Find a balance between strength and softness with Philippa Gendall
Phillipa is an established Ashtanga and Vinyasa flow yoga teacher. She encourages you to have no expectations, to just turn up in Samasthiti at the front of your mat and let your practice unfold, as it is!
What, when and where was your first experience of yoga?
It was an Iyengar class in a village hall in Cornwall. I really wasn’t sure the first time. I had been severely anorexic for around seven years, and my bones were not looking good, so doctors suggested I do Yoga. I met Elizabeth Connelly, a senior Iyengar teacher, and that was it really — it brought the change I needed. Possibly, I believe, saved my life. I became a dedicated student and as she was a teacher trainer I was so lucky to learn a great deal at that time. Then, a few years later, she introduced me to John Scott and Ashtanga yoga; the tradition and discipline of the practice deeply grounded me on my life path.
What made you decide to move from student to teacher?
I never wanted to be a yoga teacher, I’m too much of an Introvert. The idea of standing at the front of a class totally terrified me. I had a degree in Fine Art and Textiles and thought this was my direction. At the time I was practicing Ashtanga and Iyengar yoga and out of the blue Elizabeth asked me to cover classes while she was away. First I was too scared, but if you know her you eventually just do what she tells you. About a year later I decided to go to Mysore to practice and Lucy Scott encouraged me to teach beginners classes to supplement my trip before I went. Then while I was in Mysore my friend had opened Purple Valley yoga in Goa and rang me to ask if I wanted to teach while I was in India, so that was it, eventually I accepted this is obviously my path: to share what I have been lucky enough to have been given to me in the way of the teachings.
What teaching tip has had the biggest influence on the way you practice? And the way you teach?
I’m not sure if this is the way to answer this question, as there have been so many instances I can think of. But one of the first influences on my practice was a very long time ago. I was on a two-week workshop with John Scott and I watched him do a demonstration. I was totally blown away with the precision of breath and movement. I felt that the walls were breathing in and out with him. I thought if it takes me a lifetime I want to do that. So that 45 minutes inspired my practice for the last 15 years… and as for teachings, I was always encouraged to look at the individual, not the practice. One size does not fit all, we can follow tradition but not to a stage that it starts to stifle our practice or our teaching. Surely it is about achieving independence, our own experience and insights, which is basically what a Mysore practice encourages.
What does your own self-practice involve?
My own practice is always changing, I have learned a lot to let go of the grip I once had on my daily practice. Once you embrace the discipline to practice daily you realise that it ebbs and flows with our daily cycles and challenges as well as life cycles. To have no expectations, to just turn up in Samasthiti at the front of my mat and just let it unfold AS IT IS!
If you only had 10 minutes to practice, what would you do?
If I had 10 minutes to practice, I would start with some very slow rounds of Surayanamaskara A and B to connect my breath and movement, then a long held downward dog to scan my body for how it was feeling and of course I would fit in a handstand or Pincha Mayurasana then finish in Setu Bandhasana.. and hopefully there is still a few minutes to sit and breathe.
Who/what is the biggest inspiration on your yoga journey at the moment?
Firstly I would have to say my students, nothing is more inspiring and beautiful than seeing them moving through with Grace and ease in their practice, and to see those moments of total connection of mind, body and breath. Sadly my teachers are not based in England, so every year I try to catch up with them somewhere, mainly because I am inspired by them as people as much as teachers, their knowledge is amazing. But more than that, I value the emotional connection, they are just really genuine people, I don’t feel I need to see the acrobatics and big performances that I feel sadly sometimes yoga can be trending towards… basically it’s about feeling trust. And trust in your teacher is massive in a Mysore situation, you have to just let go and breathe.
What role does yoga play in the way you live?
I don’t really view yoga as playing a role in my life, it is my life. It influences every decision I make, from the places I choose to visit, to the meals I eat and hopefully to the way I react to the people around me.
What do you hope your students to experience when they practice with you?
I hope my students find a balance between strength and softness, to feel relaxed enough to listen to their body to modify and use props to help them when the occasions call, so they become more accepting of who they are and there uniqueness in hopefully a non-dogmatic way.
Describe the meaning of yoga in 10 words or less
I can do this in one word “Grace” or “Divine Grace “ just Google it! Sums it up for me.
Phillipa teaches the following classes at Notting Hill:
5.45-7.15pm ~ Ashtanga Yoga Level 2
8.15-9.45pm ~ Yoga Beginners Course
6.00-7.15pm ~ Ashtanga Yoga Level 1-2
5.30-6.30pm ~ Yoga Level 1
6.45-8pm ~ Ashtanga Yoga Level 2
1.30-3pm ~ Ashtanga Yoga Level 1-2
8.45am-10.15am ~ Ashtanga Yoga Level 1-2
5.00-6.30pm ~ Ashtanga Yoga Level 2