Jessica Jennings, MS, ERYT, RYPT and the founder of Ma Yoga, embarked on her yoga journey in 1997 to alleviate severe neck and back pain. Her remarkable healing experience ignited her passion for sharing yoga’s transformative power. Jessica’s pursuit of understanding how yoga works and its effects led her to extensive studies in alignment-based yoga. She realized that it’s not just the poses but what happens within them that matters. Her deep connection with yoga, combined with biomechanical alignment principles, helped her overcome her own pain and inspired her to teach prenatal yoga. Through Ma Yoga, Jessica empowers moms-to-be, offering more than just physical relief, but also nurturing a sense of community and inner strength during pregnancy, postpartum, and beyond. MysticMag finds out more.
Can you share the pivotal moment when you realized the transformative power of yoga in relieving your neck and back pain, sparking your journey to become a yoga instructor?
For my chronic pain, yoga itself didn’t heal me. It definitely made my neck and back pain go away instantly – I was shocked at how much better I felt! And yet over time, I’d try different classes and sometimes the yoga seemed to bring the pain back – or even make it worse.
I became obsessed with this question: why does yoga sometimes heal, and sometimes hurt?
I was determined to figure out what the mechanism was behind the healing power of yoga, so that I could become a teacher and not have to say “if you have pain, just don’t do that pose” or worse – “try to breathe through it.”
I wanted to be able to use yoga to heal – and never to hurt.
I studied cadavers at UCLA with pre-meds, became a Certified Personal Trainer and received my Masters in Kinesiology.
But I still didn’t get it. People said “it’s just stress” – but I never understood what that meant. How does stress become pain in my shoulder?
I finally found my answer when I came across a form of yoga that emphasized the idea of “alignment”.
Alignment isn’t “correct posture” or “doing a pose right.”
Alignment is about what we’re doing inside any pose.
Alignment is the reason we can be hurting ourselves on the mat, and healing ourselves while driving. It’s not the pose that matters, it’s what we’re doing INSIDE the pose.
When we align, we support healing on every level – physical, mental/emotional, energetic and spiritual.
Alignment isn’t a place, it’s a direction. When we move toward what’s optimal for our muscles and bones, our mind and energy, we feel better right away – and heal over time.
For instance – try this: exhale fully by whispering “ha”. Allow your pelvis to release down into the embrace of the earth. Soften the back of your body.
Then inhale all around your heart and into the top of your lungs. Do this a few times, expanding and settling with each breath.
Notice that you’re still in the same pose, and yet you’ve made more space physically. Mentally you may notice your thoughts have slowed a bit, allowing for “big picture thoughts” to flow through. Energetically you’ve supported the flow of prana (life force energy) throughout your body. And spiritually you might even get a flash of something that matters most to you – even the reason you do what you do.
And that’s just with a couple “Ha” breaths!
This is why Alignment Therapy is so powerful – it works on every level, and it always helps us heal, both on and off-the-mat.
You mentioned the importance of alignment-based yoga and the concept of “optimal blueprint.” Could you elaborate on how this approach differs from other forms of yoga and its significance in healing and strengthening the body?
When we’re in pain, we tend to want to go to a practitioner – a chiropractor, bodyworker, or energetic healer.
I have nothing against receiving support on our healing path – in fact I believe complete healing almost always requires getting help to see ourselves in a way we can’t.
But it’s easy to forget how much power we have within us to heal ourselves, and how much wisdom our bodies have in terms of what they need – if we only take some time to learn the body’s language.
In Alignment Therapy, we learn five basic alignment principles that are based in the five natural elements: space, earth, water, fire and air.
In the body you can think of them as the 5 R’s:
SPACE – Receptivity – Make space for breath in the back of your body, and the top of your chest.
EARTH – Resistance – Engage your muscles to stabilize joints and strengthen the muscles that move our bones in their optimal direction.
WATER – Release – Let go of the tension deep in the inner hips and shoulders, returning to flowy movement.
FIRE – Root – Use your core to ground your energy down from hips to heels.
AIR – Rise – Expand freely in all directions!
When you learn how to do the 5 R’s, you can simply check off the list in any body area to move toward optimal alignment.
