Career Moves: From HBO to Yoga Teacher


By Susan R. Cohen  |  

Leslie Peters, currently the director of the B.K.S. Iyengar Yoga Institute of Los Angeles, left the world of glamour, glitz, and limos at HBO in Los Angeles where she was associate manager of talent relations.

Peters began her career in New York City as the assistant manager of a rock ‘n’ roll band. She handled the band’s publicity, escorting them to The Today Show and the MTV Awards. In 1985, she moved to Los Angeles and began working as a temporary hire at HBO. She was immediately hired as an executive assistant and four years later moved into the Talent Relations department and her position as the liaison between HBO and actors, directors, producers, and writers. She handled all promotional efforts for the celebrities, including screening parties, media events, and travel arrangements.

Many people might envy Peters’ job. She traveled the country with award-winning stars, hosted parties for the top names in Hollywood, and was working with one of the best entertainment companies in the world. A typical assignment was traveling to New Orleans to tape a musical special with the Neville Brothers, Bonnie Raitt, Dennis Quaid, and Ed Bradley from 60 Minutes. She had an unlimited expense account and a “generous and supportive” boss who was conveniently 3,000 miles away. Despite a glamorous position and the autonomy, Peters did not feel happy with her job.

“I knew deep inside that my inner world was in conflict with my external world,” she says. “My values and philosophy of life were at odds with what I was doing. I was devoting my life to those more fortunate than myself and catering to ‘needs’ like cell phones, hotel reservations, and expensive gifts. The job was like eating too much candy.”

Peters started to practice yoga. At first, she was reluctant. But when her boyfriend presented her with a gift certificate for an introductory course and one month of unlimited yoga classes, it was difficult not to accept.

Peters started taking two to three yoga classes a week at the B.K.S. Iyengar Yoga Institute of Los Angeles. Her chronic headaches began to disappear. Her injuries as a result of regular aerobics began to heal. Although she did not really enjoy yoga, she continued. Something inside her told her it was good for her.

The power of yoga did not hit Peters like a lightening rod: “It was like a slow, leaky faucet,” she says. “Each drop eventually filled me up until I felt that yoga had penetrated me through and through. Over time, I began to see and feel the benefits.” Yoga was also nudging Peters to face her dissatisfaction with her job. “Yoga was like a wake-up call that clarified for me that I needed to do something different.” To counter her frustration with HBO, she enrolled in a three-year Iyengar Yoga teacher’s training program to intensify her personal yoga practice.

A pastor’s daughter, Peters craved a job where she could help improve the lives of those needing help. She was accepted into the Master’s Program at the Annenberg School of Communication at the University of Southern California. “I wanted to create mass media campaigns for developing nations on things like AIDS and family planning,” she says. Peters was happier at work knowing that her job would change in the future.


But an HBO awards party pushed Peters “over the edge.” Peters had an unpleasant encounter with a producer that left her feeling like “a cream puff without any power.” She decided that her party-going job made her feel mindless, like “an hors d’oeuvre being passed around.” Shortly after the party, she quit HBO, completed her degree, and began to look for more rewarding work.

During her career search, she was asked if she would run the B.K.S. Iyengar Institute. The director had resigned and the staff knew Peters was between jobs. Although she knew it was a full-time job for part-time pay, she accepted.

The Institute was financially shaky and had little infrastructure. “I left the fast track, but I was working harder than ever before. The place was in bad shape. I missed HBO’s mailroom, the computer department, and the secretarial support. But I did not miss the job,” she says.

Within a matter of months, the institute grew stronger. During the next two years, Peters completed her teacher’s training program and taught classes while running the organization. Whenever she had doubts about whether she should be teaching, something magical would happen to reassure her that she was exactly where she needed to be. First, her classes doubled in size. Then, she was invited to serve as the model for two CD-ROMs about Iyengar Yoga. This project took her to India, where she worked directly with Iyengar.

“I was doing the asanas and Mr. Iyengar himself was watching and spotting me,” she says. “It was like going to Einstein and trying to explain the theory of relativity back to him. It was a remarkable experience.”

Peters couldn’t be more pleased that she left the world of glamour for the world of union. “Yogic philosophy is much more in line with who I am and how I want to live my life.”