Episode 7

Yoga Therapy with Vicky Arundel

Published on: 7th April, 2021

Vicky Arundel is a Yoga Therapist based in the southeast of England. In this interview, she explains:

  • the difference between 'mainstream' yoga and yoga therapy
  • how she got into yoga therapy and set up her business
  • how she attracts and retains clients
  • the opportunities that regulation could bring to the industry
  • why a personalised approach to healthcare is necessary (and why a 'one size fits all' approach doesn’t work)
  • how planning for each day helps her build routines and achieve her goals 
  • the importance of having a peer network and similar people to talk to

This is Vicky's Yoga Therapy website: www.surreyyogatherapy.co.uk

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Music: Pablito's Way by Paolo Pavan

Transcript
Helen:

So hi, Vicki, and thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us today. I'd like to begin just by asking you to give us a brief history, a brief rundown of your life so far, and what brought you to where you are now.

Vicky:

Oh, I thank you so much, Helen, it's a real pleasure to speak to you guys today. I should start maybe just by staying where I'm at now and then maybe I can sort of trace back a little bit. So I am a Yoga Therapist and I run my own yoga therapy business in Surrey, in the UK, so not too far out of London. And I run a full time business, just by myself. But I came to yoga actually about 22 years ago when I was 15, so you can do the maths. I came to it actually because of an injury. Originally I was training to be a dancer and I had a pretty bad injury and yoga was actually something that was recommended to me as a way of healing my knee. And it kind of started a whole new love affair that has really been in the background in my life, really, that whole time. I was working, I kind of went through uni and went through all the kind of traditional educational path. And I ended up working really through nepotism for my brother's computer games company, and I was working in video games for seven, eight years. And it was a really interesting journey because I mean, video games is not really, it wasn't my big passion or anything like that, I really fell into it. But it was a small startup business and so I got a really great education, insight into running your own business, starting it from scratch. We got to travel the world and give public talks and they were very successful. So it was a really exciting, fun business to be a part of. And one of the things that I really enjoyed about video games was that it's an industry where people tend to be quite passionate about what they're doing. So you know, there's a lot of vitality in the industry and creativity, and it's very exciting and it's quite fast moving but there were other things going on, other dynamics. One of the difficult things about that industry is you're only ever as good as the last game we've made. So they had a game that didn't sell so well and my Mum, I think was like, well, rather than your brother having to fire you, maybe it's time to move on to something else. So I decided to leave Introversion, the name of the company, I left them in 2008. And very much off, like my mom's encouragement, decided to go and do a yoga teacher training. Because to be quite honest with you at that point, I didn't really know what else to do. My degree had been in English, I didn't really see any obvious path with that. And I've been, as I say, working in gaming for quite a while. So there wasn't really an obvious next step, but I loved yoga, and I knew it made me feel really good. And I don't know whether I really consciously at that time thought about maybe being a teacher, but it just felt like it would buy me some time. So I went into this three month training. And I also had a one year visa to go to Australia. And I decided to go to Australia and make the most of the training that I'd just done and start doing some teaching. And again, it’s funny, I don't actually remember being massively driven to the point of thinking of being a full time yoga teacher. But I must have been quite driven, because I remember spending a lot of time in the first few months in Australia trying to get teaching jobs and working really quite hard to get those gigs. And I was lucky, I was in a period in yoga, which is long gone now, where there was more demand for yoga than teachers. And so I got a lot of jobs very quickly and was able to build up a full time teaching career quite quickly. And fast forward, I ended up doing my yoga therapy training in 2015, which I can talk about that more if that's of interest, and then moved back to the UK about three years ago, had to start my teaching business from scratch again. And that has led me to this point now. So it's a funny one because I sort of feel in some ways like I fell into it, but in other ways yoga has been part of my life for such a long time that maybe it was like an obvious foregone conclusion that I would end up in this place.

Helen:

Fascinating story. Thanks very much, Vicky. Can you explain what the difference is between yoga therapy and what we traditionally understand as yoga?

