Gemma and I met in 2011 in Siem Reap, Cambodia. We have since frolicked in New York, London, and through Scotland together. Though she’s been working in advertising for a decade, she has had her fair share of international stints, and recently began a new journey in yoga practice. Here's her inspiring story towards a more fulfilling career...

Gemma! Thanks for chatting with me after work. To start, let's back track through the last 10 years of jobs in London, what have you been doing?

I've mostly been in advertising in account management on the agency side. My longest client was SkyTV and I've worked in film & DVD advertising.

I fell into it by accident - I was working in post-production to start with and when that job finished, I heard through a friend about a job in advertising and became an assistant at an ad agency, and I kept working my way up. I enjoy the atmosphere of advertising, and the creative side of things.

While working, you’ve also done a fair share of traveling. What types of jobs did you do abroad?

In Australia, I worked backpacker jobs in Brisbane and Sydney like insurance stuff in call centers. I also did the worst job ever, which was door-to-door sales encouraging people to switch energy companies. That was the toughest and scariest thing I’ve done, but it was character building!

In Cambodia, I worked at Globalteer as volunteer coordinator - so looking after volunteers during the whole process of their arrival, settling in, and being a point of contact for them.

What did you like about this alternative lifestyle of both working and living?

I loved being in a completely different place to 'real life'. I kind of fell into advertising, and have been lucky enough to make a career out of it. But I just love the things I did abroad, even if the paycheck was much smaller and the living conditions were different - it was more fulfilling. I really love living abroad.

What has your favorite place of travel been?

Well, my heart is in Cambodia, but I loved the diversity of Vietnam from coast to coast - such different scenery and food. I had a lovely time in Bali recently. Oh, too many to choose from!

What entices you about visiting a new place?

I love being amongst different cultures, especially ones that are very different from where I’m from. I realized that I’ve explored most of Southeast Asia but I’ve hardly touched Europe. I guess for me, being thrown into the deep end out of my comfort zone is what I look for in a new place. I love India as well!

Next place in mind?

I want to start exploring Central and South America. But before that I need to go skiing.

Helping paint one of the schools while working for Globalteer in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

When did you start getting into yoga?

I’ve done yoga for the last 5 or so years, but fell in love with it nearly 2 years ago now.

As a student, what did you enjoy about it?

I very much started doing yoga for fitness purposes, but I’d go to classes and it took me a little while to realize that I’d come out and hadn’t thought about any parts of my stressful day during the class. I’d shut off and get away from the stress of my job or life, I’d just focus on the session.

Was there a specific moment that you can pinpoint when you shifted from student to wanting to learn how to teach?

One day I was walking back from a class and was thinking about how I could get better in general and thought - I wish I was a yoga teacher, they seem stress free and chilled out all the time - and that thought sat there for a while.

Then I thought, should I just Google how to become a yoga teacher? Turns out it wasn’t as intense as I thought it would be, it’s a course you could do in a space of a month if you wanted to.

I realized, I could actually become a teacher and then get back into freelancing within advertising so that I could start up my yoga career. So I saved up the pennies over the course of 6 months and I worked towards that goal... and now I'm doing just that!

Advertising and yoga are two different things, were you already thinking about ways to leave advertising but didn't know what you’d want to do?

I knew I didn't want to be in advertising forever. But because I didn’t go to university, I always thought I’d have to go back to study if I wanted to do something else. It wasn’t going to be a simple transfer if I had to go back to university. So, it’s quite lucky that yoga is my next move!

So, you signed up for a course in Bali! How did you choose a course?

I did a little research, and you could train anywhere in the world. I knew I wanted to go to a Yoga Alliance certified school. YA is a worldwide organization that has set standards that every teacher training has to adhere to. If you have trained at a YA school, it’s a mark of a proper well rounded training.

I figured I could make it into a travel trip and was deciding between India and Bali, which are two homes of yoga. It was important for me that from an anatomy and physiology standpoint that we had a really qualified teacher, and the rest of the teachers seemed wonderful too, so I chose Santosha Yoga Institute in Bali.

What were the days like there?

They were long days. The first class was started at 5:45am, that was the Asana class, which is yoga as we know it in the western world (movement side). We did that for an hour and a half every morning. We were being taught but also taking note of how it was taught and how to cue things.

Then we’d have an hour breakfast and could go for a swim or surf. Meditation or breathing session was from 10-10:30, and then the first lecture of the day. After lunch we had 4 hours of lectures. We finished at 6:45pm. It was 5 days on, 1 day off. It was tough and intense, but because of that everyone got close quickly, it was very supportive.

What types of people were there?

The youngest person was 16, the oldest was in their 50s. Mostly female and majority of people were between 22-35. People came from all over the world: the States, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Switzerland, Germany, Malaysia and more I'm sure I've forgotten! Everyone was just beautiful - it was just a month but I can honestly say that I've made lifelong friends.

What was most challenging?

I had to keep an open mind during the spirituality lectures. It was the newest part for me. A lot of people already had a good grip and understanding on the spirituality and philosophy aspects, but I really had to concentrate during those lectures as everything was brand new to me.

The rooftop shala that Gemma spent a month training at in Bali.

Do you believe in the spirituality aspect to yoga?

Some parts, yes I do. I’m still investigating into these parts. They say that you only start learning when you become a teacher because you start meeting people you need to teach, and everyone has a different idea of what yoga is and what it means. It’s still a journey.

What was the most important thing you learned there?

My mindset shifted a lot. I’m quite a competitive person by nature so during a class, I’d try to push myself to match someone else doing a pose. I had to learn that every body is different, every day is different, to listen to your body, and to not compare yourself to others. I don’t do yoga to do a sweet Instagram pic - though those are fun as well. It’s genuinely about connecting your mind and body. I really learned that I enjoy yoga, and not for the reasons I first got into it.

Now you’re back in London and have a part-time teaching job, how is it going?

I’m loving it. I want to make it full time. It’s really strange that I can make people feel the way I do after a class. It’s the weirdest thing when people thank me after class, it really fulfills me. I already have people coming back.

Do you get nervous?

I definitely did, especially during my interview class! Now I genuinely look forward to class.

Do you find that working and practicing yoga seeps into other aspects of your life?

Absolutely, even when I was only taking classes 2-3 times a week, I completely changed. In simple ways - my posture is better. But very much in my every day approach to things - challenges - I find myself more relaxed.

I used to get wound up over everything, especially in the office, but I now find myself taking a breath and seeing things are not the end of the world. It helps with stress management, organizing my day. The way to use meditation is a really undervalued thing that can be used for any mental well being.

Any advice for people who have spent time working at a job that doesn't satisfy them to the extent that they want?

My advice would be to not get bogged down every day, don’t drown yourself in a terrible job. Think about what you can do within the realm of possibility, really consider your options and try to make it work.

Why not try to give it a go? At least give it a go!

Do you do inspiring quotes at the end of class?

I’m not doing quotes yet, but I finish class by asking my students to bring their hands to prayer at their forehead and wishing kind and happy thoughts towards themselves and others. Then to bring their hands to their mouth for kind words and lovely chats with their family and friends, and finally to their heart for all the love they have to give.

I like that!

It’s just a nice little way to end it! Quotes though, could be good, but then I’d have to remember them. Haha.