What, on earth, am I doing here?

I’ve been missing in action. Not only from writing, publicly, on my blog and on Instagram, but from the digital realms more broadly. I stopped using WhatsApp. Started leaving my phone in a drawer. I have made my screen time, beyond briefly checking in with friends and family, to be reserved solely for work.  

The reason why was initially very simple. I wanted to take a little time off to clear some clutter. Literally and figuratively. And that I have. 

Beyond that, though, I needed space to think about what the fuck I am doing with ‘this’. I love the universe I have crafted in how I present my yoga offer online. It is fun. It makes me happy. Me.



But what am I doing with the presentation of myself, in my magical and mystical kingdom of tigers and colour, as I call myself a yoga teacher and sit down every week to tell people how to breathe…?

What the fuck am I doing here? 

I believe in the value of stretching and breathing as a means to help regulate emotion and release stress and tension. 

Sharing tools I have learned, with humans who are walking a path through things like anxiety or addiction, or just modern life, is cool. 

I believe they do help and I believe that because: 

a. I believe that they help me 

and  

b. because what I teach, in essence, are simple embodiment practises that hopefully help us to become more aware of how our body (and mind) respond to emotional triggers and the environments that we find ourselves in. 

That’s it. I will not, now, make any claims beyond that. I hope I never have.

Such practises are studied scientifically and, broadly speaking (and not always entirely), considered in such study to be helpful. 

The mind–body connection exists. Our understanding of how they interact is not conclusive and new theory, thought, research and study emerges all the time. I read as widely as I can on what comes up, and I do my best to be well informed, but, essentially, all I have to offer is based on the simple premise that breathing consciously and stretching your body will help you soothe yourself. Repeating such actions regularly, when you notice you’re anxious, or notice you’re stressed, or just because you like them, can quite probably help in creating longer term change in how you feel. 

I bring in other practises I enjoy, like affirmation, and I have taken time recently to reflect more on the validity of that for me. In the personal, I enjoy and value them. The value of using them has been studied, relative to concepts such as their ability to activate the reward centres in your brain, and, by degree, shown to be interesting from a psychological perspective. In how I use and present them, and please say if you believe or have experienced otherwise, they are harmless and brought in as nothing more than another (optional) way we can consider our relationship to the present moment.

Whether I re-evaluate the role of affirmation in my classes or not, the core of what I do is breath and stretching based. 

How helpful is any of it? 

In therapy, through the NHS, diaphragmatic breathing was the thing that first worked well for me in extreme anxiety. To be able to share such practises is, when well boundaried, I hope, helpful. 



It helps quite a lot. That’s my informed opinion. Not as a cure for such states of being, but as something that can help us in supporting ourselves as we deal with them. 



What I have struggled with, though, what I have been surprised by, offended by, challenged by, and had to take time to reflect on my position with, is how absolutely ghastly and exploitative I believe the yoga, wellness and spirituality world to be. OK, hang fire… not entirely. But not only in the darkest corners, either. 

Some caveats to my fiery rant… 

As I have begun to put down more of my own safety states, working on things such as the courage to be disliked and a predisposition to endlessly fawning as a means to keep myself safe, a kinda fiery and feisty aspect of myself has been given permission (by me) to make itself known publicly. And if I am feisty about anything, right now, it is about this… 

…the yoga, spirituality and wellness world’s teachers, gurus and guides need to stop making unqualified claims, to vulnerable people, about what they are offering. They need to stop selling conscious lies, and more often notice and acknowledge where they have unconsciously misled.

They need to be held accountable. And more of us, from within this world, who can see, who know, that the emperor’s homeopathy tablets are as curative as Tangfastic Haribo, need to say so, more often, as he posts another nude selfie on Instagram, brandishing his oscillococinum tablets as a cure for Covid with the hashtags #healingjourney #vulnerablepost #linkinbio

Before I go on I would like to caveat what I want to say with the following: 

One: This whole topic is nuanced. Extremely so. I have no intention of pouring scorn on every single individual who creates a business, an income, or who finds community for themselves, in these realms. 

It would be extremely hypocritical if that were my position. I am ‘one of them’… I have been there, on both sides, as both an extremely eager (and, in my case, dysfunctional) thin, white, financially privileged, yoga student, sucked into the grandiose quest toward some kind of awakening or enlightenment, and as a teacher who, having invested hugely both financially and energetically, in training to share something I love, am working toward seeing if I can make it a career. It’s definitely not easy to do.

Two: The important and valuable line of enquiry on the appropriation and capitalisation of yoga as a practise is relevant to this topic. And is something I will write more on. For the purposes of today’s post I am considering the dangers of big promises, specifically, and whilst I acknowledge the privilege issue in this post, I am aware there is much more to be said. 

Three: I am not perfect. Loads of what I have done to this point is not what I would do now. I have said things that I wish I had not.

I have cited or quoted people I did not do my due diligence on, in terms of what those people stand for. I get things wrong. 

Four: I am also a marketer, by trade. And a good one. I know that using the fear and then soothing it is a marketing ploy used far beyond yoga and spirituality… and an effective one. Almost every time we decide to pay someone for something, as humans, it is based not just on need, but also emotions.

I find it distasteful in all realms to use fear to sell and, actually, more exploitative than ever in this one. 

The terror isn’t necessary…

I used to be the Digital Manager for a relatively large education publisher. When I took on the role, the marketers that were already in the team had learned from other arms of the publisher (one of those was sports science where marketing was often framed around avoiding injury, for example) that creating fear and anxiety sold. 

Our audience were education professionals, teachers, head teachers, governors, people who worked in special educational needs…

To scare them was pretty easy. New legislation came out all the time in their professional world, so we could hang marketing messages on that, for example. Ofsted was the enemy. Our expensive subscription newsletter, or book, or conference, could simplify endless, new, complex, information that they needed to know for the enemy to be kept at bay, their job security intact, their reputation safe. 

Early in my role, I did some in-depth analysis on the marketing messages that were best working. Those that were increasing engagement markers. It became apparent that, actually, the fear based model wasn’t the way to go. Indeed, after some initial testing, pretty quickly, we realised that our audience loved to be reminded of why they fell in love with being a teacher to begin with. About their passion for their role. About the joy of igniting a love of learning. Flipping our message, we made the business more profitable whilst making our roles within the field less offensive. 

