Teacher spotlight: Jessica Patterson

Written by Jessica Patterson on . Posted in Class and teacher spotlight

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How do you define yoga?

This question always makes me laugh. On one hand, it’s so simple: yoga is union, the yoking together all that we are conditioned to see or experience as disconnected, separate or fragmented. It isn’t union of body and mind, which is a given.Tthey are already inextricably reflections of one another. It is union of the “small” self with the universal, cosmic big-S Self. Simply put.

But, it’s a big question, too. Yoga is our natural state - we are born whole and complete. We learn to fragment ourselves and others, to draw arbitrary lines between what we like/don’t like, identify with/reject. We do it to our own bodies (inscribing ourselves with messages of self criticism, shame, etc.) and outwardly into the world. But the underlying precept of yoga is that we are already whole, we are already complete. U.G. Krishnamurti said, “Truth is a pathless land.” The seeking is the problem. It implies lack, deficiency and inadequacy. It trains us to look outward to find freedom or happiness. But yoga provides us with powerful and effective methods to recognize where we are participating in and reinforcing such beliefs, empowering us to go inward and remember.



Our job then, the project we undertake through these practices, is largely an inquiry, ideally framed by compassion and genuine interest, into where we are resisting that natural state in body, thought, action, breath. We might first shed awareness on the habits and beliefs that reinforce an experience of limitation, and from that place of awareness, perhaps remember. Re-member: bring back into the embodied existence and return to membership/community. This is why the technology of yoga is so profoundly healing.

 

Enlightenment is the illumination of what was always already true and real. We awaken to what we have always been. Shri Brahmananda Saraswati defined yoga as the state in which we are missing nothing. I come back to this definition again and again, because it suggests that the practice itself is the goal - the experience that we have and we are all we need, moment by moment. But it also invites us to miss nothing, to show up fully for each moment. Yoga reminds us how to be present to what is, and to dive into that presence directly and intimately instead of running, hiding or seeking a way out through projections into the past or the future.

All the practices of yoga, including asana, pranayama, meditation, etc., help us to cultivate the conditions for yoga, as an experience (a realization, a remembering) to arise naturally. Whatever is before you is yoga, an opportunity to remember who you really are. I like to ask students, “What isn’t yoga?”

How did you begin yoga? What made the practice stick to you?

Again, the question is simple and profound. Yoga is the natural state, so we have never not been practicing. I took my first yoga class as a college elective in 1993 to help relax and get through stressful papers, exams, and so forth. I continued to take classes from various teachers and in various styles throughout the years, always incorporating it into my life. Like so many practitioners it remained something peripheral yet supportive; something that felt good and I enjoyed. In college, I was also introduced to the philosophical and spiritual frameworks of yoga, but it all remained somewhat abstract and disconnected from the asana practice I enjoyed.

Honestly, it was tragedy, loss and grief that ushered me into my practice. The sudden death of my father and a cascade of equally challenging events, from divorce and financial anxieties to health crises, which followed that jarring shift in any sense of stability led me, like Persephone, deeply into the practices as a way of finding center when all else felt like chaos.

I see this a lot in the students whose dedication and discipline arises from the ashes of something that has fallen away, often painfully. My yoga practice offered me a daily experience of being fully present and at peace when all else, a crumbling marriage, a dying dog, bills to pay, felt overwhelming and unbearable. But in my practice, I accessed peace, equanimity and compassion. Over time, my ability and willingness to resource myself from that state became easier and more natural. And so it stuck. Because I prefer to dwell in the calm, spacious, peaceful state the practices of yoga call forth.

My first teacher training, like so many people who pursue a deeper study, was not based in a desire to “be a yoga teacher.” In fact, I had no interest in teaching yoga. I was already teaching composition at a local university, and never thought I could or would want to teach yoga. I credit this reluctance, which I feel to this day, with any “success” I have as a teacher. It was never the form or the idea of teaching that called to me. But, as we know it so often goes, by looking, everything changes.

