I Am A Yoga Girl - Emma Rees

My yoga journey started in a town not far out of London, with four studios within a 5 mile radius: hot, vinyasa aerial, restorative, hip hop, I tried it all…

Graduating from teacher training coincided with a return to the rural county I grew up in. In the unpredictable world of freelance community classes, I found my teaching voice.

Fresh from training, I found very little yoga at times I could fit around work, so wasted no time setting up my own evening classes in my new village. After just two classes, I gave notice at my day job (in hindsight, a bit impulsive) and soon set up groups in other community spaces. The reality of my work is zipping around the countryside in my rather untidy car, packed with yoga mats, blocks and blankets, loading and unloading, returning to an ever-growing laundry pile of leggings. It’s unaffected, low-tech and sometimes unglamorous, but I’ve never felt more of a yoga girl.

It’s sometimes an unpopular opinion, but the physical elements of yoga have always been important to me. Not because I want to show off in a fancy pose (you name it, I probably can’t do it!), but because - for me - the way to get out of my head is to explore the sequences, feel my muscles stretch, and connect with the breath as I move. I respect those who focus more on quiet meditation and chanting, but that’s not me, and I’ve been lucky to find students who feel the same. I work hard to promote classes that teach traditional yoga, but are welcoming and have a functional approach: everyone is encouraged to set their own agenda, whether that’s to switch off, feel fitter and stronger, or just take an hour for themselves.

Our classes are focused, but not always quiet, with music (and laughter!) being very important. Students arrive early, chat, check in with each other, and always notice if their usual ‘mat neighbour’ is missing. It’s been a good lesson in what yoga is really all about: yes, I’m there to deliver a planned class, but if our yoga experience is all about giving the body and mind what it needs, then being part of that little yogi community can also contribute to that.

I teach a few classes a week to older teenagers at a boys’ school. Those boys have been the best teachers in terms of making yoga welcoming and unpretentious. Some use it to support their high-level competitive sports, so they better avoid injury and learn to stay calm when the pressure is on. Others have found in yoga the physical activity that works for them, that helps them feel stronger; any of these young men could easily show up in a vinyasa class anywhere in the world and feel confident in their practice. I hate to admit it, but they also recommend the best music for my class playlists, and are a big help when I can’t work the Bluetooth speakers…

The challenge is sharing yoga in a way that is authentic and generous whilst making a living. I keep costs fairly low (did I mention that I essentially work out of my car?) and the support and good-humour of local people (usually volunteers) who run community venues is invaluable, but there are only so many hours in the day. With so many ways to train, the industry becomes more competitive every day, so sometimes I wonder if profit margins can survive as we all seek to offer affordable classes whilst also investing in our own professional development.

When I graduated from teacher training, I imagined my potential yoga career as something quite different, but my rural move was the best thing that could have happened: I’m not an expert on the chakras, and I can’t do a handstand, but I love working with people, and I know I bring empathy and warmth to my classes. Support your local small-scale wellness services: they can really help people try new things and bring communities together.