“Teachers are like enzymes, Nature’s go-to facilitators of change. Essentially, enzymes are catalysts. They accelerate the rate of reactions. They make change happen faster.” Bill Wilder
This March I returned to the UK after 18 months of working, travelling and yoga-ing around the world. So I was a little embarrassed to tell people that just two months later I would be departing for another sun-blessed isle, to spend two weeks in Paros, Greece.
Admittedly I had heard tales of how idyllic the Greek islands are, but primarily I was following my desire to train with internationally respected yoga teacher Sarah Powers. I booked the trip before I’d even taken a class with her, her website's course blurb and discovering that she was a teacher to one of my favourite Bondi yoga teachers hooked me in. I had learnt the lesson on my travels that following your instincts is usually a recipe for success and I wasn’t disappointed: Six months later I was absorbing the stunning hilltop setting of Tao’s Retreat Centre, gripped by Sarah’s teachings, and sharing the experience with 64 enthusiastic yogis - I felt a very lucky woman.
Sarah (from California), and her husband Ty - also a meditation teacher - have developed an approach called Insight Yoga, which integrates the wisdom of Yoga, Buddhism and psychology. They teach this system as the path towards a healthier, happier, more peaceful life, with meditation at the core.
Having studied with US yoga guru Paul Grilley, she is also one of the leading figures of Yin Yoga, a slowed-down yoga practice that I grew to love during my time in Sydney, where it is hugely popular as a counter-balance to the busy, achievement-driven city culture.
All that Sarah was teaching made sense to me. Since my childhood I have had a tendency for worry, nervousness and to have high expectations for myself, and during my twenties yoga was the best tool I could find to manage the stress from working in the London advertising industry. If I was under pressure at work and skipped a few classes for a comforting glass of wine with friends, everything in my life became harder and I lost my balanced perspective.
During my time in Nepal in 2014 I took a Vipassana course, which shares meditation techniques and teachings from the Buddha. Coincidentally, this was the organisation that ran the first meditation retreat that Sarah Powers experienced. Vipassana retreats are a highly intense experience, requiring silence amongst participants and meditation for ten hours a day, they describe it as ‘performing surgery on your own brain’. I dug deep into painful parts of myself that I would usually choose to ignore at all costs, but the outcome was positive, I started to have a clearer picture about how and why I could create my own limits and suffering, and previously subconscious beliefs began to surface.
The Insight Yoga approach doesn’t give easy answers or original solutions, but for me it was a reminder of some essential life lessons, a few of which I’ve been trying to hold onto since:
1. Live in the present moment.
Since reading ‘The Power of Now’ I’ve been convinced that dwelling less on the past and worrying less about the future is the way to a happier life, but like most humans I find this incredibly hard. This is one way we can learn from our canine friends!
2. Become your own best friend and parent yourself.
I’d always thought I liked myself a lot, but when I really started listening to my own thoughts I discovered how often I was my own biggest critic. Caring for ourselves and speaking to ourselves with the patience and acceptance we would grant to our best friends makes life a LOT nicer. And when we give ourselves as much encouragement and love as we need it takes the pressure off our relationships and our expectations of others to support us.
3. Notice your craving and aversion.
We all naturally want more of what gives us pleasure and less of what doesn’t feel good, but constantly chasing and reacting doesn’t lead to a peaceful life. I'm still working for the emotional maturity to always pause and breathe, rather than being led by my impulses and emotions.
4. Accept that everything changes.
We are constantly evolving, all our relationships will change, everyone we love will die, if we are lucky we will get old. Only when we accept this on a deep level can the pain of change become any less unbearable.
5. Accept all of your emotions
If we try to block or numb our feelings because we think they are inappropriate or too difficult to experience, they don’t just go away. In Chinese medicine our emotional state is intrinsically linked to our physical health and wellbeing, and it is believed that excessive or repressed emotions are a cause of disease.
Sarah has developed an incredible understanding of yoga asana (postures) over her teaching career, but delving into these deeper aspects of yoga as a philosophy for life resonated most strongly with me. I’ve also noticed a positive change in my teaching since I completed her training, I’m more confident in what I want to communicate and more open to sharing insights beyond the physical experience. I hope to continue to learn from Sarah's wisdom - I’ve already booked myself and my yogi Mum onto her next visit to the UK.