Vicky:

Yeah, it's a great question. So really, I mean ideally, I think all yoga should be hopefully therapeutic on some level. And yoga traditionally was really taught more in this sort of one on one kind of model, where there would be a student and a teacher and the teacher would impart his knowledge and apply the practices in a very personalized way to the person in front of him or her. But what happened is, as yoga has become more commercialized and perhaps more mainstream, is that we now have an experience where many many of us will go into a class and we can come into a yoga practice with lots of different bodies and different needs and different experiences, and we will be led through a sequence that's fairly general and is for everybody in that room. And so yoga therapy is really, I think, about going back to how yoga was originally taught with the idea of really applying and adapting the yoga practices to that specific person in front of you. And it also, I think, looks a little bit more big picture. So yoga now tends to focus a lot on the physical practice. But we have so many other tools in yoga than just postures and movement practices, we've got breathwork, we've got meditation practices, we've got relaxation techniques, we have lifestyle interventions. And so I think traditional yoga therapy really tries to bring in all of these different tools that we have, looking at the person in front of us and seeing how we can help them reach whatever goals or aspirations they have. I have some clients who come to me with very specific health goals, or they might have an injury or back pain, for example. And they're using yoga really specifically to work with that condition. And mental health is a really big one, too, so I have a lot of people who come to me with anxiety or depression and so we'll take those yoga practices and really, really adapt them to meet the person that's right there in front of me. And so that's yoga therapy in a nutshell.

Maribel:

Okay, I find that quite interesting. So actually, you have patients, would you call them that way? Is the connection between a yoga therapist working just one on one with a person different to teaching a yoga class to 20 people?

Vicky:

Yeah, I think the languaging is interesting. I call them clients because ‘patient’ sounds a little bit like a medical thing. And obviously I'm not medically qualified. Or ‘students’, ‘students’ or ‘clients’, but yes, definitely looking much more at this relationship between the therapist and the student. I think a lot of the people I work with have maybe done yoga in a group class and maybe got injured or didn't feel it was for them. I've also got some students who have never done any yoga and, to be quite honest, wouldn’t set foot in a yoga class if you dragged them in kicking and screaming, and they had been told by their doctor or their partner that they really should do it. So I have a lot of people who I work with who I don't think would necessarily even admit that they're doing yoga. But I think a lot of this is how you package things for people as well. So sometimes I just say, Okay, today, we're going to work on our mobility, or we're going to do some stretches, we're going to do some breath work. Yeah, so we get all sorts of different people. And I think that that was the thing that really drew me to yoga therapy, because I worked in yoga studio settings for a long time and I just felt like there were people that I really wanted to access, there were people who I thought would really benefit from yoga, but just were not getting the tools, they weren't getting access to it in a traditional yoga environment. And so I really wanted to work with those kinds of people, where a yoga class might not be even accessible, like I work with people with MS and Parkinson's and cerebral palsy, and they're not going to be able to benefit from some of the really dynamic group classes that are out there. But they would really benefit from yoga, but it needs to be on their terms and adapted for them.

Maribel:

I see, I see at their pace. When you first started this journey, how did it feel like? Was it more like, I need to go there and I need to achieve this goal or did things just happen to fall into place? How did you go about to achieving this goal of becoming a yoga therapist?

Vicky:

I think I'm quite Type A. I’m probably quite unusual, maybe in that respect in the yoga industry, but I am quite driven. So I think I did bring an element of, once I decided that I was going to be on this path and I wanted to make yoga my career, I was quite organized and fairly strategic around how I was going to make it happen. But on the other hand, I've also found that the process of getting to where I started from in the yoga journey to where I am now has actually been really organic. And maybe part of this has been like I've set up my own luck a little bit in that I have worked very hard and I've put a lot of time and effort into building up my business and building up my career and my experience and my knowledge. So there's definitely, there's been a very proactive aspect to it. But I've also found that letting things build organically has just been such a big part of my journey. And an example of that is that one of people actually, recently, I've been working with a couple of other yoga therapists, and they said, How have you got so many clients? And one of the things I've been really diligent about working on is building up my referral network. So working, building up relationships with another doctor, for example, with other health practitioners and so a lot of my clients have come through those referral networks. And so that's been really fantastic. And actually, I haven't actually had to do much marketing in the last couple of years, because I've just been able to get so much work through this referral system. So I think it's been a bit of a combination for me of being driven and being quite ambitious. And definitely, I have my notepad with my to do list for the day. And I've been very organized in that way, but then also allowing things to happen and progress in a more organic and natural way.

