Eva Baker

Women in a yoga class

The world needs coaches: Eva with her yoga teacher training group. Photograph: ©Eva Baker

 

Eva Baker is a 30-year-old Brightonian who spent six years of her life in the London Borough of Hackney working as a mentor and journalist for a number of community organisations. Through projects and community initiatives in her borough she encouraged socially excluded young people to write and get into the media through projects, community initiatives and creative youth work.

But those who have lived in London know the city can at times be a cruel mistress.

To combat feeling stressed and burnt out, Eva started practising yoga – teaching herself the poses and philosophy – to increase her physical and mental well-being.

With a new mind-set she then moved to pastures new, leaving behind the big smoke for her native Brighton and began working as a youth activity worker for the Trust for Developing Communities (TDC), leading activities in a young women’s group.

Through the power of networking Eva’s boss, Adam Muirhead, Projects Manager at TDC, spoke with Anthony Statham, Sports Development Manager at Active Sussex, and explained that one of his youth workers was really interested in yoga.

“That led to me meeting up with Ant and telling him I was going to start this youth specific yoga teacher training course and he was like, ‘that’s great, let’s see if we can get you some support for it’,” said Eva.

“Introduce yoga in a grounded way”

True to their word, Active Sussex supported a group of female youth workers – including Eva – on a ‘Youth Yoga Teacher Training’ course, delivered by Live Love Yoga founder Nathalie Bennett. Importantly, the short course gave Eva the credentials to bring her love of yoga into her work life.

“I started very gently to drip feed yoga into my youth work sessions and noticed how positively it affected the behaviour of the girls; particularly in managing anxiety and depression.

“I was already into yoga on a personal level and believed in it as a coping mechanism for stress as well as a powerful tool for wellbeing. It’s a really helpful thing for people to practise and I thought ‘okay, if I can bring this into my work and basically get paid to do something which I really enjoy, it can only be a positive thing, right?’

“It can be hard to convince young people within the types of environments I work in – coming from low-income families and with complex needs – that something like yoga is ‘for them’. So I’ve brought yoga to socially excluded areas [in Brighton] in a very grounded way, so that those who wouldn’t normally access it can really benefit from it.”

Alternative type of therapy

Being able to access yoga is an important topic of discussion for Eva. In her eyes, people often think of yoga practitioners to be: ‘skinny, California girls on Instagram, and people with loads of money’. But Eva is adamant that the ancient Indian discipline should be accessible to everyone, regardless of their background, because the influence it has on well-being is priceless.

Nowhere is this more the case than the work Eva does in the other half of her life, teaching classes as part of the NHS’ early intervention in psychosis service, specifically designed for people who’ve experienced their first episode of psychosis.

“There are people in my class who have schizophrenia and paranoid delusions, some type of breakdown, or drug related psychosis.

“I am a few weeks into teaching classes at the NHS centre as an alternative type of therapy, which isn’t pharmaceutical medication, or talking therapy; it's gentle group exercise. I do a big long mindfulness meditation with them at the end of the session and the feedback has been amazing, one of my participants said, ‘I’ve never felt so relaxed in my whole life.’ You can see so clearly how therapeutic it is for them to come together as a group and take part in acts of self-care.”

“It’s given me this clarity”

Even in her own life Eva has experienced the benefits of being a yoga coach and partaking in the practice on a daily basis. She is more focused, takes more care of her nutrition and barely drinks alcohol. She makes it clear that the process didn’t happen overnight but yoga did make her more conscious of her habits. Now with the additional responsibility of coaching others she is able to use her past experiences and old way of life to relate and give advice.

“Yoga has made me a healthier person in loads of ways. I’ve made all these lifestyle changes as a result of practising yoga, lot of changes in my routine, my habits and my productivity. It’s given me this clarity I didn’t have in London, when I was working too hard and not taking great care of myself. I’m in a very different environment and place in my life now, and yoga really fits in with that.

“The more I’m in this teaching role, being around people and saying to them ‘I used to feel a bit like you in some way, and then I did this…and now I think differently.’ It’s mainly about encouraging people to look after themselves and practise self-care; especially when it comes to coaching women.

“Women are under lots of pressure, especially when it comes to exercise. Some women don’t even want to go to the gym because they feel self-conscious about their bodies or uncomfortable they will be judged in a public exercise environment. I want my classes to be the opposite of that; you could be super-overweight, you could have manic depression; no one’s going to judge you, you’re just going to be happy that you went to yoga,” said Eva.

Breaking barriers

Currently there is a lack of gender diversity in sports coaching with two thirds of all sports coaches being men and only 17% of qualified coaches being women. Eva feels that women can be quite reluctant to get into leadership roles because of a lack of visible female role models. 

“Role models should also be your mirrors. My own experiences of being coached when I was younger fit in with the existing masculine stereotype of coaching; pushy, aggressive and unpleasant. I feel we need to counter act this type of persona with a new wave of female coaches, who can bring positive qualities like empathy, patience and a more gentle type of support to really bring the best out of their participants. If you think the space for coaching is occupied by old white men who are really stern and spend their time shouting orders at you, you just think ‘that’s not for me.’ I think women tend to stay out of spaces that are dominated by men, its uncomfortable being the first women to break barrier. However, it’s a necessary discomfort, and we need more pioneers.”

But as a woman who has broken the barrier, so to speak, and become a coach, what would she say to other women who are thinking about, or aspiring to follow suit? 

“Do it. What the world needs right now is a lot of care, healing and understanding. There are a lot of people in crisis at the moment, just look at the news of the NHS’ mental health services being under unprecedented pressure, but I believe there is an antidote; for these behaviours, these patterns, these illnesses. Whether you’re suffering from obesity, depression, stress, or even low self-esteem, exercise can set you on a path to a better version of yourself.”

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