Marga Yoga 4: Farida Hamza (Louisiana)
From the Lion City we head to the Sportsman’s Paradise – Louisiana – to meet with Farida Hamza. She is passionate about sharing the transformative power of yoga and is a firm believer that anyone can do yoga. Farida says, “I find a natural flow and balance in living as a Muslim yogi.”
Marga Yoga: On My Way to Yoga
A Muslim yogi
DDoA: When did you start practicing yoga?
FH: I started practicing yoga around 2006. Started teaching in 2008.
“Group pic from my yoga training camp.” – FH
DDoA: What sparked your interest in the practice?
FH: I started practicing in one of those fancy hot yoga studios. The ones where all the walls are covered in mirrors and you are surrounded by a lot of ‘perfect’ bodies. In the beginning I noticed everyone else. But the more I practiced, the less I noticed everyone else. The more I started looking at myself. Looking into my own eyes, not afraid to look away. It made yoga addictive for me. I was re-introduced to myself and I wanted to know more.
DDoA: What was your profession before teaching yoga?
FH: I was at University doing a bachelor’s degree in finance so didn’t have a ‘real’ job. I never went into industry. Realized it was not the thing for me.
DDoA: From where/whom did you get your yoga training/certification?
FH: The Living Yoga Program in Austin, Texas.
DDoA: What were the challenges that you encountered when you made the career change?(in your case, given that you are a Muslim woman and most people with your religious affiliation disapprove of YOGA).
FH: I didn’t tell a lot of people. I can’t remember too well, but I may not have told my parents right away. Telling extended family was out of the question. My sisters and my brother knew.
The certification was held on temple grounds. It was absolutely beautiful. The atmosphere, the food, the vibration of the place. But it was temple grounds. Even though I’m Indian, I haven’t been to many temples and so I was nervous about living on temple grounds. Is there anything Islamically wrong? Of course not. But the feeling that I am doing something wrong or blasphemous was so ingrained. I however see that as my own shortcoming.
I was clear before I committed to the training that I would not do anything that I felt contradicted my faith or made me uncomfortable. So I was excused from attending temple ceremonies etc. In the end, I am grateful for the experience. I am constantly recommending other people interested in becoming teachers to do the same program. I am surely a better person and teacher for it.
DDoA: What advice can you give yoga practitioners who want to train to teach yoga or run their own yoga studio?
FH: Ah! Two completely diff things 🙂
- We currently have too many yoga certificates being handed out. That doesn’t mean we have a lot of well-educated teachers out there. We have scores of teachers who focus only on asana or the physical aspect of yoga. They are pressured into performing gymnastics, teaching gymnastics, building up a client base, become product ambassadors and while good intentioned, they end up doing more harm than good for the yogic community. And so my advice would be to look for a program that has a history of producing well informed, compassionate and mindful teachers. Make sure they are certified by whatever governing bodies and beware of programs that are looking to make money off of signing you up. Certifications are not cheap, do your research before you sign up.
- I also suggest you get your certification in basic hatha yoga and maybe just the 200hr. If you decide to delve into a specific style of yoga, you can get certified in that later. But this basic certification will help you start to teach. And once you have some experience, you can decide your next course of action. Chances are you may be able to attend workshops and pursue your specific interests as opposed to a full-fledged certification which might tie you down to a specific type of yoga. And most studios don’t require more than 200hr certifications. Programs will try to sell you 500hr or 700hr certifications. You don’t need it so don’t fall for their gimmicks.
- Owning a yoga studio is completely different from being a teacher. You don’t need to be one, to be the other. Also, many teachers dream of owning a studio but don’t realize that teaching might be the last thing you do when you decide to open a studio. You will be involved with marketing, accounting, permits, and hiring, firing and much more mundane stuff. You will be running a business and will be responsible for employees; if you can afford to hire them that is; if not, you will be teaching a million classes. You will be responsible for client satisfaction, meeting codes, competition with other studios. It’s very different from what you may have envisioned. So ask yourself if you want to teach or if you want to be a business owner. And then act.
