Teacher Highlight: Jessica Gumkowski
What was your first introduction to yoga?
Spring break 1992, Kingston, Jamaica. My memory is foggy but not because it was “Jamaica Man”, it just didn’t have much of an effect on me. My 2nd experience was quite the opposite.
Waterfront Fitness, 1996, Newport, Rhode Island. I vividly recall hating yoga and everything about it while holding Warrior II for, what must have been, 2 hrs. It made me so angry.
I also remember potent moments of calm. That was not a feeling I experienced often back in those days and it felt like an important one to experience more often. At the time, I was a Type-A, 20-something event planner working very hard to prove myself as the best in everything.
At what point did you decide you wanted to teach?
It was never a decision for me, I just knew. For a long time, I knew but I didn’t know when or who, so I waited.
On my 39th birthday I walked into the classroom of my teacher and I knew within the first words out of his mouth I would be training with him. He didn’t offer trainings at that time so I just kept going to his class, I was learning so much already. The following year, he offered an intensive training in my home town.
During the 14-day training I experienced a rebirth. I know this only because I most definitely experienced a death. I snowshoed to the training on account of historic Storm Nemo, a winter Nor’easter, and one of my fellow trainees was convinced that we had all suffered terribly together in Atlantis, and had reconnected at this training to heal. It was wild and one of the most transformative experiences of my life.
How would you characterize your style of yoga?
A strong mindfulness based vinyasa that is extremely relevant to the present moment.
What/who has made the largest impact on your practice?
Two very powerful teachers that I met while living in Newport, Rhode Island but at the end of the day, I’m the one doing the work. No one else can live my journey and it’s my job to put what’s been taught to me into action. A little bit, everyday over a long period of time.
What’s on your playlist?
I have never taught with music before being welcomed into PLAY and I am finding joy in the process. It has reconnected me to the beauty of musical creativity. I had gotten away from listening to music and it feels good to be back but don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing more that I love in a yoga class than silence.
Walk Off the Earth, Head and the Heart, Xavier Rudd and Alexi Murdoch are a few examples of what you’ll hear in my class.
What’s your favorite pose? Why?
Down dog. It’s the ultimate pose; strength, length, inversion, rest, challenge. I don’t like to go a day without busting out at least a few down dogs.
What’s your most challenging pose? Why?
Low plank, it’s so obviously full body and when done patiently, I can’t imagine a more challenging pose.
Best yoga moment/accomplishment/memory?
So many! The one that always comes to mind first was during a Warrior II hold in a hot, steamy class. We must have been there for at least 2 hours when my teacher cut the silence and simply said, “if you think it’s going to suck, it’s going to suck”.
Favorite snack before you teach/take a class?
Banana. No question, a very powerful fruit.
“You have the right to work, but never to the fruit of work.” -Bhagavad Gita
Any book recommendations?
Autobiography of a Yogi and the Bhagavad Gita are my staples. I always read the Gita before a race. It’s the quintessential story of the everyman’s battle with the mind and I take something different away every time I read it.
Top three tips for someone first getting into yoga:
Be a beginner forever because beginners are always growing.
If you feel fear, take a breath and ask yourself if that fear is truth.
Become the master of your breath
What do you like most about PLAY?
Heat and humidity is amazing for my body and I am so grateful to have found PLAY when we moved to Carlsbad last year. I’m immersing myself in the community and being met with so much love. It’s a special place.
What else inspires you? Keeps you going?
That all I really have to do is “right now”. I’m a risk-taker and with that comes risk. Risk is scary for us humans because it welcomes in the unknown.
I’ve found myself in many moments of unknown in my life, moments where fear may take a prominent presence and in the face of those moments, I remind myself that all I have to do is “right now”.