11. Kate Bush, Power Dynamics and a Person-Centred Approach with Amelia Wood

episode description & show notes

Harriet is joined by Amelia Wood.

Amelia Wood is a yoga teacher and academic. Her yoga teaching is inclusive, therapeutic and centre’s the student’s individual needs, includes embodied mindful movement, breath awareness and deep relaxation. She is currently a PhD candidate researching spiritual abuse in modern transnational yoga at SOAS. This project aims to centre survivor’s testimonies and is a specifically feminist endeavor.

Amelia and Harriet talked about pretending to be Kate Bush, the importance of recognising power dynamics within yoga and having a person-centered approach. Just a small content note: in this episode we discuss in general terms abuse within yoga, but without detailing any specific instances.

Just a small content note: in this episode we discuss in general terms abuse within yoga, but without detailing any specific instances.

We are linking to OSARCC for anyone who is seeking support around sexual abuse. OSARCC are an Oxford-based charity supporting survivors of sexual abuse, rape, domestic abuse, and harassment. They offer a free and confidential service to survivors who are dealing with the effects of sexual violence, and to anyone who is supporting them.

Links:
Child Abuse Royal Commission: childabuseroyalcommission.gov.au
The Heart of Yoga: goodreads.com

You can find Amelia here:

Read the full transcript:

SUMMARY KEYWORDS
yoga, teacher, people, yoga teachers, jane eyre, abuse, centred, amelia, nourishing, happening, oxford, students, survivors, person, living, exist, talking, teaching, training, michael fassbender

SPEAKERS
Harriet McAtee, Amelia Wood

Harriet McAtee
Welcome to In our experience a podcast exploring the many ways of living well with Nourish Yoga Training. I’m your host Harriet, yoga teacher and founder of Nourish. Today I’m joined by Amelia Wood. Amelia is a yoga teacher and academic. Her yoga teaching is inclusive, therapeutic and centres the student’s individual needs, with an emphasis on embodied mindful movement, breath awareness and deep relaxation. She is currently a PhD candidate researching spiritual abuse within modern transnational yoga at SOAS this project aims to centre survivors testimonies in as a specifically feminist endeavour. I had a fabulous time chatting with Amelia, we talked about pretending to be Kate Bush, the importance of recognising power dynamics within yoga, and having a person-centred approach. Just a small content note on this episode, we discuss in general terms abuse within yoga but without detailing any specific instances. I loved chatting with Amelia and I can’t wait to hear what you think. So as always, do feel free to let us know you can pop us an email finding how to contact us in the show notes. Right, here’s my chat with Amelia. Hi, Amelia. Welcome to In our experience.

Amelia Wood
Hi Harriet, thanks for having me.

Harriet McAtee
Oh, it’s a pleasure. I’m so excited. So excited to have you here today. We are going to get started as I do every week by asking you what’s nourishing you. Now, this can be anything, can be very serious, it can be very silly, it can be small, it can be big. And I will help you by sharing my nourishing thing first. So this past weekend, I got out of Oxford. And I went to London, which felt like a very big deal for the weekend to see some friends. And it was just, it was just so nice to be somewhere else. And connecting with people and doing different things, I can often end up living in a little bit of an Oxford bubble. And, you know, like most people, I really haven’t been very many places in the past two years. So it felt really nice to get out of Oxford and just have a bit of a refresh and then to come home and then also appreciate how wonderful home is. So that’s my nourishing thing. How about you?

Amelia Wood
Yeah, that sounds great. So yeah, I mean, similar to you, I feel like I can just get, I live on top of a hill. So rather than a bubble, a bubble, I just get stuck up on the top of a hill. But actually my nourishing thing this week is also on the weekend. Miraculously, it wasn’t raining in Yorkshire. So I went out onto the Moors. And it was really windy. No, it’s really windy and sunny and other clouds kind of swoosh by and it just feels like really wild. And I walked straight out of my door up the Moors. And I walked like to the highest point that I’ve been so far since , since living up on this hill. So I could I had like 360 views and it’s just like, Yes, this is the reason I moved here.

