How I Came to Yoga

I began my practice of yoga at age 11, when my mother and older sister started ‘dragging’ me along to their yoga class, taught by Arlene Council, an Oxford yoga teacher.

At first I hated it. I held out for pizza and ice cream in exchange for suffering through a 90 minute adult yoga class. But on my third or fourth class something happened in Shavasana, and I had my first experience of deep yogic relaxation. After that I was hooked. I came to realize that yoga made me a better football (soccer) player, which goes a long way for a boy growing up in a small English village.

When I was 16 my parents moved back to Texas buying a hundred acres of woods, deep in the heart of East Texas. Although my parents were coming home to Texas, I had been born in Naples, Italy, and lived in the Philippines, Germany, and now considered England my home. To make matters worse, in 1977 there were no yoga teachers to be found in East Texas, at least none that would admit it. So I was forced to develop my own personal practice. In hindsight, this proved pivotal in my development as a yogi. Denied all external authority, I was forced to find answers within and trust myself and my practice.

In high school and college I found that my pranayama training helped me to stay focused while taking tests and not suffer from stress and anxiety. I also found that meditation made me a better student, able to concentrate for longer periods of time. But it was not until I ruined my knee in a wrestling tournament in college that I truly grew to appreciate yoga. After giving up soccer, tennis, racquetball and even table tennis, I found that I continued to re-injure my knee, often just walking across campus. Denied all other forms of exercise, I re-dedicated myself to my personal yoga practice.

Over the next 3 years, while studying physics and mathematics at college, I successfully rehabilitated my knee to the point that upon moving to Austin in 1983 I was ready to seek out yoga classes and resume working with teachers, like Peggy Kelley, George Purvis, John Friend, Donna Farhi, and Thich Nhat Hanh among others.

I began to realize that I wanted to start sharing some of what I had learned about yoga, so in 1988 I started actively looking for an opportunity to teach yoga. The harder I tried however, the more doors closed.

One weekend, my big sis Ellen was visiting and I gave her a free private yoga lesson. The next day she took me to breakfast and over pancakes asked me why? Why did I want to teach? I talked for a few minutes and then she again asked why? This was repeated several more times until I admitted that I did not know why. When I asked my sister what she thought about me teaching yoga, she replied that the previous evening she had seen that I was a natural teacher, but that she was concerned that if I started teaching now, before I knew who I really was, that the teacher in me would grow so strong that I might never find out who I really was.

I was not happy with my sister’s analysis, but spent the next week thinking about that conversation. Finally I realized that the reason I wanted to become a yoga teacher was that I hated my current job – working in a hospital pharmacy. When asked ‘what do you do for a living?’ I wanted to be able to talk about yoga, not hospitals. I recognized that my motivations were confused and not worthy of the position I was seeking. So I let go of the goal of becoming a yoga teacher and decided to embrace my role of yoga student with renewed enthusiasm.

The very next morning, at one of my favorite yoga classes, the teacher was helping an injured student modify a pose and failed to notice a new student attempting to launch themselves into a headstand without any preparations. I approached the student and quietly worked with them on a safer way to approach the pose.

After class was over, the teacher called me over. “I saw you working with Steve on his headstand.  You did a very nice job. I am looking for someone to cover a class for me next week, would you be interested.” The day after I subbed my very first yoga class my teacher called to inform me that this was actually an audition and that the students loved me. Within two years I was teaching 21 classes a week and have never looked back.

From interview with Charles MacInerney