North London yoga tour with Kate Oates

Written by: Sophie Taylor

In celebration of yoga month, we went on a North London yoga tour with Kate Oates and discovered the inspirational chain of events behind her practice.

Kate of Kate Oates Yoga is a woman of great determination. Her story is one of sheer willpower and impressive perseverance that I was particularly inspired by.

A few years ago Kate was a marathon running, pole dancing exercise queen with enough energy left after a run for a quick boxing lesson on a Wednesday night. But gradually she began to feel less energetic and knew something wasn’t quite right. After a quick trip to the doctor she was diagnosed with ME. Her reaction was typically Kate, “So I’ll just do more exercise and feel better?” The doctor said she had to stop. No more running or boxing and certainly no more dancing round those poles. Fortunately however, her doctor suggested yoga. And the rest, as they say, is history.

We talked about staying healthy while still enjoying wine, chocolate and channeling your inner child lion in the park.

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My doctor said, I don’t think you understand – you can’t do anything. Your body is saying no.

So how did you get in to yoga in the first place?

“When I moved to London I used to run with the fantastic Run Dem Crew every Tuesday night, a non competitive running crew which has the best atmosphere ever, then pole dancing for fun on Wednesday nights and where possible I’d fit a swim in on a Friday night. I was very fit but I was also working really hard in media.

I was out with a friend one night and had to leave at 7pm. My friend was shocked. So I had to go to the doctors because I knew something wasn’t quite right. I’d had glandular fever for a month and anaemia at the same time. I couldn’t walk up a hill without stopping. I kept injecting myself with vitamin B12 to get my energy up. I was then diagnosed with ME which was post viral. I asked my doctor at the time, can I run? She said no. Can I box? I asked. She said, “I don’t think you understand, you can’t do anything, your body is saying no”. So she suggested yoga as they had a class upstairs on a Monday night. It was with this fantastic guy who taught Iyengar yoga. He let me come and go when I wanted to and didn’t make me pay for classes I couldn’t make.”

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Yoga was a huge factor in helping me recover.

“People in the class would understand when I would chill out in the corner, staying in child’s pose. I asked if he could send me a sheet of positions I could try at home in case I couldn’t find the energy to make it to class. He said of course. When you’ve got ME you feel like you haven’t achieved anything, you’re just at home lethargic and exhausted. So even just doing 5 minutes at home, that’s all I could do for such a long time. I just kept going slowly.

Now every two months I look back and see how I’ve progressed and got better. There was a lot to work on. Yoga was a huge factor in helping me recover. With ME you’re always tired but wired, so you’re never actually restoratively relaxing.”

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I feel so in tune with my body now.

When Kate’s close friend passed away, she was left devastated. One day she received a cheque in the post as she had been written in to her friend’s will. Not wanting to spend the money on rent, Kate sat with the cheque and wondered how best to invest her friend’s money. 

“I had been on a yoga retreat with a teacher who is now my go to for advice and help. She’s incredible, she’s called Sunnah Rose and teaches in East Finchley. She’s so supportive. I wanted to spend the cheque on a qualification. So whilst talking to Sunnah on the retreat I decided to apply for a qualification in yoga. When I was training they asked who wanted to be a teacher at the end of it and I didn’t put my hand up. I just wanted to know I was practising correctly, to know my hips were in the right place, know that I was doing it safely.”  

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“Teaching feels so normal now, but during training I found it so funny at the time to tell people how to move their legs! It feels fun now to teach, it’s like not working and I absolutely love it. I do a mixture of private classes and group bookings.” 

It sounds like you’re happier now

“I feel so in tune with my body now. Where before I thought I was fit, but actually the stress of running 20 miles a week on your body isn’t good. But now I’m in a much better shape. I’m healthy and I understand my body’s needs more. It will tell me when I need to rest.”

I was in a constant battle between my body and my brain

“My breathing system, my hormones, my digestion, it has all come in to harmony and I feel like it works now. ME has been in the press recently as it’s so rife. There was a private centre that I went to who try to explain that your body and mind are in a relationship. With all the exercise I was doing I wasn’t listening to my body when it wanted to relax. I’d be in a constant battle between my body and my brain but my brain would always win. So now I’m not competitive with myself. I’ll lie down for 20 minutes in Savasana for example and just let myself enjoy it.

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“I really encourage people to listen to their bodies and not force themselves to get to the end result. I recognise that in myself, wanting the poses to look like Instagram immediately. But you realise that your life isn’t going to change as soon as you get into a headstand and you wont suddenly find this higher state of being when you reach a certain pose.”

Wise words Kate! It’s time to follow Kate around her favourite North London spots for yoga practice like a fat and curious puppy at her heels. In true Kate Oates style, we had a little explore and found the secret nature reserve in Gillespie Park.

1. Nature Reserve, Gillespie Park

“It’s fun exploring, I want to revisit the secret reserve again. I love practising outside, sometimes I just need the breeze. When I get hot practising indoors I love having the windows wide open to cool down. It’s really pretty and quiet in Gillespie Park. Apart from all the crickets.”

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2. Garages outside Kate’s house

How did you come across this spot?

“That came about because I found myself living in this flat without a garden. My home is a lovely space with wooden floors that I’ll use in the Winter, but I love being outside! I’m not even sure how I found it. I obviously just explored at some point and found this spot behind the garages. It’s nothing glamorous, it’s round past the bins. But my alarm goes off at half 6, I brush my teeth, put my yoga kit on and I’m on my mat by quarter to seven. It gives me 45 minutes to an hour to do my practice. There’s a lovely breeze, it’s totally quiet and you can see the birds flying past and squirrels running up the tree nearby. When I’m in the house my brain wanders, thinking about putting the washing on or checking my phone. But outside all you have are your keys and your mat and it’s lovely. It’s so much easier to have 5-10 minutes meditating. It’s a really nice space and that’s where I go every morning. I’m so glad I found it.”

