Interview By Sebastian Thomas
When it comes to practicing and teaching yoga to newcomers and those more advanced, Jayla Pearce is a well known teacher in Canada. The Toronto, Ontario resident who got her certification in Ashtanga Vinyasa from one of the oldest yoga studios in the country, has developed a massive following over the years as she leads classes around the city and in corporate office spaces.
The style she teaches uses Ashtanga Vinyasa as the foundation, but focuses on making yoga accessible for all, and Jayla truly believes that yoga is a lifelong continuous journey of syncing breath with movement and your body with your mind, and she wants to share that with others. Asana Journal sat down exclusively in Canada with Jayla to find out more about her unique teaching style and passions…
1. How were you first introduced to yoga and what were your original thoughts on it all?
I first started yoga about 10 years ago. It was after university and I was serving in a high-pace, late night restaurant/bar not sure ‘what to do with my life’. I first went to bikram hot yoga. I found yoga and it was the stress release I needed. A way to relax with focus and concentration. It was such great way to release emotional, mental and physical tension. Once I started my career, I continued to practice along with other fitness, attending more traditional style yoga classes.
2. You teach Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga… why this specific type?
Although I was taught in Ashtanga format, I must say I do a more vinyasa flow freestyle version of this. Why I chose to do Ashtanga Vinyasa was simply because of what spoke to me. The studio I practiced at, and subsequently did my yoga teacher training is Ashtanga based. It is the oldest in Toronto, and felt the most authentic yoga to me. It felt like I was practicing the way yoga was meant to be practiced. It emphasized the spiritual and emotional, instead of simply a ‘fitness’ class. There was something that drew me to it. Of course, this is not for everyone and that’s ok!
3. How are you working towards making yoga accessible to all with your teachings?
I want to make yoga accessible to everyone because I truly feel some form of yoga can benefit anyone, although the pace, style and intensity would vary. There is something for everyone. If I can make the yoga I teach and share welcoming to all so that a few more people feel comfortable dipping their toe in the yoga world, that makes me happy. I like to say yoga is about simply syncing your breath with movement, and bringing more awareness to where your body is. Right. Now. Everyone has a body, and everyone can benefit from mindful breathing. By how I approach my social media and approach leading classes, I hope it allows more people to feel comfortable coming for the first time. The first part of making it accessible to all is through social media. We can be bombarded with bendy yogis on instagram, which although to some is aspirational, to others it can seem to out of reach to achieve and intimating. I have tried to focus what I put on social media to be a mix of encouraging people to take the first step and be self-compassionate; while also demonstrating my abilities. I tend to focus on the challenges or potential for growth on my social, sharing vulnerabilities that people can relate. As for teaching, I always assess the group and provide a variety of variations. The main thing is how you set the expectation for the class. It is OK to have challenging postures or ones that make people sweat, as long as you empower them to decide how far they go. That the first priority in my class is self-awareness.
To show up, sync your breath with movement and listen to your body. You know what the most challenging pose you can do in a class is? Child’s pose the whole class! In our society our egos and competitive edge lead so much of our lives, it’s hard to check that at the door. We end up pushing ourselves by comparing to others in the class, which can lead to injury, instead of listen to our bodies and our needs. I like to emphasize this before class begins. Second, it’s about catering to individual and group needs. I teach corporate yoga where my focus is different than a community class. This is a gentle reset to a day at their desks, counteracting sitting.
The focus is stress release and as I continue teaching, more and more employees come who have never done yoga because it’s welcoming to them. I also teach private yoga to address more one-on-one concerns. I am most inspired by a student I am working with right now who has scoliosis. By providing her the tools to understand the unique needs and adjustments of her body, our goal is she can go to public classes and know what to do for herself. We of course also are working on counteracting the concave and associated pains.
4. Do you find that the way people do yoga in Toronto, Canada (where you currently live) and elsewhere around the globe differs? Or is everything similar?
