Paula joined us this year, with her energising and warming 6.30am Monday class creating the best start to the week. With the addition of an extra Yoga Nidra class each month, starting in June we thought we would take the opportunity to get to know Paula a little better and learn more about the benefits of ‘Yogic Sleep’…
Tell us a little about yourself to start…
“I’m a proud Kiwi, born and bred! However I lived a great deal of my life in Perth, Western Australia, before moving to London over 11 years ago – I was only supposed to stay two years! Clearly my love of travelling and all things exciting about London drew me in. However, the call of my mountain and my ocean back home is strong, and New Zealand will always be home to me.
Before becoming a yoga teacher I was a Social Worker for over 14 years, both in Australia and UK.
Throughout my Social Work career I chose to specialise in therapeutic areas such as counselling, group work, training, mentoring, developmental and policy work, and practice development; working in areas such as substance misuse, domestic abuse, mental health, and hospitals, to name just a few.
Healing and striving to reach one’s potential is accomplished by working organically and at each person’s pace. I have always enjoyed forming positive relationships with people, as it is the positive connection which enables that growth and that healing. I wanted to work ‘with’ people, rather than ‘on’ people, and I find this with yoga as well.”
How long have you been practising yoga?
“I started practicing Bikram yoga in 2008 at North studio and continued on when it transitioned to Fierce Grace. Clearly the choice of classes, the interconnected system, the flow and freedom of the practice resonated with me, and I completed my teacher training with Fierce Grace Yoga in March 2015.
This year I chose to take the leap of giving up my full time Social Work career to focus on teaching yoga full time, and I am loving every minute!”
How did you come across Fierce Grace? What did you love about FG in particular?
“I had always been intrigued by yoga but had somehow never properly made it happen, and then I heard about this popular hot yoga, Bikram. Honestly, I’m not someone who even enjoys the intense heat. I have never been a fan of saunas, for example – in fact before my knee injury I used to save most of my (then) annual leave to go snowboarding at least three times a year in the winter. However, I was really curious and ready for something to challenge me. I went, suffered all throughout the class, went home, felt amazing, and kept on coming!
FG in particular, the choice, the flow, the freedom, you can choose a class with music or without and choose a class for your schedule, mood and day. Like life, days and moods change, and it is great to be able to change it up accordingly.”
How many times do you practice a week?
“I try to practice formal classes in the studios at least 3-4 times per week. I supplement this with self practice, sometimes after teaching classes, and also with using the gym facilities following teaching my health club classes.
I really notice it if I don’t practice regularly. I don’t feel as light or as strong, I can’t ‘shake things off’ as easily, and it means I don’t get that ‘me’ time to breathe and centre. I always feel better physically, mentally and energetically when I practice, and so, I keep practicing!”
What is your favourite posture?
“I feel amazing after Camel (Ustrasana). I love the feeling of the big backbend. While I do also enjoy Standing Bow, Camel without the balance gives the opportunity to go deep, get the stretch all the way up through the throat, and to truly open up the front side of the body. I think the release and the feeling of spaciousness is so precious, and it’s so easy to go through day to day life never moving in this way. I appreciate what Camel gives me, to the point where I look forward to two of them when I practice the Classic class!
Another favourite for me is Frozen Cartwheel (Ardha Chandrasana). I love the expansiveness of stretching my arms and legs out like a starfish! And the balance gives more challenge – I can feel it working every part of my body and I know there is always room to grow in it, so the pose for me is continually evolving.”
And the most challenging?
“One of my most challenging postures would have to be Utkatasana Advanced Chair Twist. If you do this properly and really sit the hips down and back with the weight in the heels trying to get the thighs parallel to the mat whilst pressing the inner thighs together, and engaging the core while emphasising a back-bending twist, you really start to feel it! There is a lot going on at once, and I always feel it deep in the quads!”
What differences would you say yoga made to your life?
“I love the way practicing yoga makes me feel in my mind, in my body, and how that lifts my spirit.
Physically I feel exhilarated after class – I’ve noticed I stand differently – literally stronger and taller, and I can feel all the different parts of me working together. It’s hard to describe.
I used to be someone who held their breath, even if concentrating on the smallest thing, and I have been able to become more breath aware, not just in the hot room, but in life, which has made such a difference, particularly when the inevitable difficulties of life crop up. It changes perspective and experience.
There is a mindfulness where there feels like there is more space in between ‘stuff’. It’s like it creates more room, not just between my vertebrae and joints, but in my mind and my heart.
The more I practice the more I feel a sense of things moving more slowly, less chaos, more calm. It’s definitely time and space for me, and a truly safe space. I’m almost always last out after Savasana, I just love that time. I always feel better on the mat. And afterwards. I always leave feeling lighter.
And now I have been able to make it my vocation, still working with people, still forming positive relationships, and still focusing on healing and therapy, but in a way which is also good for my own health and wellness. I am so grateful.”
When you’re not in the studio, you are…
“I am also a big nature girl! I am lucky enough to live fairly close to Hampstead Heath, and it, alongside my kelpie and my mat, is my absolute oasis. I start to definitively wither if I don’t get my time out in nature. And my dog loves it as well.
London is the first place I’ve ever lived that isn’t on the coast, so I do miss the ocean, very much, but there is a real sense of happiness and calm when I am on the Heath and by the lakes. It really uplifts me.”
What is Yoga Nidra?
“Yoga Nidra literally translates as “yogic sleep”. In Yoga Nidra you lay very still, settled and comfortable and allow yourself to be guided by a Nidra teacher – you just close your eyes, be still and follow the voice.”
Where did you first encounter Yoga Nidra?
“I remember encountering this in our FG Teacher Training and it really impressing upon me.
It just took me off on a journey and I felt like I had all this space afterwards. Yoga asana does this for us, but through physical effort of yoga asana. Yoga Nidra does this through effortlessness, relaxation and stillness.”
What are the benefits of Yoga Nidra?
“Yoga Nidra allows us to move within and between different levels of consciousness. It takes us away from our everyday lives. It is said to help us recognise ourselves as pure awareness.
According to yogic philosophy, there are three everyday states of consciousness: waking, dreaming, and sleeping. It is understood however that there is a secret, fourth state, called turiya, which is the experience of pure awareness and which can be accessed by meditation. The practice of Yoga Nidra can facilitate access to this fourth state.
Yoga Nidra gives you what you need in that moment, and can vary with each practice. If your need is purely physical, for instance, you are very tired – then it will be relaxing and rejuvenating.
However it can also help aspire to heartfelt longings, it can help us realise solutions, increase creativity and achieve a higher state of awareness.
Letting go, which is still a task in our asana practice, is an effortlessness practice in Yoga Nidra. It gives the mind and body a ‘time out’ and allows healing and awareness to occur on a deeper, more profound level. And truly letting the process naturally and organically unfold can bring unexpected benefits even whilst having intention. So if you just want to relax, then Yoga Nidra is for you. If you want to aspire towards solutions, awareness and creativity, then Yoga Nidra is for you. If you want to aspire towards Samadhi, then Yoga Nidra is for you. Whatever your intention, and whatever your mind and your body need, you will find some benefit. Yoga Nidra is for everyone.”
Thank you Paula! Join Paula every Monday morning at 6.30am and now also for Nidra every fourth Sunday of the month, starting in June!