Of course, our healing journey is often a lifetime of exploration in how to bring all five elements into balance in any pose, in situation, or conditions.
No matter where you are, alignment feels good right away, and the more you do, the more feeling good becomes normal.
I know what you’re thinking. “Yes, but I’m different. I have ______________” (fill in the blank with a diagnosis, x-ray, mri result or injury).
We all share the same general body shape, in that our heads are on top, legs below, arms out to the side. On a musculoskeletal level, our bodies all pretty much mork the same – even if we don’t have a limb, or our spine is twisted, or we have a lifelong pattern.
When we have a misalignment, moving toward what’s natural always helps the body work better – and we feel better instantly.
For instance, we are all born with a lordotic curve (inward) in our lower back. Yet many people are taught to flatten their low back for stability. Or maybe your low back curve got flattened over time because of tight hamstrings, sitting slouched over or being over-serious (“a stick up your butt”).
A flat back might feel nice and stable for a while, but whenever we move away from our natural curves, or the “optimal blueprint”, we create a misalignment that eventually causes us problems.
In this case, our vertebrae were made to fit together in a curve – when we flatten our back, we squeeze those bones together on one side, pressing on the cushions in between, which then press onto our nerves causing a fiery pain.
Gently moving our spine back in the direction of its natural curves can help us relieve pain instantly, and heal damage caused by misaligning over time – whether that’s osteocytes, slipped discs, scoliosis, SI pain, arthritis or other musculoskeletal issues.
So yes, if your head is on top, and your feet are on the bottom, and you only have one belly button – you have the same Optimal Blueprint I do.
Moving toward it will support the flow of prana, life force energy, which is what does the healing – not the yoga.
Your focus on connecting with mothers during pregnancy and beyond is unique. What inspired you to delve into this niche, and how does yoga help expectant and new mothers navigate the physical and emotional challenges of this transformative phase?
I was invited to teach prenatal yoga fresh out of my first yoga teacher training in 2000.
I was in my late 20s and I knew nothing about pregnancy (except the basics).
But I knew these alignment principles, so I put them to work.
Below you can see the version of the 5 R’s for pregnancy, the Five Steps of Co-Creation.
SPACE – Receptivity – Make space for baby
EARTH – Resistance – Create strong container for baby
WATER – Release – Open up the back of the pelvis so baby can get into optimal position
FIRE – Root – Engage their core safely in order to carry this bowling ball around, inside and out
AIR – Rise – Take up space in the world, and become the “Ma” you want to be.
What I discovered very quickly is that not only are they so helpful for both mom and baby – they’re even more crucial for moms-to-be.
For instance, we’re not only making space for breath, we’re making space for baby.
Not only are pregnant bodies moving away from optimal alignment, unstable because of hormones, and needing more and more strength to carry the weight of baby – pregnant mamas benefit from using this time to learn how to truly take care of themselves.
In my online prenatal yoga teacher trainings I teach these Five Steps of Co-Creation to help new people learn to teach safe, inspiring, and transformative prenatal yoga.
And of course we’re all pregnant with something, whether that’s a baby, an idea, or a new way of showing up in the world.
I love that these five steps work for any co-creative act, whether we’re writing a poem, starting a new relationship, or planting a garden.
Try them to get insight into YOUR next steps: make space, create boundaries, be playful, stand strong, and trust what’s wanting to be born through you.
For instance, if you’re creating a new website:
Open your mind to new ways of seeing who you are and what you do
Create boundaries around your vision: these colors, not those; this vibe, not that
Enjoy the process! Be playful, let it flow
Root into support to make sure it reflects who you really are. Stand strong – and if you need help, reach out.
Put it out into the world. Trust what’s flowing through you as it’s bigger than you, and yet it is you.
I use my Five Sacred Steps of Co-Creation in regular yoga classes as well as my day to day life – as a mom, as a writer, and as someone who has come a long way on my own healing journey with Scoliosis.
The shift to online classes was a significant change, especially due to COVID-19. How has this transition affected Ma Yoga for Pregnancy, Motherhood & Beyond, and what opportunities has it opened up for the community?
