SARAH FYSON - Yoga instructor, beach lifeguard and member of Open Minds Active
I have the privilege of teaching a yoga program with Open Minds Active, leading outdoor sessions to build confidence and connection for young adults with learning difficulties. Also as a swimmer, I have been able to assist them with wild swimming sessions, teaching yoga postures and breathing practices before going into the water.
My joy within this work is watching people connect with themselves, finding the confidence to explore their self-expression through movement and a shared experience, free of any judgement or ridicule. This includes myself, as I am in no way separate as the teacher, I have as much to learn from this experience. In fact, I learn daily about myself in these sessions from working with such amazing participants and their valued contributions. The feelings of joy this brings has a ripple effect, bringing laughter and smiles to all involved, and so often even with onlookers passing by.
These mutually beneficial, and collective experiences provide a much-needed connection, particularly throughout a time when it has been in many ways difficult to do so. It has been equally healing that so much of the work takes place outside in nature, whether by the sea, a lake or in a beautiful expansive wooded park.
I have a longstanding love for swimming, and that time in the water runs parallel to so many memories and experiences across my lifetime.
During my childhood, my sisters and I would spend countless hours in the sea at Polzeath, gripping our polystyrene bodyboards, clad in colorful swim costumes, and staying literally until our bodies were rubbed red raw. Driving over the headland we would sit restless with anticipation to be the first one to call, ‘I can see the sea.’ The excitement of that first glimpse, the expanse and freedom it evoked in the soul. We would peer out the window imagining the feeling of wind, sand and salty water that awaited us.
The wildness of it, both empowering and tangible. While full of energy, it also instilled in me a sense of peace and undistracted calm. At that moment, knowing there was nowhere else I could imagine being. I have always looked inward and strived to return to that stillness, and the uninhibited feeling I captured as a young girl. It is that feeling of being at ease just as I am, which fuels my passion to support others on their journey of self-discovery.
To be honest, whilst studying performing arts and later acting at drama school, I struggled often to feel worthy and comfortable being myself. I had days when I was good and at peace within myself, and other days when, shackled by nerves and fear feeling as if I was not enough, as if I was a fraud. Inconsistent and frustrated I worked hard and did well, though at times I felt I was wading through treacle. It was the moments when I was centred and calm, when time slowed, I found it came easy. I did not have to try. I was enough. I was great.
As a yoga teacher, through movement and breathwork, my mission has been to enable others to discover that calm centred-ness inviting them to explore self-expression and self-worth, without inhibitions or criticisms and foster feelings of greater confidence.
The ability to understand breath, and how the nervous system operates are essential in knowing what is occuring within our body when we feel shock, fear or nerves. The parasympathetic nervous system controls homeostasis and the body at rest and is responsible for the body's "rest and digest" function. While the sympathetic nervous system controls the body's response to a perceived threat and is responsible for the "fight or flight" mechanism. Both are completely necessary and useful. Understanding the nervous system, even just a little, gives our minds and bodies a greater chance of managing nerves or anxiety with breathwork and staying centred in our day to day lives.
With participants at Open Minds Active, I teach simple breathing exercises that slow down the breath, lengthen the exhale and help tap into the parasympathetic nervous system. This is useful if you are getting into cold water, feeling self-conscious or dealing with any levels of anxiety. They can be woven into a series of moves or done in stillness and can be fun to experiment with. Anything that puts us in touch with our breathing can be beneficial. I often remind myself to take a moment to breathe deeply, when I’m racing around in a busy week.
With the young adults with special educational needs, we work on tools that help prepare them for independent living. Having new experiences and the confidence to participate in outdoor activities form an important part of the work. We take them on nature walks, encourage them to experience outdoor yoga and wild swimming. After just a couple of weeks we can observe their confidence grow. We love witnessing their increased excitement as they hurl themselves out of the minibus and sprint down to the lake for their swim session. Each week their enthusiasm and self-belief grows and is such a joyous, and heart-warming sight for us and our guests to see, bringing forth many smiles.
Working outdoors is truly amazing. It can be greatly beneficial for so many in easing distractions and calming the mind. It certainly has served that purpose for me. Being away from technology, connecting with the natural environment and not having the distractions of home and my ‘to do list’ really brings me back to that calm I captured as a girl when I first experienced the openness and wildness of the sea.
What a gift to now work and share similar experiences with such diverse groups of people out in nature. There is something about the camaraderie, the connection between people, nature, the water and the feelings it induces. Combine that with breathwork and we create more opportunity to focus on our personal journey with grace and inner strength.
Moving, doing yoga and particularly the sea have supported me and provided a haven when I’ve needed it most. As a girl it helped me discover and connect with that sense of oneness and peace so whenever I felt lost, I could navigate my way back, my way home. I am so grateful that I am now able to support others on their own personal journey.
ABOUT SARAH FYSON
Sarah is based in Bristol, UK and is a Hatha Yoga instructor, experienced open water swimmer and beach lifeguard. She comes from a performing arts background and her yoga teaching is influenced by years of ‘moving,’ whether it be through dance or water. She is always delighted to share the joy of movement and the outdoors with everyone. She works with Open Minds Active on their social prescribing and community initiatives. @sarfyson on Instagram
ABOUT OPEN MINDS ACTIVE
Open Minds Active is a Bristol social impact organisation that promotes positive mental health and wellbeing through wild swimming and the outdoors by nurturing a deeper human connection with nature. Website, Facebook and Instagram @openmindsactive