Path of a Teacher
Tessa Brackett

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I took my first yoga class in London in early 2001, a few months after a significant car accident. I thought yoga would be a gentle stepping stone to healing my injuries, to ultimately get back to the more vigorous exercise that I’d enjoyed throughout my twenties. But as fate would have it, the person teaching that class ended up being my yoga teacher for the next 10 years! I inadvertently became a student of Shadow Yoga, a Hatha yoga discipline which blended asana, martial arts, ancient dance, marma and ayurveda. The knowledge my teacher had in these subjects was meticulous. My teacher’s teacher, Zhander Remete (the founder of Shadow Yoga), was scrupulous in both his knowledge and practice of yoga. It might sound funny, but if you want to be a student of yoga, first you need to have a teacher of yoga - meaning - a student needs a teacher whose understanding of yoga is authentic. Zhander Remete had spent two decades studying yoga with BKS Iyengar, a decade studying with Pattabhi Jois. He also studied martial arts and traditional southern Indian dance. Shadow Yoga is a fusion of wisdom from these various traditions. Whilst Shadow Yoga is taught in classes and via workshops all over the world, it draws together a relatively small, committed group of yogis. I know that it was my great fortune to stumble across such a genuine yoga teacher from the get go, which initiated my interest in yoga. 

When I moved to Massachusetts in late 2012, I understood that I would have to find a new yoga teacher to work with as Shadow Yoga was not taught in the Boston area. I knew that it was about finding the right teacher, like it had been the first time around. I was open to trying any style of yoga, for me the teacher had to display a depth of expertise, and acceptance of a keen student. After three years of trying out a few yoga studios, I came to Down Under Yoga in early 2016. I began to come to the Newton studio several days a week and do regular classes with Peter Crowley (Slow Flow), Natasha Rizopoulos (Vinyasa) and Barbara Benagh (Slow Flow). Everything I was learning from these teachers was pretty different from Shadow Yoga, but they were clearly learned, sincere and inspiring. My next yoga chapter had begun.  

One morning, during Natasha’s Vinyasa class, she posed a question to her teacher trainees in the room. Teacher trainees? There were teacher trainees in this class? I went home to check the website, and sure enough, a whole section I’d not seen before, dedicated to the various teacher trainings Down Under Yoga offered. The uncanny thing was that all three of my teachers were involved with the 200 hour teacher training.

I didn’t really feel that I wanted to do the training so that I could teach yoga, but it seemed like a fantastic moment to enrich my curiosity with a range of teachers who I already held in high esteem after taking regular classes with each of them for six months. The thought of spending ten weekends over five months either doing or studying some aspect of yoga just seemed like an incredible opportunity!

My number one priority for the training was to learn the precise alignment cues for each asana because I was never quite sure whether I was in a posture correctly. Shadow yoga gave me a lot of physical and energetic cues, and I wanted the same understanding and details for my Slow Flow & Vinyasa practices. I think my second priority was to learn the posture names in Sanskrit. They’d never quite stuck, so when a teacher called a posture in Sanskrit, very often I had no idea which way to turn, which created a slight unease during class. My third priority was to integrate more into a yoga community. I still felt relatively new to the USA, and I thought it would be wonderful to meet some like-minded people (which I did!) 

I got so much more from the teacher training than I had hoped for. Yes, we were taught intricate alignment, step by step through approximately seventy asana, with time for questions, detailed demonstrations, and refinements so every student could get into a safe version of the posture. What was eye-opening for me was being taught to see asana in groups - hip openers, backbends, twists, seated, balancing. Once we could see asana in this way, we were taught to identify muscles that were being used in each category and how each asana should build on what came before it. In this way, we were taught how to plan and sequence a whole yoga class logically and safely. I particularly appreciated all the teacher trainee teachers emphasizing doing "your yoga" - meaning - making safe choices for your body, learning asana modification not just for your future students, but for yourself too.

I think maybe the biggest personal reward of the whole teacher training experience for me was that with my better understanding of asana alignment and with the tools needed for teaching a class (or for creating a home practice), I found myself having the knowledge and confidence to generate my own yoga sequences for my own body’s needs on any given day. I resumed a daily practice which has been dormant for three years, and that wasn’t even a goal when I set off on the training! 

There were many other topics that were covered in the teacher training I would never have chosen to study, but they became the hidden gems. One of the great surprises for me was studying the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali with Natasha. I assumed these lessons would be over my head, but paradoxically, I found the sutras to be profoundly relatable to my life and sincerely moving. They revealed the spiritual and philosophical sides of yoga to me, and I’m so grateful to Natasha for teaching them in such an accessible way. 

We were introduced to many subjects on the teacher training that are worthy of months, even years of study in their own right, and this was one of the great things about the training. It was like being at a party with delicious hors-d'oeuvres, which whet your appetite for the next course. Every study or practice day on the teacher training was guided by yogi’s sharing their passion and knowledge, extending their invitation to unlock the door and explore to your heart's content. One such door opened after Kate O’Donnell took us for an afternoon of Ayurveda (which re-connected me to happy memories of Shadow Yoga). I knew then that Kate was someone I wanted to study with and after finishing the 200 hour yoga training I signed up for the 'Fundamentals of Ayurveda' 200 hour training from March - Nov 2017. That was fascinating and initiated many positive changes.

My husband always teases me that English people love to take courses in everything, but there really are so many incredible offerings and opportunities to learn at DUY. I’ve just started the 300 hour yoga teacher training last month, so I’m just too busy either taking yoga classes or studying yoga to find the time to actually teach! Joking aside though, one day I do truly hope to be able to share my passion for yoga and Ayurveda with others. I trust my path to teaching will be revealed when the time is right.