OM’s cover star this month is Elise Joan, a celebrity trainer, and co-creator of the best-selling inaugural yoga programme for Beachbody. Here she tells OM how her own practice has helped her through life’s ups and downs and how it can help you too. Photography and interview by Dr. Natiya Guin
The first time I saw Elise Joan she was preparing to teach a yoga class in a candlelit room at my gym. Watching her unroll her mat was like being backstage witnessing a key dancer prepare to take flight. Never rehearsed, always authentic, she made each yogi in the room feel like they were the star. Her class was so much more then asanas and breathing Elise gave us permission to step into our own light. Over a decade later I sit down with my muse to discover what it feels like to be a guiding light for the whole wellness world.
How did you first get into yoga?
What first brought me to yoga was experiencing an obstacle that was a huge disappointment in my life. I had recently suffered a career ending vocal injury. At the time, I was doing Broadway tours as a musical theatre performer. I got pre-nodular polyps on my vocal cords, which ended my singing career in one doctor's visit. Feeling devastated and very lost, I wandered down Ninth Avenue and saw a sign outside a yoga studio for three months unlimited classes for $120. This is back in 2004. I walked in and basically never walked out. I found myself on that mat and realised, through the power of movement, I was also discovering the power of emotional transformation;
I was able to come to the mat, really feel my feelings, move through my feelings, and transform. Without any judgement, I just moved for myself; physically, mentally, and emotionally. It really was all about the flow for me.
What resonated most with me about yoga was the emotional response, the connection of the mind and the heart, to the movement of the body. The beauty of the Sanskrit language, the beauty of the human body’s capacity for spiritual rebirth and physical rebirth.
What does yoga bring to your life personally?
Yoga brings a connection with others. At first, I taught in studios and then went on to live events and retreats for thousands of people, helping share my love of all eight limbs of yoga. It wasn’t just the pranayama and asana practice, but the practice of spiritual rediscovery and the ability to create the life I wanted and helping other people do the same.
Yoga really helped widen my world. And now through the magic of my online teaching through Beachbody, I'm able to reach millions of people, literally millions of people, to help them live their best life, transform their opportunities, and upgrade their emotional connection through the beauty of movement.
Any personal challenges that led to your current success?
Yoga is really what helped me get through some of the most challenging moments in my life. So far, it helped me get through a very debilitating first marriage, it helped me get through a career ending vocal injury. Yoga is also what helped me recover from my fertility journey where I tried for years and ultimately explored IVF. And I ended up discovering that having children of my own was not in the universe's plan for me, and it was really my practice of yoga, mind body movement and barre that helped me get through those three very critical obstacles and challenges in my life. That really speaks to the power of yoga! I want to share that with people.
The message I really want to get across is that I want people to know that practicing yoga with me and with the way that I teach can be a safety net; it can be a support, it can be a trampoline to wellness, it can help people overcome major life challenges like divorce, emotional abuse, fertility, or injuries. I really want to say to others that I use my own experience, I use yoga, to overcome various challenges in my life and to help others do the same. I aim to help people deepen their joy through yoga and overcome their hurt through yoga…and my personal journey is really a big part of that.
How would you describe your own teaching style?
My teaching style is energetic, and I like to call it yoga ‘off roading’ so it doesn't adhere to a specific style. It's not Iyengar or Ashtanga. Technically it would be vinyasa flow, but I associate every movement with a metaphor for our lives. My teaching style is enthusiastic and very energetic. I like to play all kinds of music that resonates with my soul, because my style of teaching yoga is all about connecting with your internal rhythms. I will help you to know that the balance we practice on the mat, is a metaphor for the balance we need to find in our lives. When we're practicing physical yoga binds on the mat in a yoga flow, I'm helping people understand whether their binds are healthy in life; that would be our relationship with self and our relationships with others. If a bind that we've entered on the mat turns our heart centre down, it's not serving us. It must turn our heart centre up! This is the same with physical binds in yoga. I love creating metaphors to help people understand the deeper meaning of yoga.
Tell us about your yoga brand?
My yoga brand is even more expansive than yoga. I take the idea that yoga is everything to everyone and can really be whatever you want it to be. And I expanded into movement styles including barre, mixed martial arts, and of course, a basis in vinyasa flow. You know, my brand is that yoga is for everyone. It is not an exclusive practice for handstanders or, you know, Gumby, Cirque du Soleil performers. Yoga is for me, it's for you. It's for your 80-year-old mum, it's for your 10-year-old daughter. It's for anyone who has a body and a heart and wants to move them in unison.
Yoga career highs so far?
My career high so far was creating a yoga and barre programme for Beachbody. It is a front runner, and an innovator in the fitness world. And I'm so honoured to be a super trainer for Beachbody. Essentially, I'm like the mind body super trainer for Beachbody. I bring mind body practices like yoga, like barre, to the mainstream audience who are only used to lifting heavy weights or doing high-impact cardio. I am helping them find the magic of this beautiful mind body practice. So, my career with Beachbody continues to be the high of my career.
Any tips for students new to yoga?
My tips for students that are new to yoga are the same tips for people new to personal development and exploration. Love yourself now and understand that it's a practice rather than a destination. Yoga is not about touching your toes or standing on your hands. Yoga is about moving your body with compassion, with energy, with self-expression. It is about getting to know yourself. And we can do that at any age, at any size, in any body.
What do you say to people who feel they can't do yoga because they’re not in shape, or too old or too inflexible?
I don't expect you to come to my mat with any flexibility, or any understanding of Sanskrit or any understanding of moves. I'm here to help you find your flexibility. I'm here to help you unleash the yogi that lives within you. I will help you get that flexibility. I will help you create a strong body at any age. You know, my mum started yoga in her 70s and it's helped physically rehabilitate hip and piriformis injuries. There's no age limit, there are no limits at all. Yoga is for everyone. And if you come to me, I will make sure you feel amazing, whatever level of practice you are doing.
What are your plans going forward?
Beachbody is launching BODi (Beachbody on demand interactive) which is very exciting. I will be teaching yoga, sculpt barre, and meditation to live audiences. I can reach millions of people live, people can join me and my cast on-set through Zoom essentially. It’s just really an exciting innovation where I will get to reach through the camera into your living room and help bring you the incredible benefits of yoga!