I started Ma Yoga in 2009 to manifest a vision: a Mama Circle in every neighborhood.
When Covid happened, we had ten locations throughout Southern California where we offered our prenatal and postpartum yoga, education, and support.
Sadly, all ten of those locations closed.
But there was a silver lining…
We moved our classes online and were able to reach so many more pregnant mamas and new moms all over the country – and even the world.
Our online yoga classes are small so we’re able to customize our teaching for whoever shows up, and clicking into Zoom is so much easier for people who might not have prenatal yoga near them, or can’t afford the childcare to be able to leave home.
Same with our yoga teacher trainings – they used to be over long weekends for people who could afford that kind of time and money, or who lived nearby.
Now, we’re able to train prenatal yoga teachers in states that have very little support for pregnant people and new parents.
This is more important now than ever in the US, as we are experiencing a crisis in maternity care:
45% percent of new moms say their birth was traumatic
1 out of 7 experience some kind of postpartum depression,
Postpartum blues affects 50%-75% of new moms
Black and Native American women are 2-3 times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes
To address this disparity in outcomes, we created a nonprofit initiative called the Mama Circle Project – every $1000 donated allows us to train a prenatal yoga teacher in an underserved area and help them start a Mama Circle.
Yoga has been shown to be a way to reduce depression and anxiety that’s safe for pregnancy when taught by well-trained teachers.
It’s exciting to see my dream of a Mama Circle in every neighborhood happening in a way I could never have imagined in 2009.
The name “Ma Yoga” has a deep meaning, emphasizing not only motherhood but also self-nurturing and empowerment. Could you explain the philosophy behind “Ma Yoga” and how it guides your approach to teaching and supporting women on their journeys?
I chose this name because I fell in love with the syllable “Ma”.
The root “Ma” in almost every language means “mom” – for example:
English: Mother, Mum, Mama, Mummy, Mom, Mommy, Ma
Italian: Mamma, Mammina
German: Mama, Mutter, Mutti, Mami
Dutch: Moeder, Moer
Hindi: माँ (Maan), मां ( Maji)
Korean: 엄마 (Eomma)
Indonesian: Mama, Bunda, Ibu, ‘bu
Russian: Мамочка (Mamachka), Мам (Mam), Мамуся (Mamoosya), Мама (Mama)
And in Sanskrit, the ancient language of yoga, “Ma” also means the highest, most powerful and wise of any group.
So “Ma Kali” is the Mother of all Goddesses, and “Maha Vaha Shrota” – is the all-important the digestive tract, in Ayurveda the seat of health and disease.
When we put these two meanings of “Ma” together, it reminds us that when we step into Mother energy – when we slow down, listen inward, and honor what we hear – when we truly learn to love and nurture ourselves – we start to become our highest, most powerful, most wise “Ma” Self.
We can learn so much from watching pregnant people who happen to be lucky enough to have the right kind of guidance, support and inspiration.
Often, these mamas allow themselves to slow down, they have a lot of motivation to learn how to take care of themselves, and as they learn, they begin to make choices that are right for them. They find community to help them stand strong in who they are becoming.
We too are in the process of co-creation, becoming the fullest expression of our soul’s desires.
Allow yourself to slow down, listen in, and honor what you hear.
Remember to play and dance and enjoy, and root into the support within you and all around you.
When you take time to align with your power and wisdom, trust what flows through you. It’s meant to be in the world.
Enjoy your “Ma” journey!
If you’d like to try a free class or training, just go to www.MaYoga.com. If you have musculoskeletal pain, drop in for a free Alignment Therapy Workshop (https://mayoga.com/alignment-therapy-workshops-with-jessica-jennings-ms/) to get 10-minute personal practice plus video. If you’re a practitioner who would like more tools in your toolbag, join us for an online Yoga of Healing(https://mayoga.com/the-yoga-of-healing-yoga-teacher-training/), Prenatal (https://mayoga.com/online-prenatal-yoga-teacher-training-start-free/) or Mayurveda Self-Care teacher training (https://mayoga.com/mayurveda-living-ayurveda-training-for-women/).