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Yoga and me

This interview was originally published on the Liberty Wellbeing website.

Who are you and what do you do?

I’m Theresa Samworth, a yoga teacher

How did you get into yoga/meditation?

Having attended a health screening at work in my 20’s to be told I had terrible flexibility I thought I should do something about it! I think like a lot of people my first real experience of yoga was in a gym setting in a body balance class. From there, I started to attend the odd yoga workshop with my stepmum (who is also a yoga teacher). I had the opportunity to be taught by some amazing teachers in those early years, people like Steven Buss, Lara Chandler and Jacqui Xavier Rhodes in the same classes Sam Stone used to go to at Godington House! Their teaching styles still influence me today. Becoming interested in meditation took a little longer but again at Godington House a few years ago now I joined a meditation group for a while which helped me focus and dedicate myself to this important part of yoga. It’s something I still find very hard so I keep practising!

Who and what inspires you in your work?

I am not a massive fan of the whole ‘social media Instagram peak pose’ kind of culture that we live in currently although I do follow a few yoga ‘celebrities’ online. I am most inspired when I see an ‘ordinary’ person taking some aspect of yoga and applying it to their everyday lives. Whether it’s mindful breathing in the toilet before giving a presentation at work or dealing with a confrontational situation or someone standing in their kitchen doing a yoga stretch. Taking the benefits of yoga off the mat into our wide lives is what inspires me the most.

Which fellow meditation/yoga experts do you most admire?

I admire Sally Parkes who led the yoga alliance teacher training programme I completed for not only running a fantastic course, but also balancing being pregnant, having another small child at home and managing to run multiple workshops and retreats. Sally is often featured in yoga magazines, she’s a shrewd business women who works incredibly hard and she has a fantastic sense of humour. I have huge admiration for the Buddhist zen monk Thich Nhat Hanh. His books are so easy to read and I had the privilege to hear him speak and take part in a group meditation in London a few years ago. I also admire Deepak Chopra for bringing meditation to the masses through his 21-day meditation experiences. And last but not least Hannah Stewart (my current yoga teacher) for always being such a brilliant teacher. Her knowledge and gentle encouragement to help me progress in my own practice is fantastic.

When did you decide to become a teacher?

Over the last five years or so I have taken my yoga practice more seriously, attending more classes and reading around yoga subjects. For a while I toyed with the idea of being a yoga teacher but I was held back by fear of being too old (who trains as a yoga teacher in their 40’s!), that I didn’t have an advanced enough yoga practice and the fact I’ve never taught anything in my life. A transformative week in an Ashram in India where we not only undertook asana (postures) practice but also included meditation, pranayama, chanting and yoga philosophy made me realise that above everything else I wanted to share my love of yoga with the rest of the world. So, I put aside the nagging doubts and fears and signed up for the 200-hour teacher training course, it was one of the best decisions of my life!

Did you have a “normal” job before you started teaching for Liberty Wellbeing? Until very recently I have been working as a fundraising manager for a local charity but as I was keen to teach more classes I’ve recently left to take up a part time fundraising position in London three days a week. I’ve worked in the charity sector for over 10 years now and prior to that I worked in specialist recruitment jobs in London and Kent.

What five things would you say were essential to being a good teacher?

The ability to put people at ease: sometimes it’s very daunting for people to walk into a yoga class (especially if they have never done yoga before). I remember what that feels like and I try hard to be welcoming and relaxed to put people at ease. I also use a lot of humour at times in my classes and talk about my own limitations in my practice – we’re all learning together.

Keeping the classes fresh/mixing things up: I know I find it boring if I’m in a class that is the same every week (I know I shouldn’t but I do!) so I try to add in new ideas/themes every week. I have many yoga books and online classes/workshops that I draw my influences from. I enjoy other styles of yoga so although my classes are broadly vinyasa flow based you will find my kundalini, Iyengar and other yoga influences at times in my classes.

Knowing your students: Having a group of students who stay with you for a while is so wonderful, it enables you as a teacher to get to know what their limitations are/where to focus your energies.

Knowing boundaries and how far to push students: I try to be encouraging to my students and encourage them to push to ‘their edge’ but I am also mindful that everyone has different anatomy and physiology and people should work with their own bodies and not try to compete with others in the class. I try to encourage people to find their own ‘sweet spot’ and not to go too far (which can lead to pain and potentially injuries.)

Asking for feedback: Although as a teacher it’s a scary thing to open yourself up for potential criticism I think from time to time getting feedback from your students (or another teacher) can be beneficial to you as you continue to grow to be the best teacher you can be.

What is the most popular aspect of your teaching role? My students all seem to enjoy the opportunity for the one hour of class to have time to bring focus to themselves, their bodies and bring attention to their breath. No one complains when it’s time for savasana so that’s probably the most popular time!

Which aspects of your job do you enjoy the most, and which do you find the most challenging? I really enjoy creating different lessons plans each week, hopefully being a bit creative in my use of props and also integrating my influences from other yoga traditions/styles. It’s very satisfying as a teacher to get positive feedback like when a student turns around and says ‘I touched my toes for the first time today’ or ‘I slept amazingly after class last week’. For me the most challenging part is trying to keep my lessons to 60 mins. I’m still working this out! Sometimes I have to improvise in class and take out a few poses if there is not time to make sure everyone has enough time to stretch and get ready for savasana. I would never want to overrun and then miss out savasana as it’s such an important part of the practice.

If you weren’t teaching for Liberty Wellbeing, what would you be doing with your time? Running yoga and sailing holidays and living somewhere in the Mediterranean (maybe one day!) Meantime I’m delighted to be teaching in Ashford and I’m enjoying being part of the liberty wellbeing team, what an awesome bunch of people!

Do you take part in any groups that aren’t part of Liberty Wellbeing?

I teach a private class in Canterbury which is a class that sprung out of my class I started at the Canterbury hospice when I was working there. I also attend yoga workshops, festivals and shows as I love to try out different styles of yoga e.g Jivamukti, kundalini, yin yoga etc many of which are not available in the Ashford area. I’d probably be at a different yoga class/workshop every weekend if my finances and husband would allow!!

What’s new with your yoga/mindfulness practice at the moment? Do you have any new and exciting developments underway? I’m very excited to be running my first workshop with Liberty wellbeing in September looking at the Chakra energy system and yoga. It’s an excuse for me to buy even more books and take my learning of this fascinating area a little deeper. I look forward to sharing this knowledge in the workshop in September. I’m also interested in yin yoga as a counterbalance to the vinyasa flow style I teach, I have a number of books and DVD’s on this area which I hope to get to at some point soon!

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