After connecting with Zuna Yoga Teacher Training graduate, Kahla Jusell, we had the opportunity to hear her story of finding Yoga, and how she uses it to help those who need it most.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I am a 21 year old college student studying Social Work and minoring in Race & Ethnic Studies, and Holistic & Integrative Health at the University of Southern Maine Honors College. I was born and raised by the ocean on the little peninsula of Cape Cod off the coast of Massachusetts, a popular tourist destination in the summer and a quaint collection of small beach towns in the winter. Now currently living in Portland, ME where I am a student, yoga teacher, activist, volunteer, and dog walker (because who doesn’t like getting paid to hang out with pups?!).
What motivated you to do your 200 Hour Yoga Teacher Training with Zuna Yoga?
Yoga is such a beautiful and sacred practice in my life, one that arrived at my lowest point. At 16 years old I was hospitalized for serious mental illness, disordered eating, and suicidal ideation. What began as a coping mechanism and a form of control, began to control me. At this point in time when being hospitalized I had to surrender all control I once had of my environment and surrender to healing.
During my stay at this psychiatric program we had a yoga instructor come in and lead a gentle flow and meditation. At this point in my healing process I was grasping onto anything that may help me during this time. What started as a last stitch effort quickly became everything to me. This practice has been so influential in my growth and I believe that it holds so much power in the ability to help others as well.
I firmly believe that my purpose in life is to be of service and help to facilitate healing for those who are suffering. This is why I am working towards my Masters in Social Work (MSW) and sought out a deep education of yoga with Zuna Yoga in hopes to combine these two skills to provide a new perspective to healing.
On a personal level, what is the most important lesson or lessons you took away from the training?
I came into this training as I was just a 19 year old student, I had never left the country or even navigated an airport by myself. However I put in a leave of absence to my university, packed a backpack, and bought a plane ticket to fly across the world alone. This was one of the most terrifying and rewarding experiences of my life. Taking on this training as the youngest of our group was quite intimidating at first but I was soon to learn I am capable of success, I am deserving of this adventure of life, and I am loved and supported.
On a professional level, how did you integrate the knowledge from the training into your work life?
My work in social services allows for me to weave this practice into my professional life as one of my strongest skills. I am currently focusing with the homeless and housing insecure population of Portland, ME.
In my work with this population I use yoga with children at a local study center for low income families. This center is a place where the neighborhood comes to socialize, receive social services, kids can receive free tutoring and homework help, and so much more. After volunteering as a tutor I decided to help the kids create a yoga club in which they meet once a week and we come together to practice asana and meditation. This group has opened up a new form of coping for these kids in stressful conditions. I have seen such an increase in ability to effectively communicate, think with more clarity, ability to regulate emotions, and cope with what they have been given.
I am also about to begin a yoga program in another one of Portland’s initiatives to address homelessness. This particular program is modeled through the “housing first” approach which is a new form of rehabilitation that studies have shown to be extremely effective in recent studies. This approach prioritizes providing permanent housing to people experiencing homelessness, thus ending their homelessness and serving as a platform from which they can pursue personal goals and improve their quality of life. Within this program I will be leading yoga and meditation with the residents of these facilities in hopes to create community and cultivate a network among residents that supports healing and empowerment.
In addition to bringing this work to the homeless populations in my area I am leading these groups as a volunteer only. This is prompted by my passion to make yoga accessible for all. Right now in the western yoga world we see this practice dominated by white women, prices are high for class rates, and when you are deciding between feeding your children dinner or attending a $15 drop in boutique yoga session, the decision is clear. For I think it is a great disservice to this sacred practice to exclude people of color, low income, or those in a difficult spot. Yoga is an ancient tool that should be spread far and wide for all, not just those of privilege. In my own personal mission I want to make yoga accessible to the people that could benefit from it most. This lends well to my work with our housing insecure population for it heavily consists of immigrant and refugee families, veterans, those struggling with mental illness or substance misuse. This population is excluded from what we see on social media, but they are what this practice is all about. Finding strength through vulnerability and taking yoga off the mat and into everyday life.
What kind of responses/changes have you seen in your professional life since your training?
Yoga is about regaining our consciousness and learning how to be fully present and shut off the “autopilot” in our body. Learning how to regain control of the mind and body while completely letting go simultaneously. Releasing all trust in what the universe has in store. I have watched the people around me take these ancient teachings and skills of yoga to bring them into their everyday life. This practice has helped them to communicate more effectively, form positive relationships with both themselves and with the people around them, increase better decision making, and form a community in which they can lean and support one another in there unimaginable journeys through life.
What surprising benefits did you see (personal or professional) from the YTT?
As a social worker it a crucial part of our job is to hold space, listen, and react from a place of love and compassion for the soul sitting in front of us. With my own yoga practice I am able to turn inward and reflect on myself everyday. This practice of self reflection has taught me so much not only about myself but about the world around me and the power of leading through vulnerability.
What advice would you give to prospective YTT students?
Zuna yoga will provide you with all the tools needed to flourish and thrive but it is up to you to take those tools and put them to use. Self reflection is absolutely crucial in this entire process; keep a journal, challenge the status quo, question your intentions, and come shining with vulnerability. This yoga practice has the ability to blow your heart and mind wide open, but it is ultimately what you make of your own practice.