Janet Stone is simultaneously a perpetual student and a teacher of yoga. Her youth was spent on a farm in Northern California where she rescued animals, ate from nature, enjoyed the bounties of the earth, and established her natural connection to the planet. Her yoga studentship began at seventeen under the meditation teachings of Prem Rawat. Coupled with the lessons from her upbringing, his reverence for simplicity and joy shaped the yoga practice she upholds today.
In 1996, after twelve years in the film and television production industry, Janet decided that her life needed a change and a temporary relocation. She journeyed to India—the birthplace of her grandfather—and solidified her yogic life path. After a year and a half on a life-changing solo journey around the world, including stops in New Zealand and Egypt, Janet felt a deeply personal transformation had transpired. After some time—and perhaps the guiding hands of fate—Janet found herself back in Northern California where she put down roots to raise her daughters. Currently based in Bali and San Francisco, Janet now leads immersions, retreats, and workshops.
FtC was thrilled and privileged to discuss a wide range of topics with Janet including the upside of mainstream yogic movement, her preferred styles, the importance of setting an intention, and the ways in which we can all use yoga as a compass in our lives.
Sasha Frate: You made a major life/career change upon leaving Hollywood film production after twelve years and embarking on a whole new path with yoga. In hindsight, what was the most difficult thing about this transition for you (if anything) and what was the most rewarding?
Janet Stone: Leaving something you’ve poured twelve years of your life into for the great unknown can create a lot of uncertainty, but transitions are the name of this life-game we get to play. Strangely enough, the transition from the film industry to yoga felt so right—it was as if I was being ushered along without effort or resistance. That’s not to say I didn’t walk around for several years saying, “I’m in the film industry and I offer some yoga on the side.” That was my knee-jerk response before I could fully embrace what I was actually up to and begin to own that my life was pulling me deeper into the path of yoga. But the real reward came after the process (the push-and-pull, the mental pros-and-cons list) of letting go of the old and opening my arms to this path. It’s been a profound journey.
SF: You have a beautiful way of keeping the art and science of yoga in the practice, teachings, and through the journey you share, when much of the roots have been lost since yoga’s arrival to the west. This has shifted the primary focus onto the postural practices that you’ve noted as only being approximately “four percent of the expressed journey of yoga.” Ninety-six percent is a lot to lose! Do you see any of these roots coming back into the yoga journey in the west? What aspects do you feel are most important to revive back into the “journey”?
JS: Modern postural yoga can be so beneficial and can certainly awaken something dormant within us. And yet, if we get stuck there—unable to begin the humbling process of dismantling our limited belief structures—our behavior loops (samskaras) and our divisive/comparative experiencing cause us to miss “the yoga”.
We all have to begin somewhere, and since we experience the world around us through our bodies, it’s only natural that this is so often our starting point. The longer one sticks around, the more possible it is to dive below the surface of what is ultimately a very thin layer (the “mat practice”), into the rich practices of yoga and their incredible transformative powers.
If we look at what the west has done to yoga, it’s as though it’s taken the surface layer—the very tip of the iceberg—and turned it into the competitive, performative, external expression of body/ego that we all know so well. It’s diluted the raw and terrifying power of becoming still and becoming witness to the inner workings of the mind and its puppeteering of our every thought, choice, and action. Yoga—and I mean the fullest sense of the word here—is in the diligent surrender of “self” into the whole, where our likes and dislikes become indistinguishable in the great flow of each breath.
So, I hope for modern yoga to stick around long enough to expose the rest of the iceberg and to turn down the dial on commodification. There’s so much depth in the practice that allows us to become more whole, still, grounded, and awakened.
SF: While much of the roots may have been lost as yoga went mainstream in the west, what most excites you about the upside of the mainstream movement?
JS: What a joy to answer this after the weight of the last question!
Yes, when we open up anything to a larger body of practitioners that was once contained or reserved for a “special” group of brahmins, it has a profound ripple-effect. It is nothing short of a miracle that so many people now have access to life-changing breath practices, meditations, mantras, asanas, and powerful principles such as the Eight-Limbed path from Pathanjali. These were once reserved for the chosen few and now they’re “Google-able”. What this means is that people from all walks of life—including those with physical, mental, and emotional limitations and disabilities—now have access to the healing benefits of yoga.
