A Conversation with Juliet Carter, National Director at Autism South Africa

Association Managament Company
Association Managament Company
Association Managament Company
Association Managament Company

Exploring the Healing Power of Yoga with Taryn Elise Herselman – An Exclusive Interview on the International Day of Yoga

Join us in celebrating the International Day of Yoga with Taryn Elise Herselman, also known as Ma Akash. With over 15 years of experience, Ma Akash is a Yoga Therapist and Studio Director who blends international influences and extensive training from India. Her compassionate and therapeutic approach to yoga, combined with a Master’s degree in Research Psychology, allows her to support emotional health and treat stress-related conditions using Hatha, Yin, and Restorative Yoga. Please take advantage of the opportunity to hear from Ma Akash as she shares her journey and valuable insights in this exclusive interview.

1. Hello, Taryn. Thank you for joining the conversation. To start, I would like to inquire about your childhood aspirations. What did you want to be when you were younger?

Ironically, I can recall in my late teens promising myself that the one career path I would never follow would be to become a teacher! I was passionate about art and studied graphic design and website animation. After entering the working environment it became clear after a few years that my long-term goal was to have a more fulfilling career that involved helping others. This aspiration evolved into studying psychology and becoming a full-time yoga teacher in my late 20s.

2. Can you please tell me about your journey and yoga experiences? I'm curious to know how you got involved in the yoga industry and what inspired you.

I was living in London, working at the BBC in my early twenties, when a friend from New Zealand introduced me to yoga. After a very unsuccessful first class, we completed the Iyengar school’s two-week-long Introduction Course in Maida Vale, and I practised yoga regularly after that. Attending the weekly Iyengar classes helped me to cope with the busy lifestyle and work pressures during my time there.

When I returned to South Africa in 2004, I was offered to attend a yoga teacher training course with Ina Fourie, owner of Move Yoga Studio in Pretoria. I started to teach at my Taekwondo dojo in Randburg and at a Montessori Pre and Primary School, as they were the first schools to be open to including yoga as part of their curriculum. During my first three years of teaching, I completed my BA degree through UNISA and realised that I wanted to pursue yoga as a full-time career.

In 2008 I went to India and completed my second 200-hour Hatha teacher training at Yoga Vidya Dam, near Nasik. This ashram became my yoga home in India, and I returned several times to complete their advanced therapy and pre-natal training courses. In 2016 I completed a 500-hour Transformational Yoga Teacher Training with Swami Vidyanand in Pondicherry and was officially appointed as the director of Yoga Alliance International Africa that same year.

3. Could you provide some background information about the Yoga Alliance International Africa for South Africans unfamiliar?

Yoga Alliance International Africa® is a division of Yoga Alliance International founded by Swami Vidyanand. Yoga Alliance International® awards the title of Certified Yoga School (CYS®) to yoga schools and training centres whose education programs and values meet international standards and abide by its ethical code of conduct. Being a YAI-certified school or teacher means being part of a worldwide network of yoga education providers working together as a community to spread the authentic values of yoga worldwide. We are unique in that we offer lifetime membership without any annual subscription fees and have local directors based in each country to assist schools and teachers with the registration process and to offer ongoing support and guidance.

4. The popularity of yoga has significantly increased in recent years. As someone promoting and advancing yoga practice, what challenges and misconceptions have you faced, and how do you address them?

The biggest misconception in South Africa is that yoga is a religion or that practising yoga will negatively impact those who are religious. Yoga is the art and science of living, a proven method to improve your physical, emotional and mental well-being. The word yoga means union, bringing into balance the mind and body. My students and teacher trainees come from many different religious backgrounds, including Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, atheists, etc. They have all commented that their yoga practice has greatly benefited them and has helped to deepen their spiritual and religious practices.

The second misconception is that you need to be very flexible to practice yoga and do advanced asanas immediately to attend a class. There are hundreds of styles of yoga to suit every body type and to give you what you most need- strength, flexibility, health, relaxation, peace of mind, etc. It will depend greatly on the teacher and the style of yoga you are practising. Hatha, Iyengar, Sivananda, Bihar, Yin, and Restorative styles can be practised by anyone at any level of fitness and flexibility. Ashtanga, Vinyasa, Aerial, Hot Flow, etc, are stronger and will suit those looking for a more physically challenging class. If you are unsure, ask the teacher before attending and let them know you are a beginner so they can direct you to the best classes and teachers to begin your yoga journey with.

5. Ensuring quality and professionalism in the yoga industry requires proper yoga teacher training and certification. To maintain high standards in South Africa, how does the Yoga Alliance International Africa support and regulate teacher training programs?

This is the reason why organisations such as Yoga Alliance International exist. Our mandate is to ensure that the minimum standards for schools and teachers are met before we will issue a certificate. They have to complete a detailed application form and submit several supporting documents that the local YAI director then verifies. We encourage our members to continue their education and keep up to date with current research and developments through attending ongoing seminars, workshops and training. Once they are registered, they need to follow the YAIs code of conduct and ethics or risk losing their membership. Yoga Alliance International’s school certification includes the opportunity for all certified schools to offer continuing education to their students through YAI’s Continuing Professional Development program.

Unfortunately, there are many yoga teachers who still need entry-level qualification (200-hour teaching certificate) or schools offering teacher training courses without the required qualifications and years of teaching experience. If a student sees the YAI logo on the studio’s website, it is an assurance that the teacher or school has been fully vetted and should they encounter any problems, they can contact the local country’s director to make a complaint. This ensures that teachers, schools and studios are held accountable should they not uphold the yoga community international standards of teaching and integrity.

6. Yoga is more than just a physical exercise; it also focuses on spiritual and mental health. In what ways do you think yoga can help with mental health issues and promote overall well-being?

