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Podcast Interview: Suzie Byatt

On the Plant Powered Yoga Podcast, I have a chat with one of my good Yogi friends, Suzie Byatt. She’s a breath of fresh air when it comes to yoga teachers and loved chatting with her. You can listen to the full podcast episode here. 

How are you going during the pandemic and keeping up a home practice?

It’s been an interesting process. I, I don’t think that I’d ever really built a very strong home practice. I really love going to a class and practicing with other people, sharing that energy and feeling the vibe and just even breathing with other people is so powerful. And that’s what I’ve always been attracted to. I think that’s why I’ve always practiced at studios when there have been classes. So it has been a difficult transition to go from that quite regularly to practicing at home. But. I think one of the silver linings for me has been practicing with teachers that I haven’t, or I don’t usually get to practice with because their class times might clash with mine and I just don’t get to practice with them.

So having a prerecorded or live video to practice with them, is wonderful. Hopefully, I’ve built up a bit more of a stronger home practice so I can maintain it because it is lovely to practice in the space of your own home and have your home comforts around knowing that no, one’s no one’s watching.

We met in early 2019 at La Trobe Uni when we were both getting inducted to teach there. I’ll never forget you’re beautiful energy when we met!

I think I’ve always been a really friendly person, but I think on that day I was so nervous because it was my first paid yoga teaching job. And it was the first, I think we were doing an induction and a photoshoot or something, and I had no idea what to expect. I think when I saw you and we started chatting and we, I think we had a few friends in common, it just helped help me fill out a little bit more relaxed. And I was like, Oh, I can do this. This is fun.

It’s just one of those things that were meant to be our paths were meant to align. We have similar perspectives and similar interests as well. It was really nice the few times that I have been to your class coming to your class and kind of listening to you, share your values and your interests and how they weave into yoga philosophy.

But a little bit more about your yoga journey, Suzie. So how did you find yoga in your life?

I first started practicing about 10 years ago, which seems like such a long time ago. I think I had just been on a two month trip around India and I didn’t do any yoga in India, but I was determined to start out once I got back.

I don’t think there were any yoga studios in the area that I was living in, in London. So I ended up going to a yoga class at a leisure centre, just around the corner from my house. And I, I really didn’t know what to expect. I had been to gymnastics as a kid as well. So I knew that I was flexible, but I had no idea if I was going to be any good. And I use that term loosely. Because I’ve since learned, there’s no such thing as being good at yoga.

So I kind of went a bit blindly into my first class and. I was so nervous and I think, I didn’t know what the teacher was talking about, but I remember that feeling of being in Savasana and just feeling so calm and just like I could take on the world and I felt, wow, this is something that I have to keep up. So was the starting point.

But the real, really, really strong connection that I had with yoga was after a really difficult breakup. I was back in London at that time and it just kind of brought in another element to my practice, a more emotional, mental, spiritual connection where previously it had just been a physical connection.

It’s definitely been a journey, but I’m so grateful that. I had the courage and it does take a lot of courage sometimes to walk into a new environment.

Something we’ve spoken about before is how there’s this “myth” around what a yoga body is…

I’d never felt like I looked like a yoga person, just a little, maybe a little bit of a bigger body. It is a difficult thing to embrace sometimes. So I’m really grateful that I had that courage to walk in and try my first class.

We’re so it’s so ingrained in us that we should compare ourselves to others, whether it’s a physical thing or a mental thing, or, you know, even if it’s just, oh, that person is my age and they have a house and kids, it’s just in our culture, I suppose to do that.

And it’s the same with yoga practice and. I never thought in my wildest dreams that I’d ever be able to do inversions because I would never try them in class because I always thought I was too heavy or too unbalanced or too uncoordinated or something. I just never tried. And I think I only started trying them following my teacher training. Everyone looked completely different and practiced completely different and all had different things that they wanted to gain from their teacher training.

It gave me a little bit of confidence just to try and then just like anything. It was practice, practice, practice, practice, nothing is perfect. I fell out with these inversions so many times before I could find my balance. And I think it’s just like a metaphor for life. It was more to prove to myself that I could do it. And because I didn’t think, Oh, I need to be a certain way. I need to be this strong or this thing, or this. Whatever insert whatever you want to, whatever you’re working with on that day to do those things.

I think we’ve talked about this as well, how dangerous things like Instagram and Facebook are, they’re a double-edged sword. People come to your page to see what you can do, but really it’s not about what you can do at all. And it’s about how you can share and guide and facilitate.

