Meet Donna Noble. This spirited woman has never had a Plan B. Throughout her life, she’s just gone for it. Gone for it big style. And it’s worked out.
Her journey is a fascinating one. Growing up, she’d been really into sport at school – very athletic, very competitive, very successful. And then she entered the corporate world and exercise went by the wayside. Until she had this conversation with a friend –
Friend: Look at how incredible Madonna’s looking in this picture!
Friend: She does yoga, I think. Do you want to try it?
Donna: Go on then.
So Donna and her friend took up yoga.
Seriously. That was Donna Noble’s introduction to yoga. Her friend saw an image of Madonna in a magazine and was impressed by her body and that she could get her leg behind her head. Which is ironic, because much of Donna’s work now is in combatting the power of these stereotypes of the body beautiful.
After a while, she lost the motivation in her yoga. It became a bit hit and miss. She was naturally fit so there was no compulsion to exercise. Work was getting in the way. Then she took up yoga again when Hatha yoga was introduced into her workplace. She fell in and out of love with it for a bit. She changed jobs into IT within a Law firm and yoga was available in the in-house gym – a yoga which incorporated more challenging poses which she enjoyed.
A friend suggested that she needed a Plan B, so she decided that yoga was the only thing she wanted to pursue and did a TT course with Triyoga. Something she could do when she retired to keep her active.
She then began hearing about Bikram yoga – and, rather like the Madonna moment, she decided to give it a go.
I can remember that very first Bikram session in Balham so clearly. I’d been partying the night before and didn’t feel that great. I was so stressed with work, so into my career at that point. But that evening, I felt like I had died and was reborn – I came away feeling great and energised. It was incredible. I’m not the most flexible, never have been, but because of the heat, the stretch was there. My hips are always so tight because of my athletic background, so Bikram was the perfect fit for me and it was one of the only yogas I could do before work.
Donna fell head over heels in love with Bikram yoga. There was talk that redundancy was in the air. Everyone around Donna was advising her to pursue a career in yoga, but at that time, she couldn’t see it at all. She just knew that she loved yoga and wanted to know more and do more. So in 2012, she went off to America initially for 9 weeks but stayed for 6 months – firstly training in Bikram Yoga in LA and then teaching in New York and Texas. It was an incredible opportunity to do something that she loved. Nothing was planned. She just took the opportunities as they arose.
She taught yoga on her return to the UK. There was work available for her in the Bikram yoga world and she continued to develop a private one to one practice based on a more Vinyasa mind/body connection style of yoga. Even though she has always been based in London, she hasn’t always been part of the whole London yoga vibe. She now struggles with the emphasis on body image. Wearing the right brand of yogawear. Being the most popular on Instagram. Developing a massive online following. None of that interests her – but is now necessary for her to raise awareness of CurveSomeYoga and to help to change the image of yoga.
What interests Donna is real people. Real people of all shapes, sizes, backgrounds, abilities, religions, ages. Real people doing real yoga. She didn’t plan to be a spokesperson for body image. It just happened. Her work on Natural Health Radio caused her to interact with people of all different body types and to hear stories from those who had tried yoga and been seriously put off by the teacher. A story of one teacher who openly told a new student that she would have nothing to offer her in this class, because of her size. And then there were all the really positive stories coming out of the States from yogis such as Jessamyn Stanley and Dianne Bondy, who were challenging all those stereotypes about yoga just being for fit, young, flexible, thin, gorgeous women on deserted sandy beaches. Donna’s initiative Curvesome yoga just grew organically out of this desire for yoga in the UK to be more accepting of every body.
For Donna, it’s all about body confidence. Body confidence for anyone and everyone. Size should never be an obstacle. She does not promote weight loss or celebrate it. She celebrates doing what you can with the body you have. She celebrates the acceptance of the body we have and the love of what that body can achieve.
She teaches to the differing students in the room. There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach. Every pose should have variations. Modifications are always available. Everyone is encouraged to listen to their own body and do their best.
Donna has had to be sure to apply this to herself too. To maintain a pride in herself. To stay true to herself. And to do what she preaches.
Once a teacher gets too caught up in being the best and in maintaining a performance, then the danger is that the class is no longer about the students. Yoga teachers can be seen as putting people off yoga unintentionally. It’s true. I meet people who tell me that it’s true. We have so far to go in getting it right. We have to change the language that we use for a start to ensure that we do not unintentionally trigger or offend students. We talk about yoga being for every body but we have to teach in a way that allows that to be the case.
This isn’t just in the world of yoga either. Donna is actively involved in an initiative to address the whole issue of body image across a wide range of sports. She’s not afraid to speak out and challenge representatives of other sports about their inclusivity – She is an Ambassador for Exercise Move Dance.
Yes, we’re addressing this whole issue in yoga, but what are you doing?
There’s no doubt about it, this is an exciting time for Donna right now. So what’s next?
Unsurprisingly, there is no plan. Donna is investigating the idea of a pop up space, but has no fixed ideas. She’ll stay busy with her teaching, broadcasting and campaigning…and then, who knows what is waiting for her, just around the corner?