CategoryCoronavirus

Interview: Carrie Owerko on Coronavirus, Zoom stress and the Animal within

Interview: Carrie Owerko on Coronavirus, Zoom stress and the Animal within

Carrie Owerko is part yoga teacher, part bio-mechanics movement scientist, part performer, and part pure energy ball. Her beautiful practice and inspiring focus on play have attracted a loyal following across a wide range of yoga methodologies. She has just launched an online platform called The Playground which is a library of pre-recorded classes as well as access to live-streamed classes.

1. What was your first ever experience of yoga?

My first experience of yoga was a one-off lesson at college in Denver in the early 1980s. My modern dance teacher did some yoga, although at the time I had no idea what it was. I remember there was talk of chakras, we did some little sun sals and a couple of poses. What impressed me more than the yoga itself was that my teacher was really, really into it.

When I moved to New York in the late 80s/early 90s I sampled lots of different yoga classes. Then I took an Iyengar class, and I fell into that. I liked the precision and creativity at that time, but looking back I can see I was attracted to the teachers that were rebellious with the method even then.

2. Who are your greatest yoga inspirations?

Without a doubt, B. K. S. Iyengar. He was a fricking trailblazer;  he lived, ate, breathed, and slept yoga, and it’s hard not to admire that. There’s no doubt that he was a genius, but also very, very human. Also my own teacher for a long time, Patricia Walden. I have great respect for her and she is devoted to her practice.

But as a person, Tao Porchon-Lynch is like ‘wow’. She’s inspired me on multiple levels. I met her once in NY after a class, and we were talking and she grabbed my arm and said, ‘This person told me I couldn’t do that, that person told me I couldn’t do another, but they’re all dead now!’

Also Richard Freeman and his partner Mary Taylor. I spent a week with them when I was going through a difficult time and they were just extraordinarily kind. The teachers that really inspire me are the ones I want to grow into – they teach me to be a better human, not a better acrobat.

3. What qualities do you think makes a good yoga teacher?

My bias is towards play! Also, somebody who has kindness, compassion, and humour. Plus, I think the role of the teacher is to help the students and themselves to be at ease with ourselves. I think that’s huge.

The truth is that people are different – I don’t like cookie-cutter teaching. Different students will react to different teachers and there’s going to be a student that responds to your honest exploration – if you’re doing it with integrity.

As yoga teachers we do our best to serve, there’s no right way to do it and there’s certainly not one way to do it.

4. What, for you, is the most challenging aspect of yoga?

The most challenging aspect of yoga is meeting myself as I am in the practice. I have to be OK with what I’m encountering. We try to control ourselves and our lives, but we are dealing with all aspects of ourselves, including the primal, autonomic animal side that kept us alive as cave people. And there are times when I haven’t been OK with the animal that I am.

Interview: Carrie Owerko on Coronavirus, Zoom stress and the Animal within

5. How often do you practice?

From day one I have practised every single day, NO MATTER WHAT. It doesn’t mean the practice always looks the same – if I’m sick I have to adapt it. But I just do it, without expectations, because from that discipline comes creativity. For me, my practice is like my cat, I feed her, stroke her, look after her every day. My yoga practice is the same, I attend to it because it’s a loving act towards myself.

If you show up every day then that’s it, mission accomplished. It doesn’t have to be anything more than that. “I’m having a hard time today.” And that’s fine.

6. Is it important to try different types of yoga?

Personally I love a multi-disciplinary approach, through a variety of different movement methods, not just different methodologies of yoga.

Life itself is unpredictable and if we’ve been in this one, quiet room, with one way of moving, that’s not going to translate to being out in the chaos of the noisy streets. If you’ve practised with variability and deliberately challenged your balance, for example, moving your head around while balancing, your nervous system will be more prepared for the unpredictability of life.

7. How can a regular yoga practice help with daily life?

First of all, I don’t really differentiate any movement from yoga. Yoga is paying attention to your senses, your breath, being aware of your body, your face – yoga is an awareness practice that translates to anything and everything you do.

