Meet James Chapman – Blog


James Chapman is a yoga teacher, yoga therapist, massage therapist and mental health trainer who has been teaching mental-health based yoga for 20 years. We caught up with James to hear more about his background and experience as a yoga and mental health practitioner.

James is joining us for a month of online classes focused on mental health and will be teaching topics including stress management, active listening and safety in stillness. You can read more about the classes and sign up here.

Tell us a bit about yourself…

I’m the father of 3 wonderful girls (9, 6, 4) and live in North London with my wife Sital. I love music and the arts.

What does a typical day look like for you?

After getting the kids ready for school or whatever they’re doing I try to get as much admin stuff out of the way before I get on the mat. I run mental health training courses from home pretty much every day so they often take up most of the time and then I’m off to pick up the kids from school. Once I’m with my kids I try to dedicate as much of my time to them as possible. I love to cook so if my schedule permits I’ll cook lunch and the evening meals. On my days off I’ll go to the gym, have a run or head off for a class at either Islington Boxing Club or K.O. Muay Thai gym. Every day I’ll pick up my guitar and if it’s a really good day I’ll have time to do some music production of some sort. Once the kids have gone to bed, Sital and I will watch a box set and I’ll probably get into a packet of biscuits or some chocolate. Every day without fail I meditate, normally when everyone else has gone to bed.

Tell us a bit about your yoga journey and how it has led you to where you are now…

When I first began yoga I was really ill, both physically and mentally. I began with regular hatha and then went onto Iyengar, it didn’t take long for me to see the healing benefits of yoga and I wanted to delve deeper. I was then introduced to Kundalini yoga and loved the spirituality of it. I loved the chanting and meditations and soon began my first teacher training in KY. Half way through this I began volunteering as a yoga teacher at some drug rehabs local to me and this was my first intro to yogamatters! Buying bulk mats for amongst others the Angel Drug Project and Turning Point charities.  A few years after that I went to Sivananda in Kerala and did my second TTC, that was a great experience and I was very glad to already have been teaching for a few years and for the depth of my earlier Kundalini training as it took me a good while to get my head round the philosophy, I couldn’t have done that in a month. Over the years and after I’d mastered some of the ‘advanced’ postures my practice changed and became much softer. I’d been a long term student of Catherine Annis and John Stirk and so did a Scaravelli Training with them. I then completed restorative trainings with Dr Roger Cole and then Judith Hanson Lassater and this led to an 800 hour yoga therapy training with Yogacampus which was fantastic. I worked for many years at a private members club in Belgravia which was run by our late Queen’s G.P.  and so every week I would have several members of our own and other Royal families in my classes. The next day I would be teaching an NHS class for people with long term and often quite serious mental health problems who relied on benefits. I’ve definitely had a very interesting yoga career, working with a very diverse group of students. Along with being on the faculty of several yoga training companies I also work as a yoga and massage therapist for Addcounsel, one of the world leading luxury mental health and addiction recovery services. I’m very lucky through my long association with London’s Triyoga to have had weekly access to some of the UK and world’s best teachers such as  Howard Napper, Anna Ashby,  Louise Grime, Bridget Woods-Kramer and many more. If anyone tells me I’m a good teacher I tell them it’s because I’ve had great teachers.

What benefits have you seen from using yoga as a tool for opening up conversations around mental health?

People come to yoga because they want more than just physical exercise and when practicing yoga people become both more aware of themselves and more at home in themselves. It’s called interoception or body felt sense and this can create a sense of safety in which conversations can happen that may not happen elsewhere. It’s really important for yoga teachers to be able to have safe conversations around mental health, after all yoga is fundamentally a tool for transformation of the mind.

How can yoga be used to maintain your mental health and live a more emotionally regulated life?

There is a plethora of scientific studies that show how yoga practices positively affects key neurotransmitters linked to depression and anxiety. And we can change our current mood by changing our breath to go from an excited or anxious state to a relaxed state (the only way we can consciously control our autonomic nervous system is with the breath). 

Through meditation we can literally reprogram the brain, with regular practice we can learn to dissociate from our thoughts so we can observe and respond to them rather than being our thoughts and immediately emotionally reacting to them, often in an unhelpful way.

Yoga allows us to connect in a truly healthy and nurturing way with ourselves, by doing so this then allows us to connect in the same way with the wider world. 

What changes would you like to see regarding conversations around stress and mental health in the public discourse? 

We’re starting to have more conversations which is great but we’re still a long way off from conversations around mental health being ‘normal’ and so we have to take action.When it comes to Mental health services in this country nothing usually happens until it’s at crisis point i.e. someones really ill or has attempted suicide.

Recovery outcomes for mental health are actually really, really good but early intervention is vital. The earlier we can spot the signs, have safe conversations and signpost (when necessary) the better and so we need to educate ourselves on how to do this. Mental health affects us all, it’s everybody’s business, we need to know how to support and look after each other and you don’t need to be an expert to be able to do this, just a little education around mental health such as Mental Health First Aid trainng. 

Do you have a favourite quote or mantra that you live by? 

I’ve always tried to live my life with a curious and open mind, not only believing that I can always learn new things but also finding joy in it. This is called the beginner’s mind.

Some years ago I read Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryū Suzuki, a fantastic book which really confirmed what I’d already felt (it’s always nice to read books which agree with you).

This really tallies with what I have come to understand from yoga, probably the most beautiful thing that I’ve learnt and am always learning from my yoga journey is the more I learn the less I actually know. 

 

James is joining us for a month of online classes focused on mental health and will be teaching topics including stress management, active listening and safety in stillness. You can read more about the classes and sign up here.




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