This weeks lifestyle redesign podcast is with Kelly Brooks. We chatted at the tail end of 2017 in her beautiful flat in South London on how she redesigned her life. She went from working at a City Law firm to becoming a qualified yoga teacher. She now teaches in many of London’s yoga hotspots, forward-thinking companies and in retreats that she runs and manages all over Europe. Kelly is an inspiration for anyone looking to give up corporate the corporate grind and redesign their life on their terms.
Keep scrolling to read the interview or you can listen in to the podcast to hear Kelly and I chat.
I first met Kelly, when I was a member of London gym The Third Space. Kelly was probably one of the first yoga teachers that I met and she really guided me through my yoga journey. There was quite a few occasions where I was literally in tears on the class floor as I was going through a very difficult point in my life back then. My dad was very unwell, and Yoga, although it cleansed me, was quite an emotive journey.
Kelly has been a really big part of helping me back to health, through her yoga teachings, hence why I really wanted to interview her and share her with my readers. Kelly has of course been on her own journey. She started in a very different place and that’s what we are going to talk about today.
Kelly, tell me where you started and then how you got into this whole yoga thing?
I have to admit, I am probably the least likely person I ever thought would become a yoga teacher. I worked in a law firm. I drank four times a week and was just living my 20s in London in a busy city and making the most of that. I actually found yoga through a cycling injury in my knee from over cycling.
Luckily the law firm I worked in had a gym and the most fantastic yoga teacher I’ve ever met. He solved my knee injury, but equally made me really start to trust my instincts and started to connect me back to my body so much so that I started to wonder what am I doing in my job? Am I happy? It really opened me up to being a space of thinking about what I wanted from life and being able to question whether what I was doing was best for me and my happiness and long-term health, which definitely needed to change.
I was very lucky to then be able to go through the journey of transformation and career change. It’s a difficult process, but I think, with a lot of soul-searching, we all know within us what we want to do and whether what we’re doing at the moment is right. Yeah, it’s been fun. Now I’m here and it’s brilliant
How long did that take where you from when you first started practising yoga and then transitioning to become a yoga teacher?
It was about four years. When I started … I was a gym fanatic. I’d run. I’d cycle. I’d really try and squeeze exercise into my morning, lunchtime, and evening within sitting at an office in between. Very quickly the yoga just felt right.
It went from being one class a week to me doing it four times a week in the office. Then my teachers really, really promoted doing yoga every day at home. Very quickly I developed a home practice, then I started to run events in my lunchtime outside of my day-to-day job.
The law firm I worked in, people were at the top of their game in every angle of their life. They would be running multi marathons, or they would be classical singers or play amazing instruments in between being top lawyers in this law firm in London. We really wanted to showcase this and really show the more junior staff the opportunities to bring balance into their lives in different areas.
We actually brought some alumni people in to talk about how they’ve made a life outside of the law firm and what they were doing. One was a film producer in LA. Another was a journalist in The Telegraph. They had really gone to very creative jobs that you maybe wouldn’t have associated with a lawyer.
I remember, even though I had organized the event, sitting and listening to these people and just thinking what am I doing? I was doing my masters. I was just thinking this isn’t right that I actually … It sparked something.
I was very lucky to have a few hours of career coaching offered to me when I spoke to my boss and explained how I was feeling. It was quite a challenging time to actually admit that. I think that’s where the yoga really helps, as it confronts these issues so that you can’t ignore them. Whereas when I was drinking maybe I was ignoring things.
The yoga just brings it to the forefront, to the point that you have to deal with it. You do it through trust as well. If you trust yourself, even if your family or your friends are telling you that this is ridiculous, you running off to India and becoming a yoga teacher. How are you ever going to make a life and job out of this hobby? I think you know within yourself that it’s right, and so it doesn’t matter what anyone else’s opinion is.
