One of the greatest misconceptions of yoga is that it only happens on a mat. Yes, yoga takes you inwards but eventually, like any real growth, it will transform your outer world too. At least that has always been the case for me. When I embrace an asana I am exploring the uncomfortable boundaries and edges of the hidden potential in my mind, breath and body. It is a place of liminality. This also holds true for the world off the mat; knowing when to gently push into the unmoveable places but with the wisdom of knowing when to let go. Always breathing patiently for a subtle shift of change.
Yoga has always taken me out of my comfort zone. At first, reconnecting me with my body and then, many years later, opening my mind. Yoga found me as a teenager growing up in Australia, then it lead me to Canada into the unknown realm of yoga teacher. Now, in Scotland, 20 years later, I teach Pregnancy, Mum and Baby, Kids, Teen and Adult yoga. From here I came to the realisation that the yoga mat just wasn’t big enough; our wee yoga tribe needed a place to call home.
Stonehaven, the town where I teach, is an exceptionally beautiful, and peaceful, seaside town in North East Scotland, nestled between Aberdeen and Dundee. We also happen to have some very devoted, experienced and inspiring yoga teachers. Part of our shared challenge has always been the availability and suitability of community spaces. It just no longer made energetic sense for us all to individually roll out our mats onto dusty floors, dragging props up hills and lugging them in and out of cars. One day last May yoga showed me another way; by opening up a yoga studio.
I looked out the window that day, from where I was currently holding my yoga classes, and I spied a “To Let” sign literally across the road. The strange part is that the sign had been there for several months. Yoga was just waiting until I was ready to see it. Not long after The Haven was born.
The Haven is a Social Enterprise that received Firstport Start-It Funding to create. We signed the lease for the premises in December 2017 and immediately began to transform a Men’s Club billiard room into a yoga studio. A whole tribe of local yoga students from ages 3 to 73 offered endless support cleaning and painting, willing us forward.
On the 1st January 2018, The Haven was officially opened. The Haven is a not for profit wellbeing space offering a fully equipped yoga studio, mindfulness room and healing room. We are inspired by our community to create social change in the wellbeing of our community. Our vision is to offer a well-being space for affordable hire, to value and support the wellbeing practitioners who hire the space, as well as the people who come to The Haven. We have over 40 weekly wellbeing activities, of which half are yoga classes — from pregnancy yoga to the elderly and everything in-between. Currently, 250 people from our community and beyond, attend The Haven weekly.
Our Yoga Teacher trainer, Louisa of LKY Yoga Teacher Training, suggested we hold The Haven Wellbeing Festival in the spring of 2018. We had over 20 teachers, practitioners and therapists who hire The Haven — affectionately known as The Havenette’s — that offered their time freely for the festival to raise awareness and funds for the wellbeing in our community. We are extremely proud of the innovative and diverse sessions we had on offer over the weekend including “How to Become a Kids, Teen or Adult Yoga Teacher” and “Mindfulness for Menopause.” All the workshops were offered on a donation basis and the money raised went to our Haven Wellbeing Fund. We had people coming from far and wide, using the wellbeing opportunities to create their own personal retreat and unearth new wellbeing skills that may benefit them. We often find that people do not want to leave The Haven. I overheard a young girl say “I feel like I can be myself there.”
For the festival finale, the yoga studio was transformed into a pop-up cinema where the documentary "Resilience" was screened in support of the 70/30 campaign. This campaign aims to reduce childhood maltreatment by 70 percent by 2030. Local Councillors and Members of State Parliament (MSPs) were invited to watch the film and participate in the panel discussion that followed. As a result, local MSPs attended the creation of a cross-party group for the Prevention of Adverse Childhood Experiences, the following week in Holyrood, Scotland.
The funds raised from the festival were put into the Haven Wellbeing Fund so that those who might be financially precluded from accessing wellbeing work at The Haven are able too. Identifying need and potential in the community, such as supporting the training of one our male yoga students to become a yoga teacher through LKY Yoga Teacher Training, is just one of the ways we can extend the work we do. Currently, our community does not have a male teacher, despite the majority of our kids yoga classes being male, this way we can help support a positive male role model. We also subsidise counselling and other holistic therapies for people who otherwise could not access such services. In June, Dr Lene Forrester our Clinical Psychologist hosted our first international guest teacher for a two-day event. We want our community to benefit from the well-being wisdom all over the world, so we are already planning the next Haven Wellbeing Festival for 2019.
I have witnessed enough stress and suffering on the yoga mat to feel a deep sense of responsibility to address what brings people to yoga in the first place. In good conscience, I could not teach yoga as a positive solution if I was also not doing my part in acknowledging the problem. Ultimately I want the whole world to feel the same sense of peace, empowerment and possibility that I find on the yoga mat. Any way that I can help yoga to make that happen, I will.
My yoga journey began as a teenager in Australia over 20 years ago. Yoga has followed me across the world being led by empowering teachers who have guided me to become an intuitive, creative and inspiring teacher too. My intention is to support others in their yoga journey. Wherever that may take them.