Nancy Buckland Kirk speaks to Mags Kirk about how to find some peace and a sense of community on the yoga mat in our fast-paced world

Comments (0) Fitness, Lifestyle

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When it comes to health and wellbeing, the first place I tend to look is on Instagram, and then when I have scrolled through endless ‘before-and-after’ shots of fitness enthusiasts I tend not to feel inspired. In fact, I wish I looked as good as the people in the ‘before’ shots! It is easy to feel locked out of the whole ‘wellness’ world when you view it online, for the simple reason that it’s all about the way you look, and not about how you feel.

I can remember my early forays into fitness via every fad going, and each one required its own look, and when you added it up, it all cost a fortune. I might have left classes feeling fitter, but having spent time at the back looking at visions of perfection up the front in beautifully formed thong leotards, it is easy to see why my heart might have felt pumped, but my spirits were left feeling low. And that was before social media existed.

I am going to be transparent here. I sat down for a chat with Mags Kirk, whose own Instagram posts based around her own yoga practice and lessons have nothing to do with gym leggings and lipliner. And if you check out our surnames, she’s my sister-in-law, not that labels really fit who she is, how she works and what she stands for. She’s a unique person, and her passion for yoga, healthy living, balance and inclusion are awe-inspiring.

Mags has been practising yoga for 25 years, before dedicated studios had even popped up around the city. As an inherently shy person, she had no grand plan to become a teacher, but enjoyed being a student. After expanding her own practice, her confidence grew and she started developing her teaching skills, inspired by her own inspiring instructors. That first class a teacher in 2012 has led Mags on a journey of discovery crossing continents, amassing friends and colleagues along the journey.

Her classes at Planet Yoga in Liverpool, based in the popular Smithdown Road area, are now a way of life for her, and her regular SOMA monthly class or ‘deeper dive’ into what it means to practise yoga is quite the experience, and Mags relishes the opportunity to share this beautiful, full, rounded practice of yoga with as many people as possible. So over a very healthy, nourishing drink and a warm welcome Mags was kind enough to impart some of her wisdom.

You are so experienced now in what you do – tell me more about your journey as a teacher.

My first Yoga Teacher Training was in the UK and was actually based in Zen Buddhism and meditation with a really strong emphasis on body energetics – a fantastic experience and totally not what I expected. I followed this up with further, Advanced Teacher Training in Embodied Flow & Embodied Yin –  which took me off to places such as Stockholm, Finland and Portugal to work with my amazing teachers.

My practice, and therefore my teaching, incorporates both Hatha Yoga Flow and Embodied Yin Yoga (which is a subtly different way of practicing the more “traditional” versions of Yin Yoga).

Gary Kirk

I’m in the pretty unusual position of also having a husband who teaches Yoga too, and no, we did not meet through Yoga (we had a lot of years in before that!) but it is a lovely thing that we share. Gary teaches regular classes at JD Gym in Belle Vale – pop along there too if you are a member.

I have also undertaken many hours of continuous study via retreats and workshops, immersions and mentorship with my own teachers (who I’m so grateful to have a continuing relationship with and who have been here to Liverpool to run their own workshops and immersions) and also with teachers whose work I admire and am interested in understanding and exploring further.

My last Yoga Teacher Training was a deeper study into the world of Somatics where I completed a 300hr Teacher Training in 2020. I would venture to say that my passion is Somatics or the “invisible alignment“, sensing and moving, and I weave this into all my teaching.

All of this means that I officially have over 1200 hrs of formal teacher training – but, honestly, you stop counting the hours after a certain point – Yoga is a lifetime of study, and I remain a very humble student.

What I love about teaching is affected by the style of yoga class I am teaching at any time. I love a flow class when the energy in the room really connects and I get to observe people moving and breathing together – it really is poetry in motion and quite beautiful to witness. On the flip side, when teaching my Embodied Yin sessions I can observe people dropping into stillness and I particularly love it when the penny drops and students begin to get that this is most definitely not a “chill”! I’m always hesitant to use the word advanced, but Yin yoga, to me, is the real “advanced” practice – it can be really difficult to sit with yourself in stillness. Yin Yoga is a gateway to meditation.

Restorative Yoga is a real gem too (different to Yin by the way….)  and something I incorporate into all the workshops that I teach too – we are exhausted as a culture, and taking even just a small amount of time to immerse yourself in this practice is a real gift – so try it too if you get the chance.

