When A Stranger Blows Your Mind | A Book Review of ‘The Magic Mat’


When on silent retreat, it is typical to find all sorts of things to do other than simply sit with oneself – walking, yoga, swimming, reading (although it’s advised to rather read the ‘journal of ones heart’) and, if there is a shop of sorts at the venue, to spend semi-infinite amounts of money on things one doesn’t really need. I am very good at this. I have any number of shawls, meditation cushions, incense, prayer flags, mustard baths, insect repellent, cook books and so on that I have purchased whilst on retreat. It’s usually my last ditch attempt to not look within, although of course sooner or later you are just left with yourself and that’s why we go on these retreats after all.

Sometimes, in my wonderings and wanderings, I stumble across a real gem of a book, and last month at Bodhi Khaya (where I was fortunate enough to be teaching yoga on one of Sue Cooper’s nurturing retreats) exactly this happened. This particular find is called ‘The Magic Mat’ by Carmen Clews and it is a book and DVD set aimed at introducing yoga to 5-12 year old children. Of the myriad books on children’s yoga that I have read over the years, this one is quite honestly in another class. I bought it almost instantly and read it cover to cover a number of times, getting more and more excited at just how beautifully and creatively it is written and illustrated.

Incidentally, please note that I was very aware of, and present in, my conscious action of distracting myself from myself through my absorption in this book, so surely that gives me some spiritual brownie points?

Having a six- and eight- year old of my own, I could immediately tell that the way that the lessons are presented would appeal hugely to their age group, and that for a yoga teacher such as myself, it is laid out in a way that is just so accessible and easy to present and interpret to the little ones.

I’ve long wanted to teach yoga for children at my little yoga studio in Stellenbosch but one of the main things that’s stopped me is that I’ve not felt that I’ve found exactly the right style that I wanted to present – I covered some teaching yoga to children in my advanced teachers training at Ananda Sangha a few years back, but it just hasn’t gelled for me – until this wonderful book ended up in my hands. I wouldn’t change a thing about how Carmen has presented it, and so I felt compelled to write her an email, expressing my delight in finding the book and to humbly request her permission to offer a pop-up children’s yoga workshop at my studio, using her book as the inspiration.

It’s possibly quite a cheeky request, and I was fully prepared for either a ‘yes but you’ll have to pay me’ or a straight ‘no’ response, but I do believe in just asking – just putting it out there, because increasingly my experience is that there is a whole lot of love in the world and a whole lot of willingness to help and to share knowledge and resources – it all comes back to us in the end. Even so, to receive Carmen’s completely delightful and overwhelmingly positive and generous response just a few hours later was an utter delight. I had what my children call ‘happy tears’ in my eyes as I read her lovely reply and blessing to use this valuable resource at my studio, with no strings attached. I am so grateful, and I am so excited, and I cannot WAIT to share her beautiful teachings with the kids that will be joining me on Monday.

Her approach is so playful but yet so profound – using animals to embody certain qualities such as a wise owl, a flexible cobra, a duck that shakes things off its back… taking children through some lovely simple asana whilst weaving a beautiful story throughout, and leaving them with a reminder that the magic on the mat is actually within them and is accessible at any time they need or want to tap into it.

The book and the DVD themselves are fabulous, and Carmen’s genuine and heartfelt wish that they go some way towards making yoga more accessible to as many children as possible was a huge and refreshing breath of fresh air. I strongly recommend that anyone with children, or with friends with children, or who is thinking about one day having children, or those who have grandchildren, or teachers (at schools or yoga teachers), basically anyone who has involvement with children and believes in the transformational power of yoga, gets at least one copy of the book. You can find all the details and order the book / DVD and optional mat at her website – I am sure you will be as delighted as I was and still am.

And if you are a parent living in or near Stellenbosch, there are still a few spots left in my pop-up children’s yoga workshop taking place on Monday morning between 10 and 12 – you can see the details on my Facebook page. Bookings essential and spaces limited.

Thanks again, Carmen. You rock.

Breathe – an extended yoga class with Leli and Nicci in Stanford

Imagine – A peaceful setting, overlooking Fynbos and mountains. Joy and stillness. Intense yoga practice, quiet breath-work, relaxation. Unwind and relax. And have fun, tea and muffins afterwards.
Breathe! – In Yoga philosophy breath is the physical manifestation of the vital energy that gives you the ability to live and function in the world. This vital energy is called prana, it flows through every part of your body. Join us for a morning of Yoga where the poses we will do are chosen to assist and enhance this energy. We will also introduce you to some Pranayama (breathing) exercises which will help you to make more efficient use of your prana.
We invite you to invigorate your body, soothe your soul and discover a deeper and more profound notion of your Self. What yoga seeks is union: a union between the body and mind, a union between friends and enemies, right and wrong, hot and cold and light and dark. Helping two forces, forces that at first appear so different, to form a harmonious connection. This is yoga.
Book: Leli 0823500253 info@lelihoch.co.za Nicci 078 563 8152 nicci@yogawithnicci.co.za
R150 pp
Directions to Stanford Valley Guest Farm:
from Stanford take R326 for 10km, farm is signposted, on right side.
Map: www.stanfordvalley.co.za

