People talk frequently about the journey of life. It can sound quite cliched but as is so often the case with cliches, they are exactly that for a reason.
As I re-surfaced from the early months of motherhood last summer, I made the decision to focus at last on my yoga teaching…. My “journey of life” had finally brought me to that point.
Going back 12 years, I found myself in a very hot, very sweaty bikram yoga studio — my first taste of yoga. I still remember vividly the extreme thirst, but being told in uncertain terms that I was not to hydrate until the end of the class. As you can imagine, yoga and I were not greatly enamoured on first meeting.
I’m not entirely sure what led me to try again a couple of years later, but try I did and this time it was a completely different experience. Over the next five years yoga slowly and quietly became an integral part of my life. I still vividly remember where I was when I decided I was going to do my yoga teacher training. I was with one of my best friends in the countryside, she was practising reflexology on me, having just completed her training and I said quite simply… “I’m going to do my training.” That in a way was why yoga for me was so unique. It never came to me from a place of pressure, competition, ambition. It was a practice where I felt completely at ease. It came to me rather than the other way round.
I began my training in Putney in the Autumn of 2014. I thought I was going on a mini holiday. Not quite…. Yoga teacher training is INTENSE. Intentionally. As a yoga teacher, you can only teach what you have learnt yourself and yoga students can often come to the mat because they simply don’t know where else to go. Teacher training goes beyond the postures, the physical — it enters into all facets of our lives, and layers — mentally, emotionally, spiritually.
It was the day after my teacher training finished that my relationship at the time fell apart. I was heart broken. I don’t give up on things easily and even though to all around me it was clear the relationship was over, I wouldn’t give up on it. But… if it wasn’t for that relationship ending, I wouldn’t be where I am today. And I guess that’s where my “journey” began.
In the Christmas of that year, still bereft, and lost, I was searching for something/anything to make sense of my break up. My ex had been in the army and I had seen first hand the effects of war on him, his comrades, their families. I felt I had to do something. I typed “yoga for soldiers” into google and up came a trauma sensitive training in the Bahamas. In March of 2015, a few months later, I found myself in an ashram on Paradise Island — ready to start Warriors at Ease, an American programme specific to ex military.
Sitting in front of a tin tray, eating yet another meal of raw vegetables, I do remember questioning what on earth I was doing there. But… that training gave me so much. It gave me belief and strength. It gave me a mentor, Molly Birkholm, the teacher who led the training, who is a great inspiration to me in my teaching. It helped me make sense of my relationship. A true texan lady — Melissa Honeybee (her nickname) — said to me one day when I was slightly despairing “Honey, men come into your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime.” It was the most perfectly timed, gloriously cheesy line that I have used frequently since. My ex had come into my life for a reason. Had I not met him, I wouldn’t have done Warriors at Ease, and I wouldn’t have, as a consequence, met my life lasting yoga mentor, Frederique Sardais who opened for me a whole new world. An Australian who was also on my trauma training, said to me that when I went back to the UK, I had to find Fredee Sardais. When I got back to the UK, I did exactly that — I googled Fredee, saw that she led an adaptive class at the Westway Centre every wednesday and I asked whether I could assist. She said yes, and so began another stage of my journey.
Fredee is my yogi mentor and has become a very close friend — her knowledge and understanding of adaptive yoga (for those with disability) and how it can positively affect the subtle energies of our bodies, is quite astonishing. I bulldozed into her life in April 2015, intent on bringing my learning from Warriors at Ease to the UK, to the ex military here. She had spent years already working with adaptive yoga. I was young and relatively naive I would say, but with energy and determination. She saw that but what is particularly amazing about Fredee is that she has allowed me to experience my own journey, she never tried to influence it or me. She encouraged me to come and assist her each week, to cement and increase my learning of adaptive yoga and trauma. It was through her that I was lucky enough to spend time and a few workshop weekends with her teacher, Matthew Sanford, Founder of Mind Body Solutions. Matthew came to yoga when he was paralysed, and for him it has been the healing of deep trauma. He made me see for the first time the subtle energies that lie beneath our physical. That layer is what he communicates to and feels. He is a remarkable man. I would highly highly recommend his book, Waking: A Passage into Body.
Alongside my weekly visits to the Westway Centre to see Fredee each week, I was working in a small tech company and had started by accident a networking group. I had and still do love connecting the dots, bringing people together. I sent out an email to a few friends back in April 2015, all of whom were working in start ups and suggested we get together for monthly drinks to chat start up life…. And so Start Ups & Vino was born. What began as a dinner for six, soon became a network of a few hundred. I started hosting panel events at various We Works across town. I saw momentum building and could see the need for community and camaraderie. I made the decision to leave the tech start up I was working at, to focus on developing a comprehensive events series and… teach more yoga.
It’s not quite what happened…. Start Ups & Vino evolved into Agora, which I launched in Feb 2017, as a members club on a mission to harness the power of the collective. I caught the start up bug… I had vision, ambition, drive, and I was intent on creating a global community of trusted Founders and cracking the community nut — building a network that worked together, shared resources and supported each other financially. Looking back, my early Agora years were a whirlwind of events, meetings, calls, travel, building, planning — as of course is the way of a young business. It was exhilarating, empowering, exciting. In a way it was my MBA for life. Along the way though, I made a few ill advised decisions, I tried to walk before I could run, I did not create boundaries, and stress slowly took it’s toll.
