AuthorPoppy Pickles

Ready to Detox? Yoga and the Six Kriyas

Ready to Detox? Yoga and the Six Kriyas

On July the 4th 2020 a great day was proclaimed in England  – the pubs re-opened after almost three months! All joking aside, this is a huge day for those businesses in the hospitality industry who were allowed to re-open  – as long as they adhere to the government’s Covid-19 guidelines.

Although widespread drunk and disorderliness were predicted, the general public was generally well-behaved, but were you?

In actual fact, sales of alcohol have soared during lockdown, which suggests that people have just moved their drinking habits from the pub to the back garden.

Have we learnt to rely on sugar and alcohol more than we used to during this period? Perhaps it’s time we re-balanced our bodies through yoga, and yoga’s sister science, Ayurveda.

The Six Kriyas

In the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, the 16th-century practical guide to yoga, the six kriyas, or cleansing techniques are mentioned. The purpose of these practices is to make the body light and remove built-up residual matter (also known as ‘amma’ in Ayurvedic medicine) from the body.

These practices are deeply interwoven with yoga in India, as discussed in an interview with Deepti Sastry, YogaLondon’s Philosophy expert.  As a child, the focus of her childhood yoga practice at boarding school were these immune-boosting cleansing practices.

These link into Ayurveda, and the three doshas, or qualities of the body: Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. If these qualities are out of balance, then this will lead to dis-ease (disharmony) of the body.

What are the Six Kriyas?

In the HYP, Chapter 2, v 21 – 37, the six kriyas are prescribed rather bluntly:

One who is overweight and has excess phlegm, should first (before the practice of pranayama) practice the six acts (cleansing techniques or kriyas). Others [who do not have these issues] should not practice them, because the three dosas (vata, pitta and kapha) are balanced in them.

The six acts (cleansing techniques or kriyas) are dhauti, vasti, neti, trataka, nauli, and kapalabhati.

These six acts, which purify the body and produce special benefits, were kept secret for many hundreds of years and were only practiced by traditional yogis.

  1. Dhauti is the rather extreme (to us) method of cleaning the alimentary canal through slowly swallowing a long (8 foot long) piece of wet cloth, soaked in salty water. This is kept in for around 20 minutes and then drawn out, bringing with it any impurities.
  2. Vasti is essentially colonic irrigation – the cleansing of the lower gut through inserting water through a tube inserted into the anus. In the HYP a hollow piece of bamboo is recommended.
  3. Neti is described thus: Insert a smooth thread [about nine inches long] through the nasal passage and draw it out through the mouth. These days there are slightly less extreme ways to do the neti cleansing, including the use of a neti pot, through which you draw water into the nasal passages to wash away impurities.
  4. Trataka is the purification of the eyes and thankfully doesn’t involve any insertion – phew. In this practice, the gaze is focused on a small point, without blinking, until the eyes begin to water.
  5. Nauli kriya can also be linked to Uddiyhana bandha and involves massaging the internal abdominal organs through the use of the external muscles. When done properly the movement resembles undulating waves moving across the abdomen.
  6. Kapalabhati is a cleansing breathing technique. In the HYP it is described as ‘Inhaling and exhaling rapidly like the bellows of a blacksmith’. Kapalabhati literally means light skull, and the effects are to activate the digestive organs, drain the sinuses, and create a feeling of exhilaration.

According to the HYP, once these six cleansing techniques are practiced then pranayama can be commenced. However, some teachers debate that the kriyas need to practiced at all, as they say that pranayama alone will cleanse the body of all impurities.

In the Western world, almost all of these techniques are not something to just have a go at. However, the principles of cleansing the body of impurities are worth adhering to. The niyama (yogic moral guidelines) of saucha, or cleanliness, is also incorporated into this ideal of cleansing the physical body and ridding it of impurities in order to practice the asanas with a pure body.

What to Try Instead

The first thing in the morning is a good time to establish a few cleansing habits. Before you head to the kitchen, use a copper tongue scraper to clean the tongue, and then brush your teeth. This gets rid of the build-up of toxins that form on your tongue overnight. Then try drinking hot water with a slice of lemon to wash out your digestive system, or some detox tea.

Try doing a yoga practice or pranayama session before breakfast as this helps to purge the body of toxins too.

