We recently had the pleasure to talk to Sarah Highfield, who is one of our favourite Yoga Teachers in London and all-round wonderful person! We discussed how Yoga and Sophrology interlace and how combining both practices can lead to even more self-discovery and far-reaching health benefits.
You may find it interesting to know that the founder of Sophrology, Professor Alfonso Caycedo, travelled to India to study how yogis worked with their bodies and breath to achieve a sense of balance. Yoga works with a sequence of exercises and postures designed to help you become more acquainted with your body and reach a balanced state in body and mind. Over time you become aware of your body and its subtle signals, for example, areas of tension.
Sophrology, while it’s not a spiritual practice, raises the state of consciousness to improve your mental state and to release tension in your body. This tends to bring more positivity into your life as you focus on the present moment and let go of worry and energy blocks.
Read my conversation with Sarah about her experience of Sophrology and life as a yoga teacher to find out more!
How did you first discover yoga and how has it transformed you?
I came across yoga properly when I was 21 years old, prior to that I had done the odd class but hadn’t paid attention and it barely registered with me. I think it came to me when I was ready. Yoga makes me feel grounded and brings me into the present. There is no better way to retreat from the craziness of city life than to roll out my mat and stretch out. Practising yoga is a form of self-love and realisation, it is a wonderful way to tune into my body & mind.
Which type of yoga do you teach and how did you choose it?
I teach several styles of yoga including Ashtanga, Hatha, Vinyasa Flow, Yin, Restorative and Yoga Nidra. However, I’ve tailored different styles of yoga to create my own blend of yoga, Yogagise Yoga. Yogagise Yoga is all about energising through yoga, it’s a state of wellbeing. Whether students are looking to strengthen their body, increase flexibility, calm & relax their minds or simply take time out for themselves; I create a class which helps them to achieve their goals.
What is the most rewarding aspect of teaching yoga in your experience?
I love it when I teach a class and can see a positive reaction from my students at the end. I am glad that I can help people to distress and feel better about themselves. I also enjoy being in charge of my own time, my own work and projects. There is so much joy in just walking around London in between each of my classes. I like that I am doing a little bit of everything. It keeps things very interesting.
What’s the most misunderstood element of yoga in general, that beginners always ask you about?
I think it’s the misconception that you need to be flexible to do yoga because that’s not true at all, sure it helps for certain poses, but flexibility is not a prerequisite for yoga, it’s something which can develop once you start it. I always encourage people who are new to yoga to start slow, focus on how they feel in each pose and move with awareness. Yoga is unique because it has no boundaries, it can be done almost anywhere, at any time, with anyone and requires little more than a mat. It is suitable for all ages, fitness levels, shapes & sizes, and there is a style of yoga to suit everyone, from Vinyasa Flow to Restorative yoga.
What has been your best success story with a yoga client?
I have success stories with all my yoga clients, they set themselves small goals which we work towards together, some of them simply just want to stretch, others are trying to strengthen a certain part of their body, or recovering from an injury, or looking to relax and destress. Whatever their goals are, there’s a style of yoga which will work best for them.
Do you think Sophrology and yoga can complement each other and how can they work together?
Absolutely, especially since many of the Sophrology exercises are rooted in the philosophy and practices of yoga. I think yoga is a highly effective way of balancing out everyday stresses and imbalances, but Sophrology is great for targeting specific concerns and anxieties. I practised Sophrology exercises ahead of an event that I was hosting earlier this year and it helped me to prepare mentally by keeping my mind clear and calm.
Your clients say that your classes are very meditative, how important is the mind/body connection in yoga?
Yoga works both the body and mind, it’s a really important connection, it’s almost impossible to ignore, and if you’re looking for a deeper practice, you need to be open and attentive to that connection. There have been numerous studies into how yoga poses can influence the chemical balance of the brain and help to improve mental wellbeing. When you put it into practice, it’s undeniable how much yoga can truly elevate your happiness.
What elements of your past corporate career have been beneficial for your yoga business?
All the organisational skills! I keep track of all my yoga activities in different spreadsheets, which I update daily. They help to keep me on track and fully aware of what needs to be done. I treat my yoga business just as I would any other business.
What has been your biggest achievement as a yoga teacher?
Simply becoming a yoga teacher was an achievement for me. I’m proud that I took a gamble and made the transition from office worker to yoga teacher. It was a big risk moving into a whole new industry, which is just as competitive as other industries, and I was suddenly the newbie! It’s been hard work but so refreshing to be away from the monotonous toil of office life. I love the variety of classes I get to teach, be it the renewing Restorative yoga sessions, or the fluid Vinyasa Flow classes. I really value the variation within yoga, it keeps me feeling refreshed!
I have freedom from the 9-5 grind (or more accurately the 8-7 grind), I no longer have to put up with the stress of rush hour, I don’t have to ask for annual leave, I don’t have client demands to deal with, I don’t have to manage office politics, I don’t have to follow processes or write those passive-aggressive work emails that do the rounds, and I don’t spend most of my day sitting in an office chair whilst staring at the computer screen and slowly going blind.
Now, I get to set my own targets and deadlines, the people I work with are all rather zen, I can make my own healthy lunches at home, I have more time for family and friends, I get to travel to beautiful yoga retreats, I have flexibility with my time, I can focus on my other hobby of cooking, I have more time to walk around and enjoy London, and I’m simply so much more relaxed & happy. Life has become a lot simpler – I’m a big fan of the yoga routine kind of life.
Your work has taken you to travel to different countries, what has been your favourite place so far?
That is hard to answer as every place has been so special! Teaching at Yogabambam in Hong Kong was really surreal because it’s my hometown and I never imagined I’d teach yoga there! Teaching at Catherine’s in Antigua was so dreamy and paradise-like, it was the most beautiful setting and ambience. The retreats in Mykonos were really stunning and teaching in the mountains of southern Spain is simply breath-taking. So, you can see why it’s hard to pick a favourite.
Born in Hong Kong and based in London, Sarah Highfield is the founder of Yogagise Yoga. She has taught at prominent studios including Bodyism, Form Studios & Yogabambam Hong Kong; she teaches with Inspira Yoga Teacher Training in Spain, as well as at high profile events including Om Yoga Show London and World Yoga Festival. Additionally, Sarah has led yoga retreats in Mykonos for Helios Retreats, alongside collaborations with Lululemon, London Fashion Week, Mortimer House & Catherine’s in Antigua.
She was voted by London Evening Standard as one of London’s Top 10 Yoga Teachers to follow on Instagram and featured in The Times, The Financial Times, Daily Mail, BBC News, Om Yoga magazine, Vanity Fair & Marie Claire UK magazine. Sarah believes there is a style of yoga for everyone and encourages students to discover what works for them.