“A lot of people don’t realize this but if you look at the Muslim prayer, the actual routine, it is very similar to yogic poses. It has the mountain pose, hero’s pose, forward bend, child’s pose and a hand mudra. To someone like me, there are many similarities between these two deeply spiritual practices and I find a natural flow and balance in living as a Muslim yogi. I am NOT saying that Islam came from yoga, or vice versa, I am simply saying that yogis and Muslims are more alike than people realize.” – FH
Read more on “A Muslim Yogi’s Affirmation” on her blog
DDoA: How has yoga changed you? (health wise, perspective/attitude towards life and people)
- I feel I have become more accepting. And I mean that in more ways than one. I feel I have become more accepting of myself, my physical body and the sort of person I am and the person that I am not. I have learned to accept what comes my way, of the people I meet and of the circumstances I find myself in. I guess you could say I have learned to ‘give in’. Does that mean I am complacent or that I don’t have opinions or won’t stand up for what I believe in? Most certainly not. But I feel I have a better understanding of why something is happening and even if I don’t have all the answers, I trust that it will make sense in due course.
- I also truly believe that what you do on your mat, you will do in your life. Are you confined to your mat? Are you competing with the person next to you? Are you pushing yourself too hard? Are you practicing non-violence with your body? Yes, what you do on your mat, you will most likely do in life, off the mat.
- Health wise, I feel physically strong. I am able to do things I never thought I could do before and that has helped increase my confidence. But I have also become mindful of my limitations and that is crucial for everyone to know. I know how far I can push myself and when I need to stop. This is huge! We let our egos get in the way a whole lot and push ourselves way too much. We are constantly taught to be quick, to do as much as possible, to be first in line, to keep topping ourselves. But that’s not what life is about. You do what you can, you challenge yourself and if you have reached your limit, you stop. We are not taught about awareness, we are constantly competing and we need to stop. There is no race to be won, no prize to be had. There is only this moment and there is only peace to be felt in this moment. And it is completely in our hands.
- In conclusion, I find myself at my most open, honest self 🙂
Farida, expecting and still teaching Yoga
DDoA: Please share some information on the nature and location of your YOGA teaching practice.
FH: I live in a fairly small town which unfortunately has very few studios. It is changing though and studios and events are starting to crop up. I therefore have had to teach at the several gyms around town in addition to a studio. I also teach small groups and private clients. I have also done meditation events for local companies.
DDoA: Please give us a glimpse of your daily routine as a yoga professional…
FH: I do not live the cliche yogi lifestyle where my day is filled with green juices and vegan food. I wish it were, but I generally….. have only a coffee in the morning before I am off to teach. I can only teach on an empty stomach. Eating or drinking anything usually makes me terribly queasy. Come back home, work on a piece for my blog or browse current yoga happenings, have lunch. Nap. I am a big believer in naps :). Another coffee. Off to teach an evening class, sometimes two, back home for dinner. I do read a lot, and it is usually whatever my book club has currently picked. Right now I am reading 2 books at the same time. My book club picked Ben Carson’s ‘One Nation’ and I am reading ‘When Rabbit Howls’ by Trudy Chase, for my own interest. And then bed.
DDoA: What dictum/philosophy do you live by now that you are a yoga professional?
FH: I feel lucky that I am able to work doing something that I love. But don’t be surprised at the politics in the professional world of yoga. Teachers and businesses can be cliquey, competitive, downright rude or mean. It’s still cut throat and I have been burned a few times. But you keep moving on. Do what you can, do what you think is right, you do what you think is honest and fair and the rest is out of your control. Trust that things will get better and honestly it does. Just give in 🙂
DDoA: How in your opinion can YOGA change people? (health/energy level/attitude,etc)
- I think yoga can change lives. In many of the ways that I have mentioned. To completely accept yourself first. To be compassionate with your own self, your body. To then in turn be more accepting of others. To trust the process, to know your strength, the acknowledge your weakness and learn coping mechanisms. To learn how to manage stress and your health.
- And I have seen yoga surprise people. One day, they can barely reach their knees, then its their shins, and then one day, its their toes, and their faces light up. I don’t mean to emphasize that they reached their toes- but they never thought they would and if they could reach their toes then what else could they do if they trusted their breath and their strength.
Learn more about Farida Hamza:
So do… as Farida Hamza does: “Do what you can, do what you think is right, you do what you think is honest and fair…the rest is out of your control. ”