Changing People’s Perception of Yoga

The marketing of Yoga has led many people to falsely believe that if they are not young, fit and healthy, that Yoga is not for them.  This excludes a huge portion of the population

As you enter the Applecross Tennis Club, you look out immediately onto several mats already laid down with students ready and waiting for Charley to begin. The room is unassuming and warm. There are no fancy Yoga decorations, posters or props. The space is very modest and inviting, just like Charley. 

There is a low hum of the various conversations taking place between the friendly group. Charley has a way of attracting wonderful people and her classes are a true testament to her kind and welcoming nature.

I turn to say a hello to her and as always her face is smiling and ready to receive us all as we enter one by one. Charley is extremely modest. Charley’s small stature and build may deceive you. Her quietly confident manner always puts us at ease from the moment we walk in the door.

My mother would always say out loud to me, “yes, yes, alright I’m short BUT GOOD things come in small packages!” In the case of Charley, my mother’s words are true.

As I place my mat down, I can feel the warmth in the room, and I’m not talking about temperature.
Charley has taught a lot of these students for up to 17 years. During this time they have had families, changed jobs, moved houses, travelled, studied, suffered sickness and injuries,  lost loved ones; all alongside their weekly Yoga classes.

What immediately drew me to Charley’s classes was the fact that the age and ability range in her classes are vast.  From people unable to walk without assistance to those who are very young.
Charley’s classes, along with the four other teachers she hires, are a testament to Charley’s values; absolutely anyone can practice Yoga and feel included. 

Charley doesn’t teach only large group classes. Over the last 8 years, she has taught as a Certified Yoga Therapist and provides students the opportunity to have a one-on-one therapeutic class, specifically catered to the individual’s needs.

I am nearly halfway through my 2 year training with The Wisdom Yoga Institute.  I have had so many questions from my yoga students about Yoga Therapy as a mindful, trauma-informed movement modality which is gaining international recognition.

So I decided to approach Charley, the person I have grown to trust dearly and ask to interview her.  Naturally, Charley responded in her soft, warm tone, “Of course, I would be more than happy to.”

I am excited to share her wonderful insights with you all.

Charley Hickey

What lured you to Yoga? Why? 

I wasn’t lured to Yoga in the way that most people are, it wasn’t the promise of flexibility, a Yoga body or spiritual enlightenment.  I was only 11 years old and already suffered from chronic insomnia.  I was born and raised in Guernsey, and I had just received an academic scholarship to a prestigious college.   

Looking back, I realise I suffered high levels of anxiety due to my overachieving nature.  
I recall going to my GP, whose well meaning advice was “just close your eyes and go to sleep”! Little did I know that this useless advice would be some of the most helpful I’ve ever received as it set me on a lifelong path of study.  

From a very young age, I have always loved to read. I became very curious about meditation. I disappeared into the local library where I read countless books and started a regular practice of breathing and meditation.  It wasn’t an instant fix but once I had established a regular practice it became a part of my life.  

Having my own meditation and breathing practice, has helped me in many ways, one of which was relieving my insomnia. At the time, I didn’t realise that what I was practising was Yoga until, at the age of 20, when I attended my first Yoga class.  At first I felt annoyed that I’d done this all alone when I could have had the road-map of Yoga to follow, possibly even a teacher to guide me.  However, I now see the value in my years of self guided practice. It was developing my own practice which I feel is where the “magic” of Yoga happens.  

A dedicated student to my own Yoga practice and teaching from my own experiences, continues to be invaluable.

Tell about what you are passionate about in regards to Yoga teaching?

As a Yoga teacher, I’m most passionate about changing people’s perception of Yoga.  

The marketing of Yoga has led many people to falsely believe that if they are not young, fit and healthy, that Yoga is not for them.  This excludes a huge portion of the population!  

Nearly everyone I speak to, young or old, has had an injury of some kind, health conditions, mental health struggles; you name it.  None of us see ourselves as perfect yet we are ready just as we are to begin to practice and attend classes. Yoga  doesn’t care what state of repair you are in.  I love to invite new students to chat about their concerns to reassure them that they absolutely can start a Yoga practice.  It’s a practice that prepares us for meditation and finding stillness so that we can rediscover our true nature.  It is not a practice that moves us towards being young, fit and healthy.  These are all temporary states that we may strive for initially but they are never going to last. 

