November 26, 2013

True Transparency: Teacher Goes Beyond the Mat. ~ Jenna Jones

I vividly remember my first yoga class with Jennifer Skaggs—I attended it purely because she had a shaved head.

The way I saw it, if you had a shaved head you were automatically a yoga badass. I knew I had to know her.

Jen’s technical and strengthening technique of teaching, paired with flowing movements, made her class challenging and humbling.

I remember the shirt I was wearing: a grey soft cotton t-shirt—perfect for manifesting an unbearable heat in the 95 degree studio. Eventually, I took my shirt off for the first time in a yoga class. This is not uncommon in hot studios—women practice in sports bras and men will practice shirtless. (I always refrained due to a lack of self-confidence.)

But Jen’s class opened me up to an entirely new awareness of the importance in loving what I have right now, instead of waiting for a change. And so I practiced in my blue sports bra and tried not to spend the entire time resting in child’s pose.

Her class was a whole new level of challenging which I had never endured and it completely exposed my ego.

We finished the class in relaxation with our legs up the wall. As I was settling in to my meditation, I felt a pair of hands on the back of my neck, stretching me out and eventually grazing a towel across my upper back and neck to relieve the sweat and heat. It was my yoga instructor, Jen.

In that moment, she shared a pattern of connected breathing with me, which I can only closely identify as an undeniable, intense spiritual exchange; it was one of the most mystifying, honest, and comforting moments of my life. I experienced such a zeal from her spirit that I became convinced the broken earth would never be whole again unless all living beings could share that experience.

For some reason, though I knew nothing of her person 24 hours before this specific evening, I became certain of Jen’s love for me—so much so that the 30 second silent interaction with her brought me to tears after she walked away.

I felt cherished and I felt noticed; seen and important.

I stepped out of the studio and immediately wanted to relive those 60 minutes, so I started attending her Monday night classes regularly. Little by little, I earned the honor of getting to know Jen more every week and I was shocked by how alike we were. The conversations I had with her were brief, but they somehow were the most important 90 seconds I could encounter that week. I had never met someone with such an understanding of what I was going through. Every wound I shared that I had, she matched with one an inch deeper. However, a difference between the ways we handled them existed: I spoke about each struggle with an impression that it would never get better; Jen’s stories celebrated a sense of freedom and recovery.

She inspired me to confront chaos with light and love, and exemplified what seemed to be the most authentic happiness.

I think if Jennifer Skaggs wanted to, she could make the whole world believe in themselves.

I once heard a Greek proverb that stated,

“Civilization flourishes when its people plant trees under whose shade they will never sit.”

Jen is this type of gardener. I am completely unable to accurately describe what a selfless heart she has and how deeply she loves the people in her life. I learned this about her after I had the opportunity to spend more than just ten minutes in her company. Following a 75 minute yoga flow taught by her, Jen told me about her busy schedule for the rest of the day and finished by asking if I wanted to be included in it all. I felt hesitant to accept, because I had been taught that most people only offer those things to be polite, and usually expect the respective person to nicely deny.

I had to remind myself that Jen is not like most people.

We enjoyed the afternoon in Midtown Tulsa: spending time at her in-the-process-of-renovation home, eating lunch at a local restaurant and then going grocery shopping at Whole Foods. Through all of these events, our conversations were never shy of depth and understanding.

While at Whole Foods, it was decided that I would be joining her and her family for dinner and eventually spending the night.

So I followed Jen’s car to arrive at the “Skaggs Love Commune” and then together we started cooking dinner. Jen did most of the work, but it was significant for her to include me in the process; again, she made me feel important: telling me that her home is my home, and her heart is my heart.

Soon, her husband and stepson arrived.

I felt apprehensive about meeting her husband because the marriages I have witnessed left me with the impression that her spouse would be displeased by my company.

I expected him to walk in, exhausted from his day of working, and introduce himself to me—obviously uncomfortable by a new face interrupting their quaint Thursday night. Instead, the garage door opened and in came her husband, on a jog into the kitchen to enthusiastically introduce himself to me as Travis. After that, he had a conversation with Jen that was absolutely vibrant with admiration and encouragement for her that certified how deeply he loved his wife. Once he left the kitchen, I turned to Jen and said, “He is so energetic”; to which she replied, without skipping a beat, “We are happy people”.

The night progressed effortlessly; we did the dishes and spent more time talking, listening, and connecting. What I liked most about my time with Jen is that she did not treat me like I was 14 years younger than she was. She did not talk to me like I was a kid, nor did she unnecessarily impose her parental opinion on my choices.

Instead, she promised unconditional support and let me feel safe.

As much as a paradox that it is, half of the time I felt like an adult with Jen, and the other time I felt like I was a child in the early years of developing my identity—desperate for guidance in a pivotal period of growth.

I think no matter how old we get, we will be always vulnerable to the moments that bring us back to an instance in our age of innocence. Those are the critical moments that remind us of the piece of ourselves that still longs to be accepted and loved unconditionally. Such a longing tends to become so buried underneath the patterns of our lifestyles that it takes a very special person to bring it to back to life.

I do not think I have ever known a more genuine set of people than the Skaggs family. They gave me hope for my future and courage to break the pattern of multiple divorces and negative experiences that have been selective to my family.

Their love is infectious and joy incessant to the point where you find yourself smiling just at the mere observation of their daily lives and routines. Together they illuminate a ray of acceptance that radiates from the inside out and truly makes a guest feel at home.

They are open and a bright with a life that paints a masterpiece of beauty and grace.

In the morning, Jen cooked us breakfast and we enjoyed our coffee and tea on the back porch—embracing the life within that crisp autumn morning.  Afterwards, we went inside and she told me more stories that set herself apart from everyone I know. I expressed to her how intrigued I was by the unique person that she is and Jen told me, “The more time I spend around others, the more that I realize how odd I really am”… She blew out incense over the kitchen sink and I watched the thick, fragranced smoke burn up in a swirl as she said certainly, “I don’t care. I’m happy.”

Jen truly embodies what it means to be a teacher. She is always able to help facilitate a very special sense of peace and attention in my body and soul. The depth of her ability to teach is astounding; it defies any preconceived notion of what anyone could expect. She is resilient, open, electric, honest, dedicated, present, and full of dreams. Jen has taught me to pursue a purposeful life overflowing with mindfulness, acceptance, and intention.

It remains a mystery to me as to how I can be so connected to a person whom I have only known for such a short time, but learning from Jen has allowed me to redefine myself and has given my character a revival.

I do not know the specific moment that it happened, or if it was a combination of every event, but after sharing those 24 hours with Jennifer, it felt like she had smoothly lead me to a door that opened to the path of my personal healing and happiness…but, not leaving my side as I clutched the doorknob tightly and opened it on up, fingertips trembling though they may have been.

And I left the Skaggs’ happy.

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Assistant Editor: Terri Tremblett/Editor: Bryonie Wise

{Photo: Pixoto}

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