Over the past few years, yoga has become a foundation I have turned to again and again. It has not been an easy few years, processing a heavy grief, dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, a significant heart issue, and big life changes - all while trying to run a business and do the everyday!
Yoga was initially a practice I came to breathe. To find space amongst the heaviness of life. To sit on my mat simply to cry, and grieve, and process, and return to the breath. My mat became a gentle, compassionate and non-judgmental place to be with every feeling, every thought and every emotion that arose.
Since then, my practice has become more focused on moving my body, turning to yoga as a recovery-aid after a heart procedure last autumn. The breathwork, time and space to connect with all aspects of the present moment, has become a far more spiritual journey for me.
As someone who has fallen in love with the teachings of yoga, it is therfore easy to see why it has become a far more exposed method of exercise, healing and rehabilitation for many conditions.
For some time, I have wanted to interview a professional yogi to inspire many more of our community to this beautiful, giving practice. Amy Davies was the soul I turned to, after resonating with her story and feeling a connection to her teachings.
In this interview, Amy offers so many grounding and centred notes of wisdom of her teachings. Amy explains what yoga actually is (it is not just a sports exercise!), what it has helped her let go of, what it has given to her, and what it continues to teach her.
Amy is helping others during this pandemic too, offering online meditation and midnfullness classes, alongside 1-to-1's.
I hope you enjoy reading Amy's nourishing interview.
Tell us a little bit about yourself...
I’m Amy, I’m 36 years old and based in Manchester. I’m from South Yorkshire, where my family are still based. When I can, I love to visit them and their adorable dog (he features in my Instagram feed quite a bit. I am consciously obsessed). I spent most of my 20s living in London. I love learning and being out in nature, along with exploring movement and meditation.
How did your journey evolve into becoming a yoga and mindfulness teacher?
I completed my BWY (British Wheel of Yoga) foundation diploma in 2016. This deepened my practice considerably. I found that I was offering yogic tools to others, although not explicitly calling it this, in my busy, office-based, managerial role at the time. I went onto teacher training to learn more and be able to share the teachings and techniques of yoga with others.
My mindfulness meditation practice deepened considerably from 2018 onwards when my life underwent huge changes due to the onset of a chronic pain and fatigue condition. Mindfulness has been/is instrumental in my healing. I completed a course through Greater Manchester’s Living with Pain and Fatigue service, which consolidated and developed a lot of my personal experiences and research around mindfulness as a support for chronic pain. Shortly afterward I completed teacher training so that I could best share practices with others.
What bought you to yoga initially, and what made you stay?
I initially found yoga in my 20s, through Hatha classes that focused on asana (movement) and basic pranayama (breathwork). I came to yoga as a form of stress relief but initially saw this in the way I would say having a hot bath -a temporary release or escape from everyday stresses. Over time I learned more about yoga and mindfulness as an active practice, a quality of awareness, and supportive tools for my day-to-day life. I can honestly say it has (and continues to be) transformative for me. It is much more a way of life, rather than that 'soothing remedy for a difficult day', which had been my perception when taking my first classes.
Yoga is such a personal, unique, and creative experience. What helped you find your style and what yoga do you most like to teach?
Yoga really is such a personal and unique experience. One of the fundamental aims of yoga is in connecting with your body, mind, breath, and experience. This helps you to learn what does and does not work for you. Yoga doesn’t need to look a certain way. Practices are so wide and varied. There really is something for everyone. Just as our lives and bodies vary or change over time, so does our yoga practice. We learn how to distinguish what helps us on any given day.
I have never strictly practiced just one style/lineage of yoga but have tried many. My personal style of practice and teaching is heavily influenced by somatic movement. This is a slow, mindful, and fluid movement that emphasizes exploring lots of different options, developing sensing ability. This type of practice helps to increase neural pathways (new movement patterns, through the mind-body connection), it also emphasizes moving without strain. This makes it deeply restful for the nervous system, accessible for everyone and sustainable (we avoid injury and variety is beneficial for the body so that we can keep moving for a long time). It aids the development of mobility and strength and can help decrease chronic pain and habitual tension.
