death of the indie yoga teacher

Posted on December 8th, 2016 by

shoreditch class

alas, it is now time.

after a wonderful 8 years of weekly yoga classes at the good ol’ Geffrye Community Hall. It is time to sling down the well-trodden yoga mats for one last downdog. This Tuesday 13th Dec 2017 is my last session there.

I set up these vinyasa flow yoga classes 8 years ago and looking back, I am happy to say that my classes were possibly the first of their kind in the area. In 2008, yoga was not as we know it today. It was not mainstream and the numerous studios that we have in East London today, simply did not exist.

In 2008 I was 25 years old. Back then, my enthusiasm and self-confidence outweighed my experience and knowledge.  (maybe it’s the other way around now ;)) . I was so excited to share yoga with absolutely anyone and everyone. I didn’t have the right connections nor the patience to wait around for the stuffy studios to give me a job, so I set up public classes myself. This was within the context of a fairly traditional yoga scene. I recall that it was the Sivananda system with their conservative 12 -posture sequence which was the prominent style at the time. No one in East London called themselves ‘yogi’s’ (I still don’t and shudder at this label) and no one knew what ‘Vinyasa flow’ meant. The dynamic way of practising yoga was simply not popular like it is today.

I suppose back then my style of teaching and practice was considered unconventional, maybe somewhat brazen and most certainly bewildering. This was before the days of designer yoga mats, funky pigeon pose variations and crazy print legging. (I can honestly remember the confused look on the other students faces when my flatmate came to my class wearing some brightly coloured leggings, as a sort of ironic joke).

yoga not for yogi’s 

we had the heat high, the lights low. we played loud, urban music. we moved hard and fast.

soon the student numbers rose, each week there would be new faces and I soon got to know many of the students names. Cramming in up to 30 people mat-to-mat was the norm. The regular crowd, lets face it, were probably a bit like me. I suppose we were a snapshot of Shoreditch over that time period. Mostly urban, young, cool, fashionable, adventurous, work-hard-play hard types and most probably broke. We didn’t really fit in with the usual mainstream crowd yet we most certainly didn’t fit in with the yoga crowd either. Us and or our way of yoga was not for the faint-hearted.

I started off by charging £7 (or £5.83 for 6 class pack) and by today the charge is £8 (or £6.66 for 6 class pack). My aim was always to keep the sessions affordable and even at those rates I made enough money in that one hour to pay for my weeks rent. It was a win-win scenario for a long time.

the kind of people that became loyal to the class would be the types of people that were open to experimental flows and challenging sequencing irrespective of their own strength, flexibility or yoga experience. I was always deeply appreciative of how receptive and up-for-it that the students would be to accessing the part of their mind-body complex that could be called the ‘learning state of being’, to me, that is where you’ll experience real alignement and real flow yoga.

the only certainty in life is change

alas as time went on, Shoreditch changed, yoga changed and I changed. Yoga students would inevitably move on, changing jobs, or houses or cities, a plethora of flashy new yoga studios opened up, there was an abundance of new yoga teachers, I got pregnant and became a mum. The classes ticked on by but really despite hanging onto a few of the die-hard geffyre-hall yoga students, the class numbers began their eventual descent. As the atmosphere shifted, the Geffrye hall began to feel a little stale, more tatty, a little more grim and a little less welcoming.

funnily enough, i found out that it was not just my independent classes that had gone down this route. I recently received a text out of the blue from an old friend that also teaches her own yoga classes. she was wondering whether I had seen any changes in attendance recently because she had experienced a real dip in numbers. She suspected it was an industry trend and attributed it to the rise in competition. We reminisced together about the good old days of low prices and packed classes of happy students having to never do any marketing and going home with wads of cash in our pockets.

I read an interesting article by jbrownyoga.com that sums up this situation;

“Even seminal teachers, who charted the course for yoga in the mainstream, are having to face the fact that yoga business has become scaled to the extent that long-standing institutions of yoga can no longer always compete. As independent centers are acquired by new mega models, and the yoga-going public is looking for more of a spa experience then a spiritual education, those who have managed to garner any amount of notoriety are leveraging their reputations in the new world of online video and training intensives.”

to be fair, the yoga industry is maturing and the economics speaks for itself. if you want to sustain a livelihood from an outlet that has become on-trend and a commercial success on a grand scale, you have to play the game and shift with the tides or you get left behind. I guess it is the same evolution in the music industry. For me, at this point in the conversation, the notions of integrity and authenticity begin to spring to mind. Us yoga teachers each have to find our own personal boundaries in how much to play the game. Whenever I find myself overwhelmed or perplexed by the changes in the yoga scene, my husband always reminds me, “do you want to be like a top-of-the-pops musician or a good musician?”.

