Chattanooga, TN is home to a bustling yoga scene. In this small city (or large town), there are several yoga studios, a community yoga movement that reaches multiple locations and a large number of quality teachers. There are also a lot of very advanced practitioners. It may be surprising to some to find such an established kula this far South of the Bible Belt but yoga is alive and well in Chattanooga. In fact, yoga is such an integral part of the culture, that the Chattanooga Area Convention and Visitors Bureau is incorporating the yoga community into its next PR campaign for tourism. I recently had a long conversation with a local teacher who is beginning to teach Master Classes, Workshops, and Teacher Trainings across the country in addition to teaching locally in the Chattanooga Community.
Jessica Jollie should be credited (along with Sue Reynolds, Becky Dempsey, Sara Mingus, Madia Swicord and a host of other pioneers) for raising the profile and quality of yoga classes in the city. Before teacher trainings were readily accessible, Jess put in her time, travelling to seek out strong teachers and to develop her understanding and practice of yoga. In 2008, she partnered with Sara Mingus to open the doors of North Shore Yoga in the North Chattanooga area. Sara and Jess had both developed a strong following of devoted students over the years and their partnership led to a thriving business. My own studio practice became regular when NSY began offering child care.
Jessica’s 10 am class was my introduction to Vinyasa yoga and set the stage for a career changing decision to become a teacher myself. She takes a very light-hearted approach to the physical sequencing and loves to break down the more advanced arm balances and other postures so that students will feel comfortable attempting something that would otherwise be intimidating. But, while the asanas might be presented in a playful way, the sutra of the class is unmistakably important. Jess always teaches with a theme and cues her students to return to the more profound part of their practice, awakening stored memories, wisdom, emotion and then learning from them. She is encouraging of physical play on the mat but is determined (in a nurturing way) to get the students to take the opportunities presented in class to dig deep and ask challenging questions.
Over the years, Jessica noticed a trend in her classes, “There were so many teachers that started coming to class. It got to be that there were a minimum of 5 teachers in every class I led and it became apparent to me that I wanted to be a teachers’ teacher.” Jess has a background as a counselor (which strongly informs her style of teaching). She recently began training with Phoenix Rising so that she can become a yoga therapist and counselor. And for the past several months, she has been diligently designing her own curriculum for a teacher training that will be certified by the Yoga Alliance. She wants to impart her own style of blending therapeutic techniques with knowledge of yoga and anatomy to new teachers. “I would describe my style of teaching as confident and nurturing. My therapeutic work transfers into the Vinyasa practice. After all these years, I’m finally able to observe a student and know where they are in their body and how to teach to them in that place.”
Jessica tells me about a particularly memorable experience following a recent workshop she led in Chattanooga called ”Yoga 8 Arm Balance”. After Savasana, she offered to stay and answer questions. About half the students had to leave at the class’s conclusion. But, the other half moved into a tighter circle and the conversation lasted over an hour. ”Their questions weren’t about the asanas. I taught a lot of Sanskrit because I do believe it’s important to stay true to our yoga history. It allows us to go back in time and honor the sages and ancient wisdom. Then we can ask, ‘Who are these people now?’ And it’s us; we are the sages of our time and we need to study and understand those historical texts.” For Jollie, the post-class discussion crystallized her mission as an instructor, ”I need to be a yoga teacher in every sense. If I shortchange the depth of what this means to me, then I am not serving the students. I want more of these conversations where we really begin to blend the mind, body and soul.” So, Jess is now embarking on an expanded career as a leader of workshops in and outside of Chattanooga. As part of this growth, she has launched a beautiful new website, www.jessicajollie.com.
I ask her when she made the decision to follow through on her vision and design a teacher training program and a website dedicated to her instruction. Jessica tells me that while on retreat in Bali with her teacher, Rusty Wells, she began to feel like his colleague as well as his student . “There was a spark of awareness and I realized that I am ready to lead teacher trainings and focus on offering workshops.” Thus, the impetus to create a website. ”I just needed an electronic home to share my contributions with the yoga community and the services I’d like to offer. It’s also a resource for students to find out where I’m teaching around the city and country.” A friend in San Francisco recommended her own website designer (Wyrostok Creative) to work on Jollie’s site and through their collaboration, another friendship blossomed. ”He just really got it. Wyro understood exactly what I was about and conveyed in beautifully. We would make telephone appointments to discuss the technical aspects of the project and suddenly three hours was gone in conversation. It was an effortless pairing.”
One of the first things visitors to the site will notice is a remarkable video that she created with fellow yoga teacher (and professional photographer/videographer), Matt Fields-Johnson. If you are a teacher, you really need to check it out. It is a stunning example of how to use images, music and heart-spoken words to shine your own style of instruction to those who have yet to meet you in person. Jess decided she needed to create a short film to show studio owners and other yoga event organizers as a way to introduce herself across the miles when an in person first meeting just wasn’t logistically possible. The resulting clip goes well above and beyond its initial intention. I ask her how she and Matt decided to approach the film. ”He mentioned he wanted to do a video after seeing one of Simon Park’s friends, Phillip Askew’s, videos because ‘it showed him as a yogi in the world.’ Matt was really awesome. We met for sunrise at all these different locations. It took us about three months to pull it all together.” So how was the response from friends, family, students? ”It was huge! Matt did a great job documenting my practice. Nothing was posed. I just rolled out my mat.” So, was she uncomfortable with a camera present during her practice? And how did she mentally prepare herself to share that with others? ”Before the video, I did a photo shoot withTim Cofield to get pictures for the website. I told him I just didn’t want to pose and he understood. Tim, as the photographer, really helped me feel comfortable being captured doing what I do. And so when Matt came, I was ready.”
What are Jollie’s expectations as she prepares to take her instruction to more students? “I’m not ever going to compromise what yoga is to me. If I make a living at this, great, but if I don’t, I’ll still do it. I loved being a Counselor and I could go back to the field and then simply teach for the love of it. By helping other people, I’m simultaneously helping myself. As long as I keep sharing what I’ve learned from the highest part of myself, I’m teaching my truth. If someone can have a meaningful shift in their lives, then I’ve served them.”
Q & A
Can you remember the first yoga class you led as an instructor? Yes, the first Yoga Class that I led was in a holistic center in the mountains of North Carolina in 1999. I was asked to teach right before I finished my 200 hour Yoga Alliance certification and also while I was finishing up my undergraduate work. What were the realizations and even the challenges that arose? I realized that all I could do is authentically teach what I know and be honest about what I didn’t know. One of my first student’s was healing an injured knee and she was not able to put pressure on one hand; so since the beginning of my teaching career; I have taught to who comes to my class and I try to meet them where they are in that moment.
As teachers, we often get the privilege of leading the first class a student has ever attended. Do any of those “first-timers” stick out in your memory and why? Yes, I have so many first time students who stick out in my memory. Many of them have now become teachers and others have shared with me life changing stories that they attribute to insights they had while on their mats.
You’ve learned from many amazing teachers. Is there anyone you want to practice with that you haven’t yet? Oh, what a fun question! Of course there are so many teachers I would be grateful to learn from and most notably, Dharma Mitra and Patricia Walden are two in particular.
What advice would you give a practitioner who is considering becoming an instructor? Know that you are in an honorable role of trust when you are guiding yoga students. Study contraindications and be mindful of students’ physical limitations. Also, teach from the most authentic version of yourself and support others to cultivate the most heartfelt and soulful aspects of who they are so that they may positively impact the world.
The role you play in a class is that of the teacher, but what lessons have you learned from your students? I have learned to be kinder to myself by seeing wisdom flowing from practitioners on every level. I have learned to listen with greater depth. I have also learned that beauty comes in all shapes and forms. Most importantly, I have learned from my students that yoga is much greater than the individual. Yoga is about compassion so that we may all be more considerate of one another.