Sweating and panting in Warrior II during a power hot yoga class taught by Jenniferlyn Chimiengo, I knew that JL needed to be featured by Seattle Yoga News in their search for outstanding yoga teachers in our Seattle yoga community. JL, as she is often called, has climbed the ladder to yoga stardom with many contributions and leadership positions in the Seattle community and reaching a national level in her 13 years of teaching yoga. Yet, when you come to hauteyoga Queen Anne to take a class from her, you’ll hear JL greeting her students warmly, laughing and smiling with you and her yoga friends. Success has not stolen her style. JL is warm, grounded in the moment, personable and open. I appreciate her warmth and the way she greets us students at the beginning of class, and her thoughtful focus on gratitude opening class. I also love the challenging hard yoga poses and sequences she leads.
JL has taught at hauteyoga Queen Anne since it opened 6 years ago. She was a Lululemon Ambassador and was a Lead Teacher for Yoga for Hope for six years. She taught yoga for Wanderlust at Squaw Valley in 2013- how fun! JL has written many articles about yoga in MindBodyGreen, GrowSoulBeautiful, The Manifestation Station and more. She is on her way to lead a yoga retreat in Bali, working with Travel Yogi! Future retreats include a return to Mexico and one to Africa. I was honored she agreed to answer some questions for an interview for Seattle Yoga News readers before she left on her new adventure.
Cathy Geier: What led you to leave your career to become a yoga teacher, and how did you decide where to get your teacher training?
Jenniferlyn Chiemingo: 9-11 changed my whole life. I was working nonstop as a TV News Producer, had been trying without success to conceive a baby with my husband and had loads of stress-related physical issues. When 9-11 happened, I took a long, hard look at my life and decided I wouldn’t want my last days to be like I was living. Since we can never know when our last days will be, I live for RIGHT NOW. About six months after 9-11, I left my job to become a yoga teacher. Two weeks after I gave my notice, I found out I was pregnant. I had already been accepted into a teacher training in Colorado. When I called them to tell them I was expecting, they said I could not go through the training with them (This was like 14 years ago). Growing up in New England, I’d heard about Kripalu (in Lenox, Massachusetts) as the largest yoga center in North America. They had a training scheduled a few months later with Integrative Yoga Therapy. I applied, was accepted and did the program when I was five months pregnant.
Cathy Geier: Where did you start your yoga teaching career, and how did you get your first yoga teaching jobs?
Jenniferlyn Chiemingo: My first teaching job was at a place called ‘Gracewinds’ in north Seattle geared towards new or expecting moms. I taught pre and post-natal yoga (I even took my son along). I simply applied and was hired! My first regular ‘vinyasa’ yoga teaching gig was at a long-gone gym called, “Pure Fitness.” Amber Tande hired me because I came recommended by my first friend in Seattle, who also taught there: Claire Whitley. I met so many students there (who still practice with me to this day) and even coworkers like Ginger Saunders. It may have been ‘just a gym’ but I treasure that experience so very much, and in many ways it defined the rest of my career.
Cathy Geier: Your yoga career has grown including international retreats, Wanderlust, and many leadership positions. How do you balance the ‘star’ aspect with normal daily routines and relationships?
Jenniferlyn Chiemingo: I am humbled by this sweet question! For me, Yoga is about CONNECTION. It’s that simple. That is why I teach. I live for the connection, getting to really know people. All I do is share love and get a lot of love back. Life is life. I stand in front of a class every night trying to inspire, but I also change the cat box everyday too. THAT is living. And living a life being grounded, spreading love and creating connection. I can’t connect to people if I think I am somehow ‘above it all.’ I cannot connect if I don’t really understand what my peers are going through. I never want that to change, ever.
Cathy Geier: You’ve been teaching yoga for several years now with as many as 12 classes per week. How do you keep your classes fresh and interesting for you and for your students?
