Originally from Niagara Falls, Janelle Berger came to New York at age 19 to model, starting out with Wilhelmina, progressing to Ford and later Elite before meeting her husband, Greg, graduating to QVC, having children and moving to Purchase. She started to “check out” yoga after her son, Sam, now 21, was born, wanting to get her body back into shape.
As well as private sessions, Janelle currently offers four yoga classes weekly at Life Time Westchester, the luxury athletic club in Harrison. In conjunction with the Neuberger Museum of Art in Purchase, she also runs “Wellness Wednesday,” a series of live, online meditation sessions that are then recorded and accessible to all, free of charge. We recently spoke by phone, when Janelle gave me a crash course in yoga, generously shared some of her meditation insights and reminded me I should not be talking on my cellphone while walking the dog.
So, Janelle, let’s talk yoga. I’m a novice. Where to begin?
“ ‘Yoga’ means to yoke, to come together. I find that as we discover all the different ways to work out the body, we sometimes forget about working out the mind. If we practice meditation and if we practice yoga, we find that mind/body connection. And when we start to practice that, it becomes almost like brushing our teeth.”
“Just look at what’s going on in the world today with Covid. My favorite type of yoga is yin. With yin, you get into a pose and there is a lot of breathwork. And isn’t it interesting that this virus is really affecting everybody’s breath? So, whether I’m teaching meditation or yin, we always begin by working with the breath. Feeling the breath, how the body slightly expands when you breathe in, and also how it leaves the body and how it grounds you. And when you focus on the breath, we can focus our minds and watch our thoughts.”
And meditation seems to play a big part, right?
“Yes. I’m certified in shamatha meditation, which means “peaceful abiding,” and is a form of concentrated mindfulness. Concentrating. When you’re getting sick for instance, you’re actually listening to your body. And if we really listen to our bodies, we can actually save ourselves from getting sick.”
A kind of preventative medicine?
“It is preventative and holistic in a way. In other words, say you’ve had a rough day, and your back’s hurting, and you’ve had a fight with one of your co-workers, or a family member, and you feel this tightness in the back of your neck. Then you lie down, work on the breath, breathing in, maybe holding the top of the breath….”
…I think I can hear you doing that as we’re talking.
“Yes, yes. And then, as you’re exhaling and letting your body settle, that physical agitation in the body will slowly release. If you’re focused on the breath, the sensation of pain eventually subsides.”
(Mutters) Beats my usual solution of reaching for the gin.
“Most times people come out of a yin class, they feel like they’ve just had a massage.”
Sounds good. Now, your website opens with the headings “Awareness, Observation and Acceptance.” Tell me about those three, what each means and entails.
“‘Awareness’ is basically training. People walk around and they’re just not aware. Why not? They’re thinking of where they have to be, or something that just happened, but they’re not in the present. So, awareness is coming into the present moment.”
“When you’re in the present moment, you actually start to observe what’s going on around you. I have a dog and when I walk him, I don’t bring my phone with me. It’s quiet, I’m in the present moment because I’m looking at nature, at the trees, looking at the sky. If it’s cold, I have the sensation of being cold. It’s just a little thing, but I was walking the other day and looking up and I saw a hawk with a squirrel in its mouth. Sounds morbid. But if I’d have been on my phon,e I wouldn’t have seen it. Or I’d never hear a woodpecker.”
And the third of the three – “Acceptance”?
“ ‘Acceptance’ is this: You don’t want to look like the person standing next to you. Everyone’s so hard on themselves. You want to accept where you are, in the moment, right now.”
“OK…I get the idea, but speaking for myself, if I just accepted who I am and where I’m at, I probably wouldn’t get out of bed in the morning. I wouldn’t be motivated. There’d be no incentive for self-improvement.
“Well, I should have you give the classes. No, it’s about accepting where you are but having the willingness to move forward and not beat yourself up. When you beat yourself up, that’s when you stay where you are and you’re stuck. And even the things that aren’t great, sometimes we have to go through them in order to grow.”
Now, you just mentioned walking your dog. What type of dog, may I ask?
“He’s a Goldendoodle. You know, when I would play my sound bowls (traditional singing bowls for healing) through the computer, when things were still closed, he would sit in the corner and meditate.”
I can believe it. Now, just taking it full circle and getting back to modeling….
“It was interesting, an interesting time. I wasn’t practicing yoga then, but I did learn a lot about myself during that time.”
I’ll bet you learned a lot about New York, too.
(Pause and sigh) “Yes, I did. Yes, I did.”
And now, back to the present: Which of your many classes do you most enjoy teaching, which of the many disciplines?
“Right now, I’m teaching more of a flow class, vinyasa, where the postures move a little quicker. One breath, one movement. But I really enjoy teaching the yin. And you know what? I shouldn’t even say ‘teaching.’ It’s guiding. As a matter of fact, I end each class saying something along the lines that the greatest teacher always lies within yourself.”
For more, visit janelleberger.com. And for more on “Wellness Wednesdays” at the Neuberger Museum of Art, visit purchase.edu/neuberger-museum-of-art/wellness-wednesday/.