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Rachel James-Downing

Trained for 5 years to become a Hatha Yoga Teacher with the British Wheel of Yoga (the governing body for Yoga in the UK). She has been teaching since 2006 and professionally as a self-employed tutor in Oxford since 2009.

Rachel was born in 1966. She is of mixed ancestry from an  Indian father and British mother. She has 4 brothers. Their family moved occasionally with her father’s work. He was a Church of England vicar, Rev. Frank James. He was a gregarious character who wanted to change the lives of the poor, the sick and needy people of the World. He died in service as a Prison Chaplin. He encouraged Rachel’s choices to follow her heart. Her father was the first person to guide her into deep relaxation and pain relief techniques at a very early age. Her mother, Christina James has always embodied compassion, kindness, and love in actions and words, as well as being naturally elegant, calm and graceful. Rachel started practising Yoga with her brother John-Mark when they were in their 20’s up until he died in a motorbike accident in India in 2001.

About Rachel

Their family moved to India in 1982 ~ 1984 where all the of children attended Hebron Missionary Boarding School in Ooty. She took her A’ Level exams in ‘84 and returned to the UK and studied Related Arts at Bishop Otter College. In her early days of being interested in ‘the body’, she developed flexibility through classical dance lessons and Jane Fonda’s workouts. After graduating in 1988 she meandered aimlessly through life, moving around frequently and being very unsettled. And not very happy. She found it difficult to hold down a job or relationship. After her father died in 1992 she moved in with her brother Oli who was studying at UCL and squatting in Leightonstow. She joined forces with the Anti Road Protestors in London’s East End. She had a near-death experience that challenged her to really think about her life and what she wanted and the choice led her to deepen her desire to be healthy and well. At this time her Yoga practice became very strong. She engaged in as many classes and events as possible and became fascinated by the breath. Breath meant life and the quality of the breath was something that she could control. 

When the Road Campaign came to an end and she was once again homeless she moved to Ireland to try and find clean air. Yoga was essential to her now. She attended classes and practised at home regularly. She still moved around aimlessly and she became pregnant in 1996 with her son Ethan. She moved to Northern Ireland alone to have her baby. While pregnant she self-studied and practised Yoga. When Ethan was 2 she moved back to the UK to be closer to her family.

She needed her to practise more than ever as the stress of single parenting was huge and it was the only way she could calm her nervous system. She tried many different classes and styles. She battled with stress and depression and wanted to understand why Yoga helped her feel better. Her inquiry led her into enrolling in the British Wheel of Yoga (BWY) Foundation Course in 2005 taught by Lorraine Newman. This experience deepened her practice. It introduced her to anatomy, physiology, pranayama, (breath extension and control) and the bandhas (internal muscular locks, core strength, channelling energy).

The Foundation Course led to her enrolling in the BWY Teaching Diploma Course in 2006 with Val Davies. This was a 3.5-year course of intense training and research, with both practical and written assignments. During the course, she was expected to attend weekly Yoga session with a BWY qualified teacher, develop her own practice and begin teaching. She made a conscious decision to be single while she focused her energy on Yoga. She started teaching her own classes early on during the course in 2006. Her NOA class is still running and some of her first students are still attending and getting younger and fitter each year. She became self-employed in 2009 after graduating. On completion of the Diploma, she attended her first Vipassana 10-day silent retreat. This was a deeply profound experience which she would recommend to most people. Rachel held the role as Oxfordshire County Representative for the British Wheel of Yoga for 3 years (2013 – 16). This involved planning In-Service Training events for Yoga Teachers and BWY members, meeting with the Committee, and writing reports for the BWY Southern Region Newsletter.

Over the years Rachel has worked in many fitness centres, corporate businesses (Harley Davidson, Peersons, Clinic 95,) and Colleges (Lady Margaret Hall, Linacre, Lincoln, St Hughs, Somerville, Keeble, & Corpus Christi). She held regular workshops based on Longevity, Posture and the Chakras. She has organised retreats in Tuscany since 2016. Rachel had established herself as a well-respected Yoga Teacher in Oxford with regular all-inclusive weekly drop-in classes for mixed-level ability, ages and health issues. She has several long term private clients that she teaches 1-2-1 in their homes. Rachel has attended many Yoga classes, In-Service Training events, Kirtans (Indian devotional chanting), Yoga festivals and workshops.

It has always been important to Rachel to keep learning and growing in her Self Study knowledge, practice and teaching of Yoga. She relaunched her website in 2015 and intended to keep building on her teaching. In 2016 after many years focusing solely on her career she met Ben. In 2017 he was diagnosed with cancer which altered their direction in life. They decided to get married and 10 days later they did on 11th July 2017. Thankfully Ben recovered and they spent time building their life together. Retreats, Workshops and Classes continued. She intended to train to teach others to be teachers but has been unable to further her career with the BWY. She is now independent and in the process of applying to become a mature teacher with Yoga Alliance and then create a training course that will enable her to pass on her knowledge and experience.

At present (May 2020) she has a permanent position at Khiron House Trauma Centre 3 days a week which she finds incredibly rewarding. Also at this time of Coronavirus Lockdown, she has set up online Zoom sessions which she has found to be a very natural adaption to the current crisis and will continue once everything hopefully returns to a new normal.

Her personal practice is always developing and changing. Rachel loves challenging postures although the ultimate journey is a spiritual one. She continues to be interested in anatomy and experiential spirituality.

What is the answer to the question, ‘Who Am I?’ (अहम् कः aham Kah सो ऽहम् so ‘ham).