OM catches up with Sarah Highfield, the founder of Yogagise, who believes that students must, above all else, enjoy their yoga practice.
How did you first get into yoga?
I properly discovered yoga when I was 21 years old and backpacking around the world. Prior to that I had been to a couple of one-off yoga classes, but it never fully resonated with me until I discovered it again… while in Fiji with a fellow yogi!
What inspired you in those early days?
When I first started practicing yoga, I was simply inspired by how good I felt afterwards, both in my mind and body. I loved how yoga connected me to myself, and I think being in such a transformational stage of my life just after university, it really helped me to navigate my emotions and understand my body.
What does yoga give you personally?
Yoga simply makes me feel good. I love stretching my body out, bringing my attention into the present and calming my mind. I also love the aspect of nurturing time for myself and self-care.
How would you describe your teaching style?
My own teaching style is relaxed and fun. I definitely don’t sit at the serious end of the yoga spectrum and I don’t over analyse it. I’m attentive and always encourage my students to practice with lots of selfawareness and, above all, to enjoy yoga.
Yoga career highs so far?
My teaching highs include my Yogagise Yoga & Brunch event next to the beach in Antigua; teaching at the OM Yoga Show in London; teaching in my hometown of Hong Kong; teaching on retreats in Greece; and teaching on a 200-hour yoga teacher training in the Alpujarra mountains in Spain. I’m also lucky to teach amazing private yoga students, many of whom are now good friends of mine.
Any favourite teachers or studios?
Yes, lots — my favourite teachers include David Swenson, Shamita Ray, Mark Ansari and Raquel Salvador. All these teachers have helped me to develop into a more rounded yoga teacher myself.
My favourite places to do yoga are either high up in the mountains or next to the sea — I love a beautiful view and fresh air.
Diversity in yoga
I think in the early 2000s, yoga was really dominated by the image of middle-class white women, but more recently I see more and more diverse yoga role models and imagery across advertising, in studios and on social media. So, I think diversity in yoga is certainly moving in the right direction, which is important because yoga should feel accessible and represented for everyone.
I like the body positivity movement, it’s certainly more optimistic than obsessing over the ‘perfect body’. I think body positivity and yoga are aligned because yoga connects you with your body and encourages you to appreciate and accept it just as it is.
What are your plans going forward?
I’ll continue to run my own Yogagise events; they always start with yoga and end with food - my favourite two things! I have a yoga retreat in the Spanish mountains coming up in September 2020. I will also continue to teach on the Inspira Yoga 200-hour yoga teacher trainings which take place in London and Andalucia.
Advice for new yoga teachers starting out?
Be as proactive as possible, network lots and continue to attend yoga classes as a student, because learning and developing as a teacher comes via many different paths. Also, when you attend a yoga class which you really like, ask yourself why you liked it so much? Think about what made that class special, and then consider whether you can also do something similar to make your own yoga classes just as special and enjoyable. One exercise I ask the students to do on the yoga teacher training that I teach on is to write down a yoga teacher review that they would like to receive. I then ask them to embody it and work towards making that review a reality.
Should yoga teachers keep parallel careers running, especially in the early days?
Yes, if they want to, or if teaching yoga doesn’t earn them enough to live. I was lucky that I was able to transition on from my office job into teaching yoga without any overlap, but lots of yoga teachers I know do have some overlap between the two.
Any tips for students new to yoga?
Do yoga with an open mind, it’s not for everyone, but most people find that there is a style of yoga which works for them. I also believe that every yoga teacher is unique and finding a teacher who you can connect and feel comfortable with is important.
What do you say to people who feel they shouldn’t do yoga because they’re not in shape / too old / too inflexible?
I say that their attitude is preventing them from doing yoga. You don’t have to be thin or young or flexible to do yoga. Everyone can do yoga if they want to and having a positive attitude will make all the difference.
What do you do when you’re not doing yoga?
I like cooking. I love finding new and challenging recipes to make at home. Recently I made some homemade ravioli, it took far longer than it should have but I really enjoyed the process…and of course the end result!
Any tips for incorporating yoga into daily life?
If you find it hard to fit yoga into your life, start small, maybe you could begin with just 15 minutes of yoga a few times per week. Over time, try to make those yoga sessions a little longer. There are plenty of great YouTube yoga videos which are suitable for all levels of yoga.
Favourite go-to book
I recently discovered Sophrology after meeting Dominique Antiglio, a Sophrologist. Dominique introduced me to a series of mental exercises to help me relax, which were really effective. Additionally, she just released the book The Life-Changing Power of Sophrology, which I’m currently reading.
Favourite health food
I love big, rainbow-coloured salads with lots of avocado. I’m also a big fan of any Italian or Japanese dishes.
I am happiest when….
…I’m with my family and friends. The older I get, the more I want to spend time with the people I’m closest to, there really is no substitute.
Life motto “Don’t let a bad day turn into a bad week.”
Find out more about Sarah Highfield at: yogagise.com
Yoga Changed My Life... Sarah Highfield