My health condition really developed my personal style of practice and in many ways made me into the teacher that I am today. Chronic pain and fatigue asked me to really listen to and honor my body, emotions, and experience. It also sparked my fascination with the nervous system, pain science, and the tools we have to support ourselves in living well.
What has yoga helped you let go of?
I often refer to myself as a “recovering over-doer”. I spent years working hard and “doing all the things” often at the sacrifice of my health and well-being. Yoga and mindfulness have taught me to recognize and be with this tendency, without acting out on it. Showing myself kindness and compassion and creating space for me to make new and better choices. I’m not perfect at this but I’ve also learnt to let go of this ‘illusion’ of ‘perfection’. Life feels much easier and joyful, even when it is tough (if that makes sense).
What has yoga bought to your life?
It has brought so much richness. It has deepened my relationship with myself and the world in an incredibly positive way. I am much more centered and less “easily knocked” by what is going on around me, yet I feel more connected to others and the universe. I feel my feelings much more fully, yet let these go much easier, which has been profoundly beneficial for my wellbeing. It has helped me create helpful boundaries and given me tools for finding more ease and joy in life.
I have discovered such a passion for learning about these subjects and a greater sense of purpose, through being able to share with others.
How has yoga and mindfulness helped you through the darker times, with your chronic pain and fatigue condition?
Alongside the areas already mentioned, my knowledge of movement and mindfulness helped me retain my movement patterns, through the times when my mobility was seriously impacted by pain. Mindfulness and embodiment based practices gave me support in dealing with all the difficulties that arose from living in pain and the stressful impact this had throughout my whole life. This insight empowered me to make changes and address deep fears. It also gave me tools to quieten down my over sensitised nervous system which was (in the words of one Doctor) “stuck in pain mode”. This has reduced my pain over time and helped me live better whilst in pain. I have learnt to recognise subtle ‘warning signs’ when my body needs more rest, helping to prevent flares.
My practice and being unwell, gave me the opportunity to connect deeply with myself and also to what I feel is truly important in life.
What have you found to be the biggest obstacle to practicing yoga?
I believe this is our personal perceptions. Before trying yoga, most of us have preconceptions about what yoga “is or is not” and if “it is or is not” something for us. This is natural. Perceptions are part of how our brain sorts information to make decisions. I feel that a lot of popular yoga marketing has also done a huge disservice to the variety, scope and accessibility of practice that yoga offers. Many see the Instagram, “picture perfect handstands on a beach era” as wholly representative of yoga. In previous decades, pop culture emphasized yoga as something Madonna did for her physique. Tantra solely mentioned by the mainstream press, in regards to Sting’s sex life. Prior to this there were periods when yoga was seen as a purely “esoteric thing” practiced in the East or something really “fringe/hippie/new age”.
I often hear lots of people say that they feel they are not “bendy/ young/calm…” enough to try yoga or meditation. These are just a few common misconceptions (you do not need ‘to be’ any of these things to practice yoga) but individual barriers are really varied and require teachers to wholeheartedly listen and put people at ease.
This is something I have also experienced personally. I was unable to do any yoga asana for many months, when my chronic pain and fatigue condition kicked in. My teacher emphasised that this was “the universe telling me to be still”. I did just that and turned to meditation more deeply. I did this whilst lying on the floor, unable to sit upright. Yoga did not require me to be able to move or sit up. I remember once going to a restorative yoga class following a terrible spell of vertigo. Once I got there I realised that I still could not lie flat on my back as this triggered dizziness, feelings of nausea and disorientation. I could also not raise my arms or bear any weight on my hands, due to extreme pain. Thankfully, I was with a wonderful teacher who put me at ease and gave me a deeply calming practice that worked with all of this. This gave me even more insight into the type of teacher/facilitator I wanted to be.
