Ruth really knocked me out in my first encounter with her as a teacher. With her calming, soothing and wonderful Yoga Nidra class I relaxed so deeply I literally could have slept through the night in the studio. She is one of those people that make you instantly feel at ease. In our interview I was inspired to hear how she had overcome tough challenges. It showed me her strength, determination and the power that Yoga and meditation has in it, when you follow it through. Yoga in itself is a potential, wanting to be experienced, practiced and cultivated so it can come into fruition. Speaking with Ruth, I was deeply touched and felt I met someone in whom this wonderful fruit has come to fulfilment and was overflowing with wisdom, love and acceptance.
1. What is yoga according to you?
Ruth Preston (RP): More than anything it is about space; to be still, to stop and to reconnect with the body and the breath, the fundamentals of life; the chance to step away from the madness of everyday life.
Allow yoga to be as it is, make a shape, sit with it, breathe and be happy.
2. Why do you teach yoga?
RP: I see the opportunity of teaching as being an absolute privilege, and I do it in order to try and give others just a little bit of a sense of where their path might be and to give them a glimpse into how transformative yoga can be. I feel very blessed to be a yoga teacher. My own experience started when at the age of 14 I was diagnosed with Glandular Fever and depression. I ended up having to leave school as I was unable to cope with the physical and emotional demands of the environment and spent nearly a year taking anti-depressants and sleeping pills. It was then that I started going to yoga with my mum. Yoga along with other physical movement became part of my toolkit for dealing with life, creating some peace and stillness and helping to manage the panic attacks that had become so debilitating. Mantras and affirmations were also a key part of how I rebuilt my self-confidence and self-belief.
Our society is very good at undermining young people. We are quick to criticise and slow to praise leaving the next generation with very little self-worth and a need to constantly strive to achieve. This is very stressful, and as this applies to all other aspects of life I believe very strongly that it shouldn’t be the case with yoga. Allow yoga to be as it is, make a shape, sit with it, breathe and be happy.
I ended up completing my studies in Further Education, taking GCSEs and A-levels at the local community college then going on to read history at University College London. My yoga helped me to concentrate, focus but also taught me how to switch off and fully relax. I kept on practicing, on and off for 15 years, through a career in banking, financial services and consulting. I have practiced everything: Bikram, Hatha, Iyengar, Scaravelli, Ashtanga, Kundalini and everything else you can imagine ; ).
Over time Ashtanga became the big love. It is a beautiful practice that I both love/hate, it exposes every weakness in your body but then there is this amazing Ashtanga community there to help you through it.
Once I had the ability to put down the sense of ‘me vs the universe’ I realised how much more peaceful and loving life became.
In 2012 I decided that I wanted to share what yoga could offer and so started a 2 year journey to becoming a teacher. At the end of 2013 I completed my training with the British Wheel of Yoga and went on to train with Julian Daizan Skinner Roshi, my zen master, who also gives yoga teacher trainings. He spent 20 years in Japan, came to the UK, and was the first Englishman to become a Roshi. While studying with Daizan we also covered a number of meditation practices from the Rinzai tradition in Zen, including working with Koans. My personal breakthrough was with the Koan ‘Who am I?’, I lost the sense of myself in all my roles, I stopped being a daughter, yoga teacher, colleague, boss etc. I no longer had a sense of this is me and that is the world, resulting in all sense of conflict being removed. Once I had the ability to put down the sense of ‘me vs the universe’ I realised how much more peaceful and loving life became. I regularly incorporate this in my classes by asking students to simply sit either using the breath as an anchor or simply being present, bearing witness to the thoughts that crop up, and allowing them to simply pass.
Since then I have completed teacher training with the fantastic David Swenson and I am currently looking forward to training with the legend John Scott.
3. Name three of your favourite things about yoga.
– The breath. T.K.V Desikachar described it as “The breath is the intelligence of the body. It is only by bringing body, breath and mind into unison that we realise the true quality of asana.”