Several research studies have been conducted since the 1950s on the efficacy of yoga as a therapeutic tool. The NHS in the UK is facing challenges from increasing levels of chronic illness, a lack of funding and often over-stretched workforce. Yoga in the NHS provides a non-invasive, cost-effective, easy-to-use solution that can help address these important issues.

In South Africa, many doctors prescribe yoga to their patients for a wide range of conditions, including back pain, high blood pressure, chronic fatigue, stress, etc. Certain medical aid plans are also now allowing members to claim for pre and post-natal yoga classes. I have been running yoga therapy courses for the past four years, and my graduates include medical doctors, physiotherapists, and psychiatrists, which indicates that yoga has a truly broad scope of applications across the medical field. A yoga therapist will develop an individual practice for the patient and focus on using the various tools of yoga (postures, breathing, relaxation, meditation, and cleansing practices) to improve their condition and reduce stress.

The rise in patients being diagnosed with depression, anxiety, substance abuse and PTSD post covid is placing a huge strain on government and privately run mental health institutions. Yoga offers an affordable and accessible adjunct treatment for these conditions.  

7. Aspiring yoga teachers and entrepreneurs often need help establishing and maintaining a thriving yoga business. What guidance can you offer to overcome this challenge?

Worldwide the yoga market size was valued at $37,462.5 million in 2019 and is projected to reach $66,226.4 million by 2027. The business side of yoga is often overlooked in most teacher training courses or is only briefly touched on. As such, it would be beneficial for studio owners to develop their social media and marketing skills (there are many short, affordable online courses available) or to fully outsource this to tap into this multi-million dollar industry.

Post covid it is important to include online and offline offerings at your studio as this will greatly increase your potential reach. I have students attend my classes from Zanzibar, the UK, as well as Cape Town and Pretoria. Aside from weekly classes, most studios will offer workshops and weekend retreats to help subsidise their income.

Yoga is a viable career choice in South Africa, with many successful studios flourishing, but it is important to have the right qualifications and experience needed to run a successful business.

8. As the director of Yoga Alliance International Africa, could you share any current or upcoming trends in the yoga industry that yoga teachers should know? Additionally, what steps can yoga teachers take to stay informed and adjust to these trends to remain influential and significant?

Many students are looking for a variety of classes and styles to help them balance their practice and receive the most benefits. Yoga schools that used only to offer one style of yoga now offer several, from the more intensely physical to the gentler, meditative options. As a teacher, it is necessary to continue to upskill and qualify in different styles to make you a valuable asset to any studio. Aerial and pole yoga are some of the newest trends incorporating a more acrobatic element. The styles and students you teach should align with your personal interest. If you enjoy teaching pregnant yogis or kids’ yoga, wonderful add-on courses are available.

As I mentioned earlier, online classes remain popular post covid. These classes require more specialised sound and video equipment and a very stable internet connection. These classes are extremely convenient and cost-saving for students as they no longer need to travel to the studio to attend classes. A special set of skills is needed to teach online to keep the classes fun and interactive. Zoom is the most popular platform for yoga studios, so familiarising yourself with its many features will be helpful.

 As perceptions are shifting, there is a gradual increase in the number of men attending classes in South Africa and worldwide. Most beginners feel more comfortable with a male teacher, so there may be an increase in demand. As they attend classes to work on pain management and manage stress levels, you can market these types of classes specifically for your male students. To remain up to date on current trends, follow the bigger studio’s social media accounts and see what they are offering and how they are marketing themselves to their audience.

9. Our platform's audience consists of different association members in South Africa. What are some ways these associations can maintain engagement among their members?

Interestingly some older methods, such as sending out monthly or quarterly newsletters, still seem to be the most effective means of maintaining engagement with association members. Yoga Alliance International Africa has online meetings twice a year with members to discuss the development of schools and courses in South Africa. One of our main goals that align with our members is to make yoga accessible to all South Africans by offering community-based classes in township schools and church halls. By focusing on topics that our members are interested in, they want to engage with us further.

 Before any official meetings, an email is sent, asking members what topics they would like to include in the agenda. The response is always positive as our members want to be active participants in the organisation and contribute towards its growth.

10. What are your thoughts on the future of yoga in Africa, and what goals do you have in mind? How can the Yoga Alliance International Africa promote positive change and expand access to yoga in Africa?

From its humble beginnings in the 1940s through the Diving Life Society of Swami Sivananda in Durban till the 1960s with Kavi Yogiraj Mani Finger developing the Ishta system of yoga, the seeds were planted in African soil for the development of Yoga in South Africa. I’ve been fortunate enough to be part of the yoga industry for over 15 years to observe its evolution personally. Johannesburg is finally catching up to the Mother City in terms of the number and accessibility of beautiful yoga studios and events on offer. Pretoria has also seen exceptional growth in the number of schools opening in the last 5 years.

The Indian Consulate expects over 3000 participants at the International Yoga Day event in Wanderers Cricket Stadium in Johannesburg on the 24th of June, 2023. This is just one of many large-scale events happening in South Africa in June to celebrate the rise of yoga worldwide.

YAI Africa wants to see this enthusiasm and love of yoga expand well beyond South Africa’s borders into all of Africa. Yoga Alliance International has ambassadors based in Mozambique, Zanzibar, and Egypt. These are passionate yogis with a social conscience helping to offer affordable classes, training, and courses in these countries to local residents. The funds we receive through the registrations go toward sponsoring trainees that will then be able to offer high-quality classes to the students that need them the most.

I consider it a privilege to have been appointed as the Director of Yoga Alliance International Africa. I represent an organisation that has the ability and reaches to positively impact many lives. Yoga is the gift we have received from the ancient sages to help us create a world where compassion, kindness, honesty, and generosity abound in all of us.