So it’s not about how it looks, we’re visual people and with things like Instagram, it’s entirely visual. The double-edged sword, and we kind of need it, but it can be really damaging as well. I think it’s just about finding that balance.

The word balance is a perfect analogy for yoga, isn’t it?

I don’t think I’d ever a hundred per cent felt like I was living a balanced. A completely balanced life. There’s always a tipping of the scale on one side of the other. It’s the same with yoga as well.

And every day you step on a mat can be so different. Sometimes it’s enough. Just to step on your mat and know that you’ve shown up and then even if nothing else happens, physically doesn’t matter, you’ve shown up. And that’s the most important thing.

So you ended up going back to India to do your teacher training a little bit more, tell me about that.

I had this desire just to go back to India and thankfully my partner was happy to travel with me.

So we organised a five-month trip around India. Don’t ask me where I went. And in the middle of that trip, there was a month-long teacher training. It was a 200-hour Vinyasa and Ashtanga in Goa, which is Southern India. And when you have to fill in 200 hours in that short space of time… It was like 14 hour days, very little sleep, I just remember my body just felt broken by the end of week one or week two. Our practice started at 6:00 AM, so I would manage to spring out bed at 20 past five in the morning and I’d be so excited. I was so in the zone I was ready, but this one day I just felt so broken and I couldn’t move.

And I went to our Vinyasa practice at 6:00 AM and I ended up just laying on a bolster, I think in Savasana the whole two hours. And I did feel really bad because I didn’t want the teacher to think that I wasn’t interested or something, but I left that practice feeling so empowered because I felt like the first time, and in that 10 years that I’d been practicing that I truly listened to my body and just surrendered.

And it was so empowering and. I haven’t done that since, but there have been times when I’d be tempted to just to lay down and just stay there with a blanket, you know, getting nice and relaxed because that is yoga and you have to listen to your body and on your body and your mind. And that’s what I did in that time.

But yeah, it was going back to the training itself, it was probably the most intense thing I’ve ever done, but the most incredible thing I’ve ever done meeting so many people from so many nationalities and cultures and it was a true immersion into Indian culture. I think about India every day.

And then last year you did your 50 hour year Yin training here in Melbourne. How different was that?

I was lucky enough to clear my schedule for eight days and do my training with the incredible Hugh Lee. He has just such a calming grounding presence. And selfishly, that was probably the primary reason that I wanted to do my yin training because I felt like I was teaching a lot of Vinyasa classes. I felt like my life was a Vinyasa class. I was kind of rushing around from place to place, always travelling somewhere. So that eight days was to connect to myself and just slow down a little bit.

And anything else that came from it was a complete bonus. Having that time to ground and to meditate and practice in every day for eight days was just such luxury and what I learned was just so invaluable and. Has completely changed the way that I view anatomy and traditional alignment kind of completely threw out the window, all the traditional alignment that I had on my Vinyasa training.

I know that we have such different bodies and some things, some poses will never be possible for some people. And I think that just goes back to that idea that yoga is not about the shapes that we make on the mat. And it sounds like such a cliche, but it’s, it’s so true and I can’t hammer it home enough.

It’s had a real impact on the way that I teach and I tend not to cue alignment. I’m more in my classes, tend to kind of focus on the muscles that should be active and sensation that you should be, or that we’re aiming to feel. I just wish that everyone could do that training and just learn.

It just has to come from an understanding of that person has a very different body to me, so the way that they can move and shape themselves, is their own unique way and that’s wonderful.

You’re also an artist. I have some of your little art projects, your ‘Zines and talk about your work on some other projects…

Yes, they’re like a magazine that you self publish. Art is my background, I’ve always been a very creative person. My first degree was in jewellery and silversmithing.

So I’ve always been really into working with intricate things and quite conceptual work as well. And then years later I decided that I wanted to be an art teacher. So I moved to Melbourne and I studied my masters, teaching specialising in visual arts.

So the Zines are my way of combining my love of art and yoga. Usually, there’s a little bit of information about meditation, pranayama breath work, a colouring-in page because I think colouring-in can be really mindful and meditative, and a yoga pose.

But for now, It’s such a mindful and meditative practice for me to put the pen to the paper and create, I love that. I think there’s definitely more zines on the way. I’ve also just done some illustrations for my friend Frankie’s book. She released a book called “Anatomy”. And she asked me to do the illustrations for her next book “Alchemy” (due to be released soon)

Suzie Byatt is an artist and yogi living in Melbourne, Australia. You can follow her on social media here or visit her website at suziebyatt.com. Her donation-based Facebook group can be found at Yoga The Love We Need.