By David Nilsen
Emily Jasenski is the director and co-owner (with her husband, C.J.) of elementsLife, a yoga studio in downtown Greenville that encourages a holistic approach to health and wellness. I’ve long been intrigued by Emily’s bravery in promoting a worldview that goes a little against the grain in our small, rural community, and admired her poise and grace in handling the busy-ness of running a small business, teaching classes, and raising two young boys with her husband. I recently had the privilege of talking with Emily about her values, her vision, and what life is like for Greenville’s preeminent Yogi.
David Nilsen: Tell us about what elementsLife is all about. How did the idea for this business come about, and what principles continue to guide it? What classes and services do you offer at elementsLife?
Emily Jasenski: While still living in the city (Columbus), I would often dream about a Health and Wellness facility that offered all kinds of modalities. At the time, I was working at a Holistic Wellness Center in Columbus as an office manager, and I fell in love with the completely different view of healing, health, and the world in general. I knew that someday I would be part of this world and that it would be C.J. and my vision. I find that people (myself included) are always looking for bigger answers. Whether it be their health, relationships, purpose in this life, or God, they are searching for more because, let’s face it, the man-made version just doesn’t quite cut it. What I found in stepping outside of the box in the realm of alternative health care was a system that was so ancient and vast that I couldn’t understand why it was considered “new age.” The beautiful part about it is that it contains all of the elements. It answers a lot of the questions, so I guess in many ways, for my own journey, many of my questions were answered. I wanted to share this with the world, so elementsLife was born.
David: Why yoga? What is it about this practice that makes it important to you?
Emily: This is such a hard, yet simple question. Why Yoga? This answer is the simplest: I wanted to dive into the depths of understanding my baggage, my neurosis, my shadows. This path of Yoga presented itself to me. This path consisted of a psychical outlet. A way for my body to feel strong and supple. And yet to process everything that I was feeling in the moment. I had no real idea at the time what I was in for. It was life changing, and for those who are truly on the path, I tell them the same. It will change you, and sometimes the feathers are ruffled quite a bit before things settle, but once they do, the world never looks the same. Does embracing the path of yoga make life easier? Yes and no.
David: How did you personally get started in yoga?
Emily: I started teaching/practicing yoga by default. I was teaching Pilates at our local YMCA to make some extra money while I was in college. One day the Fitness Director approached me about teaching a yoga class, as they were in need of instructors. I said, “Sure, I can teach myself how to instruct yoga.” I really had no idea what I was doing, as you can’t really teach yourself yoga. You need to be trained, as it is a complex system of movements and breath. Nevertheless, I did my best, and I completely fell in love. It was unlike anything I had ever done before, and I just knew there was more to the story.
David: I think a lot of people probably have misguided perceptions about the spiritual aspects of yoga. Can you talk to us about that, and how spirituality intersects with and informs what you do at elementsLife?
Emily: This is kind of a sticky area and here is why. Since coming back to Greenville in 2006 and opening the studio in 2007 I knew that we were in a conservative area that might not be open to the history and philosophy of Yoga. So I introduced the practice to the community with facts about its origins and I “westernized” it by making it just about the physical practice, ensuring all that participation is optional in certain things that are done in class (e.g. chanting). For years, I did my best to make yoga comfortable for all, and this is where I stand with it 9 years later. The truest definition of Yoga is “to yolk”, which in turn means “to bring together.” What this means is that through the practice of yoga we are ultimately trying to merge once again with our Divine selves. Yes, God lives within you. You are God. You have not, nor will you ever, be separate from God. Yoga does nothing more than to remind us of this. That is its goal. So yes, can you get more flexible and fit doing yoga? Sure! Can you pick and choose what you participate in during a yoga class? Absolutely. I no longer tell my students that this is just workout because it isn’t. You are doing the yoga postures to open your energy body so that you can release tension and begin to see more clearly, and what you are meant to see is that you are, in fact, Divine.
