Alice Joanou’s enthusiasm is contagious. Her stimulating yet gentle yoga classes emphasize the importance of tuning into your self and listening to your own body. Alice asserts that “the breath is the light,” and she leads her yoga students to discover this on their own, encouraging them to allow breath to be their guide. Passion radiates out of her presence, while clear articulation and finely tuned instructions make her a natural teacher. Genuine enthusiasm and commitment to her path ignite her students’ connection to yoga.
Alice was introduced to yoga in 1993, after encouragement from her “conservative” father, who fell in love with yoga after starting a practice in his fifties. Alice found the nearest studio to her house in San Francisco, which turned out to offer the Bikram method. One class was convincing enough for her to instantly begin practicing five days a week. Although the initial allure was physical in nature, her practice became “incredibly compelling” in other ways. After a year of this dedicated practice, she was introduced to the Ashtanga series in LA with teacher Maty Ezrati. Inspired, she returned to San Francisco and deeply immersed herself into Ashtanga for many years. She taught and studied with teachers Tim Miller, Eddie Modestini, Nicki Doane and Johnny Smith, and dedicated herself to a daily 5am practice with several of these teachers. In 1997, Alice decided to go to India and study directly with Pattabhi Jois.
India brought Alice deeper into her yoga path. She did not find her guru in Pattabhis Jois, but instead courageously re-evaluated the system of yoga she was studying and investigated the history of yoga. This led her to discover the teachings of Krishnamacharya. After reading The Biography of Krishnamacharya she felt relief. “His teachings ring of integrity.” From that time forward, she considered Krishnamacharya her teacher. She has since found that the teachings of Desikichar (Krisnamacharya’s son) and his son Kausthub resonate with her as well.
Alice once owned a yoga studio in San Francisco, Ahimsa, where she mainly taught a fusion of Ashtanga and Mysore in the Krishnamarcharya tradition. Alice found that it takes “tenacity and gentleness” to get people off the exact Ashtanga series, and into a practice tailored to one’s own personal needs and capacity. She would persist, and soon the students were all doing different poses and practices, suited to their own unique needs. After seven years, Alice closed shop as motherhood arrived.
Since becoming a mother of two, Alice’s approach to yoga has changed. “My children have drawn greater compassion out of me. I have become a servant to them in the most loving way.” She adds, “It has been the ultimate test for stepping outside of oneself.” It has forever altered the way she looks at the world, and at her students – a more gentle way. She has learned to depersonalize what comes up for students, and engage herself as a compassionate servant.
She reports that thanks to her children, delight has entered her life. “They are hilarious. They are so loony!” This carries over to her classes which are imbued with joy and playfulness, even bringing this spirit to the often fear-inducing arm balances. Her students clearly enjoy the benefits of her motherhood.
Today Alice teaches at several Bay Area studios: Namaste Yoga in Rockridge, Bernal Yoga and Seventh Heaven. She is very excited about adding a unique class to her schedule at Bernal Yoga, called BYOP (Bring Your Own Practice) class and intended to help students develop their home practice. According to Alice, “One can have a very holistic practice in fifteen minutes if you know what you are doing.”
Recently she has been influenced by the teachings of Ana Forrest, reflected by some of the long holds in poses in her classes. Alice explains that “yoga is about getting more into your body, not out of it,” and these longer poses beckon you to focus on this deeply.
Steadfast in using the Sanskrit names for poses, Alice says she does this “to honor the roots of the asana and the yoga tradition.” In the pose natarajasana, she reminds students that they are connecting to the energy of Nataraj, and all who have done the pose throughout time. In standing hanumanasana, she explains the pose as related to the giant steps that Hanuman takes. She is steeped in the knowledge of yoga philosophy, which she attributes to a teacher and scholar she greatly admires, Georg Feuerstein. She studied the yoga tradition with him and excitedly talks about his books referring to The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, which she rereads frequently, and The Yoga Tradition, which she deems “priceless.” She is absolutely passionate about the knowledge found in all of his books, further revealing her path of jnana yoga (yoga of knowledge).
Ceaseless determination and inner guidance have led her journey. Alice is like a wildfire, glowing from within, helping her students to burn away old worn-out thoughts and patterns and to rejuvenate their being. She inspires her students to “get fear out of the way” and is intuitively guided to spread the healing powers of yoga. Reciting the words from the Buddha “be a light unto yourself,” she stresses the importance of being your own teacher. “There is no greater gift than a student being their own teacher.” Full of knowledge and experience that she continues to bring to her Bay Area students, Alice is a true steward of the yoga tradition.