I met Zo Manik earlier this year when I taught a workshop about Yoga Therapy for Stress Relief. I travelled all the way to Big Bear, California and Zo's yoga studio hosted me. The yogis in Big Bear have a wonderful energy and the workshop went incredibly well.
Soon afterward, Zo emailed and asked if she could interview me as part of her teacher training. I was of course happy to help and had a good time answering her questions. It's always an interesting experience to reflect on where you started as a teacher, how far you've come, and how much you still have to grow.
Just today I had a yoga student tell me that in the past four months of coming to our studio she feels like my teaching has become more mature?! Maybe it's just her understanding of me and my teaching style that has deepened, or maybe I'm moving into a new stage...again...as a yoga teacher. Maybe I'm finally growing up.
I'm not sure, but I hope to keep growing and changing as a human and as a yoga teacher. If you're interested in how I got started, here is the interview with Zo.
"Utah's Own Vibrant Yogi, Shannan Hansen!" by Zo Manik
I met the effervescent Shannan Hansen earlier this year during a workshop she lead about stress-reduction and health management. She spoke on how stress should not be managed, but rather, we should put energy into managing that which find value within, such as our finances, our families, our bodies and health, our lives. She let me pick a bit at her brain to find out more about her.
ME: When did you first discover yoga?
SHANNAN: In 2001 at a gym. I can honestly say that after the first five minutes I was hooked. It felt like I had finally found my thing. I looked at the other yogis in the room and thought, "These are my people."
ME: At what point did you realize it was not just about the asana but a lifestyle?
SHANNAN: People enter the realm of yoga through different points. For me I did come into yoga through the asanas and it took me few years to understand and incorporate the other aspects of a yogic lifestyle. I read a lot in Yoga Journal, went to yoga conferences, watched yoga documentaries, and finally read Light on Yoga (BKS Iyengar) and the Yoga Sutras (Patanjali). These studies helped me see beyond the yoga poses and propelled me on the yogi lifestyle, but I still feel I have a lot of discovery ahead and that is exciting.
ME: What does the yogi lifestyle look like for you? How do you incorporate it personally as a lifestyle?
SHANNAN: To me this is a mindset more than anything else. The way I see the world, the connection I feel with all living beings on the planet. The compassion I offer to myself and to others are examples of that. Choices that reflect the 8 limbs of Ashtanga yoga. It took some time but I eventually stopped eating meat and dairy and began eating healthier food in general. I try to consume less, make more sustainable choices, and am more aware of my impact on the planet. I also take all this with a huge dose of reality because there are many moments of hypocrisy where I don't say the right thing, can't control my feelings, or buy something unnecessary. Maybe that's called being human. So it's a process.
ME: Which styles of yoga have worked best for you? Which do you enjoy practicing the most?
SHANNAN: That has changed over the years but I have always gravitated toward Vinyasa flow classes and that's what I teach most of. The last few years I have also grown to appreciate restorative yoga and Hatha yoga. My go to yoga class for getting grounded and centered as a yogi is Ashtanga. It feels the least modern and is always a great challenge.
ME: What struggles have you experienced (and overcome) in your own personal practice?
SHANNAN: Injuries have set me back several times. Each time I try to be patient and let my body heal. When it's time to re-approach my practice I do so realizing things are different and I don't ever force myself to do anything other that what I can in that moment. I overcame believing that I couldn't do certain poses, but I am still working on handstand...:)
ME: When and how did you decide you wanted to become a yoga teacher?
SHANNAN: After taking yoga for a while at a gym, the teacher there said to me that I should look into becoming a certified teacher. I don't remember why she said it or what she may have seen in me, but it planted a seed. A few months later I was driving to Las Vegas for my first teacher training and started teaching in 2002.
Original teachers at Breathe Yoga Studio in SLC, Utah. 2009
ME: Tell me about your teaching style: instruction, prepping, planning.
SHANNAN: I practice yoga in my home everyday. I believe that a strong personal practice is the best tool to being a good teacher. When I am preparing for a class I think about the students. My personal teaching philosophy is that yoga is an individual experience. The way our bodies move through the poses and the way we feel in each pose is unique and often unexplainable. So I never want to force my students into a shape or make them think they have to copy me. I want them to learn to listen to the story of their own bodies. I often think of a sequence or general theme for the day, but when I arrive, I assess who is on the mat, their skill level, their energy, etc. I teach to them and try not to worry about my own agenda. This came with time, however. I wasn't always able to improvise so easily. Years of teaching and years of my own practice have given me that ability.
Early days of teaching yoga online with Wello.com. 2012
ME: What advice do you wish someone gave you when you first became a teacher?
SHANNAN: Power yoga doesn't mean you have to kill your students. I'm not sure why, but when I first started teaching, I really wanted my classes to be hard. I wanted to work the students and make them sweat. I planned complicated sequences with little to no resting and pushed the students to go deeper. A friend and fellow yoga teacher actually pulled me aside (luckily early on in my career) and remarked that the students were working so hard to survive the sequence, they weren't using proper form. I also started recognizing that the when students are so focused on pounding through hard poses, they lose the chance to relax and heal. I started backing off and creating more balanced classes and soon learned how to appreciate the subtle nuances of yoga. Yoga can be challenging without it being dangerous. In fact, sometimes the smallest adjustments, the simplest movements connected with breath can be very intense. I'm grateful for the things I've learned a long the way and I feel like I'm still evolving and learning every time I step on the mat.
ME: Any last words of wisdom...
SHANNAN: Listen to your students more than you talk. Don't take it personally if they can't or don't want to do the sequence you're presenting. Allow them to come and take what they need...not what you want them to receive. Do yoga often. Enjoy.