Holy mystery, holy mystery,” Julie expressed to me with a tone of awe and inspiration. I had the good fortune to catch her still buzzed from her morning practice. A lover of poetry, music and art, as well as yoga, senior YogaWorks teacher Julie Kleinman guides her students into a “mixed media” exploration of the unknown, embracing the present moment and above all, the soul.
It had never occurred to Julie that she would develop a career in yoga, much less that it would direct her life and take her all over the world. At 20 years old, Julie was living in New York City and working as a bartender, a combination that made her increasingly tough. Out of the blue, as it often happens at the beginning of an incredible passage in our lives, one of the bartenders took her to a yoga class at Jivamukti Yoga School. “The whole place was very purple,” Julie reminisces. “Everybody whispered and it was sort of really, really not my thing.
After the class I was very spaced out and almost walked into the street in front of a bus and I was like, ”˜I’m never doing this again; this is not my cup of tea.’” But a different part of her, a wise part that knew she needed it, propelled her to return again and again. Unexpectedly, she began to feel happy, a feeling so dormant that she almost did not recognize it. Eventually this happiness expanded to such a magnitude that she whole-heartedly undertook the spiritual lifestyle training at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health. Next Julie traveled to Los Angeles, where she completed her teacher training at YogaWorks with mentors Erich Schiffmann and Rod Stryker. Immediately afterward, Julie dove into teaching at various area studios as well as private lessons until she quickly earned a permanent and valued place at YogaWorks.
Julie’s literary sensitivity and artistic inclinations fully imbue her teaching style. Having received a university degree in writing and literature, played bass in a band and written songs and created visual art projects throughout her life, Julie intuitively and spontaneously weaves her creativity into her instruction. Often she will offer her sweet, melodic voice in a chant at the end of class, or include music and poetry as a means of evoking themes that support her intention. Since teaching yoga is partly a verbal endeavor, and clarity of language is much of what precise teaching is about, the fact that Julie is interested in words has enhanced her effectiveness as a teacher.
She consistently challenges herself to be brave enough to bring in whatever inspires her; introducing a metaphor or a yoga sutra and including poetry requires courage, but if there is one person in class who is moved by it the same way she is, then she believes it is worth the risk. “I think I’m probably weird,” Julie cheerfully admits, “but by embracing my own quirks and strangeness, I feel happier as a teacher and as a person.” One of the greatest things that Julie hopes for in teaching a class is that students are loving and compassionate toward themselves, something she has struggled with and has seen others struggling with as well. Rather than thinking of herself as an edge-pusher, Julie identifies her approach as one of exploration, loving oneself and being in touch with one’s body.
Off the mat, Julie carries her practice exuberantly and with authenticity. “I’m really, really regular and real, and I find that everything in my life is complex and that the soul is complex, so I don’t see leading a yogic life as leading a white-and-pink and lacy kind of a life; I see it as being in touch with soul, which means the dirt as well. I feel like by using all those things””poetry or books that inspire me””my asana practice literally burns away the dross that builds up and prevents me from being in touch with that deep place, which, call it Spirit, God or whatever it is, is where I feel that I have the benefit of a larger kind of wisdom to draw from.”
The Yoga Sutras are also an enormous source of insight for Julie, both in life and in what she communicates in her yoga classes in los angeles. Her favorite one is heyam duhkham anagatam: “the misery that has not yet come is avoidable.” Julie is particularly fervent about this aphorism because she feels that yoga can reduce our attachment to having life be one way or another, allowing us to be more resilient and experience life’s mysterious trials as an observer rather than a victim. In other words, pain is inevitable but suffering is optional.
The road has not been devoid of challenges and lessons along the way. Julie has dealt with back injuries by altering her practice when necessary, which has been a true learning experience for her in being able to let go of preconceptions and welcome change, recognizing every kind of attachment will consequently bring pain. When faced with unconstructive emotions such as fear, Julie looks them in the face by acknowledging the struggle with the mind, a force so powerful for good or evil. To overcome them, she returns always to “embracing the mystery,” which is to be in touch with the Divine or God itself.
Julie speaks with joy and enthusiasm about her role and experience as director and instructor of teacher training for YogaWorks. “When people come to teacher training, they are hungry for information, and that’s exciting,” she says. “And because you see these people regularly over a period of time, they bond like crazy and that process of just watching them bond, get close, love one another and hold each other through the process is so beautiful. You watch the arc of their trajectory in their practice, and more than anything you watch their personal transformation, and you really get the sense that the job of the teacher is just to hold the container.”
Julie credits yoga with having raised her, being a mother figure, connecting her with her whole social life, being her means of exercise and making a living and linking her with her soul. In comparing her practice with a human relationship, Julie says, “Yoga and I have been married for almost 20 years now, and that’s a long time to have a relationship with someone.
We’re not in our honeymoon period anymore. The sex has gotten, you know, regular, but every once in a while it gets fiery again and we’re each other’s best friends, the way one should be in a relationship. We continue to be partners who both nurture and love each other and also push each other to grow. So I feel like my relationship with yoga describes what I imagine to be the most healthy kind of a marriage.” That said, Julie ultimately facilitates our individual sacred journey toward union: with our souls, with others and with that great “holy mystery.”
Read next >> kia miller