Interview with Gemma
Gemma Mullins is one of our yoga teachers at Ashram Yoga in Parnell. She explains her path to yoga.
What is your background? How did you get into yoga?
I grew up doing a lot of gymnastics. I began aged 4 and at 16 realised that, despite loving the agility and confidence it encouraged within me, my body didn’t enjoy being pushed so hard. Being a teenager, I got into things that were self destructive and less than nourishing. I developed an eating disorder as a coping mechanism and had regular panic attacks.
My Mum bought me a Yoga book (as I was quite agraphobic and would never have gone to a class at this stage!) and I began copying the pictures in the book in my bedroom. What surprised me was not so much the physicality of yoga, but (what I can identify now as being) the affect it had on my nervous system. It helped to reduce my anxiety and allowed me to feel more comfortable with being in my physical body. I began to learn how to stretch myself physically whilst being more respectful of my limitations, a philosophy that I believe is at the foundation of my teaching today.
What kinds of yoga have you done?
The first class I attended was with a wonderful woman in the UK called Sue Staziker. The style was Iyengar and I really enjoyed using the props to help me to deepen my experience of the postures. She also brought in quite a bit of philosophy and I began to see that yoga was really a spiritual practice and not just bendercise!
Since studying with Ashram Yoga I have experimented with Ashtanga, which whilst I enjoyed the physical challenge of, decided does not really suit me. I also tried Bikram which for me was a little too fast and and yes.. too hot! These days my personal practice is in the style in which I was taught at Ashram Yoga.. which I describe as both intuitive (listening and responding accordingly to one’s needs) and classical in style.
Why did you choose to train with Ashram Yoga? How was that experience?
I arrived in NZ after travelling in South America where I had spontaneously ended up teaching yoga to other volunteers and disadvantaged kids in Venezuela (basically they wanted to join my morning yoga routine and it went from there!) Once in NZ, fate led me to Ashram Yoga really, after googling yoga teacher training in Auckland.
The course just really resonated and meant that I could work full time whilst studying. I signed up really for personal development and wasn’t sure if I wanted to teach. I definitely developed personally and the course helped me to iron out a lot of kinks in personality! I loved being part of the Ashram Yoga community and felt so supported, it was a fabulous time.
What benefits have you gained from yoga?
I believe yoga played a huge role in my recovery from an eating disorder, and freedom from other addictive tendencies. I also no longer take medication for asthma and believe pranayama to be a particularly transformative tool for this. It also helped me to form a more respectful and accepting relationship with myself (physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually).
Gymnastics had set me up to be competitive and determined against all odds. Yoga (and a few humbling injuries) has softened my approach to physical activity and brought awareness to the egos need to be the best. These days yoga serves as a biofeedback mechanism, my body and the asanas show me where my blocks are (on many levels); where I need to drop resistance, and where I need to build strength. The practices of pranayama and meditation help me to stay more balanced and connected both to myself and to spirit.
Do you enjoy teaching? Was it easy to get started?
My first teaching experience was definitely an ‘in at the deep end’ situation. In 2008, just completing my Level 1 with Ashram Yoga, I was asked to take over a class at Les Mills in New Lynn where I was/am working as a Health Consultant. A huge studio, stage, head mic and 40 students staring at me was enough to get the adrenaline going! It was great experience to teach in this kind of environment, I learned to face the challenges of finding music (as that was what was expected!), competing with the noise of other gym classes, a time limit of an hour, and large numbers of students, some of who often just wanted a workout.
Personally, I enjoyed the challenge of staying true to the Ashram Yoga style and of creating a space where people could experience their bodies and practice in a more subtle way. I had a break from teaching for a few years, apart from the odd person who asked for personal tuition, and during this time I studied energy healing (modalities called Body Talk and Accunect).
I believe that no experience is ever wasted and now teaching again, can see how my awareness and interest has grown in this area of my practice. I am really enjoying teaching once again and after completing the Teaching Skills Weekend with Atma and Dee recently, it was a huge privilege to be asked to teach for Ashram Yoga. I really see this as an amazing opportunity to give back and to keep learning, and at the risk of sounding cliché; it felt like coming home.
What advice would you give to people who are thinking about doing teacher training?
Just do it!!!!! Even if you do not want to teach, or if you do and don’t end up doing it, the course and your intent to benefit from it has the power to change your life! You make new friends, it is a super safe environment, there is lots of support, lots of fun and your practice will really deepen.
If you do go for it, don’t put yourself under the pressure of feeling like you need to know everything upon completion or feeling like you don’t know enough to teach, we are all eternal students, no-one expects you to be perfect and we all have something to give!
Ashram Yoga really does deliver yoga that has integrity of spirit, depth of knowledge and beauty of wisdom. You couldn’t be in better hands! Have fun and I’ll see you on the mat!