Muddy gets yogic with Dee Opp
Surrey yoga instructor Dee Opp specialises in therapeutic yoga, and she's bringing her own brand of restorative yoga to people who wouldn't ordinarily have access to yoga or a yoga studio.
It’s not unusual to meet a yoga teacher who lives and breathes the practice. But I reckon Dee Opp’s passion for yoga is on a whole new level.
A long-time yogi, Dee trained as an instructor five years ago and has specialised in therapeutic yoga – yoga that focuses on the breath. Her background in competitive swimming and dance have given her a strong connection and a great understanding of the breath.
And she’s especially keen to bring her own brand of restorative yoga to people who wouldn’t ordinarily have access to yoga or a yoga studio. So as well as teaching from her home studio, Dee take yoga out of the studio onto water via a stand-up paddleboard, onto the earth on hikes and bikes, and into places that are hard to reach – prisons, young offenders institutions and immigration detention centres.
Let’s go back to the start, Dee. Tell us about your swimming and dance background.
My intense relationship with my breath started early when I learned to swim at 18 months old. I went on to compete competitively until I left California with my mother to move to New Mexico at the age of 13. I swam four hours a day and remember how I used my breath to help me in the water. This drive to breathe and support the body is what I do now just in a different setting. The breath is our greatest ally and is adaptable. Having a conscious relationship with the breath allows us to calm the mind and experience the mind body connection. I also loved to dance and perform, and I practiced tap, jazz, ballet and modern dance well into my university years. I was asked to be part of the dance program in university, but at that time decided to pursue my love of science and go into pharmacy.
The breath is important isn’t it – not just in yoga, but in life?
The breath helps to keep me grounded and in tune to feeling calm and receptive. We all have access to regulating our nervous system by focusing on long slow steady breath patterns. Once we become aware and establish a breath awareness practice, our nervous system becomes much better at regulating our physiology and important bodily systems.
Tell us about your Warrior Breath Project.
The Breath Warrior Project is simple, teach others how to breathe and then have them share this new understanding of their experience with others. It is a mission to have an impact on society more than a new idea. It is one born from my own experience with knowing my breath and mentorship from Heather Mason, the founder of the Minded Institute. I have created a template based on how to regulate the breath with images, movement, and inquiry. Initially, I thought it would be difficult to get volunteers, but now I have the commitment of five people in two separate institutions I work in. Some are healthcare staff, psychologists, barbers, chaplaincy staff, and heads of the entire centre. There will also be inspiring vignettes to share positive outcomes. The results will be published after one full year documenting subjective findings in the two institutions. One is an immigration detention centre and the other a young offenders prison.
What is your attraction to the water and SUP yoga? How did the combination of SUP and yoga come about?
I have had a love of the water my whole life. It was such an easy fit once I moved to my current home on the River Thames. I wanted to offer a refuge for those looking to connect to nature and themselves. I have fine-tuned my style of teaching on a paddleboard for over 4 years now. It has literally saved me and my own struggle with grief.
I lost my husband of 25 years to cancer in 2014. And my relationship with nature, my breath and my body has helped me understand my grief and re engage with my new reality without him. His last words to me were, “I hope you have the courage to stay.” Yes I do, and I have stayed and rooted myself into a new reality that gives structure and comfort to my two sons, Colin and Camrin who are now 24 and 26. They are thriving, and together we strive to make a positive impact on all those around us.
You also teach yoga in prisons and young offenders institutions – what made you want to do this?
To free myself. I feel the most comfort in these places. The places where no one wants to be. I am my most vulnerable and strong self in these places. Previously in the States, I was professionally trained and certified as a clinical psychiatric pharmacist and worked in a large state mental health hospital in Colorado. I was an advocate to those who could not speak for themselves. I feel it is an honour to serve in this capacity and do not take it lightly. I have trained and studied with some of the greatest experts in the field of trauma focused yoga. As I mentioned earlier, I am currently studying to become a certified yoga therapist with the Minded Institute, London 2019/2020. I hope to continue to inspire others to do this work and offer advice and training as needed.
How did it come about? How often do you teach?
I teach in five different prisons and immigration detention centres. I am part of the Prison Phoenix Trust Chairty, who work tirelessly to place yoga teachers in prisons throughout the UK. I teach in five different prisons and immigration detention centres offering six classes per week. I also teach in two care homes for those who are suffering with dementia. On average I teach 50-60 people per week in these two types of settings. I also guide one-to-one clients and offer two public classes per week. This does not include my SUP Yoga courses and clients, which tends to be seasonal from April to early October.
I’m sure that as well as giving, you get something out of it too?
I get more out of teaching than I give. I learn each and every day from my clients I come in contact with. I strive to be effective in my interactions, to inspire, and cultivate a brave new space to explore our unique human experience. Each interaction is a new experience of yoga for me. I will never stop being in awe of YOGA. Each lineage, style, and methodology is a valid way to find ourself and enjoy life. There is something for everyone.