Utilising a teaching method that stems from 30 years of mind, body and soul education and practice, yoga practitioner Jane Kersel‘s teachings are designed to not only benefit the physicality of the body but the mind too. Equipping her students with both the tools to strip away mental tension and inner conflict, Jane’s teachings enable both a highly beneficial physical and mental workout, encapsulating all aspects of the internal and external ‘self’ and in doing so, encouraging the mind and body to sit in unison – a state so easily lost in time-spent modern life. In this Content exclusive, Jane divulges her thoughts on the mind-body connection in yoga and beyond.
You have one of London’s most beautiful spaces (and websites!) for yoga Tell us, what inspired you to begin integrating yoga into your daily life?
It was the 1980’s I was living a really busy life in London as a fashion designer with my own manufacturing business in India – I would spend weeks traveling back and forth. To help with the stress and to keep fit I’d go to my local gym called Bodies on the Kings Road – it was the days of high impact aerobics and Jane Fonda’s “ no pain – no gain” and “feel the burn” workouts – which felt great at the time of doing and then completely exhausting a few hours later. I thought the body was a machine that you needed to push and whip it into shape so you didn’t become lazy. I was a highly competitive runner and athlete and pretty much spent my whole life in that same energy of pushing, striving, competing, winning – which looking back was based on a massive insecurity of never feeling I was enough or loveable – that’s the bitter pill in a dysfunctional childhood – you get great strengths but it takes a while to fill the gaping holes that were never mirrored to you as a child. So I got sick. It started with German Measles aged 25yrs old and then it developed into a post-viral syndrome that the doctor’s had no clue how to fix – that was a massive turning point as up until then I never even considered that the body could let you down and stop you in your tracks. About the same time I had news that my parents were divorcing and literally the next day my periods stopped and specialists told me that I had poly-cystic ovaries. I had no alternative but to stop and rethink my life and the way I had been living it.
How did this lead to you becoming a yoga teacher?
I started to take some yoga classes when I was in Bangalore and New Delhi. It was with a sweet male teacher who just called out different poses in their Sanskrit and I just copied other people. I was flexible so I didn’t really get the mind/body thing at the time and the delicious development of awareness and relationship that builds the more you practice. I started to see myself in a whole new light, my body, my thoughts, my vulnerabilities, my patterns, my tribe’s patterns and belief systems – it was like layers were being gently dropped off me and a greater truth of who I really was began to come through.
The yoga and movement was fantastic at getting me out of my head/thinking and into my body and feeling. Suddenly I had a positive relationship with my body and began to like myself for the first time in my life. Life was working well on the mat but still there was a missing link when I got off my mat so I went searching for more tools. My yoga teacher in the UK suggested I do a teacher training course to become more versed in the philosophy so I took an Iyengar teacher training as that seemed the most pragmatic/serious – there are after all a lot of really hippy dippy ones out there and the whole yoga candles ’n sandals, 1960’s Birkenstock wearing, muesli eating, porridge knitting analogies just don’t help what is actually a deeply scientific and pragmatic system for transformation if taught in the right way. Hence I realised if ever I was to be taken seriously in the Western World of allopathic medicine I needed other strings to my bow.
What is your stance on the mind-body connection?
I’ve always read books on the mind and body connection – I realised I had unexplained allergies and felt heavy and lethargic after eating – also the doctors still were telling me having a baby would be impossible with no periods and poor health. Always believing in miracles I decided to go in search of the answer myself. I studied Naturopathy with Barbara Wren and different forms of psychotherapy because my body was feeling better but my head was still feeling confused and scared. At this point in time some of my experiences were great, some were just a battle of the wills – my mind/intellect against one another. I felt I understood why/what my patterns were but kept falling into the same black-holes at times and still didn’t feel that I had any tangible tools to pull myself out. My dad was a manic depressive, I was put on Valium at 12yrs old so I knew those black-holes well.
I was told of an amazing couple who lived way up north of San Francisco in a tiny village on the sea called ‘Mendocino’ – Dr Hal Stone and Sidra Stone. Hal was a professor of Jungian analysis at Berkeley University and Sidra was a psychotherapist specialising in women’s studies and the divine feminine. I went to see them and they taught me Shadow work and the psychology of the Selves – I loved it and stayed 2 weeks and have been going back twice a year for the past 15 years.
