Episode 9 - Yoga: Simplified but not oversimplified
Jenna McDonald, the owner of Devoted Yogi, dedicated four years of her life solely to the study of Ashram yoga. True to the contemplative nature of her practice, Jenna has found that her students respond much greater when introduced to the deep cognitive teaching behind the physical movements.
Today, Jenna is going to discuss with us how she operates her studio a little bit differently for the benefit of her students.
Host - Dan: Hello everyone and welcome back to the fitDEGREE podcast. I'm Dan your host for the show, and co-hosting with me is Nick. Today we have an exciting guest with a very traditional women. Jenna McDonald, the owner of Devoted Yogi, dedicated four years of her life solely to the study of ashram yoga. True to the contemplated the nature of her practice, Jenna has found that her students respond much greater when teachers cognitive teachings behind the physical movements. Today, Jenna is going to discuss with us how she operates her studio a little bit differently for the benefit of her students. Thanks for joining us, Jenna. So happy to have you on the show. How are you today?
Jenna: I'm doing great, thank you.
Host - Dan: So tell us a little bit about, you've got a very interesting background, as you just discussed with me on the phone before, ashram is not as common of a practice anymore. Take us all the way back to when you spent those four years studying this, how you got into it and sort of fast forward us to how that got you here today.
Jenna: Absolutely. I think, you know, as most stories go, you have to kind of find your way back to the origin point and my more traditional education, the BA is in Native Systems of Education.
Host - Dan: Okay.
Jenna: And decolonization, which you don't make much money studying decolonization, let me tell you. Basically it's the study of how we unveiled our thinking and our mind, and that ended up leading me to a yoga teacher. So I just want to honor the fact that it's really indigenous art forms that brought me to the ashram to begin with, and that I think I had to be in already a mind frame to be taught and I want to just honor that I kind of am a follower [inaudible 00:02:30] of giants, when I do this work.
Host - Dan: Sure. Is this kind of when the student is ready, the teacher will appear?
Jenna: It is, and it's a little bit cliche, but there's no other way. We're kind of...to do the work. And so it was a synchronistic. I was in Indonesia, Bali, Indonesia. At the time I had a severe back injury. I had a dual compression fracture in my spine, and that happened right before I was about to take my trip, you know, it was one of those things and I was like, I'm going anyways and I'm not getting surgery and I'm going to like, I'm just going to do this renegade style.
Jenna: So I went to Asia, went to Bali, on a meditation retreat, and I ended up staying. I didn't come home, and I met a teacher there, Swami Tattvavidanadaji, of a particular lineage. At the time, I didn't know anything about Vedanta, or the teaching of the Vedas. And I studied with him and it changed my life, right?
Host - Dan: Absolutely.
Jenna: I was able to see his eyes and his vision, and he's the one who referred me and said, well, I think you would do well to continue. So go see my teacher, in the middle of hell nowhere, Pennsylvania. Boalsburg. There's a lumber mill and a flea market, and an [inaudible 00:03:53], and that's it.
Host - Dan: Wait, so I have a quick question. You went all the way to Bali, Indonesia found this Swami, trained with him and he said you're going to go to my teacher now, which brought you back to Pennsylvania.
Host - Dan: That almost seems to be the opposite of [crosstalk 00:04:07] how you would expect this to go.
Jenna: Yeah. So I ended up in what felt like really a micro India because the ashram was built of course for devotees, and it was specifically built in that location because of its proximity to New Jersey and New York and the east Indian populations that followed and understood and knew the lineage. So I was basically transported there via chains of events, and ended up being one of the only, in fact probably the only woman at that time in their six week courses. And you would stay for about four months and study the Vedas every day. It was about eight hours of classes. Listening, studying Sanskrit, studying chanting, studying for Puja, which is like a form of prayer and Thanksgiving, and very little yoga Asana, but some stretching and that was my entrance. That's how I got there.
Host - Dan: So that's, I guess even calling it an intensive course doesn't do it justice, because an intensive is a crash course. They're trying to do it quickly. It seems here that this was the only real way to learn what it is that you were learning, was to completely dive into it and yeah, [crosstalk 00:05:32] you have to live it.
Jenna: Yeah. You have to live it, and you can go anywhere. You know, it's a little bit like I'm being kind of in solitary in that way, because you're so far away from everything else and very quiet. It's a contemplative lifestyle, you know, it's a little bit like I imagined it would be going to a monastery or this sort of thing.
