by Jill Rivera Greene, Conference Blogger
My plan to talk with Featured Speaker Janet Stone was initially disrupted by a call from the nurse at my daughter’s school, while Janet dealt with a few last-minute delays of her own. But in the end, these small challenges provided the perfect jumping-off point for a conversation about the intersections of yoga and everyday life.
Your Strong Mom yoga practice is featured in this month’s Yoga Journal. Can you talk about this practice and its inspiration?
The inspiration really began with my own experience. When you have a baby, there’s prenatal yoga and postnatal yoga, but then there’s this moment that happens after postnatal, when everyone is cooing about the baby and you’re left alone. Your belly is hanging over your pants, your boobs are dripping with milk, your friends are out doing what they’re doing, and you’re home, steeped in the vital life care of these creatures.
I wanted to create a place where people could come together, feel seen, and honor this transition. Where they could truly embrace where they are in life. When you’re a parent of young children, you’re no longer going to have 3-hour practices, you’re not going out at night like you used to … so this is an opportunity to build a community of people who are in a similar place.
Strong Mom is an opportunity to be with people at their most vulnerable, no matter when that is. I have people come who have 27-year-old kids and others who have 11-day-old kids. It doesn’t matter. They’re all looking for themselves in the midst of that title of “mother” (or “parent”).
It’s so easy to lose yourself in that word, that role.
Yes! And then there’s shame, resentment, feeling selfish … so many feelings are just not allowed. There are not a lot of places to talk about it. Through this practice, you literally get back in your body, reclaim it, but you also find ways to nourish yourself so that you can nurture others. It’s so much more than asana—it includes grounding practices, meditation, pranayama, and energetic alignment as a framework to find yourself in the midst of all the stuff that comes up in this role of mother.
I’m excited to see that you’re leading a workshop on chanting at the conference. Can you talk about what chanting has brought to your practice?
Chanting is a Bhakti practice. It’s an opportunity to set down the mind for a moment, and what comes forth is just infinite love. In churches, tribal traditions, all forms of spiritual cultures, they’ve always included some kind of coming together of voice, as a way of collectively drawing our attention away from our individual drama. What opens up in those moments is really potent.
My practice of chanting began 16 or 17 years ago. My teacher chanted “Om” in class in a way that went past my mind, it went past thought, and spoke to a place inside of me that had never been touched before.
Inspired by teachers Max Strom and Jai Uttal, I began incorporating simple chanting into my own classes. The response was really powerful. I teach in a room where as many as 150 people can attend—people from every environment (from Google and Facebook employees to full-time mothers)—and when we are chanting, everyone is the same.
I recently released an album of chants with DJ Drez that is super simple, uncomplicated, from the heart. It has been very well-received (shooting immediately to #1 on iTunes world).
You are offering two asana workshops at the conference: “Ganesha: From the Ground Up” and “Rasa Lilasana: Divine play.” Can you talk about the role of deities in your asana practice?
The deities are a big part of my own practice, and therefore my teaching.
It’s really tied in to the mantras, the chanting, and I also do a lot of teachings around the stories about the deities. These stories weren’t just meant for “back then”; they’re so relevant and relatable to the lives we live today. They reveal themselves again and again in our daily experience.
I love this quote on your website: “She aspires not to teach but to allow the practice to emanate from her.” What does this look like in practice, to aspire “not to teach”?
It begins with always remaining a student and continuing my own practice, at a myriad of levels. So when I am in front of people at an event, the teaching is informed by the present moment.
Normally if you think of teaching, it involves gathering up the self, the “I.” We offer a teaching through all of our various filters. But my approach is to step out of the way and offer whatever is within me, my own practice, to simply allow it to come forth.
This year’s conference theme is “a pilgrimage to the soul.” Can you talk about your personal experience of pilgrimage?
My pilgrimage is long term, it has been since Day 1. It unfolds daily: in my mothering, in yearly trips to India, in all of my practices.
To me, the soul is found through everyday interactions—so the pilgrimage is how I treat the barista at the coffee shop, how I manage difficult situations, how I attend to my body in asana, and in the totality of my living, both when I’m in studentship in India, but also as I am carpooling or picking up a sick child.
Anything else you’d like conference-goers to know?
I have a special relationship to the Pacific Northwest. I have family history there, and I lived in Portland for many years … it’s a place deeply rooted in my heart. I’m so looking forward to being there with all of you!