Jyll Hubbard-Salk: Name it and claim it
Jyll Hubbard-Salk is real. She gets to the heart of the matter. She makes space for her students to let their guards down and process what is going on inside. Jyll is a yoga teacher, doula, studio owner, mother and community leader. She owns Urban Asanas in Crown Heights, Brooklyn and teaches there regularly. Urban Asanas is a vibrant safe space that welcomes and supports diversity – and it’s a huge inspiration for Setu. We had the honor of talking with Jyll about community and working through life’s tough stuff.
Jyll, thank you for making time to talk with us! You’ve spoken a lot about community in past interviews. Can you share your definition of community?
Community to me is a collective where we’re all going for the same goal, the same thing. [Just] like in yoga we’re all together, in a community we’re all trying to be enlightened, to find peace, to find compassion, to work this shit out. It’s not like everybody has to be black, everybody has to be white, everybody has to be straight – we can all be different but the common denominator is the same.
You say Urban Asanas is a studio for the neighborhood community. Can you share why community is so important to you?
When I originally opened [Urban Asanas], the neighborhood wasn’t as gentrified as it is currently. And not to say I was opening a studio exclusively for people of color, but I wanted to make sure I opened a studio where non white people and even non white heterosexual people could find some peace. I wanted to make a safe space. It was important for me as a community to open a space where people could come in as they are and [have] it be non-judgemental.
I’m still trying to tap into people who are not white and it’s still a struggle. I think people have a misconceived notion about yoga. Even when I talk with black people they’re like, ‘Oh you’re just sitting there with your legs crossed’ and my response is, ‘No, no I’m not.’ Sometimes with how I sell it or market it to people, I say ‘I’m not going to even tell you about it, just come and see what I do.’ It’s hard for me to put into words the way that I teach because it is something beyond me. It’s like the holy spirit, especially on Sundays with the Soul Sundays.
You have a quote ‘Sit in your shit.’ You wrote a blog post in June 2017 going more into it. I’m curious, how does the physical practice of yoga enable people to sit in their shit?
I also say when you sit in your shit, you have to get uncomfortable to get comfortable. Because immediately when you get into a place of unease you want to fall away, you want to move back. The only way you can go through the uneasiness is to go deeper, fiercer — and [to] go through it. There’s no way you’re going to alleviate your shit unless you’re really in it. When you come to your mat, you have to come here. Especially in my space. And that’s why I pride myself on having a safe space.
I have people who come [and] they don’t even do yoga, they are just going to cry. And it’s not for me to judge. But you’re sitting in it. You’re showing up. Showing up to me is 80% of the work. Asana is asana, yeah great. Yoga is beyond asana. What are you doing and how are you showing up to do the work? How are you treating yourself, your neighbor, your family, your partner? To me that’s yoga. I tend to think that is missing a lot in this yoga world.
Are you into chakras and using them in your class sequences?
No. I can make a reference to chakras but that is not my calling.
For me, the classes I’ve been teaching lately are heavy power classes, unless it’s a Yin restorative class. In my power classes, we are working through some shit. We’re sweating to get you through and burn through whatever you may be holding onto.
When I teach on my Soul Sunday class, after an hour people are in tears. That’s also my thing. I’ll say, ‘let’s sit in this, let’s breathe together, let my breath connect with your breath and manifest some sweetness.’
What do you think is bringing the emotions from people in these classes? Is it what you’re saying, a kind of guided meditation?
It’s all about sitting in your shit. When you sit down and you start to connect with your prana. And you’re like [EXHALE] and you start to inhale and exhale. Then you start to unfold like an artichoke. And the process can be painful yet sweet. You know sometimes people say, ‘is your glass half empty or is your glass half full?’ It doesn’t matter because it’s refillable. It’s just a release. People may be thinking, ‘I’ve been holding onto this all week.’ And definitely since Trump has been in the office it’s been crazy.
In an article you shared an affirmation you have: ‘I am powerful.’ I’m wondering about your relationship with that affirmation since you are very powerful. Sometimes people have affirmations to help them become something, but you are already powerful.
I work on it. I never question who I am or what I am. But I have to affirm it. I’m a firm believer: you name it and you claim it. I have to be like, ‘Ok I got this shit’. Even some mornings, because I have Lymes disease, I wake up and my knees are like ‘noooo, we’re still in bed’. I have to name it and claim it. I have to keep affirming, ‘you got this girl, you’re good, you’re good.’
I affirm my power and I tell everyone else how fucking powerful they are too. Because like I say, ‘I’m your teacher but I’m your biggest fucking cheerleader. Let’s go. What do you need to rock out? What do you need?’
Is that spirit inherent in you or did someone model it for you?
Libby, I’m a witch. My grandmother was a witch. I’m a goddess, my grandmother was [a goddess]. I’ve always felt that I had something different. I was always the weird one. Once I embraced that I was different, I gave no fucks. That’s what I even do with my girls. My husband is Jewish and I have these little high yellow black babies. People think they’re weird or different. I tell my kids, ‘hold onto your power because it’s unique and one of a kind.’
You mentioned in a podcast that Nikki Costello is your teacher and I saw you went to India with her this past summer. What was the most impactful thing Nikki taught you? How does that relationship impact your teaching style?
Nikki is almost my age and she’s been doing this a long time. To me that’s what’s important. You know the school of knocks, you live. She and I have been to some of the same places in the East Village back in our 20s. That’s what resonates with me, because she gets me. And it’s imperative. I have Lymes Disease and she knows how to tell me ‘maybe you need to modify and do this and this.’ I need somebody who knows what the fuck they’re talking about. You can do a sequence but what are you doing?
You know what? I can cry with her. I can cry. Who heals the healer? I hold so much space for many people – it’s fucking awesome. But when I need to exhale and kind of let my nuts hang, who holds me up? Because my dynamic and my person is so huge, you need to meet me or be bigger than me. She definitely meets me at my space, she definitely meets me where I am because she is not intimidated. And that’s what’s awesome. It’s beyond yoga, she’s my friend.