My coach was amazing. She really, really made me realize that you can do anything you want in this world. It took a lot of tears and a lot of quiet time. I started to look at what my values were and what I enjoyed. I had to be really honest with myself. What am I not good at? We all have strengths and weaknesses. What were my weaknesses in my job? For me, it’s things like spreadsheets and numbers. I know that I’m never going to be an accountant.
There was also so many things that I liked; my hobbies like the cycling club, like these events that I put on in my day-to-day job… Once I pulled all of that apart, what was I good at? What was I not so good at? Then I spent a long time looking at different jobs and where my strengths lie, the yoga just kept coming up like a burning desire.
I think going through university doing business and then working a law firm you kind of think you need to go and get a job for life that’s secure, and it’s going to pay you, and you get good benefits. You just kind of think oh yoga teaching isn’t a proper career, but actually there are so many more elements to it, and the coach helped me to say, “Yes, this is something that you can do, and this is a valued job, and you can make an income that supports your lifestyle.” So yeah, I’m very, very lucky.
Obviously, I follow you on Instagram. I very recently went on one of your amazing retreats, which I also wrote a blog post on, you are very busy and you seem to be doing a lot of thngs at once. What’s your average week look like? What does a yoga teacher have to do? Obviously, you don’t just walk up to class. There’s a lot more that goes into that.
I think the first thing is not to lose sight of your own practice. Especially being in London, there are lots of opportunities. You’ll be asked a lot, over time, once you get your name out there, to do classes, so no week is the same, which is really, really nice.
I get to meet so many new people each week, which is part of what I love about teaching yoga is that connection. I think to start with I have certain areas of my week that is my practice time. It’s for me to be with my teachers. I think as long as you are constantly learning and continuing the knowledge and the connection to myself, that protects my energy so that I can give as much as I can to my students.
I think if I’m not giving to myself, then it’s very different. That’s when you start to lose your energy and start to burn out, because it’s quite a high-energy thing, not only traveling from class to class as a yoga teacher, but also the energy that you give your students before and after class with questions and actually looking at people’s bodies and making sure that each person within the class is doing the right thing for their own body. It’s a very important thing, as a teacher, to look out for. It takes a lot of energy.
It’s super fun. I really, really love the diverseness. I could be in a corporate one day and then in a community hall teaching old people the next day. It’s just really wonderful just to be able to change what you’re offering for the right person in front of you.
I love that. The yoga that you teach is probably a lot of people might not have heard about it. I certainly used to really enjoy your classes, because I know that I would always get aligned properly. I remember in the very beginning, sometimes I sat right in the front of the class, and think you were with me the whole time. It’s quite hands-on and specific, the yoga that you do. Can you tell me a bit more about it?
I was really fortunate to have an Iyengar teacher when I was at the law firm. He had 40 years knowledge. It was just so amazing to work with him.
I’ve been doing it for four years now and basically, i’ll be training for the rest of my life in Iyengar. I’m still in training, at the moment. I’m not an official Iyengar teacher. I heavily, heavily work on alignment, because I just think the habits that we form in our every-day life, sitting at desks, and even commuting on tubes, just the way that we sit, it really, really impacts the ability for our joint health, for the energy to flow freely through the body.
I find it really, really important to use props and to really assist each person because each person is built up so completely differently. What I might have done with you, at the beginning of class, might be completely different to the gentleman next to you or whatever.
It’s a really nice system because it means that I can look at each person. Say there’s 30, 40 people in a class, I can verbally or actually physically, adjust each person so that their working within their own body rather than trying to achieve something that’s unachievable.
I think that’s what’s so wonderful about yoga is it really connects you to yourself and you get an understanding of what you are doing to your own body, whether that be physically running around or in the way that you sit or maybe emotionally what your body needs.
When you say props, what do you mean by props?
