The Teacher

The Teacher 

Jan Watson


I’m Jan Watson and I teach Iyengar Yoga at The Progress Hall in Mission Beach. I have been an accredited Hatha Yoga Teacher since 1991 and a certified Iyengar Yoga Teacher since in 1997.

Firstly though, I was just a student of Hatha Yoga; Studying to teach came later. I began attending Hatha yoga classes in 1974 when I lived in Sydney. My journey into this amazing system continues today.

I have absolute faith in the yoga system. I have the experience and knowledge to ignite your curiosity or to guide you, in looking at yoga as an alternate way to help resolve issues you may have.

My teachers have all varied in their approach to teaching. To quote an old adage: “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear”. It seems an absolutely truth for me when I look back at the teachers who have come into my life over the years. 

My First Experience

It was in Sydney in 1974. I was 20, she was a glamorous yoga teacher and a TV personality, called Bette Calman. She had a yoga segment on the TV show ‘A Touch of Elegance‘. Dressed in cat suits or leotards with fine net stockings, with full makeup and her perfect, platinum, blond, hair she cut a very elegant figure. She was amazingly flexible, adept and strong — she was able to hold her entire weight on her hands and arms (arm balances). The classes were always full and attendants walked the room to help students while Bette demonstrated and taught from the stage.

She recently came to public attention again on you tube — doing arm balances. She was 86. Bette Calman was one of the pioneers of yoga in Australia and was introduced to and taught yoga by Michael Volin.

Father of Yoga in Australia

Michael Volin, Swami Karmananda, I met in Adelaide several years on. A Russian, bought up in China who had a rare opportunity of studying not only traditional Indian Yoga, but Chinese and Tibetan schools of this philosophy. In the late 1930s he joined Indra Devi (a famous yogini) in setting up a yoga school in China. He migrated to Australia and in 1950, and set up the first yoga school here, in Sydney.

An important lesson he taught me, was to never underestimate the basic poses. He had us sit in Swastikasana – easy cross legs. To me this was just a tad too easy. However, 10 minutes on, we were still sitting, Michael was talking but I don’t remember much about what — my hips just wanted the pose to finish. 

As did many traditional yogis, Michael can be seen practicing on a tiger skin in his book “Essence of Yoga” 1963. He was renowned as a yoga teacher throughout the western world and often referred to as the ‘Father of Yoga’ in Australia.  

Orange Robes and Ashrams

Satyenanda Yoga teachers are synonymous with orange robes and Ashrams. They teach Yoga Nidra, an effective and simple meditation lying down. Their signature series is the Pawanmuktasana Series. This is a systematic progress of joint movement through to dynamic energy practices. These are practiced at the beginning of class to loosen your joints.

The Satyenanda teachers have a gift for instructing classes from a platform, they do not do any manual adjustments. Along with asanas they also teach pranayama techniques, and the 6 classical Hatha Yoga techniques called the ‘Shat Karmas’. 

It’s worthy to mention that the ‘Shat Karmas’ are practiced to eliminate toxins and impurities of the gross body. At a weekend under supervision a small group of us were taken through several of these practices.

Neti involving washing out the nasal passages with luke warm, salty water

Shankha Prakshalana to clean out the stomach to anus. On an empty stomach we drank luke warm, salty water, 2 cups at a time, followed by a set sequence of 5 asanas. This was repeated three times then we went to the toilet. The process is repeated until only clean water is evacuated. After resting some 45 minutes we were fed specially prepared food of ghee, rice and pulses. This diet was to continue for the next week.

Vaman Dhauti which cleans the region from stomach to mouth by voluntary vomiting. Again by drinking luke warm, salty water on an empty stomach.

The other Shat Karmas’ I learnt were :- i) Nauli, a method of massaging and strengthening the abdominal organs ii) Tongue scraping, care of teeth, ears and eyes. iii) Kapalabhati technique for purifying the front brain and iv) Trataka  intense gazing.

Santyenanda Ashrams (live in) are found throughout the world. One of many books they publish is ‘Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandhas’. An excellent and comprehensive text book on yoga.

My Qualifications

S.A. Institute of Yoga Teachers Association in 1991

BKS Iyengar Yoga Teachers Association in 1997

I undertook teacher training while in Adelaide and was fortunate to do a comprehensive 12 month correspondence course through Ananda Yoga in Pondicherry, India. There were 52 lessons covering Asanas, Pranayama, Kriyas, Philosophy, Mudras, Meditation, Anatomy, Therapy, Health through Diet, Yoga Nidras Techniques, the Chakras and Yoga Philosophy.

Each week assignments were given to complete and daily yoga routines were given to practice. Extra study was also set on such subjects as the Cause and function of pain; Functions of the body; History of Surya Namaskara; Health issues, Karma – the law of life and reading the Bhagavad Gita.

The course went hand in hand with attending two weekly yoga classes with certified Hatha Yoga teachers – IYTA and Yoga for Health teachers. Sandra Sebelis, also a Shiatsu practitioner was my main teacher. I demonstrated in her classes and she would answer any queries that came up from my studies. The other teacher of note was an IYTA teacher, Dana. She taught a strong and challenging class, having been influenced by an Iyengar yoga teacher called Pixie Lilas during her study.

A Diploma of Yoga Teaching was granted to me in 1991. After travel to Asia I settled in Cairns, where I taught my first yoga classes in 1992, in Gordonvale.

Iyengar Yoga

It is worth noting that both BKS Iyengar and Pattabhi Jois (Ashtanga Yoga) studied under Krishnamacharya and it was the Ashtanga Yoga Series (6 series in all) that they were taught. Iyengar went on to adapt and change his teaching of yoga, focusing on alignment and precision which developed into what is now known as Iyengar Yoga.

