Dr Alicia Ray is a clinical psychologist, yoga teacher and wellbeing practitioner based in Cornwall, UK. Alicia considers both physical and mental health as equal components and has incorporated her different pieces of training into a wellbeing model which focuses on aligning body and mind. She has channelled her knowledge and insight from her experience working as a psychologist and therapist for the NHS, combined with her passion for inspiring and motivating people to increase their physical health, to develop a holistic approach to promoting and supporting wellbeing.
‘Alicia Ray Wellbeing’ offers fitness and yoga classes, workshops, training and retreats in the UK and around the world. Drawing on her love of nature and the outdoors Alicia has been influenced to incorporate an outdoor element to many of her wellbeing activities. Her twice-weekly beach yoga classes at Gwithian beach (Cornwall, UK) have provided a beautiful platform to enhance a sense of community, support fundraising for charities and enable people to experience the joy of practising yoga in the outdoors surrounded by the sound of the ocean. Alicia’s love of travel has influenced the choice of beautiful locations for her training and retreats such as the Philippines and Sri Lanka.
Alicia’s retreats combine elements from psychology, Ayurveda and yoga theory to support the holistic application of techniques, skills and practices such as pranayama, mindfulness and meditation, nature walks, outdoor yoga, surfing, wellbeing exercises and journaling. Alicia aims to support people on their journey towards wellbeing acknowledging that this requires an individualised, bespoke approach and understanding that there is no single approach that fits all.
Welcome Alicia, thank you for coming on board with us, can you introduce yourself to us?
You’re very welcome. Hello everyone, I’m Alicia, I am the founder of Alicia Ray Wellbeing. I live in Cornwall where I work as a lead clinical health psychologist for the NHS. I am fortunate to be able to live in such a beautiful part of the UK, in a place that has encouraged me to appreciate nature, learn to surf, develop my yoga practice and adopt a healthy lifestyle. I have blended my different trainings in order to create a wellbeing model working holistically to support people towards obtaining positive health. My approach focuses on both physical and mental health as I believe passionately that you cannot build one without the other.
Being interested in people meant I was naturally drawn to a career in psychology, ‘the science of mind and behaviour’. I have worked for the National Health Service for over 15 years, completed training in numerous therapies including Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Cognitive Analytic Therapy and Systemic Family Therapy and in approaches such as Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing. I have supported individuals and families experiencing difficulties including anxiety, depression, grief, trauma and low self-esteem. My approach is collaborative; by that, I mean that I work alongside people in order to find ways to help them make sense of their experiences; empowering them to find a way forward and improve their psychological wellbeing and quality of life.
Working across several applied health settings I have come to learn the vital importance of aligning physical and mental health. My growing interest in the mind-body relationship led me to direct my career path towards clinical health psychology. In my current NHS role, I work with people living with chronic health conditions, supporting them to understand the important relationship between body and mind and to learn how the body responds to pain and trauma. I help people learn ways to gain strength, insight and awareness and to become more accepting and compassionate towards themselves. I have found these principles to be so vital in helping people move towards positive health and bring these principles to my classes, workshops and retreats as I find the blend between yoga and psychology fits so well with enhancing wellbeing.
Can you talk us through the path you have paved to where you are now as a yoga teacher and fitness instructor?
Early on in my career, I understood the need to create balance in my roles and so I chose to compliment working as a psychologist with working part-time as a fitness instructor. Over the last nine years, I have taught a range of fitness classes at various community centres. I love teaching fun and uplifting classes such as step aerobics and Zumba as these allow me to tap into people’s positive energy and create an environment that promotes feel-good endorphins while releasing stress. Through this, I have learned effective motivational techniques to help unlock people’s drive enabling them to be their most healthy selves.
I have observed people coming to exercise classes for all sorts of reasons. The conversations I have had with my participants has enabled me to understand that the positive gains from focusing on improving fitness and giving the time to attend to physical health, extends to restoring the mind and boosting all round health and wellbeing.
