Interview: Shannen Li on how YogaLondon’s 500-hour Teacher Training got her through Lockdown

Lockdown Classes

Shannen Li is a woman of many talents: a single mother to two teenage boys, lecturer in Marketing, yoga teacher, holistic therapist, and passionate green advocate. She talks to YogaLondon about her approach to motherhood, her love of Autumn, and why she has been wowed by the YogaLondon 500-hour teacher training course.

1. What do you do work-wise – as well as teaching yoga?

My day job is as a lecturer in marketing [Shannen’s official title is Marketing and Consumer Behaviours lecturer at Leeds Business School,] and I’ve just started a Ph.D. on green consumerism. I am also a holistic therapist and I trained as a yoga teacher in Bali last summer. In January I started my 500-hour teacher training at YogaLondon and I teach one or two classes a week.

2. As a holistic therapist how do you think this year has affected people, many of whom have been deprived of any physical contact?

It’s been very challenging for people. After the initial lockdown, therapists were overwhelmed with many of our regular clients wanting treatments – people craved touch and some proper pampering and self-care for themselves.

That has been taken away during the lockdown, none of us can really live the life that we want to lead.

3. You have lots of different techniques that you use as a therapist – Swedish massage, Thai massage, Indian Head Massage, and Reiki – what unites them?

Me as a therapist! Whatever we do, at the end of the day it’s just different techniques, and it’s more about the connection we have with people.

My ‘Shannen signature therapy’ tends to be a deep tissue massage. Thai massage is great, but it is really strong, and really challenging for most people here. What I give is based on the needs of the client. When you touch them, you have that connection, you feel what they need. Sometimes it’s not just physical comfort, just knowing that they’ve been cared for – that’s really important.

4. Tell us about your journey from student to teacher.

I started ages ago going to yoga classes at the gym. Then I came across Hot yoga and I then got into Vinyasa and Yin yoga. I found my yoga community and it became a part of my life and I felt I wanted to know more.

When I was researching, I was deciding between training in London and in Bali and at that point in my life I wanted to get away from it all, so I spent two and a half months backpacking in Australia, around my teacher training in Bali.

The course in Bali was solid, but when I came to YogaLondon, I realised ‘Wow, that’s what you call solid’.

5. What has been the best thing about doing the 500-hour YL Teacher training?

I love everything about it. My training in Bali was the foundation but it left me thirsting for more knowledge – like when you run a 5k, you want to do a 10k, and so on.

Every session just wows me. The options of the ten CPD electives are really interesting. Plus the teachers are so inspiring, not just in the theory and asana that they teach but as teachers, how they run their own classes and how they conduct themselves as yogis.

They’re all amazing in their own way. They have so much to contribute, and have expertise in their own area.

6. How has yoga helped you in your life?

Yoga has helped me to get to know myself – the good and the bad. Sometimes we might discover something quite dark about ourselves that we may not like but once we step onto the mat, yoga helps us to accept ourselves.

Yoga helps me to quieten down, slow down and walk a simpler path of life. We are very privileged to live in our part of the world. We have it all, but still we don’t seem to be truly happy and content. We are always in search of the next thing.

I don’t have a really strong practice, it took me two years to achieve Crow pose. But I really like being able to go on that journey, to use asana to help to build strength. So that journey with asana really goes deep for me to develop myself.

9. What would your motto be?

I just go with the flow, just accept and surrender to whatever it is. That positivity has been in me since day one, life puts you through ups and downs whether you like it or not. I’ve been through some really dark times, but I always think that you need to go in the storm and enjoy the dance. I think that always works.

7. Your Instagram name is ‘@earthy_yogini’ – what steps do you take to lives more harmoniously with Nature?

In every single aspect of my life, I try to stream it down and live a more simple life. I’m plant based, I recycle, go green transport-wise, use second-hand shops.

In addition,  I’m truly passionate about natural agriculture and I would like to keep spreading the words about this movement. Natural agriculture believes in living in harmony with nature without the use of fertilisers and pesticides.

I love volunteering at the Shumei Natural Agricultural Farm in Yatesbury, Wiltshire. I also help out at their stall at Stroud Green Farmer’s Market next to Finsbury Park in London.

8. You’re so busy, how do you juggle all that with being a single Mum to two teenage boys?

I’m originally from Malaysia and my parents were really busy, so I’ve brought up my kids in that way – just meet their basic needs. And they tend to be quite laid back, chilled and happy people.

It’s actually pretty straightforward because I like to live in my own little bubble so I actually don’t pay much attention to them. Because at this age [her sons are almost 15 and 19] they tend to want to do their own thing and live their own life, so there’s less intrusion from me.

I’ve been on my own for about twelve years now, so how we live might be different from a traditional household. We’ve been a little unit since day one. Dylan has dealt with the laundry since he was nine. Max loves cooking so he’s the chef in our family. I just do all the other normal Mumsy jobs.

10. What are you most looking forward to after lockdown?

Well, I’m looking forward to going back to the hot yoga studio – I usually go twice a day. However, I’m so glad I can still come to London to do the Yoga teacher training, it’s changed my life.

My own practice has been to do a bit of flow first thing in the morning or last thing at night. Also sometimes, depending on the weather, I try to do it outdoors in the garden. It’s something I’d never done before. Because I’m from Malaysia the English weather doesn’t usually appeal to me, it’s a bit chilly and windy. But during lockdown I held some yoga classes in the park which my students really enjoyed.

11. The BLM movement has really resurged this year. Has this impacted you at all?

Hmm. You know it’s really funny, I live in this middle-class community, and although we’ve lived there for around thirteen years I don’t really know my neighbours. But during lockdown one of the neighbours decided we’d set up this neighbourhood group, and then when the BLM movement kicked in she texted me. And she said, ‘Because of this BLM movement I want to express how much I love you and the kids’. It took me a night to think about what to reply. I texted back to say I send my love back to you.

But I think some people get it wrong with this movement, to text and say you love me just because my colour’s a bit different to yours. It really shows how ignorant people are. But I just see the love, I don’t judge, I still take the love part. I’m just not sure they actually understand the gist of it.

12. 2020 has been the ‘year of buying pets’! Do you have any pets yourself?

Yes, we have a cat. We’ve had a cat for about five years now. It’s been a lovely journey seeing him grow and becoming part of the family. The cat is just like the boys, he’s really independent and just needs the basics to be happy. He ties in with the household dynamics. He’s called Chess because he’s black and white, just like the chess that we play.

13. What’s your favourite season?

Autumn! It speaks to me in every way, because in Malaysia we only have summer. I find that Spring is nice with beautiful flowers, but Autumn has all the layers in it, the colours, the whole letting it all go and starting again, the whole retreating into us. Oh I just love the whole thing, it’s so beautiful.

And I can’t stand cold so no winter for me. Autumn’s just about right, and with the things that we do; Halloween, Bonfire night, even the food, slow-cooked food, hot chocolate, pumpkins – the whole thing!

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