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#Blog3: Yoga teacher in LOCKDOWN

My hand slightly quivering, I took a deep breath and clicked ‘start meeting’ on the communication app which has taken the world by storm since we became locked in our bedrooms like sulky teenagers. Holding my breath (not very yogic), I watched the little white box labelled ‘participants’ and tried to decide whether I was willing it to turn orange, meaning I would have my first audience, or whether the fledgling yoga teacher inside of me would actually like to crawl back under her hippy-printed shawl and light another joss stick thank you very much. But this passing thought was instantly replaced with a glorious state of euphoria when my first customer ‘entered the waiting room’.

 

Like the nation, indeed the world, I’d watched from the tedious confines of my four walls while professionals who had never previously considered themselves risking life and limb, continued to show up to the task on our behalf, day after terrifying day. Later, when they shared the stories of the heartbreaking scenes they’d witnessed, it was easy to see the ghosts in their eyes. They were traumatised. My sister, my girlfriends and those other incredible souls who followed a calling into care, expected the job to be difficult. But no-one, no-one expected this.

 

I’d leaned out the window and banged my pan at 8pm. I’d looked out a week later when neighbours went nutty and fireworks painted the sky in all the spectrum of the rainbows we see reflected in the windows of our wonderful town. And I thought, like so many have, what else can I do to help? I’m doing the shopping for the lovely new ‘mature’ friends I have in the street, but right now; it’s just not enough.

 

For the teacher training course, naturally I’ve had to twist my skeleton into positions one might expect to see at an 18th Century travelling circus. Muscles I now know the name of but hadn’t previously been introduced to in my own body, have been taken on a juicily achy journey of discovery, and I’ve also had to study the philosophy of Yoga. Yoga, I’ve learnt, is so much more than ‘inhale the arms’ and ‘Namaste’; it is an attitude to living built on the foundations of the Yoga Sutras, whose ‘commandments’, for want of a better word, teach us to offer friendliness, find joy and share compassion. It is community and it is exactly what, above the Costa coffees, pints in the pub and Wednesday morning gym sessions, we’re missing the most.

 

So at 5pm, as the 9th and final member of my ‘Yoga for Heroes’ class enters the Zoom studio, I take my place at the top of the mat for the first time as a teacher people had parted with hard-earned cash to see. I’d started the day going through the class with my incredibly supportive other half. He has been my student all the way through this course, patiently holding his aching body in poses while I stumbled over my left and right and confused triceps with quadriceps. Always fair with his feedback he has questioned my cues and encouraged my confidence. This time though, he just beamed at me. Apart from suggesting that I should probably explain the last resting pose for any newbies (reassure them that I’d only be leaving them for a couple of minutes with their eye closed before bringing them back) apparently, I’d smashed it.

 

From the first moment I opened the class, I was in the zone. I felt my audience relax and become still, and then I guided them through a speedy vinyasa to a slower pace where we breathed deeply into each pose, allowing the body to stretch and open. And all the way through I had a humongous, gigantic, elated grin stretched across my face. My lips parted and out danced a teacher who knew how to alter the pace of the class to suit the students, vary the tone of the voice to transform the mood, guide the students through inhales and exhales and explain where they should be feeling the stretch. It was absolutely incredible to be finally doing what I always knew I’d love and I was ecstatic.

 

Bringing the class to it’s calming end in the traditional way; I invited everyone to lie on their backs on the mat and gently close down the eyes. As agreed I took a moment to explain why we end like this in Savasana; how it balances the nervous system and allows us to soak in the benefits of the physical poses. Having reassured them that I’d bring us all back together in a few minutes, I listened first to the relaxed breathing of my class and then…the distinctive click as my computer shut itself down! 9 people were currently lying on their backs in their homes, eyes closed, confident that they could stay there until I said so. Yet I had no way of saying so!

 

My laptop choosing THIS moment to have a jolly little ambling update, I frantically downloaded and logged into Zoom on my phone. Now only working from a tiny screen, I could see only one student still dutifully spread eagled when I finally ‘arrived’ back in the studio. My hair sticking up like a mating Lion, face suddenly giving a close-up with the change of tech, I jumped back in to role and directed the class (were they all still there??) to come up slowly to seated where I thanked them for their time and their kind donations and ended the class with a time-honoured ‘Namaste’.

 

No-one had noticed! The feedback was fantastic. My elation; boundless. And I thought to myself… this will make a great story for my next blog 😉

 

Justgiving/northoftheyoga (to donate to NHS charities)

 

 

#Blog2: I’m a yoga teacher trainee!

My heart pumping in my ears and every cell shivering with self-doubt, I walked into the yoga studio for day 1 of my first Teacher Training weekend. The preparations that went into that first impression were, in retrospect; ridiculous. Like an 11 year old in the last weeks of the summer preceding high school, I carefully considered the ‘Jen’ I wanted to present. What does a ‘proper’ yoga teacher look like? Should I bust out the tie-dyed harem pants (staple of my camping wardrobe) or would my usual Lycra fit the mould? Should I keep my chunky silver jewellery on, fully aware these made me look like I’d just bobbed back from a meditative trip to Goa, or should I remove them in favour of the serious, safe, sporty type? I knew I’d nailed it with lunch. Fridge already full of smug, homemade, veggie preparations (I’m lucky to enjoy both cooking and eating rainbow concoctions almost as much as I enjoy pizza), there was little to do there. I’d stuffed the creations into my Indian, three-tier tiffin tin, picked up a banana, put it back down, packed a chocolate bar and exited the house. So, walking into the studio that day, mat rolled up under one arm, bag of yoga texts slung over a shoulder and tiffin tin swinging from my right hand; I felt… completely unprepared.

