##It’s Halloween night on Valencia’s Patacona beach. Moonlight dances upon the glossy sea below, the pearly sheen of the majestic full moon reflected in the dark water. Fairy lights line the sand, glowing like fireflies weaving along the beach between the rows of people gathered here to practice yoga together.
Jennison, a mum, Psychology graduate and yoga teacher from California, has been leading full moon classes at the beach for five years. Originally a visitor, Jennison made her home in Valencia after first visiting this city for a three-month sabbatical with friends almost eight years ago, meeting her future husband during her first week here.
“It’s no coincidence we’ve all met on the mat here tonight to practice yoga together,” she says as we take our places on the sand surrounded by the magical lights. The tranquillity of the surroundings and serenity of the yoga practice make for a beautiful, spiritual experience; one of my favourite nights I’ve spent in Valencia.
Here at ‘24/7 Valencia’ we had a tea and a chat with Jennison to find out more about her life and her yoga practice.
24/7 VALENCIA: Can you tell us more about Yoga With Jennison?
JENNISON: My signature class is yoga in the Turia park twice a week: on Wednesdays and Sundays. We’re so lucky to have the park, which is used all year round by families and fitness groups. Before I started that, there was hardly any yoga in English here and not many expats living in Valencia either. I was actually seven months pregnant when I started! It was something fun to do on the weekend because no one works on Sunday in Spain.
In the summers I used to teach ‘Chaturangas and Chiringuitos’; chaturanga is a yoga pose and chiringuitos are beach bars, so we’d all do yoga and go to one of the beach bars and have a smoothie or wine and hang out. That was before covid; we did a couple this summer, but it was different. As it is further to travel from the centre, the classes I do at the beach are more like community-building events centred around something special to bring a group together, so we usually spend time and go for a swim or eat at one of the restaurants.
I’ve done a lot of events like yoga and brunch, yoga and wine tasting, or special workshops for different parts of the body, like yoga for the back. Everything I’ve done has always been about unique yoga experiences and bringing people together because we all arrive here alone without any friends. That’s why I started teaching here; the intention was to meet people and build a community.
On Wednesday mornings after yoga in the park, we usually go for coffee with whoever is free. It’s coffee, then wine, then lunch and you end up spending the whole day together. This year is a bit different because the community piece has changed. You can’t really gather as much, so this year we did outdoor picnics together: things where you can still gather but in safe ways.
I also run retreats, which have a similar intention: to bring people together for an extended period of time, not just an hour yoga class. I cancelled six retreats this year, as obviously we couldn’t go outside. But we did run a retreat in August to Gerona; everybody had their own room, we practiced outside and wore masks, so there are ways to do it. Right now I have a full day retreat planned for the end of November at MasQi Energy House.
As far as my schedule, I don’t know what it’ll look like in the winter. Normally I rent spaces around the city when it gets colder, but we’re just going to stay outside as long as we can and enjoy the weather because even in the winter Valencia has really nice weather!
How did you adapt to moving online during lockdown?
I had experience teaching some online workshops before lockdown, which were more philosophical – based on setting intentions or manifestation – so I had at least been a little comfortable with the online setting, but everything changed of course with covid. I moved online quickly, pretty much from the beginning of lockdown, and taught online almost every day.
It was really cool because I got to reconnect with a lot of people I met here who moved away, as well as my friends and family in California; they were able to practice yoga with me because it was online, which was really, really special. I did my signature class on Sundays at 12 noon for free on Instagram, so whoever wanted to could join. That was a really fun way to connect with people every week too.
My husband had just re-done my website so that was perfect timing. He had been working on it little by little over a period of time and when lockdown came we had lots of time to finish it. He’s the tech guy behind everything: the website and setting up the camera for the online classes. You either want a tech guy or a doctor in your house, right?
I have another online thing that I do called Body Before Coffee: a series of free, short yoga videos I post on Instagram and YouTube, usually 20 minutes or less. That’s because I was struggling a lot with having an at-home practice, especially after my son was born. I called it Body Before Coffee because my challenge was to do it right when I wake up before I have my coffee, even before my son knows I’m awake. It’s about getting your body moving first thing in the morning. Do I do it every day? No. But do I think about it? Yes. I know that it will feel good.
I realised that even people who live in Valencia like the online classes because they are so convenient, as you don’t have to build in the time to travel to a yoga class. I taught an online class yesterday morning because it was raining and there were people joining from Valencia, the UK and other places. I do a new moon yoga online every month too and I’ve also done some online recordings. I went away on holiday and recorded a programme from the Italian countryside that people could sign up to so they could have beautiful backdrops for their yoga practice every day.
Business-wise, online classes are great because I can continue working from anywhere. At the same time, you have the community and the connection which is the reason why I started this. People come online, they see each other and say hi; it’s about making friends and staying connected. I don’t think I’ll ever let it go. It’s nice to know that even if we can’t be outside this winter, we always have this.
When and how did you first get into yoga?
About 20 years ago, I was studying fears, phobia and anxiety in a project for my final year of high school. You have to do a practical experience related to your project so I started taking yoga classes to study how to overcome and heal from fear. Yoga wasn’t cool back then. My mum would pick me up from school at lunchtime and take me to this women’s gym. That was my first real exposure to yoga and I just never stopped!