Yoga is becoming so increasingly common and popular, that even in Toronto you can see significant differences in each studio and style. I have not yet practiced abroad, but majority of my yoga teachers are trained regularly in India, the birthplace of yoga. Generally, teachings from India focus on Ashtanga Vinyasa and using yoga as a tool towards reaching nirvana by preparing your body for meditation. I would say this is the main different from the yoga I practice, being influenced more from India, compared to other styles that are more native to North America, is this holistic approach to practicing for mind, body and spirit instead of simply physical fitness. However, Indian inspired yoga can be more aggressive in nature, with larger aspirations of where to take your practice. If you compare this to North American born yoga styles, they may fit better into modern lifestyle. With Ashtanga Vinyasa, you are not supposed to continue to the next posture or series until the previous one is perfected. However, this is not attainable here where we aren’t rising at sunrise to do 2 hours of yoga at 4am. So, the practice here has evolved to short classes and flowing through the full series.
5. What other types of yoga styles around Canada have you experienced that you have enjoyed?
As mentioned, I started in Bikram yoga. I liked it because at the time because of the intensity and structure, that it was the same poses twice so you could measure your process (the type A in me). Same with Ashtanga Vinyasa there is so much more to strive for. However, I found that it pushed me too hard leading to injury instead of recovery. At the time, I also liked how it was more ‘military’ compared to the flow vinyasa classes that made me feel all over the place and clumsy when I started. However, now I enjoy flowing the most. The faster the flow and pace of the vinyasa yoga class, the easier it is for students to get out of their head and into their bodies. As an instructor, my favorite classes are fast-paced but I teach slower to my students. I enjoy trying a variety of styles and studios so I can continually adapt and evolve the style I teach. A style I am working to incorporate more regularly restorative/yin. Since the yoga I chose to practice for myself is more intense and fast paced, the contrast is very noticeable. It is harder to have a clear mind and you get deeper into the fascia so I find these gentler poses lend for minutes is actually more challenging. It is more challenging for me, with surprising deep pain release and lots of time to feel uncomfortable. But that discomfort, mentally, is what allows you to shed it. We must work through our pain to release it.
6. What are the biggest misperceptions about yoga you find from people who you talk to about it?
“I’m not flexible so I can’t do yoga!” I am so surprised HOW MANY people say this to me! First, you don’t have to be flexible at all and it’s not the main goal! But, I must admit, I’m sure I had the same misperception when I started almost a decade ago. This is the most common thing people say to me. And you know what? Now that I am a certified instructor, I’m LESS flexible than before! I used to be so bendy, pushing into each posture painfully. Now chose to listen to my body and back of slightly from the edge, not push passed it. I make a conscious effort to do less. This is the hardest thing for people to do, to take the competitive mindset out, and focus on being gentle and kind to our bodies. Yoga is very therapeutic for a variety of reasons. Physically, if practiced correctly and with selfawareness, it will release pain and tension, not create it. And yes, if you practice regularly then your edge be further. Yes, it will take more time and patience to get into any crazy move, but the benefits are in basics of the pose and how it feels in your body, not what it looks like to someone else.
7. Where is your favorite place to do yoga?
Outside!!! More specifically, next to a natural body of water that I can go swimming in after! Being in nature is so calming and living in downtown Toronto, practicing outside is so wonderful. To embrace all the senses around you. I love doing a self-practice next to water because yoga, especially Ashtanga Vinyasa style, creates internal heat. I will do my own practice and jump in for a swim after. I don’t think anything could make me happier! As for teaching, I also love teaching outside. In the summertime I teach outdoor yoga in a large popular park (Trinity Bellwoods) in Toronto. It is a perfect way for students to have their afterwork stresses melt away and take in a bit of nature. We bring awareness to the twigs and bumps under their mat, and lead them into savasana with their eyes open watching the leaves sway on the trees above before closing their eyes. It definitely adds to the experience. Teaching in studio is great though for different reasons; 1) no outside distractions and 2) yoga props to provide students to adjust postures.
8. You also will be hosting yoga retreats in the new year… what about retreats differs from in-studio sessions?
Retreats allow you to immerse yourself into the experience. To get a bit deeper. To shed a few more layers. To disconnect with your todo list and focus on your self-care while also connect with others. At a studio and in the city, a yoga class is a to-do on everyones day. I try my best to bring students into their mat for the full hour we have together, to leave everything else at the door. The new year retreat is going to be all things juicy and gooey, to focus more on intention setting, meditation, and releasing any emotional and physical pain. It will incorporate some of the Sunday Ritual workshops I have led with Her Collectives, but for both men and women. What I love is it is a mindful holiday for students. A way to relax and unwind with a bit more intention. Still with lots of free time to explore and do you. I cannot wait to lead this retreat in Mexico and incorporate some self-care/personal growth rituals!
