Yoga teacher Jennison Grigsby never meant to make a life in Spain. When she married her Spanish husband, they planned to spend a couple of years in Valencia before moving back to her home, the US, to put down their roots. But, it was “as if my soul belonged here”, she explains. “We don’t live for our work here, that comes second. Life comes first. Or I should say, enjoying life, comes first.”
So when the coronavirus hit Europe with a force no one saw coming, her adopted home became unrecognisable. “Spain is the friendliest place I have ever lived and it felt broken”, she tells us. “I remember watching the events unfold with our neighbors in Italy. I was in tears daily, listening to their stories and learning about how families were being torn apart and so many people were dying alone. We sat and watched as the tidal wave made its way over to Spain. Fear was the feeling.” While in Australia we’ve been struggling with far less restrictive measures, in Spain, Jennison, her husband, and their four year old son were deprived of any time outdoors at all. “Children in Spain were not allowed outside at all for 45 days. Six and a half weeks inside the doors of our flat”, she recalls – and like many European homes, theirs has no garden or outdoor space at all. From a business perspective, Jennison was forced to almost entirely dismantle her business in less than a week. Her international yoga retreats were cancelled, as were her regular studio classes. She had to remodel to an entirely online platform. And yet somehow, when we ask her about her experience, Jennison describes it as “the new normal”. And in spite of the fear, her overwhelming sense is one of hope. “Every night at 8:00pm, everyone opens their windows and claps to acknowledge and celebrate those on the front lines. And we clap and celebrate one another, cheering each other on. ‘We’ve got this’ is the vibe.” She certainly does. We spoke to Jennison about everything from parenting to practicing yoga, why she cried when she first stepped foot on grass, and how she found her Zen in quarantine.
How long have you been in isolation now, and how are you feeling about it?
Our family has been in isolation for seven weeks now. To be honest, today, it feels normal. The ‘new normal’. My husband has been working from home since the beginning of lockdown in Spain, so that has been a huge blessing. Although his hours have been halved, it has given me more time to focus on my own online business and more quality time for us as a family. The beginning of lockdown was devastating. My heart still aches as I remember watching the events unfold with our neighbors in Italy. I was in tears daily, listening to their stories and learning about how families were being torn apart and so many people were dying alone. We sat and watched as the tidal wave made its way over to Spain. Fear was the feeling. Friends and family were unwell and there was nothing we could do except stay home. It felt helpless and powerful at the same time. It is amazing how the first weeks of lockdown felt so foreign. Impossible even. And now? I find myself feeling anxious about the country lifting restrictions and creating yet another new normal in the next few months. I feel that I am continuously discovering comfort in the repetitiveness of the day to day, and at the same time, preparing for the inevitable change that sits on the horizon.
Your work running yoga retreats and workshops involves lots of travel. How has your business been affected?
My small business went from growing and thriving on a Thursday, to completely nonexistent on a Friday. From one day to another, my livelihood and heartwork was stripped from me. I began by cancelling all international retreats. First, Morocco. Then, Italy. And most recently, Greece. At the beginning, I hoped we would be able to travel by Summer and reschedule the cancelations to later on in the year. However, I have become much more conservative in my approach over the past month, focusing only on the health and well-being of our retreaters. Travel can wait. My business can wait. I made amends with letting go of the grasp I had on my expectations for myself and my business as I once knew it. I have settled into a space of acceptance. There is absolutely no way for any of us to know how all of this will play out, so the most important thing is to make use of the time we have now. Right here in the present moment. In addition to our retreats, our local classes and events were all cancelled as well. It was incredibly sad, to be honest, and I went through a very personal process of grief during those first few weeks. The fear and anxiety lasted a few days, but I just kept thinking “focus on your purpose. How can you grow through this? How can you share positivity and connection during this time?” I knew there was a way I could continue to connect with my community, so I created a donation-based online platform of daily yoga videos, ‘Find Your Zen in Quarantine’. People blew me away with their generosity. They were eager to support me and were also eager to share yoga together. It was a win-win. From there, I started teaching live sessions on Zoom a few times a week, which has been so much fun to teach face-to-face with people from all around the world.
How have you explained the situation to your son and how is he coping?
My son, Luca, is four years old. We actually celebrated his 4-and-a-half birthday during lockdown! He had been so excited to turn 4.5 for months, and it was a great way to add some fun into our day. Chocolate cake and all! We have been very honest and upfront with Luca from the start. He is aware of the risks and the precautions he needs to take in our building, or if he goes outside. He understands why he cannot go to the park, or see his friends from school. The most heartbreaking for all of us is not being able to see my in-laws, Luca’s grandparents. His abuelo is his best friend. In Spain, grandparents are incredibly involved in the lives of their grandchildren and Luca usually spends the weekends with his abuelos. This has been a huge adjustment for him, but again, he has been very understanding and loves his daily FaceTime playdates with them. Children in Spain were not allowed outside at all for 45 days. Six and a half weeks inside the doors of our flat. Like most families living in the city, we don’t have a balcony or a yard. Can you imagine that level of confinement for a four year old boy? However, not surprisingly, he has handled this situation better than anyone I know. I asked him once how he felt about the Coronavirus. He said, “I love it a lot. I get to be home all day with you and daddy. I hope it stays 100 days.” He definitely has his priorities straight and has been a teacher for all of us during this time, reminding us to focus on the blessings right before our eyes.
What do you think has been the most challenging part of isolation for your family?
