Jacqueline Purnell’s yoga journey has seen her traverse the globe, educating and training yogis and teachers alike. Today she is the Regional Training Officer for the renowned British Wheel of Yoga in London, and she is passionate about constantly updating her own education and skillset in addition to those of her students. Most recently, Jacqueline was invited to teach yoga classes in the iconic V&A Museum in Knightsbridge, London and she is currently supporting a movement lobbying the houses of Parliament to include yoga in the NHS throughout the UK – a move she believes will be successful due to the powerful nature of the research surrounding its health and wellness benefits. Here in Ibiza, she is the founder of Yogashala Ibiza, a beautiful retreat centre on the east coast of the island where she regularly hosts teacher training courses in a variety of techniques including pre and post-natal yoga and SUP yoga.
When did you first discover yoga and what attracted you to the practice? I first discovered yoga at a young age, my mother practiced and would encourage me to join her when she practiced movements and postures at home. My curiosity continued into my teens as I learnt more about yoga, however as a young adult working in the City I found that my work life balance didn’t allow for it. It was during my first pregnancy that I really started to focus on my practice and renew my passion for yoga.
Did you feel an instant connection to the practice? I felt the strongest connection when I was pregnant, which is probably why today I specialise in pre and post-natal yoga. When I was teaching in Egypt, a female obstetrician came to one of the yoga holidays and she said she could tell if women had been practicing yoga when they came the delivery suite. This struck a chord with me as I could see the importance, especially having given birth to two children, in improving the experience of pregnancy, childbirth and the time following the baby’s arrival.
At what point did you make the decision to become a teacher? It was in 1995 when I decided to do my first teacher training. I was attracted to the vocation and I did an initial Yoga Teacher Training with the British Wheel of Yoga. The course was comprehensive spanning three years andwas a spaced learning course that took place over the weekends. I knew early on I wanted to be a teacher, however no one ever told me you had to jump through so many hoops to get into the course!
Have you done any other trainings? At the same time, I was completing that course, I went to India and worked with Derek Ireland, who was one of the first non-Indian students to go to Sri. Pattabhi Jois and learn Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga . He was amazing – I did an intensive teacher training with him, and then I carried on going up the ranks within the British Wheel of Yoga, in doing so I qualified to teach the BWY Foundation Course 1 and Foundation Course 2.I also studied with David Life and Sharon Gannon to become a certified Jivamukti yoga instructor.
Tell us about some of the work you do today? I am the Regional Training Officer for the British Wheel of Yoga and I event manage and host the Continuous Professional Development events each year throughout London . I seek out experts to share their knowledge with existing teachers. I also try to bring this to Yogashala Ibiza, so that the teacher training courses here are really cutting edge and up to date.
Who do your students tend to be? They come from all over the world. We’ve had students from the USA, Austria, Switzerland, Holland, Germany, France and England – the courses are all taught in English. We’ve had surfers, snowboarders, a lot of fitness people, ‘Iron Man’ champions, doctors, medical students, anesthetists, midwives, vets and even neuroscientists. They may not all end up teaching as a full-time profession, but we are evolving into people who are keen to gain insight into human anatomy and physiology in an accessible way.
What is your relationship with them like? I enjoy spending time with my students, seeing them grow throughout the course, which will differ depending on the level of their course. Though for all students,it’s an opportunity for them to shine and the best education is when people’s strengths come to fruition and they really come into their own. Also, seeing the wide array of benefits taking effect throughout the course.
How do you describe your teaching methods? I am quite eclectic and very responsive. I want to incorporate everyone, so that whatever people’s strengths are, there is evidence that learning is taking place. Identifying these strengths is part of the training I’ve had. It’s an observational practice.