Yoga helps us to control our physiological response to stress. For example, part of my practice is to try to regulate the breath after deliberately putting my body through a stressful situation. Then I see how efficiently and effectively I can recover in as short a time as possible. This ability to shift gears helps with those everyday adrenaline surges from a stressful zoom class (for example).

Having a varied practice and trying small doses of a new thing also helps us to handle novelty and change, which is the one thing you can guarantee in life. It teaches us to be resilient.

8. How has the Coronavirus pandemic impacted your teaching?

When COVID-19 hit, I was in Australia in the middle of a workshop tour. When it became clear that I had to cancel the tour I then flew to LA and spent the night in an airport hotel and the next day I flew to New York and there were four of us on the entire jet – it was surreal.

When I got back I did a few Zoom classes, because like every other yoga teacher all my classes had just been canceled. Then we decided to expedite the launch of my new on-going, ever-expanding platform – The Playground.

9. How do you think the yoga world has reacted to the Coronavirus?

When the lockdown started there was a real sense of urgency in the yoga world and there was this mad dash to start teaching online, and to begin with all the online classes were free, which concerned me. We need to have a long-term vision of how this is going to be and make sure that we value the time and commitment we put into teaching. People are actually willing to pay, and it encourages them to make a commitment to yoga.

I would also hate to see the small studios suffer – some of my friends are studio owners and it’s their life, they work 24/7 to make ends meet… We need exchanges with other humans for our health, we knew it before, but now we know it in the visceral sense.

10. What to you are the pros and cons of teaching yoga online?

I like teaching online and I’ve done it for a while. My newly launched platform is great because it means there’s a place where all my students can access all my playful practices and educational resources.  Because I teach all over the world (or I have been up to now anyway) there’s a support for students between annual trips.

However, I miss the interaction with people, so I never saw it as a complete substitute for teaching in-person, but as a supplement to.

I’ve also had my share of stressful zoom encounters. On one class we somehow lost every single registration and then had to manually re-enter all the data. It ended up being ok, but it was like literally down to the wire. There is this stress around it, but luckily my husband’s around more so he can come to my aid!

When I’m teaching live online there’s a different energy to it than the pre-recorded classes. When it’s live there’s no shouting ‘Cut!’ if something goes wrong, you just have to make it work – because things go wrong, things will not go as you planned, and you have to improvise just as you would in an in-person class.

11. What’s important to you about in-person teaching?

The in-person thing is also important and I’m still doing that, or I plan to anyway! I’m a person who learns best in different ways, so I take in information via audio, visually, through my body, and through play. I have to come at things from multiple angles for me to feel like I really understand it, and I like to facilitate that type of learning process too.

It’s like the difference between going to watch a movie and going to see a play. When you teach in a physical class, there’s this spontaneous interaction. It’s facilitated by the teacher, but it’s a magical space where human beings can engage in a non-repeatable event.

Interview: Carrie Owerko on Coronavirus, Zoom stress and the Animal within

The in-person experience is significant and it won’t be going away – it might change, it might be different, but if history’s taught us anything it’s that humans will gather.

12. What would you like your yoga legacy to be?

I would like my legacy to be that play is important for adults.

Play can be a huge support in our learning process, it can bring joy to our lives and our practice, it can add an element of fun, and fun is often something that is underrated. I think it does really matter!

Yoga is seen as a serious subject, but I think play is divine. We’ve been playing forever – through sport, theatre, narrative, imagination –  and we exercise our capacity for creative thinking via play. Play and creativity are our divine nature and if we want to connect to that then I think it can be a wonderful means to move towards the mysterious.

13. What would you like to say about the current coronavirus pandemic?

This current crisis has challenged every person across the globe. We’re living in a unique time and as a global population we’re experiencing a type of global stress. In the U.S. there are some things that are happening right now that are really sad, such as the murder of George Floyd and the subsequent riots. Humans are very taxed right now, and I feel we need to dig a little deeper and ask ourselves those important questions about what we really value, and how we treat each other.

