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Meet Hilary Jackendoff of Meditation Chick in West LA and The Valley

Today we’d like to introduce you to Hilary Jackendoff.

So, before we jump into specific questions, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
Well, let’s see. I have been teaching meditation full-time in Los Angeles for the last five years. I’m originally from New Jersey, and I moved here to put down roots, after spending much of my 20s traveling the world and studying different systems of spirituality. I studied philosophy, mysticism, and religion in college, but I first came to meditation after finding yoga at 21. When I started practicing yoga, I was mainly hoping to find relief from chronic pain, insomnia, and anxiety that had been overwhelming me for the last several years. I realized quickly that Vinyasa Flow yoga was not the path for me, and started to get into Yin Yoga. In Yin, you hold passive poses for 5 minutes at a time – so you’re not holding Warrior I for 5 minutes, but you might hold a forward fold for 5 minutes – and it gives you a chance to really be with whatever is arising – in your body, or in your mind. So for me, Yin Yoga was really, in a sense, my gateway to meditation.

When I was 22, I moved to New Zealand and ended up going on a week-long yoga retreat. This was not like a Tulum or Bali yoga retreat. This was an ashram yoga retreat. We practiced ‘karma yoga,’ the yoga of action, all day…in other words, we worked – chopping wood, sweeping paths, mopping floors, weeding gardens…with intermittent breaks for yoga, chanting, Vedic fire ceremonies and meditation. I practiced Yoga Nidra there for the first time – and had my first REALLY powerful experience in meditation. Basically, it was the first time I was ever completely free from my thinking mind – and the first time I ever realized that was even a possibility. It was a life-altering experience – and I had to have it again. I was totally hooked. I had to know more. I knew this had to be a part of my life. So a few months later, I traveled to ashrams in India to dive deeper into meditation and Tantric Yoga. I spent about two months there, and between cold water bucket showers and peeling hundreds of pounds of potatoes, I had some pretty intense realizations that this was my path.

When I got back from India, I waited tables in Philly, paying off debt so I could be free to formally study yoga and meditation. I saved my tips for a while, and when I was 24, I moved to Australia to go live at an ashram and start a two years Teacher Training. Living at an ashram is pretty intense. People think it’s a hippie hug fest, but it’s not all love and light – at all. At all. ‘Ashram’ means ‘place of labor’ – and that means physical, emotional and spiritual labor. Ashram life makes you SEE yourself. You can’t hide from yourself. You can’t hide from your ego.

All of your shit comes to the surface and you have to deal with it…and even though you’re living in a community – you pretty much deal with it alone. You learn to hold space for yourself – which – to be honest, nobody really teaches you how to do out in the world. You have no choice but to figure it out. You have to sit with all of your emotions, fears, and weaknesses. There was no Wifi at the ashram, no cell service, no TV… while I was living there, I didn’t have a car. So…at the ashram, you can’t numb out with Netflix…you can’t text a friend if you’re feeling down…you just have to BE with yourself. And it was in a pretty remote part of Australia – so we had 120-degree heat, with no air conditioning, poisonous snakes, and spiders, fires, floods….it was like everything was designed to push you to your limits. I lived there for two years while I did my formal training….and it taught me more about myself than I can fully explain. It really forced me out of my comfort zone and challenged me – mind, body, and soul.

After I left Australia, I moved to LA to be closer to my brother and my nephew, since I had been traveling for so long. I thought I would just be here for a few months and then head out again, but the first week I got here, I ended up meeting my husband. I started teaching, and things started flowing. I was picking up private clients and a few classes here and there, but when Tal Rabinowitz (owner of The DEN Meditation) emailed me before The DEN opened, asking me to come onboard as a founding teacher, I knew I was in the right place, and doing the right things. Now I just teach five public classes there per week, but I started off teaching 12! The DEN has been a huge part of my life since the day it opened. I’m so grateful to be part of such an awesome community. I also co-created The DEN’s 400 hour Meditation Teacher Training program, and teach the curriculum twice a year.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
It has been a fairly smooth road on the surface…one thing has led to another, and I’ve always felt that I was well-supported by my community in the work that I do. But internally, it has been another story. Right at the beginning of my teaching career in LA, my yoga tradition was rocked by scandals, and I struggled majorly to find my spiritual footing as everything unraveled in my community. It was brutal. I was so deeply identified with my spiritual lineage and the guru culture that I didn’t know how to find my own way. In the wake of the scandals, (after a pretty significant period of epic spiritual bypassing), I questioned everything – the validity of the teachings, the integrity of my teachers…everything.

