Teacher Feature: Carole Toutoungui

October 4, 2017

How and when did you start practicing yoga?

About 4 or 5 years ago, I joined a 3-month self-development program at the end of which I was introduced to meditation. I fell in love with it and I started reading a lot about it and through it I was introduced to yoga. I'm actually a pharmacist so from the start, anatomy in yoga was the main attraction to me; how the body moves and how you can open the heart through backbends, how you can release certain feelings hiding in your hips using hip openers and all these things. It made me want to study yoga, I became very curious. I started practicing whenever I could but it wasn't too regular. Later on, I went to Ecuador for a Vinyasa Teacher Training, which I joined just to learn about the anatomy and the philosophy of yoga with zero intention to teach. Even after I finished the training I went back home and didn’t look for teaching opportunities, it came by complete chance. Someone I knew opened a studio and they needed a yoga teacher and approached me and I said that I don't want to teach. I was a pharmacist and it just wasn't in my plan at all to do something different. I only took the training to learn more about yoga. I decided that I was going to give it a chance and I'll just teach once a week, maybe I'll end up being a good teacher! People really enjoyed the classes so they asked for more and we increase to twice a week and then other studios got in touch with me and asked me to teach there as well. I started teaching Vinyasa for maybe a year and then I fell in love with Ashtanga.


Why did you choose Ashtanga then to become your main path to yoga?

At this point, Hatha is very slow for me. I love it but maybe I'm going to be into it at a different stage in my life. I believe that each type of yoga can be the type that you need at a certain stage in your life and maybe it works for you because this is where you are now. So, when I started with Vinyasa, it really helped me move freely; every day you can work on something different, today back bends, tomorrow hip openers. It's very flexible in its system and it opened a channel for me with all its options. I still do it every now and then. I do Ashtanga 6 times a week now but some days I wake up and I feel like I want to do something different and I do Vinyasa.


Ashtanga is very systematic, It’s very disciplined. You need to follow the sequence in a certain way and there are a lot of guidelines that you need to follow. I think that after my experience with Vinyasa I needed something like Ashtanga. I had a base to yoga but I wanted to build a daily practice and I wanted some kind of system. The dedication that you need for the Ashtanga Primary Series, for instance, is something that I needed in my life. So, I found myself practicing on a daily basis taking it very slowly not rushing to the next pose if I'm not ready for it. I later did another 300-hour teacher training in Ashtanga, in Mysore. I went back home and I practiced more then I went to Pattahbi Jois Institute and I practiced with Saraswathi. I knew then I wanted to both practice and teach Ashtanga. I wanted to focus more on the Ashtanga yoga tradition, how we teach it, and I wanted to be able to share it here in Cairo, in New Cairo specifically, for people to start learning about it.

You come from a pharmaceutical background, how did yoga make you view pharmaceuticals and medicine in general differently, in terms of the relationship between the body and the mind?

After going deeper and deeper into yoga and doing my Reiki Master training in Dharamsala, which is all about energy healing, it definitely made me think differently about what I studied and how the mental, emotional and physical states can actually affect each other. If you don't feel well and you don't deal with it, it could go to your subconscious mind and over time it goes deeper and deeper and if you don't tackle what's going on it goes and hides somewhere in your body. That's why sometimes women get cysts on the ovary because they carry so much feelings that they don't deal with and they go hide around the Sacral Chakra. Also, when you burden yourself with responsibilities and unnecessary things, it appears in your neck and your back and it affects your body. So whenever we feel something hurts, we go to the pharmacy or to the doctor and he tells you to take medicine but sometimes it's actually something emotional. Yoga made me change the way I see medications. Now when I use them, and I still use them sometimes, I try to make sure that I'm aware of what my body really needs. 


What do you think of the concept of "enlightenment", the idea that people think that there's just one lightbulb that goes on and then everything starts falling into place?

