Hamish Hendry got into yoga quite by chance as he strived to improve his general fitness at a young age. His personal yoga journey has been long and winding. It has even included teaching the homeless with the simple aim of sharing what he knew.
His intrigue in this revered practice took him deeper down the path of understanding and mastery to the point where he has now introduced thousands of people to yoga over the last number of years, along with his excellent team at Astanga Yoga London.
Hamish believes that with the increasing commercialisation of the yoga industry, being authentic is a strength that has helped Astanga Yoga London to thrive.
It all started when I was seventeen. At the time, I couldn’t touch my toes. I wasn’t a particularly sporty person either but knew I wanted to do something to change this. The first thing I remember doing was borrowing a book from my local library on yoga as I thought it could help me increase my fitness and flexibility at the same time.
After some initial research and practice, I found that asana came easy to me, probably because I was still quite young.
I didn’t want to teach yoga initially because I saw the potential pitfall of developing an ego if I went down that path while still so young inexperienced.
It wasn’t until ten years later that I dipped my toes into teaching and by offering a few classes locally. It was an incredibly steep learning curve for me. In retrospect, I’m glad I did eventually make the move into teaching.
Yoga is the foundation of everything my life. I cannot imagine life without yoga. I always have yoga in my mind no matter where I go or what I am doing.
Yoga quite literally changed my life. I gradually became a vegetarian, stopped drinking alcohol, and I stopped smoking. Yoga allowed it to happen organically, as opposed to being forceful.
[Laughs] My teacher training was definitely not like the courses I see people going through these days.
I learned from the founder of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga, Shri K. Pattabhi Jois, whom we called Guruji, which means spiritual teacher. Teacher training for me was watching Guruji intently and learning directly from him. As a result, I believe that I’ve learned yoga in the best possible way. There is no substitute for authenticity when you have the opportunity to learn from someone who is a true master of their craft.
My teacher training has mostly been “on the job” and “on the mat.” I’ve also studied the various classical texts, Sanskrit, and human anatomy.
I’ve been teaching yoga for over twenty years now. Everything that I teach comes either directly from Guruji, from my own practice, or from seeing seventy students every day.
I’ve not been challenged too much so far as a yoga teacher, I’m glad to say. However, I imagine that the most difficult challenge will be when I have to stop teaching yoga for whatever reason; especially given it is something I immensely enjoy. I think it will make me sad.
In my experience, there are two key factors to growing your career as a yoga teacher.
The most fulfilling part of being a yoga teacher for me has always been experiencing when a student finally ‘gets it’ in yoga.
Whether it’s the Surya Namaskar or standing up from a Drop Back, or obtaining a glimpse of Samadhi, I always get a sense of satisfaction when a student finally achieves what they have been working at.
When this happens, I know I’ve done a good job, but more importantly, that the student is moving forwards in more ways than one.
Yes, it was tough. I started with only one or two students, and it remained at this level for about six months. I did no marketing at all, so any customers I was able to attract found me through word of mouth recommendations.
I subsequently built up my student base by meeting and talking to as many people as I possibly could. I found this to be invaluable to get the word out about what I had to offer and helped me a lot in building awareness.
For me, the key to attracting new students is all about being authentic and being yourself. This is something I learned early on and was something I knew I needed to be mindful of if I wanted to build a lasting business.
It’s easy to show off with yoga, and many people fall into this trap to the detriment of their reputations and their business. I was focused on being myself, treating everyone with respect, and being a nice person. This has helped me a lot in growing my business.
All our students commit to coming in a minimum of three times a week and pay for a month up front. They know what they are getting into and so they keep coming back.
Yoga is a lifelong commitment and needs to be taught and learned at the right pace. I don’t give away all my teaching in one go. I try to form a good student-teacher relationship. Only through knowing your students well can you help them.
A friend of mine, John Scott, was already teaching in London and I was in Edinburgh, Scotland, at the time. He wanted to move on so asked me to take over the class. That’s how Astanga Yoga London got started.
At that time there were only eighteen people. Since then, we’ve had thousands of people pass through AYL.
This can be summed up in one word: respect.
This is something that we are very serious about at AYL. We respect Guruji’s teachings, the Ashtanga system, and all of the students here at AYL.
Key to the success of AYL is the fact that we are there for our students every day.
Our practice is to teach as best we can to each person individually. Consequently, my students always know that I will be there for them any day and anytime. Our students know that they can call us up and have that all-important cuppa when they want to with us.
This isn’t something we’ve planned but is something that we believe in and because it comes across as being sincere, it has helped us to grow AYL to where it is today.
I’m in the same boat as many yoga teachers; I can’t stand the paper work. But you have to get to grips with it.
So what I do is I just set aside time, meditate on it, take the dog for a walk, go to the cinema and hopefully, I will get round to it the next day.
All the other stuff that needs doing to run a shala (a place for learning yoga) I get help with from a great team of teachers, assistants, and cleaners. We all muck in together. It’s our home.
Often the business side is easier than you imagine and there is plenty of online advice. And, you obviously have to stay inside the law!
My most important piece of advice would be to go and apprentice with someone you respect.
This is not something you want to rush. I would advise people to do a minimum of five years daily practice before you consider teaching.
Beyond this, I would suggest choosing your teacher training well, especially given some are, at best, doubtful.
Pushpam is a magazine we started a couple of years ago. There’s no ads, no how to do asana and no hot yoga pants. We just keep it real and focus on yoga beyond asana. We’re about to publish our third issue.
Pushpam means flower in Sanskrit. In India, a flower is used in ceremonies as an offering to God, marking special occasions or even to mourn the dead. A flower, in the full of its life, yields nectar and often turns into fruit and seed. Yet its existence is temporary for at some point it perishes and returns to the ground from whence it came. It is both the beginning and the end.
In our urban lives, a flower popping through a concrete pavement’s crack reminds us that beauty and life are not far away. We hope this magazine will be an offering and sow many seeds.
In addition to this, we have R. Sharath Jois coming over in August. He is the lineage holder of Ashtanga Yoga. We’ll have about 350 students to manage. Actually, my amazing wife, Anna, does that.
Also, we have a couple of workshops around the country and abroad and a symposium or two.
So, in addition to my regular morning classes and spending time with my family, I have enough to keep me occupied at the moment!