Om is the new Black.
It is now said that there are more yoga teachers than actors in Hollywood, and that seems pretty spot-on: every corner we turn, there is a new studio, a new gym, a new store proudly displaying Manduka mats and Buddhas galore. As the pool of yoga teachers grows larger and larger, we wonder: if yoga is truly a way of life, if yoga is more about purpose than postures – how is this surplus of teachers affecting our world outside of the studio? For the better?
Welcome to Yoga Matters: Yogis who are enriching and enhancing lives both on and off the mat.
Our first Yoga Matter: Jen Smith – teacher, life-lover, poet-who-doesn’t-know-it (seriously – just 10 minutes into Jen’s class and you’ll wonder how she manages to string together such crazily spot-on pearls of wisdom). Jen is the founder of Retreat Yourself Well, a website which helps the general public understand the current yoga events being offered around the world. RYW makes it easy to choose an event, workshop and yes, retreat that is just right for you. As if that wasn’t enough, she also manages Group Fitness for Equinox‘s new world-class Marina Del Rey fitness club.
Jen’s teaching is full of genuine honesty, grounded spirituality and a sense of hope that makes her classes a wake-up call – as in, “Wake Up: You are wonderful and are exactly where you need to be!” She can make an entire room laugh and cry within nanoseconds of each other – and feel safe doing just that. The dichotomy of her yogi life and her business life fascinated us, so we sat down with this multitasking pro to pick her brain, get inspired and soak in some of the sunshine she cannot help but radiate.
The Chalkboard Mag: What originally drew you to yoga?
Jen Smith: “Honestly? I had just had a bad break up and wanted a safe place to cry. Even though I had never been in yoga class, somehow it seemed the healthiest way to get over my heartache. Now, I look back and realize my instincts were right. I do all of my healing on the mat.”
TCM: So many yogis choose the path of driving around and teaching up to 20 classes a week – some even teetering into “celebrity” status. You, however, went in the opposite direction and chose to focus on aiding your colleagues as they strive to achieve their goals. Your company, Retreat Yourself Well, connects teachers with students, with opportunities and with each other. You are the matchmaker of yoga! How did you go about choosing this path of connection?
JS: “I am honored that you see it that way. I have always enjoyed the idea of community, as I am sure most of us have. In my life, the shortcut to community life is to bring everyone I know together. A studio needs an exciting yoga event? A solid teacher needs to get more work? A dedicated student needs inspiration? I am happy to help out with introductions! Retreat Yourself Well is just a clever way that I have been able to put those connections out there for the masses.”
TCM: You are not only a brilliant yoga teacher, but an entrepreneur AND a manager for one of the largest fitness corporations in the country. How does yoga help you be a leader OFF the mat? And a bit trickier, perhaps – how does your ‘business-mind’ help you ON the mat?
JS: “My teaching is very centering for me. If I don’t understand clearly what I am trying to teach, how can I get students to understand? Therefore, I spend a lot of time researching. I research different philosophies, religions, artists, doctors, writers, poets, historians, etc. I spend a lot of time buried in books and sifting through notes I have taken over the years. I think about what inspires me and create classes that center around those ideas. I have to teach from my life or it won’t feel real. I won’t feel connected. I believe that if I weren’t living through some of these spiritual awakenings, I wouldn’t be able to speak of them. Every day a new lesson, every hour a new perspective, every moment an opportunity to grow. Because this work is coming from how I try to live my life, I am constantly referring to the messages, the lessons and the questions as challenges in my professional life come up. I think that the most important way that this work has helped me keep my professional life in order is understanding that nothing is personal, and that I am complete as I am today. I don’t need to prove anything to anyone. I just need to do my best work and help others feel content that work on my team. The zen of group fitness management!”
TCM: What is the biggest lesson yoga has taught you?
JS: “I love this question. Yoga has taught me that I am exactly where I should be in my life, that even the hard times have blessings and opportunities, that I am perfectly flawed just as I am, that life can consist of pure joy and the removal of suffering.”
TCM: What is the biggest lesson you hope to teach through yoga?
JS: “I am not sure that I can teach a lesson. I do hope that the effect that I have on people that take my class is positive. I hope that experiencing my yoga reminds them all of what they already know, that there is a sacred place inside of them that is all good, all knowing, all love. I hope they take that feeling out into the world and help someone who is hurting. I hope there is a ripple effect and that the world is a better place because of those ripples.”
TCM: What has been your most rewarding yoga-related experience?
JS: “My yoga retreat to Costa Rica was one of the most rewarding moments, not only in my career, but in my life. Open, beautiful people allowing me to teach them in a setting that was one of the most incredibly sacred places that I have ever been. I can’t express the value, only to say that I was changed forever and my spirit grew. I went there to teach, and I was taught.”
TCM: What are 5 things on your Bucket List, personal or professional?
JS: “1. Host one yoga retreat a year for the next 15 years. May 2013 we are off to Aruba!
2. This is a very intense one and extremely personal: I hope to handle the ebb and flow of life and death amongst my family and friends with grace and strength. I know, pretty dark. I am working on this as I learn in new ways every day how precious and sacred life is.
3. Italy. Just once. Maybe twice.
4. Rescue at least two more puppies from the Humane Society.
5. Somehow repay my mentors for giving me so much. Julian Walker, Keith Irace and my parents!”
TCM: What advice would you give to your 16 year-old self?
JS: “Stop running away and searching for external gratification. You have every high you need lined up and down within you. You have everything. You are enough just as you are.”
TCM: What is your personal mantra?
JS: “I have a little quote that buzzes through me all of the time. Good ole Tennessee Williams. “Make voyages. Attempt them. There’s nothing else.” It keeps me taking risks, pulling out of ruts. It reminds me that taking risks are the only way to find out who you are – you have everything you need inside of you – so if you take a risk and lose, you still have you.”