Hi Sal, thank you for taking the time to chat with me. Can we start
with you telling us a little about your upbringing.
I grew up in Maidstone, Kent. It was a typical 1970s upbringing. There
were no big scary stuff going on. Yet I do remember events around my
school also around my Dad that felt really big. I was never really
comfortable with it [suburban lifestyle] and always felt an outsider, never
fitting in with that traditional life. When I was around 19 I left home and
moved to Nottingham. It was my first experience of a different city and
culture. It was in the midst of the clubbing House scene and I was heavily
into that for a long time both for pleasure and working as a dancer. It was
a world I was really comfortable in. I then moved to London and spent a
few years of hedonism and partying and all the usual stuff that entails.
City life is very different from suburban life and I met a lot of interesting
You seem to be someone who likes things that are different and
stimulating. Would you describe yourself as a high energy person?
Yes, very much so.
How was your health at this time?
This was the first time the condition showed itself.
Back in my early teens I developed a digestive condition (later diagnosed
as Ulcerated Crohn’s Disease – UC) at the time I changed school. It was
the first time I was catapulted into a massive difference. I went from a
town school to a village school. I really stood out and so it was difficult.
You are either liked or not.
When I track it back, its is always around a period of transition. Emotional
shift or physical shift. That seems to be how my nervous system
responds. (for an in-depth look at the uniqueness of our personal stress
responses have a listen to this podcast with eminent stress biologist
Robert Salposky https://peterattiamd.com/robertsapolsky/
Did you lifestyle in London effect your UCD?
It seemed to come and go every few years in my teens. My digestion has
always been my weak area. In my early 20s I had digestive surgery for an
appendix and second appendix (appendicteal duplication – who knew!!
Things then settled down until I was 29 when it came back. It coincided
with me stopping smoking and there are links, I later found out, between
nicotine/tar suppresses the symptoms of UC. Then went on and off in a
heavy way throughout my 30s.
How did it effect this stage of your life?
I had shifted from the partying lifestyle of my 20s to a strong business
mode mindset in my 30s. I started a photography business and everything
was all about business 24/7. However, it was really tough to get off the
ground and there was a lot of stress around that. I would get very nervous
before attending shoots. I was in a steady happy relationship so all that
was good there but the stress of the photo shoots, being new to this
career and not yet knowing enough about it, really acerbated the
condition. My fear was about the “failure” aspect; what if I made a mistake
or got it wrong. Ive since discovered through personal development work
that it stemmed from a fear of getting into trouble.
How did you manage the stress?
I was living in Hove and had started getting sciatica. I discovered a local
acupuncture clinic and I thought I would give it a try. I had no
preconceptions, I simply remained open. I happened to mention to the
therapist that I also had UC and they said they could treat that as well. It
was the only thing that dramatically shifted the condition and I embarked
on a course of acupuncture. I found it to be incredibly helpful as well as
dietary management eg cutting out dairy, meat, spices, anything
inflammatory. It helped reduce my stress and fatigue that came with UC.
What led you to teaching yoga and, now, psychotherapy counselling?
I had always be interested in mind based yoga and philosophy.
Acupuncture got me interested in energy and the flow of energy in the
meridians. In my late 30s I started physical (asana) based yoga and breath
work and started yoga teacher training largely for my own self interest. It
was a surprise when my teaching became full time very quickly without
even intending this to happen. I had qualified as a yoga teacher in 2010
and left my photography career in 2011. In 2012 I started training in
psychology and psychotherapy and my work has moved more in this
How was your UC over this period?
When I started the teacher training transitioning out of photography I had
a 6 month crash. It seemed to come out of nowhere and I believe it is a
somatic (body) response. Mentally, I feel bulletproof but the body, in this
case the gut, is feeling differently. Stress exacerbates the condition, but it
does not cause it. It could be delayed shock or like shedding a skin when
you move into something new and this causes a physical reaction.
During this period I was getting up, teaching a class, coming home,
sleeping for 6 hours, getting up, teaching another class coming home,
sleeping for 12 hours. That was all I could do. I literally only had enough
energy to do that.
