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Early Bird Helen Stylianou Catches the Worm…


FL: Helen, tell me a little bit about your background.

HS: Well, I’m an ex headhunter – in fact, I headhunted headhunters. I did that job for many years, and was successful at it. Since I was raising a single daughter, I wanted to give her the best I could manage and I worked hard. Actually, I finished headhunting only a couple of years ago, it was something I could do when I started teaching yoga. Throughout most of that time I was also weight training and competing…I guess you could say I had a competitive nature, but the truth is I’ve always been in need of some kind of fitness regime.

I have one brother and sister. I am the middle one but was always the strong one of the three; taking care of the others and instinctively maternal. Exercise has kept me sane in many ways, but in the end of my bodybuilding career, it became unhealthy. I couldn’t go a day without training 2-3 hours. My body was contracted and I started to injure myself. I prolapsed two discs in my lower back.

I realized I was trying unsuccessfully to fill a void in my life. My daughter was getting older and I felt I needed to do something for me. Ironically my ex-boyfriend had a friend who had friend who was an Iyengar teacher. I went to the institute in Maida Vale to Alaric’s class. It was funny, I walked in, never having done a yoga class before to the intermediate class with my water bottle and gym outfit on and he said ‘Oh we’ve got a gym body here have we?’ I did the class and I never felt my body work in that way before. I got Alaric’s humor and his very individual and dynamic style of teaching, and I loved him from the start. He made me laugh and at the same time work hard.

I finished weight training as soon as I started yoga, but it took a while to get the weight trainer out of the yogi, so to speak. I really had to work to soften my body.

I didn’t go back to the Iyengar Institute for awhile, but instead I went on to Triyoga and found ashtanga. I fell in love with ashtanga, which appealed to my competitive side. At my first class the teacher said something evocative and I started to cry. When the teacher saw me crying she told me that normally it takes a long time for someone to get their emotions up to the surface like that – that I was ready to explore what was going on inside. I went home and I knew what I wanted to do. I did my teacher training at Triyoga and it was great. All during that time I kept my eye on Iyengar teachers and I thought to myself, my god, what do they know that I don’t? I kept going to the Iyengar classes and seeing Alaric and his students observing people’s practices in a way that I couldn’t – they were seeing things I wasn’t seeing. I got the sense I had only touched the tip of the iceberg with my yoga path.

Finally one day Alaric invited me to do teacher training with him. I was so humbled by his invitation. It was the best thing I have ever done. I had been teaching dynamic yoga teacher until then and it was very difficult for me to transition from teaching in this way to the Iyengar way. I asked myself what makes an Iyengar yoga teacher, and I felt myself questioning who I was. Alaric really got into my psyche at this time and helped me – I was always honest with him about my fears. He knew what I needed to do and helped me to see it too. Instead of saying I was teaching wrong, he was sincere in his belief in me and said, as long as your teaching rather than leading, you’re doing the right thing.

Since I’ve qualified I’ve felt more at home with myself. It is such an honor to be an Iyengar yoga teacher. I’m now an introductory level 2, qualitified Iyengar teacher and I finally feel at home with my teaching. The initial training takes nearly two years to complete.

My practice is about continuing to learn. To teach the yoga postures one must embody them in oneself. I am always hungry to see more, to understand more about the body and the psyche. I’m very interested longer term in learning more about remedial yoga and teaching people with injuries.

Where does the emotional and personal aspect come in to Iyengar yoga as a teacher?

I think it depends on the individual. For me, as a mom, and as a recruiter I am used to listening to people’s stories to help them make choices. I find it an honor to have people open up and cry in my class. I want them to feel safe to do that. I would love for my students to take one point away after each class, and in this way they build a yoga practice.

FL: Do you still do any dynamic yoga?

HS: I go to Iyengar classes 3 to 4 times a week. I go to Sheila Haswell, Patsy Sparksman (I assisted her for a year and a half and she helped get through my exams), and Alaric, as you know. I respect all three teachers immensely, they all have a real human quality about them, and that’s what attracts me to them. Additionally I do an hour and a half of my own practice daily. I don’t go to dynamic classes any longer.

FL: Any methods you didn’t like?

HS: Scaravelli was too slow, I didn’t try lots of other things because I kind of found my practice from the start.

FL: How many classes do you teach a week?

I teach 11 classes a week, and any more than that I think it’s too much.

FL: What is the book that’s inspired you the most?

HS: The Iyengar Way, by Mira Metta. I carry it with me everywhere I go. It’s a fantastic book. I’ve had it from just about day one and it’s helped me immensely. The other one is by Judith Lasiter,  Living your Yoga: Finding the Spiritual in Everyday Life.

I’m looking forward to practicing with Helen at Indaba Yoga, where she will be teaching two classes a week Tuesday 9.30 – 11am & Thursday 6.00 – 7.30pm.  See more information about Helen’s retreats and workshops on my Recommended Retreats, Workshops and Events page.

#iyengaryoga #indaba #yogaclassesmarylebone #yogaclasseslondon #helenstylianou #indabayogamarylebone

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