SPOTLIGHT INTERVIEW WITH STEH WALL
January 12, 2016
Interview conducted by Clemence Cocquet from Scapa Fest, the UK’s Yoga and Adventure Festival.
1 | WHAT YOU WERE DOING IN YOUR LIFE BEFORE YOU MET YOGA?
I lived in Canada, I was scrambling around aimlessly, travelling over the world.
2 | HOW WERE YOU INTRODUCED TO YOGA?
I was 19. I was a Psychology student at a university in Canada. I was a complete mess, so stressed out my hair was falling out. I was so unhappy. I was invited by a friend to go to a yoga class. I had no clue what it would be like. Thought it would be a bit like an aerobic class. I turned up in shorts and trainers. I was very athletic at that time, very into teams sports. There, I found something, something quiet, peaceful, that changed the crazy stressed person I was. I liked that it was something I could do by myself not not get caught up in the politics of being on a team.
It’s only years after that I started to consider training as a yoga teacher. Looking back, this decision came from such an ego-driven place. What I saw was the appealing lifestyle, freedom to teach anywhere, the freedom with my time. I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
I trained with Julia McCabe in Nicaragua. This is where I met Jenny (Kali co-founder)
3 | DO YOU PRACTICE SEVERAL TYPES OF YOGA?
Although I am a Vinyasa Flow teacher, my practice is my own practice. Each type of physical yoga has a common base of asanas and I completely respect lineages and the different nature of each style, but I don’t like putting things in a box. Yoga is not just its physical aspect. I define yoga as my entire way of being. It’s in how I eat, speak, talk and think so my practice is carried with me everywhere. My daily routine is made up of meditation, prayer, and either a strong Vinyasa, or slow restorative practice. This might take me an hour or 10 minutes. It all depends.
4 | HOW HAVE YOU AND YOUR TEACHING EVOLVED OVER THE YEARS?
I has evolved insanely. I look back at some classes I use to teach and I can hardly believe it.
The biggest difference is my sequencing and the technicalities of my approach. I’d like to think I’ve become more skillful and elegant in how I deliver my classes. My teaching has evolved naturally with time. 5 years ago, I was so different. Now I cut the bullshit. I want to be real, not waste people’s time with unimportant words. The essence of my teaching has stayed the same, it’s the technical side that has evolved the most.
5 | YOUR CLASSES ARE SKILLFUL, THOUGHTFUL, PLAYFUL AND DEEP. HOW DO YOU FILL YOUR CREATIVE SPIRIT TO INVENT SUCH MINDFUL SEQUENCES?
My students inspire me. At Kali, we now have such a great core community. It is a gift to be able to teach them. I want to make sure I give them something new, different and interesting all the time. I want them to grow with me as I’m always growing with them.
My other inspiration in music. Music is a big part of my life. I’ll throw on spotify and just let the music travel through me as I express myself through movement. The marriage between music and self expression in the most beautiful relationship in my life at the moment. It holds me so sweetly in any way I need it.
6 | OUR BODY HAS A NAKED HONESTY THAT OUR MIND DOESN’T HAVE. WE MIND CAN HIDE AND PRETEND, BUT OUR BODY CANNOT. PAIN, ILLNESSES OR INJURIES ARE SIGNS WE SHOULD PAY ATTENTION. YOGA AS MOVEMENT MEDICINE. TELL US MORE ABOUT THIS.
Movement is 100% my medicine. It’s important to tap into the authentic self through yoga.
For example, my mind/ego will ask to go for a run, but my body is saying no. I can recognise that It’s only my mind saying I should do it. The body much more in the present and I’m learning to tap into that wisdom instead. In my experience, and many will disagree with this, but my injuries were all expressions of what was going on in my inner world. It was my body’s way of shouting at me to transform something when I wasn’t listening.
7 | DO YOU EVER GET FRUSTRATED IN YOUR OWN YOGA PRACTICE AND HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH IT?
No really anymore but I used to, massively. I am not naturally very flexible. It is very hard for me to look the way others yoga teachers or practitioners did and I felt a lot of pressure to bend in ways that weren’t suited for my body. I used to focus of my weaknesses instead of my strength but I have a new respect for my body that has developed only over the last couple of years.