Eventually I went on to study directly with my incredible teachers, including my primary teachers, Alanna Kaivalya, David Life, Sharon Gannon and Mark Whitwell, and continued to train, immerse and practice daily. Yoga went from merely asana to something so much larger and more powerful. And I began to realize my embodied (meaning, I had experienced it firsthand in my own mundane everyday woman life) genuine passion was guiding me into situations where I was asked to serve and share the teachings that had been passed to me.

This “lifeline” that reminded me how to find center in the shifting ground beneath me became a natural extension of who I am. It isn’t an effort for me to practice; it isn’t something I have to talk myself into. It’s who I am. When we engage with it, it sticks, because the only thing it asks of us is that we show up and get real about what is happening.

What does your personal practice look like now?

My belief, in the words of my teacher Mark Whitwell, is that yoga is the “direct and intimate participation with the given reality, with our lives, as Life itself - whatever that means, all together.” In other words, the practice we do on the mat, for example, is really the practice for what we do off the mat. We hear this all the time, but what does that mean?

In my life, it means that our lives are lived in the given circumstances, moment by moment. We practice remaining conscious, present and complete. My formal practice is to wake up and get on my mat (or the floor or the grass or the tree house) and begin. I prefer early morning, before sunrise, but I don’t get dogmatic or too routine. What I do varies according to the actual situation. Sometimes it’s a two-hour rigorous vinyasa asana, including breath work, chanting, and meditation. Other days it’s sitting for 20 minutes communing with the earth and breath. Most days my “practice” is an hour or so of asana, pranayama and meditation first thing in the morning. Whatever arises in my own practice is usually what frames the teachings I share in my classes, which I think really imbues teachings with something authentic that students know they can trust.

But my real practice is remaining present and participating in my life and body and breath in each moment, no matter how frustrated, anxious or distracted I get. The real daily practice is in showing up. Here and now.

What and where do you teach?

I teach all over, wherever I am called to be of some service. My regular weekly classes are currently offered at PlaYoga, where I aim to offer spiritually uplifting classes framed by an elevated intention to direct the focus, challenging vinyasa asana, breathwork, meditation and complete surrender/relaxation, the real task of the yogi.

My “style” continues to evolve, inspired by the traditions in which I have been trained, including Jivamukti Yoga and the Kaivalya Yoga Method, for example, which both arose from the Ashtanga lineage. Rather than label my classes according to a type of yoga, I try to offer an experience that meets any student where they are - challenging their assumptions and inviting them to soften more deeply into their beautiful light.

In addition to ongoing classes, I am passionate about the intensive experiences of retreats, immersions and workshops. For six years I have led retreats in the Buena Vista area, and am fortunate enough to serve as faculty/guest teacher for several programs, including Lahiri School of Yoga, Yoga Durango, cambio. Yoga, Soma and CorePower Yoga.

I am the director of the RootEd Apprenticeship and Teacher Training Program, a six-month intensive Yoga Alliance Certified 200-hour School that fosters an intimate mentoring education meant to call forth authentic, embodied teachings from within. My workshop series ranges from Real Life Sutras (making The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali accessible and relevant) to intensive Chakra Tuning classes.

My teaching takes me to some pretty fabulous places. I had the great fortune of teaching in Taipei, Taiwan for a month last summer as guest faculty for the Taiepei National University of the Arts summer dance program, and I will lead a week-long retreat in La Manzanilla, Mexico this October.

How long have you been teaching? What is your training?

I have taught for six years, and I am a Yoga Alliance Experienced Registered Yoga Teacher at the 500-hour level. I practiced for 13 years before I undertook my first teacher training, a 200-hour Hatha Yoga education through Spring Street Yoga (now Lahiri School of Yoga).

My formal training continued first through one-on-one mentoring/private study directly with Alanna Kaivalya, including teacher training immersions and retreats with her. I went on to complete the rigorous 300-hour level Jivamukti Yoga training in a month-long residential program they offer each year at the Omega Institute in NY. I continued to study with my primary teachers and find additional instruction through master classes at Jivamukti, and yoga conferenes/festivals throughout the country.

I have had the great and humbling opportunity to learn from many incredible teachers, including Shiva Rea, Aadil Palkhivala, Judith Hanson-Lasater, Richard Freeman, David Swenson, Ana Forrest and Gary Kraftsow. I studied with one of my most formative teachers, Mark Whitwell, at the Esalen Institute in CA in 2010, and look forward to being with him each year at the Telluride Yoga Festival.

