KYH Teacher spotlight: Interview with Joni Barbagallo

May 12, 2021

What brought you to Iyengar Yoga? 

Iyengar yoga sought me out when I turned 40. I had been a long-time advocate of aerobics and high energy movement. I did not believe I could access the stillness I thought was required to "do yoga".  Then a friend challenged me to try a hot yoga class...yay SWEAT! I was hooked. I intended to complete their teacher training program, but this was not meant to be. My yoga teacher guided me to a path better suited to my needs, at United Yoga Studio in Montreal. An Iyengar 'seed' was planted here. I completed my initial 300-hour yoga certification in 2008, a fusion of ashtanga, vinyasa, and Iyengar influences.  

This seed began to grow. In my day job as a high school teacher, I unwittingly shared this Iyengar 'seed' with my female students in PE classes. Using Bobby Clennell’s “The Woman’s Yoga Book”, I introduced variations of restorative poses for girls who tended to sit on the sidelines during menstruation. Over time, these young women noted benefits such as reduced stress and reduced harshness of physical symptoms such as cramping and fatigue. 

What brought you to the Kelowna Yoga house?

At 50, my life took a very drastic and unpredictable turn. I was diagnosed with an aggressive form of ovarian cancer. Along with my medical treatment, my yoga teacher prescribed one pose for me to practice daily: supta baddha konasana (Joni to submit Photo). I committed to this pose for 20 minutes each day. Following my medical treatment, I made a much-needed change in my life. Semi-retired, I relocated to Kelowna. I began a search for an Iyengar yoga studio. And KYH was there, right in my backyard.  

I began to put myself back together physically, mentally, and spiritually. Healing was slow and my fatigue levels were significant. I was guided and continue to be guided by my caring teacher, Krisna Zawaduk. The Iyengar methodology continues to draw me in. The more I study, the more I want to learn. As an Iyengar teacher in training, I will be heading for my L1 assessment this fall. 

What were your initial impressions of Iyengar Yoga?

I was very intimidated by Iyengar Yoga. I initially felt it was very rigid and not accessible. However, I also heard from some who were privileged to meet BKS Iyengar in person - they noted his mischievousness...the twinkle in his eye! And, as I became an Iyengar practitioner, my outlook changed. Now, I want to share the fun and joy of an Iyengar practice while maintaining the alignment, integrity, and safety of this method.

What do you hope to bring to your students?

I want to be on this yoga journey alongside my students. I want to challenge them and assist in fostering their intelligence in their own practice so that they do not under/overestimate what they are capable of.  

What do you see as challenges and benefits of teaching and practicing yoga during these unprecedented times? 

We are so blessed to have the technology to connect with one another. I love teaching via ZOOM as I am invited into each student's home every week. I see the creative use of home props. I see the growth in home practices as students are practicing with me from their own space, sometimes from across the country! 

This shutdown has encouraged us as teachers to fuse our traditional hands-on approach with the technology of our modern time. BKS Iyengar was constantly adapting his practice and teachings throughout his lifespan. We are also adapting. COVID-19 has resulted in increased access to so many wonderful Iyengar teachers from the comfort of our own homes. We are getting the opportunity to connect to the source (e.g., Prashant and Abhijata in India). I see such generosity of these national and international teachers as they share their knowledge. There is such sense of community despite the impact of not being able to consistently gather in our studios. I am grateful to be able to teach and connect with my students virtually. I am grateful for my Iyengar practice, my teachers, and the Iyengar community across the globe.  

Can you share an asana that has been difficult for you? 

Adho Mukha Vrksasana. I used to be able to do this pose until I fractured my elbow hiking in July 2017. It took 3 years to heal the fracture completely. Once my elbow healed, I still could not access this pose out of fear. I thought about giving it up. During training sessions, my community of teachers shared their observations (1) I need to learn to trust my elbow again - still could not do the pose. (2) Lift the hips higher before I kick up - Now I can do it! Maybe not every attempt, but often. It takes a village! (photo of arm balance). 

Interview by Kari Dul


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