Rendez-vous with Cathy Alison
A couple of years ago I was going to an Iyengar class regularly at Alaric’s home studio, and there was a lovely woman there whom I never got to know. She was quiet, and clearly dedicated to the Iyengar practice. A few years later I found myself sitting across from the same woman, able to call her by name and about to learn about her journey to yoga.
FL: Cathy, how long have you been practicing yoga?
CA: I’ve been practicing Iyengar yoga seriously for about seven years, but started practicing about one or two classes a week from around 1998. My first class was in the early 1990s.
FL: What was your first class like?
CA: I was introduced to yoga by a friend in her home. We practised in her living room with the sunlight pouring in; it gave me a very special feeling. I really enjoyed being in her company and learning something that gave me a sense of peace and wellbeing. I later started attending regular weekly classes at my local gym, mainly with Louise Grimes. I loved the way she taught so I kept coming back.
FL: From those days at the gym with Louise, how did you â€œget hookedâ€?
CA: I guess I was hooked immediately,Â but when I started attending classes at the Iyengar Institue in Maida Vale with Alaric Newcombe and Marco Cannavo I started to practice with much more frequency. I felt invigorated, energised and relaxed after classes and enjoyed learning ways of working with props to help me learn the asanas according to my needs. I also liked the discipline of the practice.
FL: What’s your daily practice like right now?
CA: I attend 4 â€“ 5 classes a week and practice on my own alongside that. It works out that I practice for around 2 hours a day every day. My self practice depends what I am working on at the time – for example last year I was studying for an assessment, so my practice mainly focused on that. I practice restorative postures when I am feeling tired or when I’m on my cycle, or I might follow a sequence from a book or practice what I have learned in class.
FL: Has this changed over the years, and if so, how?
CA: The frequency of practice and intensity has changed. I ‘m now exploring the poses deeper and have a better understanding of the alignment and how to activate the body in different asanas. On the other hand, the more I am learning the subject, the more I realise there is much more to learn. As I have become more aware of my self, the more I have started to learn to attune my practice to my own needs and capabilities.
FL: Are there any methods of yoga that you have tried that â€˜werenâ€™t for youâ€™ and why?
CA: I’ve tried various methods before finding Iyengar yoga and got something out of all of them at the time. I canâ€™t say there’s anything I’ve tried that I have a big aversion to.
FL: How long do you think someone should practice yoga before they become a teacher?
CA: In the Iyengar system, you need to have practiced with a registered Iyengar teacher for a minimum of 3 years and your practice has to be judged to be of sufficient standard to apply. Teaching is a big responsibility and I think there needs to be an understanding of the practice before it can be imparted to others. Like with any subject or art,Â you wouldnâ€™t be able to just go out and teach it without having some knowledge of it.
FL: Who is your most influential teacher?
CA: Alaric Newcombe has been my main teacher and teacher trainer now for the past 7 years and has been a major influcence for me. I learn from him all the time. He’s very creative and helps give me the courage to push further when I canâ€™t see this for myself. I also have been taught by Marco Cannavo for a number of years and have a lot of respect for him and the way he teaches. I went to Geeta Iyengarâ€™s convention in 2009 which was inspiring and I hope to get to The Ramamani Iyengar Institute in Pune in the next couple of years. In the last 3 years I have also studied with Christian and June Pisano in France and the U.K.who again are very inspiring and interesting teachers.
FL: Do you incorporate spirituality into your teaching?
CA: Spirituality is a personal thing for people and has different meanings for individuals. I donâ€™t feel that you can teach spirituality as such but I do feel that yoga encourages you to look within for the answers.
FL: Have you had any major injuries and how has that affected your approach to teaching asana?
CA: I haven’t had any acute injuries as such, but I am working with chronically stiff/roundÂ shoulders that I have had ever since I can remember. I’m not naturally flexible so I think this can help me assist others who may have similar issues.
FL: Do you have a meditation practice apart from asana?
CA: I might sit for a period of time observing my breathing after a practice. I also find the asanas can be a form of meditation in action. Because the practice focuses in so much on what areas of the body are being activated or what needs to be activated, I am not thinking about other things. This I find really appealing about Iyengar Yoga as for the duration of time I am in a class or practicing, I am in the moment.
FL: How important is diet for your yoga practice and in general?
CA: This is work in progress. I’m still exploring what is best to eat for me. I think what I eat can have an impact on how I feel mentally and physically in the practice but I donâ€™t have any hard and fast rules.
FL: What was the last workshop you attended?
CA: I went toÂ a very interesting New Year workshop with Alaric over 5 days this year.
FL: If you had only one book on yoga, what would it be?
CA: I regularly revisit Light on Life by BKS Iyengar.
Cathy’s quiet, friendly and empathetic demeanor will be welcomed at Indaba Yoga in Marylebone, where she’ll be teaching the Iyengar Foundation Course.