Maribel:

But I think we should add, referrals only work if you're creating very good results. And seems like that's what you're doing with your clients.

Vicky:

I think that's very true. I always remember when I did one of my trainings, they said that the best marketing is when other people do your marketing for you, in my kind of line of business because my work is in working with people and it's about developing the therapeutic relationship. So much of it comes down to other people really liking what you do, and then spreading the word. I'm really conscious that, certainly when I've been getting referrals from doctors, for example, I don't take those referrals lightly, that's a huge responsibility. This doctor has referred somebody to me, so I need to make sure that I'm good and I know what I'm doing, and I'm doing a good job. One of my biggest bugbears these days is that there's so much emphasis on marketing and marketing yourself and marketing your business and marketing your job. But I sort of feel if people focused a little bit more on just getting really good at what they were doing, you wouldn’t actually have to focus so much on the marketing because the results would speak for themselves a bit more and a lot of people, if they think you’re good, they will do the marketing for you. And I know that doesn't apply to all areas and industries and businesses. But I think we've lost the balance a little bit between selling yourself and just making sure that what you're selling actually has real value. And the only way you have to offer something of real value is you've got to get really good at it. You’ve got to do your 10,000 hours or whatever, you know, Malcolm Gladwell, that practice. I mean, mastery of the craft is hugely important to me. And I think that that's an ability to be successful in any industry, there's got to be an element of knuckling down and doing the hours and putting in work to make sure that we have works.

Helen:

Vicky, you mentioned earlier that you needed to think about the language that you use, because not everybody, for example, was happy with using the word yoga, or you had to really think about that. Were there any other obstacles that came up and how did you deal with those?

Vicky:

Maybe a few. So first of all, the idea of yoga and what it looks like, what it means, everyone has their own story around it, that I definitely come up with some barriers around that. So a lot of the people that I'm working with in a therapeutic way are people 60 and over. And so their memories of yoga is like hippie stuff and maybe the Green Goddess on TV, and this sort of quite esoteric, exotic practice. Or they have images of really super bendy flexible women in bikinis on beaches. And so I think yoga has an identity problem, I think, quite significantly, not helped probably by the era of Instagram. And there are a lot of people out there doing great work to try to make yoga more acceptable, to improve the image of yoga using different kinds of bodies and different kinds of people. But I think we still have a really long way to go. So I think initially for me, just getting the word out there that yoga is something for everybody and you don't have to look a certain way or be a certain age or a certain weight to do it, to benefit from it. That's been quite challenging. If I can get people through the door and actually on the mat, and then I’ve kind of almost won 90% of the battle, I think at that point, because they're ready, they're open to hopefully giving it a go. But getting people over that initial hurdle, and I think there's a lot of, it's a very vulnerable thing to lie on a yoga mat, sit on a yoga mat in front of somebody you don't know, to show them who you are, what you can physically do, how you're breathing, these are all very intimate acts. And so that's why the trust is really important, you can't build that in one session, that's something that obviously takes a lot of time. So that's been probably a bit of a barrier. And then I guess the other thing is, actually it’s not being so much of an issue now, but initially, like working out the money side of things, and you know, what's an appropriate level to charge for these services and can people afford it? Do they value it in the same way as maybe like a physiotherapy session or counseling session, I’m looking at other industries and what their pricing structures were like. And fortunately I live in quite an affluent area in the UK, so I think I've been quite lucky, because there people do have more disposable income and so things like private yoga is maybe a little bit more in people's budget. But that has been more of a challenge to work through, to just get people to think this is something worth spending some money on. And that may be partly because yoga therapy is also very unknown in this country. Many of us out there doing it, lots of people know about yoga, but they don't necessarily know about therapies. So that's also been, my role is to educate people about what it is I do.

Helen:

Yeah. And what would you say, then, is the future of yoga and yoga therapy or what would you like it to be? If you were to create the future what would it be?

