What’s your touchstone? In an age of fast-paced forward focus, where do we look to see the rings of age in our tree pose? Where do we find the points of reference that make us remember how far we have come and who we still are? Like the pencil marks on a wall that measure the progression of a child’s height, one’s yoga practice can be that sacred stone where we check in to observe our own unique unfolding. After 12 years of flowing with local residents, Juliette Kurth, owner and founder of Silver Lake Yoga, has become a shining touchstone for her community.
Juliette’s path to yoga began as a professional dancer in Manhattan, where she studied on scholarship at the School of American Ballet. After her first semester there, she was recruited to dance in a division of the prestigious American Ballet Theatre, which then took her to The Joffrey Ballet and a run with famed dancer and choreographer Alvin Ailey. Slowly the rigor and restraint of the dance world took its toll, and Juliette took off her pointe shoes to find solid ground, which happened to be the floor of the Iyengar Institute in New York, where she cultivated a practice under the tutelage of Judith Freeman. She eventually became connected to the NYC yoga world, fervently studying and practicing with a who’s who of yoga luminaries, like John Friend.
It was an instrumental time in Juliette’s development, but not a particularly happy one. “I tell people that I began yoga as a young person in a dark place. I say this because I hear so many people in the yoga world say, ”˜We are all here to feel GREAT!,’ and we are, but there are some people who are going through something, and may not be skating on the joys of life. We need to honor where students are coming from.” This compassion and authenticity is at the core of Juliette’s instruction, and in the spirit of her studio. “We tell our teachers to let the students arrive at their own discovery””don’t impose anything. You don’t need to over-teach. Sometimes people just need a quiet place to plug into. Some people may come because they haven’t been touched all day””it might be just for that, and that is okay.”
After a flourishing decade of work as a Broadway actress, Juliette came to Los Angeles following a love. As is often the case, the man who captured her heart soon fell away, and a different love emerged. She became connected with the California Shakespeare Theater, where she met Jonathon Emerson, her now husband and co-owner of Silver Lake Yoga. Jonathon brought Juliette to the Center for Yoga where they both studied alongside yoga heavyweights including Ganga White, Ana Forest, Max Strom and Bryan Kest. Her open nature and natural propensity for movement inspired her to embody a wide range of styles, lifting wisdom from each one.
At that time, Juliette decided to do a teacher training with Ganga White, who remains one of her most influential teachers. “Ganga is so powerful because he comes from such a practical point of view,” she says. Inspired by Ganga’s message of simplicity, Juliette proudly refers to Silver Lake Yoga as “your friendly neighborhood studio.”
“We don’t espouse to be a major center. We don’t do lots of workshops. We have evolved to serve the needs of the community. We still teach to absolute beginners, and we have people coming here who have been coming for maybe 12 years and they don’t want to get any better. They are not there to fetishize their practice, they are just there because they know it’s good for them and they know it feels good.”
Juliette opened Silver Lake Yoga in 1995 after teaching in studios and women’s centers all over town. Shortly after the birth of her studio came the birth of her first child, shifting the focus of her practice once again. Despite a highly active pregnancy, she suffered a painful birth, likely due to overworked muscles. “At the time of my pregnancy I had wonderful teachers, but terrible advice,” she admits. As a result, she dove deep into prenatal yoga, which continues to be her central passion. Juliette’s main clientele, which echoes the essence of Ganga, are people right off the street; not hip yogis, but people who have heard yoga is good for pregnancy. Her philosophy for prenatal practice is simple: empower yourself physically to endure and surrender to the labor. Juliette and her husband also offer a labor support prep workshop every two months in which they empower couples””men included””to confidently face the birth of their child with awareness, information and support for each other.
With over a decade’s experience, Juliette and her husband watch with nostalgic hearts as their students move from one stage of life to the next. “We have women practicing right now who we taught as teenagers. Those teenagers became young hipsters, then they become couples, then they become pregnant, then tired mommies, then mommies with more time”¦round and round it all goes.”
For each stage of life, the individual can benefit from Juliette’s all-encompassing philosophy of yoga. Her studio offers 52 classes a week, of all styles, from flow to Ashtanga and for people of all ages, including yoga for teens, toddlers and mommy and me. “We’ve invited teachers from many traditions, and we ask them to make it their own. We never come from the standpoint of ”˜this is the doctrine we teach and you follow.’ We cast a wide net; you can flow.”
Silver Lake Yoga is a vibrant embodiment of Juliette Kurth’s priorities. It is not an expansive space; there are no celebrity teachers, no boutique and no multitude of workshops. Instead it has a lobby of bulletin boards teeming with community postings and Christmas cards. Juliette Kurth provides yoga without pretense, yoga that is always there amid seas of change and the circle of life. She reconnects students to all the transformations they have made and to what poet Pablo Neruda calls “the stone of oneself”””the deepest part within a person that travels along, unchanged throughout the journey. And as far as touchstones go, Juliette’s a gem.
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