Maxine Samuels, commonly known as Yoga to the Maxine, is a yoga and spin teacher and close friend of Studio Luxmore. With the best playlist in South London and each class full of laughter and good vibes, we find out what brings her happiness, what’s unique about her business and how she’s navigated and adapted to 2020, from going digital to adapting her teaching style.
2020 is proving to be quite a tricky year for us all, right? What pearls of wisdom have you got for us to stay sane and happy?
There’s a lot of pressure I think to be happy, healthy and sane. I think you should be allowed to feel the opposite. And then from there, flip it and then draw towards those things. In your own different pathway because everybody is different. It would be boring if we weren’t different. And there’s lots of things out there that are on offer to draw towards all those three things. And I think it’s an individual thing…
Definitely use your own self. What makes you happy I think is the first thing. Obviously sometimes that can be quite destructive. Some happy things can be quite bad for you but I think mostly it’s this balance of traditional avenues of health and happiness and then your own quirky ways, like “I quite like to paint or I quite like to do read searches”. I think freeing the mind is really key which is why yoga has really saved me. I think I’ve had a lot of demons in the past as an individual. So for me, that’s what gets me off, yoga and spin. But I think it’s everybody’s own individual choice to seek out those things. And if you’re feeling lost, like you don’t know the answer, just go off and taste different flavours of what is out there. There’s loads of resources. And you might think I really didn’t like that which is cool, you just park it and move on. I don’t think you should stop and give up on this healthy, happy journey. If something hasn’t worked for you that’s ok. I think you should just let all that go, [you shouldn’t just go] ‘that didn’t work!’ and then just withdraw. I think you should just continue. And by continuing you are going towards all those things anyway because it’s quite exciting to move and sample all the delights that are out there.
Have you got any rituals or habits you find useful for yourself?
I’m actually very into routine. I think it grounds me. Some people like to be more spontaneous but for me I like the routine. I think it grounds me. I’m quite a hedonistic soul so sometimes I can say that can go out of kilter. Being too hedonistic isn’t good for balance. But I still think that you should be, if you are that way inclined, you should definitely go there but then draw in… so what helps me is that kind of routine. So I’m very into [the] structure of the day, and things happening at a certain time. That’s not for everyone, maybe that’s just for me. Because I’m quite hedonistic, maybe that’s why I’ve gone into health and leisure, I kind of got addicted because I got addicted to something that’s healthy for me. I’m very physical so I need to release that energy physically, out of my body, so I need to release it to draw in the three things we are talking about, being sane, and releasing endorphins naturally.
I’m definitely a very musical person. Drumming, of course, and dance as well. So it was a natural journey into yoga and spin. So I’m kind of crazy about music and dancing, so spinning ticks all those boxes for me without actually going to a rave. So that’s probably why I’ve always enjoyed spin. And yoga, of course, is busting shapes on the mat. It’s obvious for me, as a dancer, that there’s loads of dancers in yoga. There’s lots of them. They migrate there because dancing is a cruel mistress as an art, and the longevity, you don’t really have it. So a lot of ex-dancers or dancers go into yoga. So unfortunately the balance of yoga is getting all skewed, it’s starting to turn a little bit more into dance classes. And what comes with that is not good stuff. Because when I started [doing yoga] it was all about ego, busting shapes, can I get into that nice shape? But now as I’ve got older and I’m now a yoga teacher it’s nothing to do with that. It’s to do with the mind, being present, not thinking about peaks. It’s nothing to do with ego. It’s [not] about the shapes I’m going into. It’s with the breath, and about freeing this, freeing my mind and the rest kind of follows. I distract my brain by moving with my body. So it’s completely shifted from ‘Am I looking pretty and is there somebody over there checking me out’ to making sure it’s really cool. Dancers are like that: it’s really competitive. All that competition is gone now [for me], and I think that only comes with time and sharing those things, those philosophies is key. Getting back to the yoga roots has made me enjoy yoga even more.
Are you happier with your yoga practice more now?
It sounds patronising to the younger generations, but I think it comes mostly with age. We’re always searching for recognition and there’s all that ambition when you’re younger. You’re very worried about what other people I think when you’re younger. You have older people say, and I remember when I was younger, they would say to me ’Oh God! If you knew what I knew now you wouldn’t worry about all that stuff,’ but I suppose you have to go through it to learn it. It’s a bit of a cliché, but I think clichés stem from truth really. Now I’m just more comfortable and I think obviously having babies helped. Made me not worry about all that crap. There’s bigger fish to fry than worrying about whether I can get into the splits or not. I try to really make my classes like that because, like I say, western Yogi classes are starting to be more like dance classes. So I’m trying to really fight against that, even though I’m an ex-dancer, I really try to fight against those really toxic thoughts that dancers exude. I’m really conscious of it because I’m an ex-dancer so I’m really trying to throw it out into my yoga classes that it’s nothing to do with all that, it’s to do with all this good stuff over here.
