Inhale.Exhale: Uncovering the Essence of Yoga
In most scenarios, being instructed to just breathe and relax can be utterly frustrating, and at times, counter-intuitive. In pressurised circumstances, in moments of angst and annoyance, being advised to calm down and control your breathing feels almost impossible. And yet, as we take to our mats, assuming the pose of downward facing dog, leaning, twisting, and stretching into every position, inhale, exhale, feels entirely natural; a way of life.
Yoga - a Hindu spiritual ascetic discipline, a part of which, includes breath control, meditation, and the adoption of specific bodily postures, is widely regarded as one of the most effective practices for achieving overall good health, relaxation, and wellbeing. In trying to establish what draws so many to take up yoga, my first act was to immerse myself in practice, signing up to as many classes in the Greater Manchester area as is humanly possible. From Fireflow at Space at the Mill, to Sunrise Reggae Yoga at Hatch, to Vinyasa Ashtanga at my local leisure centre, one might term this a method acting approach as I sought complete emotional identification with yoga. My second act: trawling the world wide web.
What started out as an innocent enough Google search, turned out to be an epic all-nighter, as I crawled my way through thousands of results, taking a deep dive into the myriad of interpretations and explanations on offer. At a surface level this search served its main purpose, but it also threw up quite a quandary. Delving deeper, I came across fraught exchanges, bitter disagreements and fundamental philosophical differences, and that was just the discussions on appropriate yoga class attire. There’s no denying it, yoga has become mainstream, but the growth in popularity in the west has lead to a chasm among the various schools of thought, as warring camps battle to define its meaning, value, and essence.
As a relative newbie to the world of yoga (I’ve dabbled in Bikram), the conversations I stumbled upon, whilst interesting and enlightening, left me somewhat confused. Numerous sources lamented those who marry yoga with wellbeing, choosing instead to focus solely on its historical principles, rather than the perceived benefits. And while I could probably write an entire scripture explaining the do’s and don'ts of yoga practice, a more interesting read would share the experiences of individuals and their yoga journey, as I try to get the root of this much loved passtime. Float is about establishing what it truly means to be well, and speaking with several of our ambassadors and workshop hosts, it struck me, what better way to understand yoga in the context of wellness than to connect with those who experience it day in day out, who regard it as a way of life, and not just a fleeting trend.
Eirian Collinge: Cariad Yoga
“Yoga is invigoration in relaxation. Freedom in routine. Confidence through self control. Energy within and energy without.” - Ymber Delecto
From the age of 19, Eirian’s journey with Yoga taught her how to deal with life’s challenges in a wonderfully creative and holistic way. For most of her 20’s she worked in high pressured sales roles which triggered stress related IBS, acne and insomnia. After being signed off work with stress in 2013, Eirian realised that she didn’t have the energy for her usual fast-paced heating Ashtanga or Bikram, originally taken up as an antidote to working in a corporate environment. It was at this particularly low ebb that she was introduced to regular meditation practice at Roger Cole’s Better Sleep workshop at the Life Centre North.This immersive weekend was a game changer for Eirian, evolving not only her personal practice, but the way in which she understood herself and her relationship with stress.
For Eirian, who identifies with Ayurveda and three Doshas - vata (air), pitta (fire), and kapha (earth/water), yoga has led her to better understand herself, working in sales required big personality, but gaining knowledge of these three energetic forces and learning that she is dominant in vata and pitta, enabled her to incorporate more cooling, calming and restorative sessions. Slower more meditative practices helped her to tune in, gain greater self-awareness and a deep understanding of how the mind and its thought patterns operate; useful for gaining insight on external triggers.
Always keen to explore different styles of yoga, from reggae, to rocket, to laughing, Eirian is always curious, taking to different practices at various junctures of her life, depending on how she is feeling at that particular point. For her, there is no sense in forcing practice, being on the mat is much more about checking in with herself, assessing her mood, listening to what the body and mind may need, all while honouring her energy and recognising that yoga is not a one-size-fits-all experience; it is about what is right for you. “Yoga is where I go to sort my head out” she tells me, rather than viewing it as part of her job, yoga is to yoke, it is not just an hour out of your day, it is everyday - how your connect, how you consume, how you interact with the world around you.
Leo Oppenheim: Flowfit
Having recently sat down with Leo to talk about the concept of moving with intention, our conversation naturally led on to his relationship with yoga - as a fully qualified instructor, and having worked with Lululemon, providers of yoga and running gear, whose campaign ‘Do Yoga.Be Yoga.’, resonated with the Flowfit founder, we delved a little further and found out why the practice is so special to him.
For Leo, yoga represents a level of self-awareness that he was not able to access purely from cardio alone. Learning the yoga ropes deep in the Rocky Mountains taught him a great deal about being open and vulnerable, harnessing engagement, and gaining a deeper understanding of the interconnection between body and mind. Rather than adopting the strong and silent type coping mechanisms that a lot of men still adhere to, Leo leant to go with the flow, allowing himself to be in the present moment, transforming his early experience of yoga, in which he pushed himself into every posture, to a more intentional practice allowing him to move with greater fluidity and purpose.
As Leo says, one eighth of yoga is physical, and yet the moral underpinnings, the mindfulness, mantra and breathe, is not something you become aware of until deeper into practice. What sometimes begins as a means to and end, to be get fit and healthy, evolves into something which is meditative and affirming. Leo believes that yoga is an interpretation from yourself, something which has the power to change our day-to-day interactions, making sense of problems that before practice felt insurmountable, and allowing us to take stock of what is important right here, right now.
