Meet Gem Hansen: Our Island Yogi
2019 sees weekly yoga classes taking place on Tresco with Bryher islander and yoga teacher Gem Hansen. Here, Gem shares her journey to yoga, and emphasises why yogic practice and island escapism go hand in hand.
As a child I adored classical ballet and dreamt of being a dance teacher - the progression to yoga happened naturally in my early twenties. Living on a remote island meant access to yoga classes was challenging; I usually sought out yoga when choosing holiday destinations but also attended classes on St. Mary's, travelling by boat, whenever available.
My home practice evolved in synchronicity with my lifestyle from marathon training to pregnancy and post-natal yoga. By the time I had my third child, I was captivated by hypno-birthing which gave me further insight into the internal practice of yoga, incorporating meditation, mantra and breath work. I began to understand the entirety of yoga, the union of mind and body, and nature.
A couple of years later, following a post-birth medical emergency, I was at a low point. Suffering with health anxiety I recognised the necessity for me to come back to myself, to build myself back up, and filled out an application form for yoga teacher training in Cornwall.
For the next ten months I travelled to Falmouth once a month for a 250 hour teacher training. This teacher training, run by Keren Cooksey at Falmouth Yoga Space was the most credible, creative and comprehensive course that I will be forever grateful for attending and I credit Keren as the teacher who opened my heart to the holistic concepts of yoga.
The journey of teacher training is an intense and all-consuming adventure that can be exhilarating and incredibly revealing on a personal level. I had begun a personal transformation that brought me to the heart of yoga, known as the journey of the self (Bhagavad-Gita). In yogic philosophy this is called svadhyaya (self study) and for me it echoed my Classical Greek studies at university; the Oracle at Delphi "know thyself".
Through yoga we learn how to live better. We learn to release thought patterns (such as anxiety) that are not serving us and find absolute peace of mind. Throughout the training process I started to make sense of the world and its opposing forces, beginning to understand everything on an energetic level and opening my heart and my mind. It is the transformational power of yoga that I wish to share by teaching and also explore further by continuing to be a student of the discipline of yoga.
I run classes every week on Tresco and Bryher, two islands very special to me that my family have lived on for 58 years. Classes are open level (beginners welcome) and balance conscious alignment with blissful relaxation. The style of yoga is a slow flow vinyasa, each class includes postures with alignment (asana), breathing techniques (pranayama), relaxation (savasana) and an integration of yogic philosophy.
I aim to offer a balance of strength (sthira) and serenity (sukha) in my teaching. I enjoy relating the practice to the environment, such as visualising the breath as the ebb and flow of the tide, and honouring the mythic qualities of asana (poses) that were inspired by nature, from the fearless lion to the reticent tortoise.
Scilly is a remarkable place to practise yoga - the escapism that a remote island offers is unparalleled when it comes to a peaceful pace of life, and time for reflection, self kindness and care. Some time out from the normality of life can make your journey of rediscovery on the mat all the more meaningful.