“Yoga has been around for much longer than any of us, and will be for years to come” says Maria Gorham, owner of popular yoga studio ‘Hot Yoga Wellington’.
Spritely, slim and full of vigour in her early fifties, we are sitting to chat Yoga and life at a close by Wellington coffeeshop while sipping warm peppermint tea. Maria believes every decision we make affects our future. She has the positive yet realistic outlook of a woman who has truly lived life. “Change and transformation happen in the present moment” she explains when I ask how can people use Yoga to change their bodies and change their minds. “The question is how to stay connected to yourself but also be connected to everything else…It’s tough, but yoga can help everyone and everyone, whether you are a lorry driver or a student. It truly is a wonderful thing.”
"Yoga can help everyone and everyone, whether you are a lorry driver or a student. It truly is a wonderful thing”
A Place to Be
Maria has run her much loved Hot Yoga Wellington for almost 5 years. People at the studio greet her with a familiarity and warmth like an old friend when they come through the doors, looking for a space on a mat and peace of mind. The studio has become a firm favourite amongst locals. It has taken over Wellington with two incredible studios, one on Wakefield Street and the other on Featherston Street and is showing no signs of slowing down. This weekend, Maria is launching a new Hot Yoga Lower Hutt studio (11 November 2016). “We can’t wait” says Maria, grinning.
Safe to say, Maria is at the heart of Hot Yoga Wellington in every way. She is very connected to her family of teachers and yoga students. Equally, she is deeply connected to her own family - her two beautiful daughters, Becky and Jess and her 5 grandchildren. Becky, even teaches yoga at the studio (and her yin classes are amazing!). Both mother and daughter practice together, taking one another’s classes, a quirk that speaks to the strength of their friendship (my own mum would probably be unable to prevent herself from correcting my every pose!). So how did Maria, originally from England, come to Wellington and come to yoga - now her true home?
From England to Wainuiomata
Born in Newcastle on Tyne, both Maria’s parents were from a working class, North of England background. Wanting and believing in a better life for their children, they moved from England to Wainuiomata. As a teenager, she attended girls school Sacred Heart College. It was here Maria met one of her long-time good friends, Sandy. Maria and Sandy still spent lots of time together, going on walks that end with “hot chips, conversation and, of course, dancing” Maria says, warmly. “Friends are everything, you know?” I met Sandy recently when the pair went to Circa Theatre together to see ‘Lungs’ and can personally attest to the fact that Maria and Sandy are like a couple of 21 year old besties, full of laughter and a hint of mischief.
“I value growing, learning and change. It is the key to success”
Not long after school ended, Maria gave birth to her daughters, Becky and Jess, before getting educated at teacher training college between Auckland and Wellington. After this, she went on to become involved in different education programmes such as ‘Discovery’ before developing one of her own called ‘Bridging the Gap’. In particular, she has studied Neurolinguistic Programming (or NLP) over in Australia. “NLP is an approach to communication, personal development, and psychotherapy created by Richard Bandler and John Grinder in California, United States in the 1970s” Maria explains, “but really it is about the connection between the mind, the body and language.” This led Maria to become a corporate trainer and work in HR for many years. “I value growing, learning and change. It is the key to success” Maria explains, wisely, “Everything changes despite our best intentions. We are changing in our sleep. My advice would be to embrace change.”
One day, Maria was walking past Hot Yoga New Zealand (as it was then called) on Wakefield Street. She paused and went inside. At 48, it was the first time she had considered Yoga for herself as a personal practice. It proved to be transformative, not so much physically, although the wardroom was great! It was the opportunity to be still, to go inward, to feel and to listen from the inside.
“I felt my soul shift with the knowledge I was in the right place at the right time"
From there, she completed her teacher training in 2010. In 2012, along with a good friend, she bought the Wakefield Street studio and in 2015 she opened the Featherston Street Studio. Maria understood the Wellington vibe and what would help the business to grow. At its essence, it was about building and developing relationships. Maria continued the in-house yoga teacher training which is happening again in 2017.
Growing and Change: “The Yoga Studio is a place to disconnect"
In 2014, she went to India for 6 weeks and did 300 hours of Yoga practice, a major undertaking for any Yogi. “It was amazing because of that spiritual feeling of connecting” she explains. “I felt my soul shift with the knowledge I was in the right place at the right time. Yoga is a philosophy, it’s a container for the body and a vehicle to your soul. When it was hard, I would come back to the thought to persevere ‘Everything will go. But I’m here now.’” While her training in India was intense, it was another huge shift in her practice, making her stronger and bolder. Despite a bout of breast cancer, Maria’s intention to be true to herself and her inner strength gained by yoga won out.
“Life is not about the big moments. There are always small moments leading to the big ones"
One of the best things about going to a class at Hot Yoga Wellington is that it gives you space to disconnect from the rest of the world. After all, we are constantly connected with our cell phones, and yoga is a chance to get back to basics and be alone, something Maria is firm about. “I think technology is amazing but there is a time to have it and a time not to have it in our lives” she says, laughing with her eyes. “The Yoga Studio is a place to disconnect. There is a policy of no cell phones in the room. It’s so funny because everyone has felt that moment of panic about having to leave their phone behind them. It makes us vulnerable to being alone with our mind.”
How has Yoga served Maria? “It gives me so much” she says, smiling and looking up at the sky. “When the business is tough (as all businesses are, right?), what keeps me coming back is my own practice. I still practice five times a week. Also family: me and my daughters are so tight. We have been through everything together. Both having a family and owning a business have been a huge responsibility. Yet somehow I feel my daughters and I chose each other, and yoga and I chose each other. Motherhood caused me to grow emotionally. So has yoga. I feel really grateful for all of that. I’m choosing the life I lead now.”
Taking it into the Yoga Room
So what is life all about, really? “Life is not about the big moments. There are always small moments leading to the big ones. We are going to die and we are going to die alone. Each morning now, I light a candle. I’ll say to myself, this is a day where you could meet someone you love. It’s a day where you could lose someone you love. It’s a day where you could die or you could get the most amazing offer in the world. Then I light the candle and say ‘So live this day, Maria, like it’s your first day’. And then I take that into the yoga room.”