Sue Rich is a qualified yoga teacher who gave up the rat race in London and started a new life in rural mid Wales with her Welsh-born husband Harry ‒ a landscape designer and half of Rich Landscapes. This move inspired Sue to open her own yoga studio in a geodome surrounded by the unspoiled beauty of nature, with the aim to offer people the time and the place to get inspired and reconnect with themselves. We caught up with Sue and Harry at their secluded countryside home and tranquil yoga dome to have a chat about their life in rural Wales and to learn more about Sue’s journey into yoga, her life experiences and plans for the future.
Sue, what were you like as a child? What did you want to be or become?
I’ve always wanted to do something creative, but my parents only ever steered us in the direction of doing an academic degree and hoping we would work in finance or law! What I wanted to become changed constantly, it ranged from being a lawyer to fashion designer, Turner prize winner, a spy, to a hedge fund manager (ha)!
What is your most vivid childhood memory?
I was raised by my grandparents who were very loving and lived a very simple life. Though childhood was sweet, it was bittersweet as my parents were working abroad throughout my whole childhood and only saw me and my sister once a year. I had a very unconventional upbringing but it’s made me the person that I am now which I am grateful for. I remember my grandparents would take us to a park in Hong Kong every Sunday after we had dim sum for lunch, the park had a bird watching area, a playground and it seemed huge when I was a child, it was always so much fun.
Tell us a bit about your life before your encounter with yoga.
Life before yoga was very non yoga! I was working in the fashion industry in a very competitive and corporate environment, living a very unfulfilled life with a fairly irresponsible lifestyle ‒ lots of partying and not a lot of good done to my body. I was surrounded by materialism and consumerism constantly. Though as a child I was exposed to meditation, martial arts, tai chi and acupressure, because of my granddad who was a dedicated buddhist and a regular practitioner of tai chi and martial arts so in some ways, yoga in the broader sense was always familiar.
How did you get into yoga? What was your journey like?
I just came out of a very toxic relationship and was in the midst of changing career but was still working out what my passion and interests really were. My friend Debbie from work at the time, who is a regular and dedicated practitioner, asked me to try yoga for a month in a studio nearby work where she practiced 4 times a week. I was feeling lost and needed to take things off my mind so I went along and signed up for a 1 month trial offer. I went to my first class with an open mind; a 6pm beginners Wednesday class in central London, so you can imagine the class was packed. It consisted of very basic postures and frankly speaking I was bored and conscious that I would get hit in the face by the person next to me as the mats were so close together. Debbie went with me as she was so excited to share her love of yoga with me, and the first thing she said at the end of the class was that “this is not the yoga I practise”. From then, I realised modern yoga has evolved so much and there are so many different types of yoga which was very exciting, as for the next few weeks from my 1 month offer, I was determined to try ALL (as many) of them which was lucky as the studio offered a very diverse and wide range of yoga.
I went with an open mind in every class, and eventually found a style I was more drawn to, and also partly influenced by Debbie as she was a pro Ashtangi (Ashtanga is a type of very physically demanding yoga, it requires the practitioner to practice the same sequence, traditionally 6 days a week). Initially I practised Ashtanga for a while and this led me to do my teacher training specialising in Ashtanga vinyasa. I later felt the repetition of the practice didn’t suit me, both on a physical and mental level; I started to get injuries and I felt uninspired by the same sequence being practised daily.
Upon the end of my teacher training, I was very eager to share my love of yoga and wanted to teach as soon as I could. London is a very competitive place, and being a yoga teacher in London can be very cut throat. I started doing Karma yoga around my local studios (Karma yoga is yoga where you give something without the expectation of anything in return. In London, that meant studios would offer free classes if you help out at the studio), so I could save money but still practise and also get to know the studios better to build a good relationship. In one of the studios I did Karma yoga for, I met the owner, it was a small studio so everyone was very friendly, and she was an amazing person to be around! She was carefree yet business minded, we formed a lovely friendship. She once said to me “when someone says to me they practise Iyengar (a type of yoga which is focused on alignment) for years and inside me, I just feel sad for them because they are so focused and fixated on a style, like it’s a destination or a job. Yoga is yoga, there is no right and wrong, the best or the worst”. Her classes were always very free flowing and initially I was uncomfortable at times with her lack of instructions, but actually she taught me to be my own teacher which I am so grateful for. This took me back as to why I was so excited to try different classes when I first started yoga, and actually reminded me as a person of who I am: inquisitive, open minded and brave. I continued in exploring different areas of yoga, the year before my teacher training, I went on a 10 day Vipassana course which is a complete silent meditation course, with no contact with anyone, both inside the compound and the outside world. No access to books, music, movement or any form of writing or stimulation both physically and mentally. It was very tough and it took me to a deeper level of my understanding of yoga: the meditation and the spiritual side.
