Yoga, Pilates & Barre Instructor | Business Founder | Mindfulness Advocate
Sasha is a Yoga, Pilates and Barre Instructor based in South West London. Two years ago she graduated from The Urdang Academy with BA (Hons) in Dance and Musical Theatre and her performing credits include dancing for Dua Lipa at The BRIT Awards in 2018. Since, she has founded her own freelance company, Sculpt with Sasha, which operates both online and in person. Sculpt with Sasha provides challenging full body Barre and Dance Cardio workouts to its online members and restorative yoga and mindfulness practices to her private and corporate clients. Sasha has completed a 200 Hour Vinyasa Yoga Teacher Training at Anahata Yoga Shala in Thailand and, more recently, a 50 Hour Yin, Restorative and Mindfulness Teacher Training at London’s YogiYoga. Sasha also holds Level 2 Fitness, Barre and Floorbarre qualifications.
I chatted with Sasha at the end of August 2020 about her career. She shares her views on mindful practice, teaching experiences and advice on starting up a wellness business.
© Sasha Morgan
What was your experience of dance training at The Urdang Academy?
Training at Urdang was both incredible and extremely tough. All in all I feel really grateful to have experienced such high quality dance training delivered by industry professionals, as it pushed me in ways I have never been before. It encouraged in me the determination to pursue what I am passionate about and it has certainly given me the drive and self discipline that is necessary to start my own business. That being said, there were times when it could all easily feel like too much! The main challenges I faced were probably getting enough rest and being able to look after my body properly as well as consistently handling the loud, competitive environment I was in. Having the rock solid self belief and confidence to put myself at the front and centre of classes and auditions was really challenging for a natural introvert like myself.
What helped you realise that the career transition from professional performance into mindful exercise was the right path for you?
For about a year after I graduated, and to a certain extent now still, I went through a period of enormous indecision about whether I wanted to pursue dance as a career. I felt torn because I had wanted to be a dancer since I was little and I adore how it feels in my body, though I also knew that I would struggle to be happy working in such a brutal and demanding industry, and I feared the toll on my mental health that it might have had. Throughout dance college I practiced yoga religiously and it became a real sanctuary for me away from the mirrors in the studios. It helped me to focus on how my body felt over how it looked. This improved my sense of self worth and taught me how to take better care of myself. Amidst the demands of full time performing arts training, learning how to be still and present with myself felt like the most enormous relief. So following graduation, it was a really natural transition for me to do my yoga and mindfulness trainings and to start teaching the practice that continues to help me in so many ways. Rather than pursue something that had more often than not made me feel less than.
Which aspects of your Yoga training were the most eye opening in terms of guiding and refining your practice?
I would have to say that the philosophy was an eye opener certainly. Coming from a movement background, I had only really practiced the physical poses, the asanas, before my teacher training. I didn’t have much understanding of the origins or true meaning of yoga. Discovering and studying the powerful yoga philosophy within ancient Indian texts seemed to make sense of the physical practice I had been doing and what I had experienced so far through yoga, such as a sense of connection with myself and other living beings. Learning and embodying this philosophy is a lifelong journey that I feel I truly began on that training!
What are your opinions on how the pressures and pace of modern working life affect our physical and mental health?
I think it is known that in these technology driven times, modern day workers are living at much too fast a pace and are under far more mental pressure than is healthy. I notice this particularly as a Londoner, and it is hard not to feel the infectious pressure and fear people are experiencing as they rush around you wherever you go. In addition to this, because of the demand to be productive all of the time, very little if any time is taken for regular self care and mindful relaxation by most of us. By living in this way on a daily basis, our bodies and minds are deprived of rest and we spend too much time in the fight or flight response of the sympathetic nervous system. In this state our body releases stress hormones that increase heart rate, blood pressure and breathing rate. This is helpful in the short term for boosting energy and concentration as needed, but actually living in this state of stress has been linked to a variety of co-‐occurring mental and physical health problems like heart disease, diabetes and depression to name just a few.
Studio space in London is known to be scarce! Do you experience any challenges around this and needing to be flexible with your working environment?
For my group classes I mostly teach for studios or gyms, so the space is provided. For my private and corporate classes I often teach in other people’s homes and offices. I am also lucky in that I can occasionally teach from my own home, either online or with a client in person. If none of these are an option then it can certainly be challenging to find a place, mostly due to cost as renting spaces is generally so expensive in London. I am very much used to my working environment constantly changing and the beauty of Yoga and Barre is that you can practice virtually anywhere with little to no equipment!
