(Images via Google Images)
The first time Tymi Howard attempted yoga, she hated it. Nothing more, nothing less. She was 15 then and was attending an Ashtanga yoga class her dance teacher had suggested to her. “Man, this stuff is difficult,” she thought, as within minutes she was huffing and puffing, unable to match up to the regular students. Tymi’s ego was hurt. Having been a dancer–a ballerina that too–and an athlete right from her childhood, and always in top shape, she couldn’t believe that she was finding yoga difficult. She left the studio vowing never to return to it.
But the restless and curious girl in her was not ready to give up. She followed up the first failed attempt with one yoga class every week and today almost three decades later, she is one of the most sought-after yoga gurus in America and runs the GURUV Yoga studio in Central Florida. But it was not just her ego that Tymi had to overcome and satisfy. Born and bred in a strict Jehovah’s Witness household, she had to struggle to convince her parents that she had not joined a cult. It was a long journey for both her parents and Tymi to accept each other.
In India for the first time ever to teach at the 2015 India Yoga Festival, Tymi says she feels humbled and enthusiastic. “I believe we are all students and should always be open to learning,” says Tymi, who also holds a BA in Theatre and Dance from Rollins College and MA from NYU. A proponent of the Vinyasa Flow style, Tymi’s classes–dynamic and unconventional as they are always accompanied by foot-tapping music–fill up way before schedule on all the three festival days. We catch up with the 44-year-old as she soaks up sun on Goa’s Ashwem beach, and Tymi is more than happy to let Smart Life in on her journey till now.
What made you take up yoga after having not enjoyed it that much in the first attempt?
The first attempt was like a reality check for me because I always thought I was in top shape and realised quickly that I was not. Although I was into ballet and tap, I understood that I wasn’t flexible enough, which was the main reason that I was prone to injury. After keeping my ego aside, I tried to embrace the real essence after that first class. And come on, I was only 15 then, so it is okay to be foolish and say, ‘this didn’t work for me, I will never try it again!’. It is like a child refusing to ride the bicycle after her first fall. We do give things another try and I am glad I did.
Yoga did clash with your religious beliefs, didn’t it? It was also not taken well at home. How did you reconcile this?
Coming from a strict Jehovah’s Witness household, any sort of dieties or statues were new to me and all the chanting was uncomfortable at first. But somewhere in that first class, the seed was planted. Then, I started dating a guy who grew up in an ashram and did yoga. So to be with him, I took to yoga again and I followed him to California where he went to learn it. As fate would have it, we went our different ways, but I chose to stay back in California and look where I am now. Although I am not married and have no kids, I have three yoga studios which in itself are a handful.
But what was your parents’ reaction to your practice?
For the longest time, I didnt let my parents know I was that I was practising yoga. I knew they would be shell shocked. We were raised in a very orthodix setup and all this would have been such a huge thing for them back then. When I had to do my first TTC, I was in desperate need of money so I called my mom. I told her like it was a job and I was doing training for it. My parents were hairdressers, they weren’t rich. She gave me a credit card and told me I could pay it back in instalments when I started earning. My mom was supportive, she said if it makes me happy I could do it. But my dad never got it why I was so excited about yoga which didn’t seem to fit in to our values.
After a while, he fell sick. Then I moved back to Florida to look after him and be with him. Today, 15 years later, my family got to witness how my teaching was helping people be happier healthy and content. My students would go tell my family how good they felt after my class. Their mindset started shifting. My mother’s last words to me, from her deathbed was, ‘Go teach!’ She always believed in doing what made us happy.
My father had a slow passing and we had long conversations about letting go of dogmas and accepting a more open way of thinking. And one day out of nowhere he said to me, ‘I think I had it wrong this whole time’. In a way, I always feel my parents’ death set me free. I feel more complete because they both accepted my love for yoga before they left this world.
Usually, yoga practitioners take their TTC in India. But it is a surprise that this is your first visit to India.
I know! I always wanted to visit India but with three studios it became almost impossible to find the time. So it took me over 20 years to get here. There is something magical about being here in the motherland of yoga. When I taught here, my practice was elevated just by being here. I think I am the only American teacher here. I see this festival growing, but I think its biggest blessing is being in India.
Why did you zero down on Vinyasa Flow yoga?
Because it gives me freedom and artistic expression to find my own voice. I am from America. We take everything in, we tweak it and make it our own. I dont believe there is only one right way to doing yoga. It varies from person to person. It depends on what your body connects to. I take some from all of it. Iyengar, Bikram, Jivamukti, Anusara, I take what I like and leave the rest.
As a teacher, how do you keep yourself updated?
To be a good teacher, I think, you should be a student forever. You should not be afraid to say I don’t know. I think this guru shishya relationship in yoga is a bit hyped. I have always had more than one teacher. Each teacher brings something different to me. When I was younger, I was looking for the physical. Coming from the ballet and abusing my body, I wanted physical attention. But then there came a point, I was seeking a spiritual teacher. I believe the most important guru is the guru within. When you want an answer seek it inside yourself.