Tagyoga teaching

Interview: Amani Eke on founding a not-for-profit yoga organisation and her addiction to African Yoga

Interview: Amani Eke on founding a not-for-profit yoga organisation and her addiction to African Yoga

Amani Eke is the Founder of Project Yogi – a not-for-profit organisation that teaches yoga and mindfulness to children in schools and youth groups in London. She is an inspirational person who saw how the health and well-being benefits of yoga would help the children she worked with, and actually did something about it.

1. How did you get into yoga yourself?

I’ve always been interested in black and African history and when I was doing some research I came across an ancient form of African ‘yoga’, called Smai Tawi [literally ‘the union of two lands’]. Based on postures recorded in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics, it was an ancient path to enlightenment – the union of the body and the spirit.

I started practising the postures at home from books and then came across an African Yoga class in Brixton taught by Pablo Imani – the founder of Afrikan Yoga. He taught a unique form of yoga infused with Tai Chi and African movement. From the very beginning, it really resonated with me and I became addicted – committing fully to the class and going every week. It made me feel energised and relaxed and my mind was at peace.

2. What’s the response when you talk about African Yoga or Kemetic yoga as it’s also known?

I was once teaching an African Yoga community class to raise some awareness and I asked for some feedback. One woman said how dare I call it yoga. But the evidence is out there – there are postures on the pyramids!

Since the recent resurgence in Black Lives Matter, people seem to be more open, more up for listening. The lack of knowledge about this ancient physical practice is just one example of how black history is glossed over or ignored. Hopefully, things are changing and we are starting to acknowledge our heritage and value. I am hopeful for change.

3. What was the inspiration behind setting up your not-for-profit organisation, Project Yogi?

I was working in education as a secondary school teacher and supply teacher and an opportunity came up to do a yoga teacher training in 2014, and it felt right – I wanted to get some deeper knowledge.

I also felt it would be a good tool to use with young people, so I then did some further training to work with teens and a Hatha yoga teacher training course, which developed my idea further. It wasn’t a sudden moment of ‘this is what I want to do’, but a gradual realisation that this was something that had helped me with anxiety and feeling low – and that it would benefit the kids too.

It started out as a standard yoga teaching business in community halls and studios, with classes open to all. I had students, but it wasn’t targeting the young people I wanted to reach. The children and young people that came tended to be those that had parents that were already committed to yoga, as well as had the means to afford the classes. However, the problem seemed to be that those children  – and their parents – weren’t initially interested in what I had to offer!

So it made sense to change my business into a not-for-profit organisation, which would mean I would have access to funding and could offer support directly to the schools or young people that had funding issues.

Interview: Amani Eke on founding a not-for-profit yoga organisation and her addiction to African Yoga4. How does Project Yogi benefit the kids?

The yoga has real social and emotional input, helping with behavior, emotions, self-regulation, self-esteem, self-development and wellbeing.

We always have a discussion during the session – it helps them to give feedback, feel more relaxed and to ask questions. We try to confirm their sense of self-esteem through different exercises, for example, we might ask them to pinpoint their good qualities, or think positively about themselves – such as talking about a skill or hobby.

In the sessions, there are always discussions, breathwork and yoga, or mindfulness. There’s not always yoga simply because the kids might be in school uniform and don’t have time to change, or we might not have the space. If it’s possible, we’ll do some stretches or a relaxation exercise.

5. What’s the most rewarding thing about working with children and young people?

The most rewarding part of what I do is seeing the kids grow in the practice, as they start to learn more and ask more questions. The other day one girl told me that she’d started doing ten minutes of yoga every day before school, which is what it’s all about.

6. What advice would you give to yoga teachers thinking about teaching children’s classes?

Get some experience! I’ve been contacted by teachers who like the idea of working with children, but when they try it the reality can be different to what they expected! It’s completely different to teaching adults, you firstly need to connect with them, but then keep them engaged and get to their level.

You might have the best lesson plan in the world, but teaching kids you have to be prepared to think on your feet. It’s so unpredictable, but also really energising and fun.

7. How has lockdown affected the work of Project Yogi?

Lockdown has been really difficult. All the schools and youth organisations have cancelled our programme for now, and apart from a couple of online workshops with other yoga studios it’s all stopped.

Going forwards we need to learn from this and find a way to stay connected with the kids. We realise that we’ve come to rely on going through the schools, but we need to find a way to be a community for these kids. We’ve set up a Go-fund-me page to raise money to take what we do online and make it accessible for the kids that might not have access to technology and Wi-Fi.

8. What are your goals for Project Yogi?

Interview: Amani Eke on founding a not-for-profit yoga organisation and her addiction to African Yoga

Our goal is to serve a lot more young people. At the moment we work in South London, and are branching out into East London, but the aim is to reach young people throughout the capital and beyond.  If we can work on taking what we offer online, that would also help to increase our reach.

9. How do you survive financially?

I’m super busy! I still do some teaching supply work, and I also teach adult yoga lessons at pop up events, plus loads of cover teaching. I do pay myself for when I teach for Project Yogi – all the teachers are paid for their time.

Occasionally I’ll pay myself for the time spent on all the admin and day to day management, but not often. I do find that I’m always running around like a headless chicken, which can be overwhelming and exhausting.

10. What gets you through hard times?

I would definitely say my yoga practice and what I’ve learnt from it. I had a difficult day at the weekend, but I’ve learnt to accept things as they are and know that it passes. Mindfulness and meditation are also the tools I use to push through those rough days.

11. Can yoga make the world a better place?

Yoga can support making the world a better place, definitely. The world is not an easy place for young people these days, but yoga can help build their resilience and plants a seed that they can grow and nurture for themselves. Because if we look after our young people, we’re supporting them to make the world a better place.

12. What would you say to your teenage self?

I would say to teenage me, “Just keep persevering. Things can be difficult, but you will overcome those things and grow and learn from them. Keep on pushing!”

If you’re interested in supporting Project Yogi and the valuable work it does, then please head to Amani’s gofundme page to help her and her team.

Poppy Pickles

Interview: Mark Bonington’s Top Three Tips for Yoga Teachers

Interview: Mark Bonington's Top Three Tips for Yoga Teachers

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.

Interview: Mark Bonington's Top Three Tips for Yoga Teachers

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.

Secondly, other teachers inspire me – Cat Meffan’s YouTube videos and musicaltheatreyogi’s guided meditations on Insta – they inspire me to take time out and be a student again.

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?Interview: Mark Bonington's Top Three Tips for 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…

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
Pregnancy Yoga Guide

How Do You Know You’re Ready for Yoga Teacher Training?

teacher training yoga

You love yoga. You’ve been going for a little while now, and you’re pretty sure that you’re quite good at it. You look forward to your classes and you daydream about being a teacher, with all the freedom and extra yoga-ing that that would bring to your life. But it’s a pipe-dream, right? WRONG! Here’s eight ways to know if you’re ready to start your yoga teacher training. (more…)

Poppy Pickles
When you\'re ready to go further

On Yoga Teaching: Are you ready to run a yoga retreat?

On Yoga Teaching: Are you ready to run a yoga retreat?

What do you think of when you hear the words ‘yoga retreat’? Do you imagine burnished blue skies, delicious vegetarian spreads and relaxed yoga sessions with a bunch of like-minded people? Or something more austere with intensive yoga sessions, time for silent contemplation and some proper headspace? Whatever you think of, it’s certainly true that yoga retreats are growing in popularity, and the trend doesn’t look set to change any time soon. (more…)

Poppy Pickles