Yoga Has Given Me a New Language to Speak with People - 10 Questions with Jayme Hillyer

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Jayme Hillyer is a Jacksonville native who is currently a student at the University of North Florida (UNF), where she is pursuing her Master's degree in School Counseling. Jayme began teaching yoga in 2013 and joined the Yoga 4 Change team as a teacher in 2016.  She has been involved with Y4C since the inception of the organization and served in a volunteer capacity prior to becoming a staff member.

Jayme currently teaches through Y4C at the Duval County Pre-Trial Detention Center, the Community Transition Center, and occasionally at Gateway, Pace Center for Girls, and James I. Montgomery Correctional Center.  Her classes focus on power, restorative, trauma informed and yin yoga. In addition to teaching yoga, Jayme also leads meditation and mindfulness workshops. 

Originally focused on teaching yoga in the classroom, Jayme now finds ways to integrate the core values of yoga into everyday life, empowering others to be strong in mind and body, both on and off the mat. 

10 Questions with Jayme

What served as your introduction to yoga and why did you choose to pursue a career as a teacher?

My friend Aylin, who now owns a studio in Colorado Springs, introduced me to yoga about eight years ago. She saw that I was stressed and overwhelmed with life and the guy I was dating at the time. My first yoga class was a jam packed 90-minute power yoga class, and I was in front and center of the room.

I had never sweated that much in my life! I had never even had a "workout" routine of any kind before. I continued going to yoga on and off for a couple of years, at times dedicated and at times not. Then, the studio offered an info session on their teacher training. They spoke about how this experience wasn't just to certify you as an instructor, but more so to transform your life. I can say the training fulfilled that promise.

I have now been teaching yoga for five years.  It is definitely one of the most significant life choices that I've made and has made me who I am today. The momentum of teaching just, happened. 

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What attracted you to working with Y4C and how long have you been involved with the organization?

Kathryn Thomas, Angela Centers, and I sat down at a coffee shop one day after a yoga class at Athleta about four-plus years ago. Kathryn told us all about the nonprofit she was creating, her ideas, her goals, her vision, etc. I was inspired.

I didn't know at the time, but that conversation was a pivotal moment in my life and as a yoga instructor. I loved teaching in studio spaces, but teaching yoga to people that can’t access it, don’t know about it, and need it badly seemed like a challenge and a noble mission.

I was a full time teacher elsewhere during the first two years of Y4C, so I couldn’t teach for them because all of their classes were during working hours. However, I volunteered and came to their meetings and teacher auditions as much as possible. When I decided to leave my former studio, I was able to take some space and clear my head around what I wanted to do next. I decided to go back to school and get my Master’s Degree. This allowed me to dedicate time to teaching through Y4C. I have now been teaching a solid schedule with Y4C for 2 years.

What were some expectations or assumptions that you had prior to joining the Y4C team and how do those expectations and assumptions compare to your actual experience?

I assumed that everyone would love what we were doing and that nobody would need “convinced” to come to our events, workshops, etc. I thought that everyone would think we are the rock stars of yoga service.  I assumed EVERYONE would agree with us, trust us, support us.

What I see now is even more beautiful than people just blindly falling into our mission. I see people inquiring, curious, dabbling, visiting, passing through, and I also see people showing up big, building trust in us after giving us some of their time and attention, and people having their own reactions and responses while showing us the diversity of thoughts and opinions in our community. I see the work we do as testing people, challenging their thinking, especially here in the south where I was born and raised. People are stretching their bodies and their minds around what yoga can do for them, it’s amazing to see.

I once had a JSO officer look me in the face and tell me he didn’t believe yoga could help anyone at all. I didn’t try to convince him otherwise.  But, by the end of our conversation he said “I could probably use some stretching.” 

What do you see as the greatest impact yoga has had on your life?

Yoga has helped me become a more loving person. It’s helped me to become more selfless, empathetic towards others, and has given me a new language to speak with people. I see so many beautiful aspects of my life blooming as a result of the work I’ve done with yoga. I am enriched with better people in my life, and better relationships. I’ve met my best friend and the love of my life through yoga. It’s truly impacted everything.

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What have you learned about yourself as a result of practicing yoga and working as a teacher?

I’ve learned some positive aspects of who I am as well as some not so savory. I think that’s the beauty of it. I’ve learned that I can be pretty hard headed and judgmental of myself and others. If students weren’t doing exactly what I said all the time, visibly loving the class, complimenting me afterwards and answering my questions in satisfactory ways, then I would take it personally.

That has majorly shifted in my time practicing and teaching, especially with teaching people experiencing incarceration. It’s really softened me as a person and I find myself being much more open, much more available to create the space for people to explore and be their true selves.

What is the greatest sense of accomplishment you've received since you joined the organization?

Being a part of the correctional study we are conducting with Danielle Rousseau at Boston University to me is incredible.  We are truly doing a groundbreaking study that will help legitimize yoga as a healing tool to those who have doubt. I’m so honored to be one of the teachers leading this study so that we can have the data to get Y4C programming, and similar programming, in more facilities, in more states, and around the country. 

How do you describe your style of teaching? 

My teaching is pretty diverse. For the male populations, I would say it’s trauma informed power yoga, or vinyasa for the yoganese people out there. For the female population, I take on a more “all-levels” approach, with a slight emphasis on restorative yoga, also trauma informed. Either way, my style is pretty laid back, allows choice all over the place, occasionally with a surprise of using chairs or props in new ways, incorporating the themes in the Y4C curriculum. I also love to use inspirational quotes and I like to make little jokes here and there to keep the mood light. It all depends on how the students show up.

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What advice would you give to an individual who is interested in trying yoga for the first time? Additionally, what advice would you give a well-practiced individual to take their practice to the next level?

Shop around. Try all kinds of yoga, all kinds of teachers. See what vibe fits for you and keep your mind open to the likelihood of that changing. That advice actually fits for both of those questions now that I think about it.

What would you say to encourage someone to attend a Y4C community class or donate to Y4C?

It’s a great opportunity to be a part of the change we all are creating to better our community. You get to do yoga with an awesome teacher AND you get to contribute to making your neighborhood a better place. Win-win.

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What’s your favorite pose and why?

Oh man, that question shakes me every time! I’ll have to go with tree pose, vrksasana. It’s been my favorite pose since I started yoga, and I’m sticking to it. I love it because it’s beautiful, it’s balancing, it’s malleable, it’s peaceful. You can do it standing or supine, with a chair or block…it’s super accessible. It exposes the front of the body and heart. The whole room shifts and gets quiet when it’s called. For people struggling with the balance of it, they often laugh at themselves. I love the name, what it implies. I love that it’s a go-to posture for group photographs. Not to mention it’s a yoga pose I did before I even knew it was a yoga pose when I worked at Dave and Busters in college. I had to work 8 hour shifts standing, and would often place one foot on the inside of the other leg and stand like that. It’s just a classic pose that doesn’t seem to intimidate people, and I love that.

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Patrick Fisher