Harriet McAtee
That’s majestic. That’s majestic. I am a little bit jealous of that because Oxford is flat as a fucking tack. There are no hills in Oxford. Like there are small slopes. That when I cycle up I’m like, but there’s no because we because we’re in a valley here. There’s no There’s no hills. So I’m very jealous. my follow up question is, do you ever pretend to be Kate Bush?

Amelia Wood
Yeah, so I think about this on almost a daily basis. So where I live is not that far from where the Bronte’s lived. And obviously, I’m a huge Brontë fan and a huge Kate Bush fan. So yeah, every so often I’m like okay, so how maybe I could get like a red dress with like this white flowing fabric and I need to kind of cultivate some kind of excuse to get someone to like take photos of me and all of my friends whilst it’s windy on top of the Moors and then yeah, it’s one day it’ll happen so I do think about it quite a lot. I haven’t actually done it yet though.

Harriet McAtee
Oh, gosh. Oh well, I too am a big Brontë and a big Kate Bush fan. What is your favourite Brontë book? I’m putting you on the spot. But.

Amelia Wood
Yeah, well, so when I was younger, it was Wuthering Heights. And I think as I got older is actually now Jane Eyre. So I thought when I was quite young I thought Wuthering Heights was really romantic and then I reread it in my early 20s. And I remember talking to a friend about it on the Tube and I was like, Heathcliff is just a wanker. And this woman who I didn’t know just turned around me and went, Yes, he is. Yeah. I was like, solidarity sister. Yeah. So yeah, now I’m more of a Jane Eyre person.

Harriet McAtee
I really don’t rate weathering heights.

Amelia Wood
No. I think like, my younger self. Was obviously caught up with the romance of it.

Harriet McAtee
Yeah, I do love Jane Eyre. But I think my favourite, favourite Brontë is. It’s hard. I really enjoyed the Tenant of Wildfell Hall.

Amelia Wood
Yeah, that’s a good one. But it’s quite depressing in the middle, isn’t it?

Harriet McAtee
Yeah.

Amelia Wood
I remember there being a point where I phoned my mom. And I was like, is it worth finishing?

Harriet McAtee
It is, it is as good as a good resolution. The other one that’s really depressing and bleak is Villette where she’s like a governess in Belgium and she has a like psychotic break, and she’s wandering the streets and it’s really rainy. And then she gets saved with the Oh, it’s great.

Amelia Wood
Yeah, I’ve got a copy of a really nice copy that I’m gonna read one day.

Harriet McAtee
Yeah, I’m a little bit of a completionist when it comes to Victorian literature, so I tend to read everything. So I’ve read like all of Austen, all of the Brontë most of Thomas Hardy, like I just it’s, it’s you know, it takes up you know, a significant amount of time but I do

Amelia Wood
you’re committed. I think I’m more I think I’m a bit of like a someone who picks and chooses I’m like less committed, but I am very into you know, when I’ into something, I’m very into it. So particularly like Jane Eyre and when I was going through the Wuthering Heights phase was very into that.

Harriet McAtee
I also really enjoyed the Michael Fassbender Mia Wasikowska interpret oh, adaptation of Jane Eyre.

Amelia Wood
Yes. That was great.

Harriet McAtee
I know. Also, Michael Fassbender is just delicious.

Amelia Wood
Yeah, I don’t know if he’s my type. But yeah, he was a very good. He was good in that.

Harriet McAtee
Yeah. No, I have a. I am very aware that I have a type. It’s like, tall, like, dark hair, moody, you know, emotionally unavailable. Yeah. So you know, Michael Fassbender as Mr. Rochester is just ticking all my boxes. Well, I really enjoyed that little like Yorkshire Brontë diversion. But let’s come back. Let’s come back to you. So tell me, I would love to hear a little bit about your background and how it is you would describe what you do.

