Over the years, there have been a number of really special yoga teachers who have dedicated a lot of time and energy into supporting Earthchild Project and being a driving force behind the work that we do. In order to honour these people, we have initiated an Earthchild Project Ambassador Programme. And we are proud to introduce you to our second and third ambassadors, Melissa Brake and Erin Sprong. Melissa owns Yogaway Yoga studio in Newlands where both her and Erin teach yoga. These two incredible women have selflessly been dedicated to teaching Monday yoga classes in Khayelitsha since the beginning of Earthchild Project!
We caught up with Erin and Melissa to find out more about their yoga journeys and why they care so much about Earthchild Project.
Erin and Melissa, what’s so special about yoga to you?
Erin - For me, the practice has been so valuable in how it teaches you about yourself. It’s a space where one is given the freedom to focus on oneself entirely – to learn, to observe your thoughts your reactions, your patterns. The greater awareness that the practice teaches and cultivates in us is taken out with one into the world in which we exist and, for me, translates into us being more developed, happy, content versions of ourselves.
Melissa – Yoga is one of the few things where all you bring to your mat is yourself. You don’t need to know anything about the person standing next to you, not their name their race, their religion, if they are rich or poor, young or old, where they live, even what language they speak or what country they are from. All you have is you on your mat and all is equal.
Tell us more about Yogaway – what inspired you to start the studio, Mel?
Melissa – Yogaway is a community based studio – most people live close in Newlands Village and walk or ride their bikes to come to class. We have been going for 7 years now and in that time have built a reputation for careful and safe teaching in a caring and gentle environment. We have no heat, no big mirrors and nothing about us is commercial. We are not even any good at social media! What we do have is a deep grounding in anatomy, experienced teachers and an approach to yoga that comes from respect for our bodies
Erin, what makes Yogaway so special to you?
Erin – It’s amazing in that it feels like a place that anyone can come and practice in, no matter what your physical state is. We can teach in a way that promotes wellness rather than fitness which is really important to me. I want to be able to teach in a more therapeutic way that nourishes individuals and I can do this here with the small classes and the attitudes of the people who practice with us. It is also incredibly beautiful – nested in a forest next to a river which is just an added benefit of the space.
And yoga for children? What makes working with Earthchild Project and the children so special to you?
Melissa – It is a privilege to teach some of these little people from the very beginning of their Yoga journeys . You can see that for some of the children it is a way to see what their bodies can do and to learn from each other. I think the yoga class can be a safe space and we often find our children have fallen into a deep sleep during savasana, it is a held space where they can be quiet and still. It is also really fun – we spend a lot of time making animal noises as we move into the poses, so often we will have a classroom full of cats or dogs or crows or cows. Sometimes I struggle to know what noise certain animals might make – not so sure about a camel, for example, or how I, an English woman, can explain that to Xhosa speaking children!
Being a busy yoga teacher, how do you make time for your own yoga practice?
Erin – It just has to be a priority. I can feel the difference in my own mind/body/head space and also how I relate to teaching when I am not getting to practice enough, so I just prioritise my own practice. Sometimes I am better at this than at other times.
Melissa – I try to get to class at least twice a week – I aim for 3 times. If I can’t get to The Shala where I practice then I will practice at home in my studio.
What are your favourite sounds to practise to?
Erin – I love to practice to minimal classical music and also some kind of electronic music that is gentle and minimal.
Melissa – I make my own playlists and these can vary hugely – sometimes it’s David Bowie, sometimes Indian chants – the music I play most often in Khayelitsha with ECP is the soundtrack from the Life of Pi.
Can you each please share one of your most treasured ECP moments with our readers?
Erin – I just enjoy seeing the children looking genuinely happy, the little smiles that we exchange, the peace that you see in some of the kids after practice. These little moment have the most value for me.
Melissa – My most special moment is when the children have had their yoga lesson and have spent their few moments in savasana and have come back to sitting on their mat. The Om we all chant together then is completely unified and peaceful. I love that sound!