Feedback from our Chakra workshop in Stanford

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It was such a strange and wonderful experience to wake up on Saturday morning and know that I was going to be presenting my first joint yoga workshop with my friend and fellow-teacher, Leli Hoch. She is one of those passionate people who makes things happen, and it almost seemed surreal to realise that we weren’t just in the planning phase anymore, but were actually about to roll it out! I lay in bed for a few extra minutes, visualising all the yogis who were also starting to stir and stretch and wake up in their own parts of the Cape, before beginning to make their way towards Stanford.

After picking up my dear friend Claire in Somerset West, we stuck to the N2 to get to Stanford as quickly as possible (even so it took a bit longer than I anticipated, what with getting lost in conversation and admiring the stunning scenery along the way). It was a perfect morning, quite cool but with vibrant patches of blue sky and a beautiful warm sun peeping through the clouds. The venue itself could not have been more lovely. Leli really did herself proud by finding it. The yoga ‘studio’ itself is a renovated old barn with gorgeous reed ceilings, simple wrought iron chandeliers, Cape Dutch windows looking out towards the beautiful mountains and huge expanses of fynbos. The cottages on the farm are all whitewashed with green doors and windowframes, and all in all it was just so tranquil and picturesque.

In the end the studio was pretty much filled to capacity – we had 18 people in total, and it really did lend itself to a very special energy. Once we got started, I experienced a now-familiar sense of wanting to pinch myself to remind myself that this was actually happening, that these people were all here for us, because of us, and reminding myself that my dream of becoming a yoga teacher has actually become a reality! It was a very special moment indeed, and although it felt to me like the morning was over way too quickly, I enjoyed every single minute of it. One of the things that I  most enjoyed is the diversity of the people that came to join us: from all sorts of backgrounds, differing levels of ability (we had some teachers and some beginners and many inbetween) and all ages and stages of life. I truly embrace the fact that yoga can be such a wonderful leveler, helping us all to forget about all the superficial layers of life, and to focus rather on what we have in common and how connected we all are. I had a really powerful, quite emotional moment where we were moving through a sequence of asanas and I found myself marveling at all these beautiful women (interesting that there were no men) who had made the conscious decision to do something so peaceful, so spiritual, so gentle, so positive on a Saturday morning. There wasn’t the chance to have any indepth conversations with anyone afterwards, but I genuinely felt a very real connection to every single person who was there, and I feel inordinately privileged to have the opportunity to come into contact with them, even just for a few hours of my life.

We closed the workshop with tea and Leli’s spectacular ginger cake and crunchies in the sunshine afterwards (is there no end to this woman’s talent?!) before all going our seperate ways. I hope that everyone enjoyed it as much as Leli and I did. We have a lot to learn and have had some very valuable feedback from some of those who attended, so we look forward to getting better and better, and appreciate the learning opportunity.

Claire and I took a slow drive back to Stellenbosch, going via Kleinmond to pop in to visit another friend and fellow-teacher, Corinne, who is also The Potter (I put it in capitals as she really is the only one who is worthy of wearing that crown) – another supremely talented person who is a wonderful artist both in and out of her yoga studio.  Clarence Drive was as spectacular as ever, with beautiful stormy weather and clouds pouring down over the mountains towards the sea. A perfect ending to a very special morning.

A big thank you to everyone who came, and also to the lovely Nina from Yoga Awakening Africa for donating all the YAA magazines.

Some of the comments we have received:

“Thank you for the lovely Chakra Yoga class. It was a wonderful experience!  We thoroughly enjoyed all aspects of the class, specifically the walking and eating meditation. We also loved the gentle breath work and visualization techniques that accompanied the various sets of asana’s.  There is nothing that we would change about the practice, however we would love to try the Rainbow meditation next time. We would also like to thank you for the lovely tea and cake. ”

“You two make a lovely yoga teaching team…so we were blessed as well! Thanks for a stunning time!!! My only complaint is that it was to short…maybe till 13h would have been good. I would also like to have a full day in the winter months when I’m not so busy at the guest house!”

“Loved the morning… really liked the venue, the light, the meditations, the quietness, the sequence, the enjoyed the sway between the two of you, the cake and crunchies ofcourse delicious, inspiration as one finds in such spaces of intention… to connect… ofcourse… needed more hands on adjustment where needed if needed.   Maybe some more time during savasana …  I was just so happy to be there and receiving all the benefits that these small details  really are small in comparison to the goodness of the experience – thank both so much!   Hope we can look forward to more classes of this nature.”