Yoga is personal path everyone should walk by themselves in order to realize their own greatness and divinity. In other words yoga is teaching us that there is no better or greater teacher than ourselves. But till that moment of discovery it is great if we have companions (teachers, friends) we can share our journey with, ask a question or rely when we are in doubt or need an advice.
Andrew Wrenn and Francesca Giusti are yoga teachers not only with strong and deep personal practice and knowledge; They are also a living example of life changing and transforming power of yoga. By their example they are inspiring others to live with passion and vitality both on and off the mat. Nowadays they are based in UK where they have their own yoga studio Pure Yoga , besides that they regularly do workshops and retreats in Europe, Middle East and India and of course they teach also regularly on the leading European Yoga website Ekhart Yoga.
SLOW LIFE had the unique opportunity to talk with these two beautiful souls about exciting yoga journey of their lives and of course we talked about their upcoming workshop in Riga next month. We hope this will inspire you to take a step closer to yoga.
How did you first get into yoga? What was your motivation in those early days?
Andrew: It was because of health reasons really! Suffering from asthma I began with breathing exercises to improve my condition. As my health improved, I was motivated to practice more and began practicing asana (yoga postures) with the book Light on Yoga by Mr Iyengar.
Francesca: I was living in Lanzarote, enjoying the beautiful weather and lifestyle when a friend suggested I tried Yoga. I had tried it in the past but not really got hooked, but this time, after my first Ashtanga weekend workshop, I was in love! It was just like discovering my body and my breath in a way I never experienced them before. The way yoga made me feel motivated me to join a small group of practitioners who would get together at 7 am and practice at somebody’s home. I loved being there, making shapes with my body, and feeling the breath!
How long was your yoga journey from yoga student to certified yoga teacher?
Andrew: I practiced yoga on my own for about 2 years before I found an Iyengar yoga class at the leisure centre in my town. I had an established home practice for about 3 years before I was suggested by one of my teachers to apply for a training with the British Wheel of Yoga. She actually didn’t only suggest, she insisted I go onto a foundation course, and then I got onto the proper teacher training. I wasn’t thinking at all about teaching then, I just wanted to broaden my yoga knowledge.
Francesca: I practiced the Ashtanga primary series for about 4 years: daily on my own, or in a small group when I was living in Lanzarote. I moved to Ireland in 2000 so I was practicing mainly on my own at home and complementing the practice with a weekly class plus workshops and retreats a couple of times a year. I wanted to learn about the origins of yoga and all the different aspects of the practice, and the only option seemed to be a 200 hours teacher training. It was 2003 when I began to look for options. A friend (the same that suggested I went to my first ashtanga yoga workshop) had trained with Yoga Arts (http://www.yogarts.com.au/) and I loved Louisa Sear when she came to Lanzarote. I saved up to go to Australia in 2004 and joined their training in Byron Bay. So it took quite a long time and an established self practice before I embarked onto a training. I didn’t really want to teach, only learn more myself.
What is your background in yoga?
Andrew: I taught freelance, in clubs and gyms. Then started my own independent classes, which led to workshops and retreats and working for company such as Ekhart Yoga (www.ekhartyoga.com)
Francesca: I began sharing my passion for the practice with my family and friends in Italy – I went back to live near my family for a while after my training (in 2005) and there was a lot of curiosity about yoga. I started classes in local gyms and independently, and I found myself teaching a few classes a week. I moved back to Ireland and worked full time at the office. Local yoga studios were opening up and were looking for teachers so I started teaching a bit more until my office job became a part time one.
How did your personal yoga practice changed during these times? (From your first yoga experience till now? Have you changed the yoga styles, the way you practice and teach etc?)
Andrew: My yoga practice changed a lot! I listen to my body these days, I work intuitively and Asana only makes up part of my yoga practice. Pranayama and Meditation are more and more an integral part of my practice. I don’t stick to any particular style, I draw from different tradition and styles.
Francesca: I used to practice the proper Ashtanga yoga primary series for 5 years but my training opened my eyes to a wide range of practices and teachings. It was much more than the physical side I was experiencing. I became aware of the benefits of Pranayama and Meditation and also to all the different layers of practice that one can access, without limiting to one particular style. These days I love to be able to sit to connect with my stillness and to practice a bit of vinyasa flow, some strong standing postures, arm balances and also I enjoy yin yoga and restorative yoga.
