Latest News and Info
Send us your memories of BKS Iyengar
29th November 2017
In 2018 the yoga community will be celebrating 100 years since B.K.S. Iyengar’s birth. To mark the occasion we’re planning a special centenary edition of our members’ magazine, Iyengar Yoga News, and would like to invite you to share what B.K.S. Iyengar meant to you. Your response could be in the form of text, a drawing, poem, or some other form of expression.
Alternatively, you might like to contribute to a project being set up by the organisers of Abhijata’s tour of Europe next year. They are aiming to organise an exhibition and publish a book based on “100 words/ 100 people for 100 years of Guruji”. Rather than simply retelling the remarkable story of the life of BKS Iyengar, they would like to present a more personal picture of the man who has touched all of our lives. If you have a story to share, whether it be a something of the human character of the man or perhaps something about his almost super-human abilities they would love to hear it. Anyone wanting to contribute should limit their stories to around 100 words and if they have an accompanying high resolution photo/s it would be greatly appreciated. The organisers have written to us: “… we would like each country to be presented so please urge senior teachers and practitioners alike to contribute … We hope for a good response and we may have to ask each country to do an initial edit if many people are inspired to write … We hope to gather together these 100 stories, some funny, some inspiring, some life-changing ..”.
If you send your contribution to us at the address below, we will collate them and send them on to the organisers of this project, and we may use some of them for our website, our social media and in the next issue of our magazine.
Please send submissions via email by 31st December 2017 to email@example.com for consideration.
Ramamani Iyengar’s Birth Anniversary
18th October 2017
Ramamani Iyengar 90th Birthday Celebrations
2nd November 2017 marks the 90th Birth Anniversary of Ramamani Iyengar, B.K.S. Iyengar’s beloved wife, who died in 1973. With the blessings of their daughter Geeta Iyengar, to help mark the occasion several events will be happening to commemorate and to recognise her great contribution to the lives of Guruji, their children and Guruji’s spiritual children all around the world.
As part of the celebrations we will be collecting donations for the Bellur Trust as a way of showing our gratitude for her contribution to our lives (see below for details of how to donate).
The following tributes to Ramamani are from B.K.S. Iyengar, Geeta Iyengar and Prashant Iyengar:
From “Rama – The Light Of My Life.” By B.K.S. Iyengar
Everyday I got up early for my yoga practices. Rama also got up at the same time to prepare coffee for both of us. She used to observe me practise but she never interfered. For her, even the word “Yoga” was unknown. She did not know then what it stood for, and she never ventured to ask what Yoga teaching meant or what I learned. However, in the course of time, she developed a keen interest in learning the art.
I started teaching her daily and she became my pupil. As she made progress I taught her how to assist me towards improving my methods. My instructions to help me during my practice made her a good teacher. This enabled her to teach one or two lady students from my group independently. As our family responsibilities increased and her attention to the welfare of the children took much of her time, she could not take to teaching. Whenever she found time she practised yoga for herself. She was ever ready to help whenever I wanted a support to get a better position in my practices.
Sometimes I used to practise for 10 hours a day. I had no mirror to even look at my positions or compare my experiences with anybody. There was a constant struggle inside me. She completely gave everything for my practice. Never once did she ask me, “Let us go to the cinema together or let us go to the market.” She would tell me, “If you want to practise I will go on my own.”
Slowly we understood each other, and lived happily, spiritually and were devoted to each other.
Rama was the personification of patience and magnanimity. She was simple, generous and unostentatious. She was kind to one and all. She had great forbearance even to people who did not wish her well. She was quiet, serene and peaceful and remained unruffled in adverse circumstances. She took everything in her stride coolly. She looked after those who came to her for help or advice with love, joy and devotion … Her love was unique; she had a heart full of compassion and people called her “Amma” which means mother … we lived without conflicts as if our souls were one … She was never harsh to the children; yet she commanded high respect and moulded them with discipline.
I am never separated from her for she is always in my life. It was her affection for me to learn and teach this subject that has made me name the Institute after her.
From “Reminiscenses of My Mother” by Geeta Iyengar.
Simplicity and humility
As much as she never complained of her difficult days, she never showed off her wealth during better times. She never showed off or expressed herself ever with pride. She would always thank God for whatever changes, progress that we made. False pride and ego were far away from her. She was always very composed, simple and humble. Despite our financial status changing there was never a display of wealth. Our house was always simple and till we moved to this new house where our Institute currently stands there was no change in our style of living.
My mother maintained all our traditions and culture, but at the same time she was quite open to new ideas and things. It was she who pushed me into wearing shorts for yoga practice. In fact, the yoga shorts, the bloomers, which are now being worn all over the world, were initially designed by my mother.
Earlier not many women would practise yoga and those who did wore the 9 yard sari. It was cumbersome to practise in that. What to wear for yoga class was a big problem for Indian women! The Western women would wear a two piece suit but Indian women could never see themselves wearing those clothes. Most Indian women wore saris then and to change from that to a two piece suit can be unimaginable. There were no t-shirts available then. We wore blouses and skirts and a sari.