What’s really helped me is the Kali Community. Our students are so beautiful. They accept me as I am so the pressure was lifted.To be accepted by them allowed me to accept myself more. What a gift they gave me!
8 | TELL US ABOUT YOUR MOST IMPORTANT SELF-CARE PRACTICE? HOW DO YOU MAINTAIN YOUR ENERGY?
Meditation. This is the first thing I do in the morning. I turn off my alarm, sit up and meditate. It’s short, only 10 or 15mins. I love it. I start my day from a place of quiet. I set my intentions, my affirmations. I tap into what I need, honour what is happening in my heart and mind so my day can start from a place of respect for where I am at.
9 | HOW DO YOU PRIORITIZE YOUR PERSONAL PRACTICE?
It depends what you define as practice. Mediation for me is priority, but asana practice is not. I practice on the mat by myself 3 times a week. Since December, when I’m done meditating in the morning I get on the floor, no mat, and do about 15mins of asana. It’s a real shift for me. It’s not a full practice, but this is how I develop a deeper awareness of where I am at and see what’s going on in my body. The rest of the day can be in honour to that.
10 | WHAT DO YOU DO TO STAY FIT BESIDES YOGA?
I love physical activity and do as much as I can. It’s such a great way to connect to my body and release what needs to go! I run twice a week and lift weights 3 times a week. I also try to do something different once a week like swimming, boxing or barre.
11 | FOR A LOT OF PEOPLE, MEDITATION CAN BE A DIFFICULT PROCESS. HOW WOULD YOU ENCOURAGE SOMEONE TO MEDITATE?
I love teaching people how to mediate, especially first-timers, because I feel I am so liberal with how I teach meditation. I was taught it in a very strict way. You had to sit up. It was for 30mins first thing in the morning before we did any sort of movement and I hated it. When I am teaching people to do meditation for the first time, they can sit however they want to sit, they can grab props if they need, they can lay down if they want, it’s fine if they fall asleep. I encourage people to take the meditation outside of the traditional view of how it should be done. Why don’t you try meditating when you’re running, when you’re swimming, when you’re playing music, listening to some music. I feel that meditation can be done in so many different ways. You can be in a meditative state when you’re journalling. I would tell them to try to do it differently.
12 | DEFINING YOGA IS AN EVERLASTING PROCESS. AT THIS POINT IN TIME, WHAT IS YOGA FOR YOU?
Yoga for me is… connection. It is a way of connecting to myself, connecting to spirit, connecting to others, connecting to my food, connecting to the way I speak, to the way I listen, to everything. Relationships, in every realms. With family, with lovers, with friends. I think and I apply my yoga into every relationship and every way I connect to something whether it’s internal or external. Yes, connection.
13 | THE TWO YOGA MOMENTS I’LL NEVER FORGET IN MY LIFE ARE... DESCRIBE THEM TO US. WHAT MAKES THEM SO UNFORGETTABLE.
The first thing that comes to mind is… This is before I became a yoga teacher. I was attending a yoga conference that Ryan Leier was at. Ryan Leier is an amazing, hugely influential yoga teacher from Canada. I was star struck when I first saw him. Of course, we ended up practising next to each other in a workshop. He rolled out his mat right next to me and I was so scared. Yoga is very internal thing. I shouldn’t have been looking at him or watching his practice but the way that he moved, I could feel it. It was if he was one with the air. He flowed and moved as if he was the wind and his control and ability to tap into and connect with his body was beyond his strength and his flexibility. It was an awareness that amazed me. I remembered watching him float, as if he were a cloud. He was beyond the body, he was moving from a place of beyond physical anatomy. He was energy. It was inspiring and in a way, I was able to float as well, even though I wasn’t physically. I felt the lightness from him. Beautiful energy. I’m trying to get him to come to Kali over the summer.