Your classes really inspired us with our business. That feeling that you get from doing your class, we talked about that a lot, about how we could make our clients feel the same way. You always go the extra mile to make everyone have a really great experience. When you come around at the end, back in the pre-Covid days, the little rub and ointment.
Ah thanks! I wish I could get my filthy mitts on you again! I can’t right now sadly. I think mostly it’s that sense of being so serious. That’s what dance classes do. They give out this feeling of being so serious and I don’t think that does anyone any good. So I always try really hard to make people feel like they can have a good laugh in a class. In fact, smiling is generally encouraged in my class because when you smile, you may not be feeling joy, but it’s a good start. You smile and all of sudden things might happen, positively, I think. It can’t harm to smile. I’m glad that you get that from me. That’s what loads of people get from my classes, they don’t feel like they’re joining a dance class, they’re actually coming in going ‘she’s actually alright, she’s laughing at herself.’ I think I do a lot of laughing at myself. I think it’s healthy to laugh at yourself. If you don’t, people will feel uncomfortable in your space. If you laugh at yourself, people will laugh with you and it will just free things, make things feel better. And when you feel better, then you’re enjoying yourself and you’ll want to keep doing it. You don’t want to self kill on your mat! I always say don’t self kill in my class. There’s lots of self killing going on. Not just on the mat, just in general. I think we should just stop doing it. It’s a futile exercise. It doesn’t actually get you anywhere. It just makes you feel really awful about yourself. Just smile at yourself. It can’t harm. I think it can only make you feel better. Sorry, that sounds really cheesy but it’s how I roll.
Obviously you’re running a small business. How have you managed to keep going, and have you had to adapt much since March?
I think everyone has. I think what’s reassuring, and we should all give ourselves a reassuring pat on the back, but actually we are quite resourceful as human beings, thank you very much, and we can adapt and we are malleable. I was able to be that way which is great. I think obviously with the lockdown, for me, and I’m obviously very sad for others that it wasn’t that way, it was actually quite good for my small business. Just because of good old Zoom. I didn’t know anything about Zoom, but thank god for Zoom for me. My background is dance and drumming but I was a sales person for 15 years so I’ve always had this extra skill set. I suppose marketing is a bit different to sales but it’s a similar beast really and I’m always able to… it’s quite hard to sell myself although! I’m quite good at selling something but the hardest thing is selling myself but I had to in lockdown more than ever before, and get out there and share my wares with people. What you need to try really hard to do is not be in your idea: you should be open, keep your eyes open and your ears to the ground. I was kind of lucky I suppose, it sounds really weird to say lucky, but my mum and my little sister are in Italy so they were already in lockdown and we were all kind of, I don’t think we really realised what was going to happen. The governments obviously, I’m not going to get political here today, but the governments weren’t really sharing that intel with us initially and I knew that this was coming and people didn’t realise how impactful this was going to be on our lives. And my mum was like ‘You know you want to get married, well, we’re not coming,’ and I was like ‘What?! Obviously this is going to be over in a few weeks, right?’ and she’s like, ‘No, we can’t go out of our flats,’ because in Italy it was super, super strict. And I was like, ‘Really? God really?’ and that last week, people were still really I think in this denial, at least in the last two weeks before lockdown. People, in denial or just didn’t know, there was no intel. So I had this intel and I was right, I’ve got to do something quick. I’ve got to really think. Someone mentioned Zoom, my mum said this lockdown was looming, and I kind of put two and two together and what are we going to do about it. So I went to all of the classes, studios and gyms, and at the end of every class just took everyone’s details down: emails, names. Because gyms and studios don’t share that with you, as a self-employed yoga teacher that’s freelance. I wasn’t going to get that database. So I had to quickly get my database straight away which was, a complete, well, it totally saved my arse basically! We went into lockdown, and then with my sales background, I just mailshotted everybody through the medium of WhatsApp group really. I had all the emails as well, so I did emailing as well. And I just mailshotted everybody and I went straight into Zoom really, really quickly. Which I think sadly a lot of my yoga teacher friends they didn’t, so then there was no momentum there. There was a space of three to four weeks and they thought maybe I’ll do some Zoom, maybe I’ll reach out to people, oh I can’t reach out to people as the database, that was the studios and gyms I was in, I can’t get at it. So they were working from a very small group of people. I had 60, 70, 80 contacts, I think I might even had more, and I just went for it that first week. And the momentum, they were already coming to my class so it was just migrarying them to Zoom and there was that flow, there was no stop, no pause, so that really