So, the Indian women were always at a loss on what to wear while doing yoga. The blouses would be buttoned in the front and that is what I wore for a long time.
Some women would wear pants or trousers that belonged to their husbands or brothers. Then, the stretch pants came in with more Westerners coming to India in the 1960s. And, the Indian women also wore salwar kameez.
Guruji brought me two full pants from one of his European tours. My mother realised that even these would not give the necessary freedom for the movements that we required.
I also did not know what was the appropriate dress for me when I started doing yoga. She insisted that I should wear shorts like my father was wearing. These shorts would be very loose near the thighs so she would insert a string through the hem and knot the string at the inner end of the thighs. Later, elastic was available so the string was replaced by elastic. Thus the yoga shorts or Pune shorts were born … Gradually more and more women started wearing these shorts.
From “My mother my yoga teacher: an interview with Prashant Iyengar.”
“You had mentioned in one of your earlier interviews that you learnt yoga from your mother. Can you please elaborate on that?
“I have said earlier that I have learnt yoga from my mother but it is not as all of you have understood yoga. It is the philosophy of life and conduct that I have learnt from her. The principles of tolerance, magnanimity, compassion and the sense of sacrifice are all important for yoga. This is what I learnt from her. She had the sense of duty mindedness. She never had an excuse for not doing anything … She tried her level best to carry out her duties. Her attitude was like following the principle of karma yoga from the Bhagavad Gita. She worked without expectation and resigned herself to the will of God. She was absolutely selfless to the core. We could not even identify her likes and dislikes. She never ever said she did not like something or someone … it was her matter of concern on what was right or wrong. But at the same time she had a pardoning nature and forgave anything and everything.
She had a sense of sacrifice. When a person makes a sacrifice – he makes it expressed. “I sacrificed this or that.” Then there is no sacrifice. Sacrifice should be a product of certain qualities. And she had those qualities. She was unselfish and without hatred. That made her magnanimous and compassionate which in turn led the sense of sacrifice.”
Like a karma yogi she was devoted to her duties. She had a sense of duty-mindedness but had no eyes for the fruits of her actions. She never proclaimed her role or her contributions … she did everything very silently. We realised her contributions only in her absence.
She was epitome of philosophy of yoga. Jnana, Karma and Bhakti are the three paths of yoga. She had a balanced state of mind like a jnani. She was never drawn to the polarities. She had never expressed likes or dislikes. She was not attached but not indifferent too … she was never excessively attached to anyone. There was always a balance in her.
Like a karma yogi she was devoted to her duties … Like a bhaktan, she totally resigned herself to the will of God.
She was a yogi in the truest sense.
How to donate to the Bellur Trust
Please send donations to Jess Wallwork – email jess(at)iyengaryoga.org.uk
The Cooperative Bank
Account name IY (UK) Ltd
Sort code 089299
Account number 65529364
Bank Identification Code (BIC) or SWIFT code: CPBKGB2
Teaching Yoga to Children: Korinna Pilafidis-Williams
17th October 2017
We recently asked our teacher members what it’s like teaching yoga to children. Korinna Pilafidis-Williams is a Junior Intermediate Level 3 teacher based in London, talks about how she has developed her classes for children and the benefits it brings them:
“I have often asked myself why I teach yoga for children especially when I am in front of 15 kids who are either very active and close to hanging themselves off the ropes or yawning and totally despondent. I could just stay at home and look at my own children who would challenge me in similar ways. Also why are there so few yoga teachers teaching kids? The answer to the last question is relatively easy. It is not just the sheer physical effort that goes into such a class, but it is the constant strain to keep the class controlled which is generally not such an issue with an adult class. But most importantly is the fear of injury to a child. You have to have eyes everywhere and be certain that they follow your instruction, for you just have to look away for a second and they fall or topple over in their effort to please. If a severe injury occurs we do not just have to deal with the child, but with the parents and the threat of being sued.
Despite this very genuine fear, my answer to why I teach children is simple. Both yoga and kids have something in common that I treasure most: honesty. Like the asanas they are clear and truthful, so I know immediately whether they are bored or enjoying themselves.
Over the years I have developed my classes so that they include a mixture of discipline, fun and real learning – often without them even noticing that they are learning.
At the beginning of a term I explain to them that they are not only doing yoga but that they will learn a new language (Sanskrit) and will also find out about their body. One of my 10-year-old pupils has been with me for almost 3 years and knows most of the Sanskrit names for the poses that he has learned just by listening to them.
As for the body we have a constant member in our group, Bob-Bone, the skeleton. A previous class named him when Bob the Builder was featuring large. He is always with us and we have a few minutes at the beginning of the class when we look at the different bones and learn the English as well as their scientific names in Latin or Greek. At the end of term we usually have a quiz where I test their knowledge. One of their favourite aides memoir is for the Latin name for the kneecap – a chocolate spread but with a p at the beginning. Or for the thigh bone a F(emale) animal with a bushy tail which lives in the trees of Madagascar.
More fun in the class comes in the shape of imaginative stories, which the kids write, using yoga poses. After small adjustments to the stories, which sometimes are too fantastical to perform, we invite the parents to come and watch.
But it is not all fun and games. The main part of learning comes through discipline. I can tell very quickly how the individual child behaves at school. On the whole they respond well to it, sometimes without even noticing. They have their mats aligned, learn how to roll a mat or carry it into the equipment room. I will never start until all stand in Tadasana, which is often very difficult because their feet are really very far away from their brain.
Through all this I try to sow a seed, even if they stop after a term, and hope that they will come back to yoga later in life when they feel the need for it. It is almost like learning a language that you learn when you are young and then forget, but when you pick it up again it is there ready to be released and grow. I often hear from parents how their children have learnt to sleep better and relax with the help of Savasana. It is indeed the most challenging pose, but mastered amazingly well already after a few weeks. For me it is a real joy to look at these active, sometimes-rebellious kids lying there quietly and serenely.
As to the honesty mentioned at the beginning, I would like to finish with a conversation I had with one of my pupils who told me that he does Garudasana in the middle of the playground at school. When I asked him what the others thought of him he replied with a very serious voice: “They think I am mad!” Honest(l)y.
In Iyengar yoga we only encourage children from the age of six to take classes. A six-year-old child is usually at school and is used to some sort of discipline and is able to watch and listen when a pose is demonstrated. More importantly, most of them have learnt the difference between their left and right sides. The physiological reason behind the age limit is however more significant. Under the age of six most children’s heads are bigger in proportion to their body, especially their arms, so they should not attempt to do Sirsasana or Sarvangasana because the arms would not be able to support the head, neck and body. Apart from that, some of the bones of the skull have not properly fused. Pressure on the head in Sirsasana could lead to nerve damage if the pose is performed wrongly. Furthermore the big muscles in the body, which help stability, have not developed.”
Korinna Pilafidis-Williams has been practising Iyengar Yoga for 34 years and has been teaching youngsters for almost 10 years. The class at the Iyengar Yoga Institute Maida Vale is one of the oldest and most established children’s classes in the country. Korinna and her students have appeared on children’s BBC programmes including Blue Peter and Xchange. They also performed in front of Geeta Iyengar at Crystal Palace during the Iyengar Yoga Jubilee in 2002. Korinna has also led children’s workshops at the Yoga Show at Olympia.
Teaching Yoga to Children: Suzanne Gribble
10th October 2017
Children can start learning Iyengar yoga from age 6. What’s it like to teach them? London-based Junior Intermediate Level 2 teacher Suzanne Gribble talks about her experience:
“I’ve been teaching children for over four years and love it! I teach at a local primary school, currently two classes after school, with 12 – 14 children in each class. Nine months ago I set up a private Saturday class for teenagers. I have learnt a tremendous amount and by experiencing yoga through their eyes it has given me a different and valuable perspective.
Children are naturally curious, asking questions and eager to learn and so the classes are varied, unpredictable and fun too. At times it can be challenging, especially teaching those less keen or it’s their parents’ idea (rather than the children) for them to do yoga to calm them down! However, in time those individuals peter out and I’m left with a delightful group of young practitioners, returning each week, each term, keen to progress, hungry for more.
I vary the sessions, keep them active and ensure there’s plenty of fun to be had by all. We’ll always start seated to quieten down after the busy school day and then stand to move first the hands and arms, feet and legs, then running and jumping on the spot to let out some energy after sitting in lessons. Surya Namaskara is always popular as are standing poses and balances and Sarvangasana is a firm favourite, though we don’t hold it for long due to lack of props. Back bends come easier to most children over forward bends as surprisingly many are unable to touch their toes, either in standing or seated forward bends. The preconceived idea that children are flexible is far from true; today’s lifestyle and heavy use of electronic gadgets and sitting on chairs rather than on the floor, many children tend to be stiffer than the stiff adults that I teach, proving that yoga for children is more essential than ever.
I enjoy teaching some poses which adults generally find more challenging, such as Adho Mukha Vrksasana which is naturally loved by most children and other hand/arm balances; some who can stay quiet and still enough are managing Sirsasana.
The sessions are creative; they love story telling through poses and making up their own stories and poses and demonstrating these to each other. They are also keen on learning the Sanskrit names and are quick to repeat them out loud. It’s not recommended to teach Pranayama to children though I bring their attention to the breath; sometimes I introduce games with straws and cotton wool balls for them to explore inhalation and exhalation! I have used resources for my teaching such as the invaluable book Yoga for Children by Swati and Rajiv Chanchani, though I have generally developed my own methodsMy experiences of children in Savasana are varied. While some are unable to shut their eyes at all, or screw them up tightly, are restless or wriggling and giggling, others are able to lie still and relax for a few minutes, seemingly unaware of the noises around them.
At the end of each class we have a Yogi of the Week who takes home Yoga Ted (a soft toy bear) until the following week; this works really well as most are keen to strive to be chosen, even the older children!
The teens classes are quieter and structured similarly to an adult class, and the students – all currently girls – are keen to progress and develop in their practice. Many of them are actively involved in competitive sports such as athletics and swimming and some are dancers too so the classes have proved a good counterbalance. While some have very stiff hamstrings, shoulders and upper backs and find the poses pretty challenging, others are very flexible and hyper extend so I need to watch and instruct them carefully.
Most rewarding for me is seeing children enjoying yoga, eagerly telling me they are practising at home and watching their progress; progress not only in their asanas but in their concentration, strength, stamina, confidence and understanding, also that yoga is not competitive and appreciating and respecting each other for who they are. Finally, the knowledge that I have played a tiny part in planting a seed, a love of yoga, I hope and believe will continue into adulthood.”
Some comments from children:
‘Before I didn’t think I would like yoga but you made me like it’ (age 10)
‘Yoga Ted loves your skills in yoga and your lovely classes’ (age 7)
‘I loved your yoga. Yoga is fun’ (age 7)
Check out Suzanne’s profile and classes here
Genie Hammond 1929 – 2017
29th September 2017
We are sad to announce the death of Genie Hammond on 26th September 2017.
Born in Islington on 18th March 1929, Genie was an original character. Her down to earth “tell it as it is “style of teaching touched so many. Students enjoyed her humour and stories of Guruji when she travelled with him and of his visit to her family in Catford which he enjoyed.
Genie was dedicated to Mr Iyengar (as she referred to him) and yoga was running through her veins every moment of the day. Spreading Guruji teaching even when shopping in a super market; her sharp eye and wonderful remedial knowledge would be used to help a stranger with a back or shoulder problem. Using a shop fitting to create a prop, Genie was practical.
Guruji and Genie had a long friendship, communicating by letter each month. During our classes Genie would share the news from Pune, making us all part of the yoga family. Her last visit was when she was 83 year old
Genie came from the generation of teachers that were only taught by Guruji, travelling to Pune and leaving their family for us all to gain knowledge, keeping the standard of Guruji’s work into teacher training and sometimes working without payment
Thank you, Genie, your teaching and sincerity will be remembered by many.
(Combined quotes from Judi Sweeting, Richard Ager Ward, Judith Jones and Brenda Booth)
Applications for Intermediate Junior Assessment
24th August 2017
Applications for Intermediate Junior Assessment in March 2018 are open from 1st September with a strict deadline of 30th September 2017 – late applications will not be accepted. You must have held your Introductory Certificate since 2015 at the latest to be eligible for Intermediate Junior Level 1 in March 2018. Please log on to the website with your user name and password and then go to the Member Dashboard where, from 1st September, you will find a link to the application form. Potential applicants from overseas – please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Jayne Orton: Guest Blog
16th August 2017
Birmingham City Football Club does Iyengar Yoga!!!
Having been a lifelong football fan particularly of my hometown team Birmingham City Football Club I was overwhelmed and honoured in 2005 to have the opportunity to teach them!
A little background…
Everyone now talks of ‘Yoga for Sport’ and there are so many teacher training courses how to teach yoga to sports persons etc. However the history of this explosion of interest goes back in the UK I believe to around 2003 when Irish footballer Roy Keane – the then Captain of Manchester United Football team – walked into a church hall somewhere in the Cheshire area to attend a yoga class. He was so impressed with the teachings and the fact that the average man or woman, particularly those much older and stiffer than he, could do all these yogasanas – whereas him being a young top athlete could not! This got him thinking, attending regularly and then hooked! Shortly after that Man United had Iyengar yoga at their training ground and many of the huge football stars, most notably Ryan Giggs, took to yoga – the rest – as they say is history. Giggs put his longevity in Premier League football down entirely to Yoga. He retired aged 40 years which is unheard of in the game and most of those years were injury free.
So back to Birmingham FC – at the time Steve Bruce (ex Man United player) was our First Team Manager and it was he that gave me the opportunity to bring Iyengar Yoga to my beloved Birmingham City FC!
The first ‘project’ I was given was to try and help a well known BCFC player who also played for the England National team. This player had been devastated with repeated hamstring tears and disc problems and was recommended and did in fact have back surgery. However since the surgery the player had not been able to train or play for BCFC and was in need of great help. So the club decided to give him one last shot at recovery and this is where Iyengar Yoga came in! I applied everything I had learnt from BKS Iyengar and taught the player 3 times a week for at least 10 weeks and he practised himself too. I took advice from Iyengar himself. Iyengar never wavered in his support. The player and club were delighted with the results and he came back into the first team shortly thereafter and continued for years after with Iyengar Yoga, only recently retiring and now managing a football club in the North. Shortly thereafter I was entrusted with teaching the whole of the first team on a weekly basis and have done so every Monday morning since. Because of the nature of football the squad is always changing so I usually don’t have the same students for more than a couple of seasons. However many many players continue with the practice after they left the club either on their own or even being taught yoga at a new club. If there is an player with specific injury issues then I work with them one to one and many have visited the Iyengar Yoga Institute of Birmingham for medical classes.
