Sarah Tetlow (Surya) has many talents, not only is she our wonderful IYTA Treasurer, but after completing a degree in Physics, working in banking and travelling, she went on to study Yoga Psychology in India.
Surya is teaching the workshop: Pranayama for Enhanced States with Gyan Morrison on February 19
We sat down for a chai and a chat…
Q: Tell me about your early life
I grew up on a farm in the Essex countryside with two brothers and one sister. I was born in the farmhouse where my parents still live – and the four of us would roam around the countryside in our spare time!
After finishing school, I went to Nottingham University to do Applied Physics, which I loved. Once I’d graduated I wanted to go into business so I worked in Nottingham and became a chartered accountant.
Three years later I started to get restless and moved to London where I worked in Risk Management in Banking. My first introduction to the philosophy of yoga came via a spiritual teacher based in the Cotswolds – my sister introduced me to her and I attended some of her workshops.
Q: Why did you go to India to study Yoga Psychology?
Like many people around the age of 30, I was at a bit of a crossroads (more like multi roads) in my life and was ‘seeking something more’. My job just wasn’t fulfilling me, so I gave it up and went travelling through South East Asia and Australia. I knew this wasn’t the answer but I have often found that travelling changes your energy and perspective and gives you the opportunity to see things from other angles.
When I returned about nine months later, I went to see my spiritual teacher and told her I was thinking of studying something holistic/complementary.
She showed me one of the magazines from a yoga school in India, which was set in an ashram, and it had a picture of the guru or master teacher on the front. I took one look and had a moment of absolute clarity, thinking: I want what he’s got!
So I took a look at the back page of this magazine and they had a list of courses – I thought I’d better go for as long as possible because I’m bound to be a hard nut to crack.
The longest courses were for two years and there was a choice of three. I chose Yoga Psychology over Yoga Philosophy or Applied Yogic Science because it sounded interesting and esoteric and I’d always had a lay person’s interest in psychology.
Everyone was quite accepting of this choice – I think my father was a bit bemused as to why I’d give up a good job to go to India, but my mum was totally on board!
Q: What were the main lessons you learnt from this experience and being in the ashram?
I’d never been to India before (a Sri Lankan work colleague in London put me in touch with a divine family in Kolkata and they met me at the airport, took me back to their house for the day somewhere in the back streets of the city, fed me and took me to Howrah train station in the evening to catch the train out to the countryside where the ashram was located – that was my first experience of the magic of India and it’s never left me – I am not entirely convinced that I would have found the right train if the father hadn’t been with me).
I discovered the first and main challenge is that you come up against yourself – time and again.
I fought this for a while – all my normal ways of being, my defence mechanisms and so on, fell away until I was left with a raw version of myself.
For a while, I didn’t know how to be or how to act, it was extremely uncomfortable but ultimately it was very revealing about myself. That was the most important thing for me – yes, I learnt a lot about psychology (especially Eastern) and about yoga (asana, pranayama and meditation) and about ashram life in general, (I learnt how to read Sanskrit, took part in the rituals etc) but the most rewarding thing for me was getting to know myself a whole lot more.
It was a very fruitful two years and it’s a work in progress.
Q: I find it fascinating that you are weaving the psychology with the pranayama in your workshop – how can this help us with focus and concentration if we haven’t studied this for years like you!?
Sometimes one little thing can make a huge difference in someone’s life. Take the practice of gratitude for example – just a few minutes spent feeling grateful for the things in your life (the good and the bad) can make a big difference in your attitude and therefore how your day goes. Obviously, it’s not foolproof, and there are days when it works better than others but cumulatively it has a positive effect on your life.
I think that teaching often involves reminding people what they already know, sharing ideas, having insights together, and perhaps putting a new or different perspective on practices that they may be already familiar with.
We are going to discuss the neurological and psychological effects of some key pranayama practices, as well as the important practical aspects so that anyone attending has a clear idea what they need right now and how to practise them so that they get the most out of it (and discover if they are currently doing it incorrectly). And of course, we will also tailor our approach to whoever is in front of us.
Q: How can this benefit people in their day-to-day lives?
Everyone has a kind of stress in their life to some degree or another, and so everyone can benefit from doing pranayama, whether that be for moments in the day or as a formal sadhana or practice in the morning or evening.
Breath is life and we can use it wisely or we can use it unwisely! But if we have the knowledge we have the ability to make better decisions that work for us.
On a very practical level, we’re going to get really specific about what you can do for different circumstances or conditions or states that may make you feel better.
And everyone wants to live the best life they can, don’t they? Under whatever circumstances life throws at them.
Q: How does yoga make a difference to your life? And what is your daily yoga routine now?
In 2016, at the age of 45, I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, which was a bit of a curveball and no mistake. Yoga has helped me come to terms with that, especially the witness aspect of yoga. And on a practice level I do both pranayama and some simple asana, as well as meditate daily and that has been a lifesaver. And I really love doing Qigong because I find that very helpful in managing all aspects of this condition, especially the symptoms.
Q: Anything else you would like to add?
Gyan and I were discussing the workshop yesterday and I realised it’s been 15 years since we met on the teacher training course at Mangrove. We’ve never taught together before but I’m really looking forward to it – he has so much knowledge and experience – I think it will be a treat for me and for anyone else who is there.