What is your own yoga philosophy? My philosophy focuses on the breath. The breath and movement can form a gateway to relief from everyday stress, enabling people to improve their quality of life. I think a healthy work life balance is really important for people. When teaching, I find it fundamental to highlight to my students the effect stress can have on a person’s wellbeing, so that they can take this into consideration when teaching and practicing themselves. Whilst we need a certain amount of stress to get up in the morning, it’s also about balancing the systems of the body, such as the central nervous system. We need to balance stress at work with rest and play – with fitness, flexibility, breathing and yet again the connection to the breath.
What is your own personal practice like? I practice every day except on Sundays, I believe that it is important to give your body a break. Ashtanga Vinyasa was my first love, so it does have an influence on what I do. My practice is quite dynamic and I do enjoy going upside down! It’s quite empowering – when times are tough, to be able to lift away from the earth and make your perspective become completely topsy turvy. I also love the breath work and my practice is full of flowing Vinyasa style sequences. I continue to learn all the time and I am very open to learning new styles of practice.
How do you stay up to date with new research and teaching methods? I stay informed because I’m always on the lookout for experts in their field for the British Wheel of Yoga Continued Professional Development events. I initiate and help to develop new days with various providers of education.These can consist of top osteopaths, teachers, med students, scientists, neuroscientists, midwives and other various health professionals – it’s a two-way learning process, as they apply their knowledge in a way that can be filtered down to help numerous people. Things change all the time and it’s important to be as based in fact as much as we can be.
Tell us about your connection with Ibiza? It’s funny, because I was teaching all over the world – in Thailand, Egypt, Turkey, New Zealand and Hawaii –and I remember people used to say to me that they couldn’t believe I hadn’t been to Ibiza. They always said I would love it, that it was one of those places that once you go there, you will absolutely love it and you won’t go anywhere else. And that’s kind of what’s happened! I came here in 2007 on a retreat with the students who were completing my British Wheel of Yoga Teacher Training and then the next year, the Yogashala Ibiza space came into my hands and I’ve been teaching here ever since. I am always back and forth to the UK with my work.
Where can people practice with you on the island? I host weekly dynamic drop-in classes at La Galeria Elefante on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9.30am until 11am. I also do a lot of one-to-one sessions.
Or what other services do you offer? At Yogashala Ibiza we host 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training courses that are Yoga Alliance certified. I’m hoping to do more throughout the winter as there is a high demand for people wanting to come away in the off-season. We cover quite a broad spectrum, look at poses in great detail, study different philosophies and fundamental anatomy and physiology, plus teach students how to teach classes. There is also Pre Natal and Post Natal Yoga Teacher Training courses and classes and SUP Yoga Teacher Training courses. Being so close to the Med, it’s amazing to have an excuse to be out on the water.
Tell us about one of your most profound yoga experiences? There have been so many. As I’ve gone along the pathway of my career, it’s interesting that I have always somehow recognised my teachers before having met them formally. I have seen people in the street and felt some kind of recognition, and then they turn out to be the teacher I am doing a training with.
How do you feel about the commercialisation of the yoga industry? I don’t know if it really is commercialised. If you underestimate your students, you won’t be going for very long – people know if it is authentic or not. People are incredibly sophisticated and there are so many different styles and traditions that appeal to different people on parts of their journeys. I think most of the people who practice and teach yoga are quite genuine and it comes from their hearts.
What do you find most rewarding about teaching? Seeing students get stronger and really progress. The transformational aspect when you see people’s mood lifting, to see the looks on their faces at the end of a class. I mean, what fabulous work: I totally love my work, it takes me to amazing places and I meet inspiring people – it’s such a journey.
What do you find most challenging? I love the challenge of keeping up to date with new trends and ways of enhancing peoples lives. I think it’s really crucial and that’s why it’s important to have a connection to a big city, wherever that may be, if you teach on a smaller island, like I do. Otherwise it can be hard to update your knowledge and keep learning. Whilst you can read and research new hot topics, it’s not the same as connecting and collaborating with other people, learning from different perspectives and developing friendships. The most vital way for me to harvest knowledge and information is by continuing to teach across a number of countries and capital cities.