Emma Newlyn is a yoga teacher, Ayurvedic massage therapist, trained herbalist, wellbeing coach, and nature enthusiast. We talk to her about how she found Ayurveda, what Ayurvedic tips she’d offer to get through lockdown, and the full details of her early morning routine. (more…)
YogaLondon is 10 this November. We talk to our Director and Founder Rebecca Ffrench about what she’s most proud of, the birth of YogaLondon, why she’s moving away from Yoga Philosophy to learn Flamenco and cheese-making…and why YogaLondon’s courses should come with a ‘THIS WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE’ warning!
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.
Mark Bonington is the published author of ‘How to Start Teaching Yoga‘, reiki healer, barre teacher trainee, amateur opera singer, writer, social media marketing expert– is there anything he can’t do? But first and foremost he’s a passionate yoga teacher, with a lot to say! He’s also a YogaLondon graduate, so it was lovely to catch up with him.
1. When was the light-bulb moment when you knew you wanted to be a yoga teacher?
When I went along for the month’s intensive course at YogaLondon I didn’t intend to become a full-time yoga teacher – I was thinking it might be a side gig to becoming a copywriter. I did know that I’d had enough of the job I was doing though. On the first day, the course leader Rachel Perry got us in a circle and we all had to say the reason why we were here, and suddenly it clicked that this was what I wanted to do. That was a real lightbulb moment for me.
Another lightbulb moment was when we were first practicing adjusting people in the exam sequence and it dawned on me that it was about them and not me! It sounds obvious, but it was a real epiphany.
My final lightbulb moment was when I did my first cover class at PureGym and I was terrified, but I just did it, and at the end of the class, people came up to me to say I was good at it! That was such a boost and helped me commit to teaching yoga full time.
2. How important do you think social media is for a yoga teacher?
Social Media marketing was actually my area of expertise in my previous job, so the scary side of social media marketing such as the content and paid side of things was something I was already confident with. In fact, it’s what I wanted to get away from!
Like most things, there is a positive and not-so-positive side to social media as a business tool. In terms of a digital imprint and inspiring viewers, it’s pretty essential. But when it comes to comparing yourself to others and the sexualization of yoga, it’s not that great.
There needs to be a balance. Of course, in recent weeks in the Covid-19 pandemic, I’ve found that social media has been an essential tool and through it, I’ve actually acquired new business. The thing is to make sure that it doesn’t get to the point where social media controls you, but you keep it is a tool that you control.
3. What keeps you motivated as a yoga teacher?
There are three things that keep me motivated and the top one is definitely hearing feedback from my clients – just hearing that I’ve helped them feel a bit better is a massive reminder of why I do this – for that genuine connection with people.
4. You’re a yogi and a writer – do they work well together as a career?
They work really well together. Yoga is about connecting to other people through the body, writing is about connecting to others through the mind. I’m currently writing my second yoga book which will be along the lines of everything I wish I had known before I stepped into a yoga class – watch this space.
5. Does having a performance background help as a yoga teacher?
Definitely! I got into musical theatre at High School, and then at Uni up in Dundee I joined a local opera company – I loved it. It taught me how to project my voice, which when teaching in busy gyms is a real advantage. In the beginning, it also meant I could stand in front of a class of students and perform ‘being a yoga teacher’ – I wasn’t there yet, but my theatrical background gave me the confidence to command the room.
6. You’re studying Reiki, Barre, you’re a runner, a writer – what do all these extra things bring to your yoga teaching?
Barre teacher training has been great as a way of learning a new vocab about the body, as well as deepening my appreciation of the physical capacity of the body. The Reiki training has reinforced my focus on the prompts to focus on your energy and to direct it to where it’s needed. Every new thing I learn brings something else to my yoga teaching and keeps me inspired too.
7. With all your interests, courses and, jobs – what do you do to relax?
I love guided meditations. It’s a big part of what I offer to my own clients, and I love it myself. It’s great to be a student and to have a voice just telling you what to do. Especially in lockdown, I do one in the morning and one after lunch – which occasionally turns into a power nap, but I don’t tell my boyfriend that.
I would recommend The Honest Guys on YouTube– they’re so brilliant at guided visualization meditations.
8. What’s your go-to top yoga book?
I have two that I always use – [he reaches across, they’re literally right there] – they are The Heart of Yoga by T Krishnamacharya’s son, T K V Desikachar. He’s a big proponent of Viniyoga, which is an individual approach to yoga.
My other go-to book is The Complete Guide to Yin Yoga by Bernie Clark. It’s a great mixture of practical advice and spiritual discussion, as well as explaining Yin yoga, which has come more from Chinese Daoism.
9. What are your three TOP TIPs for newly qualified yoga teachers?
One, develop the right attitude – basically just get out there, throw yourself in the deep end, and get teaching!
Two, don’t work for free – people will ask you to, but stand your ground and know your worth.
Three, sign up for every cover group you can find and do them all – you’ll gain confidence quickly, attract potential clients, and rack up experience.
And a bonus top tip is to ask for feedback and reviews at the end of a class from students – it’s the best way to get noticed by employers.
10. How has yoga affected your relationships?
Yoga has deepened my relationships in a wonderful way. Yoga teaches you to become who you truly are, and not who you think you’re supposed to be. When I started my month’s intensive with YogaLondon part of that process was letting go of my old identity of PR Director and to just embrace being me.
And once you can do that it means that you learn to hold closer those that you love, and who bring you light and joy, and on the flip side, it gives you the strength to let go of relationships that aren’t good for you anymore.
11. How do you think the yoga world can attract more LGBTQ people?
The imagery that most people see of the yoga world is thin, cis, white women who can bend into gymnastic shapes, and men see that and think ‘it’s not for me’! But they’d still like to do yoga, so a 1:1 lesson means that they can have a go without feeling uncomfortable – a lot of my private clients are gay men.
There’s nothing wrong with the gymnastic side of things but it misses out on the yoga that’s more about a journey into the Self. And just doing the poses is an external, aesthetic thing that is more based on the ego. But the gay community also has a problem with the way that physical beauty is a massive issue – it’s been an issue for me personally.
Yoga has helped me to see it for what it is, as well as some great inspirations like @diaryofachubbyyogi on Instagram.
12. How has your lockdown been?
We managed to leave London and come up to my parent’s house in Fife, which really is in the middle of nowhere, so it’s been a real change. It’s also been a great way for my parents to get to know my boyfriend!
At the beginning, it was a bit bleak as I lost a lot of business and everything started to fold like a house of cards.
But it’s also meant that I’ve moved online, which was something I’d been meaning to do for a while. I started teaching lessons on Instagram’s IG TV and now I’ve got new clients from all over the world, so I’ll definitely be carrying that on going forwards. However, I will get back to in-person teaching when I can, as that personal connection and sharing of energy are so powerful.
Lockdown also meant I’ve started a newsletter, in which I interview a different yoga teacher each month – so that it’s not all about me!
13. What makes you cry?
These days it seems to be when I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the life that I now lead. Nightmares also make me cry – I have a recurring nightmare that I’m not a yoga teacher anymore but have a soulless job in an office cubicle…
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?
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.
7. 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!