Why do yoga?
I find yoga is an enjoyable activity, which benefits me both physically and mentally, and I believe it has something to offer everyone. I have been fortunate to attend a number of yoga retreats with the Manchester-based yoga teacher, Jane Craggs, and I was privileged to recently interview Jane. In doing so I was able to learn more about her experience of learning and teaching yoga so that I can share with you a greater insight into the wonderful practice of yoga.
In this post, I share our conversation about the appeal of yoga, sources of inspiration, how yoga has changed over time, as well as some guidance for anyone who is curious to know more about yoga and give it a try.
Interview with Jane Craggs
(Joanna) What initially drew you to yoga Jane?
(Jane) I first really discovered yoga in my mid-thirties when I was on tour with a theatre company in Spain. I found that yoga was something I could do every day to keep my body strong and healthy and to keep my anxiety levels downs. I’d had experience of theatre warm-up classes that were led by a yoga teacher and enjoyed those, so trying a yoga class was the next step. Before travelling I’d experienced glandular fever. It really knocked me at the time, but the experience sowed the seed about the importance of self-care, so when I recovered and went travelling I realised it was important to look after myself.
And, what’s the main draw now?
Yoga keeps me steady. It provides an anchor through the ups and downs we all experience on the rollercoaster of life. I’ve been lucky to travel and do lots in life and my yoga practice has helped to stabilise me and my tendency to get overexcited!
What surprised you about yoga?
How much depth there is to yoga. How much more you discover when you read the texts. I find it fascinating to study ancient writings, mainly Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. What I love about the compassion of Patanjali is that practice is described in detail for those who have no sense of the divine and also offers something to those who have a belief in the divine. This makes it accessible to everyone whatever their belief or non-belief system.The yoga sutras continue to surprise me and be a great source of learning.
Who has most inspired you in your practice?
Without a doubt the Mohans. It’s the eighth year I’ve studied with A G Mohan and Indra Mohan. I really value the authenticity and intelligence they bring to their teachings. Mohan-ji and Indra-ji are so passionate about ensuring clarity in the teachings so that students are not confused. They bring real humility to their practice – they are world renowned for their teaching, but they don’t have any desire to be famous. They made a sacred promise to pass on the teachings of Krishnamacharya to others. They do this in a way that is true and authentic, yet adapted to suit modern life, using online platforms and wonderful books to share the teachings. My colleague Lou and I are constantly grateful for the opportunity to learn from them.
AG Mohan was a student for 18 years of the legendary 20th-century yogi Sri Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, who is viewed as the greatest influence on yoga in modern times and was a master of yoga, a scholar of all Indian philosophies and a healer. AG Mohan and his wife founded the organisation Svastha yoga. The word Svastha in Sanskrit (an ancient Indian language) refers to the state of complete health and balance. The couple, along with their son Ganesh and Daughter Nitya, teach yoga around the world, aiming to pass on the teachings of Krishnamacharya and their wisdom to others, to benefit generations to come.
How have you seen the yoga sphere change over the years?
I think it’s become more accessible. The proliferation of yoga teachers, classes and resources mean many more people today know about yoga. The flipside of this though is that the meaning of yoga has been diluted and the quality of teaching has reduced in some cases. There are lots of fantastic yoga teachers, but there are also some who’ve had very little training, practice time or self-reflection. In our impatient world, it is now so easy to do a short course, 3 weeks or a month alone is not sufficient to prepare someone to pass on what can be a transformative practice.
I’ve also experienced more organisations working with marginalised communities make use of yoga to help people with different issues and situations. Unfortunately, funding for such programmes, like one I used to run for people with learning disabilities, has been cut over recent years.
How would you describe yoga to someone who didn’t know anything about it?
Yoga is a practical tool for the reintegration of the mind and body. The practices help you to draw inward, to focus your mind and body, and give a sense of wholeness. The more integrated we are the stronger we are. This, in turn, brings clarity, truth and peace. It promotes good self-care and enables us to enjoy the life we live to the best of our ability.
“The state of personal reintegration is one in which all aspects of one’s being are balanced and functioning optimally so that reality is seen with perfect clarity. Yoga is an ideal vehicle for the movement towards this state of freedom because its integrated approach both uses and affects every facet of human existence.” – Mohan A. G., Yoga for Body, Breath and Mind, 2002.
What are your tips for someone wanting to give yoga a try for the first time?
> Think about your reasons for practising yoga – Think about what you want to gain from yoga, then pick a class that matches this. For example, if you are looking for a practice that’s physically challenging and more like a workout, look for a more active style such as vinyasa flow or astanga vinyasa. However, make sure that you start with the basics and learn to use the body safely – research the teacher, you don’t want to sustain an injury on the first step!
> Choose a class in balance with your state – A measure of a good yoga class that is right for you, is that when you leave the class you should feel calm and alert. If you feel very tired or wired afterwards it can be a sign that the practice is not relative to your state. In this case, you may need a slightly more energizing type of practice. If you are experiencing a depressive state you will be best with to attend a class that is engaging, gets you moving and breathing, taking your mind away from ruminating. If you tend to feel anxious, a class where you are focussed on breathing fully with a sense of embodiment of each movement may help you feel calmer.
> Be open-minded and consistent – Give any new class a go at least twice. There are lots of different types of yoga classes and teachers to choose from and everyone will suit something different, but whichever you pick consistency is key.
> Be kind to yourself – When you’re at a yoga class don’t look around at what others are doing, it doesn’t matter! Remind yourself this is your time and enjoy it.
> Be discerning – Reflect on what the teacher is offering and asking you to do. If it doesn’t make sense question it and you use your judgement as to whether the practice is right for you.
> Breathwork should be a priority – Make sure the teacher emphasises breathing. Breathing should be the prime focus and in harmony with the movements and postures.
> You don’t need to be flexible – I often hear people say ‘oh but I’m not flexible enough for yoga,’ however, yoga is for anyone who can breathe. There is a practice for everyone. A good yoga teacher will accommodate different levels of fitness, strength and flexibility, adapting the practices to suit the individuals. You can even do yoga if you have limited movement, you just need to find a teacher who can cater for this, perhaps by offering you the chance to use a chair for support.
> Yoga is not about changing you – You don’t go to yoga to be fixed or changed. You are perfect exactly as you are, yoga helps you to step into life!
> Develop your own practice – In addition to attending a regular class, you can really feel the benefits of yoga when you find a way to bring it into your daily life. Even if it’s just for 5 minutes a day, when you wake up in the morning or a break away from your work desk, there is something you can do, be that exercises, breathing or mantras. You might start to develop your own practice by taking the elements you like most, or you could have a 121 with your teacher to guide you.
Any final words of encouragement?
Yoga is a wonderful doorway to live more fully, to connect to your essence and to manage your mind. We all want to feel peaceful and steady and true yoga practice will help you to do that.
Jane has been practising yoga for over 25 years and teaching for 17 years. She trained initially with the British Wheel of Yoga, then Donna Fahri, and for the past eight years has trained in India with the Mohan family. She provides specialist, therapeutic yoga classes to people across the Manchester area and runs yoga retreats in Europe and further afield. She set up Yogaspace in Manchester in 2001, runs Svastha Yoga Manchester together with her colleague Louise Tanner, provides yoga programmes in various community settings, and delivers yoga teacher training as part of the Yogacampus North Teacher Training programme. Jane has also trained as an ayurvedic therapist, which complements her yoga teaching.
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If you’d like to read more about yoga, visit the Smile Being You Directory for a variety of yoga-related resources. To read about other wellbeing topics, check out the other Smile Being You blog posts.