Meet the instructor: Emma Hewett-Smiles
When did your yoga journey start? And why did you start?
My yoga journey started at a London gym in 2003. I was doing aerobics plus contemporary and hip hop classes at Dance Works studio and thought I’d give a yoga class a go. The teacher was from New Zealand and I found the class more inline with my former dance/ballet training that I’d grown up with. I realised how much I would need to work to keep it up dancing at the level I was previously at. Yoga was a more practical alternative at the time and more suited to the stage of life as I was entering my twenties.
Describe your first class?
The teacher was male and from New Zealand. I felt confident being in the class despite being a beginner, the “exercises” came almost instinctively. I had always been involved in ballet and dance, so yoga was a natural step for my body physically. Due to the gym mentality and my age, I remember being in shoulder stand and thinking I didn’t like the way my belly looked as it went into rolls! My mind was completely focussed on my physical appearance after so many years at the gym. It wasn’t until I started classes at a dedicated yoga studio that the profound effects of yoga started to occur. It’s humbling to look back and see how far I’ve come since that class in the gym but also a good reminder now that I’m a teacher, at how new students might be experiencing their first time to yoga.
What led you to decide to become a yoga instructor?
At the time I was living in Prague, teaching fulltime at an international school as well as finishing my masters degree in public relations. The studio I was attending was offering a teacher training program. At first I was hesitant to take on the extra commitment. But my yoga teacher convinced me it was only fear holding me back. Once I let that fear go, the rest came naturally. I never thought at the time, that I would be teaching as many classes as I have done or that I would be committing my whole life to yoga! But it’s the best decision I’ve ever made and I can see myself being an old and grey haired yogi, still practising on my mat, for years to come.
What do you find most rewarding about being a yoga instructor? Any most challenging?
Being a yoga teacher is different from being a student in so many ways. You have to look at yourself in a totally different way: am I practising authenticity? Am I being true to myself? What life lessons can I impart to class today? We are constantly reflecting in order to teach well. You can’t teach what you don’t know, you need to live it to be able to teach with authority and passion. So life as a yoga teacher is ever evolving. It’s unending, which is why people continue teaching well into their later years and beyond. The lessons never stop and therefore your teaching doesn’t either. So for me personally, the transformation in myself, that I can then share as a testimony to my students is rewarding. However, the reward of seeing a life transformed because of something you’ve said – that for me is the most rewarding aspect of yoga. Knowing that when students enter the yoga room as beginners having no previous knowledge about the journey they’re about to embark upon, that’s exciting! The most challenging thing for me, is having the courage sometimes to put yourself out there and be vulnerable to your students. That’s tough but at the same time the most powerful way to connect with others.
Describe where yoga has helped you overcome a challenge in life.
Yoga continues to help me overcome all of life’s challenges every day, if I am being present to those challenges (which is yoga). Without yoga I would still be the same, self doubting, self conscious person that I am today but without the insight of having faith, introspection, being present and the ever evolving lessons yoga has taught me. Where yoga has helped me the most is in my interactions with others. Being aware of my thoughts and where those thoughts come from and that I am so much more than those thoughts and to not get stuck in self defeating thought patterns that can alienate and inhibit joy. To let go of how others see you and knowing that my experience and reaction to feelings that come up are a gateway to discovering what lies inside me and a reflection of myself.
What else do you do in life, aside from yoga?
I am a primary school visual art and reception teacher at Walkerville primary. I love to teach and do yoga with my receptions which they absolutely love and are so good at! My hobbies are vegetarian cooking, knitting, reading books written by my favourite author Paullina Simmons, spending time with friends, my mum, dad and brother and travelling to near and far away places to continually be inspired by this amazing planet on which we live. I also like hiking and in summer you will find me at the beach, reading and swimming.
What is your starsign?
Libra! I am the scales, I need balance and beauty to be at my best.
What is your favourite yoga pose and why?
My favourite yoga pose in dandaymana danurasna. Since I had been doing ballet for about ten years – this pose reminds me of being a dancer. It forces you to connect and find ease and to concentrate to hold the pose. I find I can be meditative as well as feel strong and energised all at the same time. The equal opposite dynamic of staying balanced and ground with the earth, whilst reaching the leg up to the sky means you are connected in both directions. I feel a sense of focus and agility in this pose.
What is the yoga pose that challenges you the most and why?
Standing head to knee pose. It requires strength and determination and a lot of intense cardiovascular energy. It was also the pose specifically chosen for me by my teacher in my first teacher training in Prague, Now I know why – because it’s my nemesis!
What is your greatest fear?
Flying! Not having my feet on solid ground. But aside from that, not being liked or accepted. Learning to accept myself without any judgement, is my greatest challenge to overcome.
Do you have any long term yoga goals?
Yes! My goal is to teach in a way that inspires and motivates people to accept themselves and look deep within. I also would like to open up my own studio some day down the track. One with a beautiful garden sanctuary and a community art cafe that hosts live music and poetry readings in the evening.
Describe your lifestyle and eating habits:
Honesty, when I’m in a good place with my lifestyle and practising ahimsa to myself, then I try to eat mainly vegetarian foods. Soups and steamed veggies in winter, snacking on fruit and nuts, lots of water, fresh juice, mint tea, and then salads in summer. Occasionally, I like a social wine, cocktail or coffee with friends.
If you could only instil one thing from yoga to your students, what would it be?
Concentration on one’s breath and going inwards is yoga, not what the pose looks like. Listening to your body and observing as opposed to treating yoga as “physical exercise”. I see so many students struggling and fighting against their own energy and strength. Be patient it will happen, if/when it’s meant to, otherwise accept and let go. Letting go of the mind and unifying your breath with your body bring ease to your practice. Mindfulness, patience, letting go of expectations and being present are what get me through practise when my energy is low and life is messy.
What is your favourite thing in life? Besides yoga, of course!
Food; good, nutritious, tasty, delicious, life giving food. Sunshine, laughing with friends, reading a good book in bed when it’s raining outside and of course the beach.
Do you have a life strategy or a personal philosophy that rarely fails you?
1. Trust your instinct. Seek guidance from those who know you most but ultimately trust yourself because the answers lay within you. In the end, you are the captain of your ship the commander of your soul. You decide. Life goes off course when you stop trusting yourself and believe the social hype that surrounds us. Meditate on what comes up within you, therein lies truth.
Everything in life is temporary. This too shall pass. Tomorrow is another day fresh with no mistakes and full of possibilities. Let yourself dream, dream wildly. If you can focus on your dream you can usually make it happen. A poor man is one without a dream.
Tell me something that not many people know about you?
I grew up in the country. I spent weekends growing up at farms around bonfires and drove in utes on dirt roads. I also have a small phobia of the steam that comes from a bag of hot chips! It may be a form of OCD, who knows?