Paula Hines is the face behind u can yoga. She describes herself as a ‘humble yogini’ in her blog and on her Youtube channel. As we connected with Paula and had the opportunity to put these questions to her, the humble yogini in her really shone through.
How and why did you first come to yoga?
I started yoga in 2001 as a way to ease stress and back pain. A colleague suggested yoga might be helpful and I thought it was worth a try. I was working full-time in television – very long hours and late nights were the norm. I did indeed gain relief from back pain and stress, but I also gained much more. If you’d told me back then that I would end up teaching yoga I would have probably laughed in your face!
What motivated you to move from working in television to teaching yoga full-time?
In some ways, redundancy was the (friendly) shove I needed. I had wanted to do yoga teacher training to deepen my knowledge for a while, but wasn’t sure I wanted to teach at all. Eventually, I decided that I would like to teach and make the transition from working full-time in television but having a mortgage and living alone in London, I wasn’t able to see how to make it work financially. Then in 2011, I was offered redundancy from my job of ten years – I saw that as my ‘now or never’ opportunity. Since then, it’s been a long road with a lot of ups and downs and going way out of my comfort zone on many occasions, but I would not change it.
Why is alignment so important to you?
It’s important to me, but not in a dogmatic way. It’s more about finding the expression of a pose that is best for you and not forcing or straining. My Trikonasana may look quite different to yours or the practitioner on the mat next to you. It’s not that your foot or hand must be here or there and if it isn’t, then I will move it. In fact, I tend not to physically adjust in my classes unless I am concerned that what someone is doing may be unsafe and then I ask permission to touch them. There’s also the element of one developing confidence to take responsibility for their practice – understanding what feels right for them and knowing it is okay to say ‘no’ to the teacher. My approach on this is informed by having been injured in the past by adjustments (however well-intentioned they may have been at the time), experiencing instances where I felt my personal space was being invaded and hearing numerous similar stories from fellow yoga students and teachers.
How have your own experiences of stress and injury influenced your yoga journey and teaching?
Stress and injury cultivated a ‘less is more’ attitude. I used to be very ‘more is more’, i.e. if some of this is good, then more must be better. But that’s not always the case. I practised hot yoga and dynamic yoga seven days a week at one stage, because I loved it – sometimes even doing two classes in one day if I could. But it turned out that way of practising was doing my body more harm than good – I didn’t realise then that it was a factor in the increasing pain I was experiencing. Injury forced me to change how I was practising – that has been a valuable personal lesson and consequently influenced my approach to how and what I teach.
What is your favourite, most restorative Restorative pose?
It’s very hard to pick one but I would say Legs Up The Wall (or Legs on a Chair as an alternative). It doesn’t require lots of props, it’s great for stress relief and easing fatigue, plus you also get a subtle stretch along the back side of the body.
In what ways do you offer your students the space to nurture themselves?
This is a really hard one to answer and is probably better answered by the people who come to my classes. I go by instinct really. I try to be considerate towards others as much as possible, be aware of the language I’m using, be myself and hope I am creating a safe space. Even if you ask someone what they need, they won’t necessarily want to or feel able to tell you, and even with people you come to know well, you don’t necessarily know what is going on in someone’s life or what occurred in their past. When I started teaching, I would want to try and please everyone and I would feel bad if someone didn’t like my classes, but then I realised that whatever you do, you will not be for everyone. For those with whom my teaching style and approach does resonate, I am hopeful that I am succeeding in offering that safe space to nurture themselves when I see them return and receive feedback accordingly.
In what ways do you nurture yourself?
My main way to nurture myself is yoga! I ensure that I practise restorative and yin yoga regularly as both practices require you to slow down and be – I often meditate in the poses. I practise yoga nidra practically every day too. I also like to go out for a jog once a week for my head (plus being outdoors regularly is a great way to take note of the change of the seasons.) Connecting with friends and family when possible is important. And at the moment, I get my ‘yang’ from swinging a kettlebell when I can – it’s unlikely that you’d find me at a dynamic yoga class nowadays. Overall, nurturing myself is an on-going practice as a) I have a tendency towards workaholism and b) I am self-employed and if I don’t work, my bills don’t get paid so it’s easy (for me) to worry about whether I am doing enough. I attempt to not overfill my schedule, although as I answer these questions, I am in a phase of working 7-day weeks, so taking some time out each day is essential, especially when days off are scarce. I keep at least one day a week where I am not teaching at all, though that doesn’t necessarily mean I am not working – the ‘business’ of yoga is real, as it is not just the time spent teaching classes, it is the time spent planning, scheduling, doing admin and marketing and so on.
How does yoga impact your life off the mat?
Mostly in the day-to-day things that occur when living in a busy city. From the little things like not getting so irritated on public transport and being more patient, to bigger things like trying to make more conscious choices and speaking more kindly to myself. Also, being very clear that it’s not all ‘roses’. Because yoga can help you feel so good, sometimes there is a tendency to present it all as positivity, love and light, heart-opening and unicorns. But in truth, it’s not all fluffy. When you practise yoga (not just asana) for a while, you find that it can make you more aware of the not so good too and teach you a lot about yourself (if you’re ready and willing to listen). So, I don’t expect myself or others to be perfect – after all, we are all in this together! It is all an on-going, life-long practice.