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3. Priory Park, Crouch End

I teach ad hoc summer classes at Priory Park. When I’m not teaching privately or a group class elsewhere and it’s not raining, I’ll see who’s around for an impromptu session. A bring your own mat situation. Sometimes it’ll be 5 people, sometimes 12. There was one Sunday I was teaching at the Haelan Centre and it was so, so hot. We had too many people for the class and I was about to turn people away as there’s a waiting list. But one of the girls suggested just going to the park instead. So I went and picked up all the mats from The Haelan Centre and we had a lovely time. I love Priory Park. We don’t always go to the Philosopher’s Garden, although you are a bit more hidden by trees there. It’s very family orientated and there’s always dogs running about. I take my own practice there and you’ll find children playing in the trees around you. Once there were some kids pretending to be lions and I was just wishing there was a lion pose for them. There’s the tiger pose and lion’s breath, but no lion pose! Priory Park was my go to space for a really long time. It’s a beautiful park.”

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Your life isn’t going to change as soon as you get into a headstand.

4. The Haelan Centre, Crouch End

“The Haelan Centre is a really nice studio. It was the first class I set up myself there. As a yoga teacher you either get paid money to rock up to the class where it doesn’t matter if there’s one student or 25. So doing it myself it’s built up slowly and now I’ve got a nice group who know they’re coming on a Sunday morning at 9:30am. I wondered if it was too early but they’ll say by 11:30am they’re back home, up, feeling great and their Sunday has just started. It feels very authentic to me to be at the Haelan Centre because I’m really into my health and eating organic stuff. They’re a really nice business to work with and around, a nice bunch of people.”

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When they say sugar is a poison it’s true!

“With all the things I had to learn with ME, all the things I had to change, diet was a humongous factor. I’ve gone gluten free because my whole body feels lethargic and heavy when I eat gluten. I can’t explain it, I’m not allergic to it, there’s nothing physiologically wrong.

So then I had to cut out sugar which they had suggested to me for a while. I was apprehensive at first but actually when I’ve managed to remove refined crappy white sugar from my diet I feel great. And if I have it again I feel horrible. When they say sugar is a poison it’s true!”

How about alcohol?

“I’m not going to lie, I enjoy a nice glass of wine. But now I just can’t. If I’ve had two glasses of wine I’ll just start yawning. Sometimes it’s worth it! I rarely drink now, it would have to be a really nice glass.”

At which point Mike our photographer joins us with a large slice of chocolate cake. Kate looks thoughtful.

“I’ve actually found it’s quicker to make chocolate myself than it is to walk down to the shop to buy it. Which sounds odd, but if people knew how easy it is to make your own chocolate! I’ll always have cacao in my house for smoothies and coconut oil for my skin and hair.

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“So making chocolate truffles is incredibly quick and simple. I don’t have a switch off button though. If I make a batch of 15 I’ll think they’ll be there for ten days but they’ll be gone in three. I need someone to make me a contraption that only allows me to have one a day!”

You make goodie bags for your students don’t you?

“I do extended 2 hour workshops on a Saturday afternoon with 6 or 7 students. We’ll do a Chaturanga session, for example, then have goodie bags for afterwards. I’m working with a really new brand called CocoPro who do coconut water with protein in it. They are a lovely business to work with. I did a yoga class with them where there was a GB Olympic team hurdler in the class. He said “I’m really tight as I’ve been training all week”. It wasn’t until after that I saw him on Twitter and realised who he was! I’d put the CocoPro in the goodie bags and my homemade chocolates. I’ll always do something different and people wonder what’s going to be next. I’ve done hazelnut truffles, hemp truffles, raw chocolate brownies which were very popular. It’s raw cacao butter heated in a bain marie with the raw cacao powder, vanilla essence, sea salt and some kind of sweeter like maple syrup, agave whatever you like. Whisk them a bit, pop them in your silicone moulds and into the fridge. Done.”

Our chat ends with the sounds of Kate slurping on the banana and ginger detox smoothie.

“Sorry!” she says from a straw. “I don’t want to leave any of the goodness!”

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Too right! You’ve deserved all the goodness you can slurp Kate!

Kate Oates is a qualified Vinyasa Flow Yoga teacher (RYT200 accredited by Yoga Alliance UK) teaching Vinyasa Flow Yoga and now Rocket Yoga having recently spent 60 hours in Brighton with Senior Rocket Teacher Trainee, Amber Gean; a friend and former student of (the late) Larry Schultz himself – (Larry being the founder of Rocket yoga).

She holds 3 group classes a week ranging from 8-25 students, and in addition to weekly and monthly one-to-one classes, is involved with ad hoc events (including with CocoPro, the Coconut/Protein Drink) Kate also runs a workshop most months, for example, ‘Accessible Backbends’, ‘What The Chatturanga’ and next month, ‘Flow & Slow’ (with goodie bags and those infamous homemade chocs).

Kate also finds the time to teach a corporate weekly class, with the ad hoc corporate wellness event too.

Have a look at Kate’s timetable here and get yourself booked up and feeling as healthy as a Kate Oates! And in the words of the yoga lion herself, “don’t compare your chapter 1 to other people’s chapter 20.” ✌️

Photos via Kate Oates and Mike Barry

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