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Why Yoga Therapy?
Can you tell us a little more about what it is like being a Yoga Therapist? 

The way I was teaching Yoga was attracting a lot of people who had either been too afraid to try yoga or had a bad experience in a fitness style yoga class that focused on progressing towards harder poses.  Students were already asking if I took private appointments so it just evolved from there. Studying to become a Yoga Therapist was a natural next step for me.  Initially I had planned to undertake a 5 year training in India but family life just didn’t allow that kind of commitment.  I was fortunate that a fantastic course became available in Perth that year so it was perfect timing. 

What is a home yoga studio and what inspired you to create one?

It’s common for Yoga Therapists to work from a home based studio.  Since Yoga Therapy is an emerging profession in Australia, most Therapists currently work from a small space at home or share a space with other practitioners.  I’m lucky that I have managed to create a larger space at home that can fit small groups of up to 6 people.  This keeps it viable and allows me to work with small groups on an as needed basis.

Why would someone attend a private or small group, Yoga Therapy class?

People usually seek out a private class to either have an initial introduction to Yoga or to address specific issues that they wish to work on. It is an opportunity for the student to discuss their own concerns and goals in a safe and private environment. My role is to assist each student and create a personalised practice. Just as a practitioner may give a prescription, a yoga therapist uses the tools of yoga to build a practice that is tailored exactly to the needs of each individual student.

But, unlike other practitioners, Yoga Therapy is a very active therapy. It is reliant on the student integrating the personalised practices into their daily lives, taking control of their own health and remaining actively involved. As Yoga Therapists, we pride ourselves on liaising with health practitioners and refer on to practitioners, from our trusted networks, if needed. 
Once a student is regularly practising at home they tend to book follow-ups when needed. Hence why I say it is a very active, empowering therapy.

Small groups are a good entry point into group classes where someone might feel nervous about attending a larger class. They are also ideal for those who want more personalised attention to meet their specific needs.

Image by Natalia Ovcharenko from Pixabay

Charleyoga has grown into a vibrant, large Yoga School with esteemed and supportive teachers. Can you share some information about your community and how going online has reshaped it?

At Charleyoga, we welcome people of all ages and abilities.  Importantly, we don’t just say that to get people to come along, we really do cater to all kinds of things and have never turned anyone away yet.  

We make a promise to our new students that they will never feel silly, inadequate or like they can’t do it.  All of our teachers have their own teaching style but keep accessibility at the forefront of all their class planning. 

Just recently, we put our face to face offerings on hold due to COVID-19.  This encouraged me to put some of our classes up online which has opened things up to a whole new audience.

There is lots of Yoga available for free online but I realised that there is not much that is tailored to people with specific needs.  There is definitely scope here to take what we do out to a wider audience and all of this has made me consider the future direction of Charleyoga.  It’s likely that some of our popular face to face workshops will become online courses including Yoga for chronic pain and Yoga for insomnia. 

Lastly, I would love to come back to your ‘Whys’. Can you share some of these with us?

When I think about all the students who have attended classes, a private session or workshops with us over the years, it makes me so happy and feels a little surreal.  I never thought we’d reach as many people as we have with our message and offerings.  As well as the practice of Yoga enriching the lives of all these people, they have been an inspiration to me along the way. I’ve learnt just as much from them as they have from me. I have had the pleasure of teaching people from all walks of life, including many with chronic health conditions, old injuries, age related complaints, having cancer treatments, suffering loss, trauma or mental health conditions. It might sound like it’s all doom and gloom but it really isn’t, it’s so rewarding to be able to cater to people who think the world has given up on them.  We haven’t given up on you, we love to chat with you and find out what is going on in your life!  I feel deeply humbled that so many trust us to hold space for them, often in their most fragile moments, thank you.  

Charley Hickey C-IAYT is a senior yoga teacher & certified practicing yoga therapist.  She is the owner of Charleyoga in Applecross & Fremantle, WA.  With two decades of teaching experience and over 30 years of yoga and meditation practice; her work includes regular group and private therapy classes along with specialised workshops.  She has a special interest in yoga for chronic pain, working with older adults & those recovering from injury.    

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