During the hallmark month where most people focus on celebrating external love, we have decided to shift the focus to the ultimate form of self-love: our bodies, our health, our visions, our purpose.
In this special series of our Women Who Lead initiative, we are profiling six female leaders in the Pacific North West who are game-changers, light-carriers, torch-holders for this conversation and health + wellbeing advocates within their communities. We will be sharing our conversations with them about their personal journies, their visions for the future, and getting real about what they love most about their bodies.
We're kicking off our #LoveYourBody series with a true leader in the Seattle health and wellness community: JL Chiemingo. A ray of light and exceptional yoga teacher, JL embodies what it means to be strong and true to herself in every moment. Her light touches the Seattle community and beyond, teaching yoag across the country, sharing her musings through her website and contributing to blogs elevating the conversation about mindfulness and awareness.
She's a natural connector and a huge lover whose message to others is all about being completely YOU. She hits this home by being fully herself and embracing every ounce of who she is, and in turn creates the environment for others to do the same.
We're thrilled to have spent time in conversation with JL and are so excited to be sharing her words with you. Read on and get to know more about the strength of this inspiring leader, mother, wife, yoga teacher and community builder.
Where did your drive to contribute to your work originate from?
Honestly my mom. She is incredibly driven and she expected nothing less from us. Everything I do, I do 120%. When I was a journalist, I became an Executive News Producer by the time I was 26 years old and by 27 I was nominated for my first EMMY award. In Yoga, though, I have stayed driven and focused, but I am on a much slower timeframe. That doesn’t mean I am not constantly striving for more. I just know I have forever and the time in the practice, along with time teaching are so important to knowledge and integrity. Those are most important to me when being driven...always come from a place of purity.
What compelled you to step up as a leader in this world?
It’s funny to think of myself as a leader, but I will say I always wanted to be a teacher of some kind. I always felt the need to inspire and to BE someone. I think from a young age I recognized that life is short and you need to always seize every moment and be the best YOU you can be. Again, my mom inspired me to always try, to always be me. She was tough on me, but in the end that pushed me to step up in my capabilities and not just accept mediocrity.
When did you know you were stepping into a calling or a purpose?
About 3 or 4 years ago, when I was leading my favorite signature workshop called 'Body Prayer' (or Divine Devotion) and I had 70 students or so flowing together creating this yoga practice with higher purpose. After that workshop, I felt a bit overwhelmed. Overwhelmed at the power of the practice and overwhelmed to be able to deeply touch so many lives in such a profound way. In addition, every time I taught at Yoga for Hope and Hauteyoga Queen Anne had the biggest fundraising team, I knew I could use my teaching as part of something bigger, something greater than just me.
What is the boldest thing you have done on your path?
Oh that’s easy, when I quit my career as a TV News Producer to be a Yoga Teacher. Just ask my husband ;)
Seriously, Greg supported me and continues to support me both financially and emotionally to do what I love and what I feel is my purpose on this earth without worrying about whether I will eat or have a roof over my head. Giving up a 6-figure, highly successful career as a Journalist to be a mom and yoga teacher where I made $4,000 my first year and owed more than that in taxes, was radical, scary and difficult and for certain BOLD!
What’s been a moment of understanding or realization that your work has created an impact on others?
On my birthday in 2013, a dream came true, and I taught at a large yoga festival called Wanderlust Squaw Valley. I could cry just thinking about it. I began class by telling a story of how I believe I manifested my dream into reality. I made it happen!
While telling the story, I had students sitting all around me; we were all crying and feeling empowered. For days after that class, I would be walking around the grounds of the festival and have students stop me to tell me how I changed their lives with that class. They gave me gifts, they told me stories of how they felt they were ‘meant’ to be in my class, how they would never forget me or forget my message of creating the life you want.
This past fall, I wrote a piece for my dear friend’s website, about verbal abuse in relationships. The response I received in the form of emails, calls, etc. showed me I was meant to share my story and that because of it these women who read it will be inspired to get out of unhealthy relationships too.
Why do you lead?
Truthfully, why not? I feel it in my soul. It is who I am. I always want my legacy as a yoga teacher to be this: Love! If I can inspire people to love themselves more, we can love others more too. I want to be heard, I want to make a better world, I want to step up and do my part in the world. Who knows how long we have? I will never waste a moment saying what if…
We are focusing on loving your body this month, why did you choose to focus on your low back? What’s the story?