And, rather obviously, give your body a break from alcohol, caffeine, sugar, and highly fatty foods. Stick to homemade, colorful, fresh food, and feel your energy levels start to increase and your sleeping patterns improve.

How to Detox through Yoga

Yoga can help improve the gut – which is linked to improved mental health too. Poses that help to detox the body are those that are ‘pitta’ (or fire) inducing, such as sirsasana, or headstand. Backbends stimulate the liver – which is why they can make you feel nauseous if you’ve overindulged the night before. The twists massage the organs of the gut and help cleanse the kidneys and liver by wringing them out. And Supta Virasana, (Supine Hero pose) can be done at any time, even after a heavy meal (or heavy night) to aid digestion and stretch out the gut.

Happy detoxing!

Poppy Pickles

Complementing your Yoga Practice with Cross-Training

Complementing your Yoga Practice with Cross-Training

We all know that yoga is a great complement for other sports, but can other sports enhance our yoga practice?

Since lockdown began, back in the dawn of time – or just over three months ago – many of us have branched out into other forms of exercise, the most obvious one being more regular walking for our ‘daily exercise’.

Some of us have tried cycling again for the first time in years, others have become Joe Wickes devotees and some have dusted off our running shoes and started jogging again. But will we keep up these extra forms of exercise, and more importantly – should we?

Yoga and Running

Often as yogis, we’re told that yoga is the ONLY exercise we need to do. But that depends on what you call yoga. According to Patanjali’s famous sutras,

Yoga is the stilling of the movement of the mind

and any runner will tell you that the calming effect on the mind is the single best thing about running.

The thing about yoga is that on the whole it is practiced inside. And while we’ve been in lockdown, we have needed to get out of the four walls of our homes and into the great outdoors – or the urban outdoors. I’ve been a yogi and runner for nearly ten years now and I’ve found that the two are excellent co-habiters.

Running increases your heart rate, burns calories, boosts your mood and improves joint health; while yoga opens your hips, lengthens and stretches muscles and tendons, and strengthens the muscles around the knees. While running takes you out of yourself, yoga brings you into yourself.

Should you run and do yoga on the same day? It depends on what your yoga and run will be like. If you’re training for a marathon, then no. If you’re doing a quick 5k, then yes.

Whatever your main focus is, do that activity first. So if you’re doing the running to improve your yoga, then do your yoga practice first, and vice versa.

Yoga and Weight Training

The great Carrie Owerko said in her recent interview that if you want to build muscles, you’re going to have to do some lifting!

From the age of just thirty years old, you will start to lose muscle mass, a process called sarcopenia. This is part of the natural ageing process, but it can be prevented.

Yoga already involves some resistance work – Chaturanga Dandasana is an obvious one for the upper body, but all the Warrior poses, and Utkatasana involves the legs holding your body weight.

If you’re a super-flexible yogi, your problem won’t be making the shapes of the poses but holding them safely. By doing some gentle, regular weight training, you’ll build strength around the joints, making your yoga practice safer. If you have a student that keeps getting injuries due to hyper-mobility, then it might be worth suggesting that they look into adding some weight training into their week.

Yoga and Cycling

I have some very keen cyclists in my yoga classes, and there’s no doubt that yoga helps to stretch out their thighs and open up the hip connectors, as well as the front of the shins and ankles. But can cycling improve our yoga?

Like running, cycling is an aerobic activity that will boost your cardiovascular health. Since lockdown began, sales of bicycles have gone through the roof, as a form of exercise, and also to avoid getting on public transport.

Cycling is also a resistance activity so it builds muscle around the glutes, hamstrings, quads, and calves. For people that work from home, which over the last three months has been nearly everyone, our glutes have had to put up with being sat on  – a lot. Cycling helps to strengthen these important muscles, which consequently support the hips and spine.

So for those standing poses that need hamstring and glute strength – think Warrior 1 and Warrior 3, and the tricky Revolved Half Moon pose – cycling could give you an extra boost. But cycling can also cause muscles to become very tight, so be sure to include lots of poses to stretch out the front of the legs in your yoga practice.

Yoga and HIIT

HIIT, or High-Intensity Interval Training, is a hugely popular form of workout. It involves a short burst of intense exercise (as the name suggests) before a rest period, and usually lasts for 15 – 20 minutes. But does this highly energetic form of exercise have anything in common with yoga?