– The moving meditation, the lovely connection of breath and movement.
– Savasana, who does not love savasana?!
4. Why do you think people should try yoga?
RP: Everyone deserves time to reconnect with the breath and the body, time to learn how to move in new ways, in a non-judgmental, non-competitive environment. Besides this, there are the multiple health benefits for the body, countering the physical conditioning in our lives, sitting at your desk, in a car etc. When we give our body the opportunity, it can move in all sorts of wonderful ways, this is another reason to start.
5. Have you seen your audience changing over time, and if so, in what way?
RP: One older lady in her late 60s, came to me every week for a year. The change in her posture and the change that she commented on in her life was really interesting. Physically, she grew about 3 inches, her heels found the floor again (as she always bounced on the balls of her feet) and she lost a lot of weight. But what was more interesting was that she said she felt calmer, more at peace and was sleeping more soundly.
Generally for me because the range of my teachings styles is so big, from yoga nidra to Ashtanga I see a whole range of people. I love it when people come back week on week and I get to see both them and their practice change: they make a shape, breath and enjoy it, which is all you have to do.
6. Did your teaching method change over time, and if so, in what way?
RP: As my practice changes my teaching changes as I teach from my experience. I do also now allow a little humour into my classes – after all laughter is definitely one of the best medicines!
You are your own guru and you need to tap into that. Learn from the guys who walked the path before you, but value your own experiences.
7. Who are your inspirations in yoga?
– Every student that walks into a class – for this is how the lineage continues and I learn so much from my students.
– Sri K Pattabhi Jois (Guruji), author of ‘Yoga Mala’, and the man who brought Ashtanga to the west.
– B. K. S. Iyengar who even in his seventies was always changing and adapting, his desk being full with study materials.
– John Scott who is just a legend.
– The majestic David Swenson.
– Desikachar author of ‘The Heart of Yoga’
It is great you have people like this, but learn about your own body, get to know yourself. You should always be able to ask the question: ‘how does this feel for me?’ You are your own guru and you need to tap into that. Learn from the guys who walked the path before you, but value your own experiences.
8. Please give 3 tips for people who want to start with yoga.
– Breathe, always breathe.
– Try not to watch your neighbour to compete with them or compare yourself with, even though it is a natural thing to do. Let yourself be guided by the teacher and by your body.
– Accept that is won’t always feel great. It is about learning to feel, not to always feel good or brilliant all the time. As the lovely Diane Lee (owner of Bath Yoga Studio) says: ‘I am not here to make you feel good, but to teach you how to feel’.
An open mind is the start of an open body.
9. Which precautions would you give when people want to start?
– Attempt to not have expectations of yourself. Literally go as open a mind as you can possible manage. An open mind is the start of an open body.
– Do not feel afraid to ask questions, especially when you have pain.
– Resist the temptation to go to the back of the class, (the teacher can still see you anyway).
10. Is there anything else you would like to share with us?
David Swenson tells the story about David Williams who said: ‘If people come to me to ask me to teach them yoga, I take them aside and ask ‘Are you really sure cause this will change your life’. And it does. It is a commitment. Try to not hold on to just the asana (poses) part of the practice, Ashtanga means 8 limbs.* It is about your ethics, how you fit in society, prana, withdrawal of the senses, concentration, meditation, this all will lead to to samadhi, the state of bliss or nirvana. Allow these limbs to be a guide to your life, it will change anything. Don’t be obsessed with the destination, love and enjoy the journey.
Ruth teaches at Yoga Bodhi, Bath Yoga Studio, Ashtanga Yoga Bath and soon to be teaching at the Yama Yoga Hub. She teaches beginners courses at Yoga Bodhi, Ashtanga classes, restorative and yoga nidra. She lives in Bath and commutes to London and Bristol for work. Her partner is a mindfulness teacher (so you can imagine their book collection ; ).
Follow Ruth on her Facebook Page
*Google ‘Patanjali 8 limbs of Yoga’ if you want to read more about this.