This is only the second ever #yogateacherofthemonth feature on Yogahound, and I’m learning more about these gorgeous yoga teachers.
For the month of May, we are featuring Devon based yoga teacher Jenny Sercombe. Jenny and I had been in contact regarding a yoga photo shoot, and as fate would have it, I was holidaying in her neck of the woods almost exactly at the time Jenny wanted to do a photo shoot. This also meant we could use the beautiful light filled studio of Harbour House in Kingsbridge, where Jenny teaches. Serendipity!
I really enjoyed working with Jenny – Jenny decided to wear no make-up for the shoot (she really didn’t need it, and it suited her whole ethos of body positivity. We played around with a few outfits and also used both natural light as well as a studio setup with red and blue colour gels – I felt the mixture of the red and blue gels over the studio lights suited Jenny’s calm yet vibrant light filled eyes. Enjoy learning more about Jenny in her answers to Q&A.
When and why did you start doing yoga?
I started practicing yoga about 12 years ago, but there have been large gaps in that time. I was looking for something to help manage stress and to help me explore philosophy a little. Fortunately I stumbled upon a wonderful teacher who had a class in the church hall at the end of my road at the time. It was love at first class! I still remember not being able to get anywhere near my toes and finding Downward Facing Dog absolute torture. I’m so glad I came to physical practice as a creaky/stiff/nervous beginner rather than as a bendy gymnast though, as I feel I have a personal understanding of how an average person might feel coming into class.
Tell us about where you trained or whom you trained with as a yoga teacher?
I trained in Goa with Himalaya Yoga Valley under Yogacharia Lalit Kumar, where I was totally immersed in yogic practice and culture. We spent half the day in silence practicing meditation, chanting, pranayama (breathing techniques), yoga asana (postures) and journaling. The rest of the day was spent learning about philosophy, anatomy, ayurveda (Indian medical theory) anatomy and practical teaching techniques. We’d have another intense class in the afternoon. I was blessed to find this wonderful school. I highly recommend it to anyone considering a teacher training. They also have a studio in Cork.
I’ve also completed a gorgeous Pregnancy Yoga training with Janine Hurley.
What’s been the most valuable lesson you have learnt since training as a yoga teacher?
About the beautiful wide variety of bodies which come to my classes. Our anatomy is all so different. On the first class I taught after my training I was a little overwhelmed by all the injuries and medical conditions people came along with (just through being human), and all the different shapes, sizes and mobility. Of course on my training all my “students” were nearly yoga teachers themselves and had all done a month of intensive yoga practice, so although I was taught many modifications for each pose I quickly learnt that you need to think fast in class and that most of the time people’s postures are not going to look like how they do in a text book. Not only is that absolutely fine, but it’s completely beautiful. I remember one of our wise teacher’s, Eveanna, saying to always “see the beauty” in all students poses and only to “correct” if it’s dangerous not to, or when you feel the student is ready to explore a different depth to the pose. Sometimes a student demonstrates a text book perfect posture, but their mind is still all over the place. Then there might be a student in an imperfect version of a pose who is clearly so peaceful, happy and alive in the moment. It would be silly to bustle into that person’s space and to change what they are doing, because it is this latter student who is closest to experiencing true yoga.
If you could choose only 5 yoga poses to practise every day, what would they be and why?
Pigeon – I totally love/hate the deep intense feeling of this pose. I especially love this in a yin style where you stay in the posture for 5 minutes on each side. I really get to meet the uncomfortable side of my mind head-on here. This pose teaches me to surrender.
Dancer – One day I’d love to be able to know the feeling and expansion of full dancer pose. Until that day I’m really happy practicing modified versions of this beautiful asana. I find a strap to be really useful for finding a modified version of the full pose.
- Warrior 2 with a smile! I feel so strong in this posture. Like I can face anything life throws at me.
- Child’s pose – Who doesn’t love child’s pose? I especially like the wide knee version as I find it suits my larger body. I like to imagine all my whirling thoughts disappearing from my forehead into the ground.
