We speak to Clerkenwellbeing Yoga teacher Sophia Clarke and find out what drew her to yoga, what to expect from her Yin and Vinyasa classes, and get some tips on how to keep stress at bay off the mat.
1. What brought you to yoga and what do you most enjoy about your own personal yoga practice?
“When I was 15, I bought a yoga video which I would do in the family living room. I’d never been very sporty and I found I was naturally quite flexible. For a long time I thought being flexible was the main goal of yoga. I had an inconsistent practice for years, attending classes at gyms on and off and then after moving to London nine years ago, I started attending classes regularly five days a week. Initially this was purely for the physical changes I quickly saw happening in my body, but I soon also recognised the sense of mental wellbeing I felt at the end of each class.
“Almost a decade and many teacher trainings later, I still think of myself as a beginner because there is always something else to learn about my body or how I approach the practice mentally. My regular practice is usually dynamic and physically demanding and for a long time I had an all or nothing approach to it. Now, what I most enjoy about my own practice is having the tools to respond to my different needs each day – some days I will sweat it out for 90 minutes and others I might just sit on a bolster and take a couple of gentle postures.
“The greatest thing I have come to understand is, I never feel worse for having practised yoga – so if I can get over the mental hurdle of thinking I can’t face it, I will always be glad I did it and the benefits continue beyond my activities on the mat.
“As my practice has evolved I value the balance between flexibility, strength and control of breath that has developed. I am calmer and I like to think I am kinder in my thoughts and actions to others and to myself.”
2. In your view, how does yoga help with the alignment or balance of physical, energetic and emotional wellbeing?
“Yoga is definitely great physical exercise – it provides functional fitness and strength across the whole body, which is really beneficial in helping athletes avoid injury or imbalances. If nothing else, it gives you great abs and arms for the summer! But of course yoga offers so much more than this as it builds discipline and an understanding of your own body. Knowing how to regulate and control your breathing also provides a sense of clarity and perspective that can be taken out into the real world.”
3. Can you tell us more about the styles of yoga specialise in?
“I specialise in teaching Vinyasa Flow, Yin and Hatha classes which are influenced strongly through teacher training rooted in Ashtanga and Sivananda lineages, as well as a strong personal practice in styles such as Rocket and Yin.”
4. For those new to your classes, what can they expect?
“Whichever class you attend, expect to feel welcomed. I love it when students introduce themselves and tell me if they’re working with any special requirements or on a particular goal. At Clerkenwellbeing I teach two styles – Yin and Vinyasa. I find music really has an impact on my own practice, so I always play an inspiring soundtrack throughout the class and there will always be a long and relaxing savasana at the end.
“Yin offers an opportunity to slowly encourage tight areas of the body to open while also being an amazing way to completely relax and go within. We use lots of props (bolsters, blankets, blocks etc.) to support the body so that it opens comfortably. This practice is ideal if you have stiffness or injury and as an antidote to fast-paced London life or if you practice a lot of dynamic ‘yang’ yoga.
“The Vinyasa class starts off slow as we wake the body before beginning a flow designed to build heat, strength and flexibility. It’s a mixed ability class so there will always be options provided so you can take it easy or challenge yourself as much as you like.”
5. If anybody out there wants to incorporate a DIY yoga practice into their daily routine, are there any particular poses you would suggest that will help them remain calm and de-stressed during the working day?
“In addition to teaching yoga, I also have a busy and fast-paced office job. One thing I have noticed during times of work-related stress is that I sometimes forget to breathe and clench my teeth. So my first suggestion is to take five deep breaths through the nose and exhale slowly through the mouth, then open your mouth really wide and wiggle your jaw around. This is simple and effective and won’t result in strange looks from your colleagues!
“If you can find space to also do a couple of cat-cows and then from a standing position role down the spine to touch your toes and back up, this can act as a good balance to sitting at a desk all day. I always recommend to everyone that they should download a yoga nidra app as ten minutes of guided relaxation that you can do anywhere is a brilliant de-stressing tool to have up your sleeve.”
You can find out more about Sophia’s classes or book your place here.