You reminded me of one of my teachers who told us this story: There was a guru who had a student who use to clean the shala, the place where they practice, every day. He would join the class in the morning and after the class he would clean up. One day, he was meditating and he had a very spiritual experience and he thought this was enlightenment. He went running to his guru and told him "Guru, do you know what happened? I just reached enlightenment! I can't believe it happened! What should I do now?" 


To which the Guru replied, "Now you can go back to cleaning the shala!". The moral of the story here is to keep doing what you are doing, life goes on even if you reach this kind balance or enlightenment. I believe that there are some moments in life that are very balanced on the emotional, mental and physical states where you feel “enlightened” but then it comes down to how you can live through that balance on a daily basis and deal with life with its ups and downs. You need to be able to work on yourself with the same balance without losing it. It’s very easy to lose that balance or that feeling so we have to learn how to live with it and work on maintaining it. That's how I see it.


We have a question from Shorouk Foda who wants you to tell us more about your diet.

I'm currently a pescatarian. I grew up eating everything. later on, I became vegetarian for a while then I started introducing seafood and now I'm pescatarian. Every stage came naturally to me and wasn’t forced in anyway. Now, I try to avoid too much dairy but I don't really substitute them from my diet. 


Speaking of your diet, a lot of people think that doing yoga is synonymous with being vegetarian or vegan. What's your take on this?

This is completely untrue. We are all different and our needs are different so each person should just follow the diet that they believe is good for them. if it feels good then it's right. There is no meaning in putting so much pressure on this, there are more important things that we need to work on to yoga on the personal level than whether or not we eat dairy products. What works for you is not going to work for me and vice versa. Telling someone what to eat is very nonsensical to me and I see many people commenting on that. We should try to connect to our bodies, how we feel about it and try to figure out what it actually needs. Being a Yogi and being vegan or vegetarian are not tied together, you don't need to have a certain diet to be able to do yoga. You start doing yoga and things will come your way. Maybe you’ll feel that you want to omit or add things to your diet, so go ahead and do this gradually but the main thing is that you will become more connected to your body which is one of the main benefits, changing your diet is not a rule to doing yoga.

We have another question from Salma Sultan: What advice do you have for new yoga teacher and how to deal with getting rejected from teaching at studios?

My advice for teachers is that the most important thing is to maintain your own practice. There are many teachers who don't practice and if you don't practice you will not be able to teach certain things. When you do it yourself, you know how your body responds to it and you can understand how different bodies will respond to it, how to get proper alignment, with a good gaze, relaxed shoulders and neck, for example, and you can help your students more this way. But if you don't do it yourself it’s very hard to teach. About rejection, if you're rejected than there are so many other studios. It doesn't mean that you're rejected from doing yoga or that you're a bad teacher. In my very first teacher training my teacher came up to me and told me she doesn't think I'm going to pass at the end of the training because of my physical level. She was concerned about my practice and told me that if I want to leave, I should leave now and just enjoy Ecuador! At that point I didn't care too much about the certificate because I didn't want to teach back then, I just wanted to learn. So instead, I woke up two hours before everybody else to practice on my own so I can improve my practice and I ended up getting the certificate. If one door closes, another will always open. Don't give up, it will all come. Just practice and all is coming, as they say. 


Also from Salma: How do you find your own style.

If you practice and you start teaching and be yourself, you will automatically find your own style. There isn't really a magical way to have a style. You will have different people teaching Ashtanga, each one will have their own way. It's all about who you are and how you do things more than just picking a style.


Is there something that you'd like to add or tell people?

There are many people who ask me about yoga, they really want to practice but they think they're not fit for yoga. People always tell me I will lose weight and then I will come to your class. I just want to remind people that you don't need to be anything to do yoga. You don't need to be thin to do yoga, you don't need to be flexible to do yoga. You just need to come and do yoga and through it, you will be flexible and you’ll be many more things.

• • •

To practice with Carole, you can join her daily Ashtanga Mysore classes at The Sequence - Ashtanga Yoga Shala, Sundays through Thursdays between 6:00am to 9:30am. Beginners are to join a workshop on Saturday, 14th of October from 11:00am to 1:00pm before joining regular classes.



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