Research shows that HIIT (as compared to moderate forms of exercise) is linked with increasing levels of cardiovascular fitness, boosting aerobic capacity, and the ability of the body to absorb oxygen to make energy. It can also increase muscle mass, which as we know starts to decline from the tender age of 30.

There are already forms of yoga that incorporate this principle: Rocket yoga, power yoga, dynamic vinyasa flow. All these types of yoga will increase your heart rate quickly, and get your sweat up.

If you’ve found that your yoga practice has slipped into a slightly slumberous lockdown rut, then incorporating the principles of HIIT into your practice could be the wake-up call you need. And if you’re a yoga teacher, perhaps your students could do with a high-intensity sun salutation or jumping session to give them an energy boost.

Yoga and Walking

Most of us have been doing a lot of good, old-fashioned walking during the lockdown. Walking is a great way to keep healthier, get outside, and help to reduce polluting the world while we’re at it. Hopefully, this change in habits is something that people will stick to now the lockdown is starting to be eased.

Walking regularly brings all sorts of health benefits, and keeps your bones healthy, and is especially important for those with osteoporosis. Research has also shown that yoga can help increase bone density, so together these forms of exercise can work to keep your bones healthy.

Walking is also a great time to practice mindfulness and to walk off the stresses and strains of a day spent inside at your desk.

Yoga First

While all the above forms of exercise can complement your yoga practice, it’s important to remember what your focus is. Yoga is not just the physical asanas, not just the awareness of the breath, but a path to yourself, and, if you seek it, spiritual enlightenment.

While the body is important, it’s where physical health leads us that is the important factor. Use the methods of yoga in all other forms of exercise that you do, to achieve mental stillness. And make sure that you do all forms of physical exercise (including yoga) in a balanced way – as overdoing any of it will lead to exhaustion and injury.

Poppy Pickles

Interview: Deepti Sastry on Cultural Appropriation and why Yoga isn’t about Asanas

Interview: Deepti Sastry on Cultural Appropriation and why Yoga isn't about Asanas

Growing up in India, Dr. Deepti Sastry started yoga at the tender age of eight. She is a deeply intelligent person, and self-proclaimed ‘philosophy junkie’, whose commitment to yoga and yoga philosophy pervade her whole life.

We are lucky enough to have her as the 500-hour Philosophy Module teacher here at YogaLondon, but that is just a small part of her achievements. Working full-time in the International Development sector, she is also mum to an almost three-year-old – but she always finds time for meditation.

1. What was it like learning yoga as a child in India?

I primarily did it because I didn’t want to go for a run in the mornings! At 6 am in the morning at the boarding school I went to we’d get kicked out of bed, and you’d either go for a run or you’d do yoga, and yoga seemed the lesser of the two evils. It was very pared back –  the concept of a yoga mat didn’t exist, there was a big carpet and you brought a towel or a sheet and you sat yourself down.

The emphasis of the yoga was focused on cleansing the immune system and we also did the Sat Karmas [yogic cleansing rituals] and the six kriyas. As part of this immune-boosting yoga, we would also be expected to take cold showers and walk barefoot on the dewy grass on winter mornings, all things to build immunity. I loved it. I was eight when I started so we would also do fun things, more like gymnastics as well as performances of yoga, and at that point, it was just fun.

2. Did yoga teaching come naturally to you?

No! I never intended to be a yoga teacher.

In India, you’re either too skinny or too ‘plumpy’ and all my life my sister was the skinny one and I was the plumpy one. So when I was in my twenties I got into yoga largely because it helped make me feel good about my body, so I would do a lot of dynamic vinyasa flow. And that’s where I met Rebecca [Ffrench, Co-founder of YogaLondon] – at one of these classes. I loved her classes and hanging out with her. At that time, in 2009, she was setting up YogaLondon, and there weren’t that many teacher training schools around. She asked me if I wanted to train as a yoga teacher. I was interested because I felt I’d plateaued in my practice and, even growing up in India, I hadn’t been taught any theory.

So I signed up because I was curious, wanted to know more, and to grow my own practice. I was in the very first batch of YogaLondon graduates.

3. What did you do when you qualified?

Interview: Deepti Sastry on Cultural Appropriation and why Yoga isn't about Asanas

At the end of my yoga teacher training, Rebecca asked me if I wanted to become an apprentice, which I did for a year, then I quit my job and started teaching full time. I did that for another year and then realised I didn’t enjoy teaching full time, so I went back to my job, but was still teaching yoga every weekend.

