Exploring Movement & Wellbeing

After 15 years of committed yoga practice and some years of teaching, I felt that my yoga was no longer supporting me personally through particularly challenging times, nor addressing persistent physical niggles that stemmed in part from imbalances in my yoga practice and overall movement.

So from 2015, I started to explore and diversify how I practice and teach to include critical information from movement science, neuroscience, and trauma-informed practices outside of the (increasingly beleaguered) lineage-based yoga traditions. I also committed to more meditation practice and explored other mind+body, somatic modalities for wellbeing.

As a result of this enquiry, as much as what kind of yoga and movement I offer, how I offer it is an important,  ongoing learning curve for me.

The result is these Five Foundations to My Teaching Approach:

  1. Physically Functional

Does your yoga serve you physically long term?

As prep for yoga poses, practising specific targeted movement exercises helps to develop better movement patterns and body awareness.

Our starting focus is understanding and improving how distinct parts of the body move. Then we can integrate this awareness skilfully into the more complex whole-body yoga poses. My template for this is Isolate, Activate and Integrate *.

For example, first we might move the shoulders in gentle and varied ways, to feel how the shoulder girdle is moving. (ISOLATE)

Then we make specific movements with more muscle engagement, eg, around the shoulder blades or glenohumeral joint (arm bone in socket), adding progressive load, i.e. gradually increasing weight bearing load on this area to make the muscles have to coordinate and work more. The key is gradual progression. (ACTIVATE)

Here is a brief example of me explaining activating the hip joint through a controlled articular rotation (CARs)

Then we might do some yoga poses or a flow sequence which require the shoulders to do the movements we have been practising in isolation. (INTEGRATE)

Usually things go much better! After the prep work, we tend to experience more balanced integration of the parts because they have have practised how they can best move. So all the parts of the body more evenly share the work of the complex movement, rather than the usual flexible parts collapsing and stiff parts resisting!

In my experience, this is a more physically progressive way to develop range of motion, strength and physical ease, rather than just trying to achieve the poses as the main goal of the class, where we usually are not so aware of where we are straining.

We aim for yoga to be directly supportive of us moving well with good body awareness, so we are able to do all the things we enjoy in our everyday lives with energy and enthusiasm.

  1. Experiential Learning & Empowerment

When you are in the driving seat of learning about how your body is designed to move, you access more curiosity and motivation and that’s where the fun comes in!  A sense of agency and exploration makes a huge difference in helping you to move and feel better.

So, we apply accessible information about the human body to explore a wide range of movement options. I suggest different ways to move, you try things out, working out how to move, at your own pace. This experiential learning helps you to develop your physical capacities in a way which feels manageable and enjoyable.

This might include playful task-based movement, just moving one specific part of your body in a few different ways, integrating more strength focused options into yoga poses – all approaches which can make your body more resilient, and your yoga more physically sustainable in the long term (back to Foundation 1!).

Yoga classes have tended to be either the ‘learn this exact correct method’ way of traditional yoga lineages or the common studio/gym class approach of ‘just try to keep up with what I’m doing’. Sound familiar?

Instead, this kind of ‘experiential learning’ puts you in charge of learning about your body and what works best for you, so that yoga becomes more than just a workout; it is a process of empowering, self directed-enquiry and resilience building.

  1. Self Compassion

Cultivating self compassion in your body and with how you move can be a transformational intention to have in your yoga practice.

Creating a regular space to simply invite your attention inward and to be present for your experience, without judgment, can be a valuable step in nurturing yourself.

In yoga, cultivating self compassion and confidence might look like taking the gentler option; pausing to rest; trusting yourself to try something new; asking for support; at times staying with something challenging; appreciating small gains and any feelings of wellbeing.

These small experiences are a big part of practice, and the benefits of feeling at home and cared for in your body can ripple positively into every part of your life.

  1. Regulation and Relaxation

How do we bring skilful relaxation and mental/emotional regulation into our daily routines, in a way which actually helps us to live with more balance, ease and joy?

The arc of a yoga practice (being active and then slowing down) is a way of exploring your nervous system, and your individual needs and tendencies with shifting between upregulating (activation) and downregulating (slow down/calm down).

Yoga encourages both energy flow and consciously cultivates skills for ‘downregulating’, or deep rest and relaxation.

Cultivating body awareness and slowing down through movement, breathwork and meditation invites you to connect to yourself on a deeper level, giving time and space for insight. This includes psychological and emotional patterning,  and understanding your own ‘window of tolerance’ in your day-to-day functioning.

Self compassion and being able to slow down and regulate our nervous system can help us to widen our perspective and feel our interconnectedness.

  1. Friendly, Supportive Community!

My small classes and events are also a space for creating community.

They are a space for people to meet and get to know each other in a friendly, relaxed space outside of your usual networks, as much or as little as you’d like to. Classes are not cliquey – newcomers are welcomed quickly as the vibe is relaxed from most people attending pretty regularly and feeling at home. There is always variation in age, experience and capabilities – the focus is about finding your own pace and space.

I continue to make efforts to learn about how to make my classes as inclusive and welcoming as I can. I use gender inclusive language and am sensitive to the potential difference in experience in a yoga class setting for people of various gender and sexual identities and all racial minorities. 

One way I work on making my classes inclusive is to actively encourage feedback, written or spoken, at the time or later, to be ready to listen without defensiveness, and to promise that I will address any impact I have that does not feel supportive. I will address this by acknowledging and aiming to repair mistakes I will inevitably make, changing my behaviour, discussing options and so on. Please see my code of ethics for further details.

As movement classes, there are physical access limitations for group classes (much less so in one-to-one sessions I offer).  

I offer a reduced rate for anyone struggling to pay the full class rate, for example for those currently on income support. I work on a trust basis. You can choose the class rate or reduced rate payment options on most classes, without any need to discuss with me first.

That is a lot of words! If you come to my classes, I wonder if this all makes sense and if my priorities are apparent in what we do? I’ve love to hear from you!

Have I got this all down perfectly? Mmm, I don’t think so, it’s a work in progress, which is why I find both practising and teaching yoga so interesting and rewarding. This is why I call what I do Exploring Movement & Wellbeing. Less about fixed answers, more about exploring together from the starting point of curious ‘beginner’s mind’. I hope what makes me a good teacher is my commitment to these foundations and to integrating them more and more.

It is heartening to me to see so much positive evolution in yoga in all settings, and a whole movement of yoga teachers exploring this kind of new territory (with much gratitude to more tradition oriented teachers too). I have been so happy to find many others on a similar journey of discovery, and will be sharing my inspirations and sources on this blog with you.

* I have adopted and adapted ‘isolate, activate, integrate’ – a way of describing integrating more functional movement with yoga – from Cecily Milne, of @yogadetour, who I have done trainings with since 2018.