How many of us have experienced wandering among the Alton Hayner Library’s shelves or browsing online articles when a book, article, or video on “happiness” caught your eye?
After all, isn’t that what we as humans really want — past the fame or the wealth — happiness and a sense of well-being?
For Suzanne Cogan, an Alton native and yoga instructor of nearly eight years, teaching yoga is more than the black stretchy pants and sun salutations, and it’s even more than the physical benefit of becoming a healthier human being. To Cogan, yoga is her secret to happiness.
Suzanne’s yoga journey began 14 years ago when she was pregnant with her second child, Sam. Introduced to her first yoga class at Alton Memorial Hospital, Cogan found it not only a useful and fun exercise, but also a tremendous help in recovering from morning sickness. She was hooked.
A year later, Cogan became active in her practice by becoming a regular at the Be Well Now studio under yoga instructor Cheri Bailey, essentially the yoga sensei/Jedi Master of 25 years of experience.
“At that point in my life, everything about yoga was really resonating with me,” Cogan recalls. “I identified strongly with the Type A personality and I still am extremely structured in my life, but her yoga classes taught me what’s important and what to let go of, what makes me human. Teaching was a natural extension of my own personal yoga practice.”
Cogan’s desire to share her new secret power inspired her to take up teaching and thus she began studying under Bailey, completing an extensive 200-hour official yoga certification. Although Cheri now lives in California, “(as a teacher), she was a person of great energy who lit up the room — and wanted to share that light with other people. She was the one who had the most impact on my yoga experience and wanting to teach instead of just be taught.”
After teaching at Nautilus Fitness Club in Alton and at the United Methodist Village with her senior class twice a week for close to a decade, Cogan recognizes that each individual and class has a “completely different feel.”
According to Cogan, “after six months or 60 years, (yoga) starts to read itself into you as a person: you can’t deny that.”
Cogan said the spirituality she experiences in yoga is for other athletes similar to the reward in a good run through the woods.
“Yoga has woven itself into the fabric of my being,” she said. “It’s part of my everyday life and I don’t even notice it anymore.”
Cogan reveals her secret to happiness via staying present: “awareness is key to life. If you’re folding laundry or having dinner with your husband or at the kids’ game; if you’re aware, your enjoyment level will be 100 percent.”
“Too often we’re detached throughout our day-to-day and live on autopilot,” she says, with that all-too-familiar air that suggests that she too, like all of us, experiences the phenomenon of detachment.
However, it is yoga that has taught her “to engage in life — instead of going through the motions. Of course, there is no perfection when it comes to yoga, and I’ve stopped striving for that.”
During a class, Cogan reassured with words of praise and comfort. With soothing sounds one might hear as an accompaniment to a Japanese boathouse several thousand years ago — the gentle splash of raindrops, Oriental-sounding harps and dainty chimes — the class truly becomes an escape from all backgrounds and generations.
These followers range from busy moms to men nursing inflamed joints. Each student is reminded to “go as far as you like, as long as it feels good and is helping your body” when it comes to building specific yoga poses.
Suzanne advises that if someone is “concerned about coming to class, find an instructor that makes you feel valuable and beautiful. You should walk into class and feel better when you leave. I’m not there to teach you to possess the philosophy of yoga but rather to encourage you to love yourself in the moment and place where you are today.”
“I never have to feel like others are watching or judging me,” one student commented. “In fact, the way she teaches with the lights dimmed is the second-best part about this class. I forget my weight, my flexibility — OK, lack thereof — and am all alone and can truly concentrate on doing my best for my mind and my body. I’m loving this!”
When asked what her favorite part about the class was, she simply stated “oh — her!” Cogan’s humble approach to teaching yoga pays off through the reviews by her students, several of whom have been followers for several years.
Yoga has helped Suzanne realign herself spiritually and “value real things: real food, real people, and…” she chuckles “hate technology … I miss deeper connections.”
Cogan is the type of person who makes an effort to touch someone’s shoulder before class, and give one of those truly happy slow smiles as she tells them how good it is that they have come to join her. This happiness radiates into the lives she touches and into the minds and bodies of those who follow Suzanne in her journey not only to build better bridges and downward-facing dogs, but also to face reality with an honest sense of meaning, focus, and joy.