Amelia Wood
Yeah, sure. So I’m a yoga teacher. I train yoga teachers, and I’m an academic. And I’ve been teaching yoga since my early 20s. So for about 12 years now. And I started teaching immediately after I did like a very brief 200-hour intensive course. And then, at the same time, I began like a more lengthy training as a yoga therapist. But before that, I so like prior to my yoga, teacher persona, or yoga, teaching life, I worked in a different a couple of different art galleries, in arts education, at a commercial art gallery, you know, volunteer for arts companies. I worked as an artist assistant, so I was really trying to find my place in the art world. But I just couldn’t really find it and decided to sack it off and become a teacher instead. Yeah, and then after a few years of teaching, and like training to be a yoga therapist and working with people one to one, I did an MA SOAS in the traditions of yoga and meditation. And then a few years after that, I started my PhD research on abuse in yoga communities. So that is something that I’ve been thinking about for quite a long time. And when I was training to be a yoga therapist, my teacher didn’t shy away from talking about the yoga industry. And whilst I was training, it was at the time John friend of Anusara Yoga was like exposed on anonymous website as for like, various kind of misconducts, and then quite soon after that, several lawsuits were brought against Bikram Choudhury and he was accused of like sexual harassment and sexual assault so. So it’s something that I’ve always known about and thought about. And I was like, thinking, how I could write about these things in a positive way, or you know, like, not that abuse is ever positive but, but kind of engage with what’s happening in the industry. And that’s really what led me to do my PhD work that I’m in the midst of now.

Harriet McAtee
That’s so interesting. I, so I am also an art world exile. I’m not sure if you know this about me, there’s Yeah, no, I’m a trained art historian. And then, yeah, sectored off to be yoga teacher. So I resonate with you on that. But um, I think I really remember this time that you’re talking about, because it’s sort of like, I’m trying to this is like, 2014, 20 years.

Amelia Wood
2012 2013 2014. Yeah. That kind of time. And it was, it was like, one thing after the other, you know, they just kept on coming. And yeah, because also 2013 was when the Australian Royal Commission happened, which exposed more information about what happened in the Satchidananda Ashrams in Australia as well. So, yeah, it was kind of one thing after the other. Yeah, I mean, heavy.

Harriet McAtee
Yeah, it is. It is. It is heavy. I think it’s like, I mean, one of the things that I often experience and you must experience even more, and I think, is that often people who are perhaps outside of yoga, or even in, you’re coming into the yoga industry for the first time, you know, because of the sort of work that I do I work, you know, I’m a survivor, I work with survivors. And I spend a lot of time platforming survivors stories, but people are often genuinely surprised that there is an abuse problem within yoga. They’re like, Oh, but yoga is like, so nice. And I’m like, well.

Amelia Wood
Yeah, you’re so nice. Everyone’s so friendly. Don’t you have any yamas and niyamas to stop abuse happening? Yeah, if one more person says that to me, I will smile sweetly at them and lecture them. I will corner them and give them a lecture.

Harriet McAtee
Yeah. So what’s so give? Give me the lecture? What would you, what would you say to those people? How do you Yeah, how do you navigate that?

Amelia Wood
So, So recently, I’ve been teaching this course on women in yoga, and like the history on women in yoga. And that’s what I did my research for my master’s in. And as I was doing that, it really occurred to me that one of my big questions that came up was like, Where was feminism when yoga was happening, like when modern yoga was happening? As yoga became something that women did, it was really to support them. So that they could be like, better housewives and better mothers and help them give birth and is really, not really for their political and economic liberation. So that’s like the beginning of my lecture is that yoga is not a feminist space. And yoga is just part of our wider society. And it’s not unique in any way. So this is really kind of clear and blatant, when, when you look at all the reports that have come out from this Royal Commission, Australian Royal Commission into Institutional responses to child sexual abuse. So they investigated child sexual abuse in all sorts of organisations, so like, sports clubs, schools, religious groups, and then the Satchidananda yoga, the mangrove mountain Satchidananda yoga Ashram is just one of those organisations that’s part of this kind of systemic problem. And yoga because it exists within our society. And our society has a rape culture. It’s, it’s not separate, or kind of protected from that kind of thing. It’s the same it’s, it’s the same it’s, you know, in yoga contexts. People use different words to manipulate people into and coerce them into doing things they don’t want to, you know, they might use like, more spiritual religious language.

Harriet McAtee
I hear I think a few sort of thoughts I have around that. Firstly, I like as I was living in Australia, so the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional responses to child sexual abuse. It’s a mouthful. I was living in Australia, just as that was completing so and it was a very, like, as a cultural moment within Australia, it was a really big deal.

