Teacher: Jessica Wills

Jessica Wills style is clear, attentive, playful, and down to earth with a lovely range of physicality and stillness.  She has found yoga to be a powerful tool for emotional healing and a way to restore balance to life, providing this guidance and support to her students to experience the same.  She is a graduate of the Sol Center YTT.

Q: When and why did your yoga journey begin?

A: Many years ago, I would just do online classes, DVDs and do yoga at home. That was mostly a fitness-based practice to build up strength. It was never really super dedicated, and I did a lot of other types of exercise. Then I ended up taking the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program from Natasha and yoga is a small element of it. So I started taking yoga classes with Natasha, pre-Sol Center. I realized how good it felt so I continued practicing. I wasn’t a student for all that long, maybe six months, and then Natasha said “We’re doing teacher training, you wanna do it?” I was like, sure! The rest is history.

Q: How has your practice grown or changed over time? Both your personal practice and your teaching journey.

A: My first experience of yoga was fitness, where there was not a strong focus on breathing or a mindfulness practice. Then going to Natasha’s and having yoga be from a mindfulness base, it felt completely different. That’s “yoga” [the fitness side] and this [at the Sol Center] to me is the true practice of yoga. It’s not a physical based thing, and I don’t look at it as any kind of exercise. Is it for my wellness? Yes, but not from a body-only standpoint; it’s from a mind and spiritual standpoint. Emotions and energy are a bigger part of my yoga practice. I’m always discovering new things. It was never “And now I know yoga.” I am always discovering things about myself, about yoga and about the practice. As far as teaching, I was never in it to teach. Natasha encouraged me. I struggled a bit going through the program because I felt like I didn’t know enough. “I don’t know what I’m doing. What am I doing here?” I’d think. Natasha said to stick with it. When I started teaching, I was nervous. At first I was writing all my classes down. Then I had some Vedic astrology done and was told to not plan anything. Just come and do it. It was a larger practice in my life. Can I just show up without planning and overthinking, and just do? Since then, I haven’t planned a class. I come and I guide, give recommendations, but the real teaching is in your own body. So I am not doing anything special. People will say “This class was exactly what I needed!” And I’m like, “I winged it. It was what you were able to put into it and get out of it.” I’m a pretty chill teacher. I’ve relaxed cuing and hand- on after being on Zoom for a few years because of covid. I let peoples’ practice be their practice and not get in the way. I try to give people enough so that they understand what they are trying to do, instead of telling them what they’ll feel and specific after effects.

Q: Was there a moment or a series of moments where it all clicked for you?

A: MBSR was a big one. Learning that there is a whole different way of thinking and being that’s potentially possible. I did a lot of talk therapy in my past, how to deal with anxiety and depression. Doing MBSR made me realize I need to change the whole paradigm of how I’m thinking, how I’m relating to the world, how I’m grasping – it all needs to change. Yoga brought it to an even deeper place by also connecting my body to it. Which is something that our Western ways kind of neglect. But there’s more. I remember once during the training we were doing a pose and just feeling subtle energy in a whole new way and having it be a real ah-ha! “Oh, I’ve never experienced anything like that before,” and “What is this?” For myself, I wasn’t raised religious, I don’t have a strong religious/spiritual practice in that way… and a lot of it was kind of weird at first. So contending with what I believe and what I’m experiencing, and how to make these come together. That’s part of my practice. How do I contend with my logical self and the things I experience in my practice? And I’ve found ways they can align, but it was a mind-blow. A big paradigm shift.

Q: What do you do besides formal practice and teaching and how does your practice play into your life outside of yoga?

A: Sure. I work beyond being a yoga teacher. I work a lot with the public, and I end up working in event-type situations where you’re on for a lot of time. My practice has allowed me to better be engaged in my life and my work outside because it has put me in a better place. Now I step back and use my yoga practice, not just asana, but the practice of compassion. This has made it easier for me to work with difficult people or be around friends and family that may be challenging at times. It’s really allowed me more space and more ease. Things felt really difficult before I got into any kind of yoga practice. Everything felt challenging, complicated and ahh! And now, it feels like I’ve created a space where I can step back and use my practice and not have to be reactive all the time. A huge change. I feel whatever I end up doing in my life, whatever situations may arise, I am able to better utilize my practice to get through it better. I’ve had weird medical things come up and weird crisis kind of situations come up – I’m a big dog person and both my dogs died within a couple years of each other. It was very challenging, but I was able to have yoga support me through it in a way I had never had before. It allowed me to help myself. I didn’t have to go look for a therapist. Therapy is wonderful, don’t get me wrong, but I didn’t have to go to all these sources to figure it out. I was able to have my own inner strength and my own inner understanding of the world that helped me grasp and make it through really challenging stuff that I think would have been really bad if I had not found yoga.

