Teacher profile: Catherine Annis

Catherine Annis' trainig as a professional dancer stood her in good stead for the physical aspects of yoga. But it was the centering, spiritual aspect of the practice that drew her in.


What led you along the yoga path? How long ago was this?
catherine annisMy mother took me to my first yoga class when I was 16, so I've been practising for nearly 30 years now (doesn't time just fly?).

I was already training as a professional dancer, so the postures were (relatively) easy for me, but what I loved was the approach to the stillness of the mind, and the quietness it brought me spiritually.

I practised sporadically for several years, but always kept returning to the essence of 'sunyatta' (emptiness) that my first teacher instilled in me.

After moving on from my mother's teacher, I attended Sivananda classes. I strongly considered training as a teacher then, but decided against it, believing it wouldn't be possible to make a living.

Since then, I have been a bit of a "yoga tart", exploring everyting I could find, including Astanga, Iyengar, dynamic flow, hatha, and finally, Scaravelli.

How long were you practising before you trained as a teacher?

About 20 years. I did my TTC in 2004, but had already been teaching for a year before that. I think it's really helped, having that long gap to practice and explore yoga. It's enabled me to experience all kinds of different styles, and teachers, and to really work out what works for me, and why.


Which training course did you do and why?
I chose to go to India and attended the Sivananda TTC at Neyyar Dam in Kerala. Partly because I wanted to visit India and experience yoga in its birthplace.


What type of yoga do you teach and what drew you to this style?
I now teach Scaravelli yoga. I discovered a brilliant teacher, Alex Gray, at my local health club.

Having done a lot of very structured, formal classes, I found Alex was a revelation. She was teaching something very different. We would spend time going right into the postures, really examining them, working within them, and challenging ourselves.

And we'd talk about them, too, sharing our experiences. Each class was different - we literally never did the same thing, or took the same approach twice in a row.

Sometimes it was physically hard work, at others it was frustrating - we spent a lot of time waiting to feel the pull of gravity. But I always felt fantastic at the end of the class.

Through her, I worked with Sophy Hoare, Diane Long and my current teacher, John Stirk. When Alex left, I felt a huge gap and was really struggling to find another teacher.

I finally realised that what she'd been teaching was Scaravelli inspired and decided that this was the work I wanted to teach. It made so much more sense to me on every level - psychological, spiritual and physical.


How do you fit your own practice around your teaching?
I plan my days so that I rarely start teaching before lunchtime. That way I have at least a couple of hours in the day when I can do my own practice. My husband is a massage therapist and often works late, so whilst he's sleeping in the morning, I settle down on the mat and have the place to myself.

What do you enjoy about teaching?
Seeing the looks on people's faces as they realise that yes, it really is possible to release and relax in that pose! I love helping people with injuries or real physical difficulties to overcome them, or find ways of living with what is not possible to change.

My favourite client is a man with moderate cerebral palsy. I've been working with him on his walking and general posture for a couple of years. When we began, he would shake constantly. The shaking now is completely gone, and his walking is much more stable.

Nowadays we do a lot of work on relaxing and bringing sensation into the body, to help improve his coordination. It's wonderful to see what a difference it's made to his life.


What makes a good yoga teacher?
Practice. Patience, a sense of humour (we can get too serious sometimes) and humility. Sometimes it's difficult to remember how hard things were; how challenging it is to be a beginner when your teacher is telling you to find that stillness inside but your hamstrings are screaming.

Positivity helps, too. Oh, and a good voice. My first teacher's voice was fantastic - I could listen to it all day.


To you, what are the most important elements of yoga - and what are the challenging elements?
Awareness is probably the most important aspect. Once you have that, you can start working with the breath, gravity, and the energetic flow of the spine. All of which are challenging.

For me, though, the most revealing aspect has been working with gravity. It's provided the most frustration (at the beginning when I just didn't understand how to drop myself into the ground) but has also been the most enlightening part of the yoga I now practice and teach.

Oh, and I think that it's really hard for beginners (and even not such beginners) to find the balance between work and ease. So often people will really push, when all they need to do is let go. Or they collapse, when they need to work .... It's a balancing act!


Do you think we in 'the West' give enough time and attention to meditation?
Probably not, but we are getting better. And really, if you are completely in the moment during your practice, that too is a form of meditation.

How is yoga perceived in the UK now? Do you think it will continue to grow in popularity?
I hope it will continue to grow in popularity, but I also hope that people stop seeing it as just another form or exercise and start recognising it for the incredible art that it is.

There's often too much emphasis on quick fixes, weight loss, and superficial benefits without recognising that the benefits (becoming calmer, less attached, caring less about unimportant outcomes, revealing a new flexibility in the whole of ourselves and in our relationships to other people) come gradually and are worth waiting for.


Is it feasible to earn a reasonable salary as a yoga teacher in the UK?
Hmmmm. Getting harder, as more people decide to shun the rat race and follow their dreams. But yes, I'm doing ok thank you!


What advice do you have for someone currently training, or considering it as a future career?
Practice. Practice. Practice. You really need to have a strong practice before considering teaching. If that's in place, and you love your own yoga, and teaching others, then go for it.

Also, get some really good thorough anatomy training, so that you're confident in helping those with injuries and avoid risking injury in your own practice.


For more information about Catherine see www.relaxandrelease.co.uk




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