Persia is one of those teachers whose heart energy fills the yoga space. Her classes can be physically powerful, philosophically potent, passionate and playful all at once. It’s no wonder she’s one of Sydney’s most revered teachers (check out Persia’s new website for her schedule, retreats and events).
And behind the dulcet Canadian tones that lull you into the most blissful savasana, is a woman on a continual journey of radical self-acceptance and self-celebration.
In her open-hearted interview, Persia tells PRAVAYAMA how she began her inner love affair and transformed negative self-talk through yoga. She shares her daily ayurvedic rituals, the practices that keep her inspired, her evolution as a teacher and coach for other teachers, and why she’s no longer willing to distort herself for anything or anyone.
Beginning An Inner Love Affair
As a girl in her mid-twenties, Bikram yoga gave me that one focus and that discipline. The structure really worked for me at that time in my life because I was a bit all over the place. The repetition, the same postures that you do every time, you felt like you were building upon something and you could see your evolution tangibly.
For me, staring in the mirror was actually quite profound because of my eating disorder before yoga, so really looking at myself in the mirror and seeing myself every day was confronting at first, but it was very much the beginning of my inner love affair.
The first thing that changed was my body, I didn’t realise I wasn’t connected, that I wasn’t having a conversation with my body and just feeling it. And then there was the birth of my self-esteem – just really loving my body and actually making that relationship a priority. Of course, everything around me changed with that realisation.
Transforming Her Inner Dialogue
My previous inner dialogue was, ‘Who do you think you are? You’re fat, you’re not good enough, definitely you’re not smart enough.’ But the Bikram practice, looking in my eyes watching my body and feeling my heart beating, words would come in like ‘What’s possible?’, or ‘You’ve got this stay with it, don’t give up’. So it’s the languaging that started to really change. It’s taken a long time but now my established go-to is words of tenderness internally, like ‘hey sweetheart, how you doing today?’ as opposed to ‘why are you tired again, what’s your problem?’
And the inner dialogue is also transferring off the mat now. It’s an out-loud conversation that I have with myself walking down the street! ‘Oh sweetheart, it’s ok, you just do that best you can today!’
What’s lovely is that now my internal language has changed, I can see any negativity coming up right away – I can go in quite sweetly with ‘that’s not the truth babe and if you’re even a kilo heavier, love every bit of yourself and your body because you’re actually strong and healthy and time really is precious’. I don’t want to waste time worrying about if I’m a juicy yoga teacher – it’s actually quite boring!
Ayurvedic Beauty Rituals
My ritual in the morning – well, it makes me feel beautiful but it’s not at all a beautiful ritual! I get up in the morning and I oil pull, it’s the first thing I do, I scrape my tongue and then I neti pot both sides. It’s a porcelain pot, you put salts and hot water and you run it through your nose and it clears out all the mucus. When I did Ana Forrest’s teacher training she always said if your sinuses are clear you can see better and you can see people’s energy and whether that’s true or not I just love the ritual of it.
Those things only take me about ten minutes, I combine the whole thing! While I’m oil pulling I’m neti potting and then holding my breath and holding my nose while I have oil in my mouth. I’m the queen of multi-tasking!
Go-To Practices For Getting Inspired
The first is meditation. Whether I’m high, happy, dull or uninspired, if I meditate before teaching – even if I don’t have a plan, that class is beautiful and it’s connected. When I don’t it can be bumpy or it’s about the ego. So meditation’s a big one – inspiration comes, it’s just natural.
Number two, I love the Internet! Abraham Hicks on YouTube and Caroline Myss on audios are probably my two main go-tos. I love Wanderlust Speakeasy talks. I’ll listen to one of my favourite teachers like Elena Brower or Sean Corne and just have their audio on while I’m making a smoothie, or in the background while I’m in the bathroom.
And then the third, of course, is nature, it’s the first thing with that reverence. When I lived in Bondi – oh my gosh! It was BOOM: Bondi to Bronte – podcast, earphones, walk, smell the salt air, feel the negative ions – one hour of my time.
If I had nothing for a class I’d listen to Caroline Myss, I’d choose one chakra and listen to all the information about that chakra, feel the emotions in my body and choose asanas that would help those emotions move more freely.
Now that I’m in Surry Hills it’s wandering the streets going to a local park and literally watching the leaves move on the trees while listening to a podcast.
Learning From Over-Sharing
I’ve really overshared in my history of teaching yoga about my personal life; romantic relationships, the health of family members – and in the moment it’s felt fine. But when I’m walking down the street in Bondi, or if a student happens to know who my past relationship is, or they bump into my mum in the street and they’re like, “Oh I heard about you in Persia’s yoga class, how’s that issue going?”
