In 2008, I had the pleasure of meeting a yoga teacher named Sherie Dyer. She had packed up her life and moved to the Philippines to help start a Bikram yoga studio, and at the time I interviewed her for the following article (that never made it to print) she believed she had settled in the Philippines for good.
Sadly it was not to be; she’d spent years traveling as a yoga teacher and student previously and I guess she just got itchy feet! Last I heard of her (she deleted her Facebook account), she was teaching Bikram yoga at a Pittsburgh studio, although she’s no longer on the website’s teacher list.
I recently remembered this article existed, and I’d like to share it with you.
(The following was written September 14, 2008.)
Yoga teacher Sherie Dyer fearlessly lives and breathes her chosen vocation in this country she’s adopted as her own.
It’s 5:25pm, shortly before the start of a yoga class at the Sundar Bikram Yoga studio in Greenhills. Students old and new talk in muted tones as they set up their mats and towels inside the heated room. They pause in anticipation of the teacher’s arrival. They know she’s coming by the sound of her voice steadily getting louder as she approaches the doorway.
In strides the teacher, and for a moment it seems she’s in the wrong place, like she would fit in better at a rock concert. Full-sleeve tattoos, a multitude of piercings, and a personality that’s bigger than her five-foot nine-point-five-inch body make her the antithesis of a stereotypical yoga teacher. But a yoga teacher is exactly who Sherie Dyer is.
“The stereotype is a small man in white loose pants and a beaded shirt,” she shares. “I bust that stereotype every day just being who I am.”
She’s a vegetarian, but takes time to cook delicious meat dishes for friends. She listens to loud rock music (her Myspace page lists musicians from the punk rock White Stripes to alternative rock superstars Radiohead), but quiets her mind with a steady diet of yoga. Who Sherie is can be a fascinating mix between what we often think are polar opposites.
Getting past the initial shock of how Sherie looks, one can see her deep understanding of how to coach her students through the 26 postures and two breathing exercises done in a heated room that make up Bikram’s beginner yoga class. Today, she takes time to explain how to constrict a muscle in the back of the throat so one can take deeper breaths. In the middle of class she stops to demonstrate the stages between Tree Pose to Toe Stand.
However she never allows the students to take it too seriously. She defuses tension and wakes up a sleepy class by poking good-natured fun at the students. One student has gained the moniker “Rainbow Butt” because she wears a rainbow-colored bikini bottom to class. Today, a group of ladies Sherie has nicknamed the “Spunky Chipmunks” are raring to get into and out of each posture quickly. “Don’t look so sad,” she tells today’s class as they come out of a difficult posture. “I know why you’re here so early. You’ve got plans tonight.”
Sherie has the confidence of someone completely at home in her element. Not bad for an American who came to the Philippines little more than a year ago not knowing what to expect.
It didn’t take much persuasion from studio director Al Galang to get Sherie to become the head teacher of the Bikram Yoga Greenhills studio, which opened in November 2007. They had met and bonded during the nine-week teacher training in 2006 in Los Angeles, California, and had kept in touch afterwards over Myspace, a social networking website.
Sherie calls him her best friend, and recounts, “He emailed me and said, ‘I’m not running a business. I want to create something special here and you’re my first choice, please come out here and do this with me.’ I said, ‘Of course. Philippines – where is that?’”
Despite not knowing anything about the Philippines except that it was where Al came from, she got on a plane and never looked back. She now oversees Al and two other teachers at the studio, Thai import Betty Khumtong and homegrown talent Ginger Diaz.
“I had a reputation for being the renegade teacher, brought in to shake things up a bit, maybe scare people into shape,” Sherie says of her previous teaching experience, and she hasn’t eased up since she’s been here. She has regular meetings with the teachers to assess how they can all improve, and she practices three to four hours daily with them. “How can you teach if you don’t practice?” she explains.
Al is a firm believer in Sherie’s ability as head teacher. “When it comes to understanding the body, how to guide so many lost bodies at the same time, I couldn’t find a better teacher to teach students and teachers.” He affirms, “She has the best understanding of yoga among us.”
That comes from Sherie’s 16 years of yoga practice, a year spent in Bangalore, India studying raja, hatha, and bhakti yoga, and yearly intensive training with international yoga competition champions where she hones her form and technical mastery of postures. She says, “I started yoga when I was 14 [years old] to get out of a knee surgery.” The more she practiced, the more she wanted to know. “I’ve tried other forms of yoga. I like the discipline [of Bikram yoga]. And the postures are always the same, it’s how your body feels in them that changes. You keep learning about yourself.”
Sherie is not just a devoted student of yoga, but also a skilled teacher, using six years of medical school and her knowledge of body mapping (a way of looking at people’s bodies, which she learned in India) to help her perceive more about her students. “You’re telling a story about yourself,” she says to them. For example: “If a girl’s shoulders are hunched forward and she has big breasts, you know she has insecurities about her appearance.” How her students react to the challenges of the postures tells her when she can push them harder, and when to back off.
“You never know,” Sherie explains about trying to see deeper into a student’s mind. “What if that person’s grandmother just died?” Though she can be outspoken and “VERY honest” (her own emphasis), Sherie is always understanding of where people are in their lives.
Her students appreciate the way she teaches. Elizabeth Lacson, a regular student at the studio who practices alongside her husband Ricky, says, “Sherie is a gem, an endless source of inspiration.”
Ricky adds, “Sherie comes across to some as the ‘Hitler of the Hot Room,’ but that’s only because she sincerely wants to help each one of us become better at our practice. Her genuine concern stems from her passion for yoga, and her desire to share it with others.”
Yoga definitely is Sherie’s passion. Sherie says, “What yoga means to me is to be present — at all times at this point I focus on being present. This may be the breath, the posture, the person in front of me, perhaps their life and their pain. Only once we are truly present are we open to things like love, growth, relief, healing, change — and all the truth you can handle.”
After one year of teaching and practicing in the Philippines, Sherie is looking forward to helping the local yoga scene grow. Establishing a national yoga competition here is one of her goals, so the Philippines can participate in the Bishnu Ghosh Cup – the “Olympics of yoga.” Barring that, she offers to compete for the country. “I’ll go compete somewhere, Bangkok maybe, just to make sure the Philippines is represented.”
Sherie and Al have also signed with Adidas as sports ambassadors, doing yoga demonstrations for the sportswear giant. “They want to show off their clothes and promote yoga for athletes,” Sherie says. “We show what you can do with yoga. People see the poses, go home and try them.” She adds, tongue-in-cheek,”They fall out of the poses. Then they come take class with us.”
With a teacher like Sherie, that class will always be delivered with wisdom, self-awareness, and lots of humor.