My main project with the first team however is ‘injury prevention’. Guruji Iyengar gave me great advice to teach them as you would ‘normal students’ and as in Light on Yoga but to substitute poses like paschimottanasana and uttanasana for single leg hamstring extensions such as Supta padangustasana and utthita hasta padangusthasana . This has worked very well and the players say they can’t do without their yoga classes! Guruji gave the advice to not overwork the players and also to understand the need to rest and recover after games. Many think that because they are young fit sportsmen with the world at their feet ( literally!) that you can ‘work them hard’- but because of his experience Guruji knew the balance required for these players between body, mind, spirit. As a teacher of yoga to these players one also has to deal with psychological dejection for instance if they lose games – or to use footballing terminology ‘if their head goes down’. So one has to consider the whole human being – just as we do when teaching in regular classes. To me this is the fascination of teaching Iyengar Yoga, how the practice is uplifting on so many levels. Inner strength, focus, courage, determination is required particularly in big, crucial games and local derbys with our ‘friends’ across the city in Aston (AVFC!)!!
As I said earlier – now Yoga for Sport ‘ is everywhere! I like to think that along with Roy Keane & Ryan Giggs – BCFC played a big part in that . The pioneer of course was BKS Iyengar who taught the Indian Cricket Team and notably Sachin Tendulkar for many years including many other sports men and women. His book ‘Yoga for Sport’ is an amazing detailed reference book and I use it every Monday morning at the training ground!
Teacher Training Stories Part 3: Sophia Argyris, Samantha Shaikh
3rd July 2017
Sophia Argyris is a Junior Intermediate Level 2 teacher who first qualified in 2011. She tells us what it was like to train as a yoga teacher and teach her first class:
One New Year’s Day in Paris I turned on the TV in my hotel room and unexpectedly found myself watching a programme about B.K.S Iyengar. I remember very few of the details of the programme now, but something inside me woke up, and as soon as I was home I went to my local gym and found a class. I loved it from the first class. The focus on alignment and holding each asana for longer was exactly what I needed; I found it grounding and stabilising. Not only did Yoga help the back pain I sometimes suffered due to scoliosis, but I started to feel I was living ‘inside’ myself for the first time. I had always been someone who lived very much in my head and spent a lot of time daydreaming, and I was generally ‘uncomfortable in my own skin’. Yoga changed that gradually but surely.
A few years later I began to think about training to be a teacher – I had never imagined this was something I would do, but as soon as the thought first appeared I felt certain about it. Practicing yoga had changed my life and I wanted and to be able to share the benefits with others. My teacher, Yves Bouvy, was very supportive and suggested I contact his Senior Teacher, Julie Hodges, at the Putney Iyengar Yoga Centre.
I still remember the first time I went to meet Julie and to find out whether she felt I was ready for the Teacher Training. Walking into the studio felt like walking into a haven of peace in the middle of London, and it still feels like that to me every time I go back! I loved the class and felt I learnt a lot in just the two hours I was there. Julie taught with a clarity and depth that meant every student could gain a much greater understanding. I knew that this was the right place and the right teacher for me, and luckily I was accepted as a trainee.
Training as an Iyengar Yoga teacher is intense, it requires commitment and hard work, you have to be certain it’s what you really want to do. It can be exhausting, but for me it was also transformational. I very soon found myself attending three classes a week with Julie because I was so inspired by her teaching, there was so much to learn, so much to feel in my own body, so much to understand so that I could eventually share it with others.
I remember the first time I had to teach an asana during my training. I’m naturally an introvert, and feeling everyone watching me was terrifying, I spent most of the time staring at my feet as far as I remember! But slowly over the two years I found I was gaining confidence, and amazingly that confidence was also spreading into the rest of my life, I felt more content and more accepting of myself. I also met new people, not just my fellow trainees but also other students and teachers who attended Julie’s classes, many of these people are now very dear friends.
Two years seems a long time, but it goes very quickly! My assessments came and went, I qualified, and I moved to Oxford. I quickly found a venue for a class on a Wednesday evening. I arrived at the studio for that first class feeling very nervous – nervous that no one would show up, but equally nervous that they would! In fact four students came to the class, and after the initial few minutes of panic, I found I forgot my nerves because I was so focussed on my new students – how was their alignment? Did they need a brick? –I could hardly believe it when an hour and a half had passed, and they actually seemed to have enjoyed it!
I love teaching, it can be fun, challenging, humbling, and fascinating in equal measure. It’s incredibly rewarding to watch people progress in their practice and to see them discover the benefits of yoga. I now teach four weekly classes and one monthly restorative. At some stage I noticed my classes were often full, and in what seemed like no time (but was in fact about four years) I found that my Wednesday evening students were ready to move towards Intermediate asana practice. It was time to think about the next stage of my teacher training!
