"It's your journey and every step should be a joy."
WE CHATTED TO VEGANS OF LDN FOUNDER SERENA ON CONNECTING THROUGH A PLANT BASED LIFESTYLE, CLIMBING TREES TO STAY FIT AND QUITTING GOOGLE TO BECOME A YOGA TEACHER AND BLOGGER.
"VegansofLDN is London's sharing community for vegan food and lifestyle options. People submit what they're eating, drinking, wearing etc. under the hashtag #vegansofldn, and we re-post the best bits to help others seek out vegan options. It started with me seeing this big gap: there was no single place I could find a visual guide to eating out as a vegan in my city - so I decided to create one.
It's been great sharing the vegan lifestyle with so many people - both like-minded and non-vegans. What we've found, especially through running competitions for free food, is that there's a growing number of people interested in a healthy plant-based lifestyle who come to our page to get their fix. It doesn't mean they're eating vegan every day, but I'm happy to play a part in helping them choose vegan options.
I've also met lots of cool people through the blog! We connect at meetups and festivals like the Just V Show, where I was a guest speaker. What I love is that you can go to a meetup and people aged 18 to 60 (really!) will turn up and connect over something that seems as simple as food, it shows that veganism is really a lifestyle rather than a diet."
"Outside of VegansofLDN I'm a yoga teacher and gym-free fitness trainer. I train with clients at their homes, in parks, anywhere goes - just not in gyms!"
Favourite Spots to workout gym-free?
"Victoria Park is a great place to train as there are bars for calisthenics-type stuff and there's water to cool down next to. Not that you need water to do yoga. But it adds a nice vibe. I love Richmond for its natural playground too: so many logs to balance on and trees to climb! I tend to lose myself and just not care what families going by might think of this adult hanging upside down. They won't remember you in an hour, so why be embarrassed?"
"I was previously working in central London at Google. From the outside it was this dream environment - and I really do love the people there and the company culture. But it wasn't the place for my purpose. I felt so tied down physically, like I wanted to escape every few weeks to go travel and get away from the rigid structure of Monday-Friday working, weekend cling onto every moment. It was unbalanced. I started walking the 10k to and from work and taking those 3 hours of each day to take my mind outside of my immediate surroundings and focus on what my next move should be. Within that 'mindful' time, I realised one thing I enjoyed doing (clearly, I was doing it for at least 3 hours a day!) was physically moving my body. I've taught before in a different sphere so knew I loved teaching - and decided to combine the rewarding & altruistic aspect of teaching with something non-sedentary. So I quit, headed off to teacher training and here I am."
"I had an active childhood, followed by unhealthy teenage and uni years although I was doing a bit of yoga and some sport, then sort of woke up at the end of uni when I realised I needed to stop drinking so much in order to leave with a degree. The decrease in drinking helped bring about a lot of healthy changes - I decided to become more diligent with my food shops and reading labels. That in itself helped me drop a lot of unwanted weight.
A while later, I started noticing a lot of recipes were labelled vegan and decided to look into a plant-based lifestyle. I did a 30-day challenge without caring whether or not I stuck to it at the end (I actually really wanted to feel rubbish as a vegan so I could go back to eating cheese!) I felt great after that first month, and decided to carry on for a bit longer. That was in April 2014 and along the way I've come to learn about the ethical implications of eating animal products too. Now it's really a question of "if I can thrive without paying someone else to kill animals, why would I put my money towards something I don't support?" Not many people I know support animal cruelty, but most of them pay for others to kill animals. Being vegan, in 2016 London, is so easy once you've learned the ropes - there's no need for animals to die for us to have breakfast.
As for yoga, I grew up doing gymnastics, athletics and then competitive cheerleading. Stretching was a default for me - if I wanted to improve, I had to stretch almost every day. I used to play around with holding my breath in poses and timing breath with stages of stretching, so when I started practising with a yoga & pilates DVD aged 16, something clicked and I remember thinking "when I'm old enough I'll do yoga properly". After a few years of free classes at Nike in London and loads of different yoga classes at gyms (I always had a love-hate relationship with gyms), I realised it was the one form of movement I could come back to every single day without worrying about injury, equipment, anything. Some days my personal yoga practice is 4 asana long - and that's okay. The journey doesn't need to be timed, measured or ticked off. Everything is progress. And that's what I try to share with my yogis now: your breath and body are completely unique, and you should work with them just as they are, not pushing the body to a point of pain and not trying to inhale and exhale at the same time as everyone else in your class. It's your journey and every step should be a joy."
"I would love to say that following your dreams is as simple as quitting your job and throwing yourself into doing what you love - but we all have bills to pay. I took a job that had downtime; I could sit at my desk and blog, start passion projects, see what started to gain traction and what I wasn't feeling so much. If I'd quit my day job sooner, my money would have run out and I'd be stressing over stuff that's naturally higher priority like money to keep the lightbulbs on in my house! I'd say start saving, today. And live frugally. I cut my expenditure hugely (and quit buying new clothes for an entire year www.gymfreebunny.com/blog/second-hand-first-a-year-without-shopping) in order to quit my job, travel and start pursuing the career I'd dreamed of. By the time I quit Google, I'd saved enough to last for a good while if I kept living a minimalist lifestyle. That money bought me time, and that brought me the security I needed to look as though I was taking this huge foolish leap of faith. So if you can work a quiet desk job, I'd say that's a great way of getting paid to do what you love in secret. And then when the time comes to quit, you've taken the first steps on your path already."
Serena runs yoga & meditation classes at Campus London in Shoreditch alongside small classes and one-to-ones at her home studio in east London, where she also runs gym-free personal training sessions (these also take place in parks around London).