Three south east London yoga teachers share their stories

Three south east London yoga teachers shared their journeys into yoga, revealing how the discipline helped them through life’s challenges, how different gurus have enriched their practice, and what impact their teachings have on students.

David Ramcharran, 36, started yoga at a young age after seeing his father in a headstand.

Curious, he clambered over to try and join him and the two still practice regularly together. 

In his 20s, David wanted to strengthen his spiritual connection to his practice, which until then had consisted of studio classes squeezed in before work hours.

David found balance and joy through teaching yoga full-time and looking after his dog, Loki

It was apparent to his teachers David was a natural yogi, and calls began to grow for him to embark on teacher training, calls which he ignored at first until his father – a Hindu man and dedicated yogi whose practice had evolved from replicating poses off photos sent from his guru in India – advised him to try it.

Taking heed of his father’s advice, and to escape the drain of his office job, David travelled to South India in 2015, where he met Swami Govindananda, or Swamiji, an ordained teacher of the essence of yoga philosophy and meditation.

“There was something really magical about this man. He was like a wise uncle. He kept telling me, ‘you know you are going to teach’,” David said.

A far cry from his city life, David lived without luxury in an ashram for a month, rising at the crack of dawn to train in Sivananda yoga and finishing well into the evening.

Regarded as a meticulous man, he was tasked with keeping his easygoing roommate in check.

Through their shared experience–living in communal quarters with basic wash facilities and bunk beds to rest their heads–they became good friends.

“We were like brothers together,” David said.

Previously fairly materialistic and money-driven, when David returned to London his mother noted the change in him.

He explained: “My mum thought I was on drugs. I always had the latest iPhones, and all of a sudden I didn’t really care about all that.”

After 1,000 hours of teacher training, a backtrack into a management position at a yoga studio and a second visit to see the guru Swamiji, David was centred on his path to teaching yoga.

“When I’m teaching I’m very present, but I’m fun, mischievous, a bit like this dog,” he said, as his dog Loki sprung onto the bench.

“My philosophy is that my students come out feeling better than when they came into class.”

From feeling disillusioned with his corporate career and fast-paced lifestyle, David had finally found his balance and joy through teaching yoga, and a sense of grounding from taking care of Loki.

He plans to continue expanding his knowledge of yoga’s rich history, sharing what he learns with students along the way.

He added: “My grandparents and my parents have this philosophy that when you stop learning, you don’t exist, we learn at any age.”

Valeria Rodriguez had just finished teaching a yoga class in East Greenwich, where tall, leafy trees lined the studio’s walls when a few students from the busy class lingered to congratulate her on her ten year anniversary as a Chakra Yoga teacher. 

Valeria first sought out yoga after she experienced a work-related burnout in 2008, aged 29. 

She said: “I went to a class and it was so special. From feeling very stressed, I left walking on clouds. I was talking on the phone with a friend and I was giggling. I was saying ‘I don’t know what just happened’.”

Yoga became more to her than an escape from her 9-5, as she found sanctuary in the spirituality of her practice, which helped sooth the strain of a divorce.

During this time, she met Bridget Woods Kramer, a senior teacher that had trained in India, who taught her training and led her first yoga retreat.

“The separation was kind of awful,” Valeria said. “I went through one of the most difficult times of my life and actually getting on the mat with Bridget was what kept me sane.”

Mid-conversation, I was invited to try a Chakra exercise for the throat.

Valeria prompted me to close my eyes and count loudly, mentally, from ten to one, with one hand over my voice-box to feel for movement.

She explained: “This is a centre of vibration for the whole body. So imagine what happens with the thoughts that run through our head, like, ‘I’m not good enough’. It affects the whole of your body because the voice is still emitting those signals.

“You’re having a physical experience of your own energy.”

As a reiki master and homoeopath, Valeria was able to translate her healing abilities into yoga and this offering was not lost on students during the pandemic.

Her online community grew consistently, with students reaching out to say they felt restored from her classes and after three testing lockdowns, Valeria said it meant the world to her to meet students face-to-face.

She added: “This studio has a beautiful community. It’s not just a sense, you’ll see students come in and have conversations, they know each other. They make me feel part of the community as well.”

Mike Julian, 45, embarked on his teaching training after only two years of practising yoga.

He had lived in Hong Kong between 2012 and 2016, where he met an influential teacher, Lawrence Pradhan, a Buddhist yogi who combined the philosophies of yoga with religious teachings.

“A lot of things he said just made sense to me. I found him very inspiring and that’s one of the reasons I got into teaching,” Mike said.

Mike knew he wanted to teach very quickly after he started practising yoga

Similarly to Valeria, Mike described how yoga had been a constant support during difficult times in his life, namely when he was dealing with a divorce and going through the pandemic.

“It’s helped me through a lot of depression and anxieties,” Mike said.

The benefits of yoga on physical and mental wellbeing are widely accepted, but Mike commented how there are still limiting stereotypes.

He added: “A lot of people think it’s just about the handstands, and that it’s just a lot of ultra-thin, ridiculously flexible, really strong people doing stuff in £100 leggings.

“It’s not. It’s for everybody. It doesn’t make any difference what colour you are, what size you are, what culture you come from.

“It makes you a better person for a start. It helps you get in touch with yourself. And it helps to build up confidence. It certainly did for me.”

David, Valeria and Mike shared how yoga was more than a strengthening exercise or a shot of endorphins.

With regular practice, it could be a refuge from the monotony of daily stressors, a support system when needed, and always a welcoming community.

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