by Naseem Salila Gulamhusein
As human beings, our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world, as in being able to remake ourselves.
While finishing a degree at UBC, I dreamed of a curriculum that
included yoga and wellness. I had already completed a degree at
Langara College and I was well aware of the stress and pressure
placed on students to succeed. I also questioned the logic of having
to take some of the classes deemed mandatory to obtain
a degree and I thought colleges and universities would be wise to
include a six-credit course in yoga and holistic health. This way,
when students got into the real world, they would have
some valuable tools to deal with the changes and challenges of life.
In 1999, I was heading down the path to depression; life was taking
its toll on me and sadness consumed my heart. I remember leaving
campus one day after seeing a psychologist who had recommended I
go on Prozac. I knew this was not an answer to my problems. Walking
away from the institution, I was aware that I needed to make a choice
between a path of suffering (where I was getting great marks) or
embracing a path towards peace. In that moment, I remembered a quote
my uncle had written in a yoga book: When you surrender to
emptiness, you will find happiness.
The Centre for Holistic Health Studies at Langara College states
its purpose as follows:
to re-evaluate how health is
created in the mind, body and spirit by expanding a client centred
healthcare model that awakens the bodys innate healing potential
and opens the path of the Heart. After selecting the centre
from a long list of potential workplaces that would be a good fit
for my skills and passions, I was called in for an interview for
the position of program coordinator.
During the interview, we talked about a number of things in relation
to the programs. I spoke about wanting to share my passion for teaching
yoga, and the interview changed into a larger discussion about creating
a yoga teacher-training program at Langara. It would be vital to
create a balance between the art and science of yoga and program
development; and conversations with the Dean and others helped clarify
how we could accomplish this in a college setting.
Spirituality and religion have always been a part of my life. Growing
up, I was exposed to a diverse cultural and religious background.
My father is Ismaili Muslim, born is East Africa, and my mother
is Catholic, born in Northern Ireland. As a little girl, on Friday
nights I would accompany my father when he went to the mosque. On
Sundays, I attended church with my mother. Hearing the words of
God, Allah, Jesus and Mohamed, I would think to myself how similar
they all sounded; the meaning and message were about living by ones
virtues and helping those in need.
My mother and father struggled to find a balance and I soon came
to understand why people fight over religion. Because of their interracial
marriage, my parents were on the fringe of their own religions,
providing me with a rich, cultural experience. In my teenage years,
my father took me to my first yoga class, where I met my first teacher,
a woman named Joy who suggested that one day I teach yoga. In saying
that, she sealed my destiny.
My yoga-training journey brought me many blessings and the honour
of studying with four great teachers: the first of which are my
parents, who have taught me patience; the second, Yogi Bhajan (Kundalini
yoga), taught me courage; the third, Gurumayi (Siddha yoga), taught
me to follow my heart, and, to this day, Baba Hari Dass (classical
Ashtanga and Raja Yoga) teaches me selfless service and devotion.
In 2001, I ended up in New Mexico with a backpack and a small tent,
which would be my only possessions for the next six months. I couldnt
help but ask myself, What am I doing? but I knew there
was no turning back. I had a strong desire to burn off the karma
of sadness and suffering and my days consisted of chanting every
morning at 4 AM, yoga, meditation and working in the gardens and
the office. On the first day of our yoga teacher-training, Yogi
Bhajan advised, You are going to work through your stuff now!
and he made us hold our arms in the air for what seems like hours.
After I completed my stay there, he admonished me to go and teach
After travelling and teaching yoga full time for several years,
my life took a dramatic turn. Having just spent more than a year
in service at the Mount Madonna Center in Northern California and
the Salt Spring Centre of Yoga in BC, I received news that my beloved
mother in Ottawa had breast cancer. The prognosis was not good
she had three to six months to live. My reality crashed around me
as I fell to the ground in deep sadness. Only a few days before,
I had talked with a close friend about what it would be like to
lose a parent. I was not prepared, but bolstered with the support
of community, I headed home to do my duty. Initially, my duty to
my family took me to Ottawa, but it was my love for my mother that
kept me there. Hospitals, chemotherapy, painkillers, nausea, cooking,
laughter, forgiveness and tears became our day-to-day reality. Having
lived independently for so many years, I was once again a daughter,
living at home.
I have heard that the greatest test of anyones practice
is to move back home with parents and continue to remain in a state
of shanti (peace). Three to six months turned into 18 months
and I was honoured to be by my mothers side during the process.
In the summer of 2006, the cancer consumed my mothers body,
the battle was over and all that remained was to surrender. In the
face of death, all I knew to do was chant. Both the Catholic priest
and the Mukhi Kamadia from the mosque gave the Last Rights and I
chanted the shanti mantra so that peace would prevail.
I was graced by watching my mother live and die without fear. She
offered all of her suffering to God and forgave those who had trespassed
against her. In her final hours, I watched the true meaning of life
unfold. We come into this world on an inhale and we literally leave
on an exhale. Everything in between is an experience that brings
us closer to our inner truth and divine consciousness. Life is pairs
of opposites seeking balance and union (yoga). Balance arises when
we give up suffering, negativity and fear.
In the face of fear, there is always love and this is what guides
me to live in the world. I choose to live and love through the path
of devotion and action. After my mothers death, I travelled
with my beloved teacher Baba Hari Dass to India. For two months,
I lived at Sri Ram Ashram, an orphanage for 68 destitute and orphaned
children and school for 500 children. It is also a charitable medical
clinic. It was there that my feelings of gratitude for having the
love of a mother became more than I can ever express.
All these experiences brought me back to Vancouver in the fall of
2007, where I was led to Langara College to follow my dream at the
Centre for Holistic Health Studies. Langara College is the first
college in Canada to offer a 250-hour, experiential yoga teacher-training
certificate program, which offers students the opportunity to study
and practice these ancient teachings, which can bring about personal
transformation, as well as allowing them to develop a daily at-home
yoga and meditation practice.
One of the foundations of yoga is a regular daily practice (sadhana).
Through meditation, self-affirming thinking and developing a positive
approach to life, students learn how to solve personal challenges
and promote peaceful change in society. They also gain the knowledge
and skills to effectively teach mindful yoga classes and deliver
workshops to diverse groups.
It is our life experiences that make us great teachers. We can only
teach people from where we have gone before. Teaching yoga is a
life journey, which begins with cultivating awareness of ones
mind, body and soul and a strong desire to free oneself from the
bondage of suffering. When we are free, life becomes a joyous dance
with the divine. The heart opens and blossoms, providing beauty
and light to all.
Naseem Salila Gulamhusein is the Yoga Teacher Training Program
Coordinator and Teacher Trainer at Langara College. She has taught
all levels of students internationally and has instructed for yoga
teacher training programs in Canada and the US. firstname.lastname@example.org,