I’ve really put my foot in it a few times and I’m grateful for those experiences and I’m happy to be in a more mature place. Now I just speak where the energy is coming from, whatever is moving me, I can speak in a way that I hope touches everyone and they can reference their own lives, rather than it being about me.
“In my earlier years of teaching I hit walls every two years, physical fatigue or energetic meltdowns. At times I would feel crazy, with no one to talk to. So I’ve always been really interested in what yoga teachers go through.”
How India Brought Self-Celebration
India allowed me to really celebrate how I am already teaching. I had gone to a really well-renowned teacher to learn more about the asana and I had very intense experiences in her training to the point I dropped out.
There was hitting of students there was verbal abuse, a lot of anger and I was very clear that was not my teacher.
So I left the class that was this acclaimed international teacher and went down the road to this tiny little studio called Vinny yoga where two brothers teach, Vini and Mittra. These men were so humble. You felt all of their presence in the room and they shared just enough from the heart. Their classes were so articulate and they were so well rounded that you went on a journey.
Being in the room confirmed for me that the teacher in me is authentic to me, true of my heart and of my spirit and I don’t have to try and be someone else.
Birthing Her Teacher Training Workshops
In my earlier years of teaching I hit walls every two years, physical fatigue or energetic meltdowns. At times I would feel crazy, I had no teacher, no source to turn to, with no one to talk to.
So I’ve always been really interested in what yoga teachers go through. There is a cycle and a timing to it because we don’t have things like medical care or regular salaries, so burn out is really common, teachers say yes to cover classes because they don’t know when their next paycheck’s coming and then they crash out.
Originally I wanted to become a teacher trainer so I shadowed multiple teacher trainings and started watching the way they work, but also considered what was missing. I began collecting all the pieces I felt were missing and all the pieces that would personally light me up. I asked myself how I could offer bite-sized workshops to teachers to really inspire them when they’re hitting walls or plateauing.
Coaching Yoga Teachers to Self-Inspire
Many teachers struggle with theming a class. A common demographic is people leaving the corporate world. They have this huge awakening, become a teacher and they get into the yoga room and feel like they have to box tick and be the ‘professional teacher’. To me, those are the classes that don’t move a student – in their life.
A teacher might give a great asana class but if there’s not yet that heart-to-heart connection, the teacher knows they feel a disconnection. So my workshops facilitate them to look deeper.
We might work on chakras for instance, how does a chakra relate to the human psychology? How does that relate to questions of inquiry? How do you make ancient concepts and mysticism more accessible?
And deities, such as Lakshmi, She isn’t just some random statue of a woman. So how can you relate these deity qualities to feeling attractive as a woman? How can you add all these little pieces into your class to make them so juicy?
I feel the linking of ancient and modern offers nourishing wisdom because a lot of us aren’t connected to our family lineages and a lot of us don’t live in places where we came from. With yoga, a lot of us have come from modern training so we don’t have a guru or a spiritual leader that we can go to, so it’s about how we can self-inspire.
Becoming a Conscious Consumer
A really funny moment highlighted this for me as I went to Skype my mum last year. I was so proud of wearing my new Toms sunglasses where you buy a pair of Toms eyewear and one goes to kids’ eyecare. I was like ‘It’s one-for-one!” And she’s like, “Oh yeah, so the child whose eyes you just saved, good job because they’re in a sweatshop right now making your sweatshirt.” I was wearing a [branded] sweatshirt and I was like “Oh mum – touché!”
I loved how sharp she was with me. I’d bought the sweatshirt because it was covered in flowers and I thought it was pretty, I didn’t even consider where it had come from.
I find brands and yoga really interesting. I have certain pieces of yoga clothing I love to wear, but I’m really wary of shouting out brands. There are issues with mass production and if I could be unbranded in my yoga clothes that’s where I would like to move towards.
Now when I’m purchasing I’m really considering where it’s coming from. I’m starting to spend more money and I’m happy to do that and I love to support Australian designers especially when the items are made in Australia.
Spiritual Connection in Relationships
What’s so interesting is it’s not about lust for me anymore. This last year, life has felt completely different. I left a marriage a couple of years ago and immediately started dating and that shook me up. I wasn’t used to people having multiple partners. Polyamory was a whole new concept that kind of knocked the wind out of me, so I recoiled from the dating scene very quickly and spent a lot of time alone.
My last relationship was so based on spiritual connection, so it needs to be a balance of spirituality, openness, attraction, sexual exploration but not one facet pulls me in anymore, it really will be a complete picture and it will have to be someone who loves and celebrates my complete picture because I’m not willing to distort myself for another.