Support - Nick: That sounds like a really cool experience. I'll never forget. I always struggled learning a second language. I'm talking like middle school, high school. No matter what, I always got past like the one and two course, and never was able to grasp and move on, and I consider myself fairly intelligent across the board, but like second language never got, and it was my Spanish teacher my junior year that said I didn't know Spanish, I couldn't perform Spanish well until I lived in Spain for six months to a year, and I was like, well this just isn't fair then, because I'm never going to move to Spain, but what I got from that is like to change your life, to really grasp a second language, to do something like you did. You couldn't go home to Netflix after a work day, you know, you had to live that day in and day out, hour in and hour out, and really put yourself in that position if you wanted to understand it that to its deepest levels.
Host - Dan: And it also sounds like what you were doing was far more than the physical practice and the spiritual immersion. It also sounded, there was a bit like, there's a bit of academic study in there as well.
Host - Dan: Now, to what level do you found that the academic study helped you with the rest of the practice, or the way it integrated? You know, we say mind, body, spirit connection. I'm sure that, you know, it was probably a big part of the mind connection. How did that integrate and really improve the rest of the practice?
Jenna: That's a great question. I think it was instrumental. I don't think I could have retained the knowledge within the Vedas, had I not had the language to see it.
Host - Dan: Sure.
Jenna: And I think that's so vital, you know, like Nick was saying, it's so amazing to learn another language when you're really immersed, not just for the new neural networks and what it does to our ability to create flow state, but also because it allows you to see life through a completely new lens that English language doesn't allow for.
Host - Dan: I very much agree. Nick knows this, a lot of my friends know this. I'm a big word for nerds and you know how the Latin roots and how you can. If you don't know what a word means, you can piece it together and there are so many...the English language is so strange I believe, because it's so fantastic in certain ways, that you can piece parts together and make certain things, but then we have so many rules that make zero sense where here's how the language works except when it doesn't, except when it works this way.
Host - Dan: And there are so many other languages. German, Swiss, Chinese, Indian, that they have translations for states of being and states of thought and feeling, and things that have nowhere near a translation to English. I know in martial arts, my teacher, he couldn't translate something for me because there's a transition state, and he said they described it to him when he did something similar. He went over to China and lived in one of the Shaolin temples, and the only English translation they had for this transitioning state of being is, the the. It is the the, and there's no better translation, and it was so difficult to learn this concept when it was called the the.
Jenna: And it's so funny because, you know, because in Sanskrit there is similar small statements, like I am that or this is that.
Host - Dan: Right.
Jenna: And for us, it just sounds like a bunch of mumbo jumbo. It sounds like the the. It has no meaning, and yet it's vital to understand.
Host - Dan: And would you be able to explain that concept to somebody that didn't already have to some level, a wealth of experience in the field of learning what you did? Or would they need so much prerequisite knowledge for that even makes sense that you can't explain it to somebody else?
Jenna: So I feel like the entire journey of my work is, how do I articulate that to someone without my background?
Host - Dan: Okay.
Jenna: So that's what I'm aiming to do with my new studio model basically, is how do I teach yoga in a way that students arrive at these understandings through a series of embodiment practices, and I'm just going to jump into some different language around this. We come from a mechanistic society that breaks things down and compartmentalizes.
Host - Dan: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jenna: And yoga, its pre-mechanistic society. So it's about unity. It's about I am that, we are one, right? Unity consciousness, but first we have to take it as relational. So instead of being mechanistic and separate, first we have to understand that everything in the body is in relationship, and in relationship to absolutely everything around us. So even in a yoga class, this idea that we're on our own mat, and we're not all influencing each other is completely void and doesn't work, you know, like that falls short.
Host - Dan: Sure.
Jenna: We're starting to integrate these concepts better by using it through the body or performing it through the body and understanding it in our own life, and then we can start to apply the philosophy in a way that we get it.
Host - Dan: Well that makes a fantastic sentence, because if you think about it when we're born, you know, a little infant baby, you know, we don't have memories until we're three, four years old. We don't know how to use our mind to a certain extent, but we're already using our body instinctively. That's something we, that's the first thing we begin using. So to me, it only makes sense that we would have to do these physical practices, learn how to use the body first, and then the mental and spiritual one's may be a little more difficult, but because we do the physical movements, that becomes the prerequisite to learning these things.
