We catch up with Sydney-based teacher Blair Hughes.
Hi Blair! Tell us how yoga found you.
I first tried yoga when I was about 18. I was playing sport for Scotland and the sports psychologist prescribed some weird breathing techniques and this super powerful visualisation process that blew my mind when I played that day. Later that night, I spoke with her and she told me to learn more about yoga. So I did, dabbling in yoga for many years after, but it was only after arriving in Sydney in 2006 that I really committed to my practice.
What styles of yoga are you drawn to?
Over the last five years or so, ashtanga yoga has been my personal practice. There are a few reasons for this. One, I have an amazing teacher in Sydney Eileen Hall, so that’s a pretty big reason right there but it goes further than that. I mostly practiced hatha and vinyasa up until then. Much as I love those styles, I found that the discipline within the ashtanga practice and the core teachings really worked for me. Instead of trying to reach arm balances or challenging poses that just did not serve my body at that time, ashtanga allowed me to actually heal and realign my body. I know this sounds crazy, but it really did. The postures and sequences are all set up, so my job was to explore the poses within my body. Slowly, that process revealed so much more than the perfect looking pose — it unlocked my body and the fear it held within.
What inspires you when you teach?
The core principles of my teaching are ashtanga aligned, yet I feel I offer other benefits as well. One of the benefits from teaching the way I do is philosophy. Philosophy used skilfully will help people hugely in their daily lives. Helping students to understand themselves through svadhyaya (self study) empowers them to get the learning inductively rather than being told the answers to their challenges. Theming classes and aligning them to my experience, “not my knowledge, allows teachers to be authentic with their teaching. Teaching teachers is an area I’m super passionate about because real transformation happens here. For me, this is yoga!
How has yoga changed you?
This is a massive question, so I’m going to keep it short and sweet. I used to be very self conscious, worried about what people think. Was I clever enough, funny enough and so on. Yoga made me much more self-aware, more in-tune. It brought me to a place where I could step back and see how my personality and ego were playing out and torturing me. This was with out doubt the biggest turning point in my life. When I truly got to know myself, I stopped trying to prove myself. This was super freeing.
Which asanas make you feel particularly strong or humble?
I’m not a big inverter but pincha mayurasana forearm balance feels good in my body now, which it never used too. Any deep hip openers are always very humbling for me. My left side is fairly open but my right side is crazy tight and is one of these obstacles within my body that gives me so much juice and learnings. Humility is a huge part of my practice — just being honest and open takes lots of humility.
Who has been your most influential teacher?
This is a tough question because there have been a few in yoga and outside of yoga. I would probably have to say Duncan Peak because I was going to his classes four to five times a week for years, and also he was my first teacher trainer. He shared so much with me that I have to say to date he has influenced me the most. Eileen Hall has most definitely held space for me over the last few years. It has allowed me to develop at a deep, unknown, unseen level, which is truly starting to emerge now. Richard Freeman would be someone I’d love to study more with — his refined subtle teachings are amazing.
What sorts of rituals do you have to keep you feeling grounded and connected?
Something I teach is called Compelling Rituals. I call them compelling because they need to be compelling for us to feel inspired to follow through and truly be engaged with what we are doing. I also do my best to teach students in a compelling way to inspire and empower them. Personally I rise early, clean my mouth and nostrils, then practise 10 to 15 minutes of gentle holding postures to prepare me for pranayama and meditation. I then either practise or go and teach, then practise. I also like to get out in nature at some point in the day. In the evening I will always meditate before bed. I set intentions with every new moon, and fast or eat lightly on the 11th day after new and full moons.
How you integrate yoga into life?
This encompasses all my teachings. I see yoga as a transformational tool, a tool to free me up so I can connect with others and life through connecting with myself. I never really knew what love was until yoga brought glimpses of it to my experience. I am a firm believer that all we need is love, so all I teach is LOVE. :) The eight limbs path of Patanjali helps me with this one. In my own practice and teaching I’m very clear on the objective, which is to lead myself and students closer towards pratyahara (managing the senses). I want people to leave class and hear the birds, see the clouds, feel the pebbles beneath their feet and ultimately connect with themselves and life in a way that serves the greater good.
What would you tell your beginner yogi self?
Relax and trust the universe has your back, just keep showing up and enjoying the process. Be in a environment that serves you, and around people who inspire and empower you. To quote Yogananada: “If it’s a battle between you or your environment your environment will always win.”
What is your current life mantra?
My old mantra was “It’s all coming together” and it sort of was and it helped me relax and trust, but it still was not cutting through to the core. So my new mantra is this: “All we need is Love; All I teach is Love”.
Q&A with Hom Yoga
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