How do you adjust your teaching techniques to different levels of ability/understanding within a group?
A huge part of my job as a yoga and fitness instructor is making my classes accessible to all bodies and ability levels. If I am teaching in a studio, then props can be a wonderful way of supporting people in different poses. However there are always adjustments and alternatives to a movement or pose that I can offer people and it is learning to spot who may be in need of an alternative at any moment that is key! It is essential to make sure everyone feels included and seen during a class and I would say that this is a skill that I have learnt solely through experience and that I continue to work on now.
There is arguably a trend of viewing Yoga as a commodification. What are your thoughts on this negative discourse and do you feel more can be done to inform the public on mindful exercise?
I think it is a shame that inevitably as yoga has become increasingly popular globally, much of its tradition has become diluted and exploited for financial gain. I think that yoga teachers have a responsibility to respect these traditions and ensure that the teaching remains in some way informed by the ancient yoga texts. I think it would be helpful if there was a compulsory and separate module on yoga philosophy that teachers were required to complete after their initial 200hour training. This may help to shift the emphasis of yoga away from performing impressive poses for an Instagram post to what it is really about, which is connecting to the authentic self.
How did the idea of Sculpt with Sasha come about and how do you plan to grow the business considering the new economic climate we find ourselves in?
Sculpt with Sasha was born at the very start of lockdown when all of the gyms were closing and I had a load of clients messaging me about online classes. The demand for an uplifting and motivating workout that my Barre ladies would be able to do from home with little to no equipment, at any time that suited them became increasingly apparent! Maintaining the growth of the business will certainly prove challenging considering the volume of online fitness subscriptions out there at the moment, particularly since lockdown, but we are continuing to learn a huge amount about our market as we grow. Word of mouth referrals and Instagram have both proven to be really valuable to us, so we have focused a lot on that. Each week I concentrate on making our content as high quality, engaging and easy to use as possible and we have managed to retain the large majority of our members fundamentally because of this.
Sculpt with Sasha operates through membership – how do you manage your online content to entice new members without giving too much away (and thus compromising your business model)?
This is a particularly tricky one to navigate in the age of reveal-all social media! When creating an advert for Sculpt with Sasha I will include no more than one minute of exciting workout highlights, so our audience gets a taste of what to expect as a member. Testimonials are also a brilliant means of describing to people how this membership will improve their lives for the better, without describing exactly how the membership operates.
Your social media channels have a substantial following. How do you manage promotional requests for products that may influence your clientele?
I have found I have had to be increasingly scrupulous about which brands and products I choose to associate Sculpt with Sasha with and I always have to consider whether they are of interest and benefit to my clientele. These opportunities can reach new audiences due to cross-promotion and the offering of exclusive discounts, but there are also an increasing amount of scammers and schemes out there to be avoided!
You lead classes both in-person and online, but do you prefer one environment over the other?
I really love the energetic atmosphere of an in person class and being able to interact with real people in person as I teach is a feeling that cannot be replicated online. Having said that, I am incredibly grateful for the flexibility of online teaching and for being able to give my clients the option to workout and look after their bodies wherever they are, whenever they want. It is a means of my classes reaching and helping many more people than they would have otherwise as well. Many of our online members are people who struggle to make it to in person classes because they travel, are short on time, can’t afford gym fees or have simply decided they prefer working out from the comfort of their home. The pandemic has only heightened this ever‐growing trend for online classes and many participants of my in person classes like to have the option of taking class both online and in the studio.
How important is it that online exercise programmes consider accessibility e.g. through cost, class length and technology requirements?
It was essential that we made Sculpt with Sasha as inclusive, affordable and easy to use as it possibly could be if we were going compete online. So we have invested a lot into the quality of the content, purchasing things like a high quality microphone, lighting set and video editing software, so that the workout feels just like taking an in person class and is easy to follow. Even more so than in class I offer modifications for exercises and introduce optional challenges with or without equipment. We have also put a lot of work into making the site as user-friendly as possible so that people can login and access their chosen workout immediately.
What advice would you give to someone wishing to start up their own company?
I would say that before anything else having rock solid faith in your vision and knowing WHY you are doing the work you are doing is crucial. This for me has come from focusing on what problem I am solving for people. This has helped me to understand my clients more each day and why they need what I am offering them. The better you know your clients, the better able you are to tailor your product or service to their individual needs. This can then inform all of your branding. I would also say to be prepared to always have something that needs to be done! Because there are so many areas needing to be covered at once, particularly in the beginning, you may feel spread thin. Learning to organise my time better and group certain tasks together on specific days has helped me to no end with this!