About Julia: "Julia Romano is a long time DC yogi. A former Yoga District Senior Teacher, Julia is the coordinator of DC's newest yoga space, Yoga Noma. Julia is also trained in clinical psychology, currently completing a Masters of Science in Yoga Therapy, and runs her own retreat and personal training business."
Julia was kind enough to answer questions for us as part of our Featured Yogi Series.
1. How did you begin practicing yoga?
When I began practicing yoga, I was broken. My ankle had been sliced open, pins inserted, cartilage drilled; I could barely walk. I was, also, severely stricken by body dysmorphia bordering on anorexia, the practical birthright for a Los Angeles girl. Yoga was something I always told myself I should do, dabbled in occasionally, but to which I could never commit. Meditation, too, I practiced on occasion, but my mind had not yet learned the power of turning inward. Ultimately, I wasn't ready to practice sitting still until the moment I was ready to practice sitting still. That ankle surgery and the three months of no walking that followed - heck, the 13 sprains and two breaks that led to it - I'm grateful for it all. If it hadn't been for that injury, it might have taken me even longer to find my way to the most healing practice I've ever known. I write about that experience in a recent blog post on why meditation "works," and how the practice helped me find what I didn't even know I was looking for.
2. Why is yoga important to you?
I don't consider yoga something I do a couple hours a day; yoga is my life's work. I am determined to live a joyful life. That doesn't mean I live in the illusion that life never hurts. Sometimes, put mildly, life sucks. But through my yoga and meditation practices I have gained an understanding of my role in how much I suffer as a consequence of life's inevitable challenges. The discomfort of a sustained chair pose, or a deep hip stretch, has become a means by which I practice a profoundly empowering process: that of witnessing discomfort, recognizing my own capacity to sustain myself in a moment of discomfort, and watching that moment pass. Though I shy away from anything that smacks of dogma, I can say with my whole heart that yoga is my spiritual practice. I see the Light within each one of my students. I feel it as the same burning Light within me, illuminating my path.
3. What made you want to teach yoga?
I never thought I would teach. I did my first 200 hour training after a hamstring tear in India put my Ashtanga practice on hold. I took a month, travelled around that blessed country, and returned to my home base in the southwest city of Mysore to do a training in a style I thought would be easier on my bruised body: hatha. I had no intention of teaching, but when I returned to the States after seven life changing months, in search of job and purpose, owner Jasmine Chehrazi welcomed me into the community of Yoga District, a fact for which I will be always grateful. I truly had no idea I'd be any good at teaching. But students kept coming back; classes got bigger and bigger. Jasmine entrusted me to take on more prime time classes, and before I knew it I was teaching almost every day, multiple times a day, and totally in love with the work. I had never felt more affirmed, more whole, and knew I had found "it," that thing we search for: soul purpose. This new community we've built at Yoga NoMa has the same feel as those early Yoga District days; our students are excited, and curious, and eager to build something lasting and meaningful. I'm so deeply grateful to take part in the creation of this powerful, joyful space.
4. Do you have a preferred type of yoga to teach/practice? Please elaborate.
I teach yoga as a process. The physical practice is secondary to the practice of the process of yoga: that is, the poses and movements become conduits, containers for the greater practice of breath by breath acceptance of what is. I choose to see asana as a means to strengthen the muscles that serve us most during moments of life's heaviest lifting. You're probably never going to find a warrior two, or chair pose, useful in daily life. I mean, sure, the increase in strength and muscle found in the physical body have profound benefit, but ultimately, I see yoga as a means to practice strengthening something far more profound and lasting: the muscles of awareness, of patience and acceptance, of resilience and determination, and of compassion. Compassion--that's a heck of a good one: can we practice it for ourselves when we inevitable fall? Can we practice resilience, and come back into the pose? Can the practice help us strengthen the muscle of empathy for others who fall? Yoga isn't only for the lithe and young; quite the opposite. Yoga is a lifelong practice of a process that has the potential to engender a life of real joyfulness. Though we may ever still experience moments of challenge and pain, joyfulness -- the product of profound self-acceptance -- leaves no room for suffering. If suffering is the desire for things to be different than they are right now, and yoga is the practice of breath-linking self-acceptance, then yoga can be the antidote to suffering. Raise your hand if you want to live a more joyful life.
5. Describe a yoga class with Julia. What makes the experience unique?
A student told me once that I increase intensity without increasing volume. I like that. I like to build a practice from the ground up, going deeper without force, only ease. No real depth is ever found by force. We go "deeper" with patience, and mindfulness, and yes, compassion; and often, the depth that's achieved has nothing to do with the physical form. I do my darnedest to create a space in which every person can find what they are seeking. The flows may range from the strong and fiery, to the soft and meditative (even over the course of one class), but the whole practice is, ultimately, breath-linking meditation in movement. If I've done my job, you walk out feeling better, whatever that means to you. And, hopefully, you pay that "better" forward. I think that's the whole beautiful point.
6. Do you find that cross training makes you a better yogi? What other forms of exercise do you enjoy?
Because I think yoga is a process, not a pose or something done solely with the physical body: yes. Everything is an opportunity to practice the process of yoga. Indeed--everything is yoga. I revel in the opportunity to practice acceptance and resilience in a moment of challenge--goodness knows, DC traffic, let alone collisions with one's self and others, offer enough opportunities to practice yoga in the cross-training called life!
On the physical level, yes, totally. I answer the call of my body; it's my one true life long partner, and it speaks to me in the language of sensation. Some days my body eschews another vinyasa in favor for a long bike ride or swim. But, inevitably, the next day, my body wakes up demanding a good, long downdog. I heart downdogs.
7. What is your favorite article of yoga- related gear?
For the physical practice of yoga, I love a good mat. Makes a heck of a difference. New students: if you're struggling in downdog, get a good, really sticky mat, like a Jade. It makes a world of difference.
Ultimately, you don't need nothin' besides you and that sweet flowing breath to practice the process called yoga. You and you. You already have all the tools you need to live a more joyful life.
8. Who is your favorite Washington D.C. area yoga teacher?
Goodness. This community is so rich! We are so blessed with so many awesome teachers! This isn't a cop out: I don't have a favorite, truly. I do love the teachers who've joined the Yoga NoMa community: Steve Abate, Kristen Krash, April Puciata, Ariele Foster, Naomi Gottlieb-Miller, Denese Cavanaugh, among 10 others. It's an amazing line up. I'm stoked to manage the space just so I can take their classes as often as possible. Join them, and me, on the mat anytime.
Take a class with Julia at Yoga NoMa.