Meet Jen Rene
Jen ran a successful Mysore group in DC and is now practicing with and assisting her teacher, Tim Miller, at the Ashtanga Yoga Center in Encinitas, CA. Jen Rene has created Ashtanga and Pilates courses on her site, Jenrene.com, that provide helpful tips on backbending, hip opening, muscle recovery and much more. I recently had the opportunity to speak with Jen about her online Ashtanga courses as well as pick her brain about working with new students, backbends, hamstring injuries and more.
AYP: What was your vision and purpose for releasing video courses?
JR: I want to share what I know and love with more students than I can reach in person, including those without daily access to a teacher. I love teaching Mysore, but on a big day I reach 40 or 45 students. Online content lets me reach and help guide more students on this path.
AYP: The diversity of the models, in your videos, is refreshing. In my experience, the mysore room has always been a very diverse place. Students are of different backgrounds, ethnicities, sizes, abilities and ages. Yet the stigma that ashtangis are young, super skinny contortionists still abounds. Do you feel that we can shake this image? What do you feel, if anything, the Ashtanga community may have done to perpetuate this untrue sterotype? How do we address it or should we?
JR: I’ve always been proud of the community in my DC Mysore room. There’s such a range of ages, ethnicities, sizes, shapes, and levels. I have pregnant students, students with physical disabilities, and students with chronic illness or injuries. Popular yoga culture places undue emphasis on skinny, White people performing advanced postures, and on the misconception that “properly” performing the asana has to look a certain way. The real goal, to me, is for each practitioner to reap the many physical, psychological, and spiritual benefits of their unique practice. In this view, every student can find the asana variation that best suits them.
This practice is for everyone, but we have to communicate that message, and I try to do that partly by showing different bodies making asana shapes that might not look like what we typically see on our Instagram feeds and still calling it Ashtanga. Because it is.
I wrote a blog post that covers this subject in detail : Real People of Ashtanga. (https://www.jenrene.com/blog/realpeopleofashtanga)
AYP: What level of student are your courses geared towards?
JR: “Introduction to Ashtanga” (https://jenrene.mykajabi.com/store/MHm5Xgha) is aimed at brand new students. I like to emphasize fundamentals for a solid practice to grow upon, so I introduce Ashtanga like I would to any new student and offer modifications, including the use of props, to make these postures accessible.
My Pilates (https://jenrene.mykajabi.com/store/vdsWrzMH) classes are for all levels. They are challenging, but the movements are accessible to a large range of students.
My hip opening and backbend courses, “Be Hippy” (https://jenrene.mykajabi.com/store/XzztCUe4) and “Build a Better Backbend” (https://jenrene.mykajabi.com/store/VaABmHiP) respectively, are geared to all levels. I start with more accessible postures like the standing sequence or upward facing dog, and eventually connect these to more advanced postures like foot behind head or Kapotasana. My approach is to break down advanced postures so students can see just how much they are doing, even if they aren’t necessarily doing the full expression of a pose.
AYP: Many ashtangis don’t use props. Why did you choose to use props in your videos?
JR: I believe Ashtanga should be accessible to all students, and I think props are great for that. I believe in making poses work for the body – not the other way around. I teach my students to not become reliant on props, but rather to use them as a tool until they no longer need them. I’ve found props to be tremendously useful in my own practice, both as support when I’m injured and occasionally to introduce more rigor into my practice.
AYP: In your backbending course, you suggest using Shalabhasana to rehab the hamstrings. Can you suggest some other ways to rehab hamstrings after an injury?
JR: Of course! Overstretched hamstrings are a common problem for Ashtanga newcomers. Typically, when a muscle is overstretched, the best rehab is strengthening. Shalabhasana strengthens our hamstrings, since engagement is required to lift our legs up. Purvattansana is another great hamstring strengthener. Backbends in general, when focused on engaging the backside of the body, are strengthening for the hamstrings.
AYP: There are so many different opinions on the placement of the feet in backbending. Some feel that the feet have to be parallel and others feel that turning them out is fine. In your backbend course, you suggests keeping them parallel. Why?
JR:The reason I teach this way is that the feet are an indicator of how engaged the legs are – but if you want to learn more you should dive into my Build a Better Backbend Course.
AYP: How do you know a student is ready for dropbacks?
JR: This varies between students, but typically I look for a balance of strength and flexibility in the backbend alongside a degree of comfort. I look at how they use their legs and how open the shoulders and chest look, and I listen to their breathing. And then we start to take steps towards dropbacks. I teach these steps in my Build a Better Backbend course (https://jenrene.mykajabi.com/store/VaABmHiP).
AYP: Will you be introducing a full Primary Series or Intermediate Series counted class?
JR: I could, but I think instructional content is more valuable. There are plenty of counting classes available, and I want to use this format to teach, not just demonstrate or have students follow my count. But we’ll see – I might change my mind if I get feedback that students really want a full led class. Email me! (email@example.com)
AYP: When teaching a brand new student, how do you break up the sections of Primary and what markers are you looking for to determine if a student is ready to move on?
JR: Working with students who are brand new to yoga is such a special and powerful opportunity, and I always want to inspire them to feel like they can do it. I usually consider a variety of factors. Generally, I don’t look for markers in terms of asana, but rather for things like breath, how consistently a student is showing up, how much effort do they seem to be exerting. I’m looking for a certain amount of sthira.
I think half primary with some backbends at the end is a great practice and gives students plenty to work on, and I tend to try to get them there fairly quickly. I might keep them there for a couple of months or we might keep moving – it really is a case by case basis. I don’t care if they are doing half lotus or binding, to me it’s much more about the bigger picture.
AYP: What will be included in your new Intermediate Series course? How does a student know if they are ready for this course?
JR: My new intermediate series course (https://www.jenrene.com/p/intermediate-series-interactive-online-study) is going to be rad. It covers all the postures of Intermediate, including modifications. I teach each posture to two students to show how it looks at different stages of practice or for different bodies. I will also discuss the energetics of second series, how it’s different from primary, and how your relationship to primary series changes moving forward. Course participants will leave with an understanding of the Intermediate series asana but also the patterns of prana and apana and their importance, and an advanced understanding of the role of bandhas and the central axis.
The course makes ties to Primary series and sets a good foundation for understanding Intermediate series, so it can work for someone who’s just started. But I think it’s also perfect for fine-tuning an existing Intermediate practice, or for a teacher looking for ideas for working with different bodies or modifying Intermediate for different types of students. The online content stays available after the end of the course, so students can always review the videos as needed. The course will include a weekly live Zoom call to cover each assignment and to ensure students have a chance to ask questions and discuss their practice and specific concerns with me.
Ready to dive in and learn from Jen Rene? Go to, JenRene.com, pick your program and enter “ASHTANGAYOGAPROJECT” at checkout and receive $10 off any online course.
Shanna Small has been practicing Ashtanga Yoga and studying the Yoga Sutras since 2001. She has studied in Mysore with Sharath Jois and is the Director of AYS Charlotte, a school for traditional Ashtanga in Charlotte NC. She has written for Yoga International and the Ashtanga Dispatch. Go here for more information on AYS Charlotte. For information on workshops, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.