Vicky:

I look at, actually looking at America, really in terms of what's happening there because they are probably about five years ahead of us in terms of the industry. And so there's a few quite key things that are going on in America. One is that you can claim yoga therapy sessions on your private health insurance, like you would for maybe a physio session or an osteopath session. And we're starting to see that here in the UK actually. For example, we had this social prescribing model come out, I think it was at the beginning of this year where GPs can prescribe yoga for mental health issues, for example, and I think lower back pain was on there as well. And there's been some really compelling, robust research around the benefits of yoga for mental health and for chronic lower back pain. So we're getting there, but I think that that certainly will help me if people can claim for this sort of stuff, then that might open this up to me being able to work with more kinds of people from different backgrounds. And I think the other thing is to see more yoga in health care. And we're on the way, but I think it's going to take some time. In America they now have some hospitals with yoga therapists on the faculty, on the ward, and so I'd love to see a time when we can have that, we can have yoga being taught in hospitals, and really simple practices but very powerful practices, breathwork and relaxation techniques and things like that for people working with a counselor or people who are in palliative care, to help them with their pain management, those those sorts of things. I’d really like to see more of that. But in order for that to happen, we need to be better regulated as an industry. And there's a long way to go with that for now. It's still early days. So we need more training and more regulation.

Maribel:

I have a feeling that it also requires a change of a mindset to seeing health as something that is holistic, and not just this traditional medicine, the doctor comes and says, Oh, you have a pain here in your shoulder, and then I'm going to just treat this and not the whole body. Would you agree with that, Vicky?

Vicky:

Yeah, absolutely. And I think there's a real desire for that now. I really do think that there's a huge amount of hunger for this sort of model of healthcare. I mean, some of the biggest issues that we face, the NHS for example, is really crippled because the number of people with these non-communicable health issues, health issues that are lifestyle related, that are not fixed by a pill, with just a one size fits all approach. Many people with these health issues have several other linked secondary health issues and they really need to be treated in a more integrated and holistic way. And I think most people working in the health industry would agree with that. It's just how do we go about that? It's complex, it's complicated and one of the things that I think we need to be a little bit careful with yoga therapy here, and I can see this could happen, is that people start creating things like a yoga sequence for back pain and a yoga sequence for obesity. And that's not really what this is about. This is about every person who comes to your door, whether you get 100 people with lower back pain, there could be 100 different ways that you would need to work with each of those people. Because one person's back, he may have more of an emotional component to it, another person's back may have an ergonomic kind of desk-related reason behind it. We’re humans and we are very complex and we need these more personalized approaches. But they're not popular in the really big healthcare scene because they're not easy. You can't sort of roll them out and you need people who have experience and skill at working with complexity. That's really difficult, I think.

Maribel:

Well, you're the first yoga therapist that I've met. I didn't even know that that existed, but I really agree with this holistic approach to healing. And I'm learning. I'm on a learning path. But Vicky, you're not only a yoga therapist, you are a very successful yoga therapist. That means you are a successful businesswoman. I would like to pick your brain a little bit about that. You mentioned before that you have a list of things that you need. How do you deal with all your day to day tasks? Are there any tricks that you want to share with us that you think are important for being successful in whatever business that you're doing?

Vicky:

