In Helen’s words…
I’ve always been fascinated with movement and the human body. I trained as a dancer from the age of three which led to an interest in acting in my teens. Then, in my early twenties I discovered yoga. I had given up dancing full-time, but I still needed to move and stretch. When you stop dancing, your body goes, “What's happening? Why aren't you moving?” And all this excess energy gets stored and you can get wound up and unpleasant to be with! Yoga helped my body deal with the change and also helped to strengthen all the areas around the injuries I sustained from working as a professional dancer.
I was very lucky that my introduction to yoga was with an amazing teacher. She was someone that continued to train and learn even while she was teaching and she encouraged her students to do the same. I became her apprentice and trained with her in a very traditional manner for four years. Studying yoga deepened my awareness of how the body and mind works. As a dancer, I learned how to move, to work through pain, to learn what to do when you have injuries, to find physios and chiropractors who you trust and who can heal your body. As a yoga practitioner and teacher, I learned how your body can heal itself, how important the breath is and how to breathe deeply, and how yoga works on so many levels, internally and externally. I wanted to deepen this understanding and found a massage course, learning anatomy and physiology, and the benefits of touch.
One of the most important things to me about yoga is learning that everything begins with the breath. That each movement begins with an inhalation or exhalation and the freedom that you can find with this knowledge. When I taught at the Royal Central School for Speech and Drama in London, actors would say things like, “I can't, I can't, I've got two left feet.” My response to this is always, “that's fine; it's no problem; it doesn't matter. Let’s just sit and breathe for a second.” As soon as you breathe deeply and place your hands over your navel, you've immediately sent a message to the adrenal glands to slow down, to calm down. And the breath deepens. In fact as soon as breath is mentioned most people begin to breathe more deeply.
Breath can often be held in the chest. When I first started yoga, that’s how it was for me. As a dancer, you need to breathe high up so that you are open in your chest and light on your feet. It’s desirable to be nearly above the ground rather than letting yourself drop down. It took me years to learn how to drop my breath down.
When I teach, I use verbal prompts to help students to think about moving their breath to a particular area of the body. Most people have fantastic imaginations and it is often more beneficial to think of a muscle or joint to create a shift rather than actually doing it physically. If you do it physically then the shift can domino around the body which isn’t always useful, but by using thought the shift can be more subtle and deeper, especially when combined with the breath.
Initially, I was drawn to Dayaalu looking for yoga classes for myself. When I walked in, I thought, “what an amazing space.” It has such a wonderful feeling, and I knew it would be a place where I could practice yoga, chill out and be myself; a place where I could learn and explore. I had recently arrived from London, so I took advantage of the new student introductory offer and starting taking as many classes as I could.
Eventually, as I got to know people I would share that I was a yoga teacher. Then, I started chatting with Sue. I wasn’t in a position to teach at the time, but Sue is one of those people that trusts the process, and we both knew the day would come when they might need a teacher, perhaps starting out as a sub, and that's exactly what happened. I picked up some cover work and then a class of my own.
One day, Sue and I started chatting about kids. I was teaching dance and movement at Bainbridge Performing Arts at the time, so she suggested we do her kids class together. I went in to see what the class was all about, and I fell in love with it. When you work with kids, they teach you a lot. Now, Sue and I teach Kids Yoga class together and we have just begun teaching a yoga basics workshop.
Before I left the UK to come to the US, I was chatting with an old student of mine and she asked me what I loved about teaching yoga. I told her that each body tells a story, and I love discovering these stories. This led to a conversation about Seanachai’s (Irish storytellers). Seanachai’s would travel around Ireland, plant themselves in little villages gathering the locals together to share their stories. So, in a way, this is how I see my work. The body is telling stories all of the time and I get to help translate them. During class, or even as a choreographer and massage therapist, I look for the story the body is telling—to help ease it, unpack it, or even just to allow the body to breathe. And, it’s amazing when you see the same students every week and get to know each person and witness their bodies shift and change. It’s a real honor.