I just love yoga as a full, sacred and immersive practice and subsequently, my main aim is sharing what I practice with you – “ALL” of it. 

Mags Kirk 1

Mags, I know that you are so passionate about your work. Could you explain to newbies what SOMA classes are all about?

I teach from a place of embodiment – and SOMA is an extended Yoga and Embodiment session that was born from the kind of deeper, immersive practices that I truly wished I could attend myself. SOMA had a pretty long gestation period before coming to life in August 2019.

SOMA weaves several modalities including free movement, philosophy, visualisations, hatha yoga, yin yoga, and meditation – it is a rich experience.

The thing I say about SOMA is “the magic is in the repetition” – these are deep practices, not a “run of the mill” yoga class (and I truly do not say that disparagingly) – we undertake practices which can be movement based, but in the main are investigations into the subtle body. The practices are also designed to be part of your daily life and we work through so many aspects of the rich Yoga and Embodiment landscape.

It is not prescriptive – we may move through a Yoga Flow; we may undertake some free movement; I also weave in bits of Qigong – there is a large emphasis on Yin Yoga and relaxation. It shifts and changes with each session – there are definitely no “set sequences” – there is not a lot of copying a teacher on a mat – but there are lots and lots of invitations to find pathways in which to move, breathe, investigate and relax fully.

In my experience, Yin Yoga is often very misunderstood. Students can think that because they are not “moving” that they are not “practicing”. Some teachers can often teach it as a not so “dynamic” class – often trailed as being “gentle”.

Honestly, Yin Yoga is a very deep study and in my experience, a lot more difficult to actually teach! Yin Yoga targets the fascia (connective tissue) – a good analogy to explain simplistically is to think of the white pith in oranges. Peeling open an orange segment we can see that each pocket of flesh is neatly compartmentalised and yet still bound to the whole by this pith, this fascia.

Western medicine largely ignored fascia until around the last 20 years or so – and lots of new research shows that it’s much more than just a “netting” but a whole network of communication through the body to the brain.

If you are interested in spirituality – you can begin by understanding that simply being in your own body is a spiritual experience. I teach Yin Yoga through the study of TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) – TCM is first and foremost preventative and at the heart of its lens prescribes “living in accordance to the seasons“.

So as the seasons shift beautifully, so does what I offer in my teaching – we practice in accordance with the rich teachings of each season of Winter, Spring, Summer, Late Summer and Winter (yes, there is a 5th season!)

Nature is one of our biggest teachers – if we choose to tune in, to actually “listen“.

SOMA is also deeply based in building a true Community, getting to know the people that you practice with – so often in Yoga spaces, people rush about just smiling at the person next to them as they hurry off and come back next week and smile again. I like people to know each other’s name, chat with each other, and get to know each other.

Community is so missing from our modern lives, so missing as we hide behind computer screens – head down, looking at the lives of people we will never know, never meet.

In SOMA, we say hello to the people next to us, we know their names, we share the time, and the space.

How are you enjoying your new home at Planet Yoga?

It’s honestly been really lovely to land in a new space.  It’s tricky with Yoga Studios, many of them may be beautiful buildings / spaces, but it’s the beating heart inside, the people that really make it, the community that is created through the regular sharing of practice and Martin and Dianne have been incredibly welcoming and accommodating and honestly could not have done any more to settle us into our new home. There is a great selection of classes and wonderful massage / acupuncture and treatment therapists who work from the studio. You can currently find me teaching  my own “special blend” of Embodied Yin & Flow every Sunday at 10.30am – alongside my monthly SOMA workshop on Saturday afternoons. Come along and visit – you will receive a very warm welcome!

I know that your classes are so much more about the benefits of participation, rather than appearances. What are the genuine physical and mental wellbeing benefits of being a regular attendee?

A Yoga practice actually has absolutely nothing to do with “appearance” – it is sold that way to us in this culture of course – the carefully curated images, the expensive yoga clothing – but it is actually a very thin aspect of a true Yoga practice that is shown on Instagram for instance, where Yoga has been diluted to buzz words and hashtags.

I was thinking about this in putting this piece together, “would I have gone to a Yoga class now if I had never practiced before” – and you know, I’m not actually sure that that I would, so much of the “content” is repetitive and ableist, and can actually put many people off – and that saddens me to say as a Yoga Teacher.