After a while, I realised working and teaching non-stop was ridiculous, so I stopped doing that. Now I teach 3 weekends, twice a year. I’ve finally got the balance right.

4. How does your knowledge of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali inform your practice?

My practice is completely based on the sutras – there is nothing outside of it. Most yoga teacher training, especially at the 200-hour level, is fundamentally about teaching asana health and safety. And while that’s important, that is really not yoga.

I think a year after I finished training I really wanted to know more. So in 2010, I went to study at the school of T Krishnamacharya and I did a month-long course on the sutras with them. And apart from this year, I go back at least once a year to study with them. For me, there is no yoga outside the sutras.

5. What’s the most rewarding thing about teaching the Philosophy Module for YogaLondon?

The most rewarding thing is when people have that ‘AHA!’ moment. When they realise why it is that they wanted to become a yoga teacher in the first place. It’s because you want to deal with the neurotic human condition, and you learn how to lead a peaceful human life – through yoga.

In his audiobook The Yoga Matrix Richard Freeman says it beautifully. To paraphrase – you’ve probably tried everything, from drugs through to therapy, and you’ve come to this room because you know something’s not complete. And that’s the bit that I find rewarding, when people acknowledge that.

6. How has yoga helped you cope during lockdown?

My yoga practice is a jigsaw puzzle, so my asana and pranayama practice have come from the Krishnamacharya tradition and the Bihar school of yoga, and my meditation practice is from Insight meditation and Buddhist practices.

However, during lockdown, I have stripped back everything because I have a full-time job and a young child at home, and something’s got to give! What’s been essential for me to keep me sane, and to keep my brain from getting anxious and busy, is my meditation practice. Normally I’ll do 40 minutes in the morning and 10 minutes last thing at night.

Interview: Deepti Sastry on Cultural Appropriation and why Yoga isn't about Asanas7. Do you have a pose that you love to hate?

I love to hate Utthita Hasta Padangustasana A, B, C, and D. I like it, but I don’t like it. I feel like it’s one of those poses, I never know how it’s going to come out. I suppose that’s the point of this pose that it’s a bit of a curve-ball, and throws you off balance.

8. Who are your yoga inspirations?

There’s a teacher of mine in the school in India where I go to study called Sangeetha. She’s this tiny, wiry, petite woman, who glows. I remember I was there doing a chanting course, and you get so caught up in the ‘doing’ – the meter, the rhythm, the precise pronunciation, that you forget why you’re doing it. And one day we were going into class and she looked at me and said, ‘Stop. Feel it.’ That’s the point, ‘feel it’, and it just helped to shift my perception – so I partly adore her, and am partly frightened of her.

I also absolutely love my meditation teachers –Martin Aylward, he’s been teaching an online sangha sitting every day since the lockdown started. Chris Cullen, a mindfulness-based cognitive therapist and he’s just unbelievable. And Martine Batchelor, who was a Zen Buddhist monk who disrobed and re-joined society.

9. How does yoga inform your views on politics and social justice?

Everyone just needs to calm the f**k down! I just feel like people get so caught up in their own view and what they think is right that there is no room for a conversation anymore. And honestly, there are no easy answers to any of this [what’s going wrong in the world] but at least you can have an empathetic conversation, which we are sorely lacking at the moment.

We need to start acknowledging that none of us is correct and that there is no correct. I think that’s why Utthita Hasta Padangustasana kicks my ass because every day there is a different way to do it.

10. Do you have a view on whether the West has culturally appropriated yoga?

If we have to think in terms of the binaries of East and West, then, yes, there is cultural appropriation, but I don’t necessarily find it problematic. I just think it’s strange that people find solace in things they don’t necessarily understand. However, I’m perfectly happy with people taking mantras and chanting and doing crazy things with it. If it brings you peace and you’re not hurting anyone else, then who cares?

However, one thing that the West has done with yoga is to make it much more physical, which I do have a problem with. With the West’s preoccupation with the body looking a certain way, I can understand why yoga has been re-framed to fit that narrative, but it’s not helpful, and hopefully, we’ll come out of it.

