The Shala London

Reflections on becoming a yoga teacher

As part of their coursework, we asked our teacher trainees to write about what kind of yoga teacher they aspired to be. Here Lesley Collinson muses on her desire to create an inclusive space in her classes and to share something deeper – “the mysteries and joys of life; creating breathing space; space for each person to explore, connect and grow holistically. “

|    Teacher Training, Yoga
By Lesley Collinson

Reflecting on yoga and how it has become my life leads me back to when I was 10 years old; following a sequence from a series of 1960’s black and white photos from a landscaped yoga book. I would question the universe in plough, thinking about the possibilities of my future; one of which came true! I only remembered this memory when I again came into plough at the

I remember the first time in the Shala, stepping into this vibrant yet tranquil space, feeling warm and welcomed. In my second downward dog (a strange new sensation in the wrists and I could barely hold it)  realising something special was happening and this yoga was more than just exercising the body. I remember the first time I felt yogic breath in Gingi’s class, feeling the air all the way through my body and the whole of the next day felt like I was literally walking on air. Gingi and Kath, in fact all the teachers at the Shala helped to light something deep within me.

Learning to move with the breath as a beginner was such a wonderful revelation which enabled me to go deeper into a moving meditation. It created a sense of timelessness; both ancient and modern, such a gift and antidote to the business of London life. As a yoga teacher, helping students to connect to the breath as they are moving is an important focus. The classes at the Shala taught me to breath properly, such a simple, ordinary and yet extraordinary action with amazing benefits. Building my skills up to give classes with a focus on breath awareness is how I like to teach, bringing a flow to the practice, which feeds into concentration and the meditation. Before long, I noticed this moving meditation on the mat reaching out into my life as my days became filled with positivity, appreciation and a deeper awareness. When I teach yoga I sincerely hope the students can feel the benefits of this beautiful practice off the mat.

Three years ago, it was a challenge to hold a posture for too long so I remember feeling grateful when I could come out of it and move on to the next. It felt like it didn’t take long to improve and become stronger and more flexible and this was so life affirming. Building up body awareness and learning to listen to it seems such a simple idea yet incredible to actually do. I loved the non-competitiveness, the move away from ego and allowing your body and spirit to communicate and come through, beautifully guided by the teachers. This attitude and approach to helping students is one I want to uphold as a teacher.

I remember hurting my back lifting heavy objects in an awkward space and wondering whether I should go into yoga? I’d only been practicing a few months. Being guided to listen to my body and using the breath; being gentle and aware, revealed how yoga can accelerate the healing. It took me two days to recover.

I remember the warmth and kindness in all the teachers voices and how it encouraged you to move even if you felt stiff and heavy. I was astounded by the clarity and energy in those voices for a whole hour.  As a teacher, I know how skilfull you have to be to do this. How did they do it? Breathing and tuning into students is a skill I want to keep developing.

I loved learning about the body and how the teachers described how it was moving, finding out about anatomy, learning new terms and hearing words in Sanskrit, and philosophical gems. There’s no doubt that these experiences as a beginner are going to influence me as a teacher.

Becoming a Yoga teacher has been and is a beautiful process, one which has inspired and humbled me at the same time. It has deepened my relationship to Yoga, to life, to the world and people around me. It has been and will continue to be a journey of self-enquiry, one where courage is needed to look truthfully into your own humanity and spirituality and become aware of your own transformation. It is joyful and at times testing as you delve deeper into your own psyche. This deeper connection to Yoga, to the teachings; to the eight limbs will influence how I teach but it’s very important that as I grow as a teacher, I can create a space for students to explore yoga in their own way. It’s not just about producing a sequence comprised of yoga postures, it’s about sharing something deeper; the mysteries and joys of life; creating breathing space; space for each person to explore, connect and grow holistically. For some, it could be a spiritual quest, for others an introduction to meditation, for others a safe space for self-enquiry or healing or a time to simply relax and enjoy being present on their mat.  If I can create an inclusive space no matter where I am, welcoming people from all walks of life and from all starting points then I will be fulfilling my role. Yoga has many layers to its vastness, and I hope as a teacher I can build up my skills to help many others access those layers and in turn, I will continue to learn from both teachers and students in this reciprocal life-long process.  I deeply appreciate the foundations the teacher training has provided me with on this pathway.

