Jill Marie Ippolito knows firsthand that yoga is a lot more than just a physical activity — it’s an opportunity to teach, empower and heal. Experiencing her own transformation through yoga as a teenager, Jill founded UpRising Yoga to bring the power of the sport to kids in the juvenile detention system. Jill’s free classes are all about giving at-risk children the tools to grow.
But Jill doesn’t stop there: UpRising Yoga also trains teachers, social workers, parents and anyone else wanting to give back to youth in the community to use yoga as a tool. “Our last training had almost 60 people attend,” says Jill. The idea is that by sharing her knowledge, Jill can bring her teachings to a broader audience and serve as many kids as possible. Jill’s story is proof that the practice yoga can do more than help at-risk kids — it can heal.
Go where the love is. Slow down. Know that you’re going to be OK. Everything is happening exactly the way it’s supposed to.
How did you discover your current job?
I discovered my job through volunteering as a juvenile hall yoga teacher. There’s a definite need for yoga to help calm and quell anxiety in kids waiting to be sentenced.
My passion for yoga as a healing tool is rooted in the frightening statistic that 82 percent of foster youth are sexually trafficked. These are the same kids I was teaching yoga to. It was my way of helping them heal from their trauma. And by creating a nonprofit organization, I established a foundation for my vision to ensure that yoga is seen as an effective tool and method for healing our nation’s incarcerated youth.
What responsibilities do you have in your role?
I have a schedule packed with extensive speaking engagements to carry the mission of UpRising Yoga and ensure its long-term strategy and operational responsibilities. I oversee staff and volunteers, publicity, our web presence and expansion. I also develop, recruit for and teach Trauma Sensitive Mindfulness Yoga trainings. I help equip our teachers with skills to work with at-risk youth and communities. This also involves negotiating contracts with schools, juvenile facilities, probation camps and after-care programs. Our training is for everyone; not just yoga teachers on how to work with this population. We strive to bring yoga into communities that aren’t big on yoga and share the healing capabilities of the practice.
What is it about your job that makes you feel it’s the right fit for you?
My story is the same as that of the students who I’m teaching. I, too, was the same juvenile hall, where I now teach, when I was 17. I was suffering, in pain and experiencing the pain, trauma, depression stress and severe physical injuries from my experience. Yoga helped me heal that emotional sickness — inside and out. When I share my story of overcoming adversity, it’s my hope I’m able to share the gift of healing that yoga can provide for everyone.
My message is this: If it worked for me, it can work for you, too.
What challenges keep you awake at night?
I think about how we can expand our organization to bring yoga to more people. I also think about establishing our after-care program, ways to offer more services and ways to create more jobs to compensate more yoga teachers. Of course fundraising and seeking grants are a continual challenge always on my mind.
Is work/life balance ever a problem with you? If so, what is one no-fail tactic you use to create balance?
Yoga! I need to practice it more than I teach it. I also love nature. Taking my dog out to play helps me stop my work and have fun. Of course, spending time with my husband reminds me to put love and family first.
Was there ever a moment in your career where you’ve thought, “I made it!” What was it?
Yes. I felt this way when I was nominated to be in John Russo’s book, 100 Making A Difference. I was photographed and featured with some incredibly heroic people — and I still don’t know who nominated me. At that time, I stopped for a moment and took in what an impact the UpRising Yoga team is making!
What are some of the rules you live by?
Punctuality, honesty and room for human error are very important to me. Because of the sensitivity of our cause, I keep the principle of “serving” rather than “helping”. We’re serving a population to empower our students to help themselves.
What qualities does it take for someone to be successful in your line of work?
You need to show up, no matter what. Build relationships based on respect, consistency and intimacy. You also have to make sure that you’ve dealt with your own pain and healing before offering your services to someone else. In other words, you must practice what you preach.
What one piece of advice do you wish you could tell a 21-year-old version of yourself?
Go where the love is. Slow down. Know that you’re going to be OK. Everything is happening exactly the way it’s supposed to. Remember that the hardships you overcome will become an asset to help someone else.
What do you love the most about your workday?
Teaching yoga to kids and watching their eyes light up gives me a sense of purpose. The transformation from misery or stress to feeling light and free is so powerful. In this role, you can truly bring a gift of peace that can last a lifetime.