I met yoga teacher Jesse Schein while on the set of a docu-series—the reality television show Yoga Girls (which airs Sundays at 8 p.m. ET on health-entertainment cable network Z Living). We were doing a photo shoot in the blazing late afternoon sun. Our jokes about feeling a bit out of place and our laughter helped create a lighthearted environment.
I was taken by Jesse’s infectious sense of humor and no-bullshit attitude. Jesse Schein is hilarious, honest, straightforward, witty, intelligent, and deeply passionate about yoga. And when she says ‘yoga,’ she’s talking about the complete practice—not just the asana.
Hailing out of New York from a “nice Jewish family,” Jesse has a degree in history and political philosophy. Throughout her education, she pushed herself to perfection, viewing failure as something that can’t and won’t happen to her.
How Jesse Schein Deals with Anxiety
Jesse will be the first to tell you that she deals head-on with anxiety. At the age of 25, she found herself in a state of “existential malaise,” as she puts it, facing anxiety, depression, and managing tons of health problems.
Jesse felt like she was in perpetual crisis. One of the things she pursued was acting classes at the Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute. “It soothed my anxiety to get out of my head and into a different character.” At the time, she wasn’t able to articulate what it really meant, but from today’s perspective she recognizes that the work with the Method, the breath, and being in the present moment were like yoga.
Jesse Moves to California and Moves Beyond Asana
She moved to California, the land of “daytime and not nighttime” where she dabbled in acting but ended up leaving that world because it felt fake to her. Then, while in her late 20s, she was chain smoking, anxious, and unemployed. Her roommate suggested she try yoga.
So Jesse, in low spirits, made her way into Seane Corn’s class at YogaWorks. She remembers thinking, “Here comes this gorgeous, strong, confident, blonde woman from Jersey who said it like it was, telling at me to do things with my body in a no-nonsense kind of way. I thought, ‘I could do this’!”
Six months later, Jesse had an ‘ah-ha’ moment while weeping on her mat. She fell completely in love with yoga, recognizing the deeper layers. Jesse dug in and practiced diligently for two years with Seane Corn and Vinnie Marino. She eventually signed up for her first yoga teacher training with Maty Ezraty.
Jesse describes herself as a “hot mess” and a “kiss-ass,” sitting in the front row, asking tons of questions, and embracing her type-A personality. She signed up for the next training as soon as the first was finished and then took three 200-hour trainings back-to-back until Ezraty told her to stop.
For the first year of her teaching career, Jesse apprenticed with Annie Carpenter, Laura Miles, Seane Corn, and Maty Ezraty. Ezraty groomed Jesse, providing her with a solid foundation and some sage advice: “For your first two years, you teach, you don’t sub out, you don’t travel, you show up, you build trust, and you create safety.”
Jesse continues to teach and practice with this foundation. She confides that as a teacher she prefers smaller classes where she can pay more attention to her students, and has recently chosen to give up prime time slots to accommodate this preference. Jesse says, “No one gets hurt on my watch. Period. What you say and how you say it affects students.”
Jesse Schein on Yoga Girls
Considering this, I asked Jesse, “How did you find yourself on a reality TV show?” Simply put, she says, “I love television. It’s entertaining. I love making people laugh. I love reality television — it’s hysterical!”
According to Jesse, being on Yoga Girls feels like an opportunity to be herself in a social experiment, and she has been able to find humor in the experience. She said, “On the show I am extremely outspoken and I don’t hold back my opinions!”
The network lets her be herself. Jesse is 43 and has a family that includes her husband, son, and pup. She’s been practicing asana for 18 years and feels frustrated seeing teachers using yoga as click bait or as a charge point—it defies the “Do no harm” policy that guides her teaching. Jesse adds, “There’s a difference between what a quality teacher is and what the other crap is. I want the world to see the bullshit and know what it is.”
Yoga Girls has already caused a stir in the yoga community; many see it as a bastardization of yoga. Jesse is lighthearted about it all. Perhaps it’s her love of reality television or the simple fact that she doesn’t take herself that seriously. Regardless, it’s refreshing to meet someone who is able to laugh at herself with grounded grace.
