Monday, May 20, 2024

Yoga: From self-care to self-employment

My yoga journey started back in 2012 when I was a full time GCSE and A-Level teacher in a mainstream setting, juggling planning and assessment as well as raising a small human (3 at the time) who had rare medical issues (undiagnosed at the time). 

I attended a hot yoga trial at a local Bikram studio.  It was about a 30 minute drive for me, then a 90 minute class and again the journey home.  Time out felt decadent, even shameful –even though I went to the later classes specifically so I could still do the bedtime routine – and there were times that I felt I shouldn’t renew my monthly membership.  But I kept going to class because deep down I knew that in the studio, on my mat, sweating and struggling to concentrate on the breath was the only place I could really forget all the stresses and strains of life.  For 90 minutes I could literally hit pause and in the most difficult of times, after maybe a night in A&E with my son or at a time when I was swamped with school work – it was the only time I could truly unwind.  Relaxing and self-care didn’t come easy though.  Savasana really was the hardest posture to begin with.  And I’m not even sure the phrase ‘self-care’ had entered the public lexicon in 2012, it certainly hadn’t arrived in my personal vocabulary.

For 5 years I attended the same yoga studio and began to try different yoga styles, there were times when the heat wasn’t what I wanted, or I hadn’t really drunk enough water that day –too busy at school! – and I knew that the practice would be a struggle, so I took yin and restorative classes.  I even managed to encourage friends and family to come with me, so they could too could share in the relief that yoga brought!  I would literally run in stressed, late and worried about essays I had to return to… and come out singing, smiling and walking slower.  Taking more time to be present.  Becoming mindful rather than mindless.  I was feeling better in myself so I took on more responsibility at work, I could handle it now… but that extra responsibility brought extra work and it meant I got less frequently to yoga.  A friend then introduced me to a class nearer to me, I could PAYG and I felt I could manage that much better… dropping in as and when I could meant I felt less ‘Mum/teacher guilt’ about attending a long class far away but it also meant that I wasn’t as disciplined.

After attending this new class with an amazing local teacher, she noticed I struggled to let go in relaxation and we discussed what I did for a living.  “I see a lot of cases of stress in teachers, they come to me for yoga and acupuncture as a weekly fix, but it’s papering over the cracks…”  I knew that’s what I was doing and I knew I was a great teacher but that teaching was an unsustainable career for me, I was burnt out and I was in my mid 30’s.  Could I really handle another 30 years of this???  So I flippantly said “I’d love to teach yoga!”  And my yoga teacher helped me to source some UK based training.

In December 2017, after taking some time off work due to ill health, I decided I couldn’t return.  I needed to get off the hamster wheel.  I spoke to a friend and I said I knew what I wanted to do but that I couldn’t afford to leave teaching and her next words changed my life forever: “Can you afford not to?”  I knew instantly she was right.  I resigned from post and on the same day as I handed in my letter (and my latest sick note) I called the Sun Power Yoga school and booked my place on the next course.  I used savings and worked in supply roles to fund my place.  I travelled to various UK locations for tuition in Vinyasa Krama style and I taught my first paid yoga session in July 2018.  It was scary and exhilarating.  I was simultaneously free and completely rudderless (I mean I’d been working to term times in the same institution for 12+ years), I no longer knew what a month or academic year had in store for me!

But after the initial leap of faith, and then the agonising if I’d maybe done the wrong thing, I can honestly say I’ve never looked back.  When Topshop folded I presumed its profits had been hit as I was no longer buying a work wardrobe!  I traded skyscraper heels for trainers, weeknights of marking for evening yoga classes and most importantly extra time with my family.  No more weekends holed up in the study going through coursework with a fine tooth comb.  No relentless countdowns to the next holiday.  No Sunday night dread!  Now I looked forward to each new week as a fresh opportunity.  I taught Vinyasa Krama to adults and children (anyone aged 3-103!) and then started adding in other training and thus other styles to my repertoire: hot vinyasa flow through a well-known national brand, chair yoga for those more physically challenged, zoom yoga when the pandemic hit and most recently Yin Yoga.  A slow and soft practice, the polar opposite to where I started in my yoga journey, that speaks to my soul.  If you’d told me 5 years ago I’d be a yoga teacher, I’d have a busy but not too taxing schedule, that my heart would be full and my body and mind this healthy I’m not sure I’d have dared believe you!

I love my job and life but I still have to make sure I have time for me, ‘me time’ involves practice and yoga retreats where I am not the teacher but the student.  Self-care also means watching a film, having a bath, reading a book, embroidery or a simple dog walk!  I’ve discovered autumn is rich and beautiful (not a season where my head is down and I’m trying to break the back of the GCSE or A-level curriculum).  I now teach Yin Yoga at the same studio where my journey started, and I teach yoga as part of staff well-being at the school I resigned from.  I feel like I have come full circle in the most beautiful of ways.  I now have the privilege and luxury of conversing with others before or after class, as they pour out their worries and woes, knowing that I was once consumed by similar anxieties with no way out… but I found my way out!  I once used to sing ‘Last night a yogi saved my life’, Indeep style, now I’m sure my students sing it about me.  Yoga really does have the power to save.  It allows a person to truly rest and digest or process what is happening to them physically, emotionally and energetically.  It allows you to reflect and even revive.  For me personally, Yoga went from a hobby to a habit, then from blissful from self-care to self-employment!

I first started practising yoga in 2012.  I had a young son and needed some ‘me time’!  So I took a 30 days for £30 offer at a Hot Yoga studio and never looked back!  I practised Bikram for 5 years before switching to a more geographically accessible Sun Power Yoga class in 2016.  Sun Power Yoga offered local training, so in 2018 I took the plunge and qualified from their 200 hr SPY/SPY Kidz programme.  After this I did CPD in chair based yoga for the elderly and Hotpod Vinyasa Flow.  Prior to turning my yoga hobby into a career I worked in mainstream education for over 12 years as a secondary school teacher. I believe that yoga is for anybody and every body, regardless of age or ability, from babies to the twilight years!  I also believe yoga is vitally important to an individual and indeed the community’s physical, emotional and energetic wellbeing.  My new Yin and ongoing Vinyasa style classes help to keep clients supple, happy and in the moment rather than worrying about the past or what’s yet to come.  Movement, Mindfulness, Meditation is the way forward!

Contact Details

Helen Braithwaite 

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