Yoga instructor to come to Princeton Center
DATE POSTED: Friday, June 21, 2013 8:05 AM – Centraljersey.com
By Michele Alperin, Special Writer
Sometimes a random decision can change the course of a person’s life. When yoga instructor Jason Crandell needed one more credit hour to graduate from college, the only department offering one-credit classes was kinesiology. On the advice of a girlfriend, he signed up for yoga, even though as a skateboarder and ice hockey player he was a little disdainful of it.
”I thought it was just stretching and wasn’t interested,” he says.
But when he got started there were a couple of surprises, especially given that he saw himself as an athlete.
”I really struggled with yoga at first during the semester, because it revealed so much about me that I didn’t want revealed — that my body was stiff and my mind was reactionary,” says Mr. Crandell. But then came the real surprise. “After each class I felt like I never felt before. I felt amazing, and I fell in love with it,” he says.
He developed a committed daily yoga practice, then a few years later became a mentee of Rodney Yee, completing his two-year teacher training program in 2000.
”Rodney brought a very intellectual and poetic side of the practice,” says Mr. Crandell, who learned from him that yoga was a process of uncovering layers of the psyche, “a really intimate practice of introspection.”
Mr. Crandell’s practice changed under Mr. Yee’s tutelage.
”Prior to him my yoga practice was really about how strong and flexible I could make my muscles; that was enough to get me hooked,” he says. “With Rodney it became much more physically subtle and psychologically profound.”
Metaphorically he compared his experience to the difference between reading gripping but unsubtle literature and the real thing.
”Let’s say you loved to read and you had only really been exposed to John Grisham novels that had good, exciting plots that you could really sink your teeth into, and then you got exposed to William Faulkner, or Shakespeare or Kurt Vonnegut, where there is a whole different layer of literary depth,” he says.
Most people do not know how to use their bodies well, integrating body, mind, and breath, suggests Mr. Crandell, who recommends that a person should set aside 20 to 90 minutes at least three days a week to learn to use these tools well in a yoga practice.
”If a student practices this, they are going to become stronger, more flexible, more aware of how they hold their body, and much more efficient with postures and overall body awareness,” he says.
The greater strength, flexibility, and comfort in the bodies of yoga practitioners, he adds, can translate to a decrease in lower back pain, aching shoulders, and chronic neck tension.
”When you learn to use your body in a more skillful and efficient way, a lot of the daily aches and pains go away,” he says.
But yoga also can affect the mind and develop emotional strength, says Mr. Crandell, who maintains that a regular practice helps people become more skillful in responding to internal stressors.
”When you learn how to breathe more deeply and smoothly when doing something challenging, that is developing a skill set, so the next time you encounter stress, you have greater skill and ability to respond to that stress with deeper breathing or more mental awareness of what is happening inside you,” he says.
Despite knowing that yoga’s affects are wide ranging and not just physical, Mr. Crandell no longer agrees with others who claim that yoga has become diluted in this country — overly physical and viewed too much as an exercise.
”I think yoga is remarkably healthy in this country,” he says. “The truth is that this country needs exercise; we have a highly sedentary, highly stressed culture. As far as I am concerned, mind and body are inseparable — two sides of coin that inherently reflect each other. If someone comes wanting exercise, it’s fine with me; it will also affect their mind and spirit.”
Mr. Crandell grew up in Toledo, Ohio, and graduated from Miami University in Ohio with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy. He completed his last 24 hours at San Francisco State, including the yoga, but those credits were transferred to Miami University.
He has taught all over the world, including at major international yoga conferences; online at yogaglo.com; and in magazines, as contributing editor for “Yoga Journal.” When he’s home in San Francisco, he also teaches there.
He offers some ideas on what it takes to be a good yoga teacher. The first is being honest and compassionate about the human condition.
”Not everyone likes every moment of every yoga pose or pays attention to everything happening in a yoga class,” he says. “Some people will have a lot of joy and some people will feel challenged until the class is over.”
Second is having an ability to clearly articulate what people need to do.
”Yoga teachers heavily rely on verbal cueing,” he says. “I have to be able to tell someone who doesn’t know the anatomical names of their body what to do with their knees, hip, scapula, arm bone, fingers.”
Mr. Crandell also has goals for the people who attend his classes.
”I want people, when done with my classes, to feel calm, grounded, and content, to feel like they were challenged to do something and learn something new about who they are and that they ultimately develop greater understanding and compassion for who they are and learn how to use their body better and their body feels more alive and more capable,” he says.
Yoga has taught Mr. Crandell a lot about himself. One important thing is how frustrated he gets when presented with something that is physically or mentally uncomfortable.
”I came to yoga and felt totally at a loss in my body to do basic things; I didn’t know how to move in a slow, specific, articulate way; there were huge ranges of motion in my body that I couldn’t do — even though I identified myself as a high-caliber athlete,” he says.
His response was initially anger and frustration that there were physical things he couldn’t do, but eventually he learned to accept that even he, an athlete, had physical limitations. But it was more than that.
”It hit me on two levels,” he says. “I learned about my body that it was not really efficient or optimal, and two, my mind is really impatient and gets frustrated really easily.”
He has learned that when he is getting frustrated, to step back a little bit, pause, take a breath, and proceed in a more skillful way.
”It’s more important to learn how to respond to stressors and unfamiliar situations with greater skill than it is to become more flexible in the hamstrings,” he concludes.
Mr. Crandell will teach three separate workshops, “Developing Strength, Stability and Integrity: How Awakening Your Core Leads to Greater Steadiness and Integration,” Friday, June 28, 6-9 p.m.; “Replacing Force with Understanding: How To Do Arm-Balances with Greater Refinement and Less Force Saturday, June 29, noon to 3 p.m.; and “Taking Refuge: How Side-Bends, Twists, and Forward Bends Soothe the Mind and Release Stress,” Saturday, June 29, 3:30-6:30 p.m., at Princeton Center for Yoga & Health, 88 Orchard Road in Skillman. Cost: $150 for full weekend, $120 for two workshops, $65 for one. For information or to register, call Princeton Yoga at 609-924-7294.