“I Realized Right then and there that there was Something More to this Yoga”
An Interview with Jessi Alexander
Your Yoga Louisville’s owner, Jessi Alexander, always knew that she wanted to do something to help other people, but it wasn’t until she began her own Hatha practice that she knew what that something was. Throughout the last decade, yoga has been a transformative component of Jessi’s life. It began as a way to supplement her athleticism, but led her down a path to opening her own studio.
This is Jessi’s yoga story.
Q: In your bio on the website, you talked about how you had always been athletic and involved in sports, and you looked at yoga as a supplement to that. Tell us a little bit more about that. Why did you decide to start yoga? What was that experience like?
A: I was living in Chicago at the time– it was in 2007. I had played sports my entire life and have really bad knees. A friend of mine, who I met in Chicago, suggested yoga for stretching out my knees. So, the only reason I went was to try to help my knee. I started with Bikram and I loved it. I love to sweat and, to me, Bikram is competitive, so I loved that competitive edge that Bikram had. That’s where I was then– I was still in that athletic competitive state. I went to it for my knee, to keep that competitive edge, and a good sweat.
Every time after the class was over everybody would leave, but I would notice a few stragglers just laying on their backs, and would ask “what are they doing?” It wasn’t until probably my 10th or 12th time, one of the instructors said “if you would like to stay and lay in Savasana after the class you may do so,” and I was like “oh, that’s what that pose is called.”
So, I did. And every Bikram class after that, I always stayed for at least five minutes in Savasana.
At the time, I thought I wanted to open my own Bikram studio in Chicago. But every time, something just kept leading me in another direction, like there was something I was missing.
I came back to Louisville, and started going to Betsy’s Hot Yoga, which also offers “Bikram style” classes. I didn’t know anything about Hatha at this point. So, I’m lying in Savasana at Betsy’s. Deva Premal is playing– one of her mantras– and I just went off into another world. I realized right then and there that there was something more to this yoga. That’s when I started researching Hatha and training in the Hatha practice. Then I found out all about what I consider to be real yoga: the traditional, Eastern Hatha yoga.
Q: I was going to ask if there was a specific a-ha moment you could identify, but it sounds like that was your a-ha moment– listening to Deva Premal while in Savasana. So what was your next step after having this eye opening experience?
A: I knew I needed to find a Hatha studio and find out what that was all about. So I started Googling for Hatha studios here in Louisville. There aren’t that many. I wanted an intimate setting, and didn’t want to have to go somewhere that was too far away or too big. I found Eternal Health Yoga and Orbis, and called both of them. The response that I got at Eternal Health Yoga was beautiful. They were very welcoming, so I started practicing at EHY. I found it more complicated than the Bikram practice. In two months of Hatha, my body changed dramatically more than what it had in Bikram, because [Bikram] is the same 26 poses each time. Eventually your body plateaus.
Then I decided: Okay, this is what I want to open a studio in. This practice. So I found out that EHY offered a 200-hour training program, and I took it.I also went on and took my 300-hour certification there as well. And I am now 500-RYT Certified with the Yoga Alliance. (Make Yoga Alliance a link to their home page) This additional training has allowed me and Your Yoga to become a school and offer training like we are doing this fall.
Q: Did you always know that you wanted to open some kind of business of your own?
A: Yes! From the time that I was a kid, I knew that I wanted to have my own business doing something to help people, I just didn’t know what that was. I thought maybe I wanted to be a physical therapist or something like that– I’ve always been interested in the human body and working with people. And, I’ve also always liked teaching. I knew I wanted to do something in the sports and health area; I just didn’t know what it was until my Deva Premal experience.
Q: Throughout your yoga journey, it kind of sounds like you’ve progressed from a position of yoga as a supplement for your athleticism to yoga as something that’s more transformative and a part of who you are. In your bio, you talk a bit about living a yogic lifestyle. Would you care to elaborate a little more about what you mean by a yogic lifestyle, and how you came to a yogic lifestyle?
A: Again, to me, practicing Bikram, Baptiste or any type of hot yoga is more focused on power, athleticism and an intense physical, only, workout. In my experience, those styles really don’t incorporate the mind or meditation or the breath. During my training, we discussed pranayama (breathing exercises), and how important breath is. It was then that I realized how I only use to breathe very short and only in my chest. Just learning to change the breath and breathe from my diaphragm, and from the base of your stomach, working all the way up to your chest, changed my world 100%. Being aware of your breath in every moment is not only beneficial physically, but it helps keep you be present in every moment by keeping the focus on the breath. In living a yogic lifestyle, it is also important to me to practice a non-harming life; that is why I changed to veganism…and because of the health reasons. I just found so many benefits of living a vegan lifestyle versus not. And then, with ahimsa, which is part of the 8 limbs of yoga, non-harming, non-violence is a part of the yogic lifestyle—having compassion to all beings…treating all beings with kindness, respect, being nice and friendly, but also treating yourself with love and compassion.
Being a female, I feel that we always want to help and nurture everyone else and never really take time for ourselves. Especially when you’re the mom of a toddler, a wife, and the mom of a dog, you know, you’re always wanting to take care of other people. Living a yogic lifestyle really taught me to step back and take care of Jessi, too, which is important. How can I have real compassion for other people if I don’t have it for myself?
The 200-hour teacher training, honestly, taught me more about how to live a yogic lifestyle; a more fulfilling, compassionate life. I learned more about Jessi; how to grow, care and nurture myself and others. I feel I learned more about me as a person and ways to better my life, than I did learning yoga poses. Now I did learn a lot about yoga, but my point is that there is SO much more to it, which the training allowed me to dabble in to. If you had to split the training up into quarters, the poses were like one-fourth, and the other three quarters were how to live a yogic lifestyle, which I hope I’ve explained.
