My Norfolk Life: ‘Yoga helped me recover after devastating motorbike accidents’
Yoga has been life changing for Tess Bickerstaff in more ways than one.
Back in 2015, her friends took her to a yoga class for the first time. Within a year she was a fully qualified teacher and the changes in both her body and mind were dramatic.
And in August last year, she opened her own yoga studio in the heart of Norwich, where she is creating a community of teachers and students to share its many benefits.
As Tess explains, her friends had taken her to a yoga class to “chill me out”.
“I certainly didn’t come out of the womb in a Warrior One pose,” she laughs.
“I was a wedding planner and had my own business and I really loved it, but it got quite stressful because it was really popular and it got bigger and bigger and I found that was getting more and more frazzled.
“I just watched this yoga teacher floating in on a cloud, she sat down all zen-d out and I think I just made a decision there and then,” she says.
“So, I searched around for teacher training and enrolled and then within a year I was a fully-qualified 200-hour yoga teacher.”
For Tess the benefits of a regular yoga practice have been far reaching – both physically and mentally.
“I’d had a couple of motorcycle smashes in 1989 and 1994 which left me quite badly damaged all down the right-hand side of my body,” she says.
“I damaged my spine top and bottom, collarbone, I had a punctured lung, fractured my pelvis, broke my femur, all on that right-hand side and I just put up with these injuries.
“I was up for knee replacement, hip replacement and I had to sleep on the left-hand side all the time. I just thought that as I was getting older, I would have to accept that’s how my body’s going to be. But after 12 months I could sleep on both sides, my hip wasn’t clunking every time I walked.
“It almost crept up silently and one day I realised I’d got a full range of movement.”
It also made a huge difference to Tess’s mental wellbeing too.
“I didn’t have a great start in life,” she says candidly. “I had a difficult childhood, teenage years and 20s and 30s where I suffered hugely from anxiety and depression. And again, after a year of practicing yoga I just seemed to grow into the person I feel I should have been without having this ball and chain of anxiety and depression. It’s allowed me to blossom and become more of a whole person.
“Yoga touches on all parts of you, not just the physical – you end up feeling so much better all round: mentally, physically and emotionally and I just wanted to share it with people. My dream has always been to open my own studio, so that I could offer more and get to more people.”
Following the break-up of a relationship, Tess was at a crossroads. Finding what she describes as the “silver lining” in the situation, she decided to pursue her dream of opening her own yoga studio.
The pandemic delayed her plans, but she opened Norwich Yoga Central in Orford Place.
“When you think your business model is let’s get everybody in a room to breathe together, when it’s illegal, people were like are you sure about that, Tess? I went yep, I believe in it so much I’ve got to do it, so here we are.”
With the help of friends, multi-talented Tess, who is also a painter and decorator, completely transformed the space, which was formerly offices, in just a few weeks.
She put up walls. The big communal table and benches, where we sit and chat over a mint tea, was made by her. And the beachy vibe and colour pallet is a nod to one of her other great passions – surfing (she’s a qualified instructor) and the sea.
You’re right in the city centre, but it’s such a chilled-out space that you feel miles away from all the hustle and bustle.
While many of us turned to Zoom classes and YouTube workouts during the lockdowns – Yoga With Adriene was a favourite and Tess also pivoted to online teaching – she believes that being in a class, disconnecting from our screens and reconnecting with ourselves and others, is the best way to experience yoga.
“Up until recently the emotional mind and the effect on the body have been viewed as different things and they’re not,” says Tess.
“They’re completely connected and we know that now. Your emotions make you do things – I’m straight to a chocolate bar when I’m stressed. For most of us, when you’re down you’ll reach for something.
“People are very unconnected to their bodies, they don’t realise that that sick feeling or that tension is because they’re thinking a certain way.
“Yoga has a holistic view of the body and tries to get you to look at how you’re thinking, so as well as doing the physical practice, asana, we’ll do meditations, and pranayama [breath work] techniques, so that you start to work out how you think,” she says.
“Some people are not even connected to how they think, like their conscious brain and their subconscious brain are in different continents, let alone the same room, so they don’t understand what drives them, they don’t understand what motivates them to do something, they just react.
“But if you can start to work out how you think, what your triggers are and what motivates you and what makes you happy you’re less likely to reach for those bad things and yoga is a way of making you more aware of yourself.
“It will make you fit and a lot of people come just because it’s a nice workout and a nice chillout, but a regular practice will have a bigger knock-on effect on your whole system.”
And she says that the reality of a yoga class is far removed from the Insta-perfect version you might see of the glossy influencer in an effortless headstand.
“Everybody says to me, I can’t do yoga, I’m not bendy. That’s exactly when we want you, that’s exactly when you should come because you become flexible,” says Tess.
“There are beginner’s classes and courses, including men only classes, so you can come when you don’t know anything because we will teach you and your body will become more flexible and stronger and fitter and the knock-on effect is your mind will become stronger and fitter as well.
“Yoga is for every body and when I say that I mean every body, there’s no age, type of person that it can’t benefit, it’s for children, teens, adults, old people, any walk of life, there’s yoga for people in wheelchairs, there’s yoga for athletes, there’s yoga for people that have got cancer.
“If anyone wants to come down who thinks they shouldn’t, be brave and everybody, do something that scares you, at least once a week – that’s my mantra anyway.
“People need to just give it a go, because if you’re suffering from anxiety or stress, and we all are, yoga can be that one hour that you can just carve out and it can just reset you and if you do it weekly, it’s almost like your reset for the week and over a few months you’ll start to see, I’m not reacting so much, I’m not reacting to my colleagues or my family or my friends, I’m a little bit calmer, I sleep so much better, I feel a bit freer…”
There are classes and courses at Norwich Yoga Central every day, Monday to Saturday. To find out more, visit norwichyogacentral.co.uk, or follow on Instagram @norwichyogacentral