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Jo’s Story

SpiralA SEED

I was born in West Yorkshire, England, in 1969 and spent my childhood around horses and immersed in riding: from an early age I loved nature and I have fond memories of just sitting on the horses bareback as they grazed, completely happy and relaxed in their company, experiencing what I would now call a sense of non-separation. This sense of closeness and connectedness was something I was to seek out wherever I could: I was fascinated and drawn to anything that inspired what I would later come to call oneness, whether it be horses, nature, psychedelics, dancing all night until sunrise and, later, yoga.

The opportunity to travel eventually drew me out of the horse world, and a modelling trip to Japan aged seventeen opened up a whole new world of exciting discovery. Three years later I landed in India, having no expectations and armed with no guidebook, falling completely in love with the country, its people and its fascinating culture.


People often ask how I came to yoga, and the truth is that I had no idea what yoga was when I was invited to have lessons: I was twenty years old, dancing in a Goa beach party, loving the gathering of what seemed to be incredibly free and happy characters (probably due to the acid punch), when I was offered yoga lessons from the guy dancing opposite me. Serge turned out to be a senior Iyengar yoga teacher and intrigued by his offer, I accepted: I had a two-hour lesson every day for two weeks; those two weeks changed the direction of my life profoundly.  Aged twenty-one I returned briefly to England, intact, with a new Aum tattoo on my hand, costing 5 rupees from the little man in the flea market; I then sold all my belongings and after applying for a longer visa I went back to India to explore yoga as deeply as I could.


For the next three years I was immersed in a daily practice of yoga, meditation and chanting, while living a life of what could be described as extreme simplicity: this was partially due to a lack of money, and to my then partner believing very strongly that that’s what yogis do. I believed him: he really looked the part and I was loved up, so much so, that I was  meditating and standing on my head alongside him at the auspicious hour of 4 am, and living a yogic Indian diet of dhal and rice.
Much of those first three years of yoga exploration were spent in India and interspersed with trips to Nepal, where we would practice yoga with a full view of the mountains, and Thailand, where days were spent making jewellery from coconuts and shells, enjoying  beach life and the peaceful harmony that accompanies it. I remember being blissfully happy and practising a lot of yoga every day, Richard Hittleman’s yoga book being my bible and my partner, a dedicated yogi of twenty years experience, a constant guide.

I also found a fantastic teacher in Goa called Bridget, she was a pupil of Clive Sheridan, himself a luminous presence and living just a few doors away. At sunset, I would watch him practising yoga on the beach and try out everything I saw. I would glean priceless, teeny bits of yoga wisdom in our chats that inspired me in my daily yoga practice.


I was keen to explore meditation and a series of unpredictable events led me to meeting Gurumayi Chidvilasananda in her ashram in Ganeshpuri. I fell in love yet again, this time with a Guru, spending some blissful times absorbed in ashram life, passing the days chanting, practising yoga, meditating and doing karma yoga. During my times there I had some truly profound experiences: I have struggled ever since to find words to describe the feelings of total oneness and infinite love that I experienced in quiet meditation in the ashram cave, walking in the gardens, or in conversation with Gurumayi.

It was very special, and often I related it to my childhood experiences with horses and nature: it became very clear, that I wanted more of these feelings, and it spurred me on in my passion for all things yoga. It was about this time that I also became a bit of a god junkie:I received the message loudly and clearly from Gurumayi that GOD was all-shining, bright within, and that was where all the answers were too. So reasoning that the ashram rules and fancy saris were not crucial in my own quest, off I went to Rishikesh to hang out by the River Ganges and find a Hatha yoga teacher.


Although I had started Hatha yoga with the Iyengar approach, the experience had been brief and I had become hooked into the Shivananda style of practice, floppy and chilled! However, my knees and right leg were not happy (I was born with congenital talipes (club foot), and I was still experiencing mild asthma. Keen to sort this out, I became a very dedicated Iyengar student, spending hours wrapped in belts and propped up on bolsters, with Light on Yoga by B.K.S Iyengar as my new bible. Over a four-year period, I was to spend quite a few intensive months each year studying Iyengar yoga in Rishikesh with Rudra Dev, who had a fierce and passionate approach to teaching, demanding a high level of commitment from his students. I would go on retreat with him to his family home in Karnataka, sleeping on concrete slabs and showering in icy cold water from the family well. The days were full of practice, talks on the ancient yoga texts, and chapatti making!


Eventually, a few years later, I started teaching in Thailand and India: although I loved it, the forays into teaching brought with them a new urgency in me to train more, read more, and gather more knowledge, and to somehow articulate my yoga experiences with very traditional teachers in a language relevant to my young western students. The teachings I had received in India were profound and beautiful, but I experienced a feeling of dissatisfaction because I had somehow come to believe that in order to be a yoga teacher, one had to be calm, fluffy as a marshmallow, adept at assuming advanced postures, and with lungs the size of Scottish bagpipes.Having none of these qualities, I attempted to change my personality and failed, which just made me miserable; efforts to impose my desires on my naturally unbendy body and super sensitive lungs led to health problems.

