For this month’s interview series, we spoke to our partner Nadia Raafat, a teacher of Hatha Yoga, Mindfulness and Pregnancy Yoga. Her reputation as a first class teacher of Pregnancy Yoga extends beyond the area thanks to her highly acclaimed Yoga and Mindfulness for Pregnancy and Birth DVD Programme – which has recently been nominated for a Parent and Baby award. A teacher of teachers, a pregnancy mentor and a commentator on Yoga and Pregnancy in the local and national Press, this mother of 4 cites Yoga, Mindfulness and Self-Enquiry as the three most important practices in her personal life.
Here is what Nadia had to say:
You are an experienced yoga teacher, what keeps you going?
I have been teaching yoga for 13 years and been myself a dedicated student for 15. I can honestly say I am more committed to the study and teaching of this beautiful practice than ever before. The thing about Yoga is the practice just gets deeper and richer the more you practice and investigate. The body postures and sequences that advertise yoga are just the departure point. Yoga is about so much more than just mastering challenging postures and sequences. It is a complete mind body integrative practice with a deep philosophy that reveals itself as you move deeper into it. The deeper I go, the richer and more beautiful my Life becomes. As we teachers move deeper into our own practices, the quality of the yoga that we channel deepens and the whole yoga community expereinces yoga in a deeper more fulfilling way.
What do you love most about your job?
Seeing the bliss etched on students faces as they lie in Savasana at the end of the class. Hearing students describe the moment they realise their mind has become completely still and all thinking has ceased. Reading beautiful yoga birth stories to the pregnant women in class and seeing them visibly moved by the experience of other women. Sitting in deep stillness in a room with 20 other people in the same deep still state.
You are a doula as well and run birth preparation workshops. What are some tips you would give to expectant mums?
ChildBirth is a powerful experience however you birth. It is a physical and visceral process. It saturates the body and mind. The more body aware, the more physically fit and open you are, the more present and non-reactive you are able to be, the easier it will be. You need to know how to move, breathe, manage your emotions and open to the experience. You also need to understand the context that you are birthing in. I am often amazed by how disempowered so many first-time couples are as they go through the maternity services. Grown adults become children naively trusting men and women in uniform. Childbirth needs honouring and it needs normalizing.
Get yourself a doula – it will make the journey for you and your partner so much more pleasurable and easier. This is such a special transitional time for a woman becoming a mother and for the family also being born. Having a wise and independent guide to support you and advocate for you is the best possible investment in a positive birth experience. I became a doula because of my own first birth experience. I felt so deeply that women needed to be lovingly cared for at such a potentially vulnerable and empowering time.
What are some myths about yoga that you want to quash?
There are two really unhelpful and erroneous myths out there when it comes to yoga: One is you need to be flexible to practice yoga and the other is you need to be young. They are both so wrong, it’s a travesty. Yoga is absolutely and completely non-discriminating. You can be any colour, any age and any body shape. Over the years I have had many people who could barely reach forwards to touch their knees. They have all gained immense flexibility. Where you start is irrelevant. You show up at the beginning point for you. You show up with the body that you have. You show up with the age that you have. You show up whatever your mood. At the heart of yoga is self-acceptance – both on and off the mat.
How you manage work life balance- any tips?
I used to regularly burn the mid-night oil catching up on admin after the kids had gone to bed. I just don’t do that anymore. Life is too short and precious to be answering emails, writing blogposts and filling in spreadsheets past midnight. Being constantly sleep deprived is no longer interesting to me. I have learned to accept I must not over-reach myself and stay true to the bigger picture of my wellbeing and my family’s.
I have also honed and refined what I focus on. I used to teach hatha yoga, mindfulness, pregnancy yoga, birth education classes, postnatal yoga and baby yoga. I ran an attachment mothering group for 8 years, a positive birth group and wrote regularly about pregnancy for a number of journals and blogs. I had way too many balls up in the air with 4 kids still on the ground. It was time to cut back. I closed down both the groups last year and culled my classes. I now only teach hatha yoga and my beloved yoga and mindfulness pregnancy course. These are the two areas I am passionate about. So this is where I focus my attention.
My life is about to change in September when my fourth and last child starts reception. I am besides myself with excitement. I will be crying at the school gate but I will also be celebrating a new-found freedom.
You live in South London and have run your classes in Battersea and Clapham- what attracts you to this area?
I moved into this area when I was pregnant with my first child, I was a West Londoner previously. I can remember going for walks between the commons and being amazed by the proliferation of buggies on every street corner. I’d never noticed just how many buggies there were. Then I discovered it was called nappy valley. Now I’m an intrinsic part of it. I see mothers who have been to my pregnancy classes everywhere. Its got to be one of London’s most family-friendly areas. For an urban village its also incredibly green. Battersea Park, the two commons, the river is heavenly – especially in the evening light – and Wimbledon and Richmond Commons are a hop, skip and a jump away.
What are your favourite haunts in the neighbourhood? With and without kids?
I love The Humble Grape on Battersea Rise. The name always makes me smile. The owner lives in my road. The site, struggled for years with tenants moving in and out until HG moved, filled it with wine and love and they haven’t looked back since. Tierra Verde on Webbs is another local gem – for smashed avocado and tomato on sourdough, catch ups with mum friends and school meetings… it’s a local institution and finally the Pear Tree Cafe in Battersea Park for a pricey but delicious lunch on the lake. I am a huge fan of the Battersea Arts centre – but I wish they were more active as a community venue as well as a first class fringe and arts venue.
If you had to give one piece of advice to younger self, what would that be?
Don’t waste time looking for long-term fulfilment in the exterior world, you will inevitably be disappointed. No single job, person or acquisition will do it for you. Prioritise looking in and at all parts of your self. We have all let ourselves get way too distracted by what’s going on outside us. Now is the time to turn the torchlight back on ourselves. It’s the slogan on my flyer: Yoga is not a work out, its a work in:)
Nadia teaches Hatha Yoga at Chatham Hall (Northcote Road), St Barnabas Church (Clapham Common Northside) and Battersea Yoga Studio. Her Yoga and Mindfulness for Pregnancy and Birth DVD programme can be bought via Nadia’s website, yogamatters.com, birth-ease.co.uk and amazon.co.uk
The next Yoga and Mindfulness for Pregnancy & Birth Course with Nadia starts in September.
Nadia is offering Clapham Mums cardholders one third off the price of their first five classes. Drop in fee for Clapham mums will be £10 instead of £15. Use code Claphammums while booking. For details and booking visit: www.nadiaraafat.com