Jenna: And even this understanding of proprioception. The ability to feel something at the same time that we cognize it, is incredible form of yoga or unity, but it's a relative form, right? But we needed to build those basic foundational pieces or yoga or of a house, whatever you build, you need a foundation. So we do need that to understand. Yeah.
Host - Dan: Awesome. So just to make sure I'm clear there, that was an awesome word used. Is that means essentially, in layman's terms, taking our feelings and our thoughts and finding the synergy between them?
Jenna: It's different.
Host - Dan: Okay.
Jenna: Proprioception, and Google it later. It means the ability to feel a movement, as we're taking the movement. So for instance, when I'm with my kids, I can wait and hang out with them and talk and get my workout in while they're there, but I can't [inaudible 00:13:10] yoga, because it takes all of my energy and my focus to feel what I'm doing as I'm doing it.
Host - Dan: Okay.
Jenna: So, it's more about integration of the ability to feel the movement as we take it. It's like when you, when someone loses their responsiveness in a limb, and they have to regain that responsiveness, they have to regain their proprioception.
Host - Dan: I see, and is that something that, is proprioception generally gained through a lot of meditative exercises?
Jenna: I would say it's gained through properly cued, and informed yoga, like physical yoga.
Host - Dan: Awesome. So you went to India, you came back to Pennsylvania, you studied with your teachers teacher, you learned these amazing things and words such as, proprioception, and then what?
Jenna: Yeah, in that lineage, I didn't get that language. That came later when I was trying to figure out, how do I bring these teachings to a modern western population. Then what happened? Well then my whole life changed. I had a child and so everything just
Host - Dan: That's life changing.
Jenna: [crosstalk 00:14:31] Stop mode, and I had to [inaudible 00:14:35] road, I have had to put it all into personal practice, and being a mother has been the most challenging initiation of my life, but the most phenomenal growth. So post, you know, audi, or first child. Then I really started to see how if I was going to be a mother and keep up a physical practice, I was going to need to really make my physical yoga a deep part of my life.
Jenna: So I really created my physical yoga asana and business, because of the personal need and a desire to translate these teachings. So then I created, what was it, that time, passion for practice, personal coaching and yoga work. I taught all over the place like a lot of teachers do. I recently read an article by Dylan Warner who said, you know, exactly my story. I was teaching 25 classes a week, driving all over everywhere, you know, busting my butt, and then I had to restructure, and it was fun. It was great. I learned a lot about bodies in modern yogis, and then it's been a process of refinement. So then opening my own studio and then realizing that wasn't quite what I wanted, which is really, I feel like the most interesting turn in the road that we're at now.
Host - Dan: Now let me ask, in what way do you mean that wasn't quite what you wanted, because I know we're going to get to how your studio changed and that may sort of play into it, but was it the actual having a building and running a studio? Or was it the way the studio was run?
Jenna: Inherently, it was the way the studio and studios are run.
Host - Dan: Okay.
Jenna: What I saw happening was, and I thought about this a lot, so I'm going to just say what I've come to conclude. We built kind of a codependency in our modern forms of yoga, where students come and they what they don't think a lot about what they're up to, and they expect their yoga teacher to kind of deliver a performance. They expect their teacher to uplift them. They want it to feel good, you know? And those are all fine things, but it doesn't put any responsibility on the student.
Jenna: So you come into this little bit of a codependent relationship where one person is hanging on the other, and the person that's kind of being pulled on is the teacher, isn't really allowing themselves to grow in that either. So it's been a really interesting thing to just look at that and say, well, what can I do to remind students of yoga that we need to go through a period of studentship, where we start placing [inaudible 00:17:34] in the practice again. At whole heartedly we say, I'm going to study yoga, and I'm going to educate myself, I'm going to put myself in positions where I have to think, not just let, but to think for myself, and the that's going to get me eventually to where all these yoga sutras say I can go, you know?
Jenna: So, that was the realization in one element, and the other was just to be honest, I wasn't having a great time. Like I was teaching a lot of classes still every week. I was doing tons of, mind, body, backend work that was grueling. I had become more of like a software tech than a yoga teacher, and my people wanted more from me, and that's what it comes down to. They were ready, the students were ready. There you go again. The students were ready, and so we shifted our model.
