Mel graduated from the Yoga West Teacher Training in 2020.
How did you get into yoga?
My earliest memory of Yoga is seeing a definition of Yoga in an encyclopaedia as a child (remember those books we had pre-Google?!) and asking my mum for a Yoga tape for my birthday. I vividly remember learning sun salutations in the living room as my cousins watched on in confusion as to what I was doing… This was before Yoga had become mainstream!
Fast-forward to 2013, I was a student living in Paris, and a friend of mine took me to a free class in a beautiful location overlooking the Seine river and I was hooked!
Over time, I became more dedicated to my asana practice and I began to meditate regularly. I quickly became fascinated by the ancient philosophical teachings of yoga and how practical and applicable they remain for our modern lives.
I wanted to further my understanding and be able to share the teachings of yoga with others, so took my first 200-hour yoga teaching with Yoga West London, which gave me a grounding in the lineage of yoga, the evolution of the practice as well as a deep study of the philosophy. I took further training in sequencing as well as training in LYT Method yoga, a form of functional asana practice developed by a physiotherapist to help combat the imbalances and challenges that often present in our modern lives.
Was there a moment when you realised you wanted to pursue yoga seriously?
I think that so often we hear stories or see stories told on social media by people who declare it was ‘love at first sun salutation’, but for many people yoga is discovered over time through a series of stops and starts. Even though I have always enjoyed yoga, it can take time to see its benefits both physically and mentally.
The idea of yoga needs to cross paths with the right circumstances in your life such as a local teacher or studio, at the right time, when you can create space for the practice and start taking regular classes. But I think there is a second turning point whereby you realise the impact of yoga outside of the studio and beyond the physical practice, at which point it calls you to dedicate yourself to a consistent practice on and off the mat.
For me, this turning point was after I had been attending a few months of classes at Yoga West, before I joined the team, and I realised the positive impact it had on my mental health as much as my physical health: I felt calmer, happier, less anxious, less stressed, and every time I practiced I walked away feeling better than when I began.
How has yoga changed you?
To an outsider, yoga brings about some obvious changes physically: you become more flexible, see better mobility and physical strength, all of which I have noticed change in my body since practicing yoga. There are also some mental shifts you can see as well, such as a greater sense of calm, which often comes with any exercise programme. But with yoga there are many ‘behind the scenes’ changes that happen gradually over time, and those changes can be more subtle to spot in the short-term.
As I look back now, I can see that yoga has changed my whole perspective on life, which is difficult to summarise here but I think the key elements are: showing up for yourself on a daily basis, connecting with your body and mind, listening to what your body and mind need, and understanding what your practice needs to make progress. And perhaps most powerful of all, practicing yoga has helped me to get better at becoming aware of, and listening to, the inner voice. I’m talking about the one that sits behind all that ‘noise’ that occupies your attention 99.9% of the day, it’s the self that is the awareness of that voice, it is both your gut instinct and your rational, logical self. It sits beyond the day-to-day distractions, and I think that practice of connection to the self is formed and built on the mat but is a lifelong pursuit that we’re all working toward.
What’s your advice to people considering starting yoga?
This may sound cliché to say we are all on our own unique journey, but in the studio, comparison to others actually comes up a lot in conversation, and often in different forms. Part of the beauty of yoga is that there is no competition, there is no way you can ‘Win’ yoga or be the ‘best’ at it.
Although, as an aside, I just googled it: apparently there is such thing as a yoga championship, but as the Wikipedia page says, it conflicts with the nature of yoga… Yes, you may be more flexible or be able to hold an inversion or arm balance, but if you’re doing so to serve your ego, then yoga still has a lot to teach you.
So, my advice would be firstly to stay open: to trying a new experience, to exploring what your body can do, to seeing what you can learn through yoga. But focus on what is going on within the four corners of your mat. Notice when you are comparing yourself in class and refocus on what you are doing. Close your eyes for a few seconds if you need a way to bring your attention inward. When you’re new, it can feel like you have a thousand things to think about at once, so it can be helpful to just take a second to think about rooting down through the feet to re-centre yourself and feel grounded a few times during the class.
On a practical level, I would say try a few different classes. Every teacher and every class type is very different. If you have never done yoga before, I highly recommend a basics course, not only so you can get the foundations right but so you have a frame of reference, meaning you can go into any class with a good idea of what the basic movements are going to be. If you have done a bit of yoga before, try out some Vinyasa classes and Restorative classes and see what works for you. A vinyasa class may be too fast-paced to keep up with the sequences, or if you have a fitness background the idea of Restorative may feel alien to you. Start in your comfort zone and work from there. I suspect over time you will come to see the value in many different types of practice.
What is your approach to teaching?
My vision is to share the tangible, practical benefits of yoga, across asana, meditation, breathwork and philosophy, to enable my students to feel freer in their bodies, calmer in their minds, and find meaning & purpose in their lives.
I believe that we are all living in different bodies, and the power of yoga is in its adaptability to all bodies, so I always aim to create an inclusive environment where students feel they can work from where they are, on that day, both physically and mentally.
I strongly emphasise education as a key component of my teaching, both in terms of helping students to explore and experience their own bodies as well as sharing the ancient wisdom of yoga philosophy. And lastly, I encourage a sense of curiosity and invite students to explore a child-like sense of play – when else can you practice balancing on your hands and turning upside down in your adult life?
Ultimately, I think yoga offers us the tools to find calm and purpose amidst a world that can feel busy and pull us in many directions. What can be more powerful?!
My favourite quote as a yogi:
“There is nothing more important to true growth than realizing that you are not the voice of the mind - you are the one who hears it.”
― Michael A. Singer, The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself