Jeanne Heileman: Founder of Tantra Flow Yoga

Jeanne Heileman, MA, 500-ERYT, ParaYoga Level II Certified, was introduced to yoga as a dancer and actress. Facing ongoing pain from scoliosis, yoga provided tools for physical realignment and acceptance of difficulties.  She studied extensively in Ashtanga, Iyengar, Anusara, ParaYoga, Vini and Tantra Yoga; each adding a deeper element of meaning to her practice and teachings. 

What, when and where was your first experience of yoga?
In 1985 I was studying acting at the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco where they offered a very physical training, including all kinds of movement and body techniques.  Yoga was one of the many classes we took.  I fell in love with the class because it invited us to close our eyes and look inward, to feel the inside of our body.  As a young actor, I was always looking outward, wanting to know if I was doing things right and if it was in comparison to my peers.  Here, I didn’t have to look outward but feel inside, and it felt wonderful.  I felt at home, in my body, mind, and heart, for the first time in my life.

What made you decide to move from student to teacher?
At the age of 24, I made a list of all the things I’d like to do in my lifetime.  Being a yoga teacher was one of them. I had been practicing since 1985, and in 1996 I was in the midst of a life crisis that resulted in leaving my job in arts management and taking a yoga teacher training.  I thought that I’d return to the arts world and teach once a week.  Instead, months after my first teacher training, I was teaching 20 classes a week.  (This is NOT encouraged, it was too much.) The moment I started teaching, the response from students and teachers was overwhelmingly positive, and doors opened so much quicker than in the acting and arts management fields.  Part of it is that I came in at a wonderful time, before social media and the outward attention that is now happening with yoga.  Part of it is that I had studied yoga for 11 years before my first teacher training.  And part of it was that I had been preparing to teach with everything else that I had been doing. I saw how every aspect of my life until that time made sense, for everything prepared me to be a good teacher.  We should never doubt our life’s path, it does make sense in the end if we keep listening.

What teaching tip has had the biggest influence on the way you practice? And the way you teach?
It’s not a “tip” but a huge lesson I learned from my teacher, Rod Stryker.  I learned long ago how to truly breathe in poses, realising that I wasn’t breathing deeply but trying to keep up with everyone.  No wonder I had a lot of anxiety and couldn’t sit still.  He introduced the Pranavayus to us in a training, and while he was using that information to take us somewhere else, my mind was blown discovering that I was blocked in different parts of my body.  I started to explore this inner, deeper breathing and through my own explorations, I found that my limited breathing was the cause for many poses to be difficult, in addition to other obstacles.  When I changed how I breathed in my practice and slowed things down, so much of me came into alignment and I started to really feel the yoga drop me into calm.  I didn’t have to bang my body into a sweaty mess anymore to get calm; I learned to apply my breath towards the regions that were blocked.  This is my passion and I love seeing the joy on students’ faces when they get it, too.  That is so exciting.

What does your own self-practice involve?
When I’m not running to teach early morning sessions for trainings or retreats, I do about an hour of sitting that will include about 15/20 minutes of Pranayama, 15/20 minutes of a concentration practice and then dropping into Goodness.  Then I do about an hour of asana.  If I’m at home working, I sometimes break it up and do asana in the afternoon, which then may be 1.5 hours long.  If I am teaching a long day, I’ll do my pranayama/meditation in the morning and then do asana at lunch or when students have a break.  My practice (asana, meditation and pranayama) gets done each day.  How that unfolds is fluid due to the variety of routines based on my ever-changing schedule.  I try to adapt and soften into the fluidity and that provides creativity, which feeds into my teaching.

If you only had 10 minutes to practice, what would you do?
I have scoliosis, arthritis, and other issues with my spine, so something I call Travel the Block (I’ll be teaching it in the training I offer at Yogacampus) is really helpful in moving vertebrae into alignment and softening tense muscles in the back.  That alone solves so many problems for me and I finish refreshed with a positive perspective. 

I also have a simple Vini practice that I learned in my first teacher training that is done laying down on the floor.  It gets me in the mood for further yoga, or is the fix when there is very little time.  (This link offers the sequence and is just a wee bit longer than 10 minutes.)  In the middle of the day I will do a shoulder opener and a handstand to shift my perspective if I’m groggy.  That helps a lot!

