Booknomics

Publishing, Print on Demand, Self-publishing in India from Pothi.com Team

Interview: Susan Hopkinson

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We spoke to the author of Teaching Yoga in an Upside-Down World, Susan Hopkinson.

Susan Hopkinson was born in the US and grew up in Canada before moving to Europe in 1990. She has lived in Belgium since 1991, but India captured her heart on her first of many visits in 1997. Since then, she has been on an endless pilgrimage, regularly visiting teachers and friends across India. Susan loves travelling and meeting new people around the world, with or without her Yorkie, Metta. Her two adult children are probably her greatest accomplishment; they support her teaching and writing by cooking and dog-walking whenever they’re at home.

Susan discovered yoga in Toronto in 1985, began teaching in 1998 and qualified as a yoga therapist with the Yoga Biomedical Trust (London) in 2007. Yoga has been a valuable support through many life challenges, and she shares it with the aim of alleviating the suffering of others. After 20 years of teaching group classes, she now sees students individually and at retreats, guiding and counseling people from around the world through physical, emotional or spiritual issues, online and in person. Susan has been helping transform lives for over two decades using the wisdom of yoga, mindfulness, astrology, and Ayurveda.

You can visit her site and catch her on Instagram. A more detailed bio of hers here.

Tell us briefly about your yogic journey.

I started practicing yoga when I was at the University of Toronto. This was in 1985 and I was feeling very uncomfortable in my body, and sitting to study for long periods of time made my back hurt. I was in poor shape, and I decided to try yoga because I was never very interested in sports and wanted to do something by myself, for myself. I enjoyed it right away and it has stuck with me in some form or another all this time.
I was very lucky to have encountered some wonderful and sincere teachers, Indians and Westerners, in my 30-plus years of yoga practice. I’ve had the blessing of seeing how yoga teachings can change lives and be highly effective thanks to their clarity and simplicity, and not because of some magical siddhis or physical prowess. Yoga has sustained me throughout many challenging periods in my life, like the death of my third baby from a brain hemorrhage. Importantly, the most powerful aspects of yoga have little to do with āsana and much more to do with the mental fortitude and clarity that yoga brings. Changing our perception of what is happening in our lives is an extremely powerful skill to develop, and one that is central to a sincere yoga practice.
Tell us briefly about your book Teaching Yoga in an Upside Down World and what prompted you to write it.
Teaching Yoga in an Upside-Down World
Teaching Yoga in an Upside-Down World is a response to the increasing commercialism and shallowness we can find in the world of yoga, especially over the past ten years. Many yoga teachers I have encountered are insufficiently equipped to teach, and too many rely on brief trainings offering teaching certification with low standards. Among such teachers, there is a lot of confusion and misinformation. When I hear yoga teachers say that Buddhism is for the mind and yoga is for the body it makes my toes curl. Yoga – strongly influenced by Buddhist philosophy, which is a foundation for Patañjali’s Yoga Sūtra – is essentially a training of the mind that includes our physical body because they are inseparable.
In the US in particular, there is a certain amount of resistance to the Indian origins of yoga which include mantra and yogic philosophy, which seems to scare some people who don’t understand the true benefit of such practices. This is a major reason the physical aspect of yoga has become overly important these days – there is a rejection of what is unfamiliar by those who aren’t ready to examine and test their own beliefs. It’s worth mentioning here that it is not entirely the fault of Westerners, many of whom are interested in practicing and teaching a holistic and sincere form of yoga. Much of the shallowness we see today is also due to opportunistic South Asian teachers who may or may not be legitimately qualified to teach, and who often teach short (lucrative) courses scratching the surface of yoga to gullible Westerners.
Over many years it occurred to me that there wasn’t one book which provided an overview of what is useful and even vital to know as a contemporary yoga teacher. I started ‘Teaching Yoga in an Upside Down World’ in answer to questions from my own students who were contemplating yoga teacher training, and it grew from there. Teaching as a householder has its own complexities, which those who are single – and especially single and (ostensibly) celibate males – don’t have to contend with. So, I also wanted to share something of how my personal challenges affected my teaching in different ways. Initially, I wanted to include stories from many different yoga teachers but as I only got a very small number of responses, I kept it mainly about my own experiences.
Sitting down and writing is unhealthy as is any desk job. What is your advice to writers who spend long hours cramped on their swivel chairs?
Sitting down to write is indeed a really unhealthy thing to do over so many hours and So. Many. Days. I have never been as sedentary as when I was writing a book on teaching yoga!
My best advice to writers is to get a dog or borrow one. My dog got me out of the house several times every day so I could be active, connect with (urban) nature, and breathe fresh-ish air instead of sitting at my computer all day. I also invested in a modular standing desk: it’s simply an adjustable metal frame to support your laptop, so you can stand or kneel and change position regularly. I find I think differently when I’m standing, so it was also helpful during the reviewing and re-writing stages.

