I first got into yoga in 2001 when I was searching for a physical activity that would replace the long hours I used to devote to ballet. I had recently retired from the Philippine Ballet Theater and was looking for a form of exercise that would complement the muscles that I used in dance.
When I tried yoga, somehow I was drawn to it. I discovered many other muscles that were complementary to dance. My legs became leaner, my upper body more defined, and my asthma, which I developed later on in life, totally disappeared. From twice a week mid-morning classes, I started going three, then five, and eventually six times a week. From a purely physical exercise in the beginning, I wanted to learn more about yoga.
I attended the Teacher Training Course given by Paul Dallaghan of the Centered Yoga Institute in Koh Samui, Thailand. I discovered that sleep, wake, and eating patterns play a big role in the whole yogic lifestyle. I learned many good diet habits at Yoga Thailand that I follow to this day.
One of Paul’s assistants then was Jessica Blanchard, a former Teacher Training (TT) graduate who was on sabbatical from her fast-paced corporate job when she was invited by Paul and his wife Jutima to help manage their newly opened retreat center while they were traveling. Jessica packed her bags and moved to Yoga Thailand, and has not looked back since.
Though I missed Jessica’s first visit to Manila, I am looking forward to her next one, where she will conduct a series of Mysore classes, workshops, and consultation to be hosted by Yoga Manila. A couple of Yoga Manila teachers who had private consultations with Jessica during her first visit here were amazed at the changes they felt after receiving their Ayurvedic prescriptions.
Reconnecting with Jessica after some time, she relates to me an account of how she started her yoga path with Paul, how she got into Ayurveda, and updated me with her recent venture, the expansion of her yoga and wellness studio in New Orleans.
How and when did you start teaching in Yoga Thailand?
I first met Paul and Jutima in 2002, when I was working at a fast-paced corporate job involving lots of travel. I was working during the week in Dublin, and taking yoga classes wherever I could find them, often in gyms and old churches. I signed up for a number of mysore classes, given in this ratty gym with carpets, and met Paul and Jutima. I learned about his Teacher Training program in Thailand, but not yet at Yoga Thailand. I decided to apply and eventually to attend. The whole yoga world was new to me, and I was immensely impressed by their dedication to yoga and to teaching.
In April of 2004, I returned to Koh Samui to visit the newly opened Yoga Thailand. Meanwhile I had formed a plan to take a sabbatical from Accenture for one year to travel to India. During my sabbatical, Paul asked me to come to Yoga Thailand to help teach and manage the center while they would be away. I jumped at the offer and haven’t looked back since.
What were the challenges you faced when you were there?
The challenges there were so different from the ones that I face now. Because I was teaching and living onsite, and the original Yoga Thailand was much smaller than the “new” one, I was always in contact with one of the guests or the Thai staff or the teachers. Most of the time this was wonderful, rewarding and fun; however, if I was having a bad day or moment, my internal feelings could easily be misinterpreted by one of the guests as being rude. I guess the short answer is lack of personal space. Another challenge was the transient nature of the contacts. Great people would come in and out, but I was there all the time. It was hard to get stability and consistency in my relationships, and at times I felt lonely.
What prompted you to go back home and start your own school?
I had started to miss my family after having lived abroad for 10 years. Initially I committed to moving to New Orleans for 10 months to cover classes in an Ashtanga studio. My plan was to move back to Yoga Thailand after the 10 months. I enjoyed being close to my family, and the owner of the studio wanted to sell it to me. I wasn’t interested in taking over that business for a number of reasons, but had decided that being in New Orleans would be right for me. In 2008 I launched Balance Yoga & Wellness, a yoga studio with a focus on wellness. The whole picture is important—how one acts, eats and drinks, and also practices yoga. I wanted to bring more of the other aspects of health to my yoga studio.
What are the challenges you face now that you are running your own studio?
Being a business owner offers its own set of challenges. The grass is definitely always greener. I love what I do but the work never stops. I take care of the marketing, including the website, flyers, e-mails, social media, advertising, etc. I also keep a blog and see Ayurvedic clients. On top of all this, I’ve been in school for the past two years to become a Registered Dietitian (Nutritionist).
How do you keep up your practice while running your own studio and teaching?
Since being in school, I’m lucky if I get three asana practices in per week during the school term. I’m pretty good about practicing pranayama, I usually do that at 5:30 a.m. before teaching at the studio. I also try to sometimes step out of my Ashtanga box and support the other teachers and styles of yoga at the studio. Progress is about being able to take a step back and look at what is important. And this changes and evolves over time. Being a nutritionist will give me a whole world of opportunities to spread the message of yoga and Ayurveda.
What got you into Ayurveda?
As a new yoga practitioner I wanted to find out as much as I could about yoga. One of the fascinating aspects to me was the diet, how to eat to support a yoga practice. This led me to Ayurveda, yoga’s sister science. I was living in Southern France, where I found Atreya Smith and his school, the European Institute of Vedic Studies in 2003. I completed his four-year Practitioner’s Training program, which included an internship in India. He has become my teacher and mentor for all things Ayurvedic.
In what ways do yoga and Ayurveda go hand in hand?
According to the classical yoga philosophy, the goal of yoga is to channel and quiet the fluctuations of the mind. Basically we practice yoga to feel better, to become more aware on many levels—physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. For some people, yoga is practiced on the physical level, for others it is all about spirituality.
Most people have small or large health problems—digestion, weight, energy level, hormonal balance, or other specific problems. As a holistic medical science, Ayurveda treats a myriad of big and small problems by looking at the individual. The goal of Ayurveda is to make the sick better and to keep us from developing illnesses.
Think of Ayurveda as a medical science that focuses strongly on prevention—through diet, lifestyle, including asana, pranayama, mediation, mantra, sleeping habits, work and home environment, and mental attitude.
What is the first thing one can do if one wants to start an Ayurvedic lifestyle?
Try to get regularity of routine. Wake up, eat, and sleep, have bowel movements at the same time. Try to get at least seven hours of quality sleep. Look at your diet—get at least two to three servings of vegetables at each meal and have two to three fruits as snacks. Eliminate refined foods, especially refined sugars, flours and oils. Eat your food in as whole a form as possible. Become a food detective, read the labels, and think about the ingredients. These are simple things that anyone can do; essentially it involves going back to the roots of a traditional diet.
Yoga Manila presents “Striving for Balance: Ayurveda Workshop with Jessica Blanchard” on August 1-7 at Yoga Manila’s Ortigas Studio. Call (0922) 876-6232 or check www.yogamanila.com for details.