I've always really been interested in productivity because I've always been very keen to live as intentionally as I can, and to really to use my time well, and focus on the things that are really important to me. The biggest thing has really been the need to explore what is most valuable and important to me on any given day, what are the real driving force behind what I do. So I try to make my decisions about how I spend my time and what I put on my to do list. And I'm driven by those deep values of what is most important to me. And I really try to set that as the bar. So one of the practices I do is I remember a piece of advice, I think maybe I read it somewhere I can't remember but I remember it something along the lines of: “The success of the next day really depends on the planning the night before.” So I do spend some time planning out my next day and maybe writing up a to do list of the things that I want to get done. And I really love this practice because it really forces you to first of all think about how much time you have. And secondly, again, what are the priorities, what are the most important things? And to be quite honest with you my to do list actually, most days, looks very similar. Because I have some really strong habits that for me are really important to do. So I have a movement practice that I do every day. And that movement practice might look different. I could be going through a period of doing some strength training. And so it's not always a yoga practice, per se. But I make an intention to have a habit of moving every day in some mindful and intentional way. Another habit that I've started this year is I go for a walk every day, mainly because during this year, I have been indoors a lot and online a lot. So a big part of my mental health, my self care practice has been to make sure I get out and sometimes my partner comes with me but if I'm on my own, I try not to listen to anything as well. So I use that time to let my mind wander and just let myself think and actually often during my walks that's when I come up with ideas and problem solving. So I’ve got a client that I'm working with and I'm trying to figure out where I want to go with them next. A lot of that creative thinking, it happens in those walks, and I don't even really need to consciously think about it, but it just bubbles up so that's been huge for me. I've really enjoyed implementing that as a practice. And then the only other thing that's always on the to do list every day is my meditational breathwork practice. And again, that looks a little different each day but I do some kind of contemplative or relaxation-based practice. And that's obviously hugely important for me, that I can regulate myself and my stress levels and whatnot, but also that I can show up to be as present as I possibly can, because my work really requires me to be extremely focused and present with the person when they're there. And it's quite tiring. So the practices that I've created are there to also support me in my work. So that's been massive. So having things that you do that support you in your work so that when you show up to work, you can be the best that you can possibly be. I really try to optimize my life to make sure that I'm on point when I'm working. Having, and this is something I've really struggled with, but actually scheduling downtime. And this is a work in progress for me.I'm not the best at it because I love my work and I find it really difficult to switch off from it. But consciously having other things that I do that really take me out of my work head. And what I've come to realize is that for me, actually, downtime is often better for me, it's more restorative for me if it's actually quite active. So whether it's physically active, like I go out for the day and I go for a really long walk, or I'm a really keen cook so I love cooking new recipes and trying new recipes. Or reading a book. Something that just really takes me out of my head for a little while I think has been really, really key, again, to support me in being the best business woman and yoga therapist I can be. That's also been really important to make sure that I'm showing up when I need to really show up.

Helen:

Yeah, fantastic tips there, thanks very much, Vicky. I'd like to ask, obviously this is a very noble profession that you're doing, and valuable work for people, and I can feel your passion for your work coming out in this. Iit seems that your work is very much in alignment with your values. However, it does also seem to me like you're kind of pushing a rock up a hill at the moment in trying to get the message out there that we should be doing more of this. Is it a very lonely job? And if so, who are your role models or mentors or peers who you go to? Could you say a little bit about that?

Vicky:

Yeah, it's a lonely gig because you are pretty much your own boss. And also, up until actually this week, this is quite embarrassing but I'll admit, it's taken me so long to build a support network. And if you were talking therapist, if you’re a counselor, you would have supervision, that's a requirement of your work. In yoga therapy, we don't have that yet, really. But there are places where you can get that. You have to organize it yourself. And I finally got around to organizing supervision. So that is very important to me. And I'm so glad I've just finally started doing it. It's a bit late, I should have done it probably years ago. But I'm really hoping that that is going to start providing me with a little bit more emotional support and also some more professional guidance and advice with some of the situations which are more challenging, some of the clients’ circumstances that have been quite challenging to work with and to know how to work with those people. So that's been really key in terms of battling the loneliness. But there's also wonderful things about working for yourself. And my personality is, I'm quite introverted, actually. So I am probably quite well suited to being a lone ranger. And I love having my own autonomy, I love being able to decide how and when I work. The only issue with that is if you are somebody who's quite driven and you don't have somebody else setting boundaries for you, it's very easy to transgress your own boundaries, and end up working too much. And so the other thing, going back to what I was talking about earlier, but just how boundaries are really important when you're running your own business. And this ties in with that scheduling downtime, to have some boundaries set up around even things like use of technology and how often you're going to check your emails or your social media feeds or whatever it might be. I think that those are really critical, because I look at this and anybody who has their own business, you're looking at a long haul project here. This is like a marathon, not a sprint. And burnout is a thing. And I've definitely gone through periods of it. And I've seen many people who also run their own businesses, quite a few of my clients run their own businesses, who have really struggled with periods of burnout. And so these self care practices and having these boundaries are really critical if you're going to go forwards for the long term. You've got to have these systems set up in place. Did that answer your question?

Helen:

Yeah, systems and people as well, I think, where you're on that track now that you've got in touch with a supervisor. But yeah, I personally think that a peer network and having colleagues around you is very, very important.

