‘You Don't Look Like a Yoga Teacher’ by Rakhee Jasani

The wonderful Rakhee Jasani

The wonderful Rakhee Jasani

You don’t look like a yoga teacher”. I must have looked stunned at this comment, but the truth is, I was confused by the statement, not offended. You see, I’m not really sure, what a yoga teacher should look like.  Should a yoga teacher be an older man, Indian and in a loincloth?  I don’t think I could really rock a loincloth, though my great grandfather did look handsome in an Indian dhoti; jogging bottoms are more my style. I’m also female, so I must score ok on that count: the majority of yoga teachers these days are women.  So I’m a woman who looks Indian but I’m in my forties, so maybe that was the problem. Or was it because I’m not the size 10 that seems to be favoured by the much-maligned instagram instant-yogi?  What is it that a yoga teacher should look like? And actually, by extension, what should a yoga student look like? 

A few weeks ago, I found myself in a room full of young men in their very early twenties, being led in a theatre workshop by a woman exploring male ally-ship in the post #MeToo era.  There was a little tiptoeing around and a sense that everyone was being polite and maybe walking on eggshells, until the facilitator turned to the wall and asked everyone, everyone mind, including those observing to close their eyes and take part in a somatic, movement-based exercise where the attention turned inwards.  The discomfort switched from a breathy kind of anxiety to a deeply-felt embodied exploration and discussion of those places which can be tender but need to be voiced.  The conversation that followed was more profound and more insightful than I had expected and in the midst of it all, I found myself re-committing to my belief that diversity in yoga is fundamentally important, now more than ever. 

It is 2019, and we seem to be preoccupied with labels and what we think of as authentic. I grew up watching my sari-clad grandmother greeting the sun daily, lighting cotton-wool wicks soaked in ghee and making deeply, heart-felt offerings.  She spent her last few years writing out mantras in exercise books in a meditative act of devotion. As a child I would accompany her to the temple where we would pray to Shiva and I had my own mala beads and my own awakening relationship with spirit. Does this make me better at teaching yoga or somehow more authentic?  Well, no, not really. For a start there is no good nor bad in yoga, no better nor worse. Going to the temple then doesn’t mean I have Ganesha on speed-dial now, obligingly removing obstacles from my path. I understand the symbolism, certainly. I don’t get weirded out by chanting Om; but then saying Amen never really bothered me either.  I took up modern, postural yoga as I turned twenty at university, and that’s also where I began my meditation practice.  My knowledge of ‘yoga’ and of how I teach it, is reflective of my own experience and of my journey of exploration through long study. It is for me a life-long inner path which brings joy but demands dedication.

 

What matters to me is accessing an entry point into a deepening relationship with myself, with others and of my understanding of the connection with those around me.  My teaching, like my worldview are no doubt deeply rooted in those long ago visits to the temple (which incidentally took place in Africa, not India); but they are also rooted in the English and Spanish degree I studied for at Oxford University and the two decades I spent running an arts educational charity in East London.  

So doesn’t it break your heart that there are those that don’t feel that yoga is for them? In a world that is full of disconnection and division surely yoga offers a refuge and a path?  The truth is that yoga studios can feel intimidating and whilst we may delight in the beautiful light-filled oasis of calm they offer us, they can also be deeply scary when you don’t understand the norms under which they operate.  How much worse, if you also feel too young or too old or too fat or too thin or too whatever it might be, to find a tool that will help you to connect your breath and body and accept yourself and live with freedom. The media have cottoned onto yoga.  Whilst this means, yoga seems more acceptable, it is just foisting more orthodoxy onto us. Worse still, the burgeoning ‘yoga industry’ now means that many are priced out. £100 yoga leggings worn at a studio charging almost double the minimum wage risks turning yoga into an indulgence of the rich and pampered playing at being spiritual.

Yoga should be for everybody and every body but until I see more representation of people that look like me not just the insta-yogis, slim, young, blonde, bendy and beautiful I think it will be hard to persuade ‘everybody’ into yoga spaces.  I want to teach West-Indian grandmothers and surly teenagers. I want to teach businessmen in suits and braying politicians. I want to practice beside women in scarves and women in their eighties.  When will this happen?  Probably when we begin to see more diverse bodies teaching yoga and sharing yoga.  And really, this needs to happen from the bottom up as well as the top down. Currently, I don’t see see the diversity that we need represented in our studios. Do you practice diversity? It can be a conscious choice to do so and until we see and celebrate more diversity and more brave souls trying something that seems at first not to be for them; we won’t change the narrative and yoga in the 21st Century will remain in the grip of an ad-man’s vision of the beautiful.

