Alison Masterman knows how crazy life can be. That’s what drew her to yoga in the first place. Ten years ago, she was working in the highly pressurised world of advertising, travelling all over the world and pursuing a successful career. And then yoga transformed her life. She left her work behind to study at the Sivananda Ashram in the beautiful setting of Neyyar Dam in Kerala, India and on her return, came to triyoga to work as a centre assistant. She tidied the studios, swept the floors and worked front of house to be paid in yoga classes. She didn’t care. She had to start somewhere. She was doing what she wanted to do. She was immersing herself in the world of yoga. She counts it as a privilege to have been part of the triyoga family right from the start, to witness how it has changed and expanded into what it has become today.
So does Ali ever look back and regret her decision to walk away from her career?
No, never. I can honestly say I miss nothing from that other life. It was great at the time – all that travelling and all those brilliant experiences, but no way could I balance that life with my family life now.
When she became pregnant, she was attracted to pregnancy yoga and trained under the tutelage of Francoise Freedman who founded and runs Birthlight. It was a beautiful experience to be accompanying all these women through their pregnancies at a time when she was pregnant herself. She sought to create a safe and nurturing environment for herself and for others in her pre- and post-natal classes. In the early days of yoga teaching, Ali taught and set up classes at many different gyms and yoga centres across London. Then one day, she was invited to work with Anna Ashby and Leela Miller on triyoga’s very first teacher training programme. It was right back in the early days and required an ‘all hands on deck’ approach to make it work.
That initial triyoga teacher training was great fun and a massive learning curve. I felt so privileged to be working alongside two amazing, brilliant senior teachers in Anna and Leela.
When a friend recommended Judith Lasater’s Restorative Yoga course, Ali thought that would work well alongside her pre- and post-natal teaching. She hadn’t realised how it would affect her on a personal level. As a mother of two young boys, she hadn’t realised how much she needed this beautiful practice in her world; how there’s this pressure on new mums to get their bodies back to normal as quickly as possible and not enough time given to recovery and nurturing – this great restorative work. It’s not an easy time to find peace in your own mind and yet it’s so important.
Training with Judith was life-changing for me. She’s such an amazing and wise lady with so much life experience that she shares. I knew I needed to share what I’d learnt from her with others.
When another amazing triyoga teacher, Nadia Narain, got Ali in to cover Pregnancy and Mummy & Me classes at triyoga, she was overwhelmed at first. She never imagined she would actually ever teach at triyoga! Then three years ago, she started to really push for restorative yoga to appear on the triyoga Soho timetable. At the time, it wasn’t on the schedule at all and she thought it was really needed in an area such as Soho. When she was allowed to start teaching restorative yoga there, Ali certainly felt she had something to prove! Those early classes sometimes only had three to five students in them, certainly for the first six months, numbers were low, but gradually over time, numbers grew to over twenty in a class. Restorative yoga was going through a quiet revolution within the yoga world. The perception of restorative yoga was changing.
There’s such a mixed bag of people who show up at a restorative yoga class. I love that. All ages, shapes, sizes. It’s manageable for everyone, that’s the joy of it. Every posture can be adjusted for every body out there. And at the end of the class, everyone is smiling. They come up and say thank you. There’s a sense of nurturing and deep relaxation. It’s great.
Ali’s restorative class is enjoyable. Totally non-competitive. It’s all about releasing stress and tension through relaxation and breath work. Letting go of all that we are holding onto within our minds and bodies. She creates a calm, nurturing space. The studio is warm, the lighting just right. She uses quiet music where necessary to block out any background noise. Ali likes her students to take off their watches and lose track of time. To make sure their phones are switched off and there is no contact with the outside world. She’s welcoming to all, on first name terms with her regulars and giving attention to the newbies and trying to learn their names. She encourages students to use as many props as is necessary for them to find the right stretch for them and to be able to hold that stretch for a long time, so that the nervous system has a chance to slow down. Each individual finds their own level. She gives individual attention as she quietly moves around the room adjusting and settling each of her students. Her voice is calm and gentle. She recognises that difficult emotions may surface and takes that responsibility very seriously. She is on hand with a comforting hand on the shoulder or a tissue. She makes sure that each student is feeling OK before leaving.
This deeply restful, floor-based yoga is so important in this day and age, when everyone leads such busy, fast-paced lives with constant updates on their mobile devices. We’re on high alert all the time. In our society, we struggle with recovery and rest. We feel if we’re not doing, we’re being lazy. We all need this place, this sanctuary to come and be still and quiet.
There is only so much that Ali can do as a restorative yoga teacher though. I know this because I was there. I attended one of her classes. The scene was set. Everything was perfect, Ali delivered the class in a gentle, relaxed manner. I had everything I needed. But I was still me. Even with Ali’s easy, nurturing approach, my mind was still jumping all over the place. And yes, I felt guilty for just lying there. I hadn’t realised what an active person I’d become before I attended that 90 minute class. I kept wondering what I was achieving, assessing what good this pose was doing me. My patience ran out long before Ali was encouraging us to come out of the pose. I tried. I really tried. At one point, my head felt heavier than it had ever felt in my whole life. Which was a good thing. But I was frustrated at myself. How hard could it possibly be to just lie there? After all, I manage the relaxation at the end of my yoga class each week just fine. But that’s different. That’s a celebration, a reward for all I’ve achieved. Here, we started in Savasana – before I’d achieved anything at all! How was that going to work? And so I discovered how hard it is to just lie there. I was itching to get moving. To do something. I have a feeling that it will take time for me to find this release. More than just one class. I felt cared for, looked after and nurtured, but I still struggled. I realise that it’s not going to happen overnight.
How could I hope to get it straightaway? I don’t think I have any real understanding of the word ‘rest’. I’m not sure my body is ever fully relaxed. And I’m guessing I’m not alone. We’re conditioned to keep going and going, to keep pressing on, to never stop and take time to breathe and let go.
Even Ali recognises this in her own life. She admits that she is not a naturally calm person. She leads a pretty frantic life at times. That’s why she knows that making time for restorative yoga is so important. She meditates every morning while the rest of the house sleeps. Her boys are now 7 and 9 and the mornings can be very full on, so after she’s dropped the boys at school, she likes to take to her mat then. She’ll also practise before she goes to bed at night. To keep her grounded and stable, she likes to attend other classes and workshops by respected teachers like Anna Ashby and Nadia Narain. She will never stop learning.
Ali loves being part of the triyoga team of teachers. That’s something she’ll never take for granted. She loves that it’s a brand that yoga students can trust. When they come to a triyoga class, they can be assured that the teacher is well trained and that they’ll be well looked after. The teacher will keep them safe, that’s the most important thing of all. These are top quality teachers. It’s tough to make it onto the triyoga teaching list, tough to even land an audition.
Ali is one of those teachers. I felt right from the start of the class that I was in safe hands. She was looking out for me. She had my back. She would keep me safe. I was well looked after.
Restorative yoga is not as easy as it looks. It’s a big ask to expect someone to just stop what they’re doing, step out of their busy lives and rest. Ali is committed to bringing her students to this safe space of deep rest for the body and mind. She will do all that she can to facilitate this restorative experience – the rest is up to you.
To find out more about Ali’s classes, workshops and private teaching, visit www.aliyoga.co.uk