Becoming a yoga teacher in 2019 is an incredible time, the dawn of the third millennia, the age of technology, wireless internet and instant communication around the world. In many ways we are more connected as a human race than ever before and as such Yoga has an important role to play in enabling us to connect more compassionately and honestly and be a force for good. Yoga is ‘live’ and as a profession is transforming itself. It’s become a big business with many chains, new systems, and research being introduced. It will be interesting to see the effect of the Yoga Alliance’s Standards Review Project. As a primary school teacher, I’m used to looking at the wider picture and with the assignments, we have been given the opportunity to consider the wider picture in the yoga community. This is helpful in refining your own point of view, deciding which values are important to you and how you will uphold them.

I aim to be a flexible, agile and an inclusive teacher who is open to the possibilities of the journey and at the same time being proactive on my pathway and remaining wise and discerning about how I teach. Who knows where the journey will lead me; teaching is a privilege and I look forward to the journey.

The assignment on the Yama’s and Niyamas gave me the opportunity to reflect on how they interweave in and relate to modern life and how they bring an integrity and depth to both practice and teaching. Reflection serves to strengthen the personal qualities of anyone who would like to share the art, science and discipline of yoga. Those qualities include loving kindness, empathy, patience, compassion, honesty, open-mindedness, open-heartedness, courage, stamina, consistency, self-confidence, generous spirit, supportiveness, enthusiasm, reliability, humour, joyfulness, humility, calmness, stillness and selflessness. This seems like a tall order yet when we tune in with ourselves and the world, we naturally have these attributes, but sometimes when we are under pressure or tired or not in our ‘sattvic’ state, some of them can run low or I must admit ‘run out’. Practice can replenish them as well as a good night’s sleep! Being aware of your own state when teaching yoga and having the ability to rise above a mood or event if necessary, to be there for the class is an essential skill, which I hope I can master. I also have to thank the course with helping me with certain qualities that I needed to develop such as self-confidence, self-compassion and honesty with myself. It’s almost unbelievable how much my self-confidence has grown. I used to say to myself – act confident then I would become it. Now I feel much more authentically myself especially when confidence is required.

Gingi’s and Kath’s dedication and devotion to Yoga has a priceless quality that we have all benefitted from. This commitment is truly inspiring as well as the skill and freshness they bring to each class they teach. I love how their expertise is matched by an openness to learn more and how joyfully they share their knowledge. It’s been brilliant to learn from them, I remember how as a beginner, I first learnt to move with the breath in Gingi’s class and the power of adjustments. I have loved learning how to adjust and feel grateful every time I give an adjustment that a student feels better from. I’m only beginning on this journey but am very thankful for the start I’ve been given.

I love how Kath has shared her knowledge of alignment and pranayama. This has been a beautiful introduction to the fourth limb and has taken me deeper into my own personal practice. The pranayama as well tunes me into the space I need to be in before teaching a class so good energy is present. Alignment has been fascinating. I have appreciated the precise detail that has been given on this course and it has deepened my understanding of anatomy on a practical level. In my own classes, I will teach from what I know and what I know worked for me as a beginner.

As I have already written, I was so grateful to be able to meditate and move at the same time. It really makes sense to me, especially for someone who sits at a desk too much. As a teacher, I remember being blown away by the delivery of the classes by the teachers at the Shala. The modifications offered, the guidance to use breath, knowledge of anatomy and little gems of philosophy, history and Sanskrit. All came together to make a beautiful experience. I love moving with the breath and dropping into meditation, my body, mind and spirit flowing. This is what I would love to pass on as a teacher. I remember focusing on the meditation and starting to learn about my body, being shocked at what it could do and what it can do now and yet working very slowly and methodically without expectation or ego. It is such a beautiful gift to pass onto someone and to support someone’s journey is a privilege. I’ve had a humble start with teaching the teachers at school – starting with one student but I’m loving teaching her and the classes are starting to grow and I learn from each one and the sense of satisfaction is incredible. How long will I teach for? I hope every 10 years I can look at this writing and say, Yes I keep it fresh!

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