With its trademark floating yoga platform, gorgeous lounge areas and pool, spectacular views of the Mombacho Volcano across Lake Nicaragua, and meals created using seasonal, local ingredients, Jicaro Island Ecolodge offers the quintessential setting for yoga and wellness retreats, of which several are scheduled for the very near future in partnership with Big World Small Planet. I recently had the opportunity to interview Jennifer Galardi, the leader for an upcoming retreat February 5-11 focused on exploring wellness as a whole instead of the sum of its many parts.
Jennifer has been teaching dance and fitness classes in Los Angeles, Orange County, and New York City for nearly a decade at prestigious studios and clubs such as The Edge, Sports Club L.A., CRUNCH, and Equinox. She is a nationally recognized star of six best-selling dance/fitness DVDs and is a popular figure among top media, held in high esteem throughout the fitness industry, and adored by fans. You can read more about her on her livWhole site.
Frances: When you were young, what did you think you would be when you grew up?
Jennifer: I don’t remember ever definitively knowing what I wanted to be when I grew up. But I always played sports and danced and loved physical activity; in fact, I don’t remember NOT doing gymnastics, playing tennis or soccer, and especially, dancing. However, by high school, I really thought I was going to be a lawyer or become involved in politics somehow.
Frances: Was that the focus of your higher education study and initial career path?
Jennifer: Well, I earned a B.A. in Public Policy, which is a combination of both politics and economics. After one summer in D.C. I knew I would not have a career in politics! My first two years out of college were spent in a marketing and a sales support role at a company in Alabama. I decided that wasn’t for me either, and moved to LA. There I did everything from soup to nuts. You name it, I did it. Marketing, promotion management, casting assistant, hostess and waitress… the typical LA career path!
Frances: What led to you finally making your career out of teaching health and fitness?
Jennifer: During college, I had played varsity tennis and got involved in teaching aerobics my junior year of study, which was a good experience in guiding others in exercise and wellness. Then, later in life, after being away from it for some time, I honed in on dance. Which is odd, because most women really are involved in dance at an early age and then give it up completely once they grow older, often due to intense training or competition. I returned to it long after I had “given it up” and found I loved it! In my current role, I consider myself not only a teacher, but also a business woman and entrepreneur. I think my background in business and other various jobs has served me well in this career.
Frances: What types of fitness instruction do you focus on most specifically?
Jennifer: My passion is dance. I love to move and shake! I always communicate well through words, and found I could express myself even more fully with my body. The way dance makes me feel both physically and emotionally is inexplicable. It brings me such joy. And when I found that yoga can also be a beautiful expression of the body and emotion, I fell in love with it as well. And while I do focus on technique and alignment, I love to flow through poses, tapping into the creative force of the practice. Also, I like to practice HOT yoga (but not necessarily Bikram) because of the sweat and detoxification benefits. I have a difficult time staying warm, so to drip sweat like that is such a treat.
Frances: What is your philosophy of dance, yoga or fitness instruction?
Jennifer: I think the best phrase that sums up my philosophy is “Mindful Movement.” It is a principle you can apply to any type of activity. We can do downward dogs, squats or a hip roll with a sense of awareness and connection to the body. I encourage my students to “check in” when they are performing any type of physical activity as opposed to just going through the motions without any awareness of how their body is moving or the interconnectedness of it all.
Frances: Tell us a little about the “self-inquiry” that participants go through in your sessions.
Jennifer: Instead of just throwing a bunch of classes and nutrition tips at participants over the course of six days and then sending them home with no practical tools, I thought it would be wonderful to offer something more. I would like students to leave the retreat with a better understanding of who they are outside of their jobs and their roles in everyday life. Sounds like a basic concept, yet I believe many of us have no idea what we truly desire out of life (outside of material wants), and what is fundamentally important to us. I’d like to help students strip it down and get back to authenticity. Through my experience, I’ve healed old wounds, undone old thought patterns and formed healthy habits (and deconstructed destructive ones) through self examination and meditation. I’d like to share tools that I’ve acquired with students to help them do the same. For example, writing. When I began journaling, I uncovered and learned so much about myself, what I want, what’s important to me. Just knowing and articulating these basic personal values is a wonderful platform from which to work.
