Cathy Gamba on Mindfulness, Deep Rest & Teaching Yoga in New Caledonia

Every yoga swing teacher brings a unique constellation of skills, interest, and life history to their teaching practice, and Wellington yoga teacher Cathy Gamba is no exception.

Cathy’s on her way to becoming a clinical psychologist, has deep roots in the practice of mindfulness and is acutely aware of the connection between physical health and mental health.

She’s also French, and is stoked to be teaching an upcoming yoga retreat in New Caledonia, a French-speaking Pacific island that is said to be “as French as Provence.”

In this interview with Cathy, I was cheered to hear that she doesn’t expect retreat participants to follow all her instructions to a T, rather she hopes to enable them to recharge their batteries and find deep rest, in whatever way is appropriate for them.

I get the impression that this kind and accessible approach is just one example of the grounded and intelligent perspective that informs Cathy’s teaching.

1. How did Yoga find you? And how did Teaching find you?

I’m not sure Yoga or Teaching found me, it was just an opportunity that I took. There have been several times in my life when I have had the opportunity to teach other people… I started in Japan teaching French to Japanese native speakers when I worked there for a wee while from 2001 to 2003. Then in Wellington, I also got the opportunity to teach French at the French Alliance. Later on, I taught spin classes at the City Fitness gym club in Thorndon.

I used to trail run a lot and then I had to reassess my passion as my body didn’t agree with running anymore. So in 2003, I started Yoga with the Ashtanga style in Switzerland and then Bikram Yoga in 2004. When I got pregnant with my baby girl Mia, I really enjoyed practicing yoga even more and started to practice Vinyasa flow and hot yoga, that was in 2010. It made sense then that I start a teacher training so when my second baby, Amandine, came along, I decided to become a teacher. I took her to Byron Bay when she was 5 weeks old and she did part of the teacher training with me in 2013. I was still breastfeeding at the time, it was quite special and a bit crazy too.

2. What guides or inspires the way you teach?

I try to make my teaching as inclusive and as accessible as possible to everyone. I don’t connect with any spirituality or any kind of religion and I don’t Om either.

I am passionate about anatomy and mindfulness, so when I teach I do my best to allow students to develop more body awareness. I do this by being as precise as possible in my cueing. When I give alignment cues, I do it from a place of understanding it in my own body so that students can feel it too. I also hope I can get students to be present for a breath or two…or more. This is where mindfulness and pranayama (breathing) have a key role in my teaching.

I guess to answer your question, I get really inspired by people who are passionate about what they do, I love when there is a pace to the class, it helps me connect with my breath. I need to trust the teacher I practice with so I can just follow and tune in without being distracted by any internal dialogues I might have with myself, the teacher or other people in the room. I hope this is the kind of experience I can give to my students.

I trained and still train with Tiffany Cruikshank from Yoga Medicine – I am definitely inspired by her teaching, her knowledge and the fact that she is not affected by her fame, she is a very down to earth person.

3. What is Yoga about now for you, compared to what it was about, say, five or ten years ago?

On a physical level, yoga trapeze for me is about developing more body awareness and educating myself about how my body functions. On a mental level, it is about learning a few tools to be able to deal with myself a bit better.

Yoga, as well as most of the things we do in life, is connected to where we are at in our life. I am studying Psychology to become a clinical psychologist so I guess that I am very much interested in the mindfulness aspect of yoga now – a lot more than I was, say, 10 years ago. I also am a mother and am in my 40’s now so my interests have evolved over time. But in saying that, I also find that I am now stronger than I have ever been before – I don’t know if it’s yoga or all the running around after my children. Yoga definitely helps me to move with a lot more ease.

4. What’s your biggest challenge with Yoga practice or teaching right now?

I am going to sound like a dick but I don’t think there are any. I guess I am constantly learning and practicing so I am aware that it is a never ending road and I’m ok with that. What I struggle with the most is maintaining a good balance between work, my family life, my love life, studying and my free time.

5. You’re leading a retreat in New Caledonia in early September – why there?

I have always wanted to visit New Caledonia – I am French. When the team at Williment Travel mentioned it, I thought it would be a wonderful idea. The great thing about New Caledonia is that it is so close to NZ and it is warm! I love being warm. Also being able to experience a bit of French culture so close to NZ is a bonus

6. What kind of experience do you like to give people on retreat?

I hope I can allow people to recharge their batteries. What is important to me is that at the end of the retreat, they feel that they truly have had some special time for themselves.

It is hard to make time for yourself most of the time, so I want people to feel that this is their special time spent in a spectacular setting. They are welcome to follow my instructions if they like but ultimately, it is all about them so if they don’t feel like going to yoga or do a particular exercise or pose one day (or every day), that is more than fine.

I put a real emphasis on mindfulness practice in my teaching and hopefully will be able to give people a few tools that they can take home with them.

7. How does nature inform your yoga teaching? Does it?

Being outdoors is, in my opinion, one of the best things you can do for yourself. We designed our yoga studio in Days Bay in such a way that students feel they are part of nature. The vision was to allow practitioners to feel recharged just by looking out at the Beech trees overlooking the Bays. Being in nature instantly reconnects you with life and with the present moment.

I often offer mindfulness of sound practices at the studio – which I will offer as well in New Caledonia. When we do it at the studio, it is wonderful as you can hear the Tuis and the Kererus, the cicadas as well as people jumping off the wharf in summer. Nature is a big part of my life and I hope everyone’s life. You can practice mindfulness, aerial yoga hammock, or meditate just by going for a walk outdoors. You can do this just by sipping your tea or beer outside with your friends on your deck or sitting in Lyall Bay on the beach – ultimately you can do it at your desk or when you fold the washing over and over again…

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