Yeah, sorry, that does sound strange. We use things like belts and bricks if you think of a physical house brick. It’s like a cork block that’s shaped like that. The reason being is because yoga was designed in India. Indian bodies, at an anatomy level, are very different because their limbs are longer. Their bones are actually longer. Their muscle mass is actually thinner. Which means that they are able to have more length and also less mass to move around.
When Mr. Iyengar came to the west, he realized very quickly that we can’t press the floor in the same way, because our arms are physically not as long as his. He created these props to help us. I think India’s very different now, but traditionally they wouldn’t have been stuffed in offices as much as we were.
What we do and the habits in our bodies on a daily basis make such an impact and really close our body up. The props aren’t a crutch. They’re actually designed to awaken your muscles and give you a sensation and a feeling rather than you needing to lean on them because you’re not good enough. It’s more about a different way of just awakening the muscles so that we can really build our joints and support ourselves.
That’s really good to hear because I remember in the beginning sometimes you were giving me what felt like all the blocks. I kept thinking, “Oh, my goodness. I’m so rubbish. Why am I getting all the blocks?” Obviously, I asked you and you explained it to me, then it made sense.
I feel it was quite difficult in the beginning because you go in, everyone has an ego, and you don’t want to be the worst person in the room. I think a lot of people have a fear about that like I did. It was certainly good to hear from you, way back then, and those are the reasons why. I think not every yoga teacher explains that.
Yeah, I always introduce my class now knowing that over the years. I’ve learned that if you give someone another block, for example, they think, “Oh, no, I’m rubbish.” I always say at the beginning of the class that I’m heavily prop based, and we’re all going to be using props together, and it’s not because one person is better than the other.
I always joke that just because you can do a pose with or without any props it doesn’t make you a better or worse person off the yoga mat. It’s all about how the yoga makes you feel and how it soothes your system and how that makes you a better person off the yoga mat, not so much what you can do and the shapes that you make when you’re on the mat.
I have to say, it’s it’s defined and changed my life dramatically. I don’t think I’d be doing what I’m doing now. I probably wouldn’t be sitting here with you talking like this if it hadn’t been through yoga and the sometimes, like you said, the very emotive journey that it put me on. It’s magical.
Obviously, you’re running around town. I know you run around town, because I know you do quite a few different locations, none of us escapes doing computer work or spreadsheet work. I know you’re very active on social media. You’ve got a website. You’ve got a successful newsletter. How are you doing all that on the run? Where are you doing it?
I think iPhones, I can’t get away from it as much as anyone else. My YouTube videos, which are really based on anti-technology, I use them just as much as I try and get other people to do them. My iPhone is amazing for photos and Instagram inspiration.
I also spend a lot of time at home. I do my diary, at the beginning of the week, I make sure that I have chunks of time that I can really just sit down at home. I have a very clean space so that I can be creative within that. If there’s a lot of mess around me and chaos, I think when you’re self-employed, it’s very hard sometimes to get motivated.
I’m just as bad as anyone else that I’ll be found cleaning the kitchen or tidying up my wardrobe rather than doing emails because it’s easier to get that quick fix of yes I’ve accomplished something because I’ve loaded the dishwasher. I make sure that the house is very clean so that I can really sit down for a few hours to get through that. It’s important for me to be able to add value on social media. I know it’s not for everyone.
I know there’s a lot of debate about whether if yoga is to be on social media or not, but I feel like we are in this world where social media can be used for a really positive thing that if I can give a tip of hey let’s do this pose today, because it’s going to be really good for us, because it’s cold outside, and it inspires just one person to get on their mat, and I know that the feeling of yoga makes you feel so good that if you actually just step on your mat you will do maybe the one pose I suggest. Then you’ll do three other.
I always trust that the yoga practice will do the right thing, that if you can just step on that yoga mat and you can just get on it, just for one pose a day, before long you’ll start to feel so good from the yoga that you’ll actually be there for an hour’s practice very quickly. I do think social media has its place. It can be used for really positive things.
