Jane Craggs’ first experience of yoga was in the pre-show warm-ups at Lancaster University as a drama student.
However, it took more than 10 years for her to realise the power of those moments of relaxation and that exploring this was what she wanted to make the focus of her life.
Now an established yoga teacher based in Manchester, Jane marvels at the streetwise young women she felt she was, when she left her close-knit family in Mansfield to take up a place to study English and Theatre Studies in Lancaster. The bright Grammar school pupil had been impressed by the open day, in which she adopted the character of a Liverpudlian mother, for a practical improvisation. Her impression was of a confident bunch of tutors and a place where she was going both to learn and have fun.
Perhaps, because she had struggled with childhood epilepsy and had spent time in hospital, Jane felt mature beyond her years and says she was shocked at first at how naive and conventional her fellow freshers were. One of her first tasks was to sit them all down and explain to them about her epilepsy and how to deal with fits.
'I had really good support from my fellow students and the university was brilliant, she says. 'The epilepsy was never made into an issue and by the third year it had burnt itself out.'
Confident about her image and her tastes in music, she threw herself into all aspects of university life, spending the first year studying Italian, Theatre Studies and English - as well as partying and going for days out in the nearby Lake District.
The second year was when she came into her own. She says: 'It was very hard to choose in the English component because there were so many great lecturers and specialists. I particularly remember a fascinating course about the Abbey Theatre in Dublin given by an older woman called Marjorie Morgan. The teaching generally was so good.'
The theatre studies side took on a new energy in that year too when Simon Jones (now professor at Bristol University) took over as junior lecturer, which she says made a significant impact: 'Simon drew out what people were able to do naturally. He was fresh.'
Studying alongside talents like Andy Serkis, Jane rapidly concluded that she was not going to make it as an actress and decided on the design route making sets and props. This brought about the occasional run-in in the workshops about whether a woman should be operating power tools.
She remembers working hard, always preparing another show including a summer in Edinburgh. A special one was Simon Jones’ production of Edward Bond’s The Bundle, in Brechtian style. Jane did set design and costume assisted, dyeing the blue and green garments herself. She says 'I was really proud of that.'
Politics were very hot because of the miners’ strikes and Jane went to university meetings and marches
and also took a keen interest in feminism. Jane’s experience also persuaded her hairdresser sister to study to go university herself.
After graduation, Jane went to the Welsh College of Music and Drama to study theatre design, which led to jobs in the props department of Welsh National Opera, followed by stints with touring education companies in Bristol, Cardiff and Merseyside. She even had a comedy duo which supported Caroline Aherne on tour.
Theatre Education took her to Spain, where she spent five years writing, performing and producing shows all over the country. There she rediscovered the yoga she’d tasted at Lancaster and something clicked. She trained as a yoga teacher in Spanish, was excited by the philosophy, and realised this was her life path. Her studies of the ancient practice and of Sanskrit brought her back to the UK and also sent her to India. She set up a yoga school called YogaSpace in 2001 in Manchester. She also took a seven-month sabbatical in 2009 to study with AG and Indra Mohan who teach an authentic approach based on the ideas of Krishnamacharaya - an approach she finds totally inspiring. Her teaching is based on their approach, with a particular emphasis on working therapeutically, both physically and mentally.
'When I went to Lancaster I wanted to change the world,' she says. 'Because you are young, you think you actually can. Now I am trying to change people from the inside.' She feels that her time at Lancaster has played a key part: 'Lancaster gave me the opportunity to develop an adaptability of mind, but it was not until later that I understood what it had done for me.'