The Teacher's Teacher

The Teacher's Teacher

Yoga student and writer, Christine Asbridge, interviews Raquel Alves and finds out how a life devoted to her practice and to spiritual development naturally led her to becoming a yoga mentor.

On many a weeknight in Godalming people gather at St Hilary’s School for a yoga session with Raquel Alves. Hers is a well-balanced blend of yoga poses, individual challenges, grounding meditation...all delivered with her calming, intuitive voice that seems to have each of our individual needs in mind.

Gauging the energies
Raquel is astute at gauging the energies in the room. Almost instinctively, she can sense certain stress levels, physical or emotional tensions, and instantly she is able to adapt the session’s practice to address and balance the energy present. This is one of the main reasons she chose to become a yoga practitioner.

‘I am by nature a very nurturing person, and the fact that I could feel and was so affected by yoga that I believed, and still believe, in the impact yoga has on one’s life,’ Raquel explains. ‘I wanted to share this beauty with all, this amazing self-help tool towards knowing oneself more fully.’

Her dedication to developing her yoga and her natural gift of tapping in to an individual’s strengths and needs have culminated in Raquel being approached to become a mentor for the Life Centre/Yoga Campus Teacher Training course. For nearly two years she has helped guide future yoga instructors to find their own style of teaching. She mentors a number of trainees, answering questions, assisting with their practice, even checking their essays prior to submitting them to course tutors.

‘I also have to assist them on all levels – emotional and educational - while keeping a check on their progress. I watch their teaching prior to their final exams. We meet at my house about four times a year for additional one-on-one teaching,’ Raquel adds.

The step to yoga mentoring is the latest in a lifelong spiritual path for Raquel, whose spiritual name, Bhakti Swaroopa, means ‘Epitome of Devotion’. ‘I was born in Mozambique and my parents were staunch spiritualists,’ Raquel recalls. Being open to alternative ways of thinking, her parents supported her interest in transcendental meditation at the age of 12, when an older friend initiated her in the practice. Her first experience with yoga came at the age of 18, when another friend taught her the Sun Salute.

‘I continued to practise this along with TM, and in my early 20s I came across a book called “Yoga” by Swami Vishnu Devananda,’ Raquel says. ‘I remember opening the book and seeing the swami on the first page and wishing I could meet him! This dream came true in June 1992 when I trained with this same guru.’

Listening to the call of fate
Raquel emigrated to this country in 1989. Within weeks she met her first teacher, Sri Indar Nath ‘One Saturday morning Sri Indar suggested I train as a yoga teacher,’ she explains. Listening to the call of fate, two weeks later she was in Quebec to participate in a Sivananda course. She arrived to find some familiar faces – Swami Vishnu Devananda himself, and a yogi who was photographed doing poses for ‘Yoga’.

Meeting her Swami
‘When I walked into my first lesson, I was astonished to see the man in the photos of my first yoga book doing a demonstration to the new recruits!’ she says, adding that the six-week intensive training course proved profound and life changing. She returned to the UK with the realisation that she must continue training, so she became involved with the British Wheel of Yoga, training with Swami Davamurti.

Raquel’s training in alternative therapies is broad: she has studied yoga therapy as well as Ayurvedic massage, acupressure, massage, aromatherapy and Indian head massage and esoteric healing. She has practised Iyengar Yoga for more than 10 years, which she uses in her classes to emphasise correct alignment. She also has studied Ashtanga Yoga since 2000, originally with John Scott, until he returned to New Zealand, and she completed a yoga therapy course with Sushill Batcharya of Nepal. In 2004 Raquel travelled to India to study with Sri Patabhi Jois for four months. Since 2007, she has trained with Rod Stryker, participating in his Para Yoga Teacher Training, which she expects to complete by the end of the year.

Earlier this year Raquel was initiated into the lineage and given permission by Rod Stryker to give mantra to students. ‘This was a very emotional and significant honour in my yoga path. The mantra comes alive...I have been given a blessing and that makes the mantra more powerful,’ she says. She works closely with Stryker, assisting him when he comes to London for his five-day intensives, usually attended by about 90 students who are both teachers and teachers-in-training.

Raquel brings a wealth of knowledge to her classes and empowers her students to have fun, self enquiry and deep reflection. Yoga provides a mind-body connection for a more complete form of ‘exercise’. With a gentle approach to the poses (asanas), yoga is suitable for everyone, regardless of age or fitness levels as it increases flexibility, improves circulation and strengthens muscles. Yoga also emphasises breathing techniques (pranayama) that focus the mind and control the flow of breath into and out of the body, quieting the spirit. 

First appeared in Take a Breath magazine November 2012