We also need to remember we’re going through a lot! And to have a huge amount of compassion towards ourselves and each other, and how might we come through this experience with something of value.

There’s an opportunity here to make our world a better place. Yes – it sucks! But yoga helps us to reframe things to see that there’s an opportunity in adversity.

Carrie is kindly offering YogaLondon Blog readers a 10% discount for membership to her new venture, The Playground. The code for one-time usage for 10% off any of the 3 subscriptions is PLAYFUL10.

Poppy Pickles

What 2020 Has Taught Us To Do More Of

What 2020 Has Taught Us To Do More Of

2020 has been quite a year so far, and we’re only halfway through.

The year we thought we were going to have has not materialised, and we’ve entered into a strange new world.

As well as the global pandemic that will have far-reaching effects for decades to come, there has been the recent unrest in the States, catalysed by the murder of George Floyd by a cop.

In response to this, there have been social media blackouts, under #blackouttuesday and mass peaceful protests across America, and around the entire world. The scourge of racism, as Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau called it, is being called out. In London thousands gathered in Trafalgar Square, in Lewisham and Brixton, chanting ‘Black Lives Matter’ and ‘I can’t breathe’ – Floyd’s last words.

But is 2020 a write-off? Or can we turn an annus horribilis (as 1992 was for the Queen) into an annus mirabilis, through the sometimes painful lessons this year has taught us?

Take Five More

We’re told to take five when we need to step back from a situation, and lockdown has given us this time. Even if we’re busier than ever working from home, we’re not rushing about anymore – apart from those key workers, who we offer our humble thanks to.

You might not want to admit it, but it might be that these past two months have been a relief. For those with kids, the work, school, social life, extra-curricular balancing act has ground to a halt, and we have found ourselves with our families at home. For those who have been furloughed, it has provided time for self-reflection. Is the life that we’re living the one we actually want? Do we want to rush back to an office job we don’t enjoy? Perhaps it’s time to do something we love – like become a yoga teacher??

We will never spend as much time with our close families again – until the next lockdown anyway! And there has been a simple joy to just being with the ones we love the most. As well as sometimes being driven up the wall, but that’s all part of the fun.

Enjoy nature more

One thing this ‘eased lockdown’ has given us is the pure joy of meeting up with friends in parks, green spaces, gardens and in the countryside. Why weren’t we doing this more before? What could be better than simply walking and talking in nature, or sitting with a picnic in our beautiful London parks? This is something we will definitely keep doing.

Plus all the frantic traveling we’re not doing anymore is making a huge difference to the environment. We can hear birdsong again, the skies over London aren’t clogged with smog, and our children can breathe more freely as we walk the streets.

Let’s remember this before we jump back into our cars and rush back to booking multiple foreign holidays. Do we NEED to use polluting forms of transport? Let’s stop and think.

Love our Local area more

Who has found parts of their local area they never knew existed? Discovered beautiful front gardens, little private roads, local woods? In the height of lockdown, we had only our daily walk to explore the outside world, and it has led us to really get to know and appreciate the detail and depth of our local areas.

Being More Kind

From the outset, the temptation has been to judge others while excusing our own behaviour – “Did you see those people in the park sunbathing?” We gossip about other people flaunting lockdown, but at the same time make excuses for our own slight deviations from the rules.

But it doesn’t help to judge others. We might not understand the context and even if we do it’s only our own behaviour we can change.

Value the sense of Touch more

The sense of touch is an underrated sense. We rely so much on sight and hearing, that the earthy senses of smell, taste, and touch are relegated.

But now we are experiencing a world outside the confines of our home and local park without these three senses. We conduct zoom meetings, virtual art gallery tours, whatsapp video chats. It’s great that we can connect, but we can’t really experience being together.

When we meet up with friends or family for our socially distanced walks we still can’t hug them. For those of us living alone, this is a painful separation. It makes us realise how important that physical connection is. It makes us feel loved.

