Mid-November Teacher Feature: Jemila Kester

Posted By Sarah on Nov 15, 2017 in News and Deals | 0 comments

Teaching at O2 Since: 2015

Jemila’s Thoughts on Eka Pada Raja Kapotasana: “One time at my old studio in NYC I tried to keep up with the lady next to me, and we got pretty deep in the weeds on this pose, and I felt a snap-pop-pinch in my low back (which is bad) and realized I was letting my ego guide me, so I backed out. From child’s pose, I peeked over to see what other amazing feats this woman could perform. And that’s when I saw the lady was Trinity from The Matrix. Yes, that Trinity, from that Matrix. The one with all the bending and flipping and contorting as her job. So the lesson is, don’t try to keep up with or impress anyone. And if you must, check first to make sure they aren’t a professional stuntwoman. Come to think of it, this story might answer about half of these questions…”

Jemila’s Current Teaching Schedule:
7pm Tuesdays – Intermediate
7:15pm Thursdays – Basics


O2-25Nowadays, so many children are growing up exposed to yoga — it’s in schools and easily searchable on YouTube and encouraged by parents.  Here at O2, even, we offer a kids’ yoga program called Kanga & Joey (look for it to return this winter).  But Jemila had the fortunate experience of growing up with yoga long before this current “mindfulness for youngsters” trend.  “My mom was an Iyengar teacher in the ’70s and taught me tree, child’s pose, dead bug (now called ‘happy baby’) and savasana as a kid,” Jemila said, adding, “I suspect it was a ploy to keep me quiet…”  That ploy has gifted her with a lifetime of yoga exposure that continues to resonate well past childhood and adolescence all the way into adulthood.

Originally from the Boston area, Jemila spent many years living in New York City with her husband and two young daughters before returning to her home base to pursue a PhD in microbiology at Harvard University, a degree she completed last spring.  That academic path landed her right on the doorstep at O2 five years ago, just as the Cambridge studio was opening.  “I really wanted a studio to call home.  I had been very happy with my studio in NYC but hadn’t yet found a place I loved here.  Then I took my first class with Mimi and never looked back,” Jemila recalled.  She joined the workstudy team at the Cambridge studio and quickly became one of our favorite and most dependable desk staff members.

The next step from there is an obvious one:  Mimi’s 200-Hour Teacher Training program!  Jemila, still in the midsScreen shot 2017-11-12 at 11.09.02 AMt of her PhD at Harvard, decided to take the leap and learn to be a yoga teacher along with the other stellar yogis in the Class of 2014.  “I love yoga and I love being in charge,” she said wryly of her decision to enroll.  “Honestly, I really do just love yoga and I wanted to be able to safely share the experience with others.”  Since completing those 200-hours, Jemila moved on to our Karma Program, the internship for our new teachers, before landing on the schedule and is now one of our most creative — and dare we say most challenging (in a good way) — teachers.  She will even be teaching at our annual retreat at Maya Tulum in Tulum, Mexico this January!

We are so happy to have Jemila on Team O2.  Her grace, team spirit, and sense of humor are all essential pieces that makes her a valuable force in our midst.  The fact that she now spends her days working at MIT in the Biological Engineering department as a postdoctoral scientist — “I study how the bacteria in your gut influences your ability to fight infections.  We use an entirely in vitro system, meaning we are a vegan lab!” she said — makes us so proud to be part of this versatile yogi’s life.


What’s the best lesson you’ve learned from Mimi?

“This is so hard! There are so many. Mimi is a professional badass. I don’t know that I can sum up in a single thing all that she has given to me. She has taught me to be more open to life and experiences and other humans. She has taught me that if you see something you don’t like, change it (You think there should be more vegan restaurants? Open a vegan restaurant). She has taught me that yoga (and life) is fun and to not take myself so seriously. She has provided me the space and guidance in which to grow and explore as a teacher. And she has shown me — through her own teaching, her practice, and her life — how to be present without judging myself or others, even if only for this one inhale, and this one exhale.”

What’s the best lesson you’ve learned from teaching?

“‘Practice and all is coming.’ When I first started teaching, I wanted to teach something new every time and stay fresh and sassy. I have slowly come to see that teaching something over and over again (just like with my own practice) improves my cueing, my understanding of the anatomy, my ability to walk and talk and adjust at the same time, and ultimately makes it more fun for me — which hopefully makes it more fun for the students.”

What’s the best lesson you’ve learned from one of our other teachers?

“One time I was doing my typical Harvard Type-A freak out thing and Melissa [fellow TT Class of 2014 grad] just looked at me and said, ‘Girl, you need to relax.’  I think of that whenever I start to get all angsty. It makes me smile, take a pause, and take a breath. She is a very smart lady.”

What’s your favorite pose to teach?

“From an aesthetic point of view, I love a full class where everyone is doing the same thing. Lately I’ve been into teaching seated forward folds (wide leg or feet together) with a mandatory strap. When you see 20 people with straight backs and legs, it makes you feel good inside.

It’s not really a pose, but I love a good Om sesh. It fills me with peace and happiness.

I love to say triang mukha eka pada paschimottansana…

And anything dynamic, which I suppose is a combo of the first two. Everyone moving together as one, with the audible, communal breath supplying a soundtrack.”

What’s your favorite pose to do?

“I enjoy transitions, both teaching and doing. I used to be able to do bound supta kurmasana to titibhasana to crane to chatturanga (in 2000…), which was a fun party trick. Recently, I did asta vakrasana to koundinyasa to vinyasa, with which I really impressed myself. Watch out, Carrie-Anne Moss! The pose that feels the best to my body is janu sirsasana A. And the pose that feels the best to my mind is sukasana after savasana. With some Oms (see above).”

What’s your dream pose?

“Handstand in the middle of the room!”

Do you have a mantra?

“Chris Hardwick’s Nerdist podcast ends with ‘Enjoy your burrito!’ It means, enjoy what you have now, get out of the past and stop looking to the future if it’s making you nuts, and just enjoy the burrito in your mouth right now! Be present.  And it says all of that without any sense of superiority, and with a healthy dose of fun.”

Do you play music in class?

“Not usually.  Paulina and Kate both answered this in a way that spoke to me. I used to play music, because I love practicing to music, but I’m not adept enough at DJing or sequencing to create a class and playlist where each upbeat and downbeat hit exactly the right movement. I would love to be able to do this; maybe with some live tabla and sitar we could make it work. I smell a workshop… Sometimes I find my playlists can be distracting, even if they were wonderful for a self practice. So unless there’s an external noise I want to drown out, I don’t play music anymore. Plus, that gives students the opportunity to focus on the sounds of the breath.”

Any fun facts you’d like to share?

“Did you know that the original title for War and Peace was War, What is it Good For?

*editor’s note: we believe this is Jemila telling us she is a wee bit into Seinfeld and will gladly challenge you to a quote-off.

Any other final thoughts?

“I have two daughters. They are hilarious. If you are ever having a hard day, ask me what funny thing they did lately and it will make you smile. Promise.”


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