New Year, New You - local yoga guru Vanessa Davies

Vanessa Photo: Alex Cantrill-Jones / ACJ Media

Vanessa Photo: Alex Cantrill-Jones / ACJ Media - Credit: Archant

Where will you be at the end of 2017? Derbyshire Life gets some expert fitness advice for the year ahead...

Vanessa teaching locally Photo: Claire Bore

Vanessa teaching locally Photo: Claire Bore - Credit: Archant

As the new year sails in at the strike of midnight, emotions can be mixed. Relief – drawing a line under the year before, sadness at those who are no longer around to see in the new year, and hope for the year ahead. For local yoga guru Vanessa Davies, it was a combination of all three that motivated her to change her life and set up her own yoga business. On the surface she appears to be someone always in control of life. Delve a little deeper and it becomes apparent that last year’s New Year’s Eve was a very different story.

Sitting on the floor of her yoga studio, Vanessa has just finished teaching her ‘Turn Your Smile Upside Down’ workshop. Looking radiant and toned, Vanessa could easily be a poster girl for yoga, but things haven’t always run so smoothly. Vanessa was working as a primary school teacher, when her life took a series of twists and turns which took her to Australia and then back home when her father was taken ill. When he passed away, Vanessa’s whole world was rocked, with her describing the experience as ‘having the carpet pulled from beneath us.’

‘I found it very hard to move on,’ she says, ‘but when my Dad was really poorly in hospital he said “You need to keep doing the yoga, it will heal you.” I had actually written it off because nowhere near me did yoga classes. I had the most awful Christmas and I literally sat with a notebook and pencil on New Year’s Eve planning my future. I knew things needed to change.’

Vanessa signed up for a three-month yoga teacher training course with Yoga London: ‘It was so intense and I cried a lot but the teachers were really supportive and amazing. I threw myself in at the deep end and started looking at venues and before I knew it I was teaching every day of the week. It has all happened so fast.’

Vanessa Photo: Alex Cantrill-Jones / ACJ Media

Vanessa Photo: Alex Cantrill-Jones / ACJ Media - Credit: Archant

For Vanessa, the new year was a catalyst to kickstarting her dreams and transforming her life. Why then, do many of us find it difficult to change and then stick to our good intentions? ‘Modern life is comparable to a hamster wheel,’ reasons Vanessa, ‘whereas yoga stimulates the rest and digest system. By taking time to focus on the breath and move with compassion, magical things happen.’

There is no doubt that we are living in a culture of self-improvement. The prevailing trend in 2016 was towards an ironic mixture of mindfulness coupled with HIT (high intensity training). So is it possible to retrain the muscles whilst maintaining a sense of calm? Vanessa thinks so. ‘Yoga is very therapeutic, you feel healed. The key thing in a yoga class is to concentrate on what a yoga pose feels like and not what it looks like. Taking the time through moving meditation, to take yourself away from thoughts. If you are someone who always has to be busy then this is a way of stilling the chatterings of the mind. It also provides a proper workout – your muscles will start to take shape.’

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Many people worry that they have to be a certain ‘type’ to do yoga, which is something Vanessa passionately dismisses. ‘Everyone can do yoga, there is not just one shape or size. Men and women of all ages attend classes, from triathletes with super tight hamstrings to couples. It’s such a complete mixture – don’t worry, just come!’

Sitting in one of her classes it would be easy to feel daunted but Vanessa soon puts everyone at ease. She says, ‘Yoga can bring that trusting childhood curiosity back to your life. You aren’t going to get a strict, serious class. I love making play lists and having fun. It needs to be accessible to everyone. The people who come to my classes and workshops are no different to the children I have taught. They come in with worries: Will I do it right? Do I look all right? I have those worries myself. So I can draw on my own experience and insecurities to help others. I try to be as friendly and approachable as possible.’

Vanessa Photo: Alex Cantrill-Jones / ACJ Media

Vanessa Photo: Alex Cantrill-Jones / ACJ Media - Credit: Archant

Vanessa practices a particular type of yoga called Vinyasa flow. Having tried out various types she found that this one suited her but she recommends trying different forms of yoga to see which you prefer. ‘Vinyasa flow yoga is linking movement with breath so as you do it you create a lot more heat in the body. This helps me get deeper into the poses. It’s almost like a dance, a moving meditation. It helps me still the mind, because you don’t hold a pose for too long before moving into another. It helps to develop a lot of strength through the body.’

It occurs to me, as I am comfortably holding myself in a simple but relaxing child’s pose, that there is no magic formula to feeling great. The experts tell us time and time again to eat well, move and sleep – the natural things our bodies need. Yet anxiety levels are up and obesity levels are high – it seems modern day life often gets in the way. Perhaps 2017 should be about paring everything back, unravelling modern day life and making every day as uncomplicated as possible. Simplify and, of course, breathe.


1 Move the body – whether it’s through yoga or by going for a jog. It’s a re-set button.

2 Be more mindful. We spend a lot of time watching TV, on our laptop and looking at our phone, so take time to do something mindfully – concentrate on one task and give it your full attention.

3 Technology detox – switch off your phone, delete your Facebook app for a while. If you go on holiday leave emails alone.

4 Stop comparing yourself to others – wake up in the morning and be grateful for what you have.

5 Breathe – consciously make the effort to breathe and put effort into breathing. We often hold our breath. That’s where yoga comes into play, it teaches you to breathe in difficult poses. Sometimes when you are over-excited, upset or anxious, you just need to take a deep breath, inhale and exhale five times and things will seem a bit clearer.


1For the spine choose… Cat or Cow pose – ‘It’s moving the spine in every way.’

2For the whole body choose … Downward Facing Dog – ‘Everything is activated and going on in this pose.’

3For rest and relaxation choose… the ‘legs up against the wall’ pose. ‘The L shape is really good for helping you to sleep and relax – like a shoulder stand but without the strength required – it’s an inversion – reset and relax.’

4For yoga at your desk choose… Eagle arm pose – sit on a chair and do it – bring one arm over the other, connect and lift – this stretches out the upper trapezium. ‘It eradicates any tension.’

For more details or call 07825 204004.

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