This month we chat to two of our Level 3 students Emma and Karen about their Yoga practice, how Karen uses it to help manage a chronic pain condition and how they have both used the benefits of yoga to help during lockdown.
In this third Yogi of the month interview, Jo Mitchell CIYT chats with Emma and Karen about their favourite and least favourite poses, what they enjoy and gain from their yoga practice and how moving from 1 to 2 classes a week has changed their practice.
The interview was recorded in March 2021 during lockdown and over Zoom.
Here is a transcript of the interview.
Jo: Hi everyone welcome to our 3rd Yogi of the month interview and this month we're talking to Karen and Emma. Now Karen and Emma I know you both from our Level 3 class on a Wednesday night but perhaps you want to just introduce yourselves and just chat about how and when you started yoga. Who wants to go first?
Karen: Me okay I started yoga in probably in 2000 with Lillian Biggs. Now she was one of the old school teachers I think she was probably one of the first wave that went out to Pune probably in the 70s 80s or I'm not sure but Julie knows her. She was brilliant but she was also quite scary you know how Julie comes around with the stick. Lillian didn't even have a stick you just gotta slap up the back of the legs!
Jo: Yes there's a lot that now seems quite old-school and maybe quite old-fashioned but that I guess was part of the practice at that time I mean it's evolving all the time isn't it Iyengar Yoga.
Karen: Yes if you watch the old videos from Mr Iyengar and the way he he did things, I think they very much just took that training as a thing and just moved it across. It wasn't softened for the European market like it does now.
Jo: So it sounds quite she was quite a formidable teacher but you stuck at it?
Karen: I think was the it was the ability to challenge myself to discover my limits and to see if you could reach past them. Yoga is not supposed to be competitive but I think you can be quite competitive with yourself. I know you probably are aren't you?
Emma: My introduction to it was through Karen really needing to have that in her life for for physical reasons and so going with you was kind of non-negotiable but now now I'll go by myself because I like it!
Karen: And she's better at it.
Emma: I'm not better, we're all better at different things there's different because different body types allow for that and I didn't appreciate that until we'd gone. You look around the room and somebody's on top of their head and you think right, I want to be able to do that and that's where the competitiveness comes in for me because seeing somebody else do something, you want to know how to do it. It's that interest that sparks you and makes you think can I do that?
JO: I know and what I find with Iyengar Yoga that it's exactly like that. You see other people doing poses and you're like, wow how are they doing that but you know there is a process going on with them and this is why I find Iyengar Yoga so accessible. It's not about being flexible. it's not about being the most flexible person in the room because they're never the ones that are going to be in the pose in the right way and be able to hold it and have the stability. So you know that these people you're like I will be able to do that if I just stick at it.
Karen: Yoga is for people who can't touch the toes!
Emma: which I can now! So that's actually something that's come out of doing yoga. I've never been able to touch my toes and after about three years I can touch my toes! I literally have never been able to touch my toes. I'd get about four inches away and couldn't do it and it's tight hamstrings and they are slowly moving but not not as quick as I would like because there's certain things that I know I can do better if my hamstrings would let me and it restricts me a bit but you have to keep working to get there. You can get breakthroughs in different things, the way that your body is in the summer sometimes you can do things that you you can't do in the winter time because your body just doesn't it doesn't want to do it because it's tightened itself up because it's freezing.
JO: Funny you should say that Emma, Gulnaaz Dashti Iyoga Glasgow did a workshop and Gulnaaz was teaching yesterday Sunday morning. There must have been 40 of us from Glasgow and we're all around Scotland dialing in and normally teachers are like 'oh right this is you need this equipment, we're doing this sequence' and she wasn't, she was 'ok right let's just have a look at you all!' So we all did Adho Mukha Svanasana downward dog and an Uttanasana and she went 'Mmm I can tell you are all in cold climates iI need to defrost you!!!' You just need to stretch! It was a great class but it was funny that the cold like she said 'Your joints are all so tight, we need to put some space into your joints!'
So what about favourite poses then have you both got your favourite poses, each of you? Emma do you want to go first this time?
