Toronto Sun December 2003

Special to The Toronto Sun
After the indulgences of the festive season, many of us make New Year's resolutions to eat well and get fit.

By Susan Poizner

Wednesday December 17, 2003

Traditionally, this is a time of year when those working in the fitness side of the health industry are busiest picking up new clients.

Personal trainers are more popular than ever, but with the stress involved in living in a big city like Toronto, many people are opting instead for the gentle, calming approach to fitness that some forms of yoga have to offer.

Iyengar yoga is often described as "furniture yoga" due to the use of props to help people develop flexibility. It's good for students of all ages and for those with health issues, according to Leah Stephenson, manager of the Iyengar Yoga School of Toronto.

"The props awaken the intelligence of the body and modify the poses so a complete beginner, and old person or a pregnant person can do a version of a pose. So if you can't stretch to the floor, the props (like a chair or bolster) will help the floor come to you."

Iyengar Yoga is based on the teachings of yoga master BKS Iyengar, who is in his 80s now and currently teaches with his daughter Geeta and his son Prashant in Pune, India. In order to keep teacher standards up, teacher training is rigorous and takes years.

Temmi Ungerman Sears is a certified Iyengar teacher and director of the Yogabuds studio in Toronto, where she holds classes for both children and adults. She has been teaching since 1986 and had been practicing for years before that.

"You have to have been a yoga student for two or four years, studying with a senior teacher, before you can do the course. And then the course involves two or three years of full-time training, including 700 hours in class," Ungerman Sears explains.

"After the course, you practice as a student teacher for some time before you apply for assessment. Five assessors watch you teach over a weekend. It's very difficult and some people fail, but if you do get certification, it shows you have solid training," she says.

A good yoga teacher, according to Ungerman Sears, has to be very committed to his or her own practice. You need a passion for both yoga and working with people, and you must be comfortable in the role of teacher and healer.

"You have to be committed to your own personal evolution and journey because compassion, humour and humility are all qualities that one needs to bring into the studio. You have to respect people's boundaries, differences and needs," she says.

If you can jump through all the hoops, it sounds like and ideal job...teaching people to be calmer, more flexible and healthier in a relaxing environment. And with yoga becoming trendier and more popular, it seems like a good field to be in -- but is it a good living?

"It really depends," Stephenson says. "At this studio, we're trying to strike a balance between adhering to the principles of yoga and also to be a sustainable business. We need to make some profit, but we don't want a profit margin that's so high because it's against (Iyengar's philosophical) principles."

I just really feel I'm following my dharma ("duty" in Sanskrit)," Ungerman Sears says. "I feel grateful and honoured to be able to teach my students. They're great people and it's a gift to be able to share. I'm not going to get rich from teaching, but I feel my life is very abundant. I'm very blessed."