Jeff Steel is a long-time yoga practitioner and a certified Iyengar teacher. Jeff offers three online classes a week on the Redfern Yoga Space timetable. Dimity Wehr, our blog coordinator, had the pleasure of interviewing Jeff.
How did you get started in yoga?
In my early years, I was very sporty and enjoyed competitive rowing and running. I really enjoyed stretching – which was quite unusual for athletes. When I was thirty, I was travelling overseas for 2 years and visited India for 6 months. I practiced yoga out of a book in my hotel room and then stayed at a Sivananda yoga ashram in Kerala, India for three weeks. I was hooked! From the earliest yoga sessions I felt alert and alive, physically and mentally.
One of the asana classes at the ashram felt different to the others. I enquired with the teacher, who said, “I’m an Iyengar teacher”. The seed having been planted, when I returned to Australia in 1989, I attended classes in Noosa with Michel Besnard and then with Peter Scott at the Noosa Yoga Centre. Once I started, I practiced every day for two hours and that has been my routine ever since. I value a regular practice so that I can “check in” every day and connect with the yoga energetic life force. It is also useful to accept the present moment and notice if I am being too ambitious or too passive. To me yoga means balancing my physical, energetic, emotional and intellectual aspects.
Who taught you and what did you like about them?
In 2001 I went to the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute in Pune, India. and attended Geeta’s classes for four weeks. Guruji (Iyengar) was in the room, “prowling around”. He would interrupt Geeta and she would very graciously change the whole class based on his interruption. Being in Pune at this time gave me the opportunity to focus on my yoga practice removed from my normal Australian life. The wonderful Indian food was a bonus!
With my engineering background, I am naturally inclined towards a technical approach to yoga practice. Caroline Coggins, my teacher for the last 8 years has a different, intuitive approach which I really appreciate.
Why teaching? What do you love about teaching?
I became a teacher because I enjoyed practicing yoga and undertook yoga teaching training to deepen my practice. I found that I loved to teach and share my passion for yoga. A lifelong yoga practice is a roller coaster ride! Despite the ups and downs, knowing that I would be teaching students that day gave me a reason to keep on going. I strongly believe you should teach from your own explorations and experience rather than from rote.
I approach teaching a class differently than I would an engineering project. I prefer an organic approach focused on a couple of points and then adjust according to the flow of the class. Teaching on Zoom feels very authentic. I think it gives students a little space to explore!
What does Yoga do for you now? Is it still the same as when you started?
It is amazing to me that after 30 years of practice, an asana can feel completely different to last week! It is a challenge, but I find it helps to “start over” every time I go to my mat. There is a natural tendency to cling onto habits and “old yoga instructions” which no longer serve me well. Naturally, this approach of “starting afresh every day” is a benefit in all aspects of my life.
Yoga is an anchoring element of my daily life offering endless challenges as well as beautiful peaceful moments in a restorative and pranayama session.
My favourite pose
I like Salamba Sirsasana (headstand) even though it is not my most comfortable pose. The combination of headstand followed by shoulder stand centres me. It also brings Tadasana into focus.
A difficult pose
For me it’s Padmasana. I can get in to it sometimes, but I am concerned that my knees might be injured. It is a challenge to approach an asana where there is fear. I appreciate my teacher Caroline Coggins’ approach to Padmasana. We approach the pose slowly and gradually, acknowledging my body on that day, leaning back in half Padmasana and sometimes surprising myself by getting into the full pose with comfort.
Has yoga changed you?
Yes, but incrementally. Physically, I can see a difference from peers and family of similar age – being able to move freely is wonderful. Pranayama has helped me evolve a little by exploring the breath and discovering my subtlepredispositions.
I’m 65 years old now and my yoga practice is such a blessing. I feel my practice is deepening even if some asanas aren’t so easy anymore.
Other things that have inspired you?
Science, particularly physicists. I am an engineer and love maths and physics. But they can be a bit of a “mental rabbit hole” for me. Yoga broadens my horizons.