Sophia teaches in Oxford.
Samantha Shaikh qualified recently as an Introductory Level 2 teacher, in October 2016:
I finally qualified as an Iyengar Yoga teacher in October last year. I chose to start the journey in 2013. My 3 children were growing up and as I didn’t have a career previously that I wanted to return to, I felt fortunate to be able to choose something completely new in my 40s that would allow me to do something that I really loved and teaching yoga was the answer. Making that decision was by far the easiest part of the process. To achieve the certification was the hardest challenge I have ever faced.
It began with a rejection. I attended a selection day for a teacher-training course where it was deemed that my practice was not of a sufficiently good standard. I also went to try out for another teacher who said they would accept me on their teacher-training programme. However the seeds of self-doubt had been sown. If I wasn’t good enough for one course, was I good enough at all? I decided to go ahead with the second teacher and take my chances.
The first day of teacher training was a nightmare. Some of the students had already been training for two years and were about to take their assessment, so our day was dominated by the most difficult postures on the syllabus. My stamina wasn’t up to the 5 hours of constant yoga and I was exhausted. At the end of the day, we newbies were invited to stand at the front and teach a basic pose. Mine was Trikonasana. I was so nervous I forgot to say to turn your feet, prompting the teacher to enquire if I had actually done Iyengar yoga before. I came home to tell my husband that the whole thing was a dreadful mistake!
But gradually things improved over that first year. I became more confident, my postures improved, my stamina increased and I worked hard. I helped out at beginners classes, I practiced with my family and friends and at the end of the first year, I passed my Introductory Level 1 assessment.
Year 2 was harder. The postures on the Level 2 syllabus contained all the elements that I struggled with personally – backbends and revolved poses in particular. When it came to the assessment, I felt unsure of myself and it showed. Standing up and performing in front of people did not come easily to me to begin with. Add to that the constant judgment and criticism that is part of the learning process and you have a recipe for insecurity, anxiety and self-doubt. The assessment didn’t go well and I knew it. I passed the practice but failed the teaching.
I resigned myself to another year of training and one last shot at getting my certification. I changed teacher trainer for the third year and threw myself wholeheartedly into my practice and study. I was at class 3 times most weeks and totally focused.
When it came to the assessment I felt infinitely better prepared than I had the previous year. But twice as terrified! I could hardly sleep the night before. The memory of the previous year’s failure overwhelmed me. I arrived at the assessment to find out that we had the same moderator as last year and honestly felt despondent. But after the practice, which lasted well over 2 hours, I felt much calmer, grounded and ready to teach.
I got two poses to teach which my wonderful teacher Patsy could not have better prepared me for. Patsy hadn’t taught us Siddhasana many times but we started every class with it for the month leading up the assessment so I knew it inside out. And that had been the advice of my teacher trainer, Sheila. To know every pose on the syllabus inside out. Invaluable advice from a master teacher. I felt luck was on my side.
When I came to teach, it felt natural. By this point, I had grown so accustomed to standing at the front, explaining, walking around and adjusting people that I felt like a teacher. And that’s when I realised the difference between being an Iyengar teacher and teaching a different type of yoga. To qualify as an Iyengar teacher, the first time you teach a class you must already be experienced, knowledgeable and confident. There is no room for uncertainty. You are representing the Iyengar community and if you’re not ready, you won’t get the certification.
I still couldn’t sleep the night after the assessment. I was up at 1am checking something about in my book after replaying every event over and over in my head. I had made a couple of errors but hoped beyond hope that I had done well enough.
The moment I saw the congratulations at the top of my result letter was total joy and relief. I had decided that I wouldn’t take the assessment again if I didn’t pass, but I didn’t want to appear a failure or a quitter, particularly in front of my children, so I was thrilled that my perseverance and dedication had paid off. Now finally at the age of 45, I was ready to start my new career.
I started teaching in January and now have two weekly classes that I have set up in local school halls. My first class was full of friends and family who had come to support me and despite my initial nerves, I can’t express how much I enjoyed teaching that first class and how much it meant to me. In fact, I stopped half way through to briefly explain the smile on my face to my students and the appreciation I felt in getting to that moment.
Now after half a year, I have students telling me how good they feel since starting yoga; how their legs have changed, how they wish they had started years ago. I’m so happy that I can share my love of the subject with people every week. And how rewarding and purposeful this endeavour is. Working to become a teacher was the hardest challenge I have faced, but I would not have changed it for the world. I have made lifelong friends along the way and met teachers who are heroes and role models to me. Thanks of course to my loving family, incredible teachers, fellow students and friends for supporting me through this journey. I am grateful for the whole experience.
Samantha teaches in London.