I guess I should explain a little – I was formally initiated into this Tantric lineage at 24. I took a second initiation at 27. I went deep. Did the whole shaved head, flowing robes thing. I had a serious devotional practice to my guru and took solace in my spiritual identity. For me, it was everything. I naively thought that I had all the answers – that the lineage, the guru, and the teachings were all I’d ever need spiritually.

Obviously, I was wrong. I’ve come to realize a lot over the last several years – and I now know that I am nowhere close to spiritual maturity, or to having it ‘all figured out.’ My naiveté is gone!! But in its place, is a deeply feminine and fluid understanding of the spiritual, as opposed to the linear, systematic, dogmatic, masculine beliefs I clung to before. Now when I work with clients and train teachers, I teach from this space – of nuance, curiosity and the importance of finding your own way.

It’s honestly a LOT harder to teach from this space – because many students deeply desire definitive answers – they want to be TOLD what to do – but I just can’t teach that way anymore. I don’t know what is best for anyone, I don’t know the answers and the truths they need to integrate. All I want to do now is empower people to figure out it out for themselves. To trust their own intuition, their own process, and their own path. Students ask me all the time ‘what is the best time to meditate? What practices should I do? How should I deal with my negative thoughts?’ And my answer is almost always the same….’See what feels right for you. Explore. Play. Be curious. It’s your practice. It’s your consciousness!’

Please tell us about Meditation Chick.
So I am mostly known for my work sharing Yoga Nidra. Honestly, it is the easiest meditation practice – and I really believe it is what people need most today. On its most basic level, it helps you learn to relax – to let go – and what that feels like. But what it’s really doing is completely resetting your nervous system, your sleep cycle. and effectively helping you rewrite your neurological programming….and then there also are a whole bunch of epic spiritual benefits that will inevitably follow.

Most of the workshops and classes I teach are centered Yoga Nidra for these reasons. I also created a Yoga Nidra Teacher Training that I teach regularly. Yoga Nidra is a profoundly powerful practice, and it requires a good deal of sensitivity and expertise to guide it safely and effectively, and I am very, very proud of my Teacher Training. There aren’t too many people leading Yoga Nidra Teacher Trainings in Los Angeles, or in America, and I take the responsibility of being amongst the few pretty seriously.

And although I only certify students to teach Bihar School of Yoga Yoga Nidra, I’ve studied the teachings of all of the main lineages of Yoga Nidra, so I can share a more nuanced presentation of the practice. Because again – I refuse to teach from a dogmatic perspective. I also co-created and teach The DEN Meditation’s 400 Hour Teacher Training. So…yeah! I run a lot of Teacher Trainings!

My private practice is pretty diverse, to be honest. I work with clients of all ages to help them manage anxiety, insomnia and live their lives in a more empowered way. For teenagers and busy executives, I offer 15-20 minute phone sessions 3-5 times a week… A lot of people really need real accountability to create a regular meditation practice, so I provide that. Meditation only works if you do it. I recently finished my first course in herbalist, so I integrate my knowledge of herbal medicine into my private practice as well…and I am a doula. So…like I said, I have a pretty diverse private practice – but it all ties together.

This year, I started sharing Yoga Nidra at Wanderlust Festivals and I’m leading my first retreat with The DEN Meditation in November in Idyllwild. I’m really excited about it. It’s called Sacred Joy…it’s all about taking yourself, your meditation practice and your spiritual path a little less seriously.

Do you look back particularly fondly on any memories from childhood?
Hmmmm….my childhood was filled with so many epic memories. I grew up without a television, so I had to learn to entertain myself pretty young! I think my favorite childhood memory is sitting in my little hedge-fort, under a blanket of honeysuckle, hidden from the world. I also used to hide in the grapevines….and up in the apple tree. Basically, all of my favorite memories are of being in my own backyard, completely tucked away from the world, totally immersed in nature. I was always a bit of a plant person…and an introvert!

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