Eshet Chayil – Joanne Spence

Inside the studio Photo by Dev Meyers
Inside the studio
Photo by Dev Meyers

Today, Yoga on the Square is having its ten year birthday party. A decade of yoga in the East End of Pittsburgh!

Since 2002,  YOS has served 4,500 students and taught about 12,000 classes with 85 instructors. The studio has given away about $50,000 worth of yoga classes, hosted over 50 workshops, 20 yoga trainings, and founded a successful yoga outreach program (Yoga in Schools) that reaches over 20,000 children and 1000 school teachers.

Behind this studio is one woman. This woman will say that she couldn’t run all of these yoga programs without her team, but we all know that as the founder, director, and owner of Yoga on the Square and Yoga in Schools, Joanne Spence is the heart.

joannePart of today’s birthday party is celebrating Joanne too.

Joanne found yoga after a car accident had left her in chronic pain. One weekend of yoga and she woke up pain-free for the first time in two years. As a social worker, she understood the implications of this phenomenal tool, so she dedicated the rest of her life to discovering more about yoga, and then bringing it to others.

Not only does she teach yoga, but Joanne makes yoga accessible and affordable to people of all ages, shapes, and sizes. “If you can breathe,” she says, “you can do yoga.”

Her work is karma yoga or Christian social justice at its best and most creative: yoga is a calming and energizing tool available to all people. No props necessary–just the breath.

So Joanne teaches yoga at the local psychiatric hospital, offering it as a tool to manage anxiety and depression. She created a yoga studio and a DVD called Absolute Beginner Yoga. She founded a non-profit to bring yoga into the schools because yoga not only counteracts the negative effects of adolescent hormones on the brain, but also teaches students to slow down and make better decisions. She trains classroom and yoga teachers in a curriculum called Yoga Ed., which brings yoga into both the regular classroom and the P.E. classroom. By teaching yoga, she teaches life skills.

She does all of this while she and her husband are renovating their house and raising three incredible children. Her kids can match my husband while playing board games: they’re brilliant.

Without a doubt, Joanne is the person who has had the most influence over the way in which I understand, practice, and teach yoga. Before I met Joanne, a “gentle” yoga practice included Sun Salutations. Now, a gentle yoga practice includes just breathing, and incorporating poses that expand that breathing. Gentle yoga is breathing, being, and moving in a pain-free range of movement.

I think that makes her my guru.

This post today is to say, “Eshet Chayil, Joanne!”

“Eshet Chayil” is a recent phrase coasting around the Christian blog-o-sphere. It means “Woman of Valor,” and it comes from Proverbs 31–a passage that has traditionally made Christian women feel terrible about themselves because they don’t get up at dawn to weave red fabric in which to dress their entire family (and other impossible feats). In her book A Year of Christian Womanhood, Rachel Held Evans examines what it really means to be a Proverbs 31 Woman (another Christian phrase), and discovers that in Jewish tradition, the passage is not prescriptive, but descriptive: on Friday night, the beginning of Shabbat, a Jewish husband will praise his wife by reciting Proverbs 31 at the dinner table. In honor of this, Evans began naming Women of Valor. Now, other women are calling each other Women of Valor too (see here, and here), and one has also written about Men of Valor (Gibor Chayil).

As children of God, it’s important that we name each other as such. That we call each other out on where we see God reflecting in each other’s lives. That we build each other with the practice of encouragement–especially when we know the encouragement is needed.

So, Joanne, happy studio birthday. I’m so glad you’re celebrating this milestone.

Eshet Chayil!




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2 thoughts on “Eshet Chayil – Joanne Spence

  1. CONGRATULATIONS JOANNE!! A lovely tribute from a dear friend…. wonderful to hear from you both.

    Love, Amy Russell, Oakridge

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