Posted by: Necci – Jun 11, 2012
Jonathan Miles, local yogi, martial artist, and a damn good friend, is the co-founder of Project Yoga Richmond. He spends his time teaching classes to yoga lovers of all levels, and birthing new instructors in the process. In 2011, Jonathan traveled down the East Coast to work with his peers and teach classes, bringing back new poses, new friendships, and new wisdom to share with RVA to help connect the community in mutual growth. I've known "J Miles" for a few years through the movement arts community, and we connected partly because of our mutual love for house music. J is a hell of a nice guy and has no shortage of wisdom to offer. I was excited to have the chance to ask him some questions and find out more about his process and what's to come.
You have studied and engaged yourself in various branches of movement arts. Tell me a little bit about the evolutionary process that eventually led you to focus on yoga.
The process began sometime in the early 80's, my soundtrack being "Planet Rock," Sugar Hill Gang, and other electronic, hip hop, b-boy music. I used to break dance; my specialty was poppin'. But I guess even before that, at the age of five, my father taught me how to stand on my head. When I was in second grade a few years later, there was this older kid that could walk up and down stairs on his hands. I resolved to do that at any cost. As I grew, I had an uncle that kept me entertained by feeding me old kung fu movies. This started my infatuation with the martial arts. In my late teens and early 20's I was still b-boying, but it was more house-inspired. The house music always opened a door of intense, creative movement that allowed my groove to be whatever I wanted it to be.
Flash forward to about 1997. Still housin', but a new element was added. I was introduced to the martial art form called capoeira. The ginga, k-kicks, flips and twists all were now part of the dance. Soon after I went to the Tiger and Crane Martial Arts Academy and began to practice Hung Gar Kung Fu, under the guidance of Sifu Tyrone Staton. At that point in my life I was searching, and beginning to see life from a more spiritual view. Nothing concrete, just an inward longing for something. Even though I was raised in the Southern Baptist church--altar boy, usher, and all that stuff--I had never learned anything about myself in that atmosphere. So I started to study. The Tao Te Ching and The Bhagavad Gita were the two most prominent titles, and also a text called The Tao of Health, Sex and Longevity by Daniel Reid.
At some point along the way my Sifu suggested that I study the Egyptians, and I stumbled upon books written by Muata Ashby. The first one was called Egyptian Yoga: The Philosophy of Enlightenment, and it opened my eyes to the fact we have the capacity to change our destiny, and that anything that taught a man how to realize his Supreme Self could be considered Yoga. An informal sun-salutation was followed by a few Rodney Yee videos, and in 2003 I enrolled in the Integral Yoga Teacher Training for basic Hatha and Pranayama, where I received my first formal education in the history and philosophy of Yoga.
You recently took your mat on the road to work and teach with other yogis. Tell me about the trip. What inspired you? What is something that you learned that you brought back with you to RIchmond?
The trip I took recently really started [in] January of 2011, when I taught my first out-of-town workshop. I have for some time had a great desire to teach outside of my hometown, and I've been wanting to share a more advanced practice in greater detail. I've also for a long time had many new teachers come out of classes I've taught, or experienced teachers seek me out, so I've also felt that I had the ability to be a teacher of teachers. In order to do that at the level I envision myself doing it, I have to become a visiting instructor. Most in the yoga community here in RVA already know me, have easy access to me, and probably can't see any reason to pay extra for a special class taught by me. But those in Charlotte, Blacksburg, Raleigh, Myrtle Beach, and Charleston are excited by the prospect of having a special guest from another place. So I put together a little teaching trip that took me from southwest VA across NC (twice) and down into the Grand Strand of South Carolina.
I guess the biggest experience was meeting so many different people and being part of that excitement. The biggest lesson I learned while on this mini sabbatical is that I don't need much, and that I greatly appreciate what I do have. I learnd to appreciate the kindness of strangers, and how to appropriately conduct yourself as an extended guest. I practiced yoga sometimes three times daily, and I constantly engaged in discussions with other teachers about teaching methods, the universe and how to most effectively live life in a joyful way. What I brought back was little teaching nuances, an appreciation for RVA, and a desire to really set the world on fire.
As one of the founders of Project Yoga Richmond, what would you consider the major goals of the establishment, and how do you feel it nourishes you, and the community?
The major goal of PYR is to educate the masses about yoga and to make it more accessible to those who either can't afford it or don't realize the benefits of it. We also wish to help make the RVA yoga community a more connected force for positive change. Because of our friendships and affiliations, we have the ability to draw from the creative expressions of all those in the movement arts community. The yogis and yoginis, dancers, acrobats, martial artists, hula hoopers, jugglers, fire spinners... we all have an ability to visually attract a crowd, and keep their attention. It's the best time to pass along a positive message, or invite those willing to participate in the upward moving consciousness of the community. For me, seeing people smile, or be exhilarated, or do something that they never in a million years thought that they would do makes me the happiest. Know[ing] that I've helped a person or a group discover that positive change is right in line with the effort you put forth makes each day a bright one. Hopefully, in time, our organization will play a role in healing racial tensions and negative stereotypes, and we can all live that "one love."
What are some of the challenges you face working as a professional yogi?
The challenges I face are the same challenges faced by construction workers, and customer service reps, and anyone who works for his bread. There's not enough money to go around! Seriously, I am living my dream, and rarely does anyone hear me say "I'm headed off to work." Yoga is my passion, my savior, my provider, and a way to reflect whatever God put in me out to the rest of the world. Perhaps the biggest challenge is learning to say no, or realizing that I can't help everyone. In a positive way, I challenge myself each day to be more knowledgeable, to have a greater impact on the people I meet, and to walk it like I talk it.
What projects are you currently working on, yoga related and otherwise?
Currently I'm continuing to pursue opportunities for PYR within the community. Working with the Richmond City Health Department to bring yoga into the high schools as alternative to traditional P.E. Working with the YMCA to create a yoga/healthy eating program for teens in lower income neighborhoods. There is a residential teacher training in August I plan to attend. I'm currently working on a 30-day Teaching Challenge, where for 30 days I will offer private, semi-private, and small group classes at a discount to raise money for the trip. Anyone who would like to sign up for a class can contact me at email@example.com. Professionally, I'm planning my next few trips and workshops. One such trip is the Floyd Yoga Jam, which takes place August 31 - September 2. This festival will feature some of the best teachers from around the country, plus music and workshops on health and nutrition. I have been fortunate enough to have been invited to teach this year and hopefully we will have a little RVA take over in Floyd, VA.
Where would you like to see yourself in the next 5 years?
I work very hard to be in the present moment, the right here and now. Suppose I set some future goal for myself--I become more well known, more respected, more knowledgeable in my craft, have traveled to farther and farther destinations--yet I don't achieve that particular goal. Is all the other accomplishment a waste? I do envision myself doing all those things, and with hard work and effort on my part, even things I haven't conceived will happen. Over the course of time, what I thought was a worthy goal may be replaced by something even more lofty. So while I see myself as continuing to grow as a teacher and a student, in order to get "there" I have to start "here," in this moment. When we start to appreciate the moment, that's when we'll truly see ourselves.
By Rachel Braford