Every time I see your posts I’m like, “Yup, okay, that’s a reminder I need to get on my mat again.” I think a lot of the stuff that you do is very creative. Your class is always creative. Every time I go there I know that I’m going to learn something new, probably something I’ve never heard of before. Where are you getting all this inspiration from?
The funny thing when you say that about creativity is doing a business degree and a business masters and working in a law firm might not sound like the most creative thing. I spent years putting myself in this non-creative box. Then through doing yoga, I’ve really been allowed to get myself out of that box.
We all do it with all aspects of our life. For me, I love the topic of movement and yoga and anatomy, so I’m constantly reading books and watching other teachers on YouTube and Instagram. I have a long list of teachers who inspire me. I think if my self-practice is there that inspires me or I find something new about myself in a way of working, and so I can then pass that onto my students.
I really think my own self-practice and my own teachings for myself, that meditation and that gut instinct is, once you’ve quietened yourself down, that’s where you can start to make space for this creativity to flow. I think we all have it within us, but sometimes we’re just so busy that we don’t make space for that creative side to come out.
I agree. I feel like the meditation is a big part of creativity. Certainly changed me. I know if I want to push out something really crazy I actually sit down and do a specific meditation to draw that out of myself. I don’t know how it works, but it does. When you talk about meditation, I’ve done meditation with you in the classes and on retreat, how do you do it by yourself?
It’s simple. I actually run meditation events for workshops, companies and corporates, who maybe don’t think meditation’s for them. It can really help you add promotion and success to your job. I don’t think everyone needs to become a yoga teacher in order to get success in their life.
I think meditation and having yoga as a toolbox is definitely the way forward to getting on better and having a happier and more successful life. For me, meditation, you just need to sit, maybe even just set the timer for one minute or two minutes, make sure that you’re sat in a comfortable position, whether that be your bed first thing in the morning, whether it be just sitting up on the sofa, not slouching.
Always have your spine long. If you find sitting up too much you can just lie on the floor or lie on your back or put a yoga mat down if you’ve got on. You don’t need to go to the mat to do yoga. Just focus on your breath. Maybe that’s, just in listening to this conversation, maybe that’s the first time you’ve even thought about your breath today.
Just taking a deep breath in through your nose, and a deep breath out through your nose is a really simple way throughout the day that you can bring meditation into every moment. I always say to my students, “Go to the bathroom, and sit if there’s something that’s stressing you out or you get an email that you’re not sure how to respond to. Don’t just quickly blast out a response that you might regret. Just go and sit. Take five deep breaths, and before you know it you’ll have a much clearer, more logical way of responding.”
That’s when I realized yoga was making such a difference for me at work, because I would do a Thursday lunchtime class, and I’d go back to my desk, and I would be able to get through those bigger projects and really in sort of living in my emails in this frantic mode, I would be a lot calmer. I’d get so much more done. I think meditation is so easy. It really is assessable for us all. It’s free. We can just sit for two minutes. It changes the brain and the nervous system. It’s fantastic.
Oh, I love that. It’s changed my life and everybody else I know that’s done it. I get quite anxious on the tube, so I quite often do it on there. It probably looks ridiculous, but I don’t care.
Would you say that there is a big event that changed your life in any way?
I think going to my yoga teacher at the law firm. I think he changed my life for the better and put me on a happier, healthier path.
Now you’re obviously a successful yoga teacher. You teach corporates. You teach individuals. How do you stop yourself from getting burnt out? You spoke about self-practice, but how much time do you have to dedicate so you don’t overwork it?
Well Mr. Iyengar says that every hour that you teach you need to be doing an hour of yoga for yourself. Well actually, sorry, double, that you spend two hours on yourself for every hour you teach, so that means some days I’d be teaching for five hours and practising for 10, which doesn’t happen, sadly.
I think daily meditation practice, remembering to breathe like you said just sitting on the tube, not looking at your phone, sitting up nice and straight and just breathing. Actually, people don’t even notice, because we’re all so self-absorbed in what we’re doing.