Be Yourself More

If we can take one thing from 2020 it’s that we’ve learnt to be happier with who we really are. We’ve stopped bothering to wax, wear clothes with tight waistlines – care what other people think. These small steps can be translated into bigger ones.

We don’t have to hide who we are. We can be ourselves. We can tell our stories, share our pain, share our joys without worrying about what people think.

Learn More

We may not be able to physically travel the globe, but we have learnt over these last few months that we are one world, going through one pandemic. Learn about other cultures, other histories to understand the rich tapestry that makes up our brilliant suffering world. With knowledge comes understanding, with understanding comes acceptance.

In terms of the Black Lives Matter movement, we have learnt to examine our own behaviour. Have we always done the right thing? Have we owned up to racist behaviour, whether conscious or not? It’s time to own up to not doing enough, and to do the work to be a better person. And if you’re looking to support emerging black artists, thinkers and change-makers, here is a list of US organisations that need your help.

Listen More

We’ve all had enough of zoom, that’s FOR SURE. Socialising on Zoom is not the easiest, nor is it doing anything else for that matter, but it’s a darn sight better than nothing.

But what Zoom has taught us is how to listen more. You can’t interrupt without the software glitching and due to the slight lag, you end up talking at the same time as someone else. But instead, we’ve all gradually learnt to take turns. Not to interrupt but to simply listen to what others have to say. And we’re learning a lot.

Change More

Lockdown has levelised the human race. We are all susceptible, but we’re not all dying at the same rate. The coronavirus is more serious for BAME people and we need to find out why. It is time to change society so that we all have the same potential and opportunities. In the yoga world, we’re not always innocent. Let us become the change we want to see. To quote the poem, ‘What if 2020 isn’t Cancelled’ by Leslie Dwight:

Declare change. Work for change. Become the change.

A year we finally band together, instead of pushing each other further apart.

2020 isn’t cancelled, but rather the most important year of them all.

 

Poppy Pickles

Lockdown Cheeky Yogi style

Lockdown Cheeky Yogi style

The secret to survive lockdown is have a routine. Learn a new skill. Clear your to-do list. Simple. Yet life in lockdown appears deceptively the same, but in reality something is out there… lurking…

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How to Build a Yoga Community

How to Build a Yoga Community

One of the worst things about this current crisis and the lockdown, is the loneliness.

Loneliness is one of the number ONE factors in deciding life expectancy and can shorten a person’s life span by around 15 years. This extraordinary fact shows how social interactions are not only pleasurable but essential for life.

Part of our job as yoga teachers is to offer a regular place for people to come together with others who are like-minded; to feel part of a supportive community. And, during this crisis, this role is more important than ever.

Why yoga teachers are well-placed to build community

As we become established yoga teachers, we notice the effect that it has on our yoga students. Hopefully, they will start to cultivate their own home yoga practice. You can see the instructions you give them going deeper, making sense in their bodies and not just their minds.

It also starts to become a more and more important part of their life, as they realise the benefits it brings. They see their yoga classes as a sanctuary, a place where they can be themselves and spend time with like-minded people.

This sense of community is a valuable and beautiful thing to cultivate, and as yoga teachers we are perfectly placed to add a real sense of belonging to our students’ lives.

What is a yoga community?

A community is a group of people that have the same beliefs and needs, or a unified body of individuals. This last definition is a great one, as yoga literally means to join, to unify – and of course, the body is how we do that.

As a yoga teacher there’s a lot we can do to encourage a sense of community and it has many benefits. And while it has many benefits for your students, it is also beneficial to you, because if your students feel like they belong to a community, they’re much more likely to be loyal to you and your class. Building brand loyalty is one of those marketing holy grails!

Practical ways to build community

Let’s start with the basics, the first thing is to know all your students’ names! This can be a real stumbling block for some, but there are memory games you can use to help if you struggle to remember names. And at the moment if you’re teaching on Zoom, you should be able to see everyone’s names on the screen. It might be worth reminding them to make sure they log in with their names, and not ‘iPad’.

