Yoga Jedi Interview in 303 Magazine

Here's a cool update for a snowy day! Last week, I had the honor of being interviewed by George Peele of 303 Magazine about yoga, philosophy, and - yup - Star Wars. I love bringing the lessons I learn from from my yoga practice into the popular culture and myth of our time, so this was great fun. Gratitude to George for seeking me out, guiding this excellent interview, and helping me get these creative musings out into the world.

You can check out the 303 Magazine article here. I'm also posting the full, unabridged interview below. Enjoy!

303: When did you first discover yoga?

Jack: I discovered yoga in December 2009. Almost exactly six years ago, in fact! I was struggling with a series of knee and back injuries, including a surgery gone wrong. I was in a pretty rough place, both physically and emotionally. I wandered into a yoga studio and basically broke down in front of the teacher, Twelve-step style. “Help me, I can’t do this anymore, I’ve hit rock bottom!” I ham it up when I tell the story nowadays, but at the time I was really struggling.

That was Bristol Yoga, an Ashtanga studio in Vermont, and the teacher was Christine Hoar. She met me right where I was, with all my drama and frustration, and helped me rise up and feel confident and empowered again.

303: Were there any other prominent physical and/or psychological disciplines in your life prior to yoga?

Jack: Not really. I played club soccer as a teenager and dabbled in meditation during college, but nothing really stuck until I found something that was simultaneously physically and psychologically uplifting.

303: What drew you to the practice?

Jack: At first, I practiced because I needed something to focus on. My injuries were weighing on me pretty heavily. The rigor and discipline of the Ashtanga practice and Christine’s instruction helped me feel strong and clear, and inspired me to envision a brighter future for myself.

Since moving to Colorado, I’ve held onto my discipline and intensity. But more than ever, I’ve also come to emphasize creativity, humor, and joy in my practice.

303: When and where did you study to become an instructor?

Jack: I was trained and authorized to teach by Darren Rhodes and Christina Sell in Tucson, Arizona. I think that was in early 2013. Darren and Christina remain two of my greatest inspirations in the realm of teaching and practicing yoga postures.

303: When did you start instructing? Where?

Jack: My good friend and mentor Livia Cohen-Shapiro created a speakeasy-style yoga studio in Boulder, Colorado called Ganesha’s Yoga Spot. It was awesome and low-key. There were no frills, just a room with an electric space heater and a few blankets and blocks. Livia graciously invited me to lead my own class early on Sunday mornings over there. She will always be an example of truly effective leadership and lineage for me.

303: Where do you teach currently?

Jack: I teach 3 weekly classes at Kindness Yoga in Denver, and 1 class at the Yoga Loft in South Boulder.

303: What style(s) of yoga do you teach?

Jack: I have a “yoga mutt” style of teaching; there’s a little bit of everything in there. Students can expect the rigor and pace of traditional Ashtanga yoga, the biomechanical nerdiness of Iyengar yoga, and some of the language and teaching technique of Anusara yoga.

303: Do you have a favorite pose or sequence?

Jack: No sir. And I don’t say that to make some kind of statement. I say it because my focus and curiosity shift all the time.

303: Do you have any favorite dharma subjects? Calls to action or words of wisdom you employ regularly in class?

Jack: My focus is always evolving, but here are a few things I've been talking about lately:

  • There’s a difference between working hard and being hardened.
  • I'm not very interested in practice based on the belief that you’ll get something out of it. I'm much more interested in practicing because good times are ahead and tough times are ahead, and you stand a better chance of loving your life when you’ve honed a practice.
  • The pose doesn’t have to look like anything in particular. It’s going to look like something, but it doesn’t fundamentally need to look like anything. The same thing is true of your life.
  • It’s hard to increase your peace with dogma. Real practice goes beyond beliefs of “is” and “isn’t” and “right” and “wrong.” That’s why practice is so important when unexpected things come and try to sweep you off your feet.
  • How do you talk to yourself? Does your internal voice always tell you to be more, better, different? This self-talk might drive you towards accomplishment out there in the world, but in my experience, you'll likely lose out on deep peace, freedom, and satisfaction from the inside.

303: Hobbies/employment outside of yoga?

Jack: I’m blessed to be the Chief Marketing Officer at Kindness Yoga. I get paid to think about yoga all day, every day. Plus, the level of maturity and discourse amongst my colleagues is off the charts. I love my work.

303: When and where did you first see Star Wars? A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away?