David: How do the principles of yoga inform your daily life on a holistic level, beyond just the physical aspect?
Emily: Ah geesh, I try to live Yoga every day and some days I am a hot mess and everything I know goes right out the window. In the times of trouble or high stress, I find myself moving only from my ego, which enables fear, doubt, and just plain disconnection. In other words, I am constantly reaching outward versus within. I find that when I stay far away from how I think things should be, my life energy flows much more fluidly, and I can remember that at the end of the day it is all part of our journey, that nothing is permanent, and I can then settle back into my routines of the practice itself.
David: Outside of yoga, what inspires you on a daily basis? What motivates you? Where do you find beauty and peace?
Emily: I love to create things, so anytime that I am dreaming up a new program or training I am usually very content and thus feel very inspired. I love to teach and share this knowledge as it is a constant reminder of the path that I am on. I find peace in the quiet. I find peace in nature always. Just listening is something that I am always working on. Slowing down is also peaceful to me. My children inspire me every day to do better and to be better, to remember that I am the light of the Divine, as are they.
David: Are there any books you return to again and again that inform your worldview or spiritual practice?
Emily: The Living Gita is so beautiful. The Secret Power of Yoga is also Divine. Sometimes I have to get out of the thickness of the scriptures and teachings and just dive deep into great books about the power and ancient teachings of Women, which is my new passion. The world needs more feminine energy for sure.
David: A small town can be a difficult place in which to introduce new ideas. Have you run into that at all with your business? Why do you think some people react negatively to the idea of yoga?
Emily: This community continues to surprise us with its adaptability and eagerness to know more. Sure, the more classical my yoga classes get the less people attend because, again, what they want is a workout. What I teach is about spiritual development. I am not concerned with your abs. Nonetheless, there are so many people here who are hungry for this. I have certified over 50 Yoga teachers in the past 7 or so years so I think that is saying something. I have had some react negatively, and to be totally honest with you I feel that the root of it all is misunderstanding and fear. People fear most what they don’t understand. We have had many local pastors tell their parishioners not to do yoga, and on the same note, we have had many pastors attend our classes. It just depends, but I believe the cause is that at some point someone told them it was wrong to practice yoga, and that belief usually has a religious affiliation. Looking within to know God, and/or the belief that we are God, is not widely accepted among some religious paths.
David: Are you currently working on any new projects or plans?
Emily: I have a new training for Women called The Tribal Path beginning this summer. The practice of yoga will be part of that, but a big emphasis will be on connecting back to our roots as women, our ancestors, and our ability to heal the world and ourselves. We will do a lot of cool things including many field trips outside of Darke County. I love field trips. It is important to expose people to new places and ideas. We do the same for Yoga Teacher Training.
David: You and your husband are raising two young boys. What hopes do you have for the town, country, and world they will someday live in as adults?
Emily: I want our kids to understand life as it truly is. I want them to see the divinity in themselves, in others, and everything in the world. I want them to share that with the world if they so see fit. We love the comfort, pace, and safety of this community, but we also want them to see and know more because that is how you grow. I believe that we have a lot of really amazing forward-thinking people in this community, and they are vivacious with a lot of great ideas. I think it is important that we all stick together to continue to open people to new things. I have a student who is in her 70s, and she has spent her entire life in this county, with the exception of vacations. She married a farmer, had children, and worked in this community until retirement. What is so fascinating about her is her eagerness to know more. She wants to think outside the box, and until she showed up at the studio I am not sure that she had a like-minded community where she could talk, discuss, and share different ideals. I believe she has found it at elementsLife, and in return, it has made her life richer. There is no greater gift than to see someone awaken from a deep sleep and to then see the magic in their eyes.
David: Thank you, Emily!
You can find Emily and elementsLife online at the following links. Please check out their Facebook page, Twitter feed, and website for ongoing announcements about classes, as well as more information about what this wonderful Greenville business offers.