How did you deal with this in terms of your identification as a health
and wellbeing teacher?
I’ve never held myself out to be all super calm and drinking green
smoothies. But I would never share that I had UC with my students. I
don’t know whether it’s a male thing; but when you have UC you are
literally the weakest you can be. You’re in pain, you’re embarrassed by
the symptoms and its shameful in a sense. In some ways teaching is an
escape as its about helping others not yourself. I’m at my best when I am
helping others so its a bit of an escape from it. There is a bit of
psychological stuff going on, as in, do I need to share this, it is helpful to
others? I have learnt a lot about vulnerability since then and have changed
a mindset a lot.
Its not about being perfect, but you do [as a yoga teacher] have to be a
certain way. There is also that thing about not spreading your energy
about. If you are having difficulty then sort it out. If you’re going to teach
yoga, then teach yoga; it’s not about you, it’s about the students. They
are there to be taught and I’m the teacher, so I work on my personal
Why do you think we do that?
Complying with what society expects from you. What you expect yourself
to be is often how you turn up. There’s a psychological phenomenon
called the Pygmalion Effect (others expectations of a person affect how
that person performs). As a yoga teacher you need to be congruent (in
agreement) with yourself however you need to park your own issues.
They’re not paying you to talk about your stuff, they are paying you to
teach yoga. So it managing your congruency and your boundaries. Its
difficult. Maybe I didn’t do so well then, but I manage it much better now.
How did you manage this mentally?
It didn’t really effect me mentally as teaching yoga was the one thing I
could do and had a passion for. It allowed me to continue to make an
income whilst dealing with UC which I couldn’t control. If people asked
how I was I wouldn’t like and say I was really good, I would simply say I
was okay. It was a levelling response and put the focus back on them as it
wasn’t about me. However, not being congruent in this way means it takes
longer to heal.
Brene Brown has done a lot of work on this and around men who tend to
think feeling shame is weak.
You don’t want to be seen as weak, whether its psychologically,
emotionally or physically. UC is all about physical weakness although on
the inside you have to be very strong to deal with the symptoms.
So yes its hard as a yoga teacher to admit this stuff however I know lots
of yoga teachers and therapists that have things going on for them but it
does not mean they are not good at what they do. As long as you are
working on your self you are part of the congruent moment going forward.
You’ve experience a recent flare up of UC that led you to being more
open about it. Can you explain what happened and let you to this
change the way you dealt with this condition?
Last year I split up from my partner of almost two decades. It woke me up
to the fact that the future is not fixed and that you don’t know what life
has for you even though you have things planned. Things change that are
out of your control. She had been a strong and stable part of my life and
suddenly it had gone. I had to go through a grieving process that led to
the realisation that life is still good, I’m alive and functioning. It made me
realise that so much stuff does not really matter. So others opinions of me
did not matter so much which leads you to a place of personal peace.
Also the feelings you have about yourself, what you should and shouldn’t
be, don’t matter so much. I think that is what made me have the real shift,
the realisation that sometimes we are not in control. So although at first I
only shared my UC condition with people I trusted, I now didn’t feel I
needed to hide it so about 2 months ago I did a podcast and shared it
Tell me more about the “shift”?
All the work I do [with clients] is about freedom from fear and things that
hold you back so I was going through that process myself. I wanted to
have a visceral sense of what fear felt like, what does loneliness really feel
like, what does confusion feel like? The more those rich, strong feelings
come up the more you are ok with them. That is one of the big shifts that
has come about recently. Being closer to the pain means the pain doesn’t
The split was certainly the catalyst for my recent UC episode although it
took 9 months to appear. Maybe it was delayed shock. Who knows. The
body doesn’t work on the same timeline that our heads work on, it can
have a delayed timeline. I was going through a deep sadness for the end
of the relationship. After a relationship of that length, part of your identity
goes with it. But I allowed myself to feel every emotion fully.
What techniques or practices did you engage to “feel” these
emotions in your body?
I got into Crossfit. It’s a highly intense physical training program. Pushing
your body in ways you did not think you could do was incredibly
expansive and exactly what I needed.
