A Q&A with Hannah Presence, who is bringing yoga to some of the toughest prisons in the UK…
Tell us a bit about yourself…
Hi I’m Hannah, yoga teacher in South East London and Kent. My foundation practice is Ashtanga based, I also teach Vinyasa flow and Yin yoga.
When did you qualify and where do you teach?
I teach wherever I can find a lovely suitable space from dance studios, community halls, yoga studios, corporate offices, the great outdoors, my home studio and prisons!
After qualifying in March 2015 in Chiang Mai, Thailand I found myself with a little teaching job at a studio on the island of Koh Tao which gave me a great amount of experience and confidence.
Now I mainly teach group classes and private sessions back in the UK. I’ve also ran many workshops for my own students and also for big corporations in London and Kent, for example the Royal College of Physicians and the staff of the Volkswagen Group.
What always surprises people about you?
People are always surprised at how down to earth I am. I’m very human and have experienced a lot of good and bad in life so I’m able to empathise and relate to many different people which puts my students at ease. I have been told that my modelling pictures and Instagram can make people perceive me as someone I’m not.
How did you get into teaching yoga in prisons?
With my previous career in sales and account management I’m fairly good at relationship building and in working with Sonya from Waves Mindfulness on different day events and projects I always had fabulous feedback.
Sonya has a few prison contracts teaching meditation and mindfulness courses called Plan B, to improve behaviour and to provide a safe space for self enquiry and education. As a part of the course the attendees get to take part in yoga with me.
Partly because Sonya had such great feedback on the yoga classes she decided to add them into every single mindfulness course she has in every prison. It started off with Wandsworth Prison and now we add yoga to the course in Wormwood Scrubs Prison and Elmley Prisons.
I feel because I’m a confident person and I am assertive in my delivery and teachings, the guys in the prisons engage very well with the classes and improve massively in just one session. I don’t think it’s an easy job for someone who is maybe slightly shy or takes stuff personally or to heart as you hear some rather offensive things said about you! You just have to stay professional and deliver the best service you can.
What’s been the most rewarding thing about it?
I absolutely love teaching in prisons for so many reasons. I love to constantly challenge myself and i really love that growing feeling and buzz of putting myself massively out of my comfort zone.
It’s been on my bucket list since yoga training school when my teacher told me he taught in prisons in Scotland and i just remember thinking “Wow, that’s a bit of me” so when the opportunity arose i was 100% there! Other than the fact it’s a surreal setting with potentially dangerous people and you really don’t know how the energy of the people or the class will be that day, I do love that feeling of the unknown.
One of the most rewarding things about the actual teaching of the class is being able to support people in doing things they never thought they were able to do and delivering it. From having a group of tense people in the beginning to by savasana everyone being so relaxed, so chilled out that it takes them a while to come round.. with a zen smile may I add is totally fulfilling.
What’s the best piece of business advice you’ve ever received?
I think the best piece of advice was given at yoga school and that was to get out there and teach ASAP, don’t wait until you feel super ready or when you feel the time is right, get teaching!! Hence why 5 days after that I was teaching on a paradise island! And definitely be yourself! Don’t try and put on an air of yogic-ness, your students will appreciate you far more just being you! If that does mean you’re super spiritual and aligned then great! But if not, that’s great also.
What business focused resources would you recommend and why?
I haven’t used any business resources as such – just a love for people and business, and a passion for sales and marketing with 9 years experience prior to starting my yoga teaching journey.
I was interested to apply everything I had learned in previous industries to yoga! I can thank many sales course at Anglian windows and my father who was a salesman most of his life and a motivation to succeed.
The number one thing we learn in sales is you might have the most amazing product or service but if you cannot relate it to the customer then you are trying to win a losing battle most of the time. I see so many new teachers go on a course and set up a website and an Instagram boasting about how it’s “changed their life” and they can do this and they can do that, and that they were born to be a teacher and spread the “love of yoga with the world” and they have “found their dream path”, “true calling” and blah blah blah but from a customer’s point of view they think either “So what?” or “Well how does that relate to me?”.
I think it’s great to inspire people with your story from time to time and to show people your progress from a tight weight lifter to a flexy lexy like me. People can see that if you can do it so can they. But in terms of filling your own yoga classes and not the studio providing all your students, I feel a lot of yoga teachers can benefit from switching the business from being about them to about their students and what the students will get out of practicing with you, what benefits they could receive.
What do you know now that you wished you had known when you started teaching yoga ?
Nothing really major. Everything I’ve learned has either been a great lesson, for example like which days and times do and don’t work for classes, or a success. I wish I knew more about ailments and certain physical conditions so i could have been more prepared when working with people with certain medical needs, but again, it’s been a challenge for me to educate myself and learn through communication from those people as to what works best for them.
This extra education i’ve had to undertake in terms of ailments and diseases has sparked a passion for working with people with Osteoperosis, Lupus etc which is what i do on a weekly basis now, and i’d like to look into this a lot further in my future planning.
What are you most excited about now?
Everything! Working with yet a wider variety of people from my doctors to prisoners, people with conditions and people at optimum health. You can learn so much from everyone!
I have just finished setting up my first retreat in a gorgeous place in Umbria, Italy which almost sold out in 2 weeks and I am really excited because this will add to my portfolio of experience and will be so much fun. Italy is my favourite country! The retreat runs from April 27th-30th 2018 and includes Vinyasa flow and Yin yoga, day trips to a honey farm, vegetarian home cooked Italian food and a beautiful infinity pool.
Where can we find you?
Based in Chislehurst, Kent I have my own home studio where I’m fully booked with 18 privates classes a week, 2 group classes in Chislehurst and 1 group class in Gillingham. I cover and assist in London so please feel free to contact me for any help you may need!