Jeanne Heileman loved dancing around the house as a child. To encourage her interest, her mother enrolled her in ballet classes when she was seven, and Jeanne continued to dance until the age of thirteen when she was teased for being a “ballet geek.”
Still, her interest in the performing arts, specifically acting, endured—but in Phoenix, Arizona, where she grew up, there was little access to the arts to inspire her. She was also very shy and was raised in a religious environment that did not encourage taking risks or being outspoken. She explains, “I stayed quiet about my passion until I got to college. Once there, I found I had lots to learn since there wasn’t much theatre training at my all girls’ Catholic high school. After college, I started to really increase my study, first at American Conservatory Theatre (ACT) in San Francisco, and then in London at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts.”
In 1985, while she was a student at ACT, Jeanne took a yoga class and fell in love with the concept of looking inward toward one’s feelings as a gauge for one’s progress, as opposed to looking outward for validation. Her practice of yoga began that day. She did mostly Ashtanga and some Iyengar classes—the latter, she says, took her time to like.
Eleven years later, with an ongoing practice, Jeanne was working as the director of development for the Los Angeles Master Chorale. Without any prior music training, she had to quickly learn about choral music in order to write the grants, proposals, and letters of request. She knew it wasn’t the right fit. She says, “If I had gotten the same job at the resident theatre company, I might never have left. I just began to realize it was not where I wanted to be nor how I wanted my life to go. I was depressed for a long time, and then I finally decided to leave without another job in the wings.”
She took the first local yoga teacher training she could find, at the Center for Yoga in Los Angeles (YogaWorks purchased the center in 2004). Months after the training ended she started teaching yoga full time, sometimes teaching 22 classes a week—in her words, “too much!” She had no idea where it would take her but knew in her gut that the yoga path was her destiny. From there on out, she took yoga classes wherever she went. She eventually did more teacher trainings with YogaWorks and Rod Stryker’s ParaYoga and has studied with many esteemed teachers, including Pandit Rajmani Tigunait and Shiva Rea.
Jeanne’s particular interest in alignment, therapeutics, and meditation techniques are central to her teaching and evident in her vinyasa and hatha classes here on Yoga International. Today, when Jeanne is not teaching her regular schedule (currently, you can take live classes with her online), she leads teacher trainings and workshops internationally.
Below, we ask Jeanne the same questions we ask all of our featured teachers so you can learn more about her yoga background, what you can expect from her classes on YI, what inspires her, and more.
What yoga style, tradition, and/or lineage are you a part of (if any)?
In 2002, I was initiated into the lineage of Sri Vidya, a living lineage founded by teachers who are still vibrating in the Himalayan Mountains. I consider Pandit Rajmani Tigunait my main spiritual teacher. For over 20 years, I have studied closely with Rod Stryker and am a certified ParaYoga Level II teacher. Ashtanga yoga, Iyengar yoga, Anusara yoga, Viniyoga, vinyasa yoga, and many yoga therapeutics teachers who I’ve studied with have all inspired my asana practice and my teaching. In both, I blend wisdom from the different modalities into unique sequences that move toward a specific energetic goal.
What can I expect from your classes on YI?
I care about alignment, so you will hear me giving cues that can help you find your optimal alignment in order to get the most out of my classes. I love a strong practice with challenging postures—one that leaves me feeling powerful—so that’s the type of class I especially love to teach. If it appears that a class is moving slowly, that’s usually the result of work we are doing with deeper muscles, so you can trust that it’s still a challenging practice.
No matter what level of asana I teach, my intention is to always weave a mental or pranic (energetic) aspect into the practice so that it is more than just asana. You can expect to feel more grounded within yourself and closer to your true essence at the end of class. When we connect to this inner presence our peace ripples out toward others. That is my goal.
What’s on your mind these days yoga- and meditation-wise?
As the coronavirus spreads through the United States, a significant number of businesses have had to close, leaving people without work. Life has stopped. My mind and heart are feeling everything. The heaviness of people struggling in so many different ways is deep.
My gut tells me that this is a sacred and very special time, even if it’s challenging. It has been decades since our civilization has been forced to stop and just be at home. We are easily drawn outward toward the problems in the outside world, but this is a chance to look inward and listen. How can I use this time to be a better human? A better soul? We can take this time to listen to our souls, begin or deepen our meditation practice, and truly connect inward.
My gut tells me that the more we listen inward and use this time for inner practice, the further we will be able to be of service when we can reconnect. Amid all of our challenges right now, I feel hope and possibility.
What do you like to do outside of yoga?
According to the tantric perspective, there is no “outside of yoga.” It’s all yoga, one’s whole life is an expression of one’s relationship with the Divine. I try to listen and feel an energy greater than me throughout my day. When I’m traveling, I try to have one day in a new city to explore the area and learn something about the history and culture of that region. When I’m home in Los Angeles, I love hosting dinner parties for my friends.
After recovering from hip replacement surgery a year ago, I started walking more in my neighborhood, a place I love. As a trained former actor, I still enjoy watching movies and going to live theatre, as well as museums. Lastly, I’m a readaholic so there are always lots of books by my nightstand to keep me company.
Who or what has been an ongoing source of inspiration for you?
I get my inspiration from people who have endured difficulty and manage somehow to keep going and get through to the other side. A person’s success is often a result of multiple failures they don’t share. Everyone likes to focus on success, but I want to hear about the grit and dark times and how someone managed to continue moving forward.
We all go through tough times and can feel alone and lost. When I’m in those moments, I call upon those stories that act as symbolic hands reaching down for me, to hold me as I trudge forward. Anyone who has endured hardship and is willing to share it is a hero to me. Victor Frankl’s books helped me during a really tough time. I am drawn to books, movies, articles in the paper, anything that shares a story of struggle.
Learn more about Jeanne and try one of her dynamic hatha and/or vinyasa classes on YI!
Photography: Andrea Killam