Jenniferlyn Chiemingo: This is vitally important to me. I sometimes get made fun of in the yoga world because I have an actual class plan with me each class. Laminated. That doesn’t mean I don’t go with the flow. Some nights I teach something completely different. But I ALWAYS have a plan. If I didn’t (and in past years I didn’t) I would teach all MY favorite stuff – Dancing Warriors, Crow, Half Moon and never teach backbends! I also plan out my themes too. I keep all these plans in three-ring binders and each week, when I plan, I look back and make sure I am offering a constant variety in flow and themes. It keeps me honest.
Cathy Geier: Your yoga students may vary in age, gender, years of yoga practice and professional backgrounds. How do you adapt your teaching to be inclusive for everyone in the room?
Jenniferlyn Chiemingo: I like to think of myself as a mass-public teacher. Meaning ANYONE could take my class. I like to teach classes that are physically and spiritually challenging. I like hot, sweaty, power yoga, but I do offer different variations and levels for everyone. That being said, I also believe my classes are more about what I share than what we do. I feel strongly that in my class you get a bit of everything: sweat, community, connection, love, challenge and you’ll always feel better when you leave than when you came in.
So in truth, my style may not be for everyone… but it works for a good number of people.
Cathy Geier: What do you think makes great yoga teachers and how do you embrace those principles? How might you suggest that a new yoga teacher utilize these principles in starting out?
Jenniferlyn Chiemingo: I say this all the time – You cannot be a great teacher until you are a great student. I firmly believe that. So, that means taking a lot of classes, continuing to practice and learn from anyone and everyone.
I am a forever student. Whether you are a beginning teacher or advanced teachers-teacher, if I am in your room, I am learning. My heart is open. I always do the class that is being taught. In other words, I am not a free-style yogi in a classroom. I don’t go off course and do my own thing. I try to honor the teacher at all times. I believe this quality makes for a good teacher.
My advice for new teachers is keep learning. It’s important to be who you are, honor ALL your teachers and keep your heart open and vulnerable. Go after what you want, but know that experience goes a long way. Part of the process starting out is getting as much experience as you can. Teach at gyms, community centers. Teach friends and family. Don’t be in a rush to teach at all the best studios, lead teacher trainings and retreats. These things will come. Experience and continuing to grow and transform speaks volumes and takes time. I am old school that way. I love to see young teachers hustling, who are driven and have ambition so they do what needs to be done to get the experience and time under their belt. I didn’t lead my first yoga retreat until I’d been teaching more than seven years. I didn’t teach in a teacher training until I’d been in the trenches teaching for more than eight years. Heck, I didn’t do Astavakrasana until I’d been practicing for more than seven years. Yoga is forever. It’s a lifestyle. Some dreams and manifestations are earned through time, experience, devotion and dedication.
Cathy Geier: Please tell us about your life outside the yoga world? Please share some of your favorite pastimes and places in Seattle that nourish your life?
Jenniferlyn Chiemingo: Outside of yoga, I love being with my boys – my husband Greg and my 12-year old son, Ben. Ben plays Ultimate Frisbee and sails – so much of our weekends we are doing one of those two things. I adore the Center for Wooden Boats. We invest plenty of time and energy down on Lake Union.
My friends are my family too. I have a handful of very close girlfriends here in Seattle, from all walks of life, who are heart-friends. You know, the people you could call for anything? I do spend time going out to dinner or tea or just chilling out with those friends. Sometimes, though, the best weekends for me are relaxing on the couch at home reading a magazine (or book), watching a ‘family’ movie and enjoying an amazing homemade meal that my husband created. I adore going on ‘adventures.’ That could be a day-long road trip or a trip across the world. Travel electrifies me. My husband plans wonderful summer adventures, I have my yoga retreats and friends and family around the world to visit.
Cathy Geier: Anything else you’d like to add?
Jenniferlyn Chiemingo: I’m so grateful to be a part of the magic Leah Zaccaria has created at hauteyoga Queen Anne where I’ve grown so much in my teaching and practice and continue to grow even after more than six years. I teach exclusively at haute because it really is my home.
Thank you, Jenniferlyn Chiemingo, for taking time to let Seattle Yoga News readers know more about you and your principles and style for being a great yoga teacher, community yoga leader and an engaging, well-loved yoga teacher.
[Photo credit: Ben Sandall Photography]
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