“…self inquiry and spirituality are the heart of yoga.
Without them one gets a Wal-mart version of yoga.”
Jeannie Stevens has been teaching Yoga since 1975 both Sidney, BC and Whitehorse, Yukon. She was trained in Yoga by the late Swami Sivananda Radha and now sits with Gangaji of Ashland, Oregon. Over the past 35 years she has worked with many different teachers in gaining experience and insight into the long term practice of yoga.
Jeannie’s unique blend of teaching emphasizes the Integral nature of Yoga in a practical, sustainable way. She is well versed in the Yoga Sutras; asana practice; yoga as therapy, chanting, pranayama and meditation. She also works therapeutically with individuals recovering from illness, injury or loss and those wishing to deepen their personal relationship with Yoga. Prior to 2008, Jeannie provided yoga therapy for a client dealing with ALS. Read about her inspiring and touching experience in this article Yoga and ALS from the International Association of Yoga Therapists. Jeannie is registered with Yoga Alliance and the International Association of Yoga Therapists.
Jeannie is the founder of The Yoga Studio in Sidney, BC. Drop in for a Hatha class or book a private lesson.
What follows is an written Interview between Jeannie Stevens and Ainsley Magno, the founder of Yellow Yogi Victoria.
2011 May 4
AINSLEY MAGNO: What does yoga mean to you?
JEANNIE STEVENS: When I am asked about what is yoga, I always refer the inquirer back to the definition of yoga as related in Patanjali’s yoga sutras. Paraphrasing the first few verses ~ “As the fluxuations of the mind grow quiet, what is revealed is your True Nature.” This statement reveals the deep promise of Yoga that we in this lifetime, in this day and age, can come to the realization and recognition of the Truth inside ourselves and from there, the recognition of it everywhere. Greeting each other in Namaste reminds us each time we bow to see beyond the physical form and to meet in this expanded place of the Heart, a place of love, compassion and true humanity. This is yoga. This is the dawning of mindfulness, that we are both the physical and… THIS “something else” uniting and intertwining in this individual form we call ourselves. This “something else”, this awareness, is the recognition of the deep inner wisdom (the ‘satguru’) within each one of us. When we can access and draw upon this inner wisdom, we can live a life of balance and compassion.
For me yoga has been a roadmap; the eight limbs of yoga have given me practical steps to personal development and higher consciousness. Whether I pursued the journey from a Hatha perspective, or a Jnana Yoga practise, meditation or chanting, in the end they all gradually led me to the same deep place within.
AINSLEY MAGNO: How and why did you decide to start the practice of yoga?
JEANNIE STEVENS: My first introduction to yoga was through my grandmother. Born in the late 1800’s she had an interest in the occult and so I was raised with an open mind towards there being something more than just the physical life. In the sixties, I met a prophetic man who indicated to me that I would eventually find yoga. I took my first yoga class in 1974 at the YMCA in Victoria when my two daughters were 1 and 2 ½ years old. Most of the yoga being taught at that time was a traditional form and Iyengar Yoga was just being introduced to the yoga community. From that very first class, I knew yoga would become a part of my life. I took many classes in that first year and the following year began to teach under the guidance of Elaine Griff. Since then, I have studied with many teachers over the years but my greatest blessing has been in having two women gurus – Swami Sivananda Radha and Gangaji. They have both shown me the road and it is at their feet my path of yoga has unfolded. I bow in gratitude to them both and dedicate this interview to them.
“As the practise progresses,
we begin to see its affects in our whole life.
We notice the way we are standing;
…we notice the beauty of a sunrise.
It is at this point, for many, yoga becomes a way of life.”
AINSLEY MAGNO: How is your class different from others?
JEANNIE STEVENS: My teaching style has grown and evolved over the years thanks to the many teachers I have studied with. Each workshop has given me a little more to work with and to digest and to incorporate into my personal style of teaching. Swami Radha always encouraged each and every one of us to make our “own experiment” with the practises so that we would gain first hand experience. She cautioned us to never blindly follow any teaching and that we must find out for ourselves. I teach from the perspective that it is the yoga that is the great teacher and if students are willing to sincerely engage and to reflect upon their practises, they too will gain their own insights and wisdom into the teachings of Yoga. They will have first hand experience of the great benefits of yoga.
