Meet this month’s cover star, Esther Marie, who you can catch live and in-person at the OM Yoga Show in London this month. Here, she tells OM how yoga helped her overcome her inner demons and now offers a simple template for a healthier, happier life
How did you get started in yoga?
I started yoga back in 2015. I had a running injury and my physio told me one rehab session to stop all the high-impact exercise and to explore yoga. Her exact words were: “You were built for yoga, Esther…just give it a go!” So I found a class local to me in a church hall and I stayed at the back of the room and tried it. I didn’t immediately love it and I certainly couldn’t access all of it (it was a vinyasa class) but I did notice a shift inside of me. It was the first time I’d ever engaged in physical exercise as an adult without the intention to change my body shape or appearance. I found a second-hand mat in a charity shop and begun teaching myself through blog posts and those weekly classes.
What differences have you seen in your practice over the years?
I started a very traditional Ashtanga Vinyasa for the first three years. Then, on my teacher training, the anatomy teacher noticed a lot about my body and was the first person to mention hypermobility to me. She gave me such great advice for how to modify my practice and encouraged me to start bodyweight strength training. Since then (2018), I have merged strength with yoga asana in my practice and teaching — sneaking in crescent lunge dips or extra-long goddess holds, alongside a focus on stabilising my most mobile areas, the shoulders, knees, lower back and hips.
When the pandemic hit, my practice changed quite a lot. Although my daily life didn’t change much (as a key worker I went to work daily) my inner energy did. I felt this heaviness and a craving for less strength and more softness. So I decided to pause vinyasa and focus on Yin Yoga. A lot of people say yin is ‘bad’ for bodies with hypermobility but the aspect of the condition most misunderstood is that it is a spectrum and not all areas of the body are affected in every individual case. For example, my hips are super mobile — I can jump into the splits. But my spine and shoulders? Some days, I can’t stand up straight in the morning because they are so stiff. I’m a firm believer that the best person to tell you what is best for your body is you!
What are the main styles of yoga you practice and teach now?
I mainly now teach my own hybrid style of class — a vinyasa style but incorporating strength work at the beginning instead of the more typical vinyasa warm up. I call these classes Power and Peace. This is the style I mostly practice through asana but let’s not forget yoga isn’t just movement. My off-the -mat yoga practices that are a daily non negotiable in my life, and have been for many years now are my meditation, reflective journalling (self-study), mindfulness, gratitude and studying yogic philosophy. I absolutely teach all of these classes too! In my online studio I have journalling, philosophy, meditation and even audio classes that cover the off-the-mat aspects of yoga.
How has yoga helped you see yourself and your life over the years?
Is it cheesy to say it saved my life? I know that if I hadn't found yoga I would have definitely relapsed back into depression and anorexia again and it would have killed me. Yoga didn’t recover me, I found it when I was into year four of my recovery, but it gave me something that I had never had before. It filled the hole inside of me I had always had and used over-exercising to fill. It didn’t just change my perspective, it flipped it 360º. Yoga enabled me to finally see myself as enough, my body as enough, and the world as something beautiful not something painful.
What does yoga mean to you personally?
Yoga honestly means lifestyle to me. It's gone beyond a class or a movement practice now. Yoga is a way of thinking and showing up every day for me. Meditation is yoga, looking after my dog is yoga, being respectful to nature is yoga, being kind to others and myself is yoga. I don’t believe only the asanas are yoga movements, I believe any movement that unites breath to body, that has an intention, is practiced mindfully and stills the fluctuations of the mind, is in essence, yoga in movement.
What do you believe is your true calling in life?
I believe my career in teaching young children is my vocation as well as sharing yoga in the way I do. I don’t really teach like any other teacher according to my students. They’ve always said my teaching is different, a mix of many things including my own experiences in life, and from this, I have created my own hybrid, holistic style. I believe I was given my experience of depression and my other demons deliberately, so I could overcome them and then share my insights and authenticity with others. I don’t see life like everyone else. I guess being told you have just two weeks to live (which happened to me once) and working tirelessly for years to meet your demons head on does that to a person. I want to give hope to others and I believe that this is my calling.
What do you love to do when you are not practicing yoga?
I actually work full time as a SEMH teacher in a primary school. I knew early on when I started in education that I wanted to specialise in helping children with emotional and behavioural needs, not just for them to access education, but also to feel good about themselves and have the confidence to be themselves. That has been my career since 2013. I also love walking with my dog, Sonny, having a tea at a local tea shop, reading in my garden and spending time with my friends and family.
What are your plans for the future?
It has always been a dream of mine to write a book, ever since I recovered from my 12-year battle with mental health and anorexia. But over the years, this memoir has morphed into more of a book about yoga and how it has played a huge part in my self-healing and mental health recovery. It's a dream of mine to get it published. I would also love to host day and weekend retreats: they would be more than yoga, more like a day or two for self-care and holistic life work, merging all my passions and knowledge from yoga, wellbeing, teaching and life
Can you tell us some of your self-care practices?
Self-care is something I only started about five years ago, thanks to yoga and especially yoga philosophy. I am not a very girly girl and most conventional means for women to practice self-care just stress me out! Yoga taught me that I can find self-care through meditation, walking in woodlands, sipping my tea, taking my book or journal to a cafe and just hang out with myself. I do also love seeing my closest friends and god daughter and being silly with them.
What can people expect from you at the OM Yoga Show?
My signature class style is a blended class of dynamic vinyasa and gentle yin and I call these classes Power & Peace — I’ll be teaching this style at the show. Expect to build up a sweat through vinyasa and challenging but attainable transitions to build your inner fire and shift out of your head during the first half of the class, then there’ll be some longer holds in seated postures to bring the soothing and self-care energy back later on.
Practice with Esther Marie wherever you are in her on-demand studio with over 300 classes, and nine varieties of classes to choose from: from vinyasa, restorative, mindful-flow classes to meditation, journalling and philosophy. Desktop and app availability, see website for details: esthermarieyoga.com
Favourite yoga or spiritual book?
The Four Agreements series by Don Miguel Ruiz, including The Fifth Agreement: A Practical Guide to SelfMastery and The Voice of Knowledge: A Practical Guide to Inner Peace.
Go-to health food or drink?
I’m a very basic foodie. I love all fruits and vegetables and I’m obsessed with sweet potatoes. I love green tea and dark chocolate. I’m a big believer in balance and do not restrict my diet in any way.
Holistic remedy you swear by?
Tisserand essential oils for calming, relaxation and especially getting on the Tube and aeroplanes!
“Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.” (Mahatma Gandhi). This is something my family would tell me when I was battling my demons. Also: “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” (Mother Teresa). This applies so much to my career with young children.