Famed for her TV appearances and best-selling instructional videos, Barbara Currie is celebrating 50 years of teaching yoga. OM chats to her about how and why she first fell in love with yoga and how it has changed through the decades
How did you first get into yoga?
I trained as a state registered nurse at St Mary’s Hospital, Paddington, and then joined BOAC (now British Airways) as a stewardess. I got married, had two children in rapid succession and then we moved to Scotland because of my husband’s work. I suddenly found that I didn’t know a soul and so I looked for something to get me into shape, but also to meet my neighbours and make new friends. Two things were offered in the local paper, curling and yoga. Curling sounded a bit like house-work so I chose yoga and immediately fell in love with it.
Who inspired you in those early days?
My teacher, who was then in her late 60’s, inspired me as she was in amazing shape and was full of energy. I arrived at my first class tense and tired and left feeling as though I was walking on air. I was also inspired by her teacher, Richard Hittleman, who had a TV show at that time.
What does yoga give you personally?
I am now 78 in March and I am most grateful to yoga: it has kept my joints and spine flexible, toned my muscles and kept me in the same shape as I was in my 20s. It has helped me calm down, de-stress and cope with my share of life’s challenges. It has taught me to live in the moment and count my blessings.
Any favourite teachers?
I had a brilliant teacher in Scotland, Frankie Lindsay, and I like the teachings of Deepak Chopra and Wanda Scaravelli.
How would you describe your own teaching style?
My teaching style is based on the original Hatha Yoga which I try to relate to people living in today’s highly pressured world.
Yoga career highs so far?
In 1980, I made my first video for the Daily Mirror Group called ‘Shape up with Yoga.’ In 1995, I started a regular early morning exercise spot for GMTV. In 2000, I made The Power of Yoga for VCI and this stayed at the top of the fitness charts for eight months. I now have my own school of yoga called Yoga BC Limited and teach 13 classes a week. I also have my own YouTube channel.
What are your plans going forward?
I am so grateful to yoga for its brilliant teaching and my goal is, and always has been, to help as many people as possible reap yoga’s amazing benefits. I do this with my school, books, DVDs and my YouTube channel.
Any advice for new yoga teachers just starting out?
My advice to new teachers starting out would be to be kind to your pupils. People start yoga for many reasons and are often worried about their shape, stiffness and health problems. Some just come to make new friends. Don’t show off your new flexibility, just encourage your pupils and help to make them feel better. A little love and kindness can work wonders.
Do you think yoga teachers should keep parallel careers running (i.e. in other non-yoga areas) especially in the early days?
I think it depends, if you are relying on your yoga teaching to pay the mortgage then I would keep a parallel career running. All sorts of things can happen that are not your fault, e.g. traffic chaos, illness, floods, heating breakdown. All these things can make sure your studios are empty and your takings are low. However, if you have another career as back up you can relax knowing your financial obligations can be met.
What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you started out?
When I started out, I was so keen to teach and improve yoga postures; I didn’t realise the huge importance of breathing and relaxation. People live such busy lives now and I make sure my pupils leave the class feeling refreshed, relaxed and revitalised
Any tips for students new to yoga?
I think it is important to tell them to go gently and never ever strain. There is no competition in yoga, and you are only aiming to improve your body and not someone else’s. Some movements will be easier for you than others but with careful, gentle practice you will make great progress and in a few weeks you will be delighted with your success.
What do you say to people who feel they shouldn’t do yoga because they’re not in shape, too old or inflexible?
Students nearly always start by explaining their stiffness, age, lack of flexibility. I tell them to just move slowly and carefully, always without strain, and very gradually they become delighted with their progress.
What do you do when youʼre not doing yoga?
When not doing yoga I love to spend time with my husband and family. I have grandchildren who keep me very busy, I love to go for long walks in the fresh air, to travel and explore this fabulous world.
Any tips or life hacks for incorporating yoga into daily life?
Start your day with a Sun Salutation: this is invaluable and even if you have no time for more exercise it will keep you mobile and start your day on a positive note.
When stressed, stop what you are doing and take 10 slow, deep breaths, exhaling slowly after each one or do 10 rounds of alternate nostril breathing exercise
Yoga through the decades
When I trained, Hatha Yoga was the basic teaching but now many types of yoga have emerged. I think it is a good thing and allows people to move at their own pace and choose a system that suits them.
One of the things that makes this world so interesting is that we are all different in shape, size, etc. I think we should value this and love ourselves instead of trying to conform to an impossible image.
Favourite go-to book
Richard Hittleman’s ‘28 Day Exercise Plan’ and BKS Iyengar’s ‘Light on Yoga.ʼ
You can if you think you can (Virgil)
Favourite healthy food
I am happiest when…
…I am doing yoga.