Thursday, July 24, 2014

Breathe Into The Back.

In September I’ll have been practising yoga for seven years, ever since the day I started to think that weights alone weren’t the only thing I should be doing as I moved towards my 40s. I grew up with a yoga-practising Mum, so was familiar with some of the moves, which Mum would do to unwind and get time for herself at six in the morning. The sound of the yoga teacher Lynn's voice on the cassette tape was always soothing, even though I didn’t very often join in (there were also Richard Hittleman books lying around). My mate had tried a class with a bloke up at my my old school, which was a disaster because he was rude and impatient, and didn't like being asked questions, but unlike my gymnastics classes, I didn’t, this time, let one bad teacher put me off the whole practice for life (after all I could have been bouncing along bars and cartwheeling over a mat instead of drawing!)

No - this time, after going through the Yellow Pages and the Phone Book, my sister pointed out that the obvious thing to do was look online - which, weirdly, I’d been reluctant to do, for reasons I can’t remember now. But she was right, because within seconds I’d found Anna Ashby - teacher at Triyoga in London, an ex-ballerina with almost two decades of yoga practice, and…look! She also teaches in Hinckley!

London and Hinckley. I couldn’t believe my luck! There was something in me that was saying I needed a professional - someone who LIVED the practice, and didn’t just teach it in the evenings after their day job doing something else. This felt very important to me, as I felt driven to learn with the best, or not at all. Treating it as seriously as something I’d be learning for work…or like starting a new degree. A light snobbery perhaps, but this was the first time I’d embarked on any sort of serious learning since leaving college, and automatically applied the same criteria. Anna was to become my yoga college!

That was September 2007, and I’ve been going ever since. Many Thursday activities have been missed because Thursday Is Yoga Day, and many a vicious grump has taken hold whenever I’ve had to miss a class to meet a deadline. But Anna and her classes have been a continuous feature of my life since that first session, at my old school in Hinckley, when me and Anna’s husband Michael - who later built my new website and became involved in assorted Factoryroad/Inkymole creative projects too - stood discussing the colour palette of the newly-painted mural on the school hall’s wall. Christmas presents became yoga props and birthday present requests were for yoga clothes. Everyone who comes to work with us is told to ‘lie over the brick’ at least once, to ease their aching backs. The mat is permanently set up in the top room (albeit walked over by the odd contractor who doesn’t realise what it is - meaning it has to be washed of course).

It’s Anna’s caramel Texan-infused voice, with her micro-corrections and references to the minutiae of the asanas, that I hear when I do yoga at home. It’s her fault I wang one leg randomly up the nearest wall during a conversation, ‘just to give it a stretch’. It’s because of Anna all of our interns have been forced to lie over a brick to straighten their backs out. It’s Anna’s influence that made me do a headstand on the top of Blackpool tower, and in the fields in Stratford, and on the balcony in the gym after a workout; and it’s down to her that I can now, finally, do shoulder stands without thinking my neck is going to snap and getting a migraine the following day.

It’s also down too her that, last weekend in the back of the Suzuki Carry, I finally managed a complete crow pose for more than one second!

Anna is warm, funny, beautiful and extremely professional, as you can see in this video where she introduces us to her practice:

Yoga’s still here despite a three-year obsession with running, a period of resenting ALL exercise and a flirtation with kettle bells. I almost started the teacher training, thinking seriously that I could line it up as a second career or something to do when and if the illustration came to an end, or if I brought it to an end - but ironically, I got too busy, and was reminded by my nearest and dearest that I already had too many commitments. Maybe I’ll go back to that one day?

Anna and her yoga were there during the darkest few weeks of my life, helping to keep me from exploding while the yoga went on unconsciously in a dazed and running-on-auto state. In fact, only three days after the worst day of my entire life so far, when it was all I could do to operate my limbs and remember to keep breathing, she and I went to Cambridge to film her Interactive Yoga DVD - a full day’s poses repeated seven or eight times for the camera, one warm May day - including demonstrating how not to do a few of the poses! The concentration and massive physical effort took me miles and miles away from what else was going on in my life (yoga does that). The memory of a Buddhist camerawoman, a yoga teacher and a vegan trying to swat from the Buddha shrine the bluebottle which had been landing on our Corpse Pose faces for the last twenty minutes will never leave me, and was a moment of massive light and humour in a very murky week.

You can see the results of the filming here, me with considerably less hair than I have now:

Last week I learned that Anna is retiring from her Hinckley classes to focus on her work in London. Although she lives locally, her weeks are split clean in two with half at Triyoga and half at home; and finally, her commitments have become such that she’s had to make some time for herself. I completely understand this decision from a professional perspective, and I applaud her decision. But inside, there’s a little tear-stained spot on the yoga mat and a worried student furrowing her brow over what comes next. I can choose another teacher of course, and part of me is excited about being forced to make a change and adapt. But they’ll never be Anna, and anyone who’s done yoga for a long time with one person will understand where I’m coming from.

We’ve resolved to practise together at her house, sometimes mine, to keep the continuity going, and I’m hoping to travel to London to be in one of her classes at the weekends now and again, when finances and schedule allow! And she lives only ten minutes down the road, so it’s not the end of the world. But it is the end of an era, and I’m feeling a bit bereft; however in the true spirit of yoga, it’s off to the last class tonight for tea and home-made cakes following practise, and then bravely onward, as Anna and I together with all of her other Hinckley studies reach into the next chapter. *And Breathe.*

Thank you Anna!

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