On-Campus Interview Series: A Yoga Guru

The first thing you notice when you meet Deena Bahri (OE) is her poise. There is a certain straight-shouldered, smiling calm to Deena that her friends claim is infectious. Thus, it comes as no surprise to learn that Deena is SERIOUS about yoga. So serious, that she has made yoga part of her life’s work, and is qualified to teach yoga to students anywhere in the world. Right now, we are lucky enough to have Deena teaching the activity and the philosophy of yoga at Shad on Tuesday evenings.

Amongst her loyal followers are our good friends at career services. Just yesterday, Katie Solomon confided that “people have missed corporate recruiting dinners to go to Deena’s class” and added that this was no surprise, since “Deena is obviously a yoga guru”.

The Harbus tracked our Deena down in Shad to talk about being a ‘yoga guru’ and how it has, quite literally, changed her life.

Fact File: Deena Bahri
Height: 5 feet 6 inches
Weight: 125 pounds
Eyes: Brown
Hair: Brown
Marital Status: Single
Favorite Food: Mangoes
Favorite Drink: Sidecar
Favorite Film: Gone With The Wind
Favorite Band: N.E.R.D.
Nickname: Bean
How Acquired Nickname: My big sister calls me her little bean!

Harbus: What type of yoga do you practice?
Deena Bahri: I practice ISHTA yoga, which stand for the Integrated Science of Hatha, Tantra and Ayurveda. The name is also part of an Indian expression ‘ishta devata’ which means ‘individual diety’. It is a holistic, balanced style of yoga with many different elements to it.

Harbus: How did you get started in yoga?
DB: When I came out of Swarthmore College, I was working as an investment banker. It was a job with a lot of aggressive elements, and I felt the need for something to bring me down. Via the media, I heard about yoga’s blend of the spiritual and physical, and I signed up for my first set of ten classes. It wasn’t much of an experience at first, with smelly yoga mats, and these gross neon lights. Despite all this, I fell in love with yoga – it really struck a chord with me.

Harbus: How did you learn more about yoga in those next few years?
DB: I wanted to learn more about yoga, so I tried out lots of studios in Philadelphia. Over time, I found I wanted to run and go to the gym less, and do more yoga. After a little while, I went with my sister to a yoga retreat – we thought it would be like a spa, with a beach and some yoga thrown in. However, when we got there – the first thing we saw was a monk in a robe chanting! The experience changed my life, as I learned that yoga is a very serious, dedicated study. It helped me complete the circle of what I loved about yoga and the rich heritage of the spiritual and philosophical side that I hadn’t yet been fully exposed to. Yoga became more than how I exercise. It became a philosophy about how I live my life.

Harbus: And now you teach a yoga class at Shad. How did you get into that?
DB: I first went to teacher’s training to deepen my knowledge at a fundamental level, not to be a teacher per se. After this, when I was accepted at HBS in January 2002, I signed up in Studio Be Yoga as a present to myself. It was a six-month training program, with weekend intensives in anatomy, physiology, philosophy, Sanskrit, and how to teach the postures. By the end of this, I’d more or less cut down work and was spending two to four hours in the studio trying to fortify my knowledge. When I came to school, I realized I missed being in a teaching community, and wanted to share my passion for yoga. I went to Shad, they initially refused, but when an opening came up later, I happily said yes.

Harbus: You spoke about the new philosophy on life you have thanks to yoga. Can you tell us a little more about that?
DB: Yoga has changed me profoundly. People tell me I am more patient, more grounded, and so on. It manifests itself in a few ways. For example, yoga has given me tools to put things in perspective. You can’t control the outside world, but your do have the power to change yourself. You have the power of mind and breath to change and control your interactions with the world.

Harbus: What are some examples of this?
DB: For example, during my job search, there were times when I’d get stressed, and I’d have to meditate to bring myself back to center. Often in periods of stress, I’ll just meditate in the morning, and it sets the tone for my day. It’s important, though, to remember that this is not linear – words like ‘improve’ and ‘get better’ aren’t so relevant. It’s more cyclical. There are times when I have it straight, and times when I don’t.

Harbus: What advice would you give to yoga beginners?
DB: Come to a class with an open mind and an open heart. Be prepared to fall over, to learn a new language, and to be the novice for a while. I also recommend trying a lot of different teachers until you find what you like. There is no one style of yoga that is best for everyone – if you don’t feel free to personalize the experience, then you’re in the wrong class. Make sure your teacher is a licensed teacher with Yoga Alliance. Yoga is an unregulated field, but that’s the closest to a seal of approval.

Harbus: If the HBS community wants to learn more about yoga, what can they do?
DB: You could come to my class on Tuesdays at 6:45pm, or any of the others that are offered every day at Shad. You could also check out www.yogajournal.com, which is the original industry magazine that has basic poses, philosophy, teachers and directories and so on.

Harbus: Great. Good luck with the yoga, and thank you for your time.
DB: No problem.