Welcome to a little insight from our wonderful teacher Kayla MacCormack. Hailing from the deep south, she graces our studio with her joyful character, passion for practice and kindness. We hope you enjoy the read as much as we did
What attracted you to Yoga?
I’d love to give you some dramatic story of love and loss or pain and hardship but to be honest I started practicing about 10 years ago because I saw a sign in a pub that said they had a yoga class every Monday evening for £5. I practiced for 6 years with that teacher at that pub or in her home. She covered so much more than the physical practice and so much more than what a usual group class could ever cover. I was hooked. My first teacher had long relaxations (compared to what I know now is the norm) and always included lots of pranayama (breath practices) and meditation/cleansing practices (such as candle gazing till your eyes water a little). If my first class had been a ‘typical’ vinyasa I don’t think I would have gone back, as at the time, that wasn’t what I was looking for. I was attracted to the mind aspect of yoga; meditation and pranayama, the idea of the postures for me was a way to allow the body to sit comfortably without distraction.
Why do you practice?
As I said I came to yoga through meditation, so for me my yoga is all about the mind-body connection which, for me, has two main parts:
1) I have very strong emotions, lucky for me I’m not a crier but I do love deeply and feel anger strongly. I use my yoga to help with this. Every emotion you feel has a physical reaction in the body, if you become more sensitive to them, they can act as little red flags warning you before you blow your top. I had a teacher that said “you can get to the mind through the body or you can get to the mind through the mind.”
2) I love the science behind yoga and even though my science degree is not in a medical field I still find it fascinating and regularly read articles and books to expand my knowledge in that way. The first time I took a class that was focused on the glutes, I realised that the signals from my brain down to my butt just weren’t firing, try it yourself, tighten one cheek then the other, going back and forth. Is it easy for you or do you have to really think about it? This connection, this real physical connection between the mind and the body, is not spiritual, its electrical. Use it or lose it, as they say.
What is your chosen style?
Yoga can be whatever you want it to be. It can strengthen you, relax you, focus the mind, be a meditation, be a good stretch. It can be anything your body or mind needs in that moment. But if you want modern terms; I practice Restorative, Hatha and Vinyasa styles of yoga. A class that can mix them all in is my ideal class!
How has your relationship with Yoga developed?
People talk about accepting their bodies, that’s not something I’ve really had a problem with in general but I think yoga has made me realise that it’s ok if I never do something ‘advanced’. Just because I’m a yoga teacher does not mean I have to be able to do a handstand without a wall or splits. When I first started, I pushed myself somewhat, I wanted to ‘get into’ lotus and do a headstand. But now I accept that when I practice, if I walk away feeling what I wanted to feel, energized, relaxed, stretched, then my practice was a success and getting into a certain pose is no longer my aim. I think that having healthy goals can be very good for you but for me I feel a sense of relief in not striving all the time. We can strive with other things in life, yoga is a time to escape that and just be.
What motivated you to start teaching?
I took my teacher training in order to gain more knowledge around yoga philosophy. Part of the training was to ‘practice teaching’. Which I did at lunch times in an empty meeting room in the offices I used to work at. Once I started teaching, something surprising happened.
Personally, I have a sense of fulfilment when I teach like nothing I’ve felt before. Before a class, I might get nervous or feel a bit ill, but as soon as I step up in front of everyone, all I can think of is sharing my knowledge to help people help themselves. My personal embarrassment or illness disappears and all I think of is helping. This kind of confidence in front of people has been refreshing and I honestly feel more at ease and confident now in other situations in my life.
What pose has a special place in your heart and why?
I would say my favorite pose is downward dog.
It’s in pretty much every class and uses both the upper and lower body meaning we feel it strengthen and stretch our hands, arms, shoulders, back, calves, hamstrings and even our feet. It’s a great one for body awareness and adapting; you can use bricks under the heals with bent knees to get the spine straight, tilting the hips can increase or decrease the stretch in the back of the legs etc. It shows us how to strengthen and use all the muscles down the front of the arms so that we don’t hurt the wrists. And it’s an inversion, so some blood from the waist and upper body starts to shift towards the floor and head, this can have the effect of lowing the heart rate (amongst other things) if the pose itself is not too strenuous to hold.
But you asked what pose holds a special place in my heart….