I think just doing 10 minutes of yoga a day, so on busy days maybe I just get to my classes 10 minutes early and it just gives me a time to just think about the students, think about what I’ve planned for them, and then just do … maybe it’s just one pose before they come in, just to centre myself.
Self-care Sunday, so lots of homemade face masks and getting to bed early, just all the boring things, which you hear time and time again, but if you actually schedule them in it makes such a difference to your week. You’ll find that you’re a lot more positive if you get more sleep, and you’ve got a routine, and you’re eating healthy.
None of what I’m talking about today needs to cost money. We don’t have to have the best gym membership. We don’t have to go to Whole Foods, sorry Whole Foods, but you can get fresh fruit and veg very cheaply. You can do yoga and meditation at home. It just requires a little bit of organization and a little bit of discipline. It’s so important that we factor that in.
I love that. You mentioned sleep. Now we’ve spoken in the past. I struggle with sleeping. You’ve promised me that you’re going to be making a sleep video. What’s going to be in the sleep video? Also, do you have any other tips for me, because I’m desperate at the moment?
This could be a good two-hour podcast. I think having a routine, whether that be going to bed at the same time every night, which I know living in London and having busy lives where clients expect you for dinners and people expect you to work late or put in face time, I know that’s really unachievable.
It’s about thinking about sleep cycles rather than eight hours of sleep a night. It’s about maybe getting up at the same time every morning rather than if you can’t get to bed at the same time every night and having a routine as simple as just don’t look at your iPhone for 30 minutes before you go to bed. It may be a whole evening or two hours before bed. It’s difficult, but 30 minutes we can all commit to.
Then first thing in the morning sit up in bed and do your 10 minutes of meditation before you pick up your iPhone and start checking your notifications. Simple things like not having caffeine after lunchtime, if you know that caffeine affects you and makes you anxious. I think there’s so much pressure on us to sleep at the moment.
Actually, if we just start to follow our body clock, and stop putting the pressure on that we have to have eight hours every night and god I didn’t sleep well last night. It’s this pressure that we put on our self. If we start to give our self a routine, then the body just gets into that routine, and it knows right now sleep time, instead of us putting this pressure on. I’ve got back from a late-night client dinner. It’s 11:00 and I’ve got to get up at 6:00. I must go to bed now.
It’s more about your little routine. Do your 10 minutes meditation before bed. Maybe do a couple of yoga poses, which will be in the videos that will really teach you just to calm the nervous system down. Because when we come back, and we’ve commuted, and we’ve maybe had some wine, and maybe had some dinner, and we’re quite wired, we’re not suddenly going to be able to get into bed and fall straight asleep. It’s about getting home and having this …
Maybe it’s a 15 – 20-minute routine that gets you ready into this slumber, so that your body knows right now is bedtime, rather than rushing in, and being like, “It’s so late, I’ve just got to get into bed now,” and not allowing your body just to settle after business. You can still go out. You can still work late. We’re in London, so we’re in a busy city. We also allow that body to have its body clock and its time. We need to start to work with that.
Okay, those are very good tips. I’m really, really excited for these sleep videos. I can’t wait, because I know even as I soon as I put myself on the mat, I guess I must have conditioned myself, but automatically I sort of feel relaxed already. I don’t really know why.
I’d like to ask you, you say you do a lot of reading, what kind of books do you read and what would you recommend?
I’m really boring. I realize that quite a lot of my bookshelf is yoga books, especially books from BKS Iyengar. I think he is the world’s most respected yoga teacher. He’s definitely my guru. I love the Tree of Yoga. It’s one of those books I will pick up and maybe just read a couple of pages. It might inspire me to put a themed class on just on those two pages that I’ve read. Then you can put it away.
The same for Eckhart Toll, the Power of Now. They’re two books that every time you read you just pick up something new from. It’s never just one read and you put it on the bookshelf to collect dust. Yoga the Iyengar Way is what I would suggest you get for self-practice.