I have only been practising yoga for 3 years before I had the bug for the teacher training to further my own practice. The more I practiced, the more I realised how important my body is and how much respect I have for my body. Having worked in the fashion industry, I struggled to love my body and having lack of parenting in my childhood, I often struggled to love myself. Through yoga, on a physical level, I became stronger and more supple, with the impressive headstands, arm balances and backbends my body can do. On a mental and emotional level, I was able to find a sense of peace, not just during practice, but off the mat as well. I slowly became the best version of myself. I have learned to love myself for who I am, no matter what happens, and yoga empowers that constantly.
Tell us about the inception of Ty Yoga. When and in what context did you first contemplate the idea of starting your own yoga studio and what made it worth pursuing?
After my teacher training, all I wanted to do was teach. I taught in gyms, covered classes for studios, friends, colleagues from previous work places, just anyone willing to take a class! It was low pay and competitive, teaching in places such as a gym wasn’t very calming or zen! I got more and more involved with the small studio where I did my Karma yoga at, and learnt how to actually run a studio as well as just simply teaching a class ‒ which at this point I was still trying to improve on as I was still very new. I was also working part time in an office, so did my best to coordinate as many teaching jobs/covers I could find.
I knew it was competitive in London, but I thought at least I love yoga and by teaching it meant that I could share my passion so it will be more meaningful. However, in reality, for me to make a decent living meant that I needed to teach at least 10-12 classes full time and even then, I had to think about travel expenses and the time I would take travelling from one studio to another. This would be the life of full time teaching in London, which some of my yoga teacher friends are doing in the city ‒ some are even teaching up to 15 classes a week! I realised that I didn’t want to be stuck in the same place I was working in fashion, and at the same time, my relationship with Harry, my husband (we only got married last June) who I was living with at the time in London, started to become more serious and we thought about marriage and starting a family. We both felt it would be a fantastic place to start a family near or in nature, with our children (when we have kids) being able to roam around freely in a woodland or in the wild, something I never had growing up, whilst Harry was very familiar with. This also led me to the idea of starting my own yoga studio in a natural setting, somewhere that disconnects people from their busy lives, where they feel they can restore and reconnect with themselves, which Ty Yoga provides perfectly.
I was already in the midst of changing careers, the city is an expensive place to live and working for studios in London just wasn’t the dream. It was a no brainer that we move out further to set up something of my own. Harry was brought up near Brecon, so it made sense we looked into mid Wales as opposed to a place that neither of us were familiar with. Within 9 months of searching for our perfect home with the potential of the ideal yoga studio spot, we’ve finally found this magical place near Erwood. As soon as we saw the house, we fell in love and we knew exactly where we wanted the studio ‒ right next to the running stream. Initially we couldn’t decide between a yurt or a geodome. I did my research and also got in touch with a yoga yurt studio based in Sussex who were very helpful. In the end, we went for the dome and as far as I know, it’s the only yoga dome in Wales or possibly the UK? Harry pretty much built most of it himself whilst running his own business! I knew no one at this point in the area apart from my in laws, and I couldn’t even drive; I passed my test 2 months ago! The yoga dome really kept me going as I had a miscarriage a month before we started the studio, so lots went on at the end of last year! Going back to your question on what made it worth pursuing, it is probably the other way round; so rather than it being worth pursuing, the dome gave me the drive to stay positive in the midst of all the changes I was going through.
What are the greatest rewards of being a yoga teacher and what do you aim to equip your students with?
I get incredible comments and feedback about how I have changed people’s lives and how much joy they get out of my classes ‒ this alone makes everything worthwhile. I always ask students to listen to their body and always do what feels good and never practise with pain. I also try to push their boundaries physically and mentally and it’s the fine balance between finding what works for oneself. Like my previous point, becoming your own teacher. My aim is to offer people the time and place to restore and reconnect with themselves.
