Susan Collins studied for her Introductory Level Iyengar Yoga Teaching Certificate here at Maida Vale. Below she shares some of her reflections and experiences after completing her first year as a teacher.
My first Iyengar yoga experience
I first learnt the basic postures in the late seventies in my mother’s classes when she lived around the corner from the old Iyengar studio in Maida Vale. She used to attend classes taught by Mr Iyengar and Silva Mehta, one of the founders of the Maida Vale Institute. In those days the only props I remember us using were my brother’s old judo belts! Shoulderstand was done with no support.
Props have become a factor now I’m setting up my own classes and teaching in gyms that only provides mats and a few foam pads. Over the course of the year I have managed bit by bit to add to my inventory of yoga props. Iyengar yoga is the only method of yoga I have ever done, but out in the real world I have found that a lot of yoga practitioners seem comfortable attending an Iyengar class one week and, an Ashtanga class the next.
The decision to start Iyengar yoga teacher training
In 1980 I moved to the States and kept up a regular yoga practice dropping into classes whenever I could. In 1996 I was attending class at the Iyengar Yoga Centre in LA every week. Stressed out from work and reaching an impasse in my life, I found my weekly yoga classes enriching and very different from the yoga my mother had taught me. When I moved back to London I started to drop in to the Institute in Maida Vale. In fact I think I dropped in everywhere to any Iyengar class that fitted my schedule and location. By 2009 I felt that it was now or never for teacher training and after a conversation with Sallie Sullivan, the teacher trainer at Maida Vale, I decided to move forward. Thankfully they accepted me.
So much to learn!
The first session of teacher training came as quite a shock. So different from a regular class, I felt very privileged to be at Maida Vale during that first session in the big studio. The Aums and the chant to Patanjali sounded so beautiful. But, reality soon set in. There was so much to think about. I’d had no idea there was so much to learn, I thought it would just be a lot of holding the poses for longer. After the first session I remember telling my mother that my voice needed work because I spoke in a monotone, boring voice. To which she replied reassuringly ‘Yes, it is!’
The first year flew past. Under the scrutiny of the teacher trainers the poses I had once thought of as ‘baby’ asanas became challenging in a way I didn’t think possible. This is something I have found hard to emulate in the real world. It is a challenge helping my students get so much out of the more basic poses without moving on too quickly.
The hardest part for me without doubt has been the teaching. When my name was called to the teaching mat and my fellow teacher trainees were waiting for me to tell them what to do I would feel my mouth go dry. All the instructions would go clear out of my head. Shadowing experienced teachers at Maida Vale and in Putney where I live really helped me build confidence. I got to appreciate the finesse that goes into becoming a great teacher. By the end of the two years, I was sure I would never be able to teach real students. Despite the patience of my teacher trainers, Sallie and Stephen, I still found it hard to control my nervousness.
My first class as a pro Iyengar yoga teacher
Fast forward to the January after I joyously received the letter telling me I had passed my assessment. I found myself in the fortunate position of being given a class to teach at a well-known gym group. It was the first professional class I ever took and strangely enough after the first few asanas I forgot all about nerves and started to see all the possibilities that the teacher trainers had explained to us in the sessions in front of me.
Taking the training wheels off
‘Try not to teach with a strap’, they’d advised for Bharadvajasana 1 and ‘Make sure they’re all facing you!’ Did I listen? Could I get them to turn themselves away from the mirrors at the gym? Sallie and Stephen had advised us to ‘Be clear which way students legs go and which way they turn.’ Hmmm, my students had legs, belts and arms all over the place. How was I going to correct this in a real, live class? I realised that unlike my practice students in teacher training, some of these students were not listening and did not want to listen. Over time I am learning to be very clear when getting the class ready before each pose. My confidence is building up so I can now ask someone to turn and face the front.
A supportive Iyengar yogi community
By the end of January I had started my own local class which attracted mostly people who had done very little yoga. I found those classes a lot easier than the ones at the gym where I was teaching all abilities and fitness levels from various yoga disciplines. I have also found the teaching community around my area very helpful and supportive. I have people I can turn to when I need advice. I also sent out emails to the teachers in my area to let them know I was available to cover. As the year has progressed I have found my nerves have diminished as I have now covered for various classes and have become more comfortable with unfamiliar faces in unfamiliar studios.
The more I teach the more I appreciate the experienced teachers and how effortless they make it all look, especially the following day when as a student one wakes up with that yoga ache knowing that a stiffness has been moved and worked on. I hope at some point I will be able to pass that on to the people who come to my classes, so that they can feel the profound changes happening in their bodies, and the new life those changes bring with them.
The Institute runs an Introductory teacher training course. For information ask at reception or find out more here >