Jaina Portwood Yoga

Inspired Interview // Jaina Portwood

November 18, 2021

I remember the first time I met Jaina. It was at a yoga studio, in between classes. We were both teachers at the studio and connected right away. I was drawn to her by her calm and grounding presence. She seemed really at peace and that her heart, mind and body were fully present and engaged with me when we were chatting. In today’s society I feel like that is truly hard to find. She didn’t seem to need to be anywhere else but with me. Powerful soul. She doesn’t know it, but that interaction forever impacted me as a yoga teacher. Here is the inspired interview with Jaina…

How would you describe what you “do” as a yoga teacher and entrepreneur?

I seek to bring out the best in people. To help people realize their fullest potential, gain confidence in their purpose here on earth, and to embody peace and joy through meditation, yoga practices, travel, and bodywork. 

I own Beloved Retreats, which is a yoga retreat business and Beloved School of Yoga, which certifies students as Registered Yoga Teachers through Yoga Alliance. Prior to the pandemic I was bringing groups of 10-20 people on week-long yoga-wellness-pilgrimage-adventure retreats all over the world. In the last 4 years we have traveled to Bali, Greece, Thailand, Morocco, Peru, Hawaii, Italy, Maldives, India, France, Mexico and Costa Rica. Each trip was a full immersion into local culture, cuisine, with a focus of the week for yoga study such as Anatomy, Advanced Vinyasa Sequencing, Yin Yoga, Raja Yoga Philosophy etc. 

The school is a 200RYT and 300RYT program, so many of my students have come on several trips, 3 or 4 or 5, and completed their study hours through our travels abroad in modules. I hope to continue this work as the world opens up again. As of now the only retreat I have on the books is for January 2022 to India. It is a sacred pilgrimage to the motherland.

The retreats are really special. I noticed over the years some of my colleagues were taking people up north on a weekend, or a classic yoga retreat to Mexico or Costa Rica… and I really wanted to create a more expansive experience abroad…overseas… where students would come home with this immense feeling of being on another planet, like they had fully experienced a different culture, and returned home in awe, appreciation, and gratitude for the diversity on our planet. Not that Mexico and Costa Rica are not culturally exciting and foriegn places. I wanted to bring people to the otherside of the planet. A trip that would make them more humble somehow. More grateful. It has truly been a blessing.
One thing I notice with traveling with yogis (and specifically Minnesotans, although my students come from all over the country) is that we are all very polite in interactions with the people we would meet on our travels. I always felt like we were showing up as ambassadors from America, and representing in such a good way. Giving back. Truly acting as guests in a country. Following local customs, dress, and behavior.

It was also neat to see how many people we interacted with were very interested in yoga! From the man who served us tea on a dune in the middle of the sahara desert dunes, to the woman who guided us up the mountain pass to Machu Picchu, to the woman who was our private chef in Thailand. Everyone wanted to practice yoga with us.  Everyone was interested in the practice, and wanted to join.

Often times people would ask me, how did you do it? How did you create a travel business, so fast? 12 countries in 3 years? How do you enroll students for these trips? How do you have the confidence to just create a school like that? I always answer that it just takes confidence. Confidence in yourself, your skills, and what you want to give the world. If you come from a place of service, opportunities tend to manifest quicker in life. I love teaching. I love travel. I love seeing student’s eyes light up at a spectacular vista, or an interaction with locals. Something is very special about traveling with a group of like-minded yogis to study yoga, but also to be removed from your daily life in a way that you can apply the yoga philosophy and teachings in a new way. Travel abroad always invites you to grow, to expand, to mature in a way. Or to become more childlike, curious, and in awe. Both.

For the past 15 years I have also owned a local studio in Minneapolis called Radiant Life Yoga, although I am in the process of trying to end that business relationship, and it has proved challenging. Everything is in limbo due to the relationship. But I have faith there will be movement and resolution soon. We have led traditional teacher training to many hundreds of students through that studio over the years. I love teacher training. I learn something new about myself every time. 