Amelia Wood
Yeah, I can imagine.

Harriet McAtee
And they, you know, as you said, it was incredibly wide-reaching. And we can, we can link to the findings in the show notes if people are interested. But it? Yeah, it was, it was really massive. So I think, you know, what you’re saying about people understanding that yoga doesn’t exist outside of the culture that we live in, I think is really, really important, because there is this sort of, like an othering of yoga in a way that, in my mind is potentially linked to essentially like an an an exoticisation of the practice, it’s like, well, because it’s from a different culture, or because it’s from a different place. Like it doesn’t, it doesn’t be it doesn’t get influenced by, you know, our broader society in the same way, which is obviously just like, bullshit.

Amelia Wood
Yeah, totally. And I think that attitude is, was part of the problem in this Ashram, because quite a few of the people that came forwards as adults had reported the abuse they’d experienced too, even to the police, and to like, you know, people, adults, other adults who were in the Ashram, one, you know, one of them was a doctor, and the children just weren’t believed. And I think there it’s partly because of a reluctance to believe that yoga is just part of our wider society, and has the same problems that other communities do. And, yeah, there’s this, people just want to believe that it’s like, this pure thing.

Harriet McAtee
Well, and I think that’s sort of that, that ties into your point around how the language is different in yoga spaces that often like leads to, you know, abuse and manipulation and coercion. And I think potentially one of the most, I mean, I’ve certainly had experiences, not a not abuse on this on this scale we’re talking about here, but I’ve had experiences with teachers where I, you know, this is a long time ago now. But, you know, I was a regular student at a, at a teacher’s class, a male teacher, and I would have been like 1920. And I, you know, went every week, sometimes I went, there were two classes a week. And, and I would go and there was a, you know, I really enjoyed it, I was seeing a shift in my, you know, in my wellbeing because of it. So I had a lot of respect for this teacher. And, you know, I guess associated a lot of benefit to the experiences that I had with him. And then one day, he asked me out for pizza. And I was like, no, no, thanks.

Amelia Wood
Yeah.

Harriet McAtee
And then I started talking to, like, a few years later, when I started doing my teacher training, you know, because, because the thing is, is that yoga teachers are fucking gossips, as well, like, everybody about everything. And we would talk, I was talking about this particular teacher, and a friend of mine, who was also a yoga teacher was like, oh, yeah, I had a weird experience with him as well. And I was like, what the like, you know, and I guess like, I sort of had enough of it. I trusted my instinct enough and like, who can who knows what would have happened? Like, it could have been particularly, like, perfectly harmless. But obviously, there was something there or I was like, No.

Amelia Wood
yeah, your, your instinct said no. Yeah. Good. Yeah, cuz you could, and this happens all the time. People are like, Oh, well, he was probably just being friendly. He saw me once or twice a week anyway. And I’m saying that you know, maybe you could have gone for pizza and it could have just been friendly but it does feel a little bit like crossing a line because there’s an inherent power imbalance like he’s your teacher. So would your, would a teacher at your school or even like a university lecturer ever ask you out for pizza? That would be weird to me, like maybe drinks at the end of term. But.

Harriet McAtee
In a group?

Amelia Wood
Yeah, exactly.

Harriet McAtee
Well, I think I think this is a really valid point. And even when, even when you do the most work to sort of level the hierarchy of the teaching space, and I, you know, I’m saying this to my trainees all the time, I’m like, even if you think that you teach in a collaborative community-focused way, there is still a power dynamic, like we cant, you know, whatever we, whatever we do to try and combat that like that is always going to exist there to a certain extent. So it’s something that we have to take really seriously and, you know, really take responsibility for as yoga teachers.

Amelia Wood
Yeah, and not deny that it doesn’t exist. Like occasionally I hear yoga teachers kind of deny they’re not teachers, and they just think, why are we paying to come to your class? And if you’re not, or did you not train? Yeah, it’s like, yeah, denying the fact you’re a teacher. Yeah. denies that inherent power imbalance.