I mention this as an example because the fear used in the yoga and wellness space is often particularly gross. 

Here, the offer is so often about love, care and belonging. So often about human stories of loss and trauma and vulnerability. Because here there is a huge amount of suffering, and, in that, a huge amount of opportunity for exploitation, boundary violation, and untruth. 

This world is almost entirely unregulated

Despite the government being supposedly  ‘out to get us’, huge numbers of people are signposted to things like yoga, mindfulness and meditation to support them on their path for all kinds of experiences ranging from mental health support to physical injury recovery, by services like the NHS. 

And, of course, most classes, in isolation, will be lovely. The teachers kind and well informed. But then, having had that positive experience, many move further into the spirituality and wellness world… led either by a teacher they meet or by the algorithms. And then, there, things can very quickly change. 

That is what happened to me. I went to classes called ‘Yoga For Health and Well-being’ as someone who had no real experience with the spiritual universe, wearing my running gear and in a vulnerable place emotionally. 

It was cool. It happened to be run by a Kundalini Yoga teacher. 

Less than two years later I was chanting Sikh mantra for hours a day, covering my head, speaking differently, dressing differently, obsessed by organic, crystals, oils and Malas. My mind was completely fucked up and my body was malnourished. This was confirmed after multiple investigations in hospital as to why I could suddenly feel many of the lymph nodes in my body and why my blood markers were off. I was nothing more than deathly thin as a result of not eating properly. Despite doing everything I was told to do to be happy, healthy and holy. 

Here, in these realms, when fear is used, it is exploitative, often, because what is being sold is so regularly a lie. And, in extremis, puts people at risk of harm. 

Trust is the enemy 

If you pay attention to the captions under posts and in emails that flood your inbox, very much of the spiritual and wellness offer relies on us to not trust our realities. And then on selling us an alternate one. 

Not trusting yourself and your reality is what anxiety is. So, to put that another way… 

Much of the spiritual and wellness offer relies, entirely, on creating anxiety and then soothing it for you. At a cost.  

A few examples I have seen today… 

Someone tells us that if we don’t deal with our karma now we will come back and play out the same stories with the same people again and again. “But if you pay me to work with you, through hypnotherapy, we can deal with all your past lives and you can live from here with the promise of an afterlife of bliss.”

Imagine telling that story to someone with a sex abuse history… if you don’t pay me for this you will be fated to play it all out again! 

Countless more suggest that the food supply is tainted. That what and how we eat is wrong. So, of course, the answer is to buy this organic, juice, detox. Or those supplements. Or to follow them through a ’30 Day Journey’ to some kind of digestive-holiness. 

The one that upsets me is the guru that tell us that western medicine is self-serving and out to get you. At some point, of course, you need to come to my seminar that will tell you how you can heal yourself with the power of your thoughts. 

In all cases, if you just do this, or buy that, or drink this, or take that supplement, or meditate this specific way, every day, for an ultra specific amount of time, you can create the agency that the distrust they have introduced you to, or shone a light on for you, removed. 

Some people, many people, really believe in what they sell. Be it essential oils or tarot readings or past life regression. And what’s wrong with that? 

I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. It can be lovely. My own belief system is unimportant in any of this, but I can see how very many of these practices are tools for being more present to the moment. I love oils. I like crystals. I even did a course in reading tarot cards. It becomes problematic when someone is harming others with it. By making false claims. When it is sold as fact with grandiose testimonials about healing cancer or curing COVID I begin to feel uncomfortable, and when it is sold in direct opposition, as an alternative, to known, scientifically studied, and regulated modes of treatment that are considered best practise (and, in the UK, with the NHS, largely free) I do get angry. 

The spiritual and wellness world very often creates distrust that takes any existing sense of agency away because ‘they’, those outside, are not telling you the truth (the government, the doctors, the lizard people etc.) 

… And, the wonderful thing is, If you do what they do instead, what they sell, you will not only save yourself but make yourself separate as part of a new gang of people who know ‘the truth’. 

It’s not always fear that is used. Sometimes it is love. Love Bombing. The promise of being a part of something special. Or of being special yourself. Sometimes it is more subtle forms of science denialism. Sometimes it is just utter insanity. Indeed, often it is that. 

Be a part of our community… 

It’s the sense of belonging to this new, ‘knowing’ community that is perhaps the most enticing aspect of all. Particularly over the last few years, as we were all ‘locked’ away. 

But the communities are so transient and, in my view, usually fake. 

Yoga communities, in particular, are insanely fragile in terms of holding shared values. 

Many of us may be aware of the term ‘spiritual butterfly…’ the ’seeker’ who flaps their sparkly wings from one guru to the next, to uncurl their magical proboscis and drink enough sweet nectar from each to satisfy their need for one specific type of ‘healing modality’, before taking flight down the Spiritual-Bypass to elegantly land at the lotus feet of the next. 

If you do a teacher training, a retreat, a workshop, you can meet interesting people and can come to ‘love each other’ or be ‘family’ through bonding experiences and powerful practices that make you feel… well, high. This does create, initially, a sense of community. 

Cacao and Crying 

But the industry, the field, is largely about the personal. However much it loves the word community. We sign up for a workshop about dealing with our ‘shadow side’ and we feel we have made some big leap during it because of all it stirs up, but when the group bonding experience of cacao and crying has become a distant memory, and we sit with all the unresolved shit and behaviour we will do anything to not really think about, we don’t seek out a trained therapist but, instead, scan the crowded room of the wellness space for the next guru with the next big promise on the latest buzz phrase. 

Along the way, many will now talk about their experiences of their life and emotions in a completely open way online. The wellness, yoga or spiritual Instagram feed has widely become about oversharing. As an aside, I question how healthy this is. Social media has really changed the way we think about our private information, and how we negotiate our own privacy boundaries is important but very, very, easy to become unconscious of.

Terror, disgust, sadness, frustration and distrust, it can seem, are not emotions to regulate but something to use to help sell the story we all love from our gurus in 2022 of ‘I’m human too… look at this picture of me crying.’ 

In my opinion, there is a danger, a real danger, in gurus who paint themselves as the gal pal next door. With them we develop curious para-social relationships that feel safe and feel personal… they really can feel real. So when they tell us that they can help us in overcoming experiences that range from sexual abuse to suicidal ideation on retreat, with them, for thousands of pounds, we feel we can trust them because they, through our eyes, are a friend. 