11. What advice would you give to a newly qualified yoga teacher?

Slow things right down. Take time to understand your body and your mind better, and then figure out what you want to emphasise in your practice. I know I didn’t! I went straight from qualifying to apprenticeship, to teaching full time, and then it’s taken me almost ten years to strip it back. I still find myself reaching for the next course, the next challenge, and it’s just not helpful.

12. What’s the essence of yoga for you?

If everyone can just stop for two minutes a day, and watch their breath, then that’s already amazing. Yoga is not about quantity, it is purely about intentionality. You don’t need to do four hours of kriyas and asanas and pranayama and meditation all in one day, nobody has four hours!

Poppy Pickles

Yoga Classes in a Post-Covid World

Yoga Classes in a Post-Covid World

We’ve all seen the photos of the re-opened gyms in Hong Kong with perspex screens between each running machine. There have also been yoga classes with each student confined inside a plastic sheeting cocoon. It looks futuristic, other-worldly – and bleak.

On Tuesday, the government announced measures to further ease the lockdown from Saturday 4th of July – aptly Independence day in the States. There will still be social distancing measures in place, but these will now be reduced to ‘one-metre plus’ where two metres is not possible, and with the addition of face coverings, additional hygiene, and altered layout for indoor public spaces. However, gyms, swimming pools, and by default – yoga studios  – are not included in the businesses allowed to open from the 4th.

As disappointing as this will be for many, there is a (yet unconfirmed) rumour that mid-July is now set as the date. At some point, in-person classes will return. So let’s take a look at how yoga classes can operate NOW under the current guidelines – and IN THE FUTURE when the restrictions are lifted.

Ways You Can Teach Yoga NOW

Teaching Outside

With the ongoing uncertainty around indoor yoga teaching, outdoor classes could be an option.

Currently, the limit to any group gathering outdoors is up to six people from different households. This is with the proviso that you observe the two metre rule unless that person is from your own household or within your support bubble.

However, there are rules and regulations for teaching in a public park too (of course). If your class is free you won’t need to worry about that. But if you’re charging then you’ll need to get a license to teach. There are no standardised regulations for outdoor exercise licenses, so you’ll need to check your local council’s website for more information on their licensing rules.

It will of course be weather-dependent, and with the great British weather being what it is, it will be worth building in some backup plans in case you need to cancel. Make sure every attendee gives you a contact number so you can cancel at short notice. You’ll also need to have an online booking and payment system (this one, for example) to ensure that you don’t exceed the current regulation of six people and to avoid any cash transactions.

Teaching Online

Many yoga teachers made the move online within the first few weeks of the lockdown. Since then there’s been a steep learning curve as the technophobes among us have got to grips with new technology  – as well as some not-so-new technology! Both teachers and students have begun to adapt to the ‘new normal’, and some interesting advantages have emerged.

  • Classes can be flexible – with no venue to worry about, time slots can be changed as needed.
  • Students are learning to be more responsible for their own bodies as they get to grips with practicing at home.
  • Many more students have made space in their homes for yoga practice.
  • Many students have invested in yoga equipment, meaning that they can practice at home.
  • Teachers have enjoyed saving both time and energy spent on rushing to venues.
  • Apart from subscribing to online platforms, there are very few costs involved.
  • Your students don’t have to be local!

So, for now, there is plenty to enjoy about teaching online. However, there is also a lot that yoga teachers miss about the in-person experience. Some students haven’t made the leap to online classes and for them, knowing when we can teach in-person again is paramount.

How We Can Teach Yoga in the FUTURE

Practical Measures

Sticking to Legal Requirements – Guidelines are changing week by week, and the first thing to do before planning any move back to is to keep up to date with government and local council guidelines. You can sign up to get email alerts when the government puts any update on Coronavirus onto the Gov.uk website. Remember that in order to comply with your PLI (Public Liability Insurance), you will need to stick to the government’s social distancing policy and all other guidelines.

Pre and Post-Class Cleaning – If you own your own yoga studio, even if it’s a small cabin in the back garden, you will be responsible for adequate cleaning of the space before and after each class. Stock up on plenty of cleaning supplies and think about having a cleaning plan, such as focusing on high contact areas such as door handles. You should also keep a record of this cleaning, especially if you’re a studio owner. Students should bring their own yoga equipment wherever possible. Shared facilities such as toilets should also be cleaned as regularly as possible.

