When I was a kid, I remember spending a lot of time happily alone, playing in the trees, reading, dreaming...My childhood ambition was to be an artist.
I loved tropical scenes, night skies, felines of all spots and stripes, and tales of adventure. I also wondered a lot about why I was here, who I was, what life was, why the world existed...
As I got older, that natural curiosity became distorted in some ways - I began to experience the relentless awareness and tendency to overthink and analyse as a burden rather than any kind of gift...And I found myself being steered in an intensely academic direction. After a few acts of resistance (!), I ended up studying for a degree in Philosophy at university: the subject felt like a perfect match for my interests at the time, although my essays were very much focused on advocating the validity and importance of the non-rational, the emotional, the physical, the expressive...So in retrospect, maybe the seeds were there all along!
I balanced out my heady studies with something I connected with despite having no interest in India or indeed any other part of Asia at the time (my dreams were all of the Americas, specifically the deserts of Mexico and New Mexico): Yoga. I had a book from the 1960s as my teacher (wasn't really into the dour atmosphere of the Franciscan monastery room where a weekly class took place near the uni campus, so I figured I'd just teach myself...) I'd picked up a couple of Yoga books a few years earlier and experimented with the poses which felt familiar, having enjoys gymnastics as a kid...But I'd date the start of my Yoga practice to 1995, when I was a student, seeking something embodied to help me balance myself and my moods. (If you ask me when my Yogic path really began, well that's hard to say - I became vegetarian aged 12, after a lot of consideration and finally, a clear message from a very striking dream...Was it then? Or the day when I realised that my health was more important than any academic achievement, however much absolutely no-one in my world except me seemed to see it that way at the time?)
It would have been easy, in a sense, to continue down the academic path I kept being set on, and which superficially I seemed suited to in terms of ability at least...But my heart was never really in this, and so I embarked on a nomadic period in my 20s, living and working all over the world from Canada, USA, Mexico, to Taiwan, Thailand and Spain, with a few other places in between...Of these places, New Mexico and Thailand had the most powerful, soul-feeding, lasting impact on me and I'd say I continue to be inspired by aspects of my time living in those two places. (And years later, I revisited both.) Eventually, I returned to the UK convinced that the reason I couldn't find my path in life was because I should have stuck with art instead of being pulled down the academic route...So, I worked my way through evening classes, an art access and foundation course and then, another degree - this time in Fine Art.
My art studies brought me to Devon in 2004, and somehow I've stayed here (mostly) ever since - finding somewhere more grounding, nourishing and beautiful than I once thought possible in this country...A place which carried some echoes too of the places abroad which I carried in my heart.
The fine art course turned out to be profoundly uninspiring, sadly - but during this time I connected with some wonderful veteran Yoga teachers, for the first time in my life - most notably Duncan Hulin, founder and director of the Devon School of Yoga (& a wonderful shiatsu practitioner as well!).
Duncan was & remains a profoundly grounded, humble, experienced and wise teacher and practitioner of Yoga in all its forms, and if I had to single out the one person who's had the most impact on helping me find healing in my life, I think it would have to be him. For ten years, I was a dedicated student attending his weekly Yoga classes and also, during this period, undertaking a two-year teacher training with him and the rest of the DSY team of teachers. I will be forever grateful to have connected with Duncan when I did - his teaching was a light in my life throughout my entire 30s and continues to inform my own personal practice & teaching to this day.
Over time, I found myself being increasingly drawn to the practice and culture of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga, and there was a period of about 6 or 7 years where I became ever-more committed to Ashtanga, much to my own surprise (as I never felt I really fit the Ashtangi psychological profile!)...But as taught by Andrea Durant and learned through David Swenson's book and CDs, I found my own expression of this practice to be terrifically grounding and strengthening for me, in ways I needed to cultivate, whilst also honouring the natural flexibility and openness of my body. It's a very seductive system too - a global community, a sense of progression, the promise of rewards gained through the virtue of your daily practice..."Practice and all is coming..."
Naturally, I found myself gravitating towards the first American Ashtangis - those I perceived as laid-back hippies who'd connected with this Yoga for its own virtues, in a time before any famous people did it...I liked what I heard also about their less dogmatic approach to what can be an incredibly rigid system, since that is one aspect of Ashtanga that never sat well with me...So I began travelling to workshops and retreats with Nancy Gilgoff, David Williams and Doug Swenson (David Swenson's older brother!)...Around Devon, London, Portugal...and finally to Maui, Hawaii. Ashtanga central for those of a certain generation perhaps - according to David Williams, Mysore no longer had the vibe it had when he was there - the closest thing now was to be found in Maui where all the old school Ashtangis seem to've ended up...So off I went, at the end of 2015, to immerse myself in a month of ascetic daily Mysore practice with Nancy Gilgoff, followed, I imagined, by regular meditation sessions at one of the Zen centres on the island. I had arranged to rent a cheap room in a local guy's house, and to hire his spare car so I could get to the Yoga shala each morning, located a 40 minute drive away up a winding road in upcountry Maui...