Support - Nick: So you say you shifted your model for a little background, we talked about it before the podcast, but for the people listening, your first business was. It was passion for fit? Or fit for passion, [crosstalk 00:18:48]
Jenna: Yeah passion for practice.
Support - Nick: Passion for practice. I guess I kept thinking fit, because you were saying, you know what these modern yogis are expecting is more fitness based, physical practice. So passion for practice, and this was the typical studio of people. Someone Googles, closest yoga studio near me, they find your studio, they walk in, they pay a drop in fee, and they go.
Host - Dan: And they want you to make them feel great.
Support - Nick: Yeah. They expect an unbelievable experience, and for you to do all the heavy lifting.
Support - Nick: After years of noticing that, that you know, that the big thing that a takeaway for me was that you said you weren't having fun with it anymore. I think that's the most important thing. No matter what you're doing, is you weren't enjoying it. You were probably dreading work. You were dreading class. I'm sure your playlist wasn't as much of a variable as you want it to be, and all those little things were adding up. So now you've made a change. You changed your business to devoted yogi, and you took on those students that were taking it on for themselves as much as you were taking on as the instructor.
Jenna: Yes. So we [inaudible 00:19:55] from that mechanistic model.
Host - Dan: Right. So let me ask this, you're moving onto a semi private or referral based studio system, now. Do you think a lot of students may have been upset to hear that this isn't on your teacher, this is on you? You can't learn without being a student. You have to want to learn. You have to do the work to learn. Information isn't injected into you. Do you think people balked at that a little? Didn't want to hear that? They wanted it to be easier, and we're not happy when it was told, you know, you have to do, if you want to learn, you have to do the heavy lifting?
Jenna: There was definitely some blocking going on in the beginning, and I think anytime I'm a hyper creative individual, so I change a lot. So people always had a hard time with the amount of change in my business. But what I've come to realize, is just the people that can hack it are going to say, and those are who I want to work with. So yes, some people didn't love it and others have been so deeply appreciative and the feedback really honestly, you know, it comes in your numbers, and if people are buying it and they're saying this is what I want, then that's where you're at.
Jenna: So basically both, what I did was I created only two classes a week. I teach twice. People had to sign up for the entire year. They pay a 15 dollar drop out. They can't drop out. They're on auto pay. I mean, I had like, you know, 20 conversations with like, well, if I want to leave halfway, no, this is [crosstalk 00:21:42]
Host - Dan: Yeah, it's what you offer.
Jenna: This is what I offer, and that was huge for me to, you know, as an individual to just say, this is where I'm at, and draw a hard line for great growth. Both of my programs are sold out. I have waiting lists on both classes. Wow.
Support - Nick: Wow.
Host - Dan: That's amazing, and you're in Seattle, right? Or you're near Seattle? You're in Washington?
Jenna: I'm on a tiny island, eight miles west of Seattle. It's a 30 minute ferry ride. It's a magical space.
Host - Dan: Okay.
Host - Dan: But, that area is a pretty yoga rich area, if I'm not mistaken. Correct? There's lots of studios?
Jenna: There are lots of studios, yeah.
Host - Dan: So it must be, almost a breath of fresh air for you to have. To have, these are my students. They are set with me for the year, and just due to the nature of not only what you're teaching, but the model of your business, I'm sure you must have an incredibly high retention rate and customer loyalty as well.
Jenna: And that was part of my reason in the first place, was I was looking at this going yoga businesses are based not on loyalty to their actual clients, but on always looking for new clients. And why would I do that? You know? If somebody's with me for two and a half, three years like are the people I want to serve.
Support - Nick: And you just said something too, that I always enjoyed was going deeper into your customers, instead of going wider to get more customers, and people just think more members, more members, more man. I want to hit 200 members, 300 active members, instead of going deeper into them, and this is one of our first podcast I talked about saying, okay, now it's a little bit different for your model, but from a drop in, to a class pass, to a membership, to a retreat, to a yoga teacher training. So all of the sudden now it's like this is your yogi, you know, it's almost like a disciple of your studio. So you get to that process a lot faster by vetting them and say, okay, you're ready to take my class. If they're ready to take your class, I mean, that's it.