Class Hygiene – Both you and your students will need to practice increased hygiene measures, including washing hands before and after classes. You could also consider providing antibacterial wipes for students to clean their own areas. Hand sanitiser should be freely available throughout the studio/your class space. The movement of students during the class should also be reduced to avoid cross-contamination.

Social Distancing – Class sizes will need to be reduced to adhere to social distancing guidelines, which will involve pre-booked classes only. Once inside the class, you might want to think about marking out mat spaces using tape on the floor where this is possible. Physical adjustment of students is also not allowed due to the social distancing measures. You could consider getting the students to do their own physical corrections through demonstration.

Make sure you leave enough time between classes to reduce congestion in waiting areas. You might also want to have signs to indicate a socially-distanced queue system to enter classes, or if space allows, a one-way system of movement through the building – such as most shops have now introduced. Consider asking your students to arrive already changed to avoid excess time spent in the building.

Ventilation – While the weather is still warm it would be preferable to have windows open, as the use of air conditioning can re-circulate air, which could lead to the spread of infection. On this note, singing in enclosed public spaces is also prohibited as it poses a particular threat of spreading the virus. If you usually chant in your classes, then you could encourage students to sing silently in their heads, or you could play a pre-recorded version.

Face coverings also help to reduce the spread of airborne virus particles, and where possible, these should be provided. If you’re going to use these, they need to be put on before class, and not taken off till the class is finished.

Symptom Checker – The government slogan is currently ‘Stay alert’, which means that as a yoga teacher or studio owner you’d need to stay alert to the threat of infected students attending your classes. Make sure you remind students not to attend if they have any symptoms, or if anyone in their household (or extended bubble) has symptoms either. If possible, check students’ temperatures at the door using a remote thermometer.

Keep a record of everyone who attends classes so that you can comply with the track & trace system. Make sure you have up-to-date contact details for all students in case you need to cancel classes at late notice due to any risk of infection.

Think about Online AND In-Person Classes

When in-person classes can start up again there will be no guarantees that students will be ready to return to in-person classes. For many teachers and studios, an online and in-person hybrid will be the best business model until the new measures are normalised.

This means that you should be able to maximise the number of students able to attend. Consider offering bespoke smaller classes in-person, to be offered on top of your current online timetable. This means that those students who’ve been unable to do online yoga will be able to return to classes.

A Disclaimer

These are suggestions for how you might manage face-to-face yoga classes, but as mentioned quite a few times, guidelines are changing all the time. It might be that the social distancing measures are relaxed, on the other hand, we could end up heading back into full lockdown.

This situation has taught us that everything that we thought of as being normal life can change – and fast. So while we can do our best to plan for the future, it might also be wise to take it things week by week.

Poppy Pickles

Interview: Peter Ogazi, on how yoga changed his life

Interview: Peter Ogazi, on how yoga changed his life

One of our own – Peter Ogazi – trained with YogaLondon back in 2011. Currently a secondary school teacher as well, he’s taught a wide range of students since then through his business ‘yogazi’. He is a fighter for social justice, deeply chilled, strong, and, by his own admission, a private person. So we appreciate his chatting to us about all things yoga even more.

1. How did you get into yoga?

I’ve been a practitioner of yoga for a good twenty-odd years. I got into yoga because I was originally into martial arts and kickboxing, and someone from that world told me that yoga would improve my practice.  So I went along to the Buddhist center in Manchester city centre and I found that not only did it improve my martial arts practice quite considerably, it also enhanced other aspect of my life too. So I started going quite regularly, till I noticed that I was more relaxed and that I had got rid of a hell of a lot of anger.

2. What prompted you to become a yoga teacher?

Encouraged by this I trained to become a teacher with YogaLondon in 2011. I think another thing that prompted me to become a teacher was that I felt there was a need for yoga in Afro-Caribbean and working communities. There’s a stereotypical idea of a yoga teacher that can put some people off. Personally, it’s never bothered me that on most occasions I’m the only person of colour at yoga events – it’s never made me feel uncomfortable. But there is a need for it to be spread out wider, so that’s maybe why I became a yoga teacher.

Interview: Peter Ogazi, on how yoga changed his life

3. How has yoga changed you as a person?

Yoga has changed me quite considerably. I used to be quite an anxious person socially, but it helped me to chill out more and to be more comfortable in my own skin. When you’ve done yoga regularly for a long time and then you don’t do it, you realise that you’re missing it, and that’s when you know it’s having a positive effect.