However, I know that I am still passionate about sharing the beauty of Yoga with people and getting beyond a few rudimentary poses and what the breath is doing for us (they are the essentials of the practice of course) – but it’s actually so vast and wide a study that the only way to truly discover it is through a continuous, solid practice.

We show up on a yoga mat for a variety of reasons – all of them valid, fitness or enlightenment – you are welcome! However I will guide you into your Yoga practice via embodiment – HOW you practice matters to me. We can throw ourselves around at lightning speed and push ourselves above and beyond, and that might actually not serve us in any way at all.

I encourage steady, seeking out the richer experiences that a practice offers; enjoying and exploring and not being goal oriented.

Yoga practice should elevate you, make you feel better in a myriad of ways, not make you feel inadequate in any way.

Some tips I would give in curating a regular and shared practice are:

  • Find a time that suits your own energy / rhythm  (your family life, work patterns etc.)
  • Connect to a practice that works for “you” – whether that be dynamic and sweaty or finding a more moderate paced practice (however remember to experiment with your practice too. If you like slower, more restorative practices – maybe take a fiery flow class and get a sweat on and your blood pumping. If you are constantly on the go and prefer the fiery flow classes – maybe think about paying a little visit over to the other side of the Yoga coin from time to time – it’s all about balance.
  • What actually makes a Yoga practice effective is showing up! That is half the work done.  Consciously choose to do something for YOU, put the world on hold for a short period of time. When you come to a class, the rest is taken care of…
  • Go to several teachers, experiment, get out of your comfort zone maybe? 
  • Try not to critique teachers too much, if you don’t like a class, you don’t have to go again, but try to remember that the vast majority have worked really hard to get to teach a class and that in the main, they are trying to do good!

I still find it humbling to be honest how people entrust their welfare to you – I don’t take this lightly, it’s a real privilege – so please know this if you attend my classes, that it is you who help to make the experience what it is, and I thank you.

We know here at His & Hers that resolutions often fall away in Spring. Can you take us through some achievable goals for the rest of the year?

If I speak to this from a Yoga perspective, we so often see an influx of students in January – the old trope of “New Year, New Me” – which has its place, of course it does. However, that does settle down usually and people go back to doing whatever it was they did before!

In fact, it’s not the cold and dark of a New Year when we are meant to make new intentions or “resolutions” if you will, we are meant to nurture, to hibernate like animals do. Springtime is the time for this – align yourself with the new buds pushing up through the earth all lovely and new, or the bear stretching and yawning after his long sleep and rest!

In terms of Yoga – I’m a big advocate of taking one or two classes per week when you are new – be a little steady with it, so that you don’t get fed up quickly. Taking 2 classes per week for a year is much better than 30 days in succession and then never going again – it is going to serve you better in the long run if it becomes a part of your regular activity, a habit if you will. Carve it into your week – do you like morning practices or evening practices?

Maybe go regularly with a friend if that will get you onto the mat – have a coffee and a catch up before or afterwards.

Consider short term goals – what do you want to do weekly, monthly? That is often a lot more manageable than thinking about the next 6 months or year. If you need to skip a class because you are sick or something has come up (life happens, we get it) – don’t just leave it another week – come back, come back, and come back again.

Intention is key, and Yoga will always catch you if you fall.

You are so passionate about eating really well – and it’s the very opposite of faddy diets and online trends. Can you tell us more about that?

Firstly, I’m not a nutritionist and do not profess to be, therefore I would not guide anybody on what might be best for them to eat. Fads are exactly that – faddy, fussy behaviour that have a “sell by” date pretty often.

Women in particular have culturally been brought up around thinking of certain foods to be “bad” – this passes from generation to generation quite often – that is a pretty sorry state of affairs isn’t it? A Yoga practice brings you into deep connection with your “diet” (the ancient yogis were obsessed with digestion!).

Diet to me is not something that is done for a short duration of time and is certainly not punitive – diet is what gives you nutrition, health, strength and a vibrancy for life – and yes, pleasure too!

I’ve been a vegetarian for 25 years now (before it was fashionable!) and I’m glad to see that so many other people are becoming conscious of what they choose to eat, and the provenance of their food. How we eat is as important as what we eat.

I enjoy cooking so much – the selection of it, the preparation, and the process of cooking itself.  Food is social, food is love – especially when shared with others. Your “diet” is a responsibility and also a celebration of your health in every movement and moment. Allow it to carve out a lifestyle that supports your own natural expression of your energy, your life force – your prana.

