Jess Robertson grew up free: free to explore nature, to help others in a way that felt organic, to be who she wanted to be.
Thanks to that encouragement and example of social activism from her parents, she has spent her adult life working to bring joy to individuals through yoga and positive affirmation.
The true yogi co-founded Moksha/Moda Yoga, a school with over 75 locations across Canada and the U.S., each devoted to teaching conscious living. Next, she co-created the New Leaf Yoga Foundation, an organization that brings mindfulness to “at risk” youth.
Here, Robertson explains how integral community is to happiness in this ever-changing world:
Live The Process: How did the experience of growing up on a farm with “hippie parents” shape your worldview as an adult?
Jess Robertson: I could probably write a book on this subject!
Growing up in the country has had a huge influence on who I am. My parents put a lot of trust in us as kids. We were able to roam free for entire days and hang out in trees for hours. We learned things like the smell of a fresh fiddlehead in spring and the look of a chestnut blossom about to burst.
My sisters and I went on adventures to a nearby pond, collected maple sap from century old maples. My parents’ humility and wisdom allowed Nature to be my first teacher. They also modeled for us: they spoke with nonviolent communication, sent us to a Waldorf school and had a daily yoga practice. They were and are activists, protecting the only Grade-A farmland left in Ontario. They taught, and still teach me today, about “mudita” (or joyfulness) and how we can—in nearly every circumstance—take ourselves less seriously and have more fun! My parents, and the natural world they embrace, are my mentors and teachers to this day.
LTP: Why is your role at Moksha/Modo Yoga Teacher Training so rewarding?
JR: My best friend “whats app’d” me at the recent Moksha/Modo training in Nicaragua: “Best group ever?!!” She’s an academic and consultant. She’s not a typical yogi and was lovingly making fun of how I actually fall in love with every group of trainees that I get to meet. There’s a reason the Buddha decided that ‘Sangha’ (or “Intentional Community”) should be one of the three jewels in life. Every training busts my heart open anew and teaches me that we have a limitless capacity to love. Also, each student at the training gives a fantastic TED Talk-style presentation, which makes me fall in love with them even more. I get to hear stories about the incredible vision of all the Moksha/Modo studio owners out there, creating second homes for hundreds of thousands all across North America. Again, I could go on!
LTP: What inspired you to co-found the New Leaf Foundation?
JR: Before teaching yoga, I worked with an organization called Federation de Padres y Amigos de Personas con Discapacidades in Panama. I worked on creating inclusive education models for children with disabilities. Before that, I played a leadership role in Amnesty International in some capacity for twelve years. The Declaration of Human Rights is a document I value and work to keep alive and apply. The vision for New Leaf came from introducing two of the seven Moksha/Modo Pillars—“Be Accessible” and “Outreach”—to every teacher training group. One particularly visionary teacher, Laura Sygrove, ran with the idea of accessibility. It was Laura’s idea to bring yoga to young people, who are labeled “at risk youth” due to experiences of trauma, marginalization and even incarceration. I simply helped along the way and Moksha/Modo studios provided the seed funding for New Leaf. Today, New Leaf is one of many of the initiatives that Moksha/Modo studios and teachers are supporting to acknowledge the privilege involved in doing yoga. We are always asking ourselves as a community: “How can we reach further? Where are these teachings needed most?”
LTP: What is your personal daily practice?
JR: As my teacher Baba Hari Das always used to say as an answer to any question: “Daily Sadhana” (or practice). Students would ask him, “Babaji, how will I understand the intricate relationship between nonviolence and truthfulness?” He would think for a moment, then write on his little chalkboard: “Daily Sadhana.” Yoga is designed for repetition. For the past ten years, I have practiced every day, no excuses. In terms of what I practice: Physically, I practice one of the three Moksha/Modo series (usually the traditional sequence), so that the repetition allows me to turn the postures into meditation. At the end of my practice, I create a thank you list in my head with my hands in prayer position. I also chant a bit and sing Kirtan with my family and friends in the Kirtan collective, “lila.”
LTP: What does happiness look like to you?
JR: Quiet. Space. Freedom. Nature. Love. Friends. Family. Community. Silliness. All of these things, combined with an intention to always walk my talk and work to be the best version of myself on a path of service. And, at the same time knowing that, as my mom says, “Shit happens and suffering is optional.”
LTP: What does it mean to you to “Live The Process” and how do you do that every day?
JR: I’m new to the phrase, but I really like it. I think yoga teaches us that true joy flows from knowing that we are living in a world of impermanence. Sometimes I can’t do this every day, but, to me, living the process is knowing simultaneously that we’re already perfect and whole, while, at the same time, knowing that life is change. To me, living the process is embracing this change, life’s artistic impermanence on and off the mat, each and every day, with an effortless smile in your eyes. Learn more about Moksha/Moda Yoga and the New Leaf Yoga Foundation.