What first brought you to the mat?
Juliana: As a tiny girl, my version of playing was making up movements under the cherry tree in our yard or voraciously reading books, which frankly made me an odd little girl all alone dancing or reading under a tree! Then when I was 6, I saw the gymnast Nadia Commaneci do a routine on tv and I was in total awe. Deciding to practice every day until I could do splits and backbends like her, I concocted some intuitive way of teaching myself. Unwittingly, I had begun my practice. Then when I was about 10, my Mom found Yoga and practiced for a time under Gurudev (aka Amrit Desai). She and I are extremely close, so witnessing the way Yoga brought her joy and balance was impactful. Mom taught me poses, such as Down Dog and Shoulder Stand and I was introduced to the concepts of non-duality and non-attachment, as well as exposed to the practices of meditation and chanting. I finally began an earnest practice of my own in my late twenties and it was like the whole world began to crack open in a delicious way. In 2001, I was practicing Sun Salutations under a tree by myself and in an instance there was a distinct shift like a crack of lightning: This. This path. This path of Yoga. My life has been consciously committed to this path ever since. Looking back though, I see the seeds of this path have been in me all along.
What first brought you to Oriental Medicine?
Leah: I grew up with oriental medicine. To our family if you got sick, you decided if you needed to go to the western medicine doctor or eastern medicine doctor.
Oriental medicine’s view of health is based on harmony in your thoughts, emotions and lifestyle. It is very much ingrained into the culture I was raised in.
What lead me to becoming an acupuncturist, was personal- I felt that my life was not in harmony with my desires and it lead to illness and distractions. Oriental medicine helped me find discipline, acceptance and compassion.
Have you had other career paths in the past (if yes, briefly explain and then describe your transition to becoming a yoga teacher/healer).
Juliana: I went to college for acting and to an acting conservatory and then acted in plays for years. I consider my years in the theatre as my scenic route toward becoming a Yoga teacher. Studying theatre, I learned to connect to my breath and to deeply trust my body’s intuitive wisdom. Performing in front of audiences taught me to be very comfortable speaking in front of people. At some point a fellow actress asked me to teach her some Yoga, which I’d never done before. Teaching her, well wow! All time stood still. I performed in only one more play after that.
So I needed a job to pay my bills and to help save for Yoga Teacher Training. I was fortunate to get a temp position at Bear Stearns in their Derivatives Confirmation Department, despite a total lack of experience in finance or law. There, I committed myself to what I call the “Zen Experiment”.Can I strive to remain connected to breath and at ease in body, despite the stressful and conservative atmosphere? Can I commit myself as fully to this work, for whatever time I’m here, as I would to an endeavor closer to my heart? All totaled I was there for 7 years. By the time I left to give my full attention to my teaching, I was certified in and actively teaching Vinyasa, Restorative & Prenatal Yoga. And, in that time, I’d also become a Vice President at Bear Stearns. Life’s funny. Leah: I was in fashion, as a textile designer for many years. I realized I that an affinity to patterns and figuring out to how put them together or take them apart. Oriental medicine is about recognizing patterns in the person.
I really love design but realized that I didn’t find it challenging and wouldn’t find deep personal growth from it. When I found oriental medicine- I realized with much excitement here was a path that I would learn and be challenged for the rest of my life.
What is your style of yoga?
Juliana: My teaching style is both precise and playful. Employing rich, evocative language as a teaching tool, I blend an encouragement to connect to the inner wisdom with detailed explorations of anatomy & kinesiology. Paying homage to the breath one moment at a time, my classroom is a non-competitive, non-judgmental arena. My Vinyasa classes build strength, suppleness, balance and power, yet I always prioritize awareness over sweat. Above all, each class is an adventure, a journey back toward that part of us which is already and always has been whole.
Leah: My yoga practice is mainly vinyasa, I enjoy the Iyengar lineage.My wonderful retreat partner is my yoga teacher! Thru her modifications, I have found ways to personalize my practice to give me the deepest understanding of my body connections.
Juliana, why did you choose to focus your practice and teaching in the Vinyasa and Restorative Yoga style?