I’ll offer you a little quote from Hippocrates – “let food be your medicine and medicine be your food”. This can be very difficult when there is so much mis-information thanks largely to advertising and the corporate mechanisms we are subject to.

Simplify – understand yourself in relation to hot / cold food; the colours on your plate – finding moderation, finding balance.

Mainly though – enjoy.

While social media can make so many of us feel locked out of looking our best, because comparison often leads to discontent, tell us how your overall approach can help us to view ourselves, and each other, with a little more compassion?

I have a pretty conflicted relationship with social media – I like to say that I “play and walk away”.

I use social media, I totally get it from a business perspective, sharing what you have to offer, chatting to an old friend maybe – keeping in touch with friends and family, laughing your head off at funny, random stuff you might uncover.

There is definitely a “shadow” side though and very often what we see is not the true story.

In teaching yoga, I chat to many people before and after class – and I have to say that the amount of anxiety that people speak to me about is simply mind-blowing.For me, there is an undoubted correlation between the boom of social media and anxiety (especially in young people, and especially in young girls / women).

It just cannot be good for our psyche, our soul, our spirit – to scroll for hours daily, looking at other people and comparing our lives to theirs and I consider myself lucky that I can remember a life before this external influence, because we are simply not equipped to handle the influx of digital information that comes at us constantly.

This has manifested into an almost constant pressure of mental loops, habits, repetition of though, and infinite striving – almost from the moment we wake up and reach for that phone – all for a hit of dopamine that leaves us feeling unsatisfied anyway most of the time – we could actually maybe call it “unsocial media” yes?

I also feel this deeply as a Yoga teacher and when talking with other Yoga teachers – so much imagery of the so-called perfect pose, perfect practice, perfect practitioner. If you try to be like another teacher, do what they do, dress like they do, use their vocabulary, teach poses / sequences that you have not felt in your own body, through your own daily practice – you will not be happy.

I will also add to this that students can usually sniff this out from miles away! If we really think about it, it is pretty difficult to even try to convey in an image that will probably be scrolled past in less than a second, the sensation that arises when we practice Yoga, or to try to explain in hashtags a single element that you want to spend an hour of time lovingly sharing with people.

I am very choosy about what I let into my periphery, choosy about the teachers I practice with as it is their energy and guidance that I actually assimilate / digest, I am choosy about who I seek advice from.

I am a creator, not a consumer, so I just keep colouring my own story, putting out into the world what I truly believe in, I don’t seek out validation. There is a saying (attributed to many people) that “Comparison is the thief of joy” – and it really is. Have a digital detox day – take the apps off your phone, they will be there when you come back.

Give yourself some unstructured time – read a good book, go for a long walk, look up at the sky, at architecture (we live in an amazing city), share all the gifts that you have to offer – maybe smile at a stranger. Remember, there is only one YOU – there will ever in the history of all time, only ever be one YOU.

It’s actually incredibly liberating when you remember this for yourself.

In the words of Belinda Carlisle – “Live Your Life Be Free”.

I can only say thanks to Mags for the time she spent talking to me: her expertise and knowledge can convey more of a healing message than an image of perfection ever can. If, like me, you have some health issues and your main goal is to feel the very best you are able to,  I can only say that the wisdom in the above words and the passion which delivers them is unlike anyone I have ever come across in this field. And for anyone who feels absolutely overwhelmed by the thought of any kind of class, I can highly recommend the monthly SOMA class at Planet Yoga.

What can I say? I never knew when I became a Kirk that I would also gain such a remarkable teacher, and friend. Forget about being a ‘before-and-after’ version of yourself. This isn’t about working towards a short-term glow-up, after all.

A lifelong inner glow? That’s more of a Mags thing.

You can follow Mags on Instagram at:

For more information about Planet Yoga Liverpool head to their website and Insta at:

Planet Yoga is located at 135 Smithdown Road, Wavertree, Liverpool L7 4JF.

Gary Kirk’s Yoga classes take place at JD Gym, Childwall Valley Road, Liverpool L25 2RF.

For more information head to:

This is not a paid-for piece and contains no sponsored content.

Nancy Buckland Kirk

About the author: Nancy Buckland Kirk is a writer with a keen interest in fashion and beauty and a career which has spanned modelling, teaching and spreading the word about leading beauty brands. From the archives: 
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On World Mental Health Day, Nancy Buckland Kirk talks about grief

Nancy Buckland Kirk on why she chose today to write about mental health for the first time

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