9. How important is an active, healthy lifestyle to you overall?
It is very important to me. I feel the effects of what I eat and how I spend my time significantly. The better I treat my body and myself, the more it rewards me. The more energy I have, more confidence, and generally happier. However, just like yoga, I think it’s important to be authentic and to make the billion dollar industry of ‘wellness’ less daunting. We are bombarded on social media of all the things they should be doing to be healthy and generally know what they are. A big part of feeling well is not feeling bad for what you didn’t get to do. We are told that breakfast is perfect smoothie bowls and never touching anything processed that can sometimes hard to make reality. We live in fast pace world where our time is limited and things slip. So, a big part of a healthy lifestyle I encourage and practice is compassion when I don’t do it. I call it ‘winging it wellness’ and will be sharing more about this year. To help others take the pressure off their expectations of themselves. I recently wrote a blog about this, where I am eating pizza while writing the blog, and love to make ginger kombucha (as a good mix for dark and stormys with friends). It’s about balance and knowing yourself. I am not a very rigid person, and I love good food and wine. So, I don’t think it’s good for me to live with a really rigid diet, especially if it makes me feel bad when I can’t live up to my healthy expectations. I’m not going to give up experiences with friends and families that make me happy and limit myself just for health or nutrition. I think it is equally as important to my health. To laugh and smile and have fun.
10. Why do yo u believe yoga and/ or meditation is crucial to people being more relaxed and happy?
Wow. This is such a pivotal question that it’s hard to know where to start and where to stop. I’ll tie it back to two things we have been talking about; self-awareness and selfcompassion. There is overwhelmingly more and more scientific research to back up yoga and meditation help people release stress and be happier versions of themselves. The main thing to me is that it allows you just simply be aware of ourselves, and then, being nice to ourselves once we are aware. Some of us are so out of touch with our emotions and our bodies, and feel our emotions are ‘bad’. Bringing attention to how your body feels, or trying to name an emotion, good or bad, allows more space between your reactions. It allows us to accept what we can control and what we can’t control. It allows you to say its OK to be mad, sad, angry, hurt, frustrated but to choose how to act. To feel through it, instead of burying it and feeling bad for feeling anything except happy. We are human and exist with a full spectrum of emotions that we all feel from time to time. Yoga and meditation allows you to release past pains that were ignored; and builds the stamina to work through future pains fully. But to do so, we must pause and observe what’s going on. Yoga and meditation is the tools for observation.
11. On a personal level, do you feel that participating in yoga has helped you as an individual and the way you live your life and the decisions you make?
An overwhelming YES. It has completely changed my life. For the past 7 years before I did yoga teacher training, I had a successful career in corporate sales but was unfulfilled, struggling with anxiety and purpose, regardless of what I accomplished. I took yoga teacher training for personal reasons, as almost a selftherapy since it was something that connected me with myself outside of my work. With yoga teacher training, my life has completely changed. I was pleasantly surprised to find out how much I love teaching yoga. How I leave a class I taught feeling light and on a high from leading people to find some release. It completely inspires me. Since I graduated YTT and started teaching, I have found myself (as cheesy as that sounds) and pursuing my dreams and passions that I was too afraid or confident to do before. I am working for myself, leading yoga and running Her Collectives, a community for women that inspires personal growth; while also doing some branding consulting. It’s a rockier less clear path for 2018, but I know it is the right one and have the strength to push through it because of yoga.
12. What is the best advice you got when you first started learning about yoga as a whole?
Best Advice (Yoga Specific): Make the hard poses easy and the easy poses hard. So, in samithi or mountain pose, work hard to getting the proper alignment and the small complexities to seemingly easy poses. For more complicated poses, learn the foundations and practice until you are able to do them with grace.
Best Advice (Yoga Philosophy): Marla Joy, the studio owner and our teacher said at our closing day ‘You are exactly where you need to be right now.” I come back to this all the time, in times of joy and difficulty. The challenging times are lessons and lead to something else. Just be where you are right now because that’s where you are supposed to be.
13. If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be?
People trying to be someone they think they should be instead of being themselves. If we could all step into our authentic selves, into the things that bring us joy and that we are naturally good at instead of what we ‘should’ do or expect to do. That the right people and right opportunities that align with you will come your way if we were able to be our genuine selves.