Master Teacher: Edward Jones
Energized by the intersection of Buddhism, psychology, and yoga philosophy, Edward Jones creates a communal space in his class for listening to one’s intuition as well as understanding oneself in flow which allows for an experience of true shape-shifting.
Judith Lasater, among others) and his teaching. His interest in Buddhist studies led him to become a trained meditation teacher under the guidance of David Nichtern and Cyndi Lee. Jones is currently training as a psychoanalyst at the New York Graduate School of Psychoanalysis.
Devoted student Danielle Claro said, “You know how a sandwich tastes better at the beach? That’s how practicing with Edward is for me. A side bend I’ve done a thousand times can seem completely new and rich and revelatory in his class. I think it’s a combination of Edward’s empathy and intelligence and warmth: He’s so knowledgeable, but also understated and real. A sort of truth emanates in his class; there’s no need to have your guard up, so you don’t, and you practice more honestly.”
Kathleen Kraft: What does your practice look like every day?
Edward Jones: I think about my practice in terms of what I need on any given day. Typically this includes a fair amount of surya namaskar because of how efficient those sequences are at maintaining a reasonable level of physical balance. I’m turning 40 in April, which I recognize isn’t particularly old, but I do feel old enough to identify pretty distinct shifts in what my body needs or even enjoys doing from when I started practicing asana about 16 years ago. You could say that my practice has become much more practical than it used to be. Where I was once very excited by unlocking new variations of challenging poses, I now see more benefit in simply moving my joints through a deep but healthy range of motion, keeping my muscles feeling alive and engaged, and most importantly, soothing my nervous system.
We’re all trying to use our practice to feel more comfortable with ourselves. Over the past six months or so, my practice has included a lot more pranayama. My nervous system has needed a lot more soothing than it used to. Sitting meditation has also become even more of a priority.
KK: What are the most important qualities of the student/teacher relationship?
EJ: Curiosity and patience. My practice, both as student and teacher, really blossomed during my time at OM. Mentors from OM such as Cyndi Lee, Jennifer Brilliant, and
Margi Young, and of course my co-directors of Now Yoga Frank Mauro and Joe Miller, emphasized an exploratory approach. From the beginning of my practice, I never felt pressure about doing things “right” or “wrong” (except, of course, for my own self-judgment). Instead, I felt encouraged to trust my own experience and move towards what makes sense for me. And, of course, this is a basic Buddhist concept: direct experience is superior to passive acceptance.
So the teacher is really a guide to the student's own self-curiosity in this approach, as opposed to a master imparting wisdom. I advocate for this style of teaching on both pedagogical grounds and psychological ones. I’m a student of psychoanalysis as well as of yoga, and one of the most important ideas that a psychoanalyst works with is that of transference (and countertransference). Psychoanalysis acknowledges that, unconsciously, we transfer material from our past onto the present. The teacher/student relationship is ripe for deep transference because of how closely it echoes that of parent and child. We look up to our teachers as authority figures, as caregivers, and we make ourselves vulnerable to them, physically and emotionally. It is inevitable that our complex entanglements and conflicts with our original caregivers will, in ways large and small, bubble up with our teachers.
By that same token, as teachers we have countertransferences to our students, unconscious feelings that they stir up in us. It is very seductive to have dozens or even hundreds of people constantly telling you how wise or holy or simply wonderful you are. One might even go into teaching yoga so as to hear those things. But one would be a fool to believe it. I have the idea that most, if not all, of the numerous scandals that have erupted in the yoga community over the years might have been avoided if the lessons of transference and countertransference understood by the psychotherapeutic community had been applied to the yoga community.
KK: Which sutra is guiding you and why?
EJ: To be honest, I’m not a huge fan of the Sutras as a stand-alone document. I prefer to think of them as a way of facilitating a dialectic. A sutra fits really well into a tweet or on the label of a teabag, but they were intended to be the beginning of a thought process, not the end of one. A good example is the very first sutra, 1:1, “Atha Yoganushasanam.” The simplest translation of this gives our collective its name: “Now Yoga.” But there are myriad ways of interpreting this turn of phrase: as an introduction to the text—"What follows is an explication of yoga"; or, as the beginning of a journey long prepared for—“We weren’t ready before, but now we can begin practicing yoga”; or, as a continuation of a conversation—“We were talking about something else before; now let’s talk about yoga”; or, as a poetic teaching in and of itself—“Yoga happens in the present moment: now!” Of course, all of these interpretations and more might be interesting to explore, but if all we had to go on was, “Now the teachings of yoga,” we would have a pretty impoverished view of that particular line. The sutras, therefore, are meant to be talked about rather than read, I think.
One text that I do find myself drawn to over and over, but especially these days, is the Tao Te Ching. This of course is also wonderful poetry to be interpreted and discussed, but it’s a deeply reflective and pithy work that I really enjoy reading in a contemplative rather than academic way—I like to just let it wash over me. I love Stephen Mitchell’s version because he aims for the spirit of the text as opposed to a slavishly literal translation, which can often feel clunky. I think I’m feeling the Tao’s relevance right now because of how much it has to say about qualities of leadership and the effective and compassionate management of a society. We should probably mail some copies to the White House.
KK: Who has been a major influence on your life, your work?
EJ: As much as yoga changed, or perhaps even saved, my life, I’m inclined to give equal credit to psychoanalysis for enriching it. So, in that sense, my analyst has been a profound influence. In the same way that sitting around thinking about triangle pose would offer very limited benefit compared to actually practicing trikonasana, so too sitting and thinking about my problems and anxieties is not nearly as helpful as speaking them aloud to another person. Of course, one doesn’t necessarily need a therapist to process the mystery of their own existence, but I do think there is something important about putting thoughts into words that are heard and felt by someone else... Let’s talk.