Lizzie’s Yoga Challenge, Day 15: Having a backup plan


Today I traveled across town to Primrose Hill to take a class with Mercedes Ngoh at Triyoga. I have wanted to attend her class for a long time and arranged my schedule to be there.

As I checked in, the girl at the counter informed me that Mercedes’ car had broken down and the class was cancelled. There was no apology, just a short explanation that the studio hadn’t been able to find cover.

Admittedly, I’ve never run a studio, but I have worked for several and have found myself in a predicament on more than one occasion that compromised my ability to teach at the last minute. For these moments, there is the backup plan.

The hypothetical backup plan I have in mind would come in three parts. First, the obvious substitute teacher list complete with all competent teachers living in close proximity to the studio. I highlight this second part as it seems highly important and often overlooked. Second, compensation for the student’s time when a class does have to be cancelled unannounced (the online checking system at Triyoga still hadn’t been updated by the time I returned home). It would have been a nice gesture for the studio to offer a free class in return for lost travel time, and it would have given me good reason to try yoga again next week. Instead, I’m left with a similar feeling to that of last year’s challenge when I attended the newly opened Evolve Wellness Centre for the first time without the teacher showing up. At the end of the day, it seems like either many studios don’t really know what they are doing when it comes to providing a service, or they don’t really care.

This leads me to the third, and last point for my hypothetical backup plan. The more a studio takes the time to build relationships with students and teachers alike, the easier it is to sustain the business and find alternative solutions in challenging circumstances. A yoga studio should be about building community and a spirit of ‘togetherness’. When the foundation of a positive relationship is fostered, things like securing last minute emergency cover, opening up early morning doors when an employee accidentally oversleeps, or coming together spontaneously in celebration or despair can happen with many hands instead of two.

Things often don’t go according to plan. Cars break down, alarm clocks stop working, people get sick. And for that, a backup plan comes in handy; but sometimes, reminding those people who have been let down that there is a in important and valued relationship at stake can be even handier.

Lizzie’s Yoga Challenge, Day Five


Having missed yesterday’s practice due to a set of extenuating circumstances and then being thrown a curveball in monumental form, I found myself ready to physically work some of the stress out of my body. I was eager to get onto the mat, and opted to return to Mark Kan’s class at Indaba Yoga Studio, a place I consider home in more ways than one.

Mark is perhaps the most mature and seasoned teacher of Dharma Mittra yoga in London, a method created by a South American man by birth, Dharma Mittra. Perhaps best known for his book of 608 Yoga Asanas, the Dharma Mittra style is physically challenging to the point of being silly acrobatic.

Since starting the Yoga Challenge, Mark’s class was the first to incorporate chanting and a concrete, well articulated spiritual component. This was done at the beginning of class with a purification mantra and a few minutes of intention setting and wise words: not to let the physical practice overtake the intention and to create each pose as an offering. This is an aspect of the practice that can all too easily forgotten, particularly in an advanced level class with people in some instances trying their luck on the advanced variations without having a steady foundation in some of the more basic postures.

Following the purification mantra and set to the backdrop of Krishna Das, Mark launched into an hour and a half class with little or no warm up, and little or no cool down. The practice is labelled ‘experienced’, and it is intended for people who know what they are doing. Mark does offer plenty of variations, and for those who are sensible and know their bodies, it is possible to have a wonderful experience in class by staying focused on one’s own practice without pushing things to the point of injury. As in any class but perhaps magnified by the intensity of the advanced asanas, for some, a lack of body awareness, or a strong desire to ‘do’ a posture can overtake one’s ability or ripeness to actually be in an asana. On a few occasions I heard crashing-down sounds following by disgruntled remarks. Despite the intensity and seriousness palpable in some of the students, Mark is generous and kind, and his words of encouragement keep things light at heart, provoking laughter and giggles in many, particularly as things got more and more pretzel-like.

The sequencing of postures in a Dharma Mittra class are unique to this style. Rather than having a ‘theme’ for the class (eg. hip openers, backbends, etc), there are backbends, forward bends, hip openers, standing balances, arm balances and inversions peppered throughout the class. If there were a theme, it may be ‘challenging asanas and plenty of them.’

Technically speaking, Mark was excellent at giving detailed instruction about where to put body parts (from tripod headstand: “Keep your right let straight to the ceiling and lower your left leg straight down to the outside of your left hand”). Based on my limited experiences with Dharma Mittra, I would go out on a limb to say that alignment and precision are less highlighted than getting into a version of the posture itself.