helped me keep my clientele basically. I did obviously have to adapt in Zoom. There are some really positive things about Zoom, and I’m not going to stop with Zoom even if we get a full vaccine. I’m going to keep some Zoom classes because they’re actually very beneficial for the mums and dads out there, when they can’t get childcare, that they want to do a class. So that’s really going to stick. I’m going to keep them going on. And I had to teach differently in Zoom. I had to adapt so that people could see me, and I couldn’t adjust them, so my descriptions had to be much more fuller. The sense of touch had gone so I had to ramp up all my other senses so their experience felt rounded on Zoom. I think that’s one of the biggest adaptations. I always talk about being sensory so I realised when one of your senses go you’ve got to ramp up the other ones basically. And the more sensory you are, the more present you are. So I did that. That was definitely adapted in Zoom when we werre in full lockdown. And when things started to loosen up and we could go back to studios and gyms, obviously I had to adhere to the strict rules which absolutely we all have when we are all working and to make it safe. Face mask, distance. So I’m quite a tactile person, Scouses always want to just touch you all. That’s probably why we’re all bloody in lockdown up there. We’re just quite friendly folk and so I struggle with that, big time, just not to be able to come into your space. So I really had to adapt, and draw back from that, which really made me sad initially, and still does really as I’d like to give you all massive hugs. And also it’s quite exhausting in Zoom because the senses are gone, because I can’t play my playlist, I haven’t figured out how to put audio through Zoom, because I can’t put my playlists on and because everyone is muted, they have to be, there’s loads of different sensory blockers so it can be quite challenging to keep it full and lush, and full of feeling those Zoom classes. But I really acknowledge those things so I try to ramp those areas up. The spoken word had to really come in, and I really had to talk very descriptively because some people couldn’t see me very well, like they had a shit screen or whatever. So I really had to make sure that I literally talked every thing, every little detail. Detail, detail, detail so that it would all come to life at the other end. But it can be quite exhausting because sometimes I just want to come over to someone and say, ‘Just do that,’ because it’s so much simpler, and so much more effective because you’re touching me and I’m touching you. Adjusting is wonderful because we connect in that way, but we can’t do that anymore. And adapting to the fact that actually I’ve got really, really busy. Because my Zoom classes are still very relevant and I’m coming into studio and gym classes, and I was like ‘Which one is going to go?’ as I also had to teach my kids as well because we were in the middle of lockdown, now that they’re going back to school that’s ok. But it’s a lot! I just had Zoom and now I’ve got both, and how do I handle that. Obviously super grateful for it that I’ve got all this work, but it was also adapting and being able to say, ‘You need to say no.’
You’re going to get really knackered if you carry on.
Well yeah, knackered definitely. When you start up a new business, what you;ve got to be really, really careful of is yes and saying it. You get so panicked because you’ve started something up you say yes to everything. And sometimes what happens is that you’re saying yes to everything, everything is much more a broad stroke across the board. And if you’re not careful, you become quite mediocre at loads of different things rather than thinking to myself, ‘No, actually, it will be more beneficial to my clients if I’m not fucking knackered, pardon my French, but maybe I’ve got too much work on now I’ve got to stop saying yes to everything.’ It’s very frightening to say no as a startup business but I think you’ve got to try and be selective and know what you should say yes to and what you should say no to. Then you’ll get the best out of yourself and your business. So I did have to say no, and it was really hard, because I was saying yes right at the start. Like you do, because you’re trying to build up your classes and trying to build up your schedule. Yes, yes, yes. Cover? Yes, yes, oh I”m sureI can throw the kids somewhere. Oh Granny, come help me! There was all that happening. And now I’ve built up my clientele and I’m in a much more peaceful place. I’ve dropped a few Zoom classes, and I’ve also migrated some of my classes from the weekend into Monday to Friday. But by doing that, you also you’ve got to figure out your work-life balance. So now it’s only Monday to Friday, it means my Monday to Friday is more concentrated. But I have my weekend free. So I’m going to trade off really. I’ve gone, I know I’m going to have a more full on Monday to Friday, but that’s ok because I know weekends are free. So sometimes you might be more full on but for the greater good because you’ve got more free time over here. So that’s what I’ve decided and it seems to work quite well I think. I’ve got more time to just enjoy my weekend and properly have that Friday feeling. Which is nice. Not like, oh I’ve got my Friday feeling but I’ve got to do two classes on Sunday. But everyone is different. Some people actually want to have their schedule more smattered and peppered across the week, but I decided to concentrate here, and block it here, and free it here. You’ve got to do your schedule how you see fit.