In October 2018, weeks after having got married, I found myself in Library Club in the middle of Soho, sat staring at a wall — completely listless. I now understand that I was in a state of burnout — that buzz word of our generation. My cortisol levels had got so high that my body had effectively crashed. What had led me there? How had I let myself get to that point? After all, I knew from my trainings how stress and trauma affected the body and mind. Wellness was one of Agora’s pillars and I frequently spoke about the importance of looking after our health, and that entrepreneurs existed between a state of high performance and burnout. I had even written a blog post on it — ha, the irony!
However, sometimes the only way you learn is through experience. That does NOT have to be the way for all, I emphasise, but for me, it was all part of what has led to where I am and who I am today. I was very fortunate — I did not do any long term damage to my health but it was not at all easy for those close to me. I also, as a consequence had to wind down the membership side of Agora, which was an incredibly hard decision. It subsequently evolved into a consultancy, and is still operating today.
The first incarnation of Agora, my MBA for life, was a steep learning curve, but ultimately it gave me the rest of my life. It opened doors, opened my eyes to the sheer extent of talent and innovation that existed within entrepreneurship, it gave me friends and mentors for life, and I feel incredibly lucky to to have experienced every moment of it.
Ever since those Autumn months of 2018, alongside my own healing journey, I have been deepening my knowledge of the mind and body and what is driving us today to this place of burnout. This is for another blog post/book as there is so much I could say, but in brief — our bodies have not caught up with the fast paced, “noisy” world that we live in today. It is thanks to our frontal lobes that humankind has developed in the way it has, but we are still animals, who are governed to a large degree by our older limbic system — the emotional part of our brain and that part is still designed to protect us, but it has not learnt to differentiate from perceived or real threat. So — we find ourselves frequently in states of chronic stress. Purpose is also so important (see the end of this article for two powerful books on purpose). It’s a fundamental part of who we are. If we lose our purpose or our purpose starts to drain rather than energise, that’s when we cross the line and can become susceptible to a level of burnout. Increasingly however, just as our climate is becoming front and centre, our health is too.
For this reason undoubtedly, I found myself increasingly drawn to working with businesses in the wellbeing space — which felt very right. One of those was The Extraordinary Adventure Club — a unique business run by a unique individual, Calum Morrison. He and it gave me another layer of insight into the human condition and brought me back again to nature. Nature has always been central to my life, ever since I spent my childhood in the hills of the UK youth hosteling with my mountaineering mother. And with nature, we circle back to yoga. At the heart of yoga’s teachings is that we, humans, are not only part of nature, but are nature, ultimately.
My journey continued as I stepped out of burnout into healing. I was very fortunate to become pregnant in the Spring of 2019. One of the symptoms of my burnout had been chronic back pain that had come from a relatively minor back injury. It was the first time in about 10 years that I had not been able to practice yoga. Burnout lays you bare. The back injury gave me perspective, understanding and appreciation. I wouldn’t say I was grateful for it, but…. It is through pain that you overcome pain, and it is through challenge, that you learn. I practice now through a different lens. Throughout my pregnancy I very slowly continued my rehab and when Toby was six weeks old, I got back to my mat and I haven’t looked back.
2020… what a year for the world. At the start of the year, my husband and I had moved into our dream house and were so excited about the next stage of our life together, welcoming our bubba into the world. Little did we all know eh…. Toby was born on 1st March, our little magical bundle, then lockdown began on 23rd March. As a little family, we have experienced first hand the devastation of covid. My husband lost his father in April 2020, when Toby was only a few weeks old. Looking back, it was in many ways a living nightmare. It was shocking and raw, and an experience shared by thousands around the globe. What the last year has illustrated is the resilience of humankind and the community spirit. What I have always believed to be true, has been proven. We were humbled and overwhelmed by the kindness and support of our close community of friends and family. I’m not saying there are positives to covid, but we have to look at the goodness that has come from the heartbreak. We also were so incredibly fortunate to have our bubba boy — he has taught me so much, and brings light to every single day.
Not to linger on grief, but in August of last year, I lost one of my oldest closest friends to brain cancer. She was a mumma of two little girls, a wife, a daughter, a sister. In the most remarkable of ways, she came through deep trauma to find a life that was full of love and peace. She has given to us a gift — to see that light and love even in the darkest of places. I carry her with me.
And so to the “end” of one journey in many ways and the start of another :). It was in September of 2020 that I decided to focus and give myself to my yoga teaching — yoga for healing — bringing together all my trainings and my life experiences. It was and is the best decision I could have made, I feel as though I have finally come home. I have always loved helping people, and I feel that I now have the tools from the ancient yogis to help more than I ever could before — to help people ground, rest, restore and heal.
Man’s Search for Meaning — Victor Frankel
The Choice — Edith Eger