We were very happy to welcome Zaz to join the Yoga West teacher group in November. As always we thought we should share her yoga story with you. Enjoy!
How did you get in to yoga?
I came to yoga in my early twenties after a motorcycle accident left me with two twisted vertebrae that resulted in frequent episodes of muscle spasms, which left me debilitated and unable to walk for days on end at times. A friend suggested that we try out “this new trendy thing called yoga” to get me out of my torpor, and from the first exhale on the mat I felt a connection. I have always been hypermobile, and did gymnastics and ballet when I was younger, so I was naturally drawn to the physical aspects… but of course yoga isn’t just about being flexible, it requires strength too, and over time I discovered the deep calm I felt during practice, and was addicted to that most of all! I fell in love with the ashtanga practice, and began to go to the Life Centre 3 times a week for a few years. I approached some poses with apprehension, fearing that my back would go again, however discovered that over time I was building strength and developing body awareness. Being able to move painlessly and also to be free of my almost-weekly osteopath emergency appointments to relieve spasms was, and still is, an absolute joy. Not having to be constantly worrying about being in pain also meant that I was able to find a more peaceful place mentally, and I love the breathing practices we use and the space that being on my yoga mat gives.
Was there a moment when you realised that you wanted to pursue yoga seriously?
I worked in corporate marketing for big luxury fashion and beauty brands for over 15 years, and continued to be a working mother after having my two children. After a few years, I realised that there was no balance, and that I was seeing my children for under 2 hours a week! Something had to change. I had gotten back to a regular yoga practice after realising that I needed to carve some time for me between work and family life, and my teacher encouraged me to consider doing my teacher training. Her encouragement and belief in me was an enormous impetus, and I wanted to do something that would positively impact other people and provide the opportunity for them to experience the healing benefits that yoga had brought to me, both physically and mentally. When my contract came up for renewal at the brand I was working at, I decided not to renew it, and to take the plunge. I had been toying with the idea for 8 years already, yet wasn’t brave enough – I think that I had just reached a point where I was ready.
How has yoga changed you?
It’s hard to pin down how yoga has changed me, I suppose because over a long period of time, I have naturally evolved, and carried my yoga practice with me. I think more than yoga changing me, I can see where yoga has changed for me – becoming not just a physical practice, but one that has brought me so much spiritually and mentally too to enable me to get through the ups and downs that life has thrown.
Yoga has certainly given me a far more positive view of myself, both inside and out. I am stronger than I have ever been, and my body regularly surprises me at what there is to discover. I can find those places of calm, use my breath to still my thoughts when everything starts to whirl around, as it inevitably does to us all, and am far more accepting of me and of others.
What is your approach to teaching?
I always hope to challenge the mind’s perceptions of what you can do – when you can come back again and again, and achieve something physically that you thought impossible, from touching your toes, to doing a headstand, there is a trickle-down effect of your mind realising that you are capable of more than you think you are, and that applies off the mat as well as on it! The practice should be as much as possible an inclusive one, playful, non-competitive, and a space to discover physical and mental qualities that you may not have known were there. Sometimes we fall over, and how we react to our wobbles, or how we perceive we are doing something on the mat translates to how we approach life outside of our designated practice times. I like to try to communicate these things each time I teach, and hopefully a little more of it sinks in over time!
What advice would you give to people who are considering taking up yoga?
I would say approach it like you would approach tidying up a messy room. Maybe your reason is to want to tidy that room up, become more flexible, stronger, calmer. So take the time to come back again and again to do that. Tidy your room. It doesn’t happen overnight, and you just have to be kind to yourself and go at your pace. Eventually you might not only create a tidy room, or a strong, flexible body and calmer mind, but you might even discover something in that “messy room” that you can take away into different parts of your life – whether it’s a new way of breathing, or the ability to be grounded and function with the most powerful parts of yourself.
Do you have a favourite yoga quote?
I am a Libran and horribly indecisive, so it’s so hard to choose just one favourite quote! If I had to choose one that specifically resonates with me for yoga it would be this: “Yoga succeeds by these six: enthusiasm, openness, courage, knowledge of the truth, determination and solitude” – from the Hatha Pradipika. That willingness to be playful, to have the courage to try, and to fail and to try again, to be open hearted, authentic, to have commitment and focus; those things are all deeply ingrained in me, and reflected in how I see yoga.
Is there anything outside your yoga that people should know?
I grew up in the West Indies, in Trinidad and Tobago, and came here 30 years ago, but am still firmly a Trini-girl at heart! Just to confuse things, I am also French too. I am a herbal tea addict, and would rather have two starters than dessert – unless it’s a sticky toffee pudding!
You can join Zaz every Monday evening at 8pm for Flow & Yin and keep an eye out for her covering some of the classes too!