So in an effort to separate myself from that relationship, this quarter I started my first ever completely online Beloved School of Yoga Teacher Training 200 hour course via zoom. I have an incredible group. It has been awesome. I am lucky to have worked with so many amazing yogis from all over the country over the years, (and have incredibly inspiring colleagues), so have a full faculty of 14 scholars, yogis, and experts who are guest speakers for the 200 hour program online this quarter. I’ll be running this course again in the summer. COVID-19 has forced us all to be flexible as our businesses shift and morph and evolve. Really the curriculum I have been working with for the past 15-20 years is the same rich content… I am just learning how to deliver it through a computer screen.

Lastly I am a massage therapist. I’ve done this professionally for 21 years now. I am trained extensively in Swedish Massage, Thai Massage, Deep Tissue/Sports Massage, Craniosacral Therapy, and many spa treatments. I also teach bodywork. I lead Massage Therapy Training Courses at least once a year that include Anatomy & Physiology, Techniques, Ethics, and support for starting your business. I am also a birth doula and a death doula.
As an entrepreneur I like to stay busy and am always coming up with new business ideas driven by my passions, and desire to serve and uplift my community.

How did you find yoga?

I found yoga as a high-level college athlete. I was a swimmer in the Pac-10 and All-American. Yoga was introduced to me at a party. It was so much like swimming….the flow, the breath control, the meditation and focus. I instantly fell in love. It wasn’t until I moved to Hawaii at 19 that I really started practicing in earnest. The back story is that I grew up in a very atheist environment. In my childhood home if you mentioned the word “God” it was like you were “ignorant” or “superstitious”. Our family was full of scientists and engineers and thinkers. There wasn’t a place for devotion or spirituality. Everything was very pragmatic and scientific. 

One day I was sitting in Hawaii with a friend on a cliff overlooking the blue green ocean and there were rainbows in the sky. I felt so much bliss in that moment, so much peace. He said to me: “That’s what people are talking about when they say God. But you don’t have to call it God if that word offends you. Just call it The Rainbow.” And so that is what I did. I called that energy the rainbow. 

Hawaii was where I really delved headfirst into Bhakti Yoga, Kirtan, meditation, Yoga Nidra, Kundalini, and Pranayama. I was only 19 and hadn’t fully gotten into asana yet. I was a surfer full time and I suppose riding the waves was a form of asana. It wasn’t until I moved back to Minneapolis in 2001 that I got more involved with the physical practices. Between then and now I have opened several yoga studios, from uptown to North Carolina, to Costa Rica and back. 

Your work is guiding yoga classes and retreats all around the world, what has changed due to the pandemic? What challenges have you faced and how have you persevered? What lessons have you learned? 

The biggest lesson I have learned is the importance of doing self care. Self care allows me to show up for my family of 6 children. It allows me to feel grounded and confident and connected when I am speaking in front of a group. When my body and mind are vibrant I feel this endless abundance of energy for giving. At first I hated teaching over zoom. it’s horrible, right? None of the students has their videos on. I’m basically teaching to a black screen, with no sound, no feedback. But after 8 months it has become a natural part of life. 

With the more intimate weekend courses that I guide, such as Yin Yoga Teacher Training Weekend Intensive, or Prenatal/Postnatal Yoga Teacher Training Weekend Intensive, I have found that the zoom platform has actually flowed really well. Specifically in the way students really take their time in crafting a question or answer. Something about being in the spotlight on a screen means we have more meaningful, and directed discussions. There is a different type of intimacy there.

If you could name one place in the world as your “favorite place” that you have been to… Where would it be and why?

Oh gosh. Every place has such unique gifts. I loved Bali because it was my first experience traveling to a predominantly Hindu culture. I was like, “I’ve arrived to Yoga World!” Ganesha sculptures everywhere… and the Balinese people are so beautiful. It’s a very feminie culture. All the men wear sarongs and fabric crowns… very regal. There are alters with incense and fresh flowers everywhere you look. The surfing is epic, beautiful turquoise, glassy waves… The architecture and interior design is exquisite. There is a large expat community along the coasts so it feels a bit like San Francisco. Lots of wealth in Caangu. we ended up staying half of the trip up country in the jungle/rice paddies, and that felt like a more authentic cultural immersion with the people of the land. Bali has been my favorite so far, but I am also a tropical girl.

