Saturday, 5 August 2017

'From Army Tanks to Yoga Mats' interview with new yoga teacher Christian Henwood

Christian is a father of two young sons, he lives and works in the Bath area. He has a corporate and military background, so he interestingly goes from being a tank commander to accountant to yoga teacher! How awesome is that! Read all about his experience during the teacher training, his perspective on yoga here and get some tips of how to choose your teacher training.

1. What is your current profession?
Christian Henwood (CH)Fitness Professional. Before this I was a tank commander in the British Army and during my 9 years service I was lucky enough to serve in Iraq, Kosovo, Canada, Poland, Germany, and the UK. After completing my short service commission, I decided to turn my hand to the commercial world and have spent the last 9 years working in various Operation / Account Manager roles. However, with a degree in BSc (Hons) Applied Sport Science returning to the fitness industry was always going to be a inevitability for me. Consequently, I now earn a living as a Yoga Teacher, Sports Massage Therapist, Swimming Teacher and Personal Trainer.
2. Why did you decide to become a yoga teacher?
CH: I am a late convert to yoga; but I can confidently say that my passion for it is rooted in two key areas, namely the emotional and physical benefits of Asana. Initially, it was a persistent minor neck injury, and a realisation that at 41 years of age I needed start looking after myself, that made me pluck up the courage to try yoga. Much to my delight the physical benefits of Yoga were quickly realised and I to this day I still relish the challenge of improving my personal daily practice. However, and very much to my surprise, it was the emotional impact that Yoga had on me that really caught me off guard. I quickly discovered that I would be hit by an emotional wave either during &/or at the end of a led class. This scared the life out of me of initially, and usually resulted in me trying to ‘man-up’ and pretend that some sweat had gone in my eyes?! It was only after I had successfully beaten a hasty retreat to my ‘ man-cave’ at the end of the class that I would realise how fresh, balanced and calm the class had made me feel. It was at this point that I became hooked on Yoga; and I am now driven to develop my own personal practice and deepen my knowledge, so that I can share this experience with as many more people as I can.

3. Where did you do your Teacher Training?
CH: In Bali, Santosha Yoga Institute, it was a month long intensive training

4. Did it meet your expectations?
CH: No in some levels and yes in others. It was not as focused on the physical aspect, or Asana, as I hoped, but on the other seven limbs of yoga (see Patanjali eight limbs) so I learned far more. In hindsight it was the right course, but singing Kirtans was quite challenging.

5. How did the Teacher Training affect you?  
CH: It was very intense, emotionally and mentally; we started at 6 am in the morning and finish at 8 pm in the night, 5 days on and then a day of. A lot of the course was about the yoga philosophy and we did Kirtan chanting, Meditation and Pranayama twice a day. As an ex army officer / corporate guy, I found this challenged my status quo – plus, I have a terrible voice! It very much took me out of my comfort zone; however, it made me experience things that I would have otherwise unlikely do. I have had a broad exposure to what Yoga is in a traditional sense. Now it is about translating this to the now. I have had no previous experience and this was very healthy for me to challenge myself in this ‘alien’ way, it was an enlightening experience. I feel a better person for it, much more relaxed.

6. What was most difficult about the Teacher Training?
CH: It was a constant spiritual challenge in terms of being outside of my comfort zone. There was only one other male on the course and only one drop in male teacher, which was fine but sometimes a bit out of balance. The worst part was when we were doing Kirtan (chanting) on the beach. A couple of tourists walked past us and I overheard them saying: ‘Look at that bunch of hippies’, I totally do not identify myself with a hippie and this was quite tough on my ego! ; )

