Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The greatest job on earth (apart from dancing!)

I bloody love my job! Its the best job I ever had, apart from being a dancer. I bloody loved that too! But sadly I got too old and tired to drag on the false eyelashes and fishnets every night (that makes it sound like I worked in a strip joint doesn't it?!...I hope from the general air of class that I carry around, you will know that that is not the case!) plus, eating actually started to become more enjoyable than smoking!
So as I was saying, being a real life honest to goodness yoga teacher pretty much is the bollocks! Mostly because I get to help people transform their bodies, their state of minds and sometimes (dare I be so bold), their lives.
It's so fantastic to be able to see the process.
A person comes to yoga for the first time, a little unsure of what to expect, maybe a little sceptical. Generally they want to find a workout for their bodies, a gentle but powerful form of exercise where they don't have to pound on a treadmill or bounce around on a dance floor. I very often see it on their faces that "Is this really for me?" kind of  look and on some the "Yeah well, how hard can it be?" kind of look. And very slowly you see those looks change into a "Bloody Hell! This is tough" kind of look or a "This is what I've been missing" kind of look. Although sometimes this is hidden by the ruffled hair and the sweating and the panting!
And more often than not, after one class of powerful vinyasa flow they are completely hooked!
Then comes the next phase. The part when a pose suddenly just clicks. It's normally something like down dog (trickier than it looks) when a small adjustment from me either vocally or physically means that the weight is suddenly in the right place and the shoulders are finally relaxed and it at last feels "Comfortable"! And you see it, as a teacher I mean, you see that long deep breath that tells you "She's got it now!"
And for others it is something like rolling up into shoulder-stand for the first time without using the wall or pushing up into wheel when the crown of the head is no longer on the floor and you are flying! The expression on peoples faces are priceless. Elation suddenly replaces that determined, clenched look!
My favourite part however, is when someone comes up to me and confides that suddenly they are sleeping at night or when I hear that a friend commented on how confident they look, or how they feel so much more clear headed and able to simply "cope", attributing all of these things to their weekly yoga practice.
With this great job, comes responsibility however. I feel a pressure. A pressure to ensure that my brood of chicks are continuing to progress and transform and be enlightened. I want to be the absolute best teacher I can be, allowing them to develop their physical practice, giving them knowledge and encouragement and hoping to let them see that yoga can enrich their whole lives, not just satisfy them in that one hour on their mat.
So I am hard on myself. Shocker! I read endless books and spend evenings glued to YouTube finding new ways to get into postures. I take workshops and watch DVDs and bore my entire family with yoga talk as well as the usual "Do you think I am doing right by everyone?" conversations.
But as soon as I press the play button on my ipod and say the words "Take a moment to check in and start to connect your mind and your body through your breath" I am in a total state of happiness and contentment.
I am the luckiest person alive!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Face your fears!

A few weeks ago I had a voicemail from a lady saying she had got my number from Jane (of Chiltern Academy fame!) and then she asked if I would like to teach at a disability dance festival.
Now I am generally completely rubbish at saying no to things but I must admit, I was rapidly running through a list of plausible excuses as to why I wouldn't be able to attend: Private clients all day that day! So sorry, I have to attend a funeral! What a shame I will be away...in Nepal...meeting with the Dalai Lama! Anything!
Although my mind was racing with excuses there was a little voice in the back of all that chatter saying, "you should do it Fee, come on, be brave, face your fears!"
And that is the voice that got louder and louder until eventually I found myself punching 5 into my phone to return the call.
You see, I am a nice, kind, loving, generous person (I think!) but I am absolutely shit scared of being put into a scenario where I might feel out of control. I have no experience of working with people with disabilities and I honestly didn't know if I was a big enough person to get on with the task at hand and not be horribly nervous and uncomfortable. An awful thing to have to admit but I realised I was scared of the disabled.
So that is why I returned the call and committed myself to this daunting task. What is the book called, "Feel The Fear and do it Anyway"?
As the day grew nearer I was told that I would have the least able groups of children and should prepare a simple 35 minute class with emphasis on arms as the kids may be wheelchair bound. OMG! Panic again!
The lovely Jane suggested I borrow her pom poms!!! (minds out of the gutter people!) They would be fun and make a good sound and be something a bit different.
I turned up to William Ramsay School last Friday with 2 bin liners stuffed with cheer-leading equipment and a tummy full of butterflies. The two wonderful ladies who organise this yearly event met me at the gate full of smiles and enthusiasm. They showed me my room for the day and then pointed me in the direction of the sports hall, which is fantastic by the way. I walked in to find probably 150 or more kids all chattering excitedly and I walked straight back out again, scrabbling in my bag for a tissue as the tears rolled down my face.
How could there be this many disabled children in this small area alone?
I was overwhelmed with emotions. I felt so sad that these children were having to face their own daily struggles, I felt so lucky for everything I had and I wondered just how I would feel if I had a child who was disabled.
"Pull yourself together woman!" - It was that little voice again!
I did of course. I cleaned up my face, marched back in and got involved in a fab group warm up that one of the teachers was taking. I watched every child's face light up as the music came on and they followed along with the hand shaking, head rolling, leg stretching etc.
I taught 3 sessions that day and I loved every bloody minute of it! The kids were so happy to be there, so enthusiastic and keen to join in and learn. They all face terrific challenges, some mental, some physical and some both but they weren't limited at all. And when I say limited, I mean in their enjoyment, which is what dance is all about...what life is all about really!
I was completely inspired by the staff that accompanied the kids too. I am so full of admiration for these wonderful people who were so patient with their charges. I mean, I experienced them for a day, but these men and women care for these kids every day. They must have hearts so full of love and compassion and an unending supply of patience. They also all had wicked senses of humour which made my job even easier, particularly when one group of female staff decided they might enter "Britains Got Talent" with their new found cheer-leading skills! They were pretty good too!
It was the most incredible day and I loved every minute of it.
I was completely inspired, and so glad I listened to that "little voice"!
I realise now that these kids don't see their disabilities. To them, this is normal. To them life is great. It is only us able bodied people who see their daily routine as a struggle, and are perhaps made uncomfortable by what we see as their abnormalities.
I hope to be involved in this dance festival again in the future. There was an overwhelming feeling of positivity and happiness throughout the day amongst the kids, the helpers, the other teachers and the organisers the likes of which I have never experienced in any other environment.
This blog is all about freedom and do you know what this day embodied that completely. Freedom, despite your physical or mental obstacles, to be exactly who you are and love every damn minute of it!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