Kate Titley: Moonshine Yoga
“My practice calmed the shit-storm in my head and got me back to my body. It still does.”
Kate admits that her yogi journey started out as a quick fix to an unhealthy lifestyle. It was only when she started practicing with Laura McCrimmon in Glasgow that, in her words, she got her “ass-ana” handed to her. Suddenly there were planks, deep squats, and a kick ass playlist to boot. She was hooked on the physical side, discovering Ali Kamenova and Leslie Fightmaster on YouTube. It was then that the mental benefits started to appear, in order to handle tough, and mentally taxing situations, as well as the fluctuations of life, Kate would seek refuge in headstands, needed hip openers and mantra.
Yoga is her way of making a difference, of actioning change. She encourages her students to marvel at the glorious work of art that is the human body, to feel the beauty of breath in the body and to embrace how expansive their mind can be. A regular on the Manchester yoga circuit, Kate believes that a lot of yogic principles are inherent in Mancunian people. “The sense of looking out for one another, taking time out for a brew and a chat, pride in ones place and journey - this mentality undulates in waves from the streets to the mat and back again.” From Mysore to Womb to Raja to Yoga for Potters - there is yoga that speaks to each and everyone of us - truly a city of yogis.
Listening to her body and mind, Kate mixes and matches her classes depending on what is going on in her life at that juncture. while she is partial to the more dynamic, visceral practices where you can really sweat and party, such as Jivamukti, if she’s having a crisis, then it’s all about Ashtanga, the order of the postures will stay the same, it’s how you change within it. Her perfect asana class involves inversion, with peak poses coming together to combine breath, bandha and dristi into a badass meditative state; the perfect way to quiet a busy mind. Yoga has taught her that your best doesn’t have to be THE best - you don’t need to run the fastest or kick the highest - it is the truest expression of what you can muster that day.
“It allows you to spend some time with yourself without feeling guilty, because the constraints of modern life implicate that we should be serving someone else…or our social media accounts. The feeling cultivated through self-development is addictive. There are moments practising asana where I feel a freedom indescribable with words. And asana is only one of eight aspects. There is so much to explore and the journey is never-ending.”
Madeleine Penfold: Photographer, Yoga Teacher, Charity Campaigner
Having studied a creative business degree at University, Madeleine, a professional photography and part-time yoga teacher, turned to yoga as a means to deal with the post-study anxiety and stress, a common experience of many graduates as they part ways with student life and enter the world of work. As her career trajectory started to take shape, working her way through account management, production and even running a studio - a major highlight of her early career, Madeleine was then creatively moved to go freelance, but not before exploring the world, a journey which would fundamentally shape her approach towards yoga.
Travelling to South-East Asia, her expedition also took her to India, to complete her yoga teacher training. Unlike others, gaining her qualification was not led by a drive to become a teacher, but by a pure love of yoga, and and a curiosity to learn more about the philosophy and movement of the body. The next stage of this journey saw her return to The Gambia in West Africa, a country she had visited on numerous occasions through her charity work - The Erenjang Project, which has helped to rebuild the Erenjang nursery and provide the teaching and materials so that children have the best possible access to education. Her return marked the beginning of her real yoga journey, rising every morning at seven o’clock, Madeleine would take to the rooftop of her hosts house, teaching him the basic postures and principles until his warrior two was pure perfection. Seeing his progression, and lifting him out of a rut was a huge turning point for her attitude towards teaching and her drive to help others feel the benefits of yoga.
For Madeleine, yoga is clarity, balance, time, reflection, and joy. An ever evolving journey, dictated by life’s happenings and personal practice. Her teaching style in encouraging and purposeful, setting intentions for the day, engaging all five senses, and being mindful every day. Inspired by people of all shapes and sizes, all ages, creeds and cultures, yoga is unique to the individual - for some yin once a week is right for them, for others strong Ashtanga practice holds the key to unlocking a deeper, more aware sense of being, something which resonates with Madeleine on many levels.
And breathe. Yoga, whilst extensive and detailed in theory, philosophy, and principle, is a unique and humbling experience. Shaped by each individual’s delicate makeup, no two stories are the same, and yet themes of mindfulness, escape, serenity, exploration and awareness are deeply interwoven into a deep and rich tapestry of shared human experience. Whether it serves as a much needed antidote to our hectic surroundings and internal struggles, or just helps us keep ticking over mentally and physically - it is a practice that is as individual as it is collective.
“If I had a pound for everyone who said to me “But I can’t touch my toes” - as a reason as to why they can’t do yoga, I’d be a millionaire by now. But the thing is - yoga doesn’t care if you’re bendy or inflexible, fat or thin, rich or poor. Yoga is a 2000+ year old practice that through its simple patterns helps you get perspective on life. I was once asked what is yoga to me? I said yoga it is healing. To me a few years back, in a tough time, it was my medicine. But now, as a qualified teacher and with yoga deep in my soul, I’d go further than that, I’d say that yoga is magic. It’s you, a mat and the ground. No one can give it to you, and no one can take it away. It is your practice, your movement, your body and your wand. Use it how you want. Yoga is total freedom. ” - Daisy Barnes - Float Co-founder
Grab your ticket for Float here.