Through surfing and surf/yoga retreats my path directed me to find yoga which brings together so many elements that I hold as important for health and wellbeing. Yoga encourages acceptance and self-compassion. It improves awareness of both mind and body, promotes self-care and enables people to work towards developing a deeper understanding of themselves and find balance. It has taken me many years to grow into an appreciation for yoga. My fitness instructor training came out of seeking high impact cardio classes which I found helped me destress after work. My understanding has evolved over the years as I have gained more knowledge and experience working in the health and fitness industry. I am now careful to balance this type of exercise with yoga which is much kinder on my body and mind. I have evolved as my understanding of what is good for me has evolved.
I completed a Yoga Alliance Registered 200-hour yoga teacher training in Costa Rica with La Vida Veda School of Ayurveda & Yoga. The emphasis of the immersion style training was on combining principles from the science of Ayurveda to enhance the practice of yoga. I found that the philosophy and principles of Ayurveda and yoga fit so perfectly with my aims of guiding people to greater wellbeing by aligning physical and mental wellbeing. I have continued my personal development by completing children’s yoga teacher training and a further 100-hour immersion training with the Ananda Marga Yoga School in the Philippines. This experience allowed me to focus on the spiritual side of yoga and enabled me to develop my understanding of the benefits of meditation. Teaching yoga has been a natural transition for me and I have valued seeing the positive gains from allowing people time to breathe, focus and be still.
How are you living your own holistic lifestyle on a day to day basis?
I feel that the answer to this lies in what many people might consider as small things, such as slowing down, breathing and eating mindfully. I regularly practice yoga, mindfulness and meditation as this enables the space I need to be reflective and curious about how I am living my life and to check in with how my body and mind feel.
The key for me to living a holistic lifestyle is about finding time and space to apply these principles into my daily life. For example, I try to be mindful throughout the day, try to notice if I am feeling rushed, stressed or feel that I am trying to juggle too many demands and give myself permission to ‘say no’. Learning to make conscious decisions about what to eat, being aware of the importance of choosing a healthy, pure diet and staying properly hydrated. Using grounding techniques such as pranayama and breathing techniques. Making conscious choices to improve my wellbeing each day. This takes both discipline and practice! But surprisingly, it comes easier when we slow down and just take notice.
I try to plan for a healthy work/life balance with time to reflect and review this. I have learned how to identify stressors and to find ways to remain calm and grounded in a busy world. It is so important for me to make sure that I allow time for activities that restore and replenish. I have learned to prioritise self-care and remove negative feelings such as guilt that can get in the way.
Most importantly, I try and do things that bring value, meaning and purpose to my life and spend as much time as possible with people who make me smile!
Can you talk us through how you are fusing psychology together with fitness and yoga to ensure your clients are successfully guided towards greater wellbeing?
My holistic approach fuses ideas from psychology, biology, yoga and Ayurveda. Studying these sciences and philosophies has provided me with the knowledge from which I am able to integrate my experience and intuition to understand and work alongside an individual’s health needs. In my work as a psychologist, fitness instructor and yoga teacher, I find myself naturally blending these powerful traditions and approaches. For examples, I introduce mindfulness, meditation and pranayama to my therapy clients and share Western psychological insights with my yoga and fitness students.
The model I have developed focuses on the elements I have come to hold as important for physical and psychological health and wellbeing: Acceptance and Self Compassion, Balance, Reflective Practice, Restore and Replenish. I have carefully integrated concepts from psychology as well as psychological theory with yoga practices blended together with my learnings from Eastern philosophies such as Ayurveda.
There are a variety of ways in which I have been able to support my clients successfully move towards greater wellbeing; from individuals joining my beach yoga classes, through transformative yoga and wellbeing retreats and through workshops and training enabling a wide range of applications. For example in April this year, I visited Siargao in the Philippines where I delivered training in yoga practices combining psychology principles to the next generation of competitive surfers. I helped them better understand the mind-body connection and taught techniques such as positive visualisation and breath work to calm the mind when under immense pressure in order to help prepare them for competition.