Today I saw the offer of a retreat that was sold as being for such things, for those with stories of trauma, abuse, depression… the facilitator’s qualifications were a 220 hour yoga teacher training and a degree in Media Studies.  This, in my opinion, is not right. The extremes of human suffering, to explore them, to say you can work with them to heal the other, it is to invite the other to be extremely vulnerable. And if you do not have the training nor the supervision to do so, it feels, to me, a dangerous and scary thing.

Is it all about the money?

The humility inherent, and the self-reflection required, to be in this world and not take any kind of a guru position, or make big claims, as a teacher, is a thing. A job. An effort. 

You have to hold yourself accountable. Because no one else will. The world of yoga is almost entirely unregulated. Unsupervised. And, as more and more mainstream sources signpost those in suffering to things like yoga and meditation, the seduction of positioning oneself as a hero or saviour can be alluring. And I think it can be done unconsciously, in trying to help, in doing what is asked of you. At least initially.

People often want you to tell them what to do. 

People ask me… 

…for meditations for their depression

…for a ‘Kriya’ to help them through toxic divorce

They ask me about awakening their Kundalini and they ask me about healing their trauma. 

Me! A self proclaimed maniac who spent 36 years in constant anxiety, who once chanted appropriated mantra for an hour in her shed to a dead pigeon she felt compelled to ‘help’ pass over, and, having woken up to how cultish my thoughts and life were, now spends much of her time doing laundry and wandering up and down a busy polluted road in a West Midlands suburb to ‘hunter gather’ Wotsits from the local Sainsburys for my insatiable offspring, 

I will never give you an answer. But I can see, have felt, how easy it would be to do so. Not because you think you’re a saviour, but because we are so programmed to be amenable, helpful, friendly. And I want to be friendly, generous, kind. I do. But it’s about having edges. Clear boundaries. A line. The reflection, always, on if a question would be better suited to a mental health professional or a doctor instead.

I will never be your guru, soz

If you have depression, go to your doctor. Any breath based meditation (which is the only kind I teach), and you will find millions on Google, could potentially help you feel softer and more present. But none, in my opinion, will ‘heal’ you. 

To take this stance, for me, is a vow… I will never, ever, tell you what you should do about anything … beyond the remit of using my training (which was excellent) to offer ways of approaching a specific yoga posture or breath comfortably… and even then with the caveat that you know your own body best and if you have a health issue, to check with your doctor about what is appropriate for you and what is not. 

I will never, ever, be your guru. It is hilarious to me to consider anyone would want to make me one. But just in case… that’s my edge. I’m not for you. 

Abusive?  

There is a loop, for the western guru, between scaring (or creating distrust) and then consoling people… which is similar, I believe, to abuse cycles. 

It appeals so much to those who already lean toward not trusting themselves and their reality, to anxiety, because of their trauma history. And if you look around in wellness and spirituality, it is filled, overflowing, with people with a trauma history. 

It is all built around privilege and entitlement too. You have to have a certain amount of privilege to fully engage. Wellness is expensive. Spirituality has a price tag. It is all largely able bodied. Largely straight. Largely white. Largely thin. To be able to feel ‘part of’ the world is a privilege. To be able to afford to go along with what they sell is a privilege too. 

On each individual quest for spiritual enlightenment there seems to be some tie to a really weird concept of manifesting success and purity, where wealth and health is a reflection of our spiritual accomplishments. 

With their manifested wealth (I do often wonder where all the money comes from) people keep going on, and putting on, more and more workshops and trainings, diversifying what they offer into ever increasingly questionable territory (the ‘childhood trauma’ realms are such a territory that makes me uncomfortable when not coming from someone with appropriate training and supervision) as a means to keep the machine going. 

The work is never done

It seems that to be a yoga, meditation or mindfulness teacher is never enough any more. The payoff of all that fluttering around the spiritual bypass is that you can tack on all kinds of additional labels to do with healing and guiding, releasing trauma, and holding space. 

Be fucking accountable…

I will go back again to the word accountability. Where is the accountability in any of this? No one is looking out for the vulnerable person on a mental health journey who starts at yoga and is quickly being sold the promise of being healed from trauma by those with no appropriate qualifications and no regulatory body.

It terrifies me. And I am not at all hesitant to admit that. And I wish more yoga teachers, and others from related fields, were held accountable through measures such as supervision.

As a teacher I am supervised. Once per fortnight I meet with my supervisor and I hold myself accountable as a teacher. We may take a look at why my classes aren’t as diverse as I would hope, (I once pondered why I never had men in class, only to say in the next sentence that I feel terrified when they appear!) We may discuss the times I felt uncomfortable with something I said in class, we may discuss something I did that, on reflection, was a marker for my boundaries needing more work. It may be that I have hit uncomfortable feelings about the projections put on me. It may be that I sent out a marketing message that, on reflection, didn’t sit well with the ethos of who I aim to be as a teacher. 

This, to me, is invaluable. My supervisor will challenge my thinking, notice aspects in what I say, the stories I tell, that I would not. And they can help me put in place edges and boundaries in my role that help me keep myself and others safe. 

But this is not something widely offered in yoga. I am lucky to have trained with someone who knew, and felt passionate about, the value and importance of supervision, who had spent decades in the field of yoga and knew that yoga teachers should be supervised because a. as I said, they have spent decades in the field so they know what it is like and b. because it is fundamental to their own role as a therapist. 

Supervision was put in place for us from day one. I wish it was in place across the board. 

I do prefer science

As I mentioned at the start of this post, many scientific studies do support, by degree, the mental and physical benefits of things like yoga, pranayama, mindfulness or meditation. 

And some don’t. 

How do you feel, if you are someone who is certain of your own experience of the benefits, by the statement ‘and some don’t’? 

It is interesting to notice. 

I believe this is a cool thing. 

Whilst those who choose to separate the scientific from the spiritual may retort that science is just ‘catching up with’ what yogis have known all along (I have used that line myself!) when a supportive study comes out, or be horrified by claims that something they have experienced as beneficial is not backed up by what scientists suggest from study or research… and claim “big pharma don’t want you to know…”

Consider flipping that thinking into how important it is that this research and study is happening and that the scientists are open minded enough and curious enough to study it and then test the findings of that study again. 

