Meet the Practitioner – Lisa Smith

Lisa is the face of St Davids Yoga, and usually runs weekly group yoga classes from St Davids Wellbeing, as well as antenatal yoga sessions and 1:1 yoga therapy. As we enter our 10th week of lockdown in Wales, Lisa talks all things yoga, gives us a fantastic insight into her specific practice of Viniyoga, and tells us how she’s adapted her teaching in our new circumstances.

How did you get into yoga and what made you want to teach?

I went to my first yoga class when our son was 6 weeks old because I was suffering with a big dose of what was then referred to as ‘baby-blues’. It’s only 21 years ago, but post-natal depression wasn’t talked about as it is now, but fortunately someone told me Yoga would help and when I got home from my first class, I clearly remember feeling different, better. I knew that I’d found something that would sustain me, in body, breath and spirit, possibly for the rest of my life. Really! From my first class I was hooked. I didn’t ever plan to become a yoga teacher, but the deeper my practice became, the more I wanted to learn about the theory and yoga philosophy. I did a few weekends and short courses, and, like many, started a teacher training course with no intention of actually teaching! However, having spent 24 years as a ‘real-world’ teacher in post-16 education, I guess the transition was inevitable. It’s certainly not a decision I regret! For you, what are the benefits of yoga?

For me, yoga has never been just about my body, although it has kept me strong and flexible for 21 years. Without any doubt, the effect the practice has on my mind and spirit is most profound, it’s my faith, and it keeps me grounded. Yoga is (or should be) about holistic wellbeing – it touches everything. It opens your mind and your heart to all the possibilities life has.

What is Viniyoga?

Viniyoga is the legacy of the great teacher Krishnamacharya and his son Desikachar, who carried on his father’s teachings. Desikachar called his method Viniyoga, and we have him to thank for Yoga’s dissemination to the west in the 1980s. Vinyoga is a Sanskrit word which literally means ‘special application’, i.e. it’s how you apply your knowledge. In fact, you could have a Viniyoga of anything i.e. the viniyoga of making an omelette. It’s not Vini–Yoga, it’s the viniyoga of Yoga!

So, Viniyoga is not simply about mechanical, bodily movements or postures. You will perform many of the classical asana (postures) in a Viniyoga class, but with special attention to the breath. This draws the mind into the practice and helps move towards the goal of Yoga, which Patanjali describes as “stilling the activity of the mind” in chapter 1 of the Yoga Sutra. What advice would you give to someone thinking of trying yoga?

Check out the teacher’s credentials and experience and try a few different styles of Yoga to find one that suits your needs. There’s so much out there, so talk to teachers, ask them about their approach, their training, and the content of the class. I’d also say sign up to at least 1 term before you decide whether it’s for you or not. My experience in my first class is unusual, Yoga is a slow-burn, there is no quick fix.

Is there something special about practising yoga in St Davids?

Yes! This place is deeply spiritual, it’s in the earth and the air we breathe, it’s infectious and inspires me on a daily basis.

The people here are special too, the community is vibrant, eclectic, and I have recently been feeling that there is a real shift, a drive, and an energy, towards creating a healthy, wholesome hub here, and I love being part of that. St Davids should be the UK’s no.1 wellbeing destination – we have it ALL. I am very lucky that my ‘job’ is teaching yoga in St Davids. From early childhood I came to St Davids on holiday, and when our children were little we came here every year wondering what we would do if we lived here! …and here I am! Dreams DO come true.

How are you adjusting to our new circumstances, both personally and professionally?

Professionally I’m running about 80% of my Yoga online. I had a steep learning curve on Zoom, which is brilliant, and so the show goes on. I really miss actually being with my students, and online work tires me out much more, but it’s working and I am grateful.

Personally I am benefitting hugely from slowing down so much. My 6-month old rotator cuff injury is finally beginning to repair and I am doing more yoga for myself than I have ever done. My yoga teachers live in Malvern and Bridgewater, so I don’t see them that often, but I’ve been able to have a weekly class online with them which has been very nurturing. It’s given me time to emerge myself more into yoga philosophy as well, and to reflect.

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