How has yoga changed your life? When did you notice the changes?
Andrew: Yoga changed my life since I first started practicing. My asthma improved dramatically. In time, the changes aren’t as noticeable. It’s only with hindsight that you realize how fundamentally things have changed, physically, mentally and spiritually.
Francesca: Since the beginning yoga gave me a deeper body awareness that was really inspiring and nurturing. Yoga empowered me to move on from a job I felt I was trapped into and gave me the courage to change my lifestyle completely. It was a slow but steady transformation.
You have been studying with many great masters; do you have any special memories? Any memorable yoga moments?
Andrew: Being told my teacher Clive to go and swim with crocodiles!
Francesca: I have deep respect and feel very humbled by all the great teachers I had the fortune to practice with. The most challenging moments were when we lived in the jungle, where the invitation is to let go and surrender completely. I could mention times when I could do a posture that I was struggling to get into, but postures are so transient and it’s not worth getting attached to a posture as your body changes and what you can do today you might not be able to do tomorrow.
What is your main personal yoga practice now?
Andrew: Early morning daily Pranayama and Meditation practice, followed by traditional Hatha Yoga postures. Sometimes a flow like in the vinyasa style, but it’s actually my pranayama and meditation practice that gives me clarity and contentment.
Francesca: Meditation and Pranayama in the morning, yoga postures in the Vinyasa or Hatha style, yin yoga.
Tell us about the style you teach now?
Andrew: I teach an eclectic mix of all the different styles that have influenced me on my journey. Hatha Yoga is an evolving discipline and I respect the traditional teachings with an eye to the contemporary mind/body/soul connection.
Francesca: According to the level of the class, I offer a grounding sitting stillness, followed by a journey to discover and to feel your body. I love classical yoga postures approached slowly, and in my intermediate classes I add sun salutations and stronger arm balances. I teach Yin yoga regularly and love the deep release that can be experienced during long held postures. It is a refreshing yet engaging practice that is also very adaptable. I am an experiential person, and in my teaching I offer an experience that people can feel for themselves.
How did you discover yin yoga and how did you like it at the first time?
Andrew: I love Yin Yoga and find the stillness very nourishing. I enjoy the fact that Yin yoga is not necessarily an “easy” practice. The sensations can be very intense and the effects are also very deep. I began introducing Yin yoga early on in my practice days, to balance the stronger postures that I enjoyed practicing.
Francesca: I went to a visiting teacher workshop when I was living in Ireland. He offered a morning Ashtanga yoga practice and an afternoon Yin yoga practice; it must have been 2008 or 2009. I loved the combination of the 2 aspects and really cherished the still time spent to feel the body in a particular posture. I began to do research on Yin Yoga and came across Sarah Powers and Paul Grilley. I got all their books and dvds and spent hours practicing and learning about the style. I then went to an intensive Yin Yoga program with Sarah Powers in London and that was an amazing learning experience.
Is yin &yang combined yoga class now a new yoga style or demand from the people? How do you combine these 2?
Andrew: I don’t think we need a new yoga style! Yin and Yang are only words to define a different approach to a classical practice. Yang is the active practice, where we move and use muscles to take a certain shape that has a certain benefit. Yin is passive and still, we relax the muscles so that the benefits can be felt really deeply into our body.
Francesca: I feel that we need a balance of movement and stillness. We can do a lot of advanced postures that look good on pictures, but if we don’t really take time to feel the stillness within ourselves and experience yoga for the deep transformational discipline that it is, then we only practice gymnastics.
How did you two started to teach together? (Is Andrew more yang and Francesca more Yin? Is that the way you build up combined yin&yang yoga workshops/ classes??
Andrew and Francesca: Francesca is the Yin expert, she teaches regular classes at the studio. Andrew’s practice is strong with a lot of arm balances and handstands, but he is also very interested in passing on the real benefits of Yoga. We both aim at sharing a practice that promotes a steady mind, a calm body and the chance to get rid of all the conditionings and baggage that we carry within ourselves so our True Self can shine forth. This can be better done if we practice all the aspects of Yoga: Pranayama, Meditation, asana in every style and variations that agree with one’s body. So that is why we thought of combining our different styles and offer these workshops that can include all the aspects of Yoga.
Why Yin is so important and necessary these days?