Scientists, researchers, and those who approach the world with a scientific ethos, test thoughts, claims, and beliefs in a quantitative or qualitative way, always acknowledging, as they do, margins for error. 

Such study can get to a place where the probability of something being the truth is so high that, until new information emerges, science may not be too concerned with a certain topic for a time. They are not debating or studying, right now, if birds have wings, for example… nor, because it does, if Covid exists. Despite this, science always leaves room for new ways of thinking and new ways to look at reality.

The scientific ethos is actually a commitment to values that are extremely open minded. About not wanting to be immovably certain of one’s own view but taking any view, hypotheses, and testing it against nature. 

Science can be thought of as a field with enormous humility. It is so much about cooperation. Supervision. Peer review. About collaboration, about working with others to test thinking and notice blind spots. Science isn’t about proof and certainly, despite many thinking of it in this way. It is not about being perfect and infallible. And it is highly competitive. If someone is making a grandiose claim you can be certain, extremely certain, that other scientists are testing that claim, and putting forward alternate possibilities that could challenge it.

Take the example I mentioned at the start of this post with our Homeopath Emperor… someone could say that science dismisses homeopathy… or they could consider that researchers were able to study 1800 (!) papers that explored the validity of the health claims made on their effectiveness before concluding “…there are no health conditions for which there is reliable evidence that homeopathy is effective.”

Leaving room for doubt…

We should all, always, leave room for doubt. 

Like I said, it’s not that is see everything in western spirituality and wellness as ‘bad’ or that I want to make you think that it is all a load of bullshit. It’s really not. I love loads of it myself. What I do believe is that with any big claims made, there should always be room for doubt. And there should always be accountability. 

Uncertainty is a strength and not a weakness of science because it keeps the field open minded. 

Too often, the yoga, spiritual, wellness, fields, those who sell within them, are too certain of themselves and the claims that they make.

Too often, anyone who questions the validity of grandiose claims in the spiritual world is called a sheep or a blue pill or not ‘open minded’. 

To be open minded is not about the total abandonment of critical thinking to accept outlandish health and wellness claims with no due diligence done on ways in which those claims have been backed up in any meaningful way. To be open minded is not about never calling unregulated products into question. To be open minded is not to always have to choose the unpopular, or little known, alternative.

I truly hope that I am open minded as a teacher. But I am extremely open to hearing I am not. I would adore for a scientifically minded person to come to class and tell me where I may be miss representing something, in the role specific hormones or neurotransmitters are at play in our stress system, in how I explain the mechanisms in our body and mind we are playing with as we work through the things I do share. I would adore it. And I would use it as a springboard for challenging myself to learn more and look again at what I say or had come to believe.

Curiously, though, that has never happened to me. What does happen, instead, is that I am questioned on what is not in what I say. On why I don’t make certain claims. What does happen is that yet another email lands in my inbox, suggesting the reason I feel cold in my drafty Victorian House in January, which I mentioned in passing in class, is likely a hormone imbalance that they could sell me a supplement for (no thanks). Or challenging me about why I didn’t mention the New Moon in class last week and why I have nothing currently listed in the form of workshops or circles to mark a ‘Lion’s Gate Portal’ opening… 

… the answer to that is simple, my friend. 

It is because I am not interested in it. Not at all. And there is no logical reason why I should be. To pretend to be interested would be (and has been… I have done it) a lie. But, hey, if that’s what you want? There may just be one or two others you can find over there. 

I reach the end of this gargantuan post, in which I have managed to articulate only a small fraction of what I want to say, wondering how best to close. 

All I can think, right now, to say is this… 

I may not be the teacher for you

As I said at the start of this post, I don’t get it perfect. I haven’t got it perfect to here. 

I look at my own homepage and am itching to make edits. Itching to make change. Itching to challenge my own claims. 

Because, although this reflection is not new, for me, what is new is my willingness to truly make my position clear and stop being scared of alienating others in being louder in explaining it. 

I am committed to being open about the limits of who I am, what I offer, and how it can help. 

I am extremely happy to be the wrong teacher for you. 

And, at the risk of over-sharing in the realms of my emotional landscape right now, I have had a some sleepless nights lately, wondering if I should step away from it all. 

‘Is it worth it?’ 

‘By being a yoga teacher at all do I just feed this terrifying machine?’ 

Who I am as a teacher today? That is a question that was asked of me in supervision. It is the only question pertinent to my role in this world that I need the answer for, today. 

I am a kind teacher. I am a fun one, I hope. I am an educated teacher. And, here’s MY big claim, I am a teacher who can commit to never knowingly selling you a lie. 

I enjoy teaching, I enjoy the chats we have before class, I enjoy posting you the cards I make and I enjoy all the artwork and writing too. 

For now, what I said at the start is what I have, and it is enough.

Sharing tools I have learned, with humans who are walking a path through things like anxiety or addiction, or just modern life, is cool. 

I believe they do help. 

If you want to come to a class with me, you can see what you think (and challenge what I think!) for yourself. But no pressure. I am really nothing special at all. And you know what? I think that’s the best thing about me!

Thank you for reading my post and if you have comments to make I’d love to read them. You can also email me.

With huge love

Sara-Jayne xxx

 

 

Why we find it so very hard to choose…

Hello lovely humans

It has been a little while since I posted on the blog. Life has been good to me, I have been going through a period of huge reflection and change and it can take time, I find, for things to recalibrate and for the all to come back into a natural order.

It’s Halloween, today, I am dressing up as Jeff Bezos strapped to his penis rocket. I’ll share photos next week.

It’s an interesting choice of costume, perhaps.

I have been thinking a lot about choosing.

How are you with choosing? Do you find it a simple thing? Second nature? If someone asks what it is that you want are you able to answer without a necessity to frantically filer what comes to you through a ‘what will they think?’ machine inside? To throw it back to the asker? To always say ‘I don’t mind’ ‘whatever you think’ ‘I’m easy’…

I hope so. That choosing is easy for you.

I have been working with choosing for a year, almost exactly. ‘Working with choosing?’ Perhaps that sounds weird. But it has been fascinating, enlightening and pretty cool, for me. Let me explain.