I am currently in New York City for the inaugural training in The Kaivalya Yoga Method, with Alanna Kaivalya, whom I will assist at this year’s Telluride Yoga Festival. My hopes and plans include attending the 300-hour Inner Peace Yoga Therapy training in December. But the training is ongoing, with all teachers, wherever they are. I feel like a beginner each time I get the chance to sit before any teacher, and that is the real goal.

Why do you teach or favorite part of teaching?

Honestly, the only goal of a yoga teacher, as I see it, is to see the students as holy, whole beings. My only “job” is to do my best to facilitate an experience in which they may remember the truth of who and what they are. And that is easy, because each student I see is someone whose life is in itself magnificent, complex, rich and full of stories that humble us.

I am just the lucky one, sitting before these inspiring, incredible people who give me the opportunity to work it out, because we never know something like we must when we go to teach it. In that sense, the real teachers are the ones who give us the chance to get it right. They play along, and for that I am so grateful.

I teach because it is where I have been directed to be at this time. I truly believe the only authentic and relevant teachings arise from a place wherein we are listening to what the universe (or life or God or whatever you want to name it) is actually asking of us. So long as I have anything meaningful or useful to share with someone, so long as there is a way to help remind others of who and what they are, I will teach. But, and this is something I emphasize in the RootEd TT program, if I can better serve/support people a year from now doing something else, I will.

It isn’t about “being” a yoga teacher for me. It’s about heeding the call to shine light as best I can, and for now that happens to be through yoga. Nothing touches me more, as a teacher, than seeing someone “get it.” When I see/feel that a student has felt safe and supported enough to let themselves in, and in them there is this radiant sense of emergence, effulgence and empowerment, it’s amazing to behold. It is so humbling. Nothing is more satisfying than watching the student go beyond the teacher and bearing witness to that process wherein the teacher is rendered obsolete and the student realizes (makes real) yoga.

How has yoga changed you?

My short answer is in every way and not at all. In other words, yoga practices have given me the means and methods to sift through the BS and let go of all the old inner scripts, beliefs and habits that prevent me from feeling whole, happy and free. In that sense, yoga reveals. It doesn’t put something in that wasn’t there before. So, my practice of yoga has changed what I perceive and how I respond - hopefully, consciously and kindly instead of habitually and unconsciously). But the real goal is to illuminate what has always already been there: the true Self. And so, yoga has not changed me so much as it has helped reveal me, to myself and the world, more fully and freely.

Favorite part of yoga?

It seems antithetical to refer to parts of something based entirely on unification and completion. It’s like trying to separate the inhale from the exhale, which are inextricably connected one to the other. So, instead of picking a part, I will share a great example of how it came more fully together. My teacher Alanna once said to me when I was studying under her in 2006, “You need to chant more.”

At that time, I was like, "No, chanting is not my gig." But the reality is, all matter - everything we think of as solid, as formed - is most fundamentally made of sound, vibration. At the most essential level, beyond the atoms and quarks, the universe is made of vibrating energy. Depending on the frequency and velocity of the vibration, myriad forms and structures arise. But the unifying glue is sound.

So I learned, as a pragmatic and practical chick, that if I want to effect change, it makes sense to do it at the deepest level, not just the surface. Sound effects change physiologically, emotionally, psychologically and beyond. I learned to chant and why we chant and eventually, I found that chanting has the same power and potential as asana or meditation or pranayama. We chant a lot in my classes, because I learned that sound - a sound body, a sound mind - is powerful medicine.

One piece of yogic teaching you would share with the world if you could?

The one that made all the difference to me: stop looking, stop searching and actually show up for what is. You are already whole and complete, and whatever it is you think you need to be happy, free or at peace is not outside of you. Get into your life. Here. NOW.

How to find you (website, Facebook, Twitter, etc.):

My website is rootdownandgrow.com, and I have a blog called (Un)Becoming Human (unbecominghuman.blogspot.com). I am on Facebook, and you can email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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