When wild child Janice Gates graduated from Syracuse University in 1987 with a degree in International Relations, she never imagined becoming a yoga teacher. Nor did she think she’d one day own a yoga studio (the Yoga Garden), teach yoga to celebrity clients like Sigourney Weaver and members of the Grateful Dead at one of the best-known meditation centres in North America, or write a book. All she was interested in was saving money for her next trip. But the universe had other plans.
Janice’s interest in meditation was sparked by her father’s sitting practice, and by books from authors like Jack Kornfield and Joseph Goldstein, which drew her to Asia in 1988. She discovered yoga in Thailand during her first meditation retreat. “A woman was teaching a silent Hatha Yoga class. It was this incredible ahhhhhh…a little oasis,” says Gates. Her voice drops quietly into the memory, “it allowed me to be able to really sit. Ever since then, I understand that these practices for the body and the mind go together. They’re not two separate paths.”
“When I returned [to the U.S.] in 1989, I moved to California. I had a massage therapy practice and I was studying yoga, tai chi, meditation…” – her wide smile bubbles over into laughter, “where else could I go with my interests?”
It was the Wild West era of yoga when studios were scarce and enthusiasm was high. An avid athlete as well as hyper-mobile, Janice fell in easily with the Ashtanga crowd at Its Yoga in San Francisco. Within a year of practising with Larry Schultz, Tim Miller, Danny Paradise and Richard Freeman, she was asked to teach. After progressing through the Primary and Secondary series, Janice crash-landed at the Third series when her back gave out.
She was forced to re-evaluate her practice. “There’s such a strong conditioning towards doing and achieving and getting somewhere. That was originally my way and then it didn’t work anymore.”
Her quest led her to study with a chiropractor and longtime yoga practitioner Steve Katz, and yoga teachers Amy Cooper, Angela Farmer and John Friend. “I’ve let go of a lot of what I came into yoga for…when we get into something, we often bring our habits with us. We deepen those grooves, our habituation. At a certain point, I decided to turn in more and unearth what was really needed.”
Her experience led her to more therapeutic applications of yoga. Currently, Janice is Vice President of the Board of the International Association of Yoga Therapists and was previously a yoga therapist at Katz Chiropractic. Janice shares her knowledge with her students (as well as in regular articles in Yogi Times Business and the International Association of Yoga Therapists Journal) with consistent, exceptional results. Each of her classes is unique and offers a wide range of techniques for all skill levels. “What’s happening now? Are you on autopilot or attending to what’s needed at this moment? If we can become aware of our patterns—physical and otherwise—we can begin to transform them through practice. I find that incredibly freeing!”
Spacious, serene and soothing, Gates’ studio, The Yoga Garden in Marin County, regularly hosts renowned teachers such as Kausthub Desikachar, Angela Farmer, Nischala Joy Devi, Gary and Mirka Kraftsow. Threading poetry, pranayama (breathwork), asana (poses) and dhyana (meditation) throughout her classes, Janice weaves ancient and modern wisdom into a vibrant, alchemical tapestry. Known for her superb teaching, she was on the teaching faculty of the Yoga Research and Education Center’s prestigious 700-hour teacher-training program. She also conducts training, workshops and retreats internationally. Janice’s book on women and yoga, Yogini: The Power of Women in Yoga, was released in 2006.
“These days my practice is opening to whatever comes with as much awareness as possible, not trying to avoid what’s uncomfortable, but actually lean into it, open to it with a soft heart,” she says. Sunlight streams through sheer crimson curtains swaying in the breeze, illuminating Janice’s eyes. “Cultivating the ability to just stay with things as they are without the need to manipulate, control, or check out. This has been so helpful for me in navigating relationships, family life and parenting my three-year-old daughter.” She pauses, “That’s really what these practices are for…returning home to our hearts. Waking up.”