Claire Missingham caught the yoga bug in New York, 12 years ago. She has practised every day since and is now one of London's leading yoga teachers.
What led you along the yoga path?
My father was a Sufi as I was growing up. A poet, he spent a lot of time in Morocco and was drawn to the Sufi teachings.
We had a ‘spiritual room' in our house where my Dad would pray and take the Sufi mantras.
When I first went to a yoga class in New York, in around 1995, I was blown away. As a dancer and choreographer, I had always used my body as an expression of creativity. However, it was so caught up in the external product, the look.
In that first yoga class, it was as if these two worlds, the spiritual world of my childhood, and the physical movement and rhythm of my dance background were joined.
It felt so good and it was beyond just the body. I have literally practised yoga every day since that class. I started by studying Iyengar yoga.
How long were you practising before you trained as a teacher?
After a couple of years of intense study and practice myself, moving from Iyengar to Ashtanga yoga, I started teaching yoga for free to friends, to dancers, and free to a group of women at a YMCA.
Eventually I began to teach yoga in health clubs and went to India to study and travel and deepen the process of teaching.
I was always into the spiritual benefits, the ability to re-connect, to create union, and I started to lead this deeper into my yoga teaching, always chanting even if I knew the health club people thought it was ‘weird'.
I was adamant the yoga stayed true to its roots and that if I gave them confidence in the practice, the students would understand why we chanted OM.
Eventually the regular students understood and we grew together. I still teach some of the same people from those classes from years ago.
What type of yoga do you teach and what drew you to this style?
I teach Vinyasa Flow Yoga. I started off teaching classical Ashtanga Yoga, as learnt from Pattabhi Jois in Mysore.
However, I was so keen to include music, chanting varied mantras and to free up the postural sequencing to embrace new students.
I began to teach a free-from flowing Vinyasa style that called more on my dance background, and found that people loved the rigour and dynamic quality.
Yet they were also able to feel liberated, free and that they could really listen to their bodies while being inspired by the music.
How do you fit your own practice around your teaching?
Jivamukti founder David Life said: "‘Practice what you teach, and teach what you practice." For many years I was extremely disciplined, and practised everyday without fail.
David Life's comment made me feel that I also had a responsibility towards my students to continue to be a student of yoga myself, and it freed me up from doing it for the sake of it.
I now have a little rule: I don't teach before I have done my own practice. I aim to keep my mornings free for asana, pranayama, reading, chanting, meditation.
I also see my practice of yoga as being able to connect with my loved ones and listening to their needs, which is as important as getting into some crazy bendy pose!
Yoga should be about creating balance, harmony and non-judgement. I try to be truthful to the yamas and niyamas and sutras.
What do you enjoy about teaching?
I love meeting people, seeing their bodies as an expression of their minds, and seeing people become liberated from their past thoughts about what they can and cannot do.
I love learning from my students, feeling a sense of community, connection, liberation. Seeing changes for good in people: mentally, emotionally, physically.
I love to be inspired, yet I love to keep down to earth, to be real as a teacher and not pretend that I am perfect - I find that creates more connection.
What makes a good yoga teacher?
Someone who can deeply inspire, someone who can listen, watch, observe. Someone who can connect and essentially hand over the tools of knowledge without holding anything back.
To you, what are the most important elements of yoga - and what are the challenging elements?
The most important elements of yoga are aiming to be kind, strong and flexible in every way. Mentally as well as physically. To stay inspired and to continually learn more.
The most challenging elements are the ‘politics' of the yoga world: seeing that yoga is also a ‘business' and that some people in the yoga world would take advantage of others' kindness or commitment for their own gain.
Do you think we in 'the West' give enough time and attention to meditation?
I always begin and end my classes with a short meditation; however I know that most people find this the toughest, most vulnerable part of the class.
It is so important that we are able to be still, yet I can literally see people twitching, scratching and fidgeting. It just shows me that they are not at ease with themselves.
On yoga retreats, I spend more time on this with the students, as often all we need is some space away from the rush of our lives to be able to sit in meditation and reflect.
I can observe someone for two minutes in meditation and it can show me how they approach their asana practice.
How is yoga perceived in the UK now? Do you think it will continue to grow in popularity?
I hope so, because there are way more harmful things to get into! I am touring the UK and Ireland this autumn and I am hoping to be inspired by new interest in yoga.
Often people just need to find the right teacher, be inspired and then go on their journey into their soul.
I have no problem with yoga being a ‘fad' because the practice will endure any superficiality, and the ones who feel the benefits will stay.
I cannot tell you the times students have said yoga is ‘like coming home' to them. Yoga should be able to bring this feeling of coming home to anyone. We are all looking for the same thing: love and safety.
Is it feasible to earn a reasonable salary as a yoga teacher in the UK?
There is enough room for anyone in any ‘industry' if you are good at what you do. If you believe in something enough and you study enough, everything will come.
You will receive what you need and not what you want. I have devoted myself to yoga and believe that this path will reply by giving me what I require in order to stay committed. I do understand my worth and that confidence takes time.
What advice do you have for someone considering teaching yoga as a future career?
Yoga has to be for the love of it. I would never have sought a ‘career' in yoga, it just happened this way. That is my journey and often the best journeys are the ones we don't force.
So my advice would be find the love, find the commitment then let the teaching grow from there.