Jenna: Yeah. They're in for the full ride, you know? And I think that's exciting for people too, like I'm going somewhere, you know? When you study flow state, you realize that in order to really shift into our highest level of capacity in the brain, we need goals. We need like daily, tactile, tangible results. We need to have our relationships around that, that works. So it's a fascinating kind of reckoning for me to go, oh, this is what's been needed on long.
Host - Dan: I think there are very many interesting, for lack of better word, phenomenon that occur in the brain that you just, a mundane life will not trigger your brain in certain ways. Competition, achievement, goal setting and goal achievement. These types of things are challenging, especially challenges, critical thinking. I could go on forever, but these kinds of things, as you were mentioning earlier, create these neuro pathways in the brain, and if we don't use these neuro pathways, they began to disappear.
Host - Dan: Conversely, if we only use certain neural pathways, very robotic. Wake up, do this, do this, do that. Every day is the same. We ingrain these almost trenches in our brain, and those are the only ones it really knows the neuro pathways that get used, the other ones begin to deteriorate, and you know, how do you grow as an individual if you live on autopilot.
Jenna: Correct, and you're not making conscious choices, you're not making true decisions. So I'm just pushing my students into making real decisions.
Host - Dan: And I'm sure they appreciate that.
Support - Nick: It's an exciting, simple way of putting it.
Support - Nick: Like we always talk about your why, like, you know, why do you do it, why is it behind it? It's just forcing my students to think.
Jenna: Yeah for sure, and they love it and you know, who knew that, we all kind of want to be like pushed off the branch to fly. It's been working well. So I'm grateful for that.
Support - Nick: That's excellent. I would love to do a followup podcast in six months just to kind of see where your business is at, because you said things change rapidly. I think that's typical entrepreneur. Adapt or die is one of my favorite things. You're constantly making adjustments based on the new knowledge that you just found out. So it'd be interesting to see in six months, you know, what adjustments you have made to better serve your students.
Jenna: Yeah. I'd love that.
Support - Nick: Hopefully there's none, but at the same time, you know, hopefully there are a few things that you're going to learn over the next couple months.
Jenna: Oh, I'm sure.
Support - Nick: Well, on that note, do you have any words for the listeners? Or any way they could reach out to you if they want to do a similar business model in their area? Or just learn something from you?
Jenna: Absolutely. In tandem with that, I want to just speak slightly to the women's work that I do because they're related. So if people, [crosstalk 00:26:47] yeah, if people want to find me online, it's a course www.devotedyogi.com, and on that site I have a listen page where I actually offer a free guided visualization, and a free guided meditation. Both are on there. You can download them, there's no strings attached, you don't even need to enter your email. So that's like a nice little portal in, if people want to actually just get started. On that same page, women can join the wild awareness audio program, where they'll get audios that have gone pat, you know, the past audios and then they'll get the opportunity to join live for future audios and they can join any time. It's 108 bucks, which is a really low investment for 10 months of content. It was kind of a beta program. I'm sure it'll be like seven times that next time I launch it. So, there's that.
Jenna: Then of course my whole studio is kind of built around my radiance, 200 hour teacher training for women. That's a phenomenal program that incorporates all of these lineage based practices with very specific needs that women have this time have for coming out of competition with one another, for realizing they're worth, for realizing their agency in the world. So we do really unique programs, and people come from all over the U.S. actually for our course. So people can travel to us.
Jenna: The last thing I'll speak to is I have a women's water temple retreat that's happening in this next September, 2019 and that's in Leavenworth, Washington up in the mountains in a phenomenal place that has a bunch of water therapy.
Host - Dan: Oh, that sounds nice.
Jenna: Oh, it's incredible. So if you don't know about it, check out the Post Hotel. That's where we do it. So those are great opportunities.
Support - Nick: Yeah, I see the yoga teacher training is heavy in March, April, and May for anyone listening.
Support - Nick: So if you get a weekend off, it's just, well the three days. So is that, correct me, you have to attend all of those, correct?
Jenna: Yeah. So women come out for the whole program.
Support - Nick: Okay.
Jenna: And/or the women's water temple retreat, which is just a three day practice in September.
Support - Nick: Right, right. Okay. Cool. Well that's super exciting. I hope you get some more yoga teachers out there for that experience. Thank you so much for coming on the podcast Jenna. We'll be in touch soon.
Jenna: Absolutely. It was fun. Thank you.