Barbara Benagh: I’m often asked how I got into yoga so here’s my yoga story…
I have been active all my life. I took ballet lessons for years and in college got into cycling; a sport I adore to this day despite a spectacular spill or two. The simple joy of movement has always been a pleasure whether from hiking, dancing, or swimming. I can still remember, as a child, my mother often telling me to sit still and that chairs are for sitting not for hanging upside down from. Clearly, yoga was a natural fit.
During college I, like many of my generation, took a sharp left turn into the hippie world. Within weeks of graduating from college and disheartened by the war in Vietnam I headed for London. What a wonderful place that was, especially in the early 70s! I embraced all that swinging London had to offer. I loved every second of it but exercise pretty much stopped. After a couple of years of this behavior I was out of shape and had gained about 25 lbs. Yearning to move again I decided to find an exercise class. A friend suggested yoga but picturing incense and swamis I was not enthused. In a true twist of fate, the only exercise class at my local adult education center in Birmingham, England (where I was living while my boyfriend was in grad school) was in yoga so I enrolled, albeit reluctantly. I loved it! My first yoga teacher, Elizabeth Keeble, was no nonsense, made yoga accessible and saw some promise in me. With her encouragement I progressed rapidly. When we moved back to London she sent me to Penny Nield-Smith, a truly wonderful woman with whom I studied for years. Pretty soon I was attending a yoga class at least four times weekly and beginning to practice at home. Penny taught the same sequence of poses every class and I credit her for laying a strong foundation of asana and rational sequencing that has served me well but I began to want to explore more. When I asked her about learning some of the more difficult poses I’d seen in Light on Yoga by BKS Iyengar, Penny suggested I seek out Kofi Busia in Oxford; so off I went.
I began going to Kofi’s daunting weekend workshops pretty regularly, traveling up by train and staying at a hostel. Those weekends were mini immersions for me. I would go to class, then back to my room to read and practice. It was there I first read the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali and the Bhagavad Gita and begin to experience yoga as offering so much more than poses. I also started taking classes from Vera Sida, a remarkable woman, who had started practicing yoga in her late 50s when she became intrigued by a book on yoga that she was binding in the factory where she worked! She took me under her wing and offered my first job teaching. Looking back on it I was woefully unprepared but I loved it and began to dream about quitting my day job (which, of all things, was as a fraud investigator for the British Building Council!).
In 1978 my English husband and I decided to move to Boston where I found the small yoga community; nothing like today in size but certainly eager and devoted. In 1980 after my daughter, Sarah, was born I opened a small yoga school on appropriately, Joy St., Beacon Hill, and stayed there until 2004 when the building was sold and I had to move. After trying a couple of different times to open another yoga school I realized that I have reached a time in my life where what I most want to do is practice and teach to the small community of yogis that I love. Giving up the business of running a center, with all that entails, was easy after that. I now teach in Brookline Village and Davis Square at lovely studios and love it. I’m also enjoying training teachers and those interested in more in depth studies. I still travel around the country a bit to teach and, of course, spend each February in Jamaica but I most love staying close to home. It is just right.
I’ve watched yoga grow and change in ways I could have never imagined and I’ve grown and changed with it. My first years of yoga were Informed and fulfilled by Iyengar yoga, by the mid 80s I began to yearn to explore other viewpoints. I found myself particularly drawn to the inner, exploratory work of Angela Farmer. Her gift at helping students break up old patterns was just what I needed at the time. She urged me to listen to and follow my own voice and guidance; a voice she said was strong, authentic, and waiting to be heard. With some trepidation I made a decision to trust that voice and have pretty much followed that inner guide for the last 20 years. Though I do not adhere to any method or style my devotion to yoga is deeply imbedded in my teaching. I try to teach as I like to be taught – with kindness, patience, optimism and encouragement to trust in one’s self.
My greatest delight in yoga is that the practice stays fresh and continues to inform and inspire me nearly everyday. I continue to marvel at how this simple and practical system taps such deep places within that sustain in me through life’s inevitable peaks and valleys. I am also forever grateful that I make my livelihood doing something I truly love with both longtime students and the newer faces and seeing how they are as devoted to their yoga as I am. I am truly blessed.