I have always been an athlete or someone who uses my body a lot. When I was 13 or 14 year old, I found out I have a deformed L5 vertebra. This problem actually has a name: Spondylolisthesis. Basically that vertebra slips backward and forward and causes quite a lot of pain, and over time can wear away the soft tissue between the vertebra. I was a distance runner most of my life and was told I would never run a full marathon and that it would be a problem I would need to manage, always.
I did struggle with back pain most of my life and I did, in fact, run a full marathon when I was 35 years old. But, two parts of the story are so vital. When I turned 27 I got my first tattoo on my lower back, a place of weakness in my physical body. That tattoo is the Chinese symbol for strength. I knew once I had that word tattooed on my body and most of all on my lower back, I could never be weak. I would always be strong. In addition, through 15 years of practicing the physical form of yoga, I have realized just how strong my lower back really is. I learned that if I care for my body, it will take care of me. My back is the symbol of strength to me. I can do full wheel or backbend (it’s not pretty, but still!), I can pick up my son who is 12 years old and 115 pounds, and my back is stronger than ever at 43 years old.
What does it mean and represent to you?
I am so proud of my back, and I love how my tattoo has evolved and grown over the years and is now my favorite part of my body. I enjoy the way it works, the way it looks, and all that it symbolizes in my life: that I am strong. Period. End of sentence.
How has your relationship with your body, and more specifically your back, evolved over time?
Oh goodness, so much. I have spent a lot of my life hating my body and certainly hating my back for not being ‘perfect.’ I have learned—am still learning—to love the imperfections. This has been an evolution in all ways. More than ever, being over 40 now, I understand all the gifts my body has given me, not the least of which is my career as a yoga teacher. But learning to love my back has involved trying to get over the bulges, rolls and weight too. Honestly, when I saw the ‘behind the scenes’ photo for this photo-shoot, I was AMAZED that my immediate reaction was ‘Wow! I look beautiful.’ That’s a first.
What are your body’s gifts?
I have done SO MANY THINGS with my body: crazy yoga poses, hiked mountains, swam in oceans all around the world, repelled a waterfall in Costa Rica, run a marathon and several half marathons, given birth, biked a few centuries (100 mile rides), hiked through raging rivers in the jungle, and so much more.
My body has gifted me with physical strength, stamina, and pleasure. I truly am grateful for all my body can do and has done. It is pretty epic.
What do you want women to know about their bodies?
You HAVE to find a way to love your body. When you do, you will be more comfortable & confident, you will be stronger, you will be happier. One of my dear friends, Jennifer Pastilloff who is a writer and yoga teacher says: “Take a picture of your face and remember that, in ten years, you will be amazed at how gorgeous you WERE. Be Amazed NOW.”
This has always resonated with me. I try to remember this now: I am beautiful.
What is your vision for the future?
I will touch more lives combining yoga with more mediums; writing, public speaking, traveling. I will inspire more people to love themselves. I will write a book.
What have you learned?
I have learned if you believe it will happen, it will. If you don’t believe it, it won’t. What you send out, you will get back. Hopefully that is Love. Love more, more, more.
How do you continue to develop yourself?
I try to push myself to the uncomfortable zone, wherever that is. Right now, I am looking for ways to expand that make sense for the long-term. I spend a lot of time meditating in various ways; seated, walking to see what comes to me. If it seems scary or not possible, I try to open up to it.
Who are some women leaders that inspire you?
No doubt, Jen Pastiloff inspires me nearly every day. She leads with heart and openness. She inspires me to be truly authentic and open.
Leah Zaccaria inspires me to never doubt and never give up. She is one of the hardest working people I have ever met.
Cheryl Strayed (the author of Wild) for digging so deep into herself both physically and emotionally then not being afraid to share that depth with the world.
What’s your take on living and leading with soul?
Yoga Sutra 11.36: “Dedicated to truth and integrity (Satya), our thoughts words and actions gain the power to manifest.” – Secret Power of Yoga by Nischala Joy Devi
I believe whole-heartedly in being completely authentic. Truth, integrity, love – these are my guiding principles. I believe when you live in this way, with heart and soul, you will attract those things back to you. Leading your life with Satya (Truth), no one, and nothing can deny your manifestations. You MAKE them come true.
JL is a Seattle-based yoga teacher who has been teaching for 12 years. She teaches weekly classes, offers a variety of unique workshops and special events, leads life-changing yoga retreats around the world and teaches at national yoga festivals. Follow more of JL's journey and get connected with her community here.