From the Alps in Austria, tropical islands of Asia, concrete jungles of South America and now Bondi Beach, Sasha Hawley (founder of Yoga By The Sea) has taught yoga in some of the most incredible locations imaginable.
With fresh coconuts in hand and a view of one of the world’s most beautiful beaches, I found out how Sasha’s decade long ‘round the world adventure’ brought her to establishing one of Sydney’s most loved yoga studios, plus some of her top tips for glowing skin, finding balance and of course, yoga. Almost a local celebrity, it’s easy to see why Hawley is loved and admired by all.
Tell us about your journey in becoming Sydney’s most loved yogi, has this always been your dream?
No! I actually studied Arts/Lit/Psychology at University, got fired from most every job I had, before deciding I wanted to be pursue acting (my poor parents!). Then I did a TAFE course in Advertising & Events, landing a ‘corporate’ job (which I loathed, although I learnt a lot). Basically I figured out what I didn’t want to do, saved some money, and took off to work out what I did want to do. I travelled for years, survived as a travel journo, waitress and model, and studied and taught yoga, tai chi and meditation. Writing and travelling gave me the time to ponder the greater purpose of my experiences, create a lifestyle I enjoyed, and think about how I could sustain it.
How did Yoga by the Sea come about?
I had been teaching yoga in these beautiful outdoor environments for so long, and I didn’t want to go back inside a studio. When I returned to Sydney, I was walking along Bondi with a friend, saw this place [Icebergs], and thought how awesome would it be to do yoga here, not just for me and the locals, but the tourists as well! It just sort of blossomed from there.
At first I had to finance the venture by working at other studios but when I eventually began ‘Yoga by the Sea’ it was with a handful of students, a few yoga mats and me. Due to the benefits of fresh air and sunshine, the sea life cruising past and the iconic location, the business grew organically over 7 years, making the most of Sydney’s incredible outdoor environment. Not to downplay the hard work, sweat and tears I’ve personally invested, eventually opening more studios and hiring staff to help me manage.
Intent is important too – it makes me feel good to make other people feel good, and I’ve built the business on generosity, rather than the cut-throat business tactics I’d witnessed in my corporate job.
What can we expect at a Yoga By The Sea class?
People no longer have to sit in zero oxygen, claustrophobic, over-heated studios! The oceanic scene and soundscape at Yoga by the Sea helps the practice become more of an ‘experience’ than just a yoga class. We get splashed by waves, whale-watch, and enjoy perks such as the Icebergs sauna and pools, herbal tea and fresh juice after classes (all-inclusive).
Our styles – Yang yoga is a power vinyasa (flow) for people who want to improve fitness, strength and stamina, as well as Yin yoga, a traditional hatha style which is more meditative, relaxing and ideal for beginners. There is a spiritual side to the practices too- not in a religious way, more in a connection to oneself, using techniques to calm and balance the body, mind & soul.
How do you keep a work/life balance?
I work to live, not live to work. I make a little pie chart in my head, with time for family, friends, exercise, work etc and try to spend a little time each every week, although it’s much easier to lead a balanced lifestyle when you can dictate your own working hours and don’t have kids. Like everyone, I get sick or depressed when I lose that balance, so I make an effort to practice what I preach and take time when I need to.
People need to slow down and stop distancing themselves from what makes them happy, from who they are without the constant activity. Yoga and meditation encourages me to stop and sit, to just be, to feel, mindful and self-aware, instead of running in circles stressing myself out. There is a completely different way to live your life if you have the courage to step away from the rat race.
What is your daily skincare or makeup routine?
Lipbalm and sunglasses are my daily makeup, and I don’t put anything on my skin unless it is 100% natural (even sunscreen). Everyday I use a natural rosewater and chamomile spray on my face, a light moisturizer with essential oils, and occasionally I do gorgeous papaya, coconut oil, Manuka honey and yoghurt DIY facial. My skin does well when it’s left alone too, without over-cleansing or scrubbing. Eating well and yoga helps you get that natural glow from the inside-out.
What is your best-kept beauty secret?
Virgin coconut oil! Put it all over your hair for healthy, strong locks and your skin for an intense nourishing treatment and moisturiser. I also use it for oil pulling each morning, which whitens teeth and helps remove bacteria that causes illness and teeth decay. That and lot of sleep - I’m called Sasha The Crasher amongst my friends! I sleep 8 hours a night plus a siesta if I can get away with it.
I’ve heard that there are a number of yoga poses you can do to get glowing skin, is this true?
Yes, this is true. Inversions, including downward dog are fantastic for glowing, fresh skin. Anything where you’re upside down and all the blood and oxygen is running up to your heart and face, flushing away trapped toxins. This includes backbends and shoulder stands and if you don’t want to do something where you’re holding your body weight, just try a simple forward bend in the shower each morning, which also decompresses the spine.
What foods should people ideally be eating pre and post yoga?
Before yoga you don’t want anything to bulky because it will give you reflux when you’re upside down, and you’ll feel uncomfortable when you do twists etc. Smoothies or juices are a great option pre yoga, my favourite is a smoothie with maca, chia, spirulina, spinach, three fruits, and sometimes frozen mango ice cubes on hot days. Post yoga you’re on a wellness kick, so I’d say a green salad and sushi hits the spot.
What is your philosophy when it comes to food and diet?
I’m pretty relaxed when it comes to food, although I avoid meat except for seafood. During the yoga retreats I run, we eat the most exquisitely healthy foods - beautiful seafood, vegies and fruit dishes, encouraging no other meat, booze, dairy, or sugar for a week. I try and stick to that for awhile after the retreat, but then I’ll come back to Sydney, go out with my friends, have a bottle of wine, pizza and indulge because I’m a real food lover and I can’t say no to dessert. I call it Gin and Yang, everything in moderation.
What is your day on plate?
My morning smoothie gets me through to lunch time, when I’ll have some sushi or a salad, rice crackers and hummus. Then at around 3-4pm I hit the organic dark chocolate or nuts as a snack. Aside from being delicious, dark chocolate is an anti-oxidant, helps control blood sugar, is good for your heart, and full of vitamins and minerals. Then for dinner my husband cooks, so I get what I’m given which is usually vegies and fish. I’m in charge of dessert!
What is happiness to you right now?
For me right now, happiness is space, like personal space, whether it be travelling, writing or simply lying in the bath. I give out a lot of energy to my students and relationships, so it’s essential to recharge with self-nurturing. Space and time for myself is essential to maintaining the balance I need to stay happy.
What has practising yoga taught you about happiness?
To simply be content living and breathing in the moment I’m in, with the people, place, solitude or lesson that moment brings. Yoga helps me look on the bright side, to be true to myself, to dance to the beat of my own drum, and respect my boundaries on and off the mat. I remember feeling depressed in my twenties, often anxious and a little lost. That’s when I found yoga and meditation, read ‘The Art of Happiness’ by the Dalai Lama, and reassessed. Happiness is simply a state of mind, depending on how we decide to process what happens to us.
What’s next for Yoga by the Sea?
We’re about to kickstart our Winter Warmer Workshops, open another studio in Manly, and promote Yoga Rocks the Park, a yoga event I’ll be teaching later this year in Centennial Park. I’m always scouting for new yoga retreat locations, with Broome, Sri Lanka and Fiji possibilities for the future.
Ready to get your own savasana on? Yoga By The Sea, Yoga from the Sky, and Yoga Under the Sea runs at 5 different locations with over 20 classes running around Sydney each week. For more information on their schedule, workshops and retreats, head to their website or check outYoga By The Sea’s Facebook for daily inspiration on all things yoga.