What started as my own process in Jungian psychotherapy then became a training and a new spoke to the wheel of mind/body/spirit wellness as I became a psycho-spiritual analyst. I loved having all the pieces to the jigsaw – I could meet people either from their yoga mat feeling better in their body and wanting more awareness in other areas of their lives – curious of the shadow energetics were that were holding them back or having them fall back into the same dance of a relationship, or more heady people who I could get moving on their mats, re-connecting to the landscape of their heart and body.
For myself, after 2 years of this work, I had an amazing dream; I was washing something dark in my hands under a rusty garden tap, suddenly there was an intense bright light and in my hands lay two gleaming white kidney shaped butter beans – so bright I couldn’t look. The next day my periods came back and there were no signs of any cysts and two children later on. I fully know there is at times a power that is accessible to us all if we are able to quieten our skeptical, rational minds.
As an artist and designer and a lover of all things mystical, dream-like and alchemical, I felt the Jungian analysis and dream work training gave me space to play in the language of symbolism and metaphor. I noticed the altered states I could drop into after yoga or chanting and the rich landscape of relaxation where you can embed positive imagery and literally rewire negative thoughts. From then on I read everything I could find on hypnotherapy and finally qualified as a clinical transformational hypnotherapist which I use more clinically and also during yoga classes – the power of words is immensely transformative – the energy of a word literally has a vibration that can effect change.
People often forget that exercise has benefits for the mind as well as body. Do you encourage this aspect of exercise in your classes?
Absolutely. Right mind, right heart leads to right action. But there’s a way of teaching this. You have to meet the student where they are at and not force anything onto them. For instance, someone might start in a class with me wanting to look great in a bikini on or the red carpet – great! whatever brings you to me. After a while I’ll get you feeling so good in your body that you’ve forgotten the reason you came because now you’re just loving the relationship you have with yourself, with your breath. Equally you might have someone coming because they feel stressed out and they want to learn how to de-stress and calm their mind – often if you sit such a person down and tell them to sit down and meditate they are going to feel like they are going to self-combust, or they’ll get angry and judge themselves that they are not ‘good’ – the way in is through the body – get them moving, get them breathing, get them feeling – when you’re in the dance of the relationship with yourself you drop out of your judgmental thinking mind and get present – it’s like a drug – the energy moving through you feels so good, you feel so sparkly after a class from the inside out that you just want more.
How can yoga in particular benefit the whole person?
I’m not so sure on this for other peoples yoga – that’s not me being big-headed more what I see and how teachers are taught these days. I’ve stepped off all of the teacher trainings I taught on in London as none of them seemed to be teaching the ethos of yoga which is not robotically training up 30 students at a time about how well you teach a pose, can get a body in and out of a pose but far more about showing up for yourself and your students – being real – being honest to your own vulnerabilities – not taking on that role of a therapist or spiritual guru unless you really have the training. There’s a huge misconception in the Western World today over spirituality and yoga teachers – they teach asana (poses/physical) they aren’t gurus – they aren’t necessarily evolved spiritually, emotionally, mentally just because they have the label ‘yoga teacher’ they are most likely going through their own challenging journey just like everyone else. A good teacher will help you touch your own divinity – help you find your own inner teacher (guru), help you plug into the field of energy all around you and within you. We’ve been duped into thinking there’s some old wise patriarchal god-like father up there in the heavens which leaves us in a child/parent relationship all our lives. Your god’s within – in every cell – get that right and suddenly you have real power in your lives to create positive change. Now if your teacher hasn’t found that divinity for themselves and is living an embodiment of an empowered life, you’re probably going to get a great physical work-out but not much else.
Life sometimes throws us lemons. Can yoga be used in times of change or crisis?
Yes definitely – That’s when the practices really come into their own but ideally you want to have already got those tools in place before the crisis or change happens. I’m currently developing short practices of life tools specifically for such times called Work-ins. Your practice (which may be a particular meditation or contemplation rather than a physical practice) wants to feel like a daily routine – like we’d take a shower to wash off the day’s stuff – Work-ins teach you to engage in a practice that does the same energetically, physically, mentally and emotionally. That’s what I’m doing in Cordoba on my Ritual Retreats – If you want change or are feeling a little inert in your life, catching ourselves before we fall into the state of dis-ease and energetic discord is key. What better way to spend a week having your energy field vacuumed out, your body, heart and mind opened – it’s alchemical.
What is the one piece of life advice you treasure?
“Take your eyes off yourself and beam your light.”