Article by Boyd Martin
Charmingly diminutive, yet sturdy and tanned with an angelic face, Jessica Talisman’s widely varied background and travels have brought her into orbit around yoga as her central balancing force. Two childhood passions, horses and the inner workings of government, brought her unique experiences that seemed to share an unlikely common denominator.
By the age of six, Jessica was riding horses. Thrilled by the communication and teamwork between animal and human, it was her first introduction to body mechanics and the art of movement. While in high school during summers, Jessica worked as a page in the U.S. Senate, experiencing first-hand the intricate and fast-paced communication, movement, and teamwork inherent in the ways of government. A fascination for teaching also surfaced during these years, as well as a deep respect for history and the experiences of her elders.
It was the horse that ultimately led Jessica to seek out yoga intensively. Jessica had been exposed to yoga via her grandmother, and an aunt who ran her own Iyengar yoga studio in Vermont. But yoga soon became a necessary medical option for Jessica. While attempting to ride a newly broken horse, Jessica was thrown over the horse’s head, face first, to the ground and then stomped on. The horse’s hooves had come down directly on Jessica’s sacrum, shattering it. Because of the nature of the break, surgery was not an option, and healing was slow and painful. Eventually, the bones repaired, but had grown together offset to the right creating obvious body stress, and aggravating longstanding double sciatica Jessica had suffered since childhood.
With discipline and determination, Jessica pursued Iyengar yoga in an attempt to recover her spinal health so she could get back on a horse. It worked, and soon Jessica was riding competitively once again, although she still coped with pain.
Attracted to the beauty and lifestyle of the Pacific Northwest, Jessica moved to Portland, Oregon, in 1995, and discovered Bikram yoga th e next y ear. As she practiced yoga, she pursued her Masters Degree in Teaching from Portland’s Lewis & Clark College, and following that, worked as a horse-riding instructor in a nearby suburb for all ages from 6-60. Jessica became more and more impressed with the results she was getting in her Bikram yoga practice, and soon decided, in 1999, to take the Bikram Yoga instructor training in Los Angeles with a goal of opening her own studio in Portland.
The training was rigorous and most of it was delivered personally by Bikram Choudhury. With her expectations set relative to the laid-back style of Bikram Yoga taught in Portland at the time, Jessica was in for a shock. “It was a rude awakening, really–a good rude awakening,” says Jessica. “I seriously felt like I was in the dark. But then after the first month, it was like a movie where the light came down–you could hear angels singing. The whole concept of Bikram was that you had to go through hell to get to heaven.”
“There were 40 students in class, and the studio was above a furniture store on Wilshire and Robertson. We really had a unique experience in that we had Bikram for most posture clinics, and he taught us most of the time, so it was definitely intense. Now they have these huge rooms.”
Finally, Jessica’s spinal issues resolved after the training, but she found that only with continued yoga practice did the issues stay resolved. Attendant to that benefit Jessica found she didn’t need to sleep as many hours… “Which was a big thing for me,” she points out. “There is a certain balance in a daily approach, which is good and bad. I found if I didn’t get a yoga class in for a week, then I’d definitely feel off-balance. That’s something where I’m trying to find balance now. But it’s very interesting, when you first start yoga, you feel like crap, you feel awful, and you feel like you shouldn’t feel that way; all those same feelings come back when you don’t do the yoga, and it’s interesting how it comes full circle like that.”
Bikr am talks about this effect in his book, Bikram’s Beginning Yoga Class. The concept of “Yoga with interest” is introduced where the student is able to collect well-being “credits” while practicing their yoga to cash in later when not practicing. These “credits” are especially valuable in today’s modern world of “convenience” where a combination of sedentariness and hurry-up stress can quickly take its toll physically.
After her training with Bikram, Jessica taught at one of the two Bikram studios in Portland. But soon, she felt the calling to start her own studio. “I wanted to bring yoga to a community that didn’t have any, which was Beaverton (a Portland suburb). It was also out of respect that I opened far enough away from the other studios in town,” says Jessica. “And I just had a drive to create a practice that embodied what I experienced.”
Of course, when creating anything with intention, people and the universe will throw up all manner of “reasons” why it just can’t be. And when it comes to offering humans an opportunity for self-development, these “reasons” can become overwhelming. Jessica got her fair share. “I think that was something that I wasn’t prepared for,” Jessica relates. “But, it has taught me the biggest lesson of all. You’ll have people that run out the door, running the other way, screaming down the street, ‘Get me out of here, this is awful.’ I mean, every single reaction and color of the rainbow. And because it was a personal investment in creating the space, it was easy to take it personally. What I’ve come to realize is that this is an entity totally separate from myself. What I did was create a space–all feng shui’d out–that is friendly and open, and inviting to practices. Beyond that, everything just takes care of itself.”
Jessica has several comments to make about the Americanization of yoga. “I think it’s really sad. We’ve Westernized it. We’ve made it into a bunch of guys wearing little shorts, greasing up their bodies and doing yoga videos in some cheesy loft in Soho. Th e true nature of yoga is all based on lineage. Bikram’s been studying yoga since he was three or four, and comes from a lineage. So for some of these people who study for three or four years and then going off saying, ‘I’ve created my own yoga,’ is disrespectful.” She further comments on the American habit of historical myopia, which is embodied in the culture’s deplorable treatment of its elders and its manic worship of youth–a subject that also puts Bikram himself on a soapbox frequently.
Jessica is currently in the process of turning her studio over to new owners, who recently completed their training and are very passionate about the work. She sees it as a life expansion. “You get to a point with anything–and especially with yoga–that it leads you to growth. It leads you to what is the next step,” declares Jessica. Her post-ownership activities will include continuing to teach, create and run seminars on yoga, organize and direct vacation yoga retreats, and assist with instructor training at Bikram’s L.A. headquarters. Jessica intends to write a book about her experiences with Bikram yoga, as well as the Iyengar and Ashtanga forms of yoga she has practiced. The book will communicate the deep nature of the yoga experience in her life, and hopefully inspire others to take that path.
About the Author
Boyd joined Subtle Energy Solutions in 1998 as a product distributor, and came on as a staff member in 2002. He designed the website and sees to its daily maintenance, including the Vibrant Living Newsletter, where he is a writer. Boyd is a well-known musician (drummer) in the Portland, Oregon, area, and is an avid, daily Bikram Yoga student.
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