I was 47 years old the first time I ever entertained taking a yoga class
A friend from work suggested I go along with her. “The teacher is great she said, a man named Billy. Come along next Tuesday”. Well, I knew I needed to get out of the house. I was battling many challenges in my life that had me crying with a bottle of wine most nights and I was left wondering how I was going to make it through the next day. To be honest, she could have asked me to go and play tiddly winks on Tuesday and I would have gone.
So there I found myself, saying hello to Billy Tudor, an ex car mechanic in his sixties! He was a very soft spoken man who welcomed me warmly and offered me a mat to borrow. This is going to be interesting I thought as I looked around. Billy was on his mat at the front of the room. A table nearby, draped with an orange cloth, held a photograph of a very beautiful man lit up by a small candle that flickered. The room was full of people all softly chatting as they prepared for the class.
As I glanced at my friend, I really did not know what to expect.
Billy gave very clear instructions. I liked him and he was easy to follow. I found the laying down, breathing bit was difficult and boring at first. Once Billy started working on the postures, I was much more comfortable. About half way through the class, he came towards me and asked “have you done this before? ” I was very surprised, I’d never even considered yoga so “No never”. He turned to walk away and then turned back and said with a chuckle, “Are you a spy?” A Spy! A Spy “What kind of organization was this British Wheel of Yoga (BWY)”, I thought to myself.
My mind was whirring as I left that first class. I’d won a gymnastic scholarship when I was fourteen and spent many weeks in a Russian training camp. Later, in my twenties, I was part of the stunt team in a James Bond film, but how could I be a spy. Did they really send out spies to yoga classes.
That evening I slept very soundly and for the first time in ages, I awoke with a bit of a spring in my step
I liked the space it gave me alone on that mat for an hour and half. It took be back to somewhere that I hadn’t visited in a long time. It was almost cathartic. I continued every Tuesday I could for about 18 months.
Then, one day, as I lay on my mat, Billy loomed over me “I think you want to be a yoga teacher” he said. Really! It was a thought that had not crossed my mind. I argued I did not have time, but every week he asked “have you applied yet?” Then, one day he took me aside and asked “what are you so scared of Lisa?”. “I’m afraid to start something I cannot finish. I have not studied or written an essay in years and although I know we have only just touched the surface here, from the books you’ve given me to read, I’m not really sure I’m up to three years study.” Billy looked at me kindly, “you have much life experience and I think you will make an excellent yoga teacher. You have no need to worry”.
Three years later in December 2013 I graduated as a certified Yoga teacher with the British Wheel of Yoga. I pondered how was it that I knew those exercises so well in my first Yoga classes with Billy. This led me to read Norman Sjomen book about Mysore amongst others.
Just before I graduated with BWY, I met Hayley Winter, founder, of The Institute of Yoga Sports Science® (YSS). A friend told me about Hayley and her work. So I curiously I filled out an application form online to become a Yoga Sports CoachTM. I never expected Hayley to respond so quickly with me to arrange a Skype interview for the following Monday. I was very nervous. Not only did I not know how to Skype, but I certainly could NOT commit to more yoga study. At the end of the interview Hayley said “Great I’ll enroll you on the course”. “NO” I pleaded. “But, you must Lisa, it’s the best application we’ve ever had”.
Throughout my life and gymnastic career I’ve been privileged to have some wonderful teachers.
Quite by chance Bill and Hayley, carried on that wonderful luck.
By now, I was pondering even more into the connection between the gymnastic warm-up/warm down exercises I’d learnt as a child almost 50 years ago and the yoga I was doing now. Had gymnastics filtered into yoga, or yoga filtered into gymnastics?
In 2017, I moved to the South West France. The very first evening, in my new house, I slipped on a perfectly flat floor in the kitchen, fractured my Tibia and ended up 2 months in plaster. I thank Hayley for everything she taught me, because when the plaster came off, my re-habilitation was greatly enhanced by my knowledge of anatomy, and I’ve now become quite an expert on the muscles and tendons of the foot and lower leg.. Also this unexpected pause in my plans gave me a chance to read ‘Yoga Quest’ a book by Paul Fox who is also a YSS graduate . The chapter that particularly interested me was number 83 about Wilfred Clark who founded the BWY in 1965. Oh my goodness I thought to myself, I think I may have found some kind of connection.
My story is less of a Yoga Quest but rather a Yoga Mystery. I racked my brains. In the late sixties, early seventies from about age 9, I would often go to Aldershot Army training barracks, I remember all us little tiny gymnasts running the assault course as part of our training. The coach in charge there was a man called Nik Stuart, who was had become nine times British gymnastic champion, awarded with an MBE in 1962 and in 1964 was appointed Britain’s first ever national gymnastics coach. The backgrounds of these two men, Nik Stuart and Wilfred Clarke founder of the BWY in 1965, are remarkably similar, both Army. Wilfred had learnt, “Indian PE” in the Orient whilst in the Army, and Nik had “met up with a local circus troupe” in Singapore who taught him acrobatic skills, whilst in the Army. Could this circus troupe have been a group of traveling Yogis? This thought led me straight back to William Broads book, the Science of Yoga, Chapter 1 p.14 para 9. “ Yogis were as much gypsies as circus performers”
This leads me to wonder what “Indian PE” looks like and if I could see would it resemble the Yogym classes that I’d been developing for primary schools in place of my gymnastic lessons, which in my view were just not inclusive enough for a group of 30 children. All them, with varying abilities in terms of spatial awareness, co-ordination, and concentration, the very basis needed to conduct a gymnastic class. These new Yogym classes were a mix of Army enforced discipline meets Buddha’s self discipline, I was determined that the children should not just “do” physical exercise but that they should have a physical education. To do that I needed discipline, so I could actually teach and not just do crowd control for 45 minutes. The yoga breathing and the added knowledge of anatomy and biomechanics enabled that to happen. The difference this made was astonishing to me, so much so, that I carried a six year case-study with the school filming classes yearly showing the benefits of this progressive all inclusive method.
My work with athletes has also come to much fruition. Both athletes who appear on my website www.goyogym.com in 2015, have hit the headlines recently. The first, Alfie Plant, a young golfer, now European Golf Champion just turned Professional, secondly, Gavin Griffths, himself a diabetic, or “Diathlete” as he brands himself who recently appeared on Breakfast TV after running 25 marathons in 30 days, all in the aid of Type 1 Diabetes Charities around the world. So the next question I ask myself, is this luck? Or could it be that yoga really is a missing link in athletic training and physical education? I’m convinced it’s the latter.
Alfie Plant European Golf Champion – Sports Yoga practitioner
The Yoga tradition of the Mysore Palace by N. E. Sjomen ISBN-13: 978-8170173892
Yoga Quest by Paul Fox ISBN 9781785450952
The Science of Yoga by William J. Broad ISBN 9781451641431
The origins of Modern Yoga Practice by Mark Singleton ISBN-13: 978-019539534