Emma: Okay I enjoy balance and inversions kind of equally, I like the strength that's required for both of them to build up to that, to be able to get there and stay there for you know five minutes like Julie holds us for five minutes and you're there wanting to come down but you know that if you stay another 20 seconds you've made it 20 seconds more than last week and that it pushes you on and I prefer being upside down, I've always liked being upside down!
So more more of the inversion stuff yeah
Karen: Whereas I like I tend to like forward bends and twists probably because I know that I find them easier but I find them less painful let's put it that way. I think for certain things you, you find things that you like doing, there's a moment isn't there in certain poses where if everything stops and there is just just you and your breath. And that moment in time and it all settles and even if it's only just for the shortest period of time, it's there's a quietness to it and I'm not sure really how to describe it other than that where you get that moment where you think now I know what she means. And you feel it right through your body that sense that you are you are aligned with everything that's going on around you, it's a moment of almost peace, I think is probably the best way of describing it.
Emma: Concentration is good because it takes it takes me away from everything else during the day. You come in and you're still thinking about what we're going to eat tonight and what you did at work that day, but then Julie very quickly get you focused on just doing the smallest things and it makes you think about just even breathing in and breathing out. It shuts out everything else, yes it takes the focus inward. It shuts your brain down from everything that's stimulating you through the day and for that period of time,
Karen: it's respite from your day
Emma: which I never thought I would have from yoga but this last 12 months that's been really it's been really obvious and really necessary and I'm very grateful to both Julie and Marieke for that.
Jo: I think there's probably throughout lockdown there's a lot of people feeling very grateful to have yoga to help what we're all going through definitely. Okay favourite poses discussed least favourite pose???
Karen: Absolutely I hate back bends no matter how hard I try it just doesn't quite get there.
Emma: Not strictly true that goes back to the temperature thing as well because through the summer last summer we both managed to do Ustrasana. It was one of those days where we'd been outside all day and our bodies absorbed all of the heat and went straight into a yoga class. Julie builds up and I like guessing where she's building up to in a class as well you see certain poses that she's got you doing as preparation for what she's really getting you to do at the end of the class and I like guessing that as well and it was Ustrasana and we both did it and we both did it well and Julie commented on that after class. She'd seen through zoom that we were just like wait a minute you guys normally have props and you don't, you know you put a bolster on your feet because you can't reach your heels and we both managed it!
Karen: I think it's probably the first and last time I've done it in the last decade!
Emma: It shows the environmental, that all the variables that are there. They just all got ticked off that day and it worked!
Karen: it's nice when something happens like that isn't it and it's a sense of achievement you know you can do it. i think it's then it's when you go back to it and you think I'm going to do this again no maybe I'm not going to watch it no it's not going to happen! I guess that's also part of the process isn't it about yoga practice.
Jo: My brother-in-law was saying 'what is it with yoga? you know there's never any event, there's never any match!' it's just practice! There's nothing, you're not building up to anything! I said no it's practice for a reason, you just go to kind of visit and see how you're feeling that day and then do your practice and then you come away and every practice is different.
Karen: But that's life in general. Life isn't a match, you don't live your life to a purpose of an end point, you live your life on a day-to-day basis and yoga's like that. It's not an end in itself, it's a process that takes you through your whole life with it and I think if you do it, it's not about doing it well, it becomes a part of your life. Whether you take it up and then you drop it for a year or you drop it for six years, I think most people who do yoga, come back to it. Because you go away and you try other things and you actually realize that yoga isn't it isn't about a sport or an end game, it you know there isn't you don't get a cup at the end of it, it's about life.
I think it helps you balance your life and I think people do yoga for different different reasons I think for me personally if you live with a pain condition especially for people who live with with a chronic pain condition, not something short-term, not like a broken leg where there's a start and an end finish to it. When you live with chronic pain, I think people who do that, they do one of two things. They either turn inward and everything becomes about their pain and they don't do anything or they stop thinking about their bodies they tend to shut it out. I fall into that latter category I'm very aware of that. yeah because the pain is always there so I don't I don't think about my pain and very often when I get onto my mat, it is that moment in time where I am allowed to think about it, to acknowledge it but also I'm allowed to do something with that pain, I'm allowed to work within the boundaries of it and not feel that it is a disability, I'm not sure if I'm sure if that's really a good way of describing it!
