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Teacher Jan Henrikson.

 

Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu: May all beings everywhere be happy and free, and may the thoughts, words, and actions of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and to that freedom for all.

“I have a deep wish to leave this world a better planet, and to affect and uplift the life of others.”

Jan Henrikson snaps her fingers to a reggae song. I don’t even like reggae and I’m smiling. As she snaps she counts: “one” – exhale; “two” – inhale.

She nearly flies around the room, making subtle hands-on adjustments as students stretch and pose.

I’m a devotee of Henrikson’s downtown Saskatoon studio, called Joos Yoga. I leave the office at lunch to practice, or spend entire evenings at the studio, doubling up on classes to learn as much as I can. My friends notice changes in my body, but it’s my mind that becomes free. It’s as if the classes, with their chanting and devotionals, are loosening my attachments to my current reality and increasing my confidence.

So, when I visit the studio on a cold day in February 2013 to find the doors locked, I am devastated.

“I used to say it was my Valentine’s gift from God,” says Henrikson of the day the studio closed its doors. We sit in her modern Riversdale condo, the early afternoon light streaming into the living room from all directions.

Two years after her studio closed, Henrikson has rebuilt her life, entering into business with her eldest daughter, direct-marketing Shaklee health and home products. She lives with her younger daughter in the trendy Saskatoon neighbourhood, and is finding new ways to promote and profit from her own personal brand.

After the studio closed she made a public declaration via social media that she was withdrawing from the “business of yoga.”

After 14 months of 100-hour workweeks, teaching 12 to 13 classes, training new teachers and mopping the floor at night, the business of yoga hadn’t paid off.

Instead, after sinking thousands of dollars -- “every last ounce of credit or equity that I had” -- into renovations, the beautiful studio, with its large windows and white walls, was closed.

As a sub-tenant of the café below, Henrikson had already built the studio before she found out the lease wasn’t signed. This was at the end of January 2013. Thirteen days later, she found out the fire department was going to close the doors of the upper level due to code issues. Some of the renovations were the landlord’s responsibility, but the studio required another $15,000 worth of renovations. They went back and forth for months but couldn’t reach an agreement, and as a sub-tenant, she had no legal recourse. She lost everything. She freely admits her error.

“I just made the decision to let go. It wasn’t working. No matter how hard we tried,” she said.

Despite the turmoil, her focus was on staying afloat.

“I don’t think I really dealt with the emotional part of letting go of the studio until I had my feet on the ground a bit financially,” she said. As a result, 2014 became a year of grieving. While she worked on her business with her daughter, she was wracked by the loss of the space.

The space, for however long it was open, was a gift to those who studied there.

“I still haven’t really found a space in the city that resonates with me,” said Greer Tilford, a former teacher at the studio, as well as the de-facto studio manager at the time. For Tilford, the studio was a second home, a livelihood and a sanctuary.

“It was a really big loss in a lot of ways, and I don’t think I’ve really totally dealt with that,” said Tilford. Despite the shock of losing this space almost overnight, Tilford has nothing but superlatives for her mentor and teacher, describing her as vivacious, infectiously inspiring, and compassionate.

“She’s bold and she’s out there, and she’s saying ‘bring it on,’” she said.

As Henrikson grinds coffee beans slowly with a hand grinder in her bright kitchen, she remarks at the time – 108. It’s the number of beads in a mala, and considered a sacred number in both Buddhism and yoga. She makes us two perfect cups of coffee, which we drink sitting on a pristine white couch. A vase of tulips brighten the sleek kitchen island.

The way she speaks about the studio closure is in itself a lesson in non-attachment. While it’s given her many gifts, yoga has also been the source of much of the struggle in her life.

“I’ve lost a lot. I’ve lost friends. I’ve lost my life partner. I’ve lost all my money. And that’s what it’s about. You don’t think you’re attached until you’re losing what it is you don’t think you’re attached to,” she said.  “All I have left are my daughters.”

This practice of non-attachment, both Buddhist and yogic, is part of the gift and the struggle of personal development.

Henrikson, now in her mid-50s, didn’t begin yoga in a quest for fitness or toned shoulders, which she also happens to possess. Instead, she was answering a call from within.

A prairie girl, Henrikson was born in Kipling, Saskatchewan and raised in Manitoba. She moved to Calgary in her 20s before following love back to Saskatchewan. Although she was active in social justice and ministerial pursuits, yoga was never on the radar. Her first exposure to the word itself was in the form of a VHS given to her by an East Indian friend.

“I didn’t practice. I just watched it and felt peaceful,” she said. In 1996 she attended a few classes before giving birth to her youngest daughter, now 18, and her introduction was put on hold.

It wasn’t until a couple years later she heard the call. It was a premonition of her own death that pushed her to travel to the Yasodhara Ashram in the Kootenay Mountains in British Columbia. Her experience at the Ashram was profound. It was also her first experience with the sense of loss the practice can bring. When she returned, although her life appeared the same, she was changed.

“A lot dropped away in my life. It was a very lonely time for me. A lot of relationships just fell away. I didn’t do anything different, I didn’t look any different, but I was different. That’s when I really started studying yoga,” she said. It was the study of yoga that she pursued, and not the physical practice, and she stayed up late after her children went to bed, studying the lives of the saints, different teachers and yogis. Her thirst was insatiable.

However, there was one element that didn’t fit. Swami Radha, the ashram’s founder, was a renunciate, and had no family. Henrikson began to question her path. At 40, she considered leaving her family.

“I was tormented by it,” she said. “I started going: do I need to leave my family in order to pursue this path of yoga? If I was meant to do that, I wouldn’t have a beautiful family. It just didn’t fit.”

Instead, she tethered herself, and was introduced by a friend to the practice of Jivamukti Yoga via a book written by its founders Sharon Gannon and David Life. The New York City-based pair are yoga celebrities and have legions of high profile devotees that include Gwyneth Paltrow and Sting. Their style of teaching is heavily focused on hands-on teaching, environmentalism, chanting and a connection to the divine.

In 2003, Henrikson found herself en route to Austria to take part in the rigorous, month-long Jivamukti teacher training. At 43, Henrikson was one of the oldest participants.

Although it wasn’t her intention to become a teacher, she had already agreed to cover a friend’s class in Saskatoon after she returned. At $5 per student per class, it was going to be a slow grind to pay back the $12,000 debt she’d incurred for her training.

However, within two months of her return, Henrikson’s mother passed away. The small estate covered her tuition debt and she was freed of her burden. She views her mother’s death as a catalyst in her life. She threw herself into her teaching as a way to cope with losing her parents.

“Teaching became this place where I could just forget about my grief and serve,” she said.

For a few years, Henrikson’s teaching business flourished. She used the money to train herself further, traveling around the world with her family. But in 2009, the breakdown of her marriage forced her to try to make an income to support herself and her daughters. She purchased her first studio in what was then Yoga Downtown in Saskatoon, with visions of a bigger space percolating under the surface.

“My goal was that people would walk in there and remember who they are,” said Henrikson. “The practices of yoga help us remember the truth of who we are, and when we know that, we are unstoppable.”

At the time of our meeting in her sunny home, Henrikson – or “Dr. Joos” as she’s branded herself -- is about to launch an online 40-day journey, which will feature daily emails and four recorded meditations. I signed up, but it’s already day seven, and I’ve fallen behind on my commitment to guide myself and to practice every day.

It’s as if without that physical home my practice can’t find its roots. It’s as if I’m still longing for that place, a space where I could understand who I really was.