I’ll be honest. When I first signed up for a yoga retreat in the desert I was thinking more glamping than camping. It was only when I had an email instructing me to take a sleeping bag, loo roll and a lighter to burn said loo roll (after digging a hole in the sand to go to the toilet) that I realised this retreat was not going to be of a five-star nature. So, I had a few doubts about how much I was going to enjoy the week: I mean, what’s so great about a big pile of sand anyway?
Teaching yoga to children in French: it was definitely in my stretch zone but I agreed to do it anyway. I’m glad I did as the experience has changed my expectations around what’s involved in teaching a yoga class to any age group.
It was time for two and a half days of Wong time, attending a Chakra workshop series taught by Master Duncan Wong in Paris. I was there for the two base Chakra sessions: Muladhara (roots) and Swadhisthana (pleasure and self-expression). Having attended Duncan’s teacher training as part of a retreat in Italy I knew what I was letting myself in for – lots of energy, action, passion and knowledge. The main thing I felt during the workshops was my lack of strength and power. But I was in the right place to work on this.
As well as these two days of intensive yoga practice, my trip to Paris included a visit to the Rodin Museum to see the work of this nineteenth century master sculptor and painter. I clearly still had yoga on the brain because the toned muscularity of these sculptures was what struck me most, alongside their beauty and the skill of creating them. Some of the sculptures bore striking similarity to yoga poses…
Since completing my yoga teacher training, a few friends have said they would like to take the plunge too. They always admit this with some trepidation, as if it might be an unachievable goal, which of course it isn’t. This makes me smile because I know that if their heart is in it, they will have an incredible, positive experience and no regrets. So, for any prospective teacher trainees, here is my honest take on what it is like to commit to the mat and learn to teach yoga.
I’ve always had a thing for water parks. Ever since I was first introduced to the gargantuan slides at Aqualand Ste Maxime (well, they seemed larger than life to a skinny seven year old girl) I’ve sought out aquatic adrenaline-kicks. True to form, one of the highlights of my recent yoga retreat was jumping off the top of a waterfall and swimming in the fresh water below.
And so this summer, I made it my mission to seek out the best spots in the South of France for fresh water fixes. My most prized discovery was the Bain du Sémite, a bathing spot, near Saorge in the Alpes-Maritimes. This natural waterpark had the clearest, freshest water I’ve ever had the pleasure of submersing myself in and a series of magnificent waterfalls (or cascades, in French) to explore.
Noticing the inscription, 1892, I pondered on the bathers who might have enjoyed its qualities over years gone by. On doing some research, I found that some mischievous soldiers had added the inscription “Le Bain du Sémite, 1892” themselves just before the First World War. It is said that they named the spot after a friend of theirs; a Jewish soldier, who apparently had a penchant for riding his horse naked into the waters, even in the icy depths of winter. There were no naked soldiers on my watch but the experience was made extra special by the presence of clusters of yellow butterflies gathering at the ravine that day.
My latest good read is by a well-known yogi called Vanda Scaravelli, ‘Awakening the Spine‘. Scaravelli took up yoga in later life and was a student of the legendary B.K.S. Iyengar. She wrote her first book on her yogic discoveries in her eighties. You can see some pictures of her in mind-boggling poses here. What stuck with me from reading her book was the importance she places on the feet. While it is common practice in yoga classes to be asked to “ground down through the feet”, my inkling is that this deep connection with the earth happens rarely in a class environment when everyone is caught up in trying to follow the sequence and distracted by their neighbours.
These (slightly comical) rough sketches are from my notes for a recent yoga class I ran on heart opening poses. I wanted the class to help people focus on breathing into their mid-to-upper back so they felt their chest broaden and could visualise the heart space. I find that focusing on the back of the heart in these poses creates a stronger awareness of this area and sometimes means you don’t breathe into the chest too much, which can cause anxiety.