What would you say to someone who thinks that yoga isn’t for them?
I would say there is no such thing, yoga is for anybody and everybody, regardless of age, gender, religion, culture, physical ability. I am reading a book at the moment called Yoga mind. In the book, the author ‒ who is also a well known yoga teacher ‒ finds ways to teach her friend yoga who fell in an accident and is completely paralysed from neck down. Yoga is beyond the asana (posture) practice, yoga is about connecting one’s mind, body and soul. We all have that but often don’t connect the three.
What is your favourite pose and why?
I have a few and often they are inversions or backbends. I’d say my go to pose is a headstand, I love the feeling of being upside down, it makes me feel fearless and strong.
How has the relationship with your own self evolved over time?
The transformation is apparent, within months of regular practice, I became physically stronger and more supple, I have so much respect for my body. Mentally, I realise I had a lot of egos I needed to manage and a lot of behavioural patterns that I hadn’t realised I developed over the years. Through years of regular practice, I am able to take away what I learn on the mat to my day to day; the ability to still my mind in stressful situations, though this is still a constant learning curve.
What about your relationship with the outside world?
Being able to pause before reacting is a huge step for me, this means I am able to take a moment before making any decision or feeling in control of my own feelings, emotions and actions. This affects everything I do.
Who are some of the inspirational yoga practitioners that you follow and what do you admire about their approach?
I have trained with some amazing teachers in London. Ruth Westoby, who is a well known Ashtanga teacher, was my teacher for a few months. Her passion and knowledge for Indian philosophy as well as the physical and spiritual aspect of yoga are so deep and inspiring, she would be up at 3am for her own self practice then would start teaching at 6am, 5 days a week! Elizabeth from London Fields Yoga; this is the studio owner I mentioned earlier who pretty much became my mentor for a while, she is carefree yet business minded and she has a free flowing approach to yoga which has had a huge influence in my own practice and teaching. Other practitioners who I find inspiring are Cat Meffan (also trained with the same yoga school as me so her approach and teaching are similar) and Celest Pereira (she’s a trained physiotherapist and was a professional dancer and often includes biomechanics and strength training in her classes).
What’s the best piece of advice you have ever received?
This wasn’t so much an advice but a comment a friend of mine has made from her own traumatic experience in life. I met her when she was 21 and I was 31, she was so mature and incredibly positive. After she has confided in me with something that has happened to her at a young age which was traumatic, I immediately expressed my sympathy and empathy, but she said to me: “it’s OK, I won’t let my past define who I am”. This has taught me that no matter how tough something is, I can still move on and get on with my life, it may take time, but it is possible.
What are three questions you don’t have an answer for?
What happens after we die?
Do ghosts exist?
What is consciousness? (I am forever searching answers for that!)
What does a regular day look like for you?
I’d be up around 7-7:30am without an alarm set, have some breakfast and read or look up yoga articles or online material for inspiration and self growth. Most days my first class is at 10am, my kind husband would heat up the yoga dome using the wood-burner from 7 to 7:30am depending on how cold that day is. I’d be in the dome from 9:30am to prepare the mats and props. Classes are 1 hour long, most of my students are regulars so we’d catch up for a short while after class. Then I’d do my chores or go for a walk or swim, depending on what I need to do on the day. By 4-5pm, the dome would need to be heated up again for the evening class. Sometimes I’d eat my supper by 4pm as you shouldn’t really eat at least 2-3 hours before practice, this depends on how late the last class finishes. We don’t have a TV at home so we would usually read or watch something specific on our computer before bed which would be around 10pm.
Why do you do and what makes it all worthwhile to you?
Sharing my passion for yoga really means a lot to me, when my students tell me how much they love the classes and how it has transformed their lives, it is the most rewarding thing and gives me such joy. Yoga has changed my life so much on so many levels, for the better and I hope I can share that with as many people as possible.
What are your dreams and aspirations for Ty Yoga?
I am constantly coming up with new ideas as I love ideas; ways to grow Ty Yoga, adding workshops and retreats. I would love Ty Yoga to be the hub in the area where everyone can come and find their sense of calm and equanimity from any classes, workshops or events they take part in.