Juliana: I took my first Vinyasa Yoga class in my twenties. And I walked out of that class high as a kite and totally in the moment. No other experience up until that point had ever done that for me. The Vinyasa practice challenges the body, the mind and the breath to be present, throughout a continuum of transitions. So Vinyasa Yoga teaches us to be able to do that in life too; to be anchored within our Selves as life rocks us with changes and regardless of what comes at us. The word Vinyasa is often translated as ‘to move with breath’. ‘To move with breath’ IS life. Vinyasa = Life Lived & Practiced As An Art Form. Vinyasa is exquisite! On the straight up practical side, I credit Vinyasa with the fact that I don’t have a limp despite historic and sincere ankle injuries, Vinyasa has greatly ameliorated some of my dyslexia-like challenges and due to the grace of Vinyasa, I am as fit, if not more fit, in my body in my forties then I was in my twenties and as content in my soul as I have ever been in my life. I see and hear of similar-such, life impacting benefits in my students all the time. Jai!
Restorative Yoga delivers us into the arms of a felt, deep and profound ease. That sense of ease is our true nature and it is the most delicious experience. When we return into that oasis of ease, then physical and emotional healings can unfurl organically. Restorative Yoga is a remarkably powerful practice and it is literally for everybody (every body). It effortlessly peels away the nonsense, like an exfoliation for the heart and mind, leaving the healthy, silky layers beneath to shine forth. Restorative Yoga is so yummy. Restorative Yoga changes lives.
What is your Oriental Medicine Wellness philosophy?
Leah: I believe, wellness in any practiced medicine is a state in which the person can recognize he/she is in constant flux that is neither to disruptive or too static. Wellness for a person is to be flexible an yielding to many challenges without “breaking”.
Oriental medicine’s philosophy is based in the principles of Yin& Yang. Two opposing and complementing forces find in all manifestations of life. Wellness is perceived when a person can understand and mindfully flow with the many manifestations of Yin & Yang that govern their lives.
Why did you select Jicaro Island Ecolodge and Nicaragua as the location for this retreat?
Juliana: I have heard many people speak of the stunning beauty of Nicaragua and of the extraordinary friendliness of the people there. It seemed an ideal place for a vacation or for a retreat. And then I learned about Jicaro Island Ecolodge, which sits on a mile-wide, lush, private island, right on the second largest lake in Latin America. The dock on which we’ll practice our Yoga faces the Mombacho Volcano and the sun sets right behind that volcano. The lodge itself is built sustainably with reverence for Mother Earth and at the same time has such handsome, gorgeous design. Everyone’s casita has a water view. There are hammocks to loll in. The greenery is lush. There is a stunning infinity pool, which also faces the setting sun. Its reputation for tasty fresh food and warm hospitality is touted in magazines like ‘Travel & Leisure’ and ‘Conde Nast’. Jicaro Island Ecolodge offers an unparalleled opportunity to practice Yoga in paradise.
Leah: Jules and I slected Jicaro and Nicaragua because of the lush beauty.
To be so close to water ( yoga deck) has such an elemental resonance to the purpose of our retreat. We come from water, water is the “element” that hold us in deep contemplation nestled in between fear, quiet surrender, profound acceptance and knowing. Water is the element we learn to pass thru.
What experiences can your retreatants expect from your retreat at Jicaro?
Juliana: They may expect an unforgettable experience of beauty, ease, balance and joy – from the views our eyes drink up, to the wonderful community experience, to their wellness sessions with the remarkable Leah Kim all the way through to their daily celebrations of Yoga with me. They’ll return home having enjoyed good food and good conversation, having rested well and played well, and in a state of delight and glowing vibrancy.
Leah: The experiences that we can offer, are described in our brochure and on the website. The experiences the retreatants can expect, are ones that they themselves are willing to be open and accept.
What are you most looking forward to during your retreat at Jicaro?
Juliana: To get to share Yoga and hikes and swims and sunsets and meals and laughter with a group of beautiful beings, who join me in the lap of mother nature to explore the path of healing, integration and vibrancy…AMAZING!Leah: Meeting our retreatants!
Visit BigWorldSmallPlanet for information on other upcoming retreats at Jicaro.