Q: For someone who might be considering teacher training, but isn’t really sure about the yogic lifestyle or if a vegan diet is right for them, would you say that teacher training is still right for them?
A: 100%. You’re going to follow your journey how it was meant to be for you. That’s why the studio is called YOUR Yoga. This isn’t about me. It’s about you, your life, your body. I am here to help provide the information, but you are on your path. It is not for me to decide your journey, but I am happy to help along the way.
Teacher training is designed for you to put into it and take out of it whatever you want. I say for the teacher training that if you’re kind of stuck in a rut and having any doubts about where your life is going, or if you’re in a bad relationship, or if you just need a release– something for yourself, if you’re a therapist or in some type of clinical work, or if you want to deepen your yoga practice and self-awareness, it is for you.
In my opinion, in order to be a yogi, you do not have to live a vegan lifestyle. If you want to follow the eight limbs of yoga, then yes, veganism is a part of that because of ahimsa. But, am I going to sit here and tell you you can’t do the training because you’re not a vegan? Absolutely not. But, keeping toxins out of your body does allow you to get more results in your actual yoga asana practice, and it also will help with the meditative side because it keeps the mind and body clear, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t do yoga or have an amazing practice and experience. It doesn’t mean that you still can’t get benefits from it, and it sure does not mean you can’t be a better person and learn kindness and compassion for yourself and others.
Your diet doesn’t determine your yogic lifestyle. I choose it because it’s all-encompassing. For me to call myself a yogi, that’s part of it for me, but it doesn’t have to be for you or for anyone. This is my journey and the path I choose; you also have the same choice. I will never judge anyone for the choices they make in their life. It’s Your Yoga.
Q: To shift directions a little bit, I also wanted to talk about Youth Yoga. A lot of what we talk about with yoga and what’s online about yoga, often talks about the practice in terms of “adult” issues, like work stress, marital stress, or the achiness and tightness that comes with age. On the blog, we’ve talked a little bit about how kids can benefit from yoga, but I was wondering if you could take that a little bit deeper for us.
A: Some of us may not realize how stressed children are. I would even tend to say that some kiddos are more stressed than adults. They need a release and a stress reducer just as much as adults do. Kids also have issues with self-confidence and self-esteem. They don’t know their image yet. I’m not expecting a four year old, nine year old, or even sixteen year old to know who they are at that age, but I want them to have some awareness of their self and to be confident about who they are in that stage of life, and to be proud of that person. I know that’s easier said than done, but it at least gives them that background to know that it is okay for them to be whoever they want to be.
The program helps children gain a little bit of understanding about independence, but while still having respect for their peers. It allows them to have the confidence to be independent and understand that they are perfect just the way they are, in the body that they have. It also helps children with ADD or ADHD; it helps with anxiousness and anxiety. This program has been proven to aid in retention and awareness. We bring mindfulness and meditation into the program, so it really helps them learn to calm themselves in stressful situations; for example, taking tests or their bus ride home, etc. It has actually been proven to show that children who practice yoga do better at test taking than they did before yoga was introduced to them.
We also introduce nutrition, and talk about eating healthier foods and not asking mommy and daddy for fast food. The Youth Yoga program will also teach them– which parents should be happy about this– that when they come home from school, how to make their own healthy snack. I’ll teach them how to make snacks that are not only healthy, but also they won’t need mom and dad or anything that could be dangerous to prepare them; ie: electric, gas, knife, etc.
In my humble opinion, everyone needs yoga, but I think we always look at how stressful our adult lives are, instead of also realizing how stressed our kiddos are. Sometimes, I think they need it more than us adults.
Q: We’ve covered a lot of ground and most of what I wanted to talk about today, so there are two final questions I wanted to touch on. The first one might be a little difficult, but if you had to pick one pose as our favorite right now, what would it be?
A: Sirsasana/Headstand; it’s been called “the King of Asanas”. I like to be upside down. I like it so much that I think I may have been a bat in a past life. Every time I do a personal practice, I have to incorporate some type of inversion. If I do a practice at Your Yoga or another studio and the instructor doesn’t have us do an inversion, I wait until everyone is out of the room and then I do a headstand. It completes my practice. I really like my crown chakra being rooted and being connected to the ground. I can stand on my feet and feel rooted and grounded, but there is something about standing on my head that grounds me so much more. I am more present in Sirsasana than in any other pose, and that is important to me.
Q: I expected that one to be a bit trickier, but you answered right away.
A: I love inversions! As soon as you started asking the question, I knew what my answer would be.
Q: Are there any final thoughts or comments that you’d like to say about your yoga journey that you haven’t yet?
A: I’m very fortunate to have found Bikram in Chicago and to have continued that practice here in Louisville, because if I hadn’t found it, I never would have found Hatha Yoga. I wouldn’t have found the true meaning of yoga and all the parts that go with it, which has helped me be a better person to myself and my family. It has allowed me to open my own studio in order to offer the Louisville community, and anybody who is searching, the same positive benefits that Hatha Yoga has bestowed on me. I didn’t open the studio for monetary reasons; I opened it to really help yoga and the Louisville Community. I want people to try it. I want people to give it a chance because it really can benefit your life in so many ways, besides just flexibility. That’s what it did for me. I’m a better mom, better friend, and better wife because of it. I am better for me. And I want to provide that same benefit to everyone around me. And if it’s not practicing at Your Yoga, than pick a studio that speaks to you; just practice!
Jessi’s desire to share the joy of yoga with others is evident in the classes she teaches, and is palpable in the environment that she nurtures within the studio. If you haven’t had a class with her yet, be sure to sign up for one!