The day started with a yoga practice so the teacher trainers could ‘see where we were’. Paused in plank pose, my arms quivering with effort, my brain anxiously flicked through every bit of information I’d stored as I robotically shifted my limbs into each asana (pose). Inverted in ‘down dog’ my heels straining to reach the mat like the Yogis on insta, the teacher finally brought us back into a seated pose.

Close your eyes. Gently rest your hands on your knees. This is your practice. Leave your ego at the door and focus on your breath..”

Leave your ego at the door?! Shit! I had completely lost sight of what this was all about. I breathed in, the breath filling my lungs; calming and centring.

The weekend was tough. Validated by the International Yoga Alliance, I felt rigorously broken down and over-whelmed by the end of a whole day of Sanskrit, seminars and sun salutations. But Day two was incredible and I began to feel the stirrings of an inner teacher emerging.

Back home I started the online learning. All in the name of research of course, I watched a few hours of footage of ripped young men going through ‘Rocket’ yoga sessions and, praying there were no hidden cameras; I huffed and puffed my way through a Kundalini youtube video, channelling my ‘feminine energy’ towards my sexy serpent who churlishly remained curled at the base of my spine. I learnt about true Gurus who forgo all material comforts in the pursuit of enlightenment and about those who have abused the power their status gave them. Student again, I wrote up and handed in my first assignments.

Truly enchanted, I am dedicating every spare moment to the course and fear I have become a complete yoga bore. A third of the way through now I’m starting to teach the family. The first hilarious session took hours. ‘Skype teaching’ the only person I could bear to try out (inflict) my new skills on, my yoga-newbie Mum patiently waited while I stumbled and hesitated through my set of cues. Glancing frequently at my notes, shifting and pausing the camera to get the best angle for my own teacher and concentrating on what came out of my mouth; I forgot all about my student who I’d left hanging about like one of my teenagers at a chip-shop. Eventually I heard a timid (she was speaking into her chest), “er, Jennifer?”

I shut my book and looked at my Mum. She needed to straighten her spine and stretch out her arms. Her wrists were hurting so I explained where she should be grounding down through her palms. Her knees were hurting so we rolled up a blanket underneath. And once I realised that this was her practice, I finally started really teaching. Something took over and it wasn’t mother and daughter anymore, but two Yogis. It was a beautiful learning and bonding experience and exactly the kind of moment I’m looking forward to in my own studio one day…

 

#Blog1: Preparing to leave the GCSE classroom

I’m excited about this lesson. OK, so it’s Tuesday afternoon which means half the class are rigid with cold from the hours mucking out horses while the other half are high from a practical morning in the feral construction workshop, but I know these learners. I know how to engage them.

Standing in my usual place of welcome at the door, I greet each weary arrival with the sunny smile I’ve dragged from the depths of my shoes. I greet by name each disgruntled face in-between singing along to the ‘happy’ playlist I’m pumping out from the whiteboard behind me – swaying my hips and bobbing my knees; knowing full well that I am an absolute abomination to the cool crew who grunt past me, eyeing me with incredulous smirks. They giggle, at me, with me, whatever. I’ve raised a smile. Mission accomplished.

My electric energy remains high, stretching and twisting to avoid the metaphorical missiles of coarse sentences uttered in thick Midland accents. Others in the class deftly dance to avoid very physical missiles aimed with precision at foreheads framed by ears seemingly unable to hear the 15th explanation of a language device but finely attuned to the whistle of a biro lid seeking it’s target.

Now don’t get me wrong, there’s always fun to be found amongst this crazy tribe. Most definitely not the only teacher in the room, I feel better armed on a weekly basis with the knowledge I’ll need all too soon for the two male beauties I’m raising at home. Genuinely, what I now don’t know about tiktok, vibrators and the magical properties of the hemp plant isn’t worth knowing! I love being available for their dramas, divorces and delusions; for me, the holistic pastoral role was always one of the main draws of a career in teaching.

The young people I teach are amazing. I honestly can’t say I’d have half the tenacity they do, had I been handed the same adversities these 16-19 year olds struggle with. But this year as I turn 40, the daily search for inspiration, patience and courage to stand on the front line, has begun to wane. Teaching, listening, planning, prepping, inspiring, hitting targets, supporting colleagues – all this I do now with success. However, come 4.30pm, as the last backpacks and jogging bottoms throw themselves in a fit of hysteria back out through my door; I sink down in exhaustion. Spent. Done. Finished. Very little left to answer to e-mails, admin or parents and even less left for the two fresh faced boys who actually belong to me.

Lightning-bolt moment:  it’s time to find my Zen. Apart from being with the men in my life, my main happy place is upside down, gazing at the navel on a 68×24 inch pretty bit of foam. Opening my own yoga studio has always been a cherished aspiration but I never, ever considered it a realistic ambition. Yet, here I am, £1500 lighter and a third of the way through a 200 hour Yoga Teacher Training course. I’ve contacted potential venues and I think I’ve even come up with a name for my new venture!

The omnipresent bubble of excitement nestling in my belly makes me feel 20 years young again. Everything seems possible. Everywhere I look is opportunity and my brain fizzes with enthusiasm and creativity so frequently that I can barely keep up! These are only the first steps on what I hope will be an epic journey and I cannot wait to see what happens next…