3 ways in which the practice of Yoga can benefit our overall wellbeing longterm?
Yoga is so much more than attaining postures and increasing flexibility. Yoga builds muscle strength, flexibility, balance and stamina. It enhances our ability to focus, increases awareness, promotes our sense of calm and contentment. It encourages curiosity, acceptance and compassion. I personally have been motivated to continue developing my own yoga practice and to lead and inspire others to do so.
It is so important to consider life changes rather than quick fixes to achieve the most benefit over the long term. People so often look for short term fixes or quick gains that quickly lose their benefit wasting money, time and precious energy. Yoga for me is a scaffold from which I feel stable, secure and healthy. This scaffold enables me to grow and extend at my own pace and never feel too far out of my zone of proximal development which is something I have learned from studying Vygotsky.
What avenues are you using to promote your yoga and wellbeing retreats?
I am learning as I go with this, having had no training in business or marketing. When I started out as a Zumba instructor I delivered 500 fliers by hand, door to door in my local area! This was hard work and tiring but it did produce a result as 60 people turned up to my first class. I still have a regular turn out 9 years later!
I find social media avenues such as Facebook and Instagram have been a great way to promote my beach yoga classes and retreats. Joining Instagram last year has been positive for me, my audience is building and with this, I have more inquiries from people outside of my local area.
My website has been an integral part of my overall business development. It has given me the confidence to share the work I offer and has been a great step forward in promoting my yoga and wellbeing retreats.
I am active in networking, talking to people I meet who may be interested in yoga and seeking opportunities to promote my classes and retreats. I take the opportunity to promote wellbeing at a community level, for instance, I have just run a free yoga class at a local festival supporting a local charity. I am active in seeking opportunities to collaborate with health initiatives. The NHS Trust I work for has supported Royal Cornwall Healthcare Trust staff members to have a free beach yoga session in order to promote staff wellbeing as part of their ‘Improving Working Lives Staff Wellbeing Initiative’.
Number one rule in business you stick by?
Be disciplined and prepared to work hard! You only get as much energy out as you put in. I also feel it is important to listen to your intuition, lean into the unknown and trust where your instinct takes you. I have used this rule to help me keep learning, adapting and evolving.
How do you define your own success?
Success will mean something different to each person. I often ask myself how satisfied I feel with where I am and what I am doing. The answer to this I think comes more from a gut feeling. If it feels right in my gut then I have learned to trust that it is right. I acknowledge that I am extremely sensitive to how others receive what I deliver and I really do care about what people think, so I value the feedback from people who have attended my classes, retreats and workshops. If they tell me they have found them useful then this is what enables me to feel satisfied with what I am creating. It feels wonderful if at the end of a retreat people tell me how powerful it has been for them.
I regularly check in with my values and make sure that my business is moving in line with those. Working in partnership with like-minded businesses that hold community and charity at their heart and ensuring ways to promote these alongside expanding.
What does #BEYOUROWN mean to you?
To me, ‘be your own’ means to be authentic. To learn how to be your own authentic self and to accept the person you are wholehearted. I think being authentic requires that you listen to your true voice, learn to trust the feeling you have about things and let this guide your actions and choices.
Finally, what are you working on throughout 2019?
I have recommenced the second season of twice weekly beach yoga at Gwithian beach, Cornwall, UK.
I have a yoga, surf and wellbeing retreat coming up in Cornwall in September and a series of yoga and wellbeing days throughout the summer held at the Meudon Hotel, Mawnan, Cornwall UK.
I am working on bringing a yoga and wellbeing presence to community projects and am going to be collaborating with a local surf school to offer surf specific yoga training days.
I am working on developing my model for offering bespoke individual wellbeing consultations.
I am planning my next yoga and wellbeing retreat in Sri Lanka, in 2020.