That would be headstand. My first teacher only had yoga mats, no props, and we didn’t use a wall unless we did restorative legs up the wall. For me headstand was scary, but I started out walking the feet in, then taking the little ball shape. I was in the ball shape for about a year, then one day I was practicing on the grass in the sun and for some reason I had this idea that if I fell the ground would be so soft I would bounce off the grass (I honestly believed this at the time because the grass was so high and thick) so I straightened my legs up towards the clouds! And since then I haven’t had a problem in headstand (and no I didn’t fall that day).
When is your favourite time to practice?
Honestly? The middle of the day! At about 3pm. It might sound a bit odd but hear me out, I don’t like early morning, my evenings are for snuggles and books/tv. I feel the ‘afternoon slump’ (maybe a pattern from 9 years working behind a desk) but when I feel it, getting my mat out even for only 5 minutes can make all the difference.
One recommendation for someone starting on their journey?
I would tell people just starting out to try different teachers and different styles with the same teacher. Just keep trying! If you don’t find the class is perfect for you, keep trying, the perfect class is out there! For example, you’ll never get my husband in a yoga class but he LOVES a one to one restorative class with me.
What other healthy lifestyle choices do you take to help you thrive?
I try to find balance in all things in life. Balance in how much time I spend studying, teaching, reading, exercising.
A good night’s sleep is the key!
I don’t own a car so I walk a lot.
I’m a not-strict vegetarian for environmental reasons.
I do my best to live a sustainable life. This is good for the mind and the body. Avoiding plastic, eating organic, supporting the right companies with my money, for example using a green energy company buying organic clothes.
All these things add a sense of peace to my life so that I can know that I am doing my best with what I have.
Artists that inspire you?
I’m a huge fairy fan. When I was a little girl, I absolutely loved Amy Brown, as an adult I still do. I have one of her paintings above my desk right now, Sisters. I have one ‘real’ sister but it also reminds me of those women in my life who are like sisters to me and those who will come into my life and be my sister. I also love Twig, the first real fairy I met in North Carolina. Then there are all the fantasy books I have shoved around my house, Robin Hobb, Tolkien …
Music for your soul?
Music for my soul? Folk metal. But I don’t play that in my yoga classes 😉 And being from the deep south a bit of country / blues can’t go awry.
Books that feed your curiosity?
I’m a book worm so I have lots! I really enjoy this old book my first yoga teacher gave me, The Tibetan Book of Yoga by Geshe Michael Roach, it is all about heart yoga and is an amazing selfless practice to find peace. As a budding scientist I really enjoyed a recent read, Light of the Stars by Adam Frank – Alien Worlds and the Fate of the Earth, it touches on the science behind how we came to exist and how unlikely it is. He then goes on to talk about climate change and the implications of it, a good read.
But as I said I’m a book worm so I would also like to say these are good books too…
Zero Limits by Joe Vitale – The ‘secret’ Hawaiian system, Ho’oponopono, for wealth, health, peace and more.
The Green Witch by Arin Murphy-Hiscock – The natural magic of herbs, flowers, essential oils and more.
The Hedge Witch’s Way by Rae Beth – The magical spirituality for the lone spellcaster
The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben – What they feel, how they communicate: discoveries from a secret world.
Universal by Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw – A journey through the cosmos
15 Million Degrees by Lucy Green – A journey to the centre of the Sun
Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson
Goldilocks and the Water Bears by Louisa Preston – The Search for Life in the Universe.
People that inspire you?
There are always people in our lives that inspire us at just the right time. When I was young, I had mothers in my life that really inspired me, my mother and some of my best friend’s mothers. Now that I’m older I find inspiration in the little stories people tell me. I had a student that after a few classes told me he was sitting straighter at his desk, was more aware of his posture and that it was more comfortable for him to sit in that healthier way. I’ve heard stories from other teachers of overcoming hardship and pain. I trained with Leza Lowitz in Tokyo who is a huge inspiration. But overall (and I hope it doesn’t sound narcistic!) I inspire myself, I look back on my life, on all the things that have happened, things that I had no choice in the matter, things that I have learned to let go of or grow from and I’m inspired to keep going because, if I can do all of that and not think for once that I’ve ‘had it bad’ or had a life of trauma then I can take anything the universe decides to send my way.