I realised I was not comfortable, often, with choosing. That things that had happened meant that I didn’t feel I deserved the choice or that if I was brave enough to choose what I wanted that I would be punished in some way. The things we do with what happens to us can manifest in all kinds of curious ways. This just happened to be one of mine. And if I was to be the teacher, the human, I wanted to be, knew I could be, I needed to begin to choose.

I started small. Choosing what I would eat for my breakfast, early in the morning, before the rest of my family woke up. I had this hilarious few months where I found the easiest thing for me to choose was what fruit I would like… so through this period I steamed and stewed a lot of fruits for breakfast time. I tried all kinds of fruits I’d never come across before and ate them in a variety of ways that made me happy. Choosing what I wanted, needed, each day instead of quickly grabbing a piece of toast in the chaos of the school run was a daily treat that it was quite easy to turn into a habit. I also chose to take time to eat and to make it a mindful practise.

It is one of those things that I didn’t really notice the impact of for a long time, but like building muscle, this small practise of choosing began slowly to unfold in other areas of my life. I notice, now, how much easier it is to choose ‘on to spot’, so-to-speak, to be more decisive and more able to recognise my own needs in day-to-day life and interactions.

As a yoga teacher, offering choice is something I believe to be extremely important in creating safety in classes. Why? Because many of us have had experiences where choice was, at least in our perception, taken away.

The births of my children are an example of this for me. Trauma has been described as “an experience of having no choice,” and to me it is key that in opposition to that, my yoga classes always invite all to have different physical experiences, where eveeyone can make a variety of choices about what to do with the body.

Offering choice feels kind and inclusive, To offer options (variations, for example, on a posture, not with one posture as the ‘ideal’ and the others as poor cousins, but as equal variations) whilst eliminating judgment, “If you’d like to try something different, do this…” is so kind and invites those in classes to begin working on choosing too.

When I go to classes, I find that It’s incredibly powerful to be handed permission to rest or modify postures because so many of us struggle to give that permission to ourselves. Over time, when we’re offered the permission to choose ourselves, we may just find that this begins to change. We work toward ‘I give myself permission to choose.’

So, how do you feel about choosing? I really would love to know.

Sending you all heaps of love

Sara-Jayne

xxxx

Be An Original (And Don’t Be A Dick…)

I’m feeling rebellious, inspired and incredibly energised by life right now.

I feel electric.

I love how creative I am. 

I am creative.

I can affirm that with absolute certainty, needing no reinforcement, praise or encouragement.

When you are creative (and you are, too, we all are). And when you have something original to show to the world (you do, we all do). It’s a pretty cool thing if you can find the courage inherent in ‘putting it out there’ in an effort to reach others. In service to others, to inspire others, or… hell, to earn yourself a living doing something you were born to do.

But it can have its downsides too. 

When you truly are in touch with your creativity, when you are stepping up to be YOU… what I notice is that other people don’t necessarily like it too much.

Some people…

*whispers* …Some people will want what you have…

And they want it so very much, so desperately,

that they will try and take it for themselves.

Sometimes they will take only a breadcrumb at a time. Barely noticeable, at first.

Others will swoop toward you and gather up great big greedy armfuls of you without a backward glance.

I know, I know, it’s shocking, right? But it is true.

It’s something that happens in my world more and more. And I am not alone. 

Sometimes it’s just plain old creepy…

Having invested hugely in myself in a variety of ways in recent years I am not too keen on hacking off huge parts of myself to hand to others on a silver platter to feast on in gay abandon… but what can you do… when you’re feeling inspired, energised, and electric, some people just really want a piece of you for themselves.

Some of this happens unconsciously, and it can be quite easy as the creator of something to let that slide on by.

Other times it’s more blatant. Huge chunks of text copied and pasted from your website to theirs. Uncredited. Classes copied, from the intention to the music to that thing you said about Tiger penises. Haircuts, clothing choices, the way you have chosen to present your ideas. Some feel it all is fair game. Artwork, born of your own very personal relationship to yourself and the world. Creations that huge money, time, creativity and love was poured into… just copied. Blatantly. Often badly. And passed off as someone else’s original idea.

It can feel exhausting.

I’ll be honest, sometimes it feels quite threatening.

Once or twice, for me, it’s been just plain old creepy.

But what can you do? I can’t build an electric fence around myself and hammer a sign on my head that says ‘Danger. High Voltage’. Or can I?

Well, until I decide on that, I will say it again.

I AM CREATIVE.

Hey, if you want to congratulate me on my art or my words or my dress sense that’s lovely. Thank you very much. And if you disagree and think I’m dull, uninspiring and flat then… excellent.

Your opinion will unroot my feet from solid ground no more than the feather from a baby sparrow floating from the heavens to land on my shoulder. How sweet. *Brushes feather off, picks it up, and sticks it on a canvas depicting neon sparrows exploring a supernova explosion*.

If you think that sounds arrogant. Well, it is, a bit! We all need a healthy amount of narcissism to feel pride, hold self-esteem and realise our own self worth. That I can hold my head up so high and say ‘I am creative’ is hugely important to where I am in my relationship to myself. I would not have been able to shout it loud and proud a year ago.

Through my adult life, what I do with my creativity has more regularly private than public. Be it playing, painting, building, photographing, decorating, writing or decapitating dolls.  None of you (unless you’re related to me, my neighbour or knew me well 20 years ago) have heard me play the flute. But I do it every day. Creating is not about the other. It is about exploring and expressing my feelings experiences and ideas, filtered through my own completely unique brain… 

To put some of what I create out into the world since becoming a yoga teacher has been rewarding. I am proud that what I have created is both authentic as a reflection of my inner and outer relationship to the universe and in being unlike what is most commonly seen in how yoga is presented… particularly online. 

I don’t strive for originality, I strive to be me. Originality is what comes from that…

Originality… It’s a terrific thing.

To be original, to hope to be… it can be a bitch. It can feel impossible, unreachable, when we’re out of whack with our own potency. Not sure who we are. What we want. What we think.

Who we are.
What we want.
What we think.

They sound like pretty basic elements in experiencing a human life.

But what we want,
what we think
who we are…

for many, they are lost. Lost in the noise. In the contractions in body and mind that they are not even aware exist, so familiar are they to their experience of what life can be. Comparing, despairing and searching for something, anything, to temporarily ease an uncomfortable sense that something is wrong.