That's what I went to Maui for. What actually unfolded was very different, but ultimately much more magical and inspiring. Which is weird in that it began with me gradually becoming very disenchanted with the world of Ashtanga and the strictness of the system, and realising I'd gone as far as I wanted to with it all. Kind of a long way to travel, and a lot to commit yourself to, to start to realise the roots feel suddenly rotten to you. So I secretly started exploring other Yoga classes on the island, because a) there was SO much Yoga on Maui and b)what else was I to do? Yoga was my life and that's what I'd gone there for...
But also, there was a sense of disappointment & loneliness, and for a brief period I felt I could end up wishing away the remainder of my time on Maui. And that, I quickly recognised, would be a ridiculous waste. I've had miserable stays on a couple of supposedly paradise islands before and I really didn't want this to be number three...So I just decided to indulge myself, to let myself do whatever would cheer me up, and be enjoyable. Essentially, I decided to please myself and stop beating myself up for not wanting to stick to a rigid system any more. 2015 had been tough on me in a lot of ways, and as my 41st birthday approached, I was ripe for reconnecting with some joyful energy. Two days before my birthday, I went to a class led by Jennifer Lynn, a teacher who'd been voted best on Maui, and within a few minutes of the class starting, I could see why. She spoke about the wisdom of the heart, and the importance of the head bowing to the wisdom of the heart; it felt like a summation of so much of my struggle in life...
Any Ashtangi judgements I carried about the use of music in a class were also quickly dispelled, and I found myself in the midst of a beautiful, heart-tearfully-cracking-open experience as Jennifer guided us through a graceful crescent moon pose...I'd had plenty of previous experience of the more hip-opening tearful releases, but this was the first time in my life that a heart-opening pose had allowed me to actually let go of some emotional stones from my inner bowl.
As the class continued, I felt my whole body, my whole being giving me a very clear message: THIS is what you need!! This beautiful, feminine, nurturing, emotionally healing energy is what you need from Yoga now...
By the end of the class, in savasana, more tears of course. And then, afterwards, Jennifer produced a plate of peanut butter cookies to share...THIS is what I need!
Driving around the spectacularly beautiful island, I now found myself opening ever more to a sense of profound wonder, gratitude and liberation. I could only compare it to the sense of who I'd been when I was 8 - presumably that was the last time in my life I'd felt uninhibited enough to just please myself, be myself, without imposing constraints on myself or allowing others to fuel that impulse...Here I was in a tropical paradise island of childhood dreams, free to do exactly as I pleased...
There was also, in this, a powerful sense of self-validation: the realisation that, at 41 (just!), I was indeed old enough and experienced enough - with my 20+ years of Yoga practice too - to know what was and wasn't right for me, and to feel that actually, no-one else had the right to dictate how I chose to do my practice, even if they'd been practicing since before I was born. My way worked for me, and I knew that from my own experience of healing, especially over the previous decade. It worked also for my students, presumably.
I began a self-taught Hatha Yoga practice in 1995 (using a 1960s book as my teacher), whilst studying Philosophy (western) at university. After graduation, I spent a few years living, travelling and working abroad (including Vancouver, New Mexico, Taiwan, Thailand & Spain - teaching English as a foreign language in the last 3). During these nomadic years, disillusioned with the western approach to seeking meaning, I developed an interest in Taoism, Zen and Buddhism.
A few years later, back in the UK, I focused on reconnecting with my creative energies, studying art formally for 5 years (culminating in a second degree, this time in Fine Art). Art college brought me to Devon, but after a decade of self-taught home practice, I connected with a wonderful & authentic teacher, Duncan Hulin, founder & director of the Devon School of Yoga, in 2005, and a deeper journey into Yoga and my own healing process began. From 2005 - 15, Duncan was my main teacher: his weekly Holistic Yoga classes incorporating kriyas, asana, pranayama, mantra, meditation and classical Yoga philosophy providing an authentic, grounded yogic education. In 2011-13 I trained as a Yoga teacher with him on the DSY's 500hr YTT. I began teaching in 2012, 6 months into the course. (Learn more about my approach to yoga here.)
