In January I was interviewed by EnergiseMe, a Winchester-based charity that champions active lives, about my approach to yoga; and why I had chosen to offer a low income 'lift up' class pass during the pandemic.
Here is the blog post, originally published on energiseme.org. I hope you enjoy reading it, and I'd love to receive any feedback.
Yoga has been a really important part of my life, helping me balance a demanding career in social work, social work education and research with family responsibilities. It’s offered a quiet place I could always return to when the going gets tough.
I qualified as a yoga teacher in my early 30s, actually when I was pregnant with my second child! As I was the major earner in my household and worked full-time, I covered other teachers’ classes then. My job, training social workers and acting as an expert witness in court, could be stressful. I found yoga really helped me switch off and relax.
When I’d just turned 50 and was working as a senior academic, I received notice of redundancy. At that point, I was a divorced single parent and I found myself consumed with worry, particularly during the middle of the night. I really met my demons then, those fear-driven voices in your head that often pop up during the early hours when really worried and anxious. I found my way back to yoga and it really helped me move forward positively after the shock of redundancy.
Less than six months later, I had set up my own business in research and consultancy; and none of those 2am fears materialised. Yoga even formed part of my PhD thesis and helped me pass the nerve-wracking oral examination at the end.
I knew how much yoga had helped me through challenging times so I wanted to help others.
Supporting others through lockdown
When the pandemic hit I sensed it was going to have a massive economic impact. Businesses were going to go under and employees were going to lose their jobs. I knew from my experience how hard that could be. So I decided to offer my online classes as donation-based in the hope of reaching out to more people who might be struggling. I knew how much yoga had helped me through challenging times so I wanted to help others.
However, running by donation classes was not sustainable over the longer term. So I decided to set up a ‘lift up’ offer for those on lower incomes. I put on a taster class for £2.50. This was targeted at new students, people who had lost their job due to COVID, people who are furloughed on a reduced income, people in receipt of benefits and full-time students.
This offer eventually turned into a ‘lift up’ class pass: a five-session pass for £10 to support people whose income had been significantly affected by the pandemic. Yoga might not be the right thing for everyone, but it helped me and the students who regularly join my classes. I have a skill and I wanted to share it, to reach out to those in need. Yoga can help in so many ways.
I prefer not to means-test the low-income class pass; rather it is based on trust. There is a note on my booking system that explains who it is for. I simply ask that people are honest and only select that option if they genuinely meet the criteria. There are also two other great value class passes for people whose financial circumstances have remained largely unchanged as a result of the pandemic. These help keep my business viable.
My online and outdoor yoga offer
Since last April I have been developing my online classes to support people with the unique challenges posed by the pandemic. There is much more to yoga than just the postures or Asanas, for example yoga philosophy encourages us to lead a good life by being kind and considerate to all living beings. I sometimes include short extracts from yoga philosophy in my teaching.
My Monday lunchtime live-streamed class is called ‘Stretch and Shine. This is mainly gentle ‘all abilities’ Hatha yoga to build flexibility and strength. We also work with the breath to help calm our minds. This is something a lot of us are in need of right now.
On Tuesday lunchtimes I offer another live-streamed session ‘Nourish, Balance, Restore’. The focus of this restorative class is on building physical and emotional balance & resilience. After a gentle Yin and Hatha yoga practice, we finish with a lovely meditation practice or relaxation: a real treat for body and mind! If you’re a complete beginner, this is an ideal class to start with.
Throughout last summer and autumn, I taught distanced yoga outdoors. I had just five people in each class and it was great! I will definitely be bringing these classes back this spring/ summer the moment we’re allowed. There is a real boost from practising yoga outdoors in nature, something we’ll all be ready for after this winter lockdown. My outdoor yogis are already saying they can’t wait!! When permitted again, I also teach chair yoga to senior students and private 1-2-1 and 1-2-2 classes in my home studio. Currently, my private classes are live-streamed and recorded for students to enjoy again later.
Building the class around what people need to get them through this time has been beneficial to me as well as my students.
Authenticity, kindness and self-love
Building the class around what people need to get them through this time has been beneficial to me as well as my students. I talk about how I’m getting on too. This lockdown feels much harder than the other two. It helps to let people know it is OK to feel this way. We are not alone in our daily struggle with the current restrictions.
With my approach to yoga, students learn about helping their bodies to be the best they can be at any age. This comes from a position of self-care and love rather than shame or guilt. Over time, my students develop a different, healthier relationship with their bodies. Yoga’s holistic, whole-person approach can be truly transformative here.