7. What was the best thing about the Teacher Training?
CH: The people were amazing and the setting. I have kindled my passion for yoga, learned how to be a good teacher and how to share my type of yoga with the world. Having a sport science and military background, my classes will be open, welcoming, enthusiastic, challenging yet achievable, structured and dynamic. I want the physical aspect, Asana, to be the gateway to the rest of yoga. This is a Western approach and I want to provide an interesting and dynamic flow to provide a foundation for them to explore the rest of Yoga. I want every individual to find what he or she needs. I want to help people to find the contentment or the stillness that we all seek. I get mine by exercising so that is why Asana resonates with me. Yoga’s primary aim is stilling the fluctuations of the mind, and I want to facilitate this for people. I want Yoga to be accessible. One of the ironies about Yoga is that Yogis think it is open welcoming; but for a lot of people it is perceived as intimidating, and unattainable because they have the pre-misconception that they need to be super flexible, spiritual, and that everyone wears tie-dye and hessian.  My aim is to try and strip this from Yoga and let Yoga be approachable. Make yoga accessible.

8. What did you learn that you absolutely did not expect about yoga?
CH: It taps into an emotional level of me; which if I am honest, scares the life out of me!  That said, I do find it is very liberating and helps relieve the pressure. Equally, it has made me much more open minded about the holistic benefits of Yoga. I find Yoga humbling, levelling and rewarding at the same time.  However, I want Yoga to be life proof.  In other words, for me Yoga needs to be spiritual, vulnerable and yet have a life shell around it to help protect it.

9. How do you think your Yoga classes are going to affect your students?
CH: I want people to leave my classes having had a good stretch, both physically and mentally. They have given themselves time out of their busy days and I want to reward them for rewarding themselves to use that hour. I want to make them feel better physically, gained mentally by providing the catalyst for reflection. I want to give them the space to gain what they need from the yoga in that class, a fun and friendly environment where they can submerge themselves in their daily practice.

10. What are your personal favourite things about yoga?
CH: I like the reassuring structure and rhythm of an Asana class, breath preparation, setting the intention, building the heat in the body, a peak pose and finishing with pranayama and a Savasana. I like the routine and the variety that can be added to this structure.

11. If people wanted to become a yoga teacher, what would you advise them?
CH: Understand what is important to you, if you want purely Asana or a blended personal retreat. Check your motivation, why do you want to become a teacher, do you want to do this for your personal journey or do you want to share your own style of Yoga with the world. From there you can ask the right questions.

12. What would you say to people who think yoga will never work for them?
CH: There is Yoga for everyone; it is simply a case of finding the right teacher and the right style for you. Identify why a style does not work for you, is it too spiritual, too hard physically? There are so many different teachers out there, so be open minded and some different teachers / styles.  

13. Do you want to share anything else?
CH: Get in to a habit to give yourself the time for yoga every day - even if it is only 15 minutes. When I first started Yoga I felt the need to be taught; but now I can do my own practice. It feels very liberating, empowering and gives me a great sense of self-mastery. In my opinion the greatest gift that a Yogi can give someone is their own daily practice. Having the confidence to do my own unguided practice is incredibly rewarding and very personal.  Another key message to me is that we must all focus on ‘function over form’. A lot of people are put off yoga because they think they have to be able to do very difficult poses they see advanced Yogis doing in the studio, or on Instagam / Facebook etc.  In reality they simply need to find their own version of that pose.  So long as they can feel the stretch in the right places then they are achieving the intended function for that posture.  For example, when I do a Warrior 3 I have tight hamstrings and can’t straighten my standing leg; but I still achieve the correct function for that posture and so benefit from it.

Everyone is obsessed with the end pose, instead of focussing on the journey. The benefit is in the transition from posture to posture. Rather than rushing the extension of the arms up and rushing down to a downdog, you count the way through; you gain benefit from each movement into and out of a posture. You have to be honest about your range of motion and be humble about it.
To help with this we all need to work on focusing on our own practice, and not worry what is happening around you in a class.  The person next to you in a class might have 10 years experience, so be humble and accept your own limitations and have the patience to work on improving your own personal practice safely.
 In a nutshell, I hope to make people feel empowered and confident. Ultimately Yoga is an amazing life tool that anyone can use for personal growth.

Read more about how you can follow Chris's classes on his Daily Practice website. 


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