I recently received an intriguing review of one of our cork yoga mats. Intriguing because hidden between the lines was a very personal and inspiring story. Her name is Sheila Kennard. Sheila is 63. At an age when others would be looking forward to retirement, Sheila was busy completing her teacher training in Hatha Yoga at Studio Evolve.
Sheila Kennard: Thank you Danny for your invitation to share a little of my story. You ask why I chose to undertake yoga teacher training when others my age are looking forward to retirement. Apart from the fact that retirement is a luxury that my husband and I cannot quite afford just yet, the real answer is I love yoga.
I started yoga in 1973 and have come in and out of it ever since, sometimes with years in between. For me it has always depended on the teacher and my connection with them. As a spiritual seeker myself I liked teachers that filled that role for me.
I feel it is incredibly important to find the right teacher to guide one on their yoga journey. According to your experiences as a student and a teacher, what are the most important qualities of a good teacher?
SK: Compassion and integrity are important for me. I enjoy teachers who explore the inner journey as well as the physical body - those who honour the true meaning of yoga as a union of body, mind and spirit. Another quality I seek in a teacher is the understanding that students come in all shapes, sizes and abilities, and who offer alternative poses so that each student feels they have been cared for throughout the class.
Tell us more about your practice.
SK: I found Studio Evolve a couple of years ago and it fulfilled my yoga requirements, and as it offers a variety of classes I could choose the ones that suited my needs and me. Alongside the physical aspect they also catered to my spiritual needs, I found that Chai and Bex Deva, the founders of Studio Evolve, shared my path. My chosen classes are Hatha, Yin, Restorative and Slow Flow Bliss yoga each week. I grew to enjoy the travelling into my body, feeling deep into all parts and exploring meridian pathways, a gift from my shiatsu days. I loved the idea of marrying yoga and meridians. I also loved the clarity from Chai’s classes that all skeletons are different and it is often times down to our bones as to what shapes we can achieve. I felt both nurtured and empowered.
What finally made you take the plunge into teacher training?
SK: It was actually my husband who suggested I do it. My thoughts were to be able to teach yoga to older and less flexible people who may feel intimidated by teachers who could twist into all sorts of shapes and bring a degree of athleticism to the class.
SK: I knew it would require a great deal of me, 17 days on the trot for about 13 hours a day, including all the classes the studio normally offers. However, with the studio close to my home and a teacher I trusted completely I took up the challenge. Suddenly I was faced with Vinyasa Flow and other classes that required far more of me – I am pleased to say only one broke me!! My cork mat would have soaked up a few tears at that point. However, the course fed my mind, body and soul and I loved it. By the end I was entirely clear whom I wished to teach yoga to. And that was the start of me teaching my Gentle Yoga and Chair Yoga classes.
As a gym junkie I tend to gravitate towards the tougher Astanga and Vinyasa yoga practices. But lately I have been realizing the importance of a gentler practice – the yin to the yang. I'd like to know more about the Gentle Yoga you teach.
SK: Gentle Yoga is a small class at Evolve - it is still in its early days. This class is suited to those who are keen to try out yoga knowing they will not be asked to get into seemingly impossible positions. The class offers a gentle introduction to yoga, which will gradually develop strength, stability and balance. The class includes both standing and floor asanas, and gentle flows all linked in with the breath.
SK: I also teach a community Chair Yoga class to mostly elderly ladies. It is very social, my class today ended with adding laughter yoga by default, they are a joy to watch and can now do the few standing poses without holding onto their chairs. One lady is 87 and comes in a skirt! They all agree that after each session they feel they have had a good, fun workout.
SK: All my classes have been assessed and have gained the Approved Strength and Balance Programme tick, an initiative created by ACC and the Ministry of Health.
Are there any thoughts you would like to share with others considering teacher training?
SK: Teaching yoga feels like a privilege and a gift. I love the moment when I invite the students to close their eyes and observe them start their journey through the class. Yoga is a gift that keeps on giving and I am delighted it is an integral part of my later years.
Sheila Kennard started her yoga journey as a teen in the early 1970’s when it was a little strange and mysterious, classes were held in school halls in leotards and tights. She teaches Hatha and Gentle Yoga at Studio Evolve.
Her aim is to offer classes to those who may find yoga daunting and unattainable.
Alongside raising a family Sheila has been an avid student of Social Policy which led to work in alleviating the pain of domestic violence and as a family mediator.
Sheila is a proud mother of two and grandma to 5 amazing people. Her view is that you are never too old to undertake a new journey in life.
Favourite asana - Pigeon pose (kapotasana)
Favourite superfood - Avocado
Favourite book of 2018 - Walking Each Other Home by Ram Dass & Mirabai Bush