical and mental stress and fatigue.
Yoga means both ‘discipline’ and ‘union’ – a regular practice of drawing back into balance the body, mind and spirit within our environment. The roots of this art of living well are ancient, but the yoga we practice today has evolved over the last century, influenced by a wide variety of eastern and western cultures. This is a living, evolving and diverse tradition and a good teacher will encourage every student to learn what works best for them personally. Any practice that guides you to a deeper, more skilful awareness of where you are, who you are, and what you are doing can be described as yoga.
Benefits such as flexibility, strength and calm can come quickly, but yoga is a long term practice where the journey is as rewarding as the destination.
In most yoga classes, you are guided through poses and movements, gentle breathing techniques and short meditations. Benefits such as flexibility, strength and calm can come quickly, but yoga is a long term practice where the journey is as rewarding as the destination.
Yoga should be safe, fun and inclusive – most people can find a form of yoga that works within their limitations and yet challenges them to greater physical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing.
You don’t have to be bendy or balance on your hands to enjoy a class; but you may be surprised at what your own body can do given time, support and encouragement.
When I first trained as a yoga teacher (in 2007-8), it was within the Anusara system, with such star teachers as Sianna Sherman, Bruce Bowditch and Tod Tesen. This gave me a strong physical practice, in depth knowledge of alignment, anatomy and physiology, and a thorough grounding in both neo-Vedantic and Tantric philosophy. This was yoga for people who took their practice seriously! But over time, this practice became exhausting, and students with long term chronic conditions, especially related to stress, fatigue and weight gain, were drifting away.
When they attune to deeper inner rhythms and cycles, I find most people have a profound need for rest and renewal. Relentless positive thinking can easily leave us chronically fatigued. We need a practice that is more cyclical, more nurturing, more accommodating of difference and diversity.
I am drawn to teachers who have tempered strict yoga alignment with a softer approach, such as Uma Dinsmore-Tuli, Angela Farmer, John Stirk, Donna Farhi and Lisa Kaley-Isley. I work a lot with special needs, especially children with profound needs, and so my definitions of what is ‘normal’ and ‘average’ in terms of physical, emotional and mental function are regularly challenged and refined. I trained with Sonia Sumar and Jo Manuel for this specialist work, which is challenging but very rewarding.
I am drawn to teachers who have tempered strict yoga alignment with a softer approach
By now I’ve taken over a thousand hours of classes and workshops as a student; and taught nearly two thousand hours myself. I’m part of the Womb Yoga and UK Bhakti communities, a member of the Yoga Nidra Network, and a registered teacher with the Independent Yoga Network (YT500). I’m also influenced by Shakti Dance, Scaravelli-inspired Yoga, Satyananda, Dru, Shadow and Yin schools of yoga. Today my movement teaching blends all of this and useful aspects of body-weight training and dance. I believe that a physical yoga practice thrives when it isn’t afraid to cross the boundaries of sect, guru and school. My own practice is joyous, balanced, barefoot and adventurous, and it changes with the moon and the seasons. I am particularly fond of rhythmic movement, gentle devotion, rest, warmth and grounding.
I like to keep my classes small – 5 to 10 is ideal – so I can easily keep connected to all of the students and how they’re doing. Anyone can sit something out, and for me, an ‘advanced’ student is someone who knows how to modify and adapt practices to better work for them. Classes begin and end with a prayer or chant and include a range of movements, stretches, breathing, sitting and relaxation. Once the body is warm and present, we might play with some more difficult practices or flowing sequences, and we always end with some sort of relaxation. Every class is different.
For the next few years, I’m also researching a PhD with the Religious Studies department of the Open University. I’m investigating the democratization of physical practice and why it matters. You can find out more about how I’m doing over here. As a practicing animist-pagan, I have the privilege of knowing such pagan philosophers as Emma Restall Orr and Graham Harvey, and engaging with their debates on notions of honour, respect, personhood and other ethical issues affords me a different perspective on many yogic themes. I’ve taken in-depth courses in permaculture, natural seasonal rhythms, folklore, and years of close study in both shamanic practice and druidic pathwork.
I try to live simply, modestly, and I’m a huge supporter of what has been called frugal hedonism
So I volunteer on environmental and other projects – locally and with the occasional woofing holiday and work party. I offer karma yoga at any community event I attend, when I can. I openly tithe a small percentage of my earnings from classes to a different charity each term. I try to live simply, modestly, and I’m a huge supporter of what has been called frugal hedonism – such things as long slow walks and hand spinning and campfires with friends. I’m concerned about, and engaged in debates on some of the more difficult aspects of the modern western yoga scene – the commercialization, the standardization, the quality of training and how we support newly qualified teachers (often we don’t).
I think students should not just be safe, they should feel safe – and feel in charge of their own health as much as possible. Above all you are already perfect, just as you are. It is my aim that we practice together, as an inclusive community, and I try my best to keep the costs of attending classes low enough that lower-income students can still attend. This means that my margins are low, and I rely on donations from those that can afford it, and on students who commit to paying in blocks as much as they can.
“Just to say THANK YOU for a brilliant workshop yesterday. I was pain free for the rest of the day!” – Michelle
“I always come out of your yoga classes feeling blissful and inspired. I wish I’d found you years ago!” – Janet
“I have just started yoga with Theo and its value for me has been in the way she ‘holds’ me in an holistic sense, so that in every session I feel my world stops for that time. We also laugh and I need that too!” – Lizzie
“In seven years of yoga, finding Theo is like ‘coming home.’ Truly blissful, mindful, be PRESENT teaching.” – Philippa
“Thank you, Theo, for your teaching. It has made a world of difference to my health, my flexibility, and my general outlook on life.” – Angela
“Theo’s yoga is pure, real and enchanting. Time in the session disconnects the madness of the day to day world!” – Paul