Postnatal and Pregnancy Yoga with Chloe George

We are just so thrilled to be bringing back parent and baby yoga to Yoga on the Lane. From Wednesday April 17th the lovely Chloe George will be teaching a new double: Postnatal Yoga 10.45am-11.45am and then a new Pregnancy Class at 12.30pm (to go with our ongoing pregnancy yoga at 6pm on Fridays). Why is she the perfect woman to do it? One, she’s a brilliant yoga teacher. And, two, she’s thought as much about what it means to be a young mother as insightfully as anyone we know. These are her words:

“It’s tempting to put things into boxes in our lives: things, feelings, people. When I was pregnant and in early motherhood I was keen to find women like me to befriend, maybe ones with nice clothes or shoes or a good sense of humour or who I thought I could talk to about a book or a band or a film I liked. In yoga and at NCT classes I looked out for them, imagining us hanging out with our new babies and talking about interesting things.

Although I did go on to make real friends that I had things in common with beyond just giving birth in the same month, this time of my life was a lesson in knowing that sharing characteristics with people is not the only thing that matters. That everything I assumed about them on first sight was usually wrong.

There was the woman I locked eyes with in the hospital waiting room as I left my 20 week scan, those moments which carry ecstasy and anxiety and which pass between you and a stranger in a rush of pure comprehension. The woman next to me in yoga who shared similar hopes and fears. The kind stranger who went to lengths to get me the phone number of the community midwives who changed everything about my birth. The commuter who eyeballed me when my new baby cried on the train, and I was sure she was annoyed and then she came over and smiled and said “I had a little one like that, too”. The older lady who nearly got run over in flagging down a bus for me and my buggy.

It stopped mattering whether anyone was stylish or had nice hair or liked PJ Harvey or Margaret Atwood or Portlandia. It mattered that people were kind. It mattered that they knew a little of what you were going through. It mattered that they could hold your coffee for a minute while you grappled with a sling or while away a few hours in the afternoon.

In pre and postnatal yoga it’s the conversations you have before, during and after that are often just as useful or meaningful as the yoga itself. The more I’ve taught yoga for women in these stages of life (something which often feels more like facilitating the coming together of a little community than just teaching physical movement or breath work), the more I’ve observed these moments. As a teacher it’s wonderful to step back and see the yoga doing its work, see the community doing its work.

It’s not all easy or perfect, like any community – especially at this potentially vulnerable time, when everyone has an opinion on our pregnancy or mothering, or people are difficult or different to us or can say things that rattle us. But this is life, and this is exactly where yoga can steady us, can help us to look directly at whatever we’re feeling with courage. It can help us explore the heart and edges of our emotions and know that thoughts are weather that passes. How can we be steady inside whatever storm rages around us? This is a great gift for motherhood.

And it helps to know that there are others doing this alongside us, finding some space, feeling lighter or stronger. Maybe they have great shoes and hair or maybe they don’t and maybe none of it matters. Maybe in a few months you meet for coffee, or are added to a what’s app group, and maybe not and they’re just a nice face you know from your yoga studio where you gathered, as mothers always have. People say that we have to make our own village. So let’s start here. “

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The Science of Sound

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A three-week course of sound bath sessions, each framed in a different way to give context to the science behind therapeutic sound.We discover what is actually happening to us during a sound bath. How sound can alter our heart rate, brain waves, and nervous systems and take us into deep relaxation. With takeaways on how we can apply therapeutic sound to our lives for our own health and wellbeing.

Thursdays 21st and 28th of Feb, 7th of March. 7.45-9pm.  

Yoga Retreat!

The entire Annand clan (Thing One and Thing Two very much included) will be heading to gorgeous Poundon House in Oxfordshire this Easter for a back-by-popular-demand yoga and feasting weekend. The setting is stunning. The yoga will be blissful. The food will be fulsome. And it's all just a hop, skip and a jump from dear old London town. Email the studio for booking.

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Teacher Spotlight: Giorgos Alexandris

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Why do you teach yoga?


I have been fortunate enough to have had incredible teachers who have inspired me to practice and had a profound effect in my life through teachings of the yoga tradition. I teach to help students find inspiration themselves and practice in a way that expands awareness of their physical form and their breath, leading to a better understanding of themselves. As my life has been positively transformed through yoga I hope that my teaching has a similar effect on my students. 

 


What makes Yoga on The Lane special to you?

YOTL is a great place to teach yoga. There is a homely vibe that differentiates it from other studios. It is as close as a home practice as you will get! A real community feel -  a warm and welcoming space for students to come together and practice. The studio is run with care and love and this approach is obvious to anyone that has spent time here. 

Practising first thing in the morning is certainly challenging but it is the best way! Starting the day with a yoga practice is a great way to check in with yourself to see where you are mentally and physically. It is important to remember that yoga is not about performance - morning stiffness or tightness should not be a reason to avoid practice but reason to embrace it. You feel more by doing less! Also - you won’t have to think about it for the rest of your day and can get on with the rest of your life. 

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What tips can you give for motivating a morning practice?


My practice is constantly changing and evolving with time, the change of season, the weather, mood... currently my practice is focused more on creating a feeling of introspection as we move deeper into autumn. Forward folds, seated postures and inversions are the main focus. I find that as I get older less is becoming more and I explore the subtler aspects of asana practice.