A Q&A with Jean Byrne, the co-founder of the Wisdom Yoga Institute

written by Kate Duncan

Jean Byrne

Credit: Jean Byrne

Jean Byrne co-founded the Wisdom Yoga Institute to train yoga teachers and therapists with a mission to serve the community. The institute provides free yoga classes across Australia to seniors, women and children in domestic violence shelters, as well as women in prison

What was your initial vision for the Wisdom Yoga Institute?

The Wisdom Yoga Institute grew out of our studio, The Yoga Space, in West Perth. The Yoga Space has always had community service at its heart. The Wisdom Yoga Institute allows us to bring our training to the rest of Australia and Asia with our not-for-profit yoga program expanded into more communities. We have offered half a million dollars’ worth of free yoga classes through our training. Now, as the Wisdom Yoga Institute, we are excited to meet our goal of a million dollars’ worth of free yoga for those who have barriers preventing them from accessing yoga. We believe yoga should be available to everyone, no matter what your size, age, gender, mobility or background. We will also soon be offering courses and classes online for those interested in a deeper engagement with the rich tradition of yoga, as well as courses for yoga teachers in the business of yoga.

Who do you offer yoga class to? How many teachers are involved with the Wisdom Yoga Institute?

Currently we have about 60 trainees enrolled and delivering classes in the community. Our senior trainers and mentors are Chandrika Gibson, Stephen Byrne, Michelle Papa and Tammy Rourke, who oversee class planning and supervise trainee teaching. They teach in contexts as diverse as domestic violence shelters, mental health services such as Headspace and in seniors’ homes.

Please share one of your most rewarding moments in relation to the Wisdom Yoga Institute

Each time one of our graduates shares how teaching not-for-profit yoga classes changed their direction as a yoga teacher, I feel both immense joy and relief. Yoga has become associated with the fit and fabulous, so graduating teachers who can teach across the spectrum of life is so important to me. Yoga, if taught well, should be applicable to all stages of life and is not just for the well and able-bodied.

What are some of the ways Wisdom Yoga Institute classes benefit the students?

In our seniors’ class, some students are 99 years old and undertake chair yoga. They report feeling relaxed and calm after class as well as connected to a sense of community. The opportunity to practise with others is a highlight of their week and they truly appreciate the activity.

Please share the role meditation and mindfulness play in your life

I started intensively practising meditation at age 19 and not long after I began the physical practice of yoga. I spent a decade wandering Asia, living in monasteries and ashrams. I learnt a lot about myself on this journey, which feels much more complete as I integrate what I have learnt and continue to grow as a business owner, wife and mother of two. The practice of yoga and meditation has enabled me to have a deeper encounter with my life. It may look ordinary on the outside — school run, off to the studio to practise then respond to emails, home again for the bedtime routine — but there are many moments on the inside where I feel awe-struck with gratitude and love for this life I have been gifted. I am sincerely grateful for the deep connections I have formed with my husband, family, children, friends and students.

Aside from yoga training, what else do you offer at the Wisdom Yoga Institute?

We will soon offer online classes and courses to inspire or help people begin a yoga or meditation practice at home.

What tips would you give beginner yoga teachers?

Don’t quit your day job! Enjoy teaching but don’t put yourself under any pressure to make an income from your teaching in the first few years. And always practise. Get on your meditation cushion or yoga mat each day; the best teachers teach from experience.

What do your morning and evening rituals look like?

Mornings often involve an early wake-up, a quiet cup of herbal tea, some gentle stretching followed by teaching an early-morning class, then my personal practise or preparing the children for school. In the evenings, we try to have dinner as a family and take the opportunity to slow down. We turn the screens off at a certain time and enjoy quality time together. Connection is the heart of a meaningful life, as is gratitude. In the evenings, I do an exercise called ‘three blessings’ where I recount and appreciate certain moments in my day. It could have been something small, like the feeling of sun on my face, or remembering a kindness I witnessed in the street.

What pose are you currently working on/working towards?

I love handstands! The fun is in the trying, falling over and trying again. It has taken me a year to feel stable and comfortable on my hands, but it is an ongoing practice requiring both dedication and patience. 

What’s next for the Wisdom Yoga Institute?

We will be bringing training and retreats to Melbourne and Bali this year. We can’t wait to share our vision of yoga with those communities and continue to train amazing teachers who offer yoga to the most disadvantaged in their communities.


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Kate Duncan

Kate Duncan loves raw desserts, yoga and the outdoors. She’s also the Assistant Editor of WellBeing and Deputy Editor of EatWell.