This week’s Yoga Story is yoga teacher, Reiki practitioner and (as if this was not awesome enough) nutritionist in training, Nichola Veitch. Nichola came to practice yoga following a car accident to help her ease pain in her back. It did and created a wonderful ripple effect in other areas of her life. Nichola shares her story beautifully below, along with some hands on beginner advice and loads of take away nuggets of wisdom. You might want to take notes from this one, peeps! Enjoy!
Let’s get to know the lovely Nichola, shall we?
Describe yourself in a few short sentences.
Hi there, I’m Nichola, an introvert by nature, gentle and intuitive. I’m passionate about sharing yoga and supporting others in living a healthy, happy life. A woodland walk, a good book, a cosy blanket and endless cups of tea are my kind of bliss.
What is your life philosophy?
Accept yourself as you are. Learn to love those qualities you see as flaws. Everyone is incredible in their own unique and perfectly imperfect way.
You live and learn. We all make mistakes, but what’s important is that we continue to grow.
Tune into your heart and move through life from your heart centre, following what you love.
Tell us a bit about your yoga story. When did you first step foot on a yoga mat and what brought you there?
I’ve been interested in Eastern philosophies, natural health remedies, and healing with food for as a long as I can remember. I devoured books on these subjects, but I didn’t find my way to a yoga class until I was in a serious car accident.
Late September, a beautiful sunny autumnal morning, I’m due to drive north for work. An uncomfortable feeling in the pit of my stomach tells me something isn’t right; I don’t want to go. Feeling I have no other option, I ignore it and set off. An hour later, I’m driving along the motorway at 70 mph when I see a flash of green. The lights go out. I’ve blacked out but can hear a terrifying noise. I feel an overwhelming fear fill my whole body. I’m woken again by a pain shooting up my spine. I’ve been hit by a car that spun out of control, then a lorry that ran into the back of me. It all happened so fast and I was astonished to find my seat was the only part of the car left intact.
Over the next few weeks, the pain in my back, neck and shoulders worsened progressively. I was tormented by migraines. I walked into my first yoga class out of sheer desperation, knowing I had to find a way to manage the pain I felt every moment of every day.
The accident woke me up to my spirit. I had not been enjoying the career path I was on and desperately craved a change, but felt trapped. I didn’t want to go to work that day. And I didn’t get there. It was the signal I needed that it was time to change. So I learnt more about yoga, the chakra system and Ayurveda. I studied massage therapy and Reiki. I followed my interests.
The changes were slow and gradual. At the end of every yoga class, I was unable to lie on my back for relaxation I was in so much pain. I don’t know exactly when that changed, but over time the pain lessened. I started to feel better, somehow lighter in mind and body. My weekly yoga class became an essential part of my week. I started to explore different classes and eventually embarked on my first teacher training course. Fifteen years later, yoga has become a way of life and a passion that I love to share with others.
What makes you return to your mat?
A regular yoga practice keeps me smiling, no matter the storm blowing through my life. Whether it’s twenty minutes or an hour and a half, I feel lighter, more optimistic and calm within myself after my practice.
Those brief moments of inner calm. The glimpses of pure joy. The stillness among the chaos. The whispers of guidance from the inside. The knowledge that I feel so much better within myself. That’s what keeps calling me back to my mat.
What does yoga mean to you? Define it in 5 sweet words.
Yoga is a healing balm that nurtures and soothes my mind, body and soul. Tired or wired, it brings me back to my centre and reminds me to let life flow.
Hmmm, five words…
stillness, awareness, release, healing, connection
What does your yoga practice look like at the moment? How has it evolved over time?
My practice shifts and changes depending on what’s happening in my daily life. I’ve made meditation a daily practice that I do upon waking. No matter what else happens during the day, I’ve done my meditation. That in itself has been a life-changer.
There are periods when I get on the mat every day and then a week goes by and life has run away with me. That’s life. Thankfully, now that I’m more aware of this pattern, it happens less and less, but as soon as I’m aware that I’m being swept away, I stop and plan some time on the mat. Even if it’s a 10-minute restorative session before I go to bed. When my life is running at a more steady pace, I practice for 60 to 90 minutes, five times a week. That’s a good balance for me.
As I’ve come to have less expectation, my practice has become more fluid and I have more awareness of what I need in the moment.
What have been the most powerful a-ha moments/sparks of inspiration + wisdom that you’ve experienced through yoga?
I’ve begun to experience the beauty in showing up, no matter how I’m feeling, without expectation, and to acknowledge my feelings without trying to change them. These days, I allow the yoga to work its magic.
Understanding that emotion is energy in motion has been another such spark of inspiration. As I move my body and use my breath, the direction and flow of energy changes, helping to release energetic blockages stored in my body. This leaves me feeling lighter and happier at the end of my practice than I felt when I started.