When we get back to in-person teaching, there are lots of ways to encourage community. You can encourage students to come to class a little earlier and start a conversation from the front of the class – making sure you include everybody, and drawing everyone in.

This can be applied to online live-stream teaching too. Make sure you’re online in the meeting space in plenty of time and encourage students to be in gallery mode with the microphones on if they want to chat (not if they’re just banging around and ejecting the cat).

Do things together – Karma yoga

This applies more once lockdown is finished and we can get back to in-person teaching. But even then, we don’t know how yoga teaching is going to be. It may well be that we won’t be able to teach in a small space for quite a while. But there are other ways to get together to build your yoga community.

Karma yoga is the yoga of selfless actions. Encourage a sense of giving and shared community within your student body. If you run a yoga studio get them involved in the upkeep of the building, in return for a nice lunch or free lessons.

While we’re still social distancing you could suggest a yoga lesson outside, where it’s safer. You could even suggest a mindfulness ‘yoga walk’ once we’re allowed to meet in larger groups.

Be generous!

There are a lot of yoga teachers out there, and if you want to keep your yoga students loyal to you it’s worth going above and beyond. Plus the more you give, the more you get – that’s just a good old fact of life.

So, what about giving out bespoke home practice sequences to your students? Write a regular blog to help them establish a home practice, and ask them to let you know how their home practice is going.

If you’re confident enough to teach workshops, ask them what workshops they’d like to do, so that they feel included in your decision-making process and to highlight the fact that you’re there to guide them on their yoga journey.

Keep in touch with them over email and if they’re usually a regular student, check in if they miss classes to make sure they’re ok.

Create a supportive community for yourself too

As a yoga teacher you also need a support structure! So make the effort to keep in touch with your own teachers, as well as spend time with other yoga teachers. This is such a great way to discuss issues that you might be struggling with.

Practice with other teachers and make the effort to go to other teacher’s classes, you’ll be surprised at what you might learn. At the moment this could be done on Zoom, or just by practicing at the same time and then having a chat afterwards to share how it went. Did we mention we’re running free Saturday and Sunday sessions at the moment?

Use your social media accounts wisely, follow other yoga teachers who inspire you (but don’t make you feel rubbish about yourself), and reach out online to create a sense of belonging to the wider yoga community.

However…

Remember that there’s a fine line between being someone’s teacher and someone’s friend. Yes, it’s fine to have friends in your classes. But when you’re teaching, you’re the teacher and they’re the student. They come to class to be taught, not to be your friend.

It’s also tempting to give too much as a teacher. You are not their therapist or carer, the primary focus is to be their guide on their path to yoga.

Poppy Pickles

Holiday cancelled? Plan a Stay-at-home Mini Weekend Retreat

Holiday cancelled? Plan a Stay-at-home Mini Weekend Retreat

If you’re one of the multitudes of people who have booked holidays this summer, you’ll be wondering if you should just cancel it now, or wait and see. But the truth is, due to the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic, it’s unlikely we’ll be jetting off to foreign climes for holidays in 2020.

The official line from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office is that the FCO advises British nationals against all but essential international travel. There is no end date to this advice. We just don’t know when we’ll be allowed to travel again. At the moment, the furthest we can travel is to a park to exercise.

So what about our travel plans? For most of us, instead of a holiday, all we have is the headache of trying to get our money back.

But we don’t have to leave the country, or even leave the house to create a sense of sanctuary and solace. What about creating our own little at-home, mini weekend retreat? Here are some ideas for how you can plan your very own mini-retreat so that you still have something to look forward to.

Get Planning!

Have a think about what it is that you’d most look forward to on a retreat holiday. Is it the fact that you don’t have to think about all the dull domestic stuff? Is it the break from technology? Is it being pampered with treatments? Is it looking after body and soul with yoga and meditation? Or is it just lounging around with a book in the sun? Or perhaps a combination of ALL of the above.