That’s a great question. I think the lack of outdoor living has been challenging for most people living in Valencia. We are social beings and spend most of our time outdoors in the city. Walking 10,000 steps a day is natural and easy in our normal, everyday lives – walking Luca to school, meeting a friend for coffee, going to the dog park, visiting the local market, grabbing tapas or a glass of wine with the other moms after school… Although I have remained active during this lockdown, my body has been physically struggling. No walking, limited fresh air, lack of sunshine. For me, being separated from nature has been devastating. For my husband, who is more of an extrovert, he has really been struggling with the lack of social interaction and time with his friends. However, the worst part for me is not knowing when I will be able to see my family in the States again.
Have there been any silver linings?
Absolutely! I have taken so many lessons and blessings out of this experience. I am so grateful for the opportunity to slow down, rest, and to simply be. Our society puts so much pressure, and value, on staying busy and doing. I think that stopping for a moment has allowed us all to let go of many of the things we thought were important and focus more on ourselves and our families. I have grown so much from a business perspective, learning a great deal about technology, improving my teaching practices and setting up an online business in a matter of weeks. It has shown me how resilient I am and how there is always room for creativity in our work. The greatest blessing that I received from shifting to online teaching, is the amount of amazing people with whom I have been able to connect and share yoga, from all over the world. In a typical class, we are joining together from Spain, Germany, England, California, Scotland, and South Africa. How incredible is that?! Lastly, I think Mother Earth has been able to take a much needed, deep breath. I hope we enter into our new normal with a new perspective and a new appreciation for this beautiful planet.
What's the mood like in Spain?
The mood of Spain has been similar to our individual moods, I believe. A roller coaster of emotion. An interesting dynamic of acceptance and letting go. I remember, about two week into the lockdown, telling my husband that I couldn’t bear the thought of taking our dog out for walks anymore. It was too sad. Depressing. Spain is the friendliest place I have ever lived and it felt broken. Its spirit diminished. No one would make eye contact. People would hold their breath as you walked past. It was dark and dreary. Everyone was a potential threat to your health. To your life. At the same time, we were connected on a deeper level than would have never been possible. We were all in this together. Every night at 8:00pm, everyone opens their windows and claps to acknowledge and celebrate those on the front lines. And we clap and celebrate one another, cheering each other on. “We’ve got this” is the vibe. A few days ago, the government allowed children outside for the first time. The mood has shifted. There is laughter on the streets again, children’s smiles of excitement in the parks. And most of all, hope is in the air.
Have you found your yoga practice helpful during this time?
This has been another silver lining of lockdown! I have been either recording yoga sessions or teaching live classes every single day, which has kept me committed to my own personal practice. I have always desired to have the time and space for my daily practice and realize now I was simply not making it a priority. This is another thing I hope I continue to stay dedicated to once lockdown lifts.
What's the first thing you'll do when lockdown lifts?
Go to the beach! I went outside and touched the grass, for the first time in six weeks, the other day. I cried. I can’t describe the feeling in words and if fresh air and nature have not been taken away from you, I am not sure it would be possible to truly convey the feeling. We are currently required to stay within one kilometer from home, but when we are able to move freely from our neighborhoods, you’ll find me at the beach, diving right into the sea!
Is there anything from this time that you think you'll continue to do in the future?
I hope I continue to make more time for myself and my family. Quiet, quality time. More cooking, more meals together, more bedtime stories. I intend to continue with a daily yoga practice for myself. In addition, I hope I can continue to offer virtual yoga as I have truly fallen in love with it!
Do you follow a 'routine' or let the day unfold naturally?
This question makes me laugh a little bit. I had some big ideas for homeschooling activities, crafting, daily physical activity around the house, etc. However, I let it all go after week one. We were all happier with a looser schedule, more sleep, more playing and more movies. That’s what has worked for us and it feels good.
What are your lockdown saviours? What’s bringing you a moment of joy?
Oh gosh, I discovered an amazing peanut caramel chocolate bar by Milka that I would consider a saviour during the first few weeks. Does that count? Second to chocolate, I would have to say technology. I have been so grateful every day for the opportunity to connect with my family in the States, my friends spread throughout the world and of course, the ability to continue to share yoga virtually. Facetime, House Party and Zoom have become my new best friends! Teaching yoga online has been one of the best things for my mood. Anytime I was having a challenging day, having the opportunity to connect, chat, and guide other women through practice, immediately lifted me up. Lastly, my 15 year old niece recommended a Young Adult Fiction series, Red Queen. I normally read a lot of yoga-related, self-improvement types of books, so reading books she loves has been such a fun way to connect with her and a lovely way to change the pace of the day by getting lost in fantasy fiction.
What will you remember about going through this experience in Spain?
I have always felt a pull towards Europe, as if my soul belonged here. When my (Spanish) husband and I got married, our plan was to live in Spain for a couple of years and then move to the States. As we built our life together in Valencia, leaving never seemed to be an option. I love life in Spain so much. There is a certain ease to living here. I always say it feels as though there are more hours in the day in Spain. More opportunities to meet with friends and enjoy life. We don’t live for our work here, that comes second. Life comes first. Or I should say, enjoying life, comes first. I am so grateful to have found a place that truly feels like home and has allowed me to grow and thrive in ways I never imagined. Of course, the pull of family is always there. The desire to be close to everything that I love. I used to find comfort in knowing I could jump on a flight back to California and be home in 24 hours, whenever I wanted. All of that has changed, making the distance so much more difficult. So now, we hold each other tight, hope and pray for the health and well being of our loved ones and we wait. One thing that stands out to me about the lockdown experience in Spain is the sense of “togetherness”. In comparison to other countries around the world, it feels that we have had consistent, clear leadership throughout the process. Everyone I know has been following the same safety measures and taking the same precautions. There has not been the same level of unrest and disjointedness as I see in other places. Has it been challenging? Yup. Has it been devastating? Yes. Have we struggled? Absolutely. However, we have been in this together. And now, as the sun is shining and we see the light at the end of the tunnel, we will move forward together as well. Little by little. Poco a poco.