Frances: What role does nutrition play in your work and in fitness in general?
Jennifer: It’s HUGE. It seems more and more these days, people go to the gym in an attempt to undo what they’ve put in their bodies. Studies show crazy intense exercise is not necessary for long term health. Gardening, strolling, yoga … these are all great daily activities to maintain good health. However, many people view fitness as a “punishment” for that piece of chocolate they had at lunch. If you can start with good nutrition and natural foods, you will have more energy to do the things you love and you’re body won’t crave the Cheetos and Betty Crocker cakes. I love creating recipes from real ingredients and sharing how simple it can be to eat well.
Frances: What can guests expect from working with you in a luxury eco-retreat setting like Jicaro?
Jennifer: FUN!!!! And learning. I consider myself to be an educator and a guide, not a leader. I like to teach people the tools they can incorporate in their lives to become the best version of themselves they can be. I don’t want participants leaving feeling powerless to make changes on their own. Oh yes, and there will certainly be dancing and eating! This is not a restrictive vacation. The point is you don’t have to sacrifice pleasure to be fit and healthy!
Frances: Do you like to work with people who are advanced in yoga practice or new to fitness, or both? Please explain and mention the rewards of each.
Jennifer: Both for sure. It is definitely a treat to work with advanced practitioners. When that happens, I consider a session to be more of a co-creation as we can work on the same level of ability and I can challenge them a little more. It also challenges me to be more creative. Often times, I learn something new. Seeing beginners progress is always rewarding. The successes typically are much more visible and happen quickly, especially if it’s the first time doing yoga. Simply introducing someone to a practice that is going to help their whole life is just amazing. As mentioned above, I love to teach and a beginner level student is like a sponge!
Frances: How do you deal with the various body types in your work – not everyone is constructed in the same way, so how do we all reach what you call the “beautiful, healthy and exuberant body”?
Jennifer: This ‘body’ is much more of a feeling than it is a look. You’re right, every body shape and physical structure is different. But being radiant and glowing, exuberant and healthy, is a feeling I believe everyone can relate to. You can wake up in the morning excited about your day full of energy and ready to tackle challenges in front of you. You know when to take it easy and when to push a little more. You feel balanced, and ultimately, happy from inside out.
Frances: In your promotional text for this retreat, you encourage participants to “focus your energy on the unachievable and you’ll achieve.” What does this mean for you?
Jennifer: Good question! I saw this quote and it just resonated with me. To me, it’s a beautiful way of saying nothing is unattainable. There is no such thing as “unachievable.” If you put your passion and energy towards a task or goal, it will happen. Even if it is not the outcome you originally thought it might be.
Frances: Why are you excited about coming to Nicaragua for the New Year and this retreat adventure?
Jennifer: When considering the various locations to hold a retreat, my only stipulation was that it had to be warm and sunny! However, of all the places I looked, Nicaragua was most foreign to me and I believe it is for many others. This exploring different cultures and discovering the unknown seemed to be a perfect fit with my underlying beliefs, message and curriculum. It’s not about repeating what is familiar. It’s about trying something new and uncovering the gems that still lay dormant within us.
MORE UPCOMING RETREATS AT JICARO
For detailed retreat information and registration, please visit Big World Small Planet.
December 29, 2010 - January 4, 2011 - A New Year’s Celebration of Yoga in Nicaragua with Peter Sterios - Resistance is a spot or place in the body that communicates to the mind that more attention is required there. Peter helps us learn the language the body uses to send that message, helping you learn to listen to what is needed at that spot.
January 8 - 14, 2011 - A Celebration of Nia & Wine with Mona Melms - Nia is an innovative workout integrating 9 movement forms based on dance arts, martial arts and healing arts, inspiring you to find tremendous joy in moving your body…barefoot…in the tropics!