As in other Dharma Mittra classes, while being properly challenged to my own appropriate limits, I didn’t leave feeling exhausted, but rather, more energized. In this light, I also didn’t feel I was able to sink into savasana. Perhaps it is my individual wiring, or the upheaval at home, or maybe it has something to do with lack of a cooling down process. Who knows?

In summary, Mark is a great teacher. His classes are challenging, providing seasoned practitioners an opportunity to be challenged by asanas that are not ‘standard’, and his amazing capacity to demonstrate these advanced postures with the modesty and humility of a monk is endearing and inspiring. For more on Mark, read his bio or marvel at the video below.

that can all too easily be forgotten in an advanced level class with people in many instances trying their luck on the advanced variations without having a steady foundation in some of the more basic postures).

Day Three, Lizzie’s Yoga Challenge


Today I returned to the Life Centre in Notting Hill for Joo Teoh’s class at 3:15-4:45pm. Appropriately called ‘Yoga Level 2’,  Joo offers a well rounded class with plenty of postural variations offered for those who wish to take it slow or be more challenged, and has a unique capacity for weaving together a sequence based on people’s needs and desires.

Today the requests were core strengthening work, shoulder openers and twists, and for the first 10 minutes or so Joo led us through an abdominal sequence that was just as much about the breath as using the core muscles. In his sequence, there were no fewer than five lunge-based twists, a variety of shoulder opening postures including garudasana and prasarita padottanasana c, and a handful of balances, including natarajasana with a belt. We finished with heart openers before winding down to a ten minute savasana under the umbrella of subtle lavendar scents wafting through the quiet room.

Joo’s teaching style is less about alignment and spiritual discourse, more about creating space and listening to the body’s needs. He consistently offers a slow yet dynamic (vinyasa based) class that isn’t overly demanding or thought provoking. This may be just what many people need before starting the work week; I certainly left feeling happy and relaxed.

October Revisiting Old Haunts 30/10/2012


As what was perhaps my last haunt for the month of October, I revisited one of Stewart Gilchrist’s classes at Indaba Yoga Studio this morning. Not that his classes ever ‘haunted’ me, but having attended a couple dozen of his classes in the past 6 years, the last class I went to was about a year ago. I find Stewart interesting as a person and as a teacher with a genuine sweetness in his heart that isn’t always immediately accessible. I remember the class left me feeling unbalanced; the breath count for me was too fast, assists aggressive and discourse unending. I had a chance to return this morning, and whatever my opinion of his class, the fact remains that people Love Stewart.

There were about 35 people in the class, many whom Stewart knew by name, offering verbal assists from across the room to some and praise to others. Some of his comments I found slightly presumptuous (“I can tell whether you’re breathing based on if you’re covered in a layer of sweat” [I wasn’t sweating, but I was definitely breathing!]) and some his references off topic, but mainly I found the sequence itself sun salutation-heavy without having the chance to deepen into the postures for any length of time.

While I didn’t get any dangerous assists in class today, I did get quite a jolt when he lifted me up in pavritti trikonasana.

On a positive note, Stewart’s music was great and he was certainly confident and able to push people’s buttons enough to get everyone working hard, and that is a true skill.

Check out Stewart’s classes at Indaba Yoga Studio.

Last haunt…October 31…any ghoulish guesses?

Teaching Schedule, Sept 2-9


Sunday, Sept 211-12:30pm Indaba Yoga Studio, Marylebone (COVER)

Monday, Sept 3
6:30-7:45pm The Life Centre, Islington

Tuesday, Sept 4
12:45-2pm The Life Centre, Notting Hill
4-5:30pm Indaba Yoga Studio, Marylebone

Wednesday, Sept 5
9:30-11am Indaba Yoga Studio
8:15-9:30pm The Life Centre, Notting Hill

Thursday, Sept 6
6-7:15pm Indaba Yoga Studio
7:30-8:45 The Life Centre, Islington (COVER)

Friday, Sept 7
4-5:30pm The Life Centre, Notting Hill (NEW CLASS)

Saturday, Sept 8
9:30-11am Indaba Yoga Studio

Sunday, Sept 9
10-11:30am Restorative Yoga, Indaba Yoga Studio (COVER)

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