I'd personally experienced how beneficial eastern holistic styles of massage could be, especially as a complement to regular Yoga practice; and in my teaching at that time, I used to enjoy giving hands-on adjustments. It was a natural progression from my Yoga teaching to begin exploring Thai Yoga massage, and during 2013-14 I took several introductory workshops in Thai Yoga massage in Devon. At the end of 2014 I travelled to the far north of Thailand to take an intensive training in Thai Yoga massage with the Sunshine Network, in the Ashokananda lineage of northern-style Thai., after which I began my professional practice. (I subsequently spent the winter of 2016-17 teaching Yoga and giving Thai massage treatments to guests and staff at an international retreat centre on a quiet island in the southwest of Thailand.) In 2017 I travelled to Portugal to train in Advanced Techniques for Thai massage with Hadadi School of Thai Massage.
During the years 2009-15, Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga became my main personal yoga practice: I became a dedicated Ashtangi for a time, seeking out American pioneers David Williams and Nancy Gilgoff, Doug Swenson and local teachers such as Andrea Durant, amongst others. Ashtanga studies took me to Portugal, London and finally Maui, Hawaii, in late 2015. My time on Maui was a major turning point in many ways: I realised I'd gone as far as I wanted to within the strictness and external validation of the Ashtanga path; it was time to embrace a more feminine, self-validating, nurturing approach. Exploring the island's rich Yoga culture, I had a profound heart-opening experience during my first Wisdom Flow class with Jennifer Lynn, whose joyful, heart-centred, inspiring teaching, rooted in influences blended Vinyasa, Anusara and Kashmiri Shaivism, became my daily class for the rest of my stay and suggested possibilities for my own evolving personal practice. I also connected strongly with the energy and natural beauty of the island and Hawaiian healing traditions, taking a private one to one training in basic lomilomi whilst there.
After Maui, I returned to the UK primed to explore the energy of the heart and also wanting to tap into the vital energy of the natural world more deeply. I'd long been sympathetic to more animist perspectives, and interested in accounts of indigenous cultures using sacred plants in rituals to connect to nature spirit for both spiritual and personal healing purposes. I'd first heard about cacao being used as a plant medicine in 2014, but it wasn't till 2017 that I finally headed to London to participate in a cacao ceremony for the first time. The heart-opening medicine combined with a deep inner journey was beautiful and reminded me strongly of the opened-heart Maui feeling; I began to experiment with yoga workshops involving cacao, deepening my connection and getting a feel for whether I felt I could in time hold ceremonial space and share this medicine.
I felt a strong calling to go deeper still with cacao, so in spring 2018 I travelled to Ibiza for an intensive Cacaoista (one who works with cacao as a sacred plant spirit) apprenticeship training with Rebekah, the plant medicine practitioner whose ceremony in London I'd attended. This training offered a powerful initiation and immersion into working with cacao in a plant spirit medicine ceremony format inspired by Amazonian traditions. Subsequently, my journey and education with cacao continued independently for several years, guided by an ever-deepening relationship with the medicine through my own daily practices and sharing ceremonial cacao regularly for groups of women around Devon from 2018 onwards.
In early 2022 I embarked on further cacao training, this time with the Mayan Wisdom Project - as I align myself more consciously with the indigenous Mayan traditions, I wish to express my deep gratitude to and appreciation for my teachers Kajib Tzik'in Chuj (Jessica), W'ukub K'at Saq'ik (Jerico) and Yasmira of the Chinimital del Ka'kaw collective, to Tata Mario, Tata Juan and Tata Miguel, to Cecilia Mendoza Chiyal, founder of Ruk'u'x Ulew women's collective of artisanal cacao producers, and to Solveig Barrios, founder and guide of the Mayan Wisdom Project, for the priceless opportunity to listen to and learn from this wonderful group of indigenous Mayan teachers. (More about how I came to cacao here.)
As someone drawn to indigenous wisdom, it's my intention to share respectfully, authentically, with integrity and the permission of those who carry these teachings ancestrally. My original study background was in western philosophy (specialising in applied ethics, moral, social & political philosophy), and later in fine art (practice and history - especially drawn to the 19th/early 20th century European artists who were inspired by art from other cultures) - in some ways, I feel these earlier study interests continue to be relevant to the work and study I now do; hopefully helping me to navigate the waters of learning from other cultures respectfully and sharing what I have their blessing to share with sincerity.
On this ever-evolving path, cacao, meditation, Yoga and the natural world are my anchors. Besides my deepening cacao path rooted in Mayan teachings, Zen and Taoist philosophies continue to ground me, as does all the time I can possibly spend in nature! Following the Moon through her cycles of growth and decline also help to focus awareness on the natural harmony which underlies this cycle, beneath the appearance of constant flux - tuning into the patterns of the lunar cycle has been a great teacher in this sense, and a beautiful way to stay connected to and oriented within nature's greater rhythms and cycles. Always exploring how to cultivate that balance of groundedness, rooted in the earth, and expansiveness, gradually developing the energies of the heart, and always spellbound by the skies.