We live predominantly sedentary lives that include sitting at a desk for hours a day and watching TV at night. This is just the modern life that we are privileged to have but the thing is that this much sitting is causing our muscles to degenerate which subsequently causes neck and back pain.
All this time in front of a computer that drains our brain power and is causing aches and pains then leads to heightened anxiety. So how do we combat this?
Suzanne Pinkney addresses these issues with the people she works with by incorporating a yoga practice into their daily routine.
You can learn more about Suzanne and her yoga practice here:
Tell me about your professional background
Before I trained as a yoga teacher, I completed a Master’s and a Doctorate in Chemical Engineering. When I had finished studying, I embarked on a yoga Foundation Course and then went on to training as a teacher with Teach Yoga in London, which lasted 2 years. The first 11 months finished with a 200hr Yoga Alliance Certificate.
The second part of the course built on the first half and I achieved a 500hr Diploma with the British Wheel of Yoga. I started teaching during the second year, in January 2018. Something that rather complicated things, was finding out I was pregnant just 7 months into the 2-year course. My boyfriend at the time didn’t want me to have the baby and, consequently, left me. A lot of things happened, which I won’t go into detail about here, but the upshot is I had my son in September 2017.
I passed the first exam when I was 6 months pregnant and passed the second with a 9-month-old baby. The experience of going from a relatively carefree professional in a happy relationship to a single parent living with my parents within 8 months, taught me an incredible amount, not just about myself but about the true meaning of yoga, and has informed my teaching just as much as my formal training.
It is also worth mentioning that my teachers at the time, including Elena Voyce who runs Teach Yoga, were amazingly supportive.
What made you want to get into this field?
I went to some yoga classes as a teenager and restarted after a break while I was studying for my doctorate. I went to a wide variety of classes with varying styles but also a mixture of teaching quality. The more I practiced, the more I found it frustrating being in classes where I could see people did not understand what the teacher was saying and was not being given suitable modifications.
It may sound cocky, but I thought I could do better! I love learning and I thought that even if I didn’t start teaching, a deeper understanding of the practice would benefit me. I had never intended to do anything more than teaching one or two classes a week, however, my employer prevented me from going back to work after I had my son by refusing to give me reduced hours and making unfair demands of me. I slowly started to slip into teaching full-time.
From a practical point of view, owning a studio allows me to choose my hours and work from home, even before COVID, which are both very useful things with a small child.
What has been your favourite aspect of this work?
My favourite thing is sending people home feeling better than when they came to class. It is incredibly satisfying to know you are having a positive impact on people’s lives. You go from being someone they come to once or twice a week, to someone they really rely on, and, in some cases, a friend.
Looking back, I don’t know why I didn’t realize this as I have that kind of relationship with my own teachers. Another aspect of being a yoga teacher is that the learning never ends. Yoga is a lifelong discipline and, added to the fact that no two bodies are the same and no two people learn in exactly the same way, teaching itself is a never-ending learning process. I get to share something I love that has enriched my life enormously and, in the process, enriching other people’s lives too.
Can you explain what yoga is and what a typical session is like from start to finish?
Yoga means “union”. There are lots of interpretations but the one I like most is the practice of yoga that brings together the mind and body. In the West, we are often told the mind and body are separate, but Yoga brings them together. An interesting example of this union is stress. If we are stressed, we often hold tension in our body, often shoulders and neck. Then, because of this tension, we feel uncomfortable and in pain, which leads to more stress. Breaking this cycle is important for our overall wellbeing and health, whether that starts in the mind or body is up to the individual.
On a more traditional note, yoga comes from the Indus Valley in India; Sanskrit is the language of yoga. There are several classic texts, which are well known- consisting of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Bhagavad Gita, and the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali- and the Eight Limbs (Ashtanga) of Yoga, which gives guiding principles for living, of which physical yoga (Hatha Yoga) is just one.
There are lots of styles of Hatha Yoga, for example, Vinyasa, Kundalini, Ashtanga Vinyasa, Yin, and so classes vary a lot. In a Primary Series Ashtanga Vinyasa class, we start with Sun Salutations, move on to Standing Poses, then Seated, and then finish with the Closing Sequence. However, in a general Hatha class, we’ll often start lying down, gently warming up the joints and muscles before moving onto core strengthening and poses, and finishing with mindfulness and relaxation.
What sort of health challenges can yoga be effective for and why?
Yoga can be effective for most health challenges. It is not true to say yoga is a cure-all, but it can certainly support other treatments. Yoga is beneficial for general aches and pains caused by modern living- too much sitting at a desk, for example- and mental health problems such as depression and anxiety.
To give some examples, I teach a few ladies who are hypermobile (the ability to move joints beyond the “normal” range), as am I and the consequences can be things like back, shoulder, and/or hip pain. The main focus for them is to increase the strength of the muscles surrounding the joints, to give the joints more stability, and help relieve pain in the long term.
Another example is my mum has suffered from sciatica for 30 years. She has had physiotherapy but coming to yoga classes helps to strengthen her legs, back, and core as well as stretch her piriformis and gluteal muscles, giving her a longer-term solution, as well as something that’s slightly more enjoyable than physio exercises! Almost all my students report an increased sense of wellbeing through coming to classes; yoga is holistic and “treats” the mind and body together, which increases its efficacy.
