Yoga is My Medicine, My Drug and My Peace: Interview with Instructor Dina Karim

Karim speaks to Majalla about her concept of Yoga as a science of living, a perspective that has enhanced her life in myriad ways

Dina is a highly experienced teacher who has been practising and studying yoga for 25 years and teaching for 23 years. She was very fortunate to learn directly from Mr Iyengar and other world-renown yoga and meditation masters very early in her studies of yoga, subsequently managing her own studio for 6 years until marrying and having two children.
Dina’s real passion lies in imparting a true understanding of this ancient and timeless system of personal development and learning how, through the use of our inner resources, we can free ourselves from physical, emotional and mental disturbances, aiming to live in harmony with ourselves and the environment and reach liberation.
Currently, Dina runs classes, courses and workshops at Triyoga Chelsea and The Life Centre Notting Hill, teaches at large public events as well privately, helping people to get an in-depth knowledge of yoga, to practice accurately, safely and to ultimately improve physically, mentally and emotionally and gain a healthy perspective on life.
 
Q.  How did you get started? Tell us a little bit about yourself? 

In my early twenties after finishing my Arts Degree at Saint Martins in 1991, I had quite clear guidance to choose a career that was aligned with high principles and values. My career choices went from advertising to fashion and advertising photography to portrait photography which continued until teaching yoga took over. Yoga and meditation came at a perfect time when I desperately needed to grow into an emotionally strong, stable and independent being to face my life post university and manoeuvre myself in the big wide world as a grown up. The healing and growth in this area was much needed and fully appreciated. This was the missing link in my life thus far. Hence began my journey as a fully committed meditation and yoga practitioner.

Having started my meditation training and practice with FWBO, I decided to travel for 3 months in India where I received blessings from his holiness the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala, attended intensive Vipassana meditation retreat as taught by Goenka in Rajastan and finished my travels by visiting Varanasi and more holy sites in Kathmandu. On my return I continued my training and practice with FWBO and attended intensive retreats with Christopher Titmus and his senior teachers at Gia House in Devon. Very soon after my return from India I discovered Iyengar yoga and it was at this point that I decided that train as a teacher so I can share the gifts of yoga and meditation with others whilst keeping up my photography at the same time. I felt incredibly lucky to have discovered at such an early age a meaningful job which can support rather than hinder my own personal growth on many levels. 

I completed and successfully passed my introductory level one Iyengar yoga teacher training in 1996 and level two the following year. This of course was just the start of my training which still continues to this day twenty five years later.  Immediately after qualifying I was incredibly fortunate to learn directly from Mr Iyengar initially at a week long teachers intensive in Paris and subsequently in London and Pune where I also learned from his daughters Geeta and Prashant. Other world-renown yoga and meditation masters such Patabi Jois, Shandore Remete, Rod Stryker, Christopher Titmus and Deepak Chopra to name a few have also blessed me with their teachings for which I am humbly grateful for.  
With regards to teaching I managed and ran my own studio in Holland Park for 6 years, delivering classes, workshops intensives, holidays, hosting teachers as well as facilitating classes at health clubs and the very first Triyoga in Camden. I took a brief break when I had my two healthy boys currently 15 and 13 years old. After maternity leave I continued teaching at Evolve Wellness Centre in South Kensington and Triyoga this time at their new Chelsea branch, as well as privately. 
You can now find me at Triyoga Chelsea and The Life Centre Notting Hill where I runs classes, courses and workshops. I also teach at large public events as well privately. 
 




Dina Karim –  Yoga Teacher, teaching yoga in Chelsea London.

 
Q. How has yoga made a difference to your life? 

The difference it has made to my life has been huge. The biggest initial impact was feeling really content and happy and recognising that I have brought this about through my own efforts.  For the first time in my life I felt incredibly free and in charge of my emotions, controlling bouts of stress, anxiety or depression. Physically I felt more comfortable in my body and as a result I gained better concentration, focus and stillness which has been an enormous aid when meditating, studying or doing any job. The various practices just within the physical aspect of Iyengar yoga gave me the power to manipulate how I felt physically mentally and emotionally. Yoga and meditation became my medicine, my drug and my go to when I needed to bring balance, comfort, peace and joy to my life. Another huge impact was changing my diet and giving up all unhealthy habits. I realised that without thorough health care I will not be able to achieve my life's goals or live long enough to make a difference. Through the practice of love and kindness and compassion which I initially learned in meditation and is very much part of yoga, I decided that I did not want to be part of killing animals and stopped eating all meat. I have since gone through being a vegetarian, vegan and pescatarian.
As a consequence of becoming healthy, conscious aware and mindful through yoga and meditation I have preferred to find alternative ways of healing above conventional where possible. This alone has had a huge impact since my early twenties. Aside from finding alternative means to deal with various common ailments since my twenties including hay fever, I went through both my pregnancies completely naturally and without any complications. 

