Featuring Jesska Hughes from the US

Sunday, 23 August 2020

Written by Jesska Hughes
Edited by Justine of Just Yoga

My name is Jesska Hughes. I am 39 years old, and I live in Oakland, California. Thank you to Just Yoga for including me in your Women's month feature. 

My story starts pretty similarly to a lot of people's maybe. Since I was young I had been dealing with anxiety about everything and nothing. I remember my first panic attack; waking up from a deep sleep, thinking that I am having a heart attack. Even years later when I was able to recognize what it was that was happening to me and the ways I could talk myself down, I still didn't have any tools for stopping their onset altogether. I decided to try a yoga class. As a person who's been in a larger body my whole life I'd been in very few spaces where I could participate in movement practice separate from intentional weight loss and negative body messaging, so when I went to my first class I wasn't surprised to find that the teacher wasn't sure what to do with my body when my thighs wouldn't fit through the back of the yoga chair. When he told me to just wait until the next sequence to catch up with everyone else, I remember feeling very conspicuous and ashamed, but still relished that post savasana feeling of having shown up for myself, so I kept going.
I found yoga to be a long sought outlet for my physical and mental connection and acceptance of myself; forging my own way. 

Luckily I tried other classes and teachers and soon found accessible yoga, and body justice. I had the experience of placing a hand on my heart and a hand on my belly and doing the work to let go of the negative self-talk in order to zero-in on the feeling of my hand rising and falling with my breath, letting my belly be soft and heavy.
I learned that the asana practice of yoga is only one of eight limbs and the big work of yoga is focusing all the mind stuff when the bad stuff starts to stir inside of you.
After around five years of practicing yoga, I decided to take a 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training (YTT) course to become a teacher myself. I then obtained my Yoga For All certification from Dianne Bondy and Amber Karnes' amazing program that promoted yoga for every body. Although living in the Bay Area, you can throw a rock and hit a yoga teacher, it feels useful to offer classes that work to hold space for people to interpret the needs of their minds and bodies through movement and familiarity.


These days, I work my non-profit job from home, and have little to no access to the things that used to keep me grounded: studio classes, friends, shows, etc. My own practice has changed so much and things are so different now as we are still deep in Covid times. I no longer teach in a studio, and while I deeply miss seeing everyone and getting to notice what's happening for different bodies and energy levels, it has given me an opportunity to take control of my offerings via zoom; reaching people across state lines, people who might not normally feel comfortable coming into a yoga studio, and people who are unable to afford to practice in a studio by offering a sliding scale. No one is turned away for lack of funds. I am available on the social media platform, Instagram for information on my classes. Going online has also allowed for other opportunities, as I'm in the midst of taking a 300-hour YTT with Susanna Barkataki and an amazing group of BIPOC teachers located all over the world.
We have been working to decolonize our practices, and to honour yoga's roots, while providing a community for each other to lean on.

Working from home, my asana practice comes more freely, moment to moment. I might just need a forward fold, or to do cat/cow to move my spine or a twisting for digestion. Previously I might have relegated everything to an hour and a half of the day, working with a teacher and then back to life. The most necessary inclusion too is deeper study of the yamas and niyamas; coming up for me most regularly is work with Ahimsa (non-harming), and Aparigraha (impermanence, letting go) to get me through.

I know a larger goal of Just Yoga and the Women's Month feature profiles is to offer inspiration to readers, either already participating in or seeking out a relationship with yoga, so my addition to that end would have to be a reminder that it isn’t always going to be beautiful like people’s pictures on the internet are staged to be. You will not always feel like practicing; and having that positivity-all-the-time-stuff just isn’t realistic; but it will never be your body that is wrong. The time you spend learning to work within the discomfort is more important than you think it is. To quote Paramahansa Yogananda, “The wave is the same as the ocean, though it is not the whole ocean.”

Thank you for reading.
Jesska Hughes

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