- Parivrtta Janu Sirsasana (Revolved Head-to-Knee Pose) – I love the open feeling in this posture and the gorgeous side stretch.
What’s the most challenging yoga pose for you?
Anything with a bind. I have quite short arms, tight shoulders and currently have quite a big body to wrap around (I’m size 14 on a good day) which all make binding a bit of a challenge for me. Again I find straps infinitely beneficial.
For physical health, do you only do yoga, or do you participate in other sports and activities?
I also enjoy dancing, especially 5 Rhythms, which is more like a dancing meditation, but I also sometimes go to a salsa class, very much as a beginner. Horse riding is another love, as is walking on Dartmoor or on the coast path. I’m finding it tricky to find the time for everything though!
Do you make a living from yoga teaching? If yes, how do you do it, if no, what else do you do?
No, I mainly teach out of the love of sharing yoga. I also practice acupuncture and massage, and often have a cross-over of students/clients.
What is it that keeps you practising yoga?
It’s that yummy, intangible bliss feeling. Like floating away in a hot bath full of essential oils, except my body gets stronger and stronger, which isn’t important to me in an “achieving” sense, but I notice the effects in every other aspect of my life.
I also love the philosophical and metaphysical side of yoga, especially bhakti (devotional) chanting, though I tend to keep my classes grounded in the physical practice, giving lots of space for silence and mindfulness. I don’t preach about spirituality in class, but I’m always really happy to discuss with students later if they’d like to know more.
Do you prefer a more traditional style of yoga or an evolved modern style? and what do you think about how yoga has evolved?
I prefer a traditional style. I love the ashtanga sequence. I’m quite a chaotic person in general, so I had expected myself to prefer a varied class, but I find I can lose myself in a sequence like a moving meditation and I actually give more when I know how much effort is needed. It’s also easier for me to gauge my progress through postures.
For pregnancy yoga we still do a lot of traditional pranayama (breath work) but the rest of the class is very gentle, flowing, restorative and woman-focused.
I do however love going to all styles of classes and workshops, learning from different teachers.
I always open and close each class with traditional Sanskrit mantra, as you would in India. I just find the mantras beautiful. I love the feeling of the vibration and I feel it’s important to honour yoga’s roots in India. If we completely take yoga away from tradition it verges on cultural appropriation, in my opinion. I’ve talked to many Indian yoga teachers and Indian people about this subject. They are often baffled (sometimes politely amused) by the way yoga is sometimes practiced in the west as purely an exercise class. Yoga is so much more than this. I think the least we can do with India’s gift of yoga is to hint at this and to tip our hat to the source.
I won’t go into my thoughts of “beer yoga” and “naked yoga”. You can probably imagine the offence these cause in India!
If you could give only one piece of advice to a complete beginner walking into a yoga class for the first time, what would it be?
Your teacher isn’t concerned with whether you can put your leg behind your head. It doesn’t make you a better person. They just want you to do what feels lovely in your body. Avoid being competitive by listening to everything your body is saying at all times. Try not to look around the room at what other people are doing.
Could you share with us an important/touching moment you have experienced as a yoga teacher?
When a student told me that they’d thought they were just going to get more decrepit with age. I think their doctor had even told them that. But after only a few months of weekly practice they were back doing things they hadn’t done for many years. Which not only helped their body, but made them look at life and their expectations of it completely differently. They have more confidence and can see new possibilities. I may sound like I’m exaggerating, but for this person yoga has really transformed their life and their outlook.
Is there anything you wish your yoga students knew about you?
Just that they inspire me every class. I learn just as much from my students as they do from me.
Please give us details about where to find you online, where you teach and how to contact you.
I teach in South Devon at Harbour House in Kingsbridge and at Malborough Village Hall, near Salcombe. I’m also offering Pregnancy Yoga classes in Kingsbridge and Totnes.