All that is left is to spin around in a metaphorical blindfold with a shaky, pointing finger… a kind of  existential spin the bottle… and to land on someone who seems to own some semblance of what you perceive that you should want, think, and be and think ‘I’ll take that one. For me’.

Life is noisy.

We’re all continually taking in stimuli from our environments… how things look, what we hear, what lights us up, how people react, what turns us off… we take inspiration from nature and television and music videos and art and from other people we see who are cool and interesting, charismatic, funny, magical or strong …

Whether conscious or unconscious we take on aspects of what others say, think, do, create…

Last week, my own teacher, Carolyn, taught an incredible Kundalini Global class where we did a yoga series called ‘Be An Original’ and Carolyn explored the idea of what it means to be you. Your true, authentic, human self.

It struck a chord for me.

I realised how much that I do it too, unconsciously taking without doing the work to make it energetically elegant. And I’ve taken myself on in this. I would encourage you to do the same.

Take Carolyn, I’ve done pretty much all of her trainings.  And I would do them all again. She’s brilliant. Hilarious, exceptionally clever, unique in her thinking and extremely charismatic. She explains things in such a creative, distinctive and authoritative way…

It has been on a regular basis that I use words, idioms and ideas that I would NEVER have considered using before meeting Carolyn, because I have taken them from her… and it’s just not on.

I wouldn’t dream, ever, of stealing Carolyn’s written words, artwork or class plans. But both consciously and unconsciously I have been guilty of stepping beyond ‘inspired by’ into ‘taken from’ in how I teach.

It’s a shitty thing to do.

You could say it is hard to avoid copying. But it is not.

It is not hard to avoid copying. Just don’t do it.

Whilst it’s not hard to avoid copying other people, it’s really easy to not bother doing the work inherent in being yourself. Because it really is work.

It is so easy not to reflect on what someone has said, written, created … and consider how that can be translated into your own universe, for your people, through you, your lens, your lived experience.

But when you do that part, that’s when the magic happens.

Whilst we can be inspired by those we look up to or who hold positions we see as hierarchically above us in realms in which we walk, to be able to consolidate and percolate and really learn from them, to be able to make manifest what they have taught to us, to transform the ideas they shared, ideas that lit us up, into something that truly serves us and others, we have to run them through our own internal computer system and turn them into something new…

And that can take time, patience and real skill. Be patient with yourself. And don’t rush it. Focus on becoming you and the percolation will happen along the way.

Of course we are all influenced by things outside of ourselves, be they the moon or Harry Styles’ penchant for amazing trousers (something that inspires me, endlessly). But don’t be a dick.

If you buy some pastel flares, Harry Styles won’t care. Probably. Unless you’re Zayn Malik. But if you steal someone’s artwork, when the original was born of 15k of therapy, some very late nights and sixteen hours of introspection, it’s just not cool. Stop it. Be you.

It’s not always easy to stay ‘true to you’… but nothing truly magical and potent is easy.

You’re never going to find yourself the spaces between the ctl+c  and ctl+v commands on your keyboard. Try the whole qwerty spectrum instead.


“This is the great power of the brain, it’s plastic!” and other recent lessons from my life…

Hello lovely humans,

In just over a week I begin a new series of 5, Tuesday evening, classes called ‘The Art of Changing Your Mind.’

These 90 minute Kundalini Global yoga classes have a specific focus on how practises such as breathing and stretching can aid us on a journey through stress, overwhelm and anxiety.

The series of classes comes with a special issue of my zine, Dancing Star.

All 5 classes will be recorded and available on Vimeo the following morning. The series of classes comes with an exclusive issue of my zine, Dancing Star. The issue has been made to complement what we will work through in class.

Dancing Star will be sent out in the post, with a surprise gift, to you all. It will also be with you as a PDF.

The classes will include a full yoga series and follow a similar format to my regular classes. With 90 minutes we have a little more time for us to go deeper in to individual aspects of the practise. And more time to relax, too!

The cost for the 5 classes, the recordings, and the zine is £30.

That is £6 per 90 minute class plus the zine and recordings. If money is any sort of an obstacle, and you feel you would benefit from the classes, do get in touch.

Also email me: info@sarajaynekundalini.com if you have any questions about the classes.

I would truly adore for you to join me. I’m excited about this series and sharing on some of what I learned when I qualified to teach addiction and anxiety recovery classes earlier this year.

To book your place go here:

When I am teaching classes, I often repeat myself. A lot.

I do my best to be liberal with my explanations. I do. It would not be hard for you to tire of my voice. No matter how gorgeous my Wolvo accent is.

I do love to talk though. And it is important to me that I share some of the ‘why’ when I teach. Perhaps, for you, it is unimportant. My own experience has been that feelings of agency have increased with my understanding of how things work to make me feel so amazing after a class.

A few things come up with so much regularity I thought I would take a little time over coming weeks, on the blog, to explain a more about some of the aspects of our physiology that come up when I am chatting during posture in class.

We’re going to start with an important one:

The Vagus Nerve

Something that I mention, often, is the vagus nerve.

In Kundalini Global, polyvagul theory has informed many aspects of how we work with posture. As one small example, when working with Spinal Flex, a posture that features in pretty much every Kundalini class you ever attend, rather than keeping the neck still, employing the neck lock throughout, as is common in another school of Kundalini, we raise the chin. We do this because of the impact the stretching of the throat has on the signalling aspect of, indeed ALL of, the vagal system. As Carolyn Cowan, our founder, always says ‘if you don’t raise the chin, you miss the gift.’

The vagus nerve is a creepy looking, giant, creature-like cranial nerve that goes all the way from the frown lines to the pelvic floor.

It is a ‘two way highway’ in that it plays a huge role in managing both our sympathetic and parasympathetic responses in in body.

It is a part of the system that manages the internal organs – along with the limbic brain, fascia, endocrine system (our hormonal flow) and the muscles involved in our fight or flight response.

The signalling aspect of the vagus nerve goes from the forehead to the base of the throat. This relates to our external way of telling the world what is happening inside – how we show emotion on the face, for example. Or in the voice. Our eye contact or how our eyes may dart around the room (or be still and gently focused).

The thoracic section of the vagus nerve goes from the neck down to the diaphragm – when we feel triggered/stressed etc. this is felt in the chest. Which tightens in a sympathetic response. We breath higher up in the body, and faster. 