Harriet McAtee
And I think it also it, it well, it’s just it to me, it’s just really dangerous like there are there are those people where they’re like, oh, I’m, uh, I’m, I’m a facilitator, like, what I do is facilitate or I’m a, you know, I’m just like, no, like, you’re still a teacher, and you’re still in a position of authority. Like, yes, there are ways of managing that. So it’s, you know, positive and like centre students agency, and is an empowering experience for them. But at the end of the day, like, you’re still the one at the front of the class or leading the class.

Amelia Wood
And you still have to hold the space To enable students to feel self-empowered.

Harriet McAtee
Exactly. And when Yeah, and like when people sort of they’re like, no, no, no, that’s not me. And they sort of like take their hands off. Like, I feel like often, I don’t know, for some reason that is more, that is more concerning to me than teachers who are deliberately, deliberately manipulative of power imbalances, like they’re, they’re the teachers that reinforce it sort of knowingly. And then they’re the teachers who deny it exists. And it’s the denial that I think is often more risky than.

Amelia Wood
Yeah, cuz they don’t understand their own responsibility. If someone is manipulating the power dynamic, they’re, they know they’re in they know, they hold power. Yeah. Whereas if they’re denying they hold power, then yeah, there’s less responsibility on the part of the teacher. Hmm.

Harriet McAtee
Definitely. So I’m, I’m curious to sort of see like, how this, I mean, I could keep talking about this. But Hi, this slight change in direction. I’m curious to know how this sort of filters through into your work more broadly, I think one of one of the things that I’m aware of with yoga teachers is that we’re often very rarely just yoga teachers, and you sort of do multiple things as well. And how, how your values sort of work across the things that you do, like, do you have the same values, like that express differently in each of the sorts of spheres of your life?

Amelia Wood
Yeah, I think so. Well, certainly in the spheres of like, what I would consider my work. So when I was training to be a yoga therapist, my teacher was like, was a Viniyoga teacher. So Vini comes from a yoga sutra, and it just means to adapt, so to adapt yoga. And that was really central to my training. And that’s why I wanted to do it, because I was like, oh, I don’t, I don’t want to teach like prescriptive sequences. I really like this idea of adapting yoga to suit the needs of the individual, or the needs of a group of students in front of you. So yeah, in counselling, you might call this person-centred, and that’s still how I teach today and I think about it, you know, you can call it different things like about wanting to make yoga inclusive or accessible, or therapeutic but it’s like however, it’s described it’s, it focuses on the needs of the student or the students. And then in my academic work in writing about abuse in yoga communities, my priority is the survivor is like, as you talked about earlier, like platforming survivor voices to kind of redress the imbalance that exists already within the community, which really silences survivors voices. So those, although I like them, yeah, for me, that’s like, one kind of grand vision.

Harriet McAtee
I think, well, I, I love that because person-centred is one of Nourishes values as well. I think it’s a real, it’s a real shift. It’s a it’s a nice way to reframe how we think about these things often. One of, the one of my biggest pet peeves about most contemporary yoga practice is that it’s the practice it’s centred over the person. And I just don’t, I just don’t like it. So it becomes about achieving the practice rather than about, you know, the practice being a process that’s happening for a person. Yeah. So person-centred is is a wonderful value.

Amelia Wood
Yeah, no. Yeah, I totally agree.

Harriet McAtee
Excellent. I think it’s also I didn’t realise that the person that you did your therapy training with was a Viniyoga teacher because they are, aren’t uncommon. There’s not many of them around.

Amelia Wood
Yeah, so my teacher was a, you know, an old guy called Paul, based in Bristol, Paul Harvey, and he trained with Desikachar for a number of years. And for a while Desikachar, yoga was called Viniyoga, and then, and then he kind of stopped using that, that term. So there are probably more Viniyoga teachers out there than we know of, but nobody really uses that. As like, you know, he, he didn’t want it to become like a brand type thing. Yeah. So yeah, but quite a few of the teachers that I work with now have a similar kind of lineage, not they like the idea of lineage, or am I attached to it, particularly.

