Donna Farhi is a Yoga teacher who has been practicing for 40 years and teaching since 1982. She is one of the most sought after guest teachers in the world, leading intensives and teacher training programs internationally. Her approach to Yoga is informed by the refinement of natural and universal movement principles that underlie safe and sustainable Yoga practice. This concentration on fundamental principles allows student of all levels of experience and from all traditions to build their own authentic Yoga practice. Considered the “teacher of teachers” students return to Donna’s intensives year after year to be a part of the inspiring evolution of Donna’s own practice and teaching.
Donna is the author of four contemporary classics; The Breathing Book, Yoga Mind, Body & Spirit: A Return to Wholeness and Bringing Yoga to Life: The Everyday Practice of Enlightened Living. Her fourth book Teaching Yoga: Exploring the Teacher-Student Relationship is a curricular text for teaching trainings worldwide. She has been profiled in four separate publications on exceptional contemporary teachers of our time, including Yogini: The Power of Women in Yoga and was recently celebrated in Spirituality and Health in a list of “100 Trailblazers in Yoga & Ayurveda”. After four decades of practice Donna believes that Yoga is about learning to befriend our self and to be in friendship with others as a means to building greater fellowship with all of humanity. American born, Donna now resides in Christchurch, New Zealand on a 30- acre farm with her partner Nick Lyttle and her horses, Santosha, Liberty and Ambrosia.
What do you do best?
I have known since a very young age that my talent lay in teaching. I feel that I create a safe and dynamic context where people can develop their potential. I spend weeks and weeks thinking about and designing intensives as multi-sensorial experiences; combining movement inquiry, Yoga posture, visual and experiential anatomical study, music, poetry, and extracts from seminal thinkers. I look at my class plans to consider how each elemental will build a new understanding such that people come away having opened up to new dimensions within themselves.
What makes you the best?
People who attend my intensives and trainings always have an opportunity to fill out an evaluation form at the end. I mostly do this so that I can glean new insights about how I can improve through noting any consistent negative experience. I make notes on what worked, what didn’t work and I go back to the drawing board over and over; even with intensives I have taught for years to see if there is something new or helpful that might be incorporated. The glowing praise doesn’t help me to improve and refine my work, so while it’s nice, I don’t let it go to my head. Success and failure are two sides of a coin and I try not to get to excited or too upset by those polarities.
What are your aspirations?
I want to be at ease within myself and in the world. I remember an interviewer describing author and transpersonal psychologist James Hillman as “intensely calm”. I think I am also intensely calm, or calmly intense. It’s something that’s been there since I was very young and I would like to be more relaxed. My other great aspiration is to become an accomplished horsewoman. I’ve been studying horsemanship for over 20 years and I would like to have true unity with my horse.
While having a successful international teaching and writing career has been rewarding, I think my students would be surprised to know that the thing I feel most proud of is hanging in there for 10 years with a very difficult, challenging horse called Numen. My farrier, who at the time was shoeing 700 horses a year told me that of all the horses he worked with Numen, truly intimidated him. He was dangerous to load onto a truck, dangerous to shoe, and dangerous to ride. I knew if I gave up on him he would have to be put down. My crowning moment was entering him in a dressage competition: during our test a TRAIN went by the arena, a PLANE flew overhead and a truck with a trailer rattled by. There was a time when he would have exploded. He stayed completely with me and we won that competition. He became so safe I sold him to someone as a quiet schoolmaster and his new owner is very much enjoying him. For me this was an accomplishment of an absolutely focused mind over a long period of time: my own and the horse.
Most Challenging Moment?
The very first teaching training I led in the United States was an unmitigated disaster. Perhaps the participants didn’t feel that way, but afterwards I never wanted to teach again. It took me months to process what had happened. I realized that as much as one might want to provide a medium for open inquiry, there also has to be a safe container for that to happen. So I began working on how to create clear and effective boundaries, for myself and for the participants so that we could work together in an atmosphere of mutual respect and friendship.
The other most challenging time of my career was being the whistle blower revealing a senior teacher who had a history of sexual molestation and abuse within the Iyengar organization. At the time, anyone who spoke out against such perpetrators was essentially crucified by that organization. On the back of that I later accepted an invitation from long time editors at Rodmell Press, Linda Cogozzo and Donald Moyer, to write a book on ethics (Teaching Yoga: Exploring the Teacher-Student Relationship). Having been on ethical boards for years and having listened to countless stories of abuses against vulnerable students, I felt the best way forward was to educate.
If I could take only one book with me onto a deserted island it would be Rainer Maria Rilke’s Book of Hours. “The future must enter you long before it happens.”
My partner Nick Lyttle is infinitely kind, warm and generous. We like to spend lots of time together in gardening, cooking or traveling to experience a new place.
Kas, Turkey is a little village on the southwest coast. My ancestors on my father’s side were Sephardic Jews and were exiled during the Spanish inquisition. Some of the Farhi clan went to Israel, France, and Bulgaria. Mine went to Turkey. When I am in Turkey I feel that I am breathing the air I was meant to breathe, eating the food I was meant to eat. Pomegranates rose water, pistachio nuts . . .
Living in New Zealand I’m a great fan of the micro fine merino wool clothing company, Icebreaker. Merino wool is a beautiful, long lasting fabric–– their clothing make great gifts for my international hosts.
I’m a passionate gardener and cook and love to create vibrant, delicious food for my partner and friends. But truly, my passion is still the horses. I’ve never had a meditation cushion that could buck me off, so I feel that my daily Yoga practice is a preparation for the deeper Yoga practice, which is working with the horses. They reveal to me where I am not yet finished and not yet clear.
After years of studying natural horsemanship and feeling something was missing, I went on to study with Andrew and Manuela McLean at the Australian Equine Behavior Center. That took another 7 years, and while incredibly valuable, I still felt something was missing. I recently had the opportunity to work with Buck Brannaman, undoubtedly one of the world’s finest horsemen. I feel like I have to start all over again, go back to the basics and somehow come out the other side.