Q: Tell me a little bit about three things: one, favorite teacher.

A: Fav teacher is so hard because I’ve had such great teachers here. So the three that taught me through the teacher training program were Natasha, Kristina and Cynthia. They’re all so different and so unique. I got so much from each of them, so I cannot say that one is my favorite. Impossible. Natasha has given me so much. She is such a rock. She is the person I can go to and she can support me in many ways, like helping me with my practice or checking out my chart. Kristina is my ‘woo-woo goddess’. She’s the one who can see right through me, and she has a beautiful way of working with energy and people. She challenges me maybe the most of all of them because she is so in the spiritual plane, where I am so not. She has taught me so much because we are so different. Cynthia is such a beautiful soul and through sound, finding her own voice and her own ability to be true to who she is has been so cool to learn from. She creates art in this way that helps you realize that we can all do this. I cannot pick a favorite. Three-way tie.

Q: Favorite pose?

A: My favorite pose. Hmm, that’s a good question. I very much enjoy backbends. Because my body is very willing to go there, naturally my own structure is pretty happy there. I do like extended side angle pose quite a bit. It’s hard to name one because it changes through what I need. Sometimes I go to do extended side angle, and it feels horrible. Sometimes child’s pose has new things for me. I am a lover of the big poses, so your triangles or anything that’s dynamic and bigger and muscular. But overall, if there’s a backbend I’m pretty happy. The thing is, I found over time that all poses have something to offer. Even the ones I maybe most dislike, there’s a reason I dislike it. So the more I stay open to what it has to teach me the more I can figure out what’s going on with it.

Q: Favorite story of teaching?

A: A story that’s so beautiful is when I was a brand new teacher. I knew next to nothing. My good friend Tyler came, and he was recently diagnosed with glioblastoma. He had brain cancer. I told him, “Tyler, I don’t know how to teach someone with brain cancer. I’m sorry, it’s above my level.” He said, “It’s okay. I’ll take care of myself.” So I taught him as I knew best. He has since passed, but he was such an amazing student and would go through stuff that none of us will ever really know. He taught me the beauty of yoga, that it can be practiced by anyone who is willing, that I don’t need to be a perfect teacher. I just need to be here and trust my students. And they can trust me as long as we have an open communication. That gives me the ability to be a better teacher because I don’t have to worry about them as much. I can let the yoga be. I thank Tyler now for coming and challenging me in that way because I easily could have gotten scared and said don’t come, or I can’t be a teacher, this is too much. It’s scary right? He made me be brave and face it. Now I don’t fear someone coming in that I don’t know how to cope with. Or I don’t know exactly the right modifications to make. I just need to teach. He gave me such a huge gift.

Q: How does your experience of community play into your practice and teaching?

A: I come here, and I feel like I belong, but it doesn’t feel like a clique, either. It’s about the place. The people are important, but also it’s a place where I can be me. I don’t have to come and act or look a certain way to fit in. Natasha has done a beautiful job of creating that environment. It’s also just a place where if I’m having a bad day, I don’t have to be on. You can be genuine. You can be yourself. Community’s important, but I think that ultimately the deeper practices are always going to be solitary. So like the balance of being a group and doing our individual practice. I’m not looking around the room, that is not what it’s about.

Q: Any dreams/hopes/aspirations with the Sol Center?

A: I hope to continue my own education. I would love to do more teacher trainings, more programs to deepen my own knowledge and practice of yoga, for sure. It’s always this play between what we are able to do and what we want to do, so I’m hoping sometime soon the scales tip and I’m able to be more in class and not just teaching class. I’m off right now, I can tell. I need to practice more. I would love to continue my own knowledge and take more formal training. If they ever do a 500 level, I would absolutely love to do that!

Jessica Wills Sol Center