After briefly exploring Ashtanga yoga, which satiated a passing fascination with advanced postures, my asthma condition nevertheless became aggravated. I returned to England, where I embarked on a B.W.Y. teaching diploma in the hope of finding a way to become a better yoga teacher, and to regain the organic connection I had felt so strongly in my early days of practice and meditation. I completed the diploma, but the content did not really resonate with me. It was then that I discovered Godfrey Devereux’s book Dynamic Yoga: I couldn’t put it down, for everything in it gave words to my own experience and filled in the gaps I had sensed in other yoga systems. Upon finishing it I sent a fax to Godfrey asking to study with him as soon as possible.


Meeting Godfrey was the beginning of a new love story with yet another Guruji! I remember turning up and sitting at the back of his workshop, thinking “He is the real thing and I’m not in India!” I believe that the first thing I said to him was: “You are God and you are free”; he laughed the most wicked laugh.

After workshops in England I bought a one-way ticket to Ibiza and took part in a full-time, intensive residential course, followed by teacher training. I have no words to accurately describe the joys, tears, insights, shared wisdom, love of practice, sense of family and deep acceptance that flowed in my first year at Windfire. It truly was one of the very best experiences of my life: now feeling much more at home in myself, the direction I wanted to pursue in my yoga practice and teaching was clear and I could hear the whispers of my heart for the very first time.


Following this, I began teaching in England, and I was amazed by how quickly the students were moving into a beautiful way of practice,the underlying  spiritual principles seeming to flow effortlessly from the mat into daily life. The contemporary and articulate method of instruction learnt from Godfrey was incredibly effective. My own practice went from revelation to revelation as the techniques and principles began to take root organically, bringing it to a whole new dimension.


In 2003 came the love story that brought my little girl Elki into this world. During pregnancy a whole new yoga experience arose: I practised and taught until the day she was born. I felt deeply connected to my body and began to understand what I had heard Godfrey repeat so often: the importance of listening to the inner voice through sensation. Listening and developing sensitivity became central to my practice. A year on the demands of motherhood, with sleepless nights, breastfeeding and a total lack of free time, meant that my practice had to shift toward living the principles away from the mat and integrating yoga into each day.


Resuming travelling and teaching retreats and courses with Elki on my hip, I encountered a period of illness brought on by a shock (literally a big electric one); this put an abrupt stop to teaching and practice. I spiralled into a whole new world of debilitating illness, fear, and frustration, accompanied by the want to be well enough to mother a young child.


After investing heaps of energy in an outward search to be cured, I learnt everything I could about nutrition and diet: diagnosed with celiac disease and Candida, I embarked on what was to be a two-year dietary cleansing and healing process, accompanied by  restorative yoga. So weak and skinny that active practice was impossible, I spent hours recuperating on bolsters and chairs. Pneumonia, plus four bouts of bronchitis in quick succession, meant that my approach to breathing had to change radically: the slightest imposition from my mind upon my breath would start me wheezing like an asthmatic duck! The inquiry that I had begun under my teacher’s guidance into the possibility of free organic breathing was to be a powerful healing tool.

This period of ill health was an incredibly insightful time: through the difficulties, I gleaned a deeper understanding of myself and of students suffering from ill health, debilitating pain, and the emotions that accompany them. Returning to teaching, I found that more people with specific health problems seemed to seek help: I worked increasingly one-on-one, feeling instinctively able to accompany each student on a journey towards health and balance. I gained a diploma in Yoga Therapy to  support this work.


During illness I became aware of a life-long attitude of insensitivity, pushiness, controlling, and resistance to the natural rhythm of events. Through the restrictions presented by illness, a deep release happened and after seventeen years of yoga practice I experienced a profound sense of  relaxation and was able to give my body the nourishment it craved. It was around this time that I felt the teachings of Advaita teacher Wayne Liquerman beginning to take root: having attended his talks years before and read many books by Ramesh Balsekar, Ramana Maharshi, and Nisgaradata Maharaja, I found myself attending his talks again each time he came to Barcelona. Although the teachings and concepts were not new, having heard them many times before from Godfrey, he brought a new slant to them, and I felt a deepening sense of trust and acceptance seeping into my daily situations.


Godfrey liberated me with a firm no-nonsense attitude and a gentle, patient, unconditional, and consistent love: his transmission of pure yoga, his profound teachings on the perfection of all events, happenings, people, and totality, rubbed away at my accumulated conditioning about yoga, yoga teachers and what it is to live yoga, giving me the tools to explore yoga and teaching as a means of embracing and living life. He continues to show me that through honesty, sensitivity, generosity, and love it is possible to relax and let go of the stories and limitations that so often prevent us from enjoying the beauty of life.


My intention as a yoga teacher is to transmit the heart of yoga through practical and effective instruction, guiding people to a place where they may find the wisdom within, and steering those who come to yoga with a deep dissatisfaction and a desire to change who they are, towards a state of acceptance and peaceful contentment. Potentially, I would like to think that students may leave class feeling not high on adrenalin, but balanced and nourished, in touch with their bodies, and with a quiet breath. I hope that their yoga practice will bring them physical fitness, well-being, and emotional balance, and that the essence of yoga will seep effortlessly from their mat into their lives, allowing them to experience it as a joyful way of living, evolving, and being