Greece was so luxurious and the food was outstanding. 

Machu Picchu took my breath away. I didn’t know I’d be brought to tears. 

The deep Sahara Desert of Morocco is the quietest place I’ve ever been. The endless sand dunes swallow all sound. One night a few of us dragged our beds outside of the tents and slept under the stars. That was a breathtaking moment of many. The colors of Morocco are surreal…ocher, deeps brick reds, oranges, cobalt blue, pale pink…. 

India was another planet. We witnessed bodies being cremated on the Ganges river. So much dichotomy. So many extremes. It’s all so rich and exquisite and startling and intense and beautiful and heart wrenching and mystical and spiritual and breathtaking and magical. 

So yeah, every place has moved me in different ways. 

Some environments were better suited to a luxurious week-long wellness retreat (private chefs, soaking pools, gorgeous bungalows, vistas). Some trips were challenging but somehow fit the educational yoga philosophy theme of the week (cramped trains, air pollution, busy airports, the same meals for days on end). Immersed in that environmental challenge is an invitation to the students to go beyond body and mind, and embrace the teachings of the Yoga Sutras.

 I love choosing retreat locations in places I myself have never visited. I do a lot of  due diligence work beforehand, interview friends who have traveled there, read up on the country, hire a guide or a travel company when we are on the ground etc. but there is still always a little bit of surprise of what to expect in a new foreign country. I love it. And in my experience everyone loves Americans because we tend to buy things, support the tourist economy, so we have always been greeted and treated with kindness.

How would you describe yoga to someone that is brand new to the practice? 

Yoga is a scientific, testable, experiential system of mind-science that suggested you are not only your body and your mind. That you are in fact the awareness which observes body and mind. When we live from that place of dispassion and non-attachment there is a freedom from suffering that is so blissful, nothing on earth can compare. Fleeting joys of the human experience can not compare. 

Some people may argue, “Well isn’t this a blind faith then, just trusting that there is an ‘alternate experience’ of reality that is more true, and answers all the human existential questions we all have?” Yoga says, try it. Try it out and see. Don’t just believe or read books to find out. Actually embody the practices. It usually starts with a physical asana stretching practice. then open becomes more interested in breath work, healthing eating, and finally meditation. As your energy, your spirit starts to see a shift, you become a believer in the process. Your body becoming healthier. Your mind calmer. Then we are getting closer to the good stuff. Peace of mind, all the time. You try. Then you see.

Where do you find inspiration?

I find inspiration in the beauty of nature. I live on a farm right now and it is really beautiful to feel sunlight, wind, water, and trees and a pathway and portal to the divine.

Who inspires you and your work? 

I am inspired by my teachers and colleagues. Those that constantly are pointing my compass back to north. Teachers come in all forms. I have 6 children. They teach me a lot every day. How to be more present in the moment. How to love deeper. Even my instagram feed had enormous inspiration. I love that I can just get a 20 second video clip from Ram Dass or Russell Brand or Jai Dev or Jeffrey Williams and be instantly inspired.

Empowered movement, creating healthy meals, positive relationships with food and our environment is a large part of what inspires the blog, how do you prioritize these things in your own life?

I have always been an athlete and so movement is an essential part of my feeling of wellness. As a Northern Minnesotan, we have really cold winters, and with the pandemic now, it’s harder to get to a gym to swim or run. I have found that having a small trampoline in the house is nice. Dancing is also the best way to get the heart rate up. I got a pair of cross country skis this year and that has been fun.

For many years I have led Raw / Living Foods seminars, un-cooking classes, personal chefing, and one-on-one nutrition coaching. I am passionate about nutrition and have experimented with many styles of eating over the years. I ate only raw, uncooked fruits and vegetables for 8 years! That is not to say that raw foods is the best for everyone. When I lead coaching for nutrition we explore what works best for the individual.