Q. What type of yoga do you teach?

I teach Iyengar Yoga which is the world’s most widely practised method of yoga created by Yogacharya Sri B.K.S. Iyengar who described his method as pure traditional yoga, from our ancestors, from our gurus. It is firmly based on the eight limbs of yoga as expounded by Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras.  Emphasis is placed on the development of strength, stamina, flexibility and balance, as well as concentration and meditation.  Mr. Iyengar also revolutionized the therapeutic applications of yoga, gaining recognition for yoga as treatment for serious medical conditions relevant to everyone, no matter what their physical or mental ability. 
Iyengar Yoga is a considered a powerful tool to relieve the stresses of modern-day life and develop total physical and spiritual well being.

Q. What’s your mission as a yoga instructor?

My mission as a yoga teacher is to share the experience and knowledge that I have so far built. To help people get an in-depth knowledge of yoga, to practice accurately, safely and to ultimately improve physically, mentally and emotionally and gain a healthy perspective on life. Ultimately I hope to impart a true understanding of this ancient and timeless system of personal development and teach how, through the use of our inner resources, we can free ourselves from physical, emotional and mental disturbances, in order to live in harmony with ourselves and the environment and reach liberation. 
 
Q. Do you feel anyone can enjoy and gain from yoga? 

Yes, I do genuinely believe that there is no one who would not benefit from yoga.
 
Q. What has yoga done for you as a person? 

It has helped me develop more self awareness, become fitter, stronger and more flexible, improve my nervous system, my respiratory system, think more positively, be more compassionate and understanding, treat others as I would myself, develop high morals and principles, value life and everyone and everything in it. Basically it has helped me become healthy and fit mentally and physically and lead an ethically sound, purposeful and rewarding life. 

Q. What’s your relationship to your own body? How has this changed over time? 

When I started yoga my body was stiff and uneven from years of playing tennis . Although I was slim and sporty I was not in perfect physical or mental condition. Through the physical practice of yoga I became very flexible and freer in my body as well as stronger. Mentally I became happier and much more content and in charge. I started to experience my body and mind in new and extraordinary ways.

Q. Do you feel yoga is more mental or physical? Do you believe it is an alternative form of healing and medicine? 

It is both, the mental improvements follow the physical developments, they are not separate. I do consider it as an alternative form of healing and excellent preventative care. Mr. Iyengar revolutionized the therapeutic applications of yoga, gaining recognition for yoga as treatment for serious medical conditions relevant to everyone, no matter what their physical or mental ability. He achieved a high level of success in the treatment of a wide range of conditions, including muscular-skeletal, physiological and emotional.
 




Timeless Yoga event at V&A London.

Q. What do you think of famous people, like Gwyneth Paltrow and Madonna, getting into yoga? Is it good for yoga or does it make it a fad? 

I think if anyone does yoga, it has the potential for improving life, whether they are famous or not. Thankfully some of those famous people following a yoga practice take it seriously and have not demeaned or degraded yoga's image.
 
Q. What advice would you give to someone who is just starting out on their yoga journey? 

Start with Iyengar yoga, preferably a foundation course or a level one class at least once a week for four to six weeks in a row. This is because there is usually a different focus every week. Stick with it. Try different teachers until you find one that you want to work with. Read the yoga texts including the yoga sutras of Patanjali and Light on Yoga. 

Q. What is the single most defining issue facing the global yoga community today? 

I wouldn't know because I take no interest in the politics of yoga. Perhaps the one thing that is concerning is the way some like to try and create their own brand of yoga, either for commercial gain or fame. It also concerns me that yoga centres may place more value over certain yoga styles which fills their studio than the ones which are less popular but are more beneficial long term to the students and our communities. 

Q. What’s the best piece of advice you have ever received?   

Talk less, listen more, work harder.