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/