A yoga teacher’s sixth sense
Whether yoga professor Susan Smith is walking through a crowded city, sharing lunch with acquaintances or friends or teaching a roomful of yoga students, she constantly feels the emotions of others within her own body: lighthearted joy, spontaneity, giddiness, trauma, suffering, fear.
A self-proclaimed “empath,” Smith says she has powerful intuitive experiences she calls “hits.” They come in physical form first—a pain in her wrist while she sits next to a person who tried to commit suicide, a throbbing ovary near a woman who lost a baby or an overwhelming feeling of heartbreak—and are followed by corresponding mental visions and images.
“It was funny because I always could make friends really easily, and I think that’s because I could read people,” Smith, 52, says.
However, she didn’t consciously fine-tune her skills until she worked for Xerox Corporations in the 1990s, where instinctively understanding clients’ mindsets often helped her to close big deals.
Smith’s rare gift eventually allowed her to transition from a corporate job to one as a successful yoga instructor.
“People come to yoga because they want change in their life—something isn’t quite right,” Smith says. “And they’re looking for their purpose, happiness, direction or relief from suffering. As a teacher, it’s your job to hold sacred space for them and to be able to ask the right questions that help facilitate their own self-learning and self-healing.”
Smith admits that although she never intends to make others feel uncomfortable, her words are not always met with open hearts or minds.
“People can only hear what they’re capable of hearing emotionally at that point in time,” she says. “And for some, they’ll get angry or they’ll retreat and get very afraid. Some people are never ready and some people take it home and they have to digest it—it might be a month or it could be years.”
Smith wasn’t always passionate about yoga. After graduating from West Virginia University with a dual degree in business and acting, Smith initially dreamed of becoming an actress, working double shifts as a bartender so she could buy a one-way ticket to Los Angeles.
Her acting career didn’t go as planned. After a marriage, a divorce and much heartache, Smith returned to her hometown of Baltimore. She began working at Spa Lady Corporations in 1988, moving her way up from an assistant manager to the regional manager for five health clubs.
She shifted gears again in 1990, working as a computer systems specialist for Xerox Corporations. Although she received a sizable paycheck and learned a lot about business, sales and emotional intelligence, Smith says she longed to fulfill another piece of herself by delving into a passionate project.
In 1997, still at Xerox, Smith received a yoga workout tape from a friend—but because it wasn’t high-intensity cardio or any other kind of familiar fitness routine, she was initially unenthused.
“I really thought yoga was for sissies,” Smith says.
But curiosity got the best of her, and 30 minutes after popping in the video, every muscle in her body trembled. Sweat glistened on her skin. As she ended the session, a calming peace traveled throughout her entire being.
Immediately hooked, Smith signed up for a teacher training within the next few days. She opened One Yoga in 2006, a company offering yoga teacher certifications, yoga classes, retreats, seminars, workshops and corporate health and wellness services.
She also teaches at Wilmington University, and since 2013 has served as an adjunct professor here at the university. She currently teaches “Yoga for Wellness” (BHAN267), which focuses on learning to live a conscious, aware life—“fully present and joyful,” Smith says. The class also reads ancient scriptural texts, learns mindful eating and practices Vinyasa and Hatha yoga styles as well as the art of mediation.
“I love the students,” Smith says. “I think if we’re really going to make a change in this world—if I can make a change in this world—we need to start with the next generation of great minds that has the power to make that change.”
Smith’s mission is to share everything that she already knows and continues to learn so that she can help others improve their life and discover their spirituality.
“Yoga has given me the gift to see,” Smith says. “When I’m with you, I get to experience your beautiful essence, the divine[ness] in you, and I think that’s the biggest gift—to be able to see and be with people in a loving and nonjudgmental way and connect completely. And I live for that.”