You’re also a writer. How did you become a writer and how does this fit with your yoga teaching?
I was writing before yoga was a part of my life. I’ve written since childhood. I think if you write, then you are a writer. But I suppose I became ‘a writer’ more formally by getting involved in a writer/performers group which led to having some of my comedy work performed publicly which eventually led to my first TV script commission. Aside from it being a part of my old job as a comedy script editor, I have script-writing credits for BBC Radio 4, CBBC and BBC Three. Nowadays, in relation to yoga, I write a monthly column for OM Yoga Magazine, which I’ve been doing since 2012. But I still do some script development work too.
What’s it like writing for OM Yoga Magazine? How do you come up with your ideas?
I really enjoy it. I write about feels pertinent to me at that time. And I enjoy the discipline of writing something new each month within a certain number of words (so you can’t ramble, which I could easily do otherwise!) and meeting a fixed deadline.
Back in September 2014, you launched the 365 Savasana Project. What was it and what did you learn from that experience?
I wrote about this project for OM Yoga Magazine. It’s a long story to explain here, but I was an exhausted, stressed out yoga teacher! I was running around teaching all over the place, writing and re-writing a script, doing lots of things for other people and was not taking any time for myself. I had my own life stresses – my dad had recently died of cancer, which I had not properly taken in (I took no time off) and I had my own health issues that I didn’t talk about. I was properly frazzled, but I just kept ploughing on like a hamster on a wheel because I felt I had to, mainly in order to earn a living. I found myself becoming wound up and anxious about simple tasks that would not have even fazed me a year before.
When a friend told me I needed a holiday, I burst into tears. As it happens, I couldn’t afford a holiday, so I went home, rolled out my mat and, exhausted, I lay down in savasana for twenty minutes. I first studied restorative yoga with Judith Hanson Lasater in 2012 and remembered how profound it was that something so simple as laying down for twenty minutes could have such an effect. The notion is that it takes ten to fifteen minutes for your body to settle, so twenty minutes allows for a truly restorative savasana. In that moment, I decided to do it every day for a year. And I did! But it was HARD. It is simple but not easy. It’s something that can easily fall by the wayside in the name of ‘getting things done’. But I always, always felt better afterwards. I learnt that taking care of yourself is important. As trite and obvious as it sounds, it’s something that in general we don’t do enough (or at all, in some cases). If you are a caregiver of any kind, then it is especially important, because if you are not well, then you’re not able to give your best to others anyway.
I don’t still do twenty minutes of Savasana every day, but I do practise Savasana on more days than I used to before 2014. I ensure I take some time for myself each day, and the busier I am, the more important that becomes. Since my 365 Days of Savasana, my teaching schedule, as well as the types of classes I teach, has shifted. I now teach less classes and less 1-2-1’s per week than I used to and I don’t travel all over London to teach anymore. This also means that I enjoy the teaching I am doing so much more.
In what ways do you promote and support the belief that yoga is for everybody/ every body?
What I do is simply be out there, as I am, teaching, offering pose variations, doing my best to be encouraging and supportive so that I am hopefully creating that safe space for those present to explore the practice for themselves. Also, for people who can’t come to my classes and have requested this, I’ve just started to post short yoga videos on YouTube and on my ucanyoga website, as well as beginning to offer downloadable yoga nidras from my website too, all of which I’ll be gradually adding to. And I’ll continue to educate myself with the intention of doing better in the future. One thing I feel very strongly about is that representation really matters. It is one thing to say yoga is for every body (and it has almost become trendy to pay that idea lip service), but what is more powerful, I feel, is to see it. When I was growing up, what had the strongest impact for me was to see someone who looked like me doing the things I wanted to do. When I first started going to yoga classes in London (a very diverse city), I was usually the only non-white person and often the largest person in the room. I almost didn’t become a yoga teacher because I thought people who looked like me (black, overweight, not that bendy and nearing 40) didn’t. All these years later, things are a little better but not that different. When you look at the predominant yoga images we see, you could easily think that only one type of person practises yoga and that’s simply not true. As a rule, companies selling yoga products have tended to follow the fashion world, so overwhelmingly, the images we see are of young, slim, able-bodied people, particularly those who have a visually impressive asana practice. One result is that some people presume that yoga is not for them – something numerous people have expressed to me – which is a real shame. At least the discussion around this seems to be growing and one good thing about social media is that the wide diversity of yoga practitioners is becoming more visible. I really hope it continues and it would be great to see more yoga brands catching up with this too.
Here at Yogamatters, we agree wholeheartedly with Paula’s point of view. We believe that yoga is for everybody and every body. We love to meet yogis all over the UK, all over the world in fact, yogis of all shapes and sizes, abilities, ethnicity, gender, and celebrate the change that yoga is bringing to their lives. It’s been great to meet Paula and to hear her yoga story. If you’d like to find out more about Paula and ucanyoga, visit http://ucanyoga.co.uk/.