Yoga Classes at Poundon House
As the world speeds up, we get caught in the rat race and there often seems to be very little way out for some people
OX spoke to Mischa Varmuza, yogi and host of Poundon House’s first retreat, to learn more about the practice of yoga
How did you get into yoga in the first place?
I got into yoga for the same reasons many people in the West do: living and working in London (or wherever one does), and looking to find a bit of time-out or headspace, and very much for the physical side of it, initially. As my practice developed and I became more dedicated, you start to tap into a certain deeper level and it's not just about making shapes and moving anymore.
When you get this realisation that there's this essence behind it, it inspires you to go a little bit deeper. I'd been practising for about 5 years when I did my initial teacher training, which was a year spent in London with a wonderful teacher called Claire Missingham. After I did my teacher training I spent 6 months in India travelling and studying with many teachers, which transformed my practice and teaching, then I came back to London and for the last couple of years I've been teaching full-time in London.
I've never practised yoga myself but I've done a couple of different types of meditation. Is it a similar thing where as you start to get a hang of it you realise how much more you have to learn?
Absolutely. The more you know, the less you know. It's such an ancient practice, and many of us only go in and see the external side of it, especially people with a relatively physical background, like sportsmen. I think many people can be very surprised at what else there is to it. There's a transformative quality, and the same goes for those people who don't necessarily have a physical background within sporting. People can come to it and maybe be a little intimidated by the physical side of it, but as long as your teacher is offering a safe space it doesn't take long to realise that that's not really what it's about. It can offer a place of calm, peace and stillness that for most us is buried most of the time when we're caught up in the outside world. It's a lot more than what meets the eye, and the wonderful thing about practising yoga in a retreat environment is that there's time to explore these other aspects of it. In London or Oxford, or wherever you go to studios, you have your 60 minute or 90 minute class so there's a bit of a restriction as people might have certain expectation of what they're going to get from their time. The beautiful thing about having a weekend is that we have time, so there's no rushing and there's time to create a safe and nurturing environment for students, whether they're new or experienced, to find their way into new postures as well as spending time on the meditation and breathing side of it, which is really where the essence of the practice is. With the breathing and meditation you really allow the heart of the practice to come to the surface.
For someone who isn't experienced and hasn't experienced the joys of practising yoga, what benefits have you seen personally since you started?
I suppose from a physical perspective, yoga brings more space, freedom and flexibility to our bodies, which immediately gives you more comfort in your day-to-day life. You don't necessarily have to be doing handstands and crazy one-legged poses, simple practice with the right intention behind it frees up your body to a degree where you feel more healthy, you feel more vibrant. That immediately reflects in your state of mind, so I think as soon as you start feeling that freedom in your body there is this emotional resonance where the mind is more peaceful and more calm. It's also complementary to quite a lot of sports, so if people do have a sporting background it will create more balance in your body.
Do you feel that the physical exercise and stretches that you're doing feed into mental benefits and vice versa?
Yeah, absolutely. The mental benefits come through the physical practice, very much so. It takes a degree of concentration and a degree of discipline, as you're working your coordination and balance, and you're building a sense of grace and a sense of usefulness in moving through postures and sometimes flowing sequences of postures.
Going back a bit, you said when you first got into yoga you were living in London you were becoming stressed, which is almost a symptom of the Western way of life. What was it that caused you to look for something else?
I think when you work in London full-time, you're in this treadmill routine, and it's easy to have a constant sense of urgency, and for me this went hand-in-hand with fairly high levels of anxiety. It’s very difficult to dampen this down when you're doing the same thing day in, day out. To try and find a space where you can let go of that completely was something that really appealed to me.
The high-paced jobs we tend to lead aren't beneficial for your mental health without having the sort of break that yoga or meditation can provide.
Absolutely. We were never made to be these machines, but as the world speeds up, we get caught in the rat race and there often seems to be very little way out for some people. I think what yoga and meditation do is they remind you that you have this quiet sanctuary within yourself, and the more time you take to explore your internal space, the more you realise that you can tap into that space at any time, and it kind of centres you and calms you down. It's very liberating, and gives you a sense of empowerment and strength when things get a bit messy or muddled in your life.
You're doing the autumn light yoga retreat at Poundon House. What sort of thing can we expect there?
Autumn's a lovely time of year, and we're almost in line with the Hindu festival of Diwali, which is the festival of light. It's celebrated at this time of new beginnings, when the light is shifting, and it represents the triumph of good over evil and light over darkness. There's going to be a bit of a theme around this idea of autumn light, and we're going to be exploring meditation and breathing practices. In the mornings we'll be having a more challenging practice, but still very much open to all levels and in the evening classes there'll be more time to explore some restorative practices, perhaps with more of a workshop focus. Relaxing treatments are also included for all of our guests, and the food is going be delicious, nourishing and healthy. There'll be plenty of time for people to just unwind and hopefully take the opportunity to turn their phones and laptops off and just find that stillness. I think the secluded environment will be encouraging for people to completely relax.
Mischa is hosting Poundon House’s first retreat on 6-8 November. To book or to learn more visit retreats.poundonhouse.com