Vicky:

There are yoga therapists, people doing amazing work and we’re in the era now where we have access to those people through the internet. So there's lots of opportunities. I'm massively into online learning. And one of the other things and again, I think, probably every profession has an element of this, but certainly for me, one of the things that stopped burnout, or helped me get through periods of burnout, is learning new things, staying curious and interested in what you're teaching. And I feel like if I'm getting stale, or I'm getting bored, or I'm feeling like I'm fogging over a bit and not really paying attention, for me that's always a really good sign that I need to get the books out, I need to go and learn something, I need to learn a new movement, practice or something that I can then teach and share. And that has always been the way to get me back on form again, I think. So, again, just continuing to learn.

Helen:

Definitely. Good advice. This has been a fascinating conversation, Vicky. We're almost out of time so I'd like to ask you this one final question, which I sent you in advance, and it's about the nature or the name of our podcast AudaciousNess. And to do with the ‘ness’, being this solid piece of land, surrounded by the water and everything that it might throw at you. I can probably guess what you're going to say from our conversation, being a yoga therapist, what it is that gives you the grounding. But maybe you could say this in your own words, what gives you the solidity to continue despite what life is throwing at you?

Vicky:

I think a deep faith, a belief that what I'm doing has value. And that is what’s kept me going. And it's not even necessarily, I mean, again, you could relate that to maybe anything that's important. To me, it happens to be yoga, this practice has really kept me steady through some really quite ups and downs of life and some choppy periods. And it's always been the anchor to come back to. And I think because it's given me so much comfort, and it's given me so much grounding, it's also really helped me to keep going in my work offering this practice. Sometimes I wonder if I do it justice, but I just truly believe in the teachings. I just know, that they have so much to offer, even on the worst days, on the days where I worry if I'm not doing a good job, or I'm not a good enough teacher, or I’ve had an argument with somebody. I've got this practice to come back to and just seeing the effect of something so simple, like getting somebody to connect with their belly as they breathe. And if somebody has been a chronic chest breather their whole life, that little light-up moment where they realize there's a different way of being in their body. That to me makes it all worth it. And so I think it's the practice. It keeps reminding me it's enough. And I remember a great teacher friend of mine who said, I remember I was going through a period when I was feeling a little burnt out and really questioning whether, lots of insecurity about whether I was a good teacher or not. And she just said to me, she said, You know, Vicky, it's not about you. It's about the yoga. Just teach the yoga. It's not about you. And it took all the pressure off me. Like, I'm just the conduit. I'm just the vehicle for sharing this knowledge. But the main thing is the idea.

Helen:

That's lovely. I guess lots of teachers also have that same problem. Am I a good teacher? And we forget, I mean, as former teachers ourselves, we forget, it's not about the teaching. It's about the student and the learning. That’s lovely. Thank you so much, Vicky.

Marinel:

Thank you. Thank you very much, Vicki.

Helen:

It's been a pleasure talking to you. And I wish you the best of luck. And I do hope that yoga therapy does become the mainstream thing that it should become.

Vicky:

Thank you.

Maribel:

Indeed. Thank you so much, Vicky. It was wonderful. listening to all your insights. Thank you.

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About the Podcast

AudaciousNess
A solid grounding on which to practice your audacity.
AudaciousNess showcases individuals who have set themselves bold, audacious goals and have worked to achieve them. Our purpose is to inspire people to act with the courage to create a positive impact in the world.

Through interviewing 'regular people' about their audacious goals, we highlight the fact that role models are everywhere. Each and every one of us can have an impact in some way. Our goal is to enable a courageous community that honours their genius and lives their calling.

The name 'AudaciousNess' has two components: audacious, meaning 'bold', and ness, meaning 'a strip of land projecting into a body of water'. We believe having a solid grounding on which to practice your audacity is crucial, or, in the words of the great philosopher king Marcus Aurelius (Meditations, 4.49):

"Be like the promontory against which the waves continually break, but it stands firm and tames the fury of the water around it."

About your hosts

Maribel Ortega

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I help women find their worth and be confident so that they can use their voice, speak up, take new opportunities and ultimately lead fulfilled lives.

Helen Strong

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I run an eco-friendly, vegan B&B in the Outer Hebrides, Scotland. This is just one of the many audacious goals I've pursued in my lifetime.