Teacher Feature: Hannah Taha

Yoga is taking over, slowly but steadily, reaching more people and more countries. It’s taking over our bodies, our minds and souls in the most gracious, life-altering way. It’s also taking over Instagram and when it comes to that, a few names and faces pop in mind, and two prominent ones in the Middle East: sisters Amina and Hannah Taha. Two weeks ago I sat with Hannah who is even sweeter, more beautiful, more elegant and more bendy in real life. We sat right before her workshop in which she twisted and turned me inside out in ways I never thought I could! Here’s what we talked about.

How did you get introduced to yoga?

Around three years ago, I was sitting on my desk, studying, cramming for exams then my sister comes in and said “Let’s go to a yoga class!” I remember being really stressed out and yoga was the last thing on my mind, I really did not want to go. She’s like “Come on, let’s go please.” I was like okay fine I’ll just go so you shut up. And, I remember as soon as we went, it was a Hatha class, and for the whole hour and a half I didn’t think of my problems, I wasn’t stressed about exams, I didn’t think about anything and I walked out feeling serene. I loved that feeling and ever since then I kept going back there every week actually for a year as well as practicing on my own. Then, after falling in love with it more and more every single day, I decided that I’m going to do my teacher training and I did that last summer and this summer I’m going to do my 500hr.

When and how did you start reaping yoga’s non-physical benefits?

I had been practicing handstands and seeing these cool photos and I wanted to do them but I could never balance. I wasn’t strong enough at first and my back is pretty flexible so I always fall back into a wheel. I was practicing and practicing and I kept falling and I couldn’t stay for two seconds. And I remember being really frustrated and then I took a moment and I was like why am I getting frustrated? This is nothing. I shouldn’t be attached to getting my handstand. I’m completely ruining the purpose of yoga when I’m becoming attached to holding a pose when it’s really all about the journey. And ever since then, I kind of just took a step back and thought about what really matters. No one cares if I can hold my handstand or not. It doesn’t matter, it doesn’t define me. I think since then I kind of just appreciate my body for it can do and I just take everything slow. What happens, happens. With practice, I know it will come over time. I just shouldn’t be super concerned as to when it comes.

What was the least expected thing yoga helped you with?

Patience, for sure. I remember before my yoga practice, I was really close-minded in a way. I would always think that when anything bad happens, I’d say “This sucks, why is this happening to me?” Whereas now, when something bad or unexpected happens, I look at it from a different perspective. Okay, this is supposed to be happening, everything is good. Just be patient with it, the good part is still coming.

When and how did yoga become a lifestyle for you, a part of you?

I think the first year I was practicing yoga, it was more physical. I of course cared about the mental side of it but it was mostly doing my poses and working on my breath. I never read the yoga sutras. I never practiced anything like that and I used to smoke a lot at the time actually. About a year into it, I started reading more and more about it. I read about non-violence and this one really stuck to me because I always thought of violence outwardly, I stopped eating meat and chicken as this is violence to animals but I was harming myself in so many different ways. I was surrounding myself with toxic relationships or smoking or doing other things that are violent in a non-typical way. Later, I started really paying attention to these small things and I ended so many friendships, I stopped smoking, I just became overall healthier as a person.

How do you maintain a consistent practice?

By staying motivated. I know this sounds very broad to say but what I mean by that is, surrounding yourself with people who inspire you, people who motivate you. Even opening up Facebook and seeing photos of people doing yoga made me want to practice. I remember I was in school and I would watch videos of Kino practicing and I would say I wish this was me, I wish I was doing these sun salutations. I would look forward to going home and just practicing every day. Sometimes, I would go a few days without practicing but I think that's normal. Overall, I think as long as you have your practice in your head, as a part of you, you'll never forget about it. You can go a week without practicing but you know that the next day you practice, it's still a part of who you are.

How did you and your sister starting yoga together affect your relationship?

Amina is ultimately my best friend. The fact that we had started yoga together and were going through this journey together but individually, brought us closer in a way. We'd always want to try new poses together, we'd always try acro and fail miserably! We'd always do so many yoga-related things together, we did our teacher training together, we'd go to classes together, we'd go to flexibility classes. It's just something that really bonded us together. And I’m really thankful for that. I mean, she's the reason I started yoga in the first place so without her I wouldn't be here but I'm really thankful that this happened for us at the same time.

How do feel about yoga taking over Instagram? About some people thinking that this doesn't represent yoga properly?

So, when I was doing my teacher training last summer, the teacher was very anti-Instagram. She was really against ‘fancy poses’ as she’d call them. She'd make us spend 20 minutes in a plank or a side plank or tree pose. She was very simple and she'd always pick on me for doing backbends and things that my body felt natural doing. But I felt like in a way, it can be intimidating if I'm going to a yoga class and I see photos of someone in a very contortionist-type pose and I would get kind of discouraged maybe if I'm perhaps a little older, or if I have zero flexibility. But at the same time I do feel like yoga is whatever you make it to be. You can meditate, you can stay in pigeon pose for 20 minutes, you can do your standing postures, you can backbend, you can do whatever you want. Each person has their own yoga and just because I post photos in poses that maybe not everyone knows how to do, obviously doesn't mean that I'm only going to teach that. It means that maybe this is what people like to see, this is what attracts people. It's kind of like promoting yourself in a way.

Advice for people who are new to yoga?

When you first walk into your class, have the mindset of "Today I'm just going to get on my mat, I'm going to see what happens. I'm not attached to doing my headstand, I'm not attached to having a perfect wheel, I'm not attached to anything except simply being and listening to the teacher.” I feel that a lot of new students try to get into yoga with the mindset that they're not beginners, which is fine, a lot of times our ego gets in the way, we know it. But, ultimately you are where you are whether you like it or not and when you're a beginner you can easily get injured and you can have a body part that gets messed up for life and you really don't want that. So basically, take it slow and easy.

Advice for teachers?

Listen to your students. A lot of times teachers will teach what they want not knowing that that's maybe not what the student wants which is fine, but you also kind of have to listen to your audience. Students for example want to learn headstand and some teachers would say no they’re not ready but really you can say, maybe you can try doing a headstand with the wall or maybe you can try holding this pose so that you can do a headstand later. I feel like a lot of students get discouraged from going back to yoga because their teacher says things that make them feel like they're not progressing.

Why do you practice yoga?

The best way to say it is that I practice yoga to stay healthy. I don’t practice just for my body, but for my mind as well. Yoga is really the way of life: kind, compassionate, looking at things from different perspectives. It's what yoga is for me.