I love how everyday worries are soothed and fall away onto the mat. Moments of wholeness, focus and surrender lead me to experience peace and joy. Through stillness, yoga shines a light on a problem that I’ve been mulling over and I come to know the way forward.
I’ve learnt to tune inwards more, to recognise that what I want isn’t always what I need.
That’s been huge for me. It’s so simple and yet has transformed so many areas of my life.
How did you transform these into life lessons off the mat?
The effects of my yoga practice show themselves in my everyday life, such as subtle shifts in attitude, generally feeling happier with more room in my heart for others. I feel more patient, tolerant, accepting and it becomes obvious when I haven’t been practising regularly; I quickly get pushed off centre!
The realisation that what I want isn’t always what I need has helped me in making dietary changes and understanding that what’s right for one person isn’t necessarily a good choice for me. It sounds obvious, but there are healthy foods that don’t work for me and my body. This knowledge has helped me follow my inner guidance more and more.
What have been the biggest challenges in your practice on + off the mat? What helped you overcome them?
The self-awareness yoga gives me can be tough to process at times. Coming to realise my imperfections, how they impact my life, how I interact in the world, and how I can hold myself back has helped me to ease up, stop the flow of thoughts and make different choices.
I’m challenged by trying to balance discipline with the flow of life. I accept my practice has to change when life becomes hectic. The trick is adapting it rather than letting it go completely. I tend to be all or nothing, so finding that balance has been tricky to overcome. By recognising I have this tendency, I can start to address it. I was in denial for a while! When I saw how it played out in my life and yoga practice, I changed my approach. Instead of fitting in a 90-minute practice, I built in a daily meditation every morning before I get ready for the day. No matter what‘s going on in my life, my morning meditation is firmly rooted into my routine. I feel so much better and it has stopped me beating myself up when the day runs away with me.
Then I started a regular yoga asana practice, which was about accepting that my time on the mat could change from week to week and not to judge that. I aim to practice five days a week and let the timing of that ebb and flow with my energy levels. That way, I practice regardless of how I feel; if I’m tired, I do a restorative practice; if I have a headache, I do a few poses that help me feel better; if I have lots of energy, I do a 90-minute Vinyasa flow practice. This is how my yoga practice nurtures and supports me.
Changing my mindset from fitting yoga in to building it in was a turning point. I transformed a sporadic yoga practice into a regular one that’s simply a part of my lifestyle.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to be a yogi?
If you’re new to yoga, I suggest you sign up to a beginners course and then find yourself a regular class by trying several different styles. There are so many types of yoga and some teachers will resonate more than others.
Start to become more aware of your breath, breathing deeply in and out through your nose and drawing the breath down into your abdomen. Feel your abdomen expand as you inhale and fall as you exhale. Count to six on the inhale and six on the exhale, repeating a few times. Do this throughout your day, when you’re standing in a queue or sat in the car, any spare moment you have. Then take it into a seated meditation practice, by setting a timer for one minute and extending the practice by one more minute each day. Try it first thing in the morning before you get ready.
After attending a regular yoga class, start practicing at home. This can feel like a big leap, but there is an abundance of online classes available. (Try YogaGlo or Movement for Modern Life, just a couple of favourites.)
Read and absorb the teachings of yoga. I highly recommend the book How Yoga Works by Christie McNally and Geshe Michael Roach, a fictional book based on the yoga sutra of Patanjali that brings to life the wider practices of yoga.
Attend workshops to delve into more of the many aspects of yoga and follow what you love. Keep learning, growing and sharing more of who you are.
And finally, what is your favourite yoga asana and why?
Handstand! Although I’m yet to master it! I’m still practising near a wall and it challenges me. It makes me feel strong and changes my mood. Plus it’s fun! It brings out my determination and, depending on what my thoughts are doing, it can frustrate the hell out of me or bring a smile to my face, usually both!
Breathe, stretch, serve, smile.
How refreshing to get to know such a down-to-earth yogi, right?
Nichola is a book-loving, tea-drinking, heart-centred yoga teacher, Reiki practitioner and nutritionist-in-training. Her soul purpose is working with people who are ready to make a change to their life. Whether that’s improving their physical health, mental wellbeing, or upping their inspiration and joy. She is passionate about sharing the magic of yoga and a healthy lifestyle to support a happy, balanced life. Her aim is to guide you to slow down, let go, and reconnect to yourself, paving the way for a life you love. One that loves you back!
Nichola, thank you so much for sharing your story and for reminding us that we are eternally learning.
Let’s show some extra yoga love for Nichola in the comments below!
Image credit: Nichola Veitch