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Discussing fashion and yoga with Anna Murphy

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When Anna Murphy took on the role of Fashion Director at The Times in 2015, she had a clear vision for what she wanted to achieve.

I want The Times fashion content to be useful and practical; to help you work out what you want to buy, and where best to buy it. I also want it to be inspiring and entertaining. Fashion, unlike many facets of the world today, is anything but grey (unless grey is in this season, of course). I am here to bring it to life, in all its brilliance and all its bonkers-ness, to celebrate it but also, when necessary, to take it to task. Anna Murphy 

Talking to Anna this week, it’s evident that she still retains this passion for fashion. She loves her work. She sees fashion as a significant form of self-expression which leads to joy and ultimately to empowerment.

If you look at the anthropology of fashion, it’s absolutely fascinating. We all say something about ourselves by what we choose to wear and not wear. Fashion is a key part of how you present to the world, how you make your way in the world. Anna Murphy

According to Anna, there’s a perception that fashion is somehow women’s business and not to be taken seriously. But for Anna, fashion is art. It’s a creative expression that we can all be a part of. And that’s where her role as Fashion Director at The Times comes in. Anna is committed to her readers, to helping them find their way in the world; helping them to see that fashion need not be scary; helping them realise the best version of themselves; helping them find joy, confidence, freedom and, ultimately, to find themselves in what they wear.

When Anna wrote in the Times about her experience of yoga, we at Yogamatters thought it would be great to connect with her to learn more about her love of life, yoga and fashion.

In many ways, fashion is not so very different from yoga.

Anna believes that both yoga and fashion serve to help you realise yourself. You manifest yourself outwardly through your yoga practice and through what you wear. In yoga, you move towards becoming the unique individual in mind, body and spirit that you were created to be and then you get to express that inner identity in how you choose to clothe that beautiful, strong, grounded self.

Anna has found the fashion world to be generally pro yoga. That is no surprise. Those who work in the fashion industry are always open to new and cool things. That’s the nature of the work. And yoga is seen as cool right now. In many ways of course, the world of fashion is highly pressurised – and that’s precisely why yoga promises so much in this environment. Naturally there are ways of adopting a yoga practice that are not healthy, whether you are part of the fashion scene or not. Some use it as a way to lose weight. Super skinny yogis can be idolised on social media. Yoga in the West can give way to body fascism and narcissism in the same way as found in the prevailing gym culture.

But for Anna Murphy, her yoga practice has proved to be a wonderful path of self-discovery and self-realisation.

Yoga is unlike any other form of exercise. Yoga is an unfolding story. As time goes by, your practice gets better and stronger and deeper. In developing a more flexible body, you develop a more flexible mind. Without it, your life and body and mind can become less and less flexible as you get older, as you get more stuck in your ways.

At the beginning of April, Anna shared her yoga journey in ‘How my midlife yoga fix is transforming my body’ in The Times. In this honest and often humorous account, Anna describes her early – and largely off-putting – encounters with yoga and her eventual discovery of the ‘full yogic package’, the yin and the yang, through her work with Simon Low. Having gained a greater knowledge base and self-motivation in recent years, Anna has developed a regular self-practice with an opening flow and then a range of asana. It’s a bespoke practice, adjusting to the time available and the particular needs of her body. Her days are unpredictable, and her practice adapts accordingly. She admits that she prefers to practice first thing in the morning where possible, before the ‘yoga dread’ sets in.

 

As human beings, we have a remarkable capacity to do all that we can to avoid doing the things that we know do us good.

Even though she’s often travelling, Anna’s completely dedicated to her practice, because she knows that if she misses a day or two, she will soon feel aches and pains in her back. Her yoga practice undoes the effect on her body of the hours that she spends at her desk. She always packs her travel mat, strap, eye mask, and her latest acquisition, a pair of YogaJellies Yoga Pads, which she’s hoping will give her that bit extra cushioning when practising on a travel mat.

Anna’s midlife yoga fix may be transforming her body, but it’s also transforming her whole mindset. She recognises that she’s now calmer mentally, more focused. Whilst she’s happy with the blend of yin and yang yoga in her life, she still loves to try new styles and schools of yoga. During a recent trip to New York, she took classes at the Jivamukti Centre and the Dharma Yoga Centre. She sees Jivamukti yoga as a good introduction to a yoga practice, with the incredible energy created by the chanting and the music.

This led us into a discussion about introducing others to yoga. From her own experience, Anna always encourages people to try a variety of different types of yoga and to not get put off if that initial class doesn’t resonate. If a particular yoga class isn’t for you, it doesn’t mean that yoga is not for you. She would also recommend getting a good, carefully illustrated introductory book on yoga in the early days. Yoga can actually be dangerous and can cause injury and it pays to be informed. It pays to find a really good teacher too, one who is respected and well qualified. As yoga becomes more mainstream and there are more yoga teachers on the scene, there’s a word of caution here from Anna: not all qualifications are equal. There’s a lot of inconsistency in teaching out there. Take your time. Find a teacher who really cares for you. Do some workshops to get some in-depth teaching. Go on a yoga retreat where the teacher gets to spend a whole week with you.

While Anna ends her piece ‘How my midlife yoga fix is transforming my body’ asserting that she’s mainly thinking about herself and focusing on her own yoga practice, it is not in the yogi’s nature to keep quiet about the benefits of yoga for all. She longs to see yoga break free from the stereotype of the middle class white woman. Yoga is for everyone, the old and the young, men and women. She’d love to see yoga represented in the education system, so that alongside facts and figures, our young people are learning to know themselves both mentally and physically. And add to that more men in yoga classes and in the yoga world too.

There’s a yoga revolution going on right now and it seems to me, it’s largely a revolution for women. And yet there’s a combined strength and softness in a yoga practice that can transform the lives of men.

It was some way into her yoga journey that she came to the realisation that yoga can be a medicine. Yoga is now an integral part of her path to holistic health. This is good news and good news needs to be shared.

Yoga, suggests Broad (Broad as in William J Broad, writer of The Science of Yoga: The Risks and the Rewards), is one way that we might help to alleviate the current health crisis.  Anna Murphy in ‘How my midlife yoga fix is transforming my body’

Wouldn’t that be amazing?

Just imagine…

So thank you, Anna Murphy, for sharing your yoga journey and some of the lessons you’ve learnt and observations you’ve made along the way.

And if we all truly believe that yoga might help to alleviate the current health crisis, then let’s work out what we can do about it!

Photograph credit: Aaron Joel Santos

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