Also, his invention of props has transformed yoga as an accessible therapy, giving his style of teaching the nickname “furniture Yoga’.

His teaching took on the Hatha yoga sector by storm and often people equate the practice of asana only with the physical. However, Iyengar’s insistence is that this is also a path that can lead the dedicated practitioner to the integration of body, mind and soul; it is also a spiritual practice. 

BKS Iyengar was brilliant on any yoga and philosophical subject. His demonstration of yoga asanas were acute, sharp, impeccable — perfectly aligned, graceful and strong. Absolutely awe inspiring to see these demonstrations and to see his photos. The institute in Pune, India has grown into one of the importance centre of yoga in the world.

An introduction to Iyengar Yoga

Nicky Knoff and James Byran came into my life in 1993. An ad in the local paper advertising an Introduction to Iyengar Yoga – an 8 week Course at 129 Mulgrave Road, Cairns. Twenty students attended, and it was an absolute eye opener. The intense practice, the concise instructions and the ‘energy’ I felt after class. It was the turning point in yoga for me.

I went on to train with Nicky and James, as an apprentice for 3 years. Attending classes, practicing at home, studying anatomy and physiology, adjusting in classes and finally teaching for them. I became a Certified Iyengar yoga teacher in 1997.

Nicky was the most senior Iyengar Yoga Teacher in Australia at the time and is a no nonsense teacher. She challenges you, by holding you in poses for a very long time. She also insists that you practice head stand in the middle of the room. Also, she taught us arm balancings; handstands were taught in the third class in the Introduction to Iyengar Yoga Course and she introduces advanced poses. As a result your stamina improves and you gain confidence.

 James is a showman, his arm balancing poses are beautifully executed, he’s strong and he does an awesome Uddiyana Bandha and Nauli. It was James that taught us the technique of ‘falling out‘ of headstand.

During my apprenticeship, James also taught Ashtanga Yoga series 1 and 2. Both he and Nicky had trained with Pattabhi Jois in Mysore, India. The two styles complimented each other, the Iyengar with its precision, the Ashtanga with its movement and set sequences.

Upgrading Qualification

I continued to upgrade qualifications under Peter Scott who a group of us found in Noosa. Three of us ventured down to a 5 day Intensive. He gave very intricate details in his instructions and we were all lost! But, this was the next step for me in understanding how to move the muscles and joints and how the body functions and works. We thought we knew a lot, we didn’t. A reminder that you are forever learning.

It was the beginning of a 13 year study with Peter. He held annual workshops at my yoga centre in Cairns. I went down for blocks of classes, workshops, intensives and retreats with him. Our practice prior to any workshop or intensive was invaluable. It was here that I could ask questions and I further gleaned the finer techniques of Iyengar yoga.

Adjusting in workshops gave me the insight into what to look for in students’ actions and how to correct if needed. Demonstrating poses gave me the opportunity to be adjusted and to learn something new about the pose.

Peter’s teaching is exemplary and inspiring; his instructions are concise as he moves students to practice beyond their perceived limits. As an Naturopath, he has extensive knowledge of the body and how it functions. He has the ability to transforms your poses into effortless action through correcting alignment through the use of muscles and joints.

Peter is an Advanced Senior Iyengar teacher and continues to train teachers and hold workshops overseas.

Dr Geeta Iyengar

The pleasure of attending workshops with Dr. Geeta Iyengar and to study under her in Pune India has been absolutely amazing. I went up on stage with her on a retreat in Queensland. It was a Therapy session and I suffered tinnitus. Her knowledge just astounds me; how the ears are affected by the dorsal area, the position of the head and also the spine. The poses I was taught up on stage have stayed with me and I still practice them. I no longer suffer from tinnitus.

Practicing from her audio tapes of general classes and videos of teacher training and workshops have all  been immensely informative. You can listen or watch over and over and still come out with something new. Her instructions are such that even moving your big toe has an impact on your practice.

I met BKS Iyengar while in Pune and although I did not have the pleasure to be taught by him, he was often interrupting the class, to clarify points and of course he was often seen in the library.

Gulnaaz Dashti

I have recently returned from studying with Gulnaaz Dashti in Pune, India. I remember her from when I was in Pune in 2003. She was training to be a teacher under both Guruji and Geeta.

Getting back to basics with looking at the form of the poses. What do they look like?  The main purpose for beginners is to straighten the legs and arms. The basic poses teach what is needed in intermediate and advanced poses, I remembered the hips when I was sitting in Swastikasana. She has helped to connect the dots of understanding where the poses start and where they can lead.

She has inspired me with her knowledge of the poses and her clear instructions. The importance of keeping the joints and the importance of keeping the body, the joints and the muscles moving and also knowing the direction of movement. As well as never underestimate the basic poses. All this has been a reminder to me to KISS – Keep It Simple.

My Yoga Space

I opened my own space in 2001 – The Yoga Centre in Cairns at 129 Mulgrave Road. The same room I had attended the Iyengar Course with Nicky and James. I run it for 19 years; contracting teachers to teach for me and also renting out space to others teachers. I have organised and taught yoga retreats in Australia and in other countries, run Intensives, Courses and Workshops over that time. I now teach in Mission Beach.

             Jan Watson  Certified Iyengar Yoga Teacher

* I am always learning more and I am very grateful for all that yoga teaches me about my physical and mental bodies. The spiritual side is coming too. As we age it gets harder to switch off the thinking, our hormones change, we stiffen up both in body as well as in our thinking. Yoga helps me to keep equilibrium and helps me to stop getting so cranky and intolerant.