The teacher who always kept learning

June 18, 2018

Larissa O’Brien was a nurse working in a cancer ward when she first got qualified as a yoga teacher.

Gradually, she started teaching yoga techniques in the hospital where she worked, and she and her colleagues soon noticed that patients who applied these pranayama (breathing techniques) seemed to get calmer and better able to cope with their illness.

Now, with more than a decade of teaching experience behind her, Larissa is a full-time yoga and group fitness instructor at CityFitness in Albany and in other locations around Auckland.

With her mix of yoga and meditation for all levels, plus a dose of Kiwi realness, her classes have built up a loyal following over the years. In 2017, her managers at CityFitness invited her to start teaching “Centergy” classes - a combination of yoga and Pilates.

In order to teach this new style, Larissa needed to become a qualified group fitness instructor and register with REPs – the New Zealand registration body for exercise professionals. So she embarked on her National Certificate in Pre-choregraphed Group Fitness with Skills Active.

Not only did this give her the REPs accreditation she needed, it also helped push her to always keep learning and refreshing her knowledge.

In fact, 2017 was a year of learning for Larissa. As well as her Skills Active qualification, she went back and did a second yoga teacher training course, to re-immerse herself in the mindset of being a student of yoga and not just a teacher.

She drew on a lot of support as she fitted in the training between work and life. Her parents were always available to babysit, and her daughter put up with her endlessly playing the class playlist whenever they were in the car.  And her managers at CityFitness - Anna McLatchie, Erna Inglis and Kelly Hadwin - always had her back throughout her training.

“We are like a family [at work]. The managers have been super supportive of me and all the other instructors. And they put up with my bad jokes.”

And at the end of 2017, Larissa was a finalist in the New Zealand Exercise awards for her yoga teaching, in the category of MindBody Teacher of the Year.

She says it’s particularly rewarding when new people come to her class and say they are just there for a physical workout – and then over time they begin to value the non-physical benefits of a yoga practice.

“A lot of people will say, ‘I just came in for a stretch class.’ Those people are often the ones that come back time and time again for the meditation and the pranayama.

“That’s one of the amazing parts of teaching for me – where I make a breakthrough with somebody that they didn’t know they needed.”