When did you first know that yoga was your calling and how did it come about?
I began to study yoga in the 80’s when I was in my 20’s. I was working as a seamstress, sitting long hours bent over with bad posture. Yoga came to the rescue for my upper back and neck pain. So I came to yoga like many others, looking for a solution to pain, but I also found it gave me more confidence and lessoned my depression. After a few years my teacher needed a sub and my shy hand sort of went up on its own. That was a Divine moment for me. Later she invited me to be her understudy and teach with her at a new studio. I found myself totally in love with teaching. After a few years I began to wonder what other ways of doing yoga there were; and to explore and synthesize the various styles of yoga I was studying into what I named Joyflow, which was another of those inspired Divine moments. The name Joyflow represents all that I find most valuable: that the true purpose of yoga is to reconnect with your spirit, your soul, your Divine Essence, with Source. The physical practice is just the beginning and only one of the eight Limbs of Yoga. The eighth Limb, a culmination of the others, is Bliss or Joy. I have a very intuitive and playful approach. I believe practice of yoga should be a joyful, seriously playful experience. And yes, I am certified in Laughter Yoga as well.
2. What services do you offer?
I ran a yoga studio for 30 years. I loved it but as I don’t have a business background, it became very stressful. I learned many lessons the year I decided to close it in 2016. Now I teach either privately and for groups. During the last few years I gained a lot of experience teaching via zoom, so now I can offer yoga instruction and therapy to anyone, anywhere from zoom.
My instruction is versatile and based on my 35 years of experience in a range of styles, from vigorous flow to deeply relaxing restorative. I love to teach Pranayama Meditation, which is the science of breathing. I’m certified in an emotional-release therapy called Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy, where my client lays on the mat, while focusing on what emotions and memories come up as I hold them in a stretch. I can add in other modalities, such as Healing Touch / Reiki, Thai Yoga Bodywork, Essential Oils, Singing Bowl Sound Baths, Dance Meditation, Chanting, and Yoga Nidra / Guided customized visualization.
I also love to mentor yoga teachers. For 22 years I have trained teachers in a 200 hour program registered with the Yoga Alliance. First in my studio, then in my home, then on zoom; now it is more of a mentorship that can be customized whether you are local or not. Graduates are Certified by Joyflow and can become Registered through the Yoga Alliance as an RYT; many teachers in my state have been certified by me. Some people do it just for the experience.
3. How can practicing Yoga affect your physical and mental health?
Yoga is well known for increasing flexibility, but it’s more about finding balance of strength and flexibility. It’s also a great way to rebound from injury or imbalance physically. I love to teach chair yoga, proving that anyone who can breathe can do yoga. The breathing in yoga practice strengthens the lungs, expanding your ability to breathe deeper and longer. Every system of the body is improved. Mindful breathing also switches your nervous system from stressed “fight or flight” into the “relaxation response” where the parasympathetic nervous system takes over. You should be just a little “yoga drunk” after practice.
The mental health benefits are also profound. I think this is extremely important these days, since the whole world seems to be upside down and stressed. Breathing techniques can balance, inspire and/or relax depending on your needs. As I mentioned earlier, I found relief for my depression. I have helped many others move out of depression or anxiety as well. Another mental health benefit is the reminder that we are not our bodies, nor really our minds. In Yoga meditation, you become the observer or witness to sensations in the body and how our bodies hold our emotional stress unless consciously released. We then watch the movement of the mind and notice that the mind wanders constantly. With practice we learn to focus on just one thing and begin to experience behind that thought a place of stillness and peace, and ultimately Joy, our True Being.
4. What can a person expect from your sessions?
As you can see a yoga practice can come in many forms, and students / clients come for many reasons, so my first questions are about what they are wanting. I find out what their goals are, even if they are not yet sure. I find out what their experience has been and then we start there. My goal is to teach them how to listen to their bodies and know how to respond accordingly. Conscious breath is key, so that’s always first. Because I’ve been teaching for so long, and gone through injuries myself, I think one of my fortes is versatility. Even my flow classes are slow enough to offer time for modifications for everybody and foster mindfulness. I only use quiet instrumental ambient music to create the environment since the goal is to move inward, stilling the senses.
5. What is the most important detail in maintaining a relationship of mutual trust with clients?
To build a trusting relationship, each student / client needs to know that I am paying attention. I am there for each client and adapting the practice or teaching to their needs. Sometimes they either don’t know their needs or are reluctant to share them. This happens especially in group classes and just means I need to keep watching and listening. I don’t do my practice on the mat while teaching. Instead I am moving around watching, sometimes offering hands-on adjustments (we call them enhancements) or demonstrating a pose if needed. I give easier options for new or beginner students and fun challenges for more advanced students. I always check in, asking for requests, I never push them to go farther, my adjustments are always light, and offering options makes everyone feel welcome and seen.
6. What do you love most about your profession?
Can you tell I think everyone should be doing yoga? Yoga means connection. Connection of body, mind and spirit, or connection of human self to Divine Self. Whatever form this takes, we each benefit from finding ways to experience this connection! In my opinion, the person who is fully present when doing any activity with mindfulness is really doing more yoga than the yogi who is pridefully rocking out to loud music doing beautiful poses while not really present. Since my profession of yoga has gotten more popular, you will find this kind of yoga everywhere, especially every gym, where students just come for a good workout. I’m here and ready to take you deeper, into the mystic.
Debi Saraswati Lewis can be reached at 601-613-4317 (text) or firstname.lastname@example.org. More info and to get news: www.joyflowinstitute.com