When I went away to university, I practiced all the time. Later, in my mid-twenties, I had a big deal corporate job; I was really burnt out and suffering a lot from anxiety and depression, so I left that job and went to do my yoga teaching training during the time I took off. That was ten years ago this month. I trained at the place that I had practiced yoga as a student. It was a huge healing process and a really cool experience connecting with people who think like you and have similar experience and goals.
I started by teaching donation-based classes in San Diego in the park. Yoga can be very expensive in California, so I taught by donation so people could experience it and I could get practice as a teacher. I did that for five years before coming to Valencia.
What’s your favourite thing about what you do?
The people definitely. 99% of my friends I’ve met at yoga class. Friendship is the best part for me and that’s what I try to recreate in all my classes: giving everyone the chance to meet people. There are a few yoga teachers here who all go to each other’s classes and support one another. I used to teach a lot of partner yoga on Sunday where I’d make people make friends with the person next to them. People feel really nervous in the beginning but it always ends up with everyone laughing and having a great time!
I think Valencia is a great place to meet people, as everyone is really open here. We’re really lucky because in other cities I don’t think it’s so easy to meet people. Here we have nice weather, so people are out and about doing things. Also because the city is flat it’s easy to go to activities in other parts of the city; you don’t have to stay in just your neighbourhood.
If you’re in a city that has hills, it makes a huge difference. Valencia is really special in that way; it’s really accessible to meet people.
In California you drive everywhere: to go the market or to meet a friend. Even if it’s ten minutes you’re in the car, usually on a highway. So that’s cool about being here, you can just walk anywhere. Even if it’s 45 minutes, you think ‘oh that’s okay, I’ll just walk’. I remember when my friends and I first came here on vacation. Ruzafa wasn’t cool yet; it was just starting to be renovated. We would walk up and down the streets trying to find a little gem to have lunch or a coffee. I think that’s something that’s so fun about Europe, compared to the States: just walking around neighbourhoods and discovering something new.
Living in Valencia is part of the romance of life for me; you can look up and admire the world in a really cool way. I feel alive here. I feel like it’s a reminder of the beauty of life. We’re so lucky to live here.
Why do you think yoga is important?
I feel like yoga is a connection and understanding to and of ourselves. Why practice yoga? I think because it just makes life better! In so many aspects: it makes us better as a person, in our relationships and in our work.
It’s interesting because if you ask each student what they get out of the class, it could be completely different from one person to the next. Even if someone practices yoga for the physical benefits – because they think it’s going to be good exercise, or help with flexibility or to reduce pain – they will also walk away with a bit more of an understanding of the connection between mind, body and spirit. Through practicing yoga, we find tools to help us survive and thrive in our lives in really special ways because yoga is something you can take with you anywhere.
Yoga can show up in so many forms of your life. It doesn’t need to be seated with your eyes closed or moving through postures; it’s also how to you treat people and how you have awareness of your own thoughts about yourself and about others. Cuddling with my son is like my yoga of the day.
I think this year especially, I’ve noticed a huge increase in people really looking to understand themselves and their emotions. Each year I’ve been teaching I’ve noticed the need for all of us to connect more with our breath and understand our mind and how it works, so I’ve incorporated more and more of that into my teaching. We’re never taught how to breathe in a way that serves us and our body, so I’ve become even more passionate about teaching that.
I studied yin yoga last year, which is a newer type of yoga related to traditional Chinese medicine. It’s all about how the body can heal itself, understanding how we carry emotions and traumas in our body and how we can use yoga to release them. I noticed that people have really enjoyed learning about this. In yin yoga, you hold a stretch for three to five minutes, as opposed to the usual ten seconds. The muscles take about two minutes to finally give in and say ‘okay, fine!’ and that’s when the body starts to heal itself. It’s a big release, a really healing practice and slow in the way that we’re not flowing. It’s practiced in stillness and silence; you are with your mind. It’s really amazing. It can be intense depending on what you’re going through.
In lockdown I focused a lot on emotional health and wellbeing; I did a yin class at least weekly with a focus on a specific emotion. Anger is held in a certain part of the body, grief is held in another and fear is held in another, so we’d be focusing on the postures that would help us to alleviate those areas. I’m sure in the winter I’ll be doing more of that. My Masters was in Psychology so it’s cool to be able to integrate that now. It’s been such a benefit to have an understanding of the brain and learning theory.
Yin yoga really opens your eyes to how we have everything we need to heal. We’re always trying to figure out where to turn, but our bodies can do it on their own. The universe knows what it’s doing. It’s always leading us to the right place. For me it took a long time to learn about this, to understand and trust it. I think trust is the biggest thing.
What are your hopes for the future?
As far as learning, I’d love to learn more about the fascia system: the connective tissue where traumas are stored in our bodies. It’s a big component of yin yoga. I’d also really like to get more into coaching other teachers. I started that over lockdown by creating a coaching programme about how to show up authentically online and on the mat. There’s pressure to be a certain way, teach a certain way and look a certain way as a yoga teacher, so my coaching is about helping these women find their authentic selves and how to use that in order to better their business and serve their community. In the future I would love to do coaching in a retreat setting with a group of yoga teachers.
Article by Anna Hart (copyright 24/7 Valencia)
Photo:’Yoga With Jennison’
Yoga With Jennison