It means we have Prison Yoga Projects that offer alternative routes for those who’ve been imprisoned by their own minds, bodies, and circumstances. It means we get to offer yoga to those laboring in not-for-profit organizations on the front lines of the climate crisis. It means our politicians have access to it (and goodness knows, they need it). There’s no one who doesn’t have access to the sacred teachings. So, yes, I’m all for that.
SF: Today, many styles of yoga exist. What are your preferred styles to practice and teach, and why?
JS: While I know I exist in a world of branding and trademarking, it’s still so strange to me to see so many folks attempting to “own” the vast art and science of this ancient practice. So, to answer this, I might simply say The Yoga (not registered or trademarked). If I were to answer from the lens of a student who practices with me, I might say that what I practice and teach is called hatha-bhakti-vinyasa-shivanand-shadow-eightlimbed-tantric shaivism.
SF: How do you advise people to go beyond the asana to strengthen foundation and embody the soul of yoga in their practice and teaching?
JS: I suppose that, like a parent, I choose to model the practice in my everyday being. I choose to be an expression of The Yoga to the best of my human ability living in modern times. In my offerings, I focus on sadhana (the ritual of showing up again and again to clear out misperceptions), avidya (in order to heal habitual destructive behaviors), and svadhyaya (to fully begin the brave process of knowing oneself).
If all of this is too lofty and sounds too “yoga’y” then I simply say: practice kindness both inward and outward. Be kind to yourself when you stumble and fail to be kind, and then begin again with your best efforts. Breathe deeply and take notice of the sensations of being alive in each breath. These are pretty good starting points.
SF: I love the way you’ve described “intention” in the following: “Intention, simply, is a gathering of energy and turning of attention. It’s based in the present moment, but it has one eye gazing toward the future. Intentions hold dreams, hopes, and in many cases, the expectations we hold of ourselves and of this life that is unfolding through us. When used wisely, intentions are the engine behind daily choices and the compass we can use to orient ourselves. They can help dissolve the puppet strings that might have us acting out a life that’s discordant with what we truly long to get up to.” How do you see yoga as providing the space, time, and energy for us to create and turn attention to our intentions?
JS: From a fifteen-minute home practice, to a ninety-minute public class, to a sixty-minute gym class, to a chair yoga/stretch session, one thing remains true: we should always make the time to set an intention. For me, this means gathering up the clutter of my thoughts and becoming clear about where I want to focus my life force. I do this both for that fifteen-minute practice and for how I will arrive “back into the world” the moment I step off of my mat.
If we could commit to witnessing our mind for even just an hour a day, we’d see the mind flitting in all directions with no one at the helm. Taking that moment before practice—and then the practice itself—clarifies our sankalpa, our deep heart longing, so we can organize our life force to move it in that direction.
SF: How can yoga help transition from endings to new beginnings (a change often feared and resisted)?
JS: This is the grace and power of yoga: at its core, it asks us to pay attention to the great impermanence. Its most popular divine expression is Shiva who dances on the “graves” of dead bodies in celebration of the life cycle, the coming-and-going in equal measure. But let’s just begin at the power of honoring transitions. To honor a transition—whether relationship, work, health, geography, and so on—one must set aside time. It doesn’t have to be a ton of time, but it needs to be enough so you can fully feel the fact that something is finishing; it’s the free-fall of the in-between.
Yoga truly begins when we’re able to “sit” in the discomfort of being neither here nor there. It’s the open field of endings-before-beginnings.
SF: How does yoga practice evoke a sense of freedom? How do you envision this freedom as enhancing our ability to break free from “inner shackles”, mental blocks, fear of change, etc.?
JS: Along the journey we are cultivating the capacity to locate an internal ground or still point. It’s a place where we’re not continuously pulled by our raga/dvesha (likes/dislikes). In this place we are free. Such freedom allows us to face life as life is—with all its ups and down, and all its endless changes.
SF: You’ve described yoga and breath as part of a practice that helps us stay “woke”. Do you believe a regular practice has the ability to bring us into a more constant awakened state of living/being?
JS: The power of pranayama—of attention to the breath—is truly the power of presence. It’s happening through every moment of our lives—waking or sleeping—and to give it attention can drown out the near incessant chatter of the mind. To me, “wokeness” is the power of attention to the moment, the breath, the life unfolding here and now, and not the one upon which we overlay our mental constructs and judgments.
SF: How can yoga act like a compass?
JS: We wander through the mega-mall of life with endless choices, often following pre-carved paths structured by religion, capitalism, socio-cultural norms, etc. So often we fail to stop and ask: Why? To me, the pillars of Pathanjali’s eight limbs are the most powerful compass for living in alignment with my deepest intentions. They remind me of the paths that haven’t been taken because they’re only there for me to take. For me, this is such a liberating thought.
