Yogi apprentices helping to heal hurting bodies through the power of movement and breath

October 21, 2021

Working with people as they find their ‘aha’ moments is what keeps Rebecca Harford coming into work every day.

Rebecca and her husband Jeremy are the co-owners of Adapted Yoga and Pilates, a unique Christchurch-based studio with a mission to help everyone find a practice that’s safe, fun and enriching.

Right now, Rebecca is supporting a number of her staff through the Skills Active Exercise Professional apprenticeship. But teaching and learning have always been passions for her.

Rebecca first came to yoga during her university years. She was pretty sure yoga was frivolous, so her instinct was to learn more about it to confirm her suspicions.

“I had been playing rugby, and was also right into weightlifting and powerlifting. So yoga was quite a different way of looking at the world,” Rebecca says. As it turned out, she disproved her theory, and discovered the beginning of a lifelong passion for yoga, which grew to encompass Pilates as well.

Once she finished her degree in physical education, Rebecca left for a stint working on cruise ships, and for three years she taught as many as 28 yoga and Pilates classes a week – a very solid grounding for her teaching career.

After returning to New Zealand, she ended up in a role with ACC, and it was there, working with ACC clients, that the seeds were planted that would eventually lead to the creation of Adapted Yoga and Pilates. The studio welcomes everyone through its doors, including those with disabilities or conditions, so that they can get the life-changing benefits of moving their bodies and using their breath.

“There are so many broken people that need exercise and wellbeing, and there is just not a huge amount of support for them out there. I got frustrated with that [at ACC] and I wanted to do more to help people.

“The difference between us and some other studios is that we are truly open to anybody. Our teachers are able to create a challenging class for people that need challenge, and a safe class for those who need more support. And our ethos is always ‘first do no harm.’”

Rebecca says yoga and Pilates can help everyone, no matter their limitations, and it’s inspiring to see it happen.

“I just love seeing people get their ‘aha’ moment. So even the really simple stuff like how to breathe deeply. Or how to activate their core. Those really basic things that they can take into everyday life, and which will make life better.”

These things may be basic or simple, but that doesn’t mean they’re easy for everyone, she adds.

“Even just how to get the right muscles working [can be challenging]. Especially for people that were too scared to try. There are so many women, in particular, that aren’t happy with their bodies or they are in pain or they are anxious.

“In my job I get to see those people change, and think ‘Hey, this is actually something I can do, and I can do it well, no matter how broken I might be.’ It’s really special seeing things click for people.”

Broadening horizons through learning on the job

Rebecca is enjoying supporting her teaching staff as they complete their Skills Active apprenticeships. She gets together with the apprentices for regular practical and theory sessions, and is always available for questions, advice and encouragement. 

“There is a lot of work involved but it’s worth it. It’s been a really interesting experience and I’ve learned quite a lot as a mentor to my team.

“You need to have an environment where people are okay to make mistakes and ask questions. And I think it’s helpful to have more than one person on hand to ask, because we all learn differently and present information in different ways.”

Rebecca is also a registered Skills Active assessor, and assesses the parts of the programme that are within her assessment scope.

She notes that many yoga and Pilates teachers haven’t gone through what others in the wider exercise industry would see as the foundations of being a fitness professional.

“The training that they’ve done doesn’t usually come with the same level of focus on anatomy and physiology, or the cultural awareness side of things. So it’s great to be able to give them that foundational base, and to fill in any gaps that might have happened between their teacher training and going forward.”

It also helps to broaden their horizons as exercise professionals, Rebecca adds.

“They can start to have conversations with allied health professionals and personal trainers about their shared clients. And it gives them an opportunity to work more broadly in the various roles that the industry can offer.

“It’s just awesome to see people who were already good teachers, gaining more confidence in their knowledge and abilities. And it helps them to give even more to their students.”