If you don’t eat organic foods already, you may be concerned about the price of produce. Think of it as an investment in your longevity. If you each cheap, pesticide sprayed, GMO food, what you don’t pay now you’ll end up paying later in doctor and hospital bills. You also get more for your money because organic foods are nutrient dense. Shop on the perimeter of the grocery store where food is the freshest. Or even better, try the farmer’s market. And always, rather than focusing on eliminating foods from your diet, focus on incorporating lots and lots of fresh organic green vegetables and juices. You will be AMAZED at the results. 

Notice what you put on your body as well. Choose pure oils over lotions, and organic cotton undergarments. Natural fluoride-free toothpastes like Xylitol are great. Try as salt crystal, or essential oils rather than chemical deodorant. For cleansing, try whole foods like honey & avocado. Your skin is the largest organ of absorption and elimination. Only put things on your body that you would eat. Consider purchasing a filter to reduce inhaling chlorine vapors in the shower.

Being a mother of so many children can be all consuming, how do you maintain your own passions and identity outside of mothering? 

The children are with their other parents half of the time so I often will have 3-4 days off in a row without any little ones at the house. I use this time to sleep (lol), self care, go on dates with my lover, relax, and dream up the future. When I am parenting I am 100% in. I am 100% on. I am 100% devoted and committed to teaching the children how to be curious, inquisitive, critical thinkers, polite siblings, and loving citizens.

What do you wish you knew prior to having children that you do now?

My first son died, and that was like having the innocence of life crushed out of me. When you are pregnant for the first time you could never imagine that your baby could die and you’d be left with empty arms.

This year I turned 42….and I feel about 22. Sometimes 14. Sometimes infinte. People are often shocked when I say I’ve been on the planet and in this body for that long. They say, “Oh you must eat a clean diet”, or “Oh, it’s all the yoga”, but the truth is it’s none of these. My youthful spirit, vitality, soft skin, bright eyes, and yummy smile arise out of my transcendence through pain and suffering. Through my metamorphosis, as a phoenix form the ashes, into the deepest gratitude you can fathom. Gratitude and pure joy. My mental outlook creates my physical body. There is no other way.

And every time I meet someone new they say, no way you can be 40! Your body is so youthful, your energy so child-like! You’re so happy and optimistic all the time! But I have seen some of the deepest pain you can imagine.

… I turned 28 when my first son died. It was horrific, raw trauma. I cried for a whole year. And at some point, I got up. I had to get up off the floor and make a decision. Either my own body would die from the sheer sorrow, or I had to decide to start a new life. And there was only ONE thing that could save me.

It was gratitude.

And selfless service.

These moments changed my life. I came back a new person. Suddenly the sun rose in the east with a new light, a new feeling in my heart was being birthed. I felt inspired by the tiniest bits of beauty in the world, and on the horizon. I felt like each smile from a stranger was the most precious gift on earth. Each blade of grass blowing in the wind. The feeling of being alive in my own skin.

I dove head first into teaching yoga and meditation in a new way, unbound by physical form. I moved through the world with new eyes.

And now, as a teacher, writer, speaker, philosopher, and yogi, those of you I have studied with or taught over the last two decades know that I am deeply passionate about self-empowerment, health & wellness, spiritual nutrition, mind-science, and goal setting. The work is real. And it’s powerful.

There are many of us who are hungry for a life that allows for the opportunity to expand our minds, to learn & grow, to be refreshed and renewed, and give back to our communities. But there seem to be blockages. I facilitate space for clients to open up to a new paradigm, and an opportunity to bring vigor and inspiration to your life, thereby affecting everyone you know.

The intention in all of my work is to enhance your unique and beautiful gifts & spark your passions. Whether it’s a career change, a new nutrition and fitness regimen, or just soaking in the beauty your divine self through meditation, this experience will change your life. We’ll delve into your curiosities, your desire for adventure, relaxation, and excellence. Each life coaching session feels like a doorway is opened in your heart and in your mind for more truth, more beauty, and sweet inspiration. Explorations that take you to spectacular vistas, and deep rest. Opportunities to blow your mind wide open, and manifest longevity, optimal health, radiance in your life!!

What is your favorite quote or mantra that you live by right now?

Relax. everything is perfection.


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