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Career change in France: nuclear inspector to yoga teacher

‘The contrast between my old and new job could not be starker’

Judith Abel, 58, moved to France in 2017 and turned a hobby into a profession Pic: Judith Abel

Friends and clients in France cannot believe it when I tell them I used to be a nuclear inspector – the contrast between my old and new job could not be starker.

I spent 33 years in the nuclear industry in the UK, working my way up and eventually becoming a nuclear inspector.

Used yoga to de-stress

It was a tough role that saw me visiting various plants, liaising with senior management and making sure everyone was working safely.

The job was extremely rewarding, but could be hard. 

Ensuring each plant was operating safely and adhering to legislation was stressful, and people tend to keep their distance a little when you are an inspector.

On top of that, my husband Chris, now 62, was also a nuclear inspector, so it was difficult not to talk ‘shop’ when we were home.

With such a stressful job, I needed a way to decompress, so I had taken yoga classes for 20 years. 

I would often arrive at class straight from work and found it an invaluable way to keep calm and healthy despite the stresses of my day job.

Brexit changed everything

Chris and I have always loved France and had often talked about retiring here eventually. 

In 2007, we took the plunge and bought a barn to convert, taking our time to do it up.

We planned to move over when he retired, but the 2016 Brexit vote changed everything.

Suddenly, our retirement plans seemed up in the air. We wondered whether to bring the move forward rather than wait.

We spent that Christmas at our house in the Charente and made the decision to sell our home in the Lake District and make a permanent move. 

To our surprise, the house sold within two weeks and by April 2017 we were living in France.

Not ready to retire

The idea of retiring early was wonderful, but some friends expressed a little concern.

“What are you going to do over there?” they asked me. After all, I was only 53. And they were right. I knew I would need something to do – I just could not decide what that might be.

When I was talking about the move with Sophie, my yoga teacher, she made a suggestion that surprised me.

“Have you thought about training to become a yoga instructor?” she asked.

Although I had been going to classes for years, I had never considered myself good enough to teach others. I was really overwhelmed that she thought I was!

12 months to get qualified

To train as a yoga teacher, you need to work with a specialist – someone who is qualified not only to teach yoga, but to train instructors.

I decided to see if there was anyone local to our area in France. To my delight, I found an English-speaking woman called Tandy living just 25 miles away who held exactly the right qualification. It seemed like fate. 

When we moved over, I started going to Tandy’s classes. I wanted to get to know her and her teaching style before I took the plunge.

When I did approach her, she was thrilled and agreed to take me on. 

It took about 12 months of one-to-one training to get my qualification – we took things slowly, studying theory as well as practice, and I would lead segments of her classes along the way.

It suited me well. Although you can do fast-track courses, the training was thorough and I felt really confident once I qualified.

Found a niche

In late 2017, I went to my maire to see whether I could hire a room to run yoga classes. 

She told me there was already a local yoga teacher, so I explained I would run classes in English to attract a different clientele.

Once she was sure I would not take business from the existing teacher, she was happy to agree.

I now teach at two local venues. I started with three classes a week, but currently run just two. Both classes have waiting lists and there is so much demand but I am determined not to let work dominate this time. 

Chris and I came out to France to retire and I want us to spend time together, rather than get swallowed up in my job again.

I have made friends

In terms of the work itself, there is no comparison between my former job and what I do now.

I used to be stressed and tired all the time. But yoga does not feel like work. I love introducing people to it, and to see the improvement in their fitness, balance and wellbeing.

Most of my students come for coffee afterwards in a local cafe, so it is also a great way to connect and make friends.

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