Syeda Suboohi Khan, of Gamber, never expected that free yoga classes at the library would fill up with a dozen people on a waiting list when she began the program three years ago.
Khan, a native of Pakistan, teaches a 90-minute beginner- to intermediate-level class for several weeks twice a year at the Finksburg branch of the Carroll County Public Library. The class has gotten so popular, however, that this year the library had to ask people to register and capped attendance at 25.
In the fall, Khan may begin renting space from the library and charge for classes, due to their popularity.
The classes are a mixture of hatha, flow and power yoga with meditation and breathing exercises.
Khan was certified in a seven-month course in her native Pakistan and then again in a training course in Maryland. Along with the library, she teaches courses at the Westminster YMCA, Carroll Community College, the Westminster Family Center and several churches around the county.
The Times caught up with Khan at the Finksburg library to talk to her about her training and what she recommends students take away from her classes.
Q: How did you begin teaching yoga?
A: I was in Pakistan and going through a tough time. My sister is a yoga instructor in Pakistan, so she told me, "While you are here, why don’t you go do this teaching course? Go and just relax yourself there. We will take care of the kids.” And I was stressing out and I said, “I don’t want to do it,” but when started it -- it was a seven-month course -- and when I started it, I didn’t want to leave. It was five days a week, seven months, and it was amazing. I had so much peace. My teacher’s words changed my life, so now I feel like it’s my responsibility to do the same and keep doing it and it will help somebody else like it helped me. Now my focus got changed. I was trying to change other people but it never works, I think. It works when you change yourself. So I changed the focusing and things are getting better now.
Q: What do you enjoy about teaching yoga?
A: I enjoy helping people. I love it, and I feel good. I wish I had more than two hands so I could keep going around and helping. I feel good after the class if I help more people. It’s a special feeling and I love it.
Q: How long have you been working with the library?
A: This is my third year. Bless them. Bless this place. I’m really blessed. It’s always [full]. I had 30 people here. More than 30, 32 people, but then they had to limit it because the room is small. People were coming and since last year they said, “25 people.” But even when 25 people was the limit, 24 or 25, one or two people used to always come extra here and there. This time, even if we have 25 people, 11 people are on the waiting list. I’m really blessed. I get the positive energy from the people, so always class goes well. I think it’s the positive energy from the library.
Q: Is there anything that you want people to get out of your class?
A: My goal is, when they come in my class, yoga is not only the one [type.] It’s the meditation, breathing and different types of yoga. I feel like, even if someone is coming for one hour, when they leave the class they should feel something. A little bit of everything. I start with the meditation, breathing, one or two breathing exercises I do, different kinds of poses and the relaxation I do. After my class, when I end, I always read my favorite saying or quotation -- wherever, from Pakistan, India, America, the best saying or quotation which touched my heart. I read that. People come to my class and most of the people ask me where did I get that saying from, and a few people cry after listening because it can touch your heart like it touched me. That’s how I started with this thing. I was going with my life, ups and downs we all go through, and I had a few challenges in my life too, and this thing kept me in peace.
Q: What do you recommend to people taking yoga for the first time?
A: I think I always encourage people to try it. Even some people in my class, their first time they are doing so good, they are so flexible, but they are scared to go into the next level. I always tell them, “Go and feel it. Enjoy it. Always.” Challenges, we as humans always like challenges. We read the basic books and then we want to upgrade ourselves. Always give yourself a challenge, otherwise you get bored. If I see people who are already taking the challenge, I give them the power yoga poses. I add into it so they get something out of the class too.
Q: How about people dealing with an injury?
A: You just go to the instructor and tell the instructor if you have any injuries or anything. People come to me and tell me they have shoulder problems or neck or anything and I tell them, “If I’m telling you to raise your hand and turn towards the side, don’t do it. Do whatever you think is comfortable.” Always exercise helps you, but never push too much. I always keep an eye. My thing is a little bit different. In every class I always keep myself a little bit in the center and I want my people around me like in a circle because I feel like I do some classes of course [where there are so many people] they want me to stand in front because there’s no space, but I prefer in the middle, and the places where the people are around me so I can go around and see which people need help and keep an eye on that person who mentioned an injury.
Q: Do you see people over the course of time getting better?
A: Yes, people come back to me and they tell me, “I [came] to your class the last six months or four months and now I’m feeling better, I’m walking better, my arm is better, it’s not hurting anymore and my doctor is so proud of me.” They come back and tell me and I feel good, and I tell them it’s not me, it’s God blessing you, blessing me. I love it. It’s nice. And it’s good to see that something is working for someone. It helped me and I feel like it’s my responsibility to keep helping. It’s good to see people coming back to me and telling me something.
A: After [the kids] go to bed, my time is Oprah and me and meditation. I used to watch Oprah in their room, so my son put a poster on his door “No Oprah channel in my room,” because I love to watch Oprah. So I said, “OK.” I love it [and] I record everything on the DVR and after putting them to sleep that’s my meditation. I really like to listen to something positive and calm myself down. That’s one hour for myself.
Q: So you recommend finding something for yourself as a form of stress relief?
A: Find something. That’s what I say in my classes, also, during the meditation. Every day, do something for yourself. Ten minutes, one hour, whatever. Then you and your soul will look forward to that, a few minutes, anything. You can sit on your favorite chair or relax and read your favorite book. Anything. So I look forward to that hour. I have to put them down, clean the kitchen, and I have to go sit in front of the channel and just listen. And it will make you happy. Just do it for a week and you’ll see it. My guru, he taught me, anything you want to add positively to your life, do it for 40 days or 21 days and you will see it. A change will happen and it will become a habit. Every day you should do something that makes you happy, your soul happy, and you feel like you get the energy that you can do something for others. Otherwise you go into depression.