Unless I was really on a roll and deeply focused on what I was writing, I took lots of breaks to stretch and make tea (so much tea!). This supports better breathing and stimulates creativity as well. Here’s a good (quick) exercise for correcting writer’s slouch: Stand up (or sit on the edge of the chair if you can’t stand up for any reason), clasp each of your wrists with the opposite hand and raise the clasped arms up to head height. Press the back of the hand (near the wrist) that is closest to your head into your forehead while tucking in the chin and lifting the crown of the head. Gently squeeze the elbows back and the shoulder blades towards one another while lifting the sternum (the heart center), and try not to arch the lower back. Breathe and smile while doing this – don’t struggle with it. After 10-15 seconds you can release the arms and feel how your posture and breathe have improved.

What has been your favorite moment as a yoga teacher?

It’s impossible to identify one single moment, but I always love those times when I can see a student has truly understood something profound about themselves, their bodies and their relationship to both.

You have talked about how difficult it is to teach yoga in times like these when yoga has been severely commercialized. If there is one piece of advice you want to give practitioners and teachers out there, what would it be?

It makes me happy when people who have practiced or taught yoga for years tell me that they have learned something new from the book, or that it made them reflect more deeply on their own approach to yoga. My aim is to sharpen the discernment (viveka) of the reader so – at the very least – they know why they practice or teach what they do. A good student of yoga will keep a beginner’s mind and a healthy skepticism of what they are being taught until they can know it for themselves – take nothing at face value, especially highly mystical notions or anything that takes your individual power away. Yoga is such a powerful tool for transformation, but if we ignore the ultimate purpose – liberation from the bondage of the mind – we can become more deeply embedded in our samskaras, all the while thinking we are doing something quite spiritually elevated when, in reality, we’re doing nothing more than what circus acrobats do!

Tell us about your journey with self-publishing.

What a learning curve! I decided to self-publish because I am basically impatient, and didn’t want to 1) hunt down and wait around for a publisher to decide whether and when they wanted to publish my book and 2) let them keep the rights to my work! A friend of mine wrote a book which she submitted to her publisher in April 2018, and it is scheduled for release in the summer of 2019! Why make readers wait so long?! I really appreciated being on my own publishing schedule and as such, I was also able to choose the best dates for publishing according to the most supportive astrological transits (I am also an astrologer). I can make corrections to mistakes found after publishing as soon as they are discovered, and have so far made three changes in the three or four months since the book was released. This allows me to offer the reader the best possible quality product without having to wait to issue a new edition of the book.
I was on a tight budget so I asked friends and colleagues to read parts of the book instead of finding an editor. As a result, I had to do a lot of work on the various drafts apart from the basic writing. The structure of the book emerged after almost a year of writing it in bits and pieces – there’s a moment when things just seem to come together. I had a clear idea of what I wanted for the cover so I went to Fiverr to find the technical support. After one truly awful version, I found a woman who got it right on the first try and it was reasonable, including re-formatting for the Indian edition.
I also had to find technical support on Fiverr to help me with pagination and getting the headers right. I spent many anxious hours sorting that out after the book was ready to go, but the delay and the need to reformat the book also provided an opportunity to find more mistakes to fix before publishing!
Your favorite asana?
It’s a toss-up between Padmāsana (lotus pose) and Sukhāsana (posture of ease), both of which help me find the grounding and stability I need in my practice. I sit in these āsanas for prānāyāma, meditation, and mantra practice.

 

Your favorite book on yoga/any other subject?

I spent a lot of time thinking about this question because I have read so many influential books over the years and it was hard to narrow it down. At the risk of pandering to the audience, I have settled on the Bhagavad Gīta. It has such a universal and timeless appeal, plus a real beauty in the rich story behind the message, and – most importantly – life-changing lessons which we can all benefit from contemplating regularly.
What’s your next project/book that we can look forward to?
I am converting my course called ‘Align with Purpose’ into a book format – it’s part theory and part workbook. The course combines everything I have learned over 30 years of self-development, teaching, and helping others. It includes Yogic and Buddhist philosophy, Āyurveda and Astrology to help people discover their own strengths and weaknesses in 12 areas of life and – hopefully – their higher purpose in this lifetime. Many people consider a job or work should be their higher purpose, and although for some it might be, I want to show people that how they are in everything they do is contributing to their purpose. I hope to complete it in late 2020.
Jai Guru Dev!
Thank you Susan for your extremely informative responses! Was a pleasure talking to you. Wish you all luck for future projects!

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