In the first of our two-part series, Emma Hawthorne discusses how yoga, meditation and mindfulness have shaped her career and lifestyle.
Like many of us, Emma began with yoga classes that focused on mastering the physical poses. It wasn’t until she began training as a yoga teacher that she realised a holistic yoga practice could help her become calmer and more open-minded.
My yoga journey began back in 2004 when I was studying Musical Theatre at NIDA. As part of our training, we had regular yoga classes, and were taught that the physical practice of yoga was a great tool for grounding, centring and warming up before auditions and performances. I learned the basic moves that constitute a ‘Surya Namaskar’ (Sun Salutation), but it wasn’t until 2012, when I began my yoga teacher training, that I came to understand what yoga really was and why I was performing these moves.
The word yoga comes from the Sanskrit word ‘yuj’ which translates roughly to ‘union’. Yoga is not just physical, but a holistic practice designed to unify the mind, body and spirit. Traditionally, in India, where yoga originates, ‘asana’ (physical yoga postures) were practised to create a balance of strength and flexibility in the body so men could sit for long periods of time to meditate. Although modern yoga offers us lots of crazy postures such as headstands and arm balances that look great on Instagram, yoga postures are designed to lead us towards meditation.
Today we are so busy and stressed that our minds rule our lives. For lots of us, switching off that mental chatter is next to impossible. A physical yoga practice is a wonderful way to start slowing down and turning your awareness towards your body and your thought patterns. I love to practise and teach in a flow style where each breath is connected to a different movement so your awareness rests upon your breath rather than thoughts. Generally I find my mind is a lot calmer and I can enter into more meditative states after a physical practice.
Meditation isn’t easy. We are fed ideas that states of bliss, happiness and peace can be achieved through external sources with minimal effort. Meditation – an ancient and wise practice – has itself become a commodity. No wonder so many people, curious to know what all the hype is about, attend a meditation class, have a terrible experience and never go back. My first experience of meditation in my early 20s was exactly that. For the hour class I sat in a state of frustration and anger. I was itchy. I was hungry. I fidgeted. I was frustrated with the stranger next to me because they didn’t seem to be struggling. I vowed I would never try it again. Meditation was not for me.
As a meditation and yoga teacher now, I like to emphasise the word ‘practice.’ Like any other practice, meditation takes time and isn’t always comfortable.
Stay tuned for the second part of our series, in which Emma reveals her approach to meditation as a way of connecting with herself, and how this has helped her in her professional career as a dancer and performer.
Take Yoga with Emma on Saturdays at 8.30am.