SF: What has been the greatest motivating factor in your life that helped you stay committed to yoga (maybe as a student and also as a teacher)?
JS: Once you taste being awake, you don’t want to go back to sleeping, to being anesthetized, to placing the bag back over your head. Instead, you long to go through it all, to feel it all, to look at all of it. Of course, it would be so much easier in many ways to go back to sleep. It’s not exactly for the faint of heart to keep peeling back the layers of delusion. It’s a vulnerable place to be; but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I’d say my children are my biggest motivating factor. I want to be the best me I can be for them, and I’ve found that my practice gets me closer to that version of me.
SF: “Trust in the deep wisdom that is always available when we simply slow down and listen.” How can slowing down through a yoga practice offer a profound kind of clarity?
JS: Our current currency is “busy”. You see it everywhere, including in the foyers of yoga studios. Folks come in and they are nearly frenetic, trying to “get a practice in” between all the other running around they have to do that day. I keep coming back to the breath in these answers, but of course, that’s the practice. The grace of slowing the tempo and of returning to the breath very clearly reminds us that it’s possible to feel absolutely full without all the running around. It’s a reminder that there’s nothing to prove; that there’s nothing we have to produce. We can simply be. I can’t think of a greater clarity than that.
SF: What has been the greatest “gift” yoga has given you? And what do you feel has been the greatest gift you have been able to give to your students through yoga?
JS: The biggest gift is the capacity to embrace both my humanness and my sense that I am enough. I like to think that’s precisely the gift I’m able to give my students—to hold up a mirror for those who come my way to reflect to them that they are enough and all that they are searching for is already inside of them.
SF: Why do you aspire not to teach, but rather to let the practice emanate from you? And as a “teacher”, you prefer to call yourself a “student”?
JS: In studentship, one remains open, curious, leaning in, and in awe. I’ve noticed that often those who hold tightly to the role of “teacher” can dry up, become rigid in their belief structures, and miss being penetrated by a new light; a new possibility. That’s why I stick with studentship. I want to be perpetually open to the possibility that my story is just my story, that there’s something more beyond that; something that will utterly blindside me once I can clearly see it. After that, I want to be awed again.
SF: Music is a big part of a lot of your yoga events and classes. Do you have any favorite styles of music and/or artists you like that particularly inspire or “enhance” your yoga experience?
JS: Music can be both a distraction to our attention on the breath and a guide deeper into the inhale/exhale exchange, where anything fits into the latter. I’ve made two albums that have beats from DJ Drez and one with Nat Kendall that take ancient chants and weave then into present time. If I can keep my attention on what matters in the music, I’m in juicy territory.
SF: You offer a virtual course in “Energetic Alignment and Intuitive Sequencing”. Can you share what this covers and how it works?
JS: This two-course bundle offers an intuitive, creative, and introspective approach to crafting a practice. Over twelve weeks (March 5-May 27), these two courses are designed to work together to integrate experience, intuition, and energetic awareness to create sequences that support alignment from the inside out. In Energetic Alignment, we explore an intuitive and playful approach to alignment that goes beyond muscle and bone. By engaging the Pancha Vayus (the five directions of prana), we’ll explore alignment that draws upon internal wisdom. In Intuitive Sequencing, we’ll dive into an intuitive and introspective approach to crafting a practice. This course is designed to connect you to your own rhythm while opening you to the pace and energy of others. The contemporary emphasis we place on the intellect is the reason we’re drowning in information yet starving for wisdom. This is why I’ve decided to roll these two courses—Energetic Alignment and Intuitive Sequencing—into one. We can then rally these two underutilized forces—the wisdom of the body and the wisdom of the heart—while honoring the intellect that keeps us grounded in the work of daily living.
Both of these courses were born out of decades of asking myself the same fundamental questions over and over again, and exploring what arose in the asking: What actually animates this body I’m in? What governs my urge to make, to create, to move, to love? What gives this life meaning? What story is being told through my life? Of the millions of years of evolution that allowed this body to be, what is the residual wisdom I can discern within it?
It’s an exploration without “correct” answers (though the intellect would like to think otherwise). Rather, it’s one that invites reverence and awe, that makes us more fully at home in our bodies, that more deeply aligns us with our intentions, and one that empowers us to be more authentically “us.” I think these are all things that we are thirsty for in this moment.