How Iyengar Yoga started in the Highlands…

This year we are celebrating 50 years since the first Iyengar Yoga classes in Scotland began and there is a dedicated website with further information but that got us thinking about how classes first started in Inverness. We asked Ailsa Peck to reminisce about how she started it all:

Starting Iyengar Yoga in Inverness

A personal view by Ailsa Peck.


I started yoga in 1974 with Bob and Kathy Welham firstly at Edinburgh University and later at the Bruntsfield centre. I remember them as exacting teachers. There were few props, maybe just some bricks for the standing poses, but I responded to their quiet and disciplined approach.

In 1982 I started teacher training with Kathy and when Mr Iyengar came to Edinburgh in 1984 I was inspired by the demonstration  by the more experienced teachers.

I  obtained my Introductory Level Certificate in 1985, and taught first  at Edinburgh University and later at the Bruntsfield Centre. I moved to Highland region in 1988.

Setting the scene

Thinking back to that time 36 years ago when I arrived there were a few yoga classes around and I sampled some, but non compared with Iyengar yoga.

I was naïve and inexperienced but enthusiastic and enjoyed teaching  and I wanted to introduce Mr Iyengar’s teaching method to people who were interested.

What were the difficulties

So, how did I go about it and what were the difficulties? One is the size of Highland Region, which is 1/3 of the land area of Scotland, so there is not a lot that one person can do on a regional basis.

Distance can lead to the potential isolation of an individual teacher from supportive yoga communities in Edinburgh and Glasgow where personal contact, attending classes and workshops can keep practice fresh.

While understanding the principles  and ethics of yoga may have been developing in urban communities, in more rural areas long held beliefs could be a barrier to teaching yoga. I vividly remember one of my pupils coming to me and saying that her church elders had told her that she was letting in the devil by relaxing her mind body and spirit her mind in Savasana.

Goodness knows what they thought of me!

Establishing classes

I lived in a tiny village 30 miles away from Inverness, but I needed to  establish classes in a more populated urban area  so I chose to teach at the Spectrum Centre in the middle of Inverness. Because I had to travel long distances to get to the classes I taught three on one day there, and another in Drumnadochit which was only 16 miles from home. Quite close by Highland standards!

The press came to the first class in Inverness and my photograph was splashed on the front page of the Inverness Courier. I was lucky to attract some really dedicated pupils, some who were new to yoga and others who had come from other classes as well as their teachers

After a couple of years I had enough able students who would enjoy workshops and a wider approach from more experienced teachers. Among others Margaret Austen and  Elaine Pidgeon came. They were so kind in supporting my efforts and the students benefitted from fresh new perspectives.

Supporting myself

During this time I managed to get to as many classes and workshops as possible in Edinburgh . That was a drive of 7 hours there and back but I never minded that. It renewed my enthusiasm and refreshed my teaching.

I later gained my Junior Intermediate certificate by hard work at home and attending classes at the centre.

Teacher training

I wanted to be able to offer teacher training classes but in 1992 I didn’t hold the  correct certificate but I approached Jean Maslen and was given permission to start. I was so naïve, Kathy had made it look easy. At that time was really lucky to have been joined in Inverness by Fiona Sarjeant who had already been doing teacher training with Anke Van Bevren in Aberdeen. Fiona and Donna Youngson qualified in 1995 which was wonderful.

 Bowing out

Unfortunately I developed a chronic back problem and this together with starting to work full time and travel abroad put paid to my yoga classes, but Donna  and Fiona took over the baton. I eventually left Highland for Edinburgh in 2006.

Iyengar Yoga in Inverness now.

Looking at the Yoga Inverness website I can only marvel at the changes over the past 36 years. There are four teachers and both regular classes at various levels in a number of different venues, zoom classes, and workshops by visiting teachers. Looking at the online it is wonderful to see the positive feedback from students.

I  can only thank the dedication of all the teachers there who have been able to carry on from my stumbling beginnings.

Good luck to Yoga Inverness!

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