How yoga offers an ease of being and balance, quieting the negative chatter: A Q&A with yoga teacher Nikki Lewis.
Nikki Lewis www.nikkilewisyoga.com is a yoga teacher in the South West of England who takes a compassionate approach to her teaching in regular classes and retreats. (Myself and a friend have had several private classes and thoroughly enjoyed them). Find out more about her ethos, top three yoga positions, and her approach to personal development in this Q&A.
What approach do you take when teaching yoga?
I like to focus my teaching on compassion, inviting people to practice with what is available to them on that day, knowing that whatever is going on in peoples lives is going to have a massive impact on their practice. Be it physically, energetically or emotionally. I encourage students to listen to and get to know their unique bodies. It is important to remember that we are not all made the same way hence we will never look the same in a yoga posture. I encourage students to soften and be kind to themselves, really feeling their practice rather than pushing or forcing, which only feeds the ego and creates potential injuries.
What drew you to yoga?
Long before I attended my first yoga class I was always moving my body in ways I now know to be Yoga postures, it was very instinctual to me. I have always spent a lot of time sitting on the floor as I find that sitting in chairs is the only time I get any sort of back ache.
I attended classes at the gym on and off during my twenties but never really felt like I was connecting to it. I could do a lot of the postures easily and didn’t feel challenged, so ended up just feeling frustrated. The turning point came when I found my current teacher about five years ago. This was my first real taste of traditional yoga. The focus became about opening the heart and how the physical and energetic bodies are so closely linked. I had previously been through a painful breakup and realised just how many barriers I had built up to others but also myself. Yoga soon became about healing for me and so much more than just performing postures. It was when this realisation hit me that I felt the calling to teach and to try to pass on that healing tool to others.
What benefits have you found for yourself through yoga?
I feel that yoga offers me an ease of being, it keeps me balanced. I used to suffer a lot with anxiety, stress and over-thinking, worrying and my practice gives me an opportunity to quieten all of that negative chatter in my mind. When there is quiet, stillness and calm everything just becomes so much clearer.
I have become so much more in-tune with myself and I have learned to deal with feelings as they arise instead of burying things and ignoring them as I used to.
How have you seen yoga impact your students?
In the very short term I see the difference of a very stressed, busy, tense person arriving to class, gradually moving their awareness out of their mind and to their bodies through the practice of asana (postures) pranayama (breathing techniques) and meditation and then leaving so much lighter and softer.
Over continued practice I see changes in their mobility, strength, their posture and much more awareness of their bodies. But more importantly for me I see people using this tool to navigate some of those challenging moments that life throws their way.
How would you recommend someone new get started?
If the student was generally fit and well I would recommend coming along to try a group class. However if they are working with any injuries or restrictions I would recommend they do one or a few 1-2-1 sessions with a teacher so they can be introduced with support and shown how they can modify the practice to suit their individual needs.
If people focused on just three yoga positions a day, which three would you recommend?
I would recommend that students work on moving their spines through flexion and extension so Cat/Cow is a brilliant exercise done first thing in the morning to wake up the spine.
- Plank or modified plank with knees down
To build a strong healthy core this exercise works on developing deep supportive core muscles which are used to help protect the spine. A lot of people who suffer from back pain actually benefit massively from developing stability in this area.
- Gentle Inversion (legs up the wall)
Laying on your back with legs up the wall with ideally slight elevation of the hips, maybe a cushion underneath, creating a slight inversion. This is very soothing for the nervous system and is great as part of a night time routine. It can be effective for anyone who struggles with sleep and insomnia, it also rests the heart and brings fresh blood and oxygen to the head, therefore calming the mind.
What other areas of personal development do you focus on for yourself and how do they help?
Along side my physical Yoga practice there are many other things I try to incorporate into my daily life. One is Meditation, for me I try not to make it too regimented but where I can I just like to take a little pause in the day for quiet. Some days this is after my yoga practice when my mind has stilled, other days it is through using mala beads and chanting a mantra, and on other days it is through just being creative, drawing, painting, making. Just a time when I am not thinking, planning, analysing or worrying but simply being.
Massage is another thing I try to do at least once a month. It is so important to nourish the self and massage is such a good tool for this. It helps me keep my body in balance, clearing any blockages and tension from the body especially when I am teaching a lot.
I have recently started learning about Traditional Chinese Medicine so I am currently trying to incorporate some of this wisdom into my life, thinking much more carefully about my diet and lifestyle and trying to live more in tune with nature and the seasons.
What has been your most important lesson so far that has helped you in your life?
I would say that my most important lesson is to let go of stuff. I used to be someone who would bury all my fears and emotions and my yoga practice has taught me that this does not serve me well! So I now try to be present in myself and allow myself to feel whatever is going on without guilt for it. This can be a massive challenge and I’m not saying I can do it all the time, but the intention is always there. I believe that in letting go of this ‘stuff’ we find our biggest revelations and we get a little closer to our true self.
More about Nikki Lewis Yoga
I’ve been a certified and practicing Yoga Teacher since 2015. The foundation of my practice combines the physical with an inner emotional and spiritual journey.
Classes focus on personal inquiry and exploration, with an emphasis on compassion and love. I encourage students to listen to their bodies and start to let go of striving, comparing and contrasting! The ego has become the guiding force of much of modern day yoga, my intention is to help students to connect honestly to the self to create a more ‘heart centered’ approach.
All enabling and encouraging each individual to open up to their personal yoga journey and be happy with exactly where they are right now!