Andrew: Yin is important as a backlash of all the Vinyasa Flow taught nowadays. Classically Yoga postures are taught so the body can sit steady for periods of time, but sometimes we forget that in contemporary yoga practices. Sitting still is the essence of all deeper practices and I always like to remind myself and my students about that.
Francesca: Yin Yoga is a nourishing complement to any activity, whether we sit at a computer for long hours, or we have an active lifestyle. Joints and deep tissue need stimulation to maintain their health. It’s a bit like “use it or lose it”: we will really need yin yoga more as we age as we lose elasticity in our body. Energetically, Yin yoga replenishes our internal resources: breathing correctly during Yin Yoga postures can increase the flow of prana (upper body energy) and apana (lower body energy).
How do you fit yoga and teaching around your life?
Andrew and Francesca: Yoga is our lifestyle. We practice meditation and pranayama first thing in the morning, followed by some asana practice. We sometimes fit my asana practice between classes. We are careful not to get too busy as well. It’s vital to have time to just sit and look at the flowers!
Have you noticed any difference in the way how people practice yoga or they preferences (more yin or yang) in different countries, ages?
Andrew and Francesca: We just love sharing the yoga love with different people in different countries! When we offer workshops in Cork, the majority of people are young and very willing to do an active practice, a bit different from the North of England where we live now! When Francesca used to teach in Italy, she noticed that mainly older people were attracted to yoga, looking for a very gentle and slow practice. Yin Yoga is not extremely well known, so we introduce it and talk about it a bit so people know what to expect. We are looking forward to meeting the people in Riga and hopefully they’ll enjoy what we share.
What do you do other than yoga?
Andrew: I enjoy going out in nature on my mountain bike There are beautiful areas in the North of England and in Scotland that I have explored in the past. These days I am a bit less adventurous, and enjoy a quite ride in the Nature reserve in Glastonbury (where we go back regularly).
Francesca: I enjoy hill walking and cycling. I like being in nature and I prefer summer to do so
What’s your affirmation or favorite mantra?
Andrew: I feel very inspired by Lokha Samasta Sukino Bhavantu. It’s such a healing Mantra and I love the intention behind it – peace and harmony for all creatures.
Francesca: Apart from the universal mantra Om, I often recite the Gayatri Mantra. I also love chanting and go to kirtan and bhajans as often as I can. I do some chanting by myself sometimes, and planning on getting my own harmonium soon!
If you wouldn’t become a yoga teacher what would you do? Do you have any dream jobs? J
Andrew: I don’t really; I believe that things happen for a reason. I have done a number of jobs before which I enjoyed but being immersed in Yoga is what I feel is right for me at the moment. I am not planning or projecting into the future, everything is just great the way it is!
Francesca: It took me many years of unhappy jobs to make the changes to be here and now. What I enjoy the most is practicing and sharing yoga!
You are coming to Riga with a workshop soon. Is this your first visit to Baltic States and Riga?
Andrew and Francesca: Yes it is! We are both extremely excited about coming over and discovering a new country and culture. We hope all the yoginis and yogis in Riga will enjoy our sharing.
Can you tell us more about Riga workshop? Is that suitable for any yogi with and without previous experience?
Andrew and Francesca: We try to make yoga accessible for everybody. Physically we offer variations and modifications that can be adapted for every different body shape. The principle we talk about are very simple and we down to experience. Ultimately it’s an invitation to experience what lies within each and every one of us.
Will it be more ying or yang?
Andrew and Francesca: We try to deliver a balanced practice that will include both aspects. There will be an active part where we will be moving through Sun salutations, standing postures and some balances, and there will be a stilling part where we experience the body from within.
Any suggestions for the yogis who are coming to your workshop? 😉
Francesca and Andrew: Just bring along an open mind and open heart! There might be practices that you are not used to, or that you have done differently before. All we ask is that you listen to the suggestions we offer and ultimately adapt the practice to what feel is right for you at any given moment.
Find out more about Andrew and Francesca and what they do in their homepage: www.pureyogacheshire.co.uk
Andrew and Francesca will lead a workshop in Riga on 22.november, from 11:00-13:30, in URBAN YOGA studio, Galleria Riga, 5th floor.
To register for a workshop or get more info about it please contact the Urban Yoga studio: firstname.lastname@example.org