An Interview with: Sarah Haden and Hugh Poulton of YogaUnlimited•
Posted on December 11 2017
Sarah Haden and Hugh Poulton are the extraordinary teachers behind 'Yoga Unlimited'. Their practice incorporates mindfulness and Buddhist wisdom to gently reveal our internal limits that hinder our practice, and allows us to move forward uninhibited with flexibility, freedom and fluidity. In addition to running regular classes, retreats and workshops, Sarah and Hugh also lead mindfulness and yoga teacher training courses, sharing their wealth of knowledge and style with others across the globe.
We speak to the couple to discover the history of their incredible teaching method, and why connection could help us all become more sustainable.
What does Lightness of Being mean to you?
Lightness of Being suggests to us a freedom of moving lightly through our life on this planet and is so resonant with our approach to teaching. We seek lightness everywhere, in our movement, in our mental states, in our relationships with those people and things we love, interact with and depend upon.
You have been practicing and teaching yoga for a long time now, can you tell us a bit about when and how you got into it?
Hugh - In the early 1980s I was working in the outback of Australia. The conditions were very hot and humid, I was doing too much to exercise in the 'normal way'. I’d found a second-hand paperback book on Yoga in Perth and thought I’d give it a try instead. For the next five years I worked in remote locations around the world; the solitary study and personal enquiry I undertook at that time became the foundation for a practice that has evolved in surprising, challenging and also delightfully ordinary ways over 35 years.
My work took me to Thailand where a chance meeting with a monk sparked a lifetime’s interest in meditation. At that time I’d spent a number of years immersed in different cultures and I was hungry to understand how they made sense of the commonality of the human condition. Whenever work permitted, I immersed myself in learning and practising Buddhist mindfulness in a monastery in Bangkok. It was a rigorous training in the evocative location of a busy roundabout, beside an open sewer and a raucous street market; not quite the remote cave one might envisage.
Following this, I studied Iyengar yoga and was then introduced to Ashtanga yoga. The emphasis on Ujjayi breathing and the Bandhas, felt like a missing link in my practice.
Much later and in an entirely different context another fundamental shift in my yoga and meditation practices occurred. An injury in daily life prompted me to experiment with releasing tension and using loving kindness meditation. As the healing process unfolded so too did the recognition of the role for the energetic body and compassion in movement. The effect was subtle but powerful and when I subsequently applied it to my practice, everything I previously thought of as contributing seemed now to get in its way.
With this new awareness and approach, what I used to experience as effort moved into ease, strength into softness, tense concentration into mental spaciousness and my practice crystallised into a flowing process of releasing tension and physical effort and developing faith in the energetic. Instead of using strength to protect against vulnerability and fear, I discovered these needed to be embraced. It became clear that the energetic body only really expresses itself through the doorway of vulnerability. Letting go of the need to protect, a different more imaginative and more resilient strength appeared, showing the way towards the integration of the body, mind and heart.
Sarah - I initially got into yoga, like many other women, to support my first pregnancy 16 years ago. Some 8 years later I took it up again as part of a retreat in Ibiza, when I wanted more than a beach holiday. This almost accidental re-acquaintance inspired me to begin a daily self-practice and fundamentally changed the course of my life.
The experiences that followed (through yoga, voice work, meditation and dance) not only brought me back to life and love, but have given me the foundation of personal healing from which I now teach.
You have developed a method of teaching which is very different from the usual methods we experience these days. Can you tell us about this and why you think it works?
When we try too hard in our yoga, strength and effort becomes more important than balance and ease and we lose the freedom and openness we seek. This trying starts in our mind. The Sukhita approach invites us to work positively with this allowing all movement to be alert and relaxed.
We value using the natural energetics of the body (also present in the teaching of Tai Chi, Qi Gong, sacred dance etc.) coupled with compassion to soften rigid patterns of holding and free up the body, heart and mind opening our path to healing.
Rooted in the ancient traditions of Yoga and the Buddhist path this evolving exploration reveals our natural state as joyful, curious and accepting with a body that feels light, flexible and has inherent integrity and support.
Our approach to yoga is no less than a search for meaning and freedom in movement, a practice that leads towards the simplicity of a homecoming for our body, mind and heart.
Do you have other yoga and mindfulness practices apart from asana practice? If so, how do you use it in your daily life and how does it support you?
Our approach to movement is part and parcel of daily life rather than separate from it. In daily life it is so supportive to be able to tap into our natural energy and look after ourselves physically, mentally and emotionally in challenging situations.
What are your favourite, easy ways to be kinder to the planet?
Sharing something: the more we share the less isolated we feel, the less isolated we feel the better we feel about ourselves, the better we feel about ourselves the less we consume to compensate.
What is your favourite Starseeds go-to?
Sarah - Any of the Coffee Leggings and Bra. They're super comfy, move perfectly with my body and are also great for sitting for longer periods in meditation. I love the colour and detailed stitching which marks their strong design.
What one tip would you give to help live a lighter life?
Video by andraé love
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