We're super lucky to have one half of Hanstand Yogi on the Soul Circus blog today telling us about her story to yoga.
Ash is not only a Soul Circus ambassador but she's also a MoveGB instructor. MoveGB (if you haven't heard of it already) is one of the fastest growing fitness companies in the UK, collaborating with hundreds of gyms, studios and classes to bring you one membership for them all. We dig that kind of accessibility.
Let's move onto the star of the show - take it away Ash!
I was not a sporty child. Even now the mention of organised sport conjures up images not of sun-spotted post-BBQ kick-arounds but of jogging sullenly around a damp running track in my school sports kit or the vicious Hunger Games-style arena that was Wednesday afternoon inter-house netball matches. I did love books though. And it was this love of book learning that allowed me to cerebrally jostle my way to the front of the UCAS-crowd, to land a place at university.
I remember the acceptance letter arriving in the post and it might as well have been from Hogwarts. I hugged it to my chest, months of expectation melting away and I just knew everything would be ok.
Then October 2005 rolled around and with it the academic whirlwind of ambition, library dust and spinning deadlines swooshing by that determine the life of any overwhelmed undergraduate. Something had to be done.
Knowing that university is a time for casual experimentation and needing some serious distraction from those books that I had once clung to so dearly, I decided to dabble in the unthinkable.
Under the watchful eye of my hall-mate Athena, I bought my first pair of non-charity-shop trainers in about a decade and started turning up to sporting events. Suddenly I was on the college football team, I rowed three times a week and had become a snack-bearing regular at Ultimate Frisbee tournaments.
I had tried to dabble and had instead dived straight into the deepend, sparkly new trainers first. My once shiny trainers had got pretty muddy by the time I found Sarah’s yoga class. Back in the Dark Ages where things were advertised in paper-format rather than solely on Facebook, I’d seen a poster pinned to a board in the Junior Common Room.
It was a simple photocopied sheet informing us of time, location and price. The yoga didn’t have a catchy or dynamic name it was, simply, ‘yoga’. You were invited simply to come and try it out, free for your first class. “What do we wear?” I asked over the phone. “Oh, just wear your pyjamas. It’s not like we’re doing exercise.”
From then on dreams of boating trophies and soccerly success sloughed away and twice a week, blinking and bleary-eyed, I would find my way to the Trinity College Anson rooms. The room was beautiful in the way that all Oxford college rooms are beautiful; shiny wooden parquet floor, a few portraits of austere academic elders and a dreamy view of the spires peaking through the large neatly-framed windows, a subtle and consistent reminder of both the beauty present in the world and equally of our own relative insignificance within it. It was very yoga.
The majority of the other students there were senior citizens and would treat me a little like a visiting grandchild; checking that I was eating well (I was not eating well), was enjoying my studies (I was enjoying my studies), that I was doing my homework (I was not doing my homework).
I would roll around slowly on a borrowed mat in what would indeed best be described as pyjamas, and gently my problems would melt from my muscles and slide off my bones. I would float back to my paper-strewn dorm room on a fluffy, meditative, yoga-stoned cloud. I had tried to bust the stress by exhausting myself, but in yoga I had found a more time-efficient stress management system. This was a space to be safe, to be centered, and in an environment that constantly drove you to be the best, it was a rare hour free of competition and the desire to achieve. In those first few years of rolling around on my mat I did not think in my wildest meditation-induced dreams that I would become a yoga teacher. Even if I’d known it was a viable option, that was absolutely not my career plan. No, I was going to go down a much more sensible route — I was going to be a professor, or an archaeologist or maybe some kind of Indiana Jones-inspired professor/archaeologist/explorer super-combo.
10 years later, 5 of which were spent living in Asia and a good few were in fact spent as an archaeology student, Indiana Jones is still my hero and I have actually become (no one is more surprised than) a yoga teacher (well, yogi/writer super combo).
My yoga life is now casually split between time on Mac and time on mat, and it really depends on the week to see which one wins out. I teach, I teach how to teach and I write. And I love it. The above is an extract from our (co-written with my co-HandstandYogi, Gabrielle Parker) new book The Handstanding Yogi: The Hows, Whys & WTFs of Being Upside Down.
A couple of years ago, when HandstandYogi was no more than a dream of an idea, we heard about Soul Circus. The photos passed around the internet were magical, tipi tents in twilight hung with fairy lights.
Even the name resonated with what we were about - it conjured up ideas of Midsummer Night’s Dream style dance parties and gong baths; a wildly joyful fusion of circus fun and yogic calm.
There was no question: we wanted in. We approached the Soul Circus crew cautiously with our idea for a workshop (was it too ‘out there’, too weird, too geeky?) and the gorgeous (if slightly bonkers) humans that they are they got it, just like that.
Our first workshop at Soul Circus was electric; we were in the main tent with its swooping ceiling and rows upon rows of mats, all filled with yogis eager to turn their world upside down. The tent was buzzing, and so were we.
I remember sharing an arched-eyebrow glance with Gabby which said ‘hey, this is actually something pretty f**king special’. No yoga class is ever long enough and afterwards Gabby was practically bulldozed with questions about inversions.
Where do I place my hands? How long will it take? What are some exercises that I could do to practice? All of this drove us further towards our goal of writing a book, to collate these questions and answer them as best we could.
A year later as the second Soul Circus approaches we are in the final dotting ‘i’s and crossing ’t’s stage of the project and we will be chatting about it over a cup of tea at the festival on Friday night at 6.15pm (bring your questions, we’ll provide the tea).
We’ll also be teaching an inversion workshop on Saturday (bring your A game) and I’ll be leading Rock n Roll Vinyasa on the Sunday afternoon (just bring yourself, and a willingness to shake it). Thank you Soul Circus for giving our dream scope on your stage.
Can’t wait to see you all upside down in August! Find out more about us, and the book, on handstandyogi.com Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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