Perhaps that perspective comes from her attitude, “I’m going to be a student for life. The beginner’s mind is what needs to be cultivated. I’m inspired to be in the present moment – the experience of ‘now-ness,’ to try to ease the suffering of being human. Some days it works and some days I have to take a Valium, but I have better coping skills now in my 40s.”
How Jesse Schein Continues Her Practice
This is the work of the practice: it changes shape and form, it expands and contracts. It shifts constantly; it’s the perfection of imperfection. Jesse’s desire and willingness to cultivate this beginner’s mind is part of what makes Jesse, Jesse. She isn’t interested in knowing everything, she’s interested in being connected. Throughout her time on the mat, she has awareness about the evolution of her practice, the need for her body to slow down, and the ability to move to an internal teacher.
That said, Jesse knows it’s easy for her to get into a lot of “crazy” poses because of her body type and hyper-mobility. This came up when she was put on stage during her first teacher training and as she says, she was used “as an example of every single thing that was misaligned and wrong with my body.” She was mortified.
Jesse was told that the experience was going to make her an outstanding teacher, a teacher who can see every body in front of her and know what to do. Mortified or not, this provides some insight into the way Jesse teaches. Through her experience, she knows how to encourage stability in hyper-mobile students and how to coax more mobility for those who are less flexible.
This awareness also influences her ambivalence around aspects of the social media yoga scene which often highlights fantastical and out-of-reach asanas. She’s found her own way to navigate this territory. Jesse’s Instagram is hilarious; she riffs on herself and life in general.
Coming back to our first meeting — Jesse as reality TV show character, me as photographer — I reflected on our interaction and the shift that occurred during the shoot. When I asked her about it, she told me she stopped trying to guess what I wanted and instead moved into feeling her direct experience.
Jesse reminded me of something I said, “I’m here to celebrate you. Just be you and do your practice. I’m merely an observer to capture moments in time, not an illusion of perfection. It’s about what you feel in your body.”
When she recognized this, Jesse began to move like no one was there, not me, not the TV cameras. She said, “I started going inside to let go of the exterior and go into the interior.” It was Jesse, her breath, the air against her skin, the warmth of the sun, and her internal experience expressed outwardly through grace and presence.
This interior focus informs her go-to practices of meditation and the cultivation of stillness. It’s no surprise that Jesse’s personal practice has shifted from her busy pre-family days. She used to practice every day, sometimes twice a day—the “double dip” as she calls it. Now her practice might be a class a month, or asana practice once or twice a week.
Jesse said, “What I need to do changes; sometimes a bike ride is an asana practice.” Her mentor, Maty Ezraty, suggested that after 18 years of dedication to asana, it was time to focus on another limb of yoga. Jesse recognizes that meditation and stillness are more in line with what she needs these days.
In this moment, Jesse speaks with excitement about her passion for and dedication to yoga. She’s figuring out the path to be in a place of integrity with her values and what she loves about the practicing and teaching in the modern world. “Teaching inspires me,” she says.
Her clarity comes from her continued work with her mentors, such as Ezraty, as well as taking the time to be in stillness and meditate, including a week-long meditation retreat. She’s influenced by some of the advice she received there: “Remove what’s causing you to suffer,” and “Keep looking at what you love.” Jesse’s reality is hopeful and as a teacher, she’s looking at what she loves.
Follow Jesse Schein
Jesse Schein teaches public classes at YogaWorks, online at MyYogaWorks, and privately. In 2018, she’ll be at the helm of a YogaWorks 200-hour teacher training program, leading retreats, and facilitating a post-500-hour mentorship program. Follow her on IG at @jessescheinyoga.
- Hair and Makeup by Jeannie Jeffries a freelance hair and makeup artist and avid yoga practitioner.
- Photos by Sarit Rogers
- Photo shoot assistant Jakob McCarty
- All clothing by Hard Tail
This photo shoot was filmed as part of the the Docu-Series Yoga Girls, airing on health-entertainment cable network Z Living Sundays at 8pm ET.
Sarit Rogers is a photographer, yoga teacher, writer, and founder of the LoveMore Movement, who is a Somatic Experiencing™ Practitioner. She is also a contributor in the anthology Yoga Rising, by Melanie Klein: saritphotography.com. saritzrogers.com