Check her profile and classes here: https://iyengaryoga.org.uk/teacher-listing/user/19024/
International Day of Yoga: 21 June 2017
20th June 2017
About International Day of Yoga
Recognising the universal appeal of yoga, on 11 December 2014 the United Nations proclaimed 21 June as the International Day of Yoga.
The International Day of Yoga aims to raise awareness worldwide of the many benefits of practicing yoga.
The theme for the 2017 celebration, organized by the Permanent Mission of India to the United Nations, is ‘Yoga for Health.’ The theme highlights the fact that yoga can contribute in a holistic way to achieving an equilibrium between mind and body. The organisers believe that this approach to health and wellbeing can make a direct and useful contribution to humankind’s quest to achieve sustainable development and move towards lifestyles that are in harmony with nature.
IY (UK) Celebrations
In 2015 BKS Iyengar’s daughter, Geeta Iyengar, sent the following message along with a special practice sequence in celebration of the day:
“We are all yoga sādhakās and sādhanā is our very breath, our prāna. The United Nations has declared 21st June as the International Yoga Day, which will be celebrated all over the world. For us every day is yoga day. However to respect this special day [the concept of which was suggested by Guruji] in a talk in Bangalore sometime in 2011- 2012, to respect Guruji, we have thought of a special practice programme for this day. Many students from across the world approached me if they could have a special sequence of practice for this day… the (summer) solstice.”
We encourage all to share and practice in the spirit of the day. And do share your pictures with us on social media!
For more information visit http://www.un.org/en/events/yogaday/
Teacher Training Stories Part 2: Annamaria Sacco, Tamara Hockey
13th June 2017
What’s it like to train to teach Iyengar yoga? Teachers Annamaria Sacco and Tamara Hockey talk about their experiences and offer some great tips for anyone considering training.
Annamaria Sacco, Junior Intermediate Level 3 Teacher, qualified in 2001:
I came to Edinburgh in 1991 as an English Literature and Modern Languages student on an Erasmus scholarship. I had lived in Italy all of my life before and my life had been marked by a car crash with my parents, age 14, on a motorway. This meant I was in a lot of pain by age 19 and luckily for me, I did not trust the first bleak prognosis I had received and asked for a second opinion; I was recommended Yoga and swimming for the rest of my life.
I started attending classes in 1991 at the Edinburgh Iyengar Yoga Centre in Edinburgh. I was a student with time on my hands, the classes offered flexibility. Yoga was making me feel so energised, happy, and calm that, although I would still not commit to a routine, I found myself in class five times per week. After six years, I decided to apply for teacher training. I did not make that choice because I wanted to become a teacher, but rather, because I am a seeker and a bit of a perfectionist, and I wanted to learn more for myself and my own growth.
Teacher training started, Elaine Pidgeon and Meg Laing were my trainers. Two extremely experienced and giving teachers. Enthusiasm grew. During the training, I became pregnant with my first child. I went to tell Meg full of joy, and then, for the first time in my life I had the experience of great joy and sadness at the same time. I was told I could not continue since I would be 8 months pregnant by the time of the assessment. It meant the training took me three years and I was out of sync with one group in terms of syllabus. It also meant I made two groups of friends as I continued to go to the training with my bump, and then with my baby feeding and being lovingly passed between arms during the class. I learnt a lot about the body in pregnancy and post-natally that way. I was, in an unpredicted way, very fortunate. Nowadays, it is not possible to continue to attend whilst expecting.
The first class I taught will always stay with me. Jean Knight, a senior teacher, asked me to cover for her in a hotel a morning class she could not take. I asked her what the class was like: “Oh, they are lovely!” So, I arrived, with a small list and a lot of wonder of what I was going to find, to discover the ladies in class, although much older than me in age, were indeed very well taught practitioners and full of humour and understanding for my nerves. I taught there again, after 17 years, last year. One of the ladies I believe is now in her 90s…
After my first child I got offered a class in a club, and started teaching. I was still teaching at University at night. Then child number two came, and I wanted to feed him on demand. Clubs were no longer a possibility due to the distance. I took courage and rented a hall near our home and then, when that class became more committed, another hall to teach a Saturday morning too. After three years I had 40 committed students, as well as a husband who had been unwell a long time and needed to take time off work and change directions. Again, I took my courage and started to work on a plan at night, and ended up buying a small mews house, dilapidated actually, and turning it into Yoga Stable. That was 2005. Yoga Stable is now 12 years old. It has survived all sorts of hits and even another yoga centre opening next door to it. We are actually good friends and help each other with keys, if we double book by mistake, or dog caring even!!!
My advice to anyone considering teacher training would be to do it for themselves, rather than with a set mind about having to take an exam, pass it and having to make a career out of it. Do the training to develop an understanding of the subject in your own body. To deepen a journey and develop further, try to enjoy it as much as you can. The rest comes. My teacher training and yoga life – which is my everyday life really – has been lea by taking care of my family and moulding around the needs of the children. Somehow, that has worked, the rest has just come.