I would also feel the sensations of the emotion in my body, the tingling the
tightness. I would ask myself what is this sadness, do I want to cry, does
it make my jaw feel heavy? For me it felt like a constant weight, a
heaviness that was being drawn down through me. Also in my heart space
there was an empty hollow ache.
What was the effect of feeling into your emotions in this way?
It [the heaviness] took a couple of months. It wasn’t going to shift in a day.
Its like carrying around a heavy backpack that has all your supplies in it.
You cant leave it behind, you have to carry with with you whilst you go
through the journey. It was not a case of needing to feel better, it was a
case of that I just needed to feel. It allowed the whole experience not to
clear more quickly but to clear more fully. It’s about finding those edges
and moving into them. It was a process of growing and releasing at the
same time and not backing away from it. You have to go through it
otherwise it’s like being on a roundabout and you keep going round and
round in circles. If you don’t process the thought or the feeling you get
stuck in a loop and can keep believing a negative story such as “I’m not
loveable or I’ll be alone”. You have to take a look behind the curtain so see
what it actually going on.
How can people practice this?
The first step is to experience the sensation of it in the body. Then identify
the emotion or feeling. Then to question it e.g. is it real? It think this is the
most effective way of processing pain. Of course yoga and good
psychotherapy will assist this, but you have to do the work and it’s not
What made you tell others about your health challenges and do the
The more I talk and interact with people the more I see that everyone is
dealing with something. There are a lot of people that hold me as an
emblem of health and fitness and I wanted to show others that I too am
human. I am as easy to damage as the next person. But maybe I have
more skills now and more awareness to heal more fully and its that
different that can help a lot of people who have yet to develop those skills.
So I thought it is time to share my personal story.
You explain on your podcast that you were going take a back seat in
your career whilst you heal. That’s a big decision and takes a lot of
courage and insight. Where did this come from?
Learning to feel the intense emotions I was going through grew my
courage and a sense that it would be ok.
I took some prescribed medication as I needed to function. Not working
for a couple of months when you are self employed is expensive.
Also towards the end of the last UC flare-up I broke my wrist. It was a
really bad break and I suddenly things I took for granted became an effort.
Neither could I workout or do any exercise. So with the low energy I was
experiencing with the UC and the wrist break put an extra drain on my
physical as well as my emotional health. This spiralled me into a
depression for about a month. It was a depression related to
circumstance rather than a biochemical (clinical) one. So I was able to
stay with it. I couldn’t make it go away, I had to face it.
Where you ashamed by your depression?
No. I felt broken. When you are broken in yourself you have to heal. You
need time for this. Your body needs time to physically heal. You also need
time to emotionally heal. This is one of the problems I have with the yoga
community that it can be seen as all about feeling good, happy and
healthy all of the time an that simply isn’t how life works. Yoga is about
grit, about facing challenges and staying present. I feel I have learnt and
grown a lot from this experience.
And finally some Quick Fire Questions :
What do you do when you are maxing your downtime?
Walking my dogs. l’m listening to ‘ The Power of Habit’ by James Duhigg
as I find it easier than carving out time to sit and read.
What book(s) do you find yourself re-reading or recommending to friends
I revisited ‘Feel the fear and do it anyway’ bu Susan Jeffers. It’s a classic
but the core message is still highly relevant. ‘Autobiography of a yogi’ buy
Paramahansa Yogananda a must read.
If you could have a billboard up in Piccadilly Circus with your personal
message for what you wanted the World to know (yours or a quote you
find inspires you) what would it say or show.
Be present and aware of the present moment – it’s all we really have.
What is your go-to track(s) that without fail pull you back up and get you
Deep house music
What have you bought (under £100) in the last 6 months that has had the
most impact on your health and wellbeing?
Hard rubber ball – I use it to roll out release tight muscles
What’s inspiring you most at the moment?
What do you think our Community is in most need of right now?
To become emotional aware and resilient
Finally, how can people best connect with you?
Conversation over a coffee
Thank you Sal, your words have made me think, re-assess and re-direct a lot of beliefs.
Contact Sal at http://saljefferies.com/