Yoga, Passion, Love

Jamal Thompson and Jill Minard

It’s a love story, really.  A story that centers on one woman’s love for self, love for yoga, love for her community-- and in time, love for romance and creating a partnership.  Jill Minard, an arts educator, found the tenants and practices of yoga by surprise.  As a single mother of four, and with a budding career as a theater and dance instructor, she was looking for a way to steal some peace in her hectic, sun-up-to-sun down, busy life. 

Shortly after Jill experimented with the practice, she knew that her life had changed forever, so she quickly worked towards becoming a certified instructor.  “When I first started practicing, I just knew that I wanted to dig deep into it.  Practicing yoga is about changing yourself from the inside and I wanted to offer that kind of change to others.”  According to Jill, she feels that the practice of yoga, including it’s focus on breathing deeply and taking in our surroundings in every sensory way, would be especially beneficial for other women like herself—single mothers who rarely ever have a chance to sit still, let alone concentrate only on themselves only.

As she earned her certification and started teaching the practices and poses, she felt invisible.  “Not only was there only a hand full of Black yogis teaching (mostly all of the yogis she’d ever seen in her city were White), but I also noticed there were almost no Black students in my classes, ever.”  She adds, “Plus I was frustrated that so many of the studios were focusing on yoga as a means of fitness only.  Yogis weren’t teaching the life changing aspects of yoga and really making their students focus on the internal work.  It’s easy to go to a yoga class and do the same twenty poses and strengthen your body, but what about strengthening your mind and spirit?”

Yoga House Houston was born as a result of realizing those voids and becoming committed to filling them with something meaningful for herself and her community.  “The current location is our second home and I paid for all of the renovations to the building myself, with no loans or investors.  It was all done little by little with my own money.  It has been a struggle, but yoga has taught me how to let it all go.  I basically had to give up everything that made me comfortable, that I had become used to as being who I was.”  The yoga studio is located in a historically African American community, that many regard as Houston’s Harlem, which is also in the city’s center that is facing it’s own resurgence as a gentrified community.  She has students who travel from the affluent Montrose and River Oaks areas, as well as those living within the Third Ward community.  For those who Jill knows will benefit greatly from yoga, but can’t afford the fees, she offers donation based classes—as well as discounted classes for seniors and free yoga in the park that sits directly across from her studio. 

While still trying to go deeper and get more from yoga, Jill began studying Kemetic yoga and planned to become certified by attending an annual retreat held in Jamaica.  It was at that retreat that she met her soul mate and life partner Jamal Thompson who had travelled all the way from Germany for certification as well.  She says of her whirlwind romance with Jamal, “We actually met in the airport before we even got to the retreat, and we became inseparable from the beginning.  Of course, we would practice and learn with the larger groups, but we would also sneak away and practice yoga together, and have these long,meaningful conversations.  We knew shortly after we left the retreat that we wanted to try to be together full time and long term.  We made a decision to go for it.  You know when you reach forty, you know what you want and what you don’t want.  A few months after the retreat ended, he moved here from Germany and we spend everyday together practicing yoga, running the studio, and building a future.  I never would have imagined that this would be my life.”

Jill’s story is an important one because it illustrates the opposite of a much-believed fallacy told to women, which is that we must chase love instead of our dreams and passions. or we simply won’t find it.  The lesson is that we can pursue our desires and still find love, balance and peace of mind; we just have to be open to it, and agree to “let it all go.”

Josie Pickens is a cultural critic, writer and educator who blogs at www.jonubian.com. Connect with her on Twitter @jonubian.