Tamara Hockey, Junior Intermediate Level 3 Teacher, teaches in Bristol and qualified in 2005:
I came to Iyengar Yoga in 1999 after an intense few years of pregnancy, childbirth and motherhood. My youngest daughter was 3 months old when I attended my first beginner’s class at Yogawest in Bristol. Not only had I relatively recently given birth, I’d had another daughter only 16 months before THAT and I couldn’t remember the last time I had deliberately engaged in any form of exercise (hazy memories of jogging around a school field in a large pair of PE knickers suffering with the cold, a hangover and nicotine withdrawal). I struggled and blundered my way through that first class and felt stronger, cleaner and sharper than I ever had before – it was love at first sight and the perfect antidote to the chaotic and exhausting home life I was struggling through. I was so grateful to find myself getting fit, happy and finding some control.
Fast forward three years and by this time I was totally absorbed and committed. Twice or thrice weekly yoga classes were the highlight of my week and I began wondering if there was such a thing as a ‘Yoga Degree’ but of course, had drawn a blank when searching for this. Posters went up at Yogawest notifying us that they were to begin their first teacher training course and I was initially very disappointed to realise that firstly I didn’t have the required 5 years’ experience and secondly that I didn’t have the funding to pay for the course.
However luckily for me, just as the deadline for applications approached, the minimum experience requirement was reduced to 3 years – it seemed it was ‘meant to be’ and I set about finding some funding to help me pay for the course. The first hurdle to get through was the selection day for candidates. I was terrified and seriously wondered what I was thinking, imagining that I could possibly be up to the standard required for teacher training. I was thoroughly delighted to be offered a place on the course starting in September and had even managed to find a bit of funding via the Funder finder database to help with the costs.
Looking back to our first session, we were all so completely unprepared for the moment when we would be asked to teach our first pose in front of the group. There were a lot of nerves and quite a few tears as we each took the stage and took our first faltering steps into teaching. Honestly, I don’t think it had occurred to me that teacher training actually involved standing up and teaching! As a young mother I was chronically shy and self-conscious and compared to the rest of the group, very new to the practice of yoga. Fortunately we were in the safe hands of Gerry Chambers and Lynda Purvis, who managed to strike that crucial right balance between building confidence and giving constructive feedback.
The course gave us a lot of experience of teaching each other and we would be given a list of poses to prepare for, from which each of us had two poses to teach to the group during the training day. Then the group would give feedback – always starting with the positive. Towards the end of the two year course we began assisting in real classes attended by the paying public. Standing on the stage throughout to demonstrate and teaching one or two poses within the class. While this was nerve racking to say the least, there could have been no better preparation for what was to come. The dreaded final assessment.
Nerves had reached fever pitch in the final run up and there we finally were, in group of six to eight in a classroom somewhere in Birmingham. The morning session involved showing personal practice and one by one the names of the poses in the introductory syllabus were called out with no other instruction. The assessors were wandering around the room with their clipboards, as we sweated, shook and stumbled our way through the poses. At the end of the morning session we were given two poses each for the afternoon’s teaching assessment, so we had the lunch hour to recover and make final preparations for how we were going to teach. My memories of the day are somewhat hazy now, but I do remember taking some small comfort in the fact that the Moderator, Sheila Haswell, was wearing woollen stripy toe socks – and seriously, how intimidated can you be by someone in knitted toe socks?!
Everyone’s experience of teacher training seems to be different. For some they find their previously uncomplicated love of yoga becomes tarnished with stress and duty as they have to meet the challenges of the course and conform to certain deadlines and criteria. It’s quite a different thing to come to your mat in the morning as an obligation to fulfil an hour’s daily practice, to the carefree days of purely practicing for pleasure or, as in my case, not having a home practice at all and simply enjoying attending classes. This conflict of love and duty has continued throughout my teaching journey and I think it’s a serious consideration for anyone contemplating teacher training. Personally though, I loved the whole process – the challenge, the learning, the chance to be more deeply immersed in the study of yoga. With the support of my teachers and the group, my confidence grew exponentially over the course until I was practically unrecognisable from the person who had set out on the journey two years before. I was fortunate enough to be offered a teaching slot at Yogawest as soon as I passed my assessment and just like when you learn to drive, in many ways the real learning only begins after you’ve got your certificate and you’re out on the open road!
Advice wise, I would encourage trainees to get as much experience as possible teaching in real classes with feedback from the mentor. Get the nerves over and done with at this stage and the assessment will be a lot less daunting. For the assessment itself, the main thing is not to overthink it and tie yourself in knots. You don’t have to be perfect; everyone has problems with certain poses and body obstacles they have to work around. A sensible and organised approach to injuries and impediments will go a long way to securing a pass – if you don’t look after yourself, how are you going to show your students how to look after themselves?
Tamara teaches at Yogawest in Bristol and runs local classes in Wotton under Edge, Gloucestershire as well as taking groups to the Maldives in the winter months. Visit her profile on the IY website here
Find out more about training to teach here