Once a financial controller, now owner of a yoga studio, Barbara Coley makes time in her life to visit India as often as she can to continue her studies with A.G. and Indra Mohan, both of whom were long-time personal students of Krishnamacharya.
While she never dreamed that she would ever open a yoga studio, earlier this year she even hosted the Mohans here in New Zealand for a Yoga Sutras seminar. Barbara’s hoping to bring them out again in 2011.
Her personal interest is yoga psychology, and how all of the practices of yoga combined can lead people towards a steady frame of mind. She also has a deep interest in yoga as therapy, particularly in the area of women’s health.
1. What style of yoga do you practice and where do you teach?
I practice and teach Svastha Yoga, which is based on the yoga of Krishnamacharya – a very breath centred and strengthening practice, both on a physical and mental level. This approach comes from my teachers, A.G and Indra Mohan of Svastha Yoga and Ayurveda, Chennai, India. Both Mohan and Indra were long term personal students of Krishnamacharya and they have dedicated their lives to the practice, study and teaching of yoga as passed to them through their studies with the master.
I have a studio in Kelly Street, Mt Eden where I teach general yoga classes as well as pregnancy yoga and also provide personal consultations. We also hold regular workshops and conduct a Yoga Alliance registered Teacher Training program.
2. How did you come to yoga?
I’m not really sure… one day, when in my early thirties, I decided to attend a class and even though I wasn’t what you would call a serious student until some years later, that first class definitely planted a seed, one that kept calling me back.
Until 2006 my practice was fairly sporadic! My introduction to yoga was in the Iyengar tradition and then I changed to Astanga which was my choice of practice for some years before moving to a breath-based hatha practice.
3. When did the yoga bug really get you?
Although I had been practicing yoga for some years, sometimes with gusto and other times quite sporadically, I always felt that there was more to the practice than the physical aspect focused on in the classes I was attending.
Then a few years ago, life happened and I found myself in quite a dark place and in need of a change of scenery, so on the spur of the moment, I decided to attend an eight week yoga intensive with the Mohans in India. This is where everything changed for me and I discovered what before had been missing!
The Mohans’ simple and profound approach resonated very strongly with me, and my personal practice and thirst for more understanding of the psychology of yoga deepened considerably. I attended the program purely out of personal interest and at the time never intended to teach, so I have been more surprised than anyone as to where I am today.
4. How has yoga transformed your life?
It’s been transformation on a very personal level… my practice has helped strengthen the relationship I have with myself and this has had a profound effect on how I view the world and my place in it.
Life can throw us all the occasional curve ball, that’s inevitable, but by maintaining that connection with self we are able to move through these times with less resistance and that makes them so much easier to deal with.
It’s not a transformation that happened immediately and its far from complete, but progress has always been and still is measureable.
The physical benefits have been enormous; from managing a low back injury to maintaining a good level of well being and vitality, but I have to say that the inner calm and peace that is with me now, has been the greatest gift.
5. What is your home practice like?
Like most people in our world, I lead a busy life working, teaching, running the studio as well as maintaining personal relationships so I’ve learnt over time that keeping my practice flexible but consistent is the way to go.
I am so much more ‘there’ if subsequent activities are not a pressure on the time I can give my practice. I generally practice twice daily, my morning practice of pranayama and meditation sets me up for the day ahead and later in the day, when I have more time I do a longer practice of asana, pranayama, chanting and meditation.
The deeper aspect of yoga is very important to me, so even when I am off the mat I try to keep in mind the more internal practices, monitoring my thought processes, trying to maintain a sense of calm etc. For me this is more challenging than the physical practice and requires more effort, but so helpful.
6. When people ask you, “What is Yoga?” what do you say?
I say it’s about life! It’s about keeping physically, mentally and emotionally well.
To quote international teacher and friend, Mark Whitell it is about intimate connection with one’s self, with source. A yoga practice that is suitable for one’s own needs, whatever they may be, helps us to move through life with grace and with compassion for ourselves as well as others.
7. What can people expect from one of your classes?
Yoga was traditionally taught one on one so that the student’s individual needs could be addressed. In today’s world this isn’t always convenient, so group classes are a necessary compromise and they make practice more accessible to most people, which I see as a good thing.
However the importance of practice being suitable for individual requirements can’t be underestimated, so for this reason we limit our class numbers to a maximum of 10 students. This ensures that each student receives individual attention, rather than get lost in the crowd and I feel fully capable of monitoring each person in the class and giving them the attention they deserve.
All students are encouraged to work within their own capacity at any given time and postures are modified to suit each situation.
Our classes are 1 hour 15 minutes and consist of asana practice, pranayama and a rest period. Depending on the group we may also incorporate chanting and meditation.
Students can expect to finish class feeling calm, balanced and revitalised.
8. What do you love most about teaching yoga?
I love sharing this practice with others and seeing them embrace the really simple and practical principles that help them bring about positive change in their lives, whether that change is physical or on a deeper level.
I also learn a lot from my students and that helps me to progress in my own practice. Each one of them is so different to the next and it reminds me that at the end of the day, we are all just people each with our own strengths and weaknesses, but all unique. It keeps it real for me and helps me to have more compassion – for myself as well as others. I think the old adage that ‘we teach what we need to learn’ is very true – to teach yoga, you must practice yoga and it’s my personal practice that feeds me, grows me and enables me to share the practice with others.
Seeing students at the end of class, looking more relaxed and energised than they were when they arrived brings me great pleasure.
9. What do you wish everybody knew about yoga?
That yoga is for everyone and the benefits are available to all. There is a right practice for every person no matter their level of fitness, age, physical capability etc
I find it disturbing that so much yoga today focuses solely on the physical and many people are put off because they think they ‘can’t do it’, it’s too hard, that they’re not flexible enough etc, etc.
Yoga isn’t about struggling into the perfect posture; it’s about feeling good now, exactly where we are, not in 5 months or 5 years when we finally manage to tie ourselves into lotus. Some people may never get there, that doesn’t mean they can’t ‘do’ yoga.
The physical benefits of practice are numerous and not to be dismissed, but the deeper benefit is the connection we feel with ourselves, with others, our environment and our source. As my teacher Indra says:
Yoga is a ‘work in’ not a ‘work out’
I wish there was more understanding of this.
10. What role do you see yoga playing in our world?
I believe there must be personal transformation before there can be societal transformation. My own experience shows me that the more peaceful I am in myself, the more peaceful are the lives of my nearest and dearest . If each person could take a little of this peace into their immediate environment, imagine how the world would change.
11. Anything else you’d like to say?
There’s nothing mystical about Yoga – it’s a really practical and effective tool that can lead us to a state of mental stability and contentment, health and vitality. If you haven’t tried it yet, I urge you to and if you have tried but haven’t found a practice that resonates with you, keep looking because there is a practice for everyone and once you find that you won’t be disappointed!
12. And finally, how do people find you?
We are located in The Kelly Street Studio, 1A Kelly Street, Mt Eden.
You can also find us on Facebook.