Who/what is the biggest inspiration on your yoga journey at the moment?
I was a very enthusiastic young teacher who studied with every well-known teacher who either lived in Los Angeles or visited Los Angeles.  I spent every weekend in workshops and charged up my credit card so that I didn’t miss any piece of information. I was so hungry and started to crave the meaning behind all the poses – what’s the point?

In 1999, I took my first workshop with Yogarupa Rod Stryker.  He blended the alignment wisdom and physical challenge from Anusara, with the breath intelligence and dynamic movement from Vini Yoga.  I was already studying intensely with John Friend, Desiree Rumbaugh and Gary Kraftsow, but didn’t want to be certified in either lineage because I loved everything.  Rod made a space for a wide range of asana styles in sequencing, and he had the depth from a living lineage of teachers that no one else seemed to embody.  He has continued to inspire me to share the wisdom that yoga can offer and awaken, even in the simplest of yoga practices.  It doesn’t need to be expressed with words but can be found if the teacher is vibrating that awareness.  My approach to yoga and teaching changed significantly. 

What role does yoga play in the way you live?
Yoga plays a huge role in how I live.  I don’t show yoga on the outside by wearing yoga outfits and dropping Sanskrit words all day long.  In fact, when not teaching or practicing, I prefer to do non-yoga things to be around other perspectives.  I make fun of myself as a shallow person because there is a trait of that in me, so I’m being honest.  And, by allowing my shallow person to come through, it makes me want to dive deeper into the yoga wisdom to fulfil the hunger that comes from shallow behaviour. I am always watching my choices in actions and words, looking for the Truth that is underneath everything. When things don’t go the way I want, I look at myself to find if I was not in alignment or if there is a lesson in the unexpected experience.  The lessons from the scriptures are meant for us to practice them throughout our day, even in traffic or in balancing our bank account.

In the morning I do pieces or my whole Dinacharya/morning ritual, which involves Abhyasa, (dry oiling the body), tongue scraping, neti wash, oil pulling and Agni Sara.  I eat according to my dosha’s needs and the weather, which is so much easier that worrying about being on a diet or trying to keep up with the latest yoga food trend.  It is also important to feed myself on a regular schedule to keep my Vata as calm as possible.  Prana, Life Force, is found not only in food but also in how we feed all of our senses, so I am careful about the amount of negativity that from the news, media, and amounts of people I expose myself to, especially before going to sleep.  Instead of reading everything and connecting with everyone, as my intellectual-social mind desires, I cut off the internet and other technological vibrations before I go to sleep.  In general, it is a goal to keep things off until I have completed my morning meditation practice.

Forgiveness and acceptance are large pieces of my daily, living practice lately. Sometimes I break my own rules, sometimes things just don’t go the way I planned.  I am learning to weave those vibrations into my life for it will attract the same from others and it teaches others to apply the same towards themselves.

What do you hope your students experience when they practise with you?
My goal has always been to help students connect to their own Truth and know that the calm and the love which they are seeking dwells within them, already.  If we could all know our Truth, everything would be so much easier.  Really.  I have a saying often used after class, “The Who you are now is closer to the Who you are meant to be, compared to the Who you were when you first walked into the room.  Now, you can dance in your talents.  Now, you can give to others.”  That sums up the goal of practicing with me.

Which yoga text could you not live without?
The Bhagavad Gita and Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.  I love them both so much.  I love many of the scriptures and there are so many wonderful books available to us these days.  And, this is my answer for you at the moment. 

What’s your favourite yoga pose to do and to teach?
I have two – sorry!  I LOVE Urdhva Dhanurasana, (upward bow pose) and Hanumanasana (vertical splits.)  They put my body back into alignment and help me breathe deeper. I also really like to teach both, for too many students don’t have all of the information and are not doing either correctly.  I love to help students feel the expansion of the upper chest in the backbend, while the head is still on the floor in the preparation to enter the pose. There is so much to do and when it’s honestly done, the pose just blooms and the heart opens in a grounded way.  And Hanumanasana, when done wisely, frees us from so much stuck in our hips.  Pure joy.

Describe the meaning of yoga in 10 words or less.
Yoga is: going home.

Jeanne will be teaching Radiance of Fire: A Tantric Cultivation of the Inner Core on 16th to 18th June 2017 at Yogacampus. Book your place here.