Jo: No that makes a lot of sense Karen, that really does, and then actually to visit because you're kind of creating a safe space in which to explore the pain because you can go towards it or you can back off it, would you say?
Karen: Yeah I mean there are there are days where I know there are certain things I'm just not going to be able to do today because it hurts, it hurts too much and then there are days when I'm feeling better and I get to explore a little bit more and I do a little bit more and sometimes you achieve a bit more and that that gives you that that sense, that this, is not all that there is.
Yoga helps, it really does help a lot! I don't know if that's just a very personal way of viewing it.
Jo: Gulnaaz Dashti said yesterday, she was talking about that and this space, the internal space that we're creating and how you know the feeling after a great yoga practice or a great class, is we feel really spacious inside so I think what you're talking about there with dealing with a chronic pain condition is that you're learning you're creating more space to manage the pain.
Yes it also it's quite nice because sometimes you wake up the next morning and you know sometimes you wake up on Thursday morning and I sort of say I feel like I've been beaten with a bit of two by four but it's it's a good ache and it's a different but you realize you remember that there are there are your body aches because it's been well worked and that that's a different, that's a different thing to deal with deal with it, that's a satisfying ache if you know what I mean?
Emma: it's a discovery of muscles you never knew you had yeah thanks to Julie yeah that's Thursday morning feeling!!!
Karen: You know some days you will do more and then there are other days where 20 minutes in and I'm like right that's it, I'm done but it's learning to know what I've gotten out of that 20 minutes because that 20 minutes will probably have made me feel as if I can cope more with the day.
Emma: You know this has been the one benefit of Covid has been being able to do two classes a week. Because of the distances that we and you know we're far before our way from the studio so we generally would go in an evening after work because we were in Dundee anyway, but to enable us to go two classes a week it's been brilliant! I know it's not being the easiest transition for Julie and Marieke and they've done a great job of it and that has to be something that we do have to acknowledge, through this as well is it's they've brought themselves into people's homes and they've provided people who might not be seeing other people, that ability to to see people that they know from the studio and just have an hour where they can see friends and where you're interacting with other people.
Karen: I think we're so lucky to have the studio space as well. When I was with Lillian she taught out of church halls and they were cold, drafty and generally quite fairly miserable spaces so you know you'd go in and you'd be absolutely baltic in there and it'd take you half an hour to warm up before you did anything! The studio is a wonderful space and we're really lucky. I remember there not being a yoga teacher when I moved up here;. I don't think there was anyone there was one closer than Edinburgh and you just can't get to Edinburgh for an hour and a half of yoga!
Emma: But you also didn't want to give up the standards and the attention to detail that Iyengar Yoga brings rather than you didn't want to go to something else just for the sake of going to a yoga class.
Karen: No it had to be Iyengar yoga but with that level of detail is it's fantastic because it it teaches you to teach yourself because if you understand that level of detail, you've got a lot less chance of hurting yourself when you're on your mat on your own.
Jo: Good point yeah I'd not thought of it that way and that's I like that allows you to teach yourself that's great! I think just thinking back to increasing your practice or going to two classes a week, if you do just once a week you go you think 'oh that was great really enjoyed that' but you don't really remember, the muscles don't remember the body doesn't remember but if you start going to class you're like Monday and Thursday there's a little bit still left by the next class, you remember what's happened your body remembers what's happened from the previous class and you can take that into the next class whereas a week is too long. Things start to connect, the connection start to accelerate just you're able to find the actions a little bit quicker, a little bit faster.
Karen: Definitely you find that space within yourself quicker don't you, so I think that when you do get onto your mat it's it's precious it is time when you are so totally focused on yourself that in the world in general, you don't get that time just to be yourself.
Jo: Right ladies I think we've covered quite a lot there, I would say the under floor heating at Yoga on Tay is a big benefit isn't it at the end especially in Savasana. That's great thank you both very much that was wonderful thank you.
Emma and Karen: Thank you
If you have enjoyed this video and would like to learn more about Iyengar Yoga or join us for a yoga class at Yoga on Tay, please get in touch. We'd love to hear from you.