The ventral branch of the vagal nerve affects body functioning below the diaphragm down to the pelvic floor – this is known as the viscera. Where we hold trauma and shame. This is why we have ‘visceral’ or ‘gut’ feelings. 

How can you affect the vagus nerve, positively?

First of all, the power we take back by being aware of it’s functioning is incredible. When we are aware of how it functions and then notice our triggers, notice when we contract, when everything tightens, when our thoughts are short and fast, when the throat closes or the chest tightens… etc. we can, from there:

Stretch
Orgasm
Laugh
Sing
Breathe consciously
Use cold water e.g. cold showers
Dance
Swim…

And very many other practises. All of which help to improve vagal tone.

What have I been reading?

I’ve been getting through my to-be-read pile at a wonderfully satisfying speed. The is largely thanks to getting back in to my very gorgeous habit of having, what many people may consider, obscenely early nights.

A few books I have read, and enjoyed, over the last few weeks are:

Neurocomic: A Graphic Novel About How the Brain Works

This book takes perhaps an hour to read. And it was a pure joy.

A collaboration between neuroscientist Hana Roš and neuroscience-PhD-turned-illustrator Dr. Matteo Farinella, Neurocomic explains the inner workings of the brain in a really fun way.

It is great for nerds like me who are fascinated by the brain but have no formal university level education in its workings. Covering perception, hallucinations, memory, emotional recall… it even dips in to consciousness and the difference between the mind and the brain. A topic I am reading a lot about at the moment.

The protagonist takes a walk through a forest of neurons, learning about neuroplasticity.

“This is the great power of the brain, it’s plastic!”

“Once you learn something it is not set in stone, it’s continuously shaped by experience.”

A book to treasure. An object of beauty. Simple. Fun. Informative. Cute. I love.

Quantum Physics For Dummies 

Real life footage of me reading the book

That may make you laugh. But the ‘For Dummies’ books can be truly excellent. This happens to be one such example, although I will admit that it took me quite some time, and further reading, to fully be able to follow the text through. To have a Quantum Physics for Dummies book definitely feels something of an oxymoron, and the depth this book goes into really challenges the ‘for dummies’ element to breaking point.

Dummy or not, quantum physics is something I am determined to learn more about. I will not say ‘understand’ because I think that may be rather ambitious. I would say that this book is not aimed at someone entirely new to quantum physics… if you are unfamiliar with Hilbert Space, or if you find mathematical equations a huge turn-off, you may not enjoy this book. If you are an expert it is likely not for you, either. For me, this book was valuable to read. It is not ‘pop science’ (I do love a little pop science) but it does not zoom so far over my head that to stay with it is unbearable which has been an experience I have had when reading around quantum physics many times to now.

Quantum entanglement is my latest Google-based, time draining, rabbit hole, since reading this book. Some fascinating concepts are explored, and dusting off the 11-year-old ‘mathlete’ aspect of myself has been quite an adventure. Numbers are great.

Other news from my life…

I have had most of my house decorated over the last month. Something that was very disruptive but worth it. Our home feels as if new life has been breathed in to it. I found the experience of having decorators here to be quite the challenge after a year of lockdown life. Many coffees and teas were made, chats were had, I found myself flying into daily incandescent rages about the sexism I encountered in various workmen’s interactions with me and my family, assumptions that were made, language that was used. We got through it. No one exploded. I thought I might.

One room I did not decorate was the room I teach from. But I have plans. Big plans.

I want that space to be a much more accurate reflection of who I am. I want it to be bright and colourful and magical and strange. At some time over the summer I will take a week or two off from classes to allow the transformation to take place. If you have any interior design inspiration featuring tigers, brains and faux leopard print joy, send it my way.

FREE CLASSES: Saturday and Sunday at 8am.

My free classes now take place on Saturdays AND Sundays at 8am.

Both classes are 60 minutes long.

These classes are a fantastic way to explore Kundalini Global from the comfort of your home.

Beginning in June I will be adding a charity fund-raising element to this offer. All you need to do to sign up is to join my email newsletter.

More info can be found here:


As always, I would love if you left a comment or sent me an email to let me know if you enjoyed this post, how you are, or any questions you may have about anything I have said.

Have the most gorgeous day, week, moment.

Loads of love

Sara-Jayne

xxxxxx






The Language of Yoga: ‘What did she just say…?’

Before I get on to ‘talking’ langauge, I wanted to say a massive thank you to everyone who came along to my two free classes this week. I enjoyed both classes hugely and can’t wait to be back on the mat with you on Monday (7th September) at 7:00 pm, and Wednesday (9th September) at 10:00am. I am in the process of working out a third class time and so if you have any suggestions please let me know in the comments below.

To book, you can visit this page. I have listed a suggested contribution of £5 per class. Payment is taken via Stripe which is an extremely secure system, and no details are held by me other than your contact details which will be used to tell you about classes and send you the link to join.

Now, on to what I wanted to post about to day, which is a subject I feel incredibly passionate about as I start on this journey as a yoga teacher – language!

“Language is power, life and the instrument of culture, the instrument of domination and liberation.” – Angela Carter


When I first came to yoga I was pretty restless, anxious and unsure of myself. I knew Kundalini Yoga was making positive change in my life, but I didn’t always find classes easy. Sometimes I could leave a class and feel quite unnerved. Sometimes even more anxious than when I started. This wasn’t a ‘fault’ in the classes or in me, it was just part of my journey. But, over time, as I have come to really study yoga classes as a teacher trainee and beyond, I have noticed more and more how much the language a teacher uses plays a part in my experience of a class.

If I was to list every incident where I have been triggered whilst practising yoga I’d estimate that over 90% of them would come back to words. To language and the way in which it is spoken.

Early on it could be as simple as a fellow student verbalising their own state of anxiety as I sat teetering on the edge of my own. As my practice deepened, so did my ability to regulate. Often providing an opportunity for recognition and reflection, ‘that’s interesting, she sounds angry and for a moment I was scared’. When no reflection comes I can pause and consider ‘perhaps that really was a weird thing for them to say?’ Language is incredibly powerful, and if yoga teachers wish to create and hold a safe and sacred space in which every person who comes to sit with them can experience the class and themselves in a kind and compassionate way (I know I do), the language used in the space is supremely important.