Jack: You know, I have no idea when I first saw Star Wars. My earliest memories of Star Wars were actually from an audio cassette of A New Hope. George Lucas donated the rights to NPR and they adapted the script to the radio. I played that cassette over and over every night as I fell asleep, on every car ride, all the time.

303: You led an obviously Star Wars-inspired workshop earlier this year called Use the Props, Luke. Can you give us some insight into its genesis and manifestation?

Jack: Totally. Use the Props, Luke came about because I was exploring what mastery of yoga postures meant to me. In my view, mastering yoga postures is about developing an empowered relationship with them. One where you feel free to be curious and creative and honest. It’s not merely about developing the strength and flexibility to push closer and closer to some idealized form of the shape. The thought popped into my head that for me, the journey to mastery is about starting from a mental and emotional state where you only see one or two possibilities, and reaching for a state where you see a whole galaxy of possibilities.

Then I started thinking about the character of Obi-wan Kenobi from Star Wars. He occupied the role of this wizened old master, and some of his choices were inexplicable to the other characters. I thought about Han Solo, bewildered by Kenobi’s complete lack of interest in money, and Luke’s dismay when he saw his mentor allow Darth Vader to cut him down without a fight. I realized that Obi-wan was sometimes inexplicable because he saw more possibilities than anyone else, and that was related to his mastery.

I wanted to bring that concept to my students and help them see props as more than crutches in the yoga practice. When I use props, it’s not to make postures easier, or driving towards one idealized state. It’s to discover new possibilities and get more creative and aware.

303: You opened class recently with a Joseph Campbell quote. As you likely realize, Star Wars creator George Lucas was a huge fan of Campbell's work. How has Campbell influenced you?

Jack: I look to Joseph Campbell as a model of positive, empowered masculinity in western culture. Strong and athletic, yet also gentle, self-assured, and intelligent. He was a runner, a football player, and a scholar who taught and demonstrated tolerance, curiosity, and the oneness of humankind.

In terms of his work, he traveled the globe and accepted the stories of all cultures, but he brilliantly synthesized and shared them for a Western audience. I love the myths and stories of yoga’s roots. I’m also influenced by Daoism, Buddhism, and Christianity. But Joseph Campbell reminds me – and has taught me how – to take something foreign and esoteric and reveal its value today.

303: Are you excited about the new film?

Jack: I’m curious about it. The original trilogy captured my imagination so thoroughly as a child because the characters were fully mythic. Each one was on a journey of self-discovery. Many newer action-adventure films show characters undergoing a transformative moment or experiencing authentic emotions, but there’s rarely space for true transformation amidst the action and CGI. So I’m interested to see whether the new Star Wars can capture something really compelling like the original films did.

303: What does the horizon hold?

Jack: I’ve been asked to travel and share Use the Props, Luke at a few studios around Colorado and possibly further afield, so that’s exciting! I’m also leading a Yoga Teacher Training with my good friend and colleague Ellen Kaye this summer at Kindness Yoga here in Denver.  I respect her depth as a facilitator so much and I can’t wait to collaborate with her. 

303: One more question. What do yogis and Jedi have in common?

Jack: Great question. As far as I understand - and I didn’t understand much of the newer Star Wars movies, so I could be wrong here - being a Jedi is like being a Marine or something. There’s training and an official process for becoming one, and then you’re part of an organization with goals and means and collaboration. Yoga isn’t like that. It’s an activity and a practice that may empower you in your life. To be a Jedi, you need to have a gift for using the Force. But the powers you can cultivate by practicing yoga are always available to everyone. So those differences are important.

In terms of similarities, both yogis and Star Wars Jedi Knights have access to resources inside themselves that many other people don’t. People in my life often see the shapes I make with my body and the ways I handle certain situations and say things like, “I could never do that." And yes, I’ve been blessed with some advantages in my life. The chemicals in my brain seem to be pretty well-balanced, I’ve always found supportive people and environments to live and work around, and my body is vital and strong. But lots of the so-called incredible things I do come about because I’ve found ways to dig deep and uncover a real-life Force inside of me, just like a Jedi.

So both yogis and Jedi have this certain kind of power in their environment. They’re not victims of their environment; they recognize that they can affect it. And they work on that power, but that power also works on them. It changes who they are, hopefully in the direction of responsibility and compassion, but not always. I think that’s always a risk with any kind of power, whether it’s having perfect equanimity, using the Force, owning a firearm, being someone’s boss, having lots of money, whatever. Your power can be expressed through you as generosity or ruthlessness. So whether you’re a yogi or a Jedi, the way you act and think and feel has a big impact on who you become.