We start each year with new resolutions, promising ourselves to stop smoking, drink in moderation, eat better, exercise more and stress less. Overall, our wish is to be happier and live more joyful and fuller lives. My only resolution for this year is to practice more yoga, because I know from personal experience that the practice in itself will bring other perks as well. Yoga is a discipline that can offer a number of benefits. As well as improving flexibility and muscle definition, and lets be honest ladies, making us look and feel pretty damn hot, it can have other benefits too. Regular practice can reduce stress, improve concentration, infuse our lives with more energy and calmness, and even help with health issues. Overall, yoga makes us feel good.
Suzanne, who I met in one of my yoga classes, swears by yoga. A number of years ago she went through some really stressful and challenging times in her highly demanding job in finance. A colleague of hers recommended that she tried yoga, a proposition she politely declined. That was until she was diagnosed with alopecia and started losing her hair. Not wanting to go down the steroid injection route, she decided to give yoga a try. “Physically, I have a much stronger core. I sleep better. My hair has grown back without taking any medication”, she reflects on her practice. “Mentally, I am much calmer. Things that would have upset me in the past I do not react to. I am happier. I have met some great people and going to see them each week is as much part of the class as the yoga itself”, Suzanne proclaims.
I spoke to a London based yoga expert, Sarah Scott, who shares her personal yoga journey with us, as well as tips for anyone thinking of taking up yoga, the benefits and an advice for anyone thinking of taking their practice further.
How and why did you become a yoga teacher?
I had been practicing yoga for 10 years before I decided to become a teacher. My friends kept questioning why I was not teaching as I was doing a personal practice and attending a class 6 days out of 7. When the passion to teach arose inside, it was the light bulb moment I could not ignore. Having researched courses with teachers I enjoyed practicing with, I signed up for a hatha yoga teacher training course with the International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centre.
Removing myself fully from life’s distractions in London to focus on my intensive training worked best for me. Living in the ashram environment ensured that meditation, philosophy and service were as important as the physical asana practice.
What benefits are there to yoga?
I teach Dynamic Hatha and Yin Yoga and the focus of my practice and teaching is always first and foremost on the breath. Whether looking for strength and stability in a dynamic hatha practice or softening into stillness in yin yoga, I believe in giving your body what it needs on any given day.
I believe you benefit from better health, increased flexibility and strength, as well as less stress by connecting to a regular yoga practice. When you learn to let go and tune out the noise, you find greater happiness, tapping into your inner voice and creativity. It takes time and patience but our practice helps you along life’s circuitous journey, anchoring you when the waters are unsettled.
How has yoga changed your life and your wellbeing?
It is hard to describe the transformation process, it is such a personal journey. Yoga grounds me, I feel more connected to myself and am happier than I have ever been. My training had a profound effect on me. I previously worked in a financial services environment that created a lot of stress not just at the physical, but also mental and emotional levels. I did not realise just how negatively that impacted on my wellbeing until I fully embraced my practice and took the time to pause. Working directly with clients and understanding their needs has been a key theme in my working life, now I am privileged to teach what I love and to make a tangible difference in people’s lives.
What advice would you give to anyone who has thought about practicing yoga but might need some encouragement?
Yoga is for everyone, young or old. Do not be put off thinking classes are full of flexible people. Everybody is unique and hard as it may be not to look at your neighbour and what they can or cannot do in class, you really cannot compare what is going on inside. Explore different styles with different teachers, try a beginners’ class for 4-6 weeks. When you resonate with the way a person teaches or the style, you will feel the benefits of a yoga practice so do not give up after one class.
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to become a yoga teacher?
Even if you are going to a yoga class every day, take time to develop your own home practice before you sign up for teaching training. It is really important to tune into what your body needs and to guide yourself through a practice rather than always being led by your favourite teachers. It is a discipline that will serve you well in the long-term. Ask teachers you enjoy practicing with what styles they have trained in, what they thought of their courses and whether they would recommend those schools. You can study an intensive programme or part-time over 12-18 months. It depends on what study style suits you best and whether you can afford to take over a month off from commitments. Exhilarating as it is to graduate from teacher training, the real learning starts from the moment you start to teach – students open your eyes to so many things. Teach friends and family to build your confidence and be yourself. Most importantly, take good care of yourself as teaching can be more draining on your energy levels than you realise at first.