Centered right here in the one and only BSGE of Astoria is my lovely yoga teacher, Ms. Kendra Jackson. I thought it would be a great idea to give you guys some insights into the new world of yoga I just embarked, and what better way then ask a yogini herself.
Explain you lifestyle before taking practice in yoga.
“Well I started dancing when I was really young, so my background before yoga was dance. I was a dance and psychology major. But my interest in health stems from my parents. My dad had a coop healthy store when I was a kid. My lifestyle then was geared toward health someway. My mom had a stationary bike, we went for walks around the park. She would jog and I would roller skate — we made health fun. My interest in yoga came from an injury in dancing, I thought it would be therapeutic. I was much more interested in yoga than dance. I was told by other dancers, I would always feel the pain. And I did. But through all these years of yoga and stretching my hamstrings properly I no longer feel the pain. It completely changed the way I stretch. I honestly thought I would always feel the pain.”
How did you transition into teaching yoga?
“So I came here in 2004, teaching dance. In 2006 I did my first yoga teacher training– 200 hours of training. I started adding yoga into my dancing lessons. At the end of each unit I would throw in a yoga class. Students began asking for, of course Savasana. Using sun salutations also as a warm up; it felt better to me to start classes that way. It loosened up their body more than a traditional dance or warm up or workout. In 2009, I decided to see what happens if I made it all yoga. I got props from donors and over the last 6 or 7 years we got all the props you would see in a yoga studio. It grew more popular, I never got any setbacks. The transition was me really not dancing anymore and practicing yoga and slipping it in to the students. I even had a morning class once, coming in at 7:00 in the morning — which was crazy.”
Has yoga helped you overcome any personal struggles?
“Physically was just the hamstring, trying to learn how to use and fully integrate my whole body. I got that from dance but it is not as forced as yoga. It’s not quick, it’s not sharp. Emotionally, it was like my therapy. I lost my mom in 2009. It was like my trying to send her energy and build her up in an energetic way. Some might call it a prayer. She lives in Boston so it is difficult for us to live apart. I am an only child, so I had to push through this myself. My intention was to uplift myself and try to send as much energy to keep her here. And she was here for 10 more years. It was an eye opener for me, that yoga can be this spiritual therapeutic act.”
Has your lifestyle changed since? When people think of yoga, they think of zen. Do you now feel calm or still find yourself impulsive –maybe angry at times?
“Most definitely, yes. Luckily my husband is the calm one. I still get angry and flare up- you still feel that anxiety. But you remember to come back to your breath and approach people in a kind, compassionate fashion. That’s part of living the practice. In blowing up in someone else, you also feel something else. So remember the practice and why you do so. It’s similar to being in a yoga pose. When I can’t do it now, I can at least do part of it.”
Are there any limitations to yoga? Is there an ideal age or time to practice?
“There can be some limitations, but the reason why we have these props is so that everyone can practice and do the poses. I have seen a person of heavy weight who uses a chair or prop to help with their alignment. But anyone can do this, from infants to the elderly to even the injured in tip top shape. One of the phrases of yoga is practice and all is coming. It should be done daily. In regards to the right time, traditionally it’s morning before sunrise. That is the most auspicious time of the day. Everything is quiet, the mind is not agitated. Also, a few hours before bed.”
In your perspective, do you see that yoga has changed its definition? How so?
“I think we’ve come far from what yoga is traditionally. There are some practices where the music is really loud and so are the teachers. There’s no balance. Yoga should have this sense of effort and ease. The word yoga comes from the Sanskrit word yuj which means union or binding. I don’t think people know what yoga really is. Before I thought it was just poses, not much of the philosophy or history. Yoga is so vast, its thousands of years old. The door of yoga is the practice — the poses. But then people see that it is beyond that, a spiritual practice.
But yoga gets lost in quick training. I took 200 hours of training but that only scratched the surface –even 300 hours of training which I’ve done. The bigger names in yoga have been practicing for forty years. But it’s different for everyone. Some people just want that one day a week to feel stretched and relaxed and move on with their life.”
How many years have you practiced yoga?
“Over twenty. Yeah, that went fast.”
In a rigorous, highly academic school like this there really is no room for leisure. I find it lucky to have a class dedicated to yoga. Seems to be a necessity considering students or should I say teenagers in general lack self awareness these days. What is your take on this matter? Should yoga be an option or an important class just like maths or history?
“At first I thought, maybe students should have a choice. Not everybody might want yoga. Then I realized just talking with parents their child was not happy seeing yoga on their program, but now it’s their favorite class. And this is coming from boys and girls. Initially, people have a misunderstanding of what it is. They thing it is just sitting and breathing — where they think it is gonna be boring and not physical. But then they start to feel something in their bodies and their minds change about not only what this practice is but how and what to think of themselves. Students come in here to rest. People come to yoga to learn how to rest; it’s crazy people have forgotten to learn how to do that. In a school like this, it’s a necessity. It’s the only class where you get to learn about yourself.”
Any advice for your students or anyone interested in practicing yoga in the future? What mindset should beginners have when entering this – not only physical, but spiritual practice?
“I gave some advice to a friend of mine who is probably close to sixty recently who just started yoga. I said don’t go further than what you truly think you should do or can do and breathe deeply. Connecting your breath is the biggest thing. If you see the rest of the class in headstand, it doesn’t mean it’s time for you to be as well. You need to recognize your abilities. But most importantly, is focusing on your breathing.
Beginners mind – always. Even as an advanced practitioner, come with a beginners mind. Wipe the slate clean, listen to what the instructor says. Do Trikonasana or triangle pose a million times; every time you’ll learn something new.”