My other yoga moment is when I got into forearm stand. Not because it’s a fancy-shmancy ego inversion. It’s because, for so long, it was the one pose that I thought I would never get in my life. And I got to the point where I thought: I’m ok with it, I will never get this in my life. And then I stopped trying for years, literally took YEARS of a break from it.I just didn’t care. It took that much time for me to unwind this story of not ever be able to get into this pose, of not being strong enough, of all this hugely limiting belief. And so once I was able to deactivate that story, I just let it kind of dissipate on its own, I tried it again, and I wasn’t very warm, I wasn’t particularly trying. I popped up and I got right into it. And I wasn’t holding it for that long, but that feeling of being able to do it, I completely proved myself wrong. I had so many of those moments on the mat where I totally proved myself wrong. Why did I believe I couldn’t do that? If only I could do the same with handstand! I’ve taken a break from handstand for the same reason, after building up so much frustration. So I stopped, because it doesn’t matter.
14 | WHAT WOULD YOU DO IF YOU COULDN’T FAIL?
I would be into music, creating music. If I knew I could succeed at that, I would definitely make music. I’m probably turning to music because I am so confident with my yoga practice, there’s nothing in the yoga realm that I feel I can’t do. But music, that’s scary.
15 | HAVE YOU EVER TAUGHT YOGA TO PEOPLE WITH AGING BODY OR LIMITED MOBILITY. HOW DO YOU APPROACH IT?
I used to teach yoga to quadriplegic and stroke patients. It’s a completely different practice obviously. It’s me stretching them. It’s them doing the internal work, and me doing the external work for them. That’s why, after working with them, I have no patience for able-bodied people who say they can’t do this or that, that they’re not strong or flexible enough. It looks physically different but it doesn’t mean that it is different for them on the inside of their experience.
Regarding aging bodies, it’s a different experience as a teacher because unlike working with younger bodies where we can see a progression, with older bodies there’s notso much of an obvious progression. Goals are different. The practice really becomes about the present, what they can experience in their bodies right now. They are not thinking about their next practice, they are not thinking where they could go or work towards. They just want to feel very good in their body at that time.
16 | HOW IMPORTANT IS IT FOR YOU THAT YOGA IS TAUGHT TO CHILDREN AND WHY?
What I would have done to have yoga as a child… I mean, everything happens for reason and I experienced a lot without the support of yoga which brought me to yoga eventually, when the time was right. I definitely think yoga and meditation should be taught in schools. The world would be so different if everyone had access to that. It’s extremely important and this is hopefully how I will be raising my children, giving them the option. Can you imagine being that connected to your body and your breath at such a young age? That would have changed my life completely.
17 | IF YOU COULD GIVE YOURSELF A PIECE OF ADVICE 10 YEARS AGO, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
Stop worrying so much.
18 | AS WOMEN WE SOMETIMES LOOK IN THE MIRROR AND FOCUS ON OUR FLAWS. IT’S SO IMPORTANT TO SEE AND APPRECIATE WHAT WE DO LOVE ABOUT OURSELVES, OUR BODY, AND OUR WHOLE BEING. WHAT DO YOU LOVE MOST ABOUT YOUR BODY RIGHT NOW, AND WHY?
I am so amazingly grateful for my body, I am just so grateful. At this point in time, I am not caring about what my abs look like or what my thighs look like. I am just so happy that I can wake up and go for a run, and that I can do my yoga practice and I not feel pain. I’m so grateful that I can wake up every morning and have energy, and fall asleep at night without laying awake for hours. I can just be healthy and alive everyday and that is all I need.
19 | WHAT IS REALLY EXCITING YOU RIGHT NOW IN YOUR WORK AND IN YOUR VISION OF THE FUTURE OF YOGA?
What excites me the most is the teacher training I have coming up. And I am very excited to see the yoga community expand in Glasgow. I can’t wait to see the ripple effect of Kali and the yoga all of us here are teaching, and the people that will do my training and the ripple effect of that. I can’t wait to see what the Glasgow yoga community is going to be like in 10 years. I want people, and I felt this way from the start and I don’t even know why because I am not even from this city, but I want people to think of Glasgow and say: “I’ve heard they’ve got great yoga there”.
20 | WHAT ENCOURAGEMENT WOULD YOU OFFER SOMEONE WANTING TO START A YOGA JOURNEY?
Just be open, be easy on yourself and most importantly, be kind to yourself.