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KYH Teacher spotlight: Interview with Melissa Perehudoff

October 15, 2021

What has yoga done for you as a person?

I have been practicing Iyengar yoga for 30 years. Yoga has helped me develop the qualities of courage, compassion, discipline, freedom, strength and joy. Yoga has provided me with a way to connect with myself and discover who Melissa is. It has also given me the opportunity to connect with others in meaningful and authentic ways. Yoga has helped me to learn to listen to my intuition, develop resilience in tough times and calm my nervous system.

Why are you passionate about teaching yoga?

I know how much yoga has helped me in my life and truly believe that it can be a catalyst for lasting change for a person willing to commit to the practice for a short time or for a lifetime. Yoga has helped me physically with my scoliosis, torn knee ligaments from skiing and hyperextending knees and elbows. It has also helped me mentally with depression, stress from my job, irritability during PMS and hormonal changes through menopause.

What elements of yoga are you excited to teach and why?

I love teaching inversions! This includes headstand, shoulderstand and how to develop the strength and prepare for these poses intelligently. They help tremendously with mental clarity, concentration, physical strength, hormonal balance and regulating your nervous system.

How did you get started in yoga? What brought you to Iyengar yoga?

I first started yoga when I was about 10 years old. I was very shy and didn’t have many friends. My mom had a coil bound yoga book by Kareen Zebroff. I would try poses from the book while listening to my brothers’ Beatles albums. Fast forward 18 years later and I attended my first Iyengar yoga class with Margaret Lunam, KYH’s benefactor at the Parkinson Recreation Center. My work colleague and later yoga teacher, Deborah Lomond, suggested I give Iyengar yoga a try to help deal with the stress of working in the public school system. 

In what ways are you involved with KYH aside from teaching?

I have been on the workshop committee for 8 years. We invited Canadian Senior teachers twice a year for workshops. We also had the good fortune to host Jawahar Bangera from Mumbai, India for five consecutive years. Previously I was on the marketing, work exchange and social committees. The work exchange committee organizes students who volunteer time in exchange for yoga classes. On the social committee I used to organize movie and popcorn nights as well as musical performances by visiting artists. I was single and wanted to meet like-minded people! I am also a writer and like to write articles for our newsletter.

Can you tell me more about your teacher training and why you decided to pursue it?

I didn’t plan to become an Iyengar yoga teacher. It just happened and I am so incredibly grateful. When Margaret started teaching in her home and her yoga classes became popular, she needed help. So she asked me and a couple of other students to assist and later teach. Those were the days before assessments and certification. I was naturally strong and flexible, came to class regularly and was curious about it all. I also loved the high level of mental clarity, physical vibrancy and simple joy I felt after a 10 hour weekend workshop with a visiting teacher. 

When certification began in Canada, I did formal training with the Iyengar Yoga Centre of Victoria and Linda Benn was my first mentor teacher. After that Shirley Daventry French and Ann Kilbertus from Victoria were my mentors. Remember I have been doing Iyengar yoga for 30 years. I went to Victoria in the summer for their one-week intensives for about 10 years. I attended 10 years of weekly classes with Deborah Lomond at KYH and for the past 10 years I have attended Krisna Zawaduk’s classes. Attending a class regularly with the same teacher who can guide you is essential to develop your practice. Krisna was my recommending teacher when I successfully completed my Intermediate Junior III assessment in November 2019. I am so grateful that I got to attend classes at the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute in Pune, India on four occasions. The one month of classes at the Institute with teachers including Geeta Iyengar and Abhijata Iyengar were mind, body and soul expanding. On my first two visits, Mr. Iyengar was not teaching classes anymore but he practiced in the same room as everyone during the daily practice time. He was so short, powerful and fierce! Teacher training in the Iyengar method isn’t just about yoga, it’s also about life. I will always remember Shirley’s quote from Krishnamurti to “Live your life as if you are going to live forever and die tomorrow”. 

How do you include yoga in your daily life now?

The yoga practice calls me to my mat. If I haven’t done a practice for a couple of days, I feel off physically and emotionally. I have finally developed a regular morning pranayama or breath practice for about 30 minutes. That was hard to fit in when I worked. I like to do a one to two hour asana practice five days a week. I do my inversions, headstand and shoulderstand or a variation each practice. And then I practice what my bodymind needs. The backbends work if I am sluggish and need to energize, forward extensions when my mind is busy or I have mental fatigue, standing poses if my hip is sore or to strengthen my legs, twists if my scoliosis is bothering me, hamstring lengtheners and groin openings if I have been doing a lot of hiking or biking and restorative poses if I am recuperating from illness or my nervous system is stressed.

What are the challenges and benefits of teaching and practicing yoga during these unprecedented times?

The pandemic seems to have increased our anxiety and distractedness. People are having a hard time trying something new or fitting in regular activities. The long term yoga students know the benefits of a consistent, regular practice and attending a weekly class.

I don’t think I could have made it through the pandemic without my yoga practice. The yoga has helped me to keep my nervous system calm, uplift my spirits and keep fit and strong when exercise options were limited. I actually got Covid and experienced blocked sinuses and breathing difficulties. My breath practice helped me to expand my rib cage and move the breath through my nostrils and lungs. It also helped me to keep my mind quiet and face fears, like not being able to smell, when I was sick for two weeks. Thank you Iyengar yoga!

What message would you like to share with your students?

Life is challenging and joyful and yoga helps you through it all! Yoga has been the key to health and happiness for me. Yoga has helped me embrace the mystery of life and the unknown with humility, kindness, intelligence, compassion, curiosity and a sense of humour. It is a lifelong practice and you can make some wonderful friends along the way.

 

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