4. What’s your home practice like?

My home practice is quite good. I’m quite regular with it. But, these days I don’t go at it like I did when I first qualified as a teacher. Back then I was doing it twice a day – I almost became a perfectionist. But it got to the point when I did have to cool down a little because I was becoming very, very tired. I still practice, but now it’s three or four times a week and not twice a day.

5. What type of yoga do you practice?

Recently I’ve been doing a lot of yin yoga and I’m really feeling the benefits of adding it to my practice. I’ve done a little bit of Iyengar, and from there I started doing Ashtanga yoga and that became my favourite, along with Vinyasa flow. I’ve done a little bit of hot yoga as well but I didn’t really take to that.

6. What would you still like to do with your yoga teaching?

Three years ago I set up a community interest company with the aim of spreading yoga to hard-to-reach groups, which I ran for about two years. Through this CIC I collaborated with the Manchester Mental Health & Social Care Trust and ran yoga classes for people with varying degrees of mental health problems, such as clinical depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia. I also worked with disadvantaged young people who were on the verge of social exclusion. Plus the Greater Manchester Fire Service as well. I also worked for Christie’s Hospital here in Manchester and taught yoga to people with various types of cancer.

I’m thinking of doing this again and sticking to it. In the last couple of years, I’ve been working at a secondary school and that’s taken up a lot of my time and I’ve had to cut down on my yoga classes and I knock CIC on the head. In the future, I can see myself going down that route again, and making it a lot more sustainable.

7. What are your yoga goals?

I’ve wanted to do a retreat for a while, but the only thing that’s put me off is that I’m quite a private person –  I need my own space. I imagine being on a yoga retreat you’re around people 24/7 and you’re the centre of attention all the time. I could collaborate with other yoga teachers to make it work.

8. You’ve taught a wide range of students. How do you adapt your classes for less able students?

As soon as you walk into a room you get the energy. I’ve taught various groups, so for instance with a group of young people with learning difficulties I’m not going to be teaching an experienced ashtanga class, I’ll teach them some chair yoga, basic moves, and basic breath exercises.

When I teach boxers and martial artists they want more dynamic stuff and to keep on moving, I wouldn’t go in there and start singing Oms. You have to adapt each class to their particular needs.

9. What would your advice be to someone who’s thinking about becoming a yoga teacher?

To be very, very open-minded. To be clear and concise when you’re teaching, and not to make assumptions. Avoid what I call flimmy flammy language and make yourself understood. I also avoid music in classes because music is such a personal choice and can be quite off-putting.

And it can be quite hard and challenging. It’s not the stereotype of what a yoga teacher is, almost a permanent holiday with a smile on your face. But the rewards definitely outweigh the negatives.

Interview: Peter Ogazi, on how yoga changed his life

10. How important is humour in yoga?

You have to have a sense of humour, most definitely! There’s a time and a place for things to be serious. It’s very, very important to have a sense of humour sometimes and not take things too seriously, particularly when you’re in an intimate space with people and everything’s quiet and then all of sudden maybe someone farts!

11. In your opinion, how can the yoga industry improve the representation of POC, both as teachers and students?

We need to show that it’s not just middle-class white women that do this. In magazines and general media, it would be very, very beneficial to have more representation out there as that attracts more people. As I’ve said before, just the fact that I’m teaching yoga attracts people. When I started teaching in a community centre up here I got a wide range of clients – not just people of colour, but from white working-class backgrounds – just the simple fact that I was a little bit different, and didn’t fit into the stereotype of what a yoga teacher should be, gave them the confidence to come to the class.

As well as that, we need more men doing yoga. A lot of men assume that yoga is just for women and I’ve had to break that stereotype down. When I taught male boxers and martial artists they thought was just going to be a ‘little stretch’ and after 20 minutes, I kid you not, they’re all crying and making all sorts of noises because they’re working muscles and ligaments that they’ve never worked before!

Also, a lot of men these days of a certain age don’t know where they are, and how they fit into the world. They’re quite angry as well, and yoga can be very, very beneficial in calming them down. A yoga class can offer them not only a sense of community but also offers balance and a way to chill out.

12. Describe what yoga means to you in three words.

It’s such an all-encompassing part of my life that it’s hard to think of three, but definitely relaxation, profound and chilled.

Check out Peter’s website at Yogazi

Poppy Pickles