Is there a technique/modality/etc in your practice that you have found to be the most beneficial to the people you work with?
I find a combination of approaches works best. Teaching well is about adapting your technique to who you are teaching. This can be from a language point of view or how much detail you give, or how much you encourage the student! Different people respond to different things. Language, in particular, is an interesting one.
Sometimes, I see some people can’t assimilate the directions I’m giving with what their body is doing. It’s important to realize this is fine, there is no expectation that everything I say as a teacher will make sense to everyone. I then try explaining in a different way, or demonstrating, or, if it’s ok to make a physical adjustment, then letting the student feel their way.
What is yoga like from the patient’s point of view?
As a patient of yoga myself, I would certainly say it is a great all-rounder. The different styles mean there is something that will help. For me, when I need to de-stress, I need something that will keep my mind occupied. I find having a clear mind for 90 minutes, unable to think about anything else but what I’m doing, is really helpful. Some of my students have said similar things to me. I tailor the classes to who comes.
Aside from Ashtanga, no two classes are the same. When I’m helping someone who is suffering from back pain, for example, the feedback is that it is great to have some relief. I always try to give people things they can do at home as well if they want to, to help prolong the effectiveness. Students always say how much better they feel after a class, so I’m assuming whatever I’m doing is helping!
What would you say to someone skeptical about yoga and its effectiveness? How do you approach that?
I invite people to have a go and see what they think. Sometimes people think they need to be a certain way to do yoga- skinny, young, fit, female, whatever- and this seems to be a barrier for some. There are so many different styles of yoga and the way it’s taught that I really believe there are a style and teacher out there for everyone, you just have to find them! It is also completely normal to change your preferred style and/or teacher after a while, most people start off needing one style and end up doing something else, either in addition or instead of. Saying that, if someone really is resistant, then it is better to leave them than try to persuade them. Everyone needs to find their own path.
Besides yoga do you have any universal health and well-being tips that you’d like to share?
I think it’s really important that yoga supports your lifestyle and wellbeing. It’s all about balance. Find things you enjoy doing, whether that’s running, cooking, or learning how to make furniture, and make time for them. As far as you can (I realize this isn’t always possible!) have a job you like where you feel empowered and can manage the daily stresses. Eat a well-balanced diet where you don’t deny yourself foods you enjoy. Daily exercise is great, this can consist of 2 hours in the gym or a 10-minute walk to the shops, it doesn’t matter, so long as it’s achievable.
It’s so important to have a daily life that is enjoyable and minimizes stress. If there are people in your life who make you feel bad about yourself, consider reducing the amount of time you spend with them. If you are lucky enough to have spare time, once you’ve accounted for hobbies, think about spending that time volunteering locally, not only will you help other people and feel good about it, you may have an encounter or opportunity that changes your life for the better. I guess the gist of this is to be as happy and content as possible, which will support your physical and mental wellbeing.
If there was one piece of advice you could give to someone who is struggling, what would it be?
If someone is struggling with yoga then I think my question would be why are they struggling. This could be for a number of reasons, they’re finding it difficult to get to a class or they’re not enjoying the class. The first issue, I would advise them to maybe find an online class that suits them or find a DVD or on-demand videos that fit into their lifestyle, 5 minutes every day is just as good as 90 minutes once a week. If someone isn’t enjoying a class, they’re attending then it could just be they need to find a different one, maybe a different style or teacher.
It can also be the class is too difficult or too easy. I would also say it’s really important to not compare yourself to other people in a class, everyone is different and, for some, touching their toes is a huge achievement, and it’s ok for that to be an achievement! Along the same lines, some poses come and go. You may be able to do a pose one week and then not the next. Listening to your body is the most important thing.
Ladies may find they feel ok doing some poses usually and then during their period they don’t want to or it doesn’t feel good, and that’s absolutely fine. I tell my students that it’s fine if they want to practice during their period and it’s also fine to watch Netflix with a glass of wine on the sofa! Yoga should be something that you enjoy.
What resources would you recommend? (books, podcasts, websites that you’ve found helpful)
There are so many! The classic texts are the Bhagavad Gita, Hatha Yoga Pradipika, and the Yoga Sutras and there are so many well-known modern books that it is difficult to list them all but the most helpful to me have been Light on Yoga by B.K.S. Iyengar, Ashtanga Yoga- The Practice Manual by David Swenson (who I practice with as regularly as I can), and Yoga Mala.
I would also recommend David’s website for lots of information on Ashtanga and I couldn’t NOT recommend the website of the Ashtanga lineage holder Sharath Jois in Mysore and the Shala run by his mother and sister Saraswathi and Sharmila Jois.
I don’t have much time to listen to podcasts as my son keeps me busy, but I would recommend those by Taylor Hunt and Adam Keen.
Suzanne dedicated her life to helping people suffering from ailments by sharing the practice of yoga with people all over the world. Suzanne has helped people relieve their aches and pains and improve anxiety by introducing yoga into their lives.
Learn more about Suzanne and her company, Trini Yoga, here:
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