My training was in the Science of Yoga and the Kundalini System and not primarily from a Hatha perspective. I teach an integral approach of Ashtanga Yoga (Royal Path ~ eight limbs of yoga). Right from the beginning, I introduce practises for understanding our mind through reflection and meditation. It took me a long time to really “get” the importance of the unity of yoga ~ body, mind and spirit. I noticed that some students might be able to do a pose well but had very little understanding or control of their minds. I began to see where the 8 limbs were always intertwined and inseparable. How could you move without breath? How could you balance on your head without mindfulness? What good was standing on your head if your heart was closed?
Sometimes I include ritual, chanting and even prayer when I see the need for students to reunite with their hearts. Chanting has the amazing ability to bypass the mind and to find the heart directly. I also like students to use their minds in understanding the basic make-up of the poses and their own anatomy; to take responsibility for their own safety and development.
I would say that over the years my teaching style has become simplified. As a teacher, it is my intention to create a safe and sacred space for each individual to reconnect with themselves. I encourage growth not so much in a linear way (more proficient) but in a deepening way. When we deepen, we become kinder, more compassionate human beings. What greater gift can we offer for the well-being of our planet?
AINSLEY MAGNO: When I attended your yoga class I especially enjoyed your narrative; how you incorporate self-inquiry and spirituality into your teaching. For those that have never tried your class, can you tell us more about these aspects and their benefits?
JEANNIE STEVENS: These two qualities of self inquiry and spirituality are the heart of yoga. Without them one gets a Wal-mart version of yoga. My teacher, Swami Radha, encouraged everyone to dig deeper. There is a certain point in yoga where consciousness really begins to open for people and it is at this point we have the opportunity to inquire into the meaning of our life and purpose. As for spirituality, well yoga doesn’t just mean the union of body and mind. Understanding our own spirit and make-up (Who am I?) is the true completion of the union of Yoga. It brings us home, as the Buddhists so beautifully describe it, to the “Jewel Lotus” of the heart.
” ‘Know Thyself and Be Free.’…
It is the ultimate instruction in the practise of yoga.”
AINSLEY MAGNO: You describe yourself as someone who makes yoga a way of life. Can you elaborate on this?
JEANNIE STEVENS: We often start out with yoga as an extra curricular practise. As the practise progresses, we begin to see its affects in our whole life. We notice the way we are standing; we notice we are a little bit kinder to someone we’ve had difficulties with; we notice the beauty of a sunrise. It is at this point, for many, yoga becomes a way of life.
AINSLEY MAGNO: For many practitioners, it is natural to ‘hit the wall’ from time to time. By this I mean feel discouraged about their progress, or start questioning the path of yoga and what it means to them. What would be your response to these types of students?
JEANNIE STEVENS: The best advice I can give you is to be kind to yourself and patient. There will always be ups and downs in a lifetime of practise and if you think about the cycles of everything, these dry times are necessary – they are part of the balance. In these times a different approach can help. If you have primarily a hatha practise – try chanting – try a little Jnana Yoga. Community or ‘sangha’ is also very helpful. Just before my teacher died she counselled us to stay together, to support one and other, she knew in the long haul we would need this kind of support to keep going on the path.
“When we deepen, we become kinder,
more compassionate human beings.
What greater gift can we offer for the well-being of our planet?”
AINSLEY MAGNO: You are also an accomplished yoga therapist. What are some of the teachings you provide your clients that students can incorporate into their own practice?
JEANNIE STEVENS: As defined by the International Association of Yoga Therapists, “Yoga Therapy is the process of empowering individuals to progress toward improved health and well-being through the application of the philosophy and practice of Yoga”. In my role as a yoga therapist, I create an environment for the client to explore whatever their concern whether a bad back or a spiritual crisis. I draw from my yoga experience as well as my life experience but in the end I believe each person knows what is best for them, and I act as a kind of interpreter.
AINSLEY MAGNO: Tell me one quote you live by.
JEANNIE STEVENS: “Know Thyself and Be Free.” I believe this sums up the heart of Swami Radha’s teachings and now my own teachings. It is the ultimate instruction in the practise of yoga.
Drop-in for one of Jeannie’s Hatha Yoga classes at The Yoga Studio in Sidney, BC.