It’s the book that is my bible and still now, 10 years on, I’m still picking it up and using that to inspire me on the mat. I love audible. Some of the audible books I love, the Yoga Matrix, by Richard Freeman is super amazing. It’s a bit more about the philosophy of yoga.
Something more down to earth is Thrive by Arianna Huffington from the Huffington Post. She has a fantastic book just that brings in all of the things that we’ve been talking about today about having a successful job and also bringing in these tools of yoga and meditation and good food.
I love the book called Gut by Giulia Enders. It’s just a really simple way for us to understand our stomach and the food and the processes and how it all affects our emotions and our health.
Oh, that’s an excellent list. There’s a few that I liked in there. I’m definitely going to look into those. I’m interested to talk a little bit about your travelling because I know you travel. I know you do retreats and things like that. What place, would you say, gives you energy? It doesn’t have to be a city.
I think the countryside. I was brought up on a farm until I was 13. I absolutely love living in a city, but I also really find just retreating to the countryside gives me a lot of energy and the clean air and the quietness where you don’t have the traffic and the business that you can still hear in your home even in London.
I love that aspect of London as well. I’m not being negative about it. I just think every now and again it’s good to get out just in the green fields in the country air. It’s one of the things that when we were on your retreat in Italy that I really loved.
It’s just so nice just the stars and just no light pollution. It goes back to that element of sleep. You go back to your body clock. You have no artificial light keeping you awake and stimulating you. I think we were all in bed by about half 9:00, 10:00.
Wonderful, I really, really loved that trip. I really did. It was magical. When you go on your own holiday, so when you’re not teaching and you’re doing time for you, what would you ultimate be if money were no object?
Oh, god, well some of the places I really want to travel to is Japan. Get on the bullet train and see what Tokyo and that craziness is like. Safari is definitely on my top lifetime goals to do. I climbed Kilimanjaro about five years ago.
Yeah, just to throw that one in, but I didn’t have enough time to stay and do a safari. I would love to go and do a safari. I see the people now do a safari in yoga trips. Maybe I can arrange a yoga retreat with a safari?
I love that idea.
I really to get out to Bali. It has such an amazing yoga scene. There are so many amazing places to go and eat and explore. I love the heat. I love the beach. I love the sunshine. I’d go back to India. There’s just nowhere in the world that I wouldn’t even want to go back to or to explore. Yeah, I do love travelling.
Some of those places I really want to go to, Japan definitely, and Bali. Bali is on my hit list. Lastly, as you know, I’m off on my digital nomad travels, what tips would you give me?
Yeah, I’m very envious of these travels. I can’t wait to follow your blog and follow your journey. Well, one of the things is travel towels don’t work. Don’t even bother to pack one. Do not waste your money. I think a good journal, so that you can just remember funny things or like just little things while each area that over time, even with photos, we forget those little things.
I always used to book myself into really busy hostels, because then you know that you’re going to meet people. I’m quite sociable, so I love to meet people and hear about their travels and where they’ve been and where they’re going to. Yeah, it’s such a great place just to connect with locals and also just to connect to other people on the journey.
I tried to do hostels a couple of years back, but I think I might be slightly too old for that, maybe one or two nights, but yeah, I definitely … I hear what you’re saying.
This has been wonderful. I feel like I’ve learned so much more. Every time I speak to you I learn something new. Thank you so much for chatting Kelly.
If you would like to keep up with what Kelly is doing, she’s very active on Instagram, plus she sends out a weekly newsletter, where you can see where she’s teaching the next week, plus learn about her retreats.
She also has a YouTube channel which has some excellent videos aimed at people like us who work at a desk all day, plus some amazing yoga poses for sleep.
If you are interested in hiring Kelly for corporate yoga or for a meditation workshop, you can also find her on Linkedin.