My First Yoga Teacher

You never forget your first yoga teacher. She has a special place in your heart.

While I’d begun with TV yoga at age 12, my first in-person class wasn’t until 10 years later. The teacher both wowed and horrified me by demonstrating Shavasana with Ujjayi Pranayama, emphasizing the expansion of her belly on the inbreath. Her belly really puffed out! Yet her demo worked, for I knew what to do when she had us lie down to do it ourselves. Jean was local and inexpensive which, at the time, were very important criteria for me. She laid the groundwork for me, which took me to India within a year, which was not local or inexpensive at all! But her classes were pivotal for me.

I took my first teacher training with Jean, about 40 hours of training, which was a lot back then. She continued teaching into her 90’s, proof that teaching yoga is the only profession you can do your whole life long.

My second yoga teacher affected me more, but it was because of her Guru. from the beginning, I could tell there was something different about her, but it took a long time to figure out what it was. She had a Sanskrit name, which we could use or not. Lots of syllables made it daunting but very beautiful: Annapurneshwari – the Goddess of Food. Now I know the deeper meaning of the name: the one who feeds you, spiritually as well as physically.

She did feed us, not food but yoga’s ancient teachings. She knew more than my first teacher, not merely about the poses but about “stuff.” I didn’t know that her comments were yoga philosophy but I loved them. I couldn’t find anything else like it, not even in the many books I was reading in my desperate search for “the more.” When she showed her Guru’s books to us, I found what I’d been seeking. I read them and then I went to India to meet Him. Another pivot point that changed my life, taking me in the direction I’d always wanted to go.

I have a theory that everyone remembers their first yoga teacher. I’ve tested this theory. When teaching in yoga conferences and retreat centers, I’ve asked large groups of yogis, “Do you remember your first yoga teacher.” It is so beautiful to watch their instantaneous response. Their faces soften and open, their breath and posture shift, and they smile. What is it?

I’ve been fortunate to be the first yoga teacher for thousands of students. Having taught for over 40 years, I’m humbled by remembering the many faces (and bodies) of the glorious parade of students. Some of them are still studying with me, but I know that’s because of my Guru. I bring them what I saw in Annapurneshwari, the depth and integrity of yoga that comes from the ancient tradition. It’s the gift He gave me, and I’m still learning how to receive it all.

OM svaroopa svasvabhava namo nama.h

To your inherent Divinity, again and again I bow.

Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati leads Downingtown Yoga & Meditation Center and Svaroopa® Vidya Ashram in Downingtown PA. An American yogi, she is an inspiring teacher with a loving manner and a great sense of humor. Before becoming a swami (yoga monk), as Rama Berch, she served the yoga community as the founding president of Yoga Alliance. Traveling and teaching nationally and internationally, she is authorized to initiate people into deep meditation through Shaktipat, as did Swami Muktananda, her own Guru. The Ashram website features extensive Freebies, including articles and audio recordings on the principles of consciousness as taught by the sages of India, as well as how to apply them in your life today.

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