First impressions

So I guess the latest craze in the exercise and fitness world is Zumba. It seems that every other person you talk to is either going to a Zumba class or raving about Zumba for Wii. For those who have been living under a rock, it is a sort of a cross between aerobics and salsa (dancing not dip!) The tag line is "ditch the workout, join the party!" and yes, need you ask, it is hotfoot from the US! 
Anyway, a friend of mine who is on a big health kick, as is every other person I seem to meet this month, was talking about a class she went to and how she enjoyed the class but wasn't going to go back because the teacher wasn't very inspiring, physically! She told me that the woman looked very overweight and "lumpy!", commenting, "If this is what Zumba has done for her then you can forget it!" No thought as to what this instructor looked like pre Zumba. She could have been a 30 stone couch potato for all we know and thrilled with how she looks now as a svelte size 22! 
The conversation continued with another friend suggesting an alternative local Zumba class she had attended which she thoroughly enjoyed. 
"What's the teacher like?"
"A hairy middle aged man"
"Got one of those at home thanks, don't need any more in my life!" came the quick reply
She is right, you don't want to rock up to a fitness class taught by a professional who doesn't look the part.
This got me thinking and if I am honest, worrying...a lot!
Yoga's image has in the last few years been elevated thanks to the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow, Jennifer Aniston, Madonna, Cameron Diaz, Gisele Bundchen. Because all of these women look so incredible and are so successful the thought is that doing yoga will turn you into them! Of course the reality is that lots of yoga will not turn you into a film star or a model or suddenly up your earning potential (unfortunately!) but it will help you to make the best of yourself, physically, mentally and emotionally. Now with that in mind, as a newcomer to yoga, if you turn up to a class and the teacher looks less than healthy and glowing with bit of a tummy and a saggy arse, how can you not feel disappointed and frankly, cheated?!
Suffice it to say, this conversation was the boost I needed to join in the health kick craze sweeping my friends this month!
I want to be the kind of teacher you look to for your inspiration both in my practice and in my physical form. 
My passion for yoga and all its benefits actually means that I do have a fairly healthy diet anyway and spend much of my day on the mat either in my own practice or helping clients, therefore I am pretty active. But the fact that the Cadbury chocolate consumption had crept from one to two bars a day and the fact that my glass recycle bin is rather full of Shiraz bottles at the end of the month and the fact that my skinny jeans had been tried on and cast aside on several occasions because I was sporting far too much muffin top were the tell tale signs that I had been a little lazy!
It has been almost a month now since I revamped my eating and I feel great actually. I think I have lost some weight although I haven't weighed myself since 2000 when I stopped working ships and had the mandatory cringe inducing public weigh in weekly! I certainly feel more energetic and enthusiastic about life, as well as generally happier and dare I say it, virtuous!
My goal is for yogis to come into my class and be able to concentrate on their practice knowing that they are in good hands with a teacher who practices what she preaches and is proof that yoga can get you a toned and lean body if that's what you are after. 
Of course the benefits are so much more than merely physical but you have to keep coming to get all the really juicy stuff!