so all thats left to say is farewell, see you soon

Over the years I have met and made friends with some truly awesome and interesting people that have come along to the class. I am grateful for the times we spent together laughing, sweating and tangling ourselves up. you really are an inspiring and heart-warming bunch. I salute too, all those people that dropped-in maybe for just a few sessions, maybe just once. you all have a space in my heart for being part of this beautiful journey.

so now, despite there still being some awesome wicked people that make it to class, I’m afraid that it’s time to bid farewell. The hackney council are putting their rates up again and my babysitter fees are pricey and I can no longer compete with all the yoga studios out there so it’s an unsustainable situation and  seems like the right time now to breathe out the old and make space for the new.

last geffrye hall class is this tuesday 13th Dec 6:30pm-7:30pm 

so if you can’t beat them, join them

And like a stray dog being taken in from the cold, I have been warmly taken into the local yoga studios. And actually I have acclimatised to the studio environment rather well, I like that for example,  there are proper yoga blocks or that I don’t have to pick up broken glass or old chicken bones from outside the front before class starts!

So whether this can be attributed to the broader trend of commercialisation or not, for me although being a lone wolf was great for a while, I am now ready to embrace being more of a team player and to allow myself to be part of the broader movements in the scene. No doubt that we will look back in another 8 years time from now and will see plenty more change in the yoga scene.

So my new homes where you can find me and join my weekly classes are at the more comfortable settings of TripSpace in Haggerston (wednesdays 8pm-9:15pm) the London Fields Yoga Studio (sundays 12-1) and BLOK in Clapton (monday 6:30-7:30am and sundays 2:20-3:20 and 3:30-4:30pm).  full timetable here

geffrye community hall obituaries

i leave you with some responses recently sent to me from students:

“good bye geffrye hall! I wanted to say amazing effort for 8 years!  that really surprised me the other day….. had no idea its been going that long. its been good to me that slightly-too-hot-hall …. and its definitely taken my scrunched up, aching, bendy, saggy down dog to higher planes of stretching.hopefully see you on a wednesday soon”

“I still remember your classes as some of the most enjoyable I’ve ever been to. Pretty sure I’ve been searching for another teacher like you with such a depth of knowledge and passion for yoga as well as fun and impeccable taste in music ever since! Thank you for those classes… as I said yoga is a huge part of life for me now, …I’m not sure I would have been so inspired by it if it weren’t for you. Who knows?! You certainly, certainly helped and for that I am very grateful”.

“It was the start of my yoga journey that has and continues to bring me wonderful experiences! Thank you Tammy”

“Oh I don’t know London without your classes! End of an era… what will I do without your Tuesday classes?!”

 “Thank you for starting the classes there Tammy I was so amazed to find you just a short walk from my flat and haven’t found a teacher to match you as yet!will have to follow you online for now. Wishing you all the best for new ventures”

“The end of an era! I am one of these urbanites who left to another city and succumbed to industrialised yoga… but I remember my very first yoga poses were with you Tammy at the Geffry hall, thanks to my friend who totally dragged me there as I knew nothing about yoga back in the day!! I now practice regularly (religiously!!)”

“Ah Tammy, I’m saddened to read this! You are still my favourite yoga teacher of all times, my bench mark that no one else could compare to all these years since I left London. I remember the first time I went to your class about 8 years ago and something just clicked and I thought ‘Damn, I found MY yoga teacher, this is it! This is everything I want of a yoga class and more’… love your teaching style, your humour, your warmth, your blend of styles, your non dogmatic approach… Everything. So I wish you well for the future and your new chapter! You’ll rock- wherever you go. xx”

“I almost feel like I want to mourn the classes, even though it hasn’t been, and wouldn’t be possible for me to attend anymore! I think the mourning is for what they represent to me and what they have led to – inspiration (huge), growth and healing. Thank you so much for what the classes ignited in me – I am truly grateful to you! xxxxxxx”

I never experienced savasanas like the ones in Geffrye hall. You created a very special space there, Tammy. I’ll miss the colours of the red walls against the turquoise of the light outside.”

“I am so glad we crossed paths. Thank you so much for showing and teaching me how to breathe. That is one big lesson I will carry with me for life. I definitely did not expect my first session with you to go so well. It made me see yoga in a different and much better light than I did before turning up to your class. Keep that beautiful energy flowing on to your next chapter in life. Lots of love xx”