A while back, The Global Yogi asked how I found my way on the path to teaching yoga internationally.
Tell me about how you first discovered yoga?
I was a graduate student at Naropa University in Colorado, a Buddhist-inspired university. Part of the academic requirement was to maintain a contemplative body-based practice in addition to sitting meditation. I started sitting meditation, then within the same week, I attended my first yoga class with Richard Freeman. I was so inspired by the Ashtanga practice—and especially Richard’s presentation of it– that it eventually became my focus, or rather, obsession. Not that I’m OCD. I swear I’m not. After practicing for about five years I realized I needed to dive deeper into practice, so in 1997 I went to India to study with Richard’s teacher, Sri Pattabhi Jois.
How many years were you practising before you decided to become a teacher?
I never “decided” to become a teacher. I was so passionate about the practice that people eventually asked me to teach them. I was working as a staff member on a three-month long meditation retreat, and people were in pain. They wanted help to sit in meditation all day, so I showed them some yoga postures. That was about three years after I started practicing.
Was it a difficult decision to become a yoga teacher or something that just came naturally?
I loved it immediately, but I didn’t know what I was doing at first! After a few years of teaching at health clubs and Dharma centers, I did a training at the White Lotus Foundation in Santa Barbara. Because I had such an excellent role model from the beginning, I always felt like I had a strong foundation. Whenever I questioned how to lead a class, I would ask myself, “what would Richard do?” When I asked him if he thought I was ready to teach, he said: “Teach only what you know and speak from your heart. Then you’ll be fine.” It’s great advice I keep to this day.
How did you find your own teaching style?
My style is inspired mostly by Richard Freeman, though I add a lot of insights from Buddhadharma as well. I’ve always appreciated the Ashtanga practice—and particularly its emphasis on deep breathing– as a method to prepare the body for meditation. After spending a year in Mysore with Pattabhi Jois, and earning his authorization to teach, I taught Ashtanga vinyasa yoga in the traditional way. But that traditional approach to teaching never really spoke to me—it felt too rigid and systematized. I felt like I was unable to share my own unique insights. It’s important to me to approach each practice with fresh eyes, so some days the practice looks different than other days. The foundation is always there—the breath, bandhas, dristi and sequencing. But I prefer to use the template of the Ashtanga practice as a palette, and to improvise from that depending on what the particular student needs. That said, my personal practice is much more traditional.
How do you keep in touch with former students around the world?
Admittedly I could have done a better job at this. I’ve moved around so much, eventually just lost touch with some people. I write a big email once every year or so, and I suppose I keep in touch through my writings. If any former students are reading this please be in touch!!
How do you connect with new centres and studios around the world to create new events?
Virtually all of my work has landed in my lap, through word of mouth.
What are some of the main challenges of teaching yoga internationally?
I’ve moved around so much that I lose touch with old students. I miss having the ongoing relationship with students that I had during certain phases—like when I was teaching privately in Paris, or running a studio in Hong Kong. Much of my work has been at luxury resorts, so sometimes it can be hard to find support systems and fellow yogis to connect with. It can be a bit lonely being the only serious practitioner in a culture focused on hospitality and more superficial pursuits.
What are the things that you most love about the travelling yoga teacher lifestyle?
I’ve been a paid guest in some of the most exclusive hotels in the world. Quite often the resorts will pay airfare as well, and offer a work permit, so I’ve been able to spend extended periods of time in some very exotic places. The experience is rich, and I have friends from all around the world as a result. It has expanded my horizons infinitely and opened my mind. I also love that, since I have been doing this, I have never had to work office hours, or in an office! I often take time between jobs to do a personal retreat, so I have had lots of opportunities to practice as well. Teaching yoga internationally has allowed me to join my love of adventure with my passion for teaching and practicing. I feel so lucky and grateful.
Any recommendations / tips for setting up a profitable, easy to manage and rewarding global yogi business?
Be a good teacher! Be kind and gentle. Then meet people and place yourself in situations where you might offer your services. Be a good listener and then deliver what people want. And most importantly, don’t let your fears limit what you think you are capable of! The world is your oyster, which means you are a precious gem.