Jonathan Thompson is an Ashtangi, YogaLondon 200-hour teacher trainer, and a deeply sensitive and emotionally intuitive person. Here he talks to us about the impact of his father’s early death, the mutually supportive relationship he has with his mother and how, for him, yoga, coaching, and psychology are all different sides of the same coin. Oh, and he definitely believes in ghosts.
1. What’s the goal of yoga for you?
A lot of Western yoga has cotton wool wrapped around it. Real yoga is not about getting bendy, it’s really a form of psychology. It stirs up all your s**t from the murky depths and brings it all up for healing. Those physically impossible poses and the fear we have of them is about bringing up our fears – of death, failure, and so on. So much of life now is about dumbing things down.
When I did my yoga teacher training in an ashram we were really broken down – it was tough. But I believe that expression – you have to break down to break through.
2. Do you believe in destiny?
I do. I believe that things are fated to happen. Not the little things, like brushing your teeth, but the big life-changing things. So if meeting someone has a profound effect, it’s meant to be.
3. Do you have an example of destiny working in your life?
Yes, I went to Spain to recover from a long-term relationship and spent it mainly getting drunk. When I came back to the UK I thought I’d get back into acting, or become a TV presenter – I fancied ‘A Place in the Sun!’ But then I had a random conversation with a friend, who said, ‘I always thought you should be a yoga teacher – you’ve got that spiritual aspect.’ My head said ‘no’ to this suggestion, but my heart said ‘yes’. Six or seven weeks later I was training to be a yoga teacher at a Sivananda Yoga ashram on Paradise Island.
Funnily enough, I later found some magazine cuttings that my Mum had sent me six years before about a Sivananda Ashram in the Bahamas. I was fated to get there in one way or another.
4. How important is your Mum to you?
My mum is my only living relative – it’s just the two of us. She’s my best friend and I call her every day – she’s amazingly supportive. I’ll call her after teaching and she’ll say, ‘Well done’ – it’s so nice. We’re both into spirituality and philosophy and we keep each other motivated.
My father died when I was 4 years old, so she was my only parent. She was quite strict but loving back then. Now I’m the parent – and have been for the last twenty years or so. She’s the little girl and I tell her off.
5. Do you believe in ghosts?
I do, yes. I’ve come into contact with quite a few and lived in a few haunted houses. My childhood home that we moved to after my father died was haunted. It wasn’t a pleasant feeling. Things got moved around. I remember being in bed and something touched my cheek and I heard a whispering voice.
When I was in my 20’s living in Streatham there was a time when a lampshade fell to the floor, and when I went back into the kitchen I could smell gas and all four knobs on the hob had been turned on full.
I feel it now in the place I’m living – a presence.
6. Which yama or niyama resonates the most for you?
I struggle the most with santosha (contentment). My favourite is ishvara pranidhana, even though I find it difficult. It’s about surrendering to a higher power. Losing one of my parents so young made me into a bit of a control freak because I lost that trust in life.
I surrendered to a higher power when I was choosing to be a yoga teacher, by trusting my instincts. It’s about trusting that life has a plan, that there is a divine order to this seeming chaos.
7. You’ve written blogs about some difficult relationships you’ve been in. How did yoga help you get out of the cycle of emotionally abusive relationships?
I’ve been in more than one emotionally abusive relationship. You become devalued and it becomes part of your make up. Yoga gives you a sense of self – your true self. I’m an Ashtangi, but yoga isn’t about the physical method for me. It’s to bring stillness to the mind. I don’t care about getting it right or correct. Yoga brings you back to your body, then to your mind, then to your Self.
I do root my susceptibility to emotionally abusive relationships back to my father’s death. It embedded in me the feeling that relationships were about loss, and I was attracted to people who caused loss.
My feeling now though is that this was the Universe’s way of giving me a gift – and it kept giving me the same gift until I had figured it out!
8. What does your yoga practice look like at the moment?
I used to have a strict routine – as an Ashtangi yogi, I’d do the Mysore practice. But at the moment the physical practice has fallen to the side. However, when I practice you won’t find me doing flow yoga, I follow the series – although I might drop out some poses. I keep other exercise or mobility separate from my yoga practice.
9. How has lockdown affected you and what do you miss?
It’s made me realise I’m not actually very sociable! But I did use to travel a lot – last year I went away nine times.
I do miss physical interaction with other people although I have to admit I’m still hugging my friends. I also miss physical adjustments to my students.
Mostly, I miss seeing people interact in a human way. People are terrified, it’s not the new normal, it’s not normal at all. When this is all over, I’m so looking forwards to packed tube trains and heaving pubs.
10. What’s the biggest challenge of being a yoga teacher trainer?
The biggest challenge is I don’t have enough time with them. I want to give them everything including the kitchen sink. The best part of being a yoga teacher trainer is when a discussion really gets going. It’s wonderful to feel you’re planting the seed of an idea and then watch it blossom in front of your eyes.
I’d love to spend the whole 200-hour training just talking about and debating yoga philosophy.
11. You’re also a ‘Law of Attraction’ Coach. What’s the connection between coaching and yoga?
They’re basically the same thing. The philosophy of yoga informs most new age philosophies that we’ve got now. The idea is that we create our life through our thoughts, intentions and actions. These have a direct effect on creating the life you want. The whole idea of yoga is that we transcend the cycle of rebirth.
12. How have you kept positive over lockdown?
My spiritual beliefs have kept me positive. Ishvara pranidhana in fact – surrendering control is the only control I have.
I’ve really appreciated the lockdown as it’s given me time to heal, but I’m aware that it’s been absolutely devastating for those in abusive relationships or other vulnerable people.
13. How do you switch off?
I have to admit that I watch Netflix. I light some candles, make myself a cuppa and grab some cookies. I recently watched The Haunting of Bly Manor, which is more of a love story than a ghost story – I ended up crying my eyes out. I’ve also re-watched all three series of The Crown, in preparation for the new series coming out on the 15th of November.
I tend to choose programmes that aren’t too engaging, or I’ll watch a DVD (I’m old-school and I’ve got a huge collection), usually something nostalgic from the 80s, which I watched as a kid.
14. What would your advice be to someone just starting out on their yoga journey?
Hmm, I’m feeling the pressure to sound very wise. Yoga is not a cure or a fix – yoga will show you what you need to heal. It will also give you support to understand that healing.
When studying yoga philosophy, things come up. It shines a big spotlight and provides a therapeutic framework. Trust in yoga – it’s ok to feel hurt and to feel sad.
It’s not about being perfect. Instagram shows us perfect poses, perfect lives. But they’re not.