When I developed tinnitus, I initially perceived this to be a huge barrier to my meditation practice. Over time, I taught myself how to continue meditating. This radically changed how I perceived and managed this symptom for the better. It is now minimal and does not cause me distress. (Side note, I would not recommend this approach if you are new to meditation but it is something that can be helpful over time with the support of an experienced facilitator).
I also had points in life when I was living a fast-paced, stressful lifestyle. I used to beat myself up if I didn’t practice yoga asana each day or for ‘long enough’. My perception being that “I just needed to try harder”. I later realised that my issue was more in perception. It wasn’t that I “wasn’t trying hard enough” it was more that my day-to-day life was too exhausting and I was avoiding the reality of this. I was placing too much pressure on myself and had unrealistic expectations of my energy. Addressing this root cause enriched my practice even further. It also helped me make positive changes to my lifestyle, which is really at the heart of yoga for me. My practice was no longer tainted with guilt or the idea that it was “something else to be done” or had to look a certain way.
To anyone interested in yoga, but not sure where to begin, what would your best advice be?
I would say to try and keep an open mind and look for a class and teacher that resonate with you and what you are looking for. Do this without setting rigid expectations and don’t be afraid to try different classes. An attitude of curiosity really helps. There are so many options available at the moment including so many fab online classes that you can join from home. You can really take your time to explore and find classes/styles/teachers that work for you in an environment that you find most comfortable. You may also find that you like different classes on different days. Yoga is wide and varied. If you have specific needs check that the teacher has knowledge/experience in this area. Don’t feel shy about emailing prior to booking a class. Teachers are happy to answer your questions and want you to feel comfortable.
How has the coronavirus pandemic been for you? What lessons do you hope we hold onto in our ‘new world’ post COVID-19?
Like many, I have experienced “ups and downs” throughout the pandemic. I’ve been incredibly lucky that myself, friends and family have stayed healthy, so far.
I hope that the pandemic has increased the value we (as a collective) place on health. My hope for the future, is that we build a kinder, more connected and sustainable society and way of life-both for ourselves (everyone) and the planet. That we continue to make strides in terms of accessibility and supporting those experiencing hardship. I hope we can continue to question how things are, evolving as a collective. Not just accepting the “status quo” or preconceived/outdated ideas of the world and what our lives “should look like”.
Tell us more about your online classes!
I firmly believe that yoga and mindfulness meditation is for everyone and offer an accessible and inclusive way to practice. In my classes, everything is based on function over aesthetics. It is an exploration in awareness, movement and sensing. I offer lots of choice and empower you to listen to your body and make decisions that will serve you best. You may recognize some common yoga postures, blended in with somatic movement – think lots of rolling, spiraling and fluidity. I also offer meditation classes that are suitable for complete beginners to more experienced practitioners. Classes are friendly, playful and fun. We spend lots of time learning about movement, the nature of the mind, rest and relaxation. I want to help you find tools and techniques that benefit you in your own individual everyday life, not just whilst you are on a mat. I don’t promote a “one-way approach”. The beauty is in finding what works for you.
I currently offer three mindfulness meditation classes each week, along with a yoga & movement class on Wednesday evenings. This class is focused on helping you unwind and prepare for a good night’s sleep. I will be adding to my timetable in September, so please check out my Instagram page, or signup to my newsletter if you would like to hear more once this information is ready to share. I also work one-to-one with people, specialising in support for pain and fatigue conditions and for those looking to build greater resiliency and reduce stress. All of my sessions are online and will continue to be for the foreseeable future. I have found this to be such a benefit, in terms of accessibility and want to keep offering this support and consistency.
Follow Amy's journey on @amydaviesyoga and head to her website www.amydaviesyoga.co.uk for tips, yoga exploration, 1-to-1's and classes.