An interview with Jill White

March 17th, 2013 in Uncategorized

Jill teaches vinyasa flow classes Sundays at 12:30 pm.

What was your biggest struggle with the practice when you first began?
My biggest struggle when I first started practicing had to be the challenge I faced when it came to ‘being on my mat.’  It’s so easy for us to be lost in thought most of the time.  And even when we’ve cut out the time in our schedule to treat ourselves to a yoga class, very often we’re not really there with the present experience.  Our brains continue to churn away: thinking and planning, going over our to-do lists, worrying and stressing, and next thing you know, the class is over and you’ve missed a really wonderful practice.  But over time, the more you practice that practice, the more you’re able to really connect with the present sensations and bring more awareness to your breath.  What helped me was becoming more aware of when my brain wanted to drift on me, taking me away from my experience on my mat.  I acknowledged that drift and brought myself back by tuning into my breath and observing the various sensations of my body, both pleasant and unpleasant.  Do I ever have a drift-free practice?  Very rarely, but over time I continue to feel more and more connected to my yoga and the experience and sensations I get from it.

What is your favorite pose and why?
It’s hard to just pick one, but there is something amazing about that final relaxation pose, shavasana. Some people can’t wait for that rest at the end of class, but others have a real challenge with the pose.  For some, it’s hard to honor that well deserved stillness at the end.  Shavasana should serve as a way to consciously relax the body after the hard work during practice, but also a chance to reboot and rejuvenate the mind and body.  It’s a challenge to stay consciously connected to the experience (if you fall asleep that’s okay) and completely surrender into the pose.  Some people find it very difficult to resist that urge to fidget or drift to think about other things like what they need to do after class ends.  You might be the most athletic, anatomically blessed yogi that allows you to tackle any pose thrown at you during class…but if you can’t allow yourself to let go, rest, and relax to find that stillness and calm during shavasana, your practice may be a little incomplete.

What made you first want to be a teacher?
Originally I was a biology teacher at the high school level, a very challenging but rewarding place to be.  When I was battling my very slow, 2 year recovery from an unusual case of thyroid cancer, yoga came to my rescue.  The most gentle, almost geriatric poses I learned from the beginning
classes I used to take were all I could do for many months.  But slowly, the postures (and my range of motion) progressed and I was on the road to recovery.  Not only was I healing my body, I was healing my sad and defeated mind.  Toxic thoughts of ‘will I ever get back to my normal health?’ and ‘will I ever feel the way I did before?’ started to disappear.  I was able to accept things as they were, and move forward.

When I was able to realize my mind and body makeover came from the yoga I was doing, I became deeply passionate about its healing capabilities.  I had to share this with others.  I knew I wanted to learn more about yoga through a training course whether that meant I ever  stepped into a studio to teach or not.  But after my training at the White Lotus Foundation, I just felt I was following the right path.  I am a teacher at heart, and the biology class will always be there if I want to go back, but currently I belong in the yoga studio sharing what I’ve learned and the gratitude I have for this wonderful practice.

What has yoga taught you?
What yoga has taught me is invaluable.  Yoga taught me to slow down.  To breathe.  To listen.  To be grateful.  To be open.  To be compassionate.  To stop comparing.  To accept.  To not take myself so seriously.  To laugh.  To let go.

Additionally, yoga has taught me that pain (whether emotional or physical) is not permanent.  What I’ve learned is there are many different types of pain…many different colors of pain on the pain spectrum.  Pain is a voice in your body’s information system.  A stronger painful sensation will tell us “Stop!,” while a different pain will tell us, “You can do more of that, but please go slowly.”  If we’ve injured our neck for example and we want to turn our head to the right, either from pain or actual inability to move, our bodies won’t allow us to turn our head.  Pain’s voice might be saying something like, “I listened to you before and look what happened!  So try what you want, but I’m protecting myself.  Push any further, and I’ll yell really loudly!”

It’s when we learn to connect and cooperate with our bodies and respect its innate intelligence that we can move slowly and sensitively within our practice by listening and responding to the body’s feedback.  Yoga should never be “painful.”  But throughout the practice, you’ll be faced will challenges that your body has never tried, isn’t used to, or has difficulty with.  If you ever feel sharp shooting pain, you should immediately stop what you’re doing.  But discomfort may be a different story.  Because pain has many layers and colors, when you’re in a challenging posture, see if you can tune into what the body is trying to tell you.  Does it say “Stop!,” or does it say, “Okay, I’m okay with this for now,” and see if you can breathe and almost coax those muscles into relaxing and letting go, eventually being able to move a little more into the posture.

Like it was cheeseily stated in G.I. Jane, “Pain is your friend.  It lets you know you’re still alive.”  We need pain because without it, it’s very dangerous and makes us very vulnerable to injury.  Learning to have a more respectful relationship with pain, to make it your ‘friend,’ allows you to use it during your practice.  Pain announces and guards our edges and limits.  Learn to listen to what it’s telling you.

What’s the most challenging pose for you and why?
I remember back in college, it was about the 5th yoga class I had ever taken.  It was a challenging, but wonderful class.  This instructor said to us, ‘okay, now let’s come into crow pose.’  When I watched her demo the posture, I said in my head, ‘absolutely no way…how is a posture like that even possible?’  So I remember those thoughts that I had whenever I offer crow as a posture in my classes.

Most arm balances are less about strength, and more about bone stacking and finding the center of gravity.  Of course there’s a little strength involved, but once you send your head a little more scarily close to the floor to get your bootie and hips higher towards the ceiling, you have that taste off balance.

Our thoughts are way more powerful then we give them credit, so see where your mind goes when a class offers some arm balances.  Try it out!
Don’t say you can’t!  You might surprise yourself and end up loving the powerful, freeing posture!

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