In my own teaching it is incredibly important to me to be mindful and reflective of the language I use. Language can play a big part in creating inclusive, safe and kind spaces, and there are some of common areas in which language can become problematic. 

When it comes to posture, offering choice in what to do, and how, feels kind and inclusive, and I really notice when teachers place emphasis on empowerment and choice by simple gestures such as reminding us that if we have pain as we work through a posture we can always stop. Also by providing alternatives postures – and not with on being better than another. Options in a posture are equal but different variations. 

To offer options while eliminating judgment, “If you’d like to try something different, do this…” is so much kinder than to imply that one ‘perfect’ posture is the goal, which can leave us feeling inadequate – measuring ourselves against the ‘ideal’. 

I find it is incredibly powerful to be handed permission to rest or modify postures because so many of us struggle to give that permission to ourselves.

Yoga teachers have a huge privilege in having an opportunity to guide clients to experience comfort in their body. Using language that gives permission for choice really aids in this. We may say ‘If it’s comfortable for you, close your eyes,” rather than ‘eyes should be closed’ and then apply this approach to a variety of instances throughout class, always guiding with the permission for comfort.

I can talk about this from experience.

I have been someone so uncomfortable in my body I did not really want to be in it at all. To finally, through yoga, have permission to explore feeling more comfortable in the body is a gift beyond measure.

The domino effect of that shift can be incredibly potent and can awaken a kinder relationship with the self as well as the body. 

I want my teaching to take place in spaces that feel ‘safe enough to take a risk’. A risk to try something new. To experience something for the first time. It is easy to see safety and risk as opposites but, actually, it is the safety that allows us to move in to places we may feel fearful of, slowly and comfortably. We must not forget this when choosing to be kind and inclusive with words. Safe enough. 

Language, words, have a huge influence on body image and our relationship to ourselves – including our self esteem. If I hear a teacher say ‘you will/should feel…’ in relation to both physical and emotional sensations I tend to beat myself up when I don’t feel as they describe. ‘You may notice…’ or ‘Possibly…’ are much kinder and I feel, generally, the most important thing is for each of us to be aware of sensations, not to measure ourselves against what it ‘should’ be like.

Body image is certainly an area to reflect on when it comes to the language of teaching people and not just postures. We may hope that for every teacher, every person in a yoga class is exactly that, a human in a yoga class, a person like any other. In seeing all as equal, we may assume there is no need to draw any attention to different bodies, but as discussed in The Yoga Teacher Mentor by Jess Gleny, there may be times when body size, shape, height, cleavage  (to give a few examples), are going to make a real difference when looking at physical adjustments or alternative postures. This is another area in which I feel hugely passionate about in bringing awareness and consideration to the language used.

When it comes to the language around body shape I do not use or appreciate language like ‘overweight’, which is not body positive – presupposing as the word does, that a person’s weight is in an undefined way ‘too much’. Where possible, I would always consciously avoid commenting on someone’s physical appearance. I have felt myself feeling incredibly self conscious in the position of student when singled out, even under the pretence of being given a compliment, on my physical appearance. To me it is only relevant if I can help with an adjustment to make a posture more comfortable.

 I will always strive to use gender-neutral and inclusive language in classes, avoiding statements such as, “this should be easier for women” or “men have tight hamstrings.” Such statements creates judgment and false perceptions. It is time to step away from the limits of the binary, and acknowledge and welcome that gender identity can be fluid and not fixed.

By using inclusive terminology I truly hope to remove barriers that can exclude gender-variant or transgender students.

I have found it a worthwhile experiment to take an extended length of time where I replace all pronouns with ‘them/they’, it is illuminating to practise, we revert to the binary so quickly. The use of gendered pronouns in teaching can feel inevitable, but is alienating. I hope that using inclusive language can play a part in showing that, for me, every single person who comes to a class is valued and respected. There’s a place for everyone in my classes. I feel it is very important to bring awareness to my use of gendered language, getting it right all the time is less important than showing the willingness to listen, and to respect all gender identities and preferences. 

 Yoga teacher and activist Diane Bondy has said that we have forgotten how to practise svadhyaya, self-study and the examination of our beliefs and attitudes stating “too many of us fail to acknowledge our own biases, privileges, and limiting beliefs. We fail to critically analyse the messages we are seeing and hearing as we navigate through the world.” I agree wholeheartedly and feel that it is imperative that we do truly practise self reflection, examining any place where conscious and unconscious biases may be limiting the inclusivity of classes.

Language is a key area any biases or limiting beliefs may make themselves known in a class. As a teacher I do my best to incorporate language that guides everyone to practice the art of observation or self-study, which is a key component in learning how to notice changes that happen in a class without critique or judgment. And just as I aim to teach with words that encourage neutral observation, such as ‘notice’ and ‘observe’ I am committed to shining the light back on to myself, and to work towards using language that welcomes every body to come and join me in a safe, sacred space.

Safety in Silence 

 When we talk of language in the yoga class, it is also important to reflect on the power of silence. In Kundalini Yoga we really play with purposeful pauses and silence. These are, after all, often the most potent moments of a class.  

When I reflect on the teachers I love to be in classes with, I see the skill in how they work in leading us toward stillness, giving us permission to be comfortable with silence. Much of the language that is used is with the intention of doing just that. Leading us to the silence. 

When I think over my teacher training, I recognise in my own experience that silence can feel uncomfortable for the new teacher, but  each and every class certainly needs it. 

It is in the silence that we are able to gift you the space to glimpse your inner connection. So I do not avoid the silence. I find classes in Kundalini Global go to it very naturally, intuitively.

Ultimately language should be intuitive, and I am aware that by reflecting on so many areas where language can ‘trip us up’ there is a danger of over-regulating and moving away from such intuition and in to a place of fear, ‘I can’t say that.’ ‘Oh gosh, what if I get it wrong?’ I certainly know I don’t have to, and will not, get it right all the time, and recognising where I have made a mistake is very important to me.

What I take away from my research and reflection is the importance of being willing to learn, be open, to always reflect on where language could be kinder. Researching the language of yoga has led me to begin a practice of being kinder how I speak to myself, inviting the same gentler dialogue with my own body and minds.

This inner work is perhaps where any consideration of language should begin, and from there, it can move in to our classes from a place of real authenticity, kindness and openness, and with the knowledge that in moment where we get it wrong, we are ready, open-hearted, to say sorry and to learn.