Harriet McAtee
I really rate Desikachar like, I, you know, no teacher, no teacher is perfect by any stretch of the imagination. But I really feel like a lot of his work has really stood the test of time. It’s you know. And in fact, the heart of yoga, which we can link to, is one of the texts that I asked students on my 200 hours to buy, because I’m like, this is like, it’s not the perfect book, but no Yoga Book is ever perfect.

Amelia Wood
Yeah. But it’s, it’s a good one.

Harriet McAtee
It’s a good one. And it’s just really well rounded. And I think, you know, it’s a text that I’ve been working with for a number of years now. And every time I come back to it, I get something else I get something different, or, you know, more and yeah, I really love it.

Amelia Wood
Yeah, I’m, soon I’m going to be teaching on a 200-hour course as well. And that is also one of the books I’m gonna ask students to read.

Harriet McAtee
It’s also I think, you know, I the sort of, like the hagiography of Krishnamacharya aside at the beginning, like we could, like if they were ever to do a new edition, I was like, we could take that bit out. Yeah. The inner the section on Asana is sensible. Yeah. And, you know, and really accessible and very adaptable, I think as well.

Amelia Wood
Yeah. And it feels quite like down to earth. And grounded.

Harriet McAtee
Yeah, he’s like, live your life. Like, that’s one of the consistent messages in there. He’s like, he’s like live your life. Do a bit of yoga. Try to be an ethical person. And, but like, keep living your life. It’s very grounded.

Amelia Wood
That’s a great message. Yeah. It’s like, okay, yeah, I will just keep living my life and I’ll do a bit of yoga.

Harriet McAtee
Yeah, exactly. I also I think one of the other things I really appreciate about that book is that the, in the philosophy sections, a lot of the other a lot of the chapters at the end have like a Q&A portion where it’s like, somebody has hypothetically asked a bunch of questions and Desikachar has written a response. And I think that’s such a clever. It’s such a clever style of writing for those sorts of, you know, abstract ideas.

Amelia Wood
Yeah. Because they’re probably the kinds of questions students ask over and over again, they probably asked him these questions over and over again. And.

Harriet McAtee
Yeah. For anybody that is sort of wondering who Desikachar was, so he was Krishnamacharya’s son. So Krishnamacharya is, sort of, I guess, like the founder of creator of modern postural yoga. But really, he had a really interesting life. Desikachar because he was an engineer. And like he wasn’t in the family business in.

Amelia Wood
Yeah.

Harriet McAtee
Anyway, what.

Amelia Wood
Until quite later on in his life. Exactly. And he like really strongly identified as an atheist as well. And I sort of, yeah, I yeah, I’ve got a lot of time for him. Unfortunately, we are already out of time, which is just shocking to me. I always go so quickly. So before we wrap up, where can people find you? What are you up to? Do tell us. Um, so you can find me on Instagram. I’m @amelia_wood_yoga. My website is amelialwood.com. At the moment. Yeah, I’ve been teaching a course on women in yoga, so where we can find them in the history of yoga. And then also, we kind of move up to the modern-day and kind of address a lot of things we’ve been talking about today. And hopefully, I’ll teach that again. And, yeah, if you, I’m training, yoga teachers on various courses, I’ll post them all on Instagram.

Harriet McAtee
And you’re doing, you’re doing a course with us in November, our yoga trauma in the nervous system.

Amelia Wood
Yeah.

Harriet McAtee
I really right. Amelia is Instagram, everybody. She has excellent, excellent taste in memes. She reshares, I always like whenever you have new stories. I’m like, Oh, this will be fun.

Amelia Wood
Thank you. Yeah, sometimes I worry that too, like anti-capitalist, angry feminists. Tired woman type memes but if you’re into those with a twist of dark humour, then yeah, please do check them out.

Harriet McAtee
You should. Well, wonderful. Thanks so much for joining me today. Amelia it’s been a real pleasure having you.

Amelia Wood
Thanks, Harriet. Thanks for having me.

Harriet McAtee
Thanks for listening to in our experience. Don’t forget to subscribe rate and review the podcast. We love hearing what you think and it makes a really big difference. In the meantime, until the next episode comes out. Why not check us out on our Instagram account @nourishyogatraining, or pop us an email via our website. See you soon.

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