Asaf Hacmon is an experienced Iyengar Yoga teacher and the Founder and Director of LiveYoga, a thriving yoga studio in Amsterdam. He is also the creator and presenter of SkyTeam’s latest venture – in-flight yoga tutorials. Inspired by this innovative yoga venture, YogaLondon Blog got in touch with Asaf to find out more about him and his teaching.
YogaLondon Blog (YL): What inspired you to go from being a student to a teacher of yoga?
Asaf Hacmon (AH): Since my first lesson in 1998, yoga had been a part of my daily life. However, it wasn’t always the plan to become a yoga teacher. I worked as a lawyer, then as a director in the corporate world, working long hours and notching up the frequent flier miles. After a while, I began to feel the effects of stress and my health began to deteriorate, so I decided to take a break which gave me more time to focus on yoga.
As I practiced more I knew wanted to deepen my knowledge of yoga, so I began a three year teacher training course, during which time I also took the opportunity to travel to India, New York and Israel to learn from senior teachers, as well as the spiritual home of Iyengar yoga, the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute in Pune.
This was an inspiring but also difficult time, as I had no income and wasn’t sure if I was going to return to the corporate life. Then, as I came near the end of my teacher training, I shifted the furniture around in my living room and informally began teaching a few people. Those students turned into a few more, and gradually I was teaching at home nearly every day.
YL: What was the inspiration behind setting up your own yoga studio?
AH: The inspiration was that I ran out of room at home! The other catalyst was that I met a woman who moved in and became my wife, and she wasn’t that keen on 12 students turning up to do yoga every evening. So I looked around for a nice, bright space to rent and signed the contract, thinking, “How hard can it be?”
YLB: How hard was it, setting up and running your own yoga studio?
AH: Quite hard! I have a way of underestimating things thinking it will be a piece of cake and I throw myself into it. A week into the project and I was holding my head in my hands with the enormity of it all.
Setting it up was one thing, but managing it is another challenge. At the beginning I took on every aspect of the business and it was like having two or more full-time jobs. I found that I had little time for self-practice and I was constantly switching roles from manager to teacher with little time to prepare. I’m better at it now – but it’s a balancing act I’ve had to learn.
The second ongoing challenge of setting up my own yoga studio is that I personally feel that it’s important to have a consistent teaching philosophy from all the teachers at the school, but this can be difficult with teachers coming and going.
YLB: The SkyTeam job of coming up with yoga tutorials for frequent fliers must have been an exciting job – tell us more.
AH: Actually coming up with the yoga itself was the easy part and I felt happy and excited to do it. Initially I came up with a series of yoga tips to have as part of the printed material, then SkyTeam and its ad agency in Paris evolved this idea into two video tutorials, one for the in-flight entertainment system and the other for business lounges.
Being part of the production was interesting and new for me. The videos were mainly filmed at London’s Heathrow airport, starting at 7am in the morning and not finishing till really late, and I had to have my make up done and perform to camera. It was an eye-opener for me to spend the day around professionals in their field.
YLB: Tell us a bit more about the inspiration for the in-flight yoga sequence.
AH: The sequences I put together were inspired by the yogic concept of viniyoga, as taught by Krishnamacharya, and later on by B.K.S. Iyengar, one of the great visionaries of yoga therapy. Viniyoga means that we need to continuously learn to apply yoga to our particular situation and life circumstances. When you are sitting for 9 or 10 hours at a stretch in a chair on a long-haul flight, there are certain physiological changes that take effect. Using the breath, mindful attention and connecting with the physical body means that even in these constricted circumstances that person can find a moment of yoga.
To research the business lounge video I also had to put myself in the shoes (literally) of the frequent flier. The yoga had to work in smart casual clothes, with shoes on or off, for complete beginners and for advanced yoga travellers. It had to be all these things, while still being genuine and not a gimmick.
YLB: Do you think yoga teachers need to be more creative about how and where yoga is taught?
AH: By all means. I honestly think that there is a great need for more yoga in the community, especially in hospitals and homes for the elderly.
This observation is based on personal experience, as four years ago I was taken seriously ill and was in bed for a month. When I recovered it took weeks to re-learn how to walk. At the time it struck me that a yoga room in hospitals could be a positive space for in-patients, both physically and psychologically.
The same applies for the elderly. Old age is such a different trip, I feel that there is so much scope to improve their quality of life. At the moment they are mainly dependent on the medical system and drugs, but there is great potential for a yoga teacher to connect the elderly with their bodies, allow mindfulness and strengthen both body and spirit.
YLB: What advice would you give a newly-qualified yoga teacher?
AH: Practice, practice, practice! Remain a student, by always learning new things. Don’t be happy to stay still in what you know.
Don’t forget the essence of what brought you to practice yoga in the first place — in the process of taking ourselves out into the business world it can be easy to get lost in the commercial venture.
Don’t be afraid or shy. It’s an ancient subject, but the sages of thousands of years ago aren’t here now. The message of yoga is ours to take out into the world now — it has to be alive and relevant to the people of today.
YLB: What has been the inspiration for your personal yoga journey?
AH: There are two moments that were inspirational for me and that motivate my personal practice. Meeting Mr. Iyengar in Pune in 2007 was very inspiring, practicing around him and hearing him teach. It was amazing to think that this one man had such a global impact, deeply touching the lives of so many people.
The other moment that has stayed with me is entering my first yoga class in Amsterdam and in the middle of the room was an 85 year old man, standing on his head, for ten minutes. I couldn’t take my eyes off him. He was defying gravity and conventional wisdom and I thought, “I want to grow old THAT way.” That old man is with me, inside, every day.
YogaLondon Blog would like to express our sincere thanks to Asaf Hacmon for chatting to us – it’s been inspirational. If you’re as inspired as we are, why not go and learn from him in person on one of his international yoga retreats in Holland or the Algarve. For more details click here.