You can also set an intention for the retreat; to reduce anxiety, to detox body and mind, to give yourself some compassion. Once you’ve decided on your aim, write it down so that you can remind yourself why you’re taking this time for yourself.

Get Organised

Once you’ve decided on the focus of your retreat you’ll need to do a bit of preparation. Spend the week before doing a bit of a spring clean – change the sheets, empty all the bins, and do a bit of a tidy. If you can get the house back to square one then you won’t be distracted by housework while on your ‘retreat’.

It’s also worth making sure you’ve got a little bit ahead with work if you can, so you’re not tempted to ‘just do a little bit’ over the weekend. Now that we’re working from home, the lines between work and home are blurred and it’s harder to switch off. To help with this, try to literally switch off – phones, PCs, iPads, etc. Put them in a drawer for a day and let the outside world recede.

Plan your Menu

Make the most of your mini-retreat by planning your meals in advance. Most retreats offer nourishing, fresh food that’s good for body and mind, such as those in line with the seasons, or an Ayurvedic diet.

You could do overnight-soaked oats for breakfast with a fresh fruit coulis, a ‘buddha bowl’ style lunch with quinoa, avocado, sprouting seeds, and anything else you fancy, and then after all that healthy food, you could buy some nice-quality ready meal, or splash out on a takeaway for dinner.

Time on your own

This might be a laughable idea if you’re the parent of young children in lockdown. You can only dream of going to the loo on your own, let alone a whole weekend of quiet solo time. But being a parent is a full-time job with no let up that can leave you feeling exhausted and on a short fuse. Could you carve out a couple of hours? Your partner could take the kids to the park, or keep them entertained elsewhere in the house while you have a long, leisurely bath, or watch a movie under a duvet, or do an online yoga class. Whatever means mini-break to you!

Immersion in nature

Now that we’re allowed out for exercise more than once a day, as well as travel to get some exercise, you could venture further afield than the nearest park and maybe even take a picnic and a thermos of tea. Take in the frothy May blossom, the fresh green of Spring, and allow Mother Nature to soothe your soul.

Do some yoga

There are more and more opportunities to do classes with some amazing teachers. Quite a few are offering weekend workshops, with two classes over one weekend. Why not tie this is to a whole weekend retreat? You could structure your day around the workshops, and in the evening go for a quiet walk to look at the sunset, or practice pranayama or meditation outside in the garden. We’re also offering an online Yoga Foundations course at the end of the month – like a mini retreat over the weekend, and it even counts toward your 200-hr yoga teacher training, should you wish to continue your journey further!

Try out Meditation

If this isn’t something you’re used to doing, then why not use your weekend retreat as a way to try it for yourself, especially if the current situation has you feeling anxious about the future. There are lots of ways to get into meditation using apps (see our article on Wellbeing during Coronavirus), but there’s also a free Monday meditation series with Ali Mortimer, founder of the ‘Heal yourself Happy’ method, sponsored by Marks & Spencers.

Get Creative

If you’re the kind of person that loves doing arty stuff, but it feels like you just don’t have the time at the moment, why not spend a weekend on a creative project that will give you joy. Rather than DIY, which most of us seem to be doing more of at the moment, try something that is for the sake of being creative, rather than just getting a job done. For example, you could set up a still life and try to depict it using lots of different mediums; pencil, ink, chalks, watercolour, even acrylics if you have them.

Pamper Yourself

Okay, it’s not as exciting as a Spa day, but there are plenty of ways you can pamper yourself at home. Do a head-to-toe of treatments, starting with a pedicure, getting rid of all that gnarly skin on your feet, which you’ve been ignoring, because, you know, lockdown. Exfoliate, slather yourself in healthy oils which help to rejuvenate the skin, such as coconut oil, almond oil, or extra virgin olive oil, and you could even try an Ayurvedic self-massage (called Abhyanga) for the full relaxing effect.

Poppy Pickles