Donna Noble‘s love affair with yoga began when she saw a picture of Madonna in a newspaper posing with her legs behind her head.
‘A colleague of mine saw the picture and immediately suggested that we give yoga a try, and I agreed,’ explains Donna.
‘We were lucky enough to have another colleague who was training to be a teacher, so we became her guinea pigs.
‘I went on to do a six-week beginner’s course as I did not want be in a class where everyone else could get their legs behind their head. It was a love hate relationship initially.’
But then life got in the way. Donna was studying for a Masters so didn’t have as much time to focus on yoga. And then a terrifying illness struck.
14 years ago, Donna went to bed one evening and woke up to find that one side of her face was drooping alarmingly.
‘Initially, I thought I was having a stroke, but I was assured very quickly that it was Bell’s palsy,’ says Donna.
‘It’s a very visible illness, it initially affected my self esteem and confidence. Looking back, I think I under-played the severity of it.
‘I was avoiding cameras and when I laughed or talked I would cover my mouth because I was so self conscious.
‘One of the hardest parts initially was seeing my face on a daily basis and no longer feeling complete – but that changed over time and I eventually became accepting of my condition and did not let it define me.
‘During this time my family and friends were amazing.’
As well as incredible support, it was reigniting her love for yoga that really helped Donna through these difficult times. She says getting up every morning at 6.30am for Bikram yoga helped her to heal.
She has even become a professional instructor and says that working on her passion has rebuilt her confidence.
‘Yoga has transformed my life is so many ways allowing me to leave the corporate world behind, but most importantly it helped me to heal from the trauma of my illness,’ Donna tells us.
‘Though yoga I am able to realise my body’s full potential. I can do more things now than I could do in my twenties. I am now more connected to my body – and I have a greater mind-body connection that I did before my illness.
‘I am more active than I was before my condition, yoga has helped me to heal and allows me to be stronger mentally and physically to deal with the trauma I encountered.’
Donna was very athletic when she was at school and she is now relishing the fact that she has come back to fitness in a more holistic way.
‘Yoga has made me see that being active is so important. If you don’t use it, you loose it, I always say.
‘Bell’s palsy changed my life as it made gave me the opportunity to reevaluate what I wanted from my life, and gave me the courage to do what I am doing now.’
As a yoga instructor, Donna gets to travel and share her passion with others. One thing she is keen to impart on everyone she teaches is a flexibility of mind-set, not only the body.
‘You will come to yoga for flexibility, but this will evolve into something more meaningful and profound,’ she explains.
‘I share tools that my students can incorporate into their every day lives. I love seeing how they become more confident and learn how strong their bodies are; finding out that everything they need is already inside of them.
‘I get to go with the flow of life; to experience a life where nothing is impossible where I can contribute more to society, to effect change no manner how small.
‘Yoga has become a lifestyle for me and I cannot imagine not doing it. My body certainly lets me know when I have not done my yoga practice.’
Donna says that being fit and active and progressing with her yoga has helped to improve her condition and the visible effects of the Bell’s palsy on her face have faded. But she says she is way beyond being hung up about her physical appearance.
‘I’ve regained my confidence, but I’ve also stopped caring about what people think about how I looked. I have realised that I am more than my appearance. Beauty comes from the inside.’
As a black woman in yoga, Donna is acutely aware of the lack of diversity in the industry. She’s working hard to make meaningful change in that area.
‘Yoga is for everybody, but this is not very apparent,’ she says.
‘On social media you will notice an increase in the hashtags #everybodyyoga and #yogaforeverybody – but on closer inspection, this is not always evident – it’s just another marketing tool.
‘I believe that if you have a body and do yoga, then you have a yoga body.’
Donna is working for more diversity, accessibility and inclusivity within the yoga space. Her Curvesomeyoga movement aims to create a safe, judgement-free space where anyone can realise their body’s true potential.
‘Very simply, representation matters – if you do not see someone who looks like you doing yoga, then you are not going to get on the mat. Why would you?
‘Yoga is often viewed as very daunting. The image of a typical yogi is one particular aesthetic; somebody tall, white, slim, with their legs behind their head. It’s putting a lot of people off trying yoga, even thought it is growing in popularity.
‘This is one of the reasons I have tried becomes more visible so that I can show a different demographic doing yoga.
‘In order to encourage more people on to the yoga mat, it is important to ensure that our teachers are representative of our community.’
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