Next up in my recurring series of interviews with teachers finding their own unique voices within a practice built on tradition is Naomi Reynolds, director of Yoga on the Lane in East London.
Naomi Reynolds, Yoga on the Lane
Before she set up the studio she trained with many of the world’s best teachers – each of whom has contributed to her unique teaching style. Having recently worked alongside Bo Forbes she has become particularly interested in the therapeutic benefits of integrating restorative poses into dynamic vinyasa yoga. She lives and works in east London.
Why did you decide to open your own yoga studio? What were you hoping to achieve, and are you getting there?
I had been teaching in and around Hackney for years and could feel a community of students coming together that needed a space to achieve its full potential. We found a derelict and decrepit hairdressers on Shacklewell Lane in the heart of Dalston and converted it into Yoga on the Lane. It’s exactly what I wanted it to be: a warm, welcoming space for the whole yoga community. Crucial to this are the teachers; we have an amazing group who practice together and learn together. There’s always room for improvement, of course, but in many ways I feel we arrived from the day we opened our doors.
The dominant style of classes at Yoga on the Lane is vinyasa yoga, but contrary to many popular London offerings, it seems to come from a place of nurture rather than endurance of sweaty challenges. Is this intentional?
Absolutely. My practice has evolved a lot over the years from hot sweaty yoga to week-long meditation retreats. I wanted YOTL to be in the middle. Yoga is in essence about balance and although we know this it’s so hard to achieve. My aim for the style at the studio is for it to be rounded and holistic. We move dynamically and we sweat but it comes from a grounded place, which is rooted in the body intelligence you need to prevent injury.
Our house style is dynamic but all our teachers make sure they combine postures that restore and soften with those that uplift, ensuring that our students achieve some quietness when they’re on the mat. It might sound obvious but it’s not present within all practice. I believe in the long-term benefits of practicing with medium intensity often – every day if you can. Our emphasis on mindful and breath-led vinyasa creates an inner ballast you can tap into throughout your day.
You have a creative background in dance and acting and recently taught a workshop on yoga and creativity – how does creative expression factor into your life, yoga practice, and teaching?
For me yoga helps to heighten my senses and interest, which feeds into my desire to make things – dance pieces or plays – the expressiveness of which then feeds back into my teaching. It’s all about relationships. On the mat we create a relationship – a conversation with ourselves and our breath. In a show we create a relationship by bringing attention on to others. I love the combination of these two types of relationships.
I am currently choreographing a piece for Resolution! at the Place, February 14th, 2014. It’s going to be a beautiful challenge and I’m undecided whether to dance in it myself yet. Either way, it will be an experience I will dive in to and I would love to see some familiar faces in the audience. It’s going to be a very personal piece set to my late uncle’s music.
You have said that the injuries you sustained through professional dance led you to teach yoga. How was yoga part of your rehabilitation and how does this influence your teaching?
I spent the latter years of my ballet career struggling with injuries. Yoga has been holistic physiotherapy for me and has helped me physically – the practice taught me about biomechanics and I realized pretty quickly that I had been pushing my body too hard for too long. It was important emotional therapy as well: I found the discipline of class a perfect substitute for doing barre and it helped me when I was grieving, basically, for my life as a ballerina.
Anyone who has spent many hours a day for the two decades of their life dedicated to one thing is going to find transition challenging and for me yoga made that transition comfortable. Similarly, in a posture you find comfort within the discomfort. You find the asana, the comfortable seat within the challenge.
I aim to guide people and to help them be in their bodies comfortably. I make sure my classes are safe and nurturing so that if you are injured or ill you can do my classes. Being injured can feel so isolating and yoga is a great way to reeducate your body and see what you can do.
I genuinely see my injuries as a gift now as they have taught me greater body intelligence and empathy and ultimately led me to a practice where I can feel I am not just a body.
You have worked extensively with Bo Forbes, and her style of yoga therapeutics – can you tell us more about her and how her teaching has influenced you?
Bo is a wonderful therapeutic teacher and I admire her for teaching in her unique way with passion. She is a scientist and a therapist so what that brings an interesting weight and integrity to her yoga. I really enjoy the way she investigates a posture and breaks it down so that you are left with the experience of doing as a practice rather than seeking perfection. She has an interesting way of using language that gives the practitioner permission to regulate their own experience without the tendency to self congratulate or overachieve.
After the first time I worked with Bo I went out and bought a bunch of bolsters, blankets and eye-bags so I could recreate that beautiful restorative space she takes you to. I love to teach what I practice and so I include a restorative pose in every class – even the most dynamic ones. Students respond really well to it. Restorative yoga is the bridge between yoga and meditation and a wonderful way to get people practicing more consciously.
Additionally, Bo flags up the importance of teachers’ self-care and that’s been huge for me. To listen and to take care of myself and to look at what constitutes a practice. Big is not always better and sometimes it’s tiny specific changes of movement patterns that make huge shifts in our breathing or how we consciously embody ourselves.
What are you working on in your practice now?
Along with yoga, I am now including meditation in my daily practice. I am aiming to sit for 20-40 minutes everyday as a way to filter experience and to drop in to my being. My yoga practice is very joyous and sometimes I’m aware that I need to become more and more still in order to journey that bit deeper inside. I enjoy watching how my breath is breathing me whilst I practice yoga and paying attention to the spaces between each breath is where I find a lot of peace.
As winter is coming, my physical asana practice is a warming one: strong, steady and heat building. It’s a great time of year to work into twists and to turn upside down. I love inversions and find them incredibly